Saturday 31 May 2014

Dad birding

Walked the Old Fall loop at Flamborough and North Landing area with the family today. Very enjoyable, though the hoped for late Spring mega never materialized...Several Wall butterflies around which were nice to see. Nothing much in the hedges apart from a Lesser Whitethroat. A Cuckoo flew in off the sea and a Gropper was reeling on the head and showed nicely. Enjoyable couple of hours rockpooling later and great views of the usual auks, Kitts and Fulmar on the cliffs almost at eye-level, plus cliff-nesting House Martins. Nice to see my fave seabird, Razorbills at close quarters showing off their bright yellow gapes. Corking!

A Cuckoo gets a warm welcome from the local Linnets


Thursday 29 May 2014

North to South Gare

Picked up me Dad and headed north to South Gare. First time I have been here in years and couldn't really remember how to get there. Frustratingly, my little detour round Redcar resulted in the usual 'should have been here five minutes ago, mate' from a birder. Bugger! Anyway, not to be deterred we spent the next hour drifting south along the point scanning and scanning. Suddenly, there was a Bee-eater, sat distantly on the edge of a bush in the dunes. Awesome! We got some other birders on to the bird who were somewhat relieved as they had not showed for over an hour and these were the first Bee-eaters locally since '87 apparently. After a little while the second bird flew in and perched to eat a bumblebee on a nearby bush. The third had headed off south first thing apparently. After a while, they headed along the dunes, passing much closer to us and disappeared over towards the golf course. We drove that way and Dad picked one bird up on a bush with it's blazing gold back facing us. This time, the perched bird was at closer range and we feasted on it's beauty.

What a cracker. Suddenly, a dog walker appeared and the bird zipped off, joining the second. They headed off across the golf course. We followed them to a warehouse by a hill just north of Coatham Marsh (Tees Valley Wildlife Trust reserve) where they showed really well for a minute or two, devouring bees on the slope of the hill. They then dropped over the hill and towards the marsh and out of sight.

We headed a little south to the remote clifftop idyll of Hummersea, near Skinningrove. Amazingly, we found the site and bumped into a birder we'd seen earlier, who said the Woodchat Shrike was still showing well on the undercliff. For the second time today, by the time we arrived, the bird had cleared off round the cliff and out of sight. Doh! A few others arrived and we scoured the local area for the next hour to no avail. It was enjoyable birding nevertheless with Swifts and Fulmars cruising past and Whitethroats, Linnets and others in the scrub. I was hoping to find a Subalp or something, but sadly not. We decided to head off home as we were already very late (oops!). As we walked up the track we heard a loud whistle, so we turned tail and shot back to the cliff. The shrike had flown in just as we left and was now sitting on top of a dead bush showing beautifully! I owe that birder a pint! Only the third Woodchat I have seen in the UK surprisingly, with my first two in Norfolk and all spring birds. Two Yorkshire ticks in a day - can't be bad. And my Dad treated me to a bag of chips too. Awesome!

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Local stuff

Forgot to mention that a Cuckoo was calling early morning at Bishopthorpe on 14-15 May and a Green Woodpecker turned up at the same time and was still yaffling away near the cycle track this morning. They are pretty scarce away from the Vale of York heaths.

Outer Hebrides 2014: Birding is cool!

Here we go again! Up to the Outer Hebs for our annual pilgrimage hoping for spoons and long-tails blown in on a northwesterly wind.

Wednesday 14 May - Birding is cool

The night before our trip, we headed to York venue, Fibbers, to see my new fave Aussie artist, Courtney Barnett perform a fantastic set. The others may have been nonplussed, though Tony was very taken by the support, Honeyblood, but I loved every moment of Courtney's set. We hung out after and it was fantastic to meet her; she even signed my T shirt! I told her we were heading to Scotland to look for birds and she thought that was very cool! She is going to be a big star.  

Me with Courtney Barnett. Birding is cool. It is official.

Thursday 15 May
Headed up to Oban via our Wood Warbler spot which proved successful with a couple of these vibrating beauties seen trilling away in the newly-leaved oaks above Loch Awe. Shortly before, Steve had shouted 'raptor' and Tony pulled up on the verge, releasing me out of my nap to snap a collosal adult White-tailed Eagle hanging over the loch shore, which banked down to the water's edge and out of sight. Wow! At Oban, Steve caught up with his hoped-for Tysties (Black Guillemots) and we then proceeded to embark on the Calmac heading for South Uist. Getting on to the ferry was hindered by a seemingly abandoned black car which had been left in one of the lanes......

