Monday 31 December 2018

Autumn 2018

I have been busy since my last post (ed: sort of as I've cross posted with yesterday as this has taken so long) as an author and bird recorder which has eaten all of my blog writing time. I have produced the draft of the Swans and Geese section of the 2016 Yorkshire Bird Report and collated the East Yorkshire RBBP information for 2017. Unsurprisingly it took ages! Autumn 2018 wasn't a classic by any means with weeks of mild south westerlies but it did manage to be better than 2017 (which was by most accounts the worst autumn of all time, penance perhaps for 2016). For me time was limited as I have moved offices to Leeds meaning more time at home and more time being a Dad, both things for which I am grateful. So swifts...

A non-birding weekend with my sister, brother-in-law, their son and my mother was pleasant and I had no time for rare birds should any arrive unless they were within 30 minutes and I could get there after 4pm and before half 5 on Sunday 14th October. Even then it would be tight. I walked in from the pub having had a cracking Sunday lunch when the mega alert went off as I crossed the threshold to the house: PACIFIC SWIFT: HORNSEA MERE. Holy cow Batman. I barely spoke to my wife before I bolted - she knew. I don't twitch at the drop of the hat often but this was within 30 minutes of home and was a proper mega. I was the first twitcher on the scene and was the only one to see it at point blank rain in the drizzle, hawking low over the second field before disappearing west. Mutterings of short wings and it not feeling right for Pacific and perhaps being a better fit for White-rumped were going on. The crowd built and no sighting in 20 minutes meant that people spread out and it was located over a shelter belt at the west end of the mere with House Martins. The crowd grew to 250 people - dusk was approaching. Extended views were had and as the weather improved the true jizz of the bird was appreciable, lighter and more darting than Common Swift although with no experience of any swifts with white rumps, what this meant was alien to me. It was no coming out on the pager as suspected White-rumped Swift and James Lowen's remarkable capture nailed the fine white trailing edge to the tertials. Amazingly a first for the UK and the second confirmed record for northern Europe. I slunk away as further photos from Tim Jones backed up what James' photo had captured.

I didn't manage much further birding until a week off but westerlies and no cloud meant bugger all birds and I put shelves up instead. On Thursday 25th October it looked as if the westerlies had a slight northern element to them and out to the north-west it was howling from Iceland straight into the North Sea. With it being late October I was hoping for a few Pomarine Skuas and I wasnt disappointed. I was greeted by Brett and a couple of Twite which kicked about all morning. Apparently I had already missed a pom which boded well. We had a handful of Arctic and Great Skuas and 9 Little Gulls went north distantly. A trio of the scarcer divers flew north with a single Black-throated and two Great Northern Divers. The real highlights were a Short-eared Owl which came in off and the poms, all adults, including several with full spoons with a total of 30 south and 4 north. The full count is on trektellen here:

Not the most amazing quality video (it looked better on my phone!).

I went back the following day and numbers of Poms continued to climb with 156 all heading south including a few juveniles. Over 1000 Fieldfare came in off with a Merlin, 2 Peregrine and 2 Woodcock. Singles of both Black-throated and Red-throated Diver flew north along with a Velvet Scoter south. There were 4 Mediterranean Gulls  of various age classes knocking about and 30 Great Skuas were recorded along with 9 of both Manx Shearwater and Arctic Skua. Another excellent seawatch but better was to come.

I missed the Saturday which was excellent and featured a few Little Auks and other quality bits and pieces but returned for the Sunday when it was howling out of the north and bitter. We huddled on the cliff top out of the wind and watched birds entering and leaving Bridlington Bay rather than brave the icy wind. Again there were good numbers of Poms with 45 north including the lovely dark morph adult with spoons in the video clip below.

We also had a strong passage of Eider heading north with 244 birds seen, singles of Scaup and Tufted Duck, a few Velvet Scoter, a couple of Long-tailed Ducks and some Dark-bellied Brents. Across the day there were 5 Black-throated and 6 Great Northern Divers north although I only saw a fraction of these as I left just after midday. The highlight for me was a Storm Petrel which flew north - my first at Flamborough and my second in Yorkshire. I was also fortunate enough to see a party of Crossbills head high south, a Sooty Shearwater, a few Manxies and Bonxies. Cold weather movement of Little Gulls and Little Auks was evident with 365 of the former and 175 of the latter moving north close to the cliff base. It felt like an excellent bird could pass at any time. I missed the Grey Phal and Black Guillemot but could live with my haul! I headed off to Barmston to try and get some site ticks...

I managed three hours at Barmston from 13:25 until 16:25 and the feeling that good birds were continuing to pass was supported by a couple of Little Auks over the beach within minutes of arriving. A female Pochard with 3 Eider was a surprise as was a Long-tailed Duck with a Razorbill. Pretty much everything was heading north. A couple of Bonxies and an Arctic Skua were good site records and beyond belief were the THREE Grey Phalaropes. One was present in the surf for over an hour whilst another two zipped through north. Eider continuned to move with 41 north and there was a total of 27 Little Gulls and 10 Little Auks. Sadly it was all curtailed by failing light. An awesome day!

There is also a Little story about some swifts that I saw on the way to work but that can wait for next time.

Sunday 30 December 2018

Plague of Corn Buntings

Today at Barmston there were about 300 Corn Buntings. This is an enormous total in a national context and truly an amazing sight and sound. I have only previously seen these sort of numbers on the meseta in Spain and with them flocked up the jangling keys sounded amazing. Trevor Charlton was already on site with another birder counting the buntings when I had a paddle along to the Earl's Dike. I had about 50 birds foraging around the Dike with Goldfinches and Yellowhammers and simultaneously Trevor had 226 perched in a single hedgerow. With foraging birds in the field and birds in adjacent hedgerows it seems likely that 300 or so are present in the general area. A female Merlin sliced through my flock by the Dike like a hot knife through butter but fortunately for the buntings missed everything. Settling for haranguing the birds in the next hedgerow.

Earl's Dike - the bunting flock were foraging on the corner and in the fringing reeds
Walking up the west side of the fields I got nice and close for a count and managed 177 including 165 in a single flock. The female Merlin settled in a tree keeping the buntings alert. Amongst them were plenty of Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow and Linnet as well as the aforementioned Goldfinches and Yellowhammers.
Part of the 165 I had together
Checking offshore was somewhat forlorn as there was little movement over the high tide and just two Red-throated Divers and a whopping 33 Great Crested Grebes. A few Turnstones and Ringed Plover were on the breakwater south of Barmston.
Silhouetted Merlin
 As I was leaving I noticed a Hooded Crow preening for all its worth, looking a bit tatty. Two had flown over earlier in the same general area and three were present today but I managed two sightings of singles plus one of two birds together so can't be sure I saw all three birds.
Hooded Crow
 In the afternoon I watched a reedbed area nearby and had four Marsh Harriers coming into roost including some epic display from a couple of males trying to entice a female to retire near them.

How birds and brains become mutually exclusive

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