Sunday 26 May 2019

Baikal/Bakewell/Toytown Teal

A stunning drake Baikal Teal had arrived in Yorkshire on Friday, after spending a few weeks on the Ouse Washes in Cambridgeshire. The bird showed well at Kilnsea Wetlands before heading north again to Hornsea Mere. I convinced Duncan Bye to leave Wheldrake for a few hours this morning and we headed east to have a look for the bird.

After failing to see it from the south side of the Mere, we headed round to Wassand Hide and saw the bird with three Wigeon on Decoy Bay. A stunningly handsome duck, if accepted as wild, it will be only the eight record for Britain and the second for Yorkshire, so a level of rarity only surpassed by its beauty.

I dipped the previous Yorkshire bird, at Flamborough Head in spring 2013, so this was especially pleasing to see and in much better plumage than the bird I had seen at Minsmere back in 2001. We also saw Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Teal, Goldeneye and plenty of Swifts. Several Cetti's Warblers sang too.

Baikal Teal. Difficult to phonescope in poor light and a fresh westerly wind.

Back at Bank Island, a drake Garganey dabbled about, along with a Little Ringed Plover, Little Egret and three Oystercatchers.

Saturday 25 May 2019

Goshawk Nest-cam

This New Forest Goshawk nest-cam is fantastic and well worth a watch!

There are four happy chicks in the nest and if you watch for a bit you have a good chance of seeing one of the adult Goshawks coming in with food or just to check up on the chicks.

Yorkshire Record Breakers: an epic May day!

It's 1.30 am and pitch black. I'm stood shin-deep in rain-soaked grass in the Lower Derwent Valley, near York, straining my ears for the nasal rattle of a drake Garganey. I know this handsome duck is here somewhere – I saw him several hours earlier – but he's done a bunk and I feel gutted, though I don't let on to my team mates. Suddenly, an unexpected call pierces the darkness: "Common Sandpiper!" exclaims Mark instantly. Game on: a good bird and one we knew we couldn't expect to see later (as it turned out, we didn't!). Our collective spirit lifted, our soggy trousers and wet feet were soon forgotten as we piled back into the car and headed off on our Yorkshire Big Day.

To read the full write-up from Team Dirty Habicht's Yorkshire Big Day - check it out on the Birdguides website

To view our full record-breaking list, see here.

Garganey, North Duffield Carrs last year

Friday 24 May 2019

Going plastic free, bit by bit!

We have all seen how the production of plastic waste, particularly from single-use sources is not only causing huge ecological damage in our oceans but is also using lots of fossil fuels to produce in the first place. We should all try and reduce our useage, particularly of single-use plastic and definitely where there is a simple alternative.

Going entirely plastic free is very hard living in Britain, but it is not all or nothing. If everybody just reduced their use/purchase of single-use plastic just a bit, collectively it would have a HUGE impact! This year, our family resolution was to take some simple steps to reduce our single-use plastic and to be honest it has been pretty easy! Here is what we have done so far:

  1. Always carry a water bottle so we don't have to purchase water while out and about.*
  2. Always carry a drinks container just in case we fancy a coffee on the go.*
  3. Get our milk delivered in glass bottles to our door. This has been great as we very rarely run out of milk these days!
  4. Buying dry goods (eg rice) from Bishy Weigh in York to avoid plastic packaging.
  5. Getting a weekly organic veg box delivered to our door.
  6. Taking containers to the supermarket deli so that they don't put your cheese in a bag.
  7. Stopped using plastic bags to put your fruit in at the supermarket.*
  8. Recycling ALL recyclable plastic products at St Nick's in York via Bishy Weigh.
  9. Never use single-use carrier bags - we take our own bags with us when shopping.*
  10. Never use plastic drinking straws when out. If there is no paper straw alternative, we drink from the glass. Like adults. 

(*we were doing some of this stuff already to be honest, at least some of the time, we now just do it all the time!)

None of these things are particularly difficult. Milk and veg delivery is a bit more expensive than buying the same wrapped in plastic from supermarkets, but what cost the Earth?

Please do what you can. As somebody once said, every little helps!

Monday 20 May 2019

Easington Collared Flycatcher

Two big Yorkshire rarities turned up during our Yorkshire Big Day attempt on 11th May. The first we were fortunate enough to connect with, a delightful female Collared Flycatcher at Easington Cemetery, whilst the second, a singing male Brown Shrike at Cowden, was tantalizingly close, but sadly just out of reach.

