Friday, 28 February 2014

Having a Kip

When we arrived at the obsolete railway station yesterday morning it was still raining, despite the forecast explicitly stating that any rain would have cleared into the North Sea by 10 am. The usual Mistle Thrush was absent, but there was the gentle singing of Song Thrush, which everyone managed to see, whilst 2 Wrens violently duetted at either side. 
 Red Kite
We'd travelled a few hundred yards when I heard the 'Zip' calls of Yellowhammer, and we managed to locate those too. Both the song Thrushes & the Yellowhammers had disappeared by the afternoon. We followed the path down, then crossed the road & climbed up to an escarpment. Here, there was actually a singing Yellowhammer, plus plenty of finches including mainly Chaffinches, but also a few Goldfinches, and a single Greenfinch. In the afternoon all these small passerines had departed, to be replaced by a Red Kite & a Buzzard hanging around the Rabbit warren. These rabbits are under siege, because in the morning a Stoat's head popped up out of the rabbit hole, scattering 2 adult rabbits. A Leeser Black-Backed Gull headed south overhead. 
We hadn't gone much further when both groups encountered a pair of Bulfinches. In the morning the make was busy preening his rump, but in the afternoon the pair were indulging in the rarely seen courtship display. Only one other group has witnessed this in 10 years of the classes. You can see the results of that  here:   
We carried on, and the bushes seemed very quiet for a while, with just a Buzzard briefly visible from the defile in which we walked. As we neared a railway bridge we encountered another flock of mixed finches. At first they all appeared to be Chaffinches, but then a male Greenfinch was glimpsed and then finally a pair of female Bramblings were seen. These were quite well hidden, and not everyone could see them properly. They were still present in the afternoon, and one just happened to sit in the sun for a while, although it was almost completely obscured by twigs. However, in the end every participant was able to observe that it was very different from the female Chaffinches nearby. 
Record Shot of Brambling
 Record Shot of Brambling
 There were more Bullfinches around, but we tended to only obtain brief, almost always obscured views. A little further on we disturbed a pair of Sparrowhawks. The male headed east along the hedge, while the female cut across the open field in a westerly direction. We reached a rickety looking railway bridge and from here the morning group watched a pair of Goldcrests. In the afternoon all this activity had ceased, but a Marsh Tit was heard in this area. Both groups looked into a field to the north, and saw a single Red-legged Partridge.
Red Kite
 Red-legged Partridge
On the return journey both groups saw a pair of Long-tailed Tits, and enjoyed better views of the Bullfinches. The morning groups had another sighting of a pair of confiding Goldcrests. 

Thursday, 27 February 2014

It Makes me Want to Shout!

On Tuesday we travelled for the 1st time to a conifer forest near York. We had a long walk before we reached the central section, where the wildlife resided. Throughout our whole sojourn there, we were laughed at by various Green Woodpeckers, but none of them were seen. We also looked for sunbathing Adders, in the strong sun but didn't spot any, but a regular told us that he'd seen one on February 20th.

We clambered over a stile & made our way to the pool.  We stool there for a while taking care not to rest our hands on the posts, which 2 years later were still being used by a bird of prey to wipe its last meal on - this time it may have been the developing spawn of a frog.   We'd be standing there for a few minutes, when Lynn pointed out a buffish bird at the top of a Silver Birch right next to us. It was a Woodlark - what the French call Lulu! It soon flew away and as it disappeared we noticed a second bird flying with it.

