Category Archives: Local Patch

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.

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.

To tick or not to tick?

I’m not keen on snow; however what I do like is birding in the snow. The harsh conditions mean that birds you don’t usually see on your local patch or walk to work can turn up, so there’s bound to be something new and exciting. After finishing college at midday I decided the best thing would be to go home rather than risk a hectic trip home if the forecast heavy snow turned up. Arriving at home and still no snow in sight I decided to head out and do a bit of snow birding.

My choice today was Figham Common, I used to visit here all the time however recently have favoured High Eske and Swinemoor. The last snow birding I did on here turned up goosander and golden plover so I was hoping for some patch gold when I carefully negotiated my way along the icy beckside path. On my way to the common I picked up two easy year ticks of dunnock and song thrush.

The entrance to the common was rather treacherous with large sheets of ice cracking beneath my feet. The cracking of this ice caused a cormorant to take flight from the river. The first sign of the difference snow and ice make was the large number of coots using the river. Coot can be a surprisingly rare bird for Figham; they can be seen in the angling ponds in the surrounding area but very rarely on the river. The ground next to the river but before the embankment is the only area clear from snow (probably river has raised and washed snow away at some point) meaning that this area was a hive of activity. A number of reed buntings were constantly seen feeding here; again this is unusual activity with reed buntings favouring the grass and reeds in the middle of the common rather than bankside. A large flock of lapwings which normally feed in the field on the opposite side of the river also took advantage of this unfrozen ground. Fieldfare and redwing were also present.

I counted three little grebe on the river, which is my highest count. However the biggest rise in numbers was cormorants, on a good day you’ll see three or four following the river. Today I counted 9 stood on the opposite river bank at the southern end of the common and with a few more flying around.

As I walked the river four yellow beaked swans came down. Although they were a bit too far out for my ID skills (didn’t take scope), I managed to pick up a large amount of yellow on one of the beaks and their necks were very straight and long when they had them up (soon tucked them away) so going with whooper. PATCH GOLD!

I walked a bit further to the far end of the common to check the angling pond. There was a small area free from ice in the middle which contained two drake mandarin ducks and a possible female along with a coot and two domestic mallard. Mandarin would not only be a patch first but a lifer. Now need to decide if my conscience will allow me to tick it, seen as it was joined by two black swans that carefully waddled across the ice to the water. I’m not sure about the population of black swans in East Yorkshire but I’ve seen a pair at other sites (North Cave, High Eske) and heard of a pair reported elsewhere. Is it the same nomadic pair?

My walk back added little extra apart from redshank year tick. Was hoping to pick up a barn owl or short eared owl, both have been seen on the site recently but no luck today.

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.

Migrants are here

Since I haven’t posted a blog since the snow, some of you may have been concerned that I had perished in the snow, stuck birding at some remote location and suffered some terrible fate. However I’ve just been lazy. If you think this blog looks bad you should check out my log book!

However I have been birding! At the beginning of March it was reported that three avocets were at North Cave Wetlands. I went down there hoping to see my favourite wading bird. However those sleek smoothies had already moved on. I wasn’t disappointed as I knew I would soon catch up with them later in the year. On that trip I did manage to add a further three to the year list with skylark, reed bunting, snipe and a pair of goosander was a good consolation prize.  I also found half a rabbit’s skull which I showed my daughter when I got home. “No daddy, I only like real rabbits with fur!” she cried in horror. Looks like I won’t be getting a Dad of the year mug this Father’s Day…

A trip out to Oak Road Playing fields in Hull let me see my first ever weasel. Eventually after hopping around for a bit it decided to go and kill some rabbits. It went down the rabbit warren and a loud squealing was heard. Surprisingly the rabbit managed to escape from its clutches and scurried free away from the weasel. However when it saw us it dived back into the warren where the weasel was! After that there was no more noise or commotion from the warren, one can only assume that the rabbit informed the weasel of our presence and the pair have become new BFFs. The rabbit convincing the weasel that there is no reason to eat meat and that vegetarianism is the way forward. The weasel is reluctant to agree but the prospect of a new friend makes him agree he’ll only eat meat from abandoned take away containers from now on. I also saw first woodpecker of the year. It was a great spot! (Do you see what I did there?!)

