Sunday, 3 June 2012

Craking in Our Boots

Barn Owl [male?]
 Friday was our final visit to Hempholme Meadows.  On the drive up we had a pair of Grey Partridges along the reservoir walls, and then later we saw another pair near Hempholme lock.  At the new scrape area there was a Greenshank, Oystercatcher, Whitethroat, Lapwing, and Greylag Goose.  Birds heard but not seen around here included: Yellowhammer, Skylark, Blackcap and a distant Cuckoo, which seemed to be on the southern area of the site.  Jim spotted a Barn Owl out hunting.  This bird was being victimised; first it was mobbed by an immature Common Gull, and later it caught a vole, and was harried & attacked several times by a Kestrel, until the Kestrel flew away bearing the vole to its next box.  You can’t beat a bit of klepto-parasitism!
Barn Owl
 Male Kestrel Striking the Barn Owl

 Owl taking Vole to the Ground & Kestrel Flying to a high perch 
 Barn Owl perched in the pm with Thieving Kestrel's Box Behind
 Barn Owl Hunting in the pm
 Common Tern
From Stanningholme farm we could see a Stock Dove and a Great Spotted Woodpecker, whilst there’d been an influx of Reed Warblers since the last visit with at least 2 birds heard.  A Song Thrush belted out its song.  From the shooting estate we could hear a Reed Bunting, Reed warblers and a loud Sedge warblers, but the Whitethroats were much quieter.
When we reached Scurf Dyke and 4 Sand Martins flew overhead in a northerly direction.  Meanwhile 5 Pochard went in the opposite direction.  This was the area where we heard our nearest Skylark.  A Common Tern was hunting for fish along the dyke, and a Kingfisher saw us & took evasive action, but did give a fly-past on 2 occasions allowing everyone to enjoy a flash of blue as it came down from its higher evasive route to hug the water, as is its usual wont.  Towards the junction with Barmston Drain we came across our first Willow Warbler, and several Tree Sparrows and a Long-tailed Tit. 
Long-tailed Tit
 Roe Deer [Hind]
On the River Hull we had a very loud Reed Warbler which seemed to be singing from a Hawthorn bush rather than the reeds.  A Shoveler flew along the River Hull & appeared to land, but there were 2 small boats heading south along the river Hull, so it wasn’t able to hang around.  There was our first Meadow Pipit singing in this area & 5 Canada Geese were in a field next to plenty of Friesen cattle.  It disappeared into the shooting estate, and this is where Kathleen spotted a female Roe Deer, which stared at us for a few minutes before disappearing into cover.   Another pair of Grey Partridge flew into the fields on the east side of the river, and nearby it was clear that the Otter trail was still being well used, as it had forged a noticeable path in a the newly-grown vegetation.  Later we were nearly back at the cars when we noticed that a Mute Swan had taken up residence on the riverbank near the new hide. 
 Linnet [male]
 Mute Swans
On the drive in the afternoon we had good views of a male Linnet on the reservoir wall., a Buzzard flew over us at the beginning, while the barn owl was out again, and this time successfully caught a vole and was not robbed this time.  A Hare was seen in a field of Red & White Campion, while minutes later a flock of 33 Mute Swans flew south overhead.  The remainder of the sightings mainly followed the am session, but we had very close encounters with a flock of Swifts and an Oystercatcher flew just over our heads.    However, there was one encounter in the afternoon, which was very different from anything which happened in the morning.

In the afternoon I was scrambling up the bank of Scurf Dyke when I heard 4 harsh notes in a very distinctive rhythm.  I could hardly believe what I was hearing.  I waited while the rest of the group scrambled up, when it gave a further 2 harsh notes ‘crex, crex’, but it was very faint.  I wasn’t convinced everyone on the class could hear the Corncrake.  We waited for 20 minutes and I heard it again for another 4 times, sometimes only 2 notes, but the final time a whole 6 notes.  The call seemed to come from 2 different areas, but the gap between them was long enough for the bird to have moved between one location & the other.  This was the first time I’ve heard the bird apart from in TV documentaries, when I was always led to believe that they sang for hours at a stretch, so these short bursts were a bit disconcerting.  I telephoned the reserve warden, and he informed me it was one of only a very few records for the site.  He later texted to say both he & 2 Hull Valley stalwarts were listening to the bird.  It was a relief to have independent confirmation!
You can hear the Corncrake singing for longer, recorded later that same afternoon by Reserve Warden, Richard Hampshire here: 

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