Thursday, 29 November 2012

The Flood...

The morning dog walk was a bit quieter than normal, then I noticed a 'Road Closed' sign. The flood from the River Derwent had cross the road between Bubwith and North Duffield and blocked it off. Cool!! A bit of peace and quite!

The dog walk was fairly interesting, lots of Wood Pigeon heading south in flocks of 80-100 a time, lots of Redwing bursting out of the maize stubble field and the hedgerows, with the usual Blackbirds and Fieldfares in tow.  The usual finches were well represented again. I've been keeping an eye on a Chaffinch flock that's now about 40 strong. In with these today was almost a dozen Brambling, showing nicely. May try and get some pics at the weekend if they hang around.

At lunch time I drove round the 'Road Closed' sign to see what lay the other side. It was quite impressive! The first picture below shows the typical view from Geoff Smith Hide, and the second picture shows today's view. I've highlighted the same features in each picture to provide approximate reference points: 1) Hawthorn Bush, 2) Hawthorn Bush, 3) Aughton Church, 4) Distant Trees, 5) Bitterns favoured feeding area - now about 8+ feet underwater.... The third picture shows my view and the fourth shows Garganey Hide, well the roof of it as that's all that's on show at the moment!

North Duffield Dry-look

North Duffield Wet-look

My view!

Garganey Hide - Honestly!

There wasn't a huge amount on show in the 20 minutes I was down there, highlights were 2 (new) drake Goldeneye and a Marsh Harrier - record shots below. Still quite a lot of birds about, but mainly along the edges, or distant - was a bit like sea-watching today! Will see what's about over the weekend when I have some time to look for something a bit more exciting like a Smew, Scoter, Diver, Shopping Trolley etc...

'Pair' of Goldeneye

Marsh Harrier trying to find somewhere dry to land!

Marsh Harrier giving up trying to find somewhere dry to land!

Sunday, 25 November 2012

North Duffield: Sunday Special

Loads more rain here overnight (with loads more forecast tonight), lots of standing water in the fields around here now with many of the field-drains near to bursting point.  I popped over to North Duffield this afternoon for a short while to see how things were shaping up down there and not surprisingly the water levels were much higher than yesterday.

The area preferred by the Bittern over the last couple of weeks is now largely underwater. A few areas around the edge of the pool still seem suitable for it to forage but you'd have to imagine that the amount of water in the area has pushed it elsewhere.

The change in water levels has seen a change in species present too.  Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Gadwall and Mallard numbers were dramatically down (or absent) but numbers of Tufted Duck and Pochard were up (or just easier to see due to the lack of the above!) - I think new birds in. Also present today was between 4 and 6 Goldeneye.  There was also a Little Grebe present - first one I've seen here since earlier in the year (late winter/early spring) I think.

Also, the Scaup that has been present on the reserve for at least 3 weeks was again showing on the river, was here on Thursday and yesterday in more-or-less the same place! (record shot off phone, in near darkness below)

Scaup (phone-scoped in near darkness)

The Barn Owls were again showing well, 2 distant and 2 much closer in.

There was a flock of at least 20 Ruff and 3 Dunlin roosting on a raised bank and several dozen Lapwing about. Swan and Geese numbers were down on the reserve, but there was plenty of distant geese over towards Aughton.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Bittern Update: North Duffield

No sign of the Bittern today (and possibly yesterday too by the sound of it). I didn't spend too long down there today and I didn't see it, and don't think anyone else down there earlier or later than me did either.

The visibility was appalling this morning with thick fog and the water levels, as expected, have risen quite a lot. Many of the areas that the Bittern would forage out in the open last week are now under substantial amounts of water.

There was plenty of waterfowl about, with an increase in Pintail and Tufted Duck noted. Despite the high water levels there was quite a number of Lapwing trying to find somewhere dry to sit. There was also Golden Plover, Ruff and Dunlin noted. I didn't bother trying to count anything as the birds were very flighty, a combination of dogs, wildfowlers/farmers, sparrowhawk and Peregrine. A couple of Barn Owl were seen, one right at the back of the reserve and one right by the hide just after I'd put my camera away!

