Friday, 23 December 2011

Twinkling Scarborough Lights

Yesterday the forecast was too cloudy for the Short-eared owls, so I thought I'd take my nephew to see the Great Northern, Black Throated & Red Throated Divers in Scarborough Harbour. The weather improved during the drive until at Scarborough itself the sunlight was very bright & the wind not too strong. Unfortunately, we could only find a Cormorant & Guillemot in the harbour itself. Not having walked around the harbour, I didn't really know where I was supposed to be looking, but we did find very some very confiding Turnstones & a single Rock Pipit. The Purple Sandpipers were a little more distant, and a Red-throated Diver flew past & came to land far out at sea. An East Yorkshire snapper also seemed unable to find anything worth photographing & a few other birders were also on the lookout. Then my nephew spotted some Jellyfish & when we looked down we found more & more of them. Some contained green flashing lights, whist others had red pulsing lights running along their sides. We also saw more typical semi-circular jellyfish, but my camera wouldn't focus on these individuals.

After lunch Ben & I popped in to Forge Valley Feeding station. The birds had run out of food, and as soon as I put a little seed down on a table, and before I got back in the car, the birds flocked down in large numbers. There were many Marsh, Great & Blue Tits, plus Chaffinches, Blackbirds & Robins. However, the undoubted stars were the Nuthatches (at least 3) who also came to the table when Ben stood next to the car. Ben also spotted a pair of Treecreepers on nearby trees.

After we left the harbour area, a Weds morning stalwart found the distant Great Northern Diver in the harbour & a twitter acquaintance & his colleague saw a Woodcock being chased by a Peregrine - now, that would have been a sight to see, as long as the Woodcock got away & the Peregrine snatched a gull or pigeon instead!
Sea Gooseberry?
Turnstone - only 1 toe on its right foot!
Rock Pipit - with best foot forward
Purple Sandpipers
Marsh Tit
Robin - a sop to the season

Friday, 16 December 2011

Feeling Christmassy!

Although we get Fieldfares flying over the cemetery every Autumn, and even get some landing in the cemetery trees some winters, I don't think we've ever had a Fieldfare in the garden before. Redwings do come in after snowfalls now-and-again, but never a Fieldfare until yesterday. There were also plenty of Blackbirds. Our Pyracanthus berries were suddenly ripe, and the birds knew it. I was secretly hoping for a Waxwing, but a Fieldfare isn't a bad start. I drew the line at 4 Woodpigeons, and once I was certain the Fieldfare had gone, I chased off the big fat pigeons.

In the afternoon I drove round our premier local owl location, but even though the afternoon was perfect there weren't any Owls. However, when I checked a flock of 35 drab little birds on telegraph wires, I was gob-smacked to discover that they were all Corn Buntings. I've seen 1 or 2 breeding birds in the area most summers, but never seen anything like approaching that number there before - in fact I don't remember ever seeing any Corn Buntings at that bleak location in the winter! I don't think it was an accident that they were perched directly over some set-aside!
Fieldfare (& Blackbird)
Corn Bunting

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

More Golden Oldies

My 'students' continue to get out and about & here are the results of a few members of the Wednesday am class visiting Blacktoft Sands & on to a North Lincolnshire site; followed by the Thurs am visit to Far Ings the other week, where they managed to spot a Bittern - if you zoom in you should be able to see some blue coloration near the base of the bill, which indicates that this is probably a male bird.
Golden Plovers (c) 2011 Tony Robinson
Golden Plover (c) 2011 Tony Robinson
Short-eared Owl
Spotted Redshank (c) 2011 Tony Robinson
Bittern (c) 2011 Richard Whateley

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Killing Time with a Passerine

Yesterday afternoon looked as if would be the most promising for Tophill's Short-eared Owls, but what to do in the meantime? I decided to go up to RSPB Bempton to look for the Desert Wheatear now the hordes of twitchers had died down. Unfortunately, no one had seen it that morning & I wasn't very hopeful. I made my way to where it had last been seen, but although there were a few scattered observers around no one had seen it.

