Saturday, 11 January 2020

Yorkshire Yank Duo

After Park Run and Bishy scout paper collection, headed up to Nosterfield to have a look at the Lesser Yellowlegs, which apart from my rejected bird from Wheldrake Ings a few years ago (no, I'm not bitter) is my first record in Yorkshire. This bird had been found at Scorton late in 2019 and had turned up at Nosterfield earlier this week, still hanging out with the Lapwings. A typically elegant Tringa, the bird showed the usual long-legged, long-winged jizz. When all the waders flushed. it was cool to watch it flying around, complete with projecting feet hanging out the back.

Lesser Yellowlegs

It was great to meet fellow Woodcock, Emanuela, on site along with James Robson and Mark and Ellis Lucas. After a look at the redhead Smew and female Scaup nearby on Lingham Lake, Emanuela joined me to head north to have a look for the Ring-necked Duck near Bolton-on-Swale. The viewing was tricky until another birder said we could look from the car park, which we did. A handsome bird as ever, the Ringo was very active, swimming about, preening and diving. Makes a change from the usual sleeping posture!

Ring-necked Duck

After a bit the wind got up, so we drove down to Bolton-on-Swale Lake YWT as I was keen to see the results of the project I designed and secured funding for in my day job. It is looking good and it was great to see lots of birds sitting on the new gravel islands. Hopefully, Little Ringed Plovers will find them to their liking when they return in spring. The contractors had done a good job scraping the bank too, so hopefully Sand Martins might colonise. c400 Pink-footed Geese heading west, two Goosanders, 17 Little Grebes and nearby, c600 Curlews (!!!!) were the highlights.


Yorkshire Bird Race 2020

5th January was the Mike Clegg Memorial Bird Race here in Yorkshire, and this year, the recipient of the proceeds would be Jean Thorpe at the Ryedale Wildlife Rehab Centre. Jean is absolutely amazing and a one woman defiance of the disgraceful criminals who continue to persecute our beautiful birds of prey and other wildlife. Jean is not alone; we, in the birding and wildlife community stand with her and we were proud to support the fundraising efforts with our team, Nevermind the Woodcocks. The Young Upstarts, Jack Ashton-Booth, Tim Jones, Ollie Metcalfe and Chris Gomersall put together a fundraising campaign and the response was fantastic. Hopefully all the money raised will help Jean continue her fab work. As the Crowdfunding page will close imminently, if you wish to make a donation, check out Jean's blog.

Nevermind the Woodcocks, from left: Paul Brook (driver), Rich Baines, Emanuela Buizzi, JL.

So, to the Bird Race...

Skipwith Common at Dawn. Despite the mild weather, no singing Woodlarks, and no Green Woodpeckers. We did score with a Brambling, the only one of the day and plenty of Siskins zipping about, plus potentially tricky birds such as Long-tailed Tit and Bullfinch. A Woodcock flew close by as the first light illuminated the eastern sky, lifting our spirits in the chill air. We headed for Menthorpe Lane where the struggle continued and then up the east side of the Lower Derwent Valley.

Melbourne Lock. We had had some bad fortune, missing several birds by lunchtime and we could feel the race slipping out of our grasp (although to be fair, it was never in our grasp!). Two of the team forgot to take their lunch down to the lock too, so were feeling doubly low, especially as neither Cetti's Warbler or Stonechat was ticked. Shortly, Rich picked up the missing skein of eleven White-fronted Geese which had been flushed by a farmer from a field near East Cottingwith and this improved our mood.

This was followed by a comedy incident, whereby Paul managed to get his car stuck in the mud. The Young Upstarts arrived and offered a hand. It was incredibly difficult even with seven of us pushing, until Paul realised it was easier without the handbrake on! Much mirth and we added Kingfisher courtesy of Chris's sharp eyes, who noticed a bird sitting on a fence half a mile away.

After adding Marsh Tit and Nuthatch (not always easy), we headed for Wheldrake but had to double-back for the pair of Bewick's Swans which had been refound on Bubwith Ings. Paul was happy as this was a lifer for him.