Wood Lane

At the end of March we had very warm weather. I even got a bit sunburnt! Sun burn! In March! The Shame! Whilst getting sunburnt I was out birding in the Willerby and Cottingham area, mainly seeing lots of Linnets. I also ventured into the cemetery on Priory Road. Had two roe deer shoot out past me no more than 12 feet away which was great. I also saw a stock-dove in an owl box.

At college I sometimes get out of my morning class early, instead of using this spare time to do useful things like work on assignments I instead bird (or write blogs like I am doing now) most of my urban birding takes place walking the River Hull towards the Humber looking for waders. I usually only ever encounter Redshanks, however Curlew I have seen on the Humber as well as a Kestrel hovering over the tiniest bit of waste land by the side of one of the busiest roads in Hull.

Kestrel over Castle Street. Taken on mobile and could not see the screen so please excuse the awfulness of picture

With migrants starting to appear I decided a trip to High Eske was on the books. I walked through Swinemoor Common and saw eight Ruff which have been there a while and are now starting to get into breeding plumage which means I should try to check them out again. (The Wold Ranger recently visited them have a look and wrote about it here) I was hoping to see some hirundines. I didn’t see any, however I did see and hear lots of Chiffchaffs. A further trip to North Cave Wetlands abled me to finally see the avocets, making them bird number 99. We went from this Yorkshire Wildlife Trust site to the RSPB Blacktoft Sands. Neither site had any hirdundines. Although we did see more avocets and around eight Marsh Harriers!

Curlew on Humber

A garganey had been seen at Top Hill Low for a few days but by the time I managed to get to the site it was long gone. Although I did see two avocets, which I think is a rare occurrence for this site, especially now that the pair appears to be breeding. We also saw a possible ring tailed Hen Harrier. Also finally saw bird one hundred and my first hirundines of the year two swallows at the hide overlooking Watton Nature Reserve. Also saw another pair later in the evening whilst walking my dog on Figham Common.

News of three Black Necked Grebes at North Cave Wetlands and the possibility of a new lifer for the year saw me visit the reserve for the third in in two months last Friday. Whilst initially hard to see them at first due to them spending a lot of time diving and staying underwater I eventually managed to see the lone grebe quickly dive underwater before finding the pair swimming around. They really are a fantastic bird. They’re only the third grebe species I’ve seen and I always love seeing Great Crested and Little Grebes. Whilst looking for the grebes I saw my first Sandmartins of the year and walking around the reserve saw first Willow Warbler of the year. Sadly an evening at work meant I had to call the trip short and missed out on seeing Little Ringed Plover, having a good look for some Pink Footed geese and having another gander at the grebes.

Zoomed in phone camera curlew

Snowy Outings

What’s been happening since I last updated? Well for a start winter arrived at last, and a mad frenzy occurred when the snow fell. Or something like that… I was working or doing college work for most of the week when the snow first came so could not do some snow birding. There is something about the snow that makes birding more enjoyable. Perhaps because the harsh conditions means that birds have to travel to new areas for food and water or that they’re more obliging because they’re starving to death so don’t mind your presence.

On my walk to work on the Tuesday after snow, there was a lot of Long-tailed Tits in the shrubs that run along the Beverley Beck. This is the first time I can remember seeing them here so they’ve probably travelled from Figham in search of food. It was my first encounter with this bird for the year. Probably a top ten bird!

On Friday 10th I had slept so going to college was out of the question, instead I decided to go birding after dinner. I’ve shamelessly not been out on my local patch yet this year (maybe I shouldn’t call it my patch any more) so Figham Common was decided as my place of choice. Especially after my step-dad had just come in from walking the dog and told me he’d seen a pair of Goosander on the river. I’d only ever seen Goosander once before at East Park earlier this year and they are now probably in my top three ducks, so the idea of seeing them on my patch was exciting.

Poor photograph of cormorant

 As I walked onto the common I could see some activity in front of me. I saw a wader inflight, quick as a flash I looked through my binoculars and followed it. It landed next to some other waders. It didn’t take me long to identify them. Golden Plover! A lifer for me and therefore of course a patch first for me as well. I’ve often gazed longingly at Golden Plover in books, so it was great to finally see one for real. There was about eight of them in total feeding on the river bank, some getting hassled by some black-headed gulls. I felt like telling them I had their backs, but they wouldn’t understand. They’re just Golden Plovers.

