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.

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Filey fun

Some fun times spent at Filey recently, with a great moth/bat event at YWT Filey Dams last Friday, hosted by Filey Bird Obs, which added about a dozen species to my moth list, including Small Rufous, Diamond-back Moth and Old Lady. Kipped over in the car park, then headed out nice and early to the coast, which revealed a glass-like sea-surface and lots of Harbour Porpoise action. Sadly, no Minke Whales, though one was seen later. I headed up into the forest and following a tip from Rich and Viper Dan, finally found a Wykeham Honey Buzzard, an adult female, which got up about 9.50am, soared around over the forest then headed north west. A few other bits of interest, including Willow Tit, Spotted Flycatcher and a fine male Goshawk. Back to Filey for the Woodcock Festival which was great fun, highlights being the Legend that is John Law, the Railroad Hobos (featuring colleague Elizabeth Round) and of course the excellent Morning Bride.

I returned to Filey yesterday, hoping to jam in on the Greenish Warbler found yesterday by Mark P. The Dams continued to look great, with 8 Ruff, 7 Dunlin, 3 Green Sand, 2 Common Sand and a few Teal. At North Cliff, a few migrants included Painted Lady, Pied Flycatcher, Spotted Flycatcher, Whinchat, several Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. Sadly, a possible Wood Warbler escaped confirmation. A few Wall butterflies were kicking around - always nice to see.

Sad news was that the heavy rain on Friday night caused our House Martin nest to fall down. It killed one of the two chicks immediately, but the other died while I was trying to put up a box to replace the nest. I will put the box up anyway, just in case the parents might want to try again. Really sad as both chicks looked like they could have fledged in about a week. :-(

 From top, Green Sand at the Dams, a rather drab Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and Wall.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Bongonaut Fell Adventures

Glorous ten days in the Bongo with the family in the Lakes then around Silverdale. Failed to find Mountain Ringlets up Langdale due to poor weather but did see a rather spectacular Funnel Cloud and almost killed the Bongo going up Wry Nose Pass. We hadn't realised it was the steepest road in England! Left the fells before news of breeding Bee-eaters broke from near Penrith - doh!

Further south, we enjoyed some lovely freshly-emerged Scotch Arguses (Argi?) at Arnside Knott, plus Northern Brown Argus, Grayling, Small Blue and a couple of Fritillary spp. which didn't pause long enough to be identified, so High Brown Frit escaped being ticked. Speaking of which, some good Tick action, with one digging right into my throat in Silverdale, which was a bit painful!
Fantastic fun at Leighton Moss and Gait Barrow NNR with stunning scenery and habitats at both-  places I will definitely revisit. Some good mothing around the lights in the campsite bogs too - need to identify some unknowns...

From top: Funnel Cloud from Pike Blisco, Gatekeeper plus Aceria cephaloneus mite galls on Sycamore leaf, Grayling, Northern Brown Argus x2, Scotch Argus x3, Small Blue. All butterflies at Arnside Knott.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Go out and get em', boy!

Garden mothing still rocks, with new stuff turning up in all the time, including possibly the coolest, most bonkers-looking common moth, the Buff-tip.

However, there are some cracking wildlife sites near York, with some top moth notoriety and, having borrowed a rather heavy generator from work, I lured Rich over from Flamborough to have a crack at finding some new stuff in the LDV. With the help of NNR manager Craig, we put out three traps last night; one at Bank Island and two on Wheldrake Ings - with permission of Yorkshire Wildlife Trust of course :-)

So, a 5am start today and after a quick drive we were soon staring wide-eyed at the most amazing kaleidoscope of moths ever, in the Bank Island trap.

There was probably 300 moths inside, with dozens of gaudy Elephant Hawkmoths adorning every surface. After carefully picking through the egg trays, we had amassed over 50 species of macros including a cracking Pine Hawkmoth, my first Small Elephant Hawkmoth, an exquisite Lilac Beauty, a handful of delightful Peach Blossoms, spectacular Garden Tigers and lots, lots more. Really exhilarating stuff!

Time was getting on - it was nearly 6.30am - so we headed on to the Ings. Sadly, the traps here were pretty empty in comparison and we failed to find anything particularly impressive, though we did add several more nice moths to the day's haul, including a couple of new species for me, such as Oblique Carpet. Little Egret, Red Kite and Green Sandpiper all flew past while we were mothing, and Reed Warblers and Blackcaps were still singing. A couple of Barn Owls flew around the meadow too. A great start to the day.

Had a potter round the LDV with Rich before heading back to Bish to have a look at the local Tansy Beetles. At first it seemed we would be unlucky, but Rich managed to find a trio chilling out in a Tansy patch. Toast was next on the agenda, followed by a crack at Dark-bordered Beauty (another moth) over at Strensall Common, but sadly we couldn't find any. Apparently the Creeping Willow (the caterpillars' foodplant) is dwindling on site and this is causing this rare moth to decrease sadly. Rich went back a bit later and found out somebody had caught one with a light trap last night, so they are still clinging on. A few Large Skippers and Common Darters were the only bugs of note, along with some nice Spiked Rush and plenty of flowering Cross-leaved Heath. A few Tree Sparrows were around the railway crossing.

Otherwise, since the last update, I finally managed to see a British Little Bittern, with what was presumably the Lakenheath bird from May having moved north to Old Moor. Unlike previous efforts, this one showed well within ten minutes of arriving, flying over the reedbed for a couple of hundred metres, allowing pretty good views. Nearby, a moulting drake American Wigeon was on Wath Ings and some very nice Southern Marsh Orchids were growing by the path.

Little Bittern by Keith Dickinson - I pinched this off the internet- I hope he doesn't mind.

Grotty Yank.
The Bee Orchids and a couple of Pyramidals were along the verge by Askham Bog on the way back - good to see them again. Back home it seems the House Martins are incubating...

Lastly, Tree Bumblebees are hanging around the office - this one flew in the office window and was released after a quick photo session.