Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Flocking November

After all the birding hullabaloo along the east coast last month, November is the time for more predictable visitors to flock to our shores for the relative warmth and abundant food on offer at this time of year - and flock they certainly do, in fact big flocks of birds of many species has been the theme of the month so far for me and here's a massive one to start off with....

The Common Starling roost at Welton Waters, nr Brough holds a reputed 30,000 during the winter months. The only one I've seen that was bigger was a few years back at Leighton Moss (50,000 they reckon!)

Starlings coming into roost at Brough, 07/11/16
Starlings coming into roost at Brough, 07/11/16
No weird murmuration shapes on the evening we visited and my 400ml lens not the best for capturing such things but an amazing experience to see flock after flock pass over our heads and settle into the reeds, chattering away like buzzbots!

Whooper Swans over Alkborough, 07/11/16
On the same day, across the Humber at Alkborough Flats we had a flock of 25 or so Whooper Swans fly over from the north. My first of the winter and I hope to see lots more around the Lower Derwent Valley in the coming month.

Barnacle Geese, Alkborough, 07/11/16

There's been a growing local population of Barnacle Geese at Alkborough ever since a pair of injured birds from the Humber Wildfowl Refuge were donated to a local farmer in 1975 - now there are 500+ breeding on Whitton Island👍👍 .... so these are probably local stock rather than a migrating flock .. they look the part though!

A bit closer to home but totally 'on the move' I've had 3 big flocks of 200+ Pink Footed Geese over the caravan park here at Fangfoss this autumn. Always calling as they fly over, usually at some height and in that classic V formation, its a real signal of winter and yes I know there are tens of thousands in the Solway Firth and the Humber but any big flock on your local patch is a spectacle.
Pink Footed Geese, Fangfoss, 25/10/16
Pink Footed Geese, over Fangfoss, 15/11/16

Been some impressive flocks of Fieldfare's and Redwings down my neck of the woods too, along with continental Blackbirds and Song Thrushes. Tricky as ever to get decent shots of either, I try every year and this time come to the conclusion that I need a camera upgrade! I fancy one of these forChristmas if anyone's feeling flush!

Anyway here's this year's efforts!
Fieldfare, Bank Island (Wheldrake), 24/11/16

Fieldfare, Fangfoss, 14/11/16
Fieldfare, Fangfoss, 14/11/16

Creeping up and peering through a hedge was the only way I could get this one. Not that anyone was watching but worth resorting to such tactics and looking like an oddbod for one that looked moderately relaxed and despite that awkward branch and bits of smudgy hedge, a half decent portrait.

 Similar story for this Redwing ... dammit they're flitty or are my field-craft skills on the wane already!
Redwing over, Fangfoss, 18/11/16

They're almost easier to capture when they're flying and you can't say that about many birds .. about 1 in 15 of these kind of shots comes out of the can looking presentable!

Fieldfares over, Fangfoss, 19/11/16

Hey I've got a new campervan and with a tenuous link to flocking birds here's it's first story. So I was up late a couple of days after I got it investigating the sleeping options, swiveling seats around as you do, and absentmindedly put my camera with big lens attached in the back somewhere - got tired, went to bed. Took the van in first thing next morning for a prearranged oil, air & fuel filter change and turning down the offer of a lift back I set off back down the lane to my campsite; it was a lovely morning, a few Redwings, Fieldfares about, flushed a Sparrowhawk from the hedge and thought to myself "shame I didn't bring the camera" thinking I'd just left it at home ..mmh😒. Well next thing I saw was 7 Waxwings not 30 yards away chomping away on hawthorne berries - thats when I really wished I'd brought the camera! Not only were these spectacular birds in perfect view and in perfect light they were a first for my local patch here. I decided when I got back that I'd walk back up the lane and see if I could get some shots. Oh oh can't find the camera! And then, after a brief moment of panic, I realized. I'd only driven a mile and a half with £1500 pounds worth of camera & lens perched on a worktop in the back of the van! Could have been nasty and expensive but I was dead lucky, I phoned the garage and it was still perched and not in pieces. Phew, but what an idiot!