From the boat we got a small pod of porpoising Common Dolphins, herds of Manx Shearwaters and a few other bits and pieces. We arrived five hours later at Lochboisdale, South Uist. On the way down to the car deck, a distressed woman was saying how she couldn't find her car on the car deck. Left it in the car park in Oban by any chance?!!

Friday 16 May
The wind was nicely in the south west so we had high hopes for skua passage, particularly late morning when the wind would swing to due west ahead of a front. We headed straight up to Balranald interrupted only by a belting Otter munching its fishy breakfast on the grass next to the Benbecula causeway. Soon after arriving we picked up a Long-tailed Skua over the sea, followed by two more a little later. Hordes of waders zipped around, mostly Dunlins, Sanderlings and Turnstones all in bright summer finery, while Arctic Terns screeched overhead.

 As the front approached Steve picked up a flock of birds heading north - 8 in all; Long-tails - nice! A real thrill, though sadly moving fast and too far out for a photo. The front arrived and I had a look at the Minke Whale that had sadly beached and died just before we turned up. It wasn't clear why it had beached. It had plenty of scratches, but presumably they were inflicted as the bird was in shallow water. A sad sight.

We had a look for the Greinetobt Snowy Owl which hadn't been seen for a few days and giggled at a man who had just reported it, but showed him through our scopes that it was just a white rock! We couldn't laugh too loudly though as we had tried to string a white bucket in the heat haze last year...

Back to Balranald after the front had gone through revealed a showy Corncrake, followed by a first summer Glaucous Gull eying the dead whale greedily, while three Pomarine Skuas lumbered north off shore. Unfortunately the epic skua movement was not to be, but we were content with our lot and headed south.

Saturday 17 May
Today was a Benbecula fest, with a good look round the firing range which didn't reveal any Dotterel, though some corking Golden Plovers and Whimbrel. A smart Golden Eagle showed on the ground from the range observation station overflown by a pair of adult White-tailed Eagles. Another Golden pair and a fine male Hen Harrier were seen later near Druidibeg. Enjoyable views of the Red-necked Phalaropes at the usual site before news of a Lesser Yellowlegs at Daliburgh sent us scurrying back towards our digs. Nice views of the bird were had, hampered only by rediculously heavy rain. We sacked it off after this and went and watched Hull get robbed by Arsenal in the FA Cup Final.

Sunday 18 May
A long day round the islands started in fine style with a drake Garganey at Smerkleit where we had had a Green-winged Teal last year. Not much else of note, except Iceland and Glaucous Gulls at Ardivachar, lots of eagles of both species, Merlin on the range, two Black-throated Divers, Long-tailed Duck at Ardivachar, 48 Ravens at Ardivachar on the beach (!!) and fantastic flocks of waders on the beach at Ardivachar. Three Sanderlings were colour-ringed; I will submit the details shortly.

Iceland Gull with Eiders

Dirty big Glauc

Monday 19 May
The ferry back was long, with highlights being 18 Great Northern Divers on the way into Castlebay, Barra, a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins near Barra, two pods of Common Dolphins, prolonged views of Minke Whale north of Mull and best of all, a lone bull Orca north of Coll. Sadly for Tony and me, we missed this, probably the best sighting of the trip as we were on the other side of the ferry. Gutted!

Manx Shearwaters. One flock was being repeatedly attacked by a pair of Bonxies, which seemed to be trying to catch the shearwaters.

So, 13 hours on boats, 950 miles in the car and stacks of great wildlife and laughs. See you again next year!

Saturday 10 May 2014

The wanderers have returned

The Swifts are back, rejoice. The ultimate bird, and from my window too. Awesome!

Thanks to the Telegraph for the photo.


It was pissing it down at 6.30am when I fell sleepily out of bed. Thoughts of Temmick's Stints and Broad-billed Sandpipers got me up and at 'em and down to Hes East. Deathly quiet, save for six or so bedraggled Wheatears sitting on the bank of the lake looking a bit stoical in the face of the weather.

On to Thornton, where the wagtail field revealed one Yellow Wag and nowt else. Heading to Wheldrake I piled on to a verge south of Elvington as I spotted a tern under threatening sky. Alas it was one of a pair of Common Terns winging south, but still, my first near York this year.

Wheldrake Ings looked gloriously green and I headed round the river to Tower Hide where three smart Little Egrets pranced out on the marsh among a throng of Grey Herons. Round to Swantail where Duncan Bye was staking our the marsh. Shortly, a drake Garganey flew past, showed briefly on landing and then evaporated dream-like. It appeared tantalisingly among the water mint once or twice but remained shy.
Several Garden Warblers sang from the scrub but best and worst of all, an American Mink scuttled along the path and then dived into the ditch near Pool Hide. Only the second I have seen here. I don't think the young ducks and waders are going to have a chance.