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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Out and about in blustery Lincolnshire reveals a rare Long Billed Dowitcher plus lots of other waders and raptors

Talk about bright n breezy ... must have been getting up for force 7 or 8 when we went out a couple of days ago to a reserve in Lincolnshire called Alkborough Flats. Personally I hate being out in the wind and what with the squally showers that came over in the afternoon it made for a trying day in the field but we (that's me n Mark of course) saw some good birds and met a few decent and very knowledgeable Linconshire birders .... all sheltering out of the wind in one of the hides there.

Although we got chatting and enjoyed some good banter for a couple of  hours or so to one of said birders, to our shame we didn't really introduce ourselves but many thanks to him for filling me in about the subtleties of Caspian Gull recognition (I'll be on the look out from now on!) and also for pointing out the long staying Long Billed Dowitcher, an American vagrant that has decided to over winter in these parts.

Long Billed Dowitcher (top left)
Distant pic obtained but cleaned up pretty nice after messing around with it.

As you can see there were other waders present (Lapwings and Redshank in the pic) and in fact we had some very decent numbers both species and more on the day. Always difficult to estimate when there are large groups of birds flying about but here's some approximations ...

Redshank c300
Lapwing c2500
Golden Plover c3000
Dunlin c400
Sanderling c100
Curlew c400
Black Tailed Godwit c100

The Godwits took us by surprise and before we'd really got out eye's in ..... flying overhead and then directly into the sun just as we'd got out of the car. Would have made a super pic but of course I just wasn't ready. We weer reliably informed later that there were a few Bar Tailed mixed in with these birds .. so we're having them both!

In addition we had 9 excellent Spotted Redshanks (which I didn't realise overwintered this far North), a single Ruff, 2 Green Sandpipers, and of course the Dowitcher which was a 'lifer' for us both.

As far as photography was concerned, because of the wind factor, I was restricted to whatever appeared within range from the hide but have to say that during the morning at least the light was superb and enabled some decent shots of especially the Curlews .... here's a few.

...............not a particularly clear photo but included here for it's comedic value, this one was having a spot of bother with the wind!

These Dunlins had the best idea.... just stick together and stay put!

I took a fair few pictures of Lapwings, simply because the light was so good, however none came close enough to really fill the frame but this highly cropped pic of a particularly shining example of one of our most beautiful waders is a good 2nd best!

Equally distant was one this Marsh Harrier, one of at least 5 seen on the Humber on the day

Also recorded on the reserve we had a couple of Buzzards, a Peregrine, a single Sparrowhawk, 2 Grey Herons, c50 Skylarks, a couple of Corn Buntings, c2000 Teal, c500 Mallard, c50 Wigeon, c30 Shelduck, c100 Pochard, 1 Shoveler and lots of Gulls (no Caspians!)

We did a fair bit of driving about and birding from the car in along some of the back roads in Lincolnshire, picking up Buzzard, Greylag Goose, Cormorant, Fieldfare, Little Grebe, Kestrel, Mistle Thrush, Jay and also visited Laughton Woods  where we had a small flock of Siskins, Goldcrest, Redwing, Fieldfare, Chaffinch, Long Tailed Tit, Coal Tit and flushed a Woodcock.

All in all and given the testing and at times totally adverse weather we had a great day and amassed
a very creditable 67 species for the day.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Snow Buntings, Peregrine, Iceland Gull and lots more in Bridlington Bay

 Decided I needed to see the sea couple of days ago so headed for my nearest n dearest sea spot, a place called Auburn, a couple of miles South of sunny Bridlington. It's a wonderful stretch of beach in the Winter months and apart from a few lugworm fishermen, the occasional beachcomber and the even more occasional surfer, there are few people about along this stretch of coast and a walk Southwards towards Barmston nearly always results in something turning up either on the sea and beach or in the surrounding fields .... and once again, I was not disappointed!

