Well today was supposed to be one of the two Black Grouse Meets that the Yorkshire BFers are having this year, next weekend will be the other. However things did not go as planned. I woke up minutes before the alarm clock went off, and the first thing I noticed was a text from Ken bailing out due to illness, Graham having bailed out earlier in the week. Not so bad I thought, at least Richard and Mark will still be coming. I arrived at Golden Acre Park and within minutes Richard had also arrived and he transferred his gear into my car and we were off. Through Pool, round Harrogate and out onto the A1. The weather at this point wasn’t bad, we even had a bit of sun.
Even driving along the A66 there was still some brightness to the morning, the turn onto Stang Lane was still in sunshine. We soon racked up curlew, oystercatcher and pheasant along with red grouse as we passed the fields along the way.
When we reached the Stang Forest though things started to look a bit worrisome. We reached the trees and there was a little snow on the road, which slowly increased as we drove along, a couple of times I had to roll back and gun the car a little to clear particularly slippy bits. At this time there was still some sunshine, but as we cleared the forested area the clouds came in. It took some time to negotiate the hill with the hairpin bends, only 14% but I had to drop down and try again 3 or 4 times before we reached the summit. Once at the top things became much more doubtful, there was little if any grit on the road so the only traction was where vehicles had cut through to the road surface. I parked up here and we walked to the edge of the descent into the valley where Shaw Farm is located. Thankfully Richard took my word that the farm was down there as it was like looking at a sheet of blank A4 paper. A couple whiteout down in the valley, no ways was I going to drive down into that, I’d no idea if the car would survive it, let alone us. The idea of walking in crossed my mind and was instantly dismissed, no other thing to do but turn the car around and head back the way we came. I sent a text to Mark to tell him that it was a non starter, hopefully it reached him in time to stop him getting too far.
On the way back to the A66 we saw two snipe flying over the moor in brilliant sunshine and green fields, all this less than a mile from the top of the dale. Back on the A1 I considered the next move, going back to Leeds wasn’t an option really – too defeatist. I hit on the idea of crossbills at Wykeham as Richard had not seen one before. So as soon as possible it was off the A1 and onto the A170.
Sutton Bank was clear of snow, indeed we only saw traces of the white stuff in the shadiest area from now on. This was Richard’s first visit to Wykeham, so we made straight for the raptor viewpoint, it’s usually easy to get crossbills here. Sadly not today, not a peep all the time we were there. What we did get was a cracking view of a goshawk being harassed by a couple of corvids, great views of the silhouette and belly as the bird jinked in the air. This was a lifer for Richard and only 15-20 minutes into his first visit to the viewpoint. Lucky beggar, it took me nigh on thirty hours of visiting the viewpoint before I got my first goshawk. Picking up another raptor in the distance we were both hoping for another gos but this one was a common buzzard our third raptor of the day as we’d seen kestrels at various points.
Having only a small window of time we decided to head down to Forge Valley and see if we could rustle up a marsh tit or two. This was another new spot for Richard and one he is already thinking about re-visiting. Within minutes of parking the car we’d a marsh tit coming down to the feeders, Richard was firing away with his DSLR from the passenger window whilst I was doing things with my camera as I rested my arms on the roof of the car.
Once we’d had enough of the birds at the feeders it was back on the road and Scarborough here we come, stopping only to get our secret weapon, a loaf of bread. My memory is shocking and it took some time for us to reach our destination, Holbeck car park. We opened the bread and lay down a goodly amount on the grass in front of the car and within a few minutes we’d a flock of black-headed gulls coming down to it. Then Richard spotted the pale primaries of a Mediterranean gull, this one being way better at snatching the bread from the grass almost without landing. Eventually we both managed to get photos that we were happy with and we headed off back to the A64 and the journey home.
It was on this journey that we got raptor species 4 and 5 for the day, a nice sparrowhawk in Scarboro and red kite as we came around North Leeds. As we made excellent time on the road we had enough spare to spend a little time at Adel Dams before returning to Richard’s car. The reserve was very quite and the only good sighting was of a pair of great spotted woodpeckers. A bit of a rum day and the journey through the Stang is one I do not want to make in those conditions again, still a lifer for Richard and 3 more year ticks for me taking my total to 105 now.