Monday 16 May 2022

Every good boy deserves fudge

On the way up to Ripon City Wetlands for a site meeting, I stopped by Burlands Flash to see what the heavy showers had dropped in. Four Ringed Plovers were nice, though I was hoping for more.

At the Wetlands, six Avocets and a Greenshank were the only waders noted. Arriving home for a late lunch, my phone rang; it was Andrew Schofield telling me there were two Turnstones on the remnant flash on Acaster Airfield - wow! I turned the kettle off and shot straight down there- lunch would have to be missed. I walked/ran to meet Andrew and was anxious as I could see a Red Kite cruising over the fields near the flash. Eek! Fortunately, the two Turnstones and nine Ringed Plovers were still present when I got there. One of them was a cracker in full breeding plumage, the other a little drabber. After watching them for a few minutes, a Lapwing flew in and chased the Turnstones, which flew off in alarm. They headed off north calling loudly. The afternoon was warming up and I had to get back, so we headed off.



News of a drake Ferruginous Duck at Castle Howard was a bit of a surprise this morning. There had been a one-day bird at Staveley NR a month ago which hadn't been seen since, but as there were no other drakes in the country, this would probably be the same bird. I picked Duncan Bye up after tea and headed over. The showers had subsided for now and we soon found the Fudge loosely hanging out with a dozen Tufted Ducks, catching mayflies from the water surface. A very smart drake, we watched it for half an hour before heading back. Also noted, eight Great Crested Grebes, several Mandarin and Gadwall and four Cormorant nests. This is only the second Fudge I have seen in the York area, the first since the last one here at CHL in 2011.

Sunday 15 May 2022

Wader passage

Burlands Flash has continued to attract northbound passage waders, showing what is following the River Ouse corridor. Over the last week, there has been Wood Sandpiper, several Dunlins and Ringed Plovers, along with the local Little Ringed Plovers, Lapwings and Oystercatchers, and the site looks great for a Temmick's Stint!

Wood Sandpiper, 7th May

Dunlins, 10th May

Ringed Plovers

Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers

Friday 13th Swifts!

I had started to feel a bit anxious. Swifts had been back in the village for a while but there was no sign of any near the house. Had 'our' pair survived their mammoth winter journey? It has been a long nine months waiting to see if they come back. The nestbox camera is ready.

And then from nowhere, just before dusk on Friday 13th, a pair appeared over the rooftops near home. This must be them! Sure enough they started a game of tag round the rooftops. I shared their elation at being back and to my delight, they made several attempts to get into the box, but without success - a bit out of practise I suppose. I was a little disappointed as they gained height into the darkening sky, but elated that they were back.


Up early the next day to turn the moth trap off, I flicked on the camera and Boom! A Swift in the nestbox!!! In my excitement the tangle of wings and tail feathers fooled my sleepy eyes into thinking both birds were present, but after I'd woke the house to come and share this moment, I realised there was only one. But that was still fantastic. He (?) was sitting at the far end, preening and occasionally dozing. I could not believe what a fantastic creature he was! After a while, I decided I should head out birding and left the family to watch the box. He departed at about 9am, presumably to feed. Had he come into roost after all, or had he arrived early morning? I will never know, but it didn't matter, they were back!


Burlands Flash still held three Ringed Plovers along with the usual pairs of Little Rings and a couple of Oystercatchers. I moved on to Wheldrake Ings, where the two Glossy Ibis were feeding in the long grass on the refuge and proving to be very difficult to see. I managed a couple of brief heads and shoulders! 

Hobbies and Cuckoos showed better as did a drake Garganey flying about plus stacks of warblers along the path.



The day was hot and a BBQ was in order. The Swift pair were flying about sometimes low overhead and I popped the camera on. At about 7.30pm, one bird came into the box and was quite active scuttling back and forth and looking out of the hole, presumably trying to spot its mate. After a trip outdoors, it came back again and roosted. Bliss!


Tuesday 10 May 2022

Swifts! Swifts! Swifts!


Swifts have been trickling back over the past week or so since the first singles I saw in Cambs on 30th April, but then yesterday there was a big arrival, with birds turning up over most of the regular colonies in the York area. It really is fantastic to see these birds back after their nine month odyssey round the vast continent of Africa. It has been a long time since they graced the skies of Bishopthorpe and yesterday lunchtime, I was delighted to see at least four of these iconic travellers above the Acaster Lane-Myrtle Avenue colony. I hope they'd spied the two new nestboxes I'd installed on the house on the corner!


