Sunday 25 September 2016

Back to the Head

As I reached the outskirts of Fridaythorpe, I realised I had left my binoculars in York! Now, this is not good when one is heading out birding, but this was doubly bad as I was due to lead a Yorkshire Coast Nature/East Riding of Yorkshire Council Migration Walk at 10am, and the public would be expecting me to show them birds! I rang everybody I could think of who would understand me calling them at 8am on a Sunday morning ie my birder mates! Sadly no joy directly, but the possibility of borrowing some from the YWT Living Seas Centre at South Landing, saved my bacon, meaning I didn't have to drive all the way back to York.

I picked up the bins from bemused Anna and Georgia, the two trainees who were just opening up the LSC and headed east to meet the group. With half an hour to spare, I was able to pop down the Bay Brambles, where a very vocal Yellow-browed Warbler was calling from the bushes, with two more in the Golf Course willows. Down the steps a pair of Blackcaps 'tacked' and a few Goldfinch, Linnet and Skylark flocks passed overhead. Therefore, despite the strong southwesterly wind, there would be a few migrants to show the clients!

We headed off just after ten, and with a bit of patience most of the group managed a glimpse of one of the Yellow-brows. Fortunately, they called frequently and everybody managed to tune their ears in to the distinctive call. Down the steps, one of the Blackcaps was still calling, but a male Redstart perched on a briar was a nice surprise and a new bird for several. A Garden Warbler skulking in the brambles got my heart racing until it finally showed properly, elimating a range of much rarer possibilities from my mind!

We headed round to the fog station and then did a loop of the outer Outer Head and back up the motorway, adding little else apart from a showy trio of Stonechats which delighted the clients. Back on the dot of twelve and the happy gang went their separate ways. I shot back to York for a friend's birthday lunch. Half way back, I happened to notice my daughter's Opticron bins sitting in the footwell of the car. If only I had noticed those earlier!!

Saturday 24 September 2016

Yellow-browed Invasion

Mid-week, a small stretch of Yorkshire coast witnessed one of the biggest falls of that charismatic stripy Sibe, the Yellow-browed Warbler. Flamborough recorded well into treble figures on Wednesday and Filey had over 30 the same day! Incredible stuff and it is hard to guess the real numbers involved along that stretch of coast. I was stuck in work so a bit late to get in on the action, but to be surrounded by the strident call of these tiny little phylloscs calling unseen in the Old Fall canopy was a real treat and worth waiting for. I heard at least six or sevenat Flamborough with a couple seen well. Not a lot else present apart from a Hobby that shot past. Over at Filey I 'found' a YBW at the Tip along with a female-type Redstart. In the big trees bordering Long Lane, four or five YBWs could still be heard calling and a couple showed well but briefly, moving about in the foliage. I don't get tired of these hyperactive sprites despite their increasing numbers.

YBW, Old Fall Hedge.

Sunday 11 September 2016

Yorkshire Yank Double

Packards South, Hatfield Moors

Although I had been planning to go to Spurn Mig Fest for the day, the quietness of the coast and absence of much in the way of migrants meant the prospect of a Yorkshire tick in the shape of a Baird's Sandpiper down at Hatfield Moors was too good to resist. I also fancied a trip to the area as it is somewhere I have never birded, so it would be good to check it out. It is a massive area and following some directions from a local's blog, I finally reached the New Moor cells, which were disappointingly bereft of birds. This was presumably due to a stonking juvenile Peregrine, happily bathing in a cell just south of the tramway! A lovely bird, but I scowled at it through my scope, as it presumably had flushed all the waders earlier.

Having finished his bath, the young Peg soaked up the early morning sun.

Following a conflab with a few other birders, we decided to try and find Packards South where the Baird's Sandpiper had been seen earlier in its stay. We walked a long way! Stacks of Black Darters and a few Common Darters kept the interest, but very few birds on the wet, peaty cells. Eventually, I found some waders. Only one guy had made it this far with me, and I whistled him over. Among the mix of Dunlins and Ringed Plovers was one juvenile Little Stint, but we couldn't see anything rarer. We could see another birder further along, so we carried on. On the next cell, there was a pale blob on the nearest corner, so I set my scope up and oof!, there was the dapper juvenile Baird's Sandpiper!

My first Yorkshire Baird's.

The bird was sharing the cell with about ten Ringed Plovers, and wait, a Pectoral Sandpiper! I knew there had been one around but certainly didn't expect the two birds to be together. I watched the birds, which were quite confiding for an hour and a half, well, I had walked about four miles to get here, so I may as well put some time in. The last Baird's I saw was at Paxton Pits, Cambs, incredibly about eight years ago, so it was nice to soak up this pot-bellied, long-winged scalloped little chap. The Pec Sand was being gawky as usual, wandering about along the edge of the grass, peering around with a stretched up neck. It was quite tiny, though it's long-necked, long-winged structure made it look bigger than it was. A fine, well-marked juv.

The Pec.

I strolled back, failing to photograph Black Darters with my phone. This is am amazing and big area. I am glad it was rescued from the devastation of peat cutting. Well done Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Natural England and the local conservation group for pursuing it and getting the EU to enforce the protection of the site. Shame we won't be able to use that avenue in a post Brexit Britain.

