Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Cattle Egret

A CATTLE EGRET was in Kelk on 18th and 19th December. This is the rarest bird to have been recorded in the area by myself. Formely considered a national rarity it has become a more regular visitor to southern England over recent year. However it is still a rarity in Yorkshire with less than 20 ever recorded. Stunned was not the word when it appeared at the end of an otherwise mediocre day.

More about the rest of the weekend later but here's a little detail about the bird (sadly no photos).

We first saw the bird flying north toward the pastures in Little Kelk. It was obiously an egret (first though was, naturally, Little Egret) but the view from behind as it flew meant that was all I could say. Toward the end of the pasture the bird came down among the grazing cattle and started to feed with short dashes. Overall the bird looked more compact, with a shorter neck/legs and bigger head that a Little Egret would show - we were almost certainly looking at a Cattle Egret. A closer look to confirm the bill shape/colour and leg colour would have been nice.

After a couple of minutes the bird got up and flew on north but appeared to come down again somewhere near Kelk Lake or the farm. There was little option but to divert and head around to the lake. An hour or so later we had walked along the length of the road to the end of the lake and were heading back having had no sign of the bird. Suddenly the egret appeared about 20m in front of us flying north-east over the road. It went almost overhead at about 10m distance - at which it the short and relatively thick yellow bill was obvious, as were the shorter dark legs. Definitely a Cattle Egret. The bird carried on only to land in the grounds of Little Kelk Farm for a couple of minutes before heading off along Gransmoor Drain and out of sight. It was dusk by now and with the identification sorted it was time for home.

In the morning the obvious thing to do was to see if the bird had returned to the pasture field. No sign. However as we walked away toward Gransmoor Lane we picked up the bird in flight heading south from the pasture. Had it been there all along? Anyway it flew purposefully south and tracking it into the distance it was heading toward Foston before becoming a tiny dot.

The news was put out on Sunday but as far as I can tell it has not been relocated. A fuller account has been submitted to the county bird recorder and hopefully it will be accepted as part of the scientific record for rare birds in Yorkshire.

Whatever next, eh?

Beans Talk

A couple of pictures of the Bean Goose flock from November.... for what it's worth. Crikey, the fog really was dense.

An, er, close up. Can just about make out them out as Beans.

Most of the Bean flock together. Stay tuned for December's report!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

I can haz photoez

Woo, I'm back in business!

An 'atmospheric' shot looking through Lowthorpe Church Wood into a mix of bright sunlight and fading fog.

More when I've got time to look through them.

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Bean and gone

My November visit was 19/20th so I am catching up! Still no photos but with confidence of a coalition government I will deliver. The weather was lovely and mild but Sunday was almost impossible for birding with a dense blanket of fog that only part-lifted in the afternoon.

A large influx of wild geese had taken place across the region in the previous week and Kelk dragged in some representatives - 11 White-fronted Goose and 25 BEAN GOOSE. Remarkably quiet otherwise.

Saturday 19th November

AM - Harpham/Lowthorpe: 9 White-fronted Goose flying west from Little Kelk with 50+ Greylags, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Little Grebe, 2 Sparrowhawk, 1 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Woodcock, 18 Collared Dove, 6 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 30+ Skylark, 1 Grey Wagtail, 16 Mistle Thrush (a good local count), 2 Golgcrest, 20+ Linnet, 2 Bullfinch.

PM - Gembling/Foston/Cattleholmes/Millingdale: 2 Mute Swan, 7 Wigeon, 36 Teal, 3 Tufted Duck, 3 Red-legged Partridge, 2 Grey Partridge, 1 Little Grebe, 2 Cormorant, 12 Grey Heron, 2 Buzzard, 9 Coot, 13 Stock Dove, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, two parties of Long-tailed Tit. A remarkable record of 16 Curlew were together in a field at Brigham - will have to check but possibly my first 'winter' record.

At dusk approx 3000 Corvids were attending the roost - the largest number for a while. Although it was practically dark the balance appeared to be about 2-1 Rook-Jackdaw.

Sunday 20th November

AM - Kelk Beck: 30+ Mallard, 60+ Teal, 'white-front/bean' goose flock heard through fog heading toward Foston, 2 Cormorant, 2 Grey Heron, 4 Grey Partridge, 1 Woodcock, 150+ Fieldfare, 1 Redwing, 11+ Long-tailed Tit, 4 Reed Bunting.

