Saturday 27 May 2023

Broad-billed Sandpiper, Hatfield Moors

The Broad-billed Sandpiper was present on arrival, snoozing on the end of a muddy spit, tucked in against a tree stump. After a while, it woke, and ran the length of the spit to rejoin the small group of five Ringed Plovers with which it was associating. 

The bird's stripy head pattern was incredibly distinctive, being reminiscent of a Jack Snipe, with a long, bill, kinked near the end. The upperparts were smart with dark centred scapulars edged ginger and white, creating some Little Stint-esque tramlines. Head on, or whilst facing away, the broad bill could be clearly seen. The group flew towards us, landing on a closer island; the sandpiper called, a distinctive hard short trill. The bird continued feeding, showing incredibly well. 

By early afternoon, I was burning in the heat and as the sandpiper tucked up for another rest, I decided to head home. Also noted, two Hobbies, Green Tiger Beetle and lots of Four-spotted Chaser dragonflies. 

Broad-billed Sandpiper, a cracking find by Andy Marshall. A Yorkshire tick for me. All pics and videos phonescoped

Thursday 18 May 2023

Behold, the Duke!


A trip up to the north of the York area, to look for scarce woodland birds such as Wood Warbler and Pied Flycatcher. Sadly, I couldn't find either of these at Yearsley Woods, but did find a Spotted Flycatcher (pic below) several Tree Pipits (pic above; which seem to be enjoying the new clear-fell), a couple of Redstarts and plenty of Crossbills and Siskins. I headed up to Birch Wood YWT and again drew a blank on Wood Warblers and Pied Flys, both of which I've seen here in recent years. 


Despite the dreary skies it seemed warm, so I popped across to a known Duke of Burgundy site. A Cuckoo greeted my arrival and I headed to the spot and a dapper little Duke immediately flew past and alighted on a vivid green Bracken frond. With efforts from Butterfly Conservation, these small butterflies seem to be doing well in the vicinity and it was pleasing to see a couple flitting about the Bracken and Cowslips.

Monday 8 May 2023

Stilt Panic

Heading out to walk Lunar on Saturday morning (6th May), I lazily checked my phone. The first message, from Jack Ashton-Booth on a birding Whatsapp group simply said 'Amazing'. I scrolled up and saw a pasted Birdguides message: 'Black-winged Stilt at Heslington East'.  Panic!

Black-winged Stilts are turning up more frequently, and even bred in Yorkshire last year, but this would be only the third record for the York area and a species I had really hoped to see this spring, due to the numbers turning up in the UK. I u-turned, shouted up the stairs to Vicky that I had changed my plans, grabbed my optics and dived into the car, leaving a rather confused dog in the hall!

A short, rather tense drive later, and I parked up by Heslington Church, executing a reverse park into a small space in one go, which surprised myself, given the stress levels! This was my last calm moment as I leapt from the car, picked up my gear and ran. Now, I have seen plenty of Black-winged Stilts in the UK before, but to see them within a few miles of home would be very special, so I wasn't taking any chances that they would up and leave at any moment. Rounding the corner to the hide, I could see Dean Brookes, Tim Jones and Chris Gomersall all grinning; this looked positive! And sure enough, within moments, the elegant pied forms of not one, but four (!) Stilts were seen, casually striding about in the lagoon. Awesome!


It seemed this could be a family party, with an adult pair, and pair of first-summers, sporting browner, worn upperparts and white trailing-edges to their wings. The presumed adult male was very aggressive towards the white-headed presumed-female. He also mated with one of the youngsters. It wasn't until later that I noticed he too had a white trailing edge to his wings, so was also a first-summer. The white-headed female was likely to be a male too, and the only adult present, which was why he was being bullied by the younger male. Whilst males tend to have more black on the head, this is apparently not always the case. Every day is a school day!


After a while, something spooked the group, and they took off together, circled round, then headed high up into the overcast sky, bubble-gum pink legs trailing behind. They seemed to be looking for another wetland to aim for, and as they turned to the southeast, I assumed they had spotted the Lower Derwent a few miles away. As they disappeared, I put the news out that they had departed, only to hear the shout of 'they're coming back!' from another birder. They came in again, heading north, and dropped on to the Top Lagoon, or Wood Sand Pool as I call it. We all scurried round there, and got great views of the group, standing on the submerged rocks in the middle of the water. The viewing was a bit hampered by the reeds, but it was great to get some more views. As more birders arrived, I decided to go and finish the dog walk, that I had abandoned an hour earlier.

