Thursday, 31 December 2015

Bye, bye 2015

Celebrated the end of the year with a walk up Glen Roy with the Clan. Saw a fine juv Golden Eagle soaring over the slopes. Happy Hogmanay!

Monday, 21 December 2015

The White Stripes - revisited

Not up as early as I'd planned due to a pretty shocking night due to this ongoing man-cold. Nevertheless, arrived at a deserted Wheldrake Ings a little after 8. As I fell out of the car in to the muddy car park, the air was filled with the sound of distant Pink-feet - wow - this was like Norfolk! From the bridge top, I could make out a line of these little dark geese happily grazing away across Yorkshire's finest floodplain meadow - lovely! Gulls drifted over, heading back to the Rufforth landfill site- they'd be disappointed: they don't tip on Sundays.

A little later I was in the Tower Hide and was pleased to count 161 Pink-feet, plus thousands of Lapwings, Wigeon and Teal out on the floods. After a little while an unknown danger spooked a huge flock of geese off the low grounds to the north. Predominantly Greylags, the flock contained at least 70 more Pink-feet and two small very dark geese- European White-fronted! Great. These had been found by Duncan Bye last month but had been rather elusive. The geese all wheeled round and then settled in front of the hide allowing me to count the birds and get a few phone-scoped pics.

Huge numbers of ducks were out on Swantail Ings, so I carried on down the riverside path to get a better look. The path to Swantail was flooded so I gingerly waded through. As I arrived, the almost-resident Cetti's Warbler welcomed me in usual style, by scolding from its hiding place in the reeds, apparently almost under the hide! The floods were carpeted in rafts of Teal, looking spectacular in the low winter sunshine: a cacophony of peeping filled the air. Surely there must be a Green-winged Teal among this lot? Having found a smart drake GWT at North Duffield earlier this year, I doubted I would strike lucky twice, but not to be put off, I started to squint through my scope looking for vertical white stripes among the hordes of horizontal. After about 40 minutes, I had counted approximately 3000 Teal, 1000 Wigeon, 25 Shoveler, 20 Pochard, 40 Tufted Ducks, 5 Goldeneye, 85 Pintail, 13 Shelduck, 40 Ruff, 2 Dunlin and had briefly seen the Cetti's Warbler fly between the reeds and a willow bush!

And then there was a vertical white stripe. Surely not! But no, it was, a cracking drake Green-winged Teal, busily calling and displaying among its European cousins. Unbelievable! It was a bit distant and was moving quite steadily with a group of 20 or so Teal towards the duck trap, so was tricky to phone-scope, but after a bit of perseverance, I managed a bit of video and a few pics. Having seen a hybrid drake here a week ago I was careful to check for any signs of impurity, but it looked bang on and I suppose could be the same bird as I had seen earlier in the year. The teal floated into some emergent willows and vanished, leaving me a little bemused but very happy. I put the news out, but shortly a pair of Buzzards came low across the Pool and flushed everything. Oh, no - not sure I would be able to refind the bird now! Fortunately, the teal decided it would head back to the same corner and after ten minutes or so, I refound it. A little later another birder (Adam Firth I think) rocked up and he managed to see it briefly before it disappeared into the willows again.

I didn't manage to do the double by pulling out an American Wigeon, so decided to head back as time was getting on. I had brought some cleaning products with me to give the info signs a scrub so rolled up my sleeves and got to work, before clearing the tall plants that were obscuring the view from Pool Hide.

Just by the Pool Hide something large slipped into the water under the willows, making quite a wave and flushing all the Mallards nearby in the process - an Otter perhaps? Or a Leopard Seal. Carrying on back, a familiar call revealed a Chiffchaff in the trees by the windpump - unexpected but quite fitting given the spring-like mild weather. I also saw a Bumblebee - bizarre! Back at Tower Hide the Pink-foot flock had risen to 231 and were back grazing on the grass, like a line of feathery rabbits. To the rear, an adult male Peregrine was hopping about on the grass, occasionally getting up for a fly around, which scared the living daylights out of the roosting Lapwings and Teal, but it didn't seem particularly hungry, and quickly returned to its grassy knoll to keep watch. A Hare tore across the meadows as if chased by an unseen predator, stopping to nibble the grass as if nothing had happened.

