Thursday, 31 March 2011

North Duffield (Evening Visit)

Spent an hour or so in the Garganey Hide this evening, lots and lots of wildfowl on the water. Before I could start scanning them however a large number flew across the reserve due to the attention of a giant of a Peregrine (below).

Peregrine Beast (North Duffield Carrs) [phone-scoped]

The Peregrine didn't catch anything, it made half an attempt at a Teal but didn't look too interested really and then landed and sat there for a fair while allowing great views (not that this can be told from the above photo!).

Teal numbers looked up on my previous visit, but this may in part be down to the water levels continuing to drop and birds been pushed out of cover a bit more. Pintail and Shelduck also seemed up. Other waterfowl included Gadwall, Wigeon, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Mute, Black and Whooper Swan, Greylag and Canada Goose, Coot, Moorhen and at least 4 Little Grebe.

Lapwing were scattered around the reserve in low numbers, along with the odd Redshank, a couple of Oystercatchers and as dusk approached a small flock of Curlew came in to bathe. A single summer-plumaged Black-tailed Godwit looked stunning as it walked about strutting its stuff!

The 'large gulls' didn't materialize tonight though a few Common and Black-headed were noted. I've also not seen the Barn Owl now for a few visits.

The last few days have seen a few more additions to the Garden List, 2x pairs of Shoveler, a dozen Teal and a single Black-tailed Godwit (possibly/probably the same bird at NDCs this evening???).

A visit to a new site today didn't yield too much, not surprising given the gale-force winds, however Cormorant, 14 Oystercatcher and several Meadow Pipits were noted.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Urgent: Action needed to prevent Africa’s first recorded bird extinction

Liben Lark is widely tipped to become mainland Africa’s first recorded bird extinction, unless urgent action is taken to prevent its demise from the only area it now inhabits: a single grassy plain in southern Ethiopia.

Liben Lark © Greg Davies (Undated)

Liben Lark was for some time known only from two specimens collected at adjacent sites near Negele in the former Sidamo province (now Guji Zone), southern Ethiopia, in May 1968 and April 1974. Since 1994 there have been subsequent sightings of small numbers (<10 on each occasion) in the Negele area. Analysis of these locations on satellite images and recent fieldwork suggests that the species is restricted to a very specific habitat (tall-grass prairie) in the calcareous plateau east and south of Negele.

Liben Lark Range Map © Birdlife International

Between 1973 and 2002 the area of tall-grass prairie decreased by about 30%, and in 2003 much of it was being rapidly encroached by agriculture and shrubs (Acacia drepanolobium and others) that are probably favoured by excessive grazing pressure and the suppression of seasonal fires. Remaining grassland is being heavily degraded by overgrazing. By 2007-2008 it appeared to be restricted to a single grassland patch 30-36 km2 in area, and the global population was estimated at just 90-256 mature individuals, with the effective population size perhaps even smaller owing to a potentially skewed sex ratio caused by predation of females on the nest.

Without urgent and concerted intervention global extinction is likely within the next few years.

Liben Lark © Paul F Donald/RSPB (Undated)

Conservation measures underway: Fieldwork took place in 2007-2008 to investigate the species’ status. A workshop in 2009 involving key stakeholders resulted in the creation of an intersectoral committee to manage the restoration of the Liben Plain, an agreement to oppose any further agricultural expansion and a willingness to work with conservation organisations to preserve pastoralism.

Conservation measures proposed: Conduct further surveys (during the breeding season, when birds are likely to be singing and hence most conspicuous) throughout the Negele Plateau to establish its range and population, and determine whether there is a significantly biased sex ratio. Investigate the causes of bush encroachment in the area. Urgently determine the most appropriate means to safeguard areas of suitable habitat from further degradation and disturbance. Identify key areas where livestock and disturbance can be kept to a minimum and the natural fire regime is maintained. Raise awareness of the local communities and authorities of this important endemic taxon.

A glimmer of hope from the Bird Fair?

Classified as Critically Endangered, the highest level of threat, this globally threatened bird has now been thrown a lifeline thanks to funds raised by the British Birdwatching Fair held at Rutland Water last August. Birdfair organisers Martin Davies (from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – RSPB) and Tim Appleton (from Leicestershire and Rutland Wildlife Trust – LRWT) presented a £242,000 (US$395,000) cheque to Dr Marco Lambertini, BirdLife International’s Chief Executive at a special reception hosted by His Excellency Berhanu Kebede, Ethiopia’s UK Ambassador, at the Ethiopian Embassy in London.

These funds will be used by the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society, the BirdLife Partner in the country, to work with local communities to reduce the impact of over-grazing livestock and prevent conversion of the land to arable farming. Helping the grasslands recover will benefit both the lark and the pastoralists living there.

Man-made and natural phenomena all conspired, historically; to ravage Ethiopia’s wildlife riches and this landlocked African country now has 22 species of bird facing extinction. Conservationists hope that the proceeds from the 2010 British Birdwatching Fair will help turn the tide and save the Liben Lark and a range of other highly threatened species.

Martin Davies, of the RSPB (BirdLife in the UK) – one of the fair’s co-founders and key organisers – said: “Ethiopia has a remarkable natural heritage and is hugely rich in species found nowhere else in the world. Over 840 species of bird have been recorded in Ethiopia, 17 of which are unique to this country and 29 others nearly so. Unfortunately, this wonderful wildlife is under increasing threat and we hope that the proceeds from this year’s event will help the Ethiopian Wildlife and Natural History Society and BirdLife International to take the urgent steps needed to secure the future of this country’s unique birds. We also hope that the event will help raise the international profile of this wonderful country, so rich in wildlife.”

“Once again Birdfair have delivered a huge boost for conservation. This money will be used to secure a future for Southern Ethiopia’s incredible birds”, said Dr Marco Lambertini, BirdLife International’s Chief Executive.

