Tuesday 22 June 2021

Banging Swifts!


Absolute scenes round the house this evening as a Swift repeatedly banged one of the nestboxes. Quite hilarious to watch, as it skidded across the sloping roof, crash landed in the gutter and eventually hung on to the front. After three successful landings, it finally went all the way into the box, turned round and poked it's head out, looking rather pleased with itself! It sat there for half a minute then dropped out and away. Really fantastic! Later, five Swifts were tearing around the rooftops, but no more banging. Presumably the banger is a non-breeding bird - probably a one year old - checking out a potential breeding site for next year. Here's hoping!

....and it's in!

Sunday 20 June 2021

Mountain Botanicals

I have been spending a lot of time up at Ingleborough in recent months which has been pure joy. The Mossy Saxifrage is laying like drifts on the high ridges, with delicate Small White Orchids on the limestone grassland and Globeflowers in the hay meadows. Bliss!


Autumn already?

An adult Wood Sandpiper was at Bank Island this morning, heralding the return wader passage, along with a Green Sandpiper. This seems quite remarkable as we have yet to pass the summer solstice, but is pretty standard really. A nice adult, the Wood Sand sported rather nicely marked upperparts and black barring on the flanks. A Corn Bunting was singing on Wheldrake Ings, and lots of duck broods fed hungrily at the diminishing pools, including flotillas of nine and four Shovelers. 

Sunday 13 June 2021

Collared Pratincole at Wheldrake Ings - sublime scenes!

'Pratincole sp at Wheldrake Ings' was not the kind of message I was expecting to receive today and led to a rather anxious last few miles drive back to York from visiting friends darn sarf. I dropped off the family, grabbed my gear and shot straight to the ings. After a half run half walk down to Tower Hide, I got the news that the bird was still present but was out of sight in the grass on Swantail Ings. Together with Rob and Jane Chapman and Adam Firth, we walked down towards the old Riverside Hide to a spot where you were a little closer to the middle of the ings. As soon as I lifted my bins, the distinctive, elegant shape of the pratincole appeared, flying above the marsh. Fantastic! A pratincole, here at Wheldrake! Switching to my scope I quickly noted the rufous underwings, which excluded Black-winged Pratincole, followed by a glimpse of a white trailing edge to the wing, which excluded Oriental Pratincole and confirmed the bird as a Collared Pratincole! For the next 90 minutes, the bird showed well feeding actively over the ings,  in bouts of up to five minutes, spending the rest of the time sitting near a pool hidden in the grass. This was absolutely sublime and the first pratincole to be identified to species level in the York area, with another bird seen in late May 1980 being accepted by BBRC as 'pratincole sp'. Congrats to the original finder Andy Lakin. A pretty cracking end to a fantastic weekend. 

Friday 11 June 2021

Seabird City!

The epic spectacle of breeding seabirds on Flamborough Cliffs is such a treat and more than made up for a lack of migrants on a clifftop last week. Puffins, Razorbills, Common Guillemots, Kittiwakes, Fulmars: just brilliant! Also seen, two Peregrines and several Wall butterflies. 


Throwing Shapes

Lots of warp-speed Swift activity round the new nestboxes during the last week, especially early and late, with up to seven scything individuals throwing some great shapes as they scream round the rooftops.I had a go at photographing them with Vicky's DSLR, which wasn't easy!

Sunday 6 June 2021

Blyth Estuary Red-necked Stint - 6th June


The adult Red-necked Stint was watched feeding along the edge of the north shore of the Blyth Estuary, with a flock of Ringed Plovers and two Dunlin. It was about 300m away initially, but after the flock was flushed, they settled on a spit in the middle of the estuary at about 200m, where it could be grilled more closely. 

The bird had a neat brick-red gorget, with a few black streaks on the lower border, in the otherwise white underparts. The gorget looked dark at a distance, contrasting strongly with the white belly and pale throat, standing out even in flight. The throat and supercilia were pale with a slight rufous wash, the latter split in front of the eye. The crown was finely streaked. The upperparts were a mix of new blacker feathers with nice chestnut edges and some presumed non-breeding grey feathers with dark central streaks. Some whitish edges on the mantle feathers created some 'braces' akin to a juvenile Little Stint. The stint was a bit more lethargic in it's feeding actions than Little Stint with a more horizontal carriage and an attenuated rear end, shortish dark legs and a short dark bill. 



