Friday 21 October 2011

Wheldrake, I've missed you

Work visit to the Ings today with a potential funder. No water yet, so 14 Whooper Swans on the Refuge was a nice surprise. A huge flock of c500 Fieldfare near Swantail, plus a Willow Tit. Not much else going on.

A visit to Filey last weekend revealed very little except 14 Purple Sands on the Brigg and a late Arctic Tern.

Oh and I am glad I went for the Castle Howard Fudge - it left the following day and presumably is the bird that has turned up at Calder Valley.

A Stonechat at Spurn.

Sunday 16 October 2011

Nyroca rocks

Twitched a Ferruginous Duck found by Dave Richardson at Castle Howard this afternoon. A fine drake, with pure white wingbars and undertail coverts, pale eye, nice black bill nail, solid dark upperparts and rich chestnut head and breast, concolorous with flanks. Dark rear border to flanks setting off white undertail nicely. White belly patch noted when the bird roll-preened. A smart bird, though very active which made it tricky to pick up at first. Also noted, Russ Slack and Ollie Metcalfe, plus c30 Tufties, c50 Wigeon and a Chiffchaff. Despite Russ giving me a go with his scope - I'm using an old Kowa at the mo - I failed to get any decent pics, though one does illustrate the wingbars nicely.

Saturday 15 October 2011

Go East

So whilst everyone else was dipping the Rufous-tailed Robin, we packed up the kids and headed east to Filey.

The day was stunning and we had a great time exploring the rockpools on the Brig. Not many birds present though a late Arctic Tern was roosting on the Brig, along with 14 Purple Sandpipers. Up Long Lane I could only find a Chiffchaff, though a Sparrowhawk nearly took my head off and nailed a Blackie literally feet from me, which screamed horribly.

Last night was Autumnwatch at last. The team had done a great job and Spurn looked fantastic. My moment on national TV was slightly surreally pishing into a heligoland trap...

Thursday 13 October 2011

One good bird...

A fun few days spent at YWT Spurn with the BBC Autumnwatch team. The obvious benefit of this was I got to spend a fair bit of time at Spurn, in peak season. Don't forget to watch - 8.30pm on BBC2 this Friday.
Here are the highlights:

6-7 October
Not much going on though 6 Barnacle Geese in from the north along with hundreds of Pinkfeet was nice. A Barn Owl was a Spurn tick for me, plus a couple of Bramblings.

9 October
Not sure what influence the weather had as the wind was still southwesterly, but the appearance of low cloud and occasional spots of rain really upped the migrant stakes, particularly in the afternoon, when hordes of Skylarks, Redwings and Song Thrushes, plus a few Blackies and Fieldfares came in off the sea. An Arctic Skua and Short-eared Owl also put in appearances at the Warren. Sadly, the Red-throated Pipit that flew over Chalk Bank late morning didn't stick. Disaster however struck when my scope blew over and broke the tripod fixing and damaged the zoom. Oops! Shortly my spirits were raised when the Obs trapped a stonking Hawfinch at Kew and I managed to scramble the BBC crew in time to film this monster. My second east coast Hawfinch in a week.

Better was to come though! Andy and me accompanied part of the team with Michaela Strachan to do a short piece of film near the lighthouse. We parked up and walked north to meet them.

As we walked through the marram, a bird got up almost at our feet. It called once explosively "pseee"- I shouted "Red-throated Pipit!" and to my relief, Andy immediately agreed. The bird looped round showing white, boldly striped underparts, and then landed on the ridge next to the road. Andy put the news out on the radio, but got no response. Surely somebody was still on channel?!

Michaela came over and was keen to see the bird, so we walked down the road to where it landed. I set my camcorder running just in case and walked towards where we thought it had dropped. Sure enough, the bird took flight again at close quarters, called once and headed south towards the car park where it dropped again into the marram. Amazingly, I managed to capture the bird on film and even better, you can hear the call!

