Sunday, 10 April 2016

Top Quality Local Birding

Some good birding locally in the last couple of weeks with the highlights being a pair of Garganey at Aughton Ings on 3rd April and Common Scoter at Wheldrake Ings yesterday but have been gripped by some top local rares: Slavonian Grebe, Ring Ouzel, Cranes, Green-winged Teal. A good supporting cast and some returning migrants has made it top fun despite the dips, with a cracking male Merlin yesterday at East Cottingwith, the female Smew still present at Wheldrake Ings, three Scaup at North Duffield Carrs, a cracking flock of Icelandic Blackwits at Wheldrake and a super skein of 190 Pinkfeet over East Cott this morning. Plenty of the early migrants in now, with Blackcaps and Willow Warblers in force, along with Swallows, House Martins and a Wheatear this morning at Hes East.

Ellerton Ings from the church
  Aughton Ings from the church
North Duffield Carrs
YWT Wheldrake Ings
Oyk on a field gate, North Duffield Carrs

I have seen a few Barn Owls over the last couple of days with a great close view of one hunting the road near Hag Bridge early this morning and one yesterday at East Cottingwith. Nothing prepared me for the owl which flew out of the church porch at Ellerton this morning and landed on a grave stone about fifteen metres away in bright morning sunshine. To my utter delight, over the next ten minutes, it flew towards me a couple of times on to closer and closer gravestones. I got some nice phone-scoped pics though I wish I had had my DSLR with me. The flight shot was very lucky and shows how impressive smartphone cams are these days. After a bit, it went back into the porch of the church.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Early Grey

Set the moth trap twice last week for the first time this year. Three species caught so far, all new for the garden. Well, new for me in the garden. Clouded Drab, Hebrew Character and Early Grey.

Early Grey (left) and Hebrew Character.

Blackcocks in the snow

A good scout round the LDV yesterday failed to reveal Duncan Bye's Slavonian Grebe, but 18 Black-tailed Godwits and 2 Whooper Swans at Aughton were a welcome sight. Several Sand Martins knocking about and the Smew was still on the refuge at Wheldrake Ings. It was enjoyable birding in the squally conditions, though the hoped-for Sandwich Tern didn't materialise.

Today, Addie and me got up rediculously early and headed north through the gathering dawn, to Teesdale, to check out the Black Grouse lek. A few miles short of our destination and shock horror - the road was closed! If you know Teesdale, you will know that to get to Langdon Beck the other way is a heck of a drive round, so I decided that I would chance it. Fortunately, the roadworks didn't start until 7am and the security guard let us through. Phew!

A little later we arrived at the Langdon Beck Hotel, but I couldn't find the spot where we had seen Black Grouse about twenty years ago. Not surprising really! We headed up the road to Cow Green Reservoir and spotted a Blackcock in a field next to the road which gave good views from the car. Whilst watching with the windows down, I suddenly heard the distinctive, bubbling and wheezing song of lekking Black Grouse. After a bit of scanning over the snow-dusted slopes, I picked up the birds about half a mile away on top of a ridge to the south. A bit distant, but through the scope we got good views of about 20 males and a couple of females, and Addie seemed pleased, if not a little bemused. This was a different lek to the one I could vaguely remember; perhaps the birds had moved. A pair of Ravens grunted overhead. As we descended, we spotted a solitary male Red Grouse standing rigid in the snow storm.

Red GrouseFifteen minutes later and the snow came in quite heavy and we decided it was best to drive down the hill a bit, so as not to get stuck. We headed up to St John's Chapel and almost ran into Dunc and Ange coming the other way. After a bit of a conflab by the side of the road, we followed them back and Dunc found the second lek next to the road at much shorter range allowing corking views. This was the place we had been to years ago, so it seemed there are two leks within a couple of miles of each other. At least 28 males displayed here with four females watching on. One male displayed in the nearest field giving great views from the car. Curlew and Snipe filled the air with their various noises and a Mippit parachuted on to the snowy pitch - a really cracking start to the day.

Battling Blackcocks

We headed east to a sunny Teesside to look for the Penduline Tits that have been hanging out at Saltholme. We found a lot of likely-looking Reed Mace, but failed to find the bandit-masked scamps.

