Sunday 26 January 2020

Dapper American

A tough weekend emotionally, as my Grandma passed away yesterday morning while I was out birding at Allerthorpe. My Grandma always asked me what I'd seen when I'd been out birding, and delighted in telling me what she had seen on her garden feeders. It has been a few years since we'd chatted about such things as dementia had set in, but I will treasure those memories.


At Allerthorpe Common, Emanuela and me failed to find Friday's Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, but it was nice to hear birds reacting to the lengthening days and singing their hearts out, including Song Thrush and Great Tit. I carried on to Wheldrake Ings for a quick look, before heading home. A Peregrine was cruising about and the four Tundra Bean Geese dropped in just after I had left, so I u-turned and scoped them from the bridge.


Today, I wasn't planning to go birding, but a tweet from Lee Johnson to say he'd found a drake Green-winged Teal in front of Tower Hide lured me out. Good to see some birding mates in the hide, and shortly Duncan picked up the teal, mooching about with it's Euro cousins. It was quite flirty with a female Teal, with quite a bit of display noted. A lovely bird as ever. Nice one Lee!

Green-winged Teal. There had been a large influx of ducks since yesterday, perhaps from elsewhere in the valley, or maybe from further afield such as the Humber. There has been a GWT at Blacktoft Sands on the Humber, perhaps this bird.

Tremendous Numenius

I absolutely love Curlews. On the 12th January, this little group dropped in at Wheldrake Ings, right in front of Tower Hide. Such amazing birds. These birds will no doubt head back to the uplands of Britain come March, with one or two pairs returning to nest in the big meadow.

Dawn frost and the webbed hordes

19th January

It has been an incredibly mild winter. Today was unusual in that there was a light dusting of frost, and a few of the shallow puddles on the riverside track at Wheldrake Ings were frozen. I arrived at dawn and the light was magical as it grew in the east, silhouetting a quintet of Whooper Swans that flew in and landed on the refuge. Later, with lovely sunlight, I waded through hordes of ducks, but couldn't pick out anything unusual. As I walked back, 21 White-fronted Geese flew along the canal and east back towards East Cottingwith, and the four Tundra Bean Geese came in and landed on Swantail.

The webbed hordes

Saturday 11 January 2020

Yorkshire Yank Duo

After Park Run and Bishy scout paper collection, headed up to Nosterfield to have a look at the Lesser Yellowlegs, which apart from my rejected bird from Wheldrake Ings a few years ago (no, I'm not bitter) is my first record in Yorkshire. This bird had been found at Scorton late in 2019 and had turned up at Nosterfield earlier this week, still hanging out with the Lapwings. A typically elegant Tringa, the bird showed the usual long-legged, long-winged jizz. When all the waders flushed. it was cool to watch it flying around, complete with projecting feet hanging out the back.

Lesser Yellowlegs

It was great to meet fellow Woodcock, Emanuela, on site along with James Robson and Mark and Ellis Lucas. After a look at the redhead Smew and female Scaup nearby on Lingham Lake, Emanuela joined me to head north to have a look for the Ring-necked Duck near Bolton-on-Swale. The viewing was tricky until another birder said we could look from the car park, which we did. A handsome bird as ever, the Ringo was very active, swimming about, preening and diving. Makes a change from the usual sleeping posture!

Ring-necked Duck

After a bit the wind got up, so we drove down to Bolton-on-Swale Lake YWT as I was keen to see the results of the project I designed and secured funding for in my day job. It is looking good and it was great to see lots of birds sitting on the new gravel islands. Hopefully, Little Ringed Plovers will find them to their liking when they return in spring. The contractors had done a good job scraping the bank too, so hopefully Sand Martins might colonise. c400 Pink-footed Geese heading west, two Goosanders, 17 Little Grebes and nearby, c600 Curlews (!!!!) were the highlights.


Yorkshire Bird Race 2020

5th January was the Mike Clegg Memorial Bird Race here in Yorkshire, and this year, the recipient of the proceeds would be Jean Thorpe at the Ryedale Wildlife Rehab Centre. Jean is absolutely amazing and a one woman defiance of the disgraceful criminals who continue to persecute our beautiful birds of prey and other wildlife. Jean is not alone; we, in the birding and wildlife community stand with her and we were proud to support the fundraising efforts with our team, Nevermind the Woodcocks. The Young Upstarts, Jack Ashton-Booth, Tim Jones, Ollie Metcalfe and Chris Gomersall put together a fundraising campaign and the response was fantastic. Hopefully all the money raised will help Jean continue her fab work. As the Crowdfunding page will close imminently, if you wish to make a donation, check out Jean's blog.

Nevermind the Woodcocks, from left: Paul Brook (driver), Rich Baines, Emanuela Buizzi, JL.

So, to the Bird Race...

Skipwith Common at Dawn. Despite the mild weather, no singing Woodlarks, and no Green Woodpeckers. We did score with a Brambling, the only one of the day and plenty of Siskins zipping about, plus potentially tricky birds such as Long-tailed Tit and Bullfinch. A Woodcock flew close by as the first light illuminated the eastern sky, lifting our spirits in the chill air. We headed for Menthorpe Lane where the struggle continued and then up the east side of the Lower Derwent Valley.

Melbourne Lock. We had had some bad fortune, missing several birds by lunchtime and we could feel the race slipping out of our grasp (although to be fair, it was never in our grasp!). Two of the team forgot to take their lunch down to the lock too, so were feeling doubly low, especially as neither Cetti's Warbler or Stonechat was ticked. Shortly, Rich picked up the missing skein of eleven White-fronted Geese which had been flushed by a farmer from a field near East Cottingwith and this improved our mood.