Arriving home to the smell of a roasting beast just ended the morning perfectly!

Saturday, 19 December 2015

Winter warmer

Bizarrely warm today, 14 C at midday. Had a Tree Spug on the feeder this morning which is only about my fourth record in five years. 45 pinkfeet went west over Bishopthorpe at 11.15.

Sunday, 13 December 2015


A couple of hours at Wheldrake Ings was enjoyable despite the early mist. Quite ethereal as I walked down the river with the sounds of unseen Teal, Wigeon and Pintail out on the floods. A flock of Lesser Redpolls were feeding in bankside willowherb. I spent ages looking through a tit flock for Firecrests but none were present. Four Goldcrests, three Treecreepers and a pair of Willow Tits were nice. Down towards Swantail and the Cetti's called right on cue from exactly the same place as last time. Duncan came out of the hide for a look but despite regular calling it never showed.  c130 Pink-footed Geese flew over and landed on the refuge. A bit later, Dunc picked up a bonus Short-eared Owl flying around behind Swantail. It showed beautifully, successfully hunting Field Voles and occasionally landing on posts. A good look through the ducks revealed a good increase in Pintail with about 55 present. A solitary Barnacle Goose was sleeping on the water.

Sunday, 29 November 2015


Late Post - 29 October:
Following a fantastic October fall-wise, I had high hopes for my last trip to Flamborough of the month. Nothing rare, but really enjoyable birding nevertheless, with four Woodcock flushed around Old Fall being the best, although I was bewitched by the number of Blackbirds along the Old Fall hedge. There was easily 200 in the area and at one point I had 38 feeding on the path viewable from the plantation looking north, with 20 on the path looking south. Really cool! An odd Brambling added a touch of peachy class to proceedings, with single Chiffchaff and Blackcap the only warblers noted. Three Teal were on the little pond in the sheep field.

 Blackbirds, south and north along Old Fall, plus fresh-in Brambling.

Went looking for Golden Plover flocks around the LDV, finding a cracking flock between Stamford Bridge and Kexby. At least 1000 Goldies plus half as many Lapwings. Unfortunately a rather smart adule male Peregrine and a bumbling Buzzard liked the look of the flock too, which prematurely stopped my efforts to find a rare.


In charge of the kids all day, so headed to Scarborough where a combo of harbour birding, chips and amusement arcades would hopefully keep us all out of mischief. We were possibly the only people heading east from York as squally rain showers piled in from the west on a brisk wind. Not the best beach weather, but we managed to check out the sands nevertheless. Found two Black-necked Grebes, half of the quad that has been present. One was incredibly approachable loafing about among the moored fishing boats. It did a lot of simultaneous wing and leg stretching, enabling us to check out it's rather smart white secondaries and inner primaries at close range, plus its freakish lobed toes. Addie decided the birds were evil, with their rather satanic red eyes. I thought they were pretty cute.

You can't moan, can you?

The Lower Derwent Valley flooded following plenty of heavy rain over the last week or so. Headed out to Wheldrake Ings on Saturday afternoon (21st November), to find the path pretty treacherous, but the floods not as high as I'd imagined. Awesome views out of Tower Hide of c85 Pink-footed Geese feeding on the grass plus several hundred Greylags and thousands of Teal and Wigeon.

Wandered, or rather, waded up the path to Swantail Hide. As I approached, a bird suddenly called from the ditch edge to my right  - Cetti's Warbler! I stopped dead and sure enough, the bird called again. It seemed to be on the edge of the reeds by a small Sallow, but frustratingly remained out of sight. I watched intently and moved to a better position. Annoyingly, the bird moved the opposite way and called from further up the ditch. I back-tracked but after several minutes the bird went quiet having failed to show itself. This is my first record of Cetti's Warbler in the York area having dipped several in the past. Surely it can't be long before they colonise the Derwent? Time was getting on so I had a look out of Swantail where another 15 Pinks were on the water, plus 10 Pintail, a brace of Gadwall and a handful of Shoveler. This was beginning to feel like birding in Broadland! Something was spooking the geese and ducks over on the floods but I couldn't see a culprit. I headed back round and the Cetti's called again repeatedly, this time on the other side of the path. Nice! Back at Tower Hide, a Buzzard was bouncing around on the grass much to the annoyance of the geese. Whether this had been what flushed everything I am not sure. I headed home very happy, not bad for a couple of hours out.

