Sunday 26 March 2023

More Helpings of Melba

This morning, I checked out Castle Howard on the way up to the forest. 92 Tufted Ducks was a good count, but apart from the long-staying wing-damaged drake Ferruginous Duck, nothing interesting was among them. Six Teal, several Mandarins and a few grebes were the only other birds on the water. Plenty of birds were singing, despite the cold northeasterly, with Marsh Tits, Chiffchaffs and Mistle Thrushes braving the chilly air.

I headed east, via Scarborough Mere, to have a look for the Alpine Swifts that had been hanging out round Oliver's Mount for a few days. After a bit of a run around, I went down to the sheltered end of the Mere, and immediately one of the large swifts headed straight over my head. Before following the swift, I watched a pair of displaying Sparrowhawks; useful to see these dinky birds before hopefully seeing some brutes later...

Sparrowhawks displaying. In the bottom photo, you can see the female's fluffed-out white undertail coverts, similar in style to a female Goshawk.

I assumed the Alpine Swifts might be feeding over the water, but that wasn't the case, and after a bit I realised they were in the lee of the large trees surrounding the water- right over where I'd parked the car! I watched them cruising around on high for about ten minutes and took a few hopeful photos. I then headed off for pinier climes.

Apus melba. A delight to watch.

I checked out a few new spots in the forest, surrounded by a chorus of Siskins, Redpolls and Crossbills. Shortly, the loud 'kak-kak-kak' of a Goshawk echoed through the trees, making the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. I came across a pile of Woodpigeon feathers on a hummock, plus a few thread-like guts. A recent Gos kill, it seemed. I spent a bit of time sitting quietly on the edge of the valley nearby; there was lots of wailing and 'kakking' from an unseen Gos in the forest below me, but nothing showed itself. Plenty of Buzzards sailed overhead, and an inquisitive Chiffchaff approached closely in a birch, seemingly curious about what I was up to. Twenty Fieldfares dropped into the larches across the valley. They'll be heading off soon. After a tranquil hour sitting in the sun, I decided to have a stroll along the forest trails. This yielded better results, with an immature Gos flushed at close range; I managed a couple of pics before it disappeared. Another flew high overhead, preceding a pair of adults, the female wheeling around for a good five minutes with three Buzzards. The light was poor and nothing came very close. Nevertheless, utterly absorbing birding as always.  

Two different Goshawks.

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.