Sunday 9 June 2024

Seven Tern Delight

4am, Sunday morning, I woke with a start and then couldn't get back to sleep. Blackbirds were singing loudly outside, in a murky Yorkshire dawn, as light crept round the sides of the blind and through the thin curtains.

I tried to dismiss thoughts of twitching the Northumberland Bridled Tern which had lingered temptingly on Coquet Island for the past week, but the allure ate away at my tired brain. Even if I dipped the Bridled Tern, the prospect of Roseate Terns among an incredible seabird spectacle just seemed a sensible option at that unearthly hour. I mulled this over as I dozed and then slunk out of bed at 5am. 


Just under two hours of empty roads later, I pulled into High Hauxley car park at the foot of the dunes. A couple of birders were already present and as I approached, a kind birder offered me a look through his scope - this was promising! I squinted through with tired eyes and there was the Bridled Tern, happily preening among the Puffins! Class. Coquet Island lies about a mile offshore, so the views were distant to say the least, but with good visibility and full zoom, the views were reasonable. After a while, many of the terns flushed, and the Bridled took off too, floating around above the island. In flight it looked large and rangey, with long slender wings and long neck and tail, giving perhaps a different jizz to what I had imagined. Against the dark grassy top of the island, the bird looked decidedly dusky grey-brown, with plenty of pale in the outertail. The bird tried to land several times, but was chased away time and again either by an Arctic Tern, or a Puffin. Eventually, it landed at the top of some stone steps, where it seemed to avoid the attentions of its feisty neighbours. After a while, I turned my attention to the nestboxes put out specifically for the island's Roseate Tern colony. Several were loafing on top of the boxes, whilst more were floating angelically above the colony, shining bright-white in the morning sunshine with impossibly-long tail streamers. It felt quite emotional to see the remnants of England's only Roseate colony, which has been ravaged hard by avian flu. The 100 pair strong colony had been decimated, so it was a relied to see at least several pairs in residence. Let's hope the flu has gone. I watched these elegant birds for several minutes, noting a number of Sandwich Terns cruising past and a few Common Terns among the hordes of Arctics. 


The lure of a seventh tern species a short drive north was too much, and having had my fill of the Bridled Tern, I snaked my way up the coast road. Thanks to some good gen from a fellow Bridled twitcher, I knew where to head once arriving at the Newton Stead car park. A wooden hut lies about a kilometre north looking out over the rivermouth, known as Long Nanny. There were four birders present, one of which was Damian Money who I have followed on X/Twitter for ages, so it was great to have a chat with him.

To my astonishment, right in front of the hut are breeding Arctic Terns, literally a few metres away. This was just amazing - one of my favourite birds right there. 

 And, tucked away, nestling behind some marram, was a dusky shadow, which soon stood up to call excitedly at an arriving Arctic Tern; the female American Black Tern, in all her cinerous glory. I had no idea this bird, which has hung out here the last few summers showed this well and this close. This year, 'Nige' has proved himself to be a herself, as she has paired up with a male Arctic Tern, and to everybody's amazement, has laid a clutch of eggs, although there is one train of thought that she has adopted the eggs from a lost female Arctic. Nobody knows yet whether they will hatch, but if they do, it will be really interesting to see what the young look like! The frenetic activity of the Arctic colony was exhillarating to watch and the American Black Tern played her part, frequently taking off to join the throng of Arctics, to ward off a passing gull or crow, or to defend her eggs from intruding Arctic Tern neighbours. Her gape was bright orange-red, contrasting with her black head and bill, almost Black Guillemot like. A really beautiful bird.

 Scanning towards the river, I noticed quite a few Little Terns hung out in a fenced area, and large numbers of Arctic Terns and a few Common Terns gathered on the sandbanks and beach. This really was an unexpected delight and would have been exceptional without the mega rare Yank visitor. 


So, it had been a seven tern morning, something I probably won't witness again in a while. I drifted back through the dunes, enjoying flurries of Northern Marsh Orchids, amid Burnet Rose and sprays of Bloody Cranesbill, with the shrill calls of the terns fading into the distance. I bumped into Johnny Mac with a tour group, and wished him well, before heading back south.

I don't twitch very far these days, and certainly not out of Yorkshire, so this morning was a real treat. 


