Category Archives: Biographic

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.

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.

Smew don’t have to say you love me, just be close at hand


Any dedicated followers of this blog, my twitter feed or those I know personally who have the misfortune of enduring my excited ramblings about birds you will know there’s one bird that I tend to hold in more high regard than others, one bird that I want to see the most. The male smew! I’ve seen female smews on a couple of occasions so this is goes beyond just being able to “tick a bird off”. The smew in my opinion (and it should be yours too) is the most fantastic looking ducks there is. With its Billy Idol quiff and cracked ice plumage it’s the sexiest duck you will ever see. Some people say that the Harlequin duck is better looking than a drake smew, however these people are wrong and should see a mental health professional.

Whilst checking facebook last night I saw that Erich had updated his blog with news of there being two drake smews present at Welton Waters / Brough Angling Complex. With two present there stood a good chance of one hanging around. I was undecided whether to try for it but decided that I’d pack my binoculars and see how I felt after college.

I dreamt about smew last night and I nearly fell out of bed twice. Upon arrived at college and on the news of my class being cancelled, I went to the library constantly checking RBA for updates on my phone. After doing a bit of work I decided I had earned the chance to go see if I could find the handsome devil and got on the train to Brough.

Walking along the flood defence at Brough Haven, there was a great number of fieldfare around but little else around. A pheasant made the first year tick of the day. At the angling complex I checked the main pound and all I could manage was goldeneye, wigeon, gadwall and coots. After waiting a while I moved on to Welton waters. As I walked past the sports lake, I saw something with a white front dive into the water. Erich had reported a Red-Throated Diver with the smews however I couldn’t relocate and two cormorant swimming around it looked like I had been over hopeful! A kingfisher flew across the lake. As I made the walk back along the lake I heard a lot of rustling and noise coming from the reeds around the lake. I waited for a while and was rewarded with my first ever glimpse of an otter. Mustelid heaven!

Walking back I noticed that there were three birds diving and as I got closer I was glad to see that I hadn’t been seeing things and the Red-Throated Diver was still present. Lifer! I watched this loon for a while before moving back to the angling ponds. Despite knowing roughly the size of smew it’s surprising at how many birds with bits of white on them get your hopes up even if they’re about twice the size! I waited and scanned across the pond and it wasn’t long until I finally found the holy grail of my birding! Trying to contain my rebel yell of excitement I watched the smew until the couldn’t handle the cold anymore and decided to head back. Fifteen minutes with smew, well I wouldn’t say no.

The walk back gave me another year tick of a pair of linnet.

Desert Island Discs


This post has nothing at all to do with nature or wildlife but is something I’ve wanted to do for a while but as this is the only blog I have will have to go in here. I apologise for digression and normal posting will resume in due time.

I’m quite a fan of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs so have compiled my own list. For those of you not aware of the rules you have to pick 8 tracks that you would take with you if you were going to be stranded on a desert island. Then you have to choose an ultimate disc that you would save over all the others. You are also asked which book you’d take as well as been given the complete works of Shakespeare and the Bible (or another appropriate religious or philosophical work) and the choice of a luxury item.

I’m a huge Morrissey and The Smiths fan as most of you will know. Not sure if this is my favourite but it’s just too good not to take. It was either this or Morrissey’s Speedway.

“I’ve seen a lot of what the world can do and it’s breaking my heart in two”

The best cover song ever.

Been stranded on a desert island might just be the only chance to try and master singing along to this.

Probably my favourite band.

Wise words of advice.

I couldn’t decide between the original and Kirsty MacColl version. So would have to get this version put onto disc to take with me.

I absolutely love Dusty. Arguably one of the best female singers to have ever lived.

I think my ultimate disc would have to be “They Might Be Giants – Birdhouse in Your Soul”, the book I would take is “The Complete Works of George Orwell” as for the luxury item, well what else but a pair of top of the range binoculars.

Thanks for reading my self-indulgence, now tell me yours!

2012 – Top Ten


Here are my top ten birds of 2012….

10 – Goosander
It’s a good duck

9 –  Black Necked-grebe
I’m a big fan of grebes however had only seen little and great crested so when three black-necked grebes turned up at North Cave Wetlands I decided that instead of heading to the library to do important college work that I would travel down to one of my favourite nature reserves. Well worth it.

8 – Cuckoo
Often heard but never seen. After a disappointing trip to a high water levelled Filey Dams we headed off to Bempton Cliffs. A cuckoo had been seen on the concrete posts that fence off the MoD land. It didn’t take long to locate and stayed still most of the time with the only movement flying from one post to another. Great to get such brilliant views of a bird I can rarely locate.

