Monday, 30 May 2011

Hot off the Press

In the "drought" of April and early May several unusual birds were seen in the garden, and all of these were taking advantage of the various water receptacles put out for birds. For a few minutes on the 18th of April a Reed Warbler was observed in and around the area of the garden pond. This was the first of this species I've ever seen within a mile of the house, and seemed remarkable at the time, but more was still to come! The following week a pair of Whitethroats were visiting the garden pond several times a day, and they even appeared as if they would nest in a bramble bush near the prison wall. That same day a Lesser Whitethroat also appeared briefly on the hose-pipe near the pond. This wasn't as unusual as the Reed Warbler, as a Lesser Whitethroat, later identified as a Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat remained in the garden between 26th December 2008 and 19th April 2009. A Garden Warbler was noticeable for its absence, and was further evidence for the uselessness of its name! In the late evening of 29th April I spotted a dark thrush on the lawn with its back to me. It had noticeably silvery edges to its wings, and I could hardly believe what I was looking at, but sure enough the bird eventually turned, and it white crescent was clear to see. The bird spent about 15 minutes picking up pieces of suet under the bird feeders and then having a drink from the font. The following evening the bird returned when it was also seen having a bath in the font. The next day it was observed in the early morning taking advantage of a heavy dew by feeding on worms along with 7 male Blackbirds. The bird remained in the cemetery a few more days, but it wasn't seen to return to the garden.

I sent the photo of the Ring Ouzel to Birdwatching Magazine for their 'Your Bird Pictures' feature, but was then contacted by an employee. I informed him of what else we had seen and I was asked to send as many pictures as I had. The result is that 6 of the above pictures have been used to illustrate 'Under the Weather', an article about the results of the severe snowy weather in December followed by a very dry spring.

The June 2011 issue of Birdwatching Magazine

Ring Ouzel - the picture included in the magazine
Ring Ouzel about to drink from the font

Ring Ouzel by the edge of the pond

Ring Ouzel in the Blackbird's territory

Reed Warbler by the edge of the pond- the picture chosen

Reed Warbler - by the hosepipe

Reed Warbler - on the 'island' in the pond
Female Swallow - gathering mud in an upturned dustbin lid

Common Whitethroat, picture in the magazine - taken from kitchen window

Whitethroat - a few seconds later with crest feathers partially raised

Common Whitethroat at one of the drinking receptacles


["Central Asian"] Lesser Whitethroat, Jan 2010 - picture chosen for magazine

Lesser Whitethroat

[male] Great Spotted Woodpecker - emerging from garden pond

Juvenile GSW - chosen for magazine, and a sight hoped for when this year's juveniles visit

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Bee-eater, but not as you know it

Yesterday was the last session before half term, and also the final visit to the most consistently fascinating location in this rather strange May. The chicks in the Great Tit nest spotted last week are almost ready to fledge, and it was discovered that the parents seemed to be feeding them almost exclusively on a small species of Bumble bee! (see pics below). The Cuckoos put on a great show for the morning crowd with several flypasts, including 2 while we were having lunch, but were only heard in the distance during the afternoon. The Turtle Doves failed to put in an appearance for either season, but it was rather overcast, and the afternoon was punctuated by 2 prolonged heavy showers. The doves weren't even heard purring, but after the afternoon season had hit the road, Chris Cox arrived, and he managed to photograph one in the most reliable place on the telegraph wires. All three Great Crested Grebe chicks have survived into their 3rd week of life, so things look quite promising for them. A Kingfisher was reported nesting in the bank of one of the lakes last weekend, but this was checked by Chris Cox earlier in the week, and we confirmed it was indeed a pair of Blue Tits which are re-using a Kingfisher hole from last year! I've not heard of Blue Tits doing this before, and it must be rather a smelly environment for the young chicks!

Great Tit specialising in Bees


Juvenile Whitethroat (c) 2011 Chris Cox

Meadow Pipit - don't look too closely at what it has in its bill!