There's plenty of areas for the Bittern to feed now but viewing it may be more difficult that it was last week. May take a look tomorrow if the conditions are better...

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Bittern Still Present At North Duffield Carrs

I worked at home today which meant whilst I was on my lunch break I could take a quick look for the Bittern at North Duffield.  I'd heard that it hadn't been seen since Monday but thought it worth a look regardless, plus there may have been other stuff worth looking at.

It was much windier at lunchtime than when I walked the dogs this morning, and pretty close to being dark already! I left home at 1305, and by 1310 was sat in the Geoff Smith Hide at North Duffield Carrs enjoying great views of the Bittern on the left of the pool right in front of the hide. Can't complain at that!!  I got a couple of record shots just in case anyone doubted my record (below)!

I had a quick scan of the water, which was much higher in level than my last visit on Sunday. Less habitat for waders so not surprisingly I didn't see too many, other than a small flock of 250 Lapwing in with which was 3 Ruff and 2 Dunlin, plus 1 other Dunlin flew low south along the river. There was also a Scaup on the River.  My first impression of the floods was that there was far less birds, less geese and Swans - mainly just Mutes, presumably the geese and Whoopers were out in the fields feeding somewhere. On a careful scan of the floods however it was quite interesting to note there was in fact thousands of ducks all hiding in the partially submerged vegetation, counting was impossible (and I didn't have enough time to even contemplate it) but there was a good mix of species: Pochard, Pintail, Tufted Duck, Shoveler, Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Gadwall etc.

Was back home having my soup by 1345! So in less time than it takes to walk from my office to the local Deli of choice (Henshelwoods) and back I'd had quite a productive half hour! Looking forward to the weekend to see if I can improve my Bittern photos from last Saturday, or find something interesting lurking amongst the waterfowl (I hate ducks). I might just sit and look at my Malaysia field guide though as its full of pretty birds and I don't have to bother with the ducks that way!

Bittern for lunch - just showing it's still there

Bittern for lunch - just showing it's still there

Bittern for lunch - just showing it's still there

Monday, 19 November 2012

Sunday Bittern at Duffield

The day started well when I looked out of the back window to see a Peregrine shooting over, well it started well for me and the Peregrine, less well for the Wood Pigeon that got smashed!

The morning dog walk was interesting with Barn Owl, and an impressive mixed finch flock made up largely of Linnet and Greenfinch with a decent sprinkling of Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Siskin and Lesser Redpoll thrown in. The hedges were full of Fieldfare and Blackbird with a couple of Redwing and Song Thrush too and the pair of Mistle Thrush that have taken residence of a hawthorn bush were still present.

During the afternoon I met up with Natalie for some birding in the LDV, check out her blog: Natural(ist) Blonde.  We started off at Aughton Ings where there was a good number of Lapwing with at least 30 Ruff, 4 Redshank, 1 Grey Plover, 1 Dunlin and easily excess of 50 Snipe including a nice flock of 30 feeding out in the open. There was also a large number of Teal and Wigeon. The large number of waterfowl was a tempting treat for the local Peregrine and Marsh Harrier, both of which put in appearances. A rush of thrushes bursting out of the scrub was due to the attentions of a Sparrowhawk making a dash for dinner.

Next stop was over to North Duffield to see if 1) we could fit into the hide and 2) if the Bittern was still present. After a bit of manoeuvring seats were made available and after a short wait the Bittern appeared fairly close to the hide along the right of the pool. It was interesting to watch the bird peering into the undergrowth, after a quick stab it pulled out a fairly sizeable frog, which it continued to destroy! Happy with its meal it then headed to the back of the pool, eventually disappearing out of view for the rest of the evening.  I got a couple of pictures (below) but unfortunately the light wasn't the best by the time it came out!

A couple of Barn Owl were flying about at the back of the reserve and late on one appeared closer to the hide. A couple of Marsh Harrier were noted but again no Short-eared Owl, presumably the bird from earlier has cleared off.  There was a decent herd of Whooper Swans at the back of the pools (about 65) and plenty of Geese, Mute Swan and assortment of wildfowl (not enough room in the hide to get the scope out to look at/count properly), though there did appear to be more Pintail present.

