Archives for the month of: December, 2011

On Wednesday morning, bright and early, we set off for a corpse. After a relatively uninteresting car journey (bird-wise) we arrived at Skeffling. Walking up the bank of the Humber we had plenty of Redshank, Curlew and the odd Pintail for company. After about 10 minutes we reached our goal. The 10metre corpse of a Sei Whale (although this specimen wasn’t fully grown, it belongs to the 3rd largest species to have ever lived). Having washed up a few months ago http://www.thisishullandeastriding.co.uk/Stranded-whale-endangered-species/story-13436516-detail/story.html we decided the 3 month rotting corpse was worth a cheeky skeg. It was as impressive as you could imagine.

Head

Body with tail

Some awesome vertebrate. The big ones were the size of a cat

On route back to the car we managed a pair of Dark-Bellied Brent Geese and a cheeky Kestrel, which like all kestrels these days I immediately assume is a merlin. It wasn’t a merlin.

After popping home for pastries and whale-juice removal, we headed to East Park. I didn’t bother with my camera as my main aim was goosander. Apparently my camera equates taking pictures of goosander with taking pictures of a fast moving disco ball in a poorly lit room full of dust. This mixed with the bad weather meant the camera seemed like extra bulk. Due to ukulele commitments we had to make it a short trip so set off with a spring in our step. The Goosander were there in decent numbers (12 if i remember, not matching the previous weeks count of 22). Sounds in the trees tempted us with the idea of ring-necked parakeet but to no avail. We allowed ourselves to be confused with a slightly odd-looking Common Gull, but no matter which way we looked at it, it wasn’t going to be a ringed-bill. After looking at some charming stick insects in the indoor section of the park, we made a hasty retreat so I could vomit sounds from my instrument into the expectant  faces of a staff Christmas party

To be continued…

Day 2

The dawn dawned at dawn, by which point we had already set off on our journey (it having dawned on us that setting off before dawn would allow us to make the best use of the light. Dawn) Our ultimate target was Scarborough, but we were also taking in Tophill Low on the journey with a few target species in mind; the drake green-winged teal would be a lifer for the both of us, as would greenland white-fronted goose. Robert had yet to see eurasian white-fronted geese yet this year, and we both fancied a gander at the smew. A good few possibles, so we were unlikely to leave disappointed.

A Barn Owl heralded the start of our birding, being seen from the car as we drove through Watton Carrs (ha!), but the real birding began when me and Robert got to the hide overlooking Watton Borrow Pits. Oddly enough, this was where   all of our painstakingly chosen target birds were most likely to be seen.

Within a few moments of being in the hide I had spotted a drake Pintail amongst the other ducks, and only seconds later found the Smew as well. After enjoying them for a few minutes, we considered the task at hand. To find the green-winged teal, we would have to search through all the Common Teal – which numbered at least a couple of hundred. Making this task more difficult was the similarity of the green-winged teal to the common teal; the only difference in plumage was that common teal had a horizontal white line along the top of the wing, whereas the green-winged teal had a vertical white line in front of the wing. Now imagine trying to find that single duck amongst the hundreds of teal present, some quite distant, some hidden behind other teal, some behind geese – we certainly had a challenge ahead of us.

After what must have been almost a minute of reasonably dedicated searching, I found the Green-Winged Teal sat on the shore to the left of the hide, probably the closest bird to us. “That’s a freebie” I remember thinking.

Once we curtailed our jubilation, we searched for birds other than ducks. This revealed a decent number of Eurasian White-Fronted Geese but with no sign of the greenland bird amongst them, unsurprising since this was only a small part of the larger flock in which it had been seen recently. We thus gave up, and went to have a quick look over d-res before leaving. There wasn’t anything interesting on d-res, so I packed up and went outside onto the ramp. Whilst waiting for Robert to come out, I got distracted by a greenish lichen growing on the ramp (which turned out to be a particularly green Xanthoria parietina). Whilst I was photographing the lichen, Robert came out of the hide and immediately spotted a Sparrowhawk that was sat on the nearby fence. Unfortunately it spotted Robert as soon as Robert spotted it, and it flew off before I saw it. It did scare a large amount of small passerines back towards us, which pleasingly included a Brambling, which was nice. 

Tophill Low complete, we headed towards Scarborough. 

