Sunday, 31 March 2013

Signs of spring!

No football duties today, so a chance for a family lunch. Before lunch there was enough time to go out with Hannah the eldest grand daughter. She likes to visit Bolton Percy Station Yard, a place my mum and dad like to visit to see the primroses in spring.A tree had fallen down and was blocking one of the roads, so we had to go another way.

We saw a few primroses at the side of the road, so perhaps spring is on its way.
After lunch, and everyone had watched the boat race, which the BBC managed to drag out into a very long boring programme, it was time to go out again. This time I went down the Lower Derwent Valley, to North Duffield Carrs.
Not a lot of birds to be seen. The water level is now dropping, so the birds have plenty of places to hide.
Wigeon were to be seen all over the reserve, and some came close to the hide.
I then went to Bubwith Bridge where in a field near the road, were some geese, greylags and a couple of egyptian geese. The light was slowly going, so it was time to go home. I went home via Skipwith village and in a field just before the village a buzzard was on the ground eating some prey, whilst a carrion crow watched.
My next stopping place was Thorganby viewing platform. I could see lots of teal, wigeon and some sleeping shelduck.

Bank Island as Wheldrake was my final stop for the day, but no birds to add to my list.

1st summer visitor

Chris and I spent a couple of hours at North Cave Wetlands on Saturday. For a change I drove. On the way to Market Weighton we saw 3 red kites in the air,the first time I had seen a red kite this year.
As it was only going to be a short visit we drove down to the south hide. As we walked towards the hide the sound of black headed gulls filled the air. Some of them were on a "raft" in front of the hide and were displaying to each other. There were lots of gulls on the water, and as we looked at them through our telescopes we could see at least 30 common gulls. This is the second time this weekend that we have seen large numbers of these gulls, at last they seem to living up to their name of common.3 cormorants were stood on posts near the edge of the scrape.Pochard, teal and mallard were also present.


We then walked towards the Crossland Hide, as we walked we were able to look over the newer part of the reserve. Chris soon saw three linnets, and then it appeared that wherever we looked we would see pied wagtails.We took a short diversion via the Carp Lake to see the redhead smew. We then continued to the new hide from which you have a good view over Dryham Lane. Chris had soon picked up a pair of ringed plover, and then he found a pair of little ringed plover.These birds are about 6 inches long and have spent their winter in the Mediterranean area. They like gravel pits, so North Cave Wetlands should be ideal fro them.
Time to move on, so we then drove back to the reserve entrance, and walked to the first hide. Again we could hear the sound of black headed gulls as they were displaying to each other. One gull had probably been on a rubbish tip, as it had a pinkish tint on its feathers. We could also see 2 avocets, which brought our total for the 2 hours to 37 birds

Saturday, 30 March 2013

West of the meridian

If at first you don't succeed-give up. Not the motto for Chris Downes

. Yesterday we went to three locations looking for "target" birds, and missed them all. So today we set off for one "new" bird .
Withernsea sewage works was our destination, what better place to go to on Good Friday. We left York at 7.30am so that we could avoid any holiday traffic. By 9am we were on the cliff tops having left the odour of the sewage works behind us.

We were looking for a small flock of snow buntings and a lapland bunting.They had been seen on the cliff top, north of the sewage works, but we could not find them. So we walked south along the cliff top, until we suddenly came across a small flock of snow buntings. We could only see 6, and had not seen any other birds, when they all flew back north. Chris counted 10 birds,and reports suggested that there were 10 birds altogether, 9 snow buntings and 1 lapland bunting. We slowly walked back north until Chris spotted them on the cliff top. The snow buntings were very smart, but there was one bird we could see that was clearly different to the others.It was slightly larger with different head markings, and we believe that we had seen the lapland bunting.STOP PRESS. LOOKING AT PHOTOS, ALL BIRDS WERE SNOW BUNTINGS. As we got back to the road, where Chris had parked the car, Alan Whitehead turned up in his car.Alan Whitehead has seen the birds before and was hoping to get some photographs. The light was improving now, it had been snowing when we were, so I hope he got some good pictures.
Kilnsea Wetlands was our next destination, and on the way Chris took us to Sammys Point. Here we could see lots of redshanks and Chris saw a stonechat.There were lots of dark clouds and Spurn Point looked the truly wild place it is.