Monday, 14 March 2016

It's all about the context

Quick twitch after work to Rufforth to see a Knot which was still present on the pool between the village and the Tip. I can't honestly remember seeing a Knot in the York area before, so thought I better go and see this one just to be sure...A lovely little bird and nice to see this High Arctic species so close to home. Thanks to Steve for lending me his gear as I didn't have mine at work today.

The Murk

A misty drive around the LDV yesterday. Still couldn't get on to Wheldrake Ings due to the water levels. Little at East Cottingwith, though nice to see three or four Lapwings displaying on the higher ground and the sound of Skylarks in the air. On to Ellerton church, where I briefly saw a very weird passerine on the church wall - like a Black-eared Wheatear in a sparrow's body! It flew off and I never saw it again. Presumably some escaped weaver or something. Anyway, checked out the floods through the murk which revealed six Whooper Swans and plenty of common wildfowl. After a while an unseen threat put the ducks up and the Ruddy Shelduck came flying past looking rather out of place on a murky late winter's morning.

Next stop Aughton, where a gang of presumably migrant Whooper Swans were loafing just down from the church. Lovely birds and presumably on their way back north soon. A good number of Pochards here c134, but I couldn't see any Scaup (the 5 were reported later).

Nowt doing at Bubwith Ings or North Duffield Carrs, where the water still remains high. Tried Skipwith Common and then Thorganby.

Just east of Bubwith Bridge. High water levels.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Wykeham YOC Trip - 6th March

Yesterday I led a gang from the York Ornithological Club to Wykeham Forest and coast. Here is my little write-up:

The intrepid 12 headed east from York just after 7am, on a fairly clear, cold Sunday morning. With a roadside Buzzard the only bird of note on the journey to the coast, we arrived at Filey Country Park not long after 8. Heading along Carr Naze the sound of Skylarks was in the air and a dapper male Reed Bunting sang from near the small pond. Further along, we looked north into the biting wind, noting Guillemots, Fulmars, a couple of Kittiwakes, Gannets and a Razorbill or two. We stopped next at the steps and after descending out of the wind, Jane picked up a seaduck close in off the rocks. Through our scopes, we immediately identified this as the wintering immature drake Surf Scoter! Great stuff! It was starting to become more adult like with a fine white nape, pale eye and reddish tones on the bill. He busily dived for his breakfast before drifting east and out of sight due to the bright sunshine reflecting on the sea. We turned our attention to the shore: Curlew, Knot, Turnstone, Oystercatcher and a couple of Purple Sandpipers, a Filey speciality.

9am and ticket inspection time was approaching, so we quickly headed back to the cars to avoid being caught. We headed for Wykeham Forest noting a male Peregrine powering east over the road near Leberston. We arrived at the head of Troutsdale and formed a rank along the roadside. The early spring weather was glorious, though a chill wind reminded us of the winter we never had. Both Mistle and Song Thrushes sang beautifully and shortly the first shout of 'raptor' went up, a male Goshawk which proceeded to put on a fine switchback display over the valley towards Langdale. A number of Buzzards got up and soared around. The original male Gos was shortly joined briefly by a female. Over the southern ridge another female Gos got up doing a bit of slow stiff winged flapping, before soaring round high up into the sky and giving everybody a chance to get on it. Soon there were two birds together. A female Sparrowhawk moved quickly west along the ridge. Another male Gos came across the head of Langdale, seemingly an immature male with clearly buff underparts. So probably five birds and ten or so Buzzards. Two Lesser Black-backed Gulls headed east out of Troutsdale.

Displaying Gos showing characteristic tightly-closed tail with puffed out undertail coverts, giving the tail profile almost like a Pom Skua!

We headed up Langdale End and turned off into Langdale Forest looking for the Great Grey Shrike. Sadly despite an extensive search, it failed to perform, though we did find two York birders - Mark and Nigel! A couple of Crossbills chipped about along with one or two Siskins and another pair of Goshawks distantly over Lun Brow. Most unusual was a gelatinous pile of Toad spawn in the grass. The female had not quite made it to the nearby puddle! Lunch called and the snow arrived, so we sheltered inside our cars for a well-earned rest and bite to eat.
Back to the coast via a brief stop at Hackness to look for Mandarins. This failed, but we did see half a dozen Little Grebes and a pair of Tufted Ducks, plus a few common woodland birds: Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit.
Next stop was Scalby Mills, where after worrying that there wasn't a duck in sight, we went round the corner to find approximately 300 Wigeon loafing on the rough sea. We soon found the smart drake American Wigeon which though showing in the nearest part of the flock, spent most of the time sleeping, only revealing his head a few times. Nevertheless, it was still good viewing, though not quite as exciting as when he chose to visit Castle Howard in the York recording area a few weeks ago!!

