Patchwork & Potteric

2015 did not got off to great start for me – the first day that I had the free time to and could get over to Pugney’s and guess what – the Blyth’s Pipit has done a moonlight flit, so I miss out on a Yorkshire first. Annoyed doesn’t quite fit the bill in this instance, as I’d also missed the Little Bustard.

blyht's pipit - pugneys - Jim Welford

Blyth’s Pipit – Jim Welford provided the picture

So I had to content myself with getting down to patchworking during January, 1 visit to Eccup and 3 to Adel Dam/ Breary Marsh. Managed to get myself to 52 species, including 2 new to patch species ( Song Thrush & Golden Plover), which is an incredible result considering that last year I only got 67 the whole year. The light has been abysmal so no snaps unfortunately. Oddest sighting – on my trip to Eccup I saw an odd looking duck away down the West end of the reservoir, got the scope on it and it was someone swimming, in January with snow on the ground! You have to question his sanity, swimming solo in freezing weather in open water, hypothermia can strike at any time. Oh yes it was a bloke, he clambered out the water to reveal his nudity, even more of a divvy.

February was a bit better as I got out to play for the day on the 8th, meeting up with fellow birders at Potteric Carr. Richard was already at the car park when Ken and I arrived, first bird of the day Ring-necked Parakeet, a Yorkshire tick for me.

parakeet

Ring-necked parakeet – Potteric Carr

Great start to the day, sadly it didn’t last as we dipped on Bittern, Lesser Redpoll and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, although by the end of the day I’d added 20 year ticks. Andy and Rob arrived after the parakeet had been spooked by a couple of Carrion Crows, a flock of 30 or so Linnets didn’t quite make up for that. We took the route around by Old Eaa hide and the cafe before heading to the Huxter Well wetlands area. Willow hide failed to provide Willow Tit, that has to be a first. The Kingfisher was at the usual spot on the Mother Drain by the bridge, on a branch rather than the brackets in the bridge arch. Plenty wildfowl on Huxter Well, Tufties, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveler, Greylags, Canadas and Mute Swan to name but a few, best were the 2 Pintail that flew over us as we left the Turret hide. We had a single Marsh Harrier as well as 2 Buzzards here also. Piper Marsh was pretty much all ice so very little there, so back to the Cafe for a brew and a buttie, some one needs to tell the chaf that bacon butties do not need a bit of lollo rosso and a tomato as garnish, just plenty of decent bacon. Sad to see the mugs have been replaced by piddling little paper cups, sacrilege. The decision was taken to leave Potteric and take our chances over at  Blacktoft Sands for the harrier roost. Marshland hide was completely iced over, Ousefleet was open but had little other than Blackwits, Dunlin and Redshank that were new for the day. We gave Xerox hide a miss and tried First, again little around, same at Townsend not really much about. Once in Singleton we settled down to await the harrier roost building up, we did get up to 4 Marsh Harriers eventually but sadly no hen harriers. Distant Pinkies flying over were small consolation.

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Dawn Chorus – well almost!

The 5th of May dawned quite bright in Leeds with only broken clouds and a little sunshine, the drive down to pick up Ken was enlivened by a dog fox sauntering across the road in front of me. It looked in fine fettle as it hopped over the wall into the churchyard at St Michael’s.  Ken was at the appointed spot and less than 20 minutes after I left home we were off to Barden Bridge above Bolton Abbey for the ritual Dawn Chorus walk along the Strid.

5.30am was the start time and we made good time on the journey, although little in the way of birdlife was logged, we did have a hare by the side of the road as we crossed Blubberhouse’s Moor and then a roe deer ambled across as we passed the Strid Wood car park.

Reaching Barden Bridge, we saw Rob scanning the river from the bridge, whilst Sandra and her hubby Bob, and Andy K were already at the car park waiting for us. We had time for a quick brew before Richard turned up, and he’d managed to get his son Dominic to come along.

