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.

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Easter at North Cave


Due to a few factors mainly work and college I haven’t been able to get out much this year so decided I’d treat myself to a day at what is probably my favourite nature reserve – North Cave Wetlands over the Easter break. I’d managed to get a long weekend off work (nearly impossible!) so thought that after a weekend of seeing family, we’d go to North Cave on the Monday. Also a nice walk to burn off some of the chocolate and pub lunches I’d had over the weekend!

Using EYMS’ excellent X57 service we arrived in North Cave and proceeded through the village to the reserve. We opted for the anti-clockwise route and settled down into the East Hide to get my year first Avocet (Y53), Oyster Catcher (Y54) and Shelduck (Y55). I mentioned I’ve hardly been out this year and at this point last year I was on 99 birds, including a chiffchaff which not many people seem to have seen yet this year! Between here and Turret hide we picked up the usual ducks and gulls. Some people managed to see a snipe but I had no luck with the cryptic beauties. We decided to back on ourselves and go clockwise at the East Hide we were treated to some Great Crested Grebes teasing us with their head shaking, but the ziggy stardusts did not follow through into full courtship display. From the ridge I could see some raptors soaring, however impossible to ID with binoculars and couldn’t get them in my scope. Due to there being three I would put these as Red Kites, which seem to be quite common over the reserve however have always eluded me! In my bid to get an ID of them I managed to find the resident kestrel though. Walking towards Far Lake to try for the Red-Head Smew I saw a white dot diving on Carp Lake, there she was! Walked along Carp Lake and at one point had brilliant views of her as we came level, was so close that if it had been a drake I could have offered him my hand in marriage. However it was only a red head, so you wouldn’t go as far as marriage, maybe just a nice weekend away in the Cotswolds…

We walked a bit further and I tried for Little Owl in the trees, but had no such luck, I found some pellets however on the ground (most probably from the Barn Owl), as I looked up from poking them with my foot (I wasn’t allowed to pick them up!) and was explaining to my daughter what they were a large raptor flew close over head. No need for binoculars or any doubt of the identification RED KITE! Year tick 57 and a long over due lifer! Been a bogey bird of mine for ages! It flew off as quick as it appeared. A trip to the new crosslands hide (door still as stiff as ever) we were entertained by Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers scurrying about, fighting with pied wagtails. This new hide with its excellent views gave us chance to warm up slightly! A downside of birding by bus is that we had to stay a while longer than we wanted to at North Cave, so decided to go to the East Hide for a bit before heading off home.

A good day out which gave my year list a needed bump of 8. Still 40 behind this time last year however! Although this has only been my fourth outing besides BTO WeBS counts so the low number is expected. Bring on June when hopefully we’ll have summer weather and summer migrants!

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.

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.

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!

And so it starts for another year


After waking up slightly later than I intended to, then checking twitter and text messages to see how much of an idiot I had been last night it was time to dig out my binoculars and head off to kick start the 2013 birding year.

The first birds seen were a Mallard and then a Moorhen on the Beck. Followed by woodpigeon, blackbird, robin and great tit on the walk to Swinemoor. When I arrived at Swinemoor I was taken back by how water logged it was. Lots more pools than usual and hard going in places. Really need to get some wellies! I managed to pick up a flock of long-tailed tits in the trees along the Beverley-Barmston drain. Scanning the common I picked up an interesting white shape, a better inspection with the scope revealed a little egret which quickly flew further down the common. I also got the three common gulls for this site – Common, Black-headed and Herring gull. I didn’t see any black-backs.  Three redwings flew between the trees.

Shadow Birding

Shadow Birding

Also managed fieldfare, cormorant, magpie and starling. Relocated the little egret which had now joined two others.  I then headed for the bridge over the river and was taken back by how high the water level of the river was at this point.

My normal route onto the river bank was blocked.

My normal route onto the river bank was blocked.

A mute swan flew over head as I made my way down the river to high eske. The walk from Crown and Anchor to high eske is never normally one full of birds, the odd corvid, an overhead cormorant or if you’re lucky a kestrel or barn owl is the most I normally can get. Today it was just some distant mute swans and gulls.

River Hull reaching embankment.

River Hull reaching embankment.

Once at the lake I decided to go straight after Erich saying that the circuit was out of bounds due to water levels. On the lake were a lot of greylags, couldn’t pick out anything of interest. Also on the lake were Great Crested Grebe, Tufted Duck, Gadwall and Goldeneye.

I decided to keep going to Leven Carrs to try see the Whooper Swans that had been reported earlier  on the opposite side of the river at Arram. Whilst walking along the river bank a Sparrowhawk flew across my path and across the bulging river. I have a hard time connecting with sparrowhawks, which makes every time I see one all that better. Managed to see the whoopers on Arram carrs but couldn’t make out any other wildfowl so started heading back. Back at the lake a large flock of teal came down to land as I had another look for the pintail reported by Erich last week but no luck.

River meets lake and the path to Pulfin is flooded.

River meets lake and the path to Pulfin is flooded.

With the state of Swinemoor I decided to say myself the effort and walk the Tickton to Wheel road home, was rewarded with a kestrel hovering near the swing bridge. Not too bad of a start to the year.

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.