Wednesday 30 April 2014

A Wee Cracker in Scotland!

Every Spring I wonder whether I might catch up with my dream Spring bird, a male Collared Flycatcher. Ever since unsuccessfully twitching one from UEA to Cley back in '95, I have been a little bit obsessed with this species, but never really got within striking distance. I had been looking up the timings of previous records only last weekend and I realised that my hopes of finding one at Flamborough in mid- April was probably fanciful with records occurring from 30th April through to June.

On Monday, I casually checked my phone to see the news of a male Collared Flycatcher at Mire Loch, St Abbs Head, Borders (Scotland). Yikes! First of the spring and on the early side too, but with such a lot of easterly winds and lots of other eastern vagrants turning up, not totally unexpected. But why Scotland again?! Just too far....and mid week too. But hang on, I have got Wednesday booked off as leave. I assumed the bird would move on quickly, but when it was still present on Tuesday morning and the weather looking a bit dismal thus preventing it continuing on its journey, maybe, just maybe it would stay until Wednesday. Another message confirming its continued presence at lunch on Tuesday got my pulses racing. I checked the web to get more details but sadly they were a bit lacking. Nerves started to tingle. That evening was a YWT pubquiz, which meant the time flew by and suddenly, I was waking at 4.45am to the sound of the local Blackbird singing his heart out.

My plan was to head for Teeside and bird North Gare and Hartlepool whilst waiting for positive news. Then, if no news came I could head south without having wasted too much time. For some reason, the foggy, drizzly conditions changed my mind. I decided that I had a good chance of connecting with the bird as surely it wouldn't have moved in this weather? I decided to carry on past Teeside. Maybe I should aim for Holy Island which had had a good fall yesterday. But no, that was just daft; I should just go to St Abbs! I made good time and the weather got worse the further north I got. I hit the Scottish border and stopped for a coffee and a quick call to see how Vicky and the kids were doing. All was fine. My Satnav guided me off the A1 and into St Abbs. I found the visitor centre car park and was surprised to find it containing only one car. It was by this point 8.15am, so why were there no other birders here? I guess the bird had been here two days already and there had been other recent Collared Flys in this part of the world. Hopefully that was the explanation....

I walked up the track and eventually dropped down the lane to the loch. I spied a solitary birder sitting on the bank looking into the trees. Great news! He hadn't personally seen the bird, but another couple of birders had half an hour ago. So it was still here! Fantastic. I started slowly checking the trees along the edge of the loch between the old boathouse and the dam. Chiffchaff. Willow Warbler. Blackcap. Chiffchaff. Chaffinch. And then, suddenly, a bright black and white blob appeared right in front of me on a bare Sycamore branch. There it was! An absolutely stunning Collared Flycatcher! In the murky conditions, the Persil white and jet black bird just stood out a mile. What an absolute cracker. It was actively feeding from about 8 feet up and going down to the ground, almost Robin-like. I was thinking it might have been higher, but it just stayed at this perfect height. Mostly it sat on the larger boughs and branches, meaning it white underparts, broad white collar, forehead patch and wing patch really dazzled. I called the other guy, and two birders appeared. They were as delighted as me. We tracked the bird round the south edge of the loch, into the copse behind the dam and then into the scrub, where it regularly sat on fenceposts and wires. Just brilliant. It was on show for the best part of 15 minutes and then just as suddenly as it appeared, it vanished.

I spent the next hour chatting to one or two other birders notably Leon and Ian from Stoke who had had a longer journey than me and a nice lad from Falkirk. This guy was the next to refind it, when it rocked up in the same spot as I had found it. Brilliant! The bird did exactly the same route and showed really well. I decided I should try for a couple of photos though the bird moved so quick that it wasn't easy. Luckily, I contacted Jack Ibbotson the local ranger who made this collosal find and he generously sent me four of his best shots - see below. I don't have to explain which are his! Mine are the terrible two :-) The flycatcher disappeared once again and I decided I should quit and head south. Tired but elated, I put the news out and drove off to the A1.

A little later, I pulled into the car park at the south end of Seaton Carew and tumbled out to head south down the dunes to North Gare. This was a spot I discovered after twitching the White-throated Robin at nearby Hartlepool a couple of years ago and looked like it had great potential. Today, however, it was shockingly quiet, though it was early afternoon. I got to the end of the scrub and was pleased to spy a female Wheatear sitting on a tank block, with a pair of Stonechats nearby. I looked over on to the golf course and flushed a Ring Ouzel off the grass in front of me. Brilliant! So there were a couple of migrants here after all. A good end to a fabulous day.

These lovely shots are copyright Jack Ibbotson. Please visit his blog:
No collared Flycatcher

Check out that forehead patch- mega!

