Saturday 22 October 2022

Early Autumn Yorkshire Birding plus a trip to Wantage

Fishing with Talons

I cannot grumble with Osprey sightings this year, found one moving north in spring and twitched birds stopping off at Welbeck, Nottinghamshire on their return south. The chance to see one when last back home at the end of September, and only a short drive away at Ecclesfield Ponds on the edge of Sheffield, was too good to miss. It didn't disappoint!

Peak Birding, more than a wild goose chase

The end of September brings acceleration to the changing of the birding seasons, back home this can be seen on the moorland edge as skeins of Pink-footed Geese encouraged by a NW wind pass high over a feeding flock of House Martins and Swallows, to the backdrop of a singing Chiffchaff on a relatively mild morning. 2022 was no exception, with 9 skeins totalling close to 1000 'wink wink' Geese noted passing east over South Yorkshire moorland over several days late in the month. Not the first of the autumn, indeed a similar number of skeins and 'Pink-feet' moved through on this Lancashire to Norfolk trajectory on one single day mid-month.

The moorland still produced its magic and other birds moving included a few Meadow Pipits, Skylarks, Chaffinches and the first 'seeping' Redwings. Siskin numbers building up in trees cloaking a moorland reservoir, from where my first Crossbill at this site in well over a year, perhaps closer to two years, flew over announcing its presence. Hopefully, the start of a come back.

It's a it?

Birding the moorlands was interrupted on Monday 26 September 2022 with the fantastic discovery of a Nighthawk roosting on a garden fence at Wantage, Oxfordshire. The journey was ok, no delays and the skies full of Red Kites indicated I was not too far away heading towards Oxford. I joined the small crowd of patient and well behaved birders studying a garden fence, wing mirrors and makes of car being used as signposts, not really needed, it was there just roosting on a fence. I didn't see it do much, it gave several shuffles, but allowed for nice views of its cryptic plumage.  Never thought I'd get chance of seeing this visitor from across the pond on these shores. 

Owt at Spurn?

During the week the good weather held and the wind was mainly from a north-west direction but the Thursday saw a change to a north-east. A few new migrant birds came in with a few lingering scarcities that showed fairly well. A quick look early afternoon at the trees behind the tables at the Crown and Anchor car park and one bird flew in, it was a silent Yellow-browed Warbler, which showed nicely for a few minutes and then melted into the background. Up at the Listening Dish hedge patience needed for the Barred Warbler before it fed on top of its favourite bramble bush. Of brambles a couple of 'dweezy' Bramblings flew over nearby with arriving Redwings. A Wryneck showed well on the rocks as did a Wheatear near the Kilnsea Triangle. Many thanks for access to the Wryneck site. Patrolling Kilnsea Sparrowhawks brought back memories of watching 'Sharpies' do likewise over in Cape May, NJ, USA.

In time for seconds

Sadly, over the last few years, not been back to my old patch The Wath Area many times on returning home. Time to make up. A wet Friday, a good chance to visit Old Moor RSPB and Wath Ings was looking good. Perhaps not the greatest numbers of waders but such diverse birding, today's visitors reaping the rewards of the effort gone in to developing this wonderful site right from the start many decades ago, standing on the shoulders of giants when birding this site.

A 2nd calendar year Yellow-legged Gull looked all alone on Wath Ings as Ruff wandered by, whereas a more confident Water Rail dared to venture into the open across the main marsh 'slaloming' past Moorhens. A few scope's widths to the left saw an early returning bobbing Jack Snipe give a brief view before wandering back into cover as the rain took hold. Moved on to the Wader Scrape as news came through of an Osprey in the valley, and there it soon was hanging over the Willow Pool before disappearing over the top of the Wath Ings hide. A couple of hours later it moved back low to the west hardly spooking anything on site. This being my second Osprey for The Wath Area, will never forget the first as it visited and fished Broomhill Flash for about 15 minutes one sunny August afternoon in 1991, quite literally a takeaway. I remember watching it until it was a dot in the scope as it carried the fish up into the sky on its migration south.

September 2022 - Old Moor RSPB

August 1991 - Broomhill Flash

A Great White Egret flew down the river and a couple of cream crown Marsh Harriers were seen moving between the reedbeds and nearby Bolton Ings. With the front moving through from the west in late September something scarce or rare must be on the cards for the area, and next day as September moved over to October a cracking Pectoral Sandpiper was found on Wath Ings. My second visit in as many days. You may classify 'Pecs' as either a scarce or just a minor rare visitor to these shores from both Siberia and North America but they are belters. Golden spangled with its distinctive breast band and the classic attenuated closed wings cloaking gleaming white underparts, both features that to me characterise a scarce wader to these shores.

Having been lucky to see  a few 'Pec Sands' in The Wath Area over the years, I must admit I was more interested in the Rock Pipit present. Only my second for the area of this annual or near annual autumn passage migrant, very nice views compared to one over Wath Ings way back one October morning in the late 80s or early 90s.

