Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Dadpower - Twitching the Patrington Ivory Gull

Lived up to my blog name today. Had the day booked off to attend Solomon's playgroup nativity and Adelaide's carol concert. And then an Ivory Gull rocked up at Patrington Haven! Yikes!

Unable to get there yesterday my day off work surely must give me an opportunity. Given that yesterday the bird showed up at 8.20am and then showed well for a while before flying off and spending most of the rest of the day distantly apart from returning to feed mid afternoon, I thought I should go early and get back for 11am for Sol's performance of mini Joseph. Stupidly, I hadn't quite calculated things correctly and instead of arriving at 8.15am ready for the gull to arrive, I found myself in a traffic jam near the Humber Bridge at 8.30... I texted my wife to say I would be turning round as I was never going to make it and then get back for 11. Anyway, I was stuck on the A63 until the next junction and as luck would have it, I passed the broken down lorry that was causing the chaos there and suddenly the road cleared. I legged it on through the dawdling morning commuters and arrived at Patrington Haven at 9.05am. I was then told it was a mile walk - bugger!

Donning my gear I ran down to the pumping station thankful for all the training I have been doing but regretful for the bout of flu I have been getting over, which erupted in a coughing fit half way there. I passed Jack A-B and Olly en route who said the bird was showing brilliantly. Fab! I may just pull this off! When I got there, c50 birders were standing around nonchalantly chatting and not looking at the bird. So where was it? Was I being blind? No, it had flown off. But where? Why was nobody looking? After a bit of panic caused by the comment 'it flew on to the river mate' I found a guy who looked like he was birding. He was, and seconds later I was viewing the corking Polar-bear-crap eating wanderer.

Awesome! Not as mindblowingly close as everybody else had seen it, but a cracking scope filler in glorious winter morning sunshine. I drank in the tiny black tips to the wing coverts and primaries, the characteristic mucky face, short black legs - seemingly feathered to the knee! - and the other features. And then, five minutes after I had set eyes on the reason for my mad morning dash, I had to go.

In order to get back for 11 o'clock, I must be back in my car and heading west by 9.30am. I shot off lugging my gear passing rather bemused twitchers wondering why I was running away from the bird. The journey back was much quicker, and yes, I made it back in time to see my three year old lad do his star role as Joseph. A real tear jerking moment. And the nativity wasn't bad either!

Post script. This is only the second Ivory Gull I have seen, the first being the Southwold (Suffolk) bird way back on 9 December 1999. That bird famously got blown up during the Millennium Eve firework display!

Sunday, 15 December 2013

25 minutes of gull heaven

Shot over to Rufforth for a reported possible Kumlien's Gull leaving my lunch on the table and a bemused family. A very interesting bird indeed though I am pretty sure the structure of the bird and the pattern of dark and light on the spread wings indicated an exceptionally pale Herring Gull. An amazing flock of gulls and delighted to have the excuse to get out for a brief stint (thanks Olly!) and saw 1w and 2w Glaucous Gulls and this cracking Iceland Gull. This bird is very pale indicating a second winter, yet the wholly dark bill and dark eye point to a first winter. It could just be a white first winter I suppose. The gull flock was mega but my lunch was getting cold...

Went into town last thing and there was about 100 Pied Wagtails roosting outside M&S not that the oblivious Christmas shoppers below noticed. Also one Grey Heron over Coppergate at dusk, heading for the Foss no doubt.

Organic Christmas decorations... Pied Wags in Parliament Street, York.

Earlier I led a walk at Wheldrake Ings, with Marsh Harrier being the highlight. No winter floods yet, so the Teal etc are congregating in the ditches. Hopefully there will be some rain soon otherwise Christmas will be quiet.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Lovely views of YWT North Cave Wetlands' first Black-throated Diver this morning. Interesting to see how the white flanks varied depending upon the bird's attitude. When actively feeding the characteristic flank patch was displayed, becoming a longer white side when loafing. Very fresh plumage and faint scalloping on the mantle indicate a juvenile I assume. Later on a quick walk round the boardwalk at YWT Askham Bog revealed a showy Marsh Tit and several Lesser Redpolls and Siskins in a Goldfinch flock.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Dusky Warbler!

