Thursday, October 16, 2014

Birds in the hand, birds in the bush, Owls in the air.... Autumn migration time again at Flamborough

Here's a 'quicky' from Flamborough and Buckton ....a day out birding yesterday with Rob to catch a bit of incoming migration. Given the north easterlie's and associated rain over the past couple of days I for one was expectant of squadrons of Redwings & Fieldfares advancing into the UK over the North sea and a bit of Autumn migration mayhem on the headland.

Didn't quite pan out as planned but hey it rarely does! Equally rarely is there never something a bit 'unexpected' turning up - that's the nature of birds on the move and although we dipped out on a Great Grey Shrike and by all accounts most of the winter thrushes made landfall in Norfolk, we had more than enough to keep us happy throughout the day.

2 caught & ringed Stonechats

You've heard the saying 'a bird in the hand is worth 2 in the bush' .. of course you have, but what does mean? I should know but it's an easy google search so if you're bothered you'll know soon, but by way of a slightly clumsy link here's 2 birds in the hand and 1 in a bush!
1 of many Goldcrests on the headland
The Stonechats are male and female and both immature. They were both caught in mist nets at Buckton (nr Bempton) and then ringed so that we can learn more about their movements in the coming years. Its unlikely and rather a fanciful idea but maybe they're brother & sister from the same brood migrating together?! Like I say, a bit fanciful, but one thing we do know is that as with the vast majority of small birds on the headland they've recently flown across the North Sea from somewhere like Scandinavia.

European Robin
It was good to catch up with Mark Thomas again (the Buckton Birder) - he was the one doing all the ringing and a mighty fine job he does too. The Goldcrest above had evaded his nets for the time being - it was one of about 10 we flushed from a cliff side ravine in which we also disturbed a roosting Barn Owl, but he'd already ringed plenty and there were maybe upwards of 100 that we recorded in the general vicinity. Although we didn't see them, he'd also ringed Whitethroat and Garden Warbler (both very late migrants). The most obvious passage migrants around were of course Robins and I'd guess he must have ringed scores of them as they were everywhere!

Short Eared Owl, Buckton

Little chance of this getting caught up in the mist nets though, a superb Short Eared Owl we watched in off the sea and then get predictably harassed by corvids!

Yeah the light wasn't the greatest!

Back at Flamborough and doing a stint of sea watching from the lighthouse these were a pair of unexpected ducks - Velvet Scoter. Much rarer than the most often seen Common Scoter they're a treat to see so close to coastline. Mainly coastal in their wintering grounds south of the Arctic circle, they're more associated with boulder strewn lakes and wooded shorelines in their breeding grounds of Northernmost Europe

We also had a few Red Throated Divers on the sea here, plus some Common Scoter and someone had recently spotted a Grey Phalarope and a Little Auk on the sea earlier in the morning. The only other thing we saw on the sea were this pair of frolicking Seals ... looked like they were having fun in the warm and mild conditions.

Other birds of note both here and at Buckton were some impressive numbers of passing Skylarks (200ish), a Wheatear, about 20 Song Thrushes and 200+ Blackbirds, 30 Meadow Pipits, 1 Brambling, 1 Siskin, 10ish Chiff Chaffs and 10ish Blackcaps (one of which, a female with the wind blowing its red cap into a plume I thought for a second was a Waxwing.... one of those slightly embarrassing id moments!) Oh and we did see a few Redwings (about 15) and 2 Fieldfares eventually.

We might not have had the numbers of migrating birds, the weather was maybe too quiet, but always good to be out and about when any birds are coming in from distant lands and moving through in front of you. That Short Eared Owl was the highlight for me ...a good bird to have anywhere.

And you just can't leave the cliffs at Buckton without photographing at least 1 Gannet and hoping that it comes out like one of Steve Race's!

Buckton Gannet

......maybe next time!!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Welcome to Fangfoss! Buzzard county, Owls a plenty and the natives friendly.

All sorted, house sold and me and the van have landed at a treasure of a site called Fangfoss Park.. just outside of York. The site lies adjacent to the old York - Hull railway line and the owners house and site office is the old station masters house. Really nice, easy going and friendly owners they are too, the showers are hot and the local wildlife seems promising. Seriously doubt I'll find anywhere better so this will be my home until December and possibly when I get back from Spain next year.

Here's a pic I've copied courtesy of Robert Ore because it shows the exact location of my current pitch on the site, right next to the old disused railway line and that fab old telephone box!

