Friday 23 July 2021

Sedges have edges

I had a fab day yesterday with my team from Yorkshire Wildlife Trust hand pulling bracken at Fen Bog nature reserve, on the North York Moors. This was to reduce the fern's dominance on the dry heath areas, to enable other plants to flourish, including Heath Dog (?) Violets, the foodplant of Dark Green Fritillary and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary caterpillars. Several Dark Green Frits were nectaring on the Knapweed, looking very fresh, plus plenty of Small Heaths and other common butterflies. 

Dark Green Fritillaries

After a lunch in the shade - it was baking hot! - we were joined by the awesome Martin Hammond who did a bit of wetland plant ID training for the team down on the bog. We found Slender Sedge and White Beak-sedge, two of the rarities along with lots of great stuff typical of these habitats, such as Heath Spotted Orchid, Bog Asphodel, Round-leaved Sundew, Bog Pondweed and Star Sedge. 

Stacks of Keeled Skimmers were zipping about and a whole gang were gathered over one of the seepages, with some females actively egg-laying in the shallow water and other pairs flying around in tandem, while the sound of wings clattering as the males skirmished filled the warm air. A couple of majestic Golden-ringed Dragonflies were cruising about and one rather faded Large Heath butterfly was seen. All in all a fantastic day with a bunch of brilliant people.

White Beak-sedge


Sunday 18 July 2021

Silver-washed Fritillaries


A visit to Bishop Wood near Selby revealed several stunning Silver-washed Fritillaries, flying along the rides and nectaring on the thistles. This species was extinct in Yorkshire by about 1950 but a range-expansion in Britain has led to more frequent records in the county again, with Bishop Wood being one of the most reliable spots to encounter this species. They are similar to the much more familiar Dark Green Fritillary, but have silvery white stripes on the underside of the hindwing as opposed to spots, as shown by these pics. Quiet in the woods otherwise, although plenty of Broad-leaved Helleborines along the shadier rides and lots of biting mozzies!


Another fantastic Seabird and Whale trip guiding for Yorkshire Coast Nature. After a decidely sketchy swell forecast earlier in the week, things had calmed down and we sailed from Staithes at 6.30am on glassy seas, under blue skies and in beautiful early morning light. We headed out to about five miles but besides a Manx Shearwater heading north, we failed to find much of interest. We got a call to say some Bottlenose Dolphins were moving north up the coast, so we headed over to Saltburn to see if we could find them. After some lovely coffee and cake, the dolphins approached from the south and soon surrounded the boat. With flat calm conditions, a stationary boat drifting with the tide and dolphins close enough to touch it really was a spectacular moment, a breathtaking wildlife encounter. I then realised I hadn't put a card in my camera, but not to worry, that's what smartphones are for!


Half the group came for a walk along the clifftop in the early afternoon heat. We found Pyramidal and Common Spotted Orchids, Zigzag Clover and Narrow-bordered 5-spot Burnet Moths. 

Friday 16 July 2021

Accipter nisus

I have to admit that I do love Goshawks, but I don't see them often. Their smaller cousin, the Sparrowhawk is a regular sight hunting birds around the housing estate in which I live. 

The local pair has a brood of hungry young and the male and female are super busy providing for the growing chicks. The local House Martins give me warning of an appearance, winging up high over the rooftops calling shrilly, before the round-winged, long-tailed hawk catapults through a snicket, vaults a fence and darts down a line of back gardens. Blink and you've missed it. Death comes out of nowhere if you are a Blackbird of House Sparrow.

Yesterday, I was just turning out of our road and the female caught a Feral Pigeon in mid-air right in front of me. They tumbled on to the verge on the opposite side of the road where she quickly dispatched the struggling bird. I stopped to have a look and she just glared at me, like an absolute psycho. 


Today, the adult male perched for a while on our neighbour's satellite dish, taking advantage of the quiet evening shade. He is very handsome, a beauty compated to his partner, the beast. 

Thursday 15 July 2021

Albatross! (again)

With the mighty Black-browed Albatross continuing to grace Bempton Cliffs, I was keen to revisit for another look at this spectacular bird. My Dad and sister were keen to come too, so a plan was made for a Tuesday evening dash. The bird had been showing on and off during the day at Bempton Cliffs, so we thought there was a good chance she would be present. We arrived at 7.30pm and she had just flown up on to the cliff at Staple Newk and was sitting with some Gannets, enjoying the evening sunshine. We watched her for the next 90 minutes, during which time she did a bit of preening and an occasional impressive wing-stretch. After a few altercations with the feisty Gannets, she settled down to sleep and we left her dozing in the gathering dusk. Such a joy!

Wednesday 7 July 2021

Moths with long names

After our boat trip last week off Staithes, we took a walk along the clifftops at Cowbar. Most of the vegetation is maritime influenced, with some calcareous-loving species too. There had been a big emergence of Narrow-bordered Five-spot Burnet Moths, many of which could be seen perched on their dried chrysalises, or nectaring on nearby flowers. They are really very beautiful, despite the clumsily-long name! They lay their eggs on Meadow Vetchling and Red Clover, both of which were present here.

