Saturday 30 May 2020

Lazy Saturday

A couple of hours at Wheldrake Ings early doors revealed a Grasshopper Warbler reeling near the pool, plus a pair of sleepy drake Garganey napping on the pool itself. They had begun moulting, their job having been done for the year, leaving the female to raise the ducklings unseen in the marsh. Two Eqyptian Geese dropped in and my first Banded Demoiselles were flitting about by the river.

Always nice to be in a reedbed in spring - full of chirps, whistles, clicks and squeaks of Reed and Sedge Warblers. Class.

Spectacular 'Shank

A breeding-plumaged Spotted Redshank is hard to beat, so it was a real treat to see this ebony beauty at Ripon City Wetlands late afternoon today. It had been found yesterday morning so I was delighted the bird was still there. I watched it preening on the mud for a bit - shame about the heat haze, before it flew back to its preferred feeding area. Gorgeous! Spotshanks breed up in northern Scandinavia and Siberia, so it still has a long journey to complete.

Check out those Persil-white underwings!

Sunday 24 May 2020


Whilst every patch of mud and water throughout Yorkshire seems to be attracting Sanderlings and Turnstones, the York area has struggled to tempt down any overflying tundra-bound waders. Nevertheless, seven Ringed Plovers and a Dunlin were nice at Bank Island the other day. It is late in the spring now, so it is likely these are bound for the far north, a remarkable journey for such dinky birds. It is a privilege to see these guys pause with us for a few hours.


Addie and me then headed on to the ings, where we watched Common Snipe drumming over the wet grassland. A Cuckoo was singing atop a Willow at the far side of the Pool, always smart to see.

Mayflies danced along the riverbanks on our walk back in the evening sun. Gorgeous!

Friday 22 May 2020

Behold the Duke!

Spent an hour with a couple of Duke or Burgundy butterflies which had found shelter from the strong wind. With the soundtrack of Curlews, Redstarts and Tree Pipits, it was great to watch these little guys defending their Primrose clumps and basking in the late spring sunshine.

The origin of the name is apparently unknown, but it does convey a rather regal impression, which I feel is very apt. This species is super-rare, with the main population in the central south of England, with two outlying populations in the Lake District and here in the North York Moors.

Sense of Calm

Deep in the heart of Bilsdale on the North York Moors, lies Birch Wood. This bewitching woodland was bequeathed to Yorkshire Wildlife Trust a few years ago. It feels very wild, with only one path; gnarled and twisted trunks clamber out of carpets of Bluebells and ferns, ancient holly groves create pockets of shelter. Apart from the occasional rumble of a forestry truck on the Stokesley road, the only sounds were bird song and the breeze among leaves. West of the road, the woodland is younger, running down to the river. The Bluebells are again impressive, but the trees are much younger, of a more uniform age, suggesting a much more modern woodland.

In spite of the westerly gales, in sunny glades I felt a sense of calm as I watched Pied Flycatchers singing incessantly among the new Oak leaves. I flushed a Woodcock from a Bluebell bed; I assume they breed here. Redstarts, Spotted Flycatchers and Willow Warblers added their notes to the chorus, but alas no Wood Warblers this time.

Two male Pied Flycatchers were defending adjoining territories and did not stop singing in the entire time I watched them. They flicked about in the Oaks and Birches, often remaining motionless, listening to their rivals singing, when they were hard to spot, their black and white plumage blending perfectly with the branches silhouetted against the sky.

Thursday 21 May 2020

20th May: World Bee Day!

Happy World Bee Day folks!

Bees need our help. They are suffering from widespread habitat loss, overuse of pesticides among many pressures. In our gardens, we can do a little bit to help. Here are some ideas:

Build a bee hotel - perfect for solitary species such as Red Mason Bees. Just collect a load of hollow stems (short lengths of Elder or Bamboo cane) and bundle together. Alternatively, drill a bunch of holes of varying sizes into a fence post. Easy!

Create a patch of bare earth in your flowerbed. Bees such as Tawny Mining Bee will love this.

Plant nectar and pollen rich wild flowers in your garden. Think about a sequence of flowering from late February through to the early autumn. Flowering shrubs and trees help, particularly early in the season and remember, native is always best.