This is the second Red-necked Stint I have seen in the UK, the first being the UK's sixth at Somersham Gravel Pits, Cambridgeshire on 21st September 2001. This remarkable find by John Oates was watched on a muddy flooded field with a flock of Little Stints. It ended a 15 year grip-off by my Dad who had seen the 1986 Blacktoft Sands bird, the first for Britain, although it is still a painful omission from my Yorkshire list. Back in '86, I did not know what a RNS looked like, so had to get a bus into York to look at the recently released Shorebirds book!

Red-necked Stint remains a huge rarity in the UK, with this bird only the eighth record. Since the Somersham bird, there has been a single observer sighting in Dorset in 2010 and that's it - so this is a huge find and it was well worth the drive north to see it.


Thursday 3 June 2021

Swift Encounters

After playing Swift calls from a sound system for the last month, it was great to see a pair of Swifts zipping round the house this morning, checking out the sounds and the nestboxes. None were seen to go in and have a look, but hopefully they did while I wasn't watching. Given there aren't any Swifts that near us, this is a massive result. They were present on and off all day, with some good screaming fly-pasts in the evening. They were back again this morning. Fingers crossed!


Wednesday 2 June 2021

Staring into Bushes

Drove to Flamborough late afternoon, where I spent a couple of hours standing on the edge of the lighthouse car park, staring into the bushes. This was enlivened by the occasional burst of song from a super-skulking Marsh Warbler. After two hours, I decided it was time to make tracks and then suddenly a pale brown-grey Acro jumped up into the bush from the undergrowth as if to acknowledge my departure. Cute-face, spiky bill, nice eyering and longish wings, quick photo and then it dropped back down and out of sight. I gave it another 15 minutes, but then headed back west, just making it to the chippy before last orders. 

Sadly, the bird looked away as I took the pic. The Marsh didn't show as well as the local Whitethroat pair, which were busy feeding young nearby.

Seventh Shrike/Bee-eater Sunset

When news of a Lesser Grey Shrike at Saltwick Nab, near Whitby, broke on Bank Holiday Monday, I felt a bit twitchy, but having spent the afternoon sitting in the car through heavy traffic on the way back from the in-laws, I did not feel capable of another journey. When nine Bee-eaters then dropped on to wires near the shrike that evening, I kicked myself for not making the effort! Team Birdo mate, Dunc, invited me on a dawn raid, but I was due at Ribblehead at 10am to induct a new member of my team, so I just could not afford to be late, so I reluctantly declined the offer.

As I drove west on Tuesday morning, gripping news came in from the east, as the Bee-eaters had left their roost at 5.30am and drifted south, over the Lesser Grey Shrike which was still present, and away. Well, at least the shrike might hang around, so there was a chance for a post-tea dash...

Finishing work just after 4pm, I began the twitch, from almost the furthest point of Yorkshire from my destination, close to the Lancashire border! Three and a half hours of half-term traffic and unbearable tension later and the edifice that is Whitby Abbey broke the horizon against a hazy blue sea, and shortly afterwards, I pulled on to a wide grass verge, to join the handful of twitchers still on site. To my surprise, they were standing in a field to the west, scoping some wires. So, had the shrike moved? I scanned from the car and to my complete amazement, saw not a shrike, but a wire full of Bee-eaters! 

I jumped out of the car, did a double-take and then asked a nearby birder if the shrike was still about. He stated that it was on the other side of the field to the east. We both scanned across and there it was, sitting on a telephone wire. Unbelievable scenes! To my right, nine stunning Bee-eaters, to my left a spanking adult female Lesser Grey Shrike - where to go first? The Bee-eaters won out, so I had a good look at them in the warm evening sunshine, before heading round to pay homage to the dapper Shrike. 


The Shrike was busy feeding on bumblebees, sometimes catching them in prolonged aerial sorties like a big flycatcher. Later on, she (I assumed 'she' as the black forehead was not too extensive), dropped into some low Hawthorns, where she continued to hunt.

More Bee-eater action...

So a pretty decent day, all in all, and great to add a seventh shrike species to my Yorkshire list.