Tuesday 8 January 2019

Mega York Birding!

Following my op just before Christmas, I was under strict instructions to take it easy, so sadly had to duck out of this year's Mike Clegg Memorial Yorkshire Bird Race on Sunday (6th January). Fortunately, our team, Nevermind the Woodcocks were not to be deterred and recruited Paul Wheatley in to my place. This proved to be a good choice and the team did really well, hitting a marvellous 90 on the day. I was fortunate to be present at dusk on Wheldrake Ings bridge, which has become a tradition, as they secured their 90th species for the day. A Woodcock - perfect!

As for me, undeterred by the Doc's instructions, I had a full and very enjoyable day out birding. York has been going through a purple patch (bad timing seems as I've been laid up!) mainly thanks to Tim Jones who whilst reccying for the bird race has managed to find both Red-necked Grebe (York's 22nd but first since 2010) and Coue's Arctic Redpoll (York's third)! Superb stuff. Add to this the Dipper found at Newburgh by James Robson (first for years), the American Wigeon in the LDV and a range of decent winter birds, York is really the place to go birding currently.

I started a bit too early, arriving at Castle Howard in the pitch black at 7.30am. I was rather excited, having been somewhat caught up in Bird Race Fever, but also because there was a possibility of a York tick or too. Nature is meant to be good for your health and wellbeing, but this nervous excitement had stopped me sleeping the previous night!

Anyway, shortly after dawn, I was relieved to find the Red-necked Grebe still present and showing well on the flat calm lake. At what point it swam in amazingly close to the bank a few metres in front of me - I am not really sure why - and at that moment my mobile phone rang and it skittered off over the water showing off it's white wing patches nicely. Fortunately, it wasn't too disturbed and landed a little way out and loafed around unconcerned. A fab York tick and thanks Mr Jones for a great find.


On to Newburgh Priory and Coxwold, where I tried hard to find the Dipper but to no avail. Yes, I dipped the Dipper! I did manage to spy the odd mid-stream pebble with convincing Dipper poo on it, but I couldn't be sure it wasn't just Wagtail plop... The beck downstream of Coxwold looks great and I followed the footpath here a bit as it tracked the edge of the shallow beck. James Robson generously supplied me with some local gen but apart from a bonus Chiffchaff, I didn't manage to find any of his birds, including a Great Egret that was seen by Tim's Bird Race team earlier today. Thanks anyway James.

Poo on a rock. The nearest I got to a Dipper.
OK, well, one out of two is not a bad start and I wasn't really that optimistic about this bird.

Next up, Allerthorpe Common. I had arrived later than I had anticipated and there was no news on the Arctic Roll and the car park was full, so I squeezed on to a neaby verge. The wood was crawling with dog walkers and families and I wasn't feeling overly positive about my chances. Nevertheless, the sun had come out, birds were singing - Treecreeper, Robin, Wren - and I was birding! Bonus. I followed the southern edge of the wood down to the YWT reserve. The odd one or two Redpolls flew over calling, but the smoke pouring from a bonfire on the reserve didn't bode well at all: there was a volunteer workparty doing some conservation work. Not completely conducive for finding flighty finches! I scanned the large field to the south - an ex carrot field by the looks of it - and was amazed that it was crawling with birds. Fieldfares, Redwings and Song Thrushes hopped around searching for invertebrates, Yellowhammers and a few Corn and Reed Buntings were grubbing about and to my excitement, in the middle of the field were Redpolls! Switching quickly to my scope I started to scan the flock which was almost a moving carpet of birds. Soon, I picked out one, then two, three, up to ten Mealies, frosty brutes with plenty of white on the mantle, standing out from the small brown and buff Lesser Redpolls. And then I latched on to the Arctic! It stood out a mile, with a big plain white rump, plain lightly streaked grey head and lovely white underparts streaked on the sides of the breast. The undertail was white, but I could only see the sides from the angle of view, but the whole package fitted with my previous experience of this species. I couldn't quite believe my luck, York tick #2! I watched this little bird creeping around searching for seeds, and I attempted to get some phonescoped pics but was thwarted on each attempt, as no sooner had I lined things up, the bird moved out of view. And then quick as a flash, the flock erupted in a fizzing panic as a Sparrowhawk shot along the back of the field. The area cleared of birds, the Redpoll flock exploded skyards and then regrouped and headed over my head into the woods and disappeared, leaving a few lost looking Yellowhammers flying around nervously, with thrushes scattered to the nearby treetops. I waited in vain for the next 45 minutes but no Redpolls had returned, although I did see a single Brambling plus a few Siskins and a Jay (all good birds had I been doing the Bird Race!). I explained to arriving birders what had happened and a little while after I left the flock returned and they managed to see the Coue's. A second Double Decker on its way to you Tim!

I never expected to see a Coue's Arctic Redpoll in a carrot field, although my first way back in 1994 was feeding on Sea Lavender seeds on a saltmarsh!


Into the valley I went, head full of smiles, offsetting my post-op pain. I went straight down to North Duffield to look for the American Wigeon which was there yesterday. No luck, though great views of the regular immature Peregrine, a couple of Stonechats and a Marsh Harrier. Great to meet up with Steve Farley from Ark, plus a couple of the Bird Race teams: Young Upstarts and the Ex-chairman's choice. They were both having a great day.

Marsh Harrier. Almost unbelievably, an expected sight in the LDV these days.

I headed up to Bank Island and was delighted to find the wintering family (two adults and six juveniles) of White-fronted Geese on the water along with four Pink-footed Geese and a horde of Greylags.

Family White-front.

News came through of an Iceland Gull back at North Duff, so Steve kindly drove me back there for a look. Sadly, it had flown, but I did manage to pull an adult Lesser Black-back out just in time for the Young Upstarts who added it to their escalating Bird Race total. We went back to Wheldrake Ings and spent the remaining hour or so of daylight sorting through the hordes of small gulls, trying to find a Med or something rarer for the Bird Racers, to no avail. The semi-resident adult male Peregrine took out a Golden Plover with ease and descended to eat it on the far side of the flood. Three Goosander came into roost late on the flood and a Barn Owl was seen hunting, a fine end to special day birding the York area.


So the Young Upstarts beat 100 again, finishing on 101 - brilliant effort - well done Tim Jones, Jack Ashton-Booth and Adam Hutt. Nevermind the Woodcocks (Emanuela Buizzi, Rich Baines, Paul Brook, Paul Wheatley) finished on 90, as I mentioned, and the Ex-chairman's Pick (Peter Watson, Dunc Bye, Rob and Jane Chapman, Neil) finished on 89, a commendable effort. As for me, I totted up my list and made 86, which wasn't at all bad, considering I wasn't really trying and only went to five sites. One of my best day's birding in York ever? Definitely!

The Double Decker* Duo was presented to Tim Jones later for finding me two York ticks.

*This chocolatey tradition started with the Glossy Ibis found by Dunc Bye back in December 2017. I bought him a DD as a thank you for finding a York tick and the rest is history!

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