Sunday 1 November 2020

Early Autumn Birding - a change in seasons

September accelerates the change from one birding season to the next. This was seen mid month when an impromptu vis-mig session from Ewden Heights on the South Yorkshire moorland edge had a few Swallows and House Martins racing low south over the moor, with a stream of Meadow Pipits arriving overhead from the east coast and continuing down the spine of the country. A few moments later my first skein of (110) Pink-footed Geese of the winter, if I can mention the winter word at this time, went high south east, having crossed the moors from the direction of the Woodhead Pass. Back to a summer theme a Ring Ouzel gave its harsh tack call from the moorland clough below, no doubt hanging around with an autumnal gathering of Mistle Thrushes that were more showy as they enjoyed the Rowan berries. High up in the deep blue sky a few and almost silent Siskins and Lesser Redpolls headed on by alongside more vocal passage Skylarks, a place where Ravens enjoyed flying into the increasing south westerly breeze.

In the lowlands a Common Crane visited Edderthorpe Flash for just over a day and 2 Spoonbills did what they do best down the road at Old Moor RSPB, sleep. The Great White Egret sharing the same grassy bank was marginally more active, as were a pair of Mandarin Ducks by the Willows of the pool of that name. Following on from 4 seen here at roughly the same time last year I'm having them on my 'Wath Area' list, No. 197. Sleeping Lapwings were joined on the Wath Ings mud by 3 or 4 Dunlins and a Spotted Redshank.

A twitch at the beginning of the period to Norfolk for the Brown Shrike at Warham Greens. It showed reasonably well hunting the leeward side of the coast path hedge appreciated by social distanced birders. It shared the area with a Redstart, much different to the Staines Moor (London) bird of a few years ago which sat up high in a bush with a berry eating Moorhen for company!

Yorkshire coastal birding and the weather changed, a few days of northerly winds influenced by North Sea depressions, saw me connect with a fine adult spooned Pomarine Skua passing by Flamborough Head. At distance but the structure and strong/direct flight noted. The substantial breadth of the wing at the join with the body is a feature I look for on this species when viewing allows. It would have looked even better should it have been closer. This was an afternoon seawatch noted for the many Red-throated Divers moving south. At the end of the week in atrocious conditions my Yorkshire list advanced by one to No. 340 (exc. Isabelline Shrike sp. and Fea's/Desertas Petrel sp.), in the form of a group of 6 wild Arctic Barnacle Geese sheltering at Kilnsea Wetlands. After a brief look around the Listening Dish hedge in between squalls and back to the wetlands they had gone, many had been seen along the Yorkshire coast caught up in the nasty conditions on migration to their NW European wintering grounds. Visits on other calmer days and enjoyed the 'tsooet'-ing calls of a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, an elusive Red-backed Shrike and Red-breasted Flycatcher. A Lapland Bunting flying over Kilnsea giving its rattle and 'teu' calls was the first I've heard for many many years. The sight of Peregrine and Merlin hunting Kilnsea Wetlands in close succession was magical, though roosting waders and flocking finches would beg to differ.

A birding video compilation from this period now uploaded at my YouTube channel, please click on the link below to view.

Great White Egret, Spoonbills, Common Crane and Barnacle Geese - Yorkshire, Sep. 2020

Video footage of the rare/scarce visitors to the Dearne Valley and off course migrating Barnacle Geese.

Please click here to view the YouTube clip

October saw the seasons come together. The moorland edge produced a passage Hen Harrier, a heavy movement of Redwings and Fieldfares west. The last Swallows were strictly on a southerly course. Later there was evidence of Woodpigeons on the move. Crossbills showed in the pine tree treetops throughout. A few Bramblings 'dweezed' on by and Lesser Redpolls continued to move, bodes well for the winter finch watching season. A small party of 9 Whooper Swans heading east brightened up a dull grey day.

Elsewhere, the Taiga Flycatcher gave nice views, a brilliant learning opportunity of this species, the 4th record for GB. The Rufous Bushchat was... rare, and to me it was upstaged by a supporting cast of Pallas's and Yellow-browed Warblers and how many Red-flanked Bluetails? Firecrest and Black Redstart always nice to come across, to see a Ring Ouzel in the hand was a first for me. The many Redwings flying in off the sea with Woodcock moving over coastal marshes and fields and drop in passage Warbler numbers signalled the progression of autumn birding.

