Saturday 25 February 2017

Early spring

A couple of hours in the LDV this morning was tough going but enjoyable. North Duffield Carrs was wildfowl free bizarrely, but still held 39 Curlew and five Oystercatchers. 22 Shelduck flew in just before I flew out. No sign of any Smew at Aughton and diving duck numbers were down.
Ellerton was quiet and the refuge at Wheldrake held 132 Coot and the Drake Scaup. A Peregrine was hunting over the Ings and flushed 23 Black-tailed Godwits and 24 Curlew. I headed round to the Low Grounds, pausing briefly at Hagg Bridge to check out a Little Egret. The pair of Avocets were still loafing in the middle of the flood, a fine find by Adam Firth earlier.
The Pine Bunting didn't show for me at Dunnington although two Bramblings were nice. The bunt showed up later.

Friday 24 February 2017


Met up with Paul at the airfield early doors to have a look at the Shrike, but sadly she had gone AWOL. Storm Doris had abated overnight and it was a lovely, calm sunny morning, the cool air full of the sound of Song Thrushes and Skylarks. It was great to be out, but after an hour our only reward was a small covey of Grey Partridges.

Home to collect the gang and off east to Scarbados. The skies were clear and a light westerly meant it was almost balmy on the beach, well, about 8 degrees.

The kids and dog enjoyed a good scamper about before we got into the wildlife with fine views of the Peregrine pair on the cliffs, the female of which was hungrily devouring a pigeon. Sol loved the gore of it. Several Harbour Porpoises were searching the break looking for bass and the kids got good views. In the harbour, a fine adult Shag was hanging out on some steps, and nearby the lingering Great Northern Diver cruised around.

 The diver started feeding after a bit, and shortly brought up a Shore Crab which it shook about to remove the legs before swallowing.

Harder to find was the diminutive Black-necked Grebe, but after a chippy lunch, we spied the red-eyed fluffball busily feeding among the boats. It really motored around and took some effort to keep up with it.

About 20 Turnstones were seeking discarded chips and at least three sported some fine leg bling.

It is rude to be out east on such a fine early spring day and not pop into Wykeham on the way back, to see what avian monsters are at large. Sure enough, after a bit of patience and a number of sites, I picked up three adult Goshawks (two females and one male) engaged in some serious display. At one point all three were perched up in separate trees, one of which rather clumsily clambered around on the branches, white undertail coverts exploding everywhere. Although the views through the scope were cool, they were just a bit too far for phone scoping, but I gave it a try anyway...

 We headed back after a top day. It turned out the Shrike was still present, having been seen near Ebor Trucks at midday.

Wednesday 22 February 2017

Great Grey Days

Had a quick lunchtime visit to the airfield again, to see if the shrike was still about. Despite no news and the disconsolate body-language of a few wandering birders who didn't appear to have seen her (I have decided, probably incorrectly, that she is a female!), I soon found the bird atop a Hawthorn by the entrance to the yard just south of Ebor Trucks. She again allowed close approach but sadly the light wasn't great for photography.

After scanning around in that Shrikey way they do, she flew into a young Ash where the light was better. She didn't seem too happy perching amid slender, swaying stems as this wasn't befitting a northern tyrant, so after a few moments she bounded across the road and off across the grassy field alighting atop a large bush, with commanding views. Much more suitable! I left the other birders to it and headed off to walk to dog.

Saturday 18 February 2017

York Gull Watch and Shrike Seconds

Helped with the York Birding Club Gull Watch at Rufforth this morning. A great turn out of about 25 birders. Sadly, the gulls were not behaving with the majority remaining on the Tip. Nevertheless we picked out two first winter Glaucous Gulls and a second winter Lesser Black-backed Gull among the hordes of Herring Gulls. Not many Great Black-backs about, presumably many have headed back north and east. A large flock of c50 Fieldfares went north late morning.

The second Glauc hiding in the flock.
Chris, Emanuela and me then headed down to Acaster Airfield and after a walk, Emanuela relocated the Great Grey Shrike at a distance. She was very pleased as this was a tick for her. It hunted along the hedge to the south of the truck depot and came pretty close. At one point it caught a vole which it immediately flew off with in its beak into the thick scrub near the Ebor Trucks entrance. It disappeared into the bushes and then a few minutes later flew back out without the vole. It had presumably cached it in its larder. Cool. It then carried on hunting. Quite a few birders turned up to see it and it was good to see some familiar faces.

Phone-scoped Shrike.

Friday 17 February 2017

Northern Sentinel

A rumour of a local Great Grey Shrike came true today down at Acaster Airfield when it was relocated near Ebor Trucks. The lure of lunchtime twitching was too much so three of us shot down there from the office at lunch. Sadly the few birders on site had not seen it for a few hours so we spread out to search. The air was full of the spring song of Skylarks and Yellowhammers, it was a joy to be away from my desk. No sign in the usual area we headed south down the road to check more bushes. The sinking feeling set in - this wouldn't be the first time I had dipped a GGS in this area!
Scanning back towards the truck depot and there it was, sitting sentinel-like on the very top of an Ash! Fab! Quick scope views all round then we drove back up the road to get a closer look. The shrike was not at all concerned by our presence and I managed to get a couple of shots. Something was clearly attracting it's attention in a nearby patch of scrub and after a couple of minutes of intense staring, it dived groundwards into the blackthorn patch and vanished. The other birders who I had whistled arrived and soon I picked it up again more distantly on top of an Oak at the back of the field. It continued to move around and after a few minutes came back towards us, perching on a Spruce and then a Birch. Lunchtime twitching rewarded, smiles all round and back to the office to carry on working for Yorkshire's wildlife. Well done Alan Swain for relocating the bird today.

Saturday 11 February 2017

Craving blue sky

Enough of this dreary, cold, wet weather it is doing my head in! Nevertheless, spring is just starting to peek through, with Skylarks, Song Thrushes, Dunnocks and the odd Blackbird now adding their voices to the Great Tits and Robins that are already singing. Winter aconites are blooming here and there, splashing glorious mustard yellow along the foot of the hedge.

Yesterday, 11 Waxwings were trilling away from a treetop outside the petrol station near St Helen's Road junction in York, a nice surprise on a lunchtime walk.

Today, accompanied by Sol, I headed up to Castle Howard mid-morning, to see what the east wind had blown in. Pretty dire weather, but reasonable birding, with one Tundra Bean Goose on the water with four Pinkfeet, plus two female Scaup (first winter and adult by the looks of it), 12 Goosanders, four Mandarin (3 males, 1 female), one lonely-looking female Pintail, and a pair of Shovelers, besides the usual cast. A couple of Great Crested Grebes were back on territory, plus several noisy Nuthatches and nest-building Cormorants added to the spring feeling in spite of the parky climate. A Marsh Tit and Redpoll (Lesser or Mealy, now in doesn't matter apparently) showed close by. Most frustratingly, a small skein of nine dark grey geese flew off into the distance and failed to reveal themselves. They could have been the rest of the Beans that have been around but I wasn't sure. The five geese flew into the field and after a bit, sat down and went to sleep.

From Top: Sol and the Mute Swans, Scaup duo, Goosander trio and sleepy Tundra Bean Goose, minus legs.

It started raining again and Sol got bored after a bit, so we headed home.