Sleepy Yank.
Castle Howard was to be our final stop and we wound our way west back into the York area. As is often the case, the Great Lake was covered in birds. A few hundred Wigeon were present, along with six Goosander, an impressive 60 Mute Swans and 68 Goldeneye, 4 male and 3 female Mandarins, two Pochard, c20 Teal and c30 Tufted Duck. Another two Marsh Tits were along the lake edge and a couple of Greenfinches were our only sighting of the day.
We wandered back and headed home after a good, varied Yorkshire day.

Monday, 29 February 2016

Leap Day! 29th February 2016

Not often you get a Leap Day, well, every four years I suppose. With a new dog, Lunar, I decided to take a day off to settle her in, and what better way than to go birding! Checked out the east side of the LDV for a couple of hours, which was a good move, with a Cetti's Warbler calling in the reeds north of East Cottingwith by the Pocklington Canal, the redhead Smew from here on the Wheldrake Ings refuge, and a Jack Snipe flushed from under my feet from the edge of the Canal half way to Storwood. Down at Ellerton I just missed the Ruddy Shelduck which had been flushed by a farmer along with everything else. Down at Aughton, the four Russian White-fronted Geese (two adults and two juveniles now sporting decent white faces) were showing well, and five Scaup (drake plus two adult females and two immature females) were among hordes of Pochards.

 Smew and White-fronts.

Headed down to Rufforth Airfield mid afternoon which was also great, with three first winter Glaucous Gulls ranging from standard brown to virtually white, and a pale first winter Iceland Gull, with Glauc-alike bill pattern. Lots of Lesser Black-backs in the flock now with 40 present in one sweep of the flock. No Caspians today.

To give you an idea of what looking through gull flocks is like: Can you see the Glaucous and Iceland Gulls in this pic?
 Glaucous Gull #1 Fairly pale first winter.

Faded first winter Iceland Gull
Glaucous Gull #2 A very faded first winter.

 Adult Lesser Black-back next to a first winter Great Black-back.

Glaucous Gull #3 standard first winter.

Leap Day's Eve 28 February.
Popped out to Wheldrake Ings late afternoon:
Whooper Swan, 21 adults and 4 juveniles dropped in from the south at c4pm
Black-tailed Godwits, 18 (first of the year)
Iceland Gull, 1 adult in the roost. This bird may have been a fourth winter as seemed to have a little dark mark on the bill, but it could have been muck!
Glaucous Gull, 1 first winter in the roost.
Barn Owl, 1.

Bottom photo: Iceland Gull ad/4w

Other odds and ends
Have spent a fair bit of time down at Rufforth usually in a quick lunchtime dash. This has revealed a few Glaucous Gulls, an adult and first winter Iceland Gulls. Caspian Gull numbers seem to have dropped right off recently. Went to Filey on the 14th to see the immature drake Surf Scoter which showed well off Carr Naze, but I failed to get a good shot with my phone. Had a few gulls the same day in the roost at Wheldrake Ings: second winter Caspian and first winter Glaucous.

 Surf Scoter off Filey Brigg

 2w Caspian Gull in failing light at Wheldrake Ings, and first winter Glaucous Gull below.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Big Ten

Nailed the Big Ten Gulls (I'm making this up as I go along) today in the York area (Larus argentatus, argenteus, michahellis, cachinnans, marinus, graellsii, hyperboreus, glaucoides, ridibundus, canus). Tried very hard for a Med Gull or a Kittiwake in the roost at Wheldrake Ings, but sadly I couldn't find one.
Earlier, I spent a few hours at Rufforth with the highlights being (what I am pretty sure is) a first winter Yellow-legged Gull, two first winter and one second winter Caspian Gulls and two first winter Glaucous Gulls. Sadly, Iceland Gull eluded me, so I headed southeast to do the roost at Wheldrake, and a first winter Iceland Gull was one of the first birds I saw! Not much else of note, apart from a first winter Caspian Gull, female Marsh Harrier, Barn Owl, c1500 Lapwings.