Reference: BirdLife International (2011) Species factsheet: Heteromirafra sidamoensis. Downloaded from on 30/03/2011. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2011) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 30/03/2011.


Tuesday, 29 March 2011

North meets South: Waxer, Glauc, Wheatear, HM...

The morning dog walk round the local area produced no Chiffchaffs today but the number of Meadow Pipits had increased noticeably.

I had to visit a new site today over towards Lancashire. The journey over started well, with a flock of approximately 60 Waxwing along the Selby ring road, however it deteriorated after that with the usual traffic etc.

The site was interesting and is going to provide some interesting survey hours. Today I managed my first Wheatear of the year, with at least 3 birds recorded. Other goodies included several Raven, Twite and tonnes of Meadow Pipit and Skylark.

The journey home produced no interesting birds but was a lot quicker. It ended with 'the' House Martin circling over the village whilst I walked the dogs again.

After dinner I decided to hit North Duffield Carrs again, in the hope of a Garganey... the visibility was less than great and I almost turned round when I got to the car park. I'm glad I didn't. I positioned myself in Garganey Hide and started scanning.

Whilst scanning the ducks I noticed some 'large gulls' flying low. The site isn't usually great for 'large gulls' (at least in the time I've been watching it) so I took my eyes off my scope and was rather surprised to see several hundred 'large gulls', many flew through, while others started to drop in to the water too bathe. I immediately stopped scanning for ducks and started checking out the gulls.

Pretty much as soon as I started working through them they took off and started circling - in amongst them all was one stand out bird - a juvenile Glaucous Gull! Luckily it dropped back on the water. I sent a message to Alan (wasn't too sure of the status of the species at the site) and I managed to get a couple of pics on my phone (best of which is below). Shortly later Alan arrived and managed to connect with the bird too. After about 20 minutes since the initial sighting it flew off southeast with a large flock of other gulls - presumably to the Humber? By this time the light was starting to go so I left. A couple of Lesser Black-backs were in with the flock of Herring and Great Black-backs.

Glaucous Gull at dusk tonight (taken on my phone)

Before the Glauc I had noted Mute, Whooper and Black Swan (about 30-35 Whoopers flew in to roost) and all the usual ducks. Several Redshank, Lapwing and Curlew were noted. I also counted (at least) 16 Oystercatcher, my highest count at the site so far.

Monday, 28 March 2011

60 up and some stunning Red Kite activity

The day started well, I got up, opened the curtains and noticed a small passerine flying towards the house. I opened the window to be greeted by a calling Meadow Pipit heading north. This bird represents my 60th Garden Tick. I was really happy with this, until I heard that a Crane had been seen over Skipwith Common this morning - that would have been a far more impressive 60th! Nevermind, I won't complain if it’s 61, 62, 63... In reality I'm expecting Chiffchaff to be the next as I had one singing whilst walking the dogs this morning not too far away from the house.

Today I was up on the high ground beyond Harrogate having a very busy time of it with plenty of Golden Plover, Curlew and Lapwing all busy displaying. The air was filled with singing Skylark and Meadow Pipit more-or-less constantly all day. The off Tree Pipit and Siskin were noted about the place. A Raven was heard calling overhead but was not seen. Plenty of Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk activity was noted however the raptor highlight was certainly Red Kite. At least 3, possibly 4 birds were recorded. A bit of display flight was noted, which was cool to watch.

Red Kite © Clare Scott 2011

In the afternoon a Red Kite flight of about 45 minutes was fun to watch. This bird was noted foraging low to the ground before gaining considerable height. It then dropped down to the ground fairly quickly where it flew into a field, flushing a female Sparrowhawk off a kill (looked like a Lapwing) before circling round and landing on the Sparrowhawks kill. The Kite picked up the kill and tried flying off with it but either didn't get a grip on it, or it was too heavy as the Kite dropped it. Within seconds a Buzzard had appeared out of nowhere and took over the kill! Over the next 20 minutes the Kite flew around in a very large (c4km) flight before returning back to the kill, which had now vanished! It was considered likely that the Buzzard got it!

Red Kite © Clare Scott 2011

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The best time of year: Some local birding

Today saw the start of my favourite time of year, extra sunlight! I went over to Escrick early morning to check the horse and was rewarded with a singing Chiffchaff. I decided to walk the dogs around Skipwith Common today in order to try and learn a few of the routes around the place. The place was crawling with Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers. There was tits all over the place and a few Treecreepers were noted with Siskin and Redpoll overhead. I walked past the ploughed field and could see the Shrike from about 80 m as it sat on top of the Holly bush. A spot of gardening this afternoon resulted in a couple more flyover garden ticks in the form of Siskin and Redshank. The House Martin was also back after not been seen yesterday. After dinner I made the most of the extra hour of evening light and headed over to North Duffield Carrs. The reserve looks great at the minute and was full of birds. Today I went down to the Garganey Hide, the Grey Heron (below) was right infront of the hide. Other birds noted included Black, Mute and Whooper Swan, Greylag and Canada Goose, Cormorant, Pintail, Teal, Wigeon, Shoveler, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot, Moorhen and Little Grebe. Several Lapwing were also seen on the reserve. As darkness decended a flock of Fieldfare came into the Hawthorns to roost.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Some incredible close-up Shrike action + Wheldrake

I thought I'd hit Wheldrake this afternoon. I got there around noon and as I was getting out the car I got my first Chiffchaff of the year singing away. Between the car park at Wheldrake Bridge and Swantail Hide I had at least 9 birds singing away (4 of which were in the car park area). It was surprisingly cold out with a cutting wind. I didn't stay in Tower Hide too long as the wind was coming straight in through the flaps, instead I headed towards Swantail hide.