Thanks to Rich Baines of Yorkshire Coast Nature who managed to secure these two cracking photos of the Dusky Warbler we found at Flamborough last Saturday. Awesome!

Flamborough Saturday

Up early and out east. Did the Old Fall loop first and saw very little, though a Crossbill sp was calling away unseen near the pull-in and was later seen flying towards the lighthouse high overhead. Slightly disconcerting given the number of non-Common Crossbills turning up. Little of note on the loop save a couple of Blackcaps. Great to meet Jim Morgan, father of my esteemed colleague Phoebe, who was ringing in the plantation. He hadn't caught too much. I had a little look for the Daurian Shrike whilst passing but it eluded me today. As mid morning arrived so did some rain, and as I drank tea in the cafe, a dozen Blackbirds literally fell out of the mist in to the Bay Brambles. Smart. On to Holmes Gut. Far fewer birds than Wednesday, though birds started to come in, seemingly off the sea. Three Bramblings, lots of Redwings, and a scattering of Fieldfares, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds. Three or four Blackcaps were still in evidence. As I watched, I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler from the Willows, so I headed back there. Sure enough a little stripy sprite was jumping around calling frequently. This bird looked far more standard than the bird I saw earlier in the week, with vivid green upperparts, lemon super and white underparts, plus broad double wingbars, tertial edges and tips to the flight feathers. Lovely. A little later Jim turned up and put up a couple of nets, and after a while, the YBW trapped itself, allowing me to see this delightful Siberian jewel up close. The top two photos below were snapped with my phone, the lower with my dslr. Just beautiful and a privilege to see this bird.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Flamborough Post Script 16 October 2013

I arrived at Old Fall full of anticipation. I had done the honourable thing and not simply twitched the Daurian Shrike, but instead was determined to find my own birds... fewer birds seemed to be about at first with a single Chiffchaff the only bird of note along the hedge. An unseen Robin ticked away in cover. At the end of the hedge, a small group of 'crests appeared. All khaki and peeping, but they failed to reveal a scarcer cousin. A flock of c40 Bramblings went over wheezing as usual, followed by a flock of six Redpolls - maybe mealies. There have been a lot about. I walked round the plantation adding a few Song Thrushes and Redwings, plus more Goldcrests and Chiffchaffs.

I headed down the southern section of hedge which was comparatively alive with birds. Redwings burst out angrily and headed across the bare fields, whilst Bramblings flashed their white arses as they flicked down the hedge in front of me.

Turning right I headed to Booted Gulley, noting a solitary Wheatear in a flock of Redwings in one of the field. I scanned the hedgerows carefully hoping for a lingering Great Grey Shrike, but they had moved on. Booted Gulley was being penned in by a big boom sprayed and was also in a bit of a wind tunnel with the southeasterly blowing out of Brid Bay, so I didn't stay around long. Turning back I got a message saying Andy Hood had found a Bluethroat on the clifftop path. Nice work!

A few minutes later I was regretting not bringing my Scope as I squinted into a grassy field just discerning a big white super and a faint wash of blue. A showy bird, presumably fresh in. Following the path round revealed little else though a solitary Mealy Redpoll confided in me in exactly the same place as a week ago. The same bird or perhaps just the same food source and shelter looks good to more than one bird.

I had a quick peep at the Daurian Shrike showing behind the café, apparently plundering a local wasp nest. A smart big predatory Redstart of a bird. What a great morning it was proving to be, though little in the way of finds!

I worked the front gardens to no avail and then headed for Holmes Gut. Great - the valley was literally alive with birds, with thrushes exploding from the hedge and the willows mostly unseen until my approach sent them rocketing skywards shouting angrily. A few Goldcrests were hovering about in the Gorse. More Redpolls appeared some feeding close by on willowherb heads looking good for Mealies.

Then a Yellow-brow type warbler popped up. It looked dingy and had me worried for several hours, though with guidance it is just a dull YBW. I spent the next couple of hours on and off trying to get better views of the bird, during which time I added a couple of Blackcaps, a Redstart and Willow Warbler to the day's tally, along with up to six Mealies and hordes of Redwings, a dozen or so Fieldfares and a few Siskins. A great day and despite no big find, the Yellow-brow was a really educational bird. Having seen loads recently, it was amazing how dull light and different conditions can really change the appearance of a seemingly familiar bird. Thanks to the locals who put a bit of effort in trying to help me nail it. Great Stuff! Now to find a real Hume's!