Grab yourself Steven Falk's fantastic book which will help you identify the bees that visit.

Female Red Mason Bee completing the last cell in the tube. Each cell contains an egg which will hatch into a grub, which will feed on what Mum left for it, before pupating and emerging next spring.

Sunday 17 May 2020

Ready to Fly

A few years ago, we put a Starling nestbox up and a pair moved straight in. Our neighbour asked if we could make him one, so we did. This year, 'our pair' decided to breed in our neighbour's box. Very sensible in my opinion, as the old one is looking a bit shabby. During lockdown it has been great to watch the comings and goings of the adults, the gradual growth in volume of the chicks begging calls and the anticipation of their fledging. There has been a few hairy moments, when the local Magpies and Carrion Crows have taken a sinister interest in proceedings, but the adults have defended their brood well. Today, it was great to see the youngsters poking their heads out and it looks like they are almost ready to fly. Good luck little guys!

Hello, Old Friend

I have really missed Wheldrake Ings. It is only seven miles away, but just felt too far to go during lockdown. Since restrictions eased a bit last Wednesday, I have visited Wheldrake Ings twice.It is lovely to be back, like reaquainting with an old friend.

Reed Bunting

Today, I went for a walk along the Derwent with the family. The ings is a riot of green; the floods have mostly gone, though the snaking necks of Mute Swans arc out of the grassland, reminding us of the water still present. The songs of summer migrants are a constant, with Willow, Garden, Sedge and Reed Warblers vying for the airwaves with Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Swifts carve the skies, often in pairs, presumably performing their aerial courtships. Yellow flag provides golden splashes among the reed sweetgrass. Two Whimbrel on Wednesday night maybe the only ones I will see here this spring as the roost will be at an end round about now.


 Little Egret

Lockdown Birding: Slight ease

A week ago, the PM announced a very slight easing of Lockdown restrictions, so driving to a place to take exercise is now permitted. Also, you can take as much exercise as you wish. Nevertheless, I feel the right thing to do is to keep things local still. I visited Wheldrake for the first time on Wednesday evening. It was pretty quiet, though two Whimbrel were a joy to see, presumably among the last of the spring passage. A Cuckoo was calling along the river on the way back, which is always great, especially given their decline.

Today, I rose early, and headed to Strensall Common to check the sheep. All fine, in spite of them being given the run around by two off-the-lead dogs ("sorry, we didn't realise; our dogs won't chase them"). Depressing stuff.

My spirits were lifted by a pair of super-active Spotted Flycatchers nearby. The male was courting the female actively, singing his head off, with his rather weak two note squeak. She seemed quite impressed nevertheless, allowing him to mate with her. These are really special birds now, having disappeared from many former haunts in the York area over the last decade or so. I mostly see them in the uplands or on the coast during migration, so to see them close to home is a real treat. They may not look too flashy, but they have an endearing character of their own and they are complete ninjas when it comes to plucking a passing insect deftly from the air, with an audible snap of the bill! They moved around rapidly through the canopy, never resting for long. I did get a quick chance to take a photo or two, of one of them.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

Before Lockdown: Great Reed Warbler, Sammy's Point, 5th May 1990

Great Reed Warbler, Wintersett, June 2019

Thirty years ago today, I headed out to Spurn on the York Ornithological Club's May field trip. Leaving York Piccadilly at 6am, we headed east, buzzing with anticipation as to what the day may bring. With favourable weather conditions in the preceding days, we were hopeful for a few migrants and we weren't to be disappointed.

Starting at the Warren, we were soon enjoying a selection of common warblers, including Lesser Whitethroats and a Garden Warbler. Nearby, both Sedge and Reed Warblers sang from the canal. In the Triangle, male and female Redstarts hunted from the barbed wire fences; dropping into the grass after an insect with a flash of their fiery tails, before zipping back up, tails a-quiver. This was spring birding at its best!