Meanwhile, across the road, Rich seemed just as pleased to add Dunlin to the list! With lifted spirits we shot down to Riccall/Barlby to look for yesterday's Iceland Gull which had been refound by the Upstarts. Sadly, minutes before we arrived, it was flushed. We gave it half an hour, but it failed to return, so we headed for Wheldrake for dusk.

Our total had reached a modest 86 and from the spanking new bridge at Wheldrake Ings, we added Curlew and Coot. We tried in vain to find Little and Barn Owls as the light dimmed,  but to no avail, and the Wenlock Arms seemed like a place to relax and admit defeat, with our lowest score to date, 88.

Well done to all the teams, and especially the Young Upstarts for smashing their previous York record, with an amazing 108, and for all the teams for taking part and raising valuable funds for Jean.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

From Iceland to the Caspian!

Ever since the closure of Rufforth landfill site, large gulls have dwindled considerably in the York area. Only a few hundred come into roost at Wheldrake Ings now, so the chance of one of the scarcer species has really reduced.

The news that Tim Jones had found a first-winter Iceland Gull in a field near Barlby (feeding on abbatoir waste, delightfully!), was, therefore, very unexpected and exciting, so once I'd left Sol in the capable hands of a mate and his Dad (they had pre-arranged to go indoor climbing) I shot down the A19 from York.

Chris Gomersall had seen the bird most recently in a different field, but the flock had flushed and moved back to where Tim had originally seen the bird. We gave it a good twenty minutes but there was no sign in the dense loafing flock, though many birds were obscured. A couple of adult and one first winter Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a welcome sight - hopefully a straightforward addition to tomorrow's York Bird Race list. A covey of six Grey Partridges in the adjacent field were nice too. Meanwhile, many of the gulls were heading over to the original field where they were feeding, so we decided to head back round.

After a few minutes and as more and more gulls descended, Chris announced that he'd found the Iceland. Excellent! The bird showed well, feeding with the flock, getting a fair bit of hassle from the larger species.

Iceland Gull - nice find Tim!

A little later and shortly after discussing how a flock of this size (500+) should really hold a Caspian Gull, and Chris did it again, stating he'd found a first-winter Casp! It was a real corker and proceeded to show well for the next half and hour or so, until we gave up due to cold and the gathering gloom. Strangely, the bird seemed to have nervous tick, where it frequently flicked it's head up. It may have been swallowing something, although it seemed to do it even when it hadn't been pecking at the floor. I never did make it to Wheldrake for the roost!

First-winter Caspian Gull, at the back of the flock on the left.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Magic Buteo!

I started 2020 in the same way I finished 2019, dipping the North York Moors Rough-legged Buzzard. It is a big area, and with the family in tow, I didn't have a lot of time, though they were very patient to be fair, as I scanned the Commondale and Sleddale area, on 30th December and then again on 1st January. Frustratingly, on the 30th, the bird had showed beautifully, but not for me :-( 
Today, I vowed to put the jinx to bed and head south for Stainforth near Doncaster, where a Roughleg had been hanging out for about a month. I have seen plenty of Rough-legged Buzzards over the years, but I have also dipped loads too, so it is always exciting to see one, as they are very cool birds.

I arrived on site for 8.30am which seemed to be the earliest this bird had been reported in previous days. I was surprised to find no other birders present, and even more surprised to find the bird hovering over the side of the road, right in front of me, like a fat Kestrel! I literally fell out of the car as I scrambled for my optics. I needn't have worried, as the golden headed beauty cruised over my head and casually landed about 30 metres away in the top of a small Oak tree. Absolute scenes!