Caspian delight

Ventured a few miles north up to Edderthorpe Flash on Saturday 01 October 2022, a site that is also looking good with water levels attracting passage waders. A few Golden Plovers were amongst tbe Lapwings with several Ruff and Dunlin dotted about as viewed looking across from the bench. I checked the Gulls, about 100 large ones, Lesser Black-backed and Herring, and on the right hand side an immature (1st winter) stood out even with its back to me as it faced into the light wind. What got my attention were the dark tertiary block on the closed wing, smallish white head with hardly any streaking to which a needle like black bill adjoined. Let's get the other features.

Alerted another birder on site that it looked potentially Caspian Gull, time for a detailed look. Saw the Caspian Gull standing, swimming and flying off, nailed it with the underwing.

Standing in the water

  • Small white head, mainly un-streaked, neighbouring immature Herring Gulls pale-headed with diffuse streaking. Dark eye.
  • Long thin black bill, black across the full length, needle like, essentially parallel and curved at the tip on the upper mandible.
  • Black primaries, dark brown tertiary block white lined near the primary join.
  • Greater coverts extensively barred across the length of the closed wing creating a distinctive bar at distance.
  • Tail preened showing black tail band separated from white upper-tail.
  • Leg length not visible as standing in water.


  • Attenuated with needle like primaries dominating the back view, substantial cross over of them in the closed wing.
  • Nice 4-toned plumage developing: white head and breast, grey coming through onto the back, brown outer wing coverts and tertiary block followed by black primaries.
  • Posture looked top heavy and head held down when moving, dipping motion.
  • Shocking white breast, good comparison alongside a similar aged Herring Gull who had a darker 'muckier' breast.


  • Banded upper-wing appearance with the greater covers bar obvious and the secondary bar.
  • Underwing extensively white especially along the length of the central area.
  • Black and white tail.
  • White head and contrasting black bill.

With apologies for not the greatest of sketches and notes below as based upon the sighting.

The Caspian Gull flew north not to return in the following 30 minutes but a further scan of the gulls produced a scowling adult Yellow-legged Gull trying to hide alongside adult Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

More average photos uploaded at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'. Please enjoy.

Sunday 11 September 2022

Raptors 10 - 10 Gulls Birding Blog Update

Sounds like a result from a NHL match, but we're not talking Nearctic sports (or birding) today. 

Back home at the end of August and the Peak District vistas glowed in the late summer light. The air was clear and the silence broken by the occasional Meadow Pipit, twittering Swallows, crackling Stonechats and a soon to be off Ring Ouzel.  Another noise shattered the silence later in the period! One watch produced 8 raptor species highlighted by the re-appearance of the presumed female White-tailed Eagle (G318 Isle of Wight scheme) here for it's second summer. Now to be expected passage Marsh Harrier noted and a warm afternoon saw Hobby chasing dragonflies for a prolonged period. A separate watch saw a feisty, tiny male Peregrine have a big disagreement with a Common Buzzard.

Marsh Harrier

White-tailed Eagle

Migrating Ospreys can be seen travelling south along the moorland edge in late August, didn't connect this time so had to twitch to boost the raptor list. The lakes of Welbeck Estate of Honey Buzzard fame in not so far away north Nottinghamshire can hold passing Ospreys and up to three have been seen of late. One, presumed adult, spent a late afternoon hunting the lake out from the Raptor Watchpoint. After success it flew off West but got chased by another that took flight from it's hidden perch. Whilst the second was only in silhouette the clean edges to the wings suggested a juvenile. Back on the ground a Brown Hare had a dust up with a Pheasant.


The star was right at the beginning, namely Redcar's Greater Sand Plover that showed nicely with Ringed Plovers and other waders on the beach, allowing for study of size and structure. Could I argue the place looked like Spiros Beach, Larnaca, Cyprus? Walking west along the beach just imagine the steelworks being replaced by Larnaca International Airport, the absence of an offshore wind farm, and chuckling Black Francolins in the coastal scrub and you could be there.

Greater Sand Plover

After Redcar went down the coast to take in Bempton's Shrike on what turned out to be its last day on site. Now no longer Whetaear-esque, the tail has regrown.

Elsewhere, Spurn, or more specifically the Kilnsea area of the Spurn recording area, came up trumps with lingering Red-necked Phalaropes, Citrine Wagtail and Caspian Gulls.

Watching the semi-resident spinners on Beacon Ponds sweeping up the surface insects was reminiscent on a very much smaller scale of watching hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes at the Salton Sea, CA, USA ten years ago, without shore side skulking Green-tailed Towhee accompaniment. Lots of waders on show with nice looks at Wood Sandpiper of note and avian highlights included Great White Egret that flew from neighbouring Kilnsea Wetlands. The Wetlands suffering in volume of water but excelling in quantity and quality of it's visitors.

Red-necked Phalarope

Great White Egret

Wood Sandpiper

Now for the Gulls. A visit at the end of August and Caspian Gulls seemed to be always on show.  I was confident in seeing 4 juv/1st winter types, most in between juvenile and full 1st winter plumage, one example below. Others noted up to 7 on this visit. They were joined by flyover juvenile Little Gulls with Black-headed, Mediterranean, Common Gulls resting on the Scrape, and of the bigger varieties, Lesser Black-backed, Herring, Yellow-legged (1× juv) and Great Black-backed Gulls. Kittiwake noted later offshore.