Collared Flycatcher is a first-class rarity and a spring male certainly takes some beating for handsomeness (and I do have a thing for black and white species...). The story of my first British Collared Flycatcher can be read here. This female was very enjoyable too, not least because it was a huge bonus bird for our Yorkshire Big Day but also because it is a potentially tricky identification, so getting some, albeit brief, experience with this species is always good. We were fortunate to arrive on site not too long after it had been identified and the little lady performed beautifully, flicking about in roadside trees and at one point descending to a puddle on the edge of the road.

Note the greyish collar and broad white primary patch almost reaching the wing-edge

I was sad not to have a longer look, but the Big Day called us away...

Black Gold

Friday 10th May:  The last gasp of reconnaissance for our Yorkshire Big Day the following day - more to come on that later! With easterly winds and a little rain during the week, I initially headed out locally, to Bank Island and then onto Wheldrake Ings.

At Bank Island I was pleased to note the Pintail pair and a drake Garganey - these would both come in handy tomorrow as both are scarce Yorkshire birds. On to Wheldrake Ings, noting several Garden Warblers singing along the way down to Tower Hide, their chattering melodic ramble reminiscent of and yet different to the fluting notes of nearby Blackcaps. To the right of the Tower Hide, 25 humbug-headed Whimbrel were probing the meadows. This felt a little unusual; they usually frequent fields near Storwood, only flying to Wheldrake to roost. Perhaps the recent dry weather has meant foraging is more rewarding here in the damp herb-rich meadows.

Round to Swantail and I picked up the dusky form of an adult Spotted Redshank, tailing a Common Redshank, an elegant slender shadow. Spotshanks are a pretty scarce bird in the York area, with only a small handful of records every year, so this dusky bird was true patch gold.

Always distant, the Redshank's shadow.

After drawing a relative blank at North Duffield Carrs, I headed west to the Aire Valley to pin down some key species for the next day. Greenshanks flew over, Green Woodpeckers yaffled, Spoonbills bounced around in the trees and Bearded Tits flew in to greet me - I doubt it would be this easy in 24 hours' time!

Little Owl, St Aidan's RSPB. Little did I know how important this owl would be the following day...

Sunday 12 May 2019

Yorkshire Big Day Record!

Yesterday (11th May 2019), I spent 23.5 hours birding in Yorkshire, with three great mates: Rich Baines, Mark Hawkes, Dunc Poyser. We drove 353 miles and clocked up 156 species in some of Yorkshire's most iconic landscapes. As far as we are aware, the previous Yorkshire 24 hour Big Day record was 155, set on 16th May 1998.

Yorkshire Big Day - an abridged version of this was previously published on

It is 1.30am and pitch-black. I am standing shin-deep in rain-soaked grass in the Lower Derwent Valley, near York, straining my ears for the nasal rattle of a drake Garganey. I know this handsome duck is here somewhere – I saw him several hours earlier - but he’s done a bunk and I feel a little bit gutted, though I don’t let on to my team-mates. Suddenly, an unexpected call pierces the darkness. “Common Sandpiper!” exclaims Mark instantly. Game on, a good bird and one we knew we couldn’t definitely expect to see later (and as it turned out, we didn’t!). Our collective spirit lifted, and our soggy trousers and wet feet were soon forgotten as we piled back into the car and headed off.
This scenario will be familiar to anybody who has taken part in a bird race, or a ‘Big Day’ as they are becoming known. To the non-initiated, perhaps the more sensible, this kind of nocturnal activity may seem rather crazy, but a Big Day should be on all keen birders’ bucket lists. 

We had spent a long time planning our Big Day. Back in September, team captain and ‘Ely 10’ birder Duncan Poyser had proposed to the rest of us (Rich Baines, Mark Hawkes and myself) that we should have a go at a Yorkshire Big Day and try and beat the existing record. This presented two challenges; firstly, Yorkshire is huge, so the logistical challenge is considerable; secondly, we didn’t actually know what the record was! There was not a lot we could do about county size, but we could at least identify our target. After a bit of searching I tracked down an article in a copy of Yorkshire Birding from 1999, about a team smashing a previous Yorkshire record with an impressive total of 155. With a bit of thought we realised this would be a huge challenge but was definitely within reach. Duncan put together Team ‘Dirty Habicht’, a play on the German word for Goshawk (we are all a bit obsessed by this raptor) made up of veteran Big Day birders. We knew success would be based on thorough planning and then sticking to our plan on the day.

