Thursday, 25 February 2010

RSPB Deserted

All Today's Record Shots (c) 2010 Phil Hargreaves
Marsh Harrier
Yet another dingy day, but at least the mist lifted before the morning session started, and it didn't set in again until the afternoon session had concluded. We don't normally visit this RSPB reserve at this time of the year, so are used to a packed car park and little elbow room in the hides. We were the only people there for a couple of hours, and the car park had very few cars in it apart from our own. The bird of the day was a Bittern which flew out of a reedbed in front of Singleton & then flew across the whole of the reedbed giving good and prolonged flight views. There were also 3 Marsh Harriers in flight at the same time here, and we probably saw another 2 birds later on. The Snipe gave good views right from the start with a single at Marshland followed by more than 24 at Xerox. The Wigeon in the afternoon came really close, almost the closest we've ever seen wild Wigeon. A swift flock of 30+ Dunlin drew appreciative whoops from a couple of keen York birders, much to our surprise. But then maybe they don't see Dunlin too often in the centre of York! We also had some excellent views of a Barn Owl in the afternoon. At high tide more waders were seen at Ousefleet, but mainly Lapwing with 20 or so Curlew & a handful of Dunlin. Also present: Reed Bunting, Chaffinch, Tree Sparrow, Kestrel, Teal, Pochard, Tufties, Shelduck, Shoveler, Gadwall, Pheasant, Heron, Canada Goose & Greylag Geese. Passerines were only present in small numbers with Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock and a singing Skylark swelling the tally of these. The paths were in a shocking, filthy state, so if you are visiting take appropriate footwear!

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Warmest Day of the Year

All pics for today's post (c) 2010 Tony Robinson
Grey Partridge
It was rather a misty start, but it was actually relatively warm – certainly the warmest visit to this site this year! Miles & Tony saw 2 Grey Partridges on the way to the location, but then we saw hardly anything on the long walk to the viewpoint. The light was pretty poor, but we did see 2 Barn Owls in the morning, and 2 views of a female Marsh Harrier in the afternoon. A flock of 18 Curlew flew down on to the saltmarsh, and then back to the inter-tidal area. One of the first birds we saw when we popped our heads over the floodbank was a Grey Plover, and there were several of these, plus both species of Godwit. Miles reckoned that there were 80+ Godwits, but we could only differentiate the species in flight – because of the distance and bad light involved. There were a couple of Ringed Plovers, and occasionally flocks of swift-flying Golden Plovers scythed the air as they flew to and away from the Humber estuary. Also, seen as the tide came in: Wigeon, Knot, Dunlin, Teal, Oystercatcher, Curlew. A Snipe was flushed from the floodbank, and at least 24 Skylarks were feeding among the samphire. Other passerines visible were: Reed Buntings, Starlings, Wrens, Meadow Pipits & Pied Wagtail. Back towards the car park at lunch time were a flock of c.20 Greylag Geese containing 2 Pinkfeet. We also saw at least 10 Roe Deer and a Hare, whilst Sally got a brief glimpse of a small mammal crossing our path. Our final visit to this location for a while.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010


Triple Stags
Small Scrap
Red Deer Stag
Record shot of a Wren
Oak Apple Galls
The weather forecast was for a very bright morning and a cloudier afternoon. You won't be surprised to learn that the morning was cloudy, but we did have a couple of bright spells in the afternoon. The dull morning probably affected the quality of birdsong, though we did have brief views of a Nuthatch and a Treecreeper. We saw Long-tailed Tits & a Great Spotted Woodpecker (pm), but there weren't that many small passerines. The morning group saw a Jay, whilst the afternoon session had good views of a handsome male Kestrel. The feeding station was full of common birds in the morning after the Squirrels had been frightened off, [even a Goldcrest turned up in the trees around it] but it was virtually deserted in the afternoon. The deer weren't fed until both groups had finished, but they did mistake us for their bringers of food, so both sessions got good views of them. The 'white hart' was easier to see in the afternoon. Hopefully, a sunnier day in the next few weeks will bring out the alleged Lesser Spotted Woodpecker & the Little Owl!

Monday, 22 February 2010


Curlew (female)
Curlew (male)
Heard amazing reports of the wildlife in the South Holderness area yesterday: Hen Harrier, Short-eared Owl, 40+ Yellowhammers, 50+ Roe Deer etc. I didn't fancy getting bone-chillingly cold on a rare day off, so went to see if I could photograph anything interesting from the car. I didn't see any exciting raptors, but the Yellowhammers were there, though flighty, and the deer were around, but distant. There were nearly 100 Wigeon in Fisherman's Channel, but again too far for decent pics. The only birds close enough for photography were the above Curlews. Not the most dynamic subject, but pleased to get close to these quite wary birds, and also to point out the differences between the genders. There was also one Lapwing right by the side of the road, but a cyclist was approaching, so there was no point getting ready to snap, as she was bound to spook the bird.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Causing a Disturbance