We had chosen Scarborough as our destination because of  the recent showing of all three British divers and the slavonian grebe. I, obviously, had seen them all, but one would be a lifer for Robert, and another would be one for the year list. We arrived at the harbour on the calmest day in weeks. The water was like glass, but really hot glass that ripples moving across it. Perfect viewing conditions. Sadly, there were no birds. Well, there were some birds. A couple of the Shags were still hanging around, and one fished obligingly only a few metres away from us. A Rock Pipit gave some of the most sustained views that I have ever seen, and there were plenty of Purple Sandpipers on the roost.  The divers and the grebe, it seemed, had seen the good weather as a signal to leave.

There were still things to been seen though. On the east pier, we bumped into Michael Flowers, the acceptable face of East Yorkshire birding. He had been hoping to photograph the divers but had experienced difficulties, mainly due to their unremitting absence. Accompanying Michael was a boy who pointed at things. Whilst we were talking to Michael, the boy pointed at something in the sea, which turned out to be a huge swarm of  marine invertebrates (I would have liked to have said jellyfish, but unfortunately that wouldn’t be strictly accurate). In the water there swam (floated?) a large amount of two different species, one being Moon Jellyfish and the other being what Robert called a comb-jelly and I called a ctenophore. Of course, we were both correct, but one of us certainly sounded like more of a big-headed know-it-all than the other. The species turned out to be Beroe Cucumis which is a new species for my list, and only the second ctenophore I’ve ever seen. Some footage of one is included below.

Soon after, Rachel arrived, like an angel, with baked goods, and we decided to go and see if we could find the peregrines on the cliff. We went and stood at the usual spot on Marine Drive, but before scanning the cliff we had a look at the sea and spotted a Harbour Porpoise, which is the first time that Robert had seen one alive. After taking in our fill of the porpi (an acceptable plural that I just made up) we returned to looking at the cliff. Usually, if one or both or the peregrines are present, they are pretty easy to spot, a blue-grey mark on the grey cliffs. Today, however, we couldn’t spot one, but we decided to give them a few minutes to show up. Suddenly everything happened at once. Rachel or Robert called peregrine, but the bird I saw flying along the bottom of the cliff looked too small. Suddenly a larger bird, the Peregrine, dropped behind the bird I was watching, and chased it along the cliffs and out of sight. Obviously the peregrine had been correctly sighted, but I had been looking at the wrong thing. A question remained, what was the bird that had been chased? Unfortunately, with the whole event lasting seconds, I hadn’t been able to get  my bins on the bird. It had been smaller than the peregrine though, and was flapping quickly and flying directly in a way that seemed like a bird of prey. It seemed likely that it was a sparrowhawk being chased, though I had not heard of a peregrine doing that before. Shortly after reaching our conclusion, the peregrine flew back into view and landed at the top of the cliff, obviously not carrying anything. After watching it for a few more minutes, the same smaller brown bird came back flying along the bottom of the cliff. The peregrine gave chase once again, but this time we were able to get a positive ID on the other bird; Woodcock

On the way back to my house we had a quick look around Peasholm. Saw a few Goldcrests in the usual spot, Mungo was on the lake, but the star was a Dipper on the stream in the glen. It had been reported a few weeks ago, but there hadn’t been a sighting of it for a while. 

So, to round up, new cetacean for me on day one, new bird & ctenophore for me on day two. Same for Robert, but he got a few year birds as well. Also saw his first live harbour porpoise.

 

Can anyone identify all 3 bird feathers. All are birds which breed in the British isles. Click on it to see it better. The first person to get all 3 wins… a jar of jam. Yes, an actual pectin-ridden jar o’jam

I spent a day going round most of the key birding sites in Scarborough with Stuart. Not much around that was new, but a solid set of birds were seen. 

Harbour – We refound all three divers, Red-Throated, Black-Throated & Great Northern, as well as the Slavonian Grebe. Great Crested Grebe is still hanging around, as well as plenty of Shags. 45 Purple Sandpipers were on the roost, which may be the greatest amount that I have ever seen there. I also took three pictures that I think are blog worthy.

The first is a decentish picture of a Cormorant:

The second is my new ‘best-ever’ Turnstone picture:

And the last is of a headless seagull on the slipway:

Now, I don’t know what could do that to gull, but I really would like to find out. I mean, it seems unlikely that other seagulls would peck its head off, doesn’t it? So what has the requisite skills and desire to just steal a gull’s head?

