Sunday 25 January 2015

The Vertical Stripe

Drowning in thrushes and chats whilst writing my section of the YNU bird report, I decided I needed a couple of hours break, so picking up new colleague Tom Marshall, we headed down the LDV. It was a gloriously sunny morning and we had a look first at the Refuge from East Cottingwith, which revealed herds of 12 and 9 Whooper Swans, but numbers of duck were down...albeit briefly! We looked to the southeast and line after line of ducks were coming in from the Humber. Presumably frozen out of the valley last week, they were now returning and in spectacular fashion. Virtually all of these birds were Teal, several thousand of them. They all dropped in to Wheldrake Ings - wow!

Still very little water in the valley and so we headed round to North Duffield Carrs. Tom had asked whether we got any rarer ducks with the hordes of Wigeon and Teal and I casually remarked that it was likely American Wigeons and Green-winged Teals did turn up every now and again but were probably often lost in the massive flocks of their European cousins and so went undetected. Looking out of Geoff Smith Hide at NDC I started to scan through a collosal flock of Teal, all looking stonking in the beautiful late winter sunshine. And suddenly, I latched on to a vertical white stripe. Was I imagining this? No, sure enough, there was a cracking little drake Green-winged Teal! Unbelievable. After disappearing for a bit to have a kip in some grass,  we went round to Garganey Hide and despite the teal flock being a bit jumpy and taking off occasionally, we managed to keep track of the bird and to get arriving birders on to it. Apparently the bird was flushed just before midday and wasn't seen again (the bird was refound again today).

This is the first GWT I have seen in the York area since the bird at Newburgh Priory in March 2011, and my first in the LDV since 1997! GWTs have a place in my heart having been the first 'rarity' I ever saw, at Fairburn Ings on 16th February 1985. I was aged ten.

Sunday 18 January 2015

Half a month

After the amazing end to 2014, 2015 has been a little lack lustre on the bird front for me. Went up to the north end of the Dales with the family on 2 January which was a great, if not freezing day. Saw a first winter Glaucous Gull fly across the A1 near Catterick and more intriguingly a pale brown Starling with c20 Starlings flying west over the A1 somewhere south of Catterick...Up in the Dales, three Blackcock were in the usual fields with several Red Grouse and a pair of Ravens nearby.

4 January 2015
Spent the day birding the York area having failed to get a Bird Race team together. Had a great day amassing 91 species plus a possible Caspian Gull. Highlights included Pink-footed Goose, Grey Wagtail and Nuthatch at Castle Howard (the latter two species having eluded us in 2011), Jack Snipe and Chiffchaff at Hes East, Grey Partridges and Peregrine down the Tillmire, 2 Woodcocks in Askham Bog, Bewick's Swan found skillfully by Rob Chapman at North Duffield Carrs and then a possible Caspian Gull at Wheldrake Ings late afternoon. Very pleased to see a Barn Owl come out of the nestbox we put up back in the summer with ITV's Liz Bonin too! Congratulations to the three York teams that took part, with the winners the String Quartet who scored 97 species.

Some pics from the day:
 Castle Howard at dawn.
Skipwith Common 
North Duffield Carrs - not much water in the Lower Derwent Valley currently.

 Not a very convincing shot of a first winter Caspian Gull candidate.

 Wheldrake Ings late afternoon - view from Swantail Hide

Dusk at Wheldrake Ings, looking SW over the refuge

11 January 2015
A week later and it was my turn to lead a YOC trip round the Lower Derwent Valley. A very pleasant day, with the highlight being prolonged views of a Red Kite over the flood at Wheldrake Ings.

Phonescoped pic of the Red Kite.

Early in the New Year the water went over out of the Ouse and there is a good patch on Acaster Church Ings just south of where I live. Yesterday, 17 January this held 20 Pintail (my highest ever count here), 27 Wigeon, 10 Teal and 9 Gadwall. c20 Goosander flew over south too. On 14 January I saw a Barn Owl near the farm just south of Acaster Bridge, the first I have seen round here for ages.

Thursday 1 January 2015

1 January 2015: Happy New Year!

Well, will the birding in 2015 live up to 2014? I had many highlights in 2014, including catching up with four Yorkshire 'firsts': Black Scoter at Redcar in June, Masked Shrike at Spurn in September, Eastern Crowned Warbler at Brotton in October, and Blyth's Pipit near Wakefield on Christmas Eve.

Add to this a sprinkle of other crackers, notably the Budby Common Parrot Crossbills in January, stonking views of Goshawks in Wykeham early in the year, Tawny Pipit at Flamborough in April, my dream spring vagrant, male Collared Flycatcher at St Abb's Head also in April, a lovely trip to the Outer Hebrides in May, Bee-eaters and Woodchat later that month at South Gare and Hummersea respectively, great views of Long-eared Owls in the York area in June, the spectacle of Coquet Island and the Farnes, finding Tansy Beetles by the river at Bishopthorpe, finding Wryneck at Spurn during the Mig Fest in early September, finding a brace of Barred Warblers at Flamborough later that month, corking views of my first Yorkshire Radde's Warbler at Flamborough in October, a trio of Yorkshire Rough-legged Buzzards in November, and ending with the epic finale of the Little Bustard at Fraisthorpe on New Year's Eve.

Moth trapping was on the up, with a new moth trap purchased in mid summer enabling me to catch some corkers in the back garden. I am looking forward to the new season starting soon. 

There have been a few lows too: not being able to find the York Kumlien's Gull early in the year; dipping a bull Orca in the Minch on the way back from the Hebs; not being able to escape work to Flamborough for the Crag Martin; not being able to nail a possible Pacific Golden Plover during Mig Fest that flew over the Warren calling, and disappeared into the vastness of the Humber. Also, Terek Sandpiper still managed to elude me, despite one being 'gettable' at Covenham Reservoir in spring, and a wagtail that flew past me in Dorset in late August was almost certainly a Citrine, but it didn't stop flying, and avoided the clinch.

So, all in all not a bad year wildlife wise.

Collared Flycatcher, St Abb's Head (photo courtesy of Jack Ibbotson). Though not the rarest by a long shot, this was definitely my favourite bird of 2014.

An amazing end part 2

And if the Blyth's wasn't good enough, a Little Bustard rocked up at Fraisthorpe near Bridlington on New Years Eve prompting a mad dash east to the coast. The first in Yorkshire since 1956, the bird was surprisingly confiding, happily walking about in a rape field occasionally sampling a leaf or two. On one occasion it flew about 30 metres revealing large white wing panels.


An Amazing End to a Fab Year

Christmas eve gave me the chance to finally catch up with the Calder Business Park Blyth's Pipit which showed well to about me and another bloke perched nearby in an Ash, on the edge of the grassland near the KFC.  Earlier we had had a brief flight view over the favoured bit of rough grass.