Sunday 25 February 2018

What no Glaucs?

A bitterly cold easterly made 0.5deg C feel like -5 this afternoon at Wheldrake Ings. What a great day to forget my gloves! Fortunately, the ever-prepared Duncan had a spare pair which saved me from frostbite and meant I was able to withstand the full force of the biting wind blowing straight in our faces until dusk. Andy Walker pulled the best bird out of the bag, a first winter Iceland Gull, which I am sure was the same bird I saw a few weeks ago. Stacks of Common and Black-headed gulls again, though not many large gulls, so the Iceland was a surprise. Still no Glaucous Gull, I am beginning to worry I won't get one this winter. Most of the time, all the gulls were arse-on, facing away into the east wind, so not easy to look through. Other bits; c200 Dunlins, 9 Ruff, 10 Shelduck, 1 Goldeneye.

Distant first-winter Iceland Gull out on Swantail from Tower Hide.

I don't take plastic

My afternoon trip to Wheldrake Ings was diverted to North Duffield Carrs thanks to Mark Coates letting me know a birder had found a female Red-crested Pochard. This would be a new York area bird for me, so worth a look. I messaged a few people and soon joined global birder Andy Walker in Garganey Hide where we soon picked up the duck. Disappointingly, the bird was leucistic and hanging out with the local Mallards, so presumably was not long out of captivity, and not quite the grade to make it on to my York list. A bit plastic, in other words.

Nevertheless, I spent an enjoyable hour or so at NDC chatting to Andy, with good views of a juvenile Peregrine, stacks of Pintails and my first LDV Oystercatchers of the spring. I tried out my new phone with a bit of phonescoping, which worked well. I have made an adaptor using my lens hood superglued to a cheap phone case. This worked well, particularly when combined with the voice commands, meaning I didn't have to touch the phone at all to take a pic. Sadly, the distance of most stuff undermines the quality of some of the potential, but the Chaffinch pic I took in the garden this morning demonstrates that this could be pretty cool.

 Phone scoped Chaffinch, using Samsung A5 down a Ziess 60 Scope, on 20x.
 Plastic fantastic RCP.
Distant Peg
Oyks, Curlews etc enjoying the late winter sunshine.

Sunday 18 February 2018

Dusk at the Ings

Headed back to Wheldrake Ings for the roost. An adult Yellow-legged Gull plus two Mediterranean Gulls (an adult and an advanced first winter) were the best. Surprisingly no Glaucous or Iceland Gulls came in by 5.15pm, although the numbers of large gulls was relatively low c300. The gull roost is spectacular currently, with c5,000 Common Gulls and c5,000 Black-headed Gulls making up the bulk. A Barn Owl on the way out of Wheldrake village at dusk,was nice to see.

 First-winter Med Gull (with dark eye mask)
 Adult Med Gull showing white primaries.

Gulls were flushed by an inflatable pink flamingo that dropped in just after 5pm. Randomly.

Dawn at the Ings

Despite the fog in Bishopthorpe, I resisted the urge to return to bed and headed as planned to Wheldrake Ings. A Bittern had been reported early morning a couple of days ago, so I thought this would be worth a try. The Ings looked eerie in the early morning light, with a low mist hanging over the meadows. Most of the shallow water was frozen although large areas remained ice-free. Large numbers of gulls were departing as I walked along the river-side path to Tower Hide. I had a quick look but soon carried on round to Swantail where the light was much better. There was no sign of the Bittern in the reedbed, though I was not surprised. Out on the water, there were far fewer ducks than I have seen recently, though Gadwall, Pochard and Tufted Duck numbers had increased.