7 – Garganey
My first garganey and my first self-found rare bird too! Cracking little duck.

6 – Hobby
In august I went on an awkward lunch date. Afterwards in a bid to rid myself of the shame I went birding and saw my first ever hobby! You know you’ve seen a good bird when you mutter “f**king hobby!” to yourself when you see it!

5 – Waxwings
Hold the revolving door! Waxwings only at number five? What is this madness?! It’s been a good year for top birds so much so that the avian Jedwards have been knocked back into fifth place. They crop up in your dreams , oh but dreams have a knack of just not coming true. However this year was different and I managed to catch up with them as my last post shows. They also turned up in Hull behind St Stephens shopping centre, but unfortunately I was in a class when the alert came through on RBA android app and I spent an agonising hour and a half waiting for my lunch break to see if I could see them (sadly I didn’t). I didn’t renew my trail RBA subscription to save me from the hell of not been able to shoot off for a bird, for now anyway.

Joint third – Short-eared Owl and Hen Harrier
New Year’s Day 2012 I saw two short-eared owls hunting then a ringtailed Hen Harrier appeared trying to steal food from the hunting owls. It was hard to follow where all three birds were at times and who was stealing from who, but it was a “spectacular” as some would say. After seeing these three birds there was a total down pour and I had to walk an hour home soaking wet. Was still worth it!

2 – Desert Wheatear
My first proper twitch to go see the long staying and most photographed bird. Hung around on the cold cliff tops at Bempton waiting for this little cute thing to pop up. Was well worth the wait. Didn’t get a photograph as there’s already a million of it on the web! That same day I also made friends with a one footed turnstone, saw my first gannets of the year some four months earlier than I usually do and saw some harbour porpoises.

1 – Roller
My second proper twitch to another bird that stayed around for a while. Parked up, waiting in the cold drizzle for an hour (luckily some friendly birders were present for company) eventually it turned up in on some over head wires and I got to  see its vivid blue colouring and lovely cinnamon pink back. Watched it for half an hour and then had to go to work, but I went to work very happy!

Close calls – Iceland Gull (I like gulls but not enough to make them to the top 10), Smew – female only a male would have found its way into there. That’s the type of sexist pig I am. Peregrine – same day as the cuckoo. I had fantastic views of a juvenile female calmly sat on the cliffs at Bempton. Greenish Warbler, cute little bird but too didn’t want to feel too much of a twitcher by counting it ;), Golden Plover – incredibly cute, Wood Sandpiper, Temmincks Stint, Little Stint, Bar-Tailed Godwit – The Swinemoor highlights, Brent Goose – probably my favourite goose!

I finished the year with 144 birds, bit disappointing seen as I had 90 in February however I’ve done very little birding since the summer. Missed out on going to see the Jack Snipe that was present for a long while at North Cave Wetlands, no green woodpecker sadly. Dipped on Barred Warbler, Yellow-Browed Warbler and Red Breasted Flycatcher whilst at Spurn. Also missed out on a Pectoral Sandpiper on Swinemoor and when at South Landing found a Spotted Flycatcher but didn’t see the Pied fly, at least I didn’t see it and get disappointed when it turned out not to be an Atlas though!  Hope 2013 is more successful and full of even more fantastic lifers.

Waxwings


They’re here and once again in style! With their wonderful quiffs and high trill calls waxwings are the Jedwards of the bird world. Getting their name from the red wax like drips on the end of their wings there aren’t many people who don’t love these winter invaders. It’s a bird I always hope to catch up with and often dream about during the winter months!

News started coming in about a large flock of waxwings in the car park at ASDA Hessle Road on thursday night. Unfortunately I was working Friday and Saturday so the earliest I would get out there would be Sunday morning. I made a few enquiries on twitter and the large flocks were making work of the berries. It didn’t look good, most likely to move on before Sunday. I decided now was the time to download Rare Bird Alert app on my phone and use the free trial. With alerts set up for waxwings my hopes were raised on Saturday when I got an alert saying there was still a flock of 300 late evening.