 From the car park at Kilnsea Wetlands Chris could see lots of waders in the field opposite. Curlew, snipe, lapwing, golden and ringed plover,and lots of brent geese. From the hide we could see even more brent geese, wigeon and teal.
We walked to Beacon Ponds where we saw a greenshank, a cormorant in breeding plumage, and where we felt the force of the easterly wind! Canal Scrape was our next port of call, but we only saw nesting coots, sleeping mallards and a mute swan. Decision time. Due to the weather conditions we did not think that we would gain anything from going onto Spurn, and the pager had informed us that one of yesterdays birds was "showing well". So off we set for Arram. The pager gave information as to where to park etc. and we soon found ourselves in the same area we were on Thursday, but further upstream and on the other side of the drain. Lots of tufted ducks to be seen and Chris soon picked up the ring necked duck. I tried to digiscope a picture but the bird kept moving about too much.

Thanks to Chris I now had a new bird to add to my life list. So back to Chris and his famous detours! We had decided to head for Hornsea Mere but on the way Chris took us to Bewholme Pond, where we added cananda goose to our day list, which stood at 54.We hit a lot of traffic in Hornsea so Chris used a local shortcut to get us to the mere. Here we were hoping to see little gulls, but no sign of them,so we set off again for the sea front, in the hope of seeing them off the beach. Again no luck.
So back to the mere, no short cuts this time, and the light had improved. The sun was shining and you could almost believe it was easter!

A family were busy throwing bread etc. to some gulls, so I was scanning the gulls in the air

when I spotted a juvenile gull with distinctive markings. We walked closer to the shore and saw a little gull.
These little gulls can be sen hunting for insects over reed beds on an evening. A good days birding but with a twist at the end. On the way home Chris drove to where he had taken the brilliant pictures of a barn owl. No sign of an owl, but sat watching us in a tree about 6 feet away was a male sparrowhawk. Sadly he flew away before we could capture him on film, but our trip to the west of the meridian had given us some excellent birds. A lifer and 2 year ticks for me, and two ticks for Chris.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

East Coast Birding

Chris picked me up at 8am and off we set for our Maundy Thursday birdwatching. Chris set the target at 65, which given the weather conditions was quite a big target. Our first destination was Arram, near Beverley. Here we hoped to see a ringed neck duck from the Minster Way. We found the Minster Way but no duck, however we did see the back of a kingfisher as it flew up the "drain", and Chris met the local farmer who had bought his wife a "Tiggy".
Our second birding spot was Hornsea Mere, where we hoped to see little gulls. The usual collection birds welcomed us into the car par, and they gathered round the car hoping we were going to feed them.

Chris spent a bit of time checking all the birds we could see, but we could not see any little gulls. Our list had now grown to 32, so we were just about half way to our total. The coast was our next stop, in the hope of seeing the gull we missed the other day, plus a black redstart. Sadly we did not see either bird, neither did any of the other birders who were looking for the birds.Bridlington was our next stop where we had a walk around the harbour.Chris took some pictures of some dunlin, whilst I took a few shots of a turnstone having crab for lunch.

I walked to the end of harbour and on the fish dock I saw a herring gull helping itself to fish from one of the trays. Why should the gulls go to sea, when men will risk their lives to catch fish and put them in trays for the gulls!!
In the harbour at Bridlington the Yorkshire Belle was having some work done, no doubt in the hope that some brave souls might fancy a trip to sea over the Easter holiday.It won't be long before Chris and I are on the boat for one of its famous birdcruises.

 Our list was now 44, so nearly 75% of the way to our target. Bempton was our next stop, where we saw lots of birds at the feeding station, and added three to our list. A walk to the first viewing point gave us 4 more birds and two birds my year list, gannet and razorbill. As we walked back to the car park we saw a short eared owl hunting in the fields near the visitor centre. Our list now stood at 54, could we find another 11 birds?
I always enjoy a days birdwatching with Chris as he is excellent company, and he realises that I am the only person in the world that in step!! One thing we both agree on, is that birding is fun, and if we did see every bird we set out to see, it could be boring.So missing a few birds is part of the hobby, as is the pleasure when we find a bird we did not expect to see.
Our last destination was to try to see some velvet scoter, which according to the latest reports came in to Scarboro' South Bay. Chris drove us to where we usually encounter med. gulls, and as resourceful as ever, Chris has some food in the car to tempt the gulls on to the grass.



We then managed to see the velvet scoter down in the bay, along with some common scoter, so our total now stood at 56, just 9 more needed. Chris drove us to The Mere where we added 4 more birds to list and we were able to enjoy some late afternoon sunshine.


So only five short of our target, but Chris never says never, and off we shot to Forge Valley. Here we stopped in the birdwatchers car park, and Chris put some seed onto the bird tables, and within minutes we had added, blue, great, marsh and coal tit to the list and our 65th for the day was a greater spotted woodpecker. Job done. Tomorrow we may go east of the Greenich Meridan!!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Feet up, arms rest, bird, bird, bird!