Mystery Birds #1 and #2.
Ok, Bluethroat and Daurian Shrike. Surely much more atmospheric than a frame filler :-)

The Silent Type

Full write up of another great day at Flamborough to come...

For now, I just need to get some photos posted of an interesting warbler seen in Holmes Gut YWT today. I came across the bird at 11am just past the stock bridge in low brambles . It then moved into a large Hawthorn where it moved in and out of the foliage. The bird's dingy appearance immediately rang alarm bells having seen plenty of standard Yellow-brows during the past month so I grabbed a couple of photos. It moved into a nearer Hawthorn and then into a willow where I lost it. Frustratingly the bird did not call at all. I had no signal down in the Gut, but a little later Andy Hood showed up and together we scoured the area to no avail. At 12.30 I decided to leave it for a bit and so we both left. On getting signal I called Richard Baines to let him know what I had seen. After a coffee I went back down the Gut and shortly Andy and Phil Cunningham appeared. At about 1.15pm I picked the bird up in exactly the same spot and both Andy and Phil managed to see it too. It didn't call again and disappeared the same as before. However, it didn't go far and ten minutes later it was back in the original Hawthorn. It showed briefly and then headed seawards and wasn't seen again before I had to leave at 1.30pm.

So is this just a dull Yellow-brow? With my lack of experience of Hume's (I have only seen one before!), I was reluctant to broadcast my hunch wider than some local birders, without hearing the call.

The bird has a dull overall appearance, being sullied greyish underneath, with yellowish-buff on the sides of the upper breast. It is dull green-grey above with the brightest area being the greater covert bar and greener edges to the flight feathers. The median covert bar is weak and dull as are the tertial edges. The loral stripe is non-descript and the supercilium appears to be buffy in front of the eye. Also, the ear coverts look fairly unmottled though I am not too sure about this, the 'shadow' under the greater covert bar is weak, and the bare parts, especially the bill, appear to be dark. The upperparts sometimes looked a bit greener depending on the light.

This Mealy Redpoll showed nearby while I was waiting for the warbler to pop out.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Flaming Bog Horror

12 October
The wind veered round to northeast early the previous evening and mist and drizzle rolled in. I could barely sleep for anticipation and arriving at South Landing early morning to set up for our event and it was immediately apparent that a major fall was happening. Redwings, Fieldfares, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds and Bramblings poured in over the headland, diving into the ravine to shelter from the strong wind. Ring Ouzels chucked, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker piled in off Bridlington Bay. I thought I would have a quick look down the ravine before our event started. I bumped into a guy who said they had had a Dusky Warbler in the hedge here about 30 minutes ago but had lost it. They thought it had gone across the road into the deep cover where the Desert Warbler had been all those years ago. Good luck finding that in there!

Our first guided walk started at 10.30, with a tour of the mammal traps with my colleague Jon. Two exquisite Common Shrews, Wood Mouse and a House Mouse later (this latter species brought from Jon's house!) and we headed off on our South Landing loop. Stacks of Goldcrests were in the bushes and the air was full of the calls of thrushes. It was great to be able to effervesce to the guests about migration with it happening all around! Coming out of the woods near the Timoneer and a Hawfinch flew over whilst the local Crows were relentlessly hassling a Sparrowhawk. Chiffchaffs were flitting along the hedge as we walked. This is electric birding!

I was with Andy Gibson at the head of the group as we turned west at the end of the track around the sheep field. Suddenly a dark brown bird shot out of the hedge just in front of us and swerved over the top and back in. It called a slightly-lip smacking 'tack- tack'. 'That was a Dusky Warbler!' I exclaimed - Andy said 'Don't be daft'. To which I replied 'No, it really is a f*****g Dusky!' (I hope the guests didn't hear that! I then played him the call on my phone. 'Yes, it is' was his response.

