Monday 29 March 2021

First Swallow

 Great to see my first Swallow and Little Ringed Plover at Hellifield Flash this morning. About 30 Sand Martins also present but the Ring-necked Duck seems to have moved on.

Sunday 28 March 2021

On the move

It's spring and whatever the weather, birds are on the move. This weekend, my first Wheatear of the year was found by Christ Gomerasall at Wheldrake Ings, whilst today, a Knot dropped in briefly at North Duffield Carrs. Several Sand Martins were seen during the weekend, but still no Swallow. Curlews are back on territory in the LDV but there are still flocks of birds moving through bound for more northerly areas. A Great Egret was found by Duncan Bye at Wheldrake Ings this morning which was my first locally this year. The wind will swing southerly on Monday night, so there could be a push of early spring migrants. Exciting times ahead!

From top, Wheatear, Knot, Curlew, Great Egret (or possibly bin bag)

Sunday 21 March 2021

Not all men - but it could be

A little while ago, I asked a keen local birding friend why they didn't visit Wheldrake Ings very much, when it is clearly one of the best local birding sites. 

Their answer was that the site is quite isolated and wasn't somewhere they wanted to visit on their own as they felt quite vulnerable there. This was quite shocking and saddening to find out. But as a man, this had never really occurred to me. But to her, yes, my friend was female, it was all too real. 

That fear of a long one-way walk into a potentially lonely place, not knowing who you might meet. Not knowing who might come into a hide while you are birding. Being a long way from help if anything unwanted happened. Only one way in, one way out.

This was like a big slap in the face to me. I had birded here thousands of times over thirty years (Yes, I am that old!) and my mind was usually focussed on what birds I was hoping to see, what birds I had seen here before and what birds others were seeing elsewhere. I haven't needed to ever be worried about being here. How damn lucky I am. Because I am a man.  

The horrific abduction and murder of York woman Sarah Everard sent shock waves throughout the UK and following this there has been much discussion about what women have had to put up with and endure from men in our own loved birding and wildlife community throughout their lives. This is horrifying. The petty reaction to this by some men, some men I have previously respected, has also been pretty horrifying.

I have had some slightly nerve-wracking moments at Wheldrake Ings. On warm spring evenings, when the Whimbrel are gathering before heading up to Iceland and there's a chance of a Garganey or Black Tern dropping in, gangs of youths often hang out in the car park, for a smoke and a drink. Usually, they ignore me, as I hastily jump in my car as dusk approaches and head off. Several times though, I have been approached with lads wanting a look through my bins or have a go with my camera (what most non-birders think my scope is). This can be quite scary and I always wonder if I will have my gear taken off me, or worse. But these events have taken up a tiny amount of time in what is a relaxing and enjoyable place for me to visit on my own. And all I really have to worry about is losing my bins or scope. Those things are replaceable. To feel that if I was female, I might have a feeling of fear in the back of my mind the whole time about even worse possibilities, is really awful and so incredibly unfair. Wheldrake and other places like it should be safe for everybody to visit, not just men like me. 

So, what to do about this situation? Clearly not all men are a danger to women. But any man could be a danger to a woman, and that is the key thing that all men must keep in mind when thinking about these issues. And yes, it might only be a minority of men and therefore an even smaller minority of male birders who would ever commit a crime against a woman, but it is the every day sexist 'banter', the routine remarks made to mock, belittle, or let's be honest, bully our female birding counterparts that creates that hostile atmosphere in our community. This is something we can all actively do to step up and stamp out this kind of behaviour when we witness it, in the field or online. Call it out with your mates. We can't change the whole of society, but let's at least make birding and the wildlife community we all love, a safe-space for everybody. It is not good enough for men just to smugly think 'well I would never treat a woman badly, or commit a crime'. We have to be proactive and take responsibility for getting rid of this behaviour, stamping it out in our community. Otherwise, we are complicit.

Additionally, there are some great tips online about how to avoid making women feel uncomfortable while out birding. One big thing is to avoid situations where a woman may perceive that you are following them, even if that is completely unintentional. Wheldrake Ings is a classic place with one path in and one path out, and as I am usually in a rush, I often catch up with people on the path in front of me. It had never really occurred to me that this could be worrying for a solitary woman. But now I know that it could be, I will actively try and avoid this situation, by giving women room, stopping to birdwatch if I could be perceived to be following someone, and so on. If we could all be mindful of this, that would be a good thing. 