Goodness Knows
There were a few lone Silver Birches on the heath and many of these contained the cheery songs of Linnets. Later, a pair of Buzzards rose above the conifers, and then flew south. A few minutes later a Sparrowhawk was seen over the same area of trees. After leaving the reserve we travelled to the southern edge of the trees and here we had a pair of Long-tailed Tits & Yellowhammers. We retraced our steps and heard the hooting of a male Tawny Owl, and then went on to see many more Yellowhammers near the picnic table - the vast majority of these appeared to be males. While we were watching them I kept hearing the very faint tell-tale lulu song of a Woodlark, and sure enough it was performing some aerial circles above a large stand of conifers. 
We travelled towards the sound, and then were able to see and hear it better. This bat-like flight was actually taking place above a field to the north of the trees, and it seemed there was another singing above another field to the north. As we tried to find this tiny bird in the massive sky first one silent Jay, and then another went over our heads and landed in the thin line of trees bordering the Woodlark's field. In the afternoon this area was completely silent, but we spotted a sniper with a telescopic attachment to his gun squatting in the hedgerow. He may have been planning to cull deer, but he didn't fire any shots off while we were present. 
We carried on west, back towards the car park when I noticed dozens of Redwing leaving the conifers for the small copse of Silver Birches. Meanwhile we had closer views of some passerines, including Marsh Tits and Goldcrests. I had a brief view of something, which may have been a Chiffchaff, but it soon disappeared. We were almost back at the car park when we came across a pair of Treecreepers and more Marsh Tits. In the afternoon there were 2 more Marsh Tits using the little bird table near the site entrance.
 Record Shot of Reed Bunting
The afternoon started ominously with thick grey clouds and then 4 large logging lorries arrived, and trundled down the central path. We tried to avoid them by walking south east along the circuit of the wood. The wood had become silent since the morning, but we did hear Siskins, and saw another Treecreeper and a Marsh Tit. We reached a stubble field which was swarming with Fieldfares and Redwings, and while we were watching them the afternoon's single Yellowhammer was spotted in the top of a hedge.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Brideshead Revisited

On Tuesday we enjoyed our second visit to Brideshead. A Skylark could just be heard over the strong winds as we left the cars, which was slightly easier to hear as we returned to our vehicles. When had only just entered the gate when we heard and saw a pair of Long-tailed Tits. At home they are currently nest-building, but these seemed to be still in a mixed winter flock with others genuine members of the tit family. The muddy path had improved since our last visit, and as we reached the corner we heard the honking of Canada Geese from the grassy sward, and spying through the twigs we were able to see grazing Wigeon at their feet. 
All Photos (c) 2014 Maggie Bruce

The Tuesday group at Brideshead
On the lake itself we soon saw a pair of Great Crested Grebes, but as they came together instead of performing their graceful courtship dance, this pair showed aggression, and one bird was seen off. Other birds on the lake included Tufted a Ducks, Wigeon, a massive flock of Gadwall, and a couple of drake Teal. There seemed to have been a clear out of wildfowl in the last fortnight, but we eventually saw some Goldeneye, and a single female Goosander. Near the caravan park a female Greenfinch was tweeting on the journey out, but on the way back 3 Goldfinches flew from there across the lake. 
Fighting Great Crested Grebes 
 The End of the Affair
 The Defeated
The breeding Cormorants were quieter this time, but they were still adding to the nests. Three Herons were on the far bank, and another pair seemed to be on a nest at the back of the Cormorant island. Behind us the high-pitched song of a Treecreeper could be heard, but we just couldn't see the bird.  
Nesting Cormorants
 Mute Swan, Wigeon & Goldeneye
 Goldeneye Displaying
 Goldeneye Flying
 Buzzards Grappling
 Great Crested Grebe
 Something or Other
 Leucistic Other
 On the way back I spotted a pair of Buzzards, soaring in circles above the trees at the opposite bank of the lake. They did this a while before interacting, including some talon grappling. The size differential wasn't obvious, so were these members of the same gender, which were battling for supremacy? One of the fighting Grerat Crested Grebes was fishing sand swimming fairly close to our shore as we headed back.  As we neared the muddy path again we saw a pair of Mistle Thrushes, which flew over us with their rattling alarm calls. Finally, Rose spotted the Buzzards again just as we were about to leave.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