Our little party set off down the East bank of the River Wharfe, taking a clockwise circuit to cross the River at the Cavendish Pavilion and return to the cars via the West bank.  The early birds amongst us had already had grey wagtail and dipper but the first bird of note for the combined group was a drumming great spotted woodpecker away up the hill side, the bird flew off behind farm buildings rather quickly – I can’t believe it realised we were watching it from that far away! We’d several more great spots during the walk, including 3 birds in one tree, 2 males arguing over a female.

Even though the clouds had closed in, the sand martins were hawking over the river, and we had a green woodpecker fly across river in front of us, a pair of great spots were found on the other side of the river as well. Little else was seen until we reached the woods, within a few yards of entering the woods we had the first of what was to turn out to be many sightings of pied flycatchers, totalling nearly a dozen birds, males outnumbering females by 5 to 1. Whilst walking along the high path we also had views of a pair of treecreepers, a nuthatch that came down to our level almost and a red-legged  partridge ambling along the top of the wall. I had a momentary view of male redstart but sadly it was just too flighty and was away before the others got anything like a decent view.

Got to the stone hut and we had a sit down, a female roe deer delighted us by emerging from the undergrowth down the hill from us and we had good views as she nibbled away at the greenery. A siskin that came in to the scattered seeds was a newbie for me (I think).  After a suitable amount of time to recharge our batteries we were up and on the way again, Sandra and Bob back to their car as they’d got other business on whilst the rest of pressed on downstream. Rob gave everyone the jitters when he called wood warbler, sadly it turned out to be a very greenish willow warbler.  Down by the river we had numerous dipper and common sandpiper sightings, at least 2 birds of each species. One of the dippers was an incredibly scruffy individual, no brilliant white chest at all, just a mucky pale patch. Image

When we reached the bottom end of the valley of desolation we decided to venture up to the area around Laund House to have another look for redstart, this was successful for all but me, I was the one who didn’t get a look in this time. Still no little owl in the venerable oak tree outside Laund House, it’s an absolutely perfect home for them so why they  don’t turn up there I do not know. As there was a bit of a breeze up there we made our way back down to the river.

Over the river and after another sit down at the pavilion we started back up stream. Richard came into his own here, finding possibly 2 tawny owls, first one not far from the pavilion, the second (or maybe the first that relocated) a bit further up stream. The latter bird being exceptionally photogenic, even a duffer like me managed a photo.

Image

Back by the bridge the area that in previous years held garden warbler and spotted flycatcher had only blackcaps and dunnocks today.  Not a bad morning even though for all we didn’t catch up with one of the target birds. As Rob had a commitment he couldn’t break he left us at the car park whilst we decamped to the Barden Moor layby and made our way up on to the moor, last year we got raptors and whinchat, this year we got cold and wet, the weather turned against us so we didn’t hang about, a few mipits and red grouse along with nesting greylags were the sole ticks from there.

Back at the cars we all agreed it had been a good mornings ramble, even if no wood warblers had been found. Ken and I drove back to Leeds, noting a 10 degree increase in temperature during the journey, by the time I dropped him off the sun was out with hardly a cloud in the sky.

Black Grouse – White Out

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.
marsh-tit

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.

med-gull

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.

Yeah I’m Up To Date!

Here’s the last few short birding trips all crammed together to make a single blog. Following this I will attempt to keep up to date with things a little more regularity.
20th February
A day at Fairburn Ings with Ken and Jim, we had a gentle ramble from the Visitor Centre around the Riverside trail to the Village and back. It’s a long time since I did that walk and boy has it been upgraded, I’d got my walking boots on and was expecting to get covered in crap, I could have worn dancing pumps the paths were so clean.

Pickup Pool feeders did the job, a nice female brambling onto the year list along with a few other tits and finches. The Kingfisher Screen was today a complete washout, naff all there. At some point on the walk we got goldcrest but my addled brain cells cannot remember where, but it’s on the Yorkshire list for the year. There were the usual suspects on the lake, and I reckon we saw them all, except a smew that had been around that morning.

