Search This Blog

Friday, December 19, 2014

Winter begins around the Yorkshire Wolds... tricky thrushes, cunning hawks and peckers out of the window!

 At last a taste of real Winter .... early morning frosts, crisp sunshine and biting winds. I don't mind the first two bits of weather and just as well there hasn't been too much of the latter, I don't do wind of any sort!

Stoat_Cot Nab


So, with a road trip to Spain almost upon me, Otters in my back yard (so to speak) and some recording studio work to complete I've stayed very local and just tried to get a feel for December around my bit of the Yorkshire Wolds.

Scanning the beck at Fangfoss nearly every day in the hope of seeing those Otters again has proved predictably fruitless but I did get another mammalian shot recently - a nice Stoat during a splendid morning walk around Cot Nab and Swingling Moor.

Swingling Moor
Swingling Moor


I don't think I'm alone in finding both of our most attractive winter thrushes, Redwings and Fieldfares, seriously tricky to photograph. It was the same last year and I recall getting quite frustrated by their tendency to perch nicely but always just beyond reach of the lens!

Faired a bit better this year I think, mainly because they're all over the hedgerows here at Fangfoss so you can't miss them. Don't make em any easier though! This is a reasonable handful out of more than a hundred discards...



Redwings seem to be even skittier, the slightest movement of lens towards the bird and they're off!

This little bunch are all distance shots, and to my mind might as well have been digi scoped such is the poor quality, but at least the light was good on all 3

Redwing_Little Beck Woods


Seriously need to consider upgrading or getting a second hand 'full frame' camera with a faster shutter speed to stand me a better chance of sharper images when birds are in flight. Too many of my 'bird flying' pics have those annoying blurry wing tips goddammit!
No wing tip movement from this startlingly good looking male Yellowhammer I managed to get the other day though....


What a beauty!

Not as immediately striking perhaps but smart nonetheless, closely related Reed Buntings are relatively scarce around here but there are quite a few around the numerous becks that run through many of the Wold valleys, this was one of several hanging around the natural springs near Bishop Wilton.

 Reed Bunting_Whitekeld Dyke
 Not a winter visitor as such but our UK numbers of Reed Buntings are swelled by continental birds at this time of the year. Golden Plovers are a totally different type of bird and one I always associate with cold weather days. These 'plump' waders form vast flocks across our remaining grasslands as they move in for the Winter. Although they do breed in upland areas of the UK (including the Yorkshire Dales and Moors) many more come here from the Arctic tundra and the way this smallish flock (there were 65 in total) flew in from a north easterly direction and settled in a winter wheat field on the highest point of the Wolds, maybe that's just where they'd come from ... they did look knackered!
 Golden Plover_Bishop Wilton Wold (Garrowby Top)

 Golden Plover_Bishop Wilton Wold (Garrowby Top)
 Common Buzzard_Fangfoss

My local Buzzards are looking as menacing as ever.... commonly photographed by all and sundry these days they still have the power to thrill me and always provide a challenge in terms of that perfect 'hawk shot'. This isn't it by any stretch of imagination but I decided to track this one and my patience was rewarded with a nice stoop shot .......
..........and some unusual images of the same bird hunting low down behind trees. Suitably 'menacing' I thought.

Back at the ranch and preparing lunch one day I got my first good pics using the Van as a hide. I heard a Great Spotted Woodpecker calling, one of a pair that hang around the site but right at the top of the trees behind my van. So these are out of my back window ...  
Great Spotted Woodpecker_Fangfoss Park

On the up apparently are GSPeckers, not sure why but any increase in woodpecker numbers is jolly good order and I just love that splash of red ... always reminds me of a coat I bought for a girlfriend many years ago in exactly the same shade of red!

 Great Spotted Woodpecker_Fangfoss Park

Ok! So that's my brief little round up of Winter fare around these parts, nothing out of the ordinary perhaps but I've really appreciated this corner of rural East Yorks, its wonderful wildlife and landscapes, and having this fabulous caravan site ( Fangfoss Caravan Park) as a base for the past 3 months has been a real bonus.... that's gotta be worth £50 off my ground rent for next year Simon!