The new van!!

Great Grey Shrike, Strensall Common, 03/11/16
A Great Grey Shrike turned up a few weeks ago at Strensall Common, a scarce bird for the York area and you bet I had the camera on that occasion! We got some great views of this grey monster, saw it chasing Goldcrests (on they're menu apparently) catching a few late flying bugs and at one point Mark P saw it dismembering a mole. So so light and never within easy photographic range but some reasonable record shots obtained

Great Grey Shrike, Strensall Common, 03/11/16

Great Grey Shrike, Strensall Common, 03/11/16

Great Grey Shrike, Strensall Common, 03/11/16

Great Grey Shrike, Strensall Common, 03/11/16

Great Grey Shrike, Strensall Common, 03/11/16

We thought that was good, and it was, but on the same day another bird drifted across the Common that got 3 birders very excited indeed .. a Ring-tailed Harrier. My first instinct was to get a good eyeful through the bins ... looked spectacular, looked 'orangey', really bright white tail ring .. and gone! No chance of pic, I'd have missed the moment but hells bells we all thought 'that was very orange looking' .... could it have been a Pallid? This one turned up at Spurn 2 day later
Juv Pallid Harrier, Welwick, nr Spurn, 05/11/16

We'll never really know but on reviewing the evidence & observations of the 3 of us present (me, Mark Paine & Mikey Naylor), in my book it was juv Ring Tail, probable Pallid Harrier. One of those things really - no pic, no id but for the 30 seconds or so I had in sight all I can say is that it was a beautiful creature, a few glides, a quick stoop, down onto something or other and then it was gone, never saw it come back up again. High 5's all round ensued for 3 lucky birders!

Lovely, lovely little photo shoot of Long Tailed Tits down the lane here at Fangfoss one bright morning a few weeks ago  .....

Long Tailed Tit, Fangfoss pk, 04/11/16
Long Tailed Tit, Fangfoss pk, 04/11/16
  all available for download as portraits on my photo stock site here bye the way if you're interested

Long Tailed Tit, Fangfoss pk, 04/11/16
Long Tailed Tit, Fangfoss pk, 04/11/16

Long Tailed Tit, Fangfoss pk, 04/11/16

Long Tailed Tit, Fangfoss pk, 04/11/16

Pleasing little fellahs aren't they?

As are these, a bit bigger and different beasts altogether - some Roe Deer I flushed in  the fields alongside the Spittal Beck, nr Wilberfoss. I see them often around here but nice to get some good clear shots of these bucks  and hinds running free.

Roe Deer, Spittal Beck, 14/11/16

Roe Deer, Spittal Beck, 14/11/16

Running free indeed, and now I have a campervan again that's what I want to be doing - France & Spain beckons in the new year but I aim to slip in a few trips out in the UK before then. In the meantime here's a few more of  my late Oct / November pics.

Eurasian Buzzard, Fangfoss, 17/10/16

So many Buzzards around my place I rarely make much of an effort to photograph them anymore but this was a particularly handsomely marked individual I hadn't seen noticed before.

Common Snipe, Spittal Beck, 24/10/16

I flushed 9 Common Snipe from the same field alongside the Spittal Beck back in March (30/03/16) but otherwise this is a scarce sight around here

Skylarks are still relatively common here though with winter flocks of 50+ not unusual

Eurasian Skylark, Fangfoss, 04/11/16
 Many of the Gulls that fly over this part of Yorkshire during the late afternoon are on their way to the Humber where 10's of 1000's roost on exposed sand banks. Here's a few hundred of them, probably Black Headed nr Brough with South Ferriby in the background
Roosting gulls at sunset, nr Brough, 07/11/16
'Laughing Jim' fungi, Alkborough, 07/11/16

 Its Fungi time again! Had to post a query on a facebook site to get the name of this - Laughing Jim or Gymnopilus junonius if you fancy calling me a clever t**t!

