Sunday, 26 June 2016


The annual pilgrimage to The Farnes, Northumberland, made all the more special by being with me Dad, that's Dave. At least two (possibly three) Roseate Terns were loafing on the rocks near the jetty with a big gang of Arctic Terns. They seemed sleepy - it must be hard looking that gorgeous! Another one was seen from the boat on Brownsman. Besides the usual beautiful Arctic/Common/Sandwich Tern-fest, enjoyed some great moments with a Razorbill family, and then bumped into fellow Yorkshire nutters Rich, Dan and Steve from Yorkshire Coast Nature.


Thursday, 23 June 2016

Meeting my Hero

Friday 17th June was a special day. For six months I had been working (with my team) on a 70th Birthday Celebration Event for Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and on Friday, it all became a reality. This was by far the biggest event of this kind I have ever organised with 1,200 paying guests, a reception for 70 important friends of the Trust and one truly special guest.....Sir David Attenborough!

The day went incredibly well -apart from the delayed trains -and everybody in the staff team and the membership who came along seemed delighted, so all the stress was worth it. For me, it was an incredible day and at times quite emotional. I will never get over the powerfully-moving standing ovation Sir David received at the end of his part in the proceedings. It felt like we were channelling the whole nation's love, respect and gratitude for him at that moment, and in a melancholy sort of a way, it also felt a bit like our personal farewell, as many of us will never have the opportunity to meet him again. He was and is a true gentleman and inspiration.

I have so many highlights from the day. Meeting Sir David off the train at York station, walking him into a hall to greet all of my YWT colleagues, helping show him round Askham Bog during the afternoon, where I conducted an interview in front of the cameras (bit scary that bit!) and of course his speech and then Q&A session. He was simply brilliant.

Here's me and Alastair Fitter with David in Askham Bog.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Kronk Kronk

As usual, when my mate Duncan Bye finds a good bird in the York area, I am somewhere else! This time, Duncan's efforts had revealed an amazing find of a family party of five Ravens at Castle Howard. A much-desired York tick for me, I was gutted to be at Potteric Carr all day, helping at a work event. Duncan kindly accompanied me up there this morning to see if the birds were still around, and sure enough, as we approached, the characteristic croaking of young Ravens could be heard from a small wood. After a few minutes an adult flew past and landed in the top of a fir tree, where it stayed for ten minutes, kronking away. A little while later, we refound the three young birds happily bouncing around in a pasture. Their napes were quite brownish in the strong light. The other adult flew in from the west, possibly with the food. This is a great record and possibly one of the first modern breeding records of this species in the York area. Nice find Duncan!

Also noted were a Cuckoo, Marsh Tit and Grey and Yellow Wags.

Cornish butties

Thanks to some friendly local birders, we found the spot in Greenscombe Woods, Luckett, where beautiful Heath Fritillaries live. It was a lovely, sunny day, perfect for butterflies and we soon found about a dozen individuals, most of which were pristine. Lots of Common Cow-wheat was flowering thanks to the efforts of Cornwall Wildlife Trust to keep the habitat suitable and the food plant abundant for the butterflies. On the way back, we enjoyed some aptly-named Beautiful Demoiselles flicking about the stream by the Luckett car park. An awesome end to our Cornish adventure.

 Male demoiselle
Female demoiselle

Cornish Choughs

Lovely to see several Cornish Choughs along cliffs at The Lizard and at Porthgwarra. Lovely birds, looking smart among the clifftop flowers. Not much else about, save Stonechats, Peregrines and Ravens. Nice to see Spring Squill again, the first time I have seen it since the day I saw the Anglessey Black Lark!

Cornish Pasties

Switched our family holiday from Kent to Cornwall at the last minute, as the prospect of a Lammergeier and a Dalmatian Pelican at large seemed too good an opportunity to pass up. The main species I had been hoping for was Heath Fritillary and it seemed there was a chance of those in Cornwall too...