At lunchtime today about 20 Swifts were feeding over the allotments on Acaster Lane and they were still around late afternoon, with a few coming over Keble Park. I put the Swift calls on but they didn't pay any attention. I was hopeful that our two birds may return, but it was not to be. Later, Vicky and me walked Sol to scouts and we took a route round the village to check on all the existing colonies. Birds were present in all usual spots (7 in the Laing Road area, 2 over Main Street, 6 over Acaster Lane - Myrtle Avenue and then one over Keble Park Crescent!). I wonder if the 20 I had earlier were these birds aggregating to feed, or whether those birds had moved on elsewhere.

So, the Swifts are back! Happy days. 

Glossy Ibis - York's second record!

Duncan Bye found York's second Glossy Ibis at Wheldrake Ings on Sunday, but I only had a narrow window of opportunity in which to see it and sadly, I dipped. The bird had flown off high east late morning, but on the way to Wheldrake to meet my sister yesterday evening, news came that it had reappeared - good timing! Shortly after arriving in Tower Hide, James Byatt picked up the rakish shape of the ibis heading west over the Pool willows. It disappeared towards Thicket Priory, but a few minutes later, came round over the Low Grounds and after a bit of indecision, gave us a great fly-past, lit by the low evening sun. Class! It headed off towards the priory again and disappeared behind the trees. 

Friday 6 May 2022

Late night Whimbrels


I did the Whimbrel roost at Wheldrake Ings last night and at least 25 dropped in at dusk. A Hobby was hunting over the meadow in the twilight and was making them skittish and many headed off to roost on the refuge. 

The Natural England team were conducting a ringing session as part of their long-term study of the Whimbrels that use Wheldrake as a staging post on their spring migration between West Africa and Iceland. With most north-bound Icelandic Whimbrels heading up the west coast during spring, this is one of only a couple of eastern staging points, with up to 150 birds present at any one time, although the total number that use the area may be many more. The birds begin to arrive in mid-April, peaking around the start of May before tailling off rapidly in the first week or so of the month.

Craig Ralston, the NNR manager explained that the study has shown that birds tend to stay for about eight days, arriving with a weight of 300g and doubling-their weight by the time they attempt the last leg of their journey straight up to Iceland, or in some cases, Scandinavia. They are incredibly site faithful, feeding in the same fields by day and then roosting in the same few spots on the ings at night. Also and remarkably some of the colour-ringed birds often arrive on exactly the same date each year! Other studies have shown that the one fixed date in a Whimbrels year is the date they depart from their wintering grounds, so providing the weather conditions are reasonable, it is easy to see why they then arrive at their staging posts at the same time. The information collected by this research gives useful evidence to help protect the various places Whimbrels and other waders use during their annual cycle. 


Tonight, the team caught four Whimbrel in large mist-nets and it was utterly mindblowing to see these stunning birds close-up. The team were incredibly skilled in extracting the birds from the mist-nets in the dark before efficiently measuring and weighing the birds, taking incredible care of their subjects. I was given the chance to release one of the birds, which was one of the most fantastic experiences of my birding life. I held it close to the ground in the dark, allowing its eyes to readjust, following a spell under soft torch lights. After a few minutes, I gently placed the bird on the ground. It walked briskly forward, before pausing, as if to gather its thoughts. It then took off into the night, uttering its shrill repeated whistle. Gorgeous!

We also caught two tiny and exquisite Jack Snipes and one comparatively bulky Common Snipe. The Jacks were incredible! Their upperparts were Starling-esque irridescent purple, offsetting the straw-yellow stripes. Very cool. We also caught a Song Thrush, which was quite a surprise, with the net set out in the middle of a wide open expanse of wet grassland! This seems quite late in the season for Jack Snipes, which tend to be thought of as a winter visitor the UK. Clearly, they are also a passage migrant and these birds may well have wintered further south and are heading far to the north to breed, pausing at Wheldrake to feed, just like the Whimbrel.

All in all, a very moving and enjoyable experience and I am very grateful to Craig, George and the team for letting me tag along.

