Tag Archives: gulls

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)

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B-Res

 

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.

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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.

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Bransholme Lagoon

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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.

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.

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.

October Round-Up


Thought I would round-up the small few outings I had in October:

10th I went with a friend to Spurn Point. A rather quiet visit with no great amount of birds out, unlike my trip to Kilnsea a week earlier. Grey Plover, Sanderling, Brent Goose and Bar-Tailed Godwit the highlights of a bird lacking day. Did manage to see the Larkin Plaque there though which was good. I think I’ve seen 4/25 of them. Need to hunt down the others.

Larkin at Spurn

14th October it was time to go do my WeBS count. I started doing my count in the summer when there was not much variety in birds using my site, however now winter is approaching the number of swans and gulls there is rising. Also new birds like cormorant, Shoveler,  gadwall appearing and numbers increasing.

After doing my WeBS count I was going to go home and work on an assignment for the Monday. However I decided to check the East Yorks birding forum whilst waiting for the bus home and saw that Steve Webb had posted information about a Little Stint being present on Swinemoor. Decided my work could be put off for a few hours and after dropping a few things off at home headed on out there. When I got to Swinemoor I checked the southernly pools and had no luck. Walking a bit further I met a guy who had come from the northern end and had no luck on the far pools. With the size of the Little Stint being what it is and the roughness of Swinemoor we decided to stick it out and hope it was still present. Eventually we found it on the most northernly pool (surprisingly as most scarce stuff seems to turn up in the middle pool) feeding among a lapwing flock.

Spurn Lighthouse

27th October – After two weeks of big assignments and lots of stressful shifts at work I couldn’t wait to get out and bird. Even if it was nearly blowing a gale and hailstones! Decided to head up to High Eske after Erich had seen a red-head smew on the lake a week earlier. I wasn’t going to be hopeful but I could only go locally and to see my favourite duck on a new patch is always a bit incentive. I walked around the lake through the trees and past Pulfin. Checking out the greylags I picked up a Barnacle Goose which was good for the patch. Although I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of a hybrid. A quick walk onto Pulfin Bog gave great views of a kestrel and at the HVWG screen I was able to catch up with the returning Goldeneye, plus a curlew flying past. Lots of noise from trees however the strong winds kept most things hidden. Walking towards the gate at the north end of the lake I saw a heron coming into land and assumed it had gone into the fields, wrong! As I got to the gate with a huge clattering and making me jump something terrible the heron flew out of the right next to me. No more than a couple of foot. Never been that close to a heron before and not sure I want to again!

Walked up the scrape at Leven Carrs, which is now a full pond. Lots of Black-headed gulls and teal present but nothing else. Got great views of a large fox casually sat amongst the grass of the carrs. Also three roe deer on the opposite side of the river, remarkably calm and still seen as there was men at work not too far away. Walked back to the lake along the flood defense and tried looking for the smew and any jay (also always hoping for a waxwing) with no luck. Decided to walk about the south of the lake again to see if  I could get a better view of the barnacle goose, however it was nowhere to be seen. Was rewarded with my first little egret of the year tucked up on the island though. Also a small sulky warbler in the trees, if I were to call it I would have to say a chiffchaff. Large flock of fieldfare circling around the southern area of Eske. At least 50 – 100 I’d guess.

Fieldfare, Goldeneye, Wigeon and Little Egret all about looks like winter is nearly here bring on the waxwings, redwings, bramblings and winter geese!

Year list now at 142. Hoping for 150.
Website for The Larkin Trail across Hull and East Yorkshire – http://www.thelarkintrail.co.uk/

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.

Roller and an Outing


There’s been a bit of excitement recently, excitement in the form of a bright blue bird known as a roller. I’m not quite sure of the full story but a roller turned up at Spurn before travelling along the coast to Aldbrough just outside of Hornsea. I had seen various tweets about the bird however didn’t really pay notice.

