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Friday, September 20, 2013

Overnighter at Flamborough Head ... Kestrel cameo, close up little waders and a night on the cliffs!

Quick overnight trip up to Flamborough Head to sort out a house sit this week was pleasing enough though it did rain a lot and there wasn't much doing bird wise ... plenty of Gannets moving North & South off the Head itself plus a few Common Scoter, Meadow Pipits in off the sea and a single Arctic Skua and Red Throated Diver was all I could manage. Clearing skies and a burst of evening sunshine made a brief visit to South Landing, the site of Yorkshire Wildlife's splendid Living Seas Centre, made the trip worthwhile though.

I went a bit snap happy with a female Kestrel that was hunting along the cliff top .... not all as sharp as I wanted but considering that the majority of my images are hand held shots, not bad. So here's my hunting Kestrel cameo .....
Kestrel series1, South Landing, Flamborough

Kestrel series2, South Landing, Flamborough
Kestrel series3, South Landing, Flamborough

Kestrel series4, South Landing, Flamborough
Kestrel series5, South Landing, Flamborough

Kestrel series6, South Landing, Flamborough
Kestrel series7, South Landing, Flamborough

Kestrels are one of our most masterful of birds, sadly on a bit of a decline at the moment, they're synonymous with the British countryside and we've all seen them hovering by the roadside. Its those funny 'sticky out' feathers on their forewings (called alula or bastard wings and easy to see on the above pics) that enable them to hover in the sky as they scan the ground for prey... anything from small voles to earthworms.

Back on the shoreline, the tide was well up and the amongst the small selection of waders probing around I was intrigued by one that was noticeably bigger than the half dozen or so Dunlins ... frustratingly it didn't hang about but when it flew off I saw no white rump which would have made it a Curlew Sandpiper ... damn it could have been a Pectoral Sandpiper. No time for a pic either ... damn... another one gets away!

Got some nice close ups of Dunlin and Turnstone though .... all turning into Winter plumage but all looking good in the evening light
Turnstone, South Landing, Flamborough
Dunlin, South Landing, Flamborough

Dunlin2, South Landing, Flamborough

Juv Eider Duck, South Landing, Flamborough

Out to sea there was a single Eider Duck, looked like a young one to me ... not the best of pics but at least the sea looks good!

The Van.... Thornwick Bay, Flamborough


And so, after a meal and a couple of pints in Flamborough village, time for bed ... and ok it rained all night but what a place to wake up in the morning.....

Looks like I'll be doing a house sit in a lovely little cottage looking after 3 lovely cats mid October .... peak time for winter birds coming in...should be good!

Friday, September 13, 2013

1st Annual Bird Migration Festival, AKA Mig Fest attracts vagrants from all over the UK!

You simply cannot beat Spurn Point for visible bird migration and I got my latest dose just this w/e where I was helping out with 1st Annual Migration Festival held there. Judging by the success of the event it will certainly run again next year and well worth making a note to watch their web page for details of next year's event.

Over 250 punters from all over the UK were treated to a hatful of migrants as well as enjoying the many guided nature & history walks, bird ringing & moth trapping sessions, photography classes and much more. The guided tours around the old Victorian lighthouse were especially popular and not without incident (one of our staff somehow managed to get herself locked in for half an hour!) and the evening talks on bird migration were as good on the old brain cells as the hog roast was on the taste buds!

Me, I was recruiting again both days ... so not much chance to get involved in the activities, but it was good fun, I met loads of interesting people, picked up some really good tips for future destinations and of course signed plenty up to the YWT!