 Team Dirty Habicht

The current record had stood for over 20 years, having been set in May 1998. The fact it had not been exceeded in all this time was testament to the four birders’ (Craig Ralston, George Watola, Brian Hedley) persistence in nailing the perfect route, combined with excellent local knowledge and great birding skill. I read and re-read George’s write-up in Yorkshire Birding. It was clear that the playing field had changed in the intervening period. Nightingales have disappeared from Yorkshire as a breeding species, as have Ruddy Ducks and species such as Turtle Dove have become much rarer. On the upside, Yorkshire birders have welcomed the arrival of several new species that the record holders could never have expected to see, such as Red Kite, Spoonbill and Little Egret. There are several fantastic new birding sites too, including North Cave Wetlands YWT, RSPB St Aidans and Kilnsea Wetlands YWT.

Over the winter period, our Big Day route began to take shape. It wouldn’t be too different from George’s itinerary, being a clockwise loop through Yorkshire. We split our birds into categories: those we practically couldn’t miss were scored one, those that we would need to work at would be two and those that were possible but unlikely would be three. We would need to record all of our ‘ones’ and a significant number of ‘twos’ to stand a chance of hitting our target. We set the date – it had to be in May – and the 11th was the one we could all make. We knew this would probably be too early for some summer migrants, such as Nightjar, but it could give us the advantage of some lingering winter visitors. Unfortunately, committing to the 11th would mean when we arrived at Spurn, the tide would be out and this could make seeing waders on the Humber mudflats tricky. One thing we could do nothing about would be the weather; we would just have to keep our fingers crossed. 

As 11th May approached, our focus shifted to reconnaissance, an essential part of Big Day planning. This would be down to Rich and myself as we are based here in God’s Own County. Both Duncan and Mark live in Cambridgeshire, so could not help much with that side of things, but spent hours scouring the internet for recent sightings and other useful ‘gen’. Our task was to check out as many of our ‘twos’ and trickier ‘ones’ as possible. 

Things really started to hot-up on the birding scene in early May. A bit of easterly and rain brought some drift migrants to the coast and Black and Arctic Terns to our wetlands. One or two rarities were found and helpfully lingered, but none really on our route. Some winter species were still looking settled – would they hang on a few more days? Even better, the weather, which looked rough all week seemed to be calming down significantly by Saturday. This was beginning to look good.
Some late ‘reccying’ and some very useful gen offered by birding mates from across the county really improved our chances of connecting with some potentially difficult species. Craig Ralston, site manager for the Lower Derwent Valley National Nature Reserve (and one of the team that held the record) generously agreed to take us round his patch in the first part of our Big Day to help us connect with some of the valley’s special birds. Other birders kindly offered to check a few sites for us and pass on gen on the day itself. Our excitement was growing by the hour! 

So, to the day itself, or rather, the night. The team assembled at my house near York, before heading over to the LDV to meet Craig at 11.30pm. Rain dappled the windscreen – this wasn’t meant to happen! A little while later, the rain had stopped and we arrived at our first site, to begin counting down the minutes before our Big Day was officially off the blocks. Midnight arrived and we all shook hands and took deep breaths as our quest began. A Tawny Owl promptly hooted loudly in the still air. One down, 155 more to go! We waited a while longer hoping for a Woodcock or a Woodlark, both of which we knew were present. Sadly, not a peep was heard from either. 

Our tour of the LDV was amazing on the one hand, slightly disappointing on the other. To be standing in this world-class wetland in the darkness, surrounded by the heart-melting cries of Curlews and Lapwings was humbling, but we sadly failed to add on any of our key target species that we had hoped for. Common Sandpiper was the only bonus bird. We had also been unprepared for rain and consequently our feet were soaked along with our trousers; not the best start to 24 hours in the field! We thanked Craig for being incredibly selfless in helping a team trying to beat his winning total and then we headed north. We contemplated our target which seemed so far away and out of reach. Craig’s team had picked up Nightingale, Nightjar, Spotted Crake and Grasshopper Warbler in the early hours, four species we had failed to find.  

I took driving duties and chauffeured our team north to our next stake out. Despite the slow start and wet feet, we were still feeling upbeat. I was secretly anxious as our next target was Long-eared Owl, which I had located the previous week. Would the bird call? How long would we wait to see if it did? If it started to rain again, would it remain silent? I strode out into the darkness hoping I would be able to locate the right area in the void. A Redshank called in the night. Reaching the spot, I called for quiet and eight ears all tuned in. Right on cue, the nasal call of a female Long-eared Owl penetrated the night, relieving my anxiety in a split second, prompting a round of high-fives from the team! Excellent. Then, to add a cherry on top of the cake, the beautiful, fluting song of a Woodlark drifted out of the darkness. Fantastic, two quality birds firmly on the list. 

It was 3am and we had our first decent drive to get to the North York Moors for dawn. We had a long list of target species to tick off, some of which we would only have a chance of in the next few hours. This would be make-or-break time. The weather conditions in the preceding week had offered us a back-up plan, as some of the summer migrants we would hope to see in the early morning would also hopefully be available as grounded migrants on the coast.

