Monday 31 August 2020

Kittiwake in York

Yesterday, I got a message from John Jackson to say there was a juvenile Kittiwake on the lake at York University. This seemed quite unlikely but was accompanied by a cracking photo. I shot down there as this would be a York tick for me. I had armed myself with a can or sardines just in case it fancied a snack. Sadly, I couldn't find it. Presumably, it had just dropped in for a rest before heading off. I checked Hes East but again, no sign. Me and my sardines headed home.

I was surprised to get a message this afternoon to say it was still present. My eyes are clearly painted on.

Again, I shot down there and this time, luck was on my side and the gull was sitting in the middle of the lake, paddling around snapping up insects. Fab! Juvenile Kittiwakes are really stonking so it was great to see one of this age in the York area. It seems they have had a good breeding season along the Yorkshire coast this year given the number of juveniles I have seen on recent seawatches.  I chucked in the sardines close to the bird but it was disinterested, carrying on snapping up nearby flies. Later on, it showed interest in bread, diving in among the local Black-headeds and Mallards as a family tossed a few crusts in for the ducks. Shortly, it completely vanished and Duncan refound it down the far end of the lake. Presumably that is where it had hidden yesterday when I failed to find it. 

The stormy weather over the last couple of days presumably blew this youngster inland. Let's hope it survives to make it's way back to the coast.

Sunday 30 August 2020

South Atlantic Voyagers

I spent the day at Flamborough Head, firstly guiding a Yorkshire Coast Nature group and then another five hours seawatching. In the morning, a couple of hours seawatching with the group yielded a flock of five Long-tailed Skuas, c20 Arctic Skuas, 10 Bonxies, a couple each of Sooty and Manx Shearwaters and a flock of smart pale-bellied Brent Geese. The sea really was mountainous and I was relieved we hadn't gone out in the boat!

Sooty Shearwater. Superb birds that breed in the South Atlantic, on islands such as the Falklands. They undertake a massive clockwise loop of the South and North Atlantic, during which we get a chance to see them. Corking!

After the clients had departed, I continued to seawatch. Lots of Arctic Skuas were still moving, many of which were juveniles, indicative of a productive breeding season. A few Bonxies, Sooty and Manx Shearwaters passed north too, plus a steady stream of Fulmars and Gannets. Surely, something more special was out there! A few Sandwich Terns headed south, a couple of Whimbrel too and a trickle of Racing Pigeons northbound (?!).

Out of nowhere, JohnnyMac announced 'Great Shearwater heading north, close-in' - the statement cut through the chatter of the hide and the several birders present frantically scanned. Craig Thomas sitting next to me got on it and reassured me that I would see this easily - I had been explaining to him earlier that I was desperate to see a Great Shearwater here in Yorkshire- but I could not get on it...panic rose; I could hear the excited chatter around me. How could I not see it? I couldn't take this any longer, so I asked Craig for a look through his scope - boom! There it was, far closer in than I was looking - what a stunningly handsome bird. Switching back to my own scope I got on it quickly and followed it's slow progression north. Unlike Great Shears I have seen before that moved fast downwind, this bird was moving slowly, occasionally pattering the surface as if feeding. I managed a bit of shaky phonescoped video. After a couple of minutes of amazing views, it disappeared round the corner. Our voyager from the South Atlantic had gone, leaving us beaming and exhilarated. The andrenaline rush was incredible and I was left shaking. I owed Double Deckers to Johnny and Craig and apparently a few quid to the Flamborough Bird Obs swearbox!

Great Shearwater: an iconic seabird that travels north from breeding colonies on Tristan de Cunha and Gough Island in the South Atlantic. Notice the Harbour Porpoises that pop up in the second clip.

Sunday 23 August 2020

Fish Hawk


Cracking morning at Ripon City Wetlands. Nice, calm conditions, with some sunny spells. Two Ospreys almost continually present, actively hunting over Riverside Lagoon, along the river and once or twice over Canal Reedbed, affording amazing views. Also seen: Garganey, Shoveler 3, Teal c40, Marsh Harrier, Knot 1 juv, Wood Sandpipers 2 juvs, Greenshanks 2, Common Sandpipers 3, Ringed Plovers 11, Dunlin 3, Green Sandpipers 5, Oystercatcher 2, Snipe 8, Curlew, Ruff 6, Yellow Wagtail, Treecreeper, Marsh Tit.

