Thursday, 28 March 2013

Spring Course Countdown - 12 days to go

We don't just look for birds. There is a location where we may see Otters in broad daylight - fingers crossed!

Friday, 22 March 2013

Spring Course Countdown - 18 Days to Go - Turtle Dove

Spring Course Countdown - 18 days to go - Turtle Dove. Like the Cuckoo this delicate summer visitor is also getting harder to find every year, but we are going to several venues where we should see this beautiful spring bird!
Turtle Dove

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Spring Course Countdown -19 Days to Go - Cuckoo

It's becoming more elusive every year, but we will be visiting several venues, where it should still be possible to obtain sightings of such an iconic spring bird

Cloaked in Mystery

Surprisingly, the weather forecast was awful again for Wednesday, so Allerthorpe Common was dropped in favour of North Cave Wetlands. For the 2nd day running the day wasn't actually as bad as the forecast, but it was a lot worse than Tuesday at Tophill Low. The birds weren't as good either, with only the long-staying Redhead Smew being of special interest.

Parochial Man of Mystery (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
 Avocets (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
 Avocets (c) 2013 Tony Robinson

In the morning there was a work party erecting screens and tree planting, whilst the pm crowd had to negotiate a primary school party. At one stage we were followed by a bloke in full camouflage gear in very thick wellies, carrying a specialised under water camera, and plenty of green webbing. He later threw himself on the floor in a corner & seemed to be trying to obtain a picture of the female Smew. I'm not sure how he managed, as the light was abysmal. 

All remaining pictures (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
There were a few Redwings scattered at either end of the reserve, and a solitary female Siskin.  These were just a few signs of a lingering winter.  There weren't many indications of a burgeoning vernal season, on what some people asserted was the first day of Spring.
 Black-headed Gull
 Common Gull
In the morning just before we left a bloke with the breathing control of Darth Vader, set up his telescope, making more noise than the 12 other people in the hide added together. His black cloak was only metaphorical, but he certainly gave me the shivers when his strange breathing pattern reverberated around the hide.  He wasn't prepared to walk right round the reserve for the sake of a female Smew - a drake, yes, but no way for a female. Quite a contrast with the earlier chap, who the class thought was extremely eccentric in quite a different way. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Silence is Golden

Because of terrible weather forecasts Friday & Tuesday's sessions were changed to Tophill Low.  In both mornings we went south & saw the large selection of birds on South Marsh East and fewer birds on the other areas of water.  Watton Borrow Pits didn't have as many wildfowl as usual, but on every visit the Barn Owl was seen.  It flew silently right in front of the hide and at times appeared almost golden against the water.  Yesterday also we had several good views of at least one Kingfisher, and possibly 2.  It was too quick for any of the 3 photographers to whip out their cameras in time. On Friday 24 Curlews were present, but this had increased to 49 on Tuesday.  On neither day could we locate the Redhead Smew
Barn Owl
In the afternoon we went north as far as the Angus MacBean hide.  On the way yesterday we saw a Goldcrest, and a Treecreeper near the D Reservoir car park hide.  There was very little to see at North Marsh, although a female Sparrowhawk eventually flew through.  At Hempholme Meadows we saw 5 Little Egrets on Friday, but only 2 yesterday.  There were also 2 Oystercatchers on the floodbank and a few Greylag Geese. 
 Barn Owl
Every area of bushes and trees appeared to contain Long-tailed Tits, with the most obliging pair showing near the L-shaped hide.  

 Long-tailed Tit
On Friday the strong southerly wind that the wildfowl was concentrated quite near the car park hide.  On Tuesday the light was a lot better, but because of the light winds the birds were dispersed over the whole reservoir.   On both Friday and Tuesday mornings a snatch of the song of a Cetti's Warbler was heard fleetingly in roughly the same part of the reserve.  On Friday we waited another 30 minutes for it to be repeated, without success.  Of course we didn't manage to see a view of the bird at all!
 Roe Deer
 Roe Deer Buck with Midges
 2 Recent Incomers to East Yorkshire - which do you prefer?
 Little Egret
It was during the afternoon that I discovered that we may have left Watton Borrow Pits hide about 10 minutes too early at 11 am.  Apparently, not long after this time an Otter scrambled down the bank near the Sand Martin box and then was in full view for a quarter of an hour, as it headed in an easterly direction.  Unfortunately, it was too distant for decent photographs, but must have still been a sight to see by the 2 witnesses.  Nothing was written in the log book up to the time I left, so I'm just putting this sighting on record here.  Apologies to the Tuesday morning people who read this.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Spring Course - Countdown - 21 Days To Go!

One of the birds we should see many times next term is the Sedge Warbler.  We will be paying particular attention to its song.  I will be pointing out the differences in its song in comparison with that of a possible confusion species - the Reed Warbler.   Incidentally, this picture appears in the new book Beverley Pastures by Barbara English.  