I am lucky enough to work for an organisation that looks after sites like Wheldrake Ings. I want everybody to be able to enjoy these sites equally, no matter their gender, age, socio-economic status etc. So, I will be seeking input into how we can make sites more welcoming and less scary for people to visit, especially those who feel more vulnerable in these wild places. At some of the sites I work on, we have put in 'backless' hides, more like screens, so people can see if anybody is there already. Traditional garden shed-like hides can be very intimidating to enter. They are dark, creepy places, especially if you are not used to using them. What else could we do? Any thoughts, please do contact me on Twitter @birdingdad.

We all grieve for Sarah Everard and I can not bear to think what her family and friends must be going through. But if us men can make the world a safer place for women then something good will have come from this tragic situation. 

Black Swan with Whooper Swans, Wheldrake Ings 20th March.

The March of Spring!

Three visits to Wheldrake Ings in four days. The highlight was a big movement of Icelandic Whooper Swans which departed the Ouse Washes to the south in a mass exodus. Large herds were seen throughout Yorkshire, though mainly on the traditional flyways. The LDV received its fair share, with big groups dropping in to roost at the southern end of the valley, before heading off a couple of hours after dawn, passing through Wheldrake on their way north. I assume they rest again on the west coast, before doing a long hop up to Iceland. They really provide a breathtaking spectacle as they effortlessly trumpet their way north, keeping in formation. Majestic!

Yesterday, 132 went north in two groups,  one of which can be seen above, and today, 81 in two groups (60 and 21), some of which dropped on the ings briefly. 


As if the Whoopers weren't good enough (they were), even better was to come, when I picked up the distinctive, elagant forms of two Common Cranes flapping imperially west over Storwood. I watched them pass over the Low Grounds and let Duncan Bye know, who I knew was at Bank Island, and Adam Firth who was at home in Elvington. 

Fortunately, the Cranes headed purposefully northwest and went straight past Duncan, who grabbed a couple of great pics - see below - before continuing past Adam a few moments later. Perhaps the same birds were seen heading northwest at Brockholes, Lancashire, three hours later on. 

Cranes. Simply stunning! March is a good time to pick up Cranes drifting across the North Sea as they head up to Scandinavia to breed.

Also Iceland-bound, were c50 Black-tailed Godwits, whilst in the reedbed a Cetti's Warbler was still singing. 40 Fieldfares and a handful of Redwings were also seen and three singing Willow Tits were along the riverside path. Absolutely class. Still no Sand Martins though!

Friday 12 March 2021

Heads Up!

A fantastic day yesterday, planting the first 680 trees at Ingleborough to kick off our Wild Ingleborough project. Drove past Hellifield Flash on the way, so stopped off to see the drake Ring-necked Duck that my old mate Chris Gomersall had found recently. The bird was actively feeding at the west end with a handful of Tufties, sheltering from the galeforce westerly that was blowing my ears back to front. The flash looked like the sea and it was tricky to take some phonescoped pics in the wind. A cracking bird, I stopped for another look on the way home as the sun had come out, illuminating the bird's chestnut neck-ring.



Hellifield Flash. Just west of Hellifield village on the A65. The lake is just next to the main road and can be scoped from the west side from Waterside Lane. The flash is threatened with development plans, which is a massive shame. YWT is objecting.

Sunday 7 March 2021

Breathing Space

An early start down at Wheldrake Ings, the sky alive with the songs of Skylarks and the joyous bubbling of Curlews. After a frenetic week at work, I needed a bit of breathing space. A couple of Chiffchaffs sang along the riverside, my first singing birds of the year, along with some very noisy Willow Tits. Eight adult Whooper Swans on the flood were northbound migrants and 13 White-fronted Geese unexpectedly dropped in. 

A Cetti's Warbler was back in the reedbed which is now accessible, as the water has receded. I was hoping for a Sand Martin to add to the spring-feel, but it was not to be. Neverthless, a beautifully relaxing few hours, immersed in nature on this early spring morning.


Great to see Willow Tits singing and displaying. One of the UK's fastest declining birds, yet doing ok in the LDV.

Wednesday 3 March 2021

Feisty Finches

A couple of Siskins have been dropping in occasionally to feed in the garden. They are tiny, but very feisty; the female doesn't tolerate any other birds on the feeder at the same time, no matter how much bigger they are. The handsome male is a bit more chilled.

 Siskins: male (top) and female, with male Chaffinch

Monday 1 March 2021

Top Frogging

Spring's here and the frogs are getting frisky! About 25 males are croaking away each afternoon when the sun warms the surface waters. At least a couple of females are arriving now, so hopefully we will get some frogspawn soon.