PM - Little Kelk: 1 Buzzard, 14 Grey Partridge, 1 Kingfisher, 25+ Skylark, 2000+ Corvids, 60+ Linnet, 30+ Yellowhammer.

With good timing we approached Green Lane as the fog was lifting (it came back down again by dusk) and into view came a flock of geese - "Whoa, they're not Greylags". No they weren't, if fact it was 11 White-fronted and an amazing 25 Bean Goose. Actually, that's a wee lie, there were 2 Greylags with them. I have some pictures when I finally get around to sorting them out but to me all the Beans looked like the 'Tundra' race rossicus, which are the commoner of the two in Yorkshire. I have seen two Beans in the local area before but never more than one at a time.

My best recent year-list was 117... it's going to be close.

114 White-fronted Goose
115 Bean Goose

Monday, 28 November 2011

October - Part 2

Well would you look at that, nearly December and I haven't said anything since October. Alas I've been without a 'puter for a while.

As per the previous post there were four scarce birds noted on that visit, and thus four to add to the yearlist.

110 - Common Crossbill
111 - Lesser Redpoll
112 - Ring Ouzel
113 - Meditteranean Gull

Soooo.... for what it's worth, a belated roundup of the rest of the weekend.

Saturday 22nd October

AM Harpham/Lowthorpe: 30 Lapwing, 1 Green Sandpiper, 17 Collared Dove, 15+ Skylark, 1 Grey Wagtail, 1 Redwing, 15 Fieldfare, 4 Goldcrest, 5 parties of Long-tailed Tits, 1 Bullfinch. A single COMMON CROSSBILL flew into the pines at Lingholmes and a Lesser Redpoll flew overhead at Lowthorpe.

PM Gembling/Foston: 35 Teal, 7 Grey Heron, 1 Little Grebe, 1 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Great Black-backed Gull, 1 Little Owl (Gembling).

Dusk, Little Kelk: 6 Mallard, 1 Buzzard, 6 Red-legged Partridge, 5 Great Black-backed Gull, 1 Meadow Pipit, 8 Linnet, several Tree Sparrow (heard only). Star of the show was a RING OUZEL in the big hedge along Green Lane - very elusive but calling regularly.

Other than birds, I noted about a dozen Red Admirals (no other butterflies), 2 Squirrels and a single 'Hawker' presumably a Migrant Hawker at Brigham Quarry.

Sunday 23rd October

AM Kelk Beck: 1 Mute Swan, 4 Greylags, 60+ Mallard, 90+ Teal, 1 Tufted Duck, 4 Cormorant, 3 Grey Heron, 3 Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk, 3 Kestrel, 5 Lapwing, 8 Golden Plover, 5 Great Black-backed Gull, a flock of 400+ Woodpigeon, a daytime-hooting Tawny Owl, 45+ Skylark, 1 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare, 80+ Tree Sparrow (record count), 90+ Goldfinch, 28 Linnet, 8 Reed Bunting, 10 Yellowhammer. Another look for the Ring Ouzel at lunchtime was successful - views that could just be called 'reasonable'.

PM: Millingdale/Cattleholmes/Kelk Lake: 1 Goldeneye, 14 Grey Heron (Cattleholmes), 4 Sparrowhawk, 2 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 9 Grey Partridge, 11 Golden Plover, 80 Lapwing, 1 Green Sandpiper, 300+ Woodpigeon, 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 1 Grey Wagtail, a very large but uncountable party of Long-tailed Tit at Kelk Lake (min 30), 90 Linnet, 1 Bullfinch. At least 1000 Corvids were gathered at the traditional pre-roost site at Kelk at dusk.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Club Med

What a superb weekend. Proper autumnal feel about it. Except for the warm dry weather. And the lack of winter thrushes. Ha!

I jest, it was a really corking weekend, with lots of migrants about, including a single CROSSBILL (only my 2nd local record), RING OUZEL (also 2nd record), a Redpoll , and an adult Mediterranean Gull.

More later but here's a couple of just-about-tell-what-it-is record shots of the Med - all white wings and a heavy black smudge behind the eye.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011


If you blink in September, as a birder, you miss the action. This weekend had that feel to it but with only two days to play with I had to grin and bear it. Ultimately however there was scant evidence of migrants but a couple of Hobbies, a Marsh Harrier, Spotted Flycatcher, and Corn Bunting were some reward. Two Swifts represent a late sighting and - hence the title - a new record area count of 11 Common Buzzards reflects their continuing success locally.

