Sunday 22 January 2012

An ill wind doth blow

Well, it is pretty ill when it is blowing off a landfill site straight in your face. Spent an hour freezing to death and watching gulls on Harewood Whin landfill site at Rufforth. Highlight was the adult Iceland Gull that dropped in for less than a minute before vanishing. A probable first winter Yellow-legged Gull was seen before it too disappeared by walking out of sight. Also present was a Herring Gull with a lot of white in the coverts (top photo). The gulls were very skittish and together with Russ, we gave up and headed for Poppleton, but sadly viewing here was impossible due to light and the fact all the gulls were facing us and alseep. Earlier, 50 Tufted Ducks on Moor Lane Pond and 3 Teal.

Saturday 21 January 2012

Winger over Bish

I've always thought I should be able to find something among the hordes of gulls passing over on their way to of from Harewood Whin landfill and Wheldrake Ings, and finally this morning it happened, when a fine adult Iceland Gull was picked up over the Iron Bridge heading west with two Great Black-backs. Thanks to the strong westerly wind, the bird made slow progress, allowing me to soak up this bird as it careered into the wind, in front of the trees, showing off it's nice white primary tips, over the Ings and off over Keble Park. Fantastic. Madly, out of all the gulls that are using the landfill site (several thousand), I had only seen about ten this morning before this flew over.

Sunday 15 January 2012

Wheldrake Ings 15th January

Two visits today, this morning helping to show visitors the ducks and then this afternoon in a flying visit to twitch Tim Jones' Caspian Gull. This morning was very cold c-3c, with the Ings looking stunning, frosting twinkling in the sunshine and c100 Pink-footed Geese went over high north at 9.30am. Two patches of unfrozen water remained. One on the pool held one drake Goldeneye and one Ruff, among the commoner ducks. A Chiffchaff called from willows by the hide. Further out, the injured Whooper Swan was around, plus 21 Shelduck.
This afternoon a text from Tim alerted me to the reappearance of the Caspian Gull he found yesterday. Things were defrosting a little when I got there, and the Caspian Gull was being grilled by Tim, Chris and Jack on arrival. A classic first-winter with 45degree stance on long pale flesh legs, with a small head and long pale-based bill and long wings. A tiny amount of smudging around the eye on an otherwise white head, set off by a neatly marked nape shawl. There appeared to be a number of second generation pale grey scapulars, plus solid dark brown tertials with only a hint of a pale edge. This bird sports a yellow darvic ring, though distance prevented the code being read. A bit after 3.30, the bird headed off high to the south with other gulls, presumably to roost on the Humber.

Saturday 14 January 2012

Not a rough-leg

On Sunday, during the bird race, John B saw a Buzzard from Bank Island looking north towards Cheesecake Farm. He took a couple of record shots. The bird had pale breast and head, bright white Goshawk-like undertail coverts and a square black belly patch, sharpy demarcated from the pale areas. The upperparts appeared solidly dark, with no white on the coverts or mantle like in many 'pale' Common Buzzards. Later, we got brief views of the bird sitting on a hedge before flying off. In the brief flight view I was disappointed with the tail which appeared not to be Rough-leg like.

On Tuesday, I was in the area enjoying the wildlife spectacle that is Wheldrake Ings (21 Shelducks, 23 Pink-feet - see photos below) and I thought I should see if the buzzard was about. I popped into Bank Island and saw the bird in the same spot. This time, it was sitting side on and slightly closer and identified it as a Common Buzzard, due to structure (tail longer than wings, no shaggy trousers, large prominent bill, not particularly long wings in flight etc) and plain brown upper tail colouration -see photo. It is interesting that a Rough-legged Buzzard was reported in flight within a mile of this location a couple of weeks earlier, presumably this bird.

Click Here for a Rough-leg I found near Yarmouth a couple of years ago.

Pinks and Shelducks
Wildlife Spectacle - The effect of the canon going off...


Had a look at the almost frozen Acaster Ings. 11 Dunlin, a Ruff, 7 Wigeon and 2 Gadwall noted. These are all good species for here, so pretty happy. Tree spugs still down by the allotments and a dogwalker said there had been waxwings at Brunswick Nursery in November.

Tuesday 10 January 2012

The Mike Clegg BirdRace 2012 - the real story Part one

As I traipsed through the dark along a muddy riverbank with three sombre blokes trying to flush a usually common, but of late (well, today) a very elusive bird,  I did begin to wonder that I should have taken up surfing

At 7am I answered the phone to an amazingly calm John saying that he had had a blow out in his truck on the A1. Yuk! Poor bloke and not the best start to his day or the teams' birdrace. With short days and short attention spans, time is key so losing an hour or so wouldn't be good, especially when John was our Johnny Marr and we needed him to find all the good stuff.