Ok birders, this is the complete species list for the w/e
  • Mute Swan
  • Shelduck
  • Wigeon
  • Gadwall
  • Teal
  • Mallard
  • Pintail
  • Garganey
  • Shoveler
  • Tufted Duck
  • Scaup
  • Eider
  • Common Scoter
  • Pheasant
  • Red-throated Diver
  • Little Grebe
  • Great Crested Grebe
  • Red-necked Grebe
  • Fulmar
  • Sooty Shearwater
  • Manx Shearwater
  • Balearic Shearwater
  • Leach’s Petrel
  • Gannet
  • Cormorant
  • Shag
  • Little Egret
  • Grey Heron
  • Marsh Harrier
  • Sparrowhawk
  • Common Buzzard
  • Kestrel
  • Hobby
  • Peregrine
  • Water Rail
  • Moorhen
  • Coot
  • Oystercatcher
  • Little Ringed Plover
  • Ringed Plover
  • Golden Plover
  • Grey Plover
  • Lapwing
  • Knot
  • Sanderling
  • Little Stint
  • Curlew Sandpiper
  • Purple Sandpiper
  • Dunlin
  • Ruff
  • Snipe
  • Black-tailed Godwit
  • Bar-tailed Godwit
  • Whimbrel
  • Curlew
  • Spotted Redshank
  • Redshank
  • Greenshank
  • Green Sandpiper
  • Common Sandpiper
  • Turnstone
  • Pomarine Skua
  • Arctic Skua
  • Bonxie
  • Mediterranean Gull
  • Little Gull
  • Black-headed Gull
  • Common Gull
  • Lesser B.B.Gull
  • Yellow-legged Gull
  • Caspian Gull
  • Herring Gull
  • Great B.B.Gull
  • Kittiwake
  • Sandwich Tern
  • Roseate Tern
  • Common Tern
  • Arctic Tern
  • Black Tern
  • Guillemot
  • Razorbill
  • Puffin
  • Feral Pigeon
  • Stock Dove
  • Woodpigeon
  • Collared Dove
  • Cuckoo
  • Swift
  • Kingfisher
  • Wryneck
  • Skylark
  • Sand Martin
  • Swallow
  • House Martin
  • Tree Pipit
  • Meadow Pipit
  • Rock Pipit
  • Yellow Wagtail
  • Grey Wagtail
  • Pied Wagtail
  • Wren
  • Dunnock
  • Robin
  • Redstart
  • Whinchat
  • Wheatear
  • Blackbird
  • Song Thrush
  • Grasshopper Warbler
  • Sedge Warbler
  • Reed Warbler
  • Lesser Whitethroat
  • Whitethroat
  • Garden Warbler
  • Blackcap
  • Chiffchaff
  • Willow Warbler
  • Spotted Flycatcher
  • Pied Flycatcher
  • Blue Tit
  • Great Tit
  • Red-backed Shrike
  • Magpie
  • Rook
  • Carrion Crow
  • Starling
  • House Sparrow
  • Tree Sparrow
  • Chaffinch
  • Greenfinch
  • Goldfinch
  • Linnet
  • Common Rosefinch
  • Reed Bunting

Juv Red Backed Shrike, Spurn, Sept 2013

134 species in 2 days, with some notable highlights to Spurn (in bold) and with weather not particularly conducive to migration (it was warm and still for the most part) represents a cracking haul. Many visitors left with several 'lifers' and although, like many before me, I missed out on some of the good birds, I did get to see this juv Red Backed Shrike quite a lot while I was working Wells Field.

I so wanted to glimpse the Wryneck, such an enigmatic and curious bird and one I see all too rarely these days. Its one of the woodpeckers but you wouldn't necessarily know that if you're lucky enough to see one on migration. The person who took this one at Spurn over the w/e deserves a medal, its a cracking shot (looking so 'lizard like!) lifted from the Spurn Facebook page along with plenty of other great pics from the festival.

Wryneck, Spurn, Sept 2013

I stayed on at Spurn after the festival for a few days and although the weather took a real turn for the worst with cloudy skies, rain and gale force winds (sounds lovely doesn't it but this actually better for visible migration), there were plenty of bright spots and I was not unrewarded.

Willow Warbler, Spurn, Sept 2013

Up bright & early Monday morning and I was in the company of several Willow Warblers that had probably plopped in during the night plus a very confiding young Wheatear that had maybe done the same ... love the early morning light on these.

