Saturday 21 January 2017

Bird Racing!

Out at the crack of dawn, the Nevermind the Woodcocks team of Emanuela Buzzi, Richard Baines and Paul Brook, peered into the darkness south of the York to Selby Cycle Track. We had ticked Tawny Owl and Robin a few minutes earlier outside our house in Bishopthorpe to get us off the mark. After a few tense minutes in which we noted the calls of Golden Plover and Skylark we suddenly heard the distinctive kerrr-ick of a male Grey Partridge proclaiming his territory. Our first tricky bird under the belt - a good start. Not a peep from the Little Owls, so we headed to Copmanthorpe Lane where a pair resides. Sadly they weren't playing ball either, so we decided to leave the village.

On to Stillingfleet Beck where a Great White Egret - possibly the same bird as I saw at Wheldrake Ings last week - had been seen in the Beck a couple of times at dawn. A Barn Owl on a gatepost was a good omen for the day. We had an enjoyable short walk and added one or two good bird race birds such as Mistle Thrush but the egret was not there, so we headed round towards Naburn. A Mandarin flying overhead near the river and shortly after a Goosander were good bonus birds and kept our mood joyous.  Round towards Deighton and sure enough the Brambling flock I had found yesterday were still present. A Woodcock was flushed out of the rape field by a low flying hot air balloon and gave us a great fly past in the early morning light (the Woodcock that is). I had only stopped briefly yesterday whilst looking for Corn Buntings, and found three Bramblings - a bonus bird. Our luck was holding, and today at least 30 Bramblings gathered in the treetops and overhead both Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings flew. Apart from Meadow Pipit we were doing well for farmland birds.

Next stop Castle Howard where we bumped into another bird race team (Chris Gomersall, Tim Jones, Adam Hutt and Jack Ashton-Booth) who were doing really well and were on 59 already! Sadly, thick fog dampened our collective spirits. Not sure how we would find any ducks in this weather! We still needed plenty of woodland birds and soon added Marsh Tit, Treecreeper and Goldcrest. Out on the water we squinted through the fog. There would be no way we would see the Scaup in this! The other team walked on ahead and then came back having not seen it. We persevered and eventually I picked up the female paddling along. Paul was chuffed, this was a new bird for him. Yesterday's Little Grebe would be impossible in these conditions, so we headed off.

The pair of Scaup that were present during yesterday's reccie. We only saw the female today in the foggy conditions.

I decided Strensall Common would be a good bet for a few heathland specialities. The fog was dense and it hindered our attempts to find Stonechat, but we did nail Green Woodpecker yaffling distantly in the fog, and a few extras, such as Long-tailed Tit and Coal Tit.

We had another chance of Stonechat at Wheldrake Ings, so we decided to head for Knapton/Poppleton/Rufforth for gulls. The young lads had cleared up with Caspian, Iceland, Glaucous and Lesser Black-backed Gulls. We only managed the latter frustratingly, though a lot of gulls had headed back towards the tip by the time we arrived. Disheartened and hitting the midday doldrums, we headed to Beckfield Lane to try for Waxwing. Despite an initial optimism, we failed, so headed to Micklegate Bar where a small flock had been seen earlier in the week. Up on to the Bar Walls, we found the berry-laden Rowan but apart from a Mistle Thrush and a couple of Blackbirds there was nothing present. We were just about to head off when Paul said - 'There's a Wawxing!" and sure enough, one lone Waxer was sitting quietly munching berries in the middle of the tree. We could have easily missed it - well done Paul!

As we drove through York we suddenly saw our bogey bird - Pied Wagtail - a handsome male strutting about on a path. High fives all round!

Into the Valley via a couple of sites where we failed to find Great Crested Grebe - seemingly absent from the York area this winter - we first headed to Melbourne/Thornton. Sure enough, the goose flock was happily grazing, and Lee Gregory was there scoping the Tundra Beans. Four TBGs were present along with several Pink-feet, both good birds for the race. Next we tried Seavy Carr for Snipe to no avail, until Rich decided to walk along the field edge towards Church Bridge. Suddenly two Snipe and one Jack Snipe exploded out in front of him and we all managed to see these stripy little guys. Awesome work Rich! Pausing at Church Bridge, a Little Grebe appeared right on cue and to the side a Chiffchaff called. This was a bonus and fortunately the other team arrived to look at the grebe and I got them on to the Chiffer too.

We finished the day at Wheldrake Ings where we got a flood of new birds. The fog had lifted and despite heading round to Swantail we couldn't find any Stonechats, although we had possibly left it a bit late.

 We rendezvoused on the Bridge by Wheldrake car park with the young lads and one of the other York teams (Peter Watson, Jane and Rob Chapman and Duncan Bye). It was a great end to the day. A load of geese flew in and incredibly, the lads picked out a White-front calling. We all listened and sure enough they were right! The Tawny Owls started hooting and suddenly we all heard the distinctive call of a Little Owl - brilliant. This would be our last bird of the day, and our 95th species. This was one short of the York area record, 96 set by the young lads back in 2011. They then announced that WFG had taken them to 105!! Wow! We always speculated on whether 100 was possible in the York area in January and these guys had proved it. In fact, they had smashed it.

A great day. As I drove back to Bish in the gloom, my thoughts turned to the last bird race I had done in York with Russell Slack, Andy Walker and John Beaumont. I think Russ would have been really stoked to know five teams were taking part in this in the York area, and that the young lads had smashed the record too.

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