Saturday 25 May 2024

York's first Great Reed Warbler

We have been talking a lot about Great Reed Warblers during the last few springs and the hope that one might finally grace the York area. A record seemed to be on the cards, but so far we had been disappointed. One-day birds at Staveley and to the south at Idle Valley a couple of weeks ago, hinted that this year we might get lucky, but without extensive reedbeds in the area, perhaps there just isn't enough habitat to attract a passing migrant.

After some really early starts this week, I needed a lie-in on Saturday (well, until 7.15am!) before heading out birding. Turning my phone on, it bleeped repeatedly as 17 messages in a Whatsapp group flashed through - this must be some big bird news from York! Sure enough, the day had come - Adam Firth had found a Great Reed Warbler! The bird was singing in willows by the River Derwent between Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings bridge. Panic!

I grabbed my gear, apologised to the dog and promised Vicky I'd be back in an hour (we were due to head south for my mother-in-law's 80th birthday mid-morning). Arriving in quick time, I scampered down the path from the car park in the beautiful early morning sunshine. Within moments, the loud grating 'trak trak trak' reached my ears - it was still here! I met Chris Gomersall, Duncan Bye and Adam, and together we listening to the monster acro singing from the nearby trees. Frustratingly, we couldn't get a view, but after a while, it flew further up the river towards Bank Island. Still out of view, it sang again before flying further. Perhaps it was heading for the small reedbed on Bank Island? Adam and Duncan left and Chris and me went round to the hide. Sure enough, our hunch was right and the bird's grating song could be heard from the reeds. Moments later, Chris announced he could see it and training my scope on it, we both got fantastic views as it sat on top of the reeds in the morning sun. After a couple of pics, I took a short video before it dropped into the reeds at about 8am. It stopped singing and I needed to head off, so left Chris to it. An expected York first, but still a fantastic surprise first thing on the Bank Holiday weekend! Well done, Adam!

The bird went quiet hereafter and briefly sang unseen in riverside willows early afternoon and then again in the evening, but had gone the next day.

Friday 24 May 2024

Death Shrike

It has been a pretty incredible week for drift migrants on the east coast, with incredible numbers of Red-backed Shrikes, including over 30 on Fair Isle and ten at Flamborough Head, dumped by heavy rain and an easterly airflow. Mix in a scattering of Icterine and Marsh Warblers, Bluethroats and Common Rosefinches, and the east coast has had a distinctly southern Scandinavian feel. I have had a fab week at work, but have been pining for the coast and this fall of eastern gems.  

Yesterday, ahead of taking the YWT board on a site visit, I popped into one of our woodland nature reserves to see a Wood Warbler that has been holding territory for a while. I heard the bird as soon as I jumped out of the car and soon was treated to a spectacular show as this exquisite phyllosc, parachuted and shivered around me, delivering its two quite different songs with impressive volume. 


It seemed to favour low, bare branches of the Beech trees, and if I sat quietly against a tree-trunk, it would sing within ten feet of me. Absolutely brilliant. I didn't have a camera, but recorded the best bit - it's song, on my phone. Nearby, it was nice to see some Bird's-nest Orchids flowering on the usual slope, beneath the Beeches. 

Wood Warbler on passage in Cyprus, April 2023.


Today, I was up before the lark and headed east to check for any remnants of the coastal fall, at Flamborough Head.  The Old Fall Loop was fruitless, until I got to the Lighthouse Grasslands where yesterday's Icterine Warbler was knocking out a squeaky toy-laced chattering song from the Motorway willows. Ickys are great birds; the pale-lemon face and throat is not really reminiscent of anything else, though with this one's white belly, it did remind me a bit of yesterday's Wood Warbler's underparts. The long bill and bright orange mouth were most obvious as the bird burbled and tinkled from the edge of the hedge, offering great views. This individual sported a really well-marked pale wing panel, khaki upperparts, a typically beady eye and steely grey legs. My fellow YCN guide Mark Pearson arrived with a small tour group and we together enjoyed great views as the bird continued to perform beautifully.


Around the corner, a lingering male Red-backed Shrike preened from a bank of brambles in the Gorse Field. I was delighted to see this bird and witness part of the memorable fall of this smart species. After watching it for several minutes, I headed back round to the car, with a rather Scandinavian-looking Willow Warbler in the Golf Course Willows, the only other notable migrant. 