Arriving in a wooded valley, I parked up and we all tumbled out of the car, bleary-eyed and fuzzy-headed. Our bodies were complaining bitterly about having had no sleep all night! A Redstart sang from a nearby tree and then the unmistakeable form of a roding Woodcock flew straight over our heads, grunting and squeaking as it went. A quick coffee and a few crisps (the perfect breakfast!) fuelled our decision to head further north to our Ring Ouzel site. Stopping on the moorland in the twilight was exhilarating. The first light of dawn greeted us in the east as unseen Red Grouse, Golden Plover and Snipe called all around us. We dropped down into a wooded valley. Blackbirds were already heralding the approaching day, and one by one, other birds added their voices to the chorus. This was a really special moment. There was not a breath of wind and in this spectacular landscape, enveloped in golden dawn light and immersed in nature, we shared a few broad smiles. Out of the dark blue, a Lesser Redpoll flew over calling, a ‘big’ bird, as they are pretty scarce at this time of year. I then caught the aural equivalent of a glimpse of song that could just be our target species. I walked away from the valley and the dawn chorus and soon whistled the team who came running. The ethereal song of a male Ring Ouzel carried across the heather from the rocks on the other side of the valley. Spendid!

We enjoyed the moment, but pressed on, back down the slope to the woods. We were hoping for a cascade of woodland birds here and the site didn’t disappoint, with Tree Pipit, Marsh Tit and Nuthatch quickly added to the growing list, along with some potentially tricky Big Day species, Sparrowhawk and Bullfinch. We had hoped for Pied Flycatcher here as we had seen a Tweet that one had been singing here mid-week. However, we knew there was a chance on the coast later…
Next up, the pressure was on Rich. One of Rich’s jobs is running a Turtle Dove project hosted by the North York Moors National Park. The project is helping this rapidly declining species in one of its last strongholds in northern England. Turtle Doves had been back in Lockton near Pickering for a little while and we hoped we were not too late to hear them purring. Parking up, Rich’s practised ears immediately heard the characteristic song of a male Turtle Dove. We walked round to the main street and found this stunning singer atop a spruce in a garden, purring his head off. What a treat! Turtle Doves are such scarce birds these days, that it is easy to forget how stunning they are. The dove flew into the large tree just above our heads and continued purring – what a show-off! He then returned to his favoured spruce to chase away a Collared Dove. We added Tree Sparrow and Swift and realised it was time to go.

We headed to the Great Yorkshire Forest where it was time for ‘Team Habicht’ to get its Goshawk on! As we pulled into the car park, we were relieved to see a Jay appear, another tricky Big Day bird, especially in mid-May. A gang of chipping Crossbills appeared right on cue, followed by another Tree Pipit, Garden Warblers and Siskins. This was going well. We scanned the edge of a clear-fell where Rich had recently seen Goshawks perched, like grey ghosts, surveying their territory. Today it looked like we would draw a blank until suddenly, Rich spotted the cruciform shape of a Gos gliding over the top of a nearby plantation. I got on the bird immediately as it circled round, as did Mark, but Dunc did not manage to see it. Following standard rules, we could still count this as three out of four members of the team had seen it and that meant we could add it to the list. Our namesake species under the belt, Team Habicht were overjoyed, and it was time to move on. We soon added Dipper (but missed Mandarin and Kingfisher) and another Goshawk, this time found by Dunc.

We popped into Wykeham South Lakes on the chance that the preceding week’s Ring-necked Duck would have made an appearance, but it had not, though we did add Egyptian Goose and a few other common species. Our next big list boost would come from the coast and that was where we planned to head next. Our birding mate Mark Pearson had supplied us with gen about a Great Northern Diver in Filey Bay plus Common Scoters off the Brigg, so this reconfirmed our plan to head there. We now needed some luck. We had to add some crucial species there as if we missed any we could throw the race.

Parking at the top of Filey North Cliff Country Park, we started birding with military efficiency, splitting our duties: Dunc scanning the north cliffs for Peregrine (success!), Mark seawatching and Rich and myself scanning the bay. Soon, we located a Red-throated Diver, a good bird for the list, eclipsed a little later when I spotted a more distant diver with a distinctive profile and clear bulk: a first-summer Great Northern Diver. Result! A tight pack of Common Scoters were actively feeding off the Brigg and Arctic and Sandwich Terns added themselves on to our growing list. We headed for the end of Carr Naze to scour Filey Brigg, which was largely covered by the tide. Here we found Turnstones and a real bonus in the shape of two Purple Sandpipers. Shortly, Mark shouted “Get on this diver!”. We all swung our scopes round to see a Black-throated Diver flapping north. Wow! All three common divers in fifteen minutes, none of which we thought we’d see. Mark then did it again, picking up a Great Skua heading north out over the mirror-like North Sea. Well done Mark! We scanned and scanned again for both Eider and Rock Pipit, two species we had expected to see here. It was not to be, and we headed back to the car, under blue skies. 

