Monday, 28 December 2020

Hornsea

Male Goldeneye

After a false start sans optics at Barmston thanks to a reshuffle in the car to accommodate Christmas presents and children I didnt fancy braving the hordes of dog walkers again so I went to Hornsea Mere. With Kirkholme Point closed, there were only a handful of folks in the fields on the south side. What was present was a delightful adult male Long-tailed Duck

Male Long-tailed Duck

Two hundred Greylags flew in from the south and I could hear a Pink-footed Goose amongst them and after a couple of minutes of checking, two emerged from the flock next to Swan Island. I was starting to get chilly but the main prize continued to evade me. The drake Smew appeared amongst Goldeneye on the far bank, tucked in tight to the reeds. Views from Kirkholme Point would have been exceptional but from another km to the south it was a touch distant.

Yup, thats a Smew if you squint.

I moved on to the clifftop at the north end of Hornsea by the sailing club. A few Red-throated Divers were the sum total but it has some serious height compared to other nearby locations. Interesting! Upon heading home I found at least 4,000 Pink-footed Geese in fields between Skirlington and Skipsea. There were undulations on the fields so a full count wasnt possible but 5,800 were counted heading north over Hornsea Mere early doors. I failed to pick anything different from amongst them but the sun wasnt in my favour. 

Sunday, 29 November 2020

Barmston in late November

 Yesterday I decided to have a ramble round the patch to have a better look at the Twite that have been about and also try and pin down the Lapland Buntings which Trevor Charlton has had a few times. I am rather glad I did! A slightly rubbish seawatch was quickly abandoned after 25 Twite flew south. Obviously I headed north and there were more present in a patch of mugwort. This seems to be their favoured spot. 


I marched round the perimeter of the marsh, flushing the occasional Snipe when eight Lapland Buntings flew over calling. They moved off to the north-west but the impression was that they had come up out of the stubble. Somewhat surprisingly, these were my first Laps for the patch and patch tick number 184. I continued round the margins of the marsh to the snipe field where half a dozen regular flavoured birds preceded two Jack Snipe in their favoured strip of damp, long grass. Pink-footed Geese started to pour north and just shy of 500 were counted heading into the Wolds. A check of the beach was productive with a nice variety of waders including Grey Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit and Turnstone.

Further south I bumped into a Merlin that was convinced I couldn't see it in a tree. It let me get pretty close before moving into the next hedge and repeating the trick. The hedges had low numbers of birds but a nice selection of thrushes and buntings including five Corn Buntings and a few Fieldfares. At this point I bumped into Lee Johnson. Lee works Barmston fairly often in winter and with autumn pretty much done he had headed over to try and get a bead on the Lapland Buntings. We wandered up the marsh again and a few Lesser Redpoll went over followed by the emergence of 13 Lapland Buntings. They wouldn't show on the ground, flying at well over 100m from us but they flew close, calling repeatedly. An excellent count of a tricky species. These were also Lee's first for the site. A Woodcock flew into the marsh as we wandered back towards our cars and the Twite gave an improved showing back by the camp. All said a very productive morning.

Trektellen Counts

Unwell looking Common Gull

Wigeon on the move

Friday, 27 November 2020

Water Voles in Nafferton

This week I have been trying to overcome general lethargy and feeling a bit miserable by getting out and about a bit more before my working day and again at lunch time. I have been feeling a bit down and demotivated and I know that moving more and doing a bit of wildlife watching, even close to home is a fantastic tonic for the lockdown blues. Somewhere to the south of the village is a Great White Egret which I can't locate but appears to be still present so I will give it another go. On Wednesday however, I was checking for birds along the stream on Spittle Beck Lane when I noticed a medium-sized rodent along the bank. I assumed that it was going to be a Brown Rat Rattus norvegicus so I was a little taken aback when I raised my binoculars only to be met with the more benign features of a Water Vole Arvicola amphibius

It sat motionless for minutes on end which was great but it was a misty morning and I had neglected to carry my camera with me. I managed a quick record shot with my phone down the right barrel of my phone. The photo, just about recognisable as a Water Vole didn't satiate me and I was back during my lunch break, armed with my camera. I found a different vole, outside another set of burrows, some 30 metres away, turned my camera on and nothing happened. Flat, caput, dead. I raced back home, replaced the battery and returned. No voles were visible although a couple of ripples on the near bank suggested that there were plenty around. I planned on having another go yesterday but alas it was not to be due to a combination of wet weather and overrunning work, so I returned today.

