Saturday 30 December 2017

Mediterranean Christmas

My last visit to Wheldrake Ings for 2017 was a success, with a hunting Peregrine the highlight. Good to bump into Duncan on the way too; he has seen 146 species here this year - brilliant! Surely 150 is possible?! The Willow clearance done by the YOC volunteers and Natural England has made viewing much better - nice work folks! I had a good look through the huge numbers of Wigeon and Teal but couldn't find anything American. Four Goldeneye were on the deep water.

As the gloom gathered, hordes of gulls came in to roost, many of which decided to settle on the ice to the south of Tower Hide. I spent a while trying to read colour ring codes on Herring Gulls, all of which were presumably birds rung at Harewood Whin tip at Rufforth by Craig and his crew. Among them, I also found an adult Common Gull with a white ring on. I am not sure if this is a locally-rung bird or not. Towards dusk, my grilling of the smaller gulls revealed a fine first-winter Mediterranean Gull, with heavy black bill and slick bandit mask. Also, a white Black-headed Gull was quite smart, similar to birds I have seen at Grafham Water in the past. A good end to a fine York birding year.

 A very white Black-headed Gull.

 Not easy to find and still pretty rare in the York area, this is my first York Med Gull this year.

First-winter Med Gull. A bit easier when it turns it's head!


Spent a couple of days in North Norfolk to wind down from Christmas chaos. Our main day was beautiful, with azure skies setting off whispering reeds, distant windmills and large flocks of Pinkfeet and Brents. We did a long walk east from Burnham Deepdale to Holkham Gap, enjoying the solitude, and the sight of Marsh Harriers hunting the ditches. A Red Kite hung over Burnham Overy Dunes and a Merlin zipped past. Later, we headed to Titchwell, where a huge wreck of marine life had attracted hordes of waders along with probably ten thousand gulls- including at least three adult Mediterraneans, and offshore a smorgasboard of seaduck, including several handsome Long-tailed Ducks, Goldeneye, Eider, Common Scoter and a few Red-throated Divers. The main species involved in the wreck were Razor Clams, many of which were still alive. Among these were lots of Common Starfish and a smattering of Sunstars and Brittlestars, along with Dog Whelks and various other molluscs. Whatever stormy sea or tide had scoured this lot out of the sea had done so with devastating effect, although the local birdlife was quick to home in on the banquet.

Bunrham Overy Dunes and freshmarsh

 Razor wreck, complete with Common Starfish and Sunstar among the thousands of Razor Clams.

 Titchwell, late afternoon

Sunday 3 December 2017

"By Jove! It's a Glossy Ibis!"

News came through from Adam Firth that he had found a drake American Wigeon on Bank Island yesterday afternoon. I was up to my knees in snow on the North York Moors, sledging with the kids. Hopefully it would be there tomorrow morning...

Dawn broke, and with England's attack wavering against a determined Aussie test batting side, I decided it wasn't worth staying in to listen to and headed out to the LDV. A little while later I arrived to find LDV stalwart Duncan Bye on the platform along with Adam, trying to refind yesterday's Yank. There was plenty of water and plenty of Wigeon, but the murky half light, with mist hanging over the floods was not helping. After a bit, I exclaimed I was going to head round to Wheldrake to see if the site was beginning to flood. Dunc and Adam came along and we soon discovered that it certainly was flooding and was covered in birds. The car park was already inundated, so I parked up the lane and we waded through the floods, with the water only an inch or so below welly top level.

We headed round the riverside path to Tower Hide, which was a little sketchy as the Derwent was spilling over heavily on to the meadows.

The light still wasn't great, due to the sun's position, but as time went on, things improved. A quartet of Roe Deer were mooching about at the back, and two Marsh Harriers stirred things up. Two Stonechats fed along the banktop and thousands of Teal, Wigeon, Pintail, Shoveler, Mallard and Gadwall were spread across the flooding ings. A thousand Lapwings rested along the edge of the water and were soon joined by 300+ Golden Plover and five Ruff. Classic Wheldrake scenes.

Duncan suddenly muttered something about a Glossy Ibis, and then shouted "By jove! It is a Glossy Ibis!" or the equivalent Rotherham expletives to that effect! We scanned right and to our utter amazement there, flapping in over the 'Cormorant trees' was a Glossy Ibis! No way! A York first!  The bird flew along the back of the flood flushing all the Teal and Lapwings. It looped round towards us, giving good views through the scope. It then went back over Swantail Ings and off towards the refuge. I managed a bit of video through the scope, but the less said about that the better. And within a minute it was all over. We were elated, high fives and big grins all round - well done Duncan!

To our delight, five minutes later, Adam picked it up returning. It flew past much closer and we all shouted at it to land, and it did, on the flooded main meadow to the north of the Tower Hide.

We got the news out again as it would be viewable now from the Bailey Bridge. It fed here along the edge of the flood for the next 20 minutes. Despite looking fairly sizeable in flight, the bird was actually quite small, being similar in size to the Jackdaw and Lapwings nearby.


A Peregrine flew past flushing all the waders but the ibis was not bothered. After a bit, we decided the rapidly rising water levels were in danger of cutting us off, so we headed back. We paused to look at the ibis again, but shortly afterwards the whole site was disturbed by three low-flying planes and in the ensuing melee, we lost the ibis.

We headed back along the flooding path, just making it back out of the car park, with millimetres to spare!

A very happy Mr Bye, with Adam Firth in the background. Wading out of the car park!

We headed back up to Bank Island where the light was a bit better. After a little while, Adam performed an incredible feat of observation and picked  up the sleeping American Wigeon out on the flood. This really as impressive as it wasn't obvious in the dull light. A smart bird nevertheless!

Yank Wigeon, under the red dot. Honest!

This was proving to be an awesome day locally. Only my third York area American Wigeon, nevermind the first Glossy Ibis for York! Dunc was dead chuffed as the Ibis was a British tick for him. We decided to splash out so we drove down to the Costcutter in Wheldrake and bought Doubledeckers and pop. Happy days!

On down the valley. Thorganby was part-flooded but quiet although a Little Owl roosting in a Hawthorn was very nice.

North Duffield was still dry so we went up the bank at Bubwith. 69 Whooper Swans were the highlight here, looking majestic in the early afternoon sunshine.

Icelandic guests. Nice to see these guys back here for the winter. Plenty of juveniles too, so perhaps a good breeding season up north.

On to East Cottingwith, where another 15 Whoopers were on the Wheldrake refuge, plus three Pochards. No sign of the Ibis sadly, but the water looked too deep. Dunc checked the Low Grounds later on to no avail. Let's hope it hangs around a bit to gie other local birders the chance to see it.