Top 5 of 2013

Due to a poor birding year (my year list total is only 102!) I’ve decided to narrow my top birds of the year to the top 5. They are as followed…

5. Waxwing
I was going in to college and missed the bus I wanted to originally catch. However this was turned into a plus point when I saw a single waxwing in a tree down Beverley Road. Jedwards Hypocolius striking the fear into bus rides!

4. Red Kite
This has been some what of a bogey bird for me, having always missed them at North Cave, however this year was different and I finally managed to tick it. At the time I was showing my daughter some owl pellets on the ground when I turned around to see a Red Kite sail over our heads.

3. Common Scoter
I’ve been doing my WeBS count at Bransholme Reservoir for little over a year, whilst the site has potential to host something a bit rare little has been recorded there. The best birds I’ve found through RBA, WeBS and other sources of being recorded there stand at; Garganey, Goldeneye and Goosander. So you can imagine my delight of discovering a single common scoter there.

2. Tawny Owl
Finally managed to see a tawny owl this year! Whilst I’ve heard them many a time I’ve never seen one. I’d just finished a twelve hour shift at work and was walking home when I heard one calling. I spent around 10 minutes walking and listening around the Beverley minster until I managed to see two glowing eyes on top of a roof. Well worth the wait and the twelve hour shift.

1. Smew
Of course, what else could it be? But my favourite duck in full drake Billy Idol cracked iced plumage finest. I even let out a rebel yell once I’d managed to twitch it. Well worth standing on the edge of the most locked up angling complex in the country, in slush and cold winds for. A fantastic bird, finally getting to see a male in its upmost glory was brilliant.

Of course there were some close contenders such as: Peregrine Falcon – it’s wonderfully living a fifteen minute walk away from these birds, the tophill low marsh harriers, surf scoter, red-throated diver, wood sandpiper and garganey.

Hope you all had a fantastic year of birding and that 2014 is just as good.

Surfin’ Bird

I’m your only friend
I’m not your only friend
But I’m a little glowing friend
But really I’m not actually your friend
But I am

This is what woke me up at five past six this morning. Five past six on a Monday morning? Why you must be thinking I was going to work, nope I was off on a twitch! I got up earlier and easier than I would have done for work and headed down to the train station.

The magical metal box, transported me to the seaside town of Filey. Which I have decided is currently number one in the region for inbreds day outing closing beating Scarborough and Bridlington. My aim for the for the day was a lifer in the form of a Surf Scoter. If you’re not sure what a surf scoter is, well neither am I. It’s either the second more freakish duck after a Muscovy (which even a vegan would kick to death they’re so ugly) or one of the finest looking ducks in the land (possibly top 5). It’s either a thing of magnificent or an ugly bastard, I just can’t decided! Anyway it’s a bit lost as it’s normally found in Canada and America. He (as with all ducks the handsomer bastard is always male except goosander which are equally as delightful) has tagged on to a group of common scoters hoping they won’t reject their American cousin for looking so peculiar.

I made my way up to the Brigg, during my journey I stopped off at Tesco. Outside was a dog crying for it’s owner. I stroked and comforted it until the old lady came out. I’m a modern day saint really! Despite spending most of the weekend really close to the Brigg fishing activity in the bay made sure the raft of scoters were out in the distance. A fellow birder informed me of the rough location of the scoters and I managed to pick up the white of the back of it’s neck through my scope. Well a tiny black dot with a bit of white on it. Very disappointing lifer! I hung around the Brigg a bit longer and managed to get some much needed year ticks; Sand Martin, Gannet, Meadow Pipit, Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot and kittiwake.

I tried various points of the Brigg and cliff tops, helping out other birders to locate the scoters. I eventually made it down to the seafront and at the end of the promenade I set up my scope, was joined by two others and we eventually located the scoters and I hung on until I managed to get a goodish view of that ridiculous bill that makes a shoveler look normal. A couple of sandwich terns past over head which was my third lifer of the day. Happy with that I decided to head home. Sadly it was still too distant to photograph but James Spencer managed to grab one on his blog.

Not the Filey bird but stolen off wikipedia

Not the Filey bird but stolen off Wikipedia

Father’s Day Memories

It’s father’s day as I write this blog entry (knowing me it probably won’t be by the time I finish and upload) so I thought I’d write a few words about my father.

