Friday 31 March 2017

Down Under!

At the end of March, we headed 10,000 miles to Australia, to spend three weeks checking out the Aussie wildlife, wild places and culture, plus hooking up with old friends. We spent two weeks in north Queensland, before flying to Sydney.

Posted 31st March:
After 17 hours we've arrived in Perth and notched up the first bird of the trip, a Willie Wagtail sitting on a gate sign. True to form, it flew off just as I got my phone out, but I still captured it. Outside, the sun had set and a large roost of Rainbow Lorikeets was assembling in nearby trees. It's about 29 degrees here. One more flight and then we can relax.

Sunday 19 March 2017

Sunflower Power

The power of Sunflower hearts to pull in birds is remarkable. This winter our little garden in the middle of a housing estate has attracted up to 15 Goldfinches, several Chaffinches and a few Greenfinches. Recently, as birds start to move north and local birds run out of natural food, we have seen regular visits from up to four Siskins and three or four Reed Buntings. The latter seem to have figured out how to feed from the feeders along with the other birds, which I have not seen before. One morning ten days ago, I bumped into 30+ Waxwings on the cycle track whilst doing the early morning dog walk. They showed really well although I didn't manage any decent photos before legging it to work. Maybe the last Waxwings I will see this winter, so nice to see them just round the corner from home.

Three Reed Bunts, two Siskins and a Waxwing


The Great Grey Shrike is still around on the airfield, and showed well on Wednesday in the early evening sunshine. It was hunting from saplings and bushes on the east side of the road.

Today, I led a guided walk at Wheldrake Ings followed by a drive round the eastern side of the LDV. Signs of spring in the air with several Chiffchaffs singing along with many Curlews back on territory. A flock of 18 Curlews at Wheldrake were presumably on their way further north. Always good to see these birds.

32 Whooper Swans at Wheldrake were undoubtedly migrants, with a further six at Aughton along with the wintering herd at Derwent Cottage. Four drake Scaup were still on the refuge at Wheldrake Ings, but little else of note apart from a Mink by Swantail Hide, a juvenile Peregrine and a very confiding Willow Tit by the Bailey Bridge by Wheldrake car park, which posed long enough to be phonescoped.

Tuesday 7 March 2017

Who could shoot spring?

Every morning I walk the dog and for twenty minutes celebrate the springtime, with the singing birds along my route. We share the sense of relief that we have got through another long, dark and dreary winter in one piece. You can hear it in the voices of the Song Thrushes. Spring time means the first golden yellow blooms of Celandines poking out among their glossy, heart-shaped leaves in the hedge bottom, the singing of Skylarks over the fields just south of the village and the return of Curlews and Oystercatchers to the Ings land along the local rivers. We, like them, can detect the increasing day length, warming sun and changes in the landscape as nature awakens once again. It is a great time to be alive.

Oystercatchers heralding the spring (photo courtesy of the Wildlife Trusts).

Yesterday morning my Dad rang me on my mobile. I could tell from his voice that something was wrong. He plays golf on a course right next to Askham Bog YWT (a place Sir David Attenborough only recently described as a 'cathedral of nature conservation') on the outskirts of York. My Dad had delighted in the ongoing struggles of a pair of Oystercatchers that returned from the coast to the golf course every year to try to raise a family. He would always tell me as soon they returned. They are his Cuckoos, or perhaps Swallows. For him, they herald the spring. And yet tragically today he had picked up one of the pair, laying dead with a wound looking suspiciously like a gunshot on the golf course.

And now the bird, mere flesh and feathers, lay stiff in an old carrier bag on my garage floor. This iconic, charismatic bird, this harbinger of spring, should never have seen the inside of a carrier bag, or my garage. It should have never lain on my hall carpet to have its photo taken.

Could somebody have shot Spring? Would somebody really do something that callous, that pointless, that selfish?

I have today spoken to Jean Thorpe legend of bird rehab and am seeking a vet to give the bird an X-ray to confirm the method of murder. Then, if necessary, I will be in touch with the police and the RSPB.

I won't rest until I have found out how this beautiful bird died.

The vet who generously x-rayed and then carried out a post mortem failed to find evidence of a gunshot wound. He felt it had died through being struck with a small, blunt object, and given the location of death, may well have been a golf ball. This is a massive relief as whilst it is still tragic to have died in this way, it is heartening that nobody was out there shooting at beautiful birds such as this. 

Sunday 5 March 2017

Morning Sun

Headed out early in bright sunshine to do the usual clockwise loop of the LDV. Stacks of birds on the Low Grounds, including 30+ Dunlin, but glare from said sun made viewing to the east tricky. Headed on to East Cottingwith, noting three Little Egrets along the Pocklington Canal just south of Hagg Bridge.

The drake Scaup was napping on the refuge, looking dapper in the warm light. 23 Black-tailed Godwits were huddled out of the wind on the back edge of the flood, mixed in with Pintail and a few Teal. One of the birds was already sporting some brick-red garb, whereas the majority were still in their sombre winter grey.

Sleepy Scaup with Gadwall and Tufted Duck.

Ellerton was quiet, so I headed down to Aughton. Aughton Church really is a delightful place to bird from, and I was serenaded by the church choir accompanied by a bugling herd of 19 Whooper Swans just beyond the church wall. The swans eyed me with suspicion at first, but soon settled down to a bit of feeding and displaying. It was interesting how amber-stained some of the adult's necks were and yet some were persil-white. Perhaps the former nested on more peaty pools up in Iceland which had tainted their feathers. Only one second calendar year bird with this gang, suggesting the other pairs had booted out their young already or had had a poor season last year.

145 Pochard were out on the deeper water, with half the number of Tufted Ducks and a solitary Little Grebe. Four Oystercatchers round at North Duffield Carrs were the only other birds of note, before the rain came and I headed home.

Saturday 4 March 2017

Movie Shrike

I tried for a bit of phonescoped video today...

The Sentinel Returns

After seeding the path in the stubble field for our later quest, Emanuela and me spent two hours trudging round Hagg Wood on Wednesday morning looking for the Arctic Redpoll again, but to no avail. We didn't even see a single Redpoll! A lone calling Willow Tit, a few Siskins and a couple of screeching Jays was the best, though early spring in a wood was a nice change, with birdsong filling the air. We headed over to the fields to look for the Pine Bunting which had hopefully been attracted to the seed I laid down earlier. Sadly it was nowhere to be seen. After a couple of fruitless hours checking the paddock by the housing estate (Kerver Lane) we went back to the stubble field. A Corn Bunting, several Tree Sparrows, c15 Yellowhammers, two Bramblings and a few Chaffinches were now visiting the seed. But no Pine Bunting! I noticed Yellowhammers coming in from the west and dropping on the hedge. And suddenly, there it was, the Pine Bunting, sitting on top of the hedge. I called it and Emanuela and Peter got on to it. After 30 seconds, it flew off the hedge and dropped into the middle of the stubble field in the long grass - doh! It was about the only bird that shunned the seed. Unbelievable. Anyway, it was nice to see this little chap after a few weeks. It is really starting to look very smart too now.

Today, I had to pop over to Acaster to pick up some stuff, so with clearing skies - at last - I bobbed down the airfield to have a look for the Great Grey Shrike. Having gone AWOL for a bit, she had turned up again at the end of last week and it took no time at all to find her, busily hunting from her favourite bushes and trees. During the time I watched her, she again caught a Field Vole, which she took back to the scrub by the entrance to the yard. She was soon back out hunting again. A circling Red Kite was nice and the only other sighting of note.