Wednesday 30 March 2016

Early Grey

Set the moth trap twice last week for the first time this year. Three species caught so far, all new for the garden. Well, new for me in the garden. Clouded Drab, Hebrew Character and Early Grey.

Early Grey (left) and Hebrew Character.

Blackcocks in the snow

A good scout round the LDV yesterday failed to reveal Duncan Bye's Slavonian Grebe, but 18 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 Whooper Swans at Aughton were a welcome sight. Several Sand Martins knocking about and the Smew was still on the refuge at Wheldrake Ings. It was enjoyable birding in the squally conditions, though the hoped-for Sandwich Tern didn't materialise.

Today, Addie and me got up rediculously early and headed north through the gathering dawn, to Teesdale, to check out the Black Grouse lek. A few miles short of our destination and shock horror - the road was closed! If you know Teesdale, you will know that to get to Langdon Beck the other way is a heck of a drive round, so I decided that I would chance it. Fortunately, the roadworks didn't start until 7am and the security guard let us through. Phew!

A little later we arrived at the Langdon Beck Hotel, but I couldn't find the spot where we had seen Black Grouse about twenty years ago. Not surprising really! We headed up the road to Cow Green Reservoir and spotted a Blackcock in a field next to the road which gave good views from the car. Whilst watching with the windows down, I suddenly heard the distinctive, bubbling and wheezing song of lekking Black Grouse. After a bit of scanning over the snow-dusted slopes, I picked up the birds about half a mile away on top of a ridge to the south. A bit distant, but through the scope we got good views of about 20 males and a couple of females, and Addie seemed pleased, if not a little bemused. This was a different lek to the one I could vaguely remember; perhaps the birds had moved. A pair of Ravens grunted overhead. As we descended, we spotted a solitary male Red Grouse standing rigid in the snow storm.

Red GrouseFifteen minutes later and the snow came in quite heavy and we decided it was best to drive down the hill a bit, so as not to get stuck. We headed up to St John's Chapel and almost ran into Dunc and Ange coming the other way. After a bit of a conflab by the side of the road, we followed them back and Dunc found the second lek next to the road at much shorter range allowing corking views. This was the place we had been to years ago, so it seemed there are two leks within a couple of miles of each other. At least 28 males displayed here with four females watching on. One male displayed in the nearest field giving great views from the car. Curlew and Snipe filled the air with their various noises and a Mippit parachuted on to the snowy pitch - a really cracking start to the day.

Battling Blackcocks

We headed east to a sunny Teesside to look for the Penduline Tits that have been hanging out at Saltholme. We found a lot of likely-looking Reed Mace, but failed to find the bandit-masked scamps.

Monday 14 March 2016

It's all about the context

Quick twitch after work to Rufforth to see a Knot which was still present on the pool between the village and the Tip. I can't honestly remember seeing a Knot in the York area before, so thought I better go and see this one just to be sure...A lovely little bird and nice to see this High Arctic species so close to home. Thanks to Steve for lending me his gear as I didn't have mine at work today.

The Murk

A misty drive around the LDV yesterday. Still couldn't get on to Wheldrake Ings due to the water levels. Little at East Cottingwith, though nice to see three or four Lapwings displaying on the higher ground and the sound of Skylarks in the air. On to Ellerton church, where I briefly saw a very weird passerine on the church wall - like a Black-eared Wheatear in a sparrow's body! It flew off and I never saw it again. Presumably some escaped weaver or something. Anyway, checked out the floods through the murk which revealed six Whooper Swans and plenty of common wildfowl. After a while an unseen threat put the ducks up and the Ruddy Shelduck came flying past looking rather out of place on a murky late winter's morning.

Next stop Aughton, where a gang of presumably migrant Whooper Swans were loafing just down from the church. Lovely birds and presumably on their way back north soon. A good number of Pochards here c134, but I couldn't see any Scaup (the 5 were reported later).