I continued to walk down the riverbank and saw the two Goosander looking very fine indeed. I’d previously spend £2.90 on bus fares on going to see Goosander at East Park and now I was viewing some on my patch for free. I felt like demanding a refund for my bus fare from them. I would show them my ticket and explain that I spent good money going to see them at East Park and now they’re teasing me by showing up on my patch. They would reply that they’re giving me a new patch record so I shouldn’t be so ungrateful. Or they’d just stare at me and fly off, because they’re only ducks.

Poor image of Goosander, they laugh at my inferior pictures and don't give refunds

 As I walked along the river I saw a pair of Little Grebe, a sole Pochard and some tufted ducks. I also saw fifteen Coot in a gang. Coot for some reason is a rare sight on this patch of the River Hull and is usually seen on the fishing ponds near the river and not actually on it. A bit further up a pair of Goldeneye swam, giving me my third patch first for the day. I walked away from the river to try the trees and shrubs, the number of small birds was low. Although a good number of blue and great tit about.

Barmston Drain Frozen Over

I decided to go back towards the river for more views of the Plovers and Goosanders. In the field on the opposite side of the river apart from an annoying man talking loudly on his phone there was a Barn Owl and Kestrel hunting in the same field. It’s always great to see Barn Owls. Shame it didn’t come to my side of the river so I could get better views. However there was a lot less snow covering on that side.

Another Goosander pic

A very good outing on my patch, a lifer seconds from the entrance and two further patch firsts. Don’t think I’ll get a day like that again! I hope I do though!

And a third, my finger is in this picture slightly. Need to learn how to hold my phone!

 On the Saturday I ventured out with Rob and James to Hornsea. We started birding in the Beverley Tesco car park as James had found a Lesser Redpoll hanging out with some Goldfinches. We then sped out towards Hornsea, stopping off to check the pond at Bewholme on the way. We arrived at the Mere after passing through a Hornsea that now has every single shop boarded up because of Tesco arriving in the town… The ice had meant that there was little to see except some far distant ducks, swans and geese that were still hard to make out with binos. We managed to see the Iceland gull that everyone was mainly looking for however didn’t see the Glaucous gull. There’s some great pictures of the gull here. A flock of Barnacle geese where present and another flock of geese flew other. Bean we were told. A single whooper sawn was seen mingling with the mutes. There was a domestic duck at the mere so cute that I wanted to scoop it up, take it home and hand feed it bread on Valentine’s Day. I wasn’t allowed. We decided to try our luck on the path the runs along the other side of the mere so headed out that way. Whilst trudging slowly through deep snow, I managed to see a Yellowhammer, my first for a few months.

We got to the side of the mere and set up the scope and a flock of grey geese landed on the ice. They were Bean geese, a flock of  Tundra with a single Taiga along with them. This was either one or two lifers for me, depending on who rules you play by. I play by my own rules and say it’s two. However on Bubo I use BOU for my life list so it’s only one. Whilst watching the birdies, an incredibly stupid woman, her idiot daughter and their dog decided that it would be a good idea to walk on the frozen mere. Either Rob or James said we might have to rescue them at some point. I decided that we shouldn’t as it’s evolution if they fall in and die. Fortunately they didn’t die and we headed off in the search of some dirty hybrid geese to please James.

The location of these hybrids was at Skirlington they were Emperor x Barnacle and Ross x Barnacle. The first one we saw was actually quite cute, I didn’t get as good views of the second. There were also some weird-looking Greylag mutant things, with necks wider than a small child I was slightly scared of getting swallowed whole by them. At the pond a flock of white-fronted geese departed as we got out of the car to view them. James then drove around the area trying to find some ponds where the geese might have flown. Sadly all the ponds on the map were at locked off lodges. They didn’t want our kind there. We ended up at the Beverley Westwood and didn’t see much except some interesting fungi that I didn’t take a picture of and a Redwing feeding that Rob got some great pictures of.

A good couple of days pushing the year list up to 90.  I also got 4/5 lifers in two days, which is nice.