So now its Spain a go go! I'm all ready, have everything I need and want for the trip except, bizarrely, my passport...don't ask, its a long story and it involves overblown bureaucracy, so very boring and it wont stop me ... Southwards here we go! Oh and Merry Christmas everyone!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Otter Surprise!

Apparently Otters are now present on the water courses of every county in the UK and back to something like their historic numbers before river pollution and agricultural pesticides in the post war years nearly wiped them out. Now, thanks to steady and sustained improvements in water quality and the use of less harmful pesticides over the past couple of decades, the chances of coming across these charming and iconic creatures on our waterways have vastly improved.

On the Western coasts of Scotland they have adapted to become semi marine and are relatively easy to see on the rocky beaches and secluded inlets up there, but in the rest of the UK, although more numerous, they remain elusive and its a real treat when you come across one. Well was I treated a couple of mornings ago or what! On my local patch here at Fangfoss Park on the Spittal Beck I'd just grabbed a new bird for the site, a Kingfisher darting down the beck, and then some dark shapes in the water caught my eye. For the next 20 minutes I was utterly transfixed, treated and smiled upon by the photographic gods as 2 Otters (cubs I think) played around on the beckside and swam in the water directly in front of me!

Less nattering from me, here's the pics more or less in sequence. My only slight regret is that I didn't get more of the 2 of them together but hey I won't see these delightful animals again at such close quarters for a very long time, so I have to be very satisfied with these images.

I'd welcome any suggestions about age/ sex but I'm guessing that these are relatively young cubs exploring. They're sighted often on both the Pocklington Canal and the River Derwent both of which this beck connects to in a roundabout sort of way, so maybe they've come upstream looking for potential breeding grounds?

Been down several times since in the hope of catching them again and every time the beck is 'utterly Otterless' and I tell myself  'wow you were lucky there Timbo!' .... right time, right place and I don't expect to see them again any time soon!

Want some great places to see Otters? Locally Tophill Low, Wheldrake Ings, Staveley and the aforementioned Pocklington Canal are all worth watching as well as these national sites - Great places to see Otters

Sunday, November 23, 2014

No Movember for me but once again flocks of birds settle on the upper lip of the UK ....Starlings galore, posing finches and massing thrushes!

I should never be surprised of course but wow are these nights drawing in now, and with cool winds whipping around my legs en route to the shower block of a morning and murky skies overhead from 2.00pm onwards, my thoughts are rapidly turning to my next big road trip! Same general direction as last year - South and some winter Spanish sun, but a full 3 months this time Jan - March so less frenetic and probably centred around the Ebro Delta and Costa Blanca for most of the time. I simply cannot wait!

Having said that I'll kinda miss my temporary little patch of East Yorkshire here at Fangfoss Station but unless I find somewhere better next year I'll be back in April to see what this most perfect of green lanes produces in the Spring. I'm unlikely to turn up a rarity here (though there's always a chance) but for traditional UK countryside birds I think it's exceptional, and with resident birds such as Skylark, Yellowhammer, Grey Partridge, Common Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, Tree Sparrow, Song Thrush and Green Woodpecker to name but a few, and all in good numbers, within spitting distance of my motorhome there's never a dull day; oh and then there's the owls that I hear every single night.... Tawny, Barn and Little Owls - just fab! So good in fact that apart from a brief trips to Tophill Low & Hatfield Moor, I haven't strayed much recently.
Fangfoss Station Lane ... centrepiece of my patch

Male Bullfinch, Fangfoss

A bird I didn't mention above was our very own Bullfinch. Now I love these sizeable finches but boy are they shy and a nightmare to photograph ... never had a full frame decent pic and still haven't but there are up to half a dozen around here feeding on the mast heads of last season's Rosebay Willowherb and with a steady hand and not a little bit of stalking I've managed some very reasonable distance shots over the last couple of days when the morning light has been at its best.... here's a selection of pics

Female of the species
finch, showy, bright, northern, perched, seed eater
Male Bullfinch

.......... and this male seemed particularly showy!


Not the sharpest by any means but the only half decent of both Mr and Mrs Bullfinch at lunch together .... typically showy male!