Shortly, a convoy of cars screeched up unloading many of the Spurn locals, to my relief. After a little walk the bird showed again in flight, this time calling several times, before returning to it's original location. This was a Yorkshire tick for me and even a Spurn tick for some of the gathered birders, so all went away happy.

And here is the video - look and listen carefully. The wind noise makes the call a little harsher than it sounded in reality, but you can just about make it out.

10 October
Not much of note!

Lastly thanks to Andy and Reenie for putting me up, and to all the Spurn guys, especially Ian, Paul, Adam, and Andy et al for all their hospitality.

Tuesday 4 October 2011

East Coast Weekender #5: Birthday boy

Up and at 'em early - it was my birthday - and was soon enjoying a beer on Chalk Bank for breakfast. Following this, the sky filled with Wheatears, as a fall happened. We counted over 50 around Chalk Bank, including 14 sitting on one patch of rocks on the beach and six in a line on the telegraph wires. Crazy!

We then went to Sammy's Point where yet more Wheatears greeted us, with at least 32 in the horse paddock and 12 in the adjacent field. I checked every one, but sadly the Black-eared wasn't playing ball.

After a snack, we popped into Canal Scrape, which lasted literally two seconds as the radio crackled 'Whiskered Tern off the Narrows'. Yikes! We scrambled into the car and shot down there. I was soon on the Little Gull flock and picked up a Black Tern. Reg then had a look through the scope, and we both decided we couldn't see the bird so headed up the track to see if the others were on it. After a bit of confusion it turned out the 'black tern' was the reported Whiskered. The views were not great against the bright sky, but the bird looked all dark, with white ffrom the throat down the belly and round it's neck. This didn't look like a Whiskered, but also looked wierd for Black Tern. Then Adam Hutt cleared it up stating 'it's an American Black Tern!' Soon an Arctic Skua barrelled in flushing the flock high into the sky. Although they returned, the tern never came as close, being very distant, so I couldn't get any more on it.

This was quite a surreal end to a fantastic four day weekend. The Sandhill Crane never did fly on to my list, but great birding in great places with great company more than made up for it. Thanks to Richard at Flamborough and Andy/Adam at Spurn for sorting us radios and Kat and Craig for putting us up/up with us!
And a good bird finally came my way...

East Coast Weekender #4: Spurn

After an awesome time at Flamborough, where else could come up to the mark? Spurn, of course. We headed south, taking in the delights of Hornsea Mere, where we failed to connect with the lingering Pec Sand, making do with a sprightly Common Sand with surprisingly yellow legs...

Arriving at Spurn was something of a culture shock. Birders were everywhere, along with cars, radios and sea buckthorn. Had a mooch round Chalk Bank away from the crowds, but failed to see anything other than three confiding Bramblings. The news was that the Spurn Pallid Swift had been trashed on photo analysis. So how soon til the same happened to our bird? Surely not!

A recovering Reg and me smelt pie on the breeze, so soon found ourselves in the Crown and Anchor for tea. A few pints later and back to the obs for sleep, or in my case lying on my back in a smelly dorm listening to competitive snoring.

East Coast Weekender #3: Eyes on the Skies for the Prize!

Dawn came round too quickly and I found myself pointing and muttering 'Hawfinch' to anyone listening. An excited Craig Thomas saying 'where, where?' woke me up and we soon enjoyed cracking views of the brute sitting atop the Old Fall hedgerow. A fine start!