Stacks of waders about with good numbers of Oystercatcher, Knot, Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank and 3 Grey Plover but highlights of the day were 12 Snow Bunting flushed from stubble fields, a sub adult Iceland Gull along the shoreline and a couple of superb Peregrine swoops on the waders. 2 rubbish pics of the Peregrine and Iceland Gull apart I didn't manage to capture the days 'mega' birds but hey ho, that's often the way of it ... plenty of good shots of waders though and I was also attracted to some of the other gulls that seemed to be thronging the coastline.

First off, here's the rubbish pics of the mega birds!
Iceland Gull

OK yes its just a blur of a gull flying away but it's my first Iceland Gull for many a year so it had to be reproduced! (looked great though the bins .. I had it coming towards me right along the shoreline and only then did I think to get the camera out .. fair enough!)
Pretty much the same case here but even a blur pic of a Peregrine Falcon (and lets face it, that's exactly what many a sightings of this raptor are for most of us) ... it's worth having a go because it captures the moment! 

Shame I wasn't quick enough to get at least one shot of the Snow Buntings but as soon as I'd flushed them they were off.... good 'year bird' to get out of the way though!

There was an incredible amount of shellfish / crab debris on the beach so no wonder there were plenty of waders about and in the main they were more intent on feeding than being camera shy which was good for me ...  here's a nice Sanderling at rest followed by some action pics of  Sanderling versus Crab (Sanderling won hands down!)
Full on animal action and beach gore galore.... who needs Monsters V Aliens!!??
Oystercatcher action on the shoreline ......

........ and digging into the les fruits de mere

..... panning out revealed a couple of Knot in the foreground, a common enough wader and numbering in the 10s of thousands in paces like the Wash, they're surprisingly uncommon on more traditional beach sites.

The Knot's smaller cousin ... a Dunlin here, almost in focus but think I'd be more excited if I were a seaweed enthusiast!
...... and whilst a lone Grey Plover watches on from the shoreline

....... i realise that I'm 'gull phobic', not in any clinically insane way, just have a massive blind spot when it comes to getting enthusiastic about what most folk call 'seagulls', and yet I've just seen my 3rd ever Iceland Gull! Mmmhh .... maybe I need to 'get into gulls' a bit more, maybe you do too .. or are we going a bit over the top here and in danger of becoming white winged and nerdy before our time? You judge ... here's my top 3 gull pics of the day
Common (or 'Mew') Gull
Great Black Backed Gull .. have to say that does look pretty awesome!

Another Common Gull ..... is that some poor creature's eyeball in it's gob?

Fair do's ... Gulls can be entertaining and I'm guilty as charged for not entertaining them as much as I could with my lens .... will post more (how happy are you about that?)

All in all a great day. Also seen but not photographed were at least a dozen Great Crested Grebes on the sea, 8 Common Scoter, 10 Wigeon, a single Red Throated Diver (s), a few Fieldfares, Redwings and Song Thrushes and a couple of Skylarks.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Fabulous Fieldfares & incongrous Peacocks at Tilmire, a great new local site

Thanks to joining a local birding network I've become aware of several sites in the York area that have somehow escaped my notice over the years ... fantastic and thrilling yes but also a little humbling to realise that I've been birding man and boy in these parts for close on 30 years with blinkers on as far as some places of local interest are concerned!

Tilmire (Google Images)
So I keep getting email alerts of good local birds like Green Sandpiper, Jack Snipe and the occasional Marsh Harrier from a site called Tilmire - its a designated SSSI (site of special scientific interest) nr the village of Heslington and close by York University. I haven't researched enough but I guess you would call it an extensive area of rough grazing land intersected by several dykes and containing marshy fringes .. yep I reckon that covers it!

I popped down there one afternoon earlier this week and spent a very pleasant few hours sloshing around in the snow. No 'pipers or harriers but I did have a couple of Common Snipes, a couple of Buzzards and at least 5 Kestrels (always a good sign of available food sources), along with plenty of finch flocks - Linnets, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and Yellowhammers, 3 Bullfinch and 12 Skylarks.