I decided to check Holmes Gut and after jumping the gate, a Spotted Flycatcher zipped up on to the hedge-top - a good start! After a chat with Dave Woodmansey, I ambled through the long grass, carefully checking the hedgerow and willows. Not a lot stirred, though some Swifts were feeding low-down over the bushes, giving awesome views. I stood a while to drink in my favourite birds, as they pelted past, mouths agape. Nothing was doing and time was running out. Work beckoned so I headed back to the car. The Spot Fly was looking rather agitated on top of the hedge near the Yorkshire Water compound. Nearby, I could see another bird on the barbed wire fence that encircles the compound. Lifting my bins, a female Red-backed Shrike snapped into focus! Fantastic! Not as smart as the earlier male, but a self-find always feels more rewarding. She sat motionless, surveying the scene, showing beautifully. If only I had my DSLR! I snapped a quick record shot with my phone and moments later she dropped down into the compound then flew up into the low branches of the Sycamore. This set off chaos among previously-unseen small birds who clearly were not happy to share their bit of cover with a predator and I saw Garden Warbler and Blackcap, along with the Spot Fly, mobbing the shrike. I got a glimpse of what was probably a female Pied Flycatcher but it moved into cover before I could nail it. 

Red-backed Shrike on the fence. Honest!

The shrike decided it was time to move on, and dropped into the back of the hedge and out of sight. Having been lucky enough to find a good bird right at the death, it was time to depart for work.

Tuesday 21 May 2024

Garganey Party

Last Wednesday I headed out to North Duffield Carrs after tea to see if there was any passage waders. One Tundra Ringed Plover was the only one present, but the evening was stolen by a veritable Garganey party, with several males cavorting around, calling and displaying in front of, yes, Garganey Hide! Such class little ducks and their rattling call could be clearly heard as they flew and swam around looking for females.

And some video...

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Turnstone - Osprey Combo

A pretty fab half hour at North Duffield Carrs yielded a flock of waders, which through the scope proved to be ten Ringed Plovers and two Turnstones heading north up the valley. As if that wasn't good enough, twenty five minutes later, my sky-scanning revealed a big raptor, an Osprey! It has been a great spring for Ospreys in the LDV and I was delighted to finally catch up with one. It circled briefly over Aughton floods before continuing upriver. 


These sightings spurred me on to check more sites, but a message about a Nightingale at Flamborough - a much sought-after Yorkshire bird - got me heading coastwards. Unfortunately, the skulking chat was skulking a little too deeply in the brambles and had also fallen silent, so after an hour, I admitted defeat and went to look at the first-summer male Siberian Stonechat, which was bouncing around in the Gorse Field. After watching that for a bit, I did the Old Fall loop, which was relatively quiet, though a Whimbrel and a dapper male Pied Flycatcher were very welcome. 

Siberian Stonechat. Post script - 24th May, DNA analysis of this bird has proven it is Siberian Stonechat, Saxicola maurus. 

Pied Flycatcher

Always Look Up!

Well, Friday 10th May was a bit mad! After the highs of Carrifran and Golden Eagles, the week seemed to be ending on a low slide, though warm weather and the promise of Swifts and some easterly migratory drift raised my hopes for the weekend. 

Part One - Enter the barn-door

I left work a little early and nipped down to North Duffield. There had been two immaculate White-winged Black Terns at North Cave Wetlands all day, but I fancied the lure of the LDV and a tailwind to assist, would prove too much and I over-optimistically daydreamed of seeing these eastern pied wonders flitting over the verdant flooded meadows....

This wasn't to be, and after a brief chat with NDC legend Alan Whitehead and a mutually-enjoyed Great Egret, it was me who would head east, as opposed to the two terns heading west. A bit later, I was enjoying great views of this pair of marsh terns, firstly loafing, long-legged on a shingle island, before heading over to Crosslands Lake to feed on insects emerging from the water below. I bumped into the Considerate Birders, who I had followed for ages on Twitter/X but never actually met. We chatted birds, birders and the birding life whilst watching these dashing terns flickering across the water. A nice way to end a fab week... 


