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Thursday, May 23, 2013

A sunny day at Bempton Cliffs, sprained ankles and Auks, Gulls & Gannets aplenty!

 Ok, I'm going to start this piece with a top tip for the over 50s -

If you must walk the entire length of Spurn Point and back again, don't expect to be able to leap in and out of a campervan like a nimble young gazelle. I tried it and sprained my ankle the day after my last post!

I've been hobbling about ever since and although thankfully the ankle is now on the mend this has severely restricted my movements of late. After a trip to A & E to check that nothing was broken the advice I was given was gentle exercise of said ankle and walk on it as best I can -  so what did I do? Well I had planned a trip out to the RSPB reserve Bempton Cliffs before I damaged myself and even though my own son astutely pointed out that a stroll along the top of the highest cliffs on the Yorkshire was probably not the brightest of ideas for an invalid I did it anyway. It was maybe stretching the medical advice a tad but I get madder with age and I was desperate to get out in the campervan again ......driving if comfortable to do so was also recommended as good exercise so that was all the excuse I needed!

Suffice to say I struggled and my ankle was killing me after just a few hundred yards but I did mange some reasonable shots of passing Gannets, Auks and Gulls. It really is a wildlife photographer's paradise but I was disappointed not to get more Puffins ... they've suffered recently due to some bad weather events in the North Sea and I do hope these comical creatures recover well and have a good breeding season.

Here's the place then. This is a view looking South towards Flamborough Head.


Stacks of Gannets about and some smashing fly past birds at quite close range. This one turned out pretty good!

Kittiwake..... drifting by

There's always been a healthy population of Kittiwakes at Bempton and whilst I'm sure they've declined in numbers over the years along with the rest of the seabirds they certainly seemed to be in abundance on the day I visited. Lovely and gentle looking gulls, rarely seen inland they spend the entire Winter in the Atlantic, they breed on rocky coasts right around the UK and you can tell them from other gulls from their inky black wing tips and of course their distinctive cry from whence they get their name.

Common Gull ...'lazin on a sunny afternoon'
I've said before on this blog that gulls are 'tricky' little things to ID at the best of times, so maybe I can excuse myself for thinking I'd got a nice Kittiwake yawning in the sun, but just as I was processing this pic I realised it was in fact a Common or 'Mew' Gull ... nice all the same. Bloody hell I've only been birding 35 years and still making basic observation errors! Or maybe I'm just going senile, what the hell, it made a nice picture!
 Yes it was a lovely sunny day and don't we just deserve this flash of Summer the weather gods have served up for us lately ..lets hope its the real deal and not merely an aperitif! Flowers always look 10 times better in the sun and I was amazed at how many Pink Campions were adorning the cliff edges and surrounding fields ... common they may be but anything that turns the normally bleak landscape of Bempton pink deserves an extra large pic in my blog!

Pink Campions

Onto the Auks then and of course at this time of the year the cliffs are thronging with Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills and their whirring wings and frantic activity certainly bring in the visitors ... the car park at Bempton was full and the birds here attract more visitors than York City football club!

Really tricky to get good shots of auks in flight because their wings beat so fast and unless one has an ultra fast camera they usually come out as a bit of a blur but here's a reasonable Puffin passing by.

Puffin .. fly past

Oo er, ouch ... is that a razor Bill?


This is really what all the squawking is about of course ..... here's a couple of Razorbills caught on cam. May they all be doing a lot more of it regardless of who's watching (like they care!) ... Auk numbers have declined rapidly over the last few decades, mainly due to marine degradation and subsequent loss of sand eels so all power to the various Wildlife Trust's (and Yorkshire is up there and leading the way) for pursuing the creation of marine conservation areas.

Here's another couple of fine Razorbill specimens, one in flight and one standing proud on the cliff edge.

Razorbill past

Lone Razorbill standing proud
Somehow I failed to get a single decent shot of a Guillemot on the day but there'll be another time over the next couple of months or so and I hear that certain spots around Flamborough Head are actually better for getting close up views of Puffins so I'll be beating up there soon for that lucky mouthful of sand eels shot!

