Sunday, 2 November 2014

Arctic Buzzards

When I was a lad, my Dad, friend John and me used to head up to Bransdale on the North York Moors looking for Rough-legged Buzzards, that seemed to be reported most winters, but we never managed to see one. Plenty of years later, and here I was driving my kids up there to have a look for these Arctic wanderers. The weather seemed perfect and we were soon heading north out of Helmsley, up past Carlton and into the heather and bracken wilds of the moors. A stop along the route revealed two pairs of Common Buzzards sparring over a distant wood and a pair of Peregrines soaring on the breeze. Turning the corner to head back along the east side I noticed a buteo hanging in the updraft over the ridge. A Rough-leg! A fine juvenile that had a broken fourth primary which was twisted under the wing giving it a bizarre silhouette. The bird hung low over the edge of the ridge, seemingly hunting the rough grass strip running  between the edge of the heather moorland on the rigg and the fertilised fields on the valley sides. The breeze meant not a lot of hovering was required and the bird just hung pretty much motionless for minutes at a time, before tipping its wings and moving along fifty metres or so before stopping and resuming the scan. After a bit, we got the kids ready and did a nice walk up the rigg and along the top. Very little up on the moor, besides tonnes of Red Grouse and a few flyover Siskins. On our return the Rough-leg was still present, cruising around the eastern side and showing really well now the sun had come out. We followed it along south and eventually left it to its hunting. A little further along and there was another buteo over the fields. We stopped and sure enough, another Rough-leg, this one with intact wings! So after all these years, finally a pair of Rough-legs in Bransdale. Well worth the wait!

 

 

Friday, 31 October 2014

Briefly Spurn

An hour or so at Spurn before the MigFest DVD launch on 25th October gave me a chance to check out the Black Brant which was hanging out with the Brents in the field north of Kilnsea Wetlands. A very dapper piebald adult. Nice to see a herd of freshly-arrived Whooper Swans here too. Nearby, a giant Convolvulous Hawkmoth posed at the foot of a telegraph pole.





Another first for Yorkshire: Eastern Crowned Warbler

Started off early doors at Flamborough. Walked my usual loop round Old Fall but in reverse. The brief patch of easterlies, plus poor visibility and rain was behind the torrent of Redwings and Blackbirds coming in out of the murk. The air was filled with the calls of Redwings and occasional Song Thrushes, with Blackbirds flitting out of the hedge every few metres. This is autumn East Coast birding at it's best and a real joy to witness.

Apart from a tonne of thrushes, the loop revealed little extra, apart from four Woodcocks flushed from various bits of cover, a couple of Bramblings, three Blackcaps and a couple of Chiffchaffs. Perhaps the big bird will arrive tomorrow, or at least so I thought! Mammals were much in evidence too, with a big, smart dog Fox seen a couple of times along with a Stoat hanging out near a pile of crab apples - perhaps they were both seeking a thrush for breakfast. The most bizarre thing was a Starling that literally fell out of the sky and landed at my feet on the south cliffs. I picked it up and walked down to Old Fall where I put it in a bush. It then flew off apparently oblivious to its encounter.


Late morning and the Fieldfares started arriving, coming in over the slightly surreal sight of the Dad's Army crew filming down on North Landing beach. I looked for Catherine Zeta Jones, but alas I dipped... Not much in Holmes Gut, apart from a couple of Blackcaps, with more Bramblings up the road by North Moor Farm.


Fieldfares coming in off the sea at North Landing

I decided to have a look for the Rough-legged Buzzard up at Grindale but it was still fog-bound up there, so I returned to Flamborough. I bumped into Andy D down at Old Fall who mentioned there was a rumour of an Eastern Crowned Warbler near Redcar! No sooner had he mentioned it than a message came through that it had been confirmed. Panic! I managed to scrounge a lift with Richard, Martin and Andy up to Brotton and shortly we were on site where it was apparent the bird hadn't been seen for a couple of hours. About 50 birders were on site most hanging out where it was last seen. After a bit, I wandered off and bumped into York birders Chris and Ollie. We headed out round the small patch of woodland checking everything that moved, but the only phylloscs proved to be Chiffchaffs. Dispondency crept in as the clock ticked towards 3.30pm. Suddenly, a call from Rich sent us running back to where we started. Rich and a couple of others had had a glimpse of the bird, but it had melted away. Oh no! I really shouldn't wander off. A calling Yellow-browed Warbler that remained hidden did not make us feel better, though showed how easily these birds were hiding from the gathering gang of birders.