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Bittern at North Duffield: Excellent Views

Once the cricket was over and the rain and mist had gone away I headed across to the Geoff Smith Hide at North Duffield Carrs to see if yesterdays Bittern was still present. I wasn't to be disappointed.

Shortly after arriving at the hide I picked up the bird to the right of the pool, I then spent the next 5 hours watching it as it  moved all around the pool, often disappearing then appearing some distance away, it even gave a nice little fly-past at one stage too. It was fascinating to be able to watch this secretive bird go about its hunting activities. Occasionally it would come right out into the open which was brilliant! Often it's presence was noted by the resident Reed Bunting alarming and watching it move through the vegetation.  I took quite a few pictures, some of these are below.

Plenty of other decent birds about today including Water Rail (below hide by pool), Scaup, 2 Grey Plover, c60 Whooper Swan, 1 Black Swan, 70 Mute Swan, several Pink-footed Geese, with hundreds of Greylag and Canadas. There was at least 2 Marsh Harrier about, and 3 Barn Owl though no sign of the recent Hen Harrier or Short-eared Owl.

Other birds noted included c20 Dunlin, 20+ Ruff, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall, Shoveler, Mallard, Grey Heron, Cormorant. There was also quite a lot of Lesser Redpoll flying about, in with these were several Siskin and Goldfinch.  A sizeable flock of Starling (several thousand) and a good count of Fieldfare with low numbers of Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird were also noted.

An enjoyable afternoon! Same again tomorrow then? Don't mind if I do.

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Bittern © Andy Walker 2012

Marsh Harrier © Andy Walker 2012

Friday, 16 November 2012

Bittern Gives Itself up at North Duffield

This morning the Bittern that was found last night at North Duffield Carrs gave itself up at first light for (a very excited) Tim who very kindly phoned me to let me know about it. I shot over to the hide before heading off to work and enjoyed 15 minutes watching it stood out in the open feeding!

It continued to show well during the day on three or four occasions I believe and was successfully twitched by a number of locals by the sound of it. I've seen some cracking pictures of it and will hope to get some decent ones myself tomorrow, though for now all I have is a couple of record shots from the murk of this morning taken at 3200ISO, 2.8f to manage 1/100! So not the best but I was worried the bird might vanish and Tim might lose his camera between the hide and the car so better to be safe than sorry!

Check out Tims awesome video of the bird here!

Bittern at North Duffield

Bittern at North Duffield

Congratulations to Tim on breaking the York Area Year List Record!

Bittern: Showing Well NDC

Got the Bittern a little after first light this morning, showing very well! More (including pics) later.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Bittern: North Duffield!

Another great find today, unfortunately I didn't see it as was at work! A Bittern in front of the Geoff Smith Hide. The bird flew from right to left across the pool and then dropped into the reeds (presumably to roost), I gather. The Adult male Hen Harrier was also seen again mid-week. That's my Saturday sorted!

This morning I had a flock of about 80 Pink-footed Geese feeding in a field on my circuit, later they were seen in flight over the house heading towards the valley. Also a lot of Redwing dropping out of the sky.

I'm hopefully going to be going birding in Malaysia next March if anyone fancies joining me to keep costs down. Will be visiting Kuala Selangor, Fraser's Hill and Taman Negara etc for starters. Update: Definitely going to Malaysia, flights booked! Can't wait!

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Birthday Treat: Waxwings!

Decided to have a drive around and look for some local Waxwings today. After an unsuccessful hour or so a stop was made at the Jefferson Arms pub in Thorganby for my birthday lunch, which was very nice (as usual there). On pulling into the car park a bird fly-catching caught my eye so I climbed through some vegetation at the back of the car park where I found about 20 Waxwing fly-catching. A great 'birthday tick'! A bit too far for my camera and I couldn't get any closer unfortunately but can't complain with some local Waxwing!