The new blind on Cut Lane does the job, you can see the Cut but as it hasn’t got any walls it shouldn’t attract the local scrotes and their cigarette lighters. Rather than walk the road back to the Visitor Centre we retraced our steps, pausing only to admire a nuthatch coming down to the feeders by the centre. Oh and Jim just had to get that long lens of his working on a gadwall that was on the pond dipping pool. After a brief peruse of the contents of the shop we made the decision to try the Lin Dyke end of the reserve, this proved less interesting than the riverside walk, so we didn’t hang around long. Next stop Swillington Ings and fingers crossed for some white-winged gull action. We got our selves ensconced in the hide and waited ‘n’ watched for things to develop. Not really much to report other than a flyby kingfisher, several gulls of the wrong sort and a few curlews that miraculously turned into a dozen birds although none of us could recollect them flying in. Dusk and the increasing cold forced us to leave the hide at the end of a good day out.

27th February
Adel Dams – late afternoon. I’d had enough of real life, organising a Conference Day might be interesting to some people but it bores the pants off me. As soon as I could I drove over to the reserve with camera in tow this time. Had a couple of hours sat in the Feeder Hide. Had a few good sightings, 9 Mandarin duck,
mandarin

nuthatch calling, oystercatchers calling overhead and a wren feeding in the rushes by the pool. However the best of the day was a male kingfisher that took up station for a few minutes by the hide, long enough for me to get my best ever shot of one of these gorgeous little birds.
Kingfisher-blog

I also added a mammal to my site list as I had the great good fortune to watch a field vole coming to the spillage under the feeders. I took several pictures of this wee beastie, none of which actually came out, everyone was devoid of the mammal, the speed of the thing!

3rd March
Adel Dams – this time morning. The visit being to enable my wife Sheila to see the kingfisher, thankfully we got a fleeting glimpse as the bird zoomed in and then away. All the usual suspects on the feeders, including nuthatch. I had the sparrowhawk as it swooped through above the feeders.
As Sheila wanted to stretch her legs a bit we walked the path around the reserve, which turned out to be just the thing to do, as not far from end of the circuit I heard a tinkling song/call and saw some small birds dropping to the ground in amongst the trees. Getting the bins on them gave me another year tick, lesser redpolls, a flock of roughly a dozen birds. Alternating between feeding in the alders and coming down to drink in the many pools in this area. Sadly they were too far away for them to register on my camera and not having the scope with me meant no digiscoping. Got to employ a man I reckon, get him to carry all my gear and hand me the appropriate optics at any given time.
adel-dams
There were redpolls here honest!
There was a YWT volunteer on the reserve that morning and she was very excited about the redpolls, may have been a few years since they had been reported there. Hey I might even get my name in the report!

10th March
Swillington Ings – morning.
COLD!!!
Best bird was the marsh harrier, did have a couple of buzzards displaying over the hill but the cold was bone numbing. If I had know at the time I’d have hiked off down to the Eastern end of St Aidan’s as a kittiwake was there. So with this I’m now bang up to date.

Cygnus in the mist

Sunday 17th February and the LDV, which to those in the know means the Lower Derwent Valley, an area of winter flood meadows around the villages to the South East of York. This was a Bird Forum Meet and we (Ken & I) were going to meet up with a few of the other Tyke BFer’s for a day’s birding. So up early to catch the early morning sun…not! As there was early morning mist.

The arranged meeting point was the car park at North Duffield Carrs, bonus point to me as I remembered the car park was before the barrier. Richard G was already in the car park and we’d had a text from Andy K that he was down the road scoping swans to find the Bewick’s. Once booted and suited Ken, Richard and I made our way down to where Andy was at the entrance to a farm. Here we had a fair few golden plover, they were nestling in the ploughing ruts and every time we counted them we found more. White blobs in the mist slowly resolved into whooper swans, nothing that we could definitely say was a Bewick’s. One white blob across to our right resolved into the tail patch on a roe deer, fun! It was here that Rob as well as Nick, Andy’s friend, caught up with us.