Most birders had drifted off, as teatime had arrived, leaving the three of us and another guy to enjoy the terns at our leisure. Something disturbed the gulls and I thought I heard one of the local Med Gulls calling. I casually mentioned that perhaps a raptor had flushed the gull colony, as there seemed to be a lot of angry birds in the air. The other guy said that there was indeed a raptor among the erupting gulls. I lifted my bins, and saw a jaw-dropping behemoth, a flipping sea-eagle, crusing round over the lake! 

I yelled 'it's a White-tailed Eagle!' perhaps a little too loudly, and pandemonium broke out. Cameras clicked, Abi ran off down the road to stop one of the local birders from driving off unaware of the absolute scene occurring behind him; I got a hasty video clip then followed Abi and yelled 'Sea-eagle!' at the top of my lungs to alert any birders in the vicinity, before calling Birdguides to put the news out. Birders came running from all over, and a handful caught sight of this majesterial barn-door casually circling overhead, oblivious to the berserk mob of gulls, terns and Shelducks (!) harrassing it. Breathless birders came running, desperately asking where it was. We just pointed upwards! After a couple of minutes, the young eagle glided north, losing height and appearing to be aiming to land. 


The crowd was now a mix of birders beaming like buffoons, totally shocked at what had just happened out of nowhere, and disappointed folk who had arrived moments too late. There were some who weren't even aware of what they'd just missed, and were perplexed why nobody was looking at the two White-winged Black Terns that were nonchalantly flying up and down in front of us all, as if nothing had happened! 

After getting myself back together, I decided to head home for tea. I drove the road just north of the site in order to check the fields for a loafing eagle. I bumped into a birder scoping a field - perhaps he was watching the eagle. He wasn't; he hadn''t even heard about what had just happened down the road. Farmers went about their business; a Whimbrel flew past calling, which was nice, but there was no sign of the behemoth. Perhaps it had carried on north after all. I drove home feeling exhillarated. Birding is sometimes like that! 

 Post-script:  Tim Mackrill from the Roy Dennis Foundation confirmed this bird's identity via Twitter:

"Hi Jono, yes that was G544, a female translocated to the Isle of Wight last year from Lewis. She has since travelled further north into southern Scotland."

Part Two - Something in the sky

It was nearly time to go and pick my son, Sol, up from Air Cadets, when I got an alert on my phone: The Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, was currently going off due to a massive solar storm. It should be visible just about anywhere in Britain. Wow! Unfortunately, being about 8pm, it was still light. Drat! 

I have had a turbulent and mostly disappointing relationship with this celestial phenomenon. I first saw it over the Great Glen on New Year's Eve, back in 2016, when green columns lit up the snowy Scottish mountains. Since then, I have tried and failed countless times in Yorkshire, shooting out on cold January nights to park up away from the city lights to sit shivering and looking up at a cloudy winter's sky. Even Tromso, in north Norway let me down, with overcast conditions foiling me again, a couple of autumns ago. 

So, as I picked Sol up I wasn't particularly optimistic about the coming evening. To my surprise, Sol was quite keen to give it a try. I had decided that Strensall Common north of York would be a good, dark spot, with a wide open vista giving us a good view of the sky. It seemed to be very clear too, with little cloud to ruin our chances. My wife, Vicky, is well-accustomed to my mad dashes at random times of day, and with no work or school tomorrow, was fine with Sol going with me. We headed round the ring road and soon arrived at Strensall, to a deserted car park. Even if we didn't see the Aurora I felt we had a chance of hearing an early Nightjar or perhaps a Long-eared Owl. Anyway, I was still buzzing from the earlier eagle-incident, so a nightime jaunt on to the common seemed like a fun thing to do. 

Risking sheep shit and midges, we found a good position on the heath. The sky still seemed a bit too light even though it was 10pm. I was still quite hopeful; if it would just get dark! After a while, we began to notice a pale band of sky in the north. Was this cloud, or just the last dying remnants of Friday, ebbing away?  Sol took a pic with his phone, and to our surprise this showed the band of sky to be a distinctly pastel green. I wasn't totally convinced that this was something rather then nothing, but a few minutes later a kind of vertical column of green appeared in the sky. The Aurora had arrived! 