My current pitch on the site

There's a couple of good bridle paths just off the site (one of which is the disused railway line) with some impressive looking hedges and the fields around and about are not too intensively farmed either. As a local patch its shaping up and already I've had 58 bird species plus a fox, stoat, several deer, lots of rabbits and hares and evidence of badger activity.

Most obvious I guess are the local Buzzards, at least 3 pairs and they're always getting mobbed by Rooks. No sooner do they land and they're set upon by marauders from above!

Like most birds of prey, its an occupational hazard being mobbed in this way. Although it's very rare for Common Buzzards to predate other birds, their main prey being rabbits and other small mammals, but they will take chicks out of nests and most rookeries are accessible so hence the aggro!

With the UK population of Common Buzzards now approaching 70,000 pairs (BTO, 2009) we're all getting used to seeing them glide around the countryside like these, my local ones  ....

Nice overhead shot ... looks almost unreal!

.... and I'm sure they're much happier drifting about the skies unfettered, but before long the Rooks are on the case and this same individual was soon surrounded by winged shapes, like a squadron of black mobsters!

With what appears to be an unusually high but very welcome number of traditional farmland birds such as Yellowhammers, Tree Sparrows and Skylarks in the area at the moment I'm not surprised to be seeing a rather well fed Sparrowhawk which I see nearly everyday but not yet managed to capture. There's also a pair of Kestrels that hunt across the local fields.

Common Kestrel
Little Owl

There's both Tawny and Barn Owls around here (I've heard both) but anywhere you see a Little Owl is reflective of traditionally managed farmland, and I've found one here. Not sure if its one of a pair or just a  youngster seeking a territory but here he (or she) is, typically posed amid a tangle of twigs .. took me ages to relocate after flushing it from raggle taggle field full of rusty old farm machinery ... just the place for one!

Here's a few random shots of my new patch!

Fangfoss Beck... with the Yorkshire Wolds in the background

Green lane out of the campsite

Spittal Beck again

Apple tree .... one of several 'non' crab apple types
Crab Apples

I had one of those apples and it was bloomin good! Here's the commoner and altogether less tasty Crab Apples that seem bountiful this year.

.... and with Autumn already upon us and fungi beginning to emerge, I'm eagerly awaiting the first falls of Redwings and Fieldfares, both of which will soon be feasting upon all this fruit.

Pleated Inkcap

Willow Warbler
Nice 'shroom that, and as often happens, on the morning I took that pic (October 3rd it was) and feeling the seasons collide as leaves were falling in unseasonally warm sunshine, I had 2 Swallows race over my head due south and then this slender green warbler flitting about in a bush right next to me.

Sure there'll be a few more Chiff Chaffs about into October but this will be last Willow Warbler I see for a while.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A local Pectoral more than makes up for ducking out on a Masked Shrike ... who cares!!

Been rarities aplenty up and down the east coast these past few weeks and if I was a confirmed 'twitcher' I'd be pretty gutted not to see the UK's 3rd ever and Yorkshire's first Masked Shrike at Spurn, not to mention Sabines Gull, Olive Backed Pipit and Pallid Harrier at the same location but in truth I'm not too fussed. There's something I don't quite like about attending a major 'twitch' and be in amongst hordes of lens laden, khaki clad birders on a mission! Nothing against twitching per se, and if I'm already somewhere like Spurn I'm not gonna ignore a rarity of course, its just not my scene to go chasing.

Here's the bird they've all been raving about though.
Masked Shrike (juvenile)
Juvenile Masked Shrike, Spurn (3rd UK record)
Its still there as I write this but I doubt if I'll have time to go see. I've no idea what my UK or world list is (should I be? Is this is maybe why I'm not into twitching?) but I know I've seen a Masked Shrike ... in Israel, plenty of them, so I'm not tempted!

A few weeks ago I had 4 Whinchats, a Redstart and 2 Spotted Flycatchers on my patch at Strensall Common, just up the road from me and I was amazed. Not rarities of course but to me far more memorable!

Autumn is the time for wind blown rarities and they can turn up anywhere. This Pectoral Sandpiper turned up on Hatfield Moor recently and this is my mate Mark's patch so it don't count as a twitch!

Unlike most of the rarities that turn up on the east coast in Autumn, Pectoral Sandpipers hail not from Europe but from North America and although well off track from their destinations in South America a few turn up every year across the UK but normally on the west coast so this is a good bird for Hatfield.

Northern Wheatear

There were a couple of Little Stints there too as well as a Northern Wheatear and a Whinchat but the light was so poor the pics are not great.