Having got fed up of looking into the mist, we ambled back to the Geoffrey Smith hide at North Duffield Cars and proceeded to freeze our butts for a short while. We did get a good number of ducks including pintail, just love those elegant lines. A goosander calmly swam in front of the hide before taking off and not being seen again. Once the cold had got through to us enough we upped and motored off to Ellerton and then Aughton to scan the water from their respective churchyards.

Ellerton was the best site, by the church was a flightless pink-footed goose – so a dead easy year tick there, more ducks and a few whooper swans. Nick picked up a small group of barnacle geese flying down the water, I think almost everyone got onto them except Ken who had chosen the wrong moment to be investigating the headstones in the churchyard. A little later a couple of Egyptian geese flew southwards, this time everyone saw them. A few of us managed to see the gt spotted woodpecker that flew across the field to the right of the church.

Aughton churchyard was less spectacular but the walk back to the cars gave us one, possibly two corn buntings and a song thrush, whilst on feeders near where we were parked, we picked up tree sparrow and coal tit. We did hear what was possibly a distant woodpecker drumming but as it was just a few drums and then nothing we couldn’t really count it.

Bubwith Ings next, so once more into the cars and thankfully there was no-one behind me as I slammed on the brakes to get a better look at a bird in the field – mistle thrush. The Ings came up trumps with dunlin, more golden plover, lapwings and half a dozen ruff. The lot went up, Rob thought he’d spotted a couple of other waders but couldn’t locate them again as the flock wheeled around, then the cause of this mass hysteria was found, a peregrine cruising slowly along. We watched as the bird flew off towards the south, then made our way back to the cars. A fly-over green woodpecker was a bonus for the sharp-eyed. A return to North Duffield and the farm to once more scan the fields for the Bewick’s no longer hampered by mist, this time it was the low afternoon sun that caused the problems. Plenty of whoopers and then after we moved to get a better angle of view at last a Bewick’s swan ambled across the field. It was whilst scanning for the Bewick’s that a pair of peregrines were located sat on the deck in the field, an odd location for them.

Back at the car park and the plans were discussed for the rest of the afternoon, first stop Thorganby, then York and finally Rufforth airfield. Thorganby was much the worst of the days choices, loads of water and very distant birds, so we only stayed there for literally 5 minutes.

Next stop, York – Beckfield Lane to be precise. Target birds -waxwings. 4 cars, 3 sat navs and still the driver of the only non -sat nav vehicle managed to be the first on the scene, I was the only one not to go through York, I came round the Northern Ring Road and in on the A59. Found the tree and the birds. Andy arrived and managed to park under the tree, within minutes he had waxwing crap all over his car roof. I too was targeted by the little beggars. Once Richard and Andy had taken their fill of photos it was on to Rufforth, pausing only to agree that there were no gulls in the field by the Red Lion. There were gulls at Rufforth though, sadly no white-wingers were located, and when a microlight took off the majority of them upped and jiggered off. Still it added another birding location to my library and is somewhere I will visit again but during the week when there is less man made aerial traffic.

All in all a great day out covering just over 120 miles and scoring just over 70 species and as always on a BF meet having some great craic!
Here’s to the next one.

B-B-B-Blacktoft Sands can be cold!

Apologies  for my tardiness in updating my pages. This was due to real life intruding into my birding.

It doesn’t mean I haven’t  been birding just that I haven’t had time to write anything up.

Where do we start,  since I last talked to you in January I’ve frozen my nuts off at Blacktoft Sands,  bagged a few swans at the LDV,  almost crashed the car near  Fairburn Ings,  and got my best ever kingfisher picture at Adel Dams. Busy me!

Going through things chronologically the first item on the agenda was the Blacktoft Sands trip. The 6th of February was a rather overcast day with a strong northerly bias to the breeze. That was true in Leeds, however out by Goole it was wet and there was a freaking gale. Thankfully the precipitation diminished over the afternoon  but the wind didn’t – worst luck.

The trip was with Ken, birding buddy and token non-Tyke. Target birds were hen harrier and barn owl, we got 1 of the 2 so 50% strike rate, pretty fair given the conditions.