 

Peasholm – Only bird of interest was the Mandarin, which, whilst I had seen it last Sunday with Stuart, had then disappeared all week when I had gone to try and get a better picture. Of course it returned today, shortly after I informed Stuart that I thought it had gone because I hadn’t seen it all week. It was hanging around at the left hand side of the island, where the light was worse so it was more difficult to get a decent picture, and was spending its time chasing around the larger Mallards who seemed to be scared of it for some reason.

 

Burton Riggs – Nothing. There never is. Well, to be fair, there were a few gulls and a Great Crested Grebe. It astonishes me that this place, which must have as much open water as the mere, attracts almost nothing. I think it is because the locals use it purely to burn things, drive their motorbikes round like twats, and dispose of household waste – as well as walking dogs round it like racists. Nice places are not for dogs, because they ruin them. I can prove this; both Tophill Low and Spurn Point do not allow dogs on site – both are lovely.

 

Seamer Tip Pools – Female Pintail was still hanging around with the Mallards, and there was a sad-looking Mute Swan. Huge numbers of gulls in the nearby fields, but the sun was directly behind them making viewing difficult. We had a look through all the crows (as a Hooded Crow had been reported several times over the past couple of weeks) but there were no sightings of anything unusual. Also saw Sparrowhawk, three Mistle Thrushes, and several Redwing.

 

Scarborough Mere – Usual assortment of ducks & geese, as well as the drake Red-Crested Pochard. Also saw several Redwing, and a possible Bullfinch.

 

Just as we had finished all the birding from the day, we get a text telling us that a Grey Phalarope had just been seen flying out of the Harbour. Either we had missed it earlier, or it had entered since. Which ever it was, that was a real shame, as I have yet to see one.

Spent most of the day at the harbour, around five hours. I won’t bore you with the total chronology of events, or the minutia  of every species I saw and in what order, I’ll just give you the highlights.

Firstly, I arrived at the harbour, and noticed that instead of the regular single Shag swimming around inside, there were three, with approximately another ten just outside the harbour. First time I’ve seen more Shags than Cormorants here, or indeed, anywhere. In fact, this is  the most Shags I’ve ever seen together.

I walk round, noting the lack of big gulls, as well as twenty-three Purple Sandpipers on the roost. I also manage to get quite a reasonable picture of a House Sparrow sat on one of the lobster pots, which is where they seem to spend most of their day.

Near the mouth of the harbour is a Red-Throated Diver. I snap a picture, but it is no better than the last picture of this species that I posted, so I haven’t included it. Near the Red-Throated Diver, however, is a Great Northern Diver:

And I manage to take a recognisable enough picture for the blog. I also, later in the day, get a bit of footage of it swallowing and diving. Notice the diving style, this could be important later in the film.

After congratulating myself for finding the diver, I leave, only to get a text mere seconds later informing me that there is also a Black-Throated Diver in South Bay. I come back, and scope the diver in the surf from the harbour – a lifer for me! After watching it distantly for a while, I decide to head round to the beach to try and get a better view. By the time I get to the beach, however, the diver has moved quite close to the harbour, basically where I was stood scoping it minutes before. Pleasingly, there was another birder on the beach who was trying to photograph the diver, and he had just spotted a Slavonian Grebe:

Which was quite nice. I go back to the harbour and re-find the Black-Throated Diver, and obtain the following picture:

As well as the following footage:

An obliging Shag came quite close to the harbour wall, so I got a short bit of video of it diving. If you’re in the mood, you can contrast the diving styles of the Shag and the two divers shown in this post. Notice how the divers just sort of flop forwards into the water, whereas the Shag does a very neat little jump-and-dive:

The harbour was indeed the place to be in Scarborough today. Probably the best show of this year, though there was a day in January with Great-Northern Diver, Iceland Gull & Red-Breasted Merganser. Close run thing, really.

Also, because I forgot to mention it further up, I spotted two colour-ringed Turnstones and got photos of them both:

I’ll post the details on here when I find out about the records.

