Tuesday, 21 March 2023

Near and Far

 With a day off, I headed down the LDV to look for spring migrants. A couple of singing Chiffchaffs heralded my arrival at North Duffield Carrs. Oystercatchers and Curlews were flying about noisily, adding to the songs of Skylarks and Reed Buntings. Otherwise, it felt like late winter, with plenty of wildfowl and wintering waders on the ings. Nearby, 253 Whooper Swans in the fields were a mix of the LDV herd and others from further south that were starting to head north. Round at Aughton, 26 Dunlins and 12 Ruff were feeding in the shallow water. On to East Cottingwith, where about 80 Black-tailed Godwits were flying about, but besides a couple more singing Chiffchaffs there was not much else in the way of migrants.

 News of yesterday's Alpine Swift still being present at Easington was too big a temptation for my increasingly-fanatical swift tendencies, so I made a rare journey Spurn-wards. The last message I had was the bird was drifting south, so I headed to the southside of the village and parked by the beach, to scan. Nothing to the south, I then looked back north and almost instantly picked up the shape of the large swift carving across the sky above the gas site. Heading back round, I parked near Dimlington and walked down the coastal strip, between the beach and the terminal, immediately spying the crescent shape zipping about over the works. To my surprise the only two birders already there were leaving, so I had this amazing Alpine visitor to myself! 


In gloomy skies, the bird was attracted to the insects gathering around the warmth of the gasworks, zooming back and forwards with barely a flap. After a while, the sun began to peep through and the air noticeably warmed. The Alpine Swift changed its circuit and drifted more over my head and started feeding over the sea, bringing it in range of my little camera. Alpine Swifts are absolutely cosmic birds and to get views like this was incredible. The white throat patch was characteristically unobvious compared with the big white square belly patch, but the overall size and deeper wingbeats (when it actually beat it's wings, which was rare!) were eye-catchingly distinctive.

 Increasing cloud-cover saw the swift return to patrolling over the gas site buildings. Some of the workers noticed their visitor and must have had amazing views from up on the scaffolding; they gave me the thumbs up!

Top photo shows the swift homing in on a hapless insect

I suddenly noticed I had been mesmerised by this bird for nearly two hours and it was time to head west.I hope this bird makes a safe return to its breeding grounds. It is part of the biggest ever influx of Alpine Swifts into the UK, on the back of a strong southwesterly airflow out of Iberia, which must have swept birds northwards as they returned from Africa. These birds are capable of incredible flights and as long as the weather remains benign they should be ok and find their way back to their breeding grounds far to the south. It is quite something to note that the last swift I saw last year was York's first Pallid Swift, and the first swift of 2023 is an Alpine Swift here in Yorkshire! 


Heading home, I received a message that a Redstart had been seen in Bishopthorpe. With the time of year being too early for Common Redstarts, and the fact the bird was zipping around the rooftops of local bungalows, it would undoubtedly prove to be a Black Redstart. Paul Brook, who had messaged me, checked it out and found the bird - a cracking male Black Red. I pulled in there on my way back and within a few minutes saw this bird, which was one of the best adult males I have seen, with jet black plumage and a bright white wingflash. They are pretty rare in the York area, so this was a real treat and literally a stone's throw from my house. So near, yet so far from my garden list!

Sunday, 5 March 2023


Seven species of raptor on a tour of the LDV last weekend including this smart juvenile female Hen Harrier at Wheldrake which finally came close. Nice to see it interacting with a Red Kite too. There seems to be two HHs in the valley, with a juvenile male at North Duffield Carrs and this female up at the north end. 

My first Yorkshire Coast Nature tour of the season went well, with seven individual Goshawks seen, including a couple of distant perched birds. One of the adult females was very annoyed with a second calendar year female and gave her a load of hassle before chasing her off to the north. 

Monday, 20 February 2023

Wykeham Black-throated Thrush - Go Well!

 Delighted to see this male Black-throated Thrush in trees bordering the Wykeham tree nurseries. It was very flighty in strong winds, moving between the trees. The final clip was the last time I saw it, at 1.20pm; it wasn't reported again, so this may have been the moment it left the area.  My third in the UK, the last BTT I saw was way back in 1999 at Maidenhead in Berkshire

...and away! Go Well!

