Tuesday, 27 November 2012

A Day to Remember

Today was quite different from any previous outing, as our main target was a specific iconic architectural structure, rather than lots of varied wildlife species. Several months ago the prospect arose of taking a group to Spurn Lighthouse. A date was booked with Spurn's YWT warden, Andy Gibson and then a message was sent out to all past & present course members. The demand was phenomenal with all 20 places going after a little over 24 hours. None of my birdwatching trips have ever filled up so quickly. So perhaps I should switch to pure tourism? How many would enrol on a trip to all the places in East Yorkshire which inspired J. R. R. Tolkien during WW1, or those visited by Philip Larkin? Perhaps I'll stick with the birds!
The Icon

The bird of the day was actually just outside Easington when a small raptor flew over the bonnet of Sue's car. As Sue continued on her way, I checked no one was behind, and then reversed for a better look. It had landed in a field partially covered with a winter crop. It was one of the best views of a female Merlin I've ever had. I only managed a quick glance before I noticed another car coming up behind. It flashed its lights because I had almost reversed into the the centre of the road. Not realising it was one of today's visitors, I didn't point out the bird, but continued on my journey.
Merlin [at Spurn on a previous occasion]
We met at the Blue Bell at 10 o'clock. The couple from Leeds made it to Spurn before many who lived a lot closer. We shared cars to the point car park, whilst the radio crackled out details of arriving Waxwings, Blackbirds, and a Ring Ouzel. In the meantime Little Auks and a Pomarine Skua were seen from the Seawatching Hut. We had a look from the seaside, but apart from Great Black Backed Gulls there were relatively few birds to see. We did manage to spot several single birds struggling into the northern wind, and these included 2 Fieldfare and a total of 3 blackbirds including males & a female. We walked round to the lighthouse for our appointment at 11am. 
A Less Common Perspective
We tried to find the leeward side round the lighthouse to get out of the strong winds, but the way the wind swirled and tacked around the building, there didn't appear to be a leeward side. Andy gave a 20 minute talk about the lighthouse's history and construction details, and opened himself up to questions and answers.  He was also able to outline some of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust's plans for the  future of this stunning landmark. Then 20 out of 21 attendees climbed the many spiral stairs to the building's summit, taking especial care not to crack their bonces on the narrow final straight ascent. 

Although it was fairly cloudy we were treated to panoramic views of the surrounding unique landscape. There was a crack in the glass and the wind whistled through there at a terrific speed, but that only added to the atmosphere. We had learned that the lighthouse was never actually manned with a living human inhabitant, but we did see evidence that a bird had once lived in the tower, if only for a short period.  Later Andy opened the final door on to the gallery, although for health and safety reasons no one was allowed to venture outside, but I was able to stick out my camera to try and take an unobscured photograph of the view to the north.  
A Previous Inhabitant - a Feral Pigeon, so that's OK, then
 The View Looking North including the Beach
 The View Looking North West including the 'Greedy Gut'
The drive back to the Blue Bell was uneventful, but as we were getting out of our cars a flock of Waxwings were spotted heading north up Beacon Lane. We tried for a better view, but could only find flocks of Starlings, and very little else. Although it wasn't a great day for birds, the participants were very enthusiastic after their trip to the Lighthouse, and I can't remember so many handshakes and good wishes. It will be  a day every participant will probably remember for the rest of their lives! I'm hoping we will be able to organise another visit during a more congenial time of the year, possibly to arrange an event, which marries the architecture with an enjoyable wildlife experience. The event also raised over £60 for the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, so whilst the visitors had a day to remember our hosts earned some money which will go towards protecting wildlife in our great county!

To find more tourism events in the area, please visit Yorkshire Nature's Triangle

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Lips are Sealed

On Tuesday we made our annual pilgrimage to Donna Nook.  It was a very overcast day and the forecast was dire, so we arrived to find relatively few people there.  The fencing had been completely renewed, so we were distanced from the seals somewhat.  Despite this some people who had never been before were amazed at just how close they were able to get to the pups.