Little Stint
Common Darter (female/ imm male)
So whilst I'm on it and in catch up mode from a Summer of 'non blogging' here's a few pics from recent visits to Hatfield earlier in the year, starting with some splendid Dragonflies.

Common Darter (female/ imm male)

Common Hawker?

Migrant Hawker.. in Mark's garden!

...........and here's a sight for sore eyes and a tribute to one man's determination to get on his bike and not let a mere broken leg get in the way of getting out and about!

Mark back on his bike 2 months after his leg was broken in 100 places after a motorbike accident.. good on yer mate!

High summer seems like a life time away now but it really was another good one for butterflies .... here's a Small Skipper on Hatfield, closely followed by Gatekeeper ....

Small Skipper
.... and everyone loves a good Peacock!
Peacock Butterfly on Thistle heads.

Wall Butterfly

Not on Hatfield but in my very own garden and a first for my little since departed plot ... a Wall butterfly on the grass!


Here's my Hatfield parting shot, a Willow Warbler perched high up on the perimeter fence of Lindholme prison ... it was singing free as a bird!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Back to Spurn ... Migfest revisited, tidal washovers and hordes of migrants

How disrupting to life is selling up and moving on! I'm now in the final flings of casting off for good my comfortable 3 bed semi in the suburbs of York for a more adventurous existence in the new motorhome for a few months before heading to Spain for a few more months this coming Winter. Sounds like fun, and I know it will be but my oh my its been a distraction!
Determined to keep this blog going though and without further ado here's a post from the 2nd annual Spurn Point Migfest earlier this month.
No better place to start than with this splendid and very confiding Wryneck, one of at least 4 seen on the point that w/e. It was a rather restricted shooting angle as the bird was nervously settled down in someone's back yard and I had to creep up and point the lens through a garden fence! I wasn't the only one either but he didn't seem that bothered. Unique birds, sadly not breeding here in the UK anymore but they're always a special sighting on migration.

Wryneck 'wrying its neck'!

Wryneck - shame about that grass stem!

Tidal surge, Dec 2013, Spurn Point (Hull Daily Mail)
I've posted on Spurn a few times and indeed on the last year's migfest here, so no need to dwell on the marvels of this place except to say that as many of you will know, Spurn Point suffered a significant breach in its historically flimsy defences last winter due to an unusually large tidal surge that affected the whole of the east coast of England. More info here

The road to the point swept away and unlikely to be restored, each high tide now cascades over the 'Narrows' (the thinnest point of the peninsular) making part of Spurn a temporary island, and there's many that believe this may well be a permanent reality in years to come.

Spurn Island

During the 4 days I was there I walked to the point and back twice and on the last occasion we timed it right to catch the high tide 'washover' and a chance to see some wader action! This it what we see now at high tide at the 'Narrows'

Warning, no vehicular access at high tide! (R.Marrs)

Spot the Knot amongst those Dunlin? (R.Marrs)
Brilliant for close wader shots if you don't mind getting your feet a bit wet!

Dunlin fly past


Dunlin close up, still in full summer kit!

Here's a pic of that solitary Knot ...strange to just get one in the flock when there were  1000s elsewhere on the estuary.

Knot .. lovely 'margination' on those winter feathers!
This is a 'feet soaker' coming in!

Bar Tailed Godwits have the legs to cope the waves!


Constantly 'klacking' Oystercatchers all around us!
Whatever happens to Spurn in the future, for now this almost daily 'washover' is becoming quite an event in itself for visitors ... but as the warning signs clearly nag - 'you've got leave enough time to get back', otherwise you're stranded for an hour or two (not a bad place to be stranded though!)

Waders aside, the point was positively thronging with common passage migrants and the odd rarity all weekend and blessed as we were with predominantly good weather there was plenty to see and photograph. Whinchats were maybe the most obvious with small 'gangs' of up to 15 flying around together ...

Whinchat, juv. On a car tyre!
Wheatears were also 'getting around'
On one of the days there was an influx of Common Whitethroats with a few Lesser's mixed in and it seemed to me that there was one in nearly every bush



Plenty of Willow Warblers about of course and the juvs are so tricky but I'm going Chiff Chaff on this one ... sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong!

This is a far from perfect shot of one of the rarer warblers that were about ... a juvenile Barred Warbler. Skulky bloody things!!
  Some equally poor shots here I'm afraid but anytime you get to see Pied Flycatchers in decent numbers you have to have a go ....

and to round things off after a superb few days here's a nice Redstart in the last rays of the evening sun .. with luck this and all the other migrants will be well on their way to down towards Africa by now and who knows I may catch up with some of them early next year when I'm in Spain!