Had to take my car for its MOT this morning, so whilst waiting for it to fail, I went and walked around the harbour. Kittiwake, Great Crested Grebe, Shag and three Guillemots (all alive today) were the most interesting birds present, but nothing new. However, the light was very pleasant, so I decided to try and take a few pictures for the blog. My aim was to get a few decent pictures of some of the more common species, and not to focus purely on birds. I will then never post pictures of these species again, unless I get a better photo, or a photo showing them doing something weird.

Anyway, I will now post all the bird photos I got at the harbour:

Oooh, it's all arty and offset.

And that’s it. I got so distracted with the Turnstones that I didn’t take any other bird pictures, and these were the two best ones.

After I got bored of Turnstones, I walked down the beach along the side of the harbour wall. The harbour wall is great for showing how different species prefer different levels in the sea, and I took pictures of a few of my favourite organisms:

Acorn Barnacles - Semibalanus balanoides

Common Limpet - Patella vulgata

Rough Periwinkle - Littorina saxatilis

Small Periwinkle - Melarhaphe neritoides

A lot of the wall, as you get lower down the beach, is encrusted with barnacles, and the limpets are pretty obvious amongst them. Rough and Small Periwinkle, however, can be a little more difficult to spot. The best way is to look around the high tide mark. This is the area where Rough Periwinkles tend to hang around, and any significant crack in the wall can be filled with them, as in the picture above. Small Periwinkles, as you might imagine, are even smaller, somewhere between 4mm and 6mm at maximum size. These like it even higher up, basically above the water in the splash zone, but still favour crevices like the Rough Periwinkle. Small Periwinkles only really get wet at spring tides, which is also when they release their planktonic larvae. 

I also saw this broken Rayed-Trough Shell on the beach:

Rayed-Trough Shell - Mactra stultorum

Also seen on the beach was a dead seagull species. Unfortunately, I couldn’t pull its head off, so I will try again soon with some sort of cutting implement, as long as the body remains there.

I went back to see how my car had done and, as expected, it had failed, so I had to walk home. On the way home I saw a Peregrine fly over the cliffs near the castle, a Purple Sandpiper feeding on the rocks, and a small group of Harbour Porpoise swimming by:

Peasholm park is on the way home, so I walked through, noting the absence of the Scaup, as well as the presence of Mungo. I walked past the duck pond bit that feeds into the lake, and heard the distinctive sound of Goldcrests. I spotted them in a nearby tree, and devoted some time to trying to get a picture. Surprisingly, I actually managed it. It isn’t the best picture in the world, but it certainly is reasonable:

A little further along, I noticed a Grey Wagtail feeding in one of the recently drained ponds. Unfortunately it disappeared not long after I saw it, as a cretinous retard let their ugly stupid dog off its lead and ruined everyone’s lives. Other than that, though, it was a pretty decent morning.

Now, did Robert manage to guess yesterday’s mystery bird correctly? No. No he did not. I suspect he didn’t even bother to open his Collins and give it a decent attempt. Ferruginous Duck is what crossed my mind when I first saw it, but the iris is the wrong colour (orange instead of white), it lacks a white undertail, and the head is the wrong shape. In fact, I am pretty sure that this bird is simply an odd female Tufted Duck – a particularly ginger example lacking a tuft, and with that odd white mark on the wing, but a Tufted Duck nonetheless. A similarly plumaged individual can be seen here. So you lose points I’m afraid. So it was a ruse, a trick, some mindless shenanigans. Well my turnstone pictures are better so….

My dad was working in Scarborough today, but one of his morning appointments had been cancelled. Instead, he came out with me for a couple of hours of birding around some of my local patches.

First stop – the mere! As usual, a huge amount of nasty feral geese. Prominent among them was the domestic Swan Goose, along with his half-breed family. No sign of Cloppy today, so I hope nothing upsetting has befallen him. The mere held absolutely nothing other than the very commonest inhabitants – the drake Red-Crested Pochard couldn’t be found today, and all the Great Crested Grebes seem to have found somewhere else to spend the winter – that is, until I was walking back along the other side and spotted an odd looking duck on one of the islands. A quiz for Robert, identify the duck!

Ooohhh, mysterious!

You get points for the correct answer, and you lose points for wrong answers. Choose wisely.

My guess is ferruginous duck. That or madagascan pochard. Probably ferruginous. Give me my points. Hopefully they come in the form of BHS vouchers.