Saturday 17th September

Morning walk around Harpham and Lowthorpe: 17 Mallard, 11 Conmon Buzzard, 3 Sparrowhawk, 3 Kestrel, 2 Hobby, 3 Red-legged Partridge, 34 Herring Gull, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, lots of small gulls, 2 Swift, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, several Skylark, 3 Meadow Pipit, 1 Yellow Wagtail, plenty of Chiffchaff including 2 singing, several Willow Warbler, 1 Blackcap, 1 Goldcrest, 1 Spotted Flycatcher, 1 Coal Tit, 3 parties of Long-tailed Tit, 4 Siskin flew south, 38 goldfinch, 1 Bullfinch, 4 Yellowhammer.

Butterflies were out in the sheltered sunshine in small numbers; 16 Whites, 11 Small Tortoiseshell, 8 Red Admiral, 6 Speckled Wood. Also 6 Hawkers, presumably Migrant Hawker. A young Roe Deer was on its own in Lowthorpe Church wood and a small/young dead Grass Snake was by the roadside in Kelk.

Below is the Spotted flycatcher busy feeding in the shelter of Lowthorpe churchyard. I had one here last September as well as in previous years. Perfect habitat, but curiously no sign of them in mid-summer.

Many people struggle with Hobby identification - not least because they're tricky to study and become familiar with. In silhouette the shape is distinctive - thin rakish wings and a relatively short tail (cf Kestrel). In hunting flight their wings often appear pulled back and scythe or anchor like. Although you can't make it out from the photo this one is a juvenile - quite possibly raised locally. I'm just chuffed to get a photo at all!!

Fairly brief afternoon dash around Gembling and Foston followed by a dusk walk around Green Lane: 2 Mute Swan, 9 Teal, 24 Mallard, 2 Tufted Duck, 5 Red-legged Partridge, 2 Grey Partridge, 6 Little Grebe, 5 Grey Heron, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 3 Coot, 1 Meadow Pipit, 1 Tree Sparrow. Also noted a fox by Gransmoor Drain and a couple of bats hawking along hedgerows.

Wiley old fox, taken in fading light hence the blurry quality.

Sunday 18th September

Morning walk along Kelk Beck: 2 Mute Swan, 2 Greylag Goose, 50 Mallard, 34 Teal, 2 Common Buzzard, juvenile Marsh Harrier, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Kestrel, 280 Lapwing in two flocks, 2 Green Sandpiper, 2 Herring Gull, 2000+ small gulls, 1 Kingfisher, 5+ Skylark, 2 Meadow Pipit, 35+ Tree Sparrow, 53 Goldfinch (a very high count locally) and 20+ Linnet.

As yesterday small numbers of butterflies were out and about - 16 Small Tortoiseshell, 11 Whites, 5 Red Admiral, 3 Speckled Wood. A single Migrant Hawker was along Lynesykes.

Afternoon ride around Millingdale/Cattleholmes and Kelk Lake/Gransmoor: 2 Mute Swan, 10 Mallard, 9 Grey Partridge, 2 Common Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 2 Coot, 50+ Lapwing, 8 Golden Plover, 5 Great Black-backed Gulls (adults at Gransmoor), 1 Little Owl (Millingdale), 120+ House Sparrow (50+ Kelk, 30+ Millingdale, 40+ Gransmoor), 160+ Linnet (Millingdale), and a Corn Bunting at Cattleholmes.

Juvenile Grey Herons were evident all weekend, perhaps a sign of a good breeding season. The adults, typically, were nowhere to be seen.

Of the three regular big gulls the Great Black-backed is the least encountered around Kelk. Mostly seen in winter a typical sighting would be a few individuals moving south-west in strong winds accompanying Herring Gulls perhaps to the roost at Tophill Low or even further crossing the Wolds to the Lower Derwent. What one doesn't expect is to see several on the ground together. This freshly drilled field at Gransmoor hosted five of the brutes.

Despite the lack of classic autumn birds it will come thick and fast from now on. Next month only stragglers from summer will be left and winter thrushes arriving en masse. Brrr!

The only year-tick of the weekend was the migrating Siskin. Still a way to go compared to the last couple of years.

