Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Carrot face

Two months has whizzed by. Not sure where the time went. So what's happened? Lots of good plants, a few moths and butterflies and finally added Storm Petrel to my Yorkshire list. Dipped the Black-browed Albatross again.

Today, had a pre-work twitch to St Aidan's near Castleford to look for a Caspian Tern. I have been pretty lucky with twitching these monster carrot-faced terns in the past, but I had to be in luck today as I would only have about 40 minutes on site before dashing back to work. Fortunately, the bird was showing on arrival, and I legged it down the hillside from the car park to Astley Lake where the bird was loafing on an island. Shortly, it flew around and plunge-dived, Gannet style, into the water three times, with success on each occasion. It seemed to be a full adult and had a red ring on the leg. A very smart bird and my first for Yorkshire.

View south towards the visitor center, St Aidan's RSPB.

Caspian Tern. Corker.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Whitendale Pallid

Spent the day walking up the stunning Whitendale Valley with the whole gang. It was a long walk for the kids, but the gradual ascent, fine weather and beautiful river to splash in helped with the trek. Birding was great at this slow pace, with my first Pied Flycatcher, a showy singing male, adding to the woodland chorus. Common Sandpipers skittered along the rapids, where Grey and Pied Wagtails chased about. No sign of any Dippers surprisingly. A bit further on, an unseen Cuckoo gave away his presence, calling forlornly.

After a couple of hours with my stress-levels building, we took the last turn and Vicky kindly said I could rush on ahead. Typically, the first guy I asked said the male Pallid Harrier had flown off about twenty minutes previously. Atypically, whilst chatting to him, the bird came straight back in; I picked it up behind his head, coming back across the valley, against the blue sky.

It proceeded to float, ethereally, almost skimming the top of the heather as it hunted as if in slow motion. With the glorious May sunshine illuminating the vivid lime green of the Birch leaves amid the dark of the heath, the harrier floated slowly along. The harrier, rakish and svelte, paid us no heed as the birdo collective stared in admiration across the valley. It was unbelievably white, whiter than the previous male I had seen all those years ago at Elmley in Kent, when they were still, oh, so rare. Perhaps it was the purity of the upland air in the May sunshine, or the contrast with the deep mauve heather background. Either way, it was a dream-like moment. The black wingtip wedge was striking, seemingly made up of jet black 3rd to 5th primaries, with only a black tip on the second. The tail was lightly barred grey, and the upperparts flashed silver, mirror-like in the sun.

Shortly, the kids arrived and lunch was served. The gang were pretty hot - the only hats we had brought were woolly, and no sun block was to hand. Sunburn later perhaps. Mid-sandwiches and the harrier came back, carrying a long piece of bracken, almost looking almost like a tropicbird! It circled up over the hill, seemingly showing off to a nearby Buzzard. It eventually dropped in and settled on the bracken, allowing me to get the scope on it for the kids.

After a bit, the bird got up and flew around the valley for a while, did a bit of sky-dancing, including some epic stoops, before settling on a fence post to preen.

Heat haze didn't make photos too easy.

The family headed back down the road, after saying hello to fellow York birder Adam Hutt. I watched the bird cruising about for another half an hour or so. Also noted were a few Buzzards, two Peregrines, Sparrowhawk, Stonechats and a couple of Ravens.

I last saw the bird heading up the valley into the distance. What a privilege.

I walked down the hill with a birder from Accrington, which made me realise I had been 'over the border' for far too long; it was time to get a wriggle on. I caught up with the kids near the river and after a cool-off (it was proper baking) we had ice creams and then headed back to Yorkshire.

Centennial Park Frogmouth Fest

Having dipped Papuan Frogmouth up on the Daintree, my last chance of one of these freaky birds came along on our last morning down under. Centennial Park in Sydney is a known site for Tawny Frogmouth, but it is a big place and they are cryptically-marked and roost motionless during the day up against a tree trunk, pretending to be a bit of bark.

As luck would have it, I bumped into Biggles, a local birder, as I arrived and he had seen four Frogmouths the day before. Great! He spent a few minutes explaining to me how to find the roost site before realising how confused I was, and very kindly he offered to show me. After a ten minute walk, we got to a large patch of Paperbarks, where there was a collosal roost of Grey-headed Flying Foxes - cool!

A little further on, and Biggles asked me if I could see the Frogmouth - of course I couldn't. But as he pointed, I made out a grey bulge on the side of a tree about five metres away, and there was my first Tawny Frogmouth! Fantastic! The bird casually half opened an eye to check us out, but other than that didn't move at all, relying on its camouflage to avoid detection.

Awesome Tawny Frogmouth

Biggles carried on a little further and found a second bird. It was a bit more obscured but was facing us, so we could see its underparts. Again, it casually opened an eye to check whether we were a threat or not, before dozing off again.

Really cool birds. We couldn't find the other two of the family group, but I didn't mind. We went our separate ways and I wondered around for an hour before heading back to meet the family. I managed to add a few new birds to the list including Long-billed Corella, Australian Darter and Brown Goshawk.

Black Swan glancing at a Hardhead. Nice to see these guys in their native country for once, rather than on the Ings!
 Immature Brown Goshawk causing absolute panic in the park. Trailing a leg, bizarrely.

 Crested Pigeon. Dead common in Oz, but always cracking to see.

 Dusky Moorhen
 Grey Teal. Very similar to Chestnut Teal.

 Hardhead. A pretty cool Fudge-like Aythya.
 Little Black Cormorant
 Long-billed Corella
 Aussie Darter
Yellow-tailed Black Cockatoos.