Apparently, a little later the Stilts moved back to their original spot where they hung out until at least mid-afternoon. The last report was just before 4pm. The following day, they were refound in the Aire Valley, at St Aidan's. With all that mating going on, I hope they find a suitable breeding site soon. 

After what was a sensational start to the Bank Holiday weekend, the news of two Bee-eaters near Holme-on-Spalding Moor was just mind-blowing. Sadly, they were not pinned down and my second twitch of the day didn't materialise. Following an hour watching the King's coronation, I spent the afternoon driving around the southeast of the York area, scouting for pea fields in order to try and find a Dotterel, whilst keeping one eye on the sky for Bee-eaters. I found one good pea field, which was sadly lacking in Dotterels. A couple of Little Ringed Plovers in a flooded turf field was nice, as was a Hobby sitting out a thundery downpour at North Duffield. 

Friday 5 May 2023

Redshank Love

Redshanks are just about hanging on as a breeding bird in the LDV. The other commoner breeding waders - Lapwings, Curlew, Snipe and Oystercatchers - all seem to be doing pretty well, but for some reason Redshanks are really struggling. All of these species are declining across the UK, due to loss of habitat, changes in agriculture (early grass-cutting for silage is a particularly devastating problem) and nest predation, but in the LDV, the first two problems are absent in the main, so the only threats are predators and late spring flooding. These two certainly were planning on trying to boost the population and I hope they are successful. 

A Fall of One

With rain overnight, a Willow Warbler was a nice surprise in the back garden the following morning. I have had a small number of previous records, all in August, when large numbers of warblers are moving through on their way south. The bird fed in the Silver Birches and Grey Willow most of the morning, at one point dropping into the small Apple tree just beyond the window. 

Swift Return

There was a pulse of Swifts at the end of April, with the first birds I saw cruising round over Flask Lake at Nosterfield as I headed for a meeting there on the 28th. This was two days earlier than my first bird in 2022, which was way to the south in Cambridgeshire. It was such a thrill to see the birds back here again, scything around and overtaking the comparatively pedestrian Swallows and Sand Martins. 

Fast forward to the 30th, I had just returned from putting up some Swift nestboxes in York and I heard the familar scream of Swifts high over our house. Squinting up into the bright sky, six crescentic shapes glided north. Again, this was a much earlier sighting here in Bish than my first last year, which I think were on 9th May. 

This was good, but to my utter delight, a pair appeared in the early evening quite low over our street. Could this be our pair? To my astonishment, one of them came straight back into the box! Maybe the male, but I will never know, he spent the night alone in the box, seemingly very content, back in his nest cup. This is a full two weeks earlier than the previous year. He has roosted every night since, leaving about 7.45am if the weather is ok, but lying-in until 10 - 10.30am if it is colder. It is fantastic that one of the pair at least has survived. I am now keeping my fingers crossed his mate will have made it back too.

Here is the male leaving the box one morning last week.

Sandpit Mining Bee

A recent lunchtime walk along the riverside path here at Bishopthorpe revealed some small unfamiliar mining bees. I got a couple of photos and with the help of Steven Falk's excellent book, I identified them as Sandpit Mining Bee. They were busy digging holes in the sandy footpath. Apparently it is one of our commenest mining bees, but it was a new one for me!

Gotta love a Garganey

Garganey, our only summer-visiting duck, is regular in the LDV in spring and this drake, one of a pair, was watched dozing at Bank Island in late April. A really smart bird and nice to see one out in the open like this. 

Bar-tail Passage

There was as a strong passage of Bar-tailed Godwits across England in the third week of April, presumably due to blustery northeasterly winds tiring birds as they crossed overland to the east coast. Several were seen in the York area including some small groups. I caught up with this female on the Low Grounds at Wheldrake on the 20th, and then found two males on the 23rd at Aughton Ings. There were also lots of Little Gulls moving at the time, but apart from York's biggest ever flock (61 at Poppleton), not many turned up round here and I failed to see any.

Barwit at the Low Grounds

Barwits at Aughton Ings