From Swantail Hide a flock of waders caught my eye as they flew in, at least 43 Black-tailed Godwit. There also appeared to be about 20 Ruff. One Ruff had an amazing white head and looked like the bird below:

Ruff © Arjan Haverkamp 2009

Other waders seen included Curlew (15+), Dunlin (c.25), Redshank (10+) and Oystercatcher (2). I bumped into a guy who thought he'd seen a Whimbrel but I could only see Curlew. Wildfowl was plentiful with large numbers of Gadwall noted along with, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler, Pintail, Shelduck, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Mallard, Mute Swan, Greylag and Canada Goose etc. 7 Buzzard were noted up at once at one stage. Swantail was nice as it was out of the wind and it meant lots of close ups as the birds were trying to stay out of the wind too! I got a couple of flyover Siskin on my return to the car park and Meadow Pipits were passing over fairly regularly..

At about 3pm I headed over to Skipwith to see if I could catch up with the Great Grey Shrike again. As soon as I stepped out of the car I was greeted by the Shrike sat atop the small Holly bush that I'd spent 2 hours looking at in vein last Sunday! I decided to walk along the footpath and work my way into a better angle to observe the bird. Once in place I stood amongst some trees and watched it for a good hour. It was feeding on the odd Bumble bee, but was catching a lot less that when I saw it earlier in the week. After a few feeding attempts the bird choughed up a small pellet and then started feeding again. Gradually the bird started moving closer and closer to me in it's pursuit of food as it worked down the hedge parallel to me. Eventually I got some great views. Patience and fieldcraft certainly paid off!!! I got the following pictures on my PHONE, I just wished I'd got a decent camera as I would have nailed this bad boy! Not the greatest pictures but it gives an idea of the kind of views I was getting at eye level.

Great Grey Shrike © Andy Walker 2011

Great Grey Shrike © Andy Walker 2011

Great Grey Shrike © Andy Walker 2011

Great Grey Shrike © Andy Walker 2011

Also had a couple of Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers here.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Fieldcraft - Learn Some (and new Crane shots)

I awoke this morning to the House Martin doing circuits of my house. Just before I set off for the office I got a message to say that two Common Cranes had been seen near Wheldrake. I had a look on my way into town but couldn't see them. I also got a message to say that the interesting bunting observed at Tophill Low by Rich was a 'yellow' Reed Bunting! A very strange looking bird (see here).

It appears as though the Cranes were moving about the LDV as they were seen at Wheldrake Ings (before been flushed), they were later seen down at North Duffield Carrs before flying back north. Russell managed to get a picture of the birds as they flew north (below).

Common Crane © Russell Slack 2011

Its worth noting if people are going to Wheldrake (and other areas in the LDV) please stay on the path . This is a really obvious big thing that people walk on. As a hint, it follows the river around to Tower Hide and beyond DO NOT WALK OUT ONTO THE MEADOWS.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Great Grey Shrike Satus in local area...

With the recent Great Grey Shrike knocking about the place I thought it was time to look into the status of the species in the local area.

For a while the present Great Grey Shrike was playing hard to get with a sighting in one location, then a gap for a few weeks, followed by another sighting in another location as it gave the local birders and patch listers a bit of a run around. To date the birds movements include:

1. 23rd January 2011: Skipwith Village, Bonby Lane (RSPB Group Unknown)

2. 20th February 2011: North Duffield Carrs (Geoff Smith Hide) (A. Walker et al.)

3. 21st February 2011: North Duffield Carrs (Geoff Smith Hide) (A. Whitehead et al.)

4. 3rd March 2011: North Duffield Carrs (Geoff Smith Hide) (Unknown - photographed)

5. 18th March 2011 (am): North Duffield Carrs (Geoff Smith Hide) (Unknown per Birdguides)

6. 18th March 2011 (pm): Skipwith Common (D. Tate)

7. 19th March 2011 (all day): Skipwith Common (A. Whitehead (am) and R. Slack et al. (pm))

8. 20th March 2011 (am): Skipwith Common (P. Reed et al.)

9. 20th March 2011 (early pm): Skipwith Village (J. Beaumont et al.)

10. 20th March 2011 (late pm): North Duffield Carrs (Geoff Smith Hide) (A. Walker et al.)

11. 21st March 2011 (am): North Duffield Carrs (Geoff Smith Hide) (A. Whitehead et al.)

12. 22nd – 24th March 2011: Skipwith Common (D. Tate, C. Ralston, R. Slack, A. Walker et al.)

Great Grey Shrike © Clare Scott March 24th 2011

At first it was considered a slim possibility that there may be two birds involved in the early sightings, but on Sunday 20th March after been observed by various birders in the morning at Skipwith Common, John Beaumont observed the bird flying from Skipwith Common over Skipwith village towards North Duffield Carrs, where I found the bird in the late afternoon, back in front of the Geoff Smith Hide.

There are a couple of thoughts on this bird’s movement:

1. It appears possible that the bird is primarily feeding in Skipwith Common during the ‘good weather’ – where there is plentiful food supply (e.g. Lizards, small birds/mammals and plenty of bumble bees) and when the weather is poor it is moving to North Duffield Carrs to feed on small birds/mammals and amphibians; and/or,

2. The bird is primarily utilizing Skipwith Common to feed/roost etc but during the weekends, when the reserve is busy and when there is a lot of disturbance (e.g. dog walkers, ramblers, bikers etc) it then moves/is flushed over to the much quieter North Duffield Carrs area.

Dave Tate kindly provided information on past records of Great Grey Shrike at Skipwith Common:

1. 1940: Goode (1964) reported 1 in 1940.

2. 1948: 'A bird was picked up dead on a road near Escrick in fresh condition on 3rd November and sent to 'The Game keeper'. Another bird was present at Skipwith during the winter months.' (Source: 1948 Report Naturalist 1949).

3. 1969: In letter written by Peter Pearson - re: objections to Poultry Farm - he reports that Great Grey Shrike have been seen on the Common on three separate occasions during recent times (dates currently unknown).

