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.