109 Siskin

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Summer? Autumn? Impossible to tell with this weather

Funny weekend that. Friday was all about the rain, then I got sunburned on Saturday, then blown about by the wind on Sunday. But anyway... not a great deal going on, lots of families of birds around and early flocking among some species. No real scarce birds but Marsh Harrier, Hobby were seen again and Greenshank was added to the yearlist.

Friday 26th August

It stayed dry until late morning then belted it down until after dark. Luckily I managed to get one walk, though still got a soaking on the way home.

Kelk Beck: 16 Gadwall, 11 Mallard, 9 Teal, 4 Grey Partridge, 1 Cormorant, 1 juv Heron, 230 Golden Plover, 120 Lapwing, 2 Snipe, 4 Green Sandpiper, 1 Swift (flying south), 2 Kingfisher, 1 Yellow Wagtail, 3+ Sedge Warbler, several Blackcap, 12 Goldfinch, and 50 Linnet. Also a Water Vole briefly.

A family of four Marsh Harriers (male, female, 2 juveniles) were hunting the general area - perhaps they have bred nearby. More remarkably was a flock of 12 Greenshank that flew north along the beck. Suffice to say this is a record count for the area. But... to where were they headed? From where?

Saturday 27th August

A much better day weather-wise, but a comparatively slower day for birds.

Lowthorpe/Harpham: 4 Sparrowhawk, 1 Buzzard, 2 Hobby (possibly adult and juvenile but view too brief), 3 Green Sandpiper, 4 Stock Dove, 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 3 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Grey Wagtail, several Blackcap and Chiffchaff, 1 party of Willow Warbler, 8+ Goldcrest, 40+ Goldfinch. Also a Grey Squirrel was noted. Butterfly numbers were low due to cool cloud; 19 'whites', 3 Peacock, 1 Red Admiral, 7 Small Tortoiseshell, 2 Speckled Wood, 1 Small Copper.

Gembling/Foston: 4 Mallard, 2 Little Grebe, 2 Grey Heron, 1 Sparrowhawk, 3 Marsh Harrier (same as yestreday), 2 Kestrel, 5 Coot, 1 Little Owl, 1 Whitethroat, 110 Linnet at Foston Bridge, 410 Starling in one flock.

Green Lane / Barf Hill: 1 Red-legged Partridge, 17 Grey Partridge, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Buzzard, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, and 41 Pied Wagtails on the pasture.

Finally at dusk; 3 Mute Swan, 1 Hobby, 1 Coot, 1 Reed Warbler all at Kelk Lake. 800 Corvids flew to roost. A half hour watch for gulls moving east to roost was disappointing - a mere 900 birds. Consider that approx 2500 were loafing on a field at lunchtime. Maybe the conditions weren't quite right, or maybe most of them had already moved through. Either way I sense I still have a lot to learn about them. Bigger gulls were few and far between over the weekend; 26 Herring and 2 Lesser Black-backed Gulls.

Sunday 28th August

Wind took over from sunshine or rain today. Not great conditions for farmland birding. But needs must...

Lowthorpe/Harpham: 32 Mallard flying over, 6 Red-legged Partridge, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Hobby, 3 Buzzard, 1 juvenile Kestrel, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 90+ House Martin (an excellent local count), 3 Meadow Pipit (first ones since spring), and 1 Bullfinch.

Millingdale/Cattleholmes: 16 Mallard, 1 Marsh Harrier, 2 Yellow Wagtail, 8 Stock Dove.

Gransmoore Lane/Green Lane: 1 Buzzard, 1 Marsh Harrier, 17 Grey Partridge, 150+ Starling, 300+ Corvid.

Now for some photos...

Common Gulls are the most numerous species visiting the area, especially in autumn when vast flocks feeding on the Wolds move to roost in Bridlington Bay. Later in autumn the birds shift to roosting at Tophill Low and so their route doesn't pass over Kelk. That said, large flocks can be encountered anywhere in flocks from now until early Spring, especially during ploughing.

Red-legged Partridges at Harpham - presumably a family party. They have been quite scarce this year, only being noted at two sites. This track has been a regular place to see them recently.

A flock of over 400 Starlings on wires at Foston. At one stage they all got up together, circled, then landed back on the wires. When they did they whole length between poles bounced up and down.

Juvenile Swallows on wires at Lowthorpe. In a month they'll have headed off to Africa. If we didn't already know this through scientific study it would utterly defy belief.