It was 11am and for the first time we were behind schedule, but boy, had it been worth it! In blazing sunshine, we headed south to Hornsea Mere, a large coastal lake. Sadly, the trio of White-fronted Geese had departed mid-week, leaving us with a chance of Pink-footed Goose and hopefully Goldeneye. Hornsea is also a great spot for a Black Tern or Little Gull, so we thought it would be worth a look. I couldn’t rouse Tony Martin for an update, so we drove to Kirkholme Point which would at least be time-efficient. In a few minutes we had added Common Tern and Reed Warbler plus a superb Hobby that was skilfully hunting dragonflies in front of the reedbed, but neither of our target species were visible. 

Spurn was next on the itinerary, where we would continue to expand our list. As we commenced our journey, Tony called with news of a possible female Collared Flycatcher at Easington, near Spurn! This news was like setting a bomb off in the car. Fatigue and weariness disappeared as we hastily tweaked our plans and contemplated our luck at being almost in the right place at the right time. The journey south was slow and winding and our frustration rose as we got stuck behind a succession of slow drivers, buses and tractors. After what seemed like an age, we pulled onto the verge by Easington Cemetery. About twenty birders were gathered including Tony, who showed us where the flycatcher was feeding, in a tree across the road. A few fleeting, tantalising glimpses and then the bird dropped onto the ground next to a large puddle, right out in the open, giving incredible views. The bird flicked up into the low branches of the trees overhanging the cemetery fence and gave great views, flycatching in the dappled sunlight. A fantastic bonus bird! Not usually the kind to tick and run, today was different, so thanking friends for their help, we headed for Sammy’s Point.

Collared Flycatcher, Easington. 

After the elation of seeing only my second-ever British Collared Flycatcher, my rare-dar was on high alert and I really wanted to spend some time at Sammy’s. However, time is what we didn’t have, so we had to be quick. We scanned the vast mudflats of the Humber, which seemed birdless, save a few Little Egrets and a solitary Whimbrel. Out towards the curving Spurn peninsula, we could see wheeling flocks of waders – we aimed to grill these later. Not much stirred in the bushes. It was early afternoon and hot, not the best time to look for migrant passerines. Nevertheless, Steve Webb, who had earlier found the Collared Fly, was clearly on a roll and put us on to a handsome male Pied Flycatcher in one of the large Hawthorns. This was a real treat as it was one of the upland species we had missed earlier in the day. Next up, was Kilnsea Wetlands a new site built by the Environment Agency as replacement for Beacon Lagoons which will be lost due to rising sea levels. The site is managed by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and is a great place to look for waders. We soon notched-up Avocet, Black-tailed Godwit, Little Tern and Mediterranean Gull, and had a look at an interesting wagtail, that seemed to be a very washed-out ‘channel’ Wagtail. We had gen about a couple of Wood Sandpipers being in the vicinity, so we hot-footed round to Holderness Field through the baking afternoon heat. Mark, Rich and Dunc turned left to check out Beacon Lagoons and I went right to locate the Wood Sand. First up though, I noticed a small bird on a fencepost – Whinchat! Cool, another bird we’d missed on the Moors. A fellow birder, sensibly equipped with a bike offered to pedal round to the far side of the field to see if the Wood Sand was still present, to save us wasting time if it wasn’t. A little later, he signalled that it was still showing, so we hurried round to see the elegant wader. 

The tide was well out by the time we reached the Warren at Spurn. We scanned the mudflats but apart from some obliging Knot and Grey Plovers, the rest of the waders were just too far away in the shimmering heat haze. This made picking up Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling nigh on impossible, which was really frustrating. We knew it would be low tide, but we weren’t expecting strong sunshine and warm temperatures making identification beyond our reach. After the Collared Fly high, fatigue had crept back in, as had anxiety as the hours were slipping by. Time really mattered and we needed to make good decisions and plan carefully for the remaining daylight. It occurred to me that as we had seen both Mediterranean Gull and Wood Sandpiper, we could skip North Cave Wetlands saving ourselves a good half an hour. If we got a move-on, we could then drop by the Humber bank to get Marsh Harrier and then back to the Lower Derwent Valley for a couple of birds before ending the day in the Aire Valley. Before heading west, we called in at Easington Cemetery again, as we had heard that a late Redwing and a Spotted Flycatcher were present. We might be the only birders to have turned up at a Collared Flycatcher twitch asking where the Spotted Flycatcher is! Sadly, nobody knew about either bird and a glorious male Redstart on a gravestone was little consolation.