The early morning light was almost too bright lending more of an 'orangey' tinge to the male's normal rosy red breast.

Absolute corkers some of those male Bullfinches and its great to see little flocks of them around here. No less colourful are the many Yellowhammers around here (flocks of 50+ are not uncommon down this one lane), and this little chappie was nicely framed by the Hawthorne bush he was perched in.



passage,migration, Yorkshire Wolds, winter visitor
Fieldfare en route overhead!

The Fieldfares and Redwings that were initially slow to arrive on our shores this Autumn are now well and truly here on our bushes and consuming our berries! This one is a Fieldfare and one of many I took a week or so ago when big flocks were making landfall on the coast and then streaming in over the Yorkshire Wolds along with Northern Song Thrushes and Blackbirds that swell our UK resident populations in Winter.

Song Thrush, one of many new arrivals in the lane

November is not only the best time of year to grow a moustache (I've declined again), it's also one of the best months of the year to catch up with and see big numbers of a variety of common birds. Why? Because in flocks they can work together to find food and gain safety from predators by being part of a big crowd!

Tits, finches and thrushes do this all the time in Winter as a survival mechanism and many other small bird species will often join in the crowd to take advantage of this mass foraging behaviour. This is why you will often see the odd Treecreeper, Goldcrest, Nuthatch or if you're very lucky a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker in amongst a 'Tit band' of Long Tailed, Blue and Great Tits .... there's a Lesser Pecker doing just this at Adel Dam, nr Leeds at the moment!

Moving away from my patch but sticking with the 'common bird' theme here's some atmospheric Starlings nr Hatfield Moor the other evening as they were coming into roost ... me n Mark had close on 5000 massing birds around telegraph wires and although the light was abysmal the results were ok.

Massing Common Starlings, nr Hatfield Moor

Arty Starlings

............ magical and always a thrill to witness, hear and feel such events.

Maybe only a mini 'murmuration' by national standards but awesome all the same and with a bit of tampering in photoshop, the artistic possibilities are endless!

tophill low, male, flight, yorkshire
Male Marsh Harrier, Tophill Low
......and to round things off, an impromptu visit to Tophill Low nature reserve, nr Beverley whilst I was en route to Hull with Rob for a musical chill sesh, brought a nice male Marsh Harrier shot and in the briefest of good light some splendid Shoveller ducks ... just a shame that none of the 70 or so Goldeneye that were also about didn't come into a similar range!
Male Shoveller, Tophill Low
Shovellers, Tophill Low

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Great Givendale morning walk, Fieldfares coming in and yet more Fungi

One of the more diverse and scenery rich areas of the Yorkshire Wolds, Great Givendale is now on my doorstep and with the weather set fine (for the morning at least) and some favourable winds for perhaps a bit of long overdue winter thrush passage I decided this morning to heave myself out at the crack of dawn for a tramp around.
Great Givendale
Ridings Beck
Some fantastic late Autumn colours on show as you can clearly see; less than clear were the numerous natural springs that feed the becks around here which in turn feed into the Rivers Foss and Ouse. I was hoping to locate at least one of these 'bubbling puddles' I'd pinpointed on the map but to no avail so had to make do with a couple of pics of the Ridings Beck, one of the many chalk streams that are such a unique a unique feature of this landscape.

Ridings Beck
A glorious morning and a lovely walk, not much happening in the bird world apart from some pleasing numbers of Skylarks in the air, the odd finch flock and a few Common Buzzards,but these days I'm not just a birdwatcher and my Autumn fascination for fungi continues and as I scanned these chalky slopes these big beauties almost dazzled me ..... Common Puffballs

Common Puffballs
Slippery Jack

and these are common too but freshly emerged Slippery Jacks looks as good as anything pushing up from the earth

Slippery Jack
 Finally, as the skies darkened and I was retracing my steps back to the car and looking forward to coffee and a bite to eat I caught something out of the corner of my eye, looked up and bingo - a flock of about 70 birds heading in from the Northeast and my biggest flock of Fieldfares this Autumn
Fieldfares coming in over the Yorkshire Wolds
...... mission accomplished!