Thursday 20 February 2020

North Yorkshire Egret Fest

Went up to Bolton-on-Swale Lake YWT on Tuesday afternoon to have a look at the tree felling that has been done as part of our project and to check out the egret fest. Things were looking great, with over 200 Wigeon feeding on the grass, with c60 Goldeneyes on the lake, interspersed with a mix of other ducks. Hopefully, the more open aspect at the south end of the lake has improved the suitability of this area for ducks and waders.

After a bit, I noticed a male Scaup hanging out with some Pochards across from the hide; a smart bird. Nearby, an always-gaudy male Red-crested Pochard added a taste of the bohemian to proceedings. As dusk approached, one of the three Great Egrets appeared, having been hanging out in the outlet channel earlier. It decided to do a spot of fishing, or actually frogging, in the adjacent reedbed, dwarfing a nearby Little Egret. About 20 Little Egrets had arrived along with over 70 Cormorants by the time the dainty Cattle Egret dropped in to the lakeside trees to roost.

Unlike the serene Little Egrets, the Cattle Egret clambered around in a rather awkward manner before settling down. My second Yorkshire Egret hat-trick in less than six months, following my first, in West Yorkshire in mid-September. It turned out the Ring-necked Duck had been showing earlier but had flown back towards Ellerton a little while before I arrived. A fantastic mix of birds at a super site.

Good to see 22 Oystercatchers using the newly created islands, along with a pair on the main island we've cleared of scrub.

 Great Egret, with its smaller cousin

Island life.

Cattle Egret bottom left, with four Little Egrets and a Cormorant.

Sunday 16 February 2020

Here comes Dennis

Before Storm Dennis arrived, I nipped out for a bit of birding. A Barn Owl greeted me by the gate at Castle Howard, pausing briefly on the battlements. It was out hunting quite late, possibly having been struggling to find food in the recent blustery conditions.

Down at the Great Lake, relatively small numbers of wildfowl were about, with numbers of Wigeon well down on previous winters. Six Grey Heron nests were active, with birds sitting on eggs. 32 Mandarins were sheltering on the banks, with 42 Goldeneyes, two Pochards and two Pintails on the water, with a solitary drake Goosander. I was pleased to hear the Cetti's Warbler was still present, calling from the reedbed near the road.

Storm Dennis arrived, so after a quick look at Aughton (lots of water, few birds) I headed to North Duffield Carrs where I sought shelter in the hides. On the field behind Garganey Hide, a big flock of waders were facing down the storm, with 52 Ruff my best count of the winter, plus a handful of Dunlin among 200 Lapwings. From the hide, a single Black-tailed Godwit was with 12 Redshanks. The wildfowl were huddled up on the bank in front of the hide, sleeping out the storm.

 Storm Dennis arrives at North Duffield Carrs


Top - Wigeon, Teal and Lapwing
Centre - Mute Swan
Bottom - Whooper Swan

Sunday 9 February 2020

Weekend Birder

The days are drawing out gradually and the noise of the natural world is responding, with Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Great Tits and Dunnocks all singing at dawn now. Nevertheless, it is still too dark before and after work to do any birding during the week, so birding is limited to the weekend.

Today, I headed down to Allerthorpe Common to have another look for Lesser Spotted Woodpeckers. It felt mild and blue sky pushing in from the west was encouraging the birds to sing, so I felt optimistic. However, not a single woodpecker of any species put in an appearance, but it was nice t spend some time in the woods. A single Redpoll, several Siskins, Marsh Tits and a Nuthatch were the highlights.

On to the LDV and I passed a cream-crown Marsh Harrier circling over a field just south of Thornton. As I drove by, it folded it's wings and stooped causing an explosion of panicking Wood Pigeons from the field. The sky cleared nicely by the time I reached East Cottingwith and nine Whooper Swans stood out, stark white against the blue flood. Lots of birds present on the refuge, with nine Black-tailed Godwits flying about with the Lapwings when another Marsh Harrier flushed the resting throngs. The wintering male Cetti's Warbler was still in 'his' reedbed, proffering several abrupt bursts of song. Hopefully, he will find a mate come spring.

Ellerton was unusually bone dry, so I missed out Aughton and went over the Derwent to North Duffield Carrs. The two drake Scaup were looking smart among thousands of ducks and plenty of Whoopers. Over on Bubwith Ings, c750 Golden Plovers dropped in, with a handful of tiny, scurrying Dunlin. A third Marsh Harrier quartered the grassland to the rear of the reserve.

I headed to Riccall to check out the gulls feeding in the field by the A19. I immediately picked up the smart first-winter Caspian Gull, but despite a thorough search could not locate the Iceland Gull, which had been reported earlier. It wasn't easy phonescoping from half a mile in strong wind, but you can just about pick out the Casp in the middle.

Monday 3 February 2020

Wheldrake Ings: World-class Wetland!

I was tired and it was windy, but an hour at my favourite wetland, Wheldrake Ings, was enough to clear my head and ease my soul.

Today was all about looking harder. A big gang of geese, were roosting in the grass in front of Tower Hide. Four birds set back from the pack could have easily been passed over, but something caught my eye. With heads tucked up, breast towards me into the wind, were they anything other than Greylags? They looked smaller, with darker heads, but I couldn't see much. After a few minutes, one lifted it's head, validating my hunch - a smart Tundra Bean Goose, with shiny black bill and a crisp tangerine band across near the tip. I kept watching and the others occasionally lifted their heads too. They had a variable amount of orange on the bill, as is typical in this species, and one bird had a bit of white feathering around the bill base- also reasonably typical. This is the best view I have had of this wintering quarter; they seem to head off before light to feed in nearby fields and then return at midday to loaf about for the rest of the day and night. Smart birds.

There were a lot of ducks to scan through, but perhaps not as many as the other day, though many were tucked up in the emergent vegetation, keeping out of the wind. I couldn't find the Green-winged Teal, but was convinced it could still be here as it had been reasonably regularly seen in front of Tower Hide during the week. I redoubled my efforts and in among a near group, a white vertical stripe caught my eye. There's the boy!

He showed gloriously well, busily feeding with loads of his Euro cousins, Shoveler and Wigeon: a smart bird. c50 Golden Plovers and c500 Lapwings on the Low Grounds were also of note.

Green-winged Teal. Almost an annual visitor to the LDV.