Anyway, a short while later another guy relocated the bird at the opposite corner of the wood and we headed round to where he had seen it - five minutes ago. It was getting on for 4pm by now, so it wouldn't be long before the light would start to go. The chap indicated where it had headed. I asked if you could go over the fence and the chap replied that was fine, but there were no big trees down there. Well, I could see one, so Chris and me jumped over and walked along with a few others. We got to the first big sycamore and immediately saw a bird flick in the canopy. Bins up and there was a face with a huge pale supercilium and a big spiky bill poking out from behind a leaf. Surely that was the bird! I got Gary Taylor on to it, it hopped out and the rest is history! The bird then showed really well for several minutes hopping about in this large tree. It left for a moment but then returned. It really did look like an Arctic Warbler, but the greyish crown stripe was fairly obvious, when the bird was face on, or looking down. The stripe seemed to be more distinct on the middle and rear crown, fading out nearer the forehead. The bird was quite considered in its movements, not hyperactive like the smaller phylloscs. It hopped about looking around and gleaning insects off leaves and twigs. The greater covert wingbar was obvious but the median bar was a little trickier to see. The tertials looked plain. I couldn't really make out the yellow on the undertail coverts but that could have been the light.



  


The bird flicked out into an ash further down the bank and we left the arriving twitchers to look for  it. Rich Baines managed some awesome shots which he kindly emailed to me - see below. We were elated, but sadly it seemed Andy had gone the wrong way with half the crowd, so quite a few people didn't connect. Luckily Andy had seen the Durham bird so was fairly pragmatic about things.
By about 4.15pm it vanished again. So the big bird did arrive today! This ECW, if accepted is the first for Yorkshire and the third for Britain. Bizarrely, it's credentials are similar to the Spurn Masked Shrike, in that the first UK record was twitchable, the second was not and then the third turned up in Yorkshire. Freaky!

The twitch. Half standing around a bit dazed after corking views, the rest still hoping for that clinching view.






Wednesday, 15 October 2014

The Magic of Migration


Felt under the weather today, but nevertheless was up at 6am and pulling into Old Fall layby at 7.15am. The wind had gone round to the east as predicted by the Met, but the cloud was a little sparse and a golden sun rose over the head.

Stacks of Blackbirds, Redwings and Song Thrushes were evident along the first stretch of hedge, chucking and seeeeping about, bounding out of the hedge on to the path and then back again. I paused for a moment, scope set, hoping for something rarer to hop out. Nothing did, but wonderful views of these fresh-in migrants, that probably arrived last night. I ambled down the path and bumped into Andy Hood. Shortly, we picked up the Red-breasted Flycatcher, rattling in a Sycamore on the leeward edge of the Old Fall plantation. It flicked in and out flycatching. A melodic whistle from behind us made us turn round and utter 'Shore Lark' in unison. I picked up the bird dropping on to a tilled stretch of field behind us. Yes! A cracking black and yellow faced Shore Lark. The bird's general cold grey upperparts stood out from the rather gingery earth it had chosen to sit on. After a few minutes it headed off again with the local Skylark gang.


Into the plantation and it really was excellent birding. Goldcrests were everywhere, as were Robins. Bramblings wheezed from the branches above, and Blackbirds flapped through in gangs. Every bird had to be checked; there had to be a rarity here somewhere. A pale warbler appeared - Siberian Chiffchaff! Sadly it didn't confirm itself with a call, but it looked convincing. It melted away, and shortly a rather late Garden Warbler appeared. Blackcaps fed unusually high in the Sycamores, seeking aphids. Scanning down Old Fall Hedge South, the grey sentinel form of a Great Grey Shrike made a fine morning sight (unlike my terrible phonescoped snap!).


