Friday, 30 April 2010

Mainly Displaying Marsh Harriers

Today I've mostly been watching displaying Marsh Harriers. Got really good views of three birds in the air together, displaying, calling etc, really interesting to watch for a few hours, they do cover a large area. Whilst standing around watching the Harriers I also managed several Barn Swallow, 1 House Martin and 2 Swift in addition to several showy Yellowhammer, Corn Bunting (picture below - phone-scoped), Yellow Wagtail and a veritable assortment of warblers. Waders were in evidence also with displaying Lapwing, Snipe and Redshank all seen. A party of Whimbrel also showed nicely after being spooked by a low flying RAF jet. A Mallard paid the price for its stupidity when it got run over by a train in front of me, always a good way to start the day!

The local patch got a poor effort again today as it was raining fairly heavily for most of the afternoon, however my 4 duckling chicks were still alive and another family have arrived, I couldn't see all of the ducklings as they were hiding in the weeds but think that there was at least 4, possibly 5.

Not long now till I go to Lanzarote for a couple of weeks of sun and relaxation but will hopefully get out onto the patch in the next couple of days before I go.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

My Hobby Rocks

Today I was working down in southern Lincolnshire and wasn't really expecting to see too much from a random bit of farmland but in the end I ended up seeing a variety of interesting birds and more surprisingly 4 year ticks. A stop at a yocal shop for some breakfast resulted in my first Common Swift of the year with 4 birds screaming around overhead, its always nice to see your first swifts of the year and I'm now looking forward to getting some back home, there is just something magical about these birds that I love.

On to my bit of farmland and it was immediately evident that warblers were plentiful with Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Common Whitethroat, Blackcap and Lesser Whitethroat calling and singing. As I reached my spot for the day I was welcomed by two further year ticks in the form of Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler. The Sedgy was going mental in a bit of Oilseed Rape singing from the top of the crop while about 30m away slightly hidden from the top of the crop the Reedy was also warbling away and gradually as it gained confidence that I was 'alright' it came out and showed along the front of the crop only a few feet in front of me. It's amazing to see the number of birds that will come up close when you stand still for a while, some of the highlights today included 4 Corn Bunting, 2 Yellowhammer, 2 Linnet, 4 Reed Bunting, a confiding pair of Little Owl and a good dozen or so Yellow Wagtails, including the one below (phone-scoped).

However, highlight of the day was Hobby, my fourth year tick of the day. I picked up one bird distantly as it flew towards me, it was chasing down insects and eating them on the wing, as it came closer it was suddenly joined by two other birds, all three then proceeded to hawk for insects, occasionally getting mobbed by the odd Swallow, they showed spectacularly well with one of the birds going right over my head. All in all the birds were on show for a good 40 minutes, giving a really good window into their habits.

Butterflies were also in evidence with Orange-tip, Green-veined White, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock all showing well.
As the weather closed in it was time to leave and head home. A very quick tour of the local patch in the rain showed that the 4 ducklings had survived the previous night and the whole of today, fingers crossed!!!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Upland Birding

I had an early start this morning which rewarded me with a nice view of a Barn Owl on my way to my moorland destination beyond Harrogate.

The morning was a tough slog, the habitat was full of common birds but walking through it was really not that much fun. A flock of 300 Golden Plover in complete breeding attire was rather cool, and a bit more interesting to look at than during the winter when I've spent days and days looking at them. Waders were fairly evident with Curlew, Lapwing, Snipe and Oystercatcher all showing signs of breeding. Plenty of Red Grouse were bubbling and croaking away, some showing down to a few feet. Several Barn Swallow were recorded, many back on breeding territory with several others noted on passage. A good dozen or so Wheatear were found with several Lesser Redpoll displaying within small plantations amongst what seemed like hundreds of Willow Warblers. However bird of the day was a showy singing Grasshopper Warbler, my first of the year that was reeling in some marshy grassland.

Back on the local patch this evening a new Willow Warbler was singing away, with several Blackcap, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and a single Garden Warbler all heard/seen. The ducklings were down to four today.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Back to reality

Dawn on the local patch produced the usual, the only highlights being a single Yellow Wagtail heading east with 5 Barn Swallow and 3 Sand Martin all northwest. The family of ducklings had gone from 9 to 5 overnight with one of the local cats looking larger than it did the last time I saw it. Evening on the patch produced nothing with a great deal of disturbance occurring.

There were no reports of the Black-winged Stilt at Nosterfield today but unfortunately it wasn't on my patch either, which is not really a surprise!

Monday, 26 April 2010

Black-winged Stilt - Clifton Backies, York

The start to the local patch trip was not really much different from that of the last few days, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat and Blackcap all singing away, a single Barn Swallow was noted flying low through to the east. I was not expecting too much from this mornings visit as I didn't have a great deal of time before work and I was also walking the dogs at the same time, a combination that never seems to end well.

After little excitement and time pressing on and nothing of note I decided to turn back towards home, as I turned back to call the dogs I couldn't believe my eyes as the unmistakable shape of a Black-winged Stilt appeared before my eyes low over an adjacent hedgerow, its ridiculously long legs seeming to stretch for infinity behind its small body and long neck and long bill, its all dark wings being immediately evident also, a truly unmistakable bird. A double and triple take revealed that the bird was definitely real as it gradually gained height and flew off west. A quick email was sent out to the local York birders group and Birdguides were phoned in the hope that someone out and about would connect with it. A look at my watch revealed that I was going to be late for work, because the bird had flown out of sight I was happy that it wouldn't loop round and come back so I left the site rather pleased with myself.

Later in the day the bird (presumably the same one) was relocated at Nosterfield. It is highly likely that the bird on my patch was the same bird that was seen briefly on Sunday morning, also at Nosterfield. A quick look on Birdguides Online Guide to Rarer British Birds showed that there have previously been 2 records from North Yorkshire, a single bird in 1991 (Filey) with a party of 3 birds in 1993 (Wheldrake Ings), both of these records pertained to birds that seem to have travelled around several counties including South and East Yorkshire, other birds have been recorded in 1986 (South Yorks), 1983 (East Yorks) other than that it was Pre 1907 and c.1851 (both East Yorks), so a fairly decent Yorkshire bird.

All in all a good day, and I went to work with a big grin, albeit a little later than I should have done. The picture below is not 'the bird', however it is a Black-winged Stilt I have seen on my travels (in The Gambia).

A quick trek round the patch in the evening provided little other than a brief song from a Garden Warbler, 2 Grey Heron, a single Barn Swallow and a new family of ducklings, 9 in total, hopefully they will fare better than the last lot!

Sunday, 25 April 2010

A quiet day

Not a huge amount went on today, I was mainly sorting out bits-and-pieces for my upcoming Canaries trip. I beat the dog walkers onto the patch this morning however in doing so it meant I connected with some rather heavy rain. A total of 8 Lesser Whitethroat were singing/calling with a couple of new Common Whitethroat seen, bringing the total up to about 4/5 males of this species on the patch. There was no sight/sound of any Garden Warblers today. Loads of singing male Blackcaps all around the site, with two females also seen. The lone Willow Warbler was still singing around Patch Pond and several Chiffchaff were noted, one of which was found building a nest. A Blue Tit nest (not in a box) and a Song Thrush nest was also found. Little else of note was seen, save for a single Skylark, a brief male Sparrowhawk. The rain did however drop 5 Barn Swallow and 1 Sand Martin.

A more leisurely dog walk mid afternoon produced a (presumed) Grey Heron flying north at a height of at least 250m. It was evident that there was some interesting weather building up (below - an image from the middle field) with a few flashes of lightening and claps of thunder. With the added lift several Herring, Lesser Black-backed and a single Great Black-backed Gull, a Sparrowhawk and a couple of other distant raptors/corvids were noted on thermals.

A planned trip to Staveley YWT Nature Reserve during the afternoon was aborted due to some incredibly heavy rain, which was a shame.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

What a beautiful day!

Had a lazy morning today, went round the local patch an hour later than I should have done and was penalised by all the dog walkers with loose dogs running through all the scrub which was not very helpful. At least 2 new Common Whitethroat were recorded bringing the total to 3 birds now on the patch however the patch seems to be really popular with Lesser Whitethroat, with at least 6/7 birds singing/calling at different areas. The most excitement came in the form of Garden Warbler, a new addition to the year list with 3 birds singing from areas of dense scrub, however every time I stalked up to one a dog would appear and flush the bird off! Several Chiffchaff and Blackcap were showing well and the single Willow Warbler was still singing away at Patch Pond. Species X still present too. A very vocal Black-headed Gull flew over, also noted overflying the site was a single Greylag Goose and several immature Lesser Black-backed Gulls. A single male Reed Bunting was also seen, as was displaying Greenfinch, and all of the regular birds (2/3 pairs of Bullfinch, nest building Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch, Linnet, Great and Blue Tit, Wren, lots of Dunnock - extremely common, Song Thrush and Blackbird). A single Lapwing at Patch Flash was unusual but nice to see nevertheless. Mallard and Moorhen were recorded on Patch Pond. A small white butterfly was seen but again it got away before I could get a decent look at it - I was with one of my dogs at this point, the one that is quite good at catching and eating them, so I didn't want to get too close to it - just in case!!! No hirundines or swifts was disappointing.

This evening we went over onto the wolds to a friends birthday party. Several Swallows were recorded on the drive to the Kilham area, and several Tree Sparrows were seen around my friends house, however pride of place has to go to the Barn Owl that was hunting along a minor road at about 7pm, the bird showed superbly down to a few feet, seemingly not bothered by our presence. On the return journey at least two owls were seen briefly in the headlights.
I also had a bit of time spare so I thought I'd add some of my bird pictures from around the world!

Friday, 23 April 2010

Mucho Migrants

I've had a busy but enjoyable couple of days at the end of the week, a dawn patrol of the local patch proved very enjoyable. 3 singing male Lesser Whitethroat and a Common Whitethroat being the best reportable birds. A Grey Wagtail along the edge of Patch Pond was providing a bit of entertainment for one of the local cats, I wonder if the cats are the reason the ducklings have vanished - that or the Chavs. 2 Speckled Wood butterflies were seen very briefly.

I've been surveying north of Preston the last couple of days, highlights included several Whimbrel, about 60 Wheatear (including many 'Greenland' Wheatears), 4 White Wagtails, 4 Yellow Wagtails, Barn Owl, Tree Pipit, hundreds of Barn Swallow, 2 House martin, 6 Tree Sparrow, c30 Corn Bunting and pride of place to a stonker of a male Ring Ouzel singing away.

This Corn Bunting was very close, at one stage it landed in the bush 2ft behind me! Unfortunately I still can't get my zoom function to work on my BlackBerry, hence why it looks like it's a mile away!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

More Migrants Arriving

A beautiful sunny morning today in York was very welcome, however the ground frost was not! I'd literally walked 50ft onto my patch and straightaway heard the distinctive rattle of the Lesser Whitethroat. A quick pish and it popped out of some really dense scrub looked at me and carried on singing away. A few footsteps further along and a small movement caught my eye in some scattered scrub/area of brambles, again a quick pish and a Common Whitethroat appeared in full view about 6ft away. The male Willow Warbler from the Patch Pond was again present and singing away in the willows. The usual route produced Chiffchaff, Blackcap and several pairs of Bullfinch. In addition another nest-building pair of Blackbirds were found and a Meadow Pipit was heard in flight over the patch. Three Greylag Geese and a pair of Mallard were present on the Patch Flash. 2x Species X were still present.

The evening saw at least 350 Common Gulls and 20 Lesser Black-backed Gulls all flying south.

Today I spent the day in my new office where I added to my 'office list', this now stands at about 6/7 species!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Scandy Rock Pipit and 2x Species X on local patch

This morning work sent me over to the west of Barnsley, south of Huddersfield to do a breeding bird survey/scoping survey of an interesting looking area of upland edge. It was immediately evident that there was lots of migrants about when I left home in York at daybreak with over a dozen Barn Swallow recorded around the York ring road. I arrived at my survey area to find several Willow Warbler singing and a few Barn Swallow flying north. A little look around a reservoir resulted in a couple of Twite, 5 Wheatear, Pied Wagtail and several Meadow Pipit. Another small reservoir in the area was heaving with Barn Swallow (c100+) and the flock also contained 2 House Martin (year-ticks) and a single Sand Martin. A surprise awaited me on the dam wall where a Scandinavian Rock Pipit was sat silently. At a nearby heavily grazed field at least 20 Wheatear were foraging which was also a cool sight.

Back on the local patch this evening 2x Species X were present, the first time I've seen two birds together, which is promising. Overflying the site were 5x Barn Swallow (2 of which were hanging around Patch Pond). A single Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were still present around Patch Pond, but again there was no sign of the ducklings.

Monday, 19 April 2010

A change in the weather

Last night was the first in a couple of weeks that it had rained overnight, nothing too heavy but just enough. A quick romp round the local patch in the morning with the dogs immediately revealed at least 3 Willow Warblers had dropped in overnight, whether they will stay or are just on passage is another matter. Little else was recorded bar the regulars (regular residents and Chiffchaff and Blackcap).

A rushed walk in the evening was fairly unproductive, mainly due to the large amount of disturbance that was going on, no sign of Species X, but that was probably due to the heard of pikies and pack of 20+ dogs they were 'walking'. 4 Canada Geese roaming across the fields was a little unusual. One of this mornings Willow Warbler was still singing next to the Patch Pond. The pair of Hybrid Mallards were still present but a combination of two pulling dogs and the duck family hanging out in the marginal vegetation made making a count of the ducklings was impossible. Two singing Reed Buntings were recorded, as were several Goldfinch, Bullfinch and at least 12 Linnet, however everything went quiet as the male Sparrowhawk made a fleeting appearance.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Staveley YWT and Species X

A morning visit to Staveley YWT Nature Reserve didn't produce the target Sedge Warbler, apparently the two birds present yesterday had departed overnight (or had finished singing for the day). This is a really nice little reserve and is ideally located for me as my wife's horse is located a few miles away, meaning I can drop her off for a ride while I have a stroll through the reserve for an hour or so. The place was crawling with Reed Bunting with lots of Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap all showing really well. I also found a Chiffchaff building a nest which was cool. A flock of at least 120 Linnet was being harassed by a Sparrowhawk. A few Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrows were also seen. At least 5 Sand Martin were inspecting the nesting wall with Great Crested Grebe, Moorhen, Coot, Mallard, Teal, Gadwall, Greylag Goose all noted on the water. Butterflies recorded included singles of Comma and Peacock.

An hour round the local patch this evening produced brilliant views of Species X which I watched for about an hour, other 'bits and pieces' included Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Pied Wagtail, 2 singing Song Thrush, Blackbird (and nest), with the regular residents all recorded too. A pair of Sand Martin were recorded flying north, my first on the patch this year.

A walk past the patch pond produced excellent views of a pair of hybrid Mallard complete with 12 tiny ducklings, it will be interesting to see how many of these make it through the night/next couple of weeks.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

Walk along the River Ouse at Overton and local patch mega!

A beautiful sunny day meant that I thought the River Ouse at Overton, a few miles from my house might be a nice location for a dog walk this morning, and it was, after dodging the fields of cows (and bull - thanks for the warning!), horses (and foal) and sheep, a pleasant walk ensued. We walked from Overton towards Beningborough. Straightaway Willow Warblers were evident in the plantation willow crop on the opposite site of the river to where I was walking, with birds singing all along the stretch of river I covered, my first locally, but still not 100% satisfying as they are not on my patch! Several Sand Martin were showing fairly well, hunting the plentiful insects and several looked to prospecting the sand cliffs of the river for nesting. A large swathe of Gorse was full of Linnet, Chaffinch and Goldfinch and Long-tailed Tit was seen carrying nesting material into a willow over-hanging the river. A male Reed Bunting showed very nicely singing away on a fence post.

Insects were very noticeable today, lots of Bees and a few Wasps but numerous butterflies too, commonest was Small Tortoiseshell (c30+) with a few Peacock (c5) and a single Comma, my first of the year.

An early evening walk around the local patch produced a somewhat unexpected Schedule 1 species. Due to the sensitivity of this species, it will hereafter be referred to as 'Species X'. Needless to say this was a new site bird for me so a very exciting find and makes plodding round the local patch feel rewarding, alas still no Willow Warbler but several Chiffchaff and Blackcap still singing with Sparrowhawk noted again with a pair of Small Tortoiseshell getting it on.

Midnight update! Just finished catching up with the IPL, let the dogs out for a final wee of the day and an Early Thorn moth flew up to my light, a nice garden tick!

Friday, 16 April 2010

More local patch

News of the possible/probable Harlequin didn't amount to anything this morning so I though I'd have another wander round the local patch this morning, which was much more pleasant than yesterdays walk, with quite a bit more heat and less wind. Clifton Backies has a basic website and further information on the site, and site images can be found here.

Plenty of Chiffchaff and Blackcap were again evident and very showy, a single Swallow heading north was a new year bird at the site for me, as was a single Yellow Wagtail that flew north. Several Meadow Pipit were also noted heading north.

A Jay was probably the other highlight, only the 3rd/4th time I've had it on the site, and the first time since early last winter, it got chased off by the hundreds of Magpies so not sure when/if it will be back! A pair of Sparrowhawk were again in evidence over the woodland. Smaller fare included 3 singing Reed Bunting, several pairs of Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Long-tailed Tit, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Wren, Dunnock, Robin and Blackbird with several Starlings and House Sparrow collecting nesting material before flying off into the adjacent housing.

The small pond contained a couple of pairs of Mallard x Hybrid Ducks with a pair of Moorhen noted. A couple of Greylag and Canada Geese were observed flying around, presumably part of the local feral goose population.

A smallish white butterfly sp was noted but views were too brief to get a firm ID.

This evening a Grey Heron flew over the garden, a garden first, bringing the garden list to 27 species. The Yellow Wagtail brings my Backies list up to 40 species! Good times!!!

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Cold and dreary

The last few days have been cold and dreary and fairly windy up here and not much fun birding wise, and therefore I've only been out to walk the dogs.

The local patch is still very quiet with the only migrants evident being Chiffchaff and Blackcap, with a couple of female Blackcaps noted in the presence of the showy males. Several pairs of Bullfinch and a single pair of Reed Bunting were also showing breeding behaviour and showing very well.

A trip over to the Wolds this afternoon resulted in 2 Swallows and yet more Chiffchaff with several Buzzards noted.

News of a possible/probable Harlequin Duck came through a bit too late for me today, but since I'm off tomorrow I imagine I might be making a trip east in the morning, probably with several hundred other people! Fingers crossed...

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Eagle Owl at Bosworth Battlefield

I finally got my first Willow Warbler of the year, however I had driven 120 miles south of York to Bosworth Battlefield where I met my parents for some lunch. It showed beautifully sat preening and calling occasionally, it looked quite a big bird, but maybe its just that its been about 6 months since I last saw one!?! Other migrants observed included a single Swallow, several Blackcap and many Chiffchaff. Other bits and pieces noted included a female Sparrowhawk, lots of Buzzard, Kestrel and Skylark. A calling Eagle Owl was interesting, until I realised it was a falconers bird (and set next to a couple of Sakers and Harris' Hawks!)

Back at home nothing new, save a garden tick in the form of a singing male Blackcap with many Blackcap and Chiffchaff noted within the local patch. A couple of male Sparrowhawk were very vocal as they flew around in the early morning sun. But still no local Willow Warblers for me!

I think I'll keep my eyes skyward tomorrow and hope for a Common Crane, White Stork or White-tailed Eagle going over the garden!