Monster Purple Swamp Beast

Inevitably, I had to twitch the Western Swamphen at Alkborough Flats as it is only a stone's throw away. A great spot and only an hour from York, Alkborough is a major Humber realignment scheme that has matured nicely into a cracking birding place. Headed down to the hide which was full, with a gang of other birders outside. Sadly, there had been no sign, though as the bird had disappeared for a day and then re-appeared, I was hopeful it would still be around. The lagoon in front of the hide was packed with birds: eight Spoonbills, two Spotted Redshanks, c100 Avocets, c50 Blackwits, c30 Ruff etc - cracking stuff. On a couple of dead trees poking out of the reedbed, were both Peregrine and a juvenile Merlin. Nice.


After an hour or so, somebody got a pager message saying the Swamp Donkey was showing from the hillside above the sewage works on a different lagoon! Nobody in the hide moved, so I left, informed the birders gathered outside and we all headed off to climb the hill. Up where we thought the message meant certainly gave a good vista, but no purple chicken was on view. I headed further along the path and came across a guy who said he was watching it, distantly, from the entrance to a livery stables. We got scopes up and sure enough, there was the red-beaked purple monster, standing on the edge of the reeds. It was on the other side of the reed bed at the back of the lagoon viewable from the hide, so close, but invisible. As birders arrived we got them on the bird but after a few minutes it melted back into the reeds.Awesome!

45 minutes passed and more birders arrived, but the bird failed to show again. I thought it might be worth heading back to the hide as it might be working through the reeds back to the main lagoon. Sadly, it did not. I decided to head home. On the climb back up to the car park, I thought I'd put the scope on the pool just to check, and incredibly, the Swamphen was sitting back on the edge of the reeds! Simultaneously I got a message from James Robson saying the bird was showing from the livery, so thankfully those patient enough to wait had been rewarded.

Now we just need to see if this is accepted as the first record for Britain...

On the way back, c1,500 Avocets on the mud near Read's Island was cosmic. The last time I was here was watching a White-rumped Sandpiper back in 1995 and I could never have imagined this number of Avocets in Yorkshire back then. Staggering!

North Cave Crake

It's been a little while since I have seen a Spotted Crake, despite hearing a few, so the prospect of a showy bird at YWT North Cave Wetlands was too good to miss. NCW was full of birds and a really enjoyable evening was had looking for the crake, which eventually showed feeding along the reedbed at the northern end of Reedbed Lagoon. Also seen, two Water Rails and two Greenshanks.

Spotted Crake: not quite in the same league as some of the stonking photos I have seen!

An interesting bit of behaviour involved the crake swimming, with Moorhen-esque head nodding across a patch of water. The crake seemed quite confident in front of the local Water Rails, which were much more skittish and didn't approach too closely.

Leftover August Drift

A few bits and bobs were leftover from the easterly drift the previous week in Norfolk. Nothing too rare, but standard fare including a showy Red-backed Shrike at West Runton and a Wryneck at Weybourne Camp. Plenty of Willow Warblers and Whitethroats moving through, with a scatter of Wheatears flashing about, and a few Whinchats to keep me interested. Sol seemed quite keen to add a few species to his brand new British List and was especially happy to get Wryneck up on his big sister, who missed it due to horse riding.

 Red-backed Shrike, West Runton
 Wheatear, West Runton
Whinchat, West Runton
 Wryneck, Weybourne
 Sol scoping his first Wryneck
 Mediterranean Gull, West Runton. Several of these lovely larids loafing about most mornings.

Little Stint, Frampton Marsh.

Stacks of Graylings in the Dunes at Winterton.

Family Fun

After a couple of days at Birdfair, met up with the family and headed east to Norfolk. Camped under canvas, having sold the Bongo a couple of weeks earlier, at Northrepps. Checked out a few old haunts, such as Breydon Water and Winterton Dunes, and tried to find some migrants on the coast early in the morning. Sadly, the wind had gone back westerly, and not a lot turned up, but the weather was glorious and a fab time was had. Visited Frampton Marsh, Lincs, on the way up to Derbyshire which turned out to be fantastic, with 97 Curlew Sandpipers and eight Little Stints. One of the best wader spots I have been to in recent years and somewhere I will return to no doubt.

A couple of phonescoped shots of a juvenile Curlew Sandpiper from Titchwell. It has been an incredible autumn for these elegant guys with up to 267 at Frampton Marsh and many others elsewhere, numbers not recorded since the 1980s. It seems that this has been down to the easterly winds in mid-August drifting birds across the North Sea on their way south. They have clearly had a good breeding season as the birds are virtually all juveniles, with the adults having headed south earlier in the month. Whether the high number of birds indicates a 'Lemming Year' on the Tundra where these guys breed, meaning less predation by Arctic Foxes etc on birds, or not, is another matter, with some authorities saying that Lemmings do not have such boom and bust cycles any more. Either way, it is an absolute privilege to see good numbers of these birds. One interesting behavioural feature, was to see how they would often sink their bills in the wet mud right up to the face, often successfully extracting a small invertebrate by doing so.