Saturday 23 April 2022

Not too shabby

The wind has remained northeast, but with bright blue skies and sunny weather, there has been little to drop migrants in, so the birding has been quite steady. A bit of rain could change everything, but unfortunately, it has been dry for weeks now, so the hordes of Arctic Terns and waders passing over York have remained high up and out of sight. The Whimbrel roost is beginning to build with three on Wednesday night surpassed by 12 last night seen by Duncan.

I spent a few enjoyable hours at Wheldrake yesterday morning, where the presence of a Marsh Harrier had shifted all the ducks out of the emergent vegetation on to the few remaining patches of open water allowing them to be counted. As well as 68 Wigeon, I counted 423 Teal on Swantail, with a further 136 on the Refuge, which seemed a pretty good count. Among the horde, the white eyebrows of two drake Garganey shone out, and one was in the company of a female. 

There was still only one Reed Warbler singing on site; it seems the poor weather to the south in Europe is blocking new arrivals. 

Bumped into Paz and we had a good chat as we walked back. Right at the last minute, I glanced back over the main meadow and saw the huge shapes of a pair of Cranes, circling over the ings. We watched them cruise around as if they were going to land, but they drifted over the Low Grounds, circled and then headed towards Bank Island. It has been a good spring for Cranes in the LDV but it seems that none are breeding as birds elsewhere in the country have hatched their chicks already. Hopefully they are birds prospecting for next year.

The Cranes passing behind my favourite tree.

So, all in all, despite the lack of new migrants, not too shabby!


Back home, the Dark-edged Bee-flies were getting amorous in the garden and the Hairy-footed Flower-bees are still hanging out on the Lungwort. 

Tuesday 19 April 2022

Slow progress

Spent the morning searching the outer head at Flamborough for migrants, with two laps of the Old Fall Loop and one lap of the Thornwick-Holmes Gut-North Landing Loop completed, with little to show for it!

Sunny skies and a cold northeasterly wind did little to help matters, with very little in the way of grounded migrants and not a single hirundine seen. Two Grasshopper Warblers were showing well, reeling in the lighthouse grassland, with a scratchy Sedge Warbler nearby. Elsewhere, a single Little Ringed Plover was on the scrape behind Thornwick Pool which held a female Goldeneye and a single Golden Plover was flying around the outer head, calling. Other than that, great to see the gathering throngs of seabirds around the cliffs and good numbers of Willow Warblers in the scrub around Thornwick camp and a few Whitethroats and Blackcaps. Several Pied Wagtails were feeding in the newly tilled strip adjacent to the Motorway Hedge, including this smart female.

Two Willow Warblers. It seems to be a good spring for this species.

Female Pied Wagtail. Note the dusky grey flanks and mantle, black tips to some mantle feathers and a hint of black uppertail coverts poking out alongside the folded tertials. All of these features rule out White Wagtail. 


A quick cycle up to Acaster Airfield after tea revealed a Little Ringed Plover on the rapidly diminishing flash, plus a smart male Wheatear in the nearby ploughed field, and two Yellow Wagtails. At least two Corn Buntings singing and a nice Barn Owl just by Acaster Bridge on the ride back into Bish.

Monday 18 April 2022

On the move

With winds swinging southeast early last week, summer migrants poured into the UK, with lots of warblers, chats and hirundines appearing. Willow Warblers and Sedge Warblers were prominent and seemed to have had a good winter down in Africa as their numbers seemed high compared with recent years. By the end of the week, my first Reed Warbler of the year had turned up at Wheldrake Ings along with House Martins, Yellow Wagtails and Whitethroats. Wader passage was exciting at the start of the week, with two Sanderlings with four Ringed Plovers at Wheldrake the highlight, plus my first Whimbrels of the year and a Grey Plover in the LDV was a good find by Neil Cooper. 250+ Black-tailed Godwits were lingering, mostly at Wheldrake and a Little Ringed Plovers and Green Sandpipers were seen at other sites during the week.

First-summer Grey Plover
Willow Warbler

Black-tailed Godwits - still up to 200 in the LDV at the time of writing.

Swallow - back on territory at Tower Hide

Saturday 16 April 2022

Paying Homage to Albie

 I was pretty stoked to hear that the Black-browed Albatross had turned up again at Bempton Cliffs, though a little sad that she (?) had not found her way back to the southern oceans. News of a second bird in the North Sea filmed from a Danish fishing vessel brought the possibility that she may at least find a friend, if not a mate, if their paths were to cross.

Late Wednesday afternoon I decided to head east to pay homage to this majestic bird. Compared with previous years, she was pretty much the first bird I saw as I lifted my bins to view over the mighty arch of Staple Newk. The thin, impressively-long black wings contrasting with persil-white head and rump, and lovely grey tail stood out a mile from the throng of Gannets wheeling in front of the cliffs. 


I hurried round to the Staple viewpoint to where only a handful of photographers were standing. To my delight, she was still cruising round, just in front of us, attempting to land on the rocks. She was as stunning as I remember and seeing again brought a lump to my throat. 


After many attempts and some very close fly-bys, she managed to land amid the courting Gannets. One bemused bird was waving seaweed around and she looked momentarily delighted to be offered such a bouquet. But the Gannet had other ideas and he flew off, leaving her jilted on the rock. 


After a bit, she lifted off into the updraught and glided out over the sea and landed on the glassy surface. Within moments a Bonxie arrived and landed a few metres away, its bulk being dwarfed by its elegant acquaintance. Unnerved, the albatross took off and for a few moments, we were treated to the sight of a North Atlantic Bonxie harrying a South Atlantic albatross!