4. 1985: One on the Common on 19th December 1985 (per C. Ralston 2006).

5. 1999: One on the Common during late January 1999 when at least 3birds in the surrounding area (per C. Ralston 2006).

6. 2011: Current bird, 18 March onwards, see details above.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Early House Martin

Last night, whilst the dogs were having their final wee of the day I got myself another garden tick as a flock of Wigeon flew over. There was also a few raucous Oystercatchers though I've had these a couple of times before.

When I got back home this afternoon I was greeted by a single House Martin circling around the house inspecting the old nests. A very surprising early record, and another garden tick. Shortly after I'd seen the House Martin I had a Sand Martin go straight through too, again another garden tick.

House Martin © Martin Best (undated)

The House Martin was still flying around at dusk.

I'm currently doing a bit of research into the early dates for House Martin in the York Ornithologists Club (YOC) and the Lower Derwent Valley (LDV) recording areas to see how this record relates to past 'early' records. So far I've found one earlier record from the YOC recording area (location unknown), for March 21st 2005. Any more information on early dates welcome....

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

New Site, More Shrikeage and some more garden ticks!

I visited a new site today and immediately knew it is one that is going to keep me very, very busy! 2 Red Kite, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk, 1000 Golden Plover, with Curlew, Redshank, Lapwing, Snipe and Oystercatcher looking likely to breed. All in glorious weather, up to 17 degrees C!

On the way home I popped into Skipwith Common for a quick 10 minutes where I was treated to spectacular views of the hitherto elusive Great Grey Shrike. Whilst I was watching it it made several sorties up out of its favourite perch to catch Bumblebees, with a very good success rate too. During the day it was seen to catch a range of creatures including the odd Lizard! I managed a couple of shots on my phone (below).

Great Grey Shrike at Skipwith Common

Great Grey Shrike at Skipwith Common

I spent the last couple of hours during the afternoon working from home, this was extra productive as I had two garden ticks, the first was a Lesser Spotted Woodpecker that flew low through the garden tantalisingly close to landing in the big oak tree! As it flew off I noticed a Buzzard up displaying. I've had Buzzard over the village in the past, but surprisingly this was a well overdue garden tick for me. There appeared to be several birds moving about this evening with flocks of Fieldfare and Golden Plover noted over the garden.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Common Crane Records in the LDV (& Roughleg Mega)

The 3 Common Cranes were still present early this morning (per Alan) but were observed flying off Southeast at about 09.30 (per York Birding). Today I received a couple of pictures of the displaying Cranes taken by John Beaumont. A lot better than what I managed off my phone! Thanks John.

Common Crane © John Beaumont 2011

Common Crane © John Beaumont 2011

Common Crane © John Beaumont 2011

I had a quick look at Ralston (2006) Birds of the Lower Derwent Valley (1850-2002) to check on the status of Common Crane here... The records include:

  1. 24th April 1977 Wheldrake Ings (1 immature)
  2. 19th April 1983 Ellerton (1 immature)
  3. 18th May 1984 Wheldrake Ings (1 sub-adult)
  4. 3rd - 5th (7th) May 1986 Aughton Ings (2 adults and an immature). Also seen at Bubwith.
  5. 14th May - 5th June 1986 Aughton Ings (1 immature - same bird as above)
  6. 1993 (details unknown)
  7. 25th May 1996 Wheldrake Ings (sub-adult)
  8. 21st June - 4th July 1996 Newton Mask - Low Catton Ings (sub adult - same bird as above)
  9. 11th July 1996 Wheldrake Ings (sub-adult flew south - likely same bird as above)
  10. 11th - 12th May 1998 Wheldrake Ings (1 bird)
  11. 28th March 1999 Pocklington Canal (1 bird)
  12. 5th June - 1st November 2002 Wheldrake Ings (1 immature)

Additional records from Birdguides include:

  1. 27th November 2000 Wheldrake Ings (1 bird)
  2. 30th April - 1st May 2007 Wheldrake Ings (2 birds)
  3. 17th April 2008 Wheldrake Ings (1 bird)
  4. 25th April 2008 Wheldrake Ings (1 bird)
  5. 2nd June 2009 Wheldrake Ings (1 bird)
  6. 14th April 2010 Wheldrake Ings (4 birds)

According to these published records (I don't know if all of those on the Birdguides list have been accepted?) this makes the latest record the 19th Common Crane record for the LDV and the first for North Duffield Carrs and second record for Bubwith Ings.

As exciting as the Cranes and Shrike have been over the recent days a real local mega flew through the valley this morning - I didn't see it unfortunately as I was at work. A Rough-legged Buzzard, the 5th record for the LDV (after records in 1974, 1984, 1985, 2002). Hopefully with the large numbers of Roughlegs over-wintering this year there may be another one!!!

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Common Crane & Great Grey Shrike - North Duffield

Most of Saturday was spent sorting the horses new stables out so I had to put the Great Grey Shrike hunt at Skipwith on hold until today. I was meeting up with Will (who I used to work with) during the afternoon so I suggested we met at Skipwith Common with the hope of catching up with said shrike. After 2 hours of no sign we thought that it had probably moved off somewhere. There was an awful lot of people/dogs etc running all over the place which may well have flushed it.

At about 4.30 I went over with Jenny to check on her horse over at Escrick, and at exactly the same time I got a message from Russell saying that he and John had just found 3 Common Crane and they were flying south through the Lower Derwent Valley, headed straight to North Duffield! Arghhhhhh!!! Then another message from Russell, then one from Alan, I was getting nervous that I was going to miss them... At least I got to enjoy views of these little beauties! (and 2 Oystercatcher).

Yorkshire Junglefowl!

