Saturday, 2 January 2010

2009 Review

Happy New Year.

A recap on the last year would seem like a timely thing to do, and besides, it will fill a gap until I actually get out looking for birds again!

January to March

A party of three Egyptian Geese was a huge surprise in January, more so that they stayed until the first week of March. Suffice to say this was not an obvious candidate for an addition to the list of birds recorded in the area. Other goodies on this visit were 2 Pintail, 2 Peregrine sightings, and a Jack Snipe. Large gatherings of song birds were present across the area including; 175 Redwing, 60 Chaffinch, 75 Linnet, and 31 Corn Bunting (a record local count!)

Common Buzzards moved into the area as recently as 2005 before which seeing five in one day would have been silly talk but that's how far they'd come by February 2009. There were, it appears, two pairs breeding this year but there are clearly 'spare' birds waiting for a chance to increase the population. Despite this they remain site faithful and are unusual away from the north of the area.

Also in February were another Peregrine sighting, 5 Pink-footed Geese were the only ones seen on the ground all year, a Lesser Black-backed Gull was out of season, and a tantalisingly dark Barn Owl was seen around Kelk Lake but was likely just an extremely dusky female. A flock of 272 Fieldfare was a pretty repectable local count.

Spring began to emerge in March, slowly. Six different Chiffchaff had arrived by 21st and two Small Tortoiseshell and a Peacock butterfly were noted. A pair of Oystercatchers were the only other arrivals. An exceptionally large spring flock of 130 Linnet were gathered in the field behind Gembling School.

April to June

Spring got into gear in April, starting with an early Swallow at Lowthorpe on 5th. During my visit on 18-19th April migrants of several species had begun to arrive including earliest recorded arrivals for both Sedge Warbler (19th) and Lesser Whitethroat (18th). A late flock of 21 Fieldfare represented birds heading away for the summer. A singing Corn Bunting at Gembling was the sole 'key jangler' all year - a sad state of affairs.

The two stars of the show for April were much bigger birds; first a Short-eared Owl was seen by a farmer in the Great Kelk. It's been a long while since my last sighting and rapidly rising to the top of my hopes for 2010. Not to be deflated by such a miss I managed to pull a last minute Osprey out of the bag - an expected though long-awaited first for me in the area. Bird of the year on a personal level.

Another big miss for me was the Turtle Dove seen in May on two occasions - in the same spot as the only one seen in 2007. I did see one elsewhere in 2008 but they're are very much the proverbial rocking horse now, as they are right across most of northern Britain. That one has appeared three years running suggests there could be a pair clinging on somewhere locally.

My visit in mid-month was fairly unremarkable; Swift and Cuckoo were back and Garden Warbler was much welcome as they are rather unpredictable of late. The first Hobby of the year was noted.

I had decided to try and work out what the status of local butterflies was during 2009 - May threw up the only sightings of the year for Orange Tip and Holly Blue. In June the remnants of an unprecedented influx of Painted Lady could be seen - at least 50 noted across the area.

Birdwise June was typically quiet though a Marsh Harrier made a brief appearance. Two juvenile Grey Wagtails were at Foston Mill as was the only Spotted Flycatcher of the year. A pair of Mute Swans on Kelk Beck had 8 cygnets and is the first pair to breed along the beck for many years. They were clearly doing something right since all 8 fledged. As were the pair of Pochard which hatched a clutch of five ducklings at Brigham Quarry. Although a familiar sight in winter these are scarce as a breeding bird in England and are the first pair to nest locally - though Tophill Low has a long record of breeding Pochard.

July to September

As summer progresses birds stop singing as they tend to family and any hot days make most creatures keep a low profile. Still, a juvenile Cuckoo in July was a rare sight - I even managed a couple of snaps Other young included two juvenile Kingfishers on the beck, the closest I've come to proving breeding locally for several years (no doubt they do most years, though). Four pairs of Little Grebes hatched young at Brigham Quarry, now the best site locally since the desperately sad decline of Kelk Lake.

By August there was still time to discover evidence of breeding but the presence of several Quail was a shock. A farmer noted four birds in fields around Great Kelk and I spent some time there trying to hear any calling, but it was not to be. Then out of the blue I flushed an adult male in a wheat field at Harpham. Waders started to appear including Greenshank and Ruff but overall passage was light this autumn. A couple of Marsh Harriers were seen though it appears these were all passage birds and the likely breeding from 2006-8 has not been continued. The Quail was pretty incredible but for me the sight of four Hobbies together was more pleasing - at last it seems we have a breeding pair in the area.

Autumn was truly upon us by September. A few late summer migrants were still around including a Wheatear, a late Willow Warbler, while birds coming from the other direction included a Peregrine, 260 Golden Plover, 26 Pink-footed Goose, and an unexpected Jay. The number of Common Buzzards took another step up: six together in September. Post breeding flocks of song birds were on the whole unremarkable but 64 Pied Wagtails on one of the grass fields in Little Kelk fair hammered the previous record count.

My personal highlight was seeing a Badger in broad daylight - the first live one I've seen in the area. I even managed some pictures:

October to December

The final chapter of the year was a mixed bag. Loads of Pink-feet headed south, several hundred in total. Very much a 'right-place-right-time' bird. A pair of Stonechat at Harpham were the first time more than one has been seen in the area. Another Jay in October was the first of three including one that visited gardens in Great Kelk through November and December - unprecedented according to the long-time resident who first spotted it. I've certainly never seen one down that end. Other autumn goodies were 19 Siskin over Cattleholmes and 290 Golden Plover in Little Kelk.

Not a lot happened in November though I was relieved to finally catch up with a Treecreeper for the year. A Green Sandpiper was presumably hoping to winter in the area, and indeed one was noted again in December.

Snow and freezing weather dominated late December and gave me a final exciting weekend of birding; two Peregrine - making it a record year, a Merlin, two Water Rail, three Kingfisher and maybe six Grey Wagtails.

Here's hoping 2010 can bring more goodies!