Saturday 12 May 2018

Land Rail, Fizzy Warbler but no Turtle Doves

Out at stupid o'clock to do my first visit to my Turtle Dove survey square, north of Brandsby. Sadly, as I feared, it wasn't very suitable for them and I drew a blank. As I was up in the north of the York area I decided to go and see if last month's Wood Warbler was still around. Walking up through the woods, a fine male Redstart sang from the top-most twig of a tree in the dull morning light.

A little further on, the fizzing cascade of the Wood Warbler was audible, and I headed over to the spot. He was singing non-stop, mixing up the trill with a regular series of fluting notes, and parachuting around the slope. I sat on a tree stump and watched the bird for the next hour, pretty much mesmerised, as he floated around me, singing his head off and perching  within a few metres of me, seemingly unconcerned. Corking!


Wood Warbler. A simply stunning bird.

Other birds present included Garden Warbler, Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Grey Wagtail.

Headed back south to do some jobs and then on to North Duffield Carrs to have a listen for the Corncrake, which failed to perform for me on Thursday night. To my relief, this morning it was belting out its scratchy croak from the bank of Willowherb just to the right of the pool in front of the Geoff Smith Hide. It seemed to be within a dense patch of Willowherb, so it would be difficult to see......Within five minutes, one of the birders suddenly announced they could see it on the edge of the pool! Surely not! But yes, there it was, having a bath. Unbelievable scenes! After it finished bathing, it ran up the bank into the dense vegetation, disappearing without so much as a movement of a single plant. It resumed calling.

Seven Black-tailed Godwits were out on the ings, the water now receding rapidly. I continued my vigil while the other birders left and more arrived. Two West Yorkshire lads came in who were upset that they'd missed the performance, having been looking for it earlier without success. To their relief, I picked it up after a bit in the Willowherb and then we managed to follow it as it stealthily broke cover into the long grass, where it spent ten minutes just sitting and surveying the scene. Save to say there was a few choice West Yorkshire words aired, suggesting the lads were quite pleased!

Land Rail, hiding in the grass.

To see a video comp, check it out on Youtube

Not a bad morning in the York area!

Monday 7 May 2018

Anyone for a Sandwich?

It has been a gloriously hot and sunny May Bank Holiday weekend! Two early morning birding sessions in the LDV have been incredibly enjoyable, with some quality birds, but sadly lacking that big York bird...until today!

Blue skies over the refuge at Wheldrake Ings.

The highlights were: the Great White Egret at Wheldrake which continued to show well, either in front of Tower Hide or on the Low Grounds; several Garganey around, most of which are males as it appears the ducks have become a little more 'secretive', Whimbrel at Ellerton Landing, four Ruff at Aughton Ings, three Cuckoos (Hagg Bridge, East Cottingwith and the Low Grounds), stacks of common warblers in the valley, including the first Gardens of the year, Swifts, hordes of Little Egrets and several Common Terns.

 Little Egret
 Whooper Swan - lingering at NDC.

Skylark, Ellerton Landing. I don't think I've ever before managed a pic of one of these beautiful songsters who's effervescent songs have been the soundtrack to the weekend.

Today, I was up and out by 06.15, having emptied the moth trap of these two beauts:

 Waved Umber
Lesser Swallow Prominent

Both new for the garden I think. 

I did my usual LDV circuit, bumping into Adam F at the Low Grounds. Good birding, but the clear blue skies meant by 10.30 it was getting hot and clearly nothing was moving. Well, so I thought! I decided to head home.

No sooner I had arrived home, than I checked Twitter to find to my disbelief, a photo of a Sandwich Tern at Wheldrake Ings!!! Panic stations!!! And then I calmed down, realising this photo had probably been taken hours ago and the tern would be long gone. After all, they never linger in the York area, which is why they are so very hard to see and why they have not made it on to my York list. So, to the shower, followed by a slice of toast and a cuppa. However, when finder of the bird Ed Tooth messaged me to say the bird was still there 25 minutes ago, I put down my tea, grabbed my bins and shot back out of the door! All brownie points received from being home early, quickly evaporated as I retraced my journey back along the A64....

I prepared myself for a dip, although attempting to see it and failing, felt much less excruciating than not trying and the bird still being there! We were due at some friends for a BBQ this afternoon, so I needed to crack on....very soon I was piling down the familiar lane to the Ings car park. I bumped into a birder in the car park - Ed Tooth! - who told me there was a chance it would be visible from Tower Hide, if it hadn't flown off. I thanked him for his help and ran off. Despite my sandals, telescope, bins and the scorching midday heat enveloping me like an electric blanket, I managed to run virtually all the way to Tower Hide without dying; I knew all that training would come in handy one day (although to be fair, I don't tend to train with a full set of optics swinging round my neck, or in sandals). I leapt up the steps to the top floor and to my surprise the hide was empty. I got my scope set up. My phone rang, Craig, who to my delight said it was still here and that I should see it from Tower. But where was it?! I could see two Common Terns flying around, but no big white Sarnie. Nerves! Stress!