Lots of Willow Warblers and the closely related Chiff Chaffs moving through the UK at the moment ... look out for them in your garden, I've just had one in mine this morning.

Wheatear, Spurn, Sept 2013

Wheatear2, Spurn, Sept 2013

Young Swallows, Spurn, Sept 2013

Swallows, House Martins and the occasional Swift and Sand Martin were passing through all the time and some were obviously pleased to make landfall and a bit of Spurn rest n recuperation like these young Swallows huddled together for warmth.

This time of the year is great for seeing 'grounded' hirundines, they're often resting on the long journey South or just plain knackered!

Resting Swallow, Spurn, Sept 2013

Resting Swallow2, Spurn, Sept 2013

Whinchat (Imm), Spurn, Sept 2013


This was one of several Whinchats, a common migratory bird at Spurn but always nice to see on passage.

Roe Deer, Spurn, Sept 2013

Away from my feathered friends, lets not forget that Spurn is renowned for more than just birds. Both Fallow and Roe Deer are common on the reserve ... I did see a fine Fallow Deer whilst I was taking a break from recruiting, but sadly no camera to hand, but here's a couple of Roe Deer eyeing me up early one morning.

Spurn Point is good for butterflies & moths too of course, some of which are migrant, and there's a healthy recording set up here capturing close on 800 species of the old 'lepidoptra' over the years .. see here at Spurn Butterflies & Moths for more info.

Of those 800 or so I did see a Dark Green Fritillary (pic from a previous post here) cross over at the Warren on Sunday, a Small Heath, lots of 'Whites' and Tortoiseshells and a blue butterfly that at first looked liked a washed out Common Blue but on closer inspection turned out to be a Small Blue.

Small Heath, Spurn, Sept 2013

Tortoiseshell on Fleabane Blue, Spurn, Sept 2013

Small Blue
You can't bird watch long at Spurn before casting your eyes upon the 1000s of wader species that seem to be ever present here, especially in Autumn when this is one of the premier stop over places for these long distance travellers on their way down to Africa. 2 days here in Autumn is enough to grab almost all of the commonly seen waders in the UK.

One of the commonest here is also one of the most iconic... I'm talking Knots! They come in droves from their Arctic breeding grounds to rest up in the Wash and a fair proportion of those are very visible at Spurn. Often flocking together at high water tides in restless waves of grey, they move as one when flushed and form huge formations in the sky as they search for exposed mud to feed upon.

Here's one such flock, along with an interloping and very obvious Curlew, at Chalk Bank... the best place to see them at Spurn.

Knot flock at high tide plus a Curlew! Spurn, Sept 2013

........ and here's a classic wave of Knot, probably flushed by a passing raptor. This was only a part of the flock so lord knows how many there were, count em if you want but I reckoned close on 2000!

Knot flock, Spurn, Sept 2013

Knot downpour, Spurn, Sept 2013

A bit later in the afternoon and in some fairly dramatic weather conditions the whole flock of Knot plus many other waders were put up by a passing Merlin. Not sure if these pics do the scene much justice after the event because it all happened at some distance, but with thunder grey skies on one side of the peninsular and sunshine breaking through on the other the light was just awesome, and as the Knot descended in mass ranks from way up high they looked like giant snowflakes as they floated back down onto the sands ..... very poetically put Timbo!

Knot downpour2, Spurn, Sept 2013

Little Egrets, Spurn, Sept 2013

Pretty pleased with how those Knot pics came out and caught the moment but all a bit distant.

Here's a few 'closer' shots of common waders starting with these wind blown Little Egrets at dusk, relative and very welcome newcomers to our shores as breeding birds, there were 30+  present at Spurn over the w/e

Sanderlings are always fun to photograph and I find they produce a good picture, maybe because of the colourful shingle they inhabit!

Sanderling, Spurn, Sept 2013

Here's a couple of familiar fellahs for you, the ever reliable and vocal Curlew ... fairly ubiquitous around the Humber of course but when you get them in the right pose and the right light they rarely fail to please.