Swantail sunset

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Super Stripy Sibe Sprites!

Another afternoon dash to Flamborough, once my Dad duties had been dealt with (well done Sol for winning football player of the week!). Arrived at a busy Flamborough lighthouse car park to be greeted by John B, who remarked 'There's a man who looks like he's in a rush!' Not 'alf: my phone had been non-stop all morning as a whole smorgasbord of stonking sibes were discovered at the Great White Cape.

South of the Gorse Field, I bumped into Janice from Notts WT and Craig who were searching for the Pallas's Warbler. Sure enough, within moments, the stripy little Sibe appeared with a gang of comparatively-drab Goldcrests, working the brambly edge of the hedge. The little sprite showed superbly for several minutes, hopping down into the grass, through the brambles and occasionally hovering to show off the full complement of seven stripes (two on each wing and three on the head) and a pale lemon blob on it's rump. Completely brilliant!


We headed round to the other end of the wild bird strip where a first-winter male Siberian Stonechat fed from the tops of blowy thistles and hardheads, showing a plain apricot rump, nice pied tertials and overall pallor, though I was unable to check out it's underwing coverts.

Carried on round to Old Fall Hedge. As we walked up, a Great Grey Shrike shot out of the hedge and grabbed an unseen Goldcrest in mid-air with it's feet! Incredible! I had never seen one do this before, and never even knew they could catch birds in flight - wow! It then hovered, looking presumably for a good perch, and then dropped into the hedge literally ten metres in front of us, but sadly out of sight.  Great Grey Shrikes are just awesome. Goldcrests do not stand a chance with these little velociraptors around.

We carried on up the hedge, with Goldcrests everywhere. Suddenly, I picked up a male Firecrest, which whilst fast-moving, gave itself away to the others and even stayed still momentarily allowing a lucky photo. Vying for pole position as stonking sprite, though I think the Pallas's still edged it!

A Kestrel flew past and landed to consume, yes, a Goldcrest. Looks like these little guys are top of the menu. Mind you, they are rather naive in their behaviour, flying out in to the middle of bare fields and hopping about on the plough. Not wise when shrikes and falcons are at large!

I left Craig and Janice to head off to lunch and I walked the clifftop to Booted Gulley and then on to South Landing. Much quieter further west, though still plenty of Goldcrests, a brief Ring Ouzel and several more Chiffchaffs. A drake Velvet Scoter was close in off the gulley as Craig had indicated. A Peregrine cruised menacingly along the cliffs, worrying the waders feeding on the shore below and looking out for a tired Redwing of Fieldfare to pick off.

No sign of the recent Bluetail at South Landing, so I headed back to Old Fall. Craig's Dusky Warbler was calling occasionally from the hedge south of the plantation, but I couldn't see it. Time was getting on, so I had a quick look at the plantation. A squealing from over the fence turned out to be the death screams of an unfortunate Rabbit which had been killed by a Stoat. The Stoat looked up at me with the scowl of an angry teenager who had been interrupted doing something very important. Further on, a Chiffchaff sleepily hopped about in the grass, catching a few beetles in the leaf litter, before cosying up in the grass and having a nap. A tired migrant no doubt.
Back at Old Fall steps, a gent pointed out a fine Yellow-browed Warbler in the willows, a most welcome sight, if not a little eclipsed by the earlier Pallas's. A minute later, I picked up another Pallas's Warbler in the hedge and the same gent then said 'Firecrest' and sure enough, there it was again. The 'Super Sprite Treble' in less than a minute, unbelievable scenes!!

Feeling rather exhilarated, I headed back round to the lighthouse and away, beaming like a buffoon!

Sunday, 11 October 2015

The Fall

Mid-afternoon dash to Flamborough on the strength of a big Goldcrest Fall. Started out at Bay Brambles where Goldcrests zipped past me on all sides, coming up off the cliffsides.