I gathered the group together, and told them to wait as I crept up the hedge. Sure enough there it was again in the straggly hedge flicking it's wings in the shadows and calling repeatedly. As I got nearer, desperate for a clear view, it doubled back enabling many of the group to see it. Awesome! This was a good half a mile away on the opposite side of the ravine, up in a wind-blown hedgerow near the cliff top. Surely this was not the bird seen on the west side of the ravine three hours ago? Anyway, it felt as good as a find, unexpected as it had been. I rang Rich Baines and left him with the news.

We had to press on with the group and headed along the cliff, down the steps and back up the ravine.
I bumped into Craig Thomas and others coming the other way and gave them the details. They headed up the steps to have a look. A few hours later and we went back for seconds. About twenty birders were in the sheep field watching the Dusky in the hedge. After a little while of listening to the occasional tack, the bird finally gave itself up and showed well two or three times, so I finally got to see its features. A smart little bird. Hopefully one of the big lens boys might have got a photo.

After the excitement of that, not a lot else happened. A flock of c30 Crossbills was seen whilst waiting for the Dusky to appear and then later another was flying around in the ravine which sounded very odd, though I didn't see it well....

11 October
Back to Flamborough with work. A walk round the Old Fall Loop before our meeting with York Press revealed much more activity than earlier in the week, a result of the wind going round to the north. The Old Fall hedge was quiet at the north end, but the plantation was busy with Goldcrests and Bramblings. A large flock of Redwings erupted out of the south end of the hedge and headed inland. This seemed to be the start of something big. At the corner of the Gorse Field and a pale bird in the low brambles surprised me by revealing itself as a very confiding Mealy Redpoll. At first it's startlingly frosty appearance against the dark bramble leaves made me think of Arctic sp, but sadly the streaked rump and undertail ruled that out quickly. A brief look at the sea whilst scoffing a bacon butty revealed a steady passage of Gannets and at least one Sooty Shearwater. The passage was impressive, though sadly I had work to do...
8 October
The weather was too lovely today, with a brisk SW wind and sunshine meaning we were not going to be in for a deluge of scarce and rare at the Great White Cape.

Nevertheless, we had a fab time sorting through Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in the Bay Brambles early on and our blood pressures rose as I saw a larger pale brown bird in the Willows and then in the Privet on the edge of the golf course. James had heard some tacking from that vicinity too. My second view was of the rear end of a bird which dipped it's tail down... surely not just a badly seen pale Chiff?

Following a cup of tea chez Baines and then a fry up nearby, we did the Old Fall loop. Only a handful of migrants, including Wheatear, Stonechat and a few Chiffchaffs. At the plantation, a Yellow-browed Warbler seemed very pleased to see us, announcing it's presence with a strident tsee-weest from close quarters. The little sprite zipped around calling constantly, but avoided James' long lens. Last night's beer caught up with us and we had a lunchtime snooze by the willows, with Siskins calling overhead. A fine day.

Friday, 4 October 2013

The one that got away - 3 October 2013

As is now tradition I like to spend my birthday birding at Spurn. Phil and me headed off early and went straight to Sammy's. More birds than last week, though nothing unusual, the best being two Ring Ouzels.

On to the Point to look for a Richard's Pipit which had long since departed. As we walked up from the Point car park, the air was alive with Redwings and Song Thrushes. Nice. Pausing by the Parade Ground, flocks of Brambings and Chaffinches wheezed and chupped around the bushes. A Redstart shot past. A few Willow Warblers hoo-eeted in the Buckthorn. We paused to overlook a sheltered dell near the VTS tower, where two Redstarts fed from dead elder stems. A Marsh Harrier flew past the lighthouse in the distance (top right of photo below).

Suddenly, a bird exploded out of nearby cover, we swang round as it called twice a squeaking loud tzeep! I exclaimed 'Olive-backed Pipit!" It flew round in a circle in good light, looking contrastingly dark olive above and bright persil white below with buffy breast and face. Not much else was discernible, but it looked pretty good for an OBP. It looped round and seemed to be dropping as it went out of view behind the VTS tower. We radioed the news out and then spent an hour and a half looking around the area, seeing Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcaps, more Redstarts, Pied Flycatcher etc, but no further sign of the OBP. So, my birthday present would only go down as a possible...

