Thursday, 28 February 2013

From Black & White to Colour

Wednesday was virtually a rerun of the previous week's Tuesday.  Since that visit there had been an influx of Marsh Tits with a total of 4 found along a 3-mile linear length.  Also the previous week the Yellowhammers had only just seemed to have left their winter flocks.  yesterday there was some evidence of pairing up & several males were singing in the morning.  The Skylarks were also pouring out their song, but come 11am this virtually dried up.  3 Red Kites flew North west over us in the morning with 3 Buzzards also visible at the same time.  A Treecreeper was near the car park as the morning session came to an end - the afternoon walk in a westerly direction was deadly quiet in contrast.
Female Yellowhammer
Marsh Tit (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
Marsh Tit (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
Treecreeper (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
Kestrel (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart

Tuesday was pretty much a repeat run of Thursday. There were slightly more species at the large hide incl; female Goldeneye, Pochard, Shoveler, Gadwall and Teal. The star bird was female a Marsh Harrier which seemed to hunt over every strand of reed, sometimes coming very close to the hide. The only species missing from Thursday was a Cormorant.  We walked round the reserve in the same manner and saw similar birds to last time. There were a few elusive Bullfinches, but the Goldeneye had gone from near the hotel. As we finished early we tried the new pools across the road and found a tail-less male Bullfinch with attendant females and a couple of more males. Rose spotted some Wigeon grazing on the bank,. On return to the car park we were told of the presence of a Red-Crested Pochard, so this became a target bird for the afternoon. The Willow Tits were again noticeable by their absence, but at the new visitor centre a Great Spotted Woodpecker was clamped to the peanuts, surrounded by Chaffinches and Greenfinch & some Mallards on the ground hoovering up any bits. A Great Crested Grebe was fishing in a pool right up to the visitor centre, but as soon as it saw me attempting to take its photograph it swam strongly away.
Marsh Harrier (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
Marsh Harrier (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
Marsh Harrier (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
Great Crested Grebe

On Friday we went round Hornsea Mere, and despite trying various times throughout the day were unable to find the Bittern, although someone asked what a strange bird was on the water, which turned out to be a Black-necked Grebe. Later, after much searching we were able to discern a distant Great Northern Diver. The walk through the woodland was very quiet with only a Great Spotted Woodpecker breaking the monotony.
Record shot of Black-necked Grebe

Friday, 22 February 2013

Blowing Cold & Colder

On Thursday we shared cars over the Humber Bridge. It was a full house with just one am member missing. There was quite a lot of noise and chatter from the car park feeding station, but mainly just Sparrows, Chaffinches,a Greenfinch & Dunnocks. We crammed into the upstairs of both sides of the large hide. There wasn't a great deal to see here apart from: Coots, and a Cormorant, but eventually Phil spotted a Tufted Duck, which actually became a moment of excitement, and 3 Teal left the cover of the reedbed & flew to another pool. We waited for a couple of wintery showers to subside before moving on.

All photos (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
Great Crested Grebe
The Lord of the Rings tunnel was almost completely bereft of birds, and it seems too early for the chomping Bullfinches to be pecking on every bud down there. We reached a newish hide, but there were only a few Tufted Ducks and plenty of Pochard here. The riverbank yielded 7 Redshank and a couple of Dunlin. We trekked to the flood safety area, where we saw several Shelduck and a single Curlew. Despite the forecast the riverbank wasn't as perishing as it was supposed to be, but there weren't many birds to see, just a couple of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flying past. However, the cold wind had materialised when we reached this area in the afternoon. The wind had either picked up in strength or had just became a lot colder after lunch. 
On the way to the next hide one small bird flew up and perched briefly, it was a solitary Lesser Redpoll, but it didn't perch long enough for everyone to see all its details. The view from the hide was the reverse of the first hide, and the only new species was a sleeping drake Shoveler, which hadn't been visible from the green hide because it snoozed protected by the reeds. Brian was the 1st to spot this same bird after lunch when it was even more concealed.  Ken was able to identify it in his 'scope.

