Thursday 29 August 2019

Home Turf

Good to be back on home turf after ten days out west. The familiar smell of the River Derwent on a lazy late summer afternoon, the occasional baa from one of the Trust's Hebridean sheep now grazing the fog (grass regrowing following the hay cut), and the excited calls of Green Sandpipers from the Pool...bliss!

At least 16 Green Sandpipers present on the Pool, along with a lone Greenshank and 20 Snipe. A Marsh Harrier hunted distantly and a scattering of warblers haunted the riverside willows.


Snipe feeding on the Pool.

Juvenile Green Sandpiper

North Wales August 2019

Spent just over a week on family hols between Anglesey and Snowdonia, North Wales. With some gen from Marc Hughes @marcbuzzard I managed to steal a bit of time mainly to do some pre-breakfast seawatching at Point Lynas on the northeast tip of Anglesey.


Seawatching proved to be fantastic with the highlight being a pod of Risso's Dolphins seen on two out of four visits, at one point joining the resident pods of Harbour Porpoises feeding close in off the head, giving superb views. I wished I had taken my DSLR as I would have got some good pics, but it was very difficult to phonescope, and I failed miserably. This pic is borrowed from Flickr Creative Commons, but is in the exact pose of one of the individuals I saw on the 22nd, which surfaced right in my scope! Lunar who joined me for seawatching seemed quite intrigued by the sounds of the dolphins and porpoises blowing offshore!

Risso's Dolphin. Pods of five and three seen from Point Lynas on 21st and 22nd August.

Large numbers of Manx Shearwaters, Kittiwakes, terns and gannets were a constant feature, along with several Arctic Skuas and a couple of Bonxies, plus small numbers of Whimbrel and Common Scoters moving. Choughs fed quietly in the horse paddocks on the way up to the lighthouse, and a Peregrine was knocking about. Elsewhere, I checked out Dulas Estuary, which revealed a fine adult Mediterranean Gull among the commoner brethren, plenty of common waders, including a smart Grey Plover, and a couple of Greenshank. 

 Med Gull and Grey Plover. Always nice.

On the 22nd August we spent a couple of hours on the beach at Traeth Lligwy, where I discovered a large tern roost. Among the c300 Common Terns were quite a few adult and juvenile Arctics, several Sandwich Terns, and best of all, two adult Roseate Terns. Both birds were ringed, one being still in breeding plumage with a reddish bill base and almost full black hood, with the other bird sporting a white forehead and a black bill. Frustratingly - for the terns as well as me  - the flock was regularly flushed by dog walkers, but this did mean I got to hear the Roseates' calls, a clear Spotted Redshank-like 'chew-wick', which stood out from the raucous cacophony of the flock.

Roseate Tern #1 - note black forehead and dark red bill base.

 Roseate Tern #2 - yawning.

Roseate Tern #2.

 Roseate Tern #2 preening

Friday 16 August 2019

Some of us have got it, some of us haven't!

Fantastic day yesterday with my colleagues hosting the Wildlife Zone at Countryfile Live at Castle Howard. We talked to thousands of people about Yorkshire's amazing wildlife and what they can do to help it thrive. A top day with top colleagues.

Here are two of them: Graham from my North Yorkshire team taking on Matt from the Yorkshire Peat Partnership at bean bag throwing! Who wins? Check out the video!

Sunday 11 August 2019

Park Run Pacific Swift Mayhem!

Three kilometres into a very windy York Park Run and my mobile rang. I couldn't answer but glanced at the screen to see Tony Martin's name. This could only mean one thing: big bird news! I diverted off the running track, leapt over a fence and sprinted for my car. Not really, but had I have known what the bird was, I might have done that!

This spurred me on to the finish and as soon as I could get my breath back I listened to Tony's message: "Swift with a white rump at Hornsea - either Pacific or White-rumped!" Holy crap, batman! Now I have a little bit of painful history concerning swifts with white rumps at Hornsea Mere - see here - as back in October, I narrowly missed Britain's first ever White-rumped Swift at the very same spot through simple bad luck and timing (or being too lazy). Sweating profusely and shattered from the run, I realised I had to go for this bird and as I dashed upstairs for a post-run shower, Rich Baines rang confirming the news, and the twitch was on!