The Duke of Hawnby

Despite the cool, cloudy conditions, one fresh Duke of Burgundy was seen at the usual site near Hawnby late morning. Nearby, a pair of Stonechats zipped around the scree, whilst a Redstart rattled from a budding Oak. A few Common Heath moths were among the Bilberry bushes lining the track, but I couldn't spot any Green Hairstreaks. 

Back home, the rain this week has given our new bee garden a boost, with the Lungwort looking particularly healthy and attracting Hairy-footed Flower Bees.

If you are interested, I have planted the following: Lungwort, Sedum, Cat-mint, Wild Thyme, Verbena, Daphe Mezereum (the centerpiece), Cowslips, Salvia, Sea Holly (random, I know!), Lavender, Lady's mantle sp. and Lamb's-ear. I might have forgotten a few things. The small depression at the bottom right is a dust bath created by the local House Sparrows!


There are plenty of showy Garganey around the LDV currently, with at least seven drakes in the Bank Island-Wheldrake Ings area. This bird was displaying and bathing in front of Cheesecake Hide the other day.

God (wit)-like

Another, more relaxed look at the Bar-tailed Godwit this morning (2nd May) was enlivened when a dozen Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits literally dropped out of the murky, low cloud and landed on the flash. The Barwit was non-plussed and carried on feeding in the corner of the pool. A little later, he wandered over and joined them, where his smaller stature and shorter legs were readily apparent compared to the taller, more svelte Blackwits. Three Little Ringed Plovers were flitting about and a Yellow Wagtail was picking its way along the water's edge. My hoped for wader fall had happened, but with little else happening, I headed on. 

When a LRP treads on Lego...

Team Birdo Cambs Big Day 22 - #2 - Race Day

The weather forecast for our Big Day (30th April) looked too good, but not good in a birding sense, but good in a suntan and pub garden sense. We would benefit from pleasant conditions and light winds, but we knew we might struggle for passage migrants and it they were the species that would make or break our attempt to break the record.


Our team (Ben Green, Dunc Poyser, Mark Hawkes and me) assembled in Sawtry at 1am. a rather tardy start by our usual standards, but we were trying a new route, to minimise travel and give us more time in the field. 

The small hours were spent seeking nocturnal species, or at least those that sing or call at night, and aptly, our first bird was a Nightingale, filling the darkness with beautiful chords, close to a rather unassuming layby, just off the A14. We tried a couple of times for Black Redstart, but it seems they were fast asleep despite the rather suspicious and lively goings on around the hotel/building site complex stake-out. We would try again later. 

I love this first night spell of big days. It feels so magical and dream-like to be out in the dark, traipsing through remote wetlands and woodlands, listening intently to the sounds of the night. We always hear things that mystify us and leave us wondering what we've missed. With the use of a thermal imager, it is amazing how much wildlife is active. Fields are filled with Rabbits, Roe, Chinese Water and Muntjac Deer, Foxes and birds. The sound of Sedge and Cetti's Warblers fills the air, as our ears strain for flyover waders and others. Our mood is heightened by the excitement of the day to come. 

Devil's Dyke car park dawn coffee

A Long-eared Owl called briefly unseen from a dark fen and Grasshopper Warblers, Woodcock and Stone Curlew added to our expanding list as a fabulous dawn broke. We were nailing most of our tricky species; it was going well. We headed back to our Black Red site, and I spotted one on a lamp-post from the car window: an ashy first-summer male. We bailed out of the car and heard another singing nearby. In all, there were three of these little beauties, zipping around the scaffolding and blockwork on the building site. 

A return visit to the Devil's Dyke, a spectacular ditch and bank system near Newmarket, yielded at least two female Ring Ouzels. We were pleased to get these migrants under our belt, but it had wasted 40 minutes as this was our second visit. In to the woods next, we found Nuthatch and scored Marsh Tit at the last gasp - two potentially tricky birds and well done, Ben for the reconnaisance. 


The early morning was already full of highlights, but the sight of my first Swift of 2022 filled my heart with joy as it arced high over Kingfisher's Bridge, a super wetland site created out of former carrot fields, near Ely. This proved to be a great site for us, with Ben picking out a very smart bonus Mediterranean Gull, a bird we hadn't expected to see today.  Bitterns boomed from the reedbed as Bearded Tits bounced around; a Black-tailed Godwit flickered past and a drake Pintail provided another pleasing addition - a bird we'd missed last year. 

