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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