More Goshawk Action

Spent the morning in the forest, checking out what the Goshawks were up to. Some class action witnessed, including some full on dogfights between two young females, plus a few brief skirmishes with the local Buzzards. The female from the territory-holding pair was calling a lot and after a bit powered across the valley and chased one of the intruding young females (quite possibly one of her daughters from last year) into the distance. A young male was cruising around too, and I was surprised to see two adult males together, with the adult female doing a bit of display, once she'd returned triumphantly to her patch of forest. 

Second calendar-year female

Second calendar-year male

Female sparring with a Buzzard

Two 2CY females in combat (slow-motion)

Late Caspian

Somewhat late, here is a first-winter Caspian Gull from the Wheldrake roost on 28th January, plus a few recent Med Gulls. 

 The Wheldrake snowstorm

Dusk Owl

I have travelled past this Scots Pine on the way home from Wheldrake Ings for decades, always thinking there should be an owl perched on it, and earlier this month it happened. I spied an owl shape as I drove past, so reversed quickly and was pleased that my eyes hadn't deceived me, as there, on a low branch was a gorgeous Tawny Owl, sihouetted against a fiery sunset. I took a pic with my smartphone through the windscreen, so it ain't great!


RIngtail fly-past

It has been weeks since there has been any 'proper' rain in the York area and the LDV, which flooded heavily in mid-January is drying out rapidly. This has concentrated birds on to North Duffield Carrs and Wheldrake Ings in particular, the floods literally hooching with birds, which attracts the attention of a steady stream of raptors. 

Spring felt very much in the air on Saturday morning, with mild temperatures sparking Reed Buntings and Skylarks to sing high over the ings, and Lapwings to begin displaying. Curlews are arriving back in the area and will soon be back on territory. Ten were present at North Duffield Carrs including a male ringed at Wheldrake in April 2021, seen shortly afterwards at Bank Island, and not seen since. They really are fantastic birds and one of the icons of the Lower Derwent Valley. 

The juvenile Hen Harrier zipped past at high speed, turning on a sixpence effortlessly, before heading on down the Derwent. It was seen a little later upriver at Wheldrake. 


Twenty something Redshanks were hanging out, doing their best to avoid the attention of two hunting Peregrines.

Tuesday, 14 February 2023

Wandering Finches

Redpolls are a sporadic visitor to our little garden but in the last few weeks, they have become a regular fixture. Good numbers of Goldfinches and Greenfinches seem to have attracted four birds back in late January, and these individuals have been present daily since then. On a couple of dates, these birds have attracted in other small groups, with max counts of 14 at the beginning of the month, with ten a couple of days later. These additional birds moved on quickly, leaving the regular four to continue their stay in the garden. Redpolls have been reported elsewhere locally in good numbers but it is unclear why. The end of winter usually signals a shortage of food out in the countryside, so this could explain why the influx to birdfeeders. All birds have been Lesser Redpolls, which seem to have been relumped with Common/Mealy Redpolls in recent months. Whatever their taxonomic status, it is a joy to have these little stripy dudes in the garden.

Despite being smaller than the other finches, they are pretty feisty and are capable of defending their feeder perch against all comers, except the local House Sparrows.

Sunday, 12 February 2023

Acomb Med

There's been an adult Mediterranean Gull wintering around the high street in Acomb, York. I popped over on my way to pick up Addie, with a bread crust in my pocket and feeling slightly anxious walking about in a busy shopping street with my bins and camera. The bird showed immediately or arrival, flying about with a few Black-heads. I lobbed some bread on to the road, and it dropped down right in front of me! Between feeding, it surveyed the scene from atop a chimney pot above Heron Foods. It wasn't happy if another gull took this spot and would return to chase them off usually with a few loud calls and a bit of display. My usual winter Med experience is from scouring the gull roost at Wheldrake, so this was a treat.

Sunday, 5 February 2023

Tundra Beans

Tundra Bean Geese are a pretty scarce winter visitor to the York area, so it was great to see these four in front of Tower Hide yesterday afternoon. A confused Pink-foot was hanging out with them, which gave a useful comparison, of it's smaller size, slighter head and beak, and pink feet and bill band, compared to the chunkier Beans, with their orange feet and bill band. One, possibly two of the Beans seemed to be youngsters, with pale fringing on the coverts. Later on, Phil picked up one of the mobile redhead Smew on the refuge, as it flew past. It then landed distantly and started to feed.

