Archives for the month of: January, 2012

Last weekend me and the sonny Jim McLad pally sonny Jim had planned to go to Norfolk and see the bevy of birds the fens had to offer. Setting off on the cloudy friday afternoon, after a brief mornings work, we decided to stop in at Welton Waters. The fishing ponds had been holding a drake smew in its mitts for the past week, and continued to do so upon our arrival. The unending admiration drake smews receive is not without merit. They are amongst the sexiest birds. Genuinely sexy. A quick look about also provided a chunky falcon in the form of a peregrine, which quickly shot over the main body of water.

Deciding on Blacktoft Sands to be our next port of call we made haste. The light smatterings of rain weren’t to deter us. We settled in the hide, as we are oft to do, and scanned about. It didn’t take long for the usual marsh harriers to appear. The rain started to pick up. This seemed to be suppressing the usual bounty of raptors. We peaked at 3 marsh harrier. One stole a vole from the reeds mere feet from the hide. The rain became thicker. A kestrel hovered about and I managed to pick out a snipe, the first for the year, on the grass. Yet more rain. We hot-footed it back to James’ auto-mobile, getting more than a shade damp. I decided to check the weather reports. Things looked bleak, with Saturday and Sunday seeming to be endless showers and mass amounts of wind.  With hesitance we decided to give up on Norfolk. James’ grief lent to him chewing on his driving wheel with frustration…. maybe. The trip home was livened only by a brief trip to Asda to fill our waiting maws with sugar and carbohydrates. The evening was spent continuing on that gluttonous theme.

The next morn we set out with new plans. A journey to Scarborough, with a few pit stops on the way, was thrown into action.

We arrived at Tophill Low just after dawn. The pre-scheduled bad weather wasn’t to be seen. Cattle egret was on the agenda, so we made our way north of the reserve to see if it was hiding in any of fields. As we headed north a small falcon teased with the merlin-y potential of itself but nothing could be confirmed. Further walking took us over fields, with hares attempting to hide in the very short grass. Across a sheep field distant roe deer were oblivious to us. A jovial farmer gave us info on the cattle egret, but said it usual wasn’t seen on his fields until the afternoon. We carried on regardless. I’m glad we did. Just as we rounded a corner a small falcon shot from below a bush. A ruddy bloody Merlin. It had been feasting on a small bird under a hedge alongside the road. My spirits were buoyed. It’s not every day you get to see a new raptor, let alone the smallest the UK has to offer. Further along the road we came across some red legged partridge and more deluded hares.

A trapped sheep found itself on our route. We somehow had managed to wedge itself between some barbed wire fence and a large tree. With some light coercion we convinced it to free itself, and it emerged unscathed besides some superficial scratches from the barb wire. I don’t go in for any kind of deity but I’d hope acts like that would work in my favour should supernatural judgement occur.

Back along the river we were treat to magnificiently close views of roe deer, including a male with malformed velvet on its antlers, as they crossed a bridge. They received quite a shock when they found us watching them when they reached the mid point of the bridge. The river also had a fair few otter spraints on it, readily identified by the sweet flowery smell and fish scales, including some rather fresh examples.

Hi! I need to finish this off, but can actually hardly remember what happened. I’ll give it a shot, but I expect that a significant percentage will just be a summary of the plot of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, because I’ve seen it recently (Summary – It’s quite good, but not scientifically accurate).

We stopped at the feeders in D res woods to try and see Willow Tits. Failed a bit with that, but I managed to hear, and then see, a Short-Tailed Field Vole rummaging around in the log pile behind the bench. Lovely.

I think we left Tophill eventually, and decided  to head towards Bempton to see the Desert Wheatear as Robert hadn’t yet seen it. Unfortunately I took a wrong turning, and Robert had to use his skills of navigation to set us right. This involved us taking some back roads that I had never seen before, but also gave us a few nice sightings. Robert thought he might have seen a dead animal up ahead, which turned out to be a big horse poo, but frolicking nearby was the worlds smallest carnivoran, the Least Weasel (I’m not claiming that this particular weasel was the smallest in the world, but it was a member of the species that, on average, is). A little bit further up the road was a pair of Grey Partridge, which are lovely birds, and not always the easiest to find. I think these were the first that Robert had seen for a couple of years (They were).