Our drive across Dartmoor failed to turn up the elusive Lammergeier, though I was perhaps a little over optimistic. More successful was my Monday morning twitch to Drift Reservoir to check out the other avian colossus of rather suspicious origin, a Dalmatian Pelican. This bird arrived on a big warm southeasterly which brought in a wide range of other rares, including Great Bustard in Kent. It is thought to be a bird that was previously in Poland. Unlikely to be accepted, but as good a candidate as any, being unringed, wary and arriving in mid May with a great supporting cast. The bird has given a lot of people the run around, but in recent days has been spending much of its time on Drift Reservoir. After a bit of a run around myself (as the bird seemed to have disappeared) another birder tipped me off, and I scooted over the dam and round into the northeast arm, where this giant was happily standing on a tree stump preening in the early morning sun. Escape or not, a really stonking bird, with a bright tomato-soup orange throat pouch and curly mop top. Smart.

 One of the Mallards is saying to the other "Don't go near it. They eat Pigeons you know!"

Super Giant Acrocephalus

Spent the weekend before last with the inlaws in Herts. A quick dawn visit to Paxton Pits was in order to get Great Reed Warbler on my waning Cambs list. As I approached Washout Pit (thanks for gen Mark!), a loud 'Trak trak trak....Eeek Eeek' announced that the bird was still there. Reed Warblers chuntered relentlessly in the belt of reeds fringing the pit and every so often the giant Acro would let loose a salvo of epic proportions, making up for its brevity with sheer volume. Churk churk churk, swee swee, chirra chirra. Etc. Awesome! Stupidly, I didn't have my scope, so had to take some long range shots with the DSLR, once the whopper decided to inch up a reed stem to give me a view. Cuckoo and Garden Warblers also noted, but surprisingly no Nightingales.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Baines' Big Barden Bunkhouse Birthday Beano Bonanza etc

Top weekend up Wharfedale celebrating Rich Baines' birthday. Class Yorkshire Dales birding with Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher breeding around the bunkhouse, plus the classic triage of Wood Warbler, Pied Flycatcher and Redstart along the River Wharfe. A few Cuckoos knocking about plus good numbers of Spotted Flycatchers, Dippers, Goosander, Mandarin and randomly, a Pink-footed Goose.

Thanks Jo and Rich for a top weekend!


Rich the mucky pup, Mandarin, Pied Fly, Redstarts, Spot Fly, Wood Warbler, Juvenile Dipper.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

I've got a good feeling about this!

Sometimes in birding I can just sense when a day has promise, or that things are going to go well. It could be an instinctive reaction to the weather conditions, or just my pig-headed refusal to be pessimistic in spite of the memories of all the disappointments in my birding history! Whatever the reason, today felt like such a day...but did it work out?

When news of a Citrine Wagtail (together with Terek Sandpiper, my biggest bogey bird) broke in Teesside it joined a corking cast of two Whiskered Terns, 5 Spoonbills, Garganey and Black Terns. Surely worth a mini evening twitch?! We were supposed to be on a hot air balloon but that had been cancelled -perhaps that would be fortuitous! The afternoon flew by and I got Tom on to the post work twitch gang, and following a quick pint to say good bye to a colleague, I shot home on the bike through the rain. Checking the news I was disappointed to see that the Citrine had not been seen for a couple of hours....doh! Tom shortly arrived and within a millisecond dismissed the idea of calling off the trip as we both felt that the bird must surely be around somewhere! At the very worst, we would still hopefully see some of the supporting cast which would make the trip worthwhile. So, through the rain we headed north. By Thirsk the rain stopped leaving a kind of gloomy overcastness with light but chilly northeasterlies blowing in off the murky sea.

On to Teesside, and I realised we would drive past Saltholme to get to Seaton Carew so it would be worth a quick stop to check out the Whiskered Terns. With some help from a couple of friendly locals we were soon on to the birds loafing on some posts out in the lagoon. Great stuff! The Spoonbills were out the back somewhere but were largely obscured so we thought we would press on, despite the locals telling us there was still no sign of the wag.

Down the Zinc Works Road, we parked up and tried to find the flooded field. With the help of James Robson's tweeted map we soon found the spot though the lack of a large pen nib made me doubt we had found the right location.