Waxwing - Thorganby (distant crop) © Andy Walker 2012

Waxwing - Thorganby (distant crop) © Andy Walker 2012

Waxwing - Thorganby (distant crop) © Andy Walker 2012

Waxwing - Thorganby (distant crop) © Andy Walker 2012

A late local walk near dusk didn't produce any more Waxwing but a Peregrine fly-over was welcome.  Awesome numbers of Waxwing in York this afternoon with Tim and Jack having a flock of at least 285 birds! Not far from the York Area single flock record of 286. Nice try lads!

Also this weekend I've been checking out Richard Thewlis' Blog with more of his great art from this year on the Scillies (and a few of his more recent trip) - definitely worth checking out.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

North Duffield Carrs

Had a quick trip over to a packed out Geoff Smith Hide this afternoon at North Duffield Carrs in the hope that the adult male Hen Harrier found last week would still be present.

There was no sign of the Hen Harrier, though a cream-crowned Marsh Harrier was nice. On arrival we just missed a Short-eared Owl but compensation in the form of 4 Barn Owls was good enough. A female-type Scaup flew in and settled on one of the flooded areas. A couple of Kestrel flew about and there was a large number of Fieldfare and a few Redwing about too. Water Rail was heard calling from in front of the hide and the Reed Bunting roost seemed fairly sizeable. Three Shelduck flew north through the valley, first I've seen here for a while. Lots of geese and swans about but didn't see any Whoopers.

Will be off looking for Waxwings tomorrow, seems to be hundreds in the York area today. What price for a Cedar Waxwing!

Friday, 9 November 2012

Waxwing in York: Continued Professional Development.

Finally got in on the Waxwing influx today...

I had a flock of between 15 and 17 birds at the Grimston Bar Park and Ride this morning before they flew off towards B&Q. This was a great opportunity for some Continued Professional Development (CPD) and a great excuse for being late in the office! 'Sorry I'm late I needed to refresh my memory for Waxwing in case we get them on a site!'

There was also several other groups seen in York today, c40 birds near the station and a whopping 130 in the centre of York (St Georges Field area) found by Chris.  I'm hoping to connect with some more over the weekend when I've got my camera rather than my laptop! So check back to see if I get any photos!

Thursday, 8 November 2012

Back to Northumberland

Went back to Northumberland to visit the new site I'd scoped out last week, and it went rather nicely!

I'd pointed out an area to our client last week that looked like it had potential for Peregrine, today there was a Peregrine patrolling it for most of the day! Excellent, the bonus here was discovering a couple of Peregrine Pellets, not seen these before, amazingly they were full of bird rings! All Racing Pigeon rings!! We've brought them back so will be enjoyable to see how far the Racers had come from!!

The next bit of enjoyment came from a mature stand of trees that I'd told our client looked good for Goshawks. Today there was an adult male Goshawk flying round them! At one stage it flew fairly close to me giving incredible views!

There was other interest in the form of fairly constant flow of Raven, and also good numbers of Crossbill, no Waxwing unfortunately, though would have had more joy looking for them along the A1 rather than in the middle of a conifer plantation I guess!

Congratulations to Tim who has today equalled the York Area year list with the sighting of Waxwing in York.  This take him to 170 species - subject to acceptance...  There is a very high probability that he will go on to break the record now I think as he still needs some 'winter species' such as Hen Harrier (one adult male seen at North Duffield today!), Bean Goose, Bewick's Swan, Hawfinch etc... If only Tim had bothered with this beautiful adult male Whinchat I found back in April..... Waxwing would have been a nice way to break the record...

Whinchat phone-scoped in a rain storm hence black dot on lens!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

European Bee-eater: More on this great bird

On Sunday I had a great trip up to County Durham in order to twitch the European Bee-eater, which as it turned out put on an excellent performance for all-comers.

This bird was a UK tick for me. I'd never bothered to twitch one before for a few reasons:

1. I've seen plenty of European Bee-eater on my travels through Europe and Africa, in fact this species was a 'lifer' for me in late October (23rd) 1996, in Kenya, presumably where the Durham bird should be right about now!  During the northern winter we used to get them near our house over there, and during passage periods numbers would be very impressive. Had some great times with European Bee-eaters in Cyprus a couple of years ago when I had thousands go through on spring passage, and also last year when in France where I came across a breeding colony thanks to a great tip-off!