As a valid team member myself, naturally I headed out to pin down some difficult species before Russ and Andy came to pick me up as I floundered helpless or rather, transportless in Bish. In reality, I decided to have a nap and a cup of tea. On realising this would look a bit naff, I downed the cuppa and headed down the river, where I soon met up with the guys and the race was on!

Sadly, Russ hadn't washed the landy. Don't you know image is everything here in posh Bish?!

Andy on the landy

We were all over some difficult birds early on - Kingfisher, Lesser Black-backed Gull, Goosander and our only Pochard of the day, hanging with the Tufties down on Church Ings. Failed to persuade Russ and Andy that we could go back to mine for a brew, so we headed down to Askham Bog for some Woodcock and Tit action.

Despite my inability to identify calling Willow Tit (far easier than a non-calling Willow Tit) one metre from my head (that noise was my birding cred evaporating) was rectified a little by flushing a Woodcock from the exact spot where I said it would be. A quick drop into Moor Lane Pond revealed the sought Great Crested Grebe and a lot of odd glances from papershop-heading locals - and another Goosander (I really should check this spot more often). I attempted to tempt the guys with Tesco's cafe but they had wills of iron, so instead we headed into the vale looking for partridges, buntings and 'hammers, generally with great success. However, our tour of the York area's sewage treatment works began, with a rewarding visit to Naburn's plant, which stank and did not hold a Grey Wagtail. This site really was the mother of all sewage works, although the beauty at Elvington came a close second.

We did fairly well in the countryside, less well in Escrick Park, though a briefly calling Nuthatch gave itself up somewhere in the slums (joke) of Escrick village. If Russ hadn't have been checking his Facebook page again, he might have even heard it himself! By now, JB had got to Bank Island and was in full flow, nailing Marsh Harrier, Grey Wag and even a possible Rough-legged Buzzard near the oddly-named Cheesecake Farm (though we couldn't count any of these for the list). We, on the other hand were struggling to identify geese in the middle of nowhere, along the Escrick - Wheldrake road. We named them as everything, before John rang to inform us of their identity.

Shortly after 8.30, well, 11.15, the LDV race team finally came together. We were doing well, with some good species under our belt. The 'String Quartet' (Ollie Metcalf, Tim Jones, Chris Gomersall, Jack Ashton-Booth) informed us that they were having a belting time, and seemed to be just ahead of us in terms of species they had seen. And I think looks might have been on their side too...

From L to R: Andy Walker, Jono Leadley, John Beaumont, Russell Slack

We briefly saw John's cheesecake buteo which face-on looked pretty good for a rough-leg, being very pale with a sharply-demarcated solid black belly. Nice one. Sadly, when it flew the tail just wasn't right. It cleared off and we had to leave it. The Grey Wag put in another appearance flying on to Wheldrake sewage works (next to Bank Island) but Andy was checking his ample beard out and I was trying not to get run over by some Sunday birders and so only Russ and John connected. Hurrah, we would have to visit some more sewage works!

Off we pootled round the LDV checking out our well-reccied sites* (* not at all) for Jack Snipe (missed), various geese (not there) and a total of 34 different sewage works and 19 canal lock systems for Grey Wagtail. Sadly, the Grey Wagtail plague has clearly killed them all and we found nothing. Highlight was getting the 4 wheel drive landy stuck in a field. Oops.

I was anxiously wanting to get back on the 'right' side of the valley (the west side) and back to Wheldrake Ings, where I knew our list would get a good boost. However, I hadn't counted on the LDV duck hit squad being out with their canon and consequently once on site we realised that everything I had seen here yesterday had flown to Lancashire. So, no Redshank, no Golden Plover, no Curlew - sorry, there was some Curlew - and no Goldeneye - at least not until dusk anyway. Things began to hit a spirit ditch and we were all feeling pretty glum, having been confident we could really get a good total. This was exacerbated by the young 'uns who by now had beaten the previous record of 86 and were rapidly approaching 90! Doh! Good on them though we all agreed, and there was no note of sour grapes on our part at all. Oh no, none...

It was left to eagle-eyed Walker to pull a couple of  really unexpected and equally scarce LDV Short-eared Owls out of the bag to lift our spirits. Great views, followed moments later by a Barn Owl, then a calling Tawny Owl, then a squealing Water Rail (which could have actually been the noise made by long-abandoned stomach). The race was back on!

