Monday 31 May 2021

Knockin' on heaven's door

Quick trip to Knocking Hoe NNR near Hitchin, Herts, from a nearby inlaws gathering, to see if the Burnt-tip Orchids were in flower. They were - and looking gorgeous! The colony seemed to be doing well and a few outliers were safely caged to protect them from the local bunnies. Really good numbers of Pasque Flower seedheads seen and, to my delight, quite a few pristine flowers too. Also seen, Common Milkwort, Carline Thistle, Mouse-ear Hawkweed and plenty of other chalk grassland plants. Sadly, I only had 20 minutes before I had to dash. Well worth the flying visit to this heavenly spot!

Sunday 23 May 2021

Hanging on

Two Turtle Doves near Ebberston were a delight despite the cold conditions this morning. Views were against the bright easterly sky, so my pics were abysmal. It was a real treat to listen to the purring of this species that is hanging on in this part of North Yorkshire, along with singing Redstart, Garden Warbler, Willow Warbler and the chattering of Tree Sparrows. 

On to Wykeham, where a dark Honey Buzzard was circling around distantly at about 11am. A male Goshawk showed briefly and a Marsh Harrier was a surprise as she flapped slowly westwards. A few Siskins, Crossbills and a showy Garden Warbler added to the visit, along with a Tree Pipit by the car park.  

Distant Turtle Dove, and Tree Spugs.

Thursday 20 May 2021

Hello again, Frank


The wandering male Franklin's Gull rocked up again in Yorkshire on Tuesday at St Aidans RSPB, in the Aire Valley. Not that I needed an excuse to spend an evening at this phenomenal wetland site, an opportunity to revisit this cracking Nearctic gull was too good to miss. I have previously seen what is assumed to be this individual in York, at Thorganby last December, and before that at Scaling Dam, in summer 2018. 

Since his brief visit to the LDV last year, the gull has wandered up to Norway in January (must have been chilly) before heading back south to Belgium (must have been boring). I suppose he then realised Yorkshire was really the best place on offer, this side of the pond and so back he came. He seemed quite at home at St Aidans, displaying to the loafing Black-headed Gulls who appeared to be reasonably impressed. Sadly, it looks like he has been in the wars, with a manky left leg and a few primaries missing on his left wing. Otherwise, he was immaculate.

A booming Bittern, plenty of Swifts, Pochards and Lapwing chicks were also noted. 


Saturday 15 May 2021

York's first Savi's Warbler

York's first Savi's Warbler was discovered by Colin Beale in a mist net in a reedbed at Heslington East, on Tuesday. Fortunately, I was working from home, so took an early lunch and popped down before the bird had been processed and released. Later that day, I returned to listen to the bird, a male, reeling from the reeds to the east of the hide. By the following morning, it had moved to the west end of the reedbed and was showing well, but intermittently. The bird sings more regularly early and late, as you might expect and can be accessed by parking at Heslington Church and walking east along the university access track to the first bit of water and reedbed. I returned for more on Thursday evening, when it was still showing well, reeling away. 

Note the faint bars on the uppertail, something very hard to see in the field.

A phonebinned effort of the bird following release.

Sunday 9 May 2021

Spring Fall

Strong southerly winds, rain and a plume of warm air coming from Iberia all looked promising for a spring fall on the east coast. Up at 6am, I headed over to Flamborough, arriving at Old Fall Steps in light drizzle about 7.30. Scanning the field to the north of the road revealed seven Wheatears together, perching in the hedge. A promising start! I wandered down the Lighthouse Road, noting another four Wheatears on the golf course. A Siskin flew over, and two Swifts were by the lighthouse and a Lesser Whitethroat was singing in the Bay Brambles. 

The rain got worse and having forgotten by waterproof trousers I was beginning to get soaked. Rather than head round the Old Fall circuit, I decided to head back to the car to wait out the shower. Fortunately, the rain eased, so I headed straight down the hedge, noting small numbers of Willow Warblers and a Lesser Whitethroat. The sun began to break through, and I discovered another eight rather damp Wheatears and a couple of Yellow Wagtails in the field next to the hedge. There had clearly been a fall of migrants.

I headed down the hedgerow; a bird flicked up into the bottom of the hedge - male Pied Flycatcher! Nice. 