It is fair to say that my love for the natural world is a direct influence from my father. From him joining us to the RSPB back when their children’s section was called Young Ornithologists Club (YOC) and wearing my Osprey badge. I somehow prefer the term YOC to Wildlife Explorers or whatever they call it these days. Going on walks down the old railway tracks near our house and been saddened by the building on green belt. We’d watch nature documentaries together and I remember him once comforting me as I cried after we watched something about the slaughter of elephants for their ivory. The majority of the few memories I have of him include birds or being outside. Some more vague than others, such as a flash back in the college library the other week when I found a field guide that could have been the one he used. The silhouettes of the birds looked similar and it reminded me of spending days flicking through looking at the various pictures of birds it contains.
Every time I enter an old hide that is warm and stuffy the smell of the dark old wooden interior instantly transports me back to holidays as a child spent in Norfolk. We’d always visit Hickling Broad NWT Nature Reserve. This was one of my favourite reserves mainly because it has a gift shop (I could be wrong, we’re going back 20 years). A lot of my memories of time with him are those spent holidaying in either our trailer tent or caravan. We’d mostly go to Cropton Forest with two weeks a year spent in Norfolk. Walks in the cropton during a day looking for crossbills or him lied out on the Norfolk sand dunes with his scope sea watching. Even when not birding on holiday bird activities could occur, such as the evenings we’d spent in our caravan playing Bill Oddie’s Bird Race board game. I remember him getting excited and taking my older sister off to see some cranes that were near to our Norfolk campsite. I didn’t go out birding much with my dad, I got bored and tired quick. Something I hear from my six year old daughter when I try and get her to go birding with me. How quickly life goes around in circles! Hopefully in 20 years’ time she’ll have a great love for nature and remember those days when she found birding boring and tiring!

Although not much of a twitcher, I do remember him using the old bird line to gather bird news and from checking his logbook he did see some great birds (a lot come from excellent days at Spurn) including: “Desert Warbler 6th for Britain. ‘Lots of twitchers’”, 8-7-1989 Blue Cheeked Bee-eater an entry which was excellently accompanied with the words – “Bird of the year so far”, he also saw North Cave Wetland’s first official rarity – the white winged black tern back when it was referred to as North Cave Gravel Pits.

Looking through his log book and year list shows the changing status of birds in the UK. There is no tick next to red kite, a bird which now breeds locally and a decent roost site with large numbers. In June 1988 we took a family holiday to Wales, where he saw his first peregrine. A bird that now can be seen breeding on the cliffs at nearby Scarborough. I’m not entirely sure but I’m guessing this was a rare bird around here back then as 14th December 1991’s entry PEREGRINE FALCON* CHASHING PIGEONS at Filey is underlined, surely for the excitement. There’s also his first Avocet at Titchwell in 1987, which now also breed locally. They have a few local sightings in the later years but only in low numbers ones and twos, not like the many now found at North Cave and Blacktoft. Without studying each entry in depth I see no entry for little egret except on a holiday to France. On the other hand there are several sightings of ruddy duck before they were culled. These sightings are in 2s and 3s at least. Now you’d be lucky to see one.

The book also contains some exciting garden birds that I remember including in November 1993 when a merlin got trapped in between our and next doors fence, my dad using gardening gloves managed to free it and we were able to see it up close in hand before he released it. I remember watching it take to the skies until it was a small dot and then nothing as a six year old seeing something disappear like that fascinated me. There’s also an entry from February 1996 when we had waxwings visit our garden for berries.

The majority of memories I have of him are to do with birds, Sundays spent waiting for him to return from Pulfin Bog, Figham Common or Tophill Low so we could have our roast dinner. Places that I’d not visited but sounded like exotic places of British wilderness full of exciting birds, such as the time when he rang home to say he wouldn’t be coming home for tea as an osprey had just turned up at Tophill.

Tophill is the second to last entry in his logbooks - 27th April 1996 Jack Snipe, Ruddy duck and cuckoo all seen that day. Two months later he’d lose his battle with cancer. I could say about how I wish I could change the past and been more interested when we went out places or how I would love to go out birding with him now, but life offers no alternate in these situations. All I can do is pick up his Leitz that are older than I, put on my boots, go visit one of his favourite places and take in the amazing natural world. Pass on my knowledge and enthusiasm to my child and be thankful for the influence I’ve received. The influence that sowed the seeds for a love of nature that although took a while to fully blossom, I’m thankful someone was there to sow them.

Spring at Swinemoor

Whilst most birders were at Spurn today for the Rock Thrush and a fly by from a Caspian Tern (lucky lucky people!) I took a break from assignments to have a wander onto Swinemoor common. My main reason for visiting was to catch up with a couple of migrants that had recently turned up. Strong winds made looking for Sedge and Reed warblers nearly impossible so I focussed on the flooded pasture instead.