I looked up, and overhead a Short-eared Owl was coming in off the sea lit up by the afternoon sunshine. Nice. Bumped into Tom, and we waded through the 'crests round the Old Fall loop. Really exciting fall birding with lots of migrants, the calls of Goldcrests a constant background, with Redwings and Song Thrushes overhead. To Old Fall and we soon located the Red-breasted Flycatcher, feeding on the sunny sheltered side. I heard a Yellow-browed Warbler call from the south side. We went for a walk round but couldn't find it. Back on the west side, a YBW suddenly shot in from the hedge to the north calling - possibly a different bird. This little sprite showed well. Bramblings dropped out of the sky wheezing. Two Fieldfares, my first of the autumn, chacked overhead. More Redwings. The sycamores literally heaved with tiny 'crests. Many of them were incredibly tame. We grilled each one carefully, but couldn't pull out anything with a lemon rump...Really the best birding!

Monday, 5 October 2015

Birthday Bush Bashing Birdless Bonanza

Four days of east coast bush-bashing and stubble stalking was a great load of fun, though revealed very few birds. Despite this a few notable birds seen and some great company to share them with. Events started mid-morning on Thursday 1st October at Filey where a stomp around the top fields revealed a flyover Lapland Bunting with Skylarks, a skein of 30 Pink-feet, a showy Short-eared Owl flushed a number of times from various hedge-bottoms and best of all, a male Firecrest at the tip. This bird took me about half an hour to actually see, having picked it up on call. Bizarrely, the little sprite even sang a couple of times as it worked through a thick blackthorn patch!

On to Flamborough, where I did the Old Fall loop with Craig Thomas. Jammed in on a fine Yellow-browed Warbler in the plantation but little else of note.

Up early on Friday morning, Tony and me headed back to Flamborough. We bumped into Craig again at the head and walked round the Bay Brambles which revealed plenty of finches flying about but not much else. We did the Old Fall loop hoping the Eastern Subalpine Warbler might pop out in front of us, but sadly not! A Little Egret lended a touch of the exotic, and headed straight south out over Bridlington Bay. Round at Old Fall, the Yellow-brow was sheltering from the southwesterly wind in the sallows in the northeast corner along with a handful of Goldcrests and a couple of Chiffchaffs. We grilled the plantation for a good hour or so, but couldn't pull anything else out. A few skeins of Pink-feet came over too. We wandered back up the Old Fall hedge and saw a Barred Warbler very briefly by Old Fall steps, plus two Blackcaps, all gorging on elderberries.

Pink-footed Geese, Chiffchaff and Yellow-browed Warbler, Old Fall.

We headed round to Holmes Gut and Thornwick which was very quiet. As we approached Thornwick Pool Tony announced he had a raptor. I was enjoying the facilities so promptly finished and ran up the hill to where Tony was. Immediately this bird looked interesting, with level wings and downswept hands, a long tail and a small projecting head - Honey Buzzard! Sadly the bird was into the sun the whole time we were watching it though on one circle I managed to glimpse the underparts which seemed plain brown from throat to vent, with uniform brown coverts, barred secondaries and primaries, the latter having a much paler base colour. The bird headed south towards the lighthouse where it circled up trying to gain height. It became a dot above the fog station and then seemed to head off south.

We shot back to the Old Fall area but failed to see much else and the HB did not reappear. 

Saturday saw me heading to Filey which proved to be very disappointing with three Redwings the only birds of note. Spurn rubbed in my failure superbly when news of a Pied Wheatear and Citrine Wagtail double came through. Doh!

Monday's southeasterly rain storm came in on track and a deluge of Redwings came in off the sea. I headed to Filey which again proved to be a disaster. In five hours, I managed to get drenched, wind-blown and saw little more than c50 Redwings, a handful of Song Thrushes, four Chiffchaffs and a rather bedraggled Wheatear. I may have heard a Yellow-brow briefly at the tip and I am sure I heard the Firecrest in the same spot as before, but then, I was getting desperate! Well, my four day birthday birding beano came to an end and will go down as one of the less memorable in my diary. But good fun all the same!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

A whole herd of whales!

