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.

Saturday 15 October 2016

Trans Siberian Avian Express

The easterly wind has continued blowing and things have gotten a little bonkers on the East Coast! Following my message last Sunday about Britain's first Siberian Accentor on Shetland, all hell broke loose in Yorkshire, when Britain's second SibAcc was discovered quietly poking about in Easington, East Yorkshire! Friends and colleagues nearby were soon ringing to tell me what a cracking little bird it was that they were watching and that I should go...if only! Sadly, I was at work and also was due in the pub for welcome drinks with a new colleague.

At 01.45 the following morning, I woke up and a mixture of slight hangover and excitement for the day ahead prevented any further sleep. I got up at 5.15 and got my gear together before heading into York to pick up Chris Gomersal. Sadly for Chris, he had had an even worse night, having dipped the SibAcc by thirty seconds the previous day! Well, we headed east, both incredibly anxious about whether the little Siberian waif would still be there when dawn broke, but also excited about the possibility of seeing this cosmic bird.

Just over an hour later and massive mutual relief as news came through that the bird was still present. We turned up having been assisted by volunteers from the Spurn Bird Obs, and following a walk and a queue were soon watching the Siberian Accentor feeding unconcerned on an area of mossy gravel, right out in the open, oblivious to the 500 birders all frantically trying to see it. A combo of shaking hands (big adrenaline rush seeing this bird) and the twilight of the early morning meant my photo attempts were hopeless, but you can just about make out what a stunning little bird it was.

The SibAcc queue. Probably about 200 birders at this point c8am.
Surprisingly quite a bit smaller and noticeably paler than the nearby Dunnock, with a striking dark head set off with a grey stripe and two startlingly creamy yellow supercilia. A very handsome bird. We quickly moved on to let others in for a peek.

I suspect nobody has got a worse photo than this of the Easington SibAcc!

The day felt rare. I guess it helps to have seen a second for Britain - a near mythical Sibe - before 8am to make you feel that, but the strong easterly wind, spots of rain in the air and the large numbers of thrushes etc around added to the anticipation.

We headed north to the Great White Cape, partly to escape the hordes of twitchers that would be descending on Spurn and partly to have a look for the Paddyfield Warbler on the Outer Head, which would be a Yorkshire tick for me.

A frustrating hour later, we arrived at the lighthouse. Remarkably, nobody was down the motorway hedge looking for the Paddyfield, but we soon realised why, when scanning the big field to the south of the Gorse Field (which is south of the lighthouse) revealed it to be heaving with birds.There had been three Shore Larks here yesterday. Shortly, Chris picked up five Shore Larks feeding among the remnants of the set-aside that had been recently sprayed off by the farmer. Smart, greyish larks with lemon faces and neat black bandit masks. We got some other birders on to them who seemed to be struggling to find them. Flocks of Linnets, Skylarks and Mippits swirled about. A Richard's Pipit got up out of the stubble higher up the slope, 'Chreeped' several times then dropped in and vanished. Cool! A little later a very well-marked pipit, with a buff breast and finely-streaked white belly had us worried briefly, until it turned, showing a streaked back and not a particularly striking face pattern - a Tree Pipit! Nice, but not the hoped-for OBP.

We couldn't pull out anything better, though a single Northern Wheatear was nice. The field felt like it had more to give, but we decided we really should be looking for the Paddyfield, so we switched out attention to the Motorway Hedge.... 

Northern Wheatear.

After 20 minutes or so, we felt we were wasting our time and so decided to head round to Old Fall. Just then, my phone rang. Rich Baines. Rich asked if I was at Castlemere. I said no, but at that point I did not know that the big stubble field was called that. Rich explained that that was where we were and why it said on the Whatsapp group 'Richards Pipit, Cattlemere, Jono Leadley'! Rich then hurriedly told me that a chap called Dave Pearce had seen a wheatear in the stubble field with dark on the throat and that was possibly a Black-eared or Pied Wheatear. Yikes! Rich instructed me to go and find it. We turned back and hurried back to Cattlemere. A group of birders were standing at the bottom of Motorway where it dog-legs. They all seemed to be scoping the field - they must be watching the bird- fantastic!