Grey Seal Pup
 A Different Pup
 Mother Love - a Cow and her Pup
 Having Fun?
 War - Bull & Cow
 Another Confrontation
 Cow & Pup (c) 2012 Phil Todd
 Exhausted Pup (c) 2012 Phil Todd
 Physical Contact (c) 2012 Maggie Bruce

Apparently, we just missed 25 Snow Buntings which flew off west, but there were some other birds were present.  These included Turnstones, Knot, Redshank, Golden Plover, Shelduck, Great Black-backed Gulls, Brent Geese and Chaffinches.
Turnstones (c) 2012 Phil Todd

Friday, 16 November 2012

Surreptitious Shooters

Meeting on the Humber bank was a novel experience today for mid-November. It was actually warm and there was virtually no wind. Later, in the lea of a Hawthorn hedge we were plagued by dozens of mosquitoes, which attempted to exact their usual penance! There wasn't a great deal to see on the journey apart from the usual Fieldfare and Curlews in the fields. When we got to the inlet there was a single Bar-tailed Godwit, then a Black-tailed Godwit, with plenty of Redshank and a Curlew or two. A Common or Harbour Seal was guarding the creek entrance. 5 Siskins flew east in the morning, while after lunch 4 Redpolls went east. 

All wildlife pictures (c) 2012 Richard Whateley
Short-eared Owl
It was a bit of a trial trying to avoid the dog mess, and unfortunately Chris actually failed to avoid it completely. Walking along the flood bank we flushed a Short-eared Owl which managed to perform very well, landing on posts, hiding in the long grass, and then flying along the edge of the salt marsh/mudflat border. When we reached the newly fenced-off electrified area another flew up and they flew within metres of each other before going their separate ways. A Snipe called but it remained invisible. In this area in the afternoon a Chiffchaff was in the hedge, which Gordon was able to watch very clearly. 
Black-tailed Godwit

Grey Plover
Bar-tailed Godwit
Common Seal

There was a new YWT fenced off area with an electrified fence, and on the edge of this in the afternoon 2 semi-concealed people were acting suspiciously on the border of the mudflats and the saltmarsh. As we approached they bent down as far as they could in a vain hope to escape our notice.  However, once we had passed their position they thought they were safe and began to appear above the vegetation again.  The light was a bit tricky for us, but once we got past we could see through the scope that one had on a gauze balaclava, whilst the other with a very young face was wearing a typical hunter's cap. They remained in position for the whole 2 hours we were in the area.  As we were leaving, we'd just clambered over the 2nd stile when they let fly 4 shots frightening a Little Egret, but because they were no longer in view we never discovered what their quarry was.  I hope they weren't laying in wait for the male Hen Harrier, which has been favouring the area.
After a very dull few days the sun finally came out, resulting in an amazing sunset back at the foreshore.

The Beautiful Humber!

The Eternal Quest for the Nuthatch!

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

And Now for the Good Smews

Today's reserve failed to live up to the quantity and variety of species compared with more than 2 years ago and further back in time.  However, there were Pochard, Shoveler, Teal, Gadwall, Tufted Ducks, a Great Crested Grebe and an obscene number of Coots from the first hide.  
Smew (drake) [2nd winter?]
The walk down the green tunnel yielded very few birds, although plenty of shy Redwings could be seen leaving the tree-tops as we made our way over the yellow leaves.   There was nothing at all to see at the new hide, but when we reached the embankment we could see some Wigeon as we looked West.   

 From the rickety hide we saw the same species as the first hide, but we did get a much better view of a female Goldeneye.  Meanwhile Aileen manage to photograph a Goldcrest directly outside the hide, which was in the company of some Long-tailed Tits
All remaining pics (c) 2012 Aileen Urquhart
 Cutting across the meadow I heard and then we all glimpsed a Willow Tit.  There were calls of a Bullfinch and some of the afternoon session managed to get their binoculars on a stunning male, but he quickly flew off again.
Willow Tit
When made our way to the deeper pools and on here were at least 3 drake Goldeneyes, and some Tufted Ducks.  A flock of Goldeneye could just by made out through the hawthorn hedge as they flew past, and with them was a drake Smew.  Unfortunately, it spotted us, and flew away again.  However, luckily for us it alighted directly in front of the final hide.   
Mute Swan
Some of us were able to sneak up to the hide and carefully lift up the flaps to get a better look.  It was an extremely nervous bird and almost immediately swam towards the channel leading out of this pool.  It must have later flown away from the main water while no one was looking, as it later turned up on a lake a quarter of a mile away.  
Drake Smew [White Nun] (c) 2012 Tony Robinson
The Smew was replaced by a pair of Great Grested Grebes, which came and fished for both groups.  Both sessions also had very good views of a female Kingfisher from this hide, especially the afternoon gang, as it perched within about 6 feet from the hide.  It was an excellent way to bring the Wednesday Autumn sessions to a conclusion.