Another birder showed up after a few minutes and we watched this gorgeous Arctic raptor as it surveyed the scene, looking for breakfast. After a bit, it moved on, hovering over the field and then disappearing into the scrubby grassland behind. A few more birders turned up, and after about half an hour, it was picked up by one of the gang sitting in a Silver Birch.  The bird hunted along the edge of the wood, by moving from perch to perch, scanning the ground below. At one point it dove off a perch and stooped to the ground, though masked by bushes, I couldn't see if it had successfully caught anything.  The bird preferred Birches, perhaps indicative of trees familar to it from it's natal area.

I watched, rather mesmerised for about an hour, by which time the Roughleg seemed to have decided the 'sit and wait' approach wasn't paying off, so took off and decided to hover about over the field edges, lit up by the warm winter sunshine.



A New Decade

Happy New Year, y'all! Well that was 2019, the last of the Twenty Teens, and lots happened. But enough of that, here's to a New Decade! The Tempestuous Twenties. Bring it on.

My fab fam, and my first bird pic of the Twenties, Turnstone photobombed by Herring Gull on the pier wall, Whitby, 1st January 2020. It was baltic!

Monday, 30 December 2019

Bohemian like you

Great to catch up with some Waxwings this morning in Thirsk, after three unsuccessful trips to Askham Bar, York this month.

Delightful as ever, the seven Bohemian beauts were flycatching happily in the mild sunny weather between bouts of berry gorging in the Lidl car park Rowan trees. Sol and Addie poked their heads out of the sunroof for a look.

One first year male was colour-ringed and a bit of investigation by @NathanielDargue identified it as having been rung in Aberdeen on 7th December. Cool!

The commentary was not mine....

Later, we drove through Sleddale but failed to find the reported Rough-legged Buzzard.

Sunday, 29 December 2019

Mediterranean Christmas

Wheldrake Gull blizzard

Did the gull roost at Wheldrake Ings this afternoon and Chris Gomersall had just found a smart adult Mediterranean Gull when I walked in to Tower Hide with Adam.

Large numbers of Black-headed and Common Gulls roosted, with a few hundred Herring and Great Black-backed. Later on, Chris picked up an adult Med again; we wondered if it was the same bird, but bill colour and mask shape suggest it was a different bird. We walked back along the river in a gorgeous sunset.

 "It's hard work being this good looking..."


Work has been so crazy busy that I have barely had any brain power left to blog, so apologies if you have been missing my drivel. I have still managed to escape to do some birding and a lot of gigging, so it has been a pretty enjoyable time too.

Looking back, as the month draws to a close, here are some of the bits and bobs I've seen.

7th December - Lower Derwent Valley

The valley is very flooded now. A male Cetti's Warbler has been hanging out by the Pocklington Canal at East Cottingwith and today showed well, scolding my presence. It occasionally sang too, the first time I've heard this distinctively abrupt outburst in the York area. It came very close, and I managed a bit of video with my phone.

From the same spot, a first-winter drake Scaup could be seen loafing with Tufted Ducks on the Wheldrake Ings refuge.

Scaup - right hand bird

Another Scaup was present on the floods by Aughton Church followed by two first-winter females on Wheldrake Ings, from Tower Hide.

Scaup - third from right.

Two Scaups. @Recordshotmyarse would be proud.

This adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was enjoying some winter sunshine on a hay bale at North Duffield Carrs. This species is not very common in the York area in winter. Four Russian White-fronted Geese were at Thorganby, before flying off north.

14th December - Wheldrake Ings

Went for a quick look at Wheldrake with Sol. The Derwent was pouring out of its channel on to the Ings (exactly as it should be!) and so wellies were essential. Nothing much of note, but large numbers of wildfowl, including over 200 Pintails and probably several thousand Teal and Wigeon. Impressive stuff.

Sol, alongside the flooded Derwent, Wheldrake Ings.

21st December - North Duffield Carrs

A Scaup was on Bubwith Ings viewed from NDC and a cool murmuration of Starlings over Aughton attracted a Peregrine. 15 Ruff, including the returning white-headed male, were hanging out on the riverbank.

Scaup in the gloom.