Meanwhile here's a parting shot of another beautiful bird on the decline around our shores .. its an ocean going Fulmar, neither an auk or a gull, its a 'tubenose' and a relative of the mystical Albatross.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Spring catch up - some recent images from around York

You maybe wouldn't know it but Spring has finally sprung and although as I write this after a weekend of mainly wet weather, we've had a few sunny days up in Yorkshire haven't we? Yes we have .... about 7 so far I reckon! Oh well, here's to another hit and miss English summer but hey we should be used to it by now and whilst many might continue to agonise over global weather phenomena, I'm just glad to be alive to experience another Spring, to see flowers sprouting, trees budding and birds singing and making merry once again.

Here's the first of 2 posts featuring some choice Spring pics from my recent wanderings, not that I've wandered any further than good old Yorkshire!

Peacock Butterfly
This Peacock Butterfly perched on a Hazel Catkin was taken a couple of weeks ago at Askham Bog on the kind of day when the sun really did shine and we all expected to be short trousers and t shirts until the football season starts again!

No butterflies on this Willow Blossom at Wheldrake Ings a few weeks ago but striking nonetheless with that windswept blue sky as a backdrop.

Back in April I dropped into the Heslington East site on the university campus here in York and got lucky with a passing Common Tern, it never came quite near enough for a really good shot but I like seeing birds slightly out of context and this migrant floating around the lake next to 100s of oblivious students certainly fits that bill.

Pair of Redshanks getting it on at York Uni!

Not so much 'out of context',  more surprising and encouraging were this pair of Redshanks caught mating on the same site ...... not that students at York Uni need much in the way of sex ed!

Amazingly there were 25 plus Wheatears recorded on this same site on the same day, I saw 6, but in most years I'm happy just to see 1 or 2 in the York area. Not sure why this has been such a bumper year for these handsome harbingers of Spring or even if its been the same story elsewhere in the UK but I'm sure someone will tell me. Maybe the strong winds from the South in April just funnelled and concentrated them through these parts more than usual?

This striking male (pics right & below) was one of 16 counted in just one ploughed field on Langwith Stray, just a couple of miles outside of York. As with many migrating bird species its usually the males that form the vanguard in order to make an early start on establishing a territory.

Back on Askham Bog, although its been a slow old process but the flowers are beginning to bloom now and at last the trees are leafy green again, I'll be doing a special post on some of the unique plant and insect life on the bog at some point later in the season but here's a few pics from last month of typical 'bog birds' enjoying the Spring!

Displaying Wren

Reed Bunting in full breeding plumage

 Displaying Sparrowhawks  ... look at the size difference! (female is the big one)

Singing Robin

Enjoy the Spring, its out there somewhere! 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Spurn Point - first trip out in the campervan!

 Always best to try and remain topical with this blogging malarkey, especially when one's fallen shamelessly behind with posting! No excuses, no drama, just minor life events conspiring to prevent me from sitting down and putting finger to keyboard. Not least of which has been a rather prolonged and somewhat agonizing search and purchase for a campervan ...  but hey its done now and I think I've chosen well ..... here's my vehicle, safely berthed at home after its first trip out.

Its ace! A nicely converted 2.0TD 2001 Ford Transit campervan with everything I need onboard for life on the road ..... space to cook, sit and sleep in, fridge, awning; man its even got central heating! All for £4500 .. job done!

So no excuses now, I can go anywhere, travel in style and put the tent in storage. No excuses for my slack blogposts either, although I continue to busy at the w/e with my recruiting for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, weekdays I can be off and abroad to my heart's content. I've got lots to catch up on and post so I'm going 'flash post' and 'blitz pic' you with some recent Spring highlights starting with my most recent trip out to Spurn Point just this week. I've posted from this wonderful place before - so I'll not dwell here on its qualities but one of the things that always frustrates about Spurn is that a) its such a devil of a place to get to and b) there's always something better that's been seen the day after you've been! So of course the thing to do is go there and stay there for a few days ... in a campervan!