Second site – the harbour! The tide was low, and there never seems to be quite as much stuff when the tide is low. Nevertheless, Great Crested Grebe was still there, normal assortment of gulls, Turnstones, as well as three Guillemots. One of the Guillemots didn’t look quite right somehow, but I think that this may be because it was dead and being eaten by a Herring Gull:

Wish it had been a Great Black Backed Gull, but you can’t have everything.

Final stop was Peasholm Lake. Once again, nothing out of the ordinary. No sign of the Mandarin (aww), but the Scaup was still hanging about, which was handy, as it was a great reference for explaining to my dad what I meant about Tufted Ducks sometimes having scaupy plumage.

And that was pretty much that. Hopefully something fantastic will turn up on one of the patches soon. (fingers crossed for Glaucous Gull at the harbour!)

Due to horrible horrible work commitments combined with light ukulele-ing I’ve been unable to voyage anywhere of interest lately. The best I’ve managed is my local park. I was hoping to find something awesome there in the last few days to make me post but due to a combination of lazy birding and an irrepressible number of dog walkers I’ve seen nothing of interest. But it’s a good local park with some nice unusual species to be found, so I’ll try to summarise what can be found there if anyone is stuck in Hull for any period of time.

The mischievous work of hippies

Birds

Having checked my list for the site, I’m just shy of 50 species. What makes the park interesting compared to many is the river running alongside it, allowing for some common wader species, such as redshank and common sandpiper, which I don’t think are common for many parks. I wouldn’t class either as urban birds, so it’s nice to see them in this setting. Cormorant are regularly seen and kingfisher sightings are becoming more common.

In the past the small lake as been rather nice for common but various duck species. This doesn’t seem to be the case any more,  possible due to increased amount of fishing around the lake. I have previously seen mallard, pochard, tufted duck, gadwall and goosander. An interesting omission is geese. I have never seen a single goose there that wasn’t a flyover, made more unusual by the large grass fields nearby which would surely offer some tasty snacks for them. Little grebe can also be found on the lake but are easily disturbed by fishing.

Birds of prey were also more numerous, and while sparrowhawk and buzzard can still be seen, kestrel have seemingly disappeared. Annoyingly, I missed out on a hobby there by a matter of hours. Tawny owl are resident, and barn owl boxes have been erected but I doubt they will used any time soon.

The usual plethora of passerines can be found, with bullfinch and goldfinch being regular. Mistle thrush also prove common. Another missing species sadly is waxwing, which i havent seen despite regularly checking the rows of berry trees dividing the playing fields. Reed warbler, reed bunting, whitethroat and willow warbler all seem to be breed as well.

Reed bunting. They exist

Mammals

The most common noticeable mammal is rabbit and grey squirrel, like most parks. Fox are regular and I believe i caught glimpse of a stoat but was unable to confirm. The nearby river can boast grey seal from time to time and it seems inevitable that an otter (or evidence of) will soon be seen with their constant expansion. Bats are present, but i couldnt say which species, presumably pipistrelle. I’m unaware of small mammals present, but would like to find out using mammal traps soon.

Reptiles and Amphibians

Grass snake are a common species and always a pleasant treat. This is the only colony I know of in central hull and they  seem to benefit from the large toad population. Smooth newt and common frog are also present.

Inverts

One of the star species of the park is small red-eye damselfly, with the park being the most northerly site for them in the UK. This probably won’t be the case for much longer as they spread upwards, but it speaks well of the park that it can support the species. Southern hawker, emperor dragonfly, darters and common damsleflies can also be found.

Southern Hawker

A nice variety of butterflies can be found, although no particular rarities. There is also evidence of clearwing moths in some of the trees surrounding the lake, and hopefully an individual in the new year.

Comma

I’ve largely made this post to give people an idea of what can be found, and will update it in the future if new species are found or others can no longer be found. It’s a rather brief list and hopefully I will add full species lists soon.

Today me and Rachel spent a day in the Hartlepool area. I’d been wanting to vist Saltholme for a while now, and with the weather forecast to be pleasant and Rachel having a day off, we decided to go.

