Tuesday 6 December 2016

Wheldrake Epic

Low water levels in the LDV so far this autumn has concentrated the birds into Wheldrake Ings. It is a pretty spectacular sight particulary if the geese and Wigeon get up off the Low Grounds to the north and move on to the Ings, as happened shortly after dawn on Sunday morning (4th December). My quick visit revealed Peregrine and Marsh Harrier, 25 Ruff, several Redshank and a solitary Whooper Swan. I think the couple of pairs of Stonechat from the other week must have drowned in the brief big flood early last week! The sun was too bad to check to see if the trio of Scaup were on the refuge.

The Autumn that Keeps on Giving!

News of a Dusky Thrush somewhere in Derbyshire on Sunday afternoon set my pulse racing; an almost legendary bird that I longed to see in the UK. The location was revealed as Beeley, just by Chatsworth House, the bird was a first-winter male and definitely not a hoax. A slow Monday passed at work enlivened by texts from Dob who was chasing the thrush round Beeley.

Too excited to sleep, Tuesday's dawn arrived, well, apparently it did, but it was so murky I couldn't really tell if it had or not. Shortly, I dropped the kids at school and headed south into the fog, spurred on by news from Tom that the bird was still present!

I got within six minutes of Beeley - according to the Sat Nav - and then to my horror I came across a 'Road Ahead Closed' sign. Not the first time that has happened this year- see here. Doh! I was on a minor road, in the fog and having been following the Sat Nav, had no idea actually where I was. 20 minutes later and I was starting to get a bit anxious but after travelling through the grounds of Chatsworth House, the Beeley Church appeared in front of me - I recognised it from Google Earth! Thank the lord - literally. Found a spot and gleaned the news from other birders that the Dusky Thrush had last shown at 9.30am in hawthorns adjacent to the kids play area. I could see these from where I had parked so had a scan. No sign, though a few people were getting a bit excited by the Redwings...

After a bit, I wandered down to check out the orchard. A couple of hundred birders were on two sides of the little orchard by Dukes Barn Activity Centre and two lads were re-roofing a hut. The resulting noise of all this gave me a rather negative feeling about the chance of the bird showing here again. This was where both Dob and Tom had seen the bird well, but I felt it was unlikely now. I spent a bit of time between here and the original bushes, but with the passing minutes rapidly turning into hours, a slight feeling of despondency crept into me. The fog was not too bad, but overhead gangs of Redwings and the odd Fieldfare headed over, mostly lost in the murk. The bird would have only had to flick across a field to another hedge and it would be lost. I had to keep positive and hope that it was set in a routine and loyal to this village. At about 12pm, I got the news - probably twelfth hand - that it had shown well on the bushes and then in the field next to the play area about an hour ago! Oh no! Well, at least it was still about. Somewhere.

After a sausage cob (what they call a bap round here) courtesy of Dukes Barn (three bangers for £2 - bargain!) I decided a stake-out of the play area bushes was in order. It seemed quite a few others had opted for this too, as the bird had not been seen in the orchard since early morning.

The play area bushes and gathered birders.

I bumped into Andy Hood and we were just chatting when suddenly someone shouted 'There!' and sure enough the little belter had dropped in to the top of the bush and was sitting right out in the open.  I got my scope on it, let Andy have a look and then drank in this Mega bird. It dropped to the edge of the bush and started feeding.

My first photo of the Dusky Thrush, with the DSLR against the fog!

Definitely well worth the wait, and a massive relief. The bird was much whiter underneath and on the face than the nearby Redwings (less dusky ironically!), with nicely scalloped underparts consolidating to form a blackish upper breast band, setting of the white throat nicely. It sported a a lot of white on the face and the big Super, contrasting with dark rear ear coverts, making this quite a distinctive bird. It flew along the hedge and landed again, proceeding to feed on the hawthorn berries, against the dark of the bushes. With this background, the colours could be seen better, with a nice gingery secondary panel being obvious. After a few berry-gulping minutes, it flew off. The relief of the 200+ crowd was palpable and there were a lot of big smiley faces around, not least mine!

Pretty poor shots as per normal. I need to not get quite so excited when I see a rare, so my hands don't shake so much.

By 1.15pm it was all over and having given it another 30 minutes I thought I would check the orchard out, make a donation to Dukes Barn and reward myself with a brew. The Dusky Thrush was thinking the same, and did a quick loop of the orchard before heading back into the fog. I never saw it again.

A couple of Ravens over, two Nuthatches and plenty of common stuff also noted. 

Big thanks to Rachel Jones @lilwag for putting the news out originally, the friendly folk of Beeley who welcomed us all (and coped with the craziness of a mega twitch) and especially the staff of Dukes Barn who were so welcoming. A great bird, a great twitch and a spectacular finale to the Autumn that keeps on giving!