Worse was to come. Passing through Patrington on the way west and my phone rang. It was Tony Martin with news of another fantastic Yorkshire rarity: a singing male Brown Shrike nearby at Cowden. As Tony gave directions, it occurred to me that it would be half an hour to Cowden, a little while there watching the bird and half an hour back - at least. This would be over an hour we couldn’t afford to spend on just one bird at this stage of the race. The other three members of the team had all seen Brown Shrike in Britain, so the decision was mine. There was no contest; we couldn’t turn back now. The race must go on!

Over the next couple of hours, we put a lot of miles under our belts and added Corn Bunting, Marsh Harrier, Spotted Flycatcher, Pintail and Little Ringed Plover, followed by Raven and Red Kite. We dipped Garganey again by minutes, despite Duncan Bye calling to say he’d relocated a pair within minutes of us leaving Bank Island near York! As we arrived into the Aire Valley, to Fairburn Ings, we were in the mid-140s, with our target now clearly in sight, though rapidly running low on time. We notched up Spoonbill with ease – who’d have thought that would have been possible in Yorkshire back in the ‘90s? Then on to our final daylight site, the RSPB’s splendid St Aidan’s. The team was keen that I did a proper list-check as we were desperate to know precisely how many species we now needed and what was possible.  The answer was 143, so we needed 12 more to equal the record, 13 to beat it. Could we do it? There was some almost-guaranteed-species here, and we soon added those on, including a gorgeous Black-necked Grebe. Mark picked up the lingering drake Goldeneye on Main Lake – good work. Even better perhaps, Dunc picked up a Pink-footed Goose with the Greylags, one we’d missed at Hornsea earlier. Dunc then did it again, when he said “Jono, could you check if that is a female Goosander on the lake over there?” I swung my scope round and sure enough, the large sawbill was loafing contentedly on the water, oblivious to our stresses. Result! Nice one Dunc! This took us to 151. I was really pleased with that. I had read about another Yorkshire team getting to 150 before the record holders had beaten it with 155, so this was a major milestone. I shared this with the team, but they seemed nonplussed.

The sun was beginning to set over the high ground to the west of the reedbeds and we were running out of time rapidly. We knew there were a couple of birds we could locate on call once it was dark, but we really needed to add more during the last remnants of daylight. Remarkably, we hadn’t seen a Kingfisher or a Green Woodpecker. I had heard a Green Woodpecker here yesterday. Where was it now?! We knew Little Owl was very likely, another species I had seen here yesterday. Garganey, which we’d missed in the Lower Derwent Valley twice today (!) was here somewhere and a calling Grey Partridge was a possibility as dusk approached. We needed some luck. And then we got it. A small dark shape scuttled across the track in front of Rich and me. “That was a partridge”, Rich exclaimed, and suggested that he thought it could have been a Grey. I suggested we wait for the other two to catch us up as we needed at least three of us to see it. We proceeded cautiously. I asked Rich where he thought it had gone when two angry Grey Partridges erupted out of the grass and flew past us all shouting their heads off! Excellent, 152. 

Rich, on a high, hung back to have one last scan for Garganey. The rest of us headed back towards the visitor centre to try and find the Little Owl. The record seemed so close, but we were now really running out of time. My phone rang. It was Rich “I’ve got the Garganey” he said calmly. I, not so calmly, yelled “Garganey!” at Dunc and Mark and ran back down the track. Unfortunately, the bird had landed in the open but then walked out of sight into some rushes. Damn! It had to be there somewhere. We repositioned ourselves up the slope a little and scoured the area through our scopes in the near-darkness. Dunc picked it up asleep near some Teal. Top work! 

Next up, Little Owl. This was the only remaining species we were likely to add here, now that it was virtually dark, unless a Greenshank or something flew over. Kingfisher and Green Woodpecker would have gone to roost by now, and so became added to the list of birds that got away, together with Rock Pipit, Bar-tailed Godwit and Sanderling. A short list, but a frustrating one! A Blackbird was calling angrily from the compound fence. I followed his stare and there was a sleepy-looking Little Owl atop a concrete post. I had seen this bird yesterday, so was pleased he had decided to show up. 154. So close!