Finally a Crow doing what Crows do best - looking evil and suspicious.

And so that's yer lot. One addition to the year list with Greenshank. A Red Kite was reported to me seen in Kelk a week ago, so that's now 108 now.

107 Red Kite
108 Greenshank

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Odd gulls

Summary for last weekend. I had a couple of extra days to play with so it was actually Thursday to Sunday. The weather was variable between heavy cloud (no rain) and burning sunshine with light breeze swinging between northerly to southerly. Harvest had started with most barley already in and oilseed dessicated but not yet harversted.

Thursday 28th July

Harpham/Lowthorpe: very quiet. 1 Little Grebe, 4 Buzzard, 1 Green Sandpiper, 2 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 4 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 40+ Swift, plenty of warblers including singing Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff plus a Sedge Warbler at New Road. 1 Bullfinch at Lowthorpe.

Gembling/Foston: 2 Canada Goose, 1 Kestrel, 2 Grey Partridge, 1 juv Grey Heron, 1 Hobby at Foston, 1 Oystercatcher, 2 Herring Gull, 1 Spotted Flycatcher at Foston Mill.

Little Kelk: pair of Mute Swan with a cygnet at Kelk Lake, adult Cormorant, 3 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 50+ Lapwing, very few gulls moving to roost.

This is one of the Buzzards seen on Thursday. Birds of prey carefully stage their wing moult so they are always capable of hunting but this adult seems to have gone rather full-on!

Friday 29th July

Just a short walk in the morning.

Kelk Beck: 17 Mallard, 7 Lapwing, 1 Kestrel, 2 Grey Partridge, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Kingfisher, several Skylark, 5 Yellow Wagtail (2+ juveniles), 8 Pied Wagtail, adult and juvenile Lesser Whitethroat, family party of Common Whitethroat, and a flock of 90+ Linnet. A Water Vole gave reasonable views but not long enough to get 'papped'.

Saturday 30th July

Harpham: 6 Sparrowhawk in the air together (presumably some were juveniles?), 4 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 1 Hobby buzzing the Buzzards, 3 Herring Gull, 70+ Feral Pigeon, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker. A water vole briefly appeared at New Road.

A juvenile Peregrine flew through New Road causing an almighty fuss among the crows. Where it had come from one can only guess but it's the earliest I've seen one locally and surely must be a local post-breeding dispersal rather than a migrant.

Gembling/Foston: 6 Little Grebe, 1 juv Grey Heron, 10 Coot including young, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 9 Stock Dove, 13 Tree Sparrow, 1 Bullfinch.

Green Lane/Barf Hill: 56 Greylag Goose, 3 juvenile Grey Heron heading over (photo below), 1 Kestrel carrying food, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker at Barf Hill, c60 Sand Martin holes at Gransmoor Quarry (photo below), 2 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Mistle Thrush, 26+ Long-tailed Tit on Green Lane plus another family party at Barf Hill, a whopping 48 Tree Sparrow on Gransmoor Lane, 1 Bullfinch and a singing Corn Bunting. The latter is only the second of the year, and possible the same individual as the first.

An hour looking for the gull roost flight produced c420 small gulls, mostly Common, which is typical for the time of year. Also 2 Grey Partridge and 2 Yellow Wagtail. No sight nor sound of any Quail.

Believe it or not the photo below is the singing Corn Bunting. You'll just have to trust me ;-)

Three juvenile herons going about their business together. Evocative is the word you're looking for.

Sand Martin colony at Gransmoor Quarry. Normally the nesting banks are hidden from the road so this is unusual. I suspect there might be more holes out of view but it looks like about 60 holes here.

Sunday 31st July

Harpham: 14 Grey Partridge (3 adults, 11 young), 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 3 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 20+ Long-tailed Tit, 1 Bullfinch.

Kelk Beck: female Tufted Duck, 1 juv Grey Heron, 1 Marsh Harrier (see previous post here), 1 Sparrowhwak, 2 Coot, 18 Golden Plover - nice and early for them, 26 Lapwing, and 16 Goldfinch.

The field south of Millingdale was being cultivated and hundreds of gulls were in attendance. What was surprising was the number of large gulls present and this demanded a closer look. There were c700 gulls present with approx 450 Common and 50 Black-headed, 160+ Herring Gull, 17 Lesser Black-backed Gull and amazingly 2 Yellow-legged Gull (adult and 4cy).

