Monday, 17 September 2012

Wolds Walking Festival

This weekend was the Wolds Walking Festival, and I was involved in at least one event on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.  On Saturday 5 individuals turned up in beautiful warm and sunny weather: one couple from Helmsley, another from Beverley, and one local inhabitant of Thixendale.  We walked down the hill from Robert Fuller's Gallery, but were unable to find the Tawny Owls, which usually inhabit these sycamores.  In fact any sort of birdlife was noticeable by its absence.  I had to fill in by talking about our local Swallow behaviour, plus the latest news of what was happening on the birdfront at Spurn, Blacktoft and other East Yorkshire sites. Needless to say there was no sign of the local Little Owls either.  The only birds seen at this stage were Woodpigeons flying over.  However, flying closer to us was a Migrant Hawker Dragonfly, which did give good views as it hunted for insects along the hedgerow, and almost seemed as large as a Goldcrest!  We were a long way from any appreciable water, but these can be long distance fliers.  
Barnacle Goose
 Red Kite being mobbed
 At the bottom of the hill we took a right turn on to the Wolds Way.  A tilled field was covered with Red-legged Partridges - possibly as many as 10.  The Yellowhammers, and Meadow Pipits which had been so vociferous in the Spring and Summer had all gone quiet, and it wasn't until we went through the second gate that things picked up.    We were watching a hovering Kestrel as it hunted for voles in the long grass in the steep slopes of the dale.  It plunged into the verdure several times, but when it rose again, there was nothing in its talons.  As we observed this young bird, I could hear the high-pitched telltale sounds of a Treecreeper in the mature Ash trees behind us.  We swung round and everyone was able to spot the bird as it inched its way up the main trunk of the tree, before it spiralled round to the back of the trees, and it was lost to sight.  
Cream-Crown Marsh Harrier
 Migrant Hawker
 Bracket Fungus
We hadn't gone much further when there was a strange sound above us.  At first the only birds I could see were a couple of gulls flying north, but then I spotted a bird of prey.  A Buzzard seemed to be the most likely candidate in this habitat, but through the binoculars it was uniformly dark brown despite the tattiness of many of its feathers.  It was a Marsh Harrier.  Later, we heard that the gulls and the Harrier had been in a brief skirmish, which was the origin of the unusual sound.  We carried on to the sight of a baffling turf sculpture, which apparently looks much better and explicable from the top of the hills.  While the turf sculpture was being explained to us by the local inhabitant a bright orange Comma butterfly flew south.  Fairly soon after this a genuine Buzzard came into view - its mixture of dark wing edges and central white patches were in marked contrast to the earlier bird.  On the return journey we could hear Swallows twittering and House Martins "farting", but our best birds had definitely been on the  Wolds Way.  We passed BBC Look North's Simon Clark and  friend making the most of the nice weather by walking part of the Wolds Way.  The Cirrus clouds looked fine against the blue sky, but they didn't bode well for the weather on Sunday...

5 individuals again turned up for the Sunday Wolds Red Kite Roost event.  Unfortunately my sat nav led the attendees from Robert Fuller's Gallery on a circuitous, but picturesque route seemingly all over the wolds.  However, we did eventually arrive at the viewpoint.  At first it seemed very few birds were present apart from some very noisy female Mallards opposite our site.  However, a Heron flew through, which was a sign of better things to come.  Unfortunately, it was spitting with rain, so I didn't expect too many birds of prey.  It wasn't too long before our first Red Kite appeared to the right of the site, spotted by a Pocklington couple.  It flew over the woodland and disappeared to the left and below a very distinctive tree.  We then enjoyed sightings of several lone birds, sometimes they appeared distantly over the brow of the wooded hillside.  On other occasions they began to emerge in the far distance in the north, but always making for the same general area.  At least 2 birds showed interest in a green field, which may have hosted some carrion, but the roost site seemed to be the favoured area with all the other birds.  

Another Heron made its distinctive slowly flapping flight over the  woodland - seemingly with a wingspan only marginally greater than some of the Red Kites we had been watching.   Unfortunately, the lowering clouds began to look ever more threatening.  At one time 4 birds could be discerned in the northern distance through what looked like mist, but this was the first sign of a more significant shower of rain moving in.  We decided to call it a day, but we had seen over 10 Red Kites flying into the woodland.

On Monday we revisited Friday's location in worse light, so there were fewer photo opportunities.  North Cave Wetlands seems to be a fairly well-known site locally, so it was an unusual experience to introduce the venue for 5 people (100% of the attendees) who were trying it out as part of the Wolds Walking Festival.  The birds and dragonflies we saw today were very similar to those last week.    A mammal highlight were 2 Stoats - one running towards us, and another running away.  The Barnacle Goose showed really well, but seemed a very isolated individual, and was virtually the last bird we saw, so brought the session to a fitting end.  Please see Friday's photos here: Friday

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