We were now faced with possibly the biggest decision of the day (except perhaps the Brown Shrike!): where to go next. We felt Water Rail was guaranteed if we visited a decent wetland. That would bring us level with the record, but we still needed one more. There was the Great Reed Warbler at Wintersett, but we didn’t know the site and worried that we might not find the right spot and didn’t know if Water Rails would be present. So, we discounted Wintersett. What we needed was a Grasshopper Warbler. There had been a decent arrival in Yorkshire a week or two ago, so surely there must be one around somewhere. We had appealed on Twitter earlier for Gropper gen, but no current news was forthcoming. I suggested Staveley, a lovely Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve close to Boroughbridge, about half an hour up the A1, where I was aware there had been a Gropper recently. Also, Staveley has Water Rails. Dunc agreed, so we went north. 

Having become list-keeper during the day, I was acutely aware that if I had made a mistake in my counting I could be in a lot of trouble with the team. With this in mind, I asked Rich to double-check for me. I didn’t want us to think we’d beaten the record only for us to realise I’d accidentally ticked something we hadn’t seen. I had been up for a long time after all! A few minutes later, with my anxiety levels rising rapidly, Rich laughed and said casually, “You didn’t tick Pintail”. What? I immediately knew that that could mean I’d also forgotten to tick Little Ringed Plover, which we’d seen at Bank Island at the same time. I had missed it too. That meant that if my original count was right, we had already beaten the record, with Rich’s late Garganey drawing us level and my Little Owl being the record-breaker! We gave the list to Dunc, as captain, to check the count. 156. We’d done it! 

We reached Staveley. Mist hung over the reedbeds and overhead, a clear sky was studded with stars. We drank a beer in the deserted car park, before walking round to where I thought the Grasshopper Warbler had been reeling. We didn’t hear it, nor did we hear a squeal from a Water Rail. But we didn’t care, we were elated, shattered and smiling like Cheshire, or rather Yorkshire cats. We had recorded 156 fantastic birds, every one appreciated as much as every other, experienced some of Yorkshire’s most breath-taking scenery and achieved something together as friends that will be treasured forever in our memories. 

I don’t think this new county record will stand for twenty years like the previous one; I hope our adventure will inspire some more teams to have a go at beating it next year with their own Big Day. 160 is definitely possible in Yorkshire, with good weather, lots of planning, tenacity and a bit of luck. Many thanks to all the birders who helped us with our Big Day and our massive gratitude to the organisations large and small who look after the amazing places we visited during our quest.

The record list

  1. Pink-footed Goose
  2. Greylag Goose
  3. Brent Goose
  4. Canada Goose
  5. Mute Swan
  6. Egyptian Goose
  7. Shelduck
  8. Gadwall
  9. Wigeon
  10. Mallard
  11. Shoveler
  12. Pintail
  13. Garganey
  14. Teal
  15. Pochard
  16. Tufted Duck
  17. Common Scoter
  18. Goldeneye
  19. Goosander
  20. Red-legged Partridge
  21. Grey Partridge
  22. Pheasant
  23. Red Grouse
  24. Red-throated Diver
  25. Black-throated Diver
  26. Great Northern Diver
  27. Little Grebe
  28. Great Crested Grebe
  29. Black-necked Grebe
  30. Fulmar
  31. Gannet
  32. Cormorant
  33. Shag
  34. Bittern
  35. Grey Heron
  36. Little Egret
  37. Spoonbill
  38. Marsh Harrier
  39. Sparrowhawk
  40. Goshawk
  41. Red Kite
  42. Buzzard
  43. Moorhen
  44. Coot
  45. Avocet
  46. Oystercatcher
  47. Grey Plover
  48. Golden Plover
  49. Lapwing
  50. Ringed Plover
  51. Little Ringed Plover
  52. Common Sandpiper
  53. Wood Sandpiper
  54. Redshank
  55. Whimbrel
  56. Curlew
  57. Black-tailed Godwit
  58. Turnstone
  59. Knot
  60. Dunlin
  61. Purple Sandpiper
  62. Snipe
  63. Woodcock
  64. Great Skua
  65. Guillemot
  66. Razorbill
  67. Puffin
  68. Kittiwake
  69. Black-headed Gull
  70. Mediterranean Gull
  71. Common Gull
  72. Herring Gull
  73. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  74. Great Black-backed Gull
  75. Little Tern
  76. Common Tern
  77. Arctic Tern
  78. Sandwich Tern
  79. Rock Dove/Feral Pigeon
  80. Stock Dove
  81. Woodpigeon
  82. Turtle Dove
  83. Collared Dove
  84. Cuckoo
  85. Barn Owl
  86. Little Owl
  87. Tawny Owl
  88. Long-eared Owl
  89. Swift
  90. Great Spotted Woodpecker
  91. Kestrel
  92. Hobby
  93. Peregrine
  94. Jay
  95. Magpie
  96. Jackdaw
  97. Rook
  98. Carrion Crow
  99.  Raven
  100. Bearded Tit
  101. Skylark
  102. Woodlark
  103. Sand Martin
  104. Swallow
  105. House Martin
  106. Marsh Tit
  107. Coal Tit
  108. Great Tit
  109. Blue Tit
  110. Long-tailed Tit
  111. Nuthatch
  112. Treecreeper
  113. Wren
  114. Dipper
  115. Goldcrest
  116. Cetti's Warbler
  117. Willow Warbler
  118. Chiffchaff
  119. Sedge Warbler
  120. Reed Warbler
  121. Blackcap
  122. Garden Warbler
  123. Lesser Whitethroat
  124. Whitethroat
  125. Spotted Flycatcher
  126. Robin
  127. Pied Flycatcher
  128. Collared Flycatcher
  129. Redstart
  130. Whinchat
  131. Stonechat
  132. Wheatear
  133. Ring Ouzel
  134. Blackbird
  135. Song Thrush
  136. Mistle Thrush
  137. Starling
  138. Dunnock
  139. Pied Wagtail
  140. Grey Wagtail
  141. Yellow Wagtail
  142. Meadow Pipit
  143. Tree Pipit
  144. Yellowhammer
  145. Reed Bunting
  146. Corn Bunting
  147. Chaffinch
  148. Bullfinch
  149. Greenfinch
  150. Crossbill
  151. Redpoll
  152. Siskin
  153. Goldfinch
  154. Linnet
  155. House Sparrow
  156. Tree Sparrow
Collared Flycatcher, Easington. The best bird of the day and mind-blowingly unexpected!