On the way we stopped at Scaling Dam. Unfortunately, the angle of the sun made viewing difficult, and the most interesting birds we could pick out were four Whooper Swans in the distance. From Scaling, we headed to Saltholme RSPS, where we were told that a Ring-Necked Duck had been seen in a nearby park. After a moments thought, we decided to try and see the duck, and then come back to Saltholme . After getting directions, I drove to Cowpen Bewley Woodland Park. This area, created on a former industrial site, is actually quite impressive. Thousands of trees were planted in the early 1990’s, and small ponds have been dug out for wildlife use. There is a feeding station next to the car park, which today was covered in Blue Tits, Great Tits, Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings, amongst others. We were told by a passer-by that Bullfinches were often seen on the feeders as well, but we didn’t see them during our visit. From the car park we walked to the lake. The sun was quite low, and behind us, so it didn’t take very long for us to pick out the Ring-Necked Duck in the distance. I tried to get some photos, and below is pretty much the only one that is recognisable:

Also on the pond were at least twenty Gadwall, which I thought were impressively dense numbers for an urban park. On the walk back to the car park, we walked through an area of young trees. Whilst I was looking away, a larger bird with a white rump flew across Rachel’s path, most likely a Jay, which are apparently starting to colonise the area.

After leaving the park, we headed to Saltholme RSPB. The site is  a lot bigger than I expected, and was unusual, from my experience of RSPB reserves, in that the backdrop was so industrial, all chimneys and nuclear power plants. Here is a picture of a Kestrel sat on a pylon, as though to reinforce that image:

Anyway, Salthome is huge. You could spend hours walking round it, and we did, though we barely saw half of it. We did see plenty of nice geese as we walked round, aside from the common Canadas and Greylags, we saw Barnacle Geese, Pink-Footed Geese and White-Fronted Geese. Unfortunately a Greenland White Front that had been on site yesterday wasn’t found whilst I was there, and a probable Snow Goose x Canada Goose Hybrid that I had seen a picture of on Birdforum also wasn’t seen. We were told, however, that a Long-Eared Owl had been seen over in the scrub at the other end of the site, and we were shown a picture of one roosting there only yesterday. We got directions to the particular spot and head off, our hearts filled with hope.

Our hopes were dashed. And then, after being dashed, they were glued back together and murdered by racists. By which I mean that after two hours of scanning every single scrubby little bush and peering into the densest thickets of thorns, we utterly failed to find a roosting owl. Sadness abounded.

Luckily I had another species in mind that it might be possible to find, Common Seal! As you probably know, I see Grey Seals all the time. Tripping over them, pretty much. Squelching over their limp bodies etc., But I have never seen a Common Seal. There is a place in Hartlepool called Seal Sands, which in times gone by was where Common Seals gave birth and both species hauled themselves out of the water. Eventually, if course, the seals were wiped out by the tide of progress. That is, until the last few decades, when Common and Grey seals have been turning up again, and the Common seals have even started breeding again. I had a rough idea of where to go look for the seals, and so we set off.

I didn’t actually find the place that I was particularly looking for, but we did find some seals. The road went over a river, and I jokingly asked Rachel to see if there were any seals. To our surprise, there were. I swiftly pulled over, and we spent the next half hour watching the seals. It was fantastic to watch the seals flopping about and swimming, and one even swum along the river and breached itself almost entirely several times. However, during this time I was struck with worry – were these Common Seals or Grey Seals? I knew several things about the difference between Common Seals and Grey Seals; the nostrils are different, v-shaped in the Common Seal, parallel in the Grey Seal – but I was finding it hard to make out. Grey Seals are bigger, but I was having trouble judging the size from where I was. However, one seal was lying like this…

…which is, apparently, a characteristic behaviour of the Common Seal; the ‘head-up, tail-up’ posture. Common Seal, Phoca vitulina, is thus the latest addition to my mammal list.

From the Sealy Bridge, which I have just decided to call it, we drove to a place called Seaton Carew. Here there was a hotel, called the Staincliff hotel, which has had a flock of Velvet Scoter feeding on the sea opposite regularly for the past few weeks (months?). The best time to view them is at low tide, so, of course, we got there pretty much at high tide. Of Vekvet Scoters, there was no sign. All that I could scope were two Eiders, female and first winter male I think, that, despite my best efforts, I couldn’t turn into Scoters.