Dying Roe Deer
Barn Owl
This session was originally planned as the first Friday session of the new term, when it was especially timed to coincide with the high tide at lunch time, so both am & pm groups would benefit from the proximity of the waders. For some reason, we were snowed off! Unfortunately, this re-arranged event meant that high tide was c.8.30 in the morning – both sessions missed it. Wader monitoring was taking place & they recorded (if my memory serves) c.2000 Bar-tailed Godwits & c.140 Black-tailed Godwits, and in addition, the ornithologists logged a male Hen Harrier, 2 Short-eared Owls, 20 Twite, and a Little Egret. Needless to say, none of the raptors were seen by either of my groups, but the pm group were able to add a distant Merlin, as we travelled to the venue. Both sessions saw a group of dark, bouncing finches, which were probably the Twite – we managed to count 49 on the wires, but could see no details of plumage & couldn’t hear them either, so we can’t really say we definitely saw Twite. The views of the waders weren’t brilliant in the light conditions, but we did see Grey Plover, confiding Knot (5) & a single Dunlin. The morning was interrupted by the sight of a bedraggled Roe Deer, which we were told had a leg hanging off, and the nearest farmer was being searched for to put it out of its misery. The morning also had a distant Peregrine heading towards Kilnsea. I was invited to enjoy my most sophisticated lunch hour since I’ve been doing this course – very enjoyable! In the afternoon we did have 2 Little Egrets and better views of the waders, as well as some converse with a Lesser Spotted Ornithologist. He had more sense than us & was viewing the birds from the comfort & warmth of a car! I didn’t want to ruin the wader monitoring, but we hadn’t yet enjoyed any good views of the waders, so I asked if it was OK for us to walk back on the floodbank with the sun behind us. Luckily, the man from Del Monte, he say yes – he would just put us down as a disturbance!!! We wouldn’t have had the good views of the Knot, Dunlin or Brent Geese without his forebearance – thanks! A last minute Barn Owl lifted the spirits of the by now windswept and shivering crew.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

A Day of 2 Halves

All pics today (c) 2010 Maurice Gordon
Mute Swan
In the morning we went to a reedbed, whilst in the afternoon we visited an unusual wetland/agricultural habitat. The Shovelers were definitely getting ready for the breeding season with groups of 4 or 5 drakes pressurizing single females. Duck numbers have begun to increase after the thawing of the ice, and there were also plenty of Teal, Gadwall, Pochard and Friday afternooners. However, the Snipe usually present at this reserve were still absent, as were drake Goldeneyes. We enjoyed good views of Bullfinches, and there was a Long-tailed Tit on the feeders, plus several other species. Unfortunately, the 3 Marsh Harriers, present last week, only put in an appearance at lunch time, as did a Heron and a Cormorant. It was very overcast in the afternoon, so I didn’t hold out too much hope for the raptors, but participants saw Buzzards on the way to the venue, and one of the first birds spotted was a Marsh Harrier very close to the car park. Later there was a terrific storm of Linnet noise in a hedge, which heralded the appearance of a Kestrel. However, apart from a reappearance of the Marsh Harrier, that was the last of the birds of prey seen. In addition to the 30+ Linnets we saw a flock of nearly 10 Yellowhammers, and Brian spotted a pair of flying Cormorants and a solitary Heron. We were able to see the potential of this site, and hope future visits will coincide with more amenable weather conditions.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Only 36+ Species

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Tree Sparrow Chaffinch
It was quite a misty start today, so the birds were hard to see at first. However, we did have a Barn Owl in South Scrub, and a Kingfisher flew off into the gloom when the flaps of one hide were opened. Through the mist Tony some how managed to spot a Redhead Smew, which the afternoon group failed to relocate, even though the visibility had improved considerably. However, we could manage to make out the silhouette of 2 female Goosanders at the far side of the reservoir. A Treecreeper sang to us, as we tried to discern the sawbills, and later gave good views. We saw 2 Herons in the morning and a Lapwing, whilst the afternoon group had 5 Redshanks. We did quite well with Bullfinches; 2 along O reservoir munching on Larch buds; another 2 at North Lagoon, which may have been the same 2, which turned up later behind the visitor centre. Susan from the Weds group heard another one in D Woods, when she stayed behind for the afternoon. Despite the 36+ species seen today, it was a bit of an anti-climax after last week's more spectacular afternoon birds.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Pleasant Surprise