28th December - Castle Howard and LDV

I was a bit dismayed to find the gate locked at Castle Howard lake but whilst pondering what to do, I heard the distinctive call of a Cetti's Warbler from the nearby swamp. After a bit of patience, I eventually got a brief view of the skulker, and managed to record a bit of it's call. This is the second record of Cetti's at Castle Howard; the first I found in January on a York Bird Race a couple of years ago. A real bonus. I had a look on the lake, but few ducks present, possibly due to the early floods in the LDV meaning that incoming waterfowl had headed straight there. Nevertheless, about ten Goosander, twenty Goldeneye, c50 Wigeon, c75 Teal and half a  dozen Tufted Ducks were present. Not much else of note, besides a large Siskin flock in the trees on the opposite side of the lake, and a Nuthatch calling from behind the caravan park. On to the LDV, I checked out Melbourne first, where a Little Egret was on the bank of the Pocklington Canal. I then headed down to Ellerton. Very few birds present, mainly because of the guy walking his huge dog down the floodbank and a hunting Marsh Harrier quartering the flooded meadows.

Looking to the north, I spied two distant swans in the middle of the ings, which looked very interesting, sporting short necks, rounded heads and seemingly mostly-dark beaks. With zoom power, my hunch was confirmed as I discovered two adult Bewick's Swans! Class.

Distant Bewick's Swans

Bewick's Swans used to be as common as Whooper Swans in the LDV in winter, but alas they are now rare visitors. Their decline is presumably down to their overall population decline linked to hunting in Russia, plus milder winters meaning fewer come over from the Low Countries these days. Lovely birds and a real joy to watch. I put the news out and then shortly they took flight and headed towards me, following the river. To my surprise, they banked and headed straight towards where I was standing at Ellerton Church! I urged them to land on the water in front. but they changed course and headed south down the ings. Duncan and Peter turned up as I was leaving, and I gave them the bad news.

Bewick's Swan fly-past

A few miles and minutes later, I pulled up at Aughton Church, only to see the swans heading past. I filmed them with my smartphone as they made their way down the Derwent. They banked over to the east and looked like they were probably heading for Bubwith Ings to join up with the wintering Whooper Swan herd.

Two first-winter drake Scaup were present on Aughton Ings, along with a large mixed flock of Pochard and Tufted Ducks. Ten Goldeneye noted plus a Curlew on the riverbank.

Scaup with Pochards, Aughton Ings.

On to Aughton, I met up with Duncan, Peter and Adam, and after a bit of searching, I relocated one of the Bewick's in with the Whoopers. We walked round to get closer views and Duncan picked up the second bird roosting at the back of the flock. Very nice indeed. Time was getting on, so after soaking up awesome views of these two gorgeous Siberian visitors, I headed off.

Bewick's Swans, generally cuter in appearance than the larger Icelandic Whoopers: note the rounded, less wedge-shaped head compared to the Whoopers, plus the shorter neck, smaller size and the small rounded patch of yellow at the bill base.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Late Autumn East Coast Magic!

They say nature is good for you. I have been immersed in nature all my life and so it is something I have taken for granted I guess. However, after a really difficult and stressful week, a morning birding around Flamborough Head mostly on my own, was just what I needed, to unwind and get things in perspective.

The morning started well, despite the early start, and I had a traffic-free journey to the Cape. Old Fall was, to my surprise, deserted. I wondered whether other birders were seawatching, given the lively northeaster' blowing, or perhaps enjoying a suppressed Siberian Blue Robin...Anyway, I was here to chill, so I put these thoughts out of my head and enjoyed the solitude and dawn at Old Fall, a truly magical place.

Five Snow Buntings with a Linnet flock were the first birds of interest. Siskins were bounding around, with some flocks arriving in from Bridlington Bay.  I counted about 70 in two hours. After an hour and a half of solitary searching, I finally heard the Hume's Warbler calling from near the pond. I had begun to think it had gone, so was relieved and headed round there. After a bit, I found it, loosely associating with a Chiffchaff and a couple of Goldcrests. A smart little bird, but in less than a minute it melted away again. A little later I saw another stripy Phyllosc; this one seemed brighter green and whiter underneath; Yellow-browed Warbler? Sadly it didn't call and I didn't get a good enough view to be sure. It is getting late for YBWs, but there could be an odd straggler passing through.