Turtle Dove (c) 2011

Immature Great Crested Grebe

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Little [Fat] Brown Job

Corn Bunting

Treecreeper Fledgling

Marked pics (c) 2011 Vince Cowell

Little [fat] Brown Job

Jangling its Keys
Singing in the Rain
Not so pretty - with its bill open!
Roe Deer


This was our first visit to this location this year without accompanying gale force winds, and the birds were much better in consequence. Almost as soon as we started there were a pair of Yellow Wagtails in the paddock, and these were picked up again later in the car park, and finally in a field beyond the orchard. Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers were heard singing along the beck, and a few Brown Trout were also glimpsed. We hadn't gone very far when the distinctive key-jangling song of the Corn Bunting could be heard. Several Yellowhammers, Linnets, Goldfinches and Reed Buntings were seen, before the Corn Bunting could be located. It was tracked down eventually singing in a stunted Ash tree, and was the most confiding Corn Bunting I've ever seen, and gave excellent views for both sessions. In the woodland we found at least 4 baby Treecreepers with their parents, and it was under the cover of the trees that we found shelter from the morning shower, and the afternoon thunder & lightning storm. It's hard to credit, but a morning students thought the Corn Bunting was just as exciting as last week's Cuckoo & Turtle Dove, and when I put this to the afternoon group some of them agreed - we just need a few little LBJs every week, and all participants will be happy!

Other birds seen included a Great Spotted Wodpecker, a pair of Tufted Duck; and some of the morning group saw a Water Vole leap down from its ledge into the muddy ditch, and disappear. Although we found the first ever Grass Snakes at this location the other week, now an adult specimen was found. Unfortunately, it had been decapacitated, and was starting to rot when it was found. This location has at last picked up in interest after several below par visits. It's amazing what a drop in the wind speed will do.

2 Treecreeper fledglings



New Thurs pm class member! Followed us for whole 2.53 miles!

Large Skipper

Large Skipper caught mid-flight!

Yorkshire's Nature Triangle Day: Puffin Cruise

A few weeks ago I was asked if I would like to book on Yorkshire's Nature Triangle Day, but I was supposed to be leading my classes in a venue west of Hull on that day. So, I first enquired if my classes would also be able to book. Luckily, the answer came back in the affirmative, so 9 people from the morning session and 5 from the afternoon met in Bridlington Harbour at 10.30. We formed a party consisting of several people from the Finnish Tourist Board, plus hoteliers and other businesses serving the local tourism industry, plus Caroline Bilton and her cameraman from Look North.

The first 20 minutes or so were pretty uneventful, but we did see parties of Auks on the sea, which became more numerous as we neared Flamborough Head. The easiest birds to see were Guillemots and Razorbills, with a few Puffins dotted here and there. Because we experienced the first calm day for 3 weeks, the Yorkshire Belle was able to actually enter one bay, and this is where we had our closest views of all of the species on the water and also some Shags at their nest sites. The views around here were simply jaw-droppingly good! We sailed up the coast to Bempton, where the geological faultline in the cliffs presented a truly awesome spectacle, and it was near here that the Gannets were breeding.

The return journey was much less serene as we hit a head wind, and some passengers were a little 'under the weather'. From the harbour we were conveyed by luxury coach to Flamborough lighthouse, before the coach re-orientated itself back to South Landing where an excellent seafood lunch served by Gerard Baker was waiting for us. I didn't try the dogfish soup, but I was told it was excellent. After this the groups split into 2, and some of us went looking for birds on a walk around South Landing, whilst the others went down to the beach for some rock-pooling. The birding highlights round here were a pair of Yellowhammers, Whitethroats, Swallows, House Martins, Greenfinch, a flyover Linnet and singing Blackcaps, Song Thrush & Chaffinches. The highlight of the rock-pooling, other than the excellent talk given by Kay from YWT was a stunnng male Kestrel.

I was emailed late last night by two participants who had walked along the top of the sea cliffs at Bempton & Flamborough many times, and they stressed how much they had enjoyed the event, and said that to see the birds on the sea and the bottom of the cliffs was an "eye-opener" & it changed their mental image of Flamborough & Bempton completely. Thanks to everyone involved at the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust and RSPB Bempton for their efforts in ensuring all the participants had a fantastic day out!

Puffin [& Guillemot]

Shag [immature left]
Shag on the nest with young


A Shag looks very strange face-on


2 Razorbills [below] & Guillemot



Guillemot in flight


Kittiwakes in Bridlington Harbour

Shore Crab - not part of lunch!