There was nothing else to see here, so we carried on, and first discovered a pair of Song Thrushes, and then came upon a pair of Bullfinches demolishing Hawthorn buds. There was a lot of loud industrial noise coming from near the Hotel, and this may have been why there were no Goldeneyes to see there, so there was no chance of any Smew. The only other birds here were a pair of well separated Great Crested Grebes, but also a pair of Tufted Ducks.
The afternoon was even quieter with very few small birds seen with no Bullfinches, no Lesser Redpoll, and no pair of Song Thrushes, but we did have a Redwing. Gordon spotted a Goldeneye from the 1st hide, then we had another pair near the hotel, which had obviously returned to their favourite spot now the industrial noise and burning had been toned down. The highlight of the late afternoon session was the jousting combat between two opposing pairs of fighting Mute Swans. Finally, a male Great Spotted Woodpecker was near the feeding station, and perched near the top of an alder tree were it was seen by every participant. 
Mute Swan

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Red & Yellow

Red Kite (c) 2013 MJF
Yesterday we met at a local linear nature reserve and walked for a longer period than normal. It was foggy during most of the car journey to the reserve, so I had sinking feelings about the sessions, but on arrival the fog cleared to leave just milky-white deposits in a few of the deeply-cloven valleys. At first there were fewer small birds than usual, but we soon found several Yellowhammers, which are always popular with classes - and these were the firs decent views Maggie had ever had. The Green Woodpeckers were absent, as was last time's Peregrine, but we did eventually find a Red Kite. Three hares were chasing each other before one lost interest and snuggled down into its form. There are usually plenty of Red-legged Partridges in the area, but again these were absent and the influx of Common Gulls wasn't really an adequate compensation.

Yellowhammer (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
Another disappointment were the Bullfinches which flew past us from time to time, including one flock of 6, but apart from a brief view in the pm, almost but not quite completely obscured by twigs, they didn't perch for the group to view them.
A distant Sparrowhawk was seen by one student, and later I saw another near a group of soaring Buzzards, and a Kestrel was another raptor species that everyone managed to see. A Marsh Tit was heard singing in the am, but it remained concealed, and the Long-tailed Tits weren't as obvious as normal. One bird that was everywhere was the Chaffinch, which was probably benefitting from food left out for the Pheasants.

Last Year's Umbellifer Covered in Hoar Frost
(c) 2013 Maggie Bruce
The View back to the car park (c) 2012 Claude Hargreaves
The Misty Gap in the Hedge (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce

Hedge Top Covered in Hoar Frost (c) 2013 Maggie Bruce

In the afternoon the small birds were even quieter, but we had better views of soaring Buzzards, but the wind dropped and the Red Kites failed to show. 
On Wednesday we tried a different location in the Yorkshire Wolds. However, it was very bleak in a biting wind, and the lack of sun didn't help to maximise the birds seen. Despite this we did have early good views of a Red Kite, which was soon followed by 5 Buzzards, the most we've seen of this species in that particular location. A Jay was heard and then spotted briefly as it flew through a patch of woodland. However, on the return journey it came out into the open for a few minutes, and even settled on a post by the road, and allowed everyone to see it. There were even fewer small birds around than yesterday, but this was probably because a fairly large chunk of Bullfinch habitat had been destroyed since last year's visits. We'd almost got back to our cars before we saw our first Great Spotted Woodpecker of the day - a female. Nearby I spotted 3 Redwings in an Ash tree, but Brian scanned around to see another 16, but when they eventually took to the wing, there must have been nearly 30 of them. 

Friday, 15 February 2013

Owl's About That?

This morning I was checking out another brand new venue we will be visiting after Easter.  As we were driving on the main road out of Pocklington I spotted a small, distinctive figure on a law branch just over the road and above the hedge on the passenger side.  I slowed down & my nephew was able to get a great view of a Little Owl.  

I drove on to the next junction, and retrieved the camera from the boot, and turned round again went past the tree again, and finally turned round in the nearest drive.  We wound the window down well before the owl's tree, checked there was no one behind us on the road and slowed down and stopped just beyond the tree.  I had to pass the camera over to my nephew who fired off 50 shots into the tree behind him.  Many of the pictures failed to include the Owl's feet, but some of the later pictures included the whole bird, so although I found this bird, the copyright belongs to my nephew.  For some reason he thinks the photo is good enough for my 2014 calendar.  What do you think?
Little Owl (c) 2013  Ben Coneyworth

Thursday, 14 February 2013

SEOs on the Off-Chance

I went to check out the route to one of the little gems we'll be visiting next term. We haven’t been before, so I just wanted to double-check the time involved & the best way to get there.   There was still quite a lot of melting snow about, it was raining most of the time, but the site was fairly easy to find. We were heading back towards the Humber Bridge and the rain began to ease off, so I thought it may be worth checking on one of the most reliable Short-eared Owl wintering sites in the country. My nephew hadn't been before, and as it may be the last winter the birds may be seen there, I thought it was worth a slight detour.