After much scanning, I suddenly noticed the vertical white breast stripe of a drake Green-winged Teal among the throng of common stuff. Another birder had joined me in the hide shortly before, so I told him about it. The Teal promptly swam into the reeds and out of sight -typical! Fortunately, the bird was very active, and soon swam back out into full view, with a gang of male Teal that were busy displaying to a couple of females. The GWT had a similar display to the Eurasian birds, with the body lift and head jerk, but without the tail flourish. For the next twenty minutes the bird performed well, off and on, as it swam about. I had major fogging issues with my scope and so my dodgy digiscoped images were dodgier than normal, though you can just about make it out. I was starting to freeze, so I headed back, with a pause in Tower Hide to look through the Wigeon, now the light was better.

Distant shots of the drake Green-winged Teal, through a fogbound scope! The North Cave bird was still present this morning, so this is a different bird. 

Saturday 17 February 2018

Unexpected Caspo

An hour down at Rufforth to try and find a Glaucous Gull for my York year list failed, despite the gulls showing well in the flooded sheep field opposite the tip. However, a better bird was on offer in the form of an adult Caspian Gull, that suddenly appeared among the Herring Gull throng. A smart bird, with characteristic high-chested, sloping backed profile, small head and long thin, pale-yellow bill with a dark subterminal mark. A glimpse of the long pale tongue on P10 as the bird preened proved the ID, though it was barely needed as I had no doubt. This is my first Caspian Gull of the winter; they have been rare this season, although I haven't put in a lot of time. Three Lesser Black-backs were a sign of spring and a noticeable reduction in Great Black-backs suggested birds were beginning to head north to breed.

Caspian Gull, typically large and distinctive.

Monday 12 February 2018

Norfolk Larks

Cracking Norfolk weekender aboard the good ship Albatross, with birdo mates Dunc Poyser, Ben Green,  Mark Hawkes. Absolutely freezing, rainy and dreary on the Saturday, absolutely freezing, windy and sunny on Sunday, dreary later. But still freezing. I think this weight loss thing is making me colder. Must eat more pies!

Brents in the sun at Cley, on Sunday morning.

Hit and miss with twitching others' birds, with Parrot Crossbills, Lesser Peckers and Otters failing to show despite two attempts at Santon Downham, along with absentee Goshawks nearby in the Brecks and the vanishing Cley Black Brant. We did better with Massingham Hawfinches, Ringstead Tundra Bean Goose (which revived my confidence in picking up this taxon from thousands of Pinks in a dull field), Chosely Hooded Crow (which we thought was a hybrid due to lots of black on the underparts, which turned out to be water!), Letheringsett Coue's Arctic Redpoll, Holkham Shore Larks etc.

 The good ship Albatross, Wells.

 The good ship birdo wagon. All good except the flat tyre on day two....

 Santon Downham minus anything of note....

...apart from this showy Water Rail.

 And at Ringstead, the Pink-footed Geese piled into this field on a dreary Norfolk afternoon.

 But after 30 minutes of effort my scope latched on to this orange-legged beauty.

 Getting everybody on to it in this featureless field was less than easy.
 But fortunately it stood briefly near this half-eaten beet
Holkham Gap Shore Lark. We eventually tracked the nine down to the eastern end of the saltmarsh, where we left them being hounded by two field-craft-less camera twonks.

Sunday 4 February 2018

A. gentilis

After a quick look at Castle Howard (10 Mandarin, 6 Goosander, 1 Pink-footed Goose and a Marsh Tit!), I headed up to Wykeham to look for Goshawks. As soon as I got out of the car, an immature male and adult male were over the trees to the north sparring in the early morning light.

I spent the next three hours watching several birds circling around, occasionally sky-dancing, sparring with each other and generally putting on a great show. The adult male did a series of nine fast switchbacks across the valley before landing in full view in a bare larch, where he perched for about half an hour. On my side of the valley his mate, a rather large female, flirted with the young male, flapping around stiff-winged with puffed out white undertail coverts and a tightly closed tail. The young male was pushing his luck and shortly the adult male roared across the valley and chased him off, blazing across the tops of the trees. The young chancer wouldn't be back in a hurry! My phone broke and I could feel hyperthermia setting in, so I left the still displaying Goshawks and headed home.

Immature male (top) and adult male Goshawks.