North Gare Stonechat

The Boy Luke (late post 21 April)

Good to see Luke the leucistic Norwegian Great Black-backed Gull again at Hes East. I am sure he will be wandering back north soon. Jack, Chris and myself managed to read his Darvic so hopefully we can at last prove he is one of the twins from Norway. His sibling turned up in Essex. A fine male Wheatear was present too.

Monday 21 April 2014

Last day of the holidays

Tried Hes East again first thing. A Common Sandpiper was my first for the year, plus a Golden Plover loafing by the lake and a fine male Wheatear by the Willow tree. A Yellow Wag flew over and both Lesser and Common Whitethroat were singing near the sports centre.

The Gropper was still reeling away this morning and I managed to get a couple of photos of it. It is remarkably confiding, but usually stays low in the brambles. At one point it flew across the track into a cherry tree and though sitting in shade, it was quite out in the open. A really nice little bird. It is interesting to see how many people walk, jog or cycle past and despite this loud weird noise emanating from the brambles, they don't even seem to notice.

Later, we went up to Staveley Nature Reserve, where we missed an Otter my minutes. A Common Tern was my first of the year, but little else of note save several Red Kites over the A1 near Boroughbridge.

Sunday 20 April 2014

Grasshopper Warbler: Potential first for Jupiter

Three visits to Hes East today as there was a widespread movement of Arctic Terns going on due to the northeasterly winds and cloudy conditions. Unfortunately, I managed to not see any! Went up to Wheldrake Ings in the afternoon too and this also drew a blank. Mike Hayes saw two individual terns at Hes East, one at about 10am which he didn't identify, and one at midday which he identified as Arctic.

My highlights from the day included a Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, Wheatear and Yellow Wagtail at Hes East; Greenshank, 2 Ringed Plovers and 8+ Black-tailed Godwits at Wheldrake Ings.

Then, late afternoon, I took the kids and dog for a walk along the cycletrack behind our estate. I heard a noise that sounded like Sol's freewheeling bike behind me, but suddenly realised he was in front of me....I turned round and sure enough, the sound of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler drifted across from the brambles back near the model of Jupiter!  I walked back and the little critter suddenly hopped up into view. It then flew across the path and landed in a rose bush where it started reeling in plain view. Unbelievable! I shot home, grabbed Vicky's DSLR and came back. After a few moments and snatches of clicks, it suddenly appeared low down in front of me where it perched out in the open. What a cracker! A few minutes later, a neighbour appeared who knows a bit about birds. She told me it had been here since Tuesday. Perhaps I should walk this way a bit more often.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Pleasant Valley Saturday

Dawn at Wheldrake Ings was a beautiful way to start the day. Curlews bubbled evocatively from a frosty meadow and the sun glowed orange as it rose in the east over Storwood. The air was full of the warbles of warblers and the piping of Redshank and a curious Barn Owl approached me closely. Round at Swantail, the Greenshank was still present, along with a Ruff, the Ringed Plover and a couple of Redshank. The Reed Warbler still sang from the reeds, but was being drowned out by the excited whirrs of several Sedge Warblers.

On to Hes East where the female Wheatear was still present and lots of Sand Martins over the lake. Little else of note. The wind has gone northeasterly, so the next few days could be exciting!

Thursday 17 April 2014

A Spring Fall

My daughter-shaped alarm clock woke me up at 5.45am, only 45 minutes ahead of schedule, so I got up and headed out east to see what a change in wind direction and weather had done for birding.

50 minutes later, I peered north on to the short sward of the golf course and was delighted to find several, err, Pied Wagtails running about. Then I realised that the golf balls were in fact Wheatears. Oh and a fine male Yellow Wagtail. 11 Wheatears in all, a fab start! Down to the head adding not much, before Mr Baines kindly alerted me to the presence of the Tawny Pipit in the sheep field, which has been holidaying here in East Yorkshire for almost a week. I walked round the gorse field, noting a singing Willow Warbler in the scrub by the lighthouse and another Wheatear atop a bush. On the wind I could here a familiar sound - was that a Grasshopper Warbler reeling or did I imagine it? On closer inspection, the sound came across loud and clear - my first Gropper of the year - nice! A little further on, I scanned the gorse again and picked up a stonking black, white, ash and fire male Redstart - splendid! Switching to my scope, I noticed there was a male Whitethroat sitting next to it. Willow Warblers flitted along the hedgerow in front of me - wow - a little spring fall had occurred!