Over the next half an hour, the lights grew stronger. Shapes shifted and grew brighter, before fading, but each fade was replaced by something more impressive. The thing in the sky seemed to be growing brighter as the sky grew darker. Long shafts of pale green light now projected downwards from the sky; this was really it, the Northern Lights at last! Sol was clearly excited; I was dancing around. I managed a pic with my phone and stuck it on Twitter and a few Whatsapp groups to alert friends and followers. Soon, I started receiving pics and messages from others watching this spectacle too, as far south as the fens in Cambridgeshire.

And then, at about 11pm, something astonishing happened. An arc of light spread right overhead from the northeast horizon right over, like a giant nocturnal rainbow and it turned bright pink! We could not believe what we were seeing. Directly overhead, beams of magenta seemed to be protruding out of space down towards us. I suddenly felt very small and fragile - this was a mysterious and ominous cosmic force. We just stared upwards, mouths agape. Through the phonescreen, you could see the lights pulsate and ripple, like waves crashing on to our atmosphere. It was a truly wondrous, awe-inspiring sight and made me feel quite emotional to witness it so close to home.

Getting myself together, I realised it was getting on for midnight and I really wanted the rest of the family to see this, so we headed home. The Aurora was so bright by now that we could see it overhead through the windscreen all the way back round the ringroad to Bishopthorpe, only being masked by the brightest of streetlights. I was hoping we could see it over our house and sure enough as we piled out of the car there it was, streaking across the sky. I woke Vicky and she came out to enjoy the view, but sadly my daughter was fast asleep. 

 I headed to bed, buzzing, having witnessed a once in a lifetime event - certainly round here! Nature is amazing!

Sunday 12 May 2024

Welcome home!

It has been a long wait, but relief as one of our Swift pair has made it back and roosted in the nestbox for the first time this year! He or she roosted in the box and was fastidiously tidying up the nest first thing this morning. Hopefully the other bird will be back soon.


Sunday 28 April 2024

Arctic Terns: Ultra Migrants!

Monday dawned drizzly, with low cloud and a light southeasterly wind. It looked like a good day for birding, with this kind of weather conducive for dumping overland-migrating birds at inland locations. I was stuck in the office all day, and when the messages started pinging through of flocks of Arctic Terns dropping in across the York area, I couldn't help but feeling quite gripped! Sandwich Terns, Common Scoters, Grey Plovers and a Little Gull added to my torment, but I enjoyed the collective excitement, albeit vicariously. With a brief break for lunch, I grabbed my bins and cycled down to Dringhouses Pond. This could easily pull in a wayward group of terns; in fact, I saw two storm-blown juveniles here in late October last year, but sadly nothing was doing besides a few bored-looking Tufted Ducks and the resident pair of Great Crested Grebes.

The ace up my sleeve was that I'd arranged to go birding straight from work, so when 5pm came, I cycled furiously home, hoping that the continuing cool, overcast conditions were still favourable for some movement to be happening. 

And so it proved. I arrived into an empty hide at North Duffield Carrs and immediately spotted the elegant white forms of Arctic Terns dipping and swerving across the flood water. Excellent! An image I had day-dreamed of for hours was now here to be savoured. Seventeen birds in all, a good count for York, but surpassed by larger counts earlier in the day. Five Common Scoters flew past by field of view, three adult males, a female and a first-summer male, before landing on the flood; a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits wickered as they fed along the bund in front of the hide, together with a black-bellied Dunlin. This was fabulous April birding! The Black-tails constant calling attracted other birds in and the count rose to 130 before many headed north up the valley. 

Top: Arctic Terrns, pausing for a rest; bottom: Common Scoters and Arctic Terns

The Arctic Terns were spell-binding, elegant, angular birds, gracefully picking insects from the water surface, using their deeply-forked tails to turn sharply and dip down to the flood. It was hard not to be mesmerised by them and to keep vigilant for another species making an appearance.

The count of Arctic Terns rose to 40 as more birds arrived from the southwest, magically materialising out of the low cloud and joining the feeding throng. Over the next two hours, I counted the birds every ten minutes and I estimated a minimum of 57 birds had passed through, but the maximum could have been three times that. At 8pm, a flock of 14 peeled off from the rest, and I watched as they flocked together and then headed at a sharp angle straight up into the low cloud to the east and out of sight, to embark on the next leg of their epic journey north. The six remaining birds, resting on posts, followed suit a few minutes later, rocketing skywards, calling excitedly. Presumably above the clouds they could navigate to the coast more easily. 