Pied Fly and the south end of Old Fall Hedge

News then broke of yesterday's single observer Hoopoe having been refound on the bowling green back in Flamborough village, so I u-turned and headed down there. Within a few minutes, I was watching this cracking exotic walking nonchalantly around on the turf, probing out leatherjackets. After a few minutes, it flapped off over the road and disappeared. I left the other birders to it and headed back to Old Fall to continue birding. 



The circuit was really enjoyable, with a total of 28 Wheatears, three Whinchats, a female Ring Ouzel, a Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, c20 Willow Warblers, 2 Blackcaps, 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 5 Yellow Wagtails, Redpoll sp, and a Hobby 'in off' the sea over the golf course.


Gorse Field Magic. Seven Wheatears and a Ring Ouzel, with two Whinchats in the grassland nearby.

I spent a few minutes enjoying the sea and cliffs, the first time I had seen it this year. Thousands of Guillemots, Razorbills, Gannets and Kittiwakes were rafting offshore, while many more crammed the cliffs. Absolutely brilliant. 

Saturday 8 May 2021

Team Birdo: Cambs Big Day (2nd May)

Team Birdo set the Cambs Big Day record several years ago, with 135, but this has been beaten a couple of times since, with the current record standing at 137. Having set the Yorkshire Big Day record a couple of years ago, it was about time we had a crack at taking back the Cambs record. Lockdown had reduced reconnaissance, but we were now free to travel, so plans were hastily drawn up, with Duncan Poyser, Mark Hawkes, Ben Green and me ready to bird.

A new route was proposed, starting at midnight and winding our way through the county. A successful attempt would be linked partly to luck and partly to tenacity, but mostly to the weather on the day, and whether those conditions would add a haul of migrants to the 'guaranteed' birds. 

We started out just after midnight in the east of the county, dipping our first bird: Stone Curlew, which failed to call to us through the darkness. Not a great start! By 1am, we were checking the dam at Grafham Water for waders, which yielded a Little Ringed Plover and to our astonishment, an Otter! This was the first Otter any of us had seen at this site and was possibly 'bird of the day'! 

Onwards we went through the dark, gradually building our list. Woodwalton Fen is a magical place at night or during the daytime, but skirt the line between the two, and it is a sensational place. Long-eared Owls murmured in the last vestiges of night, whilst Woodcock roded, Grasshopper Warblers reeled and Cuckoos, erm, cuckooed. 

Arriving on the Nene, a Crane flew out of the dawn and we were entranced by a spectacular sunrise through mist cascading over the floodbank, giving the place the feel of a mountain top in the flatlands of the Fens. 

Captain Dunc, with Mark lost in the mist

The mist seriously hampered our wader-finding and the minutes ticked frustratingly away. Once the mist lifted, we added to our mounting tally, but failed to add any bonus birds. Things then went a little awry as a few 'nailed-on' birds had slipped their nails and disappeared. We wasted more time, though reassured ourselves that some of these birds we could well pick up later. With luck. Big day birders usually struggle in the afternoon, as the lack of sleep catches up, but a flurry of good birds - Little Gull, Raven, Hobby, Garganey, Cattle Egret, Wood Sandpiper, Glossy Ibis - gave us an energy injection just at the right time. 

 Our second visit to Grafham, at a slightly more sociable hour.

With cold northerlies holding up migrants for weeks, our unexpected additions came from lingering winter birds. We added Goldeneyes, and had several Whooper Swans, following the first we found hiding in the grass at Ouse Fen, shortly after enjoying two drake Garganeys.

Top: Two drake Garganeys and a loafing Whooper.

A large flock of over a hundred Fieldfares at Kingfishers Bridge was just about expected given recent records, but a solitary wheezing Brambling was not, and the first I had ever recorded in May. A run of successful sites really boosted our total and we hit the magic 130 mark by teatime, with several more birds still possible and a few hours available. Grey Partridge appeared right on cue, but then things fell apart. We headed to the Ouse Washes without finding Golden Plovers in the fens. We grilled the washes for Pintails, waders, anything to boost our list, but to no avail. Having enjoyed the Otter at Grafham earlier, Dunc's shout of 'Otters!' distracted us from our fruitless search, as we watched four Otters frolicking in the water and out on to the mudbank about 100m away. Absolutely brilliant and a lovely end to our day. Five Otters in a day - can't be bad!