Next up, our first attempt to see the iconic Turtle Dove. Ten years ago, we wouldn't have had to try to see this species in the fens. Now, like everywhere, their desperate plight is apparent and our first quest ended in a rather melancholy dip. On to the Ouse Washes, we added in a mix of southern herons, Hobby and a bonus Golden Plover, picked up by Mark. We tried again for Turtle Dove, but without success. It was time to press on. The day was warming up. Little positive bird news was coming through from elsewhere and an uneasy feeling began to tease our minds. The female Blue-winged Teal that had been present for a good while at Berry Fen had decided it would depart overnight and was our second dip, after Turtle Dove. 


I was a bit sad as I would have liked to have seen this bird, to keep my eye in with this subtle species. We did, however, spend a fantastic couple of hours on site, with Glossy Ibis, Great and Cattle Egrets, Red-crested Pochard, Pink-footed Goose, Ruff, Dunlin and Garganey all finding their spot on our growing list. 


The heat was energy-sapping, but we felt energised by some good birding and headed on to Fen Drayton. Unfortunately, two species we'd hoped to see here had also disappeared: Goldeneye and Scaup. Holes were beginning to appear in our list that were going to be hard to fill, as there were few unexpected species being reported. With clear skies, no Arctic or Black Terns were around, very few passage waders had dropped in, and no Little Gulls were in Cambs. We needed several of these species to fill our gaps and to take us towards the record of 137. 

We stayed focussed despite the growing doubt, adding in tricky bird race species (in Cambs!): Grey Wagtail, Ringed Plover, Goosander, Ring-necked Parakeet and Stonechat. We saw our fifth Sparrowhawk, a bird we'd completely missed on last year's Big Day! 

We ended the daylight hours on the Nene Washes. Our reccying the day before paid dividends, with Cranes exactly where we'd left them and a solitary and rather sick-looking Common Gull still present on a flood. We were bemused by the almost complete lack of waders on the Washes. Where were the drumming Snipe, yodelling Lapwings and incessant Redshanks? A lot of the ground looked very dry and definitely too dry for some of the special species we were hoping for here, such as Spotted Crake. Now the unfortunate misses we'd accumulated during the day (which wasn't many to be fair) were starting to hurt. Who would have thought that Coal Tit would have evaded us? Coal Tit! 

Team Birdo not seeing Coal Tits at Monks Wood

We had already recorded all the nocturnal species, so we realised as dusk fell that our only hope of beating our total from 2021 (134) was if we could add some bonus passage waders flying over in the dark. We gave it an hour and heard absolutely nothing, though a Badger gave us a little lift. We were seriously flagging by this point and although there was a bit of a disagreement in the team about what to do next, democracy prevailed and we decided to call it a day, or rather night and headed back to base for a well-earned beer. 

We had acheived a pretty reasonable 133, just one short of our previous year's total, but four short of that elusive record. Given the lack of passage migrants, we had done remarkably well, missing very little that we'd tried for. The route had been a success and we had learned plenty which will help us on our next attempt to beat the Cambs Big Day record - maybe next year! Big thanks to Dunc and Ben and especially Mark for his hospitality and epic driving performance. It is great to be part of this team and really enjoyable to go birding round some of my old stomping grounds in Cambs. 

First-summer drake Garganey, Berry Fen.

Sunday 1 May 2022

Bar-tailed Godwit - York Tick!

Thankfully, my journey back from Grafham Water directly north up the A1 was like a dream as most 'normal' people were presumably settling down to their Sunday lunch, rather than twitching waders! Bar-tailed Godwit is a bird I had been really keen to see in the York area. Not only is it a stunning bird but it is one of the world's truly astonishing migrants, with birds breeding in the Bering Sea being capable of flying for four days and four nights - non-stop - the full length of the Pacific Ocean to New Zealand. To do this is absolutely incredible and involves doubling their body-weight to provide fuel for their journey and lightening their load by absorbing the organs they don't need for the flight! Along with the Arctic Terns I saw earlier today, they really are the ultimate migrants and I needed to pay homage to this special bird.