Catching a big movement of Arctic Terns inland relies on a number of things lining up, not least the weather and time of year. Also, as far as York is concerned, we need late flooding (as we have this year),  to pull birds in for a rest. Usually by now, the floodplain meadows are more meadow and less flood, and with little habitat, terns pass through undetected. On Monday 22nd April, all these things aligned, and I was priveleged to witness the tale-end of this spectacular wildlife phenomenon.  In the York area, there were at least 240 birds logged at North Duffield during the day, with a further 70 at Castle Howard, and small numbers at Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings, which may have then passed through NDC later on. 

Monday 15 April 2024

Magic Field

There's a ploughed field north of Naburn that is attracting a lot of birds currently, including good numbers of wagtails, Skylarks and Corn Buntings. I am not sure why - it looks like an average ploughed field to me. Anyway, on Saturday afternoon, I cycled down the track to have a look in the strong southerly wind. 

The birds were difficult to watch as they were mainly trying to evade the gale, hiding behind clods of earth and down in the ruts. At least three dapper White Wagtails were zipping about among about ten Pieds, but stars of the show were the dazzling sunshine bright Yellow Wagtails glowing brightly against the soil. After a bit, I picked out the Channel Wagtail, found earlier by Jane and Rob. It's pale blue head, broad white super and sub-ocular, and extensive white throat indicated mixed parentage. It was neverthless an attractive bird.

White Wagtail, with a female Pied at the top.

Male Channel Wagtail, likely flava x flavissima

Male British Yellow Wagtail

Juxtaposition...a tale of two Grebes

It is April, a magical month for the birder. I try and get out birding as often as possible, as with migration in full swing, every day brings fresh arrivals, tiny miracles returning thousands of miles from the tropical heat of Africa to spend the summer with us. Our winter migrants are on the move too, heading back north and east to breed and large numbers pass through our area on their travels. Throw in the chance of literally anything turning up anywhere, and it is a very exciting month!

After work on Thursday I headed out to the LDV to see what was occurring. With the valley flooding again for the umpteenth time this winter/spring, Wheldrake was inaccessible, so I headed to the south end to start my birding at North Duffield. The pair of Scaup and pair of hybrid Scaup-alikes were still present, but the large expanse of water hadn't pulled in the hoped-for terns or Little Gulls. Next, round to the east side of the valley, to check sites on the way up north. My first stop was positive, with a female Common Scoter a fresh arrival, looking rather out of place amid the scores of Wigeon and Pintail. No sign of any Garganey yet though. Swallows zipped overhead and Willow Warblers had joined the Chiffchaffs in the scrub around the church. A late Fieldfare chacked over, heading east. This juxtaposition of incoming summer migrants with outgoing winter migrants is what makes April so special.

Ellerton was teeming with ducks, but nothing scarce, so I headed on up to East Cottingwith, where I could look across the Pocklington Canal on to the refuge at the south end of Wheldrake. Almost the first bird I saw was a Black-necked Grebe - class! 


These birds used to breed in the valley, but have become really scarce in recent years and never hang around long, so this was a delightful treat. After a few moments, I thought I better get the news out, and as I opened Whatsapp I saw a message from Ollie Metcalfe saying he had just found a Slavonian Grebe at Bank Island! Nuts - he must have found this at exactly the same time as I'd found the Black-necked, at the other end of Wheldrake. Slavonian Grebes are next-level in terms of rarity in the York area, so my BNG was somewhat eclipsed. 


Having taking a few rushed pics and video of the grebe and a smart breeding-plumaged Great Egret, I picked up my sister in Sutton and then shot round to Bank Island.  We discovered a grinning Ollie and Craig watching the stonking summer-plumaged Slav feeding out on the flood. What a fantastic grebe double, something not witnessed before in the York area, and continuing our great start to the York birding year. 

The following morning, another bizarre twist in this tale. The early morning news was that the Slav had departed, but the Black-necked Grebe was now on Bank Island! Then, an hour or so later, the almost unbelievable news that the Slav was now on the refuge, exactly where I'd found the Black-necked the previous evening. So, the two grebes had effectively switched position during the night! Totally nuts. 