Curlews on the tideline, Spurn, Sept 2013
Even better when they're joined by wader friends! At the risk of being 'nerdy' this next shot is almost a field guide type picture of the different sizes of common waders. Here we have the same Curlews, plus 2 others, a Bar Tailed Godwit (next smallest) and a Knot (smallest).

Wader selection, Spurn, Sept 2013 - Curlew, Knot & Bar Tailed Godwit

Whimbrel with crab at dusk, Spurn, Sept 2013


Rubbish pic I admit, but it was my only Whimbrel shot. Low light and messed around with maybe a bit too much but hey this close relative of the Curlew was devouring a small crab right in front of me so its included here.

 Another evening picture to finish with and considering the rather inclement weather we had to bear midweek this was a rare sunset over the Humber and towards the oil refineries at Immingham .... industrial yes but pleasing enough as a parting shot.

Sunset over the Humber
Huge thank you's to all involved in this event .. well done to one of YWT's finest Adam Coyle and all the guys at Spurn Observatory for putting this together, it was megatastic, same again and more next year guys!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

2hrs of drama at Pond Hide, Wheldrake Ings

Ah! Wheldrake Ings, a truly awesome place that will be forever stamped in my mind as bird watching heaven! It was here, some 30+ years ago and armed with a 2nd hand pair of binoculars, that I rediscovered birding and turned away from the deviant excesses of youth and if, God forbid, I die tomorrow on the road to Spurn, I will likely haunt the place ... in a genial sort of way of course!

I've tramped around just about every square inch of the place in my time and likely as not been places I shouldn't have been, but at this time of the year there's only one place to be ... Pond Hide. I've sat in there, often alone, for hours on end sometimes and although you'll never get the numbers of birds that drop into equivalent local patches places like Blacktoft Sands or even Tophill Low, at this time of year there's always drama.

So here's an hour or 2 at Pond Hide on Sept 4th in pictures and in the good company of me old chum Mark Paine.

Black Tailed Godwit
Although the evening was warm, sultry even, with high cloud the light was never brilliant but ok for picking up the best of the waders ..... here's a pick n mix of waders  ...Black Tailed Godwit, Green Sandpiper, Snipe & Ruff.

Green Sandpiper

Pair of Snipes, Wheldrake Ings

Green Sandpiper2

Not sure about the Green Sand but pretty sure that the Godwits and Ruffs bred locally and not migrants. Same thing with the Common Snipes, declining nationally as a breeding bird but doing well at Wheldrake.

Fairly typical and 'so so' selection of waders for this time of year. No sign of the Great White Egret that hung around here for a few days last week but our patience was rewarded with a bit of Wheldrake drama over the last hour before the light went.

First off, one of the Grey Herons that had been stalking around suddenly got all animated and as we focused our bins on the commotion we realised what all the fuss was about .... it was grappling with a young Pike!
Grey Heron with Pike

Never have I seen a Heron grapple with anything this big! 
Grey Heron and Pike2
Grey Heron with Pike in gullet!
The fish was pretty well impaled but even so I fully expected it to somehow wriggle free .... certainly didn't expect to see such a monster swallowed whole ... but I was wrong!

Shortly afterwards there was yet more commotion when Marsh Harrier flew in and took something just beyond the bank. Looked like a young female to me.

Marsh Harrier, juv female?

Water Rail, Wheldrake Ings
In the decidedly murky light we were then treated to better than the usual views of a reasonably common bird here ... but all too often the view is of the 'arse end disappearing into reeds' type of the elusive Water Rail

Water Rail2, Wheldrake Ings

Roe Deer, Wheldrake Ings
Just time for something calm  ... a couple of Roe Deer, one of them a young un' walking on for an evening drink.

Roe Deer, Wheldrake Ings

Sometimes sitting in the hides at Wheldrake, or anywhere, can be a bit of a drag, but if you give it time, invariably something happens!

Last pic .... the old Windmill at Pond Hide at sunset.
Windmill at Pond Hide, Wheldrake Ings