2. I was out of the country when the pair bred in County Durham in 2002 (first confirmed breeding attempt in UK for about 50 years) and again when they bred (before the nest got predated) in 2005.

3. I think you're nearly always likely to dip on a twitch anywhere near here (Yorkshire), almost annual at Spurn I guess but most likely you have to be there at the time to see them as they fly through, and too risky to twitch somewhere like Norfolk from Yorkshire as they are likely to just clear off! It was a bit gutting last year when Dave and I went to the Scillies and a bird that had been present for about 3 months cleared off the day we arrived!

4. I've always had the hope that I'd connect with one whilst out doing a survey somewhere, but then now I'm doing far less surveys and more office work my potential time in the field to connect is rapidly decreasing, then there is the FEAR.... you hear the instantaneously recognisable call high in the sky on a sunny spring day but can you see the birds..... no chance!

After a fairly lean autumn I decided enough was a enough... and I'm glad I went for what is definitely one of my favourite birds!

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Bee-eater Winter Scorcher!

Had an awesome day today, really awesome!

I had a nice lie in this morning and sent Uncle Albert across to Seaburn in County Durham to go and find the Bee-eater for me. I'd a theory that all the Chav fireworks may have scared the bird off so thought it best to risk his petrol money rather than mine! As it happens he must have got the directions wrong as he parked at Whitburn and walked from there, arriving at the Bee-eater site at the same time as me (I left after news appeared on twitter that the bird was still present - possibly frozen to an aerial).

It was actually quite enjoyable birding in a suburban environment for a change, loved the chav boy-racers and their comments. Real intellect! Did the northeast proud. Was also great to catch up with Tristan (Inked Naturalist) and a few other birders I knew.

What about the bird? Well, it showed a treat, on TV aerials and in trees etc, amazingly given the near-freezing temperatures even at mid-day when I arrived on site it was busy catching bees and wasps! An ivy-covered fence/wall was a particularly popular hunting haunt for it. As it sallied out for insects it would sometimes come really low overhead almost in touching distance and it would occasionally give its distinctive call, especially when landing. I managed the following photos today, ok but not as good as some of the incredible images on birdguides!!

Satisfied within this brilliant bird I gave Uncle Albert a lift back to where he'd parked to save his legs the 5 mile walk! A true gentleman.

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

European Bee-eater © Andy Walker 2012

Saturday, 3 November 2012

Local News: Finches and Thrushes

Had a couple of nice walks round North Duffield village today.  There was loads of thrushes this morning, a good 1000 Fieldfare either moving through towards the southwest, or dropping into a freshly ploughed stubble field and in with these several hundred Redwing, Blackbird and Song Thrush, also a lot of Starling too. In addition here there was a few Meadow Pipits and Linnets too.

Several Goldcrest and Long-tailed Tit moved through the hedges and a few Lesser Redpoll, Chaffinch and Brambling flew south. A series of large puddles proved a great attraction for a mixed finch flock with Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Chaffinch all taking a bath and having a drink. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch showed well.

A bit later I was enjoying several Jay, Green Woodpecker and some more Great Spotted Woodpecker and had a couple of Crossbill and a Grey Wagtail fly over.

Also had a Goldcrest and a flock of 40+ Goldfinch in the garden.

Late news from last week: 

Last weekend I went down to North Duffield Carrs for an hour in the cold northerly wind and had very nice views of a Short-eared Owl, 3/4 Marsh Harriers and a giant of a Peregrine that was busy flushing pretty much everything on site!

On Thursday I went up to a new site we've just got in Northumberland, a big forested area so will be interesting to see what we get up there (if anything?!) started off with a few Crossbill and some Red Squirrel so not to be complained at.

Might be heading North tomorrow, Lesser Kestrel (if it is one?) would be a nice year tick - and hopefully a bit closer than the one I had a Minsmere a few years back and a Bee-eater would be a nice November tick! Think the last time I had Bee-eater in November they'd arrived on their wintering grounds near our house in Kenya! Just hope the fireworks don't scare everything off!!