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!

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Velvet Morning

A solitary female Velvet Scoter was unexpected off Filey Brigg this morning and was a bit distant for the DSLR. Great Crested Grebe close in off the beach too. Very quiet in the bushes, with only five Chiffchaffs of note. The kids enjoyed a bit of rockpooling and some sand antics.

Spurn Mig Fest 3

Bonkers to think that the third Spurn Mig Fest has been and gone! A cracking weekend with some great seawatching on Saturday morning, including my first Yorkshire Cory's Shearwater, which flapped north dwarfing two accompanying Sooties, at least five Long-tailed Skuas, c50 Sooty Shearwaters, etc. A few cool land birds were seen around Spurn during the weekend including Red-backed Shrike in the Corner Field, a Barred Warbler picked up dropping in over the Westmere Farm barn into a hedge, several Pied Flys, Whinchats, Peregrines, etc. Very nice. Failed to find a mega on the Point, and didn't match my self-found Wryneck at SMF2. Spent the festival guiding over 90 people on trips to the end in YWT's unimog; checked out the lighthouse complete with impressive scaffold rig. It's shiny new paint job is almost complete. Marvelled at 'Spurn Island' which was cut off from the mainland during high tide on Saturday.

 40 tonnes of scaffolding, but with some pipe monkey genius, exerting only 10 tonnes ground pressure.

Juvenile Lesser Whitethroat caught at the Warren

 One of several Pied Flys. This one phonescoped in the field by the Warren

Spurn Island
The Warren at Spurn. One of the reasons YWT need better facilities at Spurn. This isn't really acceptable on a SSSI and NNR. Moving car parking north, removing the old buildings and re-naturalising this area will be a vast improvement on this.

 Knot etc shimmer in front of the high and low lights

The Unimog

Filey Bongo Weekender

Bit of a late post this, but spent the August bank holiday weekend with the family at Filey in the Bongo. Sadly, the SW winds did not create a migrant superhighway, but a handful of common migrants, some showy Arctic waders on the Brigg and a good sprinkle of stuff at the Dams made up for it.

Family from afar

Adult Knot. Still in pretty much full breeding plumage, though a few grey feathers appearing in the coverts.
Juvenile Knot. Lovely fresh feathers with nice pale edges.

Juvenile Little Stint. This bird was incredibly tame and most of the time was too close for photos. Sadly the poor dawn light meant most photos were blurry. I am no photographer!

Painted Lady - several rocked up late morning on Carr Naze.

Silver Y. Three or four of these migrants were feeding with the Painted Ladies.