Friday 3 May 2019

Old Red Eyes and the Spaniard

I have had the busiest week, with the launch of Ripon City Wetlands on Wednesday and various other things going on with work. It's not over yet, as we throw open the gates at RCW tomorrow and I am lined up for a series of guided walks. Not the worst job in the world though, I have to admit.

Night Heron by the water's edge.

I decided to leave work early afternoon to catch up on a bit of lieu time and this worked out well. Firstly, I paid the (Black-crowned) Night Heron a visit at Fairburn Ings. Dodging the showers, I watched this lovely little heron from Charlie's Bridge whilst it chilled out on the large island off the village, occasionally preening. I love Night Herons with their immaculate black, white and grey plumage, topped off by two great white plumes on the rear of the head, sprouting like a forked antenna. I am always entranced by Night Herons' ruby-red eyes, glowing like coals in a rather gentle face.

Old Red Eyes

Across the water a multitude of martins, swallows and swifts pelted after water-hatched insects as the clouds built angrily overhead. Sadly, I didn't jam any Arctic Terns; all those hawking for insects over the lake were Common Terns. I decided I should do a bit of reconnaissance for our impending bird race (on the 11th), so I headed up the Aire to the visitor centre. However, I suddenly remembered about the Iberian Chiffchaff just down the road at South Kirkby, so I immediately turned round and shot south.

I arrived at the end of Carr Lane and heard a Cuckoo calling from the scrub - perhaps a good omen! I picked myself through the puddles, dog crap and litter and up the slope, surrounded in the vivid green hawthorns by the sound of Willow Warblers and Blackcaps. The rain had lifted and things were brightening up. I strained for the sound of an unfamiliar warbler, that up to now I had only heard online. Shortly, the distinctive, three-part song came loud and clear from a nearby tree. Fab! But I couldn't see it - how frustrating. The bird sang three times and then was gone. Ten minutes later and I heard the song again, back down the hill. Sneaky thing!

The Spaniard's domain

I crept down the bank as the Iberian Chiffchaff continued to sing. After a few minutes it flew towards me and landed nearby in a Ash tree allowing me to finally see it. For the next minute or so, it perched out in the open, singing it's heart out. A very subtle bird, though with a nice lemony-wash on the face and supercilium and under the tail, along with brighter green upperparts and little in the way of an eyering like you would expect on a standard Chiffchaff. The bill looked long as did the wings, but still a very subtle bird which I would probably struggle with if silent! 

Iberian Chiffchaff, South Kirkby

A Common Chiffchaff nearby seemed to be giving his Spanish cousin some grief and moved it on quickly. Another birder turned up and together we birded the hillside, eventually refinding the IC, singing from his favourite trees. A rather unassuming yet educational bird.

A Cuckoo flew past just before I escaped the gathering rainstorm and headed back north.