We quickly finished sorting the horse out and I shot home and then across to the North Duffield Carrs car park, all the time hoping to see the group of Cranes in flight somewhere (part of me wished they were flying right over my house whilst I was dropping Jenny off!). I got there to see Alan walking back towards the car park. A quick chat revealed that the birds had done a circuit over the Carrs after leaving Wheldrake Ings airspace and had dropped low, possibly near the village. I've missed them was my immediate thought. Gutted! Alan decided to head towards the village and I decided to check the fields from the reserve area. A sudden flash, a Peregrine caught my eye, I followed it as it flew over Bubwith Ings.... then something else caught my eye, the 3 Common Cranes! They must have done a circuit behind the reserve and landed on Bubwith Ings! Awesome, and close and out in the open too! I called Alan back, we scoped them from near the car park. I phoned Russell and Jono to say I'd relocated them and they were on the deck.

I decided to go down to the Geoff Smith Hide to see if I could get a better angle through the willows - I could! I was now getting truly stunning views of these three birds, birds that were in spectacular plumage. I rattled off a couple of record shots on my new phone - I don't really like it for phonescoping. After a while feeding the Cranes started displaying. I've never seen this before (in this species of Crane). It was spectacular!

3 Common Crane, Bubwith Ings

3 Common Crane, Bubwith Ings

Displaying Common Crane, Bubwith Ings

I had the place to myself as most birders were watching the Cranes from Bubwith Bridge. I'd intended on going to the Carrs for dusk regardless of the Cranes as I'd wanted to check through the waterfowl. With the Cranes on view it was hard to take my eyes away from them but a quick scan revealed a typical range of species in higher numbers. A movement in front of the hide caught my attention. The Great Grey Shrike was sat in the same bush as it had been when I first saw it about 5 weeks ago! Amazing! The light was going quickly as it was gone 6pm so I got a quick record shot (worse than usual).

Great Grey Shrike, North Duffield Carrs - Geoff Smith Hide

I phoned Alan, Russ and Jono and the news must have got about as within 10 minutes the hide went from me only, to standing room only! Everyone got views of the Cranes and Shrike, then it got dark so I left. Hopefully they will get seen tomorrow too.

According to Birdguides News Extra, 3 Common Crane were observed flying north this morning in Nottinghamshire. It's likely that these are the same birds seen here this evening.
Thanks to Alan, John and Russ!

Great Evening on the Local Patch...

More details and pictures coming soon....

Saturday, 19 March 2011

World Sparrow Day - 20th March 2011

I didn't know about this until today, but sounds like a good idea to me, especially if it raises the profile of the conservation needs of the Sparrows.

The World Sparrow Day (WSD) is being celebrated on 20th March across the globe to raise public awareness about the decline of Sparrows and throw light on the problems faced by the family in their daily fight for survival. The World Sparrow Day also celebrates the common biodiversity around us.

The first World Sparrow Day was celebrated on March 20, 2010 across the globe to celebrate the beauty of the House Sparrow. National and international organisations, NGOs, clubs and societies, universities, schools and individuals across the world celebrated the event by organizing awareness programs.

House Sparrow (Source Unknown)

World Sparrow Day also has a broader vision to provide a platform where people working on the conservation of Sparrows and other common birds can network, collaborate and exchange conservation ideas that will lead to better science and improved results. It aims to provide a meeting ground for people from different parts of the world to come together and form a force that can play an important role in advocacy and in spreading the awareness on the need of conserving common biodiversity or species of lower conservation status. Check out the World Sparrow Day website.

BTO Garden Birdwatchers have charted the fortunes of House Sparrows every week since 1995. On average, during this period, almost one in four British and Irish householders who used to see House Sparrows no longer have them visiting. However, there have been big regional and seasonal differences (further details here).

I'm really enjoying having House (daily) and Tree Sparrow (occasionally) visiting my garden in North Duffield. I'm going to hopefully get some sparrow terraces put up around the house to try and encourage them to breed here too. These boxes are readily available (e.g. see here).

Friday, 18 March 2011

More Great Grey Shrike in the LDV

I got a message this morning (thanks Alan) informing me that the Great Grey Shrike had again been re-sighted at North Duffield Carrs (the 3rd time its been seen in about 5 weeks). Unfortunately I was down in Nottingham for a meeting so was unable to get over to check it out.

Interestingly [presumably] it was also found during the afternoon at Skipwith Common. A quick look on google earth from approximate point to point locations plots the straight line distance between the two shrike sightings from today at just over 3 km!

Great Grey Shrike © Marek Szczepanek (undated).

I imagine this bird is working the hedgerows within the area and is therefore spending a large proportion of time out of view from publicly viewable areas. My hope is that it follows the hedge out of Skipwith Common and ends up in (or viewable from) my garden! Unlikely I know but I can dream! Incidentally I've added Oystercatcher and Curlew to my garden list this past week (taking me to 52 species now).

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Exciting times ahead...

Just had some good news that we have just got 6 new major sites (with another 9 big ones potentially on the cards too).

I was meant to be visiting 3 of these sites during the past week but the poor visibility put a stop to that. I managed to get to one of them today and think it could potentially have some interesting birds on it over the coming year... I will also hopefully get to the other sites next week if the weather improves.

Red Kite © Thomas Kraft 2006

I have a meeting within Natural England about one of my sites tomorrow which should be interesting and I'm looking forward to hopefully getting into the LDV at some point over the weekend. Water levels appeared to have dropped significantly over the week so the wildfowl should be condensed and there could be potential for some interesting waders too.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Black-winged Stilt - YORK

Back on Monday 26th April 2010 I found a Black-winged Stilt on my then local patch, Clifton Backies LNR, York. I found out today, when I checked the British Birds Rarity Committee's Work In Progress list, that my record has been accepted.

According to Wilson & Slack (1996) Rare and Scarce Birds in Yorkshire, there have been 14 records of Black-winged Stilt in Yorkshire (reproduced below) involving 13 birds. Records 6-10 inclusive (May 1991) are considered to pertain to the same bird. Records 12 and 13 (1993) are likewise considered to pertain to the same flock of birds (but different from those in 1991).