We hurried over and I asked the first of the guys if they had the wheatear. To my surprise, one replied that no, they were looking for Shore Larks. I moved on to the rest of the gang and they concurred with the first. Doh! I explained there was an interesting Wheatear around. They said they had seen a Northern. So had we!

We started to scan frantically and within a few seconds, Chris said "Jono, there's a Wheatear on the clifftop". I scanned across to where he was looking with my scope just in time to see a small Wheatear with jet black underwing coverts, a pale belly and a big white tail zip off across the grass. I shouted that we had got the bird and it landed after a few metres on the top of a weed. I could see pale edges to the mantle feathers, a mottled dark throat and a big white tail with a narrow black tip - a first-winter male Pied Wheatear!!! BOOM! Chris and myself got everybody on to the active little bird, which seemed to be moving across the field towards us. I got on the phone to Rich to let him know and then Craig Thomas.

For the second time today, the combination of shaking hands and poor light meant my photos were lousy! Chris managed better:

Craig arrived at a gallop. The bird was feeding frantically and moving east across the field all the time. It hopped over the fence at the bottom of the Motorway and on to the grasslands. It started moving down the path through the middle of the field and gave great views. Chris got another photo:

Tony Dixon got some amazing photos as the bird hopped along the path towards him - see here.

Suddenly, and for no apparent reason, the bird flew, briefly landed on a bramble, which would have made a brilliant photo as it had the North Sea in the background, then headed off west behind the lighthouse and away. I rang Rich to let him know - sadly, they hadn't quite made it over from Old Fall. The bird showed for c20 minutes and was then gone, leaving us all exhilarated if not a little bewildered.This bird must have just come in and had now vanished as quickly as it had appeared. A magical moment.

After a brief detour to South Dykes where I realised the message about the Red-flanked Bluetail being present was an old message from yesterday - doh! We returned and Craig dropped us a the Old Fall steps and we walked the plantation. It felt like new birds were coming in. There was a steady passage of Goldcrests coming north up the hedge and small gangs of Redwings and Song Thrushes were moving inland all the time. Sadly, we didn't manage to maintain the calibre, although a Firecrest was lovely as always in Old Fall Plantation, plus a Woodcock, Blackcap and several Chiffs. Goldcrests were everywhere and some were even in the winter wheat!

We were running out of time as being Birding Dad, I had to be back in Bish to pick Sol up from school. We had a quick walk of Welkie Wynds, adding a smart Redstart, another Woodcock and a grumpy Ring Ouzel to the day list. The day still felt like it had more to offer, but sadly not to us, though the combo of a second for Britain, our involvement in confirming the Flamborough's first Pied Wheatear since 1988, and the sheer spectacle of east coast birding at its best will live long in the memory.


The easterly winds have created a Trans Siberian Avian Express and Europe has recorded an incredible 36+ Siberian Accentors within the last fortnight. Today, as I write, a third SibAcc has been discovered, this time in Cleveland. Unbelievable scenes! Old Fall has two Radde's Warblers and nearby a Dusky Warbler - all fresh in birds carried over from Asia. Best autumn on the east coast ever? Quite possibly!!

Monday 10 October 2016

East Coast Mayhem!

Following a rather quiet birthday at Flamborough, things panned out massively on the east coast from Shetland down to Yorkshire as a result of an easterly conveyor belt which brought stacks of rares, culminating in an epic finale of Britain's first Siberian Accentor on Shetland yesterday afternoon. As for me, I dipped an Albatross, saw my second Yorkshire Eastern Crowned Warbler, which was only the fourth for Britain and enjoyed a supporting cast of Arctic Warbler, Pallas's Warbler, Bluethroat, two more Red-breasted Flycatchers etc. An awesome week!