I also got my best Fieldfare shots of the year so far - there were many about (c200) along with smaller numbers of Redwing. Here's the a couple of the good Fieldfare shots plus one 'snow' shot at distance that came out ok with some cropping!

Looking very incongruous in the snow there were also a few Peacocks pecking around on icy tracks ... I've never quite got why people keep these birds or if indeed, strolling around as they do, anyone can claim ownership but they invariably present themselves as reasonable photo opportunities, so here you go!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Freezing my rocks off down the Pocklington Canal!

At last the water levels have receded enough in the Lower Derwent Valley to gain a bit more access and although  at the time of visiting a pair of  'mansize' waders would have been the only way to get onto Wheldrake Ings, the Pocklington Canal at Hagg Bridge was just about passable. I like this 'back entrance' to Wheldrake ... in Spring, it's a glorious walk alongside the canal, through largely unmanaged fields which eventually brings you out onto the Eastern boundary of the Ings itself. The morning I chose was just about as 'unspringlike' as you could imagine .... freezing cold and increasingly misty but before the freezing fog descended I did manage some good shots and it was just good to be out there instead of gazing at masses of floodwater!

Hoar frost always tends to attract a camera lens and I though made these Bullrushes look especially beautiful ..... having to take to my gloves off to take these pictures nearly resulted in loss of fingers though!

Now I'd much rather be getting up close and personal with Whooper or Berwick Swans but I've had several Mute Swan moments recently where I've been able to do a bit of post processing experimentation messing around with black and white and other colour formats ......all equally pleasing I think but at this stage I'm still finding my feet with post processing. Comments very welcome!

A nice little flock of Greylag Geese flew over during 'Swanny's' modelling session and I was just about able to re position myself to get them going over!

There was a noticeable increase in the number of Winter thrushes in the valley, probably due to even colder weather in Northern Europe, with maybe 250 Fieldfares and 150 Redwings along the canal alone plus an impressive 20 or so Song Thrushes mixed in.

I was still looking for that 'corker' of a shot of either but they were as skittish as ever and I had to make do with mid distance shots. As I write though I do have that 'gripper' of a shot in the can (I'm always a few days behind, mainly due to the fact that I'm a lazy git!) .... so is it a Fieldfare or a Redwing? Well, gripped with anticipatory excitement as I'm certain you are, you'll have to wait!


My arrival at Wheldrake coincided with a descent of desperately cold freezing fog so sadly that was that and I turned back, the only other highlights being at least 25 Snipe, all flushed from canal edges, about 200 Teal, a lone Buzzard and a small flock of 10 or so Tree Sparrows

By the time I returned to Hagg Bridge it felt like I was in some kind of freezing Tundra landscape and just about had enough feeling in my fingers to take a few bleak midwinter pictures


Friday, January 18, 2013

A lovely day at Potteric Carr

I started a new job with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust recently as a Wildlife Support Officer and although it's only part time, what with training days and getting up to speed with how things work, there's not been much time for posting material on here. In addition I've started shooting 'RAW' images which has meant much more post image processing than I've ever been used to so more time on the old laptop .... hehe sounds like I'm making excuses for not posting doesn't it?! Well having come so far with the blog I do start to twitch a bit if I go over a week or so without posting something .. interesting the effect these things can have on your life.

Anyway, ahead of my first day with the YWT my mate Mark invited me over to South Yorks to visit one of the Trust's flagship reserves, Potteric Carr. It was a beautifully crisp and sunny day and although I'm not happy with the way some of the pics turned out, both pre and post processing, here's a few reasonable shots - feedback welcome!
Male Tufted Duck
Singing Robin

Drake Mallard

....... and here's a bird you don't see in the wild unless you're down under in Australia but unlike many 'escapee's' from bird collections, Black Swans are uniquely pleasing and always worth a snap!

Black Swan.... elegant or what!