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Tit Tastic

Today I didn't see the White-tailed Eagle, however it was reported in the morning from about 10 miles south of my location. I spent six hours on my vantage point but had no sign of it, the closest I came was a light aircraft that came up over the hill I was watching!

I did however get a nice look at a hunting male Peregrine, a shed load of Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Red Kite. Several migrants were noted, including 5 Sand Martin, 5 Barn Swallow, 6 Pied/White Wagtails, 3 Yellow Wagtails, 1 male Stonechat, c.50 Meadow Pipit and about 35 Linnet. One of the Yellow Wagtails, a very sexy male came and sat in the field next to me, however the camera phone zoom wouldn't work so I didn't get a great picture unfortunately, however I will still put it on here if I can work out how to do so! (edit: done)

Migrants on the local patch included 3 male Blackcaps and 6 Chiffchaff, with hopefully more to come tomorrow.

I remembered why I called this tit tastic, it was because I had a really nice look at some Blue Tits this morning - nest building they were.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Damn Rich - both of them!

While two of my friends were enjoying awesome views of White Stork (in Norway) and White-tailed Eagle at 50ft at Tophill Low I was sat in my office in Headingley twiddling my thumbs (working extremely hard) watching news that the White-tailed Eagle was flying about where I spent the whole of yesterday sat looking at very little save a Goshawk, hopefully tomorrow it will still be in the area? But I'm not holding my breath, especially after it went missing for for 3 days previously.

Back on the local patch a cold wet morning - that meant that I didn't go back to the Beverley area - resulted in no new migrants, but by the evening, by which time the temperature was about 10 degrees hotter more migrants were noticeable, including 4 male Blackcap and 10+ male Chiffchaff. A flock of 10 hirundines over the river in York could well have been House Martin but they were too high and there were too many cyclists for me to get a firm ID. Still no Willow Warbler from my patch - which incidentally is the Clifton Backies in York but I know from local reports that they are in surrounding habitat already. I moved here in August last year so this is my first spring here so I'm waiting for the migrants to arrive and hoping for something a little interesting to turn up too!

Breeding behaviour noted in Magpie, Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Reed Bunting, Robin, Wren, Dunncok, Carrion Crow and Bullfinch.

The only benefit of a day in the office was Red Kite seen along the A64 near the A1 junction.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

More Migrants

A windy day surveying near Beverley, East Yorkshire produced a hunting Goshawk and displaying Sparrowhawk, Kestrel and Buzzard, all over the same patch of wood! Migrants observed included 9 Barn Swallow (all flying northeast) and 1 Yellow Wagtail. Other interesting passerines included Tree Sparrow, Yellowhammer, Skylark and Linnet. Small flocks of Golden Plover were noted with breeding Lapwing very evident. Two very quick flyover butterflies were noted - probably Peacock/Small Tortoiseshell but they were too high and gone too quickly to get an ID.

The local patch walk this morning produced 2 singing male Blackcap, 6 singing Chiffchaff with nest building noted in Magpie and House Sparrow but no hoped-for Willow Warblers, yet.

Monday, 5 April 2010

Back By Popular Demand

Well, ok it has been a while but I thought it was about time I started to update my blog a bit more regularly and what with the coming of spring now seems like the ideal time to do so. This year has got off to a slow start with Black-throated Thrush and Bonaparte's Gull being the highlights so far, however a White-tailed Eagle a few weeks back was also a nice find.

Last week saw a big twitch down to Suffolk for the Lesser Kestrel, definitely my birding highlight of the year so far, the bird was distant, however showed well perched up and in flight, even feeding on the wing at a bit closer range. In addition to the Lesser Kestrel, Great Grey Shrike and Alpine Swift made nice additional species to the trip list, with a few migrants also noted (Wheatear, Swallow and Chiffchaff).

Back at home the migrants have started to arrive, with plenty of Chiffchaff present for over a week now, with a few Blackcap, Sand Martin and Barn Swallow also noted, including a Barn Swallow noted over the garden this pm.