Picking up Rich on the outskirts of York, we sped east, assisted by the strong westerly and were heartened by news from Tony that the bird was still present from Kirkholme Point and had been identified as a Pacific Swift. We were both delighted with this news as Rich had seen the WRS last October and like me, hadn't seen PS in the UK.

Our nerves jangled and stress elevated as the sparkling waters of the mere were glimpsed through the roadside trees as we approached Hornsea. We speculated as to whether the bird would still be present. Such a mobile species could be miles away by the time we arrived. Perhaps the bad weather would hold it?

Arriving at the Mere, I threw the car along the potholed entrance track and into the car park. A gang of about 20 birders were braced into the keen wind at the end of the point and we rushed to join them. Drat! No sign of the swift for the last 20 minutes. The air above and in the lee of Swan Island was swarming with House Martins, Swallows and the scything forms of Swifts. The gusting wind was going to be frustrating, but Rich and me found a sheltered spot comparatively out of the wind and started to scan. This felt like it was going to be difficult...Tony and Dob were there and spurred us on, saying the bird stood out, being rakish thin with a long tail and obvious white rump. It had to be there somewhere!

Hornsea Mere in the storm. I first picked up the Pacific Swift to the left of the central island (Swan Island).

Over the Mere, which looked like the North Sea, complete with white capped waves, Little Gulls and Common Terns zipped about, amid a multitude of hirundines and a few Swifts. Birders around us were getting frustrated. Some had seen it earlier, others arriving later like us, had not. As is sometimes a strange phenomenon at twitches, some birders simply stopped looking, too daunted by the task at hand perhaps, or through sheer frustration. Nevertheless, with every birder not scrutinising the flock, there is one less pair of eyes to latch on to our target. One nearby birder said he was waiting for somebody to find it...Try yourself mate!!

More birders arrived. The 'not seen for ten minutes' soon turned into 'not for half an hour mate', and then suddenly there it was, in my scope, cruising over the distant trees, white rump blinking clearly. Sure enough it was a slender, rakish swift with an attenuated rear end, exactly as Tony had described it -really quite distinctive in actual fact. I called out that I'd got it and (apparently calmly according to Rich, though I didn't feel very calm at the time!) explained its movements allowing most of the gathered throng to get on the bird. Fantastic! I moved aside and let Rich get on the swift through my scope, cue big grins, hugs and high fives all round. What a great feeling to nail this absolute belting rarity!

The Pacific Swift cruised around for the next 15 minutes or so, sometimes disappearing behind the trees only to reappear after a minute or two. Most people present managed to get views and a couple of super sharp shooters managed some long range pics with their DSLRs - amazing skills!

Pacific Swift, Hornsea Mere, 10th August 2019. Photographed brilliantly by Will Scott @WillboneScott (very nice to meet you Will!)

As about 12.10pm, I last saw the swift over Swan Island. It dipped down behind the trees and by 12.30pm I hadn't seen it again. I don't think anybody saw it after this time until it was refound miles away over Easington Church shortly before dusk. We were indeed very lucky and this helped ease the pain of missing the White-rumped Swift back in October.

Also noted, a fine Hobby, five Little Egrets, 20+ Little Gulls.

Very happy Birding Dad. Thanks to Rich for the pic.

The last time I saw a Pacific Swift was following an operation in Cairns Hospital (Australia) back in 2017, so the bird brought some interesting memories back! Oh, and the Park Run. Not bad, 21 minutes 35, my third best time for a 5km.

Tuesday 6 August 2019

Wheldrake critters

Yesterday, attempted to twitch the Flamborough Bottlenose Dolphins with the kids but was deterred by nightmarish traffic on the A64 east of York, so pulled a u-turn and went down Wheldrake Ings instead.

A smart Four-banded Longhorn Beetle was nectaring on riverside Burdock, along with c200 butterflies (counted by Addie), the best being a Small Copper. A Little Ringed Plover was hanging out on the Pool, along with three Green Sands, 30 Lapwings, several Teal and a couple of Little Egrets, including one marked HT. Plenty of Odonate action, with Black-tailed Skimmer, Emperor and Red-eyed Damselflies on the pool, along with Brown Hawker and Common Darter along the river.