Male Redstart, Spurn, May 2012
A little further on, a female Ring Ouzel was seen briefly - nice - before we turned our attention to the mudflats of the Humber. The tide was on the way in, pushing Brent Geese and flocks of waders close to the edge of the saltmarsh, allowing good views through the scope.  Resplendent rust-red Bar-tailed Godwits looked stunning as they strolled through the wet mud. Small flocks of Whimbrel rested on the saltmarsh, with others flying past. I counted about 50. Large numbers of Dunlin and Golden Plover were still present pausing for a feed before their long journey north to breed. After a while, we decided to head down to the point to look for more migrants. In the middle of the day this was a bit lack lustre, though a reasonably early Spotted Flycatcher was nice, plus Cuckoo, Wheatears and a late Fieldfare. A female Whinchat was at Chalk Bank on the way back.

Whimbrel at Sammy's Point, May 2012

We were told that Beacon Ponds would be worth a look now the tide was in, so we headed there next while some of the group headed to Sammy's Point. A Little Stint was pick of the bunch. I hadn't seen many spring Little Stints by then, so this was an interesting and educational bird. A raucous gang of Sandwich Terns rested on a shingle island and six Little Terns zipped about. My first Swifts of the year cruised low over the Long Bank, snatching St Mark's Flies.

Shortly, news came through that Andy Booth and Nigel Stewart had found a Great Reed Warbler at Sammy's!!! Panic! We tumbled back into the car and shot straight there. We arrived on site and I dived out of the car. With youth on my side (I was only 15 at the time), I ran down the track as fast I could to the small huddle of birders in the distance. The bird had been heard singing from the dyke near the paddocks and Andy and Nigel had had brief but good views. I set my scope up just in time as the large brown warbler suddenly hopped up into some dead Hogweed and posed beautifully. Excited gasps and 'oohs' and 'aahs' came from the assembled group of birders and as our friends arrived, we got them straight on the chunky Acro through our scopes. Smiles all round and many pats on the back for Andy and Nigel! A fantastic end to a super day at Spurn and one that always stands out in my mind as a classic spring birding day.

Cuckoo, Sammy's Point, May 2012

It turns out that this was only the third record of Great Reed Warbler in the Spurn area, following birds in 1977 and the year before, 1989. According to Andy Roadhouse's 'The Birds of Spurn' there has been only one subsequent record, at the point in May 2006, so it still remains a genuinely rare bird there. Interestingly, the entry in this book for the 1990 bird has the incorrect discovery date as the 6th May. The Wintersett bird I saw last year is the first GRW I have seen in Yorkshire since the Sammy's bird. I have seen several in the UK in between, but the 1990 bird is the most clearly etched in my memory.

Sunday 3 May 2020

Lockdown Birding: Dawn Chorus Day

After a bit too much gin, my attempt to rise for Dawn Chorus Day was hampered, with a Robin singing at 04:20 my first bird of the day heard through the open window, from the comfort of bed...

Finally crawled out at 06:00 and headed to Strensall Common as it was my turn to check the YWT sheep. All 45 were present and correct. The common was alive with the sound of Willow Warblers, Blackcaps and Chiffchaffs. I did a loop of the site and counted 25 singing Willow Warblers, male and female Cuckoos, three Woodlarks, three Tree Pipits, Green Woodpecker, a pair of Stonechats and two singing Garden Warblers. Two of the Woodlarks showed really well, feeding unconcernedly at close range.


A little later, one of the Woodlarks flew past me calling.

Tree Pipits were again much in evidence, singing from the tops of the birches, or in parachuting flight.

Saturday 2 May 2020

Lockdown Birding: Tilmire

Cycled four miles to the Tilmire SSSI and had a walk round in the morning sunshine. A Roebuck peered at me from a wheat field.

No sign of yesterday's Osprey, but plenty of migrants about including Common Terns over Poole Bridge fishing lakes, several Swifts, a Wheatear in the field on the east side. Also, a pair of Stonechats. Lots of other cool stuff around, including lots of Green Longhorns (moths) dancing on the edge of Oak and Ash trees, Orange-tips and plenty of spring flowers.

Green Longhorns dancing.

This afternoon, I have done a fair bit of Skywatching from the house. I have seen a smart Hobby a couple of times, plus Swifts, House Martins and Swallows. No Ospreys for me yet!

Hobby with Sparrowhawk