Sunday, 22 February 2015

More Hawking and almost Special K

Cold and clear at dawn with a light northwesterly. An adult Iceland Gull gracefully flapped over the road by Bustardthorpe Allotments and then off west over the Knavesmire. I swung the car on to the verge, jumped out with bins in hand but sadly the bird was heading directly away so I couldn't check it for grey in the primaries, although I suspected it could have been one of the adult Kumlien's Gulls that have been knocking about.
I picked up Tom and we did a slight detour via this lonely Waxwing, virtually outside my grandparents' old house on Becky Lane. I got a quick phonescoped shot of the bird in the top of a nearby Birch and left before it descended to the Cotoneaster bush and the waiting long-lens paparazzi.

Up to the forest and within a few minutes, we picked up a very distant pair off Goshawks, the female of which put on a rather spectacular display, doing a series of switchbacks complete with wing-folding stoops and vertical climbs. Shortly, a pair of Gos got up over the near ridge - both immatures; the birds I had seen on Tuesday. An adult male then appeared and powered across the valley, looking dazzling slate and white in the early morning sunshine. The male appeared again a few minutes later and chased the immature male out of the valley. Over the other side, we picked up the adult female who circled around and gave a few bouts of harrier-flight. She swooped into the top of a bare larch providing cracking - thought distant - views through the scope. Her huge yellow feet, shaggy trousers and undertail coverts and broad white supercilium were obvious even from this distance. Sadly, my pathetic attempt at a phonescoped shot don't do her justice.

We went down into the valley and tried a few vantage points, but didn't really get better views. Goshawks always seem to appear in the place you were standing previously! We moved down to where I had had good views of a displaying female on Tuesday and sure enough within a few minutes we picked her and a more distant bird circling over the forest. A third bird, an immature came in over the forest and landed distantly in a tree. After a bit, Tom mentioned the original female was being mobbed by two tiny birds: Merlins! These feisty little birds, with wingspans literally half hers, harried her mercilessly for about ten minutes, taking it in turns to dash in, pulling up vertically at the last minute. The Gos just ignored them, occasionally ducking slightly out of the way of their attacks, but not really bothering. The falcons got bored and then the Gos decided to put on a bit of a show and dropped in front of us and came across the forest in slow harrier flight, with tail coverts spread, looking very impressive indeed. A little later we decided to head home, satisfied with our good fortune.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015


Back in the forest, full of nervous anticipation with the sunny conditions following yesterday's rain, surely a good forecast for some hawk action. Sure enough, just after nine, two Goshawks got up across the valley and began lazily circling, occasionally coming together, talons outstretched in light-hearted sparring. As they came nearer, I realised the birds were both immatures, with darkly streaked buffy breasts. They were joined by a male, another immature, but he soon cruised off west. One of the females landed in a larch but was very distant and a bit concealed. A little later, I came across the two females and the male again, the latter recognisable as he was missing an inner secondary on his left wing. They showed brilliantly for ten minutes, chasing each other around, mock stooping and talon grappling. Eventually, they tired of their games and split up, one female heading north past me on one side, and the male tracking a similar path but on the other side of me.

I headed off to look for other birds, and after a fruitless hour or so, spied an adult female displaying over the pines. This was a real treat as the bird was pretty close and flew lazily along over her territory, with stiff, harrier-like wings, and huge white puffball undertail enhanced by her tightly closed dark tail. She flew up and down a couple of times, before heading off west. Cracking!

A bit later, I retraced my steps and soon saw one of the immature females together with the gap-winged young male over the ridge. A Peregrine appeared and clashed with the female Gos, at one point chasing her rapidly down the slope - pretty brave as she dwarfed the falcon! She landed out of sight in the trees and the falcon headed off high. The male Gos in the meantime headed straight across the valley towards me and past by within 100 metres or so, providing stunning views through the scope.

