The couple of weeks have been a windy blur. I am back home after my second trip to Somerset in that time with birding up in the North Yorkshire forests, Skerne Wetlands, the east bank of the River Hull, Far Ings and a few other places. I will start at the beginning.
In Somerset for work and it was the usual breezy and occasionally damp weather. I didn't see a great deal of new stuff on the first visit but what was remarkable was the sheer size of the Starling roost on Shapwick Heath. There must have been getting on for a million birds present and they threw some shapes as they were hassled by Marsh Harriers, Sparrowhawks and Peregrines. I managed some decent footage which is in the last couple of minutes of the video above. Other than that it was the usual Avalon Marshes suspects with plenty of smart Lapwing, Gadwall and Great White Egrets. We failed to find the Firecrests this time but I did get to hear Paul and Euan's theories on cryptozoology and specifically bigfoot and yetis. Bonkers.
Crossbill at Wykeham. It was windy and that is my excuse for the framing.
The Friday had me in North Lincolnshire and I tried to call in at Far Ings to see my mate Simon Wellock who is the warden. Unfortunately Simon was away but some delicious light meant I got to see a Bittern briefly stalk across a clearing in the reeds and the attendant wildfowl all looked fabulous in their breeding finery.
Marsh Tit at Forge Valley
As we were now at the first weekend of February I thought I would try for Goshawk up at Wykeham. I was a touch early seemingly as plenty were seen last weekend but a solitary female cruising about over Broxa was very decent. I also managed to see my first Siskin and Crossbills of the year at the Raptor Viewpoint. Dropping down into Forge Valley and the feeders were well stocked unlike my previous visit and I wasnt disappointed with plenty of Nuthatch and Marsh Tit action along with a friendly Treecreeper nearby. At this point I hadn't heard whether the Flamborough Grey Phalarope was still present but as I had to head that way I thought I would take a punt. Gladly this paid off handsomely as it fed at close range as covered by the previous post. Despite an iffy forecast I had a very productive day and was home by early afternoon, saving brownie points!
Whooper Swans by the River Hull
A couple of hours free time last weekend saw a flying visit to Skerne Wetlands where the Marsh Harriers were up to their usual tricks at the southern end of the site and other than that it was pretty quiet as the wind cranked prior to Storm Ciara. I decided on a safari of the east bank of the River Hull from North Frodingham down to Brandesburton Ponds and Hempholme. It wasn't massively productive but I did manage to find a quintet of Whooper Swans lazing in fields with Mutes and Greylags which was pleasing. A brief encounter with a hunt meant I quickly retreated to the sanctity of home.
Red-crested Pochard on Meare Heath
This week I have been down in Somerset again undertaking some training with a new colleague and taking advantage of a break in the storms to get back to Shapwick Heath. Prior to the RSPB closing down access to half the levels due to the risk of getting bonced by falling debris we managed to see a few Egrets and the usual waterfowl along with a very smart pair of Red-crested Pochard which were apparently picked up the day prior on Meare Heath Pool. All said it was a challenging but fun visit with a female Merlin attempting to predate Avocets and unlikely highlight. I may be heading to Scotland next week but looking at the weather forecast equally I may not. We shall see!
I called in at Thornwick Pools this afternoon to see the unseasonal Grey Phalarope which has spent the last couple of days in residence. This is an unusual time of year for Grey Phalaropes with six records thus far in 2020 and none in January 2019. This species should be wintering on cold water upwellings off the west coast of South Africa or in the Gulf of Mexico. It is my first winter Grey Phalarope and a new species for Flamborough Head for me (#216). After watching it thirty minutes it flew to the back of the pool and preened out of the wind. I met the finder, Dave Simmonite, who has recently relocated to the headland and congratulated him on a good start to the year. I also found out the two Mute Swans which were on Hood's Flash last week were now on North Marsh. Mute Swan is less than annual at Flamborough and a species I hadn't caught up with until now. A quick dash up to Lighthouse Road saw me scoping the snowy giants loafing on the scrape for Flamborough tick #217. I managed to get a few photos and some short video of the phalarope as it bobbed on the small pool.