Craig rang again to say it had dropped on to a post by the 'Cormorant trees'. There! just a glimpse of Sandwich Tern-white through the bright green leaves of a Willow bush. Not the best of views, but this was my first York Sandwich Tern - Kaboom!!! Cue massive adrenalin rush! I sprinted back out of the hide and further down the track. Setting up my scope, and there it was, in all it's glory. An absolute monster tern, complete with yellow-tipped black beak and punk-tastic crest!

This was the last thing I had expected on a glorious blue-sky day. Why was it here? with a bit of height it could probably see the sea shimmering to the east, or at least the Humber. Even the local geese thought it was a bit out of place and swam over for a closer look. It was flushed shortly, and gave a lovely fly past, with big black wedges on lovely white wings. It dropped on to a post again in the middle of the marsh. Corking! Craig rolled up in his landy, I was proper gushing! He kindly gave me a lift back to the bridge which meant I was back home in less than an hour. Classic local twitching scenes!
I tried to explain all this at the BBQ this afternoon. My friends seemed pleased for me, but I suspect they probably thought I was a bit mad. But I think they already thought that!

Wednesday 2 May 2018

Long-legged Birds in the LDV

Twitched a White Stork at North Duffield Carrs this evening with my Dad. The bird was walking around just to the left of the pool in front of the Geoff Smith Hide. Corking views, but sadly it has a small red ring on one leg, so appears to be a bird that has toured Staffordshire and Cambridgeshire and is thought to be an escape. It even flew over my mate Dunc's house near Ely!

A smart bird in spite of its dubious origins.

The only other bird was the drake Garganey on the pool which called, but remained hidden in the vegetation. Here is another pic from the other day:


Next, we shot up the east side of the valley to the Low Grounds to twitch Adam Firth's Great White Egret, one of three (!) in the LDV currently. The bird performed alongside one of its little cousins in the lovely evening sunlight, hunting sticklebacks.

Giant Egret. Always nice to see.

The fab York birding streak continues!!

Dotterels and Happy Memories

On 20th May 1987, I saw my first Dotterels. My Dad and his mate, the late John Cornforth, had seen some in a pea field opposite the entrance to Blacktoft Sands and after school, I nagged him into taking me to see them. We had looked for them in the fields around Swinefleet the weekend before without success, so it was a anxious journey east from York. To my delight, the nine handsome mountain plovers were still present and I drooled over them as they walked around the baby pea plants. 
 My birding notebook for 20th May 1987...not a bad sketch for a 12 year old!

This was my first 'trip' of Dotterels, a bird that breeds on high mountain tops in remote places, and stops off in small numbers at regular sites on its northbound spring migration. It was, then, with a feeling of similar excitement I picked up York birding mate Duncan Bye this evening and headed east again to hunt for a trip of Dotterel. 16 had been reported in fields south of Swinefleet, but there was no guarantee they would still be there. It is after all a big area, with a lot of fields to hide in!

A small group of cars could only be birders out here in the arable wilderness, and sure enough the presence of optics on the gathered gang, proved we were in the right spot. Looking out over the field, there were the Dotterels, looking splendid on fresh plough, persil-white supercila standing out a mile, along with white crescent breast bands. 13 birds were still present and we huddled against the strong wind to enjoy the sight of these magical migrants.

The Trip!


Gorgeous birds, shame my photos don't do them justice.

Sadly, our friend John died only two short years later. He would have really enjoyed this 'trip', and I am sure he would be pleased to know I am still travelling to see Dotterels in the fields around Swinefleet some 31 years later.

Tuesday 1 May 2018

COTF18: Heavenly Lesser Kestrels

Yotvata, north of Eilat, provided some incredible views of Lesser Kestrels, a flock of which was present for a few days hunting insects amid the pumpkins and onions. They often spent time resting on some wires, allowing close approach. These were beautiful little falcons, the males incredibly handsome, with contrasting blue-grey heads and greater coverts, ginger mantles with a lovely creamy-buff chin and underparts.

I spent time looking at the females trying to fix them into my mind. For some reason, they weren't as confiding as the males, although views were still mind-blowing. Structurally, the cute little bill and longer wings proportionate to the tail tip was pretty distinctive, and up close the plumage features were apparent.

I have dropped in a couple of Common Kestrel pics at the end (two different females) taken locally in the last week or so for comparison. Note the differences in underpart markings on the female and the thickness of black barring on the upperparts- much narrower on the Lesser Kes. The Lesser also has a less distinct moustachial patch and more V shaped chevrons on the scapulars etc. The often-touted pale claws were not that obvious, appearing a dirty brown, but admittedly not black.

Ok, that's the male out of the way...!

Bottom three all female Common Kestrels.

Seven whistler? No, eleven.

Eleven Whimbrel in to roost at Wheldrake Ings last night (by 9.10pm) which was a little disappointing, although it seemed others were heading for Swantail Ings and so avoided being counted. The water has been dropping so other roost sites must be available on site.

This Whimbrel dropped in early and hung out for a bit with the local Curlews, allowing a good comparison. It seems that freshly arrived birds come into the roost to meet up with their mates, before heading out the next morning to feed.

Also present tonight, a pair of Garganey, 152 Teal and two Pintail.

And by the way, Seven Whistler is a colloquial name for Whimbrel.