Methley Little Bustard

I was left speechless when I checked my phone at breakfast to discover a male Little Bustard was at Methley, West Yorkshire! Vicky was at work and I had four kids to sort - panic! Fortunately, the owner of the two additional kids agreed to take their's back and my two too, so by 9am, my optics were in the car and I was heading south.

A short drive later and some kind gent let me look through his scope and I was amazed to see an absolutely stonking male Little Bustard casually walking around in a cut meadow, happily feeding. Scenes!

About 30 birders were squeezed on to a permissive path and the bird was showing about 150m away in the field behind the cows. Wearing shorts was a bad idea - Nettles! The LB walked about for the next 20 minutes or so, showing it's black and white neck and breast. The white on the foreneck met in a V, almost looking as if the bird was wearing a medal round it's neck! At about 10am it retired into the long grass at the foot of the far fence. It had a little preen and then hunkered down for a break. I gave it a while but it didn't reappear so though I best get back to Dad duties. A quick and dirty twitch and unbelievably my second Little Bustard in Yorkshire, following the bird at Fraisthorpe on New Year's Eve, 2014.

#Scenes! Another Yorkshire Little Bustard

Didn't think I'd be watching this corking male Little Bustard this morning on the ings at Methley, West Yorkshire. Absolute scenes! More to come later...

Monday 5 August 2019

A Dolphin named Kylie

This is a (Short-beaked) Common Dolphin that lives in Fairlie Roads off the Isle of Cumbrae, near Largs, Scotland and has been named Kylie by the FSC Millport staff. There is some debate how long she has been here but possibly since the early Noughties. She hangs out round a large red buoy that marks the shipping channel. It is very unusual for a Common Dolphin to have left her pod and gone off on her own, and nobody really understands why she has done this and why she is so faithful to the large buoy. The buoy doesn't seem to attract fish, so perhaps it just gives her a familiar comfort in some way. Remarkably, the local Harbour Porpoises sometimes come along and hang out and they actively play together. Even more remarkable is that Kylie increases the frequency of her calls and the Harbour Porpoises lower the frequency of their calls, so they can communicate! Amazing! I had a go at filming her underwater from a kayak using a GoPro, my first attempt at such things, so I was pleased to get a clip of her at least, looking nice and chilled.

When we were out on the research vessel, she rapidly joined us to ride the bough wave much to the delight of us all board. She is such a fan of this that when a yacht pulled up and the sailors sat watching her, she rode up alongside, stopped, and smashed her tail repeatedly on the water surface as if to say 'get a move on!'. Really incredible to see.

Sunday 4 August 2019

Out to Sea

My first Seabird and Whale trip of the year, in this the fifth year of Yorkshire Coast Nature S&W Trips!

The sea conditions looked dreadful by mid week and Friday's trip was cancelled and today's looked decidedly iffy. Fortunately, the forecast had improved and it dawned misty, with no wind and a light swell. Great! Having assembled the group, we were soon out on All My Sons with Sean, our skipper.

Sadly, despite the fab conditions, no Minke Whales showed today and the Bottlenose Dolphins stayed to the south. We did have a great time, with superb views of Bonxie (no pics from me as I had fishy hands as I was busy chumming!), a lovely inquisitive juvenile Arctic Tern, several Harbour Porpoises and Atlantic Grey Seals, along with lots of Puffins (and Pufflings!), Razorbills and Guillemots.

A fine time was had by all and a very enjoyable start to the whale-watching season.

Arctic Terns don't often approach the boat, but this inquisitive juvenile, flew in circles round the boat, seemingly interested to see if there was anything to eat. Juvenile Arctics are beautiful, compact with a short dark bill and pale, dusty grey upperwings, lacking the dark rear secondary bar of Common Terns. Their diminutive size is quite different from the lanky teenager look of a young Common Tern. Also note the dark cap which extends well below the eye, and the lack of lots of dark on the upper surface of the primaries.

Lots of confiding Fulmars today which seemed pleased with their handouts of Herrings.