We woke early on Sunday morning and got the first bus into Hull and then after a cold short wait watching very cute sniffer dogs making sure Ferensway would be safe for the service of remembrance we got the first bus to Hessle Road. Whilst we waited for our bus I got an alert saying that 200 had been seen at 8:26 am, things were looking good! Arriving at ASDA we soon found people in the car park with big lenses so decided to go and wait with them. After standing around for about ten minutes getting excited at every flock of starlings that flew over two birds flew over with pale underneath. These were soon located on a tree at the other end of the car park, bins went up and these were waxwings! Tried pointing out to my daughter, however trying to direct a five-year old to a single bird in a far away tree is hard work! A kind photographer showed her a picture he had taken however. After looking at the two waxwings for a few minutes we decided to go warm up in the now open ADSA and get some breakfast inside us.

After our breakfast we went to see if anymore waxwings had turned up, sadly not. We decided to walk around the local area seeing if we could local the large flock from earlier. Soon the child did as children do and needed the toilet. Whilst her mother took her I stood outside ADSA waiting when a large flock of waxwings came in and landed on a tree next to the bus stop on the opposite side of the road. They then moved to the proximity of the snappers and we caught up with them and took some photographs using our compact camera.

This time even my daughter managed to see them and successfully completed her first twitch! Soon it was time to go wait for our bus and as we waited the flock came back to the tree next to the stop to once again give us some cracking views!

Better close up pictures can be seen on The Wold Ranger’s and Erich’s Hull Valley blogs

Top Ten Birds!


With the exception of my WeBS Count and a quick trip out I’ve not done much birding recently, however I wanted to keep my blog rolling so thought I’d do a entry I’ve been meaning to do for a while.

I recently got asked “What’s your favourite bird?” I spluttered nonsense about not being able to answer that question and recoiled into my shell. I imagine it’s a harder question to answer than “What is your favourite child/parent?” I often tweet about birds with the hash tag #toptenbird. So I thought I’d attempt to list my top ten “common” birds. I’m also going to try to limit it to birds I’ve seen. It’s in no particular order.

SwiftApus Apus
I thought I’d start with the number one contender for my favourite bird. Truly the master of the skies. This bird makes summer, when you see their wonderful aerial acrobatics and they’re blissful screeching you know summer has arrived. I love standing close to a body of water and seeing how close they come to you. It’s as almost as if you don’t exist as you hear their wings cut through the air. They’re completely oblivious to your presence. This summer there must have been a new nesting site close to my house as I’ve seen/heard them flying over the garden and I’m pretty sure I haven’t in previous years. It has been a great treat to hear them for my room. Swifts are also a bird (along with Swallows and House Martins) to capture the interest of children. With their feeding high above towns and cities it’s a bird you don’t have to travel far to see that is something out of the ordinary for many children. I recently showed a map of the swifts journey to my daughter and she looked amazed at how far they travel and how they do everything on the wing. As I write this blog reports are already flooding in that swifts have been spotted flying south in vast numbers which makes me a bit sad that this fantastic bird will soon be gone from our skies until next May.

Great Crested Grebe – Podiceps Cristatus
“Ziggy played guitar” with its ginger hair spiked out the shaking displaying ritual of a Great Crested Grebe could easily trick you into thinking that you’ve been transported to the 1970s and David Bowie has fallen into a lake. Or something… Great Crested Grebes are a beautiful and elegant waterbird. Its wonderful plumage once meant it was hunted for its feathers, which in turn lead to the creation of the RSPB. A good enough reason for this to be on any top ten bird list. They also carry their young on their backs which is adorably cute!

There’s a grebeman waiting in the lake
He’d like to come and meet us
But he thinks he’d blow our minds

 

Gannet – Morus Bassanus
Large, noisy and fierce. These daggered billed, blue eyed beauties are a sight to behold as they effortlessly glide above the cliff tops or as their big powerful wing beats take them off to their fishing areas where they form a dart and spear down towards the water with far more effecitiancy than any hopeful Olympic diver. Never mind the puffins, these divers are the real reason to visit RSPB Bempton Cliffs.

Sparrowhawk  – Accipiter Nisus
Many X-Box users will know all about the red ring of death, however if you’re a small bird the thing you’re most worried about is the golden ring of death. The bright yellow eye of a male sparrowhawk, its pink cheeks and quarter length trousers this is a bird that oozes style as it quickly shoots through hedgerows in pursuit of prey, just like heaven. If I were a chaffinch I’d gladly let a sparrowhawk hunt me down and eat my entrails.