Easter hols have arrived, no more school for 18 days. Out for a days birding tomorrow with Chris, hope to be going to the coast tomorrow, but unlike Saturdays visit, I hope that we see more birds than sand!
Sad news about the "puffin wreck" , lets hope that the puffins returning to nest at Bempton are ok and able to find food.
If we get to Bempton tomorrow I might get some news from the staff at the centre.

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Garganey hide- now open

I went down to North Duffield Carrs this afternoon, The sun was shining but it was still very windy.
I think that they are planning on re-surfacing the car park, as there are a couple of piles of "mineral" there. Hopefuly it will not be the same stuff that the RSPB uses at Blacktoft Sands, where the car park is more muddy than the reserve, and your car gets covered in a "khaki coloured kind of mud.
I decided to go down to the far hide today and discovered that it had re-opened. There is still some work to do to repair all of the damamge done during the flood, when the water just about covered the whole hide, all you could see was a small part of the roof.

The water was very choppy and the birds were blown about as they tried to fly. A couple of male goldeneye were at the far end of the reserve, their black and white plumage stood out in the winter sunshine.There were lots of tufted ducks bobbing about on the water, some of them were having a rest whilst others were busily diving for food.
After about 90 minutes I went back to the Geoff Smith hide. From this hide I could see about 20 whooper swans, but sadly no sign of any bewick swans. There were a few male pintails swimming and flying round, and there were lots of wigeon on the water as well. they are all probably waiting for the weather to change so that they can get back to their brreding grounds. Further down a marsh harrier was hunting over the reeds and trying to avoid the three crows that were chasing it. A few minutes later it had croosed back over the river and was sat on a fence post, whena buzzard flew in and started to attack it. Both birds flew off over the river. Still far too cold for any summer migrants, perhaps we might get some calmer weather for the easter weekend.

"show me the way to go home"

As regular readers of my blog will know , my friend Chris has a 4x4 "Tiggy". Today he kindly offered to take me out birding, once I had done all my domestic chores. He picked me up about 1230 and off we set. As usual he had a plan, and as usual I had to guess where we were going! However no birding total for today. The trip was just to get us out and about, despite the awful weather.
The further east we went the less snow we saw and eventually as we neared the coast there was no snow whatsover. Our first stop was at Barmston, which is just south of Bridlington, and Chris had brought me here to see a special gull. See chrisdownesbirds for photos etc. About a mile away from the coast it looked as if it could be raining at the coast, however when we got there it was fine. Fine as in it was not raining!!The waves were crashing into the beach and there was foam everywhere! It covered the beach and was blowing into the fields. As you can see from the picture, this part of the coast is suffering from coastal erosion and you have to be careful where you walk. We found it difficult to walk as the wind was so strong. There were a few gulls flying about but no sign of the kumeliens gull we had hoped to see.As you can see from the next phot the wind was so strong I could not hold the camera still.
We sat in the car for a while watching gulls "hanging" in the air over the cliff edge. The wind was so strong that they had great difficulty in making progress. Often they would just be sudenly blown up and to the left, as a stronger gust of wind caught them. We could only see herring gulls and great black backed gulls.The tide was going out and we could see quite a bit of the beach, but the only thing on the beach was foam. We then set off for bridlington in the hope of finding a quiet spot to look at a few birds, wrong!!

The situation was exactly the same. A very strong wind and a beach covered in foam. We managed to see a couple of turnstones near the main road, but decided it was time to call it a day. In the words of he song, "wherever we may roam, oer land or sea or foam, show me the road to go home". I had never seen the coast with foam everywhere.Our last stop was at the toilets in Bridlington where I saw this sundial in the gardens.

 On our way home stopped at the top of Garrowby Hill to look over the vale of York, but the visibility was not good. With only 3 school days left until my Easter holidays, and the forecast is for similar weather things look a bit bleak.sand martins and swallows will find it hard to survive in the current weather. I return to school on April 15th and the weather will probably pick up then!!

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Off the rails nostalgia

I spent the day at the National Railway Museum, one of my grand daughters favourite places. Students were involved in a technology challenge. All of our teams worked hard and one team came second in their group.
Once the students had started the challenge we were not allowed to assist them in any way so we were able to wander around the museum.There were lots of people of my age group and older, who I assume were looking at the exhibits and like me thinking about the "good old days", when steam engines were king. Will todays children like to look at todays engines in 50 years time?



One of the main hall exhibits was Evening Star, and seeing it brought back happy memories of days spent in Swindon, train spotting. Near this engine were other engines from "Gods Wonderful Railway", some of which my grandfather and uncle had worked on.
I did a lot of train spotting in the York area as well and the highlight was always seeing an A4 loco.