  1. 1851: Adult and immature shot at Aike Carr, near Beverley;
  2. Unknown (pre-1907): A bird procured in late spring at Kilnsea;
  3. 1963: One on 1st August at Woodhouse Mill, Sheffield;
  4. 1983: A pair observed displaying and mating on 12th May at Blacktoft Sands;
  5. 1986: One on 17th August at Wilsic, near Doncaster;
  6. 1991: One on 7th and 12th May at Blacktoft Sands;
  7. 1991: One on 7th May at Southfield Reservoir (same bird as above);
  8. 1991: One on 7th May at Broomhill Ings (same bird as above);
  9. 1991: One on 11th May at Flamborough Head (likely same bird as above);
  10. 1991: One on 11th May at Filey Dams (same bird as above);
  11. 1991: One bird on 7th September at Flamborough Head;
  12. 1993: Three birds on 5th May at Welton Water;
  13. 1993: Three birds on 6th May at Wheldrake Ings; and,
  14. 1995: One bird on 10th March over York city-centre (record now not widely accepted).
The Black-winged Stilt recorded at Clifton Backies on 26th April is considered likely to be the same bird that was recorded within the Nosterfield LNR/Quarry on the 25th and 26th and as such represent the 14th and 15th Yorkshire records (allowing for the deletion of the 1995 York city-centre record).

The Clifton Backies bird represents the 3rd North Yorkshire record after the Filey and Wheldrake records, and the 2nd 'York Ornithological Club recording area' record.

Black-winged Stilt © J.J. Harrison 2011

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Goshawk - Some information

I reported observing a male Goshawk whilst I was down in Norfolk over the weekend. These birds are awesome hunters, they have such immense power and are a joy to watch. I thought I'd look into a few details regarding the naming of the Goshawk, Accipiter gentilis gentilis from my latest secondhand book found in Beverley last week. A copy of Key to the Names of British Birds by R.D. Macleod published in 1954.

Common Name: Goshawk, that is "goose-hawk"; Anglo-Saxon gos, goose; Geese are one of the many kinds of creatures on which this hawk preys.

Northern Goshawk © Norbert Kenntner 2006.

Scientific Name: Accipiter gentilis (Brisson MJ - Ornithologist 1760). From the Latin accipiter, hawk from Pliny's Natural History, Book X is devoted to birds and is the main source of our Latin names. This great Roman lived in the first century (23-79) A.D., and was a many of many talents. Though primarily a man of letters, he was also a man of action and it was the combination of these two roles that brought him to his death - whilst as an admiral/naturalist investigating the eruption of Vesuvius in which he perished. Book X is his sole surviving work; accipio, seize; ad, towards, and capio, take: with reference to the bird's predatory habit. A difficulty about this derivation is that the usual meaning of accipio in classical Latin is not "seize," but "receive". However in Medieval Latin accipio undoubtedly means "seize"; for Albertus Magnus (also known as Albertus of Cologne about 1206-1280) with regard to one kind of accipiter, says "magnas aves accipit," which evidently means "it seizes large birds."

Subspecies in UK: Accipiter gentilis gentilis (Linnaeus - Swedish naturalist Carl von Linne 1707-1778). Linnaeus established the custom of making a bird's name consist of two terms, the first the genus and the second the species, more recently the custom has grown up of adding a third term to indicate a sub-species. From the Medieval Latin gentilis, noble; with reference to its prowess at hunting in the days of falconry. Albertus Magnus describes this bird as "the most noble kind of all falcons" (genus falconum nobilissimum), with obvious reference to this characteristic. It used to be known as "the gentle falcon," "gentle" here corresponding to gentilis.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Norfolk Stag Weekend Trip with a spot of wildlife watching

I spent the weekend down in Norfolk on a stag do so took the opportunity to get a bit of birding in along the way. Rich picked me up on Friday morning and we headed south from Yorkshire to the Norfolk Broads going via the North Norfolk Coast route.

The route down resulted in the now typical roadside raptors, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and Buzzard and as we got to south Linconlshire the occasional Marsh Harrier was noted.

We hit the Holme area first where we came across a flock of geese that included thousands of Pink-footed, a number of Brent and a single Ross's Goose. Unusually the goose flock allowed a fairly close approach which was great. Also noted in the fields surrounding the area were Egyptian, Canada, Greylag and the odd feral goose! Also noted in this area was a range of waders such as Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank, Little Egret, Barn Owl, 3 Marsh Harriers etc.

Ross's Goose in amongst Pink-footed and Brent Geese

Me looking through the gulls

We moved on to Titchwell to check out the new hide, its amazing how close you get to the birds now here and they don't really seem too bothered, despite the screaming kids etc! Here we had Spotted Redshank, Ruff, Avocet, Pintail, Teal, Bearded Tit amongst others - we didn't have the time to go far into the reserve as we only had 30 minutes to have a quick look. A mammal highlight was a Chinese Water Deer that was walking across a marsh and proving quite popular with many visitors.

Chinese Water Deer at Titchwell



Spotted Redshank

A final stop on Friday was at Cley, by the time we got here it was just in time to see the sunset, we were hoping to catch a glimpse of the Spoonbill but it had vanished, presumably gone to roost. Here we noted a couple of Barn Owl, lots of Brent Geese, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover etc.

Sunset over Cley

On Saturday morning we spent the day along a river near to where our blushing groom lives, this proved really interesting in beautiful warm weather. We did a spot of walking, boating and fishing taking in some beautiful scenery and interesting wildlife. Highlight was a frustratingly brief view of what was most likely an Otter, unfortunately it dived before we could get bins on it however a detailed look around the area by foot and boat revealed tonnes of otter spraints and other signs. Another Chinese Water Deer was noted too and later in the day a Muntjac almost made it into the pot.

