Saturday, 16 April 2016

What a Start to Summer(?) Term!

What a start to the summer course. Tuesday started with heavy rain. However, a Firecrest had been present lately, so hopes were high! The students decamped to the big green hide, and we sat here for over half an hour. There were Cetti's Warblers calling from either side, but they weren't particularly close. On the main lake were some Tufted Ducks, a pair of Gadwall and a pair of Shoveler, a drake Pochard flew in later. A Snipe flew in front of the hide, but none seemed to be hidden in the reedy channel. The best birds here were the 2 Water Rails, which were best seen clambering over the fallen reeds like a pair of dark slim chickens.
Record Shot of Grasshopper Warbler
 Erm, Cetti's Warbler
Eventually, although the rain continued, we set off on a circuit of the reserve. When we reached the blackthorn a rattle was heard, so we stopped in our tracks. After a little waiting a male Lesser Whitethroat came into view. It even came into the open at the top of the bush and sang very clearly, allowing everyone excellent views. This was the earliest Lesser Whitethroat I've ever seen. Unfortunately because of the rain there were no cameras being carried!
An even bigger surprise arrived when we reached the riverbank, as Steve spotted something in the water to the west of the red lightship - it was a Harbour Porpoise. We were able to watch it circling for several minutes occasionally it's fin broke the surface of the murky water. 
A Pair of Buzzards
 Male Crossbill (c) 2016 Mike Woods
We carried on through the reserve and saw 2 pairs of Bullfinch, a few Chiffchaffs, and a single Willow Warbler. A male Blackcap showed very well as we looked down on it from the riverbank. When we reached the hotel hide, we saw a Kingfisher, and a very close Treecreeper, but there was no sign of any Marsh Harriers, presumably they were put off by the almost constant rain! Just before reaching the hide the distinctive "klute" calls of Avocets were another surprise as 2 flew over heading west.

 Mistle Thrush (c) 2016 Mike Woods
 Redpoll (c) 2016 Mike Woods
 Treecreeper (c) 2016 Mike Woods
 Treecreeper (c) 2016 Mike Woods
 Willow Warbler (c) 2016 Mike Woods
 Yellowhammer (c) 2016 Mike Woods
On Wednesday in much better weather we tried out a venue near York. The first birds we encountered after a Chiffchaff were 3 Great Spotted Woodpeckers fighting. Only minutes later the beautiful song of a Woodlark could be heard, and then high over the trees the minuscule form of a bat-like bird could be seen either in the blue sky or the many white clouds scarring the sky.
The weather was fine, but the winding path through the woods was quite treacherous with gloopy mud. A Marsh Tit was heard 'singing', but we couldn't obtain a sighting. We reached a large heath, and in the afternoon found a flock of c.20 Redpoll. Both sessions then heard and saw a pair of Woodlark. It perched in a tree, so made a nice change from watching them only in flight. A Green Woodpecker laughed at us, but we couldn't track it down.
We carried on to a WW2 site, and heard more Woodlark here. Both Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were seen. On the return route we saw a Blackcap, but the afternoon session saw the most confiding Treecreeper ever.
 Male Great Spotted Woodpecker (c) 2016 Aileen Urquhart
 Male GSW
 Pied Wagtail
 Willow Warbler (c) 2016 Aileen Urquhart
 Common Lizard (c) 2016 Aileen Urquhart
 Common Lizard
 Common Lizard
On Thursday we went to Welton Waters. There was a Chiffchaff greeting everyone is the parking area. We crossed the railway line and very soon had a Bullfinch, a zipping Yellowhammer, and a beautiful singing Blackcap among the blackthorn blossom. We turned left down the first lane, but the Whitethroats, Sedge Warbler and Yellow Wagtails haven't returned here yet, but the Linnets had bright red breasts, and were singing cheerfully. After travelling a quarter of a mile the distinctive faint reeling song of a Grasshopper Warbler could just be discerned over the ambient sounds. We peered through a hedge at a bramble patch, and even though the bird remained in the same position it was a similar colour to some of the bramble leaves so not everyone could see it. Then David had the brilliant idea of setting up his telescope, which allowed even the person with the least powerful binoculars to see the olive bird with its maw wide open.
We retraced our steps to the main path, and near the metal gate we heard the explosion of a Cetti's Warbler, and the afternoon group had brief views. There was another Blackcap singing here, but also a Willow Warbler, and a pair of Chiffchaffs. On Monday there had been redpolls in the same area. I thought I heard one, but we couldn't see them on Thursday. On the riverbank an Avocet could be heard flying up the river, but the morning group were also blessed with a sighting of a Kingfisher, and some even saw its partner. Reed Bunting sightings increased along this lane, nearly all of male birds.
A Marsh Harrier was seen a few times, and other birds flying around included Sand Martins, House Martins and a single Swallow. Tufted Ducks speeded past a few times, and a single Cormorant headed over the massive lake. A Heron flew over twice, or 2 different herons slowly flapped eastwards. An annoying pair of Greylag Geese caused us to duck as they went backwards and forwards several times over the same area. Hopefully, more summer visitors will swell the numbers of birds down this quiet unkempt area pretty soon.
 Ear Fungus
 Blackcap (c) 2016 Aileen Urquhart
 Lesser Whitethroat - singing at N.Cave years ago
 Water Rail - this one at N.Cave years ago
 Harbour Porpoise - this one on the sea
On Friday we went to one of our old stomping grounds, only to find large sections under a great deal of water. One of the course participants lived near here for 27 years, and even she'd never seen anything like it.
There were Chiffchaffs singing in the car park, and at the next clearing a Willow Warbler, and a pair of Chiffchaffs looking for nesting material. We negotiated some really bad flooding before we were able to make it to one of the main routes. When we came into the open we immediately saw what appeared to be a tiny Mistle Thrush singing at the top of a pylon. A stunning male Yellowhammer landed very close to us, and a Willow Warbler serenaded us. In this main central area area we had our first ever slow-motion courtship displaying Siskin, and then his partner. We were surrounded by Linnets, plus more Yellowhammers. There was no sign of the ground-feeding Green Woodpecker, or ground-nesting Woodlarks - was it just too waterlogged?
After lunch the biggest surprise was a Nuthatch which flew over us twice near the reserve before disappearing into the conifers.
In the afternoon Mike & Glen from Osset stayed behind and found a whole family of Crossbills near the car park, they were lifers to them - a very nice end to a very varied week!

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