The West Yorkshire (Johnny Brown's Common) Shrike provided distant views and an educational opportunity to study. Taking a basic approach a look at the plates within the Collins Bird Guide (2nd Edition) or the (2014) Helm Guide to Bird Identification, based upon the (1989) Macmillan Guide to Bird Identification, could guide the reader to the bird being an adult Brown Shrike, and from the latter, a male. As we know birding is not that simple and the Brown/Red-backed and Isabelline complex or complexes of Shrikes may bring intrigue and/or tears to birders and birding committees. Much discussion followed online and a detailed analysis presented points to this bird showing features consistent with its identification as an adult male Brown Shrike. Have a look at the following link for this superb analysis by the author, which includes much better footage than the record photos below - Notes on the identification of a Brown Shrike - Johnny Brown's Common, North Elmsall

Some record video footage of some of the above linked to below. Please don't expect world beating video, the compilation should have been labelled, "Distant, Fast and Blurry!"

Taiga Flycatcher, Firecrest and Johnny Brown's Common Shrike - October 2020

Please click here to view the YouTube clip

More photos at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'.

Friday 2 October 2020

A Great Shearwater and a Magical Hare

20 mph plus northerly winds gusting to about twice that, spray and pulses of rain with a roaring sea and equally leaden skies, about 10C and layered up scoping to the south could only mean one thing...a Flamborough Head (Yorkshire) end of August seawatch!

Arrived for the typically quiet late morning shift where from the alcove I picked out a few year tick Sooty and Manx Shearwaters moving north and a blogging Great Skua. Fantastic to see a continuous stream of Gannets and Fulmars flying into the wind. Wigeon and Teal on the move as were pale bellied Brent Geese, perhaps having overshot their western or north-eastern wintering quarters. Midday and time to dry out and have a break, returned to the the car which was buffeted by the relentless northerly. Round 2 after 3pm, but this time from the wall by the foghorn station. The Gannets and Fulmar tap remained on and a few more Manx Shearwaters went north. With the focus on birds from the south only had quick views of a couple of Arctic Skuas disappearing into Bridlington Bay. The wind seemed to be coming in at all angles as it whipped round the wall making seawatching uncomfortable with unpredictable gusts. This was all forgotten when scoping south at the first line of Gannets just before 5pm. I was straight onto a large Shearwater hanging low over the waves coming north. As I called it a birder sat nearby got onto it with the other birder present soon onto this magnificent ocean wanderer. The light was fantastic, neutral. Quickly identified as a Great Shearwater, the isolated dark cap a striking feature and easy to get onto. Unknown to us, it was being watched independently from elsewhere on the headland where some fantastic video footage was captured by Jono Leadley, please see here. The footage matches the typical views we had from the cliff top, slow shearing and decent looks of the features such as contrasting dark brown upperwing with essentially white underparts. Closer inspection showed the characteristic underwing bar with the isolated dark cap mentioned above, and even the dark bill noted. However, I couldn't pick out the dark belly patch but have struggled to see this feature in the past unless really close views such as some from a Scillonian Pelagic. Still buzzing on leaving half hour later as the cold and damp began to bite back.

Further down the Yorkshire coast at Kilnsea, Spurn connected with the fearless Wryneck by the Canal Scrape car park, where a Wood Sandpiper called as it flew overhead, Whinchats and Wheatear by the seawatch hide. Whilst a seawatch was quiet the Canal Scrape Bittern did a distant flyover of the Kilnsea Triangle. Kilnsea Wetlands still a draw with Mediterranean Gulls advancing in their winter dress, a couple of bright juvenile Little Stints and the much larger trio of Spoonbills were in the far corner. Two Short-eared Owls tangled with opposite the wetlands and a pale Buzzard had a brief dispute with a Marsh Harrier.

Inland the moorland edge yielded passage Marsh Harriers, the sight of 3 together was impressive. They soon moved on. A Short-eared Owl was very noteworthy, no doubt a passage bird as well and its appearance coincided with a notable increase on the east coast. Merlin hunted Meadow Pipits and on a warm sunny day a couple of Hobbies sighted. One made a passing interest in squabbling Ravens and Buzzards before leaving them to it, more the job of a feisty juvenile Peregrine to annoy them. Elsewhere, Accipiters had a bit of a row! An influx of Siskin with one site producing up to 200 moving about one morning with up to 20 Crossbills regularly heard and seen in the treetops on calm days. A Mountain Hare added to the variety along a moorland track where a group of Golden Plovers headed out west.