It got dark. Still no Redshank. We joked about whether we could tick Goldeneye on their distinctive wing-noise. Moments later, the whistling wing noise of passing Goldeneye helped us make the right decision! We ran into the Pool Hide where Andy and Russ were pointing into the gloom. Modern bins are fantastic and I could make out the white bodies and black heads of a pair of drake Goldeneye and could even hear their excited calls as they displayed to some unseen females. Nice! A quick tally and we were on 90! Awesome. Radio silence from now on lads. Our friends and rivals had called it a day on 90, despite still having a chance with Water Rail to get to 91. We still had a chance of Redshank in the dark on Thorganby river bank and Little Owl surely was a dead cert in the lanes around the area. So 92 was possible and a glorious victory to boot!

Round and round the lanes we drove, Andy burning the retinas out of dog walkers, their dogs, rabbits and passing motorists, with a second world war searchlight. Bemused farmers and passers by must have assumed we were lamping - for squirrels. Despite the perfect conditions, the hordes of Little Owls that usually terrorise the worms and beetles in these parts had agreed to all have a lie-in and we failed to get even a sniff. So we decided to try walking the River Derwent bank to try and flush a Redshank.

Birdracing is wierd as despite being incredibly aware of the passing of time and the loss of daylight,
your complete focus really affects your sense of reality and by dark, it felt like 10pm, rather than 5.30pm.

As I walked through the dark, I reflected on what a great day I had had with a bunch of people I didn't really know until recently and what camaraderie and fun we had shared, despite numerous set backs in pursuit of a bunch of birds. I was thrilled that we had got such a good total, but frustrated knowing we could have easily got 5 or 6 more, had we have been a little luckier. Surely 100 must be possible in the York area in January? And the good thing about all this is the money will help pay for some conservation work at a local birding site - great. So we all shook hands and went our separate ways. A great day and some cracking birding at some great sites and in great company. Who said birding sucked?

And we never did find a Redshank along that riverbank...

Immigration from outside the EU 'linked to UK jobless ducks'

The government's official advisers on migration say there is a link between immigration from outside the European Union and job losses among UK ducks.
The Migration Advisory Committee said there were 23 fewer UK duck jobs for every 100 migrants from outside the EU.
But a separate report from the National Institute of Economic and Social Duck Research (NIESDR) says immigration has had little impact and couldn’t really understand why diving ducks, such as common pochard and tufted duck would be having such a serious effect. As for the thousands of coot that arrive in the UK from the Ukraine, NIESR officials were unwilling to comment.
The government said it was working to reduce net migration.
The Migration Advisory Committee (Mac) estimates 160,000 British-born ducks have been "displaced" following non-EU immigration between 1995 and 2010.
The impact and displacement of British ducks does not last forever, it found.

Saturday 7 January 2012

Poor old Ben

This made me laugh on the iron bridge at Naburn...

Bish floods

7 Goosanders on the floods at Bishopthorpe Ings this morning. 12 flew over Keble Park at dawn yesterday.

RSPB faux pas

Slightly in poor taste to see the RSPB advertising it's garden birdwatch with a tabby cat, possibly one of the biggest predators of garden birds and other wildlife going!

Monday 2 January 2012

Start of another

Happy New Year 2012 y'all.
Customary family trip to Filey on New Year's Day marred only by shocking heavy rain and poor quality chips, but top drawer fun anyhoo. Didn't get chance to do any birding though there was a Great Crested Grebe on the sea off the Coble Landing.

Headed to Blacktoft Sands with me Dad this afternoon for the roost. 70 Pink-feet flew high over the A64 by Bish on the way out at about 12.30. Blacktoft was absolutely heaving with huge-camera-toting dudes as expected: couldn't get in Singleton Hide three hours before the roost - so headed to Xerox. Dad comically had forgotten his bins so he borrowed some off the warden - the RaSPBerries have it all covered -nice one!

13 Marsh Harriers and a ringtail Hen came in by 4pm, but the highlight was two skeins of geese that came over. The first consisted of 30 White-fronts and 4 Tundra Beans heading west - see photo. Later, 70+ White-fronts went south along the river. Despite me calling them, nobody in the hide - apart from me Dad- seemed particularly bothered and they all looked a little surprise when I grabbed my scope and legged it out of the hide for a better view. Also seen, a Stonechat, c1000 Golden Plovers, and two Barnacle Geese flew east down the Humber.

End of a year

Jack Snipe and 3 Snipe on Bishy Ings on 30th December. Spent New Year's Eve morning at Wheldrake Ings and then at Harewood Whin tip. Nothing unusual, 53 Whooper Swans, 10 Ruff, 10 Curlew, 20+ Dunlin and 2 Willow Tits at Wheldrake, nothing rare at the tip, though gulls showing well at times.