She then flew directly out to sea until I lost her, still heading out. 

BBA with Kittiwakes...
...and being mobbed by a first-summer Herring Gull

Monday 11 April 2022

Ringo Star

Nice to see a Ring Ouzel - a female - at Poppleton, feeding in rough grass next to the flooded field. Ringos are pretty scarce around York and this is only the third I've seen in the area. She has been present for three days, presumably grounded by the cold northerlies. 

Saturday 9 April 2022

End of the Season


My last Yorkshire Coast Nature Goshawk Tour of the season was a great success, with at least six Goshawks seen plus one female heard calling. It is mostly males that are active now, with females presumably settling down to incubate the next generation. Some great views of two adult males seen sparring and chasing each other about presumably where their territories met. A couple of Sparrowhawks seen too, along with Blackcap and lots of Chiffchaffs and a single juvenile Crossbill.

Later, some of the group popped into Cropton Forest to have a look for the Great Grey Shrike that has been hanging out in a clearfell area off Keys Beck Road. The bird was showing on arrival, sitting atop a dead pine snag, surveying the area in the early evening sunshine. I watched him for half an hour as he moved around the clearfell before disappearing into some young Spruce trees. A nice way to end the day. Plenty of Red Grouse were calling on the moor nearby and a Sparrowhawk and Buzzard were seen.


Great Grey Shrike. Always fantastic to see.

Sunday 3 April 2022

Double York Dip


I joked a couple of days ago with my wife, that as we would be at a wedding of top friends' Sally and Andrew this Saturday, a rare bird was bound to turn up in the York area. What I wasn't expecting, was that there would be two!


After some pretty bleak weather this week, Saturday dawned bright and sunny and I found myself sitting in the barber's shop waiting for the Boy Leadley to have his barnet chopped. Everything was planned out with precision, before the wedding started, at 2pm.

And then the news I had feared came through: a pair of Bearded Tits at Wheldrake! My York bogey bird. Unbelievable. As it turned out, they shortly flew off high east and disappeared, so that reduced my frustration as I would have never made it anyway. Insance photos and video appeared on the Whatsapp group - gorgeous, but completely gripping! Bearded Tits are pretty much annual in the LDV, but they rarely stick around and I have lost count of how many I have twitched and dipped. Most tend to turn up on bright autumn days, when birds 'irrupt' out of their natal reedbeds and head off in search of new territories. A spring pair is therefore really exciting.

A little later, to make things even worse, Adam Firth pulled a Twite out of nowhere at Newton-upon-Derwent. Now this really wasn't fair! If this had been in mid-winter I would have had high hopes for it to stay around, but it seemed less likely at this time of year, with migration in full flow...Twite are occasionally seen in the York area too, but there hasn't been a twitchable bird since one at Hes East ages ago - which I dipped!


Up early, I reaslied we'd left the car at the wedding venue, so I had to walk over to collect it. Nevertheless, I was down at Mask Lane earlyish with ears peeled for Twite calls. After the best part of two hours or so, grilling Linnets, Yellowhammers, Reed Buntings and more Linnets, it was clear that the Twite had gone, or at least wasn't going to show itself. A flock of c20 Redwings was little consolation. Dip number one. 

I then headed over to Thornton, where my spirits were lifted by the sight of at least ten Bramblings still with the finch flock feeding in the wild bird strip and sitting up in the hedge. Some of the males were looking spanking, with rapidly blackening hoods and yellowish bills. They wheezed casually; it was great to think they'd be filling the air of some Scandinavian wood with their cheery sound, within a few weeks.


A flock of about 100 Linnets got up on to the wires and I scoured them for a Twite without success. Suddenly, the finches erupted into panic and a falcon-shaped missile slammed into them. A Merlin! It was unbelievably fast, but the finches had seen it coming with just enough time to get out of the way. The Merlin sprinted across the fields and way over the hedge. Awesome! The whole episode lasted only a few seconds. The Corn Buntings returned to jangling their keys from any given perch, as if nothing had happened.

Next up, I had a hunch that the Bearded Tits might be hanging out in the small reedbed between East Cottingwith and Storwood. They weren't and so I added my second York dip to my day's total. The sun had come out and I enjoyed the wander nevertheless, with a solitary adult Whooper Swan on the canal near Storwood a bit of a surprise and what may have been about 30 Crossbills in Sutton Plantation. They were in the tops of the pines, but were just too distant to be sure. 


So, the chance to add two sought-after species to my York list had evaporated. But nevermind, there will be another chance, another day. The wedding was fantastic and it was great to get out this morning for a wander round some different parts of the LDV, clearing my head of last night's excesses!


Sunday's Crane reappeared in the main meadow at Wheldrake Ings today, giving me increased enthusiasm to head down after work to see what else the north wind had blown in. Sure enough, the majestic beast was stalking around on the edge of the flood, among the grazing Wigeon and Teal. So massive, it could be seen with the naked eye from the bridge even though it was a long way off!


It was great to see the Crane unobscured by the willows and at much closer range. My sister twitched it and we had an enjoyable evening sitting in Tower Hide. There is still a big flock of Blackwits here plus 17 Ruff, a few Dunlins and Golden Plovers. My first Swallow of the year cruised north along the canal into a bitter wind; tough little bird. A Garganey was tucked up asleep on the far edge with a few other ducks. Not a bad way to start Friday evening!

Long-range Garganey