Friday 30 December 2022

York Ring-necked Duck!!

Andrew Schofield found a cracking drake Ring-necked Duck at Castle Howard this afternoon. I dropped everything and dashed out to see it, before it got dark. I met Duncan down there and we enjoyed good views of this smart bird as the light faded. If accepted this will be the ninth record for York and the first away from the Lower Derwent Valley. There has been only one other sighting in the area since I returned to the York area in 2010, a drake at Bubwith Ings on 10th October 2019, which had sadly gone the next morning. 

Also present at CHL, a Great Egret, several Goosanders, lots of Mandarins and a modest gull roost.

Tricky conditions for phonescoping, with strong winds and failing light!

Monday 12 December 2022

Paying Homage to the King

Finding myself not far from the beach the other day, it seemed rude not to pop a little farther up the coast to pay homage to the drake King Eider, that had turned up at Redcar. The bird was showing on a rolling sea, feeding on the Mussel beds just offshore, with a gang of Common Eiders. Attendant young Herring Gulls attempted to steal Mussels brought to the surface by the ducks. His highness was tricky to watch, disappearing underwater frequently and being hidden by the swell when on the surface, so I spent quite a bit of time getting arriving birders on to him. I walked back, pausing to enjoy a large flock of Sanderlings and Turnstones, and a solitary Red-throated Diver fishing in the surf.

Click here for a video montage of the king on YouTube

Friday 9 December 2022

Out of a Clear Blue Sky

Working at home gold yesterday, when this smart Brambling dropped in out of the clear blue sky. 

It spent the morning feeding on Rowan berries and spilt seed under the feeders, and occasionally having a drink. A very handsome bird, it fed well so I was surprised not to see it again today. 

All pics through the slightly steamy window, so not great!

Sunday 20 November 2022


Felt a bit low this week, a combination of post-holiday blues, long nights and dreary weather. A few hours over at Flamborough Head lifted my mood considerably, with the highlight being a Grey Phalarope found whilst searching the south side of the head for Little Auks. The bird was actively feeding off Cattlemere, flying about a lot, before dropping on to the sea to feed. At one point it flew over a Little Auk and having shown the phalarope to another birder, I switched my attention to the Dovekie. This proved to be a bad move as I could not refind the phalarope, which a number of birders arrived to look for. Oops! 

And if you have ever wondered what the name 'phalarope' means, it means coot-footed, a nod to this group of waders' lobed feet, an adaptation for swimming. And thus similar to a Coot's! 

Another four or five Little Auks showed up, along with an Arctic Tern, a Brent Goose, c20 Eiders and a Puffin. A nearby birder asked if we could point out a Little Auk if another one showed, and immediately Craig Thomas pointed one out just below us in the surf - class!

This Dovekie seemed quite happy, diving through waves that were too big to ride and spent a fair bit of time preening and bathing.

Earlier, I checked out the flock of six Waxwings feeding on Hawthorn berries in the village. I got a few pics from inside the car as they fed on berries. Later, the sun came out and I briefly joined the 40 or so photographers (and two or three birders - how times have changed!) who were enjoying immense views of the Waxwings which had doubled in number to 12. It is strange how Waxwing flocks increase like this. Presumably overflying birds are pulled in by the resting flock's calls. Four of the birds seemed to be adults, with nice red waxy tips to the secondaries and hooked yellow edges to the primaries. The rest were first-winters. Apparently two more turned up later. The birds were resting in a large tree between bouts of berry-gorging in a Rowan across the road. Occasionally, they would drop down to a puddle nearby, to drink. Once stuffed with three or four berries, they would return to their lofty perch to chill and digest.

 You can just make out the waxy tips to the secondaries in the bottom blurry photo.

Also, seen on my walk were two Woodcocks in Old Fall, Chiffchaff, c6 Goldcrests, Siskin and c35 Blackbirds feeding along Old Fall Hedge. Two Fieldfares and small groups of Starlings came 'in off' showing that migration is still going strong.

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Yorkshire Bottlenose Dolphins

Just came across a little video of Bottlenose Dolphins filmed with my phone on one of my Yorkshire Coast Nature Seabird and Whale trips from July this year. So amazing to see these animals thriving so close to home. Enjoy!

Arctic Orcas

Spent a fab weekend in the frozen north of Norway, 300 miles inside the Arctic circle, with my best mate, Philip.

The main reason for the trip was to look for Orcas, which follow the Herring into the fjords, which are seeking shelter in the winter. Since seeing Orcas on my honeymoon in British Columbia, back in 2003, I have become a little obsessed with these majestic devilfish and was desperate to see these Type 1 Eastern North Atlantic ecotypes in the icy waters of the Norwegian Sea. This was going to be my chance!