This guy sat out in the sun initially and was nearly impossible to photograph as he was massively overexposed being half in shadow. He slid down his run and groomed by the waters edge for ten minutes or so, barely moving. He (I say he, I have no idea) was aware of my presence but the distance across the small stream seemed to keep him calm. I watched until he decided to drop into the water and head along. Soon after two further plops indicated two voles I had walked past, one under thick vegetation and a second under the near bank. I walked further along the lane but found no more. Walking back my lad was back out, under the vegetation, sat on his liverwort lawn. I kept going, aware that I had 15 minutes left before I should be back on the computer and wanting a brew. I kept an eye on the stream and the usual suspects were making waves in the same places as on the way up when I spied a fourth individual, mid-stream, wrestling with a wind thrown apple. Oblivious to me, he tried in vain to get his prize, failing and shooting before resting in the shallows, having seen me. I rattled off a few shots before he dived and I watched as he zooted five or six feet underwater and up into the bank via a submerged hole.



And then I was happy for the rest of the day, safe in the knowledge there will always be a bit of my heart devoted to it. 

Sunday, 27 September 2020

Stormy Seawatching: 25-27th September

 In a move that is completely in character I have failed to update on moths, nocmig, birding and our trip to Turkey. Rest assured some of this may, or may not make the blog in the future. What does make the blog right now is this weekends seawatching. I love seawatching, it is my absolute favourite passtime. The zen-like vigils looking, counting and generally being outside, witnessing migration feels about as real and immersing as it gets. My patch is excellent for vizmig and pretty good for seawatching. The forecast of northerly gales all weekend had me salivating. I didn't get the numbers of skuas and shearwaters that others managed including record breaking totals at Flamborough, just a few miles up the road but plenty of patch high counts and good birds made it rewarding nonetheless.

Juvenile Arctic Skua

I arrived at Barmston chock full of enthusiasm at 06:40 in the teeth of an F9 northerly and intermittant heavy rain. Four hours produced the only Sooty Shearwater of the weekend, a somewhat unbelievable statistic given that 2,000 or so passed Flamborough in the same period. 56 Fulmar represented the 6th highest count for the patch rather surprisingly. A small skein of six Pink-footed Geese pushed south over the waves. A single Grey Plover called as it headed south. After four hours, a tactical reassessment took me to Ulrome, 2km to the south, in an effort to connect with the hundreds of skuas that were being displaced by the high winds. A brace of dark morph Arctic Skuas were the sum total but they prevented a complete blank. 147 Cormorants and 3 Pintail north were the only other significant sightings.

Barnacle Geese

The relatively poor returns from Friday didn't dishearten me as others scored heavily and a slight easing of the winds provided sufficient encouragement that birds would try to escape the southern North Sea. The wind was slightly offshore which didn't look promising for shearwaters and skuas but locating again at Ulrome I remained hopeful. A delightful pale-morph juvenile Long-tailed Skua danced over the surf in the gloaming and wildfowl were evident with small parties of Teal, Wigeon and Common Scoter moving north. Final totals of 208 Teal and 61 each of both Wigeon and Common Scoter moved north with handfuls in the other direction. News of 28 Pale-bellied Brent Geese barreling north at Grimston and Hornsea had me on tenterhooks and they nearly slipped by in the breakers but I picked them up emerging from a trough, too late for a photo. Will Scott at Bempton alerted me to small parties of Barnacle Geese heading south-east there and a few minutes after 12 went north, just beyond the surf. Ten, in all likelihood, one of Will's skeins went south half an hour later. A couple of Shoveler and a Pintail sneaked north amongst their commoner cousins to round off the wildfowl interest.

Bonxies

An interesting juvenile skua headed north at 09:41. It flew like an Arctic but its coloration was cold. It was too light in build for a Pom and had too much white in the underwing for a long-tail. Advice from friends was that it was a particularly cold Arctic Skua and on reviewing the photos including the header it was evident that the dark, unbarred axillaries, rather bland undertail, faint double flash and structure (bill, head shape, wing shape, tail) all fit with Arctic and not the other species, but it was a challenge in the field and I would have let it go as skua sp. had I not got pictures. A further three Arctics went north late on and a trio of Bonxies also passed by.