Although large gulls are regularly seen flying over in summer it is exceptional to see large numbers and they don't tend to gather on cultivated fields in this way. Seventeen is a very high count for Lesser Black-backed Gull locally and 160+ Herring Gull is a new record count. Perhaps the Yellow-legged Gulls offer a clue - these two are only the 3rd and 4th I have seen locally, so presumably there is a post-breeding movement occuring at the moment. When coming and going birds were mostly heading east. This is also unsual since large gulls tend to move south-west during afternoons.

Photo below is a Yellow Wagtail. This pair both have a preference for perching trees. Most other Yellow Wagtails seem to spend little or no time doing this. Odd.

So that's it. The year list goes up three to 106.

104 Spotted Flycatcher
105 Peregrine
106 Yellow-legged Gull

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Argus Catalogue

Killing time while putting together my bird notes. Butterflies are easier and quicker to account for. Apart from the whites there was a general lack in numbers but a reasonable spread of species, summarised as:

Small Skipper - 2
White sp.  - 160+
Small Copper - 1
Brown Argus - 4
Holly Blue - 1
Red Admiral - 23
Small Tortoiseshell - 8
Peacock - 16
Speckled Wood - 8
Wall - 1
Meadow Brown - 13
Ringlet - 7

First up, a fine Brown Argus by Kelk Beck. I had never seen one before last August so discovering one at another site was a surprise. They are expanding their range in Yorkshire so presumably more should follow.

Below is the same individual showing the pretty underwing pattern.

A Small Skipper at Harpham. Easily confused as a moth on first glance, even in flight.

Holly Blue on ivy in Kelk. I only see odd ones in the area but they've been around since the 90s.

Definitely not a butterfly, this one. Twelve Hares had been forced out into the open in this cut grass field. This one let me approach closer than usual.

Birds up next...

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Raptorial summer delights

Blimey, is it really eight weeks?

July can be hard work birdwatching - breeding activity has died down and the crops and general undergrowth hide so much. Last weekend was typical with seemingly little on show. On reflection it was actually pretty good. Highlights were a male Marsh Harrier, 2 Hobby, juvenile Peregrine, 2 Yellow-legged Gulls, Spotted Flycatcher, and a singing Corn Bunting. Also a nice supporting cast of butterflies including Small Copper and Brown Argus.

Six species of raptor in any weekend is good, in July it's a wee bit special. I even managed a few distant record shots of the harrier.

Adult males are the easiest to identify, having a brown body, silver wings with black primaries.

The bird was slowly quartering it's way around field edges near Kelk Beck late afternoon Sunday.

Occasionally the bird would adopt a hovering pose but they don't really do much of that, it's more a 'pause' than anything.

Twenty years ago Marsh Harriers were more likely to be seen locally than Buzzard, but now the latter is the easiest of all raptors to see. If you saw the bird below in silhouette you should immediately think 'harrier' - Buzzards are rarely seen flying low down around here.

One last view - more typical quartering flight, low along a field drain or rough patch. 

Report on the rest of the weekend later...

Saturday, 11 June 2011


A quick roundup from last weekend.

I already mentioned the three Quail on Friday night. Also noted on my travels that evening were 1 Mute Swan, 2 Mallard, 3 Grey Partridge, 1 Tawny Owl and 1 Reed Warbler. A Roe Deer was feeding along a farm track and there were quite a few bats feeding - no idea what species though.

Saturday 4th June

Harpham and Lowthorpe in the morning: 2 Red-legged Partridge, 1 Sparrowhawk, 3 Buzzard, 4 Kestrel (3 together battling with one of the Buzzards!), 6 Lapwing, 1 Herring Gull, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, plenty of Swifts, 11 Skylark, several House Martin, 3 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Sedge Warbler, 1 Whitethroat, several Blackcap and Chiffchaff still singing but only 3 Willow Warbler all morning, and 1 Goldcrest. A squirrel was at Lowthorpe Church.

The sunshine departed in the afternoon and by evening it was cold. However the afternoon around Gembling and Foston produced: 2 Mute Swan, 6 Mallard, male Tufted Duck, 1 female Pochard with 3 young, 1 Grey Partridge, 5 Little Grebe, 1 Cormorant (year tick!!) over Brigham Quarry, 2 Grey Heron, 1 Buzzard, 5 pairs of Coot at Brigham Quarry, 