Friday 29 March 2013

No snakes, only snow

Went up to Allerthorpe Common with the family this afternoon hoping for an Adder or too, though as it was about 3 degrees it was perhaps a bit ambitious! A lovely walk was had nontheless and the kids seemed to enjoy it, particularly when the sun shone. Highlights were an unexpected Red Kite, a stonking close Roe Buck and 27 Crossbills, some of which perched in a bare Silver Birch tree allowing close approach. Even Adelaide managed to get the bins on them. A yaffling Green Woodpecker (not that common round York), a few Siskins and a smart Treecreeper were the only other birds of note. And no, the Adders were not out!

Hawks and frostbite

Bright and sunny, so shot up to Wykeham Forest for a second try for raptors. Arrived to a deserted viewpoint, but much better conditions than the last time I was here, though the air was quite shimmery in the distance. Being a spanner, I had forgotten my gloves. Not really a problem on a normal sunny late March day, but this being the longest winter ever, it was Baltic!

Not much action until 10.30 or so, when a pair of Buzzards got up in the valley to the left. Another birder picked up what he thought was a Goshawk but I never got on it. A little later and a few more Buzzards and I picked up a large Accipter quite high over the trees. Though distant, the big 'cross shape' and bulk showed it was clearly a Goshawk. While trying to get the other birders on it, they picked up a second Goshawk, presumably the male of the pair. The two showed for a few minutes but never came closer.

All eyes were thus focussed over to the left. A few Siskins zipped over, and a couple of Curlews headed along the valley. More Buzzards. I happened to glance straight out and picked up a much closer female Goshawk complete with Persil-white undertail puffball. I got the others on to it quickly and then one of them shouted that there was a second. The two birds circled up together, with the male doing some stiff wingflaps like a short-eared owl. They were still fairly distant but you could make out the vague plumage details. I stayed with the monster female and watched her doing her thing for about five minutes, before she headed off northeast.

By now, I was losing sensation in my fingers, so I decided to call it a day. Just before leaving the remaining and recently arrived birders suddenly shouted that they had a very close Gos. I got my scope up on the circling bird immediately - female Sparrowhawk...oh well, hopefully they saw the real thing later.

I borrowed this awesome pic of a Gos from t'internet. It did not have a credit - thank you if it is yours!

Saturday 23 March 2013

LDV Aythya hybrid -a closer look

Last Saturday I bumped into the Lesser Scaup-like Aythya hybrid on the refuge at Wheldrake Ings. I was viewing from East Cottingwith. This bird was found earlier in the year at North Duffield Carrs but was usually distant. With closer views and better light it was interesting to check why we had decided this wasn't a Lesser Scaup in the first place. The features I consider to be anomalous with it being a Lesser Scaup and which are visible in these photos are:
1. Too much black on bill tip. On LS should be restricted to the nail and should not spread on to the sides of the tip. In addition the bill looks a little long and tapered to me.
2. The head shape is not quite right. While there is a good rear crown peak, the forehead is quite sloping and Pochard like.
3. The upperparts are finely vermiculated, not the coarse black and white vermiculations you would expect on drake LS.

If anybody had any further thoughts, please email me.

Big Boy

A quick look at Rufforth airfield this afternoon revealed this monster 1w/2cy Glaucous Gull. Sadly I didn't manage to get anything else before the flock was flushed by dog walkers. Presumably this bird is a male, he dwarfed the nearby Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls and was close in size to many of the Great Black-backs present. Lots of adult Lesser Black-backs present (c100) a sign of spring despite the snow and freezing easterly wind. Another birder had had a 1w Iceland just before the flock flew.

Thursday 14 March 2013

Russell Slack

Tomorrow will be the funeral of friend and fellow birder Russ Slack. He died following a short but terrible battle with liver cancer. I will miss him and my thoughts are with his family.

I had known Russ since I was young York birder though didn't really get to know him until I had actually left York and was living in Cambridgeshire. In 2002 I started a birding website mainly to promote sightings at Grafham Water which I was doing as a patch at that time. One of my mates produced a parody of one of Russ's articles called 'The Whitby Brent'. I posted this on my website and shortly afterwards saw Russ at the Birdfair, where I expected an ear bashing. True to form as I would later find out, Russ thought this was hilarious and there began our friendship.

We kept in touch a little through helping proof read some of his pages of the first edition of his classic 'Rare Birds - Where and When' and our annual catch-ups about the York birding scene at Birdfair. A few years later and I was returning to York. Russ proved to be really welcoming and kind, giving us loads of advice about living in Wheldrake, how the local birding scene had evolved etc and got me straight on to the local grapevine.

Unbelievably, only a couple of short years later he is now gone. I will treasure the birding we shared together in those places I know are close to both of our hearts, such as Wheldrake Ings and Flamborough and his absence will be felt in these places for many years.

I remember heading east for a seawatch in October 2011 at Flamborough. As dawn broke, the conditions were great and I had a quick look from just past the lighthouse while waiting for Russ to arrive. 15 minutes later I had recorded over 100 Sooty Shearwaters (an incredible start) and was literally effervescing when Russ turned up, who shrugged and said "Well, let's hope it picks up a bit". Brilliant!

A particularly enjoyable and memorable day was the Mike Clegg Memorial Bird Race which we did together in the York area, with John Beaumont and Andy Walker last January. A day full of good humour, pragmatism, great local birding and the best company - one to treasure.

I miss you mate.

Above: The motley crew at Bank Island, Jan 11. L-R Andy Walker, me, John Beaumont, Russ Slack
Below: Russ in this shot is probably reminding us of how good his very expensive thermal wellies are.