We arrived at Bempton and walked along the cliff and immediately saw the Desert Wheatear. It was very obliging, and spent several minutes actually stood on Robert’s face and camera (It tasted salty). I think he got a picture, which he should post here at the nearest convenience.

Because there aren't enough fucking pictures of this bird.

Weather got nasty, so we left, shivering. As we got to Scarborough, however, it had cheered up again. There wasn’t much in the harbour, bird-wise, but there was a seal bobbing about not too far out. Not sure what type of seal it was if I’m honest. I’ve only ever definitively seen Grey Seals in the harbour, but this one had a steeper forehead and more pronounced  muzzle, and it had a ‘cuter’ look to it than a typical Grey Seal, which look like ugly horse lumps. Not sure though.

We were also pleased and astounded by a very close showing of Harbour Porpoise, close enough that Robert got some piccies, which I am sure he will post at his soonest convenience. Another new mammal for the year list, putting us at one more than we had before we had seen them.

I await my Wildlife Photographer of the Year award

As the tide was so high there were a lot of people fishing, catching Whiting, apparently. Not a fish I had encountered before, and my first new fish of the year (but hopefully not the only new fish of the year. Lets just say I have some irons in the fire)

We then went back to my house to watch District 9 with Helen. Fun was had, etc.,

The next day was windy, so most of the birding was from the car. Harwood Dale lake had waves sixteen feet high, and the only geese I could see were Canada’s and Greylags. We then went to Hackness lake where we saw about six Mandarins, a year bird for Robert. A quick stop at Forge Valley gave us Marsh Tits in abundance, with a liberal smattering of Nuthatch. Finally, we had a brisk walk to the Raptor Viewpoint at Wykeham Forest, where we saw a very low and very large Goshawk (first of the year for me and Robert) and I also took some pictures of some Cladonia lichens that I have been too lazy to identify.

It then rained so we went home. Not a bad weekend really, considering our plans had been so badly shattered.

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Yesterday I headed out with Pinkcuckoos and Mozillatewildly (I assume they have real names) for North Cave Wetlands. Not long after arriving James came along, grumbling about something or another. After a solid morning involving water rail, James (like a registered predator) lured us into his car with promises of sweets and blacktoft sands. The recent reports of raptors meant we eager to climb in, despite James’ wandering hands.

En route, we came across a roadkill badger masquerading as a two dead hares laying next to each other. After being impressed with it’s weasely girth we arrived at the reserve. The first hide showed little, with a man apparently lobbing stones at everything of interest (he may have doing work on the site, but i prefer my prejudices). Quickly after the fun started. The next stop showed the usual vast numbers of marsh harrier and luckily, a sultry looking male Hen Harrier. They are wondrous. I would more than happily share a flat with one, even if I knew he was unlikely to contribute to the gas bill.

Some time after being by a pair of peregrines, a ringtail hen harrier and a peak of 9 marsh harrier and interesting flock of small birds appeared. As they flew over the hide, we went outside to for a better look. Fortunately they alighted in a tree right outside the hide. They were either twite or linnet. The discussions of their identity quickly became heated. I may be misremembering but I’m sure James spat in my face and spouted some racial slurs. I took the side of twite quite early. James remained unconvinced. Hopefully the following points will clear the air and he will release those children.

– Their calls. While we didn’t know at the time, upon researching the calls made by the flock were not linnet-esque in the slightest.

– The behaviour of them as described in the collins bird guide matched twite to a tee.

– This picture hopefully shows a few other key features. The light made it quite difficult to get good shots, despite how obliging close they were.

1 – The lack of markings on the throat is indicative of twite

2- The white line along the coverts is stronger in twite than linnet, which the picture seems to show.

3- I’ll admit this one is rather weak, but the tail seems more deeply forked than what I’ve seen in pictures of linnet.

– There has been reports of a flock of 18 twite since the 9th of January. If they were all twite (which it looked like) the flock has grown to over 40 strong, has shown in this photo (which i’m rather keen on despite the blurriness)

The main feature we didn’t see was an obvious yellow beak. In my research i have found mentions that is quite hard to see in certain lights, which given the dusk-ish light that was about, seems a likely explanation.

If anyone has any opinions, either for or against my ID please let me know in the comments.