Monday, 1 May 2017

Black Tern 2

Out birding locally again, albeit briefly. The east wind continues, but has lightened and the sun shone. The tern and wader passage has eased, but many Black Terns are still around. One or two drift migrants are arriving on the coast now, notably a Wryneck at Buckton.

The Black Tern was still knocking about at Heslington East at lunchtime and came close occasionally. As ever, a really lovely bird.

Tricky to photograph into the light and when you don't really know how to use a camera!

On to Wheldrake, where three Whimbrel dropped in early afternoon in front of Tower Hide. A Hobby was hawking about, and a hunting Marsh Harrier flushed up the ducks - c170 Teal, c50 Wigeon and c40 Gadwall. Red Kite and Garden Warbler also noted.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Down Under Part Five: Birding Queensland 4 and New South Wales

From the Tablelands we headed southeast to Townsville and on to Magnetic Island to look (successfully) for Koalas. A few new birds added to the list, notably Bush Stone-curlew, which were common on the island, especially once it got dark.

Magnetic Island. Viewed from the Forts Walk, near where we saw Koalas.

Pied Cormorant, Magnetic Island

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo - nesting in a broken-off palm in Townsville.

Back on the mainland, we drove up to Etty Bay, pausing briefly at Tyto Wetlands, where we added Green Pygmy Goose to the trip list. We had got a tip-off that Etty Bay (just south of Innisfail) was a good bet for Southern Cassowary, and sure enough as we drove in, Addie suddenly shouted "there's one!" and sure enough, one of these incredible, prehistoric-looking ratites was casually strolling along the edge of the beach!

Etty Bay. A little cove backed by a campsite and surrounded by rainforest. The local Cassowary pair seem to walk a circuit and so every hour or so, they wander along the beach, oblivious to any people that happen to be hanging out. Birding was good in and around Etty Bay, with Rose-crowned Fruit-doves noticeable.

Rose-crowned Fruit-doves
After a brief visit to Cairns, we headed north up to Port Douglas where we went out on the Daintree River. We managed two of our main three targets, Little Kingfisher and Great-billed Heron, but missed Papuan Frogmouth.  We saw one big Saltwater Crocodile sunbathing in the morning sun, and added a bonus bird in the form of a Pied Monarch. A number of other good birds were seen including Grey Goshawk, Radjah Shelduck, Wompoo Fruit-dove, Shining Flycatcher and Azure Kingfisher.

Great-billed Heron- the last time I saw one of these shy and rare herons was on Flores in 1997, Azure Kingfisher and male Shining Flycatcher.  I would really recommend Murray Hunt, the Daintree Boatman, who knows the birds and other wildlife.

Back in Black

Three visits to the local patch since I've been back from Australia. Not a lot doing on Thursday evening, although I was surprised by the amount of wintering wildfowl still present at YWT Wheldrake Ings. At least seven Pintail were among well over a hundred Wigeon and probably 150 Teal, along with six Pink-footed Geese. A Peregrine was hunting over the marshes, adding to the wintery feel. My first Blackcaps, Sedge Warblers, House Martins and Whitethroats of the year had other ideas though!

The Pool. Greening up.

Yesterday, headed down to Wheldrake Ings again during the afternoon and one of the first birds I picked up from Tower Hide was a Wood Sandpiper, walking about in the wet grassland out front. After a few minutes, it took off and calling repeatedly, flew towards Bank Island. A great start! I walked round to Swantail, where ten Whimbrel dropped in mid afternoon, and a Hobby hunted over the pool, picking off insects. One of the Whimbrel was colour-ringed; I will see if this individual is known. A Marsh Harrier went through, flushing the Whimbrel briefly, and putting up two Snipe out of the marsh. A Red Kite hunted over the Low Grounds and Reed Warblers sang from the recently restored reedbed.

Whimbrel. A Spring Wheldrake speciality, but usually seen at dusk, so nice to see this group in good light.

Today, the freshening southeasterly wind was full of promise, so I headed east to Flamborough early. The wind was too fresh on the coast, sadly, and after a walk round Old Fall, all I saw was a first summer Mediterranean Gull that cruised past along the cliffs, and a Yellow Wagtail flying west. Lee found a male Redstart near where I parked, so I headed back there and after a few moments got good views as it dived out of the hedge to pick insects from the ploughed field. Lee and Andy seemed fairly disconsolate, so with a heavy passage of terns and waders going on inland, I decided to turn tail and head back to the LDV.

Went clockwise round the LDV. The refuge looked good from East Cottingwith, but was devoid of birds. Aughton was virtually dry apart from the scrape which held a solitary Redshank. North Duffield Carrs proved to be better, with three Greenshank cavorting around on the remaining patches of flood water. I headed to Bank Island to stake out the large patch of water there, and after half an hour a tern suddenly appeared. It looked promising for Arctic, so I switched to my scope and sure enough it was. It circled the flood for a moment then headed off high over the Low Grounds towards Wheldrake. Shortly, a message came that there was a Black Tern at Hes East! Back in the car and off I went. The Black Tern was still present on arrival ten minutes later, in the company of a group of Sterna terns. In the bright light I was fooled in to thinking they were Arctics and announced this to Jan and Mike who were present. Most headed down to the raft where they rested. I got my scope on them and was still convinced some were Arctics - at least they should be - but with better views I realised that remarkably, they were all Commons.There were 16 in all. I did see one bird briefly that could have been an Arctic, with long tail streamers and very silvery upperwings, but I didn't pin it down. The Black Tern showed really well, hawking up and down until about 12.05 when it went and joined the terns on the raft. Really cool that York got in on the big movement. It makes me wonder how many Common Terns were involved along with the Arctics as only the latter were reported.