Wigeon

I experimented with the Trektellen app for entering my data which was excellent. I entered gulls half-hourly, using clickers to tally them and everything else went straight in. It was easy and captured the times automatically, mapping the most regular species as buttons to speed entry. This ease of capture meant the second highest count of Great Black-backed Gulls was recorded. This species must occur regular in the autumn in decent numbers but now, hopefully I will be able to record common species more accurately. Eighteen Purple Sandpiper headed north in two flocks of 5 and 13. This is an uncommon passage species and this was easily the highest site count for passage although 54 were recorded at Fraisthorpe during a low tide, making a probably unassailable peak count.

Despite my daughter having her (covid compliant) 11th birthday sleepover last night, I was allowed to tread the hallowed turf again this morning for a few hours. I had another productive and wildfowl centric watch, kicking off with my final skua of the weekend, a Bonxie, playing truck and trailer with a juvenile Gannet. An early flurry of Red-throated Divers featured a single Black-throated Diver. Better was instore when 4 Velvet Scoters flew north. Unbeknown to me they had been tracked from Grimston to Hornsea and onward to Flamborough before getting picked up even further north off Durham and beyond. Virtually no auks were seen on the previous two days but I had plenty battling through the foam. Two early Dunlin skipped over the waves and looked worryingly like Leach's Petrels but sadly they proved not to be. Passage died very suddenly at 09:30 and I took the prescient option of heading home not long after to earn brownie points. Fingers crossed the patch does better next time but it was a fun three mornings.

The full counts are on Trektellen: 

https://trektellen.nl/count/view/956/20200925

https://trektellen.nl/count/view/956/20200926

https://trektellen.nl/count/view/956/20200927

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Lammergeier in the Peak District

A few weeks ago a Lammergeier was seen two miles away from where I was, just outside Birmingham but I found out when I was 20 miles away and it continued onward. This was incredibly the bird which flirted with the channel crossing before heading to the Low Countries and losing its tail. After being seen on and off for a little while, its roost was discovered in the Peak District and not only that but in South Yorkshire. Trying to get my ducks in a row was tricky with work being busy and various other demands on my time but I saw an opening yesterday evening which necessitated an overnight stay in the car.



Luckily I got to site slightly earlier than planned and managed an evening assault on the hills, setting off on the long walk just after 6pm and arriving 5.5km later at 7:30. The bird was in place, on its plinth, waiting to drop into roost. The light was exceptional and the conditions a delight. It gave an excellent performance captured in the video below until unfortunately it was flushed by walkers and disappeared to the west. Thankfully it is still in the general area so hopefully those that head up will still see it. An absolute enormous bird and whilst its categorization by BOURC is still up in the air due to the shelving of the previous one and the fact it is a bird known to have come from the alpine reintroduced population, none of that diluted my enjoyment.

Friday, 22 May 2020

Back to Barmston

We find ourselves in this new Covid World, nearly two weeks after some easing of lockdown. This has had the effect that I am now able to travel to the coast to go birding. I wanted to make a more concerted effort at Barmston and Ulrome this year and so I have been putting in short evening watches along with more extended early morning visits. Encouragement from Andrew Hanby has led to us merging our Trektellen sites. The Barmston/Fraisthorpe site now incorporates the stretch from Fraisthorpe to Ulrome and the various watchpoints utilised therein (Auburn Farm, the Pill Boxes, Barmston Cliffs, Barmston Car Park and Ulrome). In-line with this I am trying to collate the historical records from the area to add to Trek in due course. The aim for me (I won't speak for Andy) is to try and produce more organised records in an observatory style, using a more structured approach to my birding to make it count and hopefully see better birds and in-turn attract more birders to the site getting it greater coverage. I have clickers and will count!

Seen coming off the sea and heading inland at 06:56 on 21st May this was reward for getting up early.
The question then comes, what will I count? Well most recently it seems it is Marsh Harriers. They have bred on site, or attempted to do so previously but not this year. I have had three different birds since I returned including this smart male, above coming off the sea on 21st May. A cream-crown headed north over the bay at 06:28 on 17th May and another was quartering the marsh on the evening of 15th May. I did wonder if this represented a breeding attempt at the time but a foraging female isn't a promising sign in that regard as it indicates the male is failing to provision the nest effectively.