It was sad to see the Flying Scotsman in the workshop and the possibility that it may never run again.



I also saw on the walls in the museum, name plates of trains I saw as a teenager, which were often pulled by some classic engines.

Despite the cold weather, some summer visitors have started to appear and with only 6 more schools days left to Easter, I may have a "swallow" for the special weekend.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Snowed off!!

Football duties were cancelled today due to waterlogged pitches so a chance for a few hours birdwatching at one of my local sites North Duffield Carrs. It was raining as I drove down the A19 towards the reserve but by the time that I reached the car park it had stopped. However by the time that I had reached the hide the rain had started again.
The water level had dropped a lot since I last visited the reserve and the far hide was visible. I could see lots of swans, including mute, whooper and black! But I was unable to find a Bewicks swan. Two male scaup were amongst the wigeon on the reserve. However the snow started to fall and visibilty became very poor so I came home.

River deep and mountain high!!

Another day with Chris for one of his well planned birding trips. We left York at 8am and Chris set us a target of 60 birds for the day. We did well for birds as we steadily progressed northwards and by the time that we reached our first destination we had 19 birds on our list. As usual Chris does not reveal too much of his plan so as to maintain the surprise element for me for as long as possible.
I first went to the Island of Mull in 1978 and have visited the island at least 30 times since then, so I have past the first place Chirs had planned for us to visit numerous times and never even noticed it!
My defence is that on the way to Mull we drive through the night so it is dark, and on the way home we are on the other side of the road.
Chris had taken us along the A66 to a place called Smallways,where he took a left turn, and a couple of hundred yards down this road we pulled up by a white gate. We walked across the road, through a gap in the hedge and lo and behold a reserve!Even a couple of plastic chairs.
There were lots of birds on the lake and very soon our list of 17 had increased to 29. Amongst the birds we saw were buzzard, shoveler,avocet, redshank, dunlin and 3 types of gull. We both agreedthat it was a pleasant spot and that we would probably return in the future. I did not know where we were going for our next destination as we continued west along the A66. Chris turned off left and I soon recognised the road from our previous trip to this part of the world. There were lots of redwings in the fields to our right and Chris was able to get several photos. We continued on and we steadily climbed we were soon in a different environment. We had left behind wet but green pasture with signs of spring and had gone back in to high moorland where the weather was different.


Chris had very kindly brought me back to a spot where we had failed to see black grouse. He had returned seveal days later and had seen several birds. So this destination was purely for me, so that I could add the birds to my year list, what a true friend he is. we went back towards the A66 and as we approached The Stang the cloud lifted so that we could see quite a way and as you can see from the picture the snow is only on the high ground.


Our next stop was another possible place for black grouse, so we crossed the A66 and took a turning left and before long we were in Weardale.Again the ground was covered in snow and visibility was not good, however we managed to find some red grouse close enough to the road to photograph.

You can just about make out the grouse and sheep looking at each other! Our next destination was Hartlepool so off we set across country, and one bird we saw several mistle thrushes on our journey.Once again Chris had brought me to a site that he had visited earlier in the week where snow buntings had been seen, and as I had not seen them on previous visits, he had brought us back here.
A new fence had been erected in order to keep quod bike drivers out of an area that breeding birds use, lets hope that it proves successful.

We were heading for a place called Seaton Snook, and this is a picture of Chris looking through his telescope at birds on the estuary. We were able to add long tailed duck, red breated merganser and eider to our list, which increased it to 43, only 17 short of the total Chris thouight of at 8am.
We met other birders who had seen the snow buntings, but they proved elusive when we got to the spot that they had seen them, so we walked along the dunes a bit further until we saw both birds. They were not too perturbed by our presence so Chris was able to get some close up shots, and even my point and shoot camera gave some reasonable results. I will let you judge for yourselves!!

Our last point of call was Greenabella Marsh. I had not been to this part of the area for ages. We often drove past the area, but today we were going to walk down it. A spotted redshank had been reported earlier in the week,  but Chris had been unable to find it. As we approached the spot we couls see a male common scoter under the last bridge over the river. A few bidwatchers were looking at the spotted reshank so we were able to find that fairly quickly, and as a bonus we also saw a greenshank. Other people were hanging around waiting to photograph the seals as they came in the river on the high tide. 

As we walked back to the car we saw a barn owl hunting near the road. A total of 63 different birds for our day last and my year total was now 124. Thanks Chris for another greta day out. For better pictures of the birds we saw visit chrisdownesbirds.