Tis what I did, and if hadn't been for the weather turning sour I would have stayed another day but hey it was a blast and it was so great to get there at 6.30pm, walk halfway up the point, experience dusk and then be able to go back to my van for a sleep in readiness to do it all again in the morning!

Grey Plover (summer plumage)
Normally you can drive all the way down to the Lighthouse at Spurn but with the track down to the point being closed at the moment (due to running repairs caused by erosion) it puts off all but the most determined from walking the 3 miles down to the tip, so at that time in the evening I had the reserve almost to myself. I was thus almost alone on this magical spit of land and rewarded with some super fly pasts of mainly Grey Plover and Dunlin coming into roost plus a super close Pererine Falcon hunting for the former mentioned waders. No pic of the falcon sadly (it was too quick and I was too enthralled) but as dusk gathered I got a reasonable pic (above) of one of the many Grey Plovers now in glorious Summer plumage.

A couple of Little Terns flew over late on, a new bird for me this year, to compliment sightings of both Arctic and Common Terns; there were several Whitethroats calling from the Buckthorn bushes and a late passage of maybe 100+ Barn Swallows plus singing Sedge and Reed Warblers just outside the van all bode well for the morning, as did this migrant Wheatear that I watched in off the sea and land on a notice board at dusk.

Thursday morning alarm set at 04.45 and I awoke in situ at Spurn after a super comfy night's sleep in the van ... this is the life!
I walked the full length of point there and back (with several detours this must have been 10 miles!) but I was rewarded by my first UK Red Rumped Swallow, in amongst what must have been 1000 plus Barn Swallows migrating up the coastline. One or two Sand Martins and House Martins in there too .... Spurn really is the best for watching visible migration! I was a bit unsure whether to claim the Red Rumped after calling in at the observatory office and finding out that no other watchers had seen one but after some research I noticed that one was recorded off the Lincolnshire coast on the same day and in the same time frame, so I'm 'avin it!

Apart from the obvious Swallow migration going on there a huge amount going on but I did have 4 Swifts beating down the headland and a Marsh Harrier heading northwards. In the bushes there was at least 1 singing Lesser Whitethroat along with at least 25 Common Whitethroats that seem to have arrived en mass on our shores over the past few days. Here's my best of the day as far as that particular species goes .....

Wheatear (male)

This male Wheatear was showing well and I especially liked his choice of perching posts! Have to say though they were few and far between at Spurn, strange that, especially given the huge numbers recorded around the York area recently.

Pied Flycatcher

Skulking around in the middle bit of Spurn near to the Chalk Bank hide I flushed out a nice male Pied Flycatcher and got a reasonable shot before it disappeared into the bushes again.

A bit further along I flushed out another iconic Spurn migrant from the chalk bank - a Short Eared Owl. Both are declining massively as breeding birds in the UK so any glimpse as they pass on their way to less disturbed places are to be savoured!

Short Eared Owl

The great thing about Spring passage, especially in May, is that although you might not get the huge numbers of migrating birds as you do in Autumn, you do get to see birds in their Sunday best breeding plumage. I spotted a nice male Whinchat down by the coastguard station that was looking absolutely resplendent as it hopped about on the harbour wall. (pic right)

Most of the waders I saw were also looking good, especially the Bar Tailed Godwits and Turnstones. Several passing Whimbrel about too and whilst its a stretch to view them as colourful and attractive, their annual passing through these parts en route to more Northerly latitudes to breed is always eagerly anticipated.

Bar Tailed Godwit


..........and, common they may be, but you can't fail to be impressed by massed ranks of Oystercatchers all looking smart and eager to breed!

Magical Spurn Point .... I may squeeze in another trip out before the end of May but if not I'm looking forward to spending some quality time there in the Autumn when the place comes into its own as the premier birding hotspot in the UK for watching migrating  birds.