Nice to meet some of the local birders too!

Knot, Ruff, Wood Sandpiper

                                                              Two Wood Sandpipers



Friday 21 August 2020

Wednesday 19th August: Ripon Wader Fest


We have been pumping the water out of Canal Reedbed at Ripon City Wetlands YWT recently, to allow work to take place to reinstall the water control structure and replant the reeds eaten by the geese. This has created excellent wader habitat right on time for southbound passage! In a number of mid-August visits both on business and for pleasure, I have seen two Wood Sandpipers, several Green Sandpipers, three Common Sandpipers, three Ruffs, two Greenshanks, several Snipe, a Dunlin, 130+ Lapwings, several Curlews and a Redshank. Five Turnstones were a good record for the site, but I missed them. There's been a couple of juvenile Peregrines knocking about and a Hobby. The water will be kept low with a pump until the reeds are planted in October and then we will allow the water to come back up with winter rains. So, for now, the wader fest should continue!

Wood Sandpiper

Braving Storm Ellen


Storm Ellen arrived and my whalewatching trip was cancelled. With the day off, I jumped out of bed at 6am and headed up to Ripon City Wetlands, to see what Ellen had brought. In the comfort of Canal Reedbed hide, I enjoyed a couple of hours chatting to Martin Bland, watching the waders (3 Greenshanks, 6 Ruffs, 6 Ringed Plovers, Dunlin, 3 Green Sandpipers, 254 Lapwings) and hoping for something exciting to drop in from the threatening sky. Nothing did, but I was pleased to pick out a female Garganey from the flock of 50 Teal, my first for the site.


Elegant Ruff and Mute Swan feet. A bit of a size difference!

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Pignut Paradise

We visited Pegsdon Hills (BCN Wildlife Trust) on the way to Norfolk a couple of weeks back. I used to spend a lot of time here when we lived nearby, checking the Hebridean sheep, birding and botanising. It is a cracking place and the chalk grasslands looked stunning, with drifts of delicate Pignut and magenta Knapweed, whilst in the valley bottoms, carpets of Marjoram were teeming with butterflies and other insects. It was a bit late for orchids, but I did find a couple of Chalk Fragrants. It was great to find Chalkhill Blues still flourishing at Pegsdon, along with Brown Argus, Common Blue, Small Copper and others. A wonderful place, full of great memories for me. I wrote my wedding speech sitting on top of the hills looking north, one August afternoon, back in 2003.

I noticed a cool moth on the Field Scabious. With a bit of help from Twitter mates, it was identified as a Brassy Longhorn Moth. Nice. Chalk grasslands don't come much better than this.

(All photos with Samsung Galaxy A5)

Sunday 16 August 2020

4 Skua Party - Flamborough Head

With a North-easter blowing and the threat of rain, I mistakenly headed for the Old Fall Oasis first, rather than the cliffs. A super-rare-looking Garden Warbler flitted down the hedgerow, but eventually perched briefly allowing me to abandon my wild optimism. Otherwise, three Lesser Whitethroats in the Golf Course Willows, a few Willow Warblers and several Whitethroats was all I could muster. Not even a sniff of a Pied Flycatcher, let alone an Icterine or Barred Warbler. 


On to the cliffs I went, where I discovered all the real birders were seawatching, not wasting their time bush-bashing! Fortunately, despite a good skua passage so far, more were to come and within the next couple of hours I saw at least five Long-tailed Skuas sprinting north, c15 Arctic Skuas, a trio of ponderous Great Skuas and possibly the highlight (because I love 'em!) a superb dark morph adult Pomarine Skua, cruising south menacingly, complete with full cutlery set. 'Also-rans' included a smart second summer Little Gull, juv Mediterrean Gull, hordes of terns including some gorgeous juvenile Arctics, c15 Manx Shearwaters, a few Common Scoters and some waders heading south. Also, at least five Harbour Porpoises.