Bumped into Lee, Martin and Mr Baines  and then the news broke of a Grey Phalarope on the sea near Bluethroat Gulley. We headed round there and had a scan. Plenty of Red-throated Divers on the sea and a few Common Scoters going past. Rich picked up a Little Auk but I couldn't get on it. The phal had drifted off, so we headed on round the head to the Bay Brambles, which were rather quiet. My usual plan is to go over to the north side after the Old Fall loop, but today, with more time to spare, I thought I would do the honorable thing and walk!

Along the clifftops I encountered a number of Goldcrests in the grass on the clifftop and along the fences. In fact, their trisyllabic little squeak was my constant soundtrack today. These little mites had just flown the North Sea. They seem tiny and fragile, but actually must be hard as nails! It never ceases to amaze me they survive this; how I underestimate them. It is a phenomenal feat and they probably welcomed the easterly wind to blow them in. It is 350 miles across open, inhospitable ocean to the west coast of Denmark, or even further if they came down from Norway. Amazing!


As I approached Holmes Gut, a text came through from Rich - Little Bunting just been found by Lee! Fantastic! I was literally by the gate, so hot footed it round to where Lee, Martin and Andy H had already gathered. To cut a long story short, I never did see it, despite a good search of the local area. Three Ring Ouzels were nice, the first I had seen today. Bit sad to dip this as I really wanted to see one of these this autumn.




How many Sibe Blue Robins lurk in Holmes Gut?

During our search, we bumped into Jon B and he kindly gave me a lift back to my car, which was a relief as I was starving and flagging a bit! After a bite to eat, I decided I would go on a Pallas's Warbler quest and South Landing seemed like a good option. Here I bumped into Craig who was fresh from Rubythroat action on Shetland. Hopefully, he would have his eye in, and sure enough, after a brief foray up to Booted Gulley (Shore Lark again, plus Blackcap, Brambling and a flyover Lap Bunt), he picked up a Yellow-browed Warbled by the South Landing steps. Great! Craig headed off to bed, and I wandered back down the gulley.



Two Yellow-brows were together in the sycamores at the top of the gulley and I decided these were different from Craig's first- but of course, I couldn't be sure! 3pm arrived and I decided I would have one last look at Holmes Gut before home. Still no ticking buntings, but a Fieldfare, my first of the autumn, came in off the sea, straight up the valley and dropped on to a hawthorn bush. Well done buddy! After five minutes looking shattered, it ate two berries and then headed off west. The magic of migration!


 Fieldfare taking a well-earned rest.









Tuesday, 14 October 2014

The Great North Eastern Migration Super Highway

The wind went northeast and rain arrived. On the coast, a deluge of birds has been dropping in - exciting times. Tomorrow the wind is swinging more round to the east and clear skies over Scandinavia should mean lots of birds heading our way. Hopefully the slightly more friendly conditions tomorrow should mean the birding is awesome! Here's hoping!


And this is what I am hoping is flicking around in Old Fall Plantation...Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (photo by Robin Newlin).


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Rad!

The good birding weather (northeasterlies and rain) arrives tomorrow, so ascending out of the fog-bound Vale of York in to glorious sunshine on the Yorkshire Wolds this morning reduced my optimism of seeing anything good at Flamborough.

Nevertheless, you just never know on the east coast at this time of year, so I headed over to Old Fall. Lots of Tree Sparrows around, with several parties in the hedge and heading off south. Lots of Skylarks too, plus a few Meadow Pipits. Not a lot in the hedge on the walk down towards Old Fall plantation, but my new radio suddenly crackled in to life with Lee Johnson stating there was a Radde's Warbler in the Gorse Field! Yikes! Nice for this to be the first message on my radio. So walked swiftly down Old Fall, round the sheep and on to the permissive path where I bumped into Lee and a few others. The bird had been showing in the hedge but had flicked across into the gorse. No worries, the conditions were idyllic, so surely it would be actively feeding. Whilst I waited, a fine Stonechat, a couple of overflying Brambling and a pair of regal Roe Deer provided a distraction, but after an hour and a half I began to wonder if the little Sibe would ever show again in this massive patch of cover.