Sunday 20 November 2016

Scaup etc

A walk round the north shore of Castle Howard Great Lake revealed a young female Scaup in with the Wigeon (c200) and Goldeneye (c30). No Mandarins present that I could see, but four Little Grebes and five Pochards noted. As usual in November, I was hoping for a diver or rare grebe, but sadly not today.

On to the LDV, where I bumped into Duncan down at Bank Island, which seems to be the only place with any water in the valley.

Plenty of common stuff again, with a Wigeon with a curious amount of green on the head:

A Little Egret was on the pool nearby. Headed down to Wheldrake Ings and walked right down to Swantail. Very little of note, save a male Stonechat on the Refuge, another Little Egret in front of Swantail and a couple of Willow Tits near the wind pump. Very little on the Pool, apart from 12 Mute Swans, c20 Wigeon and a handful of Teal. We need more rain!

Sunday 13 November 2016

Hanging by the pool

After our fossil fun at Staithes, which was rudely interrupted by a fast rising tide, we headed home. Stopping in Pickering to get Sol a drink I happened to notice a flock of c50 birds coming past. Waxwings!

They circled round behind some trees and appeared to land. We shot after them and found ourselves in the local swimming pool car park. Now, where had they gone? After a few minutes I spotted the bohemian minxes sitting in the top of a large Sycamore behind some bungalows.

77ish of the 110+ flock. I couldn't fit the rest into the view!

From there, they were dropping down into some berry-laden Rowans behind the swimming pool. I headed round the back of the pool with my bins and camera and suddenly realised this might not look too good to the bikini-clad folk of Pickering enjoying a Sunday afternoon swim. Fortunately, it appeared that the pool was closed, so I didn't get thrown out of the grounds by outraged locals. The Waxwings were trilling away in the top of the large tree and occasionally sallying after passing insects. Then, enmasse they dropped down into the Rowans and began stuffing their faces. Greedy gits. Sadly the light was dreary as the cloud had cruised over, so my photos were, as usual, pretty poor. However, it was nice to spend a bit of time with these endearing birds.

Oh, and I have just realised this is my 500th post on this blog.

Wishing I was (at) Skinny

On the promise of some fossil hunting at Staithes, North Yorks, I managed to persuade the family to head up north early. A little while later, we arrived at Skinningrove to have a squizz at the lingering Eastern Black Redstart (phoenicuroides). This bird came in on the big easterlies a couple of weeks ago as part of a small influx, presumably from somewhere in Asia. There have only been a handful of records in the UK, so it was well worth a mini twitch! The bird was present on arrival, happily munching mealworms left out by the birders, next to the boulder clad jetty to the north of the village. The local Robin seemed quite pleased with this hand out too. The 'start was a little cracker but sadly I only had five minutes to watch it before I had to go and do my Dad thing. Some smart Stonechats on the boulders nearby were rather smart too.

Saturday 12 November 2016

Welcome back my Arctic friends

At last a bit of water on the Ings, well, a big puddle at Bank Island, and sure enough a torrent of Arctic ducks have arrived within hours. Duncan had three Knot first thing, so I went over there once I'd sorted stuff out in homeland. The Knot were long gone towards the Low Grounds sadly, but I spent a happy hour looking through about 1,000 Wigeon and a couple of hundred Teal for a Yank duck (to no avail). 11 Shelduck, 14 Pintail, 4 Dunlin, 2 Ruff and a Redshank were noted, plus stacks of winter thrushes feasting on the berry laden Hawthorn hedgerows.

Bank Island Spectacular...

Saturday 29 October 2016

Back to local reality

The winds have finally gone west and birding has slowed on the coast. Maybe that is it for this autumn but with more Sibes still turning up in Europe, maybe there will be a few more throws of the dice yet.

Nevertheless, I only had a couple of hours of non-Dad duty today, so snook down to Wheldrake Ings. The place is looking great due to the Willow-bashing activities of Natural England, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and York Ornithological Club staff and volunteers - fab effort! Views will be much better once the site floods next month.

No water in the valley yet, so the first returning 25 Whooper Swans were happily chilling on the pool, allowing great, close views. Only six young birds present, so perhaps not the best breeding season for this group. A Jay and a Kingfisher provided a bit of colour, whilst the Wigeon flock had grown to 30 and Teal to 100. Over on Swantail, a Green Sandpiper was resting on the mud before nearly being nailed by a hunting Sparrowhawk, and nearby a pair of Stonechats were doing there thing. Dunc had four there later.