Lastly, we tried the harbour. Hartlepool harbour is a bit bigger than Scarborough. Not Scarborough’s harbour, Scarborough itself, or at least it seemed that way. We walked down to the mouth of the harbour, where we saw Oystercatchers roosting on a patch of shingle:

As well as a few Curlews:

As we got closer to the mouth, we noticed several Guillemots swimming around, as well as a more distant bird that was either a Cormorant, a Diver, or a Grebe. As we got closer to it, its peaked forehead gave it away – Great Northern Diver. It remained steadfastly too far way for any sort of record shot, but I was able to get decent views. Right at the harbour mouth were some birders with tripods, so we walked over to see if they had seen anything in particular, but the only additional bird that they had noted was a Great Crested Grebe, which then popped up nearby for a photograph:

Just outside the harbour a bird popped up, which turned out to be another Great Northern Diver, and further round we sighted a Grey Seal, parallel nostrils were pretty obvious with it being so close to the harbour wall. 

Me and Rachel decided to walk a little bit further round to see if we could spot anything else. In a few places, sand had built up, and on these there were Turnstones and Purple Sandpipers scratting through the strandline (video to be added soon) and a few Ringed Plover sat motionless at the edge of the sea like tiny mad things:

All in all, a pretty good day. A new duck and a new mammal, as well as a few uncommon birds that it’s always nice to see, and we explored a new area that I will certainly have to come back to again. Maybe even fertile ground for one mine and Roberts famous trips? Who knows.

My hours of dedication eventually paid off. I got to Flower of May at about eight this morning, and immediately saw a female Merlin crossing the road. For the next hour or so, nothing happened, there weren’t even any of the usual feral geese on the pond, so I decided to drive around some of the nearby fields to see if  I could find any feeding. I had no luck, of course, and got back to Flower of May at about ten thirty. As I drove up the road to the little car park near the pond, I disturbed a covey of about a dozen Grey Partridge which flew over into the next field. Grey Partridge seem to be bothered by people and cars more than Red-Legged Partridge are, and even a poor picture of one still evades me.

I parked up the car, and looked across the pond. The feral geese were back, but no sign of the Taiga. I got a quick glimpse of Mungo, or perhaps Mungo’s evil twin brother, but then he hid behind the bank and remained out of sight. Another hour passed, and in that time all the geese flew off north, and another birder arrived. I chatted to the other guy for a while, before deciding that the goose wasn’t going to show, so I set off down the road to Scarborough. I was just approaching Cayton roundabout when I noticed a birder at the side of the road. I quickly pulled over to see what he had found. In the field opposite were all the feral geese from Flower of May, and, just to the left, there was a small group of grey geese. I set my scope up and had a look. Unfortunately there was quite a stiff breeze, and a pretty hearty rain, and all I could really tell was that there were four Pink-Footed Geese and one other larger, orange-legged goose.

It seemed likely that this was the right goose, the Taiga, but I wasn’t happy with relying on it ‘probably’ being the right goose. At this range, it could well have been a Tundra, though structurally it seemed a little different, longer legged and longer necked, for instance. After a quarter of an hour or so, the geese flew off south…

… and I bet they were heading to Flower of May. I got back in the car, and head back towards the pond. When I got there the birder from earlier had just seen them drop onto the pond, so I quickly set up my scope and had a good look at the goose at last.

Still not the best picture in the world

The Taiga Bean Goose looked significantly larger than the Pink-Feet, whereas Tundra Bean Geese would only look a bit bigger. Of course, individuals of both races vary in size, so this isn’t always a key identification feature. The extent of orange on the bill of this goose also pointed towards Taiga; rather than an orange blob near the tip of the bill in Tundra, the orange patch was elongated back towards the head. Once again, though, the amount of orange can vary, and so isn’t conclusive. Another point in its favour, and this is a more consistently accurate feature, is the flat base to the bill. In Taiga, the bill seems pretty smooth from beak tip to beak base (where it widens only slightly), and so the beak merges with the overall head shape smoothly, whereas in Tundra the base of the beak bulges out more significantly near the base, making the bill appear more distinct from the head. These three points, added to its long-legged and long-necked appearance, make this a pretty convincing Taiga.

Last of all, the title of this blog post refers to the specific name of Bean Geese in general, fabalis, as well as the subspecies name specific to Taiga, fabalis again. The American Ornithologist’s Union split Tundra and Taiga into two species in 2007, but, as yet, the British  Ornithologist’s Union has not followed suit. “Who cares?” I hear you ask, well as far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really make any difference to me. I enjoy seeing different subspecies as much as species. There is the possibility, however, that if it was to be split into two species, both could end up receiving more protection. There are only two regular flocks of Taiga that winter in the UK, and it could be that, if split, their wintering grounds could be afforded some special status.