We worked the reserve from West to East,  first up was Ousefleet, out on a limb and quite frankly on the day best avoided, we saw nothing there that we didn’t see from other hides.  Moving East we had a very rapid glance at the water from Marshland,  honestly there was nothing there. Xerox next and we started getting more good birds, goldeneye, snipe, shelduck, distant marsh harriers and the odd dunlin. More of the same at First hide, nothing at Townend and then the last one on our Eastward  journey, Singleton. It was here we set up camp for the next couple of  hours  and were treated to 10 marsh harriers in the air at once,  not 1 nor 2 but 3 hen harriers in the air (including a spanking male bird) along with distant flights of golden plover, some nice heron interactions and the freezing Northerly wind.  By the time we quit the hide to make our way back to the car park we were shaking like a couple of those dogs my Dad used to talk about. Man it was cold, I lost contact with my feet (amongst other extremities) for a few hours! Light crap so not photos.

Part two to follow within a short time

Three Foot (It) and One…. trips that is

I’ve only just found time to write up the first few days of the year. I’ve done 3 Foot It walks and had 1 trip out by car.

The biggest Foot It walk was on Jan 1st when like a fool I walked from home to Adel Dams, taking in Eccup Reservoir and Eccup Whin along the way. I was originally only going to the reservoir but got carried away. Total mileage for the day in the order of 9 miles, with no snacks or drinks, pillock that I am.

The reservoir  did the trick getting the list off to a flying start, 3 gull species, 3 ducks and goosander along with meadow pipit and redwing in stubble on the way down to the water’s edge. Couldn’t find willow tit here though, which was annoying, I had this area down as my best bet for them.

Eccup Whin delivered both buzzard and red kite, along with pheasant and fieldfare whilst the corvids were also much in evidence.

Adel Dams was reached just as a shower of rain came over, thankfully the hide wasn’t too full. Birds here included kingfisher (both sexes), nuthatch, sparrowhawk and great spotted woodpecker. The latter two giving me my best photo op yet.

Image

The woodpecker kept itself flattened against the bough the whole time the sparrowhawk was around, the minute the hawk flew so did the woodpecker, but in the opposite direction.

The 2nd of Jan. saw Ken and I driving down to Calder Wetlands to grab the scaup and the long-tailed duck for our respective year lists, along the way adding more waterfowl. We didn’t visit Pugney’s, which was a mistake as a glaucous gull was reported not long after we left the wetlands.

Image

We then moved on the Fairburn Ings and a stroll around the boardwalk by the visitor centre allowed us to add tree sparrow, willow tit and siskin to the haul. We also managed a covey of red-legged partridge from  the Ledsham Road, Newton Lane being flooded close by the fishing pool.

9th of Jan and my second Foot It wander, this time a bit closer to home, the Gorge and Upper Lake at Roundhay Park. Managed to find more nuthatches, at least 4 birds along with some of the finches that I didn’t see on the 1st, namely green, gold and chaff. Upper Lake had the usual mallard and tufted duck, along with a family party of mute swans. A movement in a conifer got me on to the second jay of the year, the first seen from the car driving back from Birmingham on the 6th. I skirted the northern edge of Waterloo Lake and was  amazed to find a great crested grebe back on the lake, much the earliest record I have for the park.

13th of Jan and my second trip to Roundhay Park, this time in the company of Sheila, my wife. The usual suspects were seen in the normal places, this time though I managed to add Canada goose and pied wagtail to the Foot It list, there were also 3 great crested grebes on the lake. The Gorge area was largely bird free, just a few robins and blue tits. Still lacking collared dove and long-tailed tit for the Foot It challenge.

Later in the day I found a lesser black-backed gull by sitting watching the gulls flying over our house on the way to roost at Eccup Reservoir , and a late afternoon amble across the Allerton Fields allowed me to catch up with another flock of fieldfares and also find some rooks, much closer to home than I expected.

The Foot It challenge species list now stands at 49 species. Leaving me to find 11 more to hit my target