Wednesday 16 September 2020

Birding Video Highlights - August and early September 2020

 Please find links to recent Birding Video Highlights below.


Spoonbills - Kilnsea, Spurn, East Yorkshire, Sep. 2020

Video footage of the 3 birds present at Kilnsea Wetlands at the beginning of the month.

Please click here to view the YouTube clip

Wryneck - Kilnsea, Spurn, East Yorkshire, Sep. 2020

Video footage of the very confiding bird present by the Canal Scrape car park.

Please click here to view the YouTube clip

Mountain Hare - South Yorkshire Moorlands, Sep. 2020

A nice surprise to see the Mountain Hare on a moorland track before it headed into the hillside cover.

Please click here to view the YouTube clip

Osprey - Nosterfield, North Yorkshire, Aug. 2020

Showed well over Flask Lake late on a Saturday morning

Please click here to view the YouTube clip

Bearded Vulture - Crowden, Derbys.,  Aug. 2020

The very rare visitor from the Alps/Pyrenees over the Pennine Trail north of Crowden.

Please click here to view the YouTube clip

Sunday 23 August 2020

A Common Yellowshank, the Bearded Vulture and friends

 Common Yellowshank

First trip back home since Lockdown began and connected with a Yorkshire tick in early July, the long staying Nosterfield Lesser Yellowlegs, number 339. I'm edging towards the top of the Yorkshire Birding listing league at the same pace as Wednesday's return to the Premier League! This cracking Nearctic wader showed well from the screen at Nosterfield in the company of a juvenile Redshank, an instructive id comparison between Nearctic and Palearctic relatives. Too far for the camera other than for a ropey record shot.

In search of the Bearded Vulture

On the way back to Herts. news was breaking that the Bearded Vulture seen several days earlier heading north from the Midlands had been seen in the southern area of the Peak District again. A potential first for GB, and then should it make a flew flaps to the north east, thoughts of a Yorkshire and Barnsley tick. Whatever the opinions about this bird's categorisation on the British List (A or E) and if, from the Alps reintroduction, how self sustaining is defined, it's a wild bird and a magnificent creature!

It was relocated on the South Yorkshire/Derbyshire border of the Dark Peak, seen from or at sites I regularly watch when back home. I safely returned home some 3 weeks on, will it still be there and given its haunts, will it be safe! It had let its known roost so where to start looking?

Saturday 01 August 2020 - Happy Yorkshire Day!

First up and on the Derbyshire/South Yorkshire border near Stanage Edge overlooking Hathersage. The view was impressive but the area too large to concentrate upon. A couple of Ravens flew by with Buzzards and Kestrels seen. Chased up a report in Derwentdale a few miles to the north but with no luck, nice views of a Peregrine circling Fairholmes with a couple of Buzzards. Enough chasing, off to the Dukes Road a moorland walk off of Mortimer Road the road that links Langsett in the north to the A57 in the south. The Dukes Road is the south-west border of the Barnsley bird recording area border, South Yorkshire. This track heads out west and then south towards Lost Lad/Back Tor. A beautiful walk say about 75 mins to the fork off to Howden Edge/Abbey Brook. Watching from here produced no large raptors, a brief sighting of a Hobby and more obliging Kestrels. The walk up saw a female Wheatear feeding a juvenile. Elsewhere a couple more, but showy, Hobbies fed over a nearby moor which hosted a wandering Red Kite, but no sign of the BV.

Sunday 02 August 2020

Off to Ewden Cabin, the 45 minute along the track bordering Broomhead Moor. A persistent wind nagged but the birding was good. 2 pairs of Stonechats along the walk sharing the undergrowth with restless Willow Warblers and Meadow Pipits flew by. At the Cabin a Tree Pipit called as it flew SW and later a juvenile Cuckoo drew our attention as this fledgling was being fed by Meadow Pipits. Up in the skies Buzzards were seen and a couple of Hobbies flew by, including a cracking adult seen at eye level, a passage Marsh Harrier flew by.