Me inspecting Otter spraint

Close up of the Otter spraint

Several really smart birds were noted, the highlight was a male Goshawk that flew out of a wood, giving exceptional views flushing all the corvids and Wood Pigeons as it went on its way. A drumming Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was heard in an Alder patch and several Kingfisher sightings probably pertained to the same bird as it hunted the river (probably catching more fish than we did!). Other birds noted included Willow Tit, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Siskin, Redpoll sp. etc.

A sunny and warm clearing by the river produced two or three Brimstone, and singles of Small Tortoiseshell and Comma butterflies, my first of each of these species this year.

The evening involved much partying, resulting in much headache this morning!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Migrating moths and songbirds travel at similar rates

Found out about this today - some interesting research...

A study published yesterday (09 March) in Proceedings of the Royal Society B by researchers at Rothamsted Research (an institute of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council), and the universities of Lund (Sweden), Greenwich and York, reports the surprising finding that night-flying moths are able to match their songbird counterparts for travel speed and direction during their annual migrations but they use quite different strategies to do so - information that adds to our understanding of the lifestyle of such insects, which are important for maintaining biodiversity and food security.

This new international study of moth migration over the UK, and songbird migration over Sweden, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Swedish Research Council, shows that songbirds (mainly Willow Warblers) and moths (Silver Y moths) have very similar migration speeds – between 30 km and 65 km per hour – and both travel approximately northwards in the spring and southwards in the autumn.

Willow Warbler © Aviceda 2009

Dr Jason Chapman, Rothamsted Research, one of the lead authors on the paper said "Songbirds such as warblers and thrushes are able to fly unassisted about four times faster than migratory moths, which might appear to be largely at the mercy of the winds. So we had assumed that songbirds would travel much faster over the same distance. It was a great surprise when we found out the degree of overlap between the travel speeds - the mean values are almost identical, which is really remarkable."

The discovery gives fresh insight into exactly how moths are able to travel in their billions from summer breeding grounds in the UK and elsewhere in northern Europe to their winter quarters in the Mediterranean region and sub-Saharan Africa, thousands of kilometres away. This is important information in the context of declining moth populations and a critical need for pollinating insects to ensure maximum yields of food crops in the face of a potential food security crisis – the more we understand about the lifecycle and lifestyle of these insects, the better we can understand and mitigate the challenges they face for survival.

The team used specially-designed radars to track the travel speeds and directions of many thousands of individual Silver Y moths and songbirds on their night-time spring and autumn migrations.

Silver Y © Unknown

The similarity in speed results from contrasting strategies: moths fly only when tailwinds are favourable, so gaining the maximum degree of wind assistance; whereas birds fly on winds from a variety of directions, and consequently receive less assistance. Our findings therefore demonstrate that moths and songbirds have evolved very different behavioural solutions to the challenge of moving great distances in a seasonally-beneficial direction in a short period of time.

Professor Jane Hill, who led the team at the University of York, said: "We know that many animals migrate north in spring to take advantage of summer breeding conditions in northern Europe, before returning south in winter. Given the huge differences in size and flight ability between moths and birds, we were surprised that by taking advantage of suitable winds, moths can travel so quickly.

"Migrant insects are tending to become more abundant in northern Europe, whereas many species of migrant songbirds are undergoing serious declines. These contrasting fortunes might be partly explained by the highly efficient migration strategies employed by insects that we demonstrate in this new study."

Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, BBSRC said "Insects play a number of very important roles, including the pollination of food crops and other plants. They can also be a problem, causing damage to plants that can lead to yield losses. The more we can understand about insects - how they live, reproduce, find food, become prey for other animals, and more – the better we can tackle some of the problems they both cause and alleviate."

Text: Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

A blustery day!

Spent the day down in Lincolnshire again today. Gone was the sunshine and relative warmth of yesterday and back was the cold, wind and rain. At times the sleet/hail was unbearable and I had to crouch and shelter to keep it out! It was no real surprise that there was not too much activity. A few Curlew were new in at the site and the Lapwing and Skylark were busily displaying. A really smart Green Woodpecker appeared in the hedge in front of me which was probably the highlight of the wet walkabout.

Green Woody © Andrei Stroe

Due to the wind forecast tomorrow I've had to cancel my planned Peregrine watch which is a shame (although it wouldn't be much fun in 50+ mph gales!) so I'm off into the office for some more report writing.

Looking forward to the weekend, a trip down to Norfolk for a stag do, unfortunately there has been no news recently regarding the Northern Harrier, but I'm sure we'll be able to bump into something good.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Lesson Number 2 Learnt today!

After missing the Bar-tailed Godwit last night I managed to get up nice and early this morning in order to check out the floods at Thorganby with the Godwit the main target. At this point I learnt Lesson Number 2 of the week. The east-facing viewing platform does not work at first light! I got there to get a face full of sun and a couple of thousand birds in silhouette!!!

There was plenty of birds present (Golden Plover, Lapwing and Dunlin - all in lower numbers than I'd previously seen there over the last few days) with Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and Shelduck also noted. There was no sign of the Godwit at all - this didn't really surprise me given their status in the valley and the fact that it had been a clear night. I'll have to try harder for the next one!

A very active pair of Great Spotted Woodpecker were making their presence known around the platform giving great flyby views.

I headed down to my site in Lincolnshire, the first few hours were fairly dull with several Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk recorded. Lapwing and Skylark were busy displaying. As the afternoon progressed several flocks of Golden Plover were recorded but then the two highlights, first a Peregrine circling at great height dived down and out of sight and then a bit later a cream crowned Marsh Harrier flew strongly through heading north, probably a migrant bird.

Marsh Harrier - Source BBC online (unknown)

All in all an enjoyable day, in beautiful weather too!

Monday, 7 March 2011

Bar-tailed Godwit - A lesson learnt!

