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.

I will write more about this adventure once I have recovered! A number of birding mates have asked for the full list, so here it is. I expect that the list of what we didn't see is just as interesting! We are not going to share our route, but you will be able to figure it out!

The 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.