Left mid afternoon to breaking news of the Bearded Vulture being photographed in the Crowden area of the High Peak (Peak District, Derbyshire) the previous day. Perhaps a needle in a haystack but it was less than 15 miles or so away up on the Woodhead Pass. It would be rude not to go!

We arrived at about 16:30 and took the track up the valley leading north from the small car park at the hamlet. A birder leaving noted that the crag had been found relating to the previous day's sighting, but the Bearded Vulture was not present. Viewing the area after a 10 minute walk from the bridge, provided a decent view looking north and partial view looking back south. Two birders were on the western side of the valley scoping the crags. They soon wandered back down but stopped and were scoping the crags back to the south over Torside reservoir, very intently. On looking south a Buzzard was up but they were really focussed, and our view was obscured, so we crossed the bridge for a better look back south. And then there it was over crags above the reservoir, the Bearded Vulture. It soon turned north and glided up the eastern side of the valley and beyond us, flapping as it patrolled the hillside lost to view over a ridge to the north. It then showed on and off before heading back across to the crags south of Torside Reservoir where it was joined in the sky by a couple of tiny Buzzards and an equally diminutive Peregrine. It then drifted east towards Woodhead Reservoir where on leaving Crowden we saw it roosting on the crags as viewed from the lay-by on the Holmfirth road. This was to become one of its regular roosting sites.

A return visit late afternoon on Friday 07 August 2020 and the Bearded Vulture was roosting on the crags where we left it on Sunday. It eventually had a brief flight, the Kestrel that landed on a nearby crag looked ridiculously small in comparison.

There are certain birds that are showstoppers, Bee-eater, Sabine's Gull and Goshawk spring to mind. Add to this the Bearded Vulture, on seeing it, it was almost disbelief, a bit like the expression held by Bishop Brennan when Father Ted kicked him up the...

South Yorkshire Moorlands

We all know this area is known for disappearing raptors, have a look here. Just hope the presence of the Bearded Vulture helps change fortunes. Still a great place to go birding and see migration happening at the right seasons.

Several Marsh Harriers wandered by, Red Kites passed through and local Kestrels and Buzzards graced the skies. Hobbies tormented insects and hirundines, and a Merlin welcomed a movement of Meadow Pipits over the moors when the winds were out of the SW. Sparrowhawks were elusive and an excitable juvenile Peregrine practised its hunting technique, it had much to learn with attendant Buzzards and Ravens waiting for a scrap of pigeon should a mistake be made. Mistle Thrushes started to flock and 3 Tree Pipits over may be a low number, but shows that early August is a good time to catch one flying south. Nightjars remained at their midge infested sites and a Barn Owl noted on upland farmland. Several pairs of Stonechats showed well and on quiet days Crossbills were a nice distraction as they flew around their moorland reservoir haunts. Nuthatches started to call again and young Buzzards gave begging calls from a couple of sites. I remember when they were description birds up here!

Off Piste

Visited Welbeck, Notts., on three visits the Honey Buzzards didn't show. Plenty of Buzzards, a couple each of Red Kite and Hobby noted as were Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk. Prolonged views of a couple of juvenile Goshawks, one of which loved to mob a Buzzard. Common Tern flew over the lake and Yellow Wagtail flew over.

Similar no luck at Wykeham Forest, North Yorkshire on the Honey Buzzards. A juvenile Peregrine flew east down the valley, Sparrowhawk, Kestrels and a handful of Buzzards seen. Also, great views of 2 juvenile Goshawks, one of which showed very well in comparison with a !inning Sparrowhawk. One moment when it turned and showed all the features characteristic of this species, arguably one of the best raptor species in the world.

Nosterfield, North Yorkshire, a second visit this summer, this time to Flask Lake at the quarry where at least 2 Ospreys had been seen in early August. One appeared out of nowhere after several hours wait on Saturday 08 August 2020, circling the lake for a little while before a Carrion Crow accompanied it over trees to the NE.

Kilnsea Wetlands, a gem on the Yorkshire coast, the gateway to the Spurn peninsula. A visit one afternoon and the scrape was alive with waders, a couple of moulting Curlew Sandpipers star species but all were noteworthy, from Dunlin, through to Redshanks, Ruff and Knot to the larger Greenshank, Avocet, Whimbrel and Black-tailed Godwits. Mediterranean Gulls (20+) of all ages were present and Common and Sandwich Terns called whereas several Little Terns flew by silently.