Since myself and James started our journeys so many moons ago we have often discussed how one would go about get the most number of species seen in a day, particularly during the shortened hours of January. This is the closest I come to twitcheriness, probably. Well we finally got round to giving it a go. After plotting our day we set out pre-dawn.

Tophill Low was the first port of call. We were hoping for barn owl on the drive in, but the dry evening before meant they were thoroughly-stuffed in their sky burrows (A.K.A nest boxes). Flocks of greylags greeted us along with a goldcrest in the pines at the car park. We made our way to watton, giving that’s where all the hot frothy action was and settled in. I was already complaining about my wet feet. Sadly my supposedly waterproof shoes doesn’t prevent wet water. I didn’t use my camera much that day so we will be settling for MS paint demonstrations of the action. This is how wet my feet were.

Watton proved pretty good at showing us a nice variety of wet bird species. James decided to find all the good things while I was getting my scope out of it’s bad, therefore taking all the points. I scraped back some self-respect by finding a knot amongst the redshanks. Pintails, lady smew and white-fronted goose where all about. The green-winged teal was a no-show sadly, but we got an eyeful of that bad boy a week or so before. A buzzard landed on a conifer and treat us to pretty special views and some roe deer came out as the first interesting mammal of the day.  Here’s an illustration of the view. Notice my handy guide to telling knot and redshank apart in the field, in case you were struggling.

Watton

We made our way around the rest of the reserve, picking up kestrel, goldeneye, tits, sparrowhawk and greater black backed gull, amongst other things.

Our next planned destination was North Cave wetlands but we realised a semi-reliable little owl spot was on the way. This took through an unusual combination of back roads meaning james could see weasel and we could both see stoat within about 5 metres of each other. They probably have epic battles under ground. No little owl could be seen so we continued on our way, picking up a 200+ flock of fieldfare on route.

At north cave wetlands, with my wet feet, i filled up on egg sandwiches and hot chocolate while James failed to see a tree sparrow (making me the winner. It must be said, the wetlands were somewhat lacking. The overfull island lake had pushed most the waders away, with only redshank sticking about. The variety of ducks was weak, with shelduck, teal and mallard being the only species I can remember. The logbook had redpoll down at the far end of the reserve, so we did the lap and failed to see them. My feet were still wet. Just as we were about to reach the main road out of the reserve a low flying, exceptionally pale buzzard flew in front of us. A mad dash for a better had me trying to turn it into a rough-legged buzzard. No luck was had but it certainly buoyed my spirits. We got comfy in the final hide and spotted 7 buzzards on the nearby ridge. Pochard and tufted duck could be seen. A bazillion gulls flew up from nearby fields. It was awesome.

Heading towards the buzzards we saw a richness of raptors that was bloody lovely. No unusual species, but the density of buzzards, kestrel and sparrowhawk was indicative of how rich the area can be.

North Cliffe wood was the next destination. An oak woodland of a type that is very difficult to come by in East Yorkshire. James was in full fungi spotting mode, and when he gets round to upload some pictures i’m sure he’ll be very informative. I found a dead frog to counterpoint his naturalistic flair. I’m curious as to whether it had been unearthed by predator or died from exposure after emerging from hibernation due to the unseasonably mild weather. The latter seems more likely given it’s complete state. I also had wet feet.

The wood is hot spot for many species that can be hard to see in east yorkshire, such as marsh and willow tit (although we only saw marsh this day, probably). It’s also a fantastic site for insects in the summer, and the unusual patch of heath nestled within holds a few treasures. The metal sheets left out seem to imply reptiles can be found here, although we only found an obliging vole species underneath at this time of year. Some logs scattered about had hibernating beetles underneath which im certain james will identify for me.

Our final destination for the day was a red kite roost. At certain times of year this site can host up to 30 red kite, but over an hour of waiting only showed us 3, although one should never complain when red kite are about. The area also held some large finch flocks, kestrel, buzzard, several bullfinch and a jay (very uncommon in east yorkshire). My wet feet were very wet.

We ended the day just short of 60 species of bird, 6 species of mammal and a dead amphibian. Ideally we would have gone to a coastal site to pick up more waders and towards the humber for marsh harrier, but there is only so many hours in the short January days