A bit 'grainy' due to the light but Jay's are difficult enough at the best of times to capture and this one was so intent on hanging onto that hazlenut he wasn't too bothered by the lens.

Common Jay, Strensall Common, 08/11/16

Grey Wagtail (female), Fangfoss, 23/11/16

Tried and failed to get a decent shot of one of the resident Grey Wagtails nr my campsite for ages, again this is grainy because of all the shadows down by the sluice gates, but its the best I've done all year!

Blue Tit, Fangfoss, 14/11/16
And finally, you've gotta love Blue Tits when they're as nicely perched as this. Numbers of have certainly built up again this month but nowhere near as many as in previous Novembers.

Saturday, 29 October 2016

East Coast falls and rarities

After a rather slow start, autumn migration, the annual event that all birdwatchers look forward to has swung into overdrive over the past few weeks with some momentous sightings and 'falls' all along the East coast. Rarities galore and my 2 closest hotspots of Spurn and Flamborough / Bempton have been a magnet for 'twitcher's' with the undoubted star being this little fellah, a Siberian Accentor 


Never seen before in the UK until a few weeks ago when one turned up on Shetland (10th Oct), followed a few days later by this one at Spurn (Easington gas terminal). It drew huge crowds to which it was seemingly oblivious and has even been featured on the BBC! Since then at least 4 others have been located along the northeast coast of the UK. Alas I didn't see it, should have made more effort I suppose but, same as nearly all my nature pals, I remain a 'reluctant twitcher' but I kind of regret not going to see this one because it has the feel of a once in a lifetime bird!

We've seen plenty of migration action though and with a few semi rarities in the bag, I'll not be losing sleep over missed opportunities despite some gentle ribbing from some quarters of the 'twitching' fraternity! So with no further natter from me, here's some of my September / October migration pics and a few selected landscapes from our visits to the Yorks & Lincs coast this autumn....

Fieldfare, Alkborough Flats, 06/10/16
The first Fieldfare through my bins; such an atmospheric moment to see and hear this bird flying in over the saltmarsh at Alkborough Flats and landing conveniently atop one of the dead trees there. A distance shot and cropped hugely, these captured the moment for me, especially the completely fluked one of it calling!

Fieldfare calling, Alkborough Flats, 06/10/16
1st winter Ring Ouzel, Buckton, 12/10/16
Persistent East / Northeastly winds for much of October were just perfect for our winter thrushes to arrive on our shores and there's always the odd Ring Ouzel in amongst the usual suspects of Fieldfares, Redwings, Song Thrushes and Blackbirds.

Adult Ring Ouzel, Donna Nook, 06/10/16

Fieldfare, Flamborough, 10/10/16

Song Thrush, Flamborough, 10/10/16

Redwing & Fieldfare, Old Fall hedgerow, Flamborough, 12/10/16

Redwing, Bempton, 10/10/16
The very same winds and perfect weather conditions over Scandinavia for such things also brought in all the rarities I alluded to earlier, grippers like Red Flanked Bluetail, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Desert & Pied Wheatear and many more are all here -  Rare Bird alert if like me you missed them all. I was more than happy with Red Breasted Flycatcher, Shore Lark, Great Grey Shrike and Pallas's Warbler, the latter 2 especially because they were 'found' birds, ie birds we didn't know were there!

Not bowled over by the picture quality on any of these to be honest - poor light at the end of the day for a Pallas's that spent most of its time in the bottom of a bush, the RB Flycatcher was very 'flitty' and both the Shrike and Shore Larks I never got closer than 50 metres so had to crop the images (severely in the case of the Larks!)