Migrants were much in evidence, with four then two Crossbills flying west overhead amid the cacophony of Siskins and Redpolls. Chiffchaffs flitted ahead of us along the hedge and Redstarts scolded our progress. The Yellow-browed Warbler gave itself up more quickly, this time on the northside of the plantation and showing for several minutes. A smart, if dull bird, with little tertial edging, but a couple of fine wingbars and a whopping supercilium. On round the head revealed a Whinchat and a Wheatear perched in the so-called motorway hedge. Then unforgettably, Craig said 'get on this swift'. I lifted my bins to see two swifts coming across the field in front of us sunlit against a dark sky. The first, remarkably was sandy brown, with two tone wings, a dark saddle and huge white throat patch. Blimey! I said 'this has got to be a Pallid!' Reg came running back saying 'that's a Pallid Swift'. So we were all in agreement. The pair came past at close range, fairly leisurely, allowing us to check the features off one by one, with the added bonus of a Common Swift close by for comparison. After a minute or so, they headed off high into the bright sky over Bridlington Bay, leaving us shocked and elated.

After a brief conflab, Craig tried to hail the others on the CB, but this didn't work, so he legged it over to the fog horn station to alert the seawatchers. On his way to the head, he bumped into Ashley Saunders who apparently had independently seen the bird and agreed with the identification. Fortunately, the two swifts reappeared in front of the swelling throng and performed well for the next hour before being lost to view at 11am, during which time I managed a little bit of poor video. Meanwhile, news came through that another Pallid Swift was at Spurn...

Craig had to dash off to chair a meeting - unfortunate timing. Reg and me celebrated with a cup of tea and then decided to do Holme's Gut. Even more birds than yesterday for sure, but still no rare.

It was time to head for Spurn...

East Coast Weekender #2: Reg got leathered

No sooner had I been dropped off in York, than Kat was picking me up to take me back out there. This time to Muston, where we had a fine curry with friends. Reg had arrived 15 minutes early and had sunk three pints of strong cider on an empty stomach. Sadly, his fine curry was enjoyed more than once, much to the surprise of our hostess. Reg decided air was called for, only to be returned by the neighbourhood watch 20 minutes later, having been found lying in an alley. This maybe the most exciting thing to happen in Muston in ten years. Unfortunately for Reg, he had done his shoulder in whilst falling over, limiting his bins wielding activity for the rest of the weekend.

On to Filey Dams, a YWT reserve which had changed a lot in the last 15 years, where a Bar-wit (good record?) and a couple of Ruff, sadly were not hanging out with a Solitary Sand today.

Flamborough beckoned and we were soon enjoying the cover in Old Fall, where the Yellow-browed Warbler still evaded us. A Pied Flycatcher and Redstart encouraged us to linger, and shortly the Phyllosc started calling like a mad man, allowing us to finally locate it in the southern willows. Smart. Interestingly, this bird would intersperse it's usual call with occasional monosyllables, which heard alone could have been confusing.

At lunchtime, Redwings started to drop in out of the sky; wierd on such a fine day. It is exhillarating to see these flocks come in off the sea and pitch up in a hedge. You can almost feel their relief and joy at having survived crossing the North Sea non-stop and being greeted by fine weather and berry-stuffed hedges. Great! A Pied Fly was new in by the lighthouse too:

We hooked up with Craig Thomas and headed round the northside. Whinchat and Wheatear near Thornwick, plus a plethora of Redwings and Song Thrushes in Holme's Gut suggested better was to come, despite the heat. And it was; the Rose and Crown, for fine ales and chats.

East Coast Weekender #1: Wild crane chase

Friday 30 September 2011:
Like many birders, I took an emergency day off with the prospect of a migrating Sandhill Crane following the Yorkshire coast. Sadly, the crane took exception to the vampire activity in Whitby, and flew west in a hurry, to escape the wierd goth types. The bird then flew straight over the cracking new YWT hide at North Cave Wetlands*, over the whale-fest that is the Humber, straight round Lincolnshire, across Dudesville, sorry, Norfolk and into Suffolk, where it decided to ditch (*probably). Anyhoo, had a lovely morning with Birding Dad Senior, dipping Craig Thomas's Old Fall Yellow-brow, but pulling out a Redstart instead. The weather was burgeoning on tropical, the scenery of the Great White Cape stunning and the company great. A sprinkling of migrants around, notably six Lapland Bunts at North Marsh and one at Old Fall.

The Great White Cape