We spent our first day birding around the area, checking out the scenery and local wildlife, as far as the Finnish border. It was cold - really cold - with snow and ice covering the uplands and even down to sea level on the first day. Birding was challenging as most stuff had departed for the winter, and we failed to find any Siberian specialities in the few hours of daylight we had available. The woods were iced up and silent, apart from borealis Willow Tits, (Northern) Bullfinches and the occasional Jay or Magpie. An angry mob of Hooded Crows and Ravens directed us to an immature male Goshawk which eventually broke cover and flew straight over our heads -unfortunately our cameras were in the car, but it was a handsome, streaky beast and it powered off across the fjord towards the adjacent wooded hillside. Three barndoor-esque White-tailed Eagles were seen during the day, plus plenty of Velvet Scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Red-breasted Mergansers and a solitary Great Northern Diver. We scoured Common Eider flocks for rarer cousins, without success. 

One of the highlights of the day was encountering a couple of large herds of free-roaming - but domestic - Reindeer up on the high plateau near the Finnish border.  Reindeer in most of Norway are domesticated like these, with the only wild animals in the far east and south, but they were still great to see doing their thing, licking salt off the road! 

The other highlight was seeing how the birch and willow forest cloaked the mountainsides, creeping up the slopes and becoming patchy montane scrub in the higher areas. It gave the mountains a really different character to the bare, overgrazed fells back home and a glimpse of how projects like Wild Ingleborough could look in a few decades. It would be great to come back and see what this looks like in summer. One day, maybe!

Breidvik and adult White-tailed Eagle



Forest track somewhere near Nordbotn and Willow Tits (both pics by Philip Precey).

The Norway-Finland border. There was not much, apart from a rock cairn and this sign.

Montane woodland and scrub at c600-900m


I could barely get to sleep the night before this trip! The chance to see Orcas anywhere is great, but to see them in the spectacular surroundings of Arctic Norway was just too exciting. We met our guides for the day down at Tromso harbour, as the first hint of light was starting to show in the leaden sky. I chose the boat trip with Brim Explorer because their vessel is a hybrid catamaran, meaning they switch to electric power when in the area where the whales are, to reduce disturbance. They also have a marine biologist on board who ensures the clients learn a lot about cetaceans and also makes sure we do not disturb the animals at all. I was very impressed with the way they operated the trip, not least because you could get a pint on board! 

The impressive Brim Explorer and a map showing Tromso and Skjervoy. It is a long way north!

We headed northeast towards Skjervoy, but came across a pod of Orcas off Russelv, so didn't go quite so far. Due to the chilly, wet weather, most clients stayed inside for the whole time, so we had lots of space to share on the multiple decks, with the other dozen brave souls. I think some of those inside may have looked up from their smartphones and lattes to see the Orcas out of the window!

The Orca pod included a female identifiable by the parallel black scars on her grey saddle, as NKW-162 and hopefully the Norwegian Orca Survey will confirm some info about her and the rest of the pod. 


Her saddle complete with scars:

The pod were hanging out in the fjord, feeding on Herring, and they approached very close to check us out a couple of times, giving breathtaking views. It was pretty emotional as always, seeing these incredible, beautiful animals so close, in such stunning surroundings. Fortunately, the rain and icy wind hid my tears! I had forgotten how conspicuous Orca blows are and also how it is quite noisy- being audible at quite a distance, even in breezy conditions.

The pod contained a large adult male with a collossal two metre tall dorsal fin, which came slowly out of the water like a triangular periscope. He was usually accompanied by a younger male with a smaller, though still impressive fin. There were three or so adult females too, including the one we identified, plus some immatures and a calf, maybe a couple of years old. 

Top two, the adult male, bottom the younger male

One of the other adult females.

The pod. Gorgeous!


There were good numbers of Little Auks feeding in the area too which were scattered by the surfacing Orcas. You can just about see them in the videos.

The Orcas hung out for about 90 minutes before they drifted away. The light was starting to fail, so we headed back to Tromso. 

Minke Whale hunting is still a thing in Norway, so it is good to come here to watch whales. We told as many people as we could why we had come, but it was heart-breaking to see whale meat products for sale in some of the tourist shops in the city. It was dreadful to think that people who go out on these whale-watching trips may then go and buy a whale meat sausage, without thinking about the consequences of their actions.

To watch a compilation of Orca videos I filmed on the trip, click here.

 It seemed apt to celebrate our Orcas with a pint from Brim's bar as we sailed home!


Our last day was spent walking round the north end of Tromso island, looking for birds. We added a few species to our small list, including Northern Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Blue Tit and Black Guillemot (sadly not Mandt's!). Soon, darkness descended again and our trip came to an end.

Tromso, on a dreary afternoon. 

Above- drake Common Eider. Most of the Eiders we saw close were not borealis, to our surprise. Below, a bunch of Long-tailed Ducks in Tromso harbour.

Thursday 27 October 2022

Old Friends

Two Whooper Swans were on the pool at Wheldrake Ings this afternoon, my first of the autumn. Plenty of Fieldfares and Redwings passing over, plus 37 Pinkfeet and two Cetti's Warblers skulking in the reeds.