We could have added a couple more birds relatively easily, but realised our quest for the record was at an end - for this year at least - so we retired to Dunc's garden for a socially distanced beer at 9pm.  

The birds we should have seen (because they were there) were Pintail, Ring-necked Parakeet, Stone Curlew, Yellow-legged Gull, Mediterranean Gull, Turtle Dove and Marsh Tit. Barnacle Goose was available but we didn't bother. The Golden Plovers seemed to have departed and we heard no Spotted Crakes - they are usually guaranteed. So, with these eight or nine, we could have done it. The following day, I revisited Maxey Gravel Pits and found a Turtle Dove within five minutes. Typical! The day after, Mark saw five additional species at Grafham, four of which were not even present during our Big Day. 

But that is the way it goes, and it is the experience that makes the day: great company enjoying great birding in great places. We will beat the record next year!

Top: One of two Cattle Egrets we saw (along with countless Little Egrets and c10 Great Egrets), and a male Stonechat, which is a rare breeder in Cambs, so far from guaranteed.

To Tick a Mockingbird

With my self-imposed two-hour drive twitching limit, the Devon Northern Mockingbird was always our of range, as much as I would have liked to have seen it. 

This remarkable bird had turned up in the middle of the late winter lockdown (on 6th February), causing a lot of frustration for twitchers- well, for those who stuck to the rules. Fortunately, it stayed put and many birders including some members of Team Birdo connected with it following the easing of the rules in March. The mockingbird finally decided to move on with the arrival of spring, on 7th April having delighted hundreds who made the pilgrimmage. Amazingly, the bird was refound the following day at Pulborough, West Sussex where it delighted birders for two days, before disappearing again. It seemed to be heading east- next stop the continent perhaps? 

Having vanished for the best part of a month, the plucky Mockingbird was then discovered in Newbiggin-by-the-Sea on the Northumberland coast, yesterday. Unbelievable! I checked Googlemaps which proposed the journey would be one hour 58 minutes. The Mockingbird was now within range. Twitch on! 

After a quick and fruitless visit to Bank Island first thing, I headed home for some shopping and child care. The hours ticked by, but the news from the north was positive. I finally got leave to depart shortly after midday, and headed up the A1 in diminishing rain. Newbiggin seemed a little dreary in the overcast wet and windy conditions, but the welcome from the locals was friendly, and I soon found a parking spot and was directed to the bird. Unfortunately, it had just flown off out of sight. I spent a nervewracking ten minutes in pouring rain standing behind some garages on a bit of waste land, surrounded by high walls topped with broken glass. Lovely! 

Thankfully, the Mockingbird suddenly reappeared in a favourite tree - cracking. The gathered birders walked round to the car park behind the public toilets (from one glamourous location to another!) and we all got great views of the bird as it sheltered from the rain. After a bit it flew across into a garden, where it fed from the feeder, being partially visible through the gaps in the fence. Not a bad garden tick for somebody!

I drove home listening to The Boo Radleys. Harper Lee would have been proud.



Old Haunts

Had an evening visit to Grafham Water (1st May) in preparation for our Cambridgeshire Big Day, with old birding mate, and Grafham stalwart, Mark Hawkes. Awesome to hear a Nightingale, a species I rarely encounter now I am back up north, and my first Lesser Whitethroat of the year. Phenomenal numbers of Yellow Wagtails were seen, approaching 100 (Mark had had close to 150 earlier in the week), presumably held up by the north wind and appreciating the flies hatching from the reservoir. A powder-blue-headed 'Channel' Wagtail was feeding on the dam with a striking female which was also probably a hybrid. The male had green streaking on the crown which I'd not noticed on Channel Wags before, but indicates his flavissima genes. 

Common Sandpiper on a fence

Yellow Wagtail fest.

Male and possibly female 'Channel' Wagtails (hybrids between British Flavissima and continental Flava Yellow Wagtails)


(24th April) Not much doing in a look round the LDV, besides a Ringed Plover with a couple of Little Ringed Plovers, two Great Egrets and a Marsh Harrier. It was great to watch the Great Egrets hanging out with some Little Egrets, a scene I couldn't have imagined in my birding youth.

Shame about the pics, but nice to get a shot of the Ringo next to the LRP and the Great Egret next to a Little Egret.