25 Whooper Swans in the photo above are in the water, with Mutes on the bank and in the water on the left.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

Old Fall Old Mate / Ale and medals

Stoked to hit the Cape with old mate Dunc Poyser. It's been a long old while since we worked these hedgerows together and boy, did we have a good day! Started with the Old Fall loop, which revealed a sprinkle of common stuff, with the best being a few Siskin over and a Blackcap. On to the clifftop, a streaky-backed bird shot low round the corner along the path, and for a brief moment, I thought this could be the big one. Sadly not, but I was quite pleased to find a solitary Twite, which flicked up on to the wire fence, posing nicely for a photo had I been a bit quicker with the camera, before it did one. As we headed up towards the Gorse Field, I could have sworn I heard a Lapland Bunting, and ten minutes later we picked up a little gang of these big Arctic buntings flying low over the stubble at Cattlemere towards the Sheep Field. Nice.

The east side of the Motorway Hedge was nicely sheltered and the birding was fizzing. A Chiffchaff behaved rare, whilst Goldcrests flitted among the Fleabane. Robins flicked out on to the path among the Blackbird. Nothing rare, but top east coast autumnal delights. Dunc needed a calorie boost and we both needed caffeine so we partook before doing the Bay Brambles. Impressive performance by Dunc with a double espresso and five (5!) sugars. I think he was trying to impress the rather attractive waitress....

Welkie Wynds next where I have been convinced I would find something this autumn....

Things seemed fairly quiet. We reached the wild bird crop just to the south of Millennium Wood. I caught a flash of something with white outer tail feathers as it dived into the top of the hedge on the west side, but my mind didn't really register until we heard a distinctive ticking. Binning the hedge revealed a little gingery dude about fifteen metres away "*&^% it's a Little Bunt, Dunc" I exclaimed (it wasn't Ed Sheeran at least). Dunc could hear it ok, but I struggled to explain which bit of the featureless hedge it was sitting on. It sat there for half a minute, calling occasionally, showing off it's lovely gingernut face off set with a black rear border and grey collar. It then took off and gave us a ticking fly past, dropping into the field. Taking off again, it flew north and alighted again on the hedge on the edge of the wood, and this time Dunc nailed it in his scope! I had a quick look and then it took off again and it did a little loop of the field before dropping back into the field. We never saw it again. It simply vanished. No photos, but big grins!

On to South Landing, we tried hard but little of note, save for a Redstart calling and then showing briefly on the edge of the sheep field. Then, a moment of magic when Dunc pulled out a close Firecrest from a gang of Long-tails and Goldcrests, almost immediately followed by conjuring up a breathtakingly close Pallas's. The birds moved towards Highcliffe and we intercepted the stripy sprites as they moved through the hedge. Corking. We tried down at the beach for a Siberian Pipit, but the half dozen Rock Pipits were immediately flushed by Kes - but we were pretty sure there was nothing unusual among them. 

Kestrel hunting sandhoppers on the strand line. Possibly.

Up the ravine we went. Redwings posed, but little else stirred.

Then the news came through from Craig T that Phil C had found a Hume's Leaf Warbler in willows by the pool along Lighthouse Road! Awesome! Dunc and me had both enjoyed the Thornwick bird, but we were keen to enjoy more stripy sibes on this fine morning, and we both agreed we needed to keep 'getting our eyes in' with this taxon. A few moments and a short drive later and Craig had put us on to the showy little khaki and grey warbler as it hopped about in the willows. I tried some shots but was rinsed by Craig's posh lens. Nevermind, you can almost imagine it is a Hume's...

The Hume's showed-off for a few minutes, allowing us all to get some nice scope views, before it melted away into the Willows. This did look like a different bird to the Thornwick one. It seemed a little cleaner and I felt the lores were paler. A very smart bird and a great find by Phil Cunningham.

We did a loop of the north side of the head, but failed to find much. In fact, there was much less bird action on the north side of the head, possibly a reflection on the southwesterly wind direction?

 Stonechat and a rusty nail.
Hebridean sheep (possibly YWT's flock) up the seaward end of Holmes Gut.

We headed to the Co-op on the way into Brid, which has a really good selection of local bottled beer. Then home for ale and medals! Top day.

Sunday 23 October 2016

Great Expectations

Back out to the Cape with Lunar and Chris hoping that the continuing easterlies combined with rain would mean we would be wading knee-deep through rares. Sadly not. We did the Outer Head just after dawn and saw nothing, save a few Robins and several Redwings. Nevertheless, great to be out on the coast again and our Great Expectations kept us going. Just round the next corner...

Plenty of rare-looking young male Blackbirds, fresh in off the sea and looking decidedly rare. Or maybe we were just getting desperate!

Giving up on the Old Fall area, we headed first for Welkie Wynds- nothing - and then for South Landing, which was in comparison, alive with birds. We soon found a very pale Chiffchaff, which although silent, looked good for a Siberian, with white underparts, a little lemon yellow on the wing-bend, tobacco-coloured ear coverts setting off a long pale super and not a hint of yellow or green anywhere on the upperparts.

We checked out the beach; still plenty of Rock Pipits but still no Buff-bellied feeding with them, just a rather lonely-looking Sanderling. Up at the sheep field, we were puzzled by a strange repetitive call, which turned out to be an odd-sounding Redstart, which then proceeded to tail us along the edge of the wood.

We decided we needed another fix of the Hume's which according to fellow York birder Rob Chapman was showing well, so we headed round there, and sure enough got cracking views as it worked it's way around it's feeding circuit, with occasional bouts of calling.

Bit of an obscured shot, but a good one of the bird's dark legs, quite different from the YBW's orangey legs.

 Sporting a hint of a greyish crown stripe and a nice grey cast to the mantle.

Dark legs again and sullied underparts, with a bit of buffy yellow around the wing bend. You can see the bird does have a bit of pale at the base of the lower mandible, but this was only really visible from below. Clean ear coverts can be seen in this pic, although not as obvious as in the pic below, where they look a bit mottled.

Fine, spiky black bill. Also, you can make out the green secondary fringes being the brightest part of the upperparts. The median covert bar is small but can be seen. Interestingly, this bird had dark lores, not the pale, open-faced lores as described on Birding Frontiers  see here

All in all, a subtle and very educational bird.

8 miles Humei

I walked a lot today. And I mean a lot. After dropping the family off at York station, I spent the day trudging round the Great White Cape looking unsuccessfully for accentors. The dearth of migrants made it a slog, though moments of magic such as the brief, trilling Waxwing in a Sycamore in Old Fall Plantation, or the flitting flock of Goldcrests moving like a flurry of leaves up the Old Fall hedge, made the effort worthwhile.

I was accompanied by Lunar who behaved well and gave me a bit of company, albeit the silent type. I walked from South Landing up to Old Fall, round the lighthouse and back. The highlight was a Waxwing, found trilling atop a large Sycamore, before heading inland. Very little else of note, save a few Blackcaps and a Chiffchaff or two. The only numerous migrant were Redwings. I spent a bit of time at Highcliffe Manor watching them feeding on the lawn. One bird looked good for Coburni, Icelandic Redwing, being very heavily streaked below, with a blackish crown, dark mantle and slight yellowy wash to the super:

This bird hopping about in the Bay Brambles the other day was much more typical of Iliacus:

As I headed back to York, I stopped at a red light in Bridlington. I checked my phone: Hume's Leaf Warbler, Thornwick! Yikes! This was a bird I really wanted to see in Yorkshire, particularly after the confusing Yellow-brow I had seen in Holmes Gut a couple of years ago, which had me worried for a while that it might be Humei  see here 

 I did a U-turn at what will always be called the 'Hume's Lights', and headed back to Thornwick.

It was getting cold and the light was fading, as were most of the happy throng who had seen the bird and were heading home. The remaining few birders including me began to think it had headed to roost, when suddenly the bird flew back into the thin line of Willows calling an explosive, Pied Wagtail-esque 'Ch-weee.' Awesome! For the next ten minutes or so, the little pale grey-green sprite showed occasionally as it moved quickly through the Willows. I managed a couple of brief but good views, although apart from the diagnostic call and general pallor, I could not have identified it on the views I had. A smart, and rather unexpected end to the day. Well done Simon Gillings, an old UEA acquaintance who found it.

Sunday 16 October 2016

East Coast Pics

A few more pics taken on the last few East Coast trips.

First up, the Bempton Bluethroat. Autumn Bluethroats are great. They are pretty scarce and just look rare! This one had taken up temporary residence on a sheltered clifftop path and was happily hopping up and down, seeking insects. It would approach within about three metres, before turning round and hopping back again. I have seen more spring Bluethroats than autumn ones, so it was great to be able to study this bird at close range.

 The bird is just visible towards the end of the path.

Nearby, two Red-breasted Flycatchers were showing beautifully in the Goat Willows by the overflow car park. I watched one bird which approached really close. Often stationary, it would call each time it took flight, or landed, a dry 'trk'. This was different to the bird from last week at Flamborough which did the typical short dry rattle. The flycatcher worked all levels of the tree, sometimes being in the umbellifers at ground level, before heading up into the tree tops moments later. A really endearing little bird.

While watching the RB Fly, a couple of Chiffchaffs showed really close too. Since the dispersal of all the Yellow-browed Warblers, Chiffs have returned to their position as the commonest Phyllosc around at the moment.

There has been an influx on Robins too during October. These continental birds behave in a much more skulking manner than the locals, flicking out on to paths, or along hedges. They have less intense, more orangey breasts and grey-olive upperparts. Everyone is checked carefully for that hoped-for Bluetail, but it looks like I have failed to find one this autumn. Nevertheless, seeing stacks of their commoner cousin thronging the Flamborough hedgerows has been a treat.