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.
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…
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.