Saturday 22 October 2022

21 Sprite Salute

Dreams full of stripy Siberian sprites this week! Following a fab September on the East Yorkshire coast, October has been dismal, with continual westerly winds closing the door firmly on any arrival from way out east.  

When the winds went easterly on Wednesday, it was no surprise, then, that a huge arrival of migrants was recorded on the Yorkshire coast. Over 33,000 Redwings poured in off the North Sea over birders at Flamborough, with good numbers of Fieldfares, Blackbirds and other migrants. The day after, I was still at work over at Ingleborough and news of a generous sprinkle of Siberian waifs whetted my appetite for the following day, along with the berry-hungry Fieldfares that were chacking along the slopes of the mountain. The wind would be swinging southeast, but hopefully we would still be in for a treat.

First-up, South Landing, where a Dusky Warbler had been found as we arrived. We soon located the finder - Simon Gillings- and his 'tucking' sombre warbler just a few steps up from the bottom of the ravine. It intrigued in the shadows, but helped us keep track with its frequent calls. Shortly, a pale bird appeared in the bush in front of us and to our delight it was the stripiest of Siberian sprites, a Pallas's Warbler! The Dusky Warbler then emerged from the same bush, flicking its wings and tucking away. Two Sibes in one bush within 15 minutes of arrival was incredible; then a Yellow-browed Warbler called behind us - nuts! 

 Pallas's Warbler: the iconic Seven-striped Sprite, fresh-in from Siberia

Skylarks and Redwings called overhead- there were clearly lots of birds around. Having filled our boots, we clambered up the steps and started the search for our own rares. Within half an hour, we fulfilled this as a small group of Skylarks were followed by a 'shreeping' Richard's Pipit, heading east. I recalled one had been seen here earlier in the week, but it was an unexpected bonus. Goldcrests lined the hedgerows, with occasional skulking Chiffchaffs. Robins, many greyish and flightly, hopped out of the bushes, before darting back in. We flushed loads as we walked along. This was east coast birding at its best. We made our way along the clifftop, scouring every patch of habitat. An Arctic Tern came across the fields pursued by crows - a bit of a surprise.


Old Fall plantation loomed into view, edificial in the murky conditions. Goldcrests flitted through the bushes. More rare-looking Robins dashed after flies in the tops of the Sycamores, looking rare; we checked each one carefully, making sure it didn't have a blue tail.

On the sheltered north side of the plantation, Phil suddenly picked up first one then two Pallas's Warblers, one of which hopped closer and closer, feeding about six feet away at eye level. What a gorgeous bird!

Whilst I was busy watching stripes 8 to 21, Phil was maintaining vigilance, and to my surprise, suddenly announced 'Osprey'! I span round and managed to grab a couple of photos as the Osprey circled low over the Old Fall hedge, before dropping out of sight. A big bank of seafret was rolling in and I suspect this Osprey, having made landfall here, realised it could not progress today at least, so was looking for somewhere to rest.

It had been a pretty good morning, but as the fog was now obscuring the view, we headed for the cafe for a break and some fuel. We couldn't rest for long as there were still birds to be found. Next up, the lighthouse, where three smoky Black Redstarts bounced around on the grass inside the wall, showing really closely at times. Nice.

I mentioned to Phil that there had been a Merlin hanging out on the outer head and within minutes, he picked it up zipping in across the Bay Brambles. It attempted to land on the fence in front of the lighthouse wall, having not noticed the birder standing there. The falcon landed within a metre of the birder momentarily, before realising its mistake and shooting off towards the Gorse Field. To my delight, it perched up on a post and I walked over. Moments later, she towered up into the sky in pursuit of something. A small wader had come in off the sea and was flying fast inland. The Merlin was on its tail, but gave up after half a minute. It could have been a Jack Snipe, but whatever it was, it avoided becoming lunch for the falcon. We headed west along the clifftop where to our delight, a big pod of c20 Bottlenose Dolphins were slowly moving out of Bridlington Bay towards the tip of the headland. There was quite a bit of breaching and cavorting, which was fabulous to watch as ever. A little while later, another pod of five acrobatic dolphins passed by too. After trudging back to South Landing, we moved our search round to Holmes Gut and the Thornwick area. It had quietened down somewhat, although the occasional pulse of thrushes and Blackbirds came in off the sea, along with flocks of Starlings. Round the back of the camp, we found a small area of Sycamores alive with birds, including a confiding male Brambling, gleaning aphids from the underside of the leaves. Lots more Robins and Goldcrests, but sadly nothing rare. We were flagging, so when we got back to the car at Holmes Gut, we decided to quit while we were ahead and head back while it was still light. 21 stripes seen, a Dusky Warbler, self-found Osprey and Richard's Pipit and lots more besides: another fantastic day on the Great White Cape!