Common but so photogenic, I almost forgot to include these super Goldfinches feeding on seed heads, the name of which escapes me!


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

York area Bird Race

Ok now here's a thing that probably only birdwatchers do ... count the number of bird species in a give area on a given day and turn it into a competition! In the York recording area (appx 15 square miles around the city) its held on Jan 6th and called the Michale Clegg Memorial bird race - in memory of a notable York ornithologist.
More or less true to form I'd forgotten it was on but I was out and about and just tallied my list at 64, with no real surprises - Snipe, Whooper Swan, Siskin, Willow Tit and Pintail being the highlights. Next year maybe, if I'm around.
A team of local birders led by Tim Jones won this year's competition with a total of 98 species, breaking the record for the area by some margin - here's his brief report posted on the York Ornithological Forum
Well done lads!!
Full days birding today in the area amassing a grand total of 98, the route and highlights being;

  • a Grey Wagtail at Ouse Bridge in town
  • Buttercrambe with highlights being Green Woodpecker, Crossbill, Woodcock, Jay, Nuthatch
  • Castle Howard saw Scaup, Shoveler and Goldeneye
  • Strensall to get Stonechat with the big bonus of the day being an adult female Hen Harrier that hunted over the northern area of the common in the process flushing several Snipe
  • Rufforth Airfield getting 1w and 2w Lesser black-backed Gulls
  • Askham Bog getting Willow Tit
  • Driving over the A64 managed to see c10 Goosander on Middlethorpe Ings
  • Heslington East came up trumps again with a bonus Green Sandpiper, Kingfisher and Jack Snipe
  • Tillmire Area with a single Mealy Redpoll in with a large flock of Lessers, Little Owl, Grey Partidge
  • Thorganby got Shelduck, Whooper and a sad lack of the previously reported Waxwings
  • North Duffield area got Corn Bunting (to equal previous record of 90) then Golden Plover (to beat the record!) also Peregrine but missed Pink foot and Brambling
  • Awesome Aughton saw a Marsh Harrier put up a large mixed wader flock which contained Ruff, Dunlin and Redshank to put us on 96!
  • Round the corner to Ellerton with a single Bewick's
  • Quick race to Melbourne and managed our final species of the day, Little Grebe
 A real top quality day showing that maybe it is indeed possible to get 100 in a day.
To put this in perspective other teams in Yorkshire managed;
Scarborough- 92
Barnsley-86 (both of which beat us last year)
Fairburn- 70
Just goes to show just how good the York Area is!

Like Andalucia?

Cracking site / forum here if, like me, you're partial to a taste of Southern Spain. It's called the Andalucia Bird Society. Click here to view the site

For my money Andalucia is by far the best area of Spain and not just for birding, with its magnificent scenery, year round climate and relative absence of heavy tourism, its a place well worth spending some time exploring .... just as me 'n me old mucker Mark have done dozens of times now and it's never failed to disappoint. Best time to go is anywhere between March and early May and anything can turn up on passage. One of these days I'll get around to properly sorting all my Andalucia records and there are many many highlights but a few stand out ..... Golden Orioles making landfall and flying through the bushes at dawn, my first ever Roller perched on top of a prickly pear by the roadside, a displaying Imperial Eagle at Bonanza, a Rock Sparrow singing right above our tents in the Rhonda Valley and just the sheer number of times we witnessed masses of raptors migrating North over the Straights of Gibralter ...... wetted your appetite?

This Andalucia Bird Society site has certainly given me some new ideas for places previously unvisited and contains a wealth of birding and non birding info on the area, it even has a useful guide to separating Lesser and Common Kestrel (something I've never quite mastered!) .... well worth checking out my friends!

Self indulgent sample of Andalucian birds (all pics from the above site)

Black Shouldered Kite

Purple Heron

Imperial Eagle

Spectacled Warbler
Montague's Harrier (female)

Rock Thrush

Great Bustard

Mmh .... just seen a flight out to Malaga for £29 return in March ... seriously considering it!!