I was a few yards from the site of the Gannet colony when I noticed a flicker of wings along the cliff edge & then a small passerine emerged and landed on a fence only a few feet away - it was the Desert Wheatear. My camera was on the wrong setting & after I'd rattled off several over exposed shots it flew further away & pulled out a couple of worms. It then flew across the field & was too far for any more photos to be taken.

On to Tophill & walking towards the favoured owl site I was delayed by a Fox up at the back of D reservoir. I caught him on the grass & knowing I'd seen him he shame-facedly returned to the path & made his way to the interpretation board & continued going, keeping to the path at all times!

I hadn't been at Hempholme long when at 1.20 I spotted a Short-eared Owl flying in high from the east towards the spot where I was standing. It just glided down until it reached the green grassy area south of the shooting estate. It then hunted on and off for the next 40 minutes before a second bird emerged from the trees behind it. 5 photographers were in various positions about the site, but when the light disappeared behind thick cloud at 14.25 I decided to call it a day. Other birds heard or seen round here included a large flock of Fieldfare, and a Great Spotted Woodpecker missing most of its tail feathers & the sound of a couple of Bullfinches flying over and a single Redpoll.

I'm not sure I'll get another chance for photography for a while, as the forecast if pretty dire for the remainder of the week.
Desert Wheatear
Short-eared Owl arriving after flying in high from the East
Dropping in to Hempholme
You can just make out those amazing yellow eyes

Stooping down for a non-existent kill

Intent on getting to the interpretation board

Tree Sparrow at Bempton

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Owling at the Moon

The weather has been hit-and-miss recently, but when the weather has been OK, I've gone looking for Barn Owls at our once premier location. I've seen the occasional Barn Owl, but they definitely aren't as numerous even here as they used to be until last December. However, there have been compensations. I've seen a Little Owl in a new location & one afternoon I was lucky enough to see 2 different peregrines. The first, a female, was dragging a partially plucked pigeon in its talons, struggling to get into flight in contrary winds. Only 10 minutes later a young Peregrine flew directly over our heads towards the estuary.

The other day I had my best ever views of a Short-eared Owl, but my camera was on the wrong setting & then a car coming the other way prevented me from taking any decent pictures. It flew right over my car nearly brushing its wings over my roof. There was another one the same day in a different area. And this is where my nephew and I had another close encounter yesterday. This one landed on the bank of a ditch within 6 feet of the car, but a thick hawthorn hedge made photographs difficult. A few minutes later it flew off & perched in a much more open location, but it was a lot further away. It was nearly dark by this time & I had to crank the ISO up to 3200 - something I've nearly had to do before - the results were surprisingly satisfying, even though more than 20 pictures had to be discarded!
Moon over Thorngumbald
Short-eared owl
This was less than 6 feet away, but was the other side of a thick hawthorn hedge
Not a flying cowpat
The Little Owl before it launched itself
Record shot of a Peregrine
Back at Home - Great Spotted Woodpecker on the font
Roe Deer

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Tall Tales out of Skool

Although all official classes have finished this year, some 'students' just can't get enough of their encounters with nature, and are even looking for birds on their own! Below is Chris Cox's Short-eared Owl taken at the same location we visited recently. Underneath that are 3 shots of a bird Tony Robinson managed to take at Bempton yesterday. He's trying to string it as a Desert Wheatear, and the only fly in the ointment is that everyone in the birding community would agree with him. Finally, another group claim to have enjoyed great views of a Bittern, but no photos of this have been forthcoming, so we will have to take their word for it!

The weather is too wild for me to venture out today, but I hope to include some exciting pictures of my own soon...
Short-eared Owl (c) 2011 Chris Cox
Desert Wheatear (c) 2011 Tony Robinson