Slap me on the patio
I’ll take it now

Peregrine Falcon – Falco Peregrinus
As a child I used to have a picture of a Peregrine on my bedroom wall, I still would if society didn’t consider this strange and that I should have pictures drawn by my daughter (such as Moshi Monsters or Spanish Horses) up instead – damn you society!. The fastest animal (not counting dogs in planes and stuff like that) in the world, the peregrine swoops down on its prey with its powerful talons at high speeds. You know a bird means business when it appears to wear an executor’s mask. I imagine being peregrine food is a pigeon’s only reason for living.

Lapwing – Vanellus Vanellus
The bird your mother would want you to settle down with. So far I’ve discussed sexy heart racing machines of birds. Now we get onto the lapwing the gentle wader. With their beautiful upsweeping black crest on the back of their head and glossy dark green back what is not to love about this super cute wader? Their ‘pee-wit’ call and tumbling display is enough to lighten up any birding trip. If lapwings aren’t in one of your many top ten lists of birds then you probably need to take a good look at yourself.

Avocet – Recurvirostra Avosetta
The second wader to feature in my list. The beautiful and elegant yet fierce Avocet. A real treat to watch them feed with its side to side sweeping, and although many might not agree always fun to watch them chase off larger birds.  Once extinct in Britain flooding of East Anglian marshes during the second World War brought back the curved-bill cutie to Britain. So Edwin Starr, to answer your question; “War, what is it good for?” Avocets apparently! Literally an icon of conservation this bird features on the RSPB logo. However this maybe less to do with its conservation status and more to do with black and white designs being easier to print in the past (see also WWF – Panda and Wildlife Trusts – Badger).

Smew Mergus Albellus
“With a rebel yell, she cried more, more, more!” The Billy Idol of the bird world. With its cracked ice quiffed appearance male smew are one sexy duck. I feel a bit sorry for the female smew as it is still very charming in appearance yet is waylaid in favour of the male. They’d probably win a best looking duck couple award, with goosander coming a close second. I’m tempted to have a picture of a Smew as my phone’s background picture, unfortunately as I’m a parent society dictates my daughter should be my background picture. Again damn you society! Some people argue that the Smew isn’t the best looking duck and that instead Harlequin ducks are. These people are wrong and most probably need sectioning. Please pay no attention to them. We could send letters, but they’d just ignore our sane words.

It’s a nice day, for a white ducky

Barn Owl – Tyto Alba
Do I need to explain this one? Do I really? Barn Owls are probably the nations favourite bird. This incredibly cute killer silently flying over fields is always a majestic sight on a cold winter’s morning or a warm summer’s evening. Until the recent harsh winters Barn Owls were doing well in East Yorkshire, however the past two have had a devastating effect on their population. Hopefully the warm early springs we’ve had for the past two years can help populations bounce back. Whilst debating over the last two places in my top ten I took my dog for a walk mainly because it needed one, not because I was contort thinking about this post I had to escape. As I walked on the common two of these graceful ghosts flew low above the tall grasses listening out for prey and I instantly realised they had to be in the top ten.

Pied Wagtail – Motacilla Alba
Mainly because it’s cute with all it’s bobbing along and a childhood favourite so it has a place somewhere in my heart to remind me of youthful bliss. An urban winner you’ll often see it’s tail wagging in supermarket car parks, school yards and town centers. Quite a common bird that is always a pleasure to see.

You just haven’t earnt it  yet baby
Some birds came close to being in the top ten but just missed out. For various reasons, mainly just because I forgot. They are as follows:

Kestrel – Another childhood favourite of mine, however was worried about the list being too bird of prey heavy.

Oh Jud 😦

Various Gulls – I like gulls, especially big powerful ones that terrorise sea fronts.  Hunting for chips, but could easily kill and eat a small toddler to create the crying scene. Those ones.

Chippy Chips make up 80% of a Herring Gull’s diet, the other 20% is a mix of fish, doughnuts, crustaceans and small children

Waxwings – Nothing signals a walk out to winter more than the arrival of waxwings, sadly missing from my list due to the theme being common.

Goosander, Goldeneye – More awesome ducks, but just beaten by the smew.

Cormorant – I love these fish eaters, it’s great seeing them from every pillar to post that appear in bodies of water doing their best crucifix as they dry off in the sun.

Goldfinch – A lovely little bird that visits my garden. I can often hear them first thing in a morning. In fact how many better ways to say “Good morning, Britain” than hearing their pleasant tinkling song.

Long Tailed-Tit – Mainly because they’re incredibly cute.

The list could go on and on, my “Top Ten Birds” list could easily top thirty birds I reckon. I’m sure most other birders are similar.