Pools at Swinemoor

My first year tick there was a single common Sandpiper (Y70). The flooded fields offered plenty of water for wildfowl with mute swan, shoveler, gadwall,teal, wigeon, shelduck and mallard all making use of the ponds. Sadly nothing interesting to pick up. Wader wise – Redshank, Little Ringed Plover, snipe and lapwing. Managed two more year ticks when a hobby (Y71) caused a bit of disturbance before flying north and out of sight and half of the reason I went down there – yellow wagtails (Y72). Also saw a white wagtail. Had no luck with any wheatears though.


Spring at last?

On probably the nicest and warmest day we’ve had so far this year I made my way up to Bransholme Reservoir to conduct my BTO Wetlands Bird Survey (WeBS). When I arrived at the lagoon which aims to protect north Hull from flooding I soon noticed a distinct lack of birds, however something caught my eye and I was given that wonderful sight of spring and summer the swallow (Y68) along with a House Martin (Y69)




I’ve been counting at this site for nearly a year now, and enjoy doing the monthly count, good to see how things change from month to month. This month the summer arrivals as previously mentioned were also greeted with some lesser black backed gulls, which I haven’t recorded over winter, other gulls present include herring, common and black headed.


Gulls! Gulls! Gulls!

The numbers of winter wildfowl were on the decline with small numbers of gadwall, pochard and shoveler compared to previous months. Teal, coot, mallard, mute swan were also present. No sign of the terrapin I saw twice last year yet, wonder if it’ll surface on a hot day again this year. Also no Chiffchaff that was singing every summer visit last year. Hopefully that’ll be an addition for my next visit.


Bransholme Lagoon



Camera Test Run

I recently decided to buy a new camera, after reading a few reviews on Amazon I settled for a Fuji Finepix. I finally managed to get out today for a test run. I decided to head up to Figham and try my luck photographing the Barn Owls. The common was very quiet, a few mallards and moorhens on the river, Reed Buntings and Pied Wagtails on the edges. I didn’t take me scope to check out the flooded field but I managed to make out some Lapwing, Teal and greylags using it. Spotted a yellowhammer (Y65) in the poor light. Back in 2010 this bird was very numerous on the common with every visit being able to see at least five or six birds plus hearing a lot of their “a little bit of bread but no cheese” calls sadly since the harsh winter of 2010 their numbers have been low and I rarely see or hear them when I go on there.

It took a while to find the barn owl tonight as it was mainly hunting in the long grass that is fenced off from the rest of the common. I managed a few shots, which I don’t think are too bad for a first attempt. Hopefully next time it’ll come closer.

Cropped Owl

Cropped Owl


Barn Owl

Barn Owl

Patch Gold!

After spending all day cooped up inside working on an assignment I decided I would take a break and celebrate the start of “British birding time” by heading to my abandoned local patch for my first evening birding session of the year. My ultimate goal was to year tick Barn Owl. This beautiful bird can be seen with a bit of luck most evenings on Figham Common.

I walked along the river bank and wasn’t hopeful of much, with the exception of a single common gull, some pied wagtails and reed buntings the place was deserted. The fields after the Wheel fishing pond is now quite flooded. I struggled to make out anything on the far pools but will return later this week or next with my scope for a better view (also my hat and gloves!) I did managed four oyster catchers (rarity), around six teal (patch first!), greylags and some lapwings. The lapwings were starting to tumble and call. The lapwing’s call is one of my favourite sounds in early spring. I decided to check out the fishing pond at the top of the common, only a domestic mallard and black swan were using it though. Across the river in the fields was a flock of golden plover (Y61). Patch gold! Only recorded them here once before! A bird flew over my head and with its bobbing flight and red rump it was easy to identify as great spotted woodpecker (Y62), which are often hard to see although resident.

Walking back along the river bank a ghostly shape in the rough field just before the houses gave me my quarry. A beautiful pale barn owl (Y63) quartered the field. An unusual sound grabbed my attention and I turned round to see a snipe(Y64) taking to the air and calling, although I know they’ve been seen on Figham I’ve never seen one on there myself, so a second patch first of the evening! As I turned back round I clocked a barn owl actually on the common, the markings and colour were similar so hard to tell if it were two separate birds or the same one had crossed the river when I’d been watching the snipe. I watched it quartering the grass for a while, with it coming close at times giving brilliant views. I then lost it as it made an attempted kill so looked to the other field where there was the first barn owl! Happy with two owls, my fingers couldn’t take the cold much longer and I headed for home watching the second bird hunt over the rough grass with a kestrel hovering above.