 Following this strange episode, the Slav had disappeared from the refuge by Saturday morning, only for me to refind it on the main flood out from Tower Hide later that morning. Whilst watching the bird there, an adult Kittiwake dropped in right in front of it - another scarce York bird and proving April really is a phenomenal birding month!

Sunday 7 April 2024


Yesterday was my last Yorkshire Coast Nature Goshawk Tour of spring 2024. I am relieved that it was a successful day, with seven Goshawks seen, bringing my hit rate to 100 percent. The Gos have performed brilliantly this year, and it is great to see them thriving in the Yorkshire Forest. Long may it continue! We  have watched as pairs defended their territories against last year's young, neighbouring pairs and other rivals, including the local Buzzards. The sight of a slow-flapping female Gos, with her white undertail puffed out, and her long, graduated tail held tightly shut, over the remote forest, is an amazing thing, and I hope these sightings will live long in the memories of all our fabulous clients. Roll on next year!

I am delighted that YCN will be making a donation to the RSPB Investigations team, who do a fantastic job looking after these and other raptors.

Besides the Goshawks, there was a lot of other bird activity in the forest. An early Tree Pipit was a highlight, displaying maniacally: repeatedly climbing up into the sky before parachuting into the top of a tree; a Raven, which gave us a cracking fly-past, and a couple of Swallows back round their home farm. The spring flowers - Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Wood Anemones, Wood Sorrel and Primroses - lit up the woodland floor, and a bit of warm spring sunshine felt good on our faces after such a long wet winter. 


Today, I headed off to North Duffield Carrs to see if the strong southerly wind had blown anything in. It  was clear that more migrants had come in with the warm weather and wind, with several Swallows and a good numbers of Sand Martins. A Ringed Plover flew south, and there were five Ruff, a Dunlin and a Black-tailed Godwith sheltering from the brisk wind. The male and female Scaup were still hanging out with the flotilla of Tufties and Pochard, and the two drake hybrids were still at large, one of which still shadows the drake Scaup.


At 10.30 a flight of 40 Wigeon came in from the east; I joked to Jilly who was in the hide that we should check carefully in case the American Wigeon was with them. To my surprise and delight, it was, and it proceeded to swim towards Garganey Hide, where it showed beautifully in the morning sun although most of the time it was asleep, as per usual! The bird had been at Wheldrake until the end of last week and then had disappeared. I assumed it had departed for northern climes, but it seemed it had just returned to its original patch now that the Derwent has flooded yet again. A very smart bird and great to admire it at much closer quarters. After a couple of hours, I left it to its slumber and headed home.

 The drake American Wigeon with his partner


Later on, a dog walk up the York-Selby cycle track revealed four dazzling Yellow Wagtails feeding with a similar number of Pied Wags in a freshly ploughed field near the Moor Lane bridge at Naburn. Cracking!

Wednesday 3 April 2024

Long View

With the day off, I left the kids to entertain themselves and headed off to Wheldrake Ings. A Cetti's Warbler was singing from the marshy area next to the car park, and another was by the first bend in the riverside path. It seems they are returning to the ings after the winter floods. The Willow Warbler was still proclaiming its territory near Tower Hide and a second bird was in riverside trees just south of the refuge gate. The American Wigeon was showing well, staying close to a female Euro Wigeon on Swantail. The light was still dreary, so my pic are not much better than the other day.

The Blackwits were spread across the site, with the bulk of the flock at the back of the refuge, but about 100 on Swantail and a few flocks around the edges of the refuge, feeding. 


I moved on to North Duffield and within a few minutes, picked up a couple of elegant Avocets, feeding way out at the back of the flood. These are my first Avocets in the York area for about five years, so I was more than a little pleased to find them. Avocets are remarkably scarce in the York area despite the increasing population in Yorkshire. They also seem to move on quickly, and true to form, these two departed at some point in the afternoon, disappointing some post-work twitchers. The drake Scaup and its hybrid buddy were still present with the large flock of Tufties, 45 Pinkfeet were flying about and the immature drake Goosander dropped in to bathe and preen, before heading off north up the valley. With southerly winds and warm weather approaching, perhaps more migrants will arrive by the weekend. Fingers crossed!

The Avocets were about a kilometre north of the hide on the back edge of the flood, underneath the old Osprey platform.