I had some fun with trying to phone-scope flying skuas. Not easy as they were moving fast, it was windy and they were usually distant. A lot of the birds were at a distance where only jizz (size, shape, flight action, behaviour) gave a clue to identity and most birds were identified by the more experienced birders present, and some of those were done by consensus; a couple were so confusing that they were 'let go'. Have a look at the videos below and see if you agree with my identification - let me know on Twitter what you think!

Video 1: Great Skua, heading north.

Video 2: Pomarine Skua, dark morph adult -to see a fully-spooned dark morph adult is pretty special. Only c10% of birds are dark like this.

Video 3: Arctic Skua, pale morph adult.

Video 4: Arctic Skua, dark morph juvenile.

Video 5: Arctic Skua, dark morph juvenile

Video 6: Long-tailed Skua, pale morph juvenile.


Video 7: Arctic Skua, 2 dark morph juveniles.

Video 8: Long-tailed Skua, juvenile. Not 100% on this one!

Video 9: Long-tailed Skua, juvenile.

Video 10: Long-tailed Skua - 2 juveniles.


Friday 7 August 2020

Broad-leaved Helleborine

Found a couple of Broad-leaved Helleborines on a farm near Darley in Nidderdale. Despite being widespread and relatively common, I have not seen many of these lovely orchids in recent years, so it was nice to have a closer look. They were growing in a shady woodland near a small river.

Monday 3 August 2020

It will tern out well, lad

With reports of a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins lingering off South Gare on Saturday, I was desperate to head up there and look for them.

The size of the vessels coming in to the Tees is incredible. This tanker was absolutely massive.

A stormy South Gare. The terns roost on the edge of these rocks.

I spent a squally Sunday morning looking around the area without success, with only a handful of Grey Seals providing the marine mammal entertainment.

Bull Grey Seal. The daddy.

Adult Roseate Tern roosting with Common Terns

Sandwich, Little and Common Terns.

The birding was great, however, and I spent a few enjoyable hours sifting through the mixed flock of terns roosting on the rocks. Among c300 Common Terns, there were c50 Sandwich Terns, 8 Little Terns, 2 Arctic Terns and best of all, an adult and accompanying juvenile Roseate Terns. This seems to be a regular post-breeding spot for this species. I kind of hoped for the wandering Sooty Tern to rock up, but I decided that was just greedy. A Red-necked Grebe was an unexpected surprise on the sea nearby - not what I would have expected in early August - whereas some passage Whimbrels, Sanderlings and Turnstones were more standard fare.

Adult Arctic Tern (left) with Common Tern. The only adult Arctic I could see. Much neater than Common, with shorter legs and bill. Much more attenuated with smaller rounded head - cuter appearance. The juvenile Arctic Tern below shares the appearance, but without the long tail streamers. A very attractive bird, with wholly black bill and silver mantle, unlike the orangey billed, ginger-backed young Common Terns.

Above: Little Terns. Tiny in comparison to the other terns present.

Juvenile Sandwich Tern. Similar in appearance to a juvenile Roseate Tern, but much bigger and bulkiet, with hint of the adult's crest.

Roseate Terns. Much whiter upperparts of adult Roseate Tern, with thin black lower edge to folded primaries is really distinctive and the bird stood out from the greyer Common Tern throng. The juveniles are distinctive too, once known, looking like a pint-sized Sandwich Tern juvenile.

Adult Roseate Tern. Compare the shade of the upperparts with the nearby Common Terns, and also the closed primary pattern.

Just as I was about to leave, I got a message to say the dolphins had been seen, off Marske! Twitch on. I shot round there and into the seafront car park. After a moment of nervous scanning, the large dorsal fins of a quad of Bottlenose Dolphins broke the surface just offshore. Superb! After watching them for a bit, I went further south to Marske churchyard where I met Ian Boustead (thanks for the news Ian!) and we had great views from there. Another pod of c12 were further out and for a while were relentlessly harassed by five photographers in a rib. The dolphins put on quite a show but were clearly very distressed by the boat buzzing them. I rang the police and then the coastguards to ask them to intercept these idiots and have a word. Despite this shocking scene, it was a lovely morning and I was delighted to finally catch up with these wonderful cetaceans in Yorkshire waters.