This was followed by a comedy incident, whereby Paul managed to get his car stuck in the mud. The Young Upstarts arrived and offered a hand. It was incredibly difficult even with seven of us pushing, until Paul realised it was easier without the handbrake on! Much mirth and we added Kingfisher courtesy of Chris's sharp eyes, who noticed a bird sitting on a fence half a mile away.

After adding Marsh Tit and Nuthatch (not always easy), we headed for Wheldrake but had to double-back for the pair of Bewick's Swans which had been refound on Bubwith Ings. Paul was happy as this was a lifer for him.

Meanwhile, across the road, Rich seemed just as pleased to add Dunlin to the list! With lifted spirits we shot down to Riccall/Barlby to look for yesterday's Iceland Gull which had been refound by the Upstarts. Sadly, minutes before we arrived, it was flushed. We gave it half an hour, but it failed to return, so we headed for Wheldrake for dusk.

Our total had reached a modest 86 and from the spanking new bridge at Wheldrake Ings, we added Curlew and Coot. We tried in vain to find Little and Barn Owls as the light dimmed,  but to no avail, and the Wenlock Arms seemed like a place to relax and admit defeat, with our lowest score to date, 88.

Well done to all the teams, and especially the Young Upstarts for smashing their previous York record, with an amazing 108, and for all the teams for taking part and raising valuable funds for Jean.

Saturday 4 January 2020

From Iceland to the Caspian!

Ever since the closure of Rufforth landfill site, large gulls have dwindled considerably in the York area. Only a few hundred come into roost at Wheldrake Ings now, so the chance of one of the scarcer species has really reduced.

The news that Tim Jones had found a first-winter Iceland Gull in a field near Barlby (feeding on abbatoir waste, delightfully!), was, therefore, very unexpected and exciting, so once I'd left Sol in the capable hands of a mate and his Dad (they had pre-arranged to go indoor climbing) I shot down the A19 from York.

Chris Gomersall had seen the bird most recently in a different field, but the flock had flushed and moved back to where Tim had originally seen the bird. We gave it a good twenty minutes but there was no sign in the dense loafing flock, though many birds were obscured. A couple of adult and one first winter Lesser Black-backed Gulls were a welcome sight - hopefully a straightforward addition to tomorrow's York Bird Race list. A covey of six Grey Partridges in the adjacent field were nice too. Meanwhile, many of the gulls were heading over to the original field where they were feeding, so we decided to head back round.

After a few minutes and as more and more gulls descended, Chris announced that he'd found the Iceland. Excellent! The bird showed well, feeding with the flock, getting a fair bit of hassle from the larger species.

Iceland Gull - nice find Tim!

A little later and shortly after discussing how a flock of this size (500+) should really hold a Caspian Gull, and Chris did it again, stating he'd found a first-winter Casp! It was a real corker and proceeded to show well for the next half and hour or so, until we gave up due to cold and the gathering gloom. Strangely, the bird seemed to have nervous tick, where it frequently flicked it's head up. It may have been swallowing something, although it seemed to do it even when it hadn't been pecking at the floor. I never did make it to Wheldrake for the roost!

First-winter Caspian Gull, at the back of the flock on the left.

Thursday 2 January 2020

Magic Buteo!

I started 2020 in the same way I finished 2019, dipping the North York Moors Rough-legged Buzzard. It is a big area, and with the family in tow, I didn't have a lot of time, though they were very patient to be fair, as I scanned the Commondale and Sleddale area, on 30th December and then again on 1st January. Frustratingly, on the 30th, the bird had showed beautifully, but not for me :-( 
Today, I vowed to put the jinx to bed and head south for Stainforth near Doncaster, where a Roughleg had been hanging out for about a month. I have seen plenty of Rough-legged Buzzards over the years, but I have also dipped loads too, so it is always exciting to see one, as they are very cool birds.

I arrived on site for 8.30am which seemed to be the earliest this bird had been reported in previous days. I was surprised to find no other birders present, and even more surprised to find the bird hovering over the side of the road, right in front of me, like a fat Kestrel! I literally fell out of the car as I scrambled for my optics. I needn't have worried, as the golden headed beauty cruised over my head and casually landed about 30 metres away in the top of a small Oak tree. Absolute scenes!

Another birder showed up after a few minutes and we watched this gorgeous Arctic raptor as it surveyed the scene, looking for breakfast. After a bit, it moved on, hovering over the field and then disappearing into the scrubby grassland behind. A few more birders turned up, and after about half an hour, it was picked up by one of the gang sitting in a Silver Birch.  The bird hunted along the edge of the wood, by moving from perch to perch, scanning the ground below. At one point it dove off a perch and stooped to the ground, though masked by bushes, I couldn't see if it had successfully caught anything.  The bird preferred Birches, perhaps indicative of trees familar to it from it's natal area.

I watched, rather mesmerised for about an hour, by which time the Roughleg seemed to have decided the 'sit and wait' approach wasn't paying off, so took off and decided to hover about over the field edges, lit up by the warm winter sunshine.



A New Decade

Happy New Year, y'all! Well that was 2019, the last of the Twenty Teens, and lots happened. But enough of that, here's to a New Decade! The Tempestuous Twenties. Bring it on.

My fab fam, and my first bird pic of the Twenties, Turnstone photobombed by Herring Gull on the pier wall, Whitby, 1st January 2020. It was baltic!