Buzzard - sat like ours, on a post
(c) 2010 Marcus Conway
Greylag Geese
Hazel Catkins
I was a bit worried about this morning's session, as I'd been warned the venue only came alive when the raptors appeared during the afternoon. However, the 20+ Skylarks singing in the bright morning sunshine soon dispelled any misgivings. There were also almost 20 Hares all around us, including 9 in one field, and after chasing each other for several minutes they did indulge in a brief bit of boxing. The raptors weren't thick on the ground, with just a Kestrel, and a Sparrowhawk, and 4 Buzzards soaring over a small copse. However, in the afternoon one spotted by Les, posed for quite a while and allowed us to approach fairly close. Some of the fields were under water, and here we saw Mute Swans, Greylag Geese, Shelduck, Teal and in the afternoon heard Wigeon. Herons flew past in both sessions, whilst the afternoon also added a Little Egret. There were plenty of finches with Chaffinches being the main species, but we also saw Goldfinches, Linnets, and then Reed Buntings & Yellowhammers, plus a small flock of Tree Sparrows. An inquisitive buck Roe Deer was another morning highlight. We had to abandon the afternoon session just before the raptors were due to swarm over the rough grassland, as a heavy shower moved in sharply!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Friday - Just Another Day at the Office

Blue Tit
Chaffinch - & pesky twig
Bullfinch - & loads of pesky twigs!
Record pic of a Kingfisher
After 2 days with either exceptional birds and behaviour, Friday was more like a bump down to earth. You can probably never have a really poor days birding at this location apart from during high summer, but nothing was really unexpected, and some of the standards weren't visible. However, the Kingfisher was a highlight for the morning group, plus good views of the birds photographed. The afternoon session had an excellent sighting of a wild Jay! In addition we did see Redpolls, Siskins, and loads of Bullfinches, but no Bittern, Jay or Lesser Spotted Woodpecker. Friday was actually the first time this year that my 7 layers were too much - it did get a little hot in the sunshine!

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Mal's Favourite Site

Hen Harrier (c) 2010 Vince Cowell
Barn Owl
Barn Owl
Barn Owl
Brent Geese
Brent Geese
Bar-tailed Godwit
Black-tailed Godwit
We popped over to Mal Skelton's recently-discovered favourite site, and saw plenty of species. Unfortunately, the female Hen Harrier and the SEO let us down, but the male Hen Harrier put in a very lengthy performance this afternoon, as it traversed a fringe of vegetation to the north east of where we were situated, passed us to the east before it came across west of where we stood, before he headed off south. It was a "lifer" for most participants, and was a big plus for the afternoon. The Barn Owl was probably the best bird in the morning, and provided the perfect climax, as it flew towards the group, only veering away at the last moment. It then managed to catch a small mammal, and avoided the kleptoparasatism of a vigilant Kestrel. There were plenty of waders, incl. both species of Godwit, Grey Plovers, Curlew, Redshank, plus some confiding Dunlin & Knot. The 5 Yellowhammers near the car park provided a fitting climax to the afternoon. The light was excellent for virtually the first time this year!

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Raptor Rapture

Star of this Afternoon's Class
Short-eared Owl (c) 2010 Marcus Conway
Marsh Harrier [male] - with water droplets
Marsh Harrier - male - with gleam in eye
Marsh Harrier (c) 2010 Tony Robinson
Marsh Harrier [female]
Long-tailed Tit
Reed Bunting
Black-headed Gull - injured, and dying?
It was a day of excitement in the 1st ten minutes & in the last 15 minutes with yawning gaps of nothingness inbetween, or am I romancing? 3 Marsh Harriers gave great value for money as they danced over an area of reedbed. There were 2 males and 1 female, and they were either fighting over the favours of the female, or sparring over a specific area of reedbed. We heard a Cetti's Warbler singing in the distance, and some alarm calls of another closer to our viewpoint, but we failed to see either of them. We carried on round the reserve, and saw a variety of wildlfowl, but probably less than you expect at this time of year. One highlight was a flock of c.20 Wigeon on the Humber. I had my lunch next to the feeders, and managed close views of most of the usual suspects, but didn't see the Willow Tit. The afternoon class went to a new location, and for the 1st hour or so, we hardly saw a single species, although we did have a Kestrel as we drove to the car park, and a Marsh Harrier as we were about to start. Later, we saw a flock of Redshank, some distant Lapwings, and finally a Buzzard near the railway line, but very little on the way back to the cars. We waited for a snow shower to abate, and then walked along a drain bank. We saw some distant Reed Buntings, plenty of Magpies, some Carrion Crows, and a pair of Mute Swans, but very little else. Some of the morning group who came on to this site had a brief glimpse of a Snipe, and though I heard one in the afternoon we couldn't spot it. We were on the way back and it looked as though we were heading for a miserable 2.5 out of 10, but we watched a male Kestrel flying low over the rough grassland. The Kestrel didn't appear to be carrying any prey, but a Short-eared Owl burst out of the grass and gave chase. The Owl then lunged for the falcon, which twisted & turned to try to escape, but the Owl kept up its chase for several minutes. Once the chase was over the owl settled on a fencepost at the edge of a conifer plantation. It then permitted us to get closer, until everyone had a fantastic view of all its plumage detail. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the car during the snow storm, so I'm extremely grateful to Marcus Conway for allowing me to use his SEO to illustrate this blog entry. Hope our future visits to this site will be as exciting. Carol's final session mark: 11 out of 10!