Stuart text me yesterday and asked me if I fancied spending the morning going round a few birdwatching sites in the Scarborough area. Our first stop, bright and and early, was Peasholm Lake. The lake is still hosting a Scaup, but additionally there was a drake Mandarin there this morning. Unfortunately, low light levels meant I could only obtain the filthiest and most upsetting pictures, which I will not upset you by posting here. The lake was also partly frozen over, and, oddly enough, there was not a single goose present on the lake, island, or the surroundings. Probably off feeding in a field somewhere, we decided.

Next stop was the harbour, where most of the recent cast was still present, Guillemot, Kittiwake, Great Crested Grebe, Red-Throated Diver, as well as the Shag, which stood obligingly next to a Cormorant for comparison:

We're not so different, you and I

A little different today was the Grey Seal, which kept popping its head above the surface and pretending to be either a shiny little diving bird, or a buoy. In fact, it was neither. It was a seal.

From the harbour, we went to Seamer Tip Pools, a site famous for the fact that I could never find it when I tried to get there myself. Hopefully I am now cured of that dreadful malady. Recently, Seamer Tip Pools had been home to a Hooded Crow and a Jack Snipe, but today we were instead treated to a female Pintail, which was still pretty pleasant, as well as good ID experience.

From Seamer, we head to Wykeham Lakes, which had recently been home to a Slavonian Grebe. Unfortunately there was a 400mph, -80° wind that made viewing the lake uncomfortable, so we gave up after spotting some Whooper Swans and a Dabchick. As we drove around the lake, we spotted a Hare sat in a field:

And we also saw a couple of Kestrels and a Buzzard sat in a tree only a couple of metres from the car – probably one of the best views of Buzzard I’ve ever had. Unfortunately it flew just as I got my camera out and turned on.

Our last site was Wykeham Forest, where we saw loads of Red-Legged Partridge driving in, and heard plenty of Crossbill within the forest. We checked out the ‘Shrike Clearing’ to see if the regular wintering Great Grey was there, but no sign yet.

Just as Stuart was dropping me off at home, he received a text telling him that the Taiga Bean Goose was back at Flower of May. Stuart had already seen it, and needed to get back for lunch, so I jumped in my car, picked up Rachel, and drove to Flower of May.

I couldn’t find the bloody goose. This is the third time I’ve tried and I’m sure I’ve checked every goose there. Once again, big flock of Canadas, a few Greylag, a few Canada x Greylag Hybrids, and Mungo, the Swan Goose x Canada Hybrid. I probably could have spent a couple of hours waiting, but in a fit of pique, brought on by cold, Rachel stole my hat. Then, in a further fit of pique, she took my car keys, locked herself in the car, and honked the horn until I gave in and drove her home.  On the way home I asked her if she would like to see the Mandarin at Peasholm, but, in a fit of pique, she decided she didn’t want to. I was welcome to have a quick walk round the lake to see if I could get a photo whilst she sat in the car, though. I parked up near Peasholm and, in a fit of pique, Rachel decided that she would walk round with me. At the lake the first thing I noticed was that the geese were back on the lake – but something strange seemed to be going on. On Peasholm lake was Mungo:

MUNGO!

Now, either the bird at Flower of May was a different Swan Goose x Canada Goose Hybrid, or Mungo had, with an associated group of  Canadas, flown from Flower of May (just outside of Lebberston) to Peasholm Lake (North Bay of Scarborough) in less time than it had taken me to drive. Theoretically possible, I suppose, but it didn’t seem likely. I will have to make detailed notes on plumage and try and get a photo of the Flower of May bird tomorrow. Tomorrow? Yes, tomorrow. I’m going to stake out the Flower of May pond and either see that Taiga or die trying.

Anyway, the Mandarin was still there, but sat on the bank of the island, so too distant for photos. I suggested we wait a while, but, in a fit of pique, Rachel insisted we went somewhere warm.

In other news, I took a picture of a centipede on the 3rd of December at my mum & dad’s house, and I have identified it today as Stigmatogaster subterranea, a new species for my life list and my sixth myriapod:

Stigmatogaster subterranea