We spotted a few birders who seemed a little bit animated and I sensed perhaps the bird had turned up. A short walk later and I bumped into Mark and Nige - fellow York birders- who told me that sure enough, the Wag had just been seen again, sitting in the base of the solitary stunted sallow in the middle of the field. Unfortunately it wasn't there now! But it must be here somewhere, surely! A few tense minutes past and the assembled half dozen grilled the field with scopes. Suddenly Mark shouted 'it's back in the tree'! All scopes simultaneously switched to the sallow and there in the roots was the citrus headed beauty - my first British Citrine Wagtail! Like a cross between a White Wagtail and a Yellow Wagtail, this was a lovely female, with bright yellow supercilia flowing conspicuously around the rear of her ear coverts and joining up with the yellow below the ear covers on the side of her neck, the classic Citrine feature. The lemon wash extended on to her throat and down her breast, giving way to whitish underparts. The upperparts were grey and black with two broad white wingbars and tertial edges. After ten minutes or so of preening and tail wagging, she flew a short distance into the flooded field and started feeding with a male Yellow Wagtail. She was a little more furtive than the Yellow which was very showy although this may have been due to her more subdued plumage. After some great views, the birders drifted off. We were the last to leave and as we headed back to the car, the call of a Yellow Wag made me look up and the male Yellow was departing high towards the works to the southwest, closely followed by a second bird which called, a distinctly different, more rasping note - the Citrine Wag! The two birds disappeared into the gathering dusk.

You lemon-faced beauty!

Back we went and we stopped in again by the roadside overlooking Saltholme where a feeding frenzy was taking place over the lagoon as flies hatched from the water. A big gang of Black-headed Gulls was mixed with Common Terns and to our delight the two Whiskered Terns and three or four Black Terns - fantastic! They gave amazing views in the fading light within 20 metres or so. I tried some phonescoped shots down my scope, but the lack of light pretty much prevented much success.

One of the Whiskered Terns. The best I could do in near-dark with my phone down my scope!

Having had our fill, we headed south thoroughly chuffed. We were grateful for the help received on Twitter and on site from friendly birders - top stuff. Some days just feel good, today worked out that way too!

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Slack Time

Not sure why I haven't posted in a month. Anyway, this weekend has been all about the big white supers. First up, a 5am start yesterday and dawn at the Ings.

Lovely. Cuckoos cuckooed, Sedge Warblers flung themselves skywards and floated down like those little plastic paratroopers, Garden Warblers babbled and two fine white-super-sporting drake Garganey, swam about. Down the valley and another Garganey was zipping about looking for a mate at North Duffield. Two Greenshank and two Dunlin - waders come in pairs it seems - were flying around.

Today fog lingered first thing, so I decided that the coast was an option via the Stone Curlew at Star Carr. As I approached the fog thickened again on the low grounds and a quick phone check revealed a jaw droppingly stunning photo of a male Bluethroat from Mark P, having just been caught by Dan. Wow -what a corker! Up to Filey then and with gen from the lads, I gave the Top Scrub a good grilling. Surely this bird must be here somewhere! After a couple of hours, I decided to head along the north side of the Top Scrub so I could get to the head of the path up to the old tip. A little way along, and two birds hopping along a dirt path along the grassy field edge flushed on to the barb. The first was a Robin, the second, a cold grey-brown chat, landing with bit white supers - the Bluethroat! He turned round and flashed his crazy blue-fire-black stripy breast. Wow! Colin was hot on my heels and seeing me collapse to the ground realised I must be on to something. The bird hopped back along the grass and then on to a fence strut where it sat motionless for a moment, before flicking back into the scrub. I put the news out and we were soon joined by Mark. The little corker then performed beautifully as the sun peeked through the fog. A really special spring moment and I am very grateful to the guys for getting the news out.

I headed off round the tip on a floaty high, but failed to find more than a day-flying Barn Owl and a solitary Wheatear.

So I pressed on to Seamer and walked bloody miles in burning sunshine having had nothing to drink since 5.30am and failed to find a Stone Curlew. Bizzarely, at one point I could see the head and neck of a bird poking out of a grassy field which through the bins looked like a male Little Bustard. As I got my scope up, it vanished....too much sun for me clearly! Seven Wheatears in the Stonie's fave field were nice, all big smart Greenland types.

The lure of Black Terns at Wheldrake drew me back west to the local area and I was soon watching 11 of these stunners hawking over the still-wet Ings, clipping the head of one of the drake Garganeys! An Arctic Tern hung out on the fence next to a couple of Commons, and on the flood, a drake Scaup was unexpected, although the female lingers. Fabulous. I smelt BBQ smoke on the breeze, so my time was up and home called.

3 or 4 Black Terns distantly from Tower Hide.