Last Monday I received a text from my aunt saying she had been to see it and it was a fantastic bird and would I like to go and see it. Unfortunately I had to decline as I was just about to head out to go see my daughter for the day (putting family before birds I won’t make a good twitcher!). It was a hard decision however I thought that when she becomes an unruly teenager and is shouting about how her parents don’t love her I’d be able to remind her the time I gave up seeing a roller to see her! As I sulkily shopped with the child a got a text from my aunt saying it was still around and looked amazing. I’d also seen a few pictures on twitter and was getting quite jealous. Gripping continued with the return of my parents from a holiday to Spain, who informed me that they’d seen a Hoopoe on their travels!

On Thursday night I made a few enquiries and Michael Flowers told me it was still around and where to see it. A midday start at work on Friday meant that “twitching” it was a possibility. We headed out to Aldbrough and found the site, mainly due to a car ignoring the advice to not park on the grass verge and getting stuck in a drainage ditch! A couple of other birders turned up and we managed to get the car back on the road. After all was sorted a quick look and the roller was nowhere to be seen. We hung around for a while time getting on before I would have to head back for work. As we stood talking to a couple of birders suddenly the roller appeared on the wires above our heads.

Rising my binoculars up to get a better look I was greeted with a brilliant sight of electric blue and “cinnamon pink” after a while on the wire the bird flew down onto the tilled soil. We watched it for around half an hour hunting for insects and getting mobbed by a meadow pipit. An utterly fantastic bird! A cuckoo was also heard whilst we watched the roller. I didn’t take any pictures of the roller however lots of gorgeous pictures on Michael Flowers’ blog.

Yesterday we headed for the RSPB reserve of Blacktoft Sands, we’d done this a few months back but had to call the trip short. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t as nice as our previous visit but was pleasant enough. A quick chat in the visitor centre gave us our first views of the wonderful marsh harriers. We did the left hand side of the reserve first. A sad sight was what looked like an already sorry-looking Great Creasted Grebe chick being attacked by some black-headed gulls. It disappeared into an inlet and wasn’t seen again. I doubt it survived.

Highlights were a few remaining avocets (sadly not a successful breeding season), Ringed Plover and my first blackcap of the year. After lunch we did the right side of the reserve. After arriving in the “First Hide” three marsh harriers appeared from nowhere as usual. I’ve never seen the harrier food pass before and a male and female harrier started behaving as if it were about to take place. At this point my stepdad re-joined me after putting his new RSPB membership pack in the car and I rather excitedly shouted out “Watch them two there!” a few seconds later the food pass took place. A first for me and even though I’ve seen it many times on programmes and clips it was brilliant to see happen a few meters away. The tide was high at this point river traffic was busy, whilst watching the birds we also saw two large ships bringing in wind turbine parts along the River Ouse, first ship brought in the blades and the next one passing brought the shafts. After a while we decided to head off to close by Yorkshire Trust’s North Cave Wetlands site.

North Cave is probably one of my favourite reserves to visit. Whilst it doesn’t always turn up as good stuff as other sites it’s always a pleasant walk around and the information is always up to date. As we were getting the gear out of the car I spotted a stoat running across the road. It then stood up right giving excellent views of this wonderful and beautiful mustelid. It’s not surprising you see stoats at North Cave considering the huge amount of rabbits on site.

A walk round produced lots of black headed gulls, avocets, a Dunlin in summer plumage, either a few kestrels or one very busy kestrel, red-legged partridges and some common terns getting vicious with some of the gulls on the main lake. Sadly the hobby that had been seen the previous evening was nowhere to be seen however that wouldn’t dampen a great days birding.

Whilst visiting North Cave we also ventured into the new hide. A sign on the door stated it was open however the door was very stiff. You could be fooled into thinking the door was locked which is probably what I have been before! Inside the hide is very smart-looking with lots of information and colourful pictures about the local wildlife and habitats. It is well worth a visit.