After another another half an hour, I was frozen and it was getting busy (I had seen two birders approaching!), so I decided to head off. The lure of a hot drink and another Hume's Warbler was strong, so I headed to Bempton RSPB where the Hume's Warbler performed really well, calling regularly and showing well at times. The bird was brighter than the Old Fall bird, but still dingy compared with YBW, with a sullied eyebrow, dark greyish crown (rather than green) only one wingbar, without the dark  'shadow' and darker bill and legs. The call - which you can hear just about on the video below was a bit Pied Wagtail-esque, but not as strident or high pitched as Greenish Warbler. Certainly distinctive from YBW. I celebrated this East Coast Magic and the healing powers of nature-immersion, with a vegan hot dog and a latte from the RSPB cafe. How very modern!


Listen very carefully!

Sunday, 3 November 2019

Exotic Splash

Four drake Red-crested Pochards (found by Duncan Bye) at Aughton Ings provided an exotic splash of colour on a relatively drab autumn afternoon. Three were quietly hanging out on the edge of the Willow coppice, strikingly handsome among the monochrome vertical reflections, while another was mixed in with the Aythya flock and occasionally displaying to a female Common Pochard. This spectacular duck undoubtedly occurs as an occasional vagrant from the continent, but the picture is confused by many escaped birds and feral breeders, so it is impossible to know where this quartet came from. Nevertheless, they are a lovely bird to see. Also noted, 58 Pochards and c120 Tufted Ducks.

 RCP with two Common Pochards.

On to North Duffield Carrs via Bubwith Ings. The water levels are high in the valley now and attracting lots of birds; my highlights were two Marsh Harriers, an adult female Peregrine, 29 Ruffs, 3 Dunlins and c500 Golden Plovers. No sign of anything rarer among the plovers though one Goldie with a black belly was interesting.

Classic LDV scene: Golden Plovers and Lapwings, with feeding Ruffs in the background.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Kentish Glory

OK, well not the moth which is the real Kentish Glory, but a glorious Kentish Plover, which Duncan Bye and myself enjoyed, in autumnal sunshine on Redcar beach.

A declining species in Britain, KPs used to breed until habitat destruction pushed them out decades ago. So, despite them being named after the county of their discovery, they are no longer a native of that county, nor anywhere else in Britain for that matter. Illustrating their rarity perhaps, this bird is only the second I have seen in Britain, the first being many years ago in North Norfolk.

KP together with a Ringed Plover. Note smaller size, paler upperparts and differences in head and breast patterns.

This one seemed very content, feeding with Ringed Plovers and Sanderlings, among the kelp-strewn tideline. Good numbers of other birds were present including a smart Long-tailed Duck, c50 Common Scoters and c20 handsome Common Eiders, riding the rough surf.

Difficult phonescoping due to the strong wind! Apologies for the shake.

We headed on to South Gare, where a few Twite were with the local Linnet gang, two Snow Buntings flew around calling and a fine second-winter Mediterranean Gull had joined the local Black-heads to scrounge for crusts, from the car-bound picnickers.

Nearby, a Red-throated Diver was behaving strangely, coming close in to the beach. On closer inspection, it was apparent that this sad juvenile had hooked itself on some discarded fishing tackle. The hook was clearly visible in the bird's gape and the head was wrapped in nylon line. It was still fit, so we couldn't get near it to help, and the local gulls chased it into deeper water. I felt helpless; such a beautiful bird facing a grim and totally unnecessary death. Yet another victim of our carelessness. This put a downer on the end of an enjoyable couple of hours birding Teesside.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Fighting for Askham Bog

Back in the early summer, the City of York Council rejected a proposal to build a large housing development in the fields to the north of Askham Bog nature reserve.