Here is a taster:

Eastern Crowned Warbler, Wednesday at Bempton (thanks to Mark Pearson for photo)

Pallas's Warbler, Saturday at Thornwick (thanks to Chris Gomersal for Photo)

Red-breasted Flycatcher, Sunday at Bempton

Bluethroat, Sunday at Bempton

Monday 3 October 2016

Birthday at the Cape

Dropped the kids then on to Flamborough for my birthday birding sesh. Holmes Gut first up where I bumped into Jim Morgan ringing. He had trapped three Yellow-browed Warblers already and almost to prove a point, one called loudly from the willows nearby!

I headed into the Gut but apart from the noisy little sprites, a Lesser Whitethroat, three Blackcaps and a Redwing, all was quiet. A little later Tony rang, so after a quick walk round North Landing - nada - I drove over to the lighthouse to hook up with him. From here we did the Old Fall loop. Yellow-brow in the sycamore by the car park, Whinchat in the Gorse Field with a mystery bunting which flew before we could scope it (but probably just a Reed), several Yellow-brows in Old Fall Plantation, and after a few minutes the Red-breasted Flycatcher showed well on the south side. Some birders had been looking for it for an hour or so, so were quite pleased when I pointed it out to them. There were a couple of Chiffchaffs here that were calling oddly and were very pale with lime green wing edgings and tail, possibly Abietinus. Their underparts were silky white, and in some respects looked Bonelli-esque, save for the strong face pattern and black legs. A Spotted Flycatcher sallied from the tops of the sycamores. Nice. We celebrated with a cold can of beer. Well, it is my birthday!

 This is what Old Fall birding is like! Spotting tiny, leaf-coloured leaf warblers, among the leaves.

Presumed Abietinus Chiffchaff.

We walked back the way we had come, failing to see much else. We checked the bay brambles area to no avail so opted for South Landing, via Milennium Wood, where we dipped a Little Bunting that had been showing just before we arrived. Not very fair on my birthday! We did however see a Peregrine cavorting with a rather bored looking Buzzard and more excitingly, we flushed a Tree Pipit which called in disgust as it flew away into the distance. We pondered whether it could have been an OBP, as the call didn't seem quite right for Tree, but we were probably just wishful thinking. This isn't the first time I had had a Tree Pipit/OBP scare on my birthday - see here.

It is also not the first Little Bunting I have dipped recently at Flamborough!

We checked out South Landing for half an hour which revealed a couple of noisy Yellow-brows and a solitary wheezing Brambling, but nothing else. I said goodbye to Tony, and went home. Top day.


Yesterday the wind swung round to the northeast as forecast so I was up early and soon found myself scampering down to the fog station at Flamborough Head. The wind seemed too, well, windy for finding stuff in the bushes, so a seawatch was in order. And what a cracking seawatch! Apart from a brief pause to do a Radio Leeds interview, I had c130 Sooty Shearwaters powering north into the teeth of the wind, plus c20 Manx Shearwaters, looking decidedly frail compared with their Southern Hemisphere cousins. Several Bonxies chugged south, plus a similar number of Arctic Skuas. A continual line of Kittiwakes and auks headed north. I got on a close in gull that looked like a juvenile Sabine's Gull, but it went round the corner of the fog station wall before I had nailed it. Doh! One Sandwich Tern, c40 Common Scoters, c30 Red-throated Divers and a Mippit 'in off' were added to the list before I decided to head for the bushes at 10am.

A little later, scanning the Gorse Field and a large pale grey and white warbler just inside the edge of a large hawthorn screamed Barred Warbler. I got my scope on it but could only ever see about half the bird. This looked convincing but I needed a better view to be sure. Sadly, it melted away into the hedge and after 30 minutes I gave up. It would have to go down as a probable, at least for now... A few Bramblings came in off and by the pool in the sheep field I flushed a Snow Bunting. Things were looking up!

On to Old Fall where I bumped into Tony Martin who had been grilling the trees on the south side, revealing nice views of a Hawfinch, but not a lot else. I gave it half an hour but York called, so I wandered back west.

A little later, I got an email to say Jane and Rob Chapman had relocated the Barred Warbler in the bushes near the lighthouse and a few others had seen it. Fab! So maybe not just a 'probable' after all!