On we went to Chalk Bank, where we saw the Red-breasted Flycatcher and a few more Redstarts. We hoped the Richard's Pipit would be here, but we failed to find it. A very tame male Siskin fed along one of the paths, presumably never having seen humans before. A lovely little bird.

After lunch in the pub, well, it was my birthday, we walked round the triangle. No sign of Tim's acro by Pallas's Pond, but three Jack Snipe on the Canal Scrape were nice and much closer than last week. A fine Spotted Flycatcher was by Cliff Farm, but we failed to find any Firecrests or Yellow-brows in the strengthening winds. With the onset of rain, we headed back west.

Jack Snipe, Redstart, Siskin, Spotted Flycatcher.

Flamborough - 29 September 2013

Sunday and still southeasterly. My old mate Philip has arrived from elsewhere and so we headed to Flamborough to see what the wind had blown in. Quite quiet with lots of miles of hedges checked for little reward. 3-4 Yellow-browed Warblers were in Old Fall Plantation, along with a Redstart. A Peregrine, a regular sight on the head these days showed well by the lighthouse and the first highlight of the day was a large breakfast enjoyed in the sunshine at the cafe. Shortly after, a squeak in a bush nearby gave away the second highlight, a gorgeous Firecrest which eventually came out on the edge like a tiny ball of beauty. Nothing doing in South Landing so we headed home early doors.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Spurn sunshine

The wind went easterly in the week and a deluge of migrants poured over the North Sea and birders along the East Coast were apparently knee-deep in Yellow-browed Warblers. The Northern Isles had scored massively, so it was with much anticipation that I headed east to Spurn.

Half a dozen Redwings over Easington Village whetted the appetite for what was to come and I headed first to Sammy's Point. A good trawl round the bushes here surprisingly revealed very little, with only c20 Song Thrushes and a couple of Whitethoats of note, plus a couple of Greenshanks on the Humber.

On to Easington Churchyard which should have been crawling with stripy phylloscs. Not today, with two Redstarts scant compensation.

News was coming through from Spurn and Kilnsea so a short drive later and I was soon heading round the triangle having picked up a spare radio (thanks Andy!). A Wheatear was present on the fence in the middle of Well Field and from Canal Scrape Hide, a smart juvenile Little Stint sporting snazzy bling was showing very well along with a bouncing Jack Snipe feeding on the cut area. Little else of note around the triangle. On the way back to the car a visit to the Kilnsea Churchyard revealed first a Pied Flycatcher and then a fine Yellow-browed Warbler flicking around in a Sycamore. The bird was mostly silent but did a brief bout of calling.

Crazy bouncing Jack.

Lunch at the Warren and then on to Chalk Bank for fine views of a Red-breasted Flycatcher, before some serious bush grilling. This was hard work in the glorious sunshine though Garden Warbler, Whitethroat, a Whinchat-Wheatear-Whinchat superspecies (don't ask!), a Redpoll x Linnet hybrid (the sun was getting to me by this point) and a Goldcrest were the noted migrants. Presumably the clear skies were allowing all incoming migrants to fly straight over at height. 30 Brents on the Humber were a fine sight and plenty of Gannets seemed to be investigating the outskirts of Hull, but most seemed to return.

RBFly...A lovely and confiding little bird.

Last stop was the point where a Wheatear fed on the lawn and a Redstart 'hoo-eet'ed around the lock-up. The bushes were dead on the whole, though more Song Thrushes were in evidence. Another Redstart on the other side of the Parade Ground could have been a second bird. It was a joy to explore the network of newly cut paths - nice one Adam, Phil and Vicky.

A quick look for a Firecrest at the Warren on the return journey, revealed a briefly calling Yellow-brow next to Warren Cottage and a flitting flight view of said Firecrest. All in all a lovely day, though very few new birds in.

Monday, 16 September 2013

Double Snipe

So I tried to do the right thing. Big westerlies and rain and the thought that surely yesterday's Great Snipe wouldn't still be at Spurn made my decision to go looking for wind blown skuas at Hes East the birding destination of choice. Not much doing, though 12 Snipe were seemingly taunting me, reminding me of their large Polish cousin out east. Plenty of ducks, with one Wigeon, 3 Pochard and c25 Tufted Ducks on the lake, though numbers of Teal were down on the west lagoons. Plenty of Linnets around and the semi-resident Greenshank. Then the news started to arrive of the Great Snipe giving crippling views...