Barwoods, who put in the planning application, are appealing against the Council's decision. The appeal will be heard by the Planning Inspector at a public inquiry which starts at 10am on Tuesday 12th November and will run Tuesday to Friday for three consecutive weeks. It will be held at the York City Church, The Citadel, Gillygate. Members of the public are invited to attend. If you care about Askham Bog, please peacefully make your support for the Council's decision known and come along to the inquiry.

I hope to see you there.

I will share some of my memories of Askham Bog over the next few weeks.

Thanks for your support. This is my 700th post on this blog. How appropriate!


Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Magical Sprites

On Unst back in September, we saw up to 20 Yellow-browed Warblers each day. They are gorgeous, magical little sprites, always restless, hovering to pick aphids from dying Sycamore leaves, and hopping along wire fences looking for spiders.

Photo by Rich Baines taken at Norwick, Unst

Yellow-brows are a fab little migrant, seemingly having established a new migration route in the last decade or two (research is still ongoing), indeed, they can sometimes be the commonest warbler on the east coast and the Northern isles these days. However, they will always be a special bird, and I feel that if you get tired of seeing Yellow-brows, you are truly tired of life! I can recall my very first, back in 1986 at the tip of Spurn Point, East Yorkshire, buzzing about in a tree close to the Heligoland trap. Another fond memory is of one I found in Askham Bog in autumn 1996, the first record for the York area.

The one in the short video below was in the gully near our croft at Norwick, close to where the Tengmalm's Owl rocked up back in the spring. It was incredibly confiding, feeding in this stunted Sycamore within a metre or so of me. The video was with my handheld smartphone.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Short-toed Lark, Lamba Ness, Unst

We saw this Short-toed Lark a few times while we were staying on Unst. It was rather exhausted when it arrived but by the following day had perked up and was flying around calling a lot. A very pale, sandy bird and the first I've seen in the UK since the one I was involved in finding on the Outer Hebs in 2013. Short-toed Larks seem to have declined in the last decade or so with most records turning up on offshore islands these days.

Unst-oppable Urges

Finding tiny migrant birds on a remote outpost like Unst, the northernmost Shetland Isle, demonstrates what an unstoppable urge migrant birds have, to get away from the inhospitable climate developing in their breeding grounds with the onset of autumn, and head south for warmer, more food-rich wintering grounds.

With very little vegetation around, birds such as Pied Flycatchers, Redstarts, Yellow-browed and Willow Warblers can be found in all sorts of strange places, hopping along roads or wire fences, diving amid boulders in old quarries and slinking through woodpiles. Checking thistle and nettle beds undoubtedly revealed a warbler or two, often a Siberian Lesser Whitethroat.

A Redstart near the Balta Light Bar, with a pronounced pale wing panel...Mark retrieved some poo for DNA analysis.

 Whinchat on the Norwick road

Arctic Bullets

Redeemed my Christmas present from Sol (I new it would come in handy eventually) for a day out birding on the east coast.

The weather looked promising, but I suspect the northeasterly was relatively new, so it was a bit early for birds to be pouring in. Nevertheless, the blow had pushed Little Auks (Dovekies in American) into Bridlington Bay, and as we walked along the sunny southside of the head, we watched a couple of small flocks heading back out to sea, like Arctic-bound bullets.

A trio of Little Auks flying past Old Fall

It was very quiet on land, with Old Fall Plantation being the only place with any migrants: c40 Blackbirds, 6 Redwings, Fieldfare, Chiffchaff, 2 Bramblings and 2 Siskins.

We headed down to South Landing, where 3 Velvet Scoters showed well, plus c70 Common Scoters and three more Little Auks flying past, plus a Short-eared Owl that came 'in off' and along the cliffs, attracting much attention from the local Herring Gulls and Carrion Crows. Welcome to England!

The kids did a bit of rockpooling while I seawatched, then it was time to head back west.

Two of the Velvet trio

Shorty, in off.

Arctic bullet, South Landing