Tag Archives: nature

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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Visits to Swinemoor


Since last update I’ve not done any big birding trips but a few visits to several places.

The first was to Top Hill Low where actually seeing a Cuckoo was the highlight, along with getting a Pintail as a ‘lifer’. Trips around the Hull/Willerby/Cottingham boundary produced a gorgeous Wheatear and Red-Legged Partridge for year firsts.

I also took part in my first ever BTO WeBS count, my site didn’t have much wildfowl, with the best bird being a pair of Tufted Ducks! However there was swifts a plenty with some coming so close you can hear their wings cutting through the air. Which is absolutely fantastic and one of my favourite things about summer birding, how swifts and swallows seem to act as if you don’t exist!

Swinemoor Common had a number of Wood Sandpipers reported on the site, by the time I managed to get onto there on the Tuesday night they had gone and all I took away with me was Grey Partridge for the year (also some muddy clothes and a scratched stomach from someone how obviously had little control of their dog…).

The following Saturday and Sunday another four Wood Sandpipers had been reported. Despite feeling dreadful due to the beginning of a cold (on the hottest days of the year) I decided to take a trip up after work. I had only taken binoculars and the sun was in the wrong position to bird at the pools where the Sandpipers had been seen. As I struggled to decipher if it were a Sandpiper or Redshank Steve Webb turned up with his scope and managed to find the sandpiper and kindly pointed it out. Once I had identified both birds the low sun silhouetting the birds allowed for a lesson in behaviour difference between the birds. Also on site were 6 Ringed Plovers and 2 Little Ringed Plovers for the year.

I woke the next day to find out that a Temminck’s Stint had been reported on Swinemoor with the Woodsandpiper and the Plovers. Unfortunately I had to run some errands so it wasn’t going to be until late afternoon that I could get onto the site. Before heading off I got a twitter mention on my phone, it was from The Wold Ranger saying he’d tried for the Temminck’s with no luck. I still thought I’d give it a go, learning from yesterdays mistake I took my scope with me this time. I waited around the site for quite a while watching the Wood Sandpiper and trying to spot the Temminck’s. With no luck on the main pools I thought I’d try some further up, however at this point my tripod some how broke whilst panning so now the tilt is knackered and constantly goes forward or backwards making searching for an elusive wader very tricky. I was just about to give up and head home when I saw Steve had arrived on site and was looking at the main pools. Once again he was able to pick out a bird I was struggling to see in no time at all. Although as you can imagine for “Britain’s Top Twitcher” his ID skills and experience are incredibly superior to mine. Also managed to find first Yellow Wagtail of the year and shamefully on my way out I got my first Reed Warbler of the year! I took no photographs this time however some good photos on Wold Ranger’s Blog 

Six new birds for the year, one a lifer made for a good two days. Now to figure out if my tripod head can be fixed or if I can find a suitable and cheap replacement head!

Beach Cleaning and Head Walking


Friday May 11th marked the start of Marine Conservation Society’s (in partnership with Marks and Spencer)  Big Beach Clean-Up. I’ve been a member of MCS for little over six months and just missed out on the last beach clean they did, so when I saw the chance to take part in Big Beach Clean-Up weekend I soon signed up.

With the mixed weather we’ve had of late, I packed my waterproofs in my bag and made my way to the closest beach clean to me at Bridlington. Upon finding the MCS marquee I registered my name and received my £5 off a £25 shop M&S voucher  and hung around waiting for the event to start. Whilst waiting I was kept entertained by swallows hunting over the sand dunes.

The event began shortly before 10am, we were given a health and safety talk by a member of MCS which also included the reasons why we were there. Such as the harmful effects litter like plastic bags, balloon releases and flushed bathroom rubbish. Following that we had a brief talk from a representative from Marks & Spencer who explained a little about their partnership with MCS and their plan A initiative.

I ended up getting paired up with a nice man from Bridlington and we went off looking for litter, which was harder than you’d think as the beach was seemingly quite clean. Trudging slowly over wet sand we managed to find string from balloons, cotton buds, plastic bottle caps and cigarette butts. Then we found what looked like a small bit of plastic only to discover it was actually a very large piece of roofing felt buried in the sand. That quickly filled our rubbish sack and took some work dragging it back to the meeting point. After a bit more cleaning it was soon 11 and the beach clean was over. For a seemingly clean beach in total we managed to collect 25 bags of rubbish equaling 150 kilos of rubbish!

Some of the rubbish collected from Bridlington

After the beach clean was over, I got some snacks from the M&S guys (toffee chocolate pecan popcorn or something was great!) and decided to go out birding somewhere. After sampling some of Bridlington’s chips, I hopped on a bus to Flamborough North Landing.

Someone wanted my chips

Starting off on North Landing I could instantly hear the kittiwakes, kittiwaking and soon managed to pick them out with my binoculars. I then decided to walk along the cliffs. It was hard going in some parts due to the rain making the mud path very slippery.

North Landing

Walking along the cliffs I soon managed to see the usual suspects of the seabird world. Kittiwakes, Razorbills (year tick) and Guillemots (including a ‘bridal’) all over the chalk walls. With a couple of Puffins and a shag thrown in too. There were also a few seals in the water, getting mobbed by gulls every time they tried to eat their catch.

Seabird City!

Whilst walking I kept on seeing groups of Gannets (usually 5 or 6) flying in formation towards Bempton Cliffs, like a squadron flying home after a successful mission. Gannets are one of my favourite birds so it was a great sight to see. A Kestrel flew above the cliffs and I also saw this little toad.

Toad

Approaching the Lighthouse I managed to see a Lesser Whitethroat on a bush. Which was a lifer for me, although possibly because I’ve shamefully never bothered to tell the difference between a lesser and common before. I also saw this birds egg on the ground. Guillemot? Any suggestions?

Any ideas on the egg?

Approaching Flamborough lighthouse

Once at Flamborough lighthouse I clocked a common whitethroat and a Short Eared Owl hunting over the rough grass.  I then decided to walk to South Landing, however birding sightings eased off at this point due to the rain becoming more consistent so I but my binoculars away. However I did get a great view of a Sparrowhawk flying out of some trees and across a field of Oil Seed Rape and a fair few linnets about.

Close up of light house. I’m a bit annoyed that those bits of blue sky ruin the moody atmosphere

View of lighthouse across OSR on way to South Landing

Rainbow going into sea, no pot of gold I checked.

When I got to South Landing I started walking around and could hear some Chiffchaffs. I had forgotten that a rare bird was supposed to be here (Atlas Flycatcher, now I believe it’s been DNA identified as a Pied) so I was getting asked for a few birders if I knew anything about it (I didn’t). I didn’t see it, however I did see my first ever Flycatcher in the form of a spotted. I didn’t see much else except a female Bullfinch, Goldfinch, Chiffchaff and a hare in some private land.

I then made it back to the main road and headed to Bridlington Train Station where I saw the last bird of the day as a Herring Gull flew around the inside of the station much to the annoyance of a station worker.

And there ended a rather long and tiring but excellent day.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Page on Flamborough
Marine Conservation Society

My first proper twitch…


“I’m a birder, not a twitcher. They’re different things.”  I always tell people when they call me a twitcher.  However that has now changed, well slightly. On Monday I went on my first ever “twitch” to see the Desert Wheatear at RSPB Bempton Cliffs. Although I wonder if you can still call it a twitch seen as it’s been there for nearly two months now.

I arrived in Bempton around quarter to eleven, the walk up to the reserve normally takes around 25 to 30 minutes. When I got to the reserve I checked the board to see what else had been around. Four harbour porpoises bad been seen off the cliffs. I headed to the area where the Desert Wheatear was usually showing  and managed to see my first for the years of gannets, guillemots and shags. Another first for the year was fulmars, I really like fulmars yet have a hard time picking them out during the busy summer months at Bempton. However this time they nearly had the cliffs to themselves so was easy to pick them out and made me feel foolish for not finding it easier to see them in previous years. I saw something in the water popping up and down, at first I thought it was the shags however on closer inspection it was a cetacean, I didn’t know what a harbour porpoise looked like at the time but as they’d been seen I was willing to bet it was one of those. I’ve now got small Collins book on Whales and Dolphins and can confirm it was one, not a dog in a wetsuit as some suggested…

There were a few other people stood around in groups at various points among the cliffs waiting for the wheatear to appear. Eventually it came out and a group spotted him. They signaled that it had popped up and like dirty twitchers we all picked up our gear and hurried along to the spot. The Desert Wheatear popped off a fence to the ground and quite happily hopped along feeding on the ground, really showing itself off. It got so close you could have got some really good pictures if you had a camera. (I didn’t but pinkcuckoos did when she went) It must have come within two feet of one lucky couple. Excellent bird and well worth the train fare. Whilst we were all drooling over this tiny bird a kestrel hovered above the cliff edge in a desperate plea for attention. Sadly apart from me, nobody gave him any.

Checking the train times I could make the next train after a quick visit to the feeding station to finally get a greenfinch for the year. I got off at Bridlington and decided to see if I could see any Purple Sandpiper. Headed to the harbour area and walked on the beach. Trudging slowly over wet sand I checked to see if anything good had been washed up on the beach, apart from a shells of razor clams (some in great condition),  plenty of mussels [ED: a bit like this blog’s author ;-)]  and bits of crab there wasn’t much. Sadly there was lots of bits of plastic, which reminded me that I need to get on with going to a beach clean.  I did remove some broken fishing line from the beach though, like a hero! Running around the beach were various gulls, turnstones and oyster catchers. In fact there was so many turnstones I practically tripped over and squashed along as I headed to where the beach meets the harbour wall to see if there were any Pursanders (Purple Sandpipers) about. There was!!! Along with a knot! I took a picture but I don’t think you can see anything. (Sorry about the photo quality uploaded them off my phone  on to wordpress and it’s compressed them)

There are some birds there, honest!

After watching waders for a bit I decided to go and look what was about in the harbour. More pursanders on the mud along with two dunlin, a barnacle goose of dubious origin and this little beggar

Notice it only has one foot! I think it’s a bit of a celebrity in Bridlington and is quite tame. It obviously gets fed by visitors as when I put my hand into my pocket and made a rustling sound it looked at me all interested. I was worried I didn’t have any food to give it at first, then I remembered I’d bought some sausage rolls from Bempton’s village shop and still had the bag in my pocket. I emptied the crumbs onto the wall and he soon came to eat.

After feeding Terry the Turnstone I walked along the north beach past empty rides and amusements. I really do like beaches and sea fronts in the winter. With nothing about I decided to head off to catch the train home. I’ve boosted my year list to 68. It was 45 at this point last year so doing a bit better but got some early seabirds. Collected two lifers (Knot and Desert Wheatear), fed a turnstone and went on my first twitch. Not a bad day.

Missing out on new birds can send you off the (water) rails


On Wednesday I took a break from working hard on my college assignments  to do a spot of birding (I say working hard I mean staring blankly at my work not knowing what to do for a few days straight). I was due to meet up with Jess of pinkcuckoos fame and one half of the birding tag team I’ve Never Killed a Pipit and my gripper nemesis Rob before heading off to North Cave Wetlands. I caught the bus in Beverley which already contained Jess. I didn’t see Jess on the bus due to sprinting upstairs like a big kid. In front of me sat two people working on a chemistry project for Hull university. I really should be doing my chemistry work and not birding I thought at this point. I did see a pheasant on Figham Common as the bus went past. So if nothing else of note happened all day I had a new year bird.

On arriving in Hull I found Jess, easily recognisable because she was carrying a telescope. We then had to wait for Rob to show up, then when he did we did a bit more waiting for our bus whilst Robert entertained us wonderfully with tales about the time he watched a male dunnock remove a rivals sperm from his mate.

One the bus we talked birds, mammals, pets and stuff, an old woman kept on pulling a funny face every time Rob spoke. She had a carry bag full of Heinz Sausages in Beans though so who is she to judge?

Arriving in North Cave we walked through the village to the reserve. We walked across a bridge over a little stream, this stream contained two mallards two feet away, Jess at this point for some strange reason decided to get out her binoculars to get a better look at them. Feeling sorry for her we all got our bins out and the days birding was about to begin.

Upon arriving at North Cave I was set upon by Yorkshire Wildlife Trust membership collector person. I really should join them seen as North Cave is an excellent free reserve. I foolishly told the man I was planning on joining and had to listen to what membership options are available before trying to get him to just let me take a form home rather than compleing one there. 

We went into a refurbished looking Village lake hide (I think that’s what it’s called) and scanned around for birds. I got a few nice easy birds for the year list such as Teal, Lapwing and Pochard. On the way to the turret hide we saw a mixed flock of Goldfinch and Siskin in the bushes. In the turret hide I was setting up my hide clamp when Jess shouts out “Is that a Water Rail?!” it was as well! Except I didn’t see it. Rob stuck to his habit of seeing birds I don’t see and confirmed it was a water rail. After a while Rob’s friend and co-writer of their blog popped along and we became a birding gang. We soon left the hide, I don’t know what other birds were on the lake as I just stared longingly at the spot where the water rail had popped out hoping for a reappearance. No luck. I also missed out on a sparrowhawk flying across the lake which obviously Robert saw.

Walking around the reserve we added a few ducks and little grebe to our list and I finally managed to see; Robin, Mute Swan, Blue Tit and Great Tit which have been shockingly missing from my year list. We all decided that James was going to drive us to RSPB Blacktoft Sands. On the way to his car a sparrowhawk shot out in front of us. Was good to get last years bogey bird early in the year.

During the journey to Blacktoft we all chatted about birds and stuff. I managed to get revenge on Robert over the Water Rail gripping by telling him about the time a MERLIN got trapped in my garden and I got to see one up close before it was released. We also saw a dead badger roadside. We got out to look at it closer. Like school boys we prodded it with our feet. Sadly that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a badger.

At Blacktoft we checked out a few hides but there wasn’t much about. We settled in a hide that I can’t remember the name of and started to watch the raptor roost come in. It was quite epic! I got year first Marsh Harrier and a lifer with Peregrine Falcon!!! We counted 9 marsh harriers at one point. There was also a male Hen Harrier. I’d already seen a female hen harrier on 1st January. Which was a life tick and one of the best birding moments I’ve ever had as it fought with two Short-earred Owls that were also hunting at the time. You would have read all about this if I had the ability to update blogs… This male Hen Harrier was very sexy, it was such a good bird to see it felt like I was getting another lifer. Which I soon did! A flock of small birds shot over the hide and we all decided to go out side and see if we could see them. They had landed on the tree right outside the hide. We managed to ID them as Twite.

Back inside the hide however James and Robert took to arguing about if it was a Linnet or a Twite. James wasn’t sure of it. I think it’s now been decided it was Twite. I was on Robs side mainly because of the fact Robert has a beard and James doesn’t. You can’t really trust a naturalist that doesn’t have a beard.

We hung around for a bit longer, talked about the controversial Ruddy Duck cull which ended up with me sounding a bit xenophobic to Spanish waterfowl. When the raptors started to thin out we decided to head off home. On the way back to the car park Robert reckoned to see another water rail. All I could see was a Moorhen. Gripped again or Robert can’t see that well in the fading light…

I went home with two new lifers and a year list increased to 54, not bad. I didn’t manage to get my assignment done, however I did see a peregrine and male hen harrier. I’d call that a worthy sacrifice.

2011: A Review


I was going to write my top 10 birds of the year, however I thought I’d lump it in all together with a post reviewing my birding year.

Well my aim for the year was to try to visit a new site every month (seen as my 2010 records were mainly on one site). Although I didn’t visit a new site every month I did get myself out to a few new sites. This was mainly due to me starting to go out birding with an old friend of my father. As I cannot drive (I’m trying to convince myself this is my attempt at helping the planet when really it’s due to me never been bothered to learn and now not having time or money to learn) I’m stuck to visiting sites on foot or public transport, although not to bad as I can visit great sites such as RSPB Bempton, High Eske/Pulfin Bog, Hornsea Mere, YWT North Cave Wetlands and Filey Dams with no real struggle except financial! Then there’s always seaside towns like Bridlington and Scarborough which throw up excellent birding opportunities.

However you miss out some real gem sites such as Yorkshire Water’s Tophill Low, RSPB Blacktoft Sands and Spurn Point. The last two can be visited on public transport however it seems so painful I don’t think I’ll bother.

My year list resulted in a wimpy limping 117. However I didn’t include the heard Cuckoo, Tawny Owl, unsure sightings of a Bearded Tit, Merlin and Hobby. Plus a feral looking Barnacle Goose in Bridlington Harbour in the middle of summer. So I could easily bump it up to 123 if I so wished.  Also my birding suffered in the summer when my hay fever was probably the worse I’ve ever suffered. Tablets which usually work for me were having no effect at all.  I also suffered with my anxiety in the summer which meant I didn’t leave the house unless I really had to for work or to go somewhere. Hopefully neither of these problems will get in the way of birding in 2012 and it’ll be a good year.

Birds aside I started to pay more attention to other natural things in 2011 such as Mushrooms, butterflies and dragonflies and need to get some good guide books so I can become a better naturalists and not just a bird spotter.

I managed to get my patch record up to 57, still a way off the around 80 birds that have been recorded there but saw a curlew flying overhead which was a good tick for the site. I also managed to get my bogey bird of 2011 – Sparrowhawk on there. Not a year tick as I got that at High Eske, however it really was a good tick for me.

My top birds of 2011

Not the big top ten I had planned but here as follows are my top birds of 2011. Of course there are my favourite birds and great birds to see such as Swifts, Gannets, Swallows, Bullfinches, Black Terns in there but  my top birds for 2011 have to be:

5. – Green Woodpecker
The last bird of the year for me and one that I’d been after all year but never managed to see or hear despite visiting good sites for it. This one was spotted on Figham Common, after a rather dull, boring and cold afternoon spent on there not seeing anything of note except Fieldfare. I was trudging slowly over damp grass, trying to pick up a Reed Bunting in the reedmace when something starts flying across the common in front of me. Obviously I recognised the flight and put my bins up, followed this fine bird as it flew into trees, perched gave a loud yaffle and then disappeared out of sight.

4. – Sparrowhawk
As I mentioned earlier this has been a right bogey bird for me. When I visited Top Hill Low at the start of the year on the way back to the car I decided to pop into a hide to get another look at the Smew (sadly only a redhead female so didn’t make the list) my parents decided to go back to the car and wait for me. Whilst walking back to the car they saw a Sparrowhawk. I didn’t. Another time Robert Jaques  paid a quick visit to my patch and reported seeing a Sprawk on there! (the swine!). I saw a quick-moving raptor at Filey Dams however it shot out of sight before I could ID it (judging by photos of a sparrowhawk taken at Filey I’m now convineced I saw a sparrowhawk). I was at High Eske one day already an excellent birding day, with a Bullfinch year tick. I tweeted at the time (yes I tweet whilst birding) “I don’t think this afternoon can get better” about five minutes later I turn the corner and a sparrowhawk flies out in front of me. Just like heaven!

3. – Woodsandpiper
To any fathers reading this, what did you do on father’s day? I bullied my daughter and her mother into accomponying me to North Cave Wetlands. Well not on the Sunday as there’s no longer a bus there on a Sunday. Anyway we went, I’d read on http://www.eyorks-birding.co.uk that a Woodsandpiper had been seen. Always full of pessimism that I won’t see a bird, I sat down in the turret hide and scanned the islands for it. I looked for a while before spotting the wader right in front of the hide. I luckily managed to ID it successfully before a bullying Oystercatcher sent it to the other side of the lake and out of sight. I could have also had a Mediterranean Gull if I’d been bothered to check out all the black heads. Still better father’s day presents than a mug and some chocolates. If I had gone on the Sunday I think I’d have missed it, but could have had a Ruddy Duck. I love Ruddy Ducks too bad they’ll probably soon be extinct in this country.

2. – Avocet
No story here, just an excellent elegant wader. Beautiful bird, can’t wait to catch up with them again in 2012. Could watch them feeding for hours. I had almost forgot the cutest bird seen this year Goldcrest and seen as I’m meant to be doing a top five will have to slot it in joint 2nd. I’ve wanted to see a goldcrest for years even before I took up birding, mainly because they’re cute and small. I finally saw some at Top Hill Low in October and was excellent to finally see them.

1. – Osprey
No contest this year really. I twitched the Osprey at Arram early in April I watched it for a while before it took flight. Sadly didn’t see it catch a fish.

Here’s to 2012 and hoping it’s full of plenty of great birding opportunities!

Better keep things updated


Right I’ve not updated this blog in a while due to various reasons, need to get back to writing pieces to put up on here. However in the meanwhile to make sure it doesn’t look like I’ve forgotten about this site I thought I’d post my recent sightings.

16th Feb I went back to High Eske and Swinemoor. Pretty much same sightings as the week before, however I unfortunately dipped on seeing a Kingfisher! However I did manage to tick my first Reed Bunting of the year, if you’ve read my earlier blog posts you’ll know that I have a soft spot for Reed Buntings. On the way back from Swinemoor I decided to take a detour and visit Figham. Only a quick visit but managed to see a Barn Owl out hunting, which after the winter was an excellent sighting.

25th Feb I made a proper outing on Figham. Walked along Barmston Drain to begin with a male kestrel flying around, plenty of gulls on field but too far out to ID. 3 Roe Deer (one male with good antler growth) hoping and running around. Plenty of Long Tailed Tits flitting about with the odd Great and Blue tits popping up. Usually odd sightings of Dunnock, Robin, Chaffinch and Blackbirds along with the common Corvids. Flock of what I guess due to the chattering were Fieldfare flying around a fair bit around 20 I’d guess. Grey Heron flew from the fishing pond at the top of Figham into the fields opposite, at some point it were joined by another. Odd sighting of a single Oyster Catcher on the flood bank on the opposite side of the river at same point. Little Grebe on river. Saw Barn Owl hunting over the grasses whilst a Kestrel hovered high above, rarely hovering lowly except when closing in for a single attempt at making a kill. Whilst watching the Barn Owl rest in a tree the flickering wing beats of another Barn Owl caught the corner of my eye. So looks like both the Owls I saw there in October survived the winter. Also pretty certain I saw another Kestrel however only clearly saw one male so not sure if it’s a pair.

Then on 2nd March I made a trip out to the coastal town they forgot to close down – Bridlington. Didn’t spend long birding as my child wanted me to dig up shells and bury shells with her before needing the toilet and food! However managed to seen a few Purple Sandpiper and plenty of Turnstone and of course gulls! Also walked up to Sewerby Halls and Gardens, local squirrels taking advantage of feeding time at the zoo.

Mentioning gulls in the past two weeks I’ve started to notice that a lot of Black-headed Gulls are starting to get their black heads back. Not long now until the first of the summer migrants start appearing all over. I can’t wait for the return of Swifts and their screeching!

I recently bought the Helm guide-book to Tracks and Signs of the Birds of Britain and Europe, so hopefully this will improve my fieldcraft.

Year list now up to a mere 60, I think some people had that amount in the first week of January!