Back to my starting point and I had brief views of an adult Gos which I took to be a male due to his size. He glided along the top of the pines before landing out of sight. Nearby, an adult female Gos suddenly appeared chasing one of the immature females. Due to the whiteness of her underparts looked almost like a different species from the immature she was chasing. She chased the young bird persistently all the way along the ridge and into the distance. Presumably these adults are trying to clear last year's young out of their territories.

Also seen today were about six Buzzards, some Golden Plover and plenty of singing Skylarks and Siskins.

The Dark Forest

Spent the day exploring the Yorkshire forests, with Rich, Dan and Gaynor. Lots of Crossbills around, mainly in pairs and small parties, with several heard singing. Some gave really great, close views, a real privilege. This beautiful photo was taken by Rich as it hopped about on the verge. As we drove round the tracks, a Goshawk cruised along the edge of a spruce stand but the poor light meant it remained a menacing silhouette. Later, nine Mandarin flushed from a pool, with four Teal and nearby another Goshawk showed briefly.

No sign of The Smiths

Did Hes East early morning on the rumour of a Red-necked Grebe, but sadly it wasn't present. Consolation was provided by two very showy and noisy Grey Partridges, two Water Rails and 42 Pochards.

Tim, Chris and Jack had seen a great candidate for an American Herring Gull at Rufforth the other day, so come Saturday, quite a few birders from outside York were mooching around looking for the gulls. I met up with Rich and Dan and had a look round the area, which revealed a second winter Iceland Gull on the sheep fields, plus a Green Sandpiper. A Peregrine was buzzing about and put an end to the day's play as the gulls got a bit spooked and wouldn't settle again. This big pale immature Argentatus Herring Gull was on the field by the roundabout, showing how variable they can be:

 East to Wheldrake Ings, where at least four Barn Owls were flying around and the second winter Iceland Gull paused on the refuge for a bit to have a bath and a drink. Stacks of other birds around including 30 Ruff, 6 Pochards and a Peregrine.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

More Yanks

Saturday morning trip out with Tom to Nosterfield GP, near Ripon. Stacks of Wigeon on the Main Lake failed to hold the drake American Wigeon, but fine view of a massive flock of Golden Plovers and Lapwings was an impressive sight. A friendly local gave us some gen, which proved to be spot on. We drove round to the quarry, parked up and walked round to Flask Lake, where we were soon enjoying good views of the dapper Yank. A Little Owl called from the big ash trees behind us and we decided to walk round to get better views. A Green Woodpecker flew across and shortly a large goose flock in, which contained three Brents. We failed to see the White-fronted Geese, but two hybrids in the field could have been a trap for the unwary, as one had a good WFG head -fooled me briefly! The American Wigeon showed very well, as it followed the local Coots around, feeding on the weed they brought to the surface, in the manner of a Gadwall. There was a fair amount of grey on the scapulars, which I assume is normal and the pale crown stripe extended on to the back of the head, which I had not noticed before. A very fine reserve, and full credit to the Lower Ure Conservation Trust volunteers for making it so.

We headed back east to York and decided to have a go at the gulls. A large flock by the Wetherby Road roundabout was flushed by a dog walker before we could get parked and the microlights on the airfield meant there were no gulls anywhere! Frustrating. We headed back to Tom's and as luck would have it about 500 gulls had dropped into a ploughed field next to the Wetherby Road. Many of the gulls were hidden by a slight crest in the field, but as luck would have it, one of the more visible birds at the left hand end of the flock was a spanking adult Iceland Gull! On closer inspection, I got a bit excited as the bird showed grey outer webs to the primaries and some pale grey shadows on the primary tips - a Kumlien's! Surely this must be the regular winterer which had eluded me for the last two winters and the one Chris photographed on the refuge at Wheldrake Ings a few weeks ago. The bird showed brilliantly, before flying into the neighbouring field where it started feeding with a small flock of Herrings. After a bit of difficulty, I eventually managed to phonescope this smart bird. Smart. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull was also present.