More photos at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'.

Sunday 16 August 2020

Lockdown Birding - Spring becomes Summer

So where were we?

As early May became mid May the birdsong intensity dropped and the skies became less crowded. Several Hobby sightings made but no sooner as they came, they went. Two more sightings later in the period as well but on both occasions they were soon out of here, the turn of pace of the one above the golf course treetops would have made an Eleonora's Falcon pause to view. Local Red Kites and Buzzards put on less of an aerial show as to be expected at this time of year, more noticeably the absence of Sparrowhawks who then did make more of an appearance around midsummer's day. Kestrels hovered close to their hidden nest sites, identified by the presence of calling juveniles. Ring-necked Parakeets sqwauked throughout, House Sparrows status rose from mythical to occasional as young fledged from nearby streets, and the wandering groups of Starlings sadly disappeared just as it was peak season for spotting a pink and black variety. Swifts flew by most days joined in the air by both Herring and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, and Black-headed Gulls were back in the area. Evening flights of Jackdaws off east to roost began to reform from mid June with over 700 counted most evenings. In nearby woodland Great Spotted Woodpeckers dispersed and one was soon seen flyby the flat window one morning.

On local walks the Blackcaps went quiet, Whitethroats eventually followed suit, a Lesser Whitethroat gave a rattle to say he was still here but Chiffchaffs continued to say their name throughout. Song Thrushes never stopped, one still blasting out his repetitive notes half hour after sunset around midsummer's day. An anxiety call by a Carrion Crow on a Saturday afternoon walk soon had me watching an immature Peregrine circling the area, looking for tea. Bullfinch was a welcome sighting in local scrubland and a Crossbill moving west mid afternoon (June) "jipped" by, a nice surprise and given the ridiculous movements along the North Sea coast maybe more flyovers to come, perhaps in the company of a Siskin or two. An Oystercatcher flying over was a welcome yet unexpected addition to the lockdown list. A family party of Jays moving along an avenue of trees at the golf course nice to see, the density couldn't match a movement of Pinyon Jays through a North American gorge. This golf course/woodland edge, a kind of a habitat where you expect a calling Acadian Flycatcher to pierce the quiet air, but probably 3,500 miles too far north-east. Elsewhere, the drain at Parkfields yielded a pair of Grey Wagtails on several occasions, with one visit producing a Grass Snake raising itself up the banking. "Owling" - at least 3 Tawny Owl territories, a couple of juveniles called or should that be "sniffled" after sunset on several evenings. A Little Owl sighted on the perimeter of the walk one June evening with a further in July at a nearby farm. Repeated visits to the first site gave no sightings but calling birds at sunset. Again with a North American comparison you could imagine a "Chuck" or "Whip" calling in the distance, but no Nightjars here. At this time the paddocks were alive with Rabbits the numbers of which would have made Bishop Brennan anxious. Foxes roamed at sunset and a scurrying shape was a Muntjac deer, one of a couple of sightings.

As the bird sightings took a bit of a backseat, butterflies came to the fore. The local scrubland looked good for Marbled Whites, and this site paid dividends from mid June with double figures present. Commas showed as did the occasional Ringlet and prior to the last weekend of June I could only track down Large Skippers of the grassland Skippers that could be on offer, with several Small Skippers on the wing from the following weekend.  This particular weekend also produced a Red Admiral and a Green-veined White. The grasslands were crowded with Meadow Browns and single Painted Lady and Small Tortoiseshell also noted.  Whilst photographing a Comma I was distracted by Purple Hairstreaks, a new species for me (was first mistaken for White-letter Hairstreak).The dry land habitat made spotting dragonflies difficult though a couple of Emperors patrolled a grassy field and a couple of Black-tailed Skimmers were seen. A Brown Hawker moved by one weekend and in late July the first Migrant or Southern Hawker of the season spotted.

When the Lockdown walks started in March I was determined not to blog about Lockdown birding in the summer, when the Gatekeeper dominated the bramble bushes. It's that time, but I will end by saying that I'd never thought I would make a mention of a Father Ted scene in a blog post. Go on, go on, go on, I'll do another one next time!