Saturday, 31 March 2012


I spent yesterday morning putting up posters advertising the April 17th start of my Spring courses, when I came across a large puddle - quite a rare thing this year!

Several Yellowhammers & Linnets were bathing at the time, but flew off when I pulled up. I just waited over the next hour for those birds to come back, plus a few other species. The puddle was on the chalky wolds, so was paler than most usual puddles, but I'm not sure if that's assisted the below photographs or not! I'll have to check it out at a less busy time of the day to see if anything else turns up. The Meadow Pipits never made it down to the puddle, as they were too interested in each other!

Meanwhile, there are still some spaces available on the Tuesday afternoon class after Easter.

Female Yellowhammer
Meadow Pipit - male displaying
Meadow Pipit [pair] - male [left]
Meadow Pipit [male]
Meadow pipit [male displaying]
Meadow Pipit [male]

Friday, 30 March 2012

Worried by Warblers?

Many aspiring birders have problems with Little Brown Jobs, as they call them, and they would include many species of warblers in this category. However, as the below pictures hopefully illustrate many of them are at lot more brightly coloured than such an epithet would imply.

Next term we will spend a considerable amount of time listening to these wonderful songsters, and examining their plumage as they occasionally sing out in the open for everyone to see. When they first return they will be busy establishing a territory, so should spend some time away from deep cover, but as the term progresses they will become progressively harder to track down. The venues have been specially selected, so that sightings of a warbler species one week will often be reinforced the following week. In this way I hope that participants will be able to identify all 9 species of warbler, both visually and aurally, by the conclusion of the term.

I haven't included a picture of a Blackcap here, but you can see one of them on the previous post. We are going to at least 2 venues where the Grasshopper Warbler is a possibility, but we are less likely to see one of these then almost any of the others. We may be very lucky to come across a Cetti's Warbler, but I haven't a decent photo of that species to show you. We probably have a zero % chance of seeing a Wood Warbler in our East Yorkshire trips, but we can dream, can't we?

Common Whitethroat
Lesser Whitethroat
Sedge Warbler
Reed Warbler
Willow Warbler
Garden Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler
Wood Warbler

Thursday, 29 March 2012

An Early Arrival

I was surprised to hear the sub-song of a Blackcap yesterday outside the South Lagoon hide at Tophill Low. The Blackcap has one of the most energetic and beautiful songs of our summer migrants. I don’t normally hear my first of the year until 6th-9th April, so this individual was very early. He was even close enough to photograph. There were plenty of Chiffchaffs singing and some noisy, squabbling Great Spotted Woodpeckers, and good numbers of Peacock butterflies sunning themselves. The Little Grebes seemed to be in full breeding plumage & EVEN Mallards looked quite smart.

The Blackcap is a warbler, and if you are interested in trying to get good views of what many people seem to consider quite a difficult family, we will be spending quality time with at least 7 species of warbler next term. We will also be identifying any butterflies, mammals, dragonflies, flowers or fungi we encounter during our walks.

I’ve now begun to take bookings for next term. There are plenty of vacancies on Tuesday afternoons, and a few on Friday afternoons, but most of the other sessions are almost at capacity. If you want more details, please see the panel at the top right of this blog.

Here is what Pam Eldred, a relative newcomer to the course, says of the classes:

“Having had a life long interest in birds, I joined Michael’s class in September 2011. Initially I could not believe how little I actually knew, but during my time on the course my knowledge about bird recognition, habitat, behaviour etc. has increased amazingly along with my knowledge about wildlife in general. This has happened in a professional, relaxed atmosphere with a group of like minded people, at a wide variety of locations. We have FUN. I would recommend Michael’s course unreservedly”.

Blackcap - peeking through lots of twigs
Blackcap - almost a clear view
Little Grebe
Mallard [drake]
Marsh Frog

Monday, 26 March 2012

2 Big Brown Birds

My nephew had a tooth extracted this morning, so to take his mind off it we went to Spurn, where we enjoyed distant though prolonged views of a Bittern. On the return journey we took the long way round & on the quiet backroad between Patrington Haven & Sunk Island I came across a Short-eared Owl very close to the road. It was a very confiding individual & allowed itself to be photographed from a variety of angles before it tired of the attention, and hid itself away behind some rape stalks! It was the best view Ben has had of a Short-eared Owl
Short-eared Owl
Over the Shoulder pose
Eyes right
Bittern 1/4 mile away at Canal Scrape
Best Foot Forward
And Again in Profile
Back Under Cover

Saturday, 24 March 2012

Weaving with Cobwebs

It has been almost impossible over the last 3 weeks to go anywhere in the countryside and not locate a pair of Long-tailed Tits nest-building. These busy, charismatic little creatures are therefore given pride of place in this post. Scroll down to see the results of all their hard work!

Long-tailed Tit with bill full of Cobwebs
Long-tailed Tit - 'bitten' off more than it can chew?
Long-tailed Tit
Long-tailed Tit - nest-building

The Friday session ventured into South Yorkshire to a site they’d never visited before. Although we didn’t see anything really outstanding the participants were impressed with this new location. We did manage to see a brimstone, a Peacock and in the afternoon a Comma. The basking female Adder was a bonus for those who missed the 4 Adders the previous Friday. There were a pair of Mistle Thrushes in the paddock, but no sign of any early returning Wheatears or Ring Ouzels.

Adder [female]


On Thursday we travelled to the north wolds and the morning group saw one large Sparrowhawk displaying followed by 2 others. We also encountered a couple of Red Kites, and several Buzzards. Others birds seen included Green Woodpeckers, which may have ejected a Little Owl from its nest-hole, plus a Treecreeper, Mistle Thrushes, Marsh Tits and a very confiding Goldcrest.

Coal Tit

On Wednesday the groups walked the complete length of Flamborough Head. The morning group was rewarded with amazing close views of an acrobatic male raptor. Meanwhile the supermarket workers had been very busy since the previous week, as the shelves were now well stocked with Kittiwakes, Razorbills and to a lesser extent Guillemots. There were also many more Puffins than usual, probably because they had just returned to the cliffs, and weren’t hidden away incubating an egg. There were also plenty of small passerines including Yellowhammers, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. The one spring migrant seen was a Wheatear among some WW2 buildings.


Herring Gulls (c) 2012 Aileen Urquhart
Gannet & Gannet Cam (c) 2012 Aileen Urquhart
Gannets - about to part
Tree Sparrow

On Tuesday a few people turned up for Potteric Carr – the turnout was much better for the afternoon session than the one in the morning. The weather was excellent & wildlife was also pretty good with Tuesday’s 1st Brimstone, Peacock & Comma butterflies of the year, plus several singing Chiffchaffs. At least 2 pairs of Long-tailed Tits were seen nest-building & the bird feeding station was a lot quieter now that the weather has improved. A Grass Snake was spotted by both groups – this was my first ever at this site, but won’t be the last, as I now know where to look. Although Spring seemed to have finally sprung there was also a relic of winter - a single Whooper Swan was spotted by the afternoon group.

Great Spotted Woodpecker [male]
Bullfinch [male]
Grass Snake
Reed Bunting
Chaffinch [male]
Long-tailed Tit nest [9/3/12]
Long-tailed Tit nest [20/3/12]
Baby Rabbit
Canada Goose