Tundra Bean Geese, with Pink-footed Goose in top two pics, on the left. Bottom vid, Smew.

Thursday, 26 January 2023

Willow TIt Dawn

I met Julia Lewis from BBC Radio York in Askham Bog at dawn this morning, to do a live piece for the radio to promote the Big Garden Birdwatch.

The bog woke up with the first rays of sun; Robins heralded the dawn, with alarming Blackbirds warning of unseen threats in the dark. Soon, a Wren and a Dunnock added their calls to the twilight and Carrion Crows, Magpies and Woodpigeons moved overhead. I was hoping we might find Willow Tits and sure enough, as the sky lightened, a pair turned up near the pond, wheezing from the willow scrub, giving excellent close views. 

A good flock of about 50 Siskins provided plenty of entertainment, feeding high in the Alders at times making the whole canopy sparkle. A Nuthatch was unexpected but welcome and a trio of Bullfinches fed quietly in a Guelder Rose behind the pond. A few Redpolls bounced around and one appeared close by, feeding on the boardwalk.

All in all a lovely start to the working day.

Sunday, 22 January 2023

York Wax

I forgot to mention that on the way out to the forest yesterday, Rich and me stopped off in York, to check out a Waxwing that had been found the previous day. 

We spotted the Waxer atop a large tree as we came round the roundabout near Skeldergate Bridge. Rich put his hazards on and stopped the traffic while I binned it through the windscreen. 

We parked up and joined Ollie for a closer look.  It stayed put, casually preening in the tree. It looked like an adult. Stacks of Redwings, Fieldfares and even Mistle Thrush were gorging on the Rowan berries, giving great views. 

Winter Ouzel

The hard weather turned up a very unexpected bird just across the river yesterday, a male Ring Ouzel. Found in a Naburn garden by Jeremy Pierson, this thrush should be in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco. It was still present today, feeding on ornamental crab apples with a bunch of Blackbirds and Fieldfares and when Jeremy invited me to have a look, I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately, a man with a van had turned up to pump out a drain just before I arrived and he had flushed the bird. I waited, with Ollie and Jeremy for about twenty minutes, warmed by a welcome cuppa kindly provided by Jeremy. I began to get a bit anxious as I had to go and pick my daughter up, but having spotted another crab apple tree, we switched our attention and sure enough, there was the dapper Ouzel, feeding on the grass below the tree. After a brief view, it flew up on to a fence and then into a tree. A nice view, if brief, of what could be York's first winter record of a Ring Ouzel.

Thanks again to Jeremy, who also let me use one of his pics of the bird, below.

Times are hard

This long period of hard weather is making it tough for the birds.We only get Fieldfares in the garden when they're getting desperate and four turned up shortly after I'd restocked the apples on the lawn early this morning and got busy munching them, joining c14 Blackbirds. After they'd boosted their energy, one particularly boldly-marked male began defending one end of the garden against all comers; behaviour I have witnessed before with this species. It is cracking to see these birds in the garden at such close range. Milder weather is coming, so hopefully they will get through.

Goshawk Season


Did a reccy with Rich ahead of our season of Goshawk Tours, which start soon. 

It was an icy start, with Crossbills, whose calls were the soundtrack of the day, eating snow at the side of the track. I have not seen them do this before, but I realise they need to keep hydrated and in the freezing weather, they haven't got a lot of choice. Siskins buzzed around and I soon picked up our first Gos, an adult female, perched in a tree across the valley, long white body gleaming like a beacon in the winter sun. She flew up into a pine higher up the ridge, scattering Woodpigeons like confetti, that blew across the hillside. After a bit, she melted away into the forest. Shortly, an immature male came along the ridge and gave us a great flypast, as it headed east. Later, we checked out a couple of new sites; still plenty of Crossbills and a handful of more Gos sightings: another immature male and also an adult male, which flew right overhead, eyeballing us. A female called harshly, unseen in the adjacent forest, so it seems we'd located a territory. As we walked back, we flushed an immature of the ground, which had been perched on some forestry brash. It melted away through the Larch. If only we'd seen it before it flew! A fantastic, magical day with these incredible birds. 

Top pic: Immature (second calendar-year) male Goshawk; lower two, adult male Goshawk.

Bottom three pics - the same immature as above, by Richard Baines - Yorkshire Coast Nature.