Saturday was a day spent in the Thixendale area, which spring has eventually reached after flirting with the idea for several weeks. My nephew and myself arrived early to check out the presence of the birds, we arrived after a massive cloudburst, as there was a small stream flowing down the road from the Robert Fuller Gallery! Robert informed us about the Great Spotted Woodpecker family and the recently fledged Redstarts, so we drove down to have a look, and managed to hear the Woodpecker chicks in the nest, and Ben located one of the Redstart chicks. We returned to the gallery to await for the attendees to assemble.
Robert's Tawny Owls haven't bred this year, so he arranged to feed his Kestrels instead. As we waited we were able to watch the bird feeders, which were mainly populated by Tree Sparrows with a few Chaffinches, a single male Blackbird and a male Pheasant fed underneath. Unfortunately, for the 20 minutes we waited the Kestrel failed to show, so we then set off down the slope. We were able to stop about half-way down because someone must have primed the Tawny owls. After months of being invisible throughout daylight hours they had chosen that particular morning to perch together in a fairly open area of the Wych Elm tree. They stayed together the whole time we waited to ensure everyone of the dozen attendees managed to see them. This was made more difficult by the almost continual arrival of cars heading for the Summer Exhibition of the Robert Fullery Gallery. Luckily, none of them seemed eager to notch up a human fatality on their weekend experience. A Dunnock wasn't so lucky, and Robert retrieved the freshly-deceased corpse for either his Owls or his Kestrels to enjoy later.
Once everyone had enjoyed the Owls, Robert returned to the gallery and we continued on our journey down. Everyone managed to see 2 Red-legged Partridges running away from us across a buttercup meadows. A Linnet sang briefly from the telephone wires, but soon flew away, and was never seen again. We reached the tree the Little Owl used to nest in, and many could just make out the rhythmic calls of the Woodpecker nestlings, but all could hear the very loud 'chick' or 'pik' calls of the adult. He/she could only be seen briefly as it disappeared behind one of the twisted tree limbs.
Out-of-Focus Red-legged Partridge Running Away
A Noisy Swallow (c) 2013 Ben Coneyworth
We entered a field to try and get a better view of the nest hole, but this was a little tricky, as the wind kept ensuring that the ash leaves kept obscuring the reddish nest hole. Then Barbara spotted one of the adults high in the left hand side of the tree above the nest hole, but it flew off before everyone could train their binoculars on to it. As we waited some Swallows flew in close formation, and some of them were extremely noisy. I wonder what they were upto. None of them seemed to be young birds, so presumably it was some adults jockeying for position as they prepared to nest late in the season. A House Martin flew through allowing everyone to appreciate its white rump against the green of the hill in the background.
Female Redstart (c) 2013 Ben Coneyworth
We climbed again to a plateau area where Robert had set up his hide. The wind was blasting through this area, so views of the birds were a little thin on the ground here, but a Yellowhammer was seen briefly, as were a couple of views of two male and female Redstarts and a pair of Chaffinches. Ben was able to capture a photo of the female Redstart on a low branch, but many participants weren't able to see her before she disappeared again. As we descended the hill a Greenfinch performed its butterfly courtship flight, and then perched high at the top of an ash tree. As dark clouds threatened some Swifts flew low over the sheep dung, and a Kestrel hovered over the opposite hillside. We then ascended road to the gallery and had another look at the Tawny Owls.
Female Redstart (c) 2013 Ben Coneyworth
Hybrid Pergrine x Lanner? Falcon
A falconry expert had set up his birds just outside of the gallery, and everyone was able to get a good look at the birds on show, which included both a Snowy and an Eagle Owl, plus a couple of American species: a Red-tailed Hawk, and a Harris Hawk. The final bird was a cross between a Peregrine and I think, a Lanner Falcon. Robert took his cover off the Kestrel food again and the attendees were invited to wait again to see if it would come down for the food. I went off to eat my sandwiches, but I believe the Kestrel only deigned to appear once all the morning participants had headed off for their lunch!
In the afternoon the 3 people who had booked, which included Barbara from the morning, had a look for the Tawny Owls first - luckily one bird remained. Then everyone followed Ben and myself on a 3 mile drive to a second location. At first things didn't look too promising as another weather system seemed to be tearing through the area, but luckily we were on the edge, so although we endured the wind, we remained dry. We could just make out the mausoleum and behind it the dome and the 'big house' of Castle Howard picked out in the sunshine beyond the hills we were surrounded by. There was very little birdsong, so we turned our attention to the wild flowers at first. Eventually, a Willow Warbler was heard singing from the Hawthorn thickets, and it eventually came to sing on the telephone wires directly above our heads.
We reached the old railway line, where we saw Water Avens, Herb Robert, White Dead Nettle, Butterbur and Meadowsweet leaves, before arriving at the village. Here, there were more garden escapes including Lilac, Alkanet and a strange variegated Red dead Nettle. Near the kilns were a pair of Bullfinches, and Goldfinches could be heard twittering.
Female Common Blue
We were rather surprised to see a photographer in the YWT reserve with a dog on a lead, as the notice on the gate made it clear dogs were not welcome at all. The weather started to improve, so in here we began to see butterflies including plenty of Small Heaths and a Common Blues as well as a couple of the day-flying moths: A few Common Spotted Orchids were just starting to flower, and we also saw Yellow Rattle, Birds Foot Trefoil, Trembling Grass, and the highlight a few emerging Common Twayblades. A Yellowhammer and a family of Long-tailed Tits were the best birds seen here.
We retraced our steps and heard a Chiffchaff and had a brief glimpse of a Whitethroat. We had another look over the gate leading to the ancient monument and were rewarded by the sight of a female Redstart collecting insects in the long grass for her hungry brood. We thought that was the highlight until we set off across the grass field at the the foot of the hill. Barbara spotted movement along the fence posts- sure enough she had found the afternoon's star bird a male Redstart. Luckily, this one perched on the fence post for several seconds before flying to the gate, where is also perched for 2 seconds. I think this was a first for every participant & showed well through their binoculars, if not close enough for my camera. They are spectacularly colourful birds, if you've never seen one before. We then managed the steep climb to the car park in exhausted silence before everyone made their way back home. Hopefully, the stunning male Redstart will remain a long time in their memory.