Today I was happily sat in my office working away on a couple of reports and getting my mapping sorted out for the weeks surveys, this was until I got a text telling me that there was a Bar-tailed Godwit viewable from the Thorganby viewing platform. Not an amazingly rare bird I know, but a scarce annual visitor to the Lower Derwent Valley that would be new for my LDV list (that is currently very much in its infancy).

Bar-tailed Godwit © Terry Fountain 2007.

Now, with the nights drawing out and the fact that I was leaving the office early to pick up the Landrover from the garage I thought I'd drop in on my way past on the way home, one problem NO BINS! Argh!

I thought I'd have a look anyway and hope that either someone else would be there or I'd try and 'naked-eye-it'. No chance! The waders were all distant and the amount of other waders (mainly Golden Plover and Lapwing) were causing too much of a blockage to view adequately.

I've learnt a lesson today and will start carrying my bins around with me I think! I'll try and connect first thing tomorrow if I can get up!

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Gull Roost and Platform

I spent the morning sorting out horses, which did result in Red Kite, Buzzard, Yellowhammer and Tree Sparrow.

In the (late) afternoon I popped across to Wheldrake in the hope that I would connect with some decent gulls. I didn't, but never mind. It was actually fairly quiet, with several Curlew noted along with a couple of hundred Lapwing, and 45 Golden Plover. Pochard, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail and the regulars were all recorded. The gulls were coming in but in low numbers and landing fairly distantly unfortunately. There was a few large gulls but we (Jono had by this point arrived) couldn't pick out any of the white-wingers. As dusk approached we noted that some Goosander had dropped in, and were continuing to do so. A quick count revealed 36 birds, however a male spotted a short while later on its own and to the left of the group may well have meant there was 37 present, either way a good count by recent standards. A flock of Fieldfare and Redwing were noted flying along the river as dusk approached.

Male Goosander © Tony Hisgett

A stop at Thorganby viewing platform resulted in some good wader counts including (at least)3020 Golden Plover, 140 Dunlin, 750 Lapwing, 7 Ruff, 3 Curlew, and, the highlight, 1 Grey Plover. There was also a flock of at least 100 Redwing kicking about. All in all a good afternoon, and with nice weather for a change too!

Saturday, 5 March 2011

50 up with a BANG

I got my 50th garden bird today, and what a cracker it was too!

I went over to Beverley to do some shopping in the morning with several Kestrel, a Peregrine Falcon and 2 Red Kites seen over the wolds along the A1079 all on the way back, as we drove over Bubwith Bridge a flock of 200+ Pink-footed Geese was noted flying north along the Lower Derwent Valley with a large herd of Whooper Swans to the south of the Bridge. As we turned into my street I noticed the Wood Pigeon scatter and I caught a glimpse of a large low raptor.... I jumped out of the car just in time to catch sight of a Peregrine cruising straight over my garden! Awesome, 50 species up in about 96 days in our new house!

I spent the last couple of hours over at the Geoff Smith Hide at North Duffield this evening, it was fairly dull and cold and it appeared as though the wind was getting up. I didn't attempt to count everything due to there being lots of birds present and a constant range of disturbance such as low flying planes, people in vehicles near the waterbody, 'bird-watchers' and dog walkers... it makes me laugh a little, last week whilst I was twitching the Turtle Dove a guy appeared in full camouflage gear, a little overkill I thought considering he was going onto a housing estate to look at a bird, today a 'bird-watcher' in full camouflage gear walked right out along the river bank and stood out like a sore thumb as he flushed every bird on the water. Wear the clothes, fine, but please learn some fieldcraft!

Northern Shoveler in flight © Dan Pancamo 2010.

Anyway... I counted Shoveler and got 115, an increase on previous totals but still probably too low a count in reality. Other birds recorded included: Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall (15), Moorhen, Coot, Pochard, Greylag Goose (4), Black Swan, Mute Swan, Tufted Duck, Shelduck (1), Grey Heron (1). Waders included Oystercatcher (2), Lapwing (1000s), Golden Plover (c.1000+), Dunlin (c60-80+) and Ruff (6), the latter species my first record at the site this year.

A Barn Owl was noted distantly on the far side of the river and the final bird of the day, rather fittingly, was a male Peregrine that drifted low over the waterbody before landing in a field in front of the hide!

Waterfowl numbers were up, I'd like to count them, maybe tomorrow, though the lure of the Wheldrake Gull Roost will be hard to ignore tomorrow with a juvenile Iceland Gull and 2 adult Mediterranean Gulls reported there this evening.
Was good to meet up with some local birders, nice to finally meet you Zing!

Friday, 4 March 2011

Great Grey Shrike - Back at North Duffield!

I worked at home today so when 5pm rolled around I made a quick smash and grab raid on North Duffield Carrs. I spent about 45 minutes in the Geoff Smith hide.

Interestingly the Great Grey Shrike that was present a couple of weeks back (see here) was in the log book for yesterday afternoon (3pm), present in the willow tree (where it was when I saw it). Thanks for the message Alan. There was however no sign of it today between 17:15 and 18:00, I'll keep my eye out for it over the weekend.

Another excuse for a rubbish Shrike shot! (this was from a couple of weeks back

The water levels on the main flood appear to have gone down by about 2ft since last week and the number of birds seems to have increased considerably since last weekend. I didn't count the birds today due to there been so many of them and with there been so little daylight left however I did record the following:

Wildfowl included: Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Shelduck, Shoveler, Coot, Mute Swan, Pochard, Gadwall, Pintail, Black Swan, Mallard, Greylag Goose, Whooper Swan and Moorhen.

Waders included: Golden Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin and Curlew.

Other stuff included: 1 male Sparrowhawk, Tree Sparrow, Fieldfare, Common Gull and Black-headed Gull.

There was no sign of the Whooper Swan flock by the time I left at 18:00 though it was a lot lighter than I was expecting it to be, also no sign of the Barn Owl tonight.