An hour and a quarter of frenetic driving later, I pulled up at Kilnsea and jogged round on to Beacon Lane. Steve Exley immediately got me into the viewing position by a wall looking behind a gate on to a bit of rough land by a building. At first I couldn't see anything as I peered into the gloom under some scrub. But then I realised the green stripes I was looking at were the legs of the snipe, literally ten feet away, sitting on the grass right out in the open. Unbelievable!

For the next hour or so, those present had incredible views of this stunningly beautiful wader as it performed superbly, feeding actively on the grass and under the bushes, interspersed with a few naps. At times, it went for a wander, sometimes coming rediculously close. What a bird! I never thought I would see this species this well ever, with plenty of time to scrutinize every feather. The bird was in immaculate plumage and presumably a first calendar year, but I am not sure about the ageing of Snipes.

Great Snipes used to be known as Double Snipes, presumably because they were twice the bulk of a Common Snipe and therefore had more meat on them! Records are much scarcer these days than they used to be, so this bird was a welcome addition to many Yorkshire lists, including mine!

Birders staring under the gate to see the bird

Friday, 23 August 2013

Great White

A fine Great White Egret has been present at Wheldrake Ings for a week now, having strode out of thin air the morning after the evening I visited looking for waders.

Now I reckon even I would have noticed this giant white heron...I spent a few days at Birdfair adding Two-barred Crossbill to my Yorkshire list on the way down, at Broomhead Reservoir near Sheffield but in the back on my mind was this big Wheldrake bird that I was convinced would clear off before I got chance to look for it.

Anyway, the bird settled into a routine of showing on the Pool first thing before heading off elsewhere. First day back and despite being shattered I got up early and headed out before work. I headed down to the Pool Hide with trepidation and as I entered along the recently restored foot bridge, I immediately saw a giant white apparation standing in the middle of the pool. Fab! The egret showed nicely on 19th August and was still there when I left at 8am.

I went back on 22nd to see if more waders had come in. It was a beautiful misty morning that cleared to be a beautiful sunny, still day. The egret seems to favour the Pool area between 7am and 8am before heading off into an unseen part of the valley. It occasionally hangs out for longer however. A few waders present; several Green Sands, Greenshank (here and Hes East), a few Ruff and Snipe. A Marsh Harrier flew past today and a couple of Willow Tits are wheezing about in the riverside willows. No sign of any Two-barred or Common Crossbills in Allerthorpe Common, but the butterflies including c20 Small Coppers were awesome. A great show of c100 Common Blues at the west end of Hes East earlier too.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Moths and Hairstreaks

So we have discovered White-letter Hairstreaks on the big elm in the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust office garden. I guess they've always been there but nobody noticed, which is quite funny! Anyway, well done Kev for spotting them the other day. Fine views today! Also, had my first go with Claire's moth trap last night and succeeded in a small haul of moths that I couldn't identify! Oh well, it is fun to learn. Did manage to pick out a Ruby Tiger, 3 Dot Moths, Riband Wave, Hebrew Character, Dark Arches and a couple of Common Footman (Footmen perhaps?!). I will try again tonight. After an Elephant Hawkmoth really to wow Adelaide....

Among the elm leaves.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Butterflies at Fen Bog

A lovely visit to Fen Bog revealed lots of Large Heaths and Small Pearl-bordered Fritillaries plus a surprise in the form of a Keeled Skimmer. Also seen, Golden-ringed Dragonfly, Whinchats and lots of cool plants including Arctic Starflower, Heath Spotted Orchid and flowering Cranberry. More on my other blog

Yesterday, went up to Saltholme to look for the wandering Northumberland Bridled Tern, but sadly it went back north before I got there. Having Sol with me, I was in proper birding Dad mode, and we had ice creams a play in the playground and checked out the alpacas (!). I did manage to pick out a rather cracking Roseate Tern flying over the playground which was then picked up on the islands out the front of the centre. Probably the best bird I have had over a playground! The Bridled Tern rocked up back in N'land a few hours later. Git!