Down to the clifftop path at the foot of the sheep field, I quickly heard the liquid 'Chilip' of the Tawny Pip as I flushed it from close to the fence. It soon alighted and proceeded to strut around like a giant cream puff on the grass, dwarfing the streaky little dark mippits nearby. It gave crippling views and even allowed me to take photos with my phone and new Sony Cybershot through my scope. Another birder pulled up next to me with the camera equivalent of the Hubble telescope and began deciphering the bird's DNA. After an appropriate grilling of the pipit, I left him to it and headed on to Old Fall, which was positively dripping in Phylloscs. Mostly Willow Warblers, but with the odd Chiffchaff thrown in to keep me focussed. Another male Redstart zipped out of the northside and perched obligingly on the leeward side of the Old Fall Hedge. While kneeling to phonescope it, my knee missed a fresh pile of Fox effluent by centimetres. My biggest piece of luck so far. The loop so far had been so good, I decided to retrace my steps all the way back to the lighthouse. I added very little apart from about a kilo of cholestrol by partaking in the Headlands Big Breakfast....

A quick chat with Mr Baines and back west I went and into the Valley. Here I quickly located Chris Gomersall's special field which revealed 12 Yellow Wagtails, 3 White Wagtails, several Pied Wagtails and a spanking male Wheatear. Bootiful! I headed down the valley to Wheldrake Ings. I was delighted to find that access to Swantail Hide was now sorted (great job guys!) and the mud on the newly scraped lagoon had attracted its first waders! Greenshank, 10 stonking summer plumaged Dunlins, a Ringed Plover, an Oystercatcher and a handful of Redshanks and Lapwings. Brilliant!! I scanned hard but unfortunately STILL could not find any Garganey. Pesky blighters. On the way back I also failed to pick out a Crag Martin or Red-rumped Swallow from the hordes of hirundines over the pool, but my first Reed Warbler of the year was a pleasing end to a simply stonking day's Yorkshire Birding.

 Flamborough. Takes some beating some days. Well, most days!

Where there's muck, there's birds.

Wheldrake Ings YWT - wader hotspot! My money is on Broad-billed Sandpiper in May. Probably when I am away for the weekend...

Wednesday 16 April 2014

Odds and Ends

18 Black-tailed Godwits on Swantail at Wheldrake Ings yesterday, plus lots of Sedge, Willow and Blackcaps in full song. Still no Garganey or rarer...

Today, had a long walk to the Deli on Bishy Road along the river. Saw my first Orange-tips of the year, plus two pairs of Lapwings holding territory on Middlethorpe Ings. A few Sand Martins and Swallows about and a Buzzard over Bish Crematorium.

Tonight, did Hes East. The only new migrant was a female Wheatear. Tried out my new camera which seemed to work ok. This pic of the Wheatear was in bad light and the bird was a dot in the distance. It ain't brilliant, but it would get through the rarities committee if it had have been a Pied. Hordes of gulls came past to roost, but I couldn't pick anything decent out.

Sunday 6 April 2014

A late Smew

Back to North Duffield Carrs first thing but still couldn't locate a Garganey! Plenty of ducks but nothing unusual. On to East Cottingwith where the flock of Black-tailed Godwits was showing well, numbering 24. Scanning through the ducks I noticed a small grey bird sleeping on a bund. It had white on the wing and looked a bit like a Smew (I couldn't see it's head at this point) but surely not in April? After a couple of minutes, it put it's head up and sure enough it was a lovely little Smew. Nice. A little later it woke up properly and went for a swim.  This seems to be the second latest Smew in the York area, the latest being a female that resided at Castle Howard until 11 April 2008.


Up early and in the Lower Derwent Valley by 6.30am. Wheldrake Ings was alive with the sound of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Curlews and the new Willow leaves along the river were a terrific vibrant green. My head was full of hopes of Garganeys or rarer. Sadly, not quite that good, but still an enjoyable walk with c20 Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits on the refuge, my first Willow Warbler of the year, several Sand Martins, c20 Ruff, a female Peregrine and an unexpected Corn Bunting.

On to North Duffield Carrs (it seems there is little water anywhere else) where scanning through the ducks I noticed a large white bird on a fencepost in the background. An Osprey! Sweet! I phoned the news out and after a while it took off and flew straight towards me, flushing everything off the water. It landed on another fencepost having halved the distance. With a decent breast band I assumed it was a female. After being mobbed mercilessly by the crows, she flew off, gaining height to the south. A little later, the ducks got up again and sure enough, there she was heading back north. She dropped in to the trees to the north of NDC and vanished. Andy and Arnie turned up just too late but a few minutes later and she got up and began circling high to the north.

Thursday 3 April 2014

What the wind blows in

This is a great weather website! If you've not seen it, definitely worth checking out to show you what birds might be being whisked our way by Atlantic depressions, southeastern airflows etc.