Caspian Gull

The Citrine Wagtail took up residence on the lawn outside the Riverside Hotel, it wandered around with other Wagtails and Meadow Pipits occasionally spooked by a hunting Sparrowhawk. A nice study, on the deck and in flight you could pick out the shorter tail compared to those trailed by 'Alba' Wagtails. I've not heard many Citrine Wagtails call and when it did it was raspy, but to be honest it could be difficult to pick one out on call from a calling flock of Black-headed (Yellow) Wagtails say on Spring passage in Cyprus.

Citrine Wagtail

More average photos uploaded at 'Latest UK Bird Photos'. Please enjoy.

Friday 26 August 2022

Yellow-legged Gulls, Caspian Gull and a couple of interesting ones

Successive Sunday afternoon visits to Erith on the south side of the Thames late July into August, mainly coinciding with a rising tide, produced a couple of juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls, one of which very aggressive to other gulls when feeding. An older individual (1st summer to 2nd winter?) made a brief appearance.

An adult Caspian Gull stayed briefly on one visit, a couple of days after its first sighting. It soon headed down river.

More recently the following juvenile Gull made a brief visit, it headed up river at one point flying alongside one of the young Yellow-legged Gulls. First looks shows scalloped scapulars, dark tertiary block, and a black bill, but was it a fit for Caspian Gull? Maybe at best 'Caspish' Gull, the greater coverts shown in one of the video grabs, particularly the inner ones, not looking good for Caspian Gull. Is the underwing pale enough, or pale in the right places?

If this was late January and the following Gull was spotted, would it catch you out? I think it has fooled me in the past on Wennington Marsh, though I claim an unsubstantiated two bird theory! The structure and the adult bill betrays it as more than likely a leucistic Herring Gull. Sadly, I did not see it in flight, no sooner had it appeared on the jetty and it was gone.

Video footage of most of the above can be found on YouTube by clicking here.

Thursday 25 August 2022

Summer Birding can be a bit of a Battle

Summer birding, a slower pace then the other seasons where the scrub fall silent but Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs are still in there somewhere. The occasional Linnet flies over the local grasslands where a Bullfinch pipes on by and the local Red Kites and Buzzards are overhead occasionally as if out and about on purpose only and not just for fun. The din of Ring-necked Parakeets dominate nearby suburbia and Green Woodpeckers still yaffle on the golf course. In the summer the attention turns to butterflies and dragons. An emergence of Ringlets in June just ahead of the ever busy Marbled Whites who shared the grasslands with Large and Small Skippers. A few Small Coppers seen but Painted Ladies were thin on the ground this year, more common species such as Comma, Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell noted. July brought Gatekeepers at every bramble patch, and of the dragons one along a shaded woodland path evaded identity but a few Emperors patrolled the grasslands. Foxes carried out neighbourhood watch patrols after dark, with one bucking the trend.

Birding not forgotten at this time of year? Twitched
Bempton's Shrike in mid July and dropped lucky as the Black-browed Albatross gave the Gannets a flying lesson off Staple Newk, gliding with bowed wing tips just inches above the sea. Back to the Shrike, what is this Shrike? On comparison with field guide plates it looks like a Red-tailed Shrike (aka Turkestan Shrike) as opposed to Daurian Shrike or an individual with Red-backed Shrike influence. Can such a species be identified in the field without the need for Birding VAR? It is too easy to sit on the fence and wait for the results from the excellent work carried out in Aberdeen. Will DNA be conclusive, or add to the can of worms that is the identification of the 'Isabelline' Shrike complex?

Away from the rare visitors the local Tree Sparrows showed well as did a pair of Yellowhammers, a species I seldom see.

Back home on the moorland edge, the interior temporarily out of bounds due to the fire risk, all four Falcons showed fairly well, two wandering juvenile Peregrines tried their afterburners, they worked, just need to perfect their hunting skills. Same could be said of a Hobby that made three unsuccessful sorties through gathering Swallows and House Martins.

Visited Norfolk's breeding Bee-eaters and up to four showed on and off about the quarry. The highlight was to listen to that distinctive 'prrrp' call, all too synonymous with the Mediterranean. A Hobby wasn't made welcome but it soon moved on.

At Rainham RSPB the reserve is tinder dry apart from Aveley Pools which was a magnet to Grey Herons, Little Egrets and visiting Spoonbills, not to forget the giant of a Great White Egret, a species that can be elusive here.

A non birding trip by train to Battle and Hastings in early August was nice, disappointed that the entrance fee to the Abbey and Battlefield wasn't £10.66. A
Green Woodpecker called from the Battlefield and several Hawker dragonflies were probably Migrant Hawkers but they never settled. 

Down at Hastings the loafing Herring Gulls on the shingle beach attracted at least 2 juvenile Yellow-legged Gulls early evening. Despite encroachment our fish and chips were not on offer!