Pallas's Warbler, Donna Nook, 07/10/16

Pallas's Warbler, Donna Nook, 07/10/16

Red Breasted Flycatcher, Bempton (rspb), 10/10/16

Great Grey Shrike, Flamborough, 14/10/16

Great Grey Shrike, Flamborough, 14/10/16

Shore Larks (2 out of a flock of 6), Flamborough, 14/10/16
The main attraction of 'Autumn watching' for me though is the sheer number of birds on the move, birds of all kinds - ducks & geeese, raptors, passerines (small birds), waders and seabirds, all generally moving from north to south. Some stay here in the UK, many more just pass through en route for warmer climes - either way the Yorkshire coast, especially the Humber estuary, is one of the best for visible migration.

Curlew Sandpiper, Spurn, 13/09/16

Generally speaking, most of the wading birds we see turning up on our shores and estuaries in autumn breed way up north and east of the UK (Iceland, Scandinavia & Russia) and some, like this Curlew Sandpiper, undertake mammoth journeys all the way to Africa.

Curlew Sandpiper, Saltfleet (Lincs), 07/10/16
Waders such as Sanderling, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Golden Plover have always favoured the UK as good places to spend the winter months.

Sanderling, Spurn, 14/09/16

Ringed Plover & Dunlin flock, Spurn, 13/09/16

Golden Plover, Theddlethorpe (Lincs), 06/10/16

Greenshank, Buckton pond, 08/09/16

With our winters becoming increasingly mild increasing numbers of waders such as Black Tailed Godwits, Avocets and even Greenshank are choosing to stay put in the UK.

Black Tailed Godwit, Alkbrough Flats, 05/10/16

Avocets, Alkbrough Flats, 05/10/16
Northern Wheatear, Spurn, 14/09/16

Smaller birds on the move in Autumn are less visible and birding trips to the coast involve lots of scrutinizing of the bushes and fields for wind blown migrants. Northern Wheatears, are by now almost certainly well on their way to Africa but many of the tiny Goldcrests that flooded in mid Oct will stay here.

Northern Wheatear, Spurn, 14/10/16

Goldcrest, Flamborough, 14/10/16
Goldcrest, Flamborough, 14/10/16
Northern Wheatear, Spurn, 13/09/16
Common Whitethroat, Spurn, 14/09/16

Although there are increasing numbers of Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps choosing to over winter in the UK, most have now departed, I had my last Chiff a few days ago on the 24/10 and my last Common Whitethroat was weeks ago!

Chiffchaff, Bempton, 10/10/16
Common Swift, Flamborough, 09/09/16

For the record my last Swallow was on the 15th Oct at South Landing, Flamborough, last House Martin was here at Fangfoss on 13th Oct and here's my last Common Swift

Yep, the summer has long gone, the leaves are turning and falling - I don't mind, it makes it easier to see and photograph things! Global warming or no, many forecasters are predicting a harsh winter and I don't mind that either because I'm heading to Spain again come January, but if it does get bitter here's couple of hardy finches that will surely flock in.
Brambling, Flamborough, 11/10/16

Siskin, Spurn, 15/09/16
Ok, that was a snapshot of my autumn birding. I'd have liked to have seen a few more rarities, more than just 1 Yellow Browed Warbler for instance, but hey I got out and witnessed plenty of migration action so I'm happy! Here's my usual 'end of blog' selection of pics from our various East coast trips.

Spurn Point landscapes & other
The old jetty in the mist, 15/09/16

The old jetty in the mist2, 15/09/16
Late for the ferry?

Sunset over the Humber estuary, 14/09/16

Segment of the new viewing platforms recently erected by YWT on the point
Sunset at Sammy's Point, 13/09/16
 Small Tortoiseshell on Sea Aster, 1 of c200 feeding on the foreshore, 13/09/16

Dragged up in fishing nets during a beach clean at the point - thought to be a component part of an old 'Sparrow 

Flamborough & Misc bird pics

Scouring the headland for migrants, 10/10/16

Camping out nr Danes Dyke, 09/10/16
Massing waders at Spurn, 14/09/16
Juv Peregrine, Buckton, 08/09/16

Same juv Peregrine being harassed by a dark adult

Avocets mobbing a Marsh Harrier, Alkbrough Flats, 05/10/16