Very pleased to say that the only people who go out 'whaling' from Whitby these days are armed with cameras and binoculars. One of Yorkshire's biggest secrets, is that in recent years, decent numbers of Northern Minke Whales have been attracted to large shoals of Herring and Mackerel a few miles off the North Yorkshire coast. Occasionally, rarer species including Humpback, Sei and even Fin Whale have been seen! So, it was about time that I booked aboard with Whitby Whale Watching.

Up early, I was soon cruising across the North York Moors, looking soft and purple in the hazy, early morning sunshine. A few Red Grouse catapulted across the road in front of me. One or two lay on the hard shoulder: seemingly their road safety is not their strong point.

These poor birds are the root of massive uproar in the nation today, as the minority of people who prefer their hunting lazy, their garb tweedy and their meat laced with lead are sustaining their 'sport' by killing every predator in sight, protected or not. They are solely responsible for eradicating Hen Harriers from the hills of England. The patchwork of purple, green and black on the moors indicated some other major issues driven grouse shooting creates, which are the dis-colouration of drinking water, flash floods and huge carbon emissions through the burning of the uplands. Burning the moor provides new heather shoots for hungry grouse, but is pretty catastrophic for the environment and the people who's homes get flooded. Anyway, back to the plot...

My excitement had led to me arriving in Whitby ninety minutes ahead of schedule which gave me plenty of time for a bacon butty and a wander down the river to the harbour. Several Turnstone eyed my bacon butty hungrily, whilst on the beach a gang of creaking Sandwich Terns with their incessantly piping young dwarfed a pack of Common Terns.

I quickly located the Brewery Steps and the handsome Specksioneer moored alongside. Our gang of eight gathered and we were given a hearty welcome on the boat by Brian the skipper and his crew of two.

The skipper turned the boat around and we headed straight out to sea.

One then three Harbour Porpoises were the first cetacean to make an appearance, as they surfaced to breath by the boat. We continued to head out. A fine Sooty Shearwater skimmed past, silver wing linings flashing in the morning sun. Then, the shout of 'whale' went up, and sure enough close in off the starboard bow, the arched slate back of a Minke Whale broke the surface, followed by a small, curved fin.

Shortly, another appeared this time on the port side and on it's second surface I managed to get a full sequence of shots as it surfaced. A great start! In the excitement I chanced to look up as a Bonxie cruised overhead, looking down at us menacingly, in the way only Bonxies can.

We carried on for a bit, noting three Meadow Pipits overhead, presumably Scandinavian migrants drifted in on the southeasterly wind. We past aft of a rather large ship which seemed a sensible decision and shortly another shout of whale went up and we were treated to good views yet again.

It seemed the Minkes were feeding in small loose pods, of perhaps four or five individuals. Time got on, and there were periods of very little except a few Gannets, Fulmars and Grey Seals. It seemed like we should be heading home, but Brian seemed to be loving the trip as much as us and we steamed south east to check out a cloud of Gannets and gulls. Sure enough, there was three or four whales around what was presumably a large shoal of fish. The birds were in a feeding frenzy, Gannets dropping like darts vertically into the water and staying submerged for a decent length of time. Among the chaos a brutish gang of bull Grey Seals were whipping up the sea; there must have been at least twenty.

We could have stayed out all day as this was magic. Sadly, it was time for us to head for Whitby, so the skipper turned us west and we cruised down the wind. The chop had got up and the clouds had come over - we were over an hour late too (great for us - not so good for the folks waiting in the harbour for the next trip!). Two more whales on the way back and some good whale-chat was a great way to end what was a fantastic trip. To be able to see whales off the Yorkshire coast is truly incredible and shows the potential the sea and its wildlife has to recover if we give it the chance. No Humpback today, but I will just have to come back!

Brian and the crew of the Specksioneer were brilliant. Knowledgeable, good humoured and clearly very into it, which is a breath of fresh air compared to many 'wildlife trips' I have been on over the years, where you get a strong feeling they are more interested in the money than the wildlife. With these guys, it is clearly the opposite and they were delightful company. And they made us a cup of tea half way through! And all within sight of the dramatic North Yorkshire coastline. Brilliant!