Monday, 23 March 2015

Peregrine - Wigeon- Buzzard epic

Peregrine v Wigeon v Buzzard

Check this out! Amazing view of a Peregrine that has caught a drake Wigeon just outside Swantail Hide at Wheldrake Ings yesterday afternoon. The Wigeon valiantly tried to escape, being saved by the arrival of a local Buzzard which seemed to really enrage the falcon, which left it's half drowned meal and started mobbing the larger raptor.

Otherwise, a couple of Red Kites and Barn Owls about and still plenty of Pintail and other ducks on the ings, despite falling water levels. A couple of singing Chiffchaffs were the only spring migrants noted.

The previous day I finally caught up with the Heslington Tilmire Great Grey Shrike which showed well, though distantly, huddled out of the wind in hawthorn bushes. No sign of any windblown Kittiwakes or scoters at Hes East earlier sadly.

A few recent shots from Askham Bog etc attached with new 50D.

 Blue, Coal and Marsh Tits at Askham Bog in early March.

 Sanderling at Fraisthorpe in early March

Great Grey dot at the York Tilmire SSSI

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.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Vertical Stripe

Drowning in thrushes and chats whilst writing my section of the YNU bird report, I decided I needed a couple of hours break, so picking up new colleague Tom Marshall, we headed down the LDV. It was a gloriously sunny morning and we had a look first at the Refuge from East Cottingwith, which revealed herds of 12 and 9 Whooper Swans, but numbers of duck were down...albeit briefly! We looked to the southeast and line after line of ducks were coming in from the Humber. Presumably frozen out of the valley last week, they were now returning and in spectacular fashion. Virtually all of these birds were Teal, several thousand of them. They all dropped in to Wheldrake Ings - wow!

Still very little water in the valley and so we headed round to North Duffield Carrs. Tom had asked whether we got any rarer ducks with the hordes of Wigeon and Teal and I casually remarked that it was likely American Wigeons and Green-winged Teals did turn up every now and again but were probably often lost in the massive flocks of their European cousins and so went undetected. Looking out of Geoff Smith Hide at NDC I started to scan through a collosal flock of Teal, all looking stonking in the beautiful late winter sunshine. And suddenly, I latched on to a vertical white stripe. Was I imagining this? No, sure enough, there was a cracking little drake Green-winged Teal! Unbelievable. After disappearing for a bit to have a kip in some grass,  we went round to Garganey Hide and despite the teal flock being a bit jumpy and taking off occasionally, we managed to keep track of the bird and to get arriving birders on to it. Apparently the bird was flushed just before midday and wasn't seen again (the bird was refound again today).

This is the first GWT I have seen in the York area since the bird at Newburgh Priory in March 2011, and my first in the LDV since 1997! GWTs have a place in my heart having been the first 'rarity' I ever saw, at Fairburn Ings on 16th February 1985. I was aged ten.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Half a month

After the amazing end to 2014, 2015 has been a little lack lustre on the bird front for me. Went up to the north end of the Dales with the family on 2 January which was a great, if not freezing day. Saw a first winter Glaucous Gull fly across the A1 near Catterick and more intriguingly a pale brown Starling with c20 Starlings flying west over the A1 somewhere south of Catterick...Up in the Dales, three Blackcock were in the usual fields with several Red Grouse and a pair of Ravens nearby.

4 January 2015
Spent the day birding the York area having failed to get a Bird Race team together. Had a great day amassing 91 species plus a possible Caspian Gull. Highlights included Pink-footed Goose, Grey Wagtail and Nuthatch at Castle Howard (the latter two species having eluded us in 2011), Jack Snipe and Chiffchaff at Hes East, Grey Partridges and Peregrine down the Tillmire, 2 Woodcocks in Askham Bog, Bewick's Swan found skillfully by Rob Chapman at North Duffield Carrs and then a possible Caspian Gull at Wheldrake Ings late afternoon. Very pleased to see a Barn Owl come out of the nestbox we put up back in the summer with ITV's Liz Bonin too! Congratulations to the three York teams that took part, with the winners the String Quartet who scored 97 species.

Some pics from the day:
 Castle Howard at dawn.
Skipwith Common 
North Duffield Carrs - not much water in the Lower Derwent Valley currently.

 Not a very convincing shot of a first winter Caspian Gull candidate.

 Wheldrake Ings late afternoon - view from Swantail Hide

Dusk at Wheldrake Ings, looking SW over the refuge

11 January 2015
A week later and it was my turn to lead a YOC trip round the Lower Derwent Valley. A very pleasant day, with the highlight being prolonged views of a Red Kite over the flood at Wheldrake Ings.

Phonescoped pic of the Red Kite.

Early in the New Year the water went over out of the Ouse and there is a good patch on Acaster Church Ings just south of where I live. Yesterday, 17 January this held 20 Pintail (my highest ever count here), 27 Wigeon, 10 Teal and 9 Gadwall. c20 Goosander flew over south too. On 14 January I saw a Barn Owl near the farm just south of Acaster Bridge, the first I have seen round here for ages.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

1 January 2015: Happy New Year!

Well, will the birding in 2015 live up to 2014? I had many highlights in 2014, including catching up with four Yorkshire 'firsts': Black Scoter at Redcar in June, Masked Shrike at Spurn in September, Eastern Crowned Warbler at Brotton in October, and Blyth's Pipit near Wakefield on Christmas Eve.

Add to this a sprinkle of other crackers, notably the Budby Common Parrot Crossbills in January, stonking views of Goshawks in Wykeham early in the year, Tawny Pipit at Flamborough in April, my dream spring vagrant, male Collared Flycatcher at St Abb's Head also in April, a lovely trip to the Outer Hebrides in May, Bee-eaters and Woodchat later that month at South Gare and Hummersea respectively, great views of Long-eared Owls in the York area in June, the spectacle of Coquet Island and the Farnes, finding Tansy Beetles by the river at Bishopthorpe, finding Wryneck at Spurn during the Mig Fest in early September, finding a brace of Barred Warblers at Flamborough later that month, corking views of my first Yorkshire Radde's Warbler at Flamborough in October, a trio of Yorkshire Rough-legged Buzzards in November, and ending with the epic finale of the Little Bustard at Fraisthorpe on New Year's Eve.

Moth trapping was on the up, with a new moth trap purchased in mid summer enabling me to catch some corkers in the back garden. I am looking forward to the new season starting soon. 

There have been a few lows too: not being able to find the York Kumlien's Gull early in the year; dipping a bull Orca in the Minch on the way back from the Hebs; not being able to escape work to Flamborough for the Crag Martin; not being able to nail a possible Pacific Golden Plover during Mig Fest that flew over the Warren calling, and disappeared into the vastness of the Humber. Also, Terek Sandpiper still managed to elude me, despite one being 'gettable' at Covenham Reservoir in spring, and a wagtail that flew past me in Dorset in late August was almost certainly a Citrine, but it didn't stop flying, and avoided the clinch.

So, all in all not a bad year wildlife wise.

Collared Flycatcher, St Abb's Head (photo courtesy of Jack Ibbotson). Though not the rarest by a long shot, this was definitely my favourite bird of 2014.

An amazing end part 2

And if the Blyth's wasn't good enough, a Little Bustard rocked up at Fraisthorpe near Bridlington on New Years Eve prompting a mad dash east to the coast. The first in Yorkshire since 1956, the bird was surprisingly confiding, happily walking about in a rape field occasionally sampling a leaf or two. On one occasion it flew about 30 metres revealing large white wing panels.