Monday, 18 March 2013

After Easter

Bookings have now started for the 10-week Spring/Summer term, which begins on 9th of April. Most of the mornings are already full, or almost full, but there are plenty of spaces on Friday pm. If you are interested in another session, please ask. For 2 hours a week encounter the natural world as a completely new sensual experience. You'll be amazed what you'll find just by listening, and not only be looking! In the Spring we'll be paying special attention to learning birdsong and calls. Specific birds we'll be hoping to see include: Bittern, Red Kite, Hobby, Marsh Harrier, Kingfisher, Turtle Dove, Redstart, and nearly 100 other bird species! We'll also be hoping to differentiate around 9 species of Warbler.  

We will be visiting 10 wonderful local places for birds, 6 of which are completely new to the groups, even after 9 years of this course.  We'll be observing birds at a variety of locations including secluded pools, lowland heaths, bluebell woods, in reedbeds, on the Humber estuary, and on the Yorkshire Wolds, and places that aren't normally open to the general public.

So, if you are interested in learning more about your local wildlife in a range of interesting venues for less than £10 a week, then this is the course for you! We visit a different local hotspot each week and identify all the birds and as much other wildlife as we can. Each session lasts at least 2 hours. The course runs twice daily Tuesday to Friday. If you are interested in more details of the course, or wish to be placed on a waiting list, please leave a comment next to one of my posts or email me on
Redstart - hoping to see this species at a new venue for the classes

Friday, 15 March 2013

The Killing Fields

As we are still in the middle of a cold plunge we didn't go to Bempton on Thursday, but went to North Cave Wetlands again. The highlight in the avian line was a Redhead Smew, and we probably got a little closer today, as she was confined in her attempts to evade us by the ice covering Far Lake. We had only just left this area when I spotted a Stoat running towards us with a small dark mammal in its mouth. Someone suggested a mole, which would have been unusual, as they are unpleasant to eat. However it did appear to have mole-like feet when the photo was examined outdoors. Later, when this was checked in a hide, it was clear that the feet seen were the white ones of the Stoat itself behind the prey item. The dead creature seemed to have short, dark hair, and the most likely victim appeared to be a baby Rabbit. The Stoat had continued to run towards us for a while before crossing the path running down the bank, crossing the ditch, and up the other side before disappearing in what looked like another Rabbit hole.

Stoat Pictures (c) 2013 MJF

In the afternoon only 4 people turned out, and we'd got to the Stoat point when there was a terrific clamour behind us. Looking back the 2 large Ash trees were swarming with Rooks and other corvids. We turned round and went back to the fence to try for a better view. Eventually we were able to make out that a female Sparrowhawk had taken a Rook and was trying to kill it while being dive-bombed by all the others crows in the area. She seemed to be struggling and the last view we had was the Sparrowhawk carrying the crow she she appeared to attempt to drown in the bottom of the water-filled ditch. 

All remaining pics (c) 2013 Richard Whateley
 Smew [Redhead]
 Great Crested Grebes
 Little Grebe
There was a selection of gulls from Turret Hide. The vast majority were Back-headed Gulls, but I heard Chris correctly explaining why others were young Herring Gulls rather than Common Gulls. There were Common Gulls on a different part of Island Lake with some more immature Herring Gulls, as well as 2 adults, and a single immature Great Black-backed Gull. In the afternoon an adult Great Black Backed Gull was on an island in front of the new Crosslands Hide. There were nearly a dozen alba Wagtails from the southern windows, though Eric wasn't able to zero in on a bona fide White Wagtail. Then I spotted a Red Kite flying high away from us towards Cliffe Road. It went even higher and then another 2 could be discerned flying even higher up. 
Tufted Duck
 Greylag Goose
There was a lot of noise from chittering Little Grebes and when we reached the 1st hide, we were able to see 4 individuals. Most areas of water also had a pair of Great Crested Grebes. These were a lot quieter than their tiny cousins, but they did indulge in a tiny part of their head shaking courtship display. 
Unfortunately, Green Woodpeckers, which are often the star larkers at this location were completely absent again. 
 Tree Sparrow

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Between Blizzards

It was too windy, cold and snowy for Hornsea today, so we relocated to Tophill Low.  We followed the same route as the visit last Thursday, but it was more difficult to view the birds, especially when some blizzards seemed to last half an hour.  However, when the snow stopped the sun came out, which certainly didn't happen last week which was another grey, grey, grey week.  The courting Goldeneyes looked especially fine in the glorious sunshine.  After the longest blizzard had just concluded we were sitting in the hide overlooking Watton Borrow Pits when a Barn flew slowly past at our eye level.  it looked extraordinarily creamy against the completely white background.  Unfortunately, all 3 photographers has put their cameras under cover when it started snowing, and hadn't retrieved them when the Owl glided by.

The most unusual bird seen was a Little Egret, but this couldn't compare with an immature Osprey, which had been seen recently at the north end of the reserve sitting on a Barn Owl box.   

 Blizzard with Tufted Duck
 Blizzard with Canada Geese
Defeated - Pheasant running from another male
 Footprint of a Small Mustelid
 Goldcrest (c) 2013 Tony Robinson
 Male Sparrowhawk (c) 2013 Tony Robinson
 Phragmites Reeds in the Snow (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
 Long-tailed Tit (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart
 Record Shot of Blue Tit (c) 2013 Aileen Urquhart