Common on the Yorkshire coast, especially around the Humber, they are pretty rare inland and especially in the York area and I have never seen one around here. The bird had been found on a muddy flash near Rufforth earlier today by Mark Lucas. It was presumably a bird that had wintered much further south and was heading across country on its way north to the Arctic tundra, when it encountered last night's low cloud and rain and ditched for a rest and a feed.   A couple of hours later and to my delight, the handsome Barwit was still happily feeding on the flash when I arrived and I spent a good 40 minutes drinking in this awesome voyager.


Check out these Icelandic Black-tailed Godwits from Wheldrake a few weeks ago. Compared with this Barwit, they are much longer-legged (especially above the knee/ankle), with the rufous underparts only extending to the lower breast; also note the orangey-bill base and more 'elegant' jizz. Blackwits are much more commonly found inland and gather in the LDV in March-April before they head north for Iceland. The continental limosa subspecies of Black-tailed Godwit has even bred in the York area in the past and unlike their Icelandic cousins are declining across their breeding range.

Team Birdo Cambs Big Day 22 - #3 - The Hangover

The expected weather came in overnight and we woke from our death-like slumber to reports of Kittiwakes, Arctic Terns and Sanderlings festooning Cambridgeshire and littering our smartphones. Even more impressive, Grafham Water-regular Colin Addington had watched a Bonxie cruise down the reservoir and off northeast! A great spring record for the site and anywhere inland, for that matter.

Post-breakfast, Mark and I headed south to my old (and Mark's continuing) patch of Grafham Water. A Sanderling which had been present on the dam had flown off, but two Common Sandpipers and a Little Ringed Plover were feeding along the water's edge. We went down to the west end and Mark immediately picked up a drake Goldeneye over in Dudney Creek. This brought wry smiles as we had missed this species yesterday. Shortly, Mark found another species we'd missed on our Big Day; an Arctic Tern dip-feeding along the sheltered edge of Dudney Creek, flashing silvery white wings even at great distance. This graceful migrant shunned the local Common Terns which cavorted over the reservoir. 


We went down to the creek and found not one, but two Arctic Terns resting on the marker floats that cordon-off the creek from fishing boats. Lovely birds and a species I miss from my Grafham days as they are pretty rare in the York area. News of a Bar-tailed Godwit at York, cut short our birding as I was keen to get on the road and gun north, as this was a much-dreamed-of bird missing from my York area list. We heard a Grasshopper Warbler reeling from the otherside of the hedge as we walked back to the car park. It had been a great weekend, seeing some top birds with my old birding mates. Roll on next year, we will have that record!

Team Birdo Cambs Big Day 22 - #1 - The Reccy

Crawled down the A1 to Sawtry on Friday afternoon, through dreadful Bank Holiday traffic. Two Hobbies over the road near Stamford were my first of the year and I guess I wouldn't have seen them if I'd been moving at 70mph! Met Mark Hawkes, fellow member of Team Birdo and we headed out to reccy for tomorrow's Cambridgeshire Big Day.

Our first stop was a little bit of folly as we weren't even in Cambs, but the lure of a Dotterel only a couple of miles from Mark's pad, just across the border into Northants pulled us on a slight detour. The bird was stalking about in a pea field as seems to be the preferred migration stopover habitat for this charismatic wader. A male, he was a little drabber than some, but still ace. 

Distant Dotterel in the haze


Next up, we travelled back into Cambs and got into character. We confirmed the presence of some local Peregrines and a lingering drake Goosander. We then got stuck in the Peterborough rush-hour which was a bit annoying after my earlier journey, but there was a silver-lining when Mark spotted a White Stork circling overhead! Nuts! I got a photo as it flew off over the road, although it is barely visible. This bird, with a missing primary on its right wing has been at large in Cambs for a couple of weeks, so it wasn't entirely unexpected, but the timing was great.

White Stork - just right of the lamp-post. Honest.

One of the pair of Stonechats was present at our stake-out which was good and we then headed on to the Nene Washes. The site was still wet in places and held a spanking male Ruff which looked uncannily like a Spur-winged Lapwing, with black underparts and white face! Two Cranes were striding around nearby, over-flown by a displaying Black-tailed Godwit, and a decent gull flock were pre-roosting on a flood. Other than that, it was pretty quiet. Job done, we headed home for pizza and an early bed.