Owl Before Noon

We set out from the Humber Foreshore car park again and headed towards reclaimed land.  There were no Jays this time, and the Fieldfare had moved off from last week's location, plus the Twite seemed to have done a bunk.  Despite this there were quite a few waders in the inlet - mainly Redshank, but also a single Bar-tailed and a single Black-tailed Godwit.  Out on the Humber mudflats there was a large flock of Golden Plover and there were plenty of Shelduck sprinkled over the mud. 

We checked the 2 water-filled ditches, but there was only another Redshank.  We clambered a couple of stiles and walked along the flood embankment.  There wasn't a great deal to see - no Bramblings or Fieldfare in the hedge, but then luckily, I spotted a Short-eared Owl.  This flew quite close to us before flying high over the houses and disappeared north.
All photos of Short-eared Owl (c) 2012 Maggie Bruce

In the afternoon we spent much longer in the car.  Unfortunately, because we started at 1pm we couldn't actually find an owl of any persuasion.  Instead we must have spotted over a dozen Kestrels, and we counted at least 27 Roe Deer.  We also came across a flock of 200+ Fieldfare feeding on the ground with just a couple in the Hawthorn hedge.  It's a great place for watching wildlife without having to leave a car, so is a perfect venue during extremely cold weather.  

Monday, 12 November 2012

A Second Full[er] Weekend

Saturday saw the first Barn Owl safari run under the auspices of the Robert Fuller Christmas Exhibition.  7 willing participants met on the banks of the Humber and we shared cars into the depths of deepest darkest Holderness.  On the way there were plenty of Blackbirds - many of which were probably recent Scandinavian immigrants.  We drove round the Keyingham Marsh loop where we saw several hundred Fieldfare.
Barn Owl

We reached a muddy inlet only to be told we had just missed a male Hen Harrier - not what you want to hear!  From here we saw 5 Common Seals and plenty of Shelduck on the Humber.  It was high tide, so all the waders had been pushed off.  There was no sign of the Twite either.

On the other side of the potholed road we saw plenty of Roe Deer, and then a distant Barn Owl showed for a couple of minutes flying along a distant drain.  We drove the whole of the massive loop without seeing much else of interest.  However, on the return journey we had very close views of another Barn Owl, which was hunting above a drain then flew over the road and then started quartering a field of sunflowers.  It was then seen flying along a hedge, but it finally disappeared from view. 
Sunset over Immingham
On Sunday the second Red Kite Roost watch took place.  There were plenty of Kites around when we arrived.  Some were flying among the distant trees, while an amazing 5 were perched on the top of the same small conifer, and 4 more gathered in a nearby Ash tree.  Overall, we saw at least 28 birds, but possibly more.  There were no sign of last week's Fieldfare, but a small flock of Redwings flew past, and a Green Woodpecker's flight call could just be heard.  It was a very calm evening, so again the Kites made their way almost straight to the roost site.

My camera packed up when photographing the Waxwings the other day, so I've had to dig a January Barn Owl and Sunset from the archives, but I'm also indebted to Maggie Bruce who took these photos of Red Kites during Sunday's Red Kite Roost.
All remaining photos (c) 2012 Maggie Bruce
 Red Kite
One of the birds had a blue tag with a red edge which appeared to have 4V on it.  The interesting origins of this bird have been traced. She is a young female from this year and has travelled all the way down from North Scotland.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Urban Birding

It was too windy for our planned location today, so we switched to a supermarket car park. Yesterday there were reports of 115 Waxwings there. At least 50 were still present at 9.30. They showed well in good light, but wouldn't come down to the berries in the tree they favoured as a chap with a very big lens was stationed really close to their tree. We viewed from some distance away, and were able to get adequate photos. We spent half an hour or so with the birds, but when they all took off we took that as our cue and went to the Humber Bridge Park in the hope of catching up with some Bullfinches.
All photos (c) 2012 Chris Cox

Part of the flock
Unfortunately, the East Riding staff chose this particular day to be tweaking the willows growing around the feeding station, so there were no Bullfinches to see, or anything else of interest in the area. As small compensation one morning participant spotted a Jay, which I've never seen in the area before, but we all managed to sneak a view. We also had good views of at least 2 different Treecreepers, several family parties of Long-tailed Tits and some Goldcrests. Unfortunately in the afternoon virtually all the small birds had disappeared. We did see a couple of Long-tailed Tits, but that was it. 
About to snatch a berry

However, the afternoon session started in the supermarket car park, and this time there were well over 100 birds. This was a 'lifer' for several participants. My camera decided to die at this point, so I've had to rely on Chris Cox's pictures from yesterday to illustrate the blog.