A Day of Two Halves

We arrived in the Sewerby car park on Wednesday morning, and as soon as we opened the car doors we could hear the distant song of a Mistle Thrush singing from the top of a tree. Later, it was seen fluttering over the car park, the silver under its wing catching the light. An even more distant Song Thrush could be heard, but it was outside the confines of the hall grounds, so we failed to see it. 
On entering the grounds we searched for the Treecreeper and Goldcrest around their normal haunts, but neither were at home. It is also striking that the Great Spotted Woodpeckers, which seemed to be ubiquitous in this area, now seem to have died out - this bucks the trend for the whole of the UK, including the recently colonised Ireland. 
 Courtship Begging
 We carried on to the feeding station, which at first was only frequented by Great Tits, Robins and a nervous Chaffinch, which almost came down to snatch a seed, but in the end its nerve failed. Just before we left the Blue Tits started to arrive, as did a small Grey Squirrel. The visit to the walled garden resulted in a parliament of more than 5 Magpies, and a few Jackdaws. We then tried to track down a Goldcrest in one of their other favoured locations. We managed to find one when suddenly I managed to spot through the thick conifer branches a familiar shape high above us, in an unusual location - a Red Kite. This was followed by 2 more, and the last was being mobbed by a pair of Jackdaws. I pointed out to the participants that this seemed a rather unusual record. I tried to take photos, but the many twigs & branches of the trees we were under frustrated my efforts until the birds had passed over & were heading inland.  
Final Red Kite with Mobbing Jackdaw
When we recovered from our amazement we continued looking for the Goldcrest, and we probably found at least 3 individuals, possibly several more. These were difficult to pin down, as we were invaded by screaming brats from all sides. In fact the whole of the grounds seemed to erupt with high pitched human calls, bringing the peaceful enjoyment of the scene to an abrupt halt. 
 To escape we made our way to the beach, noticing a few Redwings and passionate Stock Doves in the alpaca enclosure. Unlike the previous occasion the Sika deer were not cowering in the entrance of their shed, but were actually grazing in the open. 
Stock Dove
On the beach we saw plenty of Oystercatchers, a few Redshank, some Turnstones, and some swiftly so scuttering Sanderlings. The crows and a few gulls were busy flying high into the air and dropping mussels on the rocks below. There had been quite a few mudslides since my previous visit, and the beach had changed considerably - with a completely new area of sand, and vast new deposits of seaweed. 
Sika Deer [stag]
Climbing back up we noticed that the grounds were now heaving with push chairs in addition to the usual dog walkers, and it was clear the situation was going to deteriorate even further before the afternoon session began. As it was the ample car park was straining under the influx, and some of those on the pm session were finding it difficult locating a parking space. I therefore checked the car park for the early arrivals, and sent them off to RSPB Bempton. As there was an hour to go before the session started, I texted the rest to try and catch them before they arrived in Sewerby. I managed to catch the remainder shortly after they entered the car park. After the others had all been intercepted Ben and I had to wait for a whole hour for the Walkington inhabitant to direct him to Bempton. Unfortunately he'd decided not to turn up without letting me know, so we waited for 30 minutes after the last class member had set off in vain. We gave up at 1pm and dashed to Bempton to prevent the others waiting too long. 
 Winter Aconites
The afternoon members had assembled in the RSPB gift shop. While I popped to the lavatory, Ben made the mistake of entering the shop. The class members had been ignored by the new, largely youthful staff, but noticing Ben's relative callowness he was pounced upon concerning his membership of the organization. Thankfully he is a member of their youth branch. When I arrived we were informed that the Guillemots and Razorbills had only arrived the previous day, so that definitely enlivened the experience. We started off for Staple Newk. 
Gannets on Staple Newk
We hadn't been walking for long when we observed the odd Gannet against the grey sea, plus a few Fulmar, and the odd Herring Gull. It was also possible to see a few tiny Auk sp. flying back and forth. A pair of Meadow Pipits flew overhead and headed inland. We hadn't been going long when Doug and Ben simultaneously spotted an interesting raptor, which flew higher and started soaring before we lost sight of it. When we got to Staple Newk there were quite a few Gannets already in residence, indulging in sky-pointing, bill fencing and fighting. The back of the rock was covered with Guillemots and there a few on the top near the Gannets. Someone spotted a flock of 8 passerines flying across the fields. Most of these were Skylarks, but one of these landed on the fence, and David's telescope revealed it was a Corn Bunting - the first we had seen during the classes for a couple of years at least.  
 Gannet - Sky-pointing indicating its intention to take-off
 Same Gannet - airborne
We retraced out steps to the less muddy areas of the site. Whilst it had been quite windy on Sewerby beach in the morning, Bempton was amazing for the lack of wind, and in the warmth the cliff edge was absolutely swarming with little insects, at least one of which contrived to enter the depths of my ear - I'm not sure if it ever came out again! At the RSPB stands there were many Guillemots with only a few Razorbills to be seen, and a single Gannet. However, we did get a better view of a Rock Pipit here, which perched briefly on the fence. 
More Sky-pointing
 Herring Gull

Before we finished we decamped to the seating area at the feeding station. There were plenty of Tree Sparrows in the area, but the feeders remained completely unvisited while we were there. However, there was a healthy flock of Greenfinches, a single Goldfinch and a pair of Reed Buntings. There were no Corn Buntings or Yellowhammers during our visit, but a very bright male Chaffinch added a dash of colour.