 1w Casp
 Glauc #1

YL Gull
Glauc #2

Friday, 12 February 2016

This is the one!

I took a day off today as I knew we would have had a late night last night, as our band, Our Enemies, was in the studio recording an EP. Dropped off the kids and then decided to head north to check out the River Rye near Nunnington, a stretch of river that used to be one of the only places Dippers bred in the York Recording Area. Admittedly, none had been reported for 20 years, but I decided that perhaps nobody had looked recently, so it was worth a try! As I would be passing Castle Howard, it seemed rude not to have a look, to see if a Smew or something had come in with the cold snap on the continent. A big pile of geese were in the fields by the lake, so I stopped and had a look. Nothing but Canadas and Greylags, but a pair of singing Nuthatches chasing round the roadside Limes gave the cold air a springlike feel.

Castle Howard was rammed with birds. Surely there had to be something good here somewhere! The creamy glow of a drake Goosander shone across the water; his drab partner followed in his wake. Grey Herons sat on their newly refurbished nests. Hundreds of Wigeon whistled and dozens of Teal peeped, and among them at least forty Goldeneye in a range of plumages, including some cracking drakes busy tossing their heads back to impress the rather unimpressed females.

Among the willow roots I picked out the rather surreal form of a male Mandarin, sailing along. Nearby four more - two drakes, a female and a first winter male, sat on a log. Later on, two males and a female were on the grassy bank, so eight in total, a good count.

Several Pochard looked handsome in the early morning light and I scoured the Tufties looking for a Scaup or something rarer. A Wigeon grabbed my attention, with a very pale crown stripe and some yellow on the lores  -wierd! Maybe a bit of American in there some where. I started thinking about American Wigeons and how they are still ssuprisingly rare in the York area despite the collossal herds of Wigeon that winter in the area. It seems strange that American Wigeons turn up annually somewhere in Yorkshire but often on gravel pits and reservoirs, which doesn't seem to be ideal compared with the hectares of prime Wigeon feeding in the Lower Derwent Valley!

I walked down to the end of the lake to scan through the hordes of ducks down there. Looking through the Wigeon, I glimpsed a very white-looking crown stripe. Surely not?! The tight flock of feeding Wigeon concealed something good, I was sure of it!

 The Wigeon parted and out swam a cracking drake American Wigeon!

Was I imagining this? No, it seemed I wasn't! I looked at the photos hastily taken on my phone to check I wasn't losing my marbles- no, it was an American! I checked the crown stripe from all angles, noted the fine black line around the bill base, the peppery grey head with broad green stripe through the eye, fully pink body and black and white rear end. OK, I hadn't seen the white axillaries, but this looked perfect for a pure Yank Wigeon, only my second in the York area and the first for Castle Howard.

On the way back, I was treated to a beautiful full-on courtship display from a pair of Great Crested Grebes. I sat down and watched them. Simply stunning, they did the weed dance and everything, the best bit being where they dramatically threw the weed away like a pair of passionate tango dancers.

Dipping Dippers
Onwards to West Ness. I flushed a Kingfisher by West Ness bridge and this turned out to be the best bird. I walked the couple of miles up the River Rye past Nunnington Hall to the boundary of the York Recording Area, but sadly no Dippers were in evidence. Nunnington bridge looked reasonable as a nest site (it certainly used to be) and I suspect when the water drops, it would look pretty Dipper-friendly. But not today. I headed back, noting more noisy Nuthatches and c500 Fieldfares and c100 Redwings feeding in sheep fields. Along with some very curious sheep, who behaved like they had never seen a birder before.

Into the Valley
I headed south to see what the south end of the LDV had to offer. I soon located the drake Scaup from the other day, but couldn't see the others. I picked up three of the four redhead Smew and pointed them out to some other birders who had been looking for them. Round to the Geoff Smith Hide and my first spring Oystercatcher was feeding along the edge of the flooded ings.

Next stop Thorganby: Ruff, 35, Dunlin, 30, Bar-headed Goose, 2 (!), Whooper Swan c100 in the distance and a Little Owl calling.

A quick look from Wheldrake bridge, for I was running out of time, revealed a meadow full of Lapwings, plus 132 Golden Plovers and 10 Dunlin.

Not a bad start to my birding weekender. Shame my car looks a bit worse for wear!