Tuesday 6 July 2021

You Majestic Beauty!!! - Black-browed Albatross, Bempton Cliffs

The Black-browed Albatross showed on and off all morning, whilst I sat forlornly at my desk. I turned my phone off and focussed my attention on work, vowing to head to the coast after tea. The bird flew north at midday and there were no further reports by the time I put my phone back on after work. Not to be deterred, we would still go, we couldn't not.

We headed east. I had a feeling of dread and creeping anxiety and nearly u-turned before we'd escaped the village, but I realised that an evening at Bempton Cliffs in the height of the breeding season was eminently better than sitting at home, fretting over what could have been. After an uneventful drive, we arrived at Bempton Cliffs car park without any news on the bird, which by now, had been missing for several hours. 

As we got our gear ready, a nearby bloke was chatting to a couple who said they'd seen some guy running because somebody had claimed they'd seen it. I asked when this was - 'ten minutes ago' was the surprising reply. We left nothing but dust in the car park. 

Heading down to New Rollup, we were soon watching the albatross on the sea. Relief! She* was back.  Still distant, but without heat haze and with warm evening light, the views were reasonable. We squinted through scopes as the bird gradually drifted east with a few comparatively tiny Fulmars for company. I willed the bird to come in to the cliffs. An hour passed, the bird preened, did an occasional wing stretch, but generally just loafed and drifted with the tide. Was I going to leave frustrated for a third time?

*I have no real idea whether this bird is a male or female, but I will go with the latter.

Without warning, the albatross suddenly pattered across the water and took flight. Panic! Philip who had been letting an old lady have a look through his scope struggled for a minute to get back on the bird, but shortly did so as people called out directions. The bird, like a WW2 bomber, gently gained height and headed straight towards us, on impossibly long wings. It was finally going to happen! She was coming in, gradually closing the distance between us. I was locked on to her; nothing else mattered and time stood still. Her features became apparent; that stylish black eye-brow, the long, orange-tipped yellow beak, the ash-grey tail and pale primary streaks on otherwise black wings. Everything else in the world was just noise at that moment; I felt like the only person witnessing this monumental event.

She approached the mighty edifice of Staple Newk, and cruised round on dead straight black wings, a giant cruciform dwarfing the throngs of Gannets. After a number of circuits, she rose in altitude and then came directly towards us half way up the cliffs, passing within a few metres below. We piled over to other side of the platform and saw her u-turn, heading back towards Staple. She arced round, among the blizzard of Razorbills and Kittiwakes, an aerial queen among her minions. 


After a while, it was clear she was keen to land on the slope above the arch where a lot of young Gannets were hanging out. Huge grey feet on surprisingly long legs were lowered as she made her approach. 



Several times she tried before succeeding, disappearing onto a shelf, obscured by part of the cliff. It was obvious where she was, as the surrounding Gannets all stood and stared at her, in wonder. Once or twice, a pair of huge black wings, with white linings, rose up above the rocks as she stretched. Would that be the end of her breathtaking performance? After 15 minutes, she unexpectedly waddled out into the open, and proceeded to do a little head-tossing display, tidied up a patch of cliff and then settled down. 

Tricky to pick out from a distance! Below: I love the way the Gannets sit round her in awe! 


We watched her, beaming like Yorkshire cats until the dusk turned the blue sea purple and the Gannets began to hunker down for the night. 

What a majestic and awe-inspiring bird. She was worth every minute of the four year wait, every anxious drive to the coast and every despairing dip. I have been lucky enough to have seen plenty of rare birds in this country but none will be as memorable, or magical as this Black-browed Albatross.


Wide Blue Yonder

Philip visited, so we had another go for the Black-browed Albatross at Bempton Cliffs. To our delight, the bird was present on arrival sitting out on the sea to the northeast of Staple Newk. To my dismay, the bird was at least a mile away and the bright sunshine hampered viewing! We headed east to North Dykes to see if that would shorten the viewing distance, but sadly we couldn't refind the bird. We had to get back to York for 4pm to pick up my daughter so left feeling frustrated yet again - strange considering we'd seen an albatross! Will I ever see this bird well?

Sunday 4 July 2021

Dolphin Joy!


Guided on two Yorkshire Coast Nature Seabird and Whale-watching trips on Friday and Saturday. The two days were quite different but equally enjoyable, with some great seabirds, including Pomarine Skuas and Manx Shearwater as well as lots of Puffins, Common Scoters and 'jumpling' Guillemots fresh from the cliffs. It was great to get a Minke Whale on the first trip of the season and a pod of seven Bottlenose Dolphins which showed incredibly around the boat for about an hour, just north of Staithes. Truly magical to see these fantastic mammals. One youngster was repeatedly playing with a strand of seaweed, tossing it out of the water and splashing his tail in delight.