Hunting Short-eared Owl 
When we arrived there was a Short-eared Owl sat at top of a Hawthorn bush trying to dry out its feathers. It allowed us to approach very closely. We drove down the lane and managed to pick out 6 birds in flight, plus a couple of Kestrels. We were able to approach several Owls either hunting along the grassy banks, on posts, or even perched on a bit of straw by the side of the drain. One one occasion an individual appeared to find a small rodent, which it appeared to bury in the drain bank. 
 Lifting a Wing
 Having a Shake
 Staring us out
 Looking Ahead
 Checking Behind
 Sorting out the Tail
 Talons & Bill
 Picking the Talons Clean
 Damp Feathers Clearly Visible under the Tail
The best one was about half-way down the lane and allowed us to park right next to it while it shook itself, carefully preened all its feathers, and just sat while it tried to dry itself. We were parked there for about 30 mins before eventually another car approached us from behind. We moved off slowly and the bird remained on its post. However, I'm not sure it remained there for long, as when I checked my mirror the occupant of the car behind had jumped out, leaving his passenger door and boot doors wide open, so perhaps he disturbed it. 

 Appearing to Frown
 Similar Expression to a Little Owl?
 Sorting Out the Wing Feathers
 Eyes Closed as it Preens
 Caught in the Act Burying Food
 Over the Hunting Ground

We then went over the Humber Bridge and went to check out another venue Ben hadn't visited before. There, we were charged by a group of Mute Swans, maybe some pictures of that on another post

Friday, 8 February 2013

Better than Expected

On Thursday we shared cars over the Humber Bridge again, but this time we headed to a reserve 180 degrees from yesterday's. When we arrived we were greeted by one of the UK's top photographer's 4x4 in the car park - "birdmad" Dean Eades. If he was here there must have been something worth seeing, right?
All photos (c) 2013 Richard Whateley unless credited otherwise
We entered the forbiddingly narrow entrance (when you have 6 layers on) and walked around the initial circuit, but didn't see a great deal until Phil glimpsed a flock of Long-tailed Tits, and Richard spotted a single Siskin. We looked for the Great Spotted Woodpecker practice tree, but it must have crashed to the ground in the last 12 months. 
We carried on over the bridge into the main part of the reserve. Again there were more Long-tailed Tits, and some elusive Bullfinches. On the site of an old hide we tracked down some Tufted Ducks. The habitual Goldeneyes could be heard displaying but were screened from our view by higher than normal reeds.  Of course the Ruddy Ducks we normally always saw here had been culled. 
Tufted Duck
 Great Black Backed Gull
We walked to the SE tip of the reserve & while we stopped for a repeat view of a Little Grebe, Phil's imitation of a Siskin call brought 3 down into the tree directly in front of us - unfortunately they were all females. Then a Mistle Thrush could be heard faintly in the gardens outside the reserve. It remained elusive, but there were Goldfinches and Collared Doves. 
Record Shot of a Bullfinch
 Long-tailed Tit (c) 2013 Phil Todd
 Robin (c) 2013 Phil Todd
We retraced our steps for a while and then cut across between 2 lakes, where at last we found the flighty Goldeneye. There were also Shoveler, Tufted ducks, and Pochard here. On to the estuary where we saw plenty of Redshank, a Common Gull some Black-headed Gulls, and a small flock of Dunlin. Then I spotted a familiar rotund shape among the dense Hawthorn bushes. On closer inspection we found 4 Bullfinches, and everyone managed to see these, whilst very few managed to see the earlier pair. Finally, we skirted the outlandish visitor centre when a pair of Mistle Thrushes landed on the top of a lamp post near us, whilst yet another serenaded us, & them, from gardens nearby.
 Mistle Thrush

I was expecting the afternoon to be quieter, but the increasing cloud cover sent the temperatures 'soaring' a little, and the small birds continued to be found. This time we located a flock of c60 Siskins with at least 4 Redpolls. Eric found a Bullfinch and a flying Kingfisher, and we heard 2 very clear but invisible Water Rails. The tide was very high, so there weren't so many estuary birds visible, but 12 Redshank were huddled on a large pipe disgorging effluent into the  Humber.