John B and Martin G took the initiative and decided to give the field a walk and although the Radde's remained frustratingly hidden from all bar MG at first, it eventually gave itself up and showed gloriously in the rough grass and brambles at the edge of the gorse patch. What a stonker! Looked very yellow and olive at a distance, with salmon pink legs and a whacking great supercilium that blurred over it's forehead. What a beauty! It showed so well that I managed a bit of phonescoping! I am sure some of the big lens folk will have got some cracking shots.



After a bit, I decided the Sibe Thrush wouldn't find itself, so I headed back round Old Fall where a Yellow-browed Warbler was calling from the depths and five Bramblings wheezed overhead. Still lots of dapper Tree Sparrows around but more unexpected was a Barn Owl that flew across and into the plantation, much to the consternation of the local Wrens, followed by a lovely Weasel on the path next to the hedge that approached quite close. Headed to the north side, which revealed a few more migrants including two Chiffchaffs and six Blackcaps, plus a rather fine Redwing.


Tree Spug, Weasel and fem Blackcap.




Sunday, 5 October 2014

All quiet

Did Hes East first thing. Not many birds about, with three Teal, two Snipe and a drake Pochard all I noted. On to Wheldrake Ings where things were not much better, with the resident Greenshank on Swantail, with two or three Chiffchaffs in the willows, c100 Teal, four Wigeon, c30 Shoveler and a light passage of Skylarks, Mippits and a few finches overhead.


40 Not Out

So, the big four o arrived on 3rd October. After a night in the pub in Ellerby, headed for Flamborough. What a treat to have the day off and spend the day birding the Great White Cape! Good company in the form of Tony and Dob, but sadly, not many birds to be seen due to southerly winds and clear skies. We hunted high and low around Old Fall but only found a Chiffchaff. Following a birthday bacon buttie, took a trip to the northside where we worked hard for birds. Gone eleven and a few Song Thrushes and a Shoveler (!) came in off. A distant bird called - Yellow-browed Warbler! It sounded like it was near the sewage plant, but we couldn't find it. Did a loop round the tracks and as we arrived at the North Landing CP, a tiny green and white warbler flew up off the cliff top and across the car park, buffeted by the strong wind. It disappeared into Holmes Gut. A good search failed to find it, then on the way back to the car a Siskin flew over, followed by the characteristic call of a Yellow-brow at close quarters. We soon got on the little sprite as it worked through the elders. High fives all round! Not a big bird, but boy we had put in the effort and it felt like a great reward.






Birthday selfie, and Old Fall from the south


We headed to The Mighty Hornsea Mere, via the chippy. Not a lot from the new Wassand Hide, though Tony jammed a first year Med Gull cruising past. Later, we did the south side, adding female Scaup and a fine first year Caspian Gull, complete with red darvic. Whilst savouring this bird, Tony picked up one of Dob's Slavonian Grebes, a juv, from yesterday which finished the day off nicely, before heading back to meet the family, for birthday fun.


Thursday, 25 September 2014

A Garrulous Chap

Picked up a 'dead' Jay off Bishy Road this morning by the Palace Grounds. What a beautiful bird, complete with acorn in beak. To my surprise, as soon as I picked it up it twitched a  leg, then a wing and within a few minutes it had come round albeit somewhat dazed. I took a couple of photos of this absolutely stonking bird and then decided to sit it on a branch. After falling off like a drunken village idiot into a hedge, I held it for a little while more during which it decided to do a bit of characteristic squawking, which from close range was ear-splitting. Other commuters gave me some very funny looks. I placed it back on the branch and this time it held it together and managed to remain perched. Work beckoned so I left this bird like a slightly-camp and forlorn sentinel perched in the tree. I hope it survived the ordeal.



Sunday, 21 September 2014

Check your stubble

Checked out the big Golden Plover flock in the fields south of Bishopthorpe. Not easy viewing due to the stubble, but c500 birds present. Got a bit excited over a large pale grey bird that looked like a Grey Plover, until it stood up and flapped revealing itself to be some freak Goldie.

Check the bird sleeping right in the middle. The most Grey Golden Plover I have seen.

A Chiffchaff worked the rather scant hedge behind me and a chipping gang of Tree Spugs was a glorious site at the back of Brunswick. I will be keeping an eye on this flock, especially if we start getting some westerlies, as this is the very spot where my old mate Dunc Poyser found the first acceptable American Goldie for the York area back in late September 2003.