Barmston rarely has huge numbers of waders but it does get some good ones. By May most of the local birds are already down to it and it is the Arctic breeding species and populations you see. A brief trill alerted me to this gem of a Whimbrel dropping onto the beach. Other species seen include the snazzy breeding Sanderling, pasty Dunlin headed way up and psammodromus/tundrae Ringed Plover. Small flocks rove north along the shore or skip over the waves in the bay. I live in hope of a Curlew Sandpiper or stint amongst them but none have been detected as yet.


A sprinkling of wildfowl has been on the move with diversity outstripping numbers which is to be expected at this time of year. A flock of 23 Barnacle Geese flew south at 06:35 yesterday, as I arrived on the cliff top. What I didn't know was that Keith Clarkson had 20 of these roosting on the sand at Hunmanby at 05:55 before they departed south and picked up some kin. This party later landed on the Humber for a rest as the passed the Spurn peninsula. I also had a duo headed in the opposite direction later in the morning which were picked up by Will Scott at Speeton. Barnacle Geese in late May get a bad rap and are often dismissed as escapes but the situation with this species is much murkier. Birds breed all along the flyway to Russia and have increased massively in recent times in the Low Countries and Sweden. Is it these birds that have contributed to the explosion in breeding birds in the UK or is the feral population the main cause or perhaps it is a combination of the two. Birds ringed in Russia have bred in the UK but there has been little tracking within this population. What is known is that late May is the peak time for departures to breeding grounds both near and far along the English east coast as well as in the Low Countries.


Other wildfowl highlights include a duo of Tufted Duck south on 17th May and single Shelduck south on two occasions. Tufted Duck are a scarce enough bird whilst seawatching to be a highlight and May is the peak for passage at Hunmanby Gap. Here at Barmston, the third week of May is the peak week but birds pass at similar levels from mid-July to late-August whilst the spring passage is more concentrated. Five drake Eider headed north yesterday which were my first of the year and a Great Northern Diver in non-breeding plumage lumbered south at distance this evening, shimmering in the haze.


On land most of the migrants are back in with singing Reed and Sedge Warblers, a pair of Stonechat and plenty of Corn Buntings. In fact there are so many Corn Buntings I have got quite excited. There were two singing males south of the marsh, another south of Barmston camp and nine males in the usual area, up from a previous high count of seven males for the site. This species seems to have had a renaissance somewhat locally. Fingers crossed it continues. Twelve singing male Corn Buntings is quite something and that song is a delight. You can shove your jangly keys, its much better than that! More prosaically were my first Red-legged Partridge on patch, seemingly a breeding pair. This isn't great news and I hope it doesn't put pressure on the Grey Partridges which call the area home.


Finally it is great to have Andrew back birding in the area. He has put a lot of time into the site in previous years but he took a few years out, much as I have done and now drifted back. I look forward to his efforts and hopefully some good birds shared with him over the coming months. 

I aim to be back on patch tomorrow morning. It is blowing south-westerly F5-8. We shall see what it's like! I will be putting together a blog post on my lockdown birding locally to home with an emphasis on Skerne Wetlands and West Beck over the next few days.

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Happy Early Birthday to Me

I have another (!?!) hobby. This one is the final fulfillment of a latent desire to get involved. I am currently rocking a new Heath Trap with a 12w actinic. A small moth trap. This is a neighbour friendly job and one that will hopefully get me involved properly in a hobby that I have been looking at for years.



My lovely wife decided that rather than wrap it and give it to me on my birthday, I could have a run straight away. It was cool and still but come the morning I was excited to see what I had caught. I managed 7 moths of two species, hardly earth shattering but as I have only trapped in the late summer both were new. Six Hebrew Characters and one Common Quaker, both names that I recognise and now in the trap. Hebrew Character is easy enough to identify but Common Quaker is similar to a number of other species which fly at the same time so that took a bit of bookwork. There were a couple of midges but no other bycatch. I didn't trap the following night as it was cooler and windy. I redeployed the trap on the 18th and blanked so it went back out the following night. There were four moths on 19th with three Hebrew Characters and my first Early Grey. Last night I trapped again and managed two moths, both Hebrew Characters. I am looking forward to a bit more diversity as we move on.

Common Quaker

Hebrew Character
Early Grey

Ornithological Idiocy

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive