Saturday 30 January 2016


It felt cold out today. Had an hour or so late morning in the Rufforth area. There was a handsome first winter Glaucous Gull on the airfield and a first winter Caspian Gull. Phonescoping was a bit tricky in the wind and with frozen hands! A Peregrine was hunting and this was making the birds a bit jumpy too.

Went down to the flooded field near the village and there were two more Caspian Gulls there, showing really nicely in the sunshine. Shortly, a snowstorm came in on the biting wind and I fled.
Later, I came back but the gulls had mostly gone, but two Short-eared Owls were hunting the fields, being tossed around like bags in the wind.

Tuesday 26 January 2016

Otterly fab

It has been a pretty hellish year or so work-wise due mainly to one big issue that is rolling on and on. Today, a meeting at Staveley, followed by a walk round the Trust's nature reserve adjacent to the village with colleagues and local volunteers, reminded why I do this job, and despite what some people think, the Trust (collectively the staff, vols, members and funders) is doing some great stuff for Yorkshire's wildlife.

What a cracking site Staveley is. The Trust had just bought a major extension when I arrived in 2010 and five years on, it looks brilliant. The big central meadow which has been reverted to a wildflower meadow looked cracking, and the wet grassland, reedbeds and scrapes around the new extension teemed with wildfowl and waders. The passion from the local guys gushed and we spent a happy couple of hours discussing the wildlife of the site as we walked round.

Highlights were a dog Otter which was busy fishing for fry (and one small Eel) in the eastern lagoon for about thirty minutes allowing great views. Sadly, my pics were not great. All the ducks were staying away but a couple of Mute Swans seemed quite interested and followed it around. This has to be one of the most reliable places to see Otters in Yorkshire. Later on, we looked at a trail the Otters have made where they cross from the lagoon into a drain and then over into the west lagoon. There was spraint deposited and I couldn't resist a sniff! A definite bouquet of Sweet Vernal Grass....Nearby, I heard a Water Rail and saw a Ruff flying about with the Lapwings. Also, c100 Wigeon counted, three Goldeneye and quite a lot of other wildfowl.

If the Trust hadn't raised the money (from HLF) to buy Staveley it could have been landfilled or turned into a jet skiing centre which would have been a tragedy and caused much damage to the original reserve. As it is, it is now a brilliant wildlife site and will be protected in perpetuity.

 Otter between two Mute Swans.

Smew and stuff

Nipped out to Rufforth to have a look at the gulls lunchtime on Friday, as for once, I had a car to hand. Worth the trip with two very smart first-winter Caspian Gulls loafing on the airfield along with a very keen Chris Gomersall who had been there all morning and seen a selection of stuff.

Caspian Gull, on the left at the front.

On Sunday took the kids out for a walk but the water was so deep in the LDV that I couldn't wade or drive through the flood to get on to Wheldrake Ings for risk of being swept to a watery death. A distant bit of scoping revealed 40 Curlew heading over, which is the most I have seen round here for a while. We headed south to Thorganby which proved to be a bit of good fortune when a small, sleek duck twisted past and landed with a splash on the floods - a female Smew! Nice one. The first in the York area this winter. Unfortunately it was a bit distant to get a photo and I had forgotten my phone. Vicky leant me hers so at least I could tweet out the news. Lots of common stuff on the water and a Barn Owl flew past nice and close allowing the kids both to see it. Smart.

Sunday 17 January 2016

Hot Gos

Into the Forest, one of my favourite places. It looked stunning today, with a fair amount of snow lying, lit up by sunshine. It was colder up here, with the car thermometer reading -1. Stopping at my first vantage point I couldn't believe my luck when within minutes the stiff-winged slow flap of a displaying female Goshawk came in over the ridge from the north hotly pursued by her smaller suitor. I watched them for a minute and decided I wanted better views, so I hightailed it down the valley - big mistake - I didn't see them again!

Heading further west I briefly saw another Gos, but she disappeared behind the ridge all too quickly. This was getting tantalising! I moved further, negotiating the snowy road and pulled in at another favourite spot. Scanning the southern ridge revealed nothing, but suddenly a Gos called from the wooded knoll behind me- and it was close! I walked quietly up the road and suddenly saw a raptor fly off through the trees, I retraced my steps and amazingly, the bird casually came flying along the top of the wood and landed in the top of a Scot's Pine - unbelievable! The bird was a big immature female and was only a field away from me! I got the scope on her: she was a big buffy beast with big drop-shaped black streaks on her underside and a chocolate brown upperside. Her eye was yellow, not the orange of the adults. She glowered around and then took off before I managed to get a photo, and dropped into the wood. A few tense minutes later and I heard her calling again, and then boom, there she was, flapping over the canopy again, she cruised round and passed right in front of me - what a view! She flew in big lazy circles round the copse, just above tree-top height, making three or four passes in front of me. Suddenly, another bird came out and sparred with her briefly - an adult male Gos! She headed off back into the copse - I didn't see where the male went. A fabulous start to the Goshawk season.


Surf's up, but not today

Headed to Filey which looked stunning in the winter sun. The tide was in, so I walked the full length of Carr Naze and dropped down the end. A single Snow Bunting flew north calling. Two birds just offshore proved to be Great Northern Divers - nice! They were joined by two Common Scoters, but try as I might, I could not find the Surf Scoter that has been hanging out for a few weeks, even with the kind help of Mark Pearson. I dropped down on to the Brigg and had a look at the waders, adding a couple of Purple Sandpipers to the yearlist. Plenty of auks off the Brigg, but I couldn't find anything rare. After soaking up beautiful views of the majestic loons (which seemed to both be adults), I renewed my efforts to find the Surfy, but to no avail. Next stop - Wykeham!

Richard's Pipits

It dawned clear and bright, with frost on the car and snow on the Wolds. The orange sun rose as I passed Bridlington and dropped down to Flamborough. I had the place to myself so walked round the grass field (owned by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) to the east of North Landing. Sadly, the three Richard's Pipits were nowhere to be seen, with two showy Rock Pipits and a single Meadow Pipit being nice, but little consolation. After checking a few more fields, I headed back to where I had started and scanning the first field, there were three large buffy pipits - surely these must be the Dicks! No sooner had I scoped them than they took off and flew calling down to the bottom of the field, where they started feeding happily in the early morning sun. I watched them for the next hour or so, noting their pale lores and checking out their median covert bar, to see whether I could pick out the pointed dark tips to the centres of the adult median coverts - I could, but it wasn't easy! The pipits showed well but did not come closer than about 20 metres. They walked purposefully through the long tussocky grass, occasionally stopping for a few moments to look around, particularly if the local gulls started calling. They were presumably well aware of the threat of the local Peregrine. Whilst watching the trio, a Water Rail suddenly squealed in the ditch in the gulley behind me - unexpected to say the least! I managed at least one shot with all three in the same frame, but it wasn't easy as one of the birds seemed less clingy than the other two. Smart birds.

Sunday 10 January 2016

Wandering about

Bit of local birding this weekend. Yesterday, I checked out some big flocks of gulls in the fields along the ringroad, before moving on to Rufforth where I joined Chris Gomersall to look at a wet field which was pulling in lots of birds. Chris picked out a first winter Glaucous Gull that was having a wash in a pool in a muddy field. It seemed to be getting dirtier the more it washed. A leucistic Herring Gull (1w) on the airfield nearby was interesting and a Short-eared Owl was hunting over the usual field near the village.

Today, headed down the LDV but the floods were massive and everywhere was either inaccessible or the water was so deep there was very little to be seen. The road either side of Bubwith Bridge was flooded and a bit hairy; I wasn't convinced I would get through with the water streaming across, but it was alright and I held my nerve... Ellerton Church proved the best for birding, with c20 Whooper Swans, 62 Shelduck (amazing mid-winter count showing how mild it has been to date), 7 Redshank, c500 Lapwings, 10 Pochard visible. Two Egyptian Geese were by the pool at East Cottingwith. I couldn't get through to Sutton or Thornton the usual ways due to flooded roads, so went round via Allerthorpe and ended up on the Common, so I thought I'd have a look for last week's Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that was found on the Birdrace. No sign, sadly, but I'll try again in a few weeks time when it might be calling. Looks a reasonable area for a pair, with loads of birch and plenty of old veteran oaks.

The road is still impassable down to Acaster, so who knows what's on the floods down at Church Ings....

Sunday 3 January 2016

Welcome to 2016

Spent five days in the Great Glen, staying on the south shore of Loch Lochy. Passed through Pitlochry on the way up and popped into the Cuilc to see the smart drake Ring-necked Duck. A lovely bird, hanging out in this very picturesque spot with ten Tufties. Didn't do much birding in the Highlands, but saw a fine immature Golden Eagle up Glen Roy on 30th December. The real highlight was seeing the Northern Lights on New Years Eve between 11.30pm and 12.15am. It got really good at about 11.55pm with vertical curtains appearing. It was all bright enough to light up the snow on the mountains across the loch - simply stunning. We got Addie up to have a look but we couldn't wake Sol sadly.

Headed back south on the 3rd and stopped off at Caerlaverock WWT which I hadn't visited since I was about 14. c2000 Pink-feet in the fields nearby, with c500 Barnacle Geese and 100 Whooper Swans providing a wonderful spectacle. A first winter drake Ring-necked Duck (brown feathering along the upper flanks) was on one of the lakes and nearby, a drake Green-winged Teal was kipping on an island in Folly Pond. A lovely way to spend Christmas week and we even got a bit of snow up Aonach Mor on New Year's Day!