Nowt doing at Bubwith Ings or North Duffield Carrs, where the water still remains high. Tried Skipwith Common and then Thorganby.

Just east of Bubwith Bridge. High water levels.

Monday 7 March 2016

Wykeham YOC Trip - 6th March

Yesterday I led a gang from the York Ornithological Club to Wykeham Forest and coast. Here is my little write-up:

The intrepid 12 headed east from York just after 7am, on a fairly clear, cold Sunday morning. With a roadside Buzzard the only bird of note on the journey to the coast, we arrived at Filey Country Park not long after 8. Heading along Carr Naze the sound of Skylarks was in the air and a dapper male Reed Bunting sang from near the small pond. Further along, we looked north into the biting wind, noting Guillemots, Fulmars, a couple of Kittiwakes, Gannets and a Razorbill or two. We stopped next at the steps and after descending out of the wind, Jane picked up a seaduck close in off the rocks. Through our scopes, we immediately identified this as the wintering immature drake Surf Scoter! Great stuff! It was starting to become more adult like with a fine white nape, pale eye and reddish tones on the bill. He busily dived for his breakfast before drifting east and out of sight due to the bright sunshine reflecting on the sea. We turned our attention to the shore: Curlew, Knot, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and a couple of Purple Sandpipers, a Filey speciality.

9am and ticket inspection time was approaching, so we quickly headed back to the cars to avoid being caught. We headed for Wykeham Forest noting a male Peregrine powering east over the road near Leberston. We arrived at the head of Troutsdale and formed a rank along the roadside. The early spring weather was glorious, though a chill wind reminded us of the winter we never had. Both Mistle and Song Thrushes sang beautifully and shortly the first shout of 'raptor' went up, a male Goshawk which proceeded to put on a fine switchback display over the valley towards Langdale. A number of Buzzards got up and soared around. The original male Gos was shortly joined briefly by a female. Over the southern ridge another female Gos got up doing a bit of slow stiff winged flapping, before soaring round high up into the sky and giving everybody a chance to get on it. Soon there were two birds together. A female Sparrowhawk moved quickly west along the ridge. Another male Gos came across the head of Langdale, seemingly an immature male with clearly buff underparts. So probably five birds and ten or so Buzzards. Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls headed east out of Troutsdale.

Displaying Gos showing characteristic tightly-closed tail with puffed out undertail coverts, giving the tail profile almost like a Pom Skua!

We headed up Langdale End and turned off into Langdale Forest looking for the Great Grey Shrike. Sadly despite an extensive search, it failed to perform, though we did find two York birders - Mark and Nigel! A couple of Crossbills chipped about along with one or two Siskins and another pair of Goshawks distantly over Lun Brow. Most unusual was a gelatinous pile of Toad spawn in the grass. The female had not quite made it to the nearby puddle! Lunch called and the snow arrived, so we sheltered inside our cars for a well-earned rest and bite to eat.
Back to the coast via a brief stop at Hackness to look for Mandarins. This failed, but we did see half a dozen Little Grebes and a pair of Tufted Ducks, plus a few common woodland birds: Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit.
Next stop was Scalby Mills, where after worrying that there wasn't a duck in sight, we went round the corner to find approximately 300 Wigeon loafing on the rough sea. We soon found the smart drake American Wigeon which though showing in the nearest part of the flock, spent most of the time sleeping, only revealing his head a few times. Nevertheless, it was still good viewing, though not quite as exciting as when he chose to visit Castle Howard in the York recording area a few weeks ago!!

Sleepy Yank.
Castle Howard was to be our final stop and we wound our way west back into the York area. As is often the case, the Great Lake was covered in birds. A few hundred Wigeon were present, along with six Goosander, an impressive 60 Mute Swans and 68 Goldeneye, 4 male and 3 female Mandarins, two Pochard, c20 Teal and c30 Tufted Duck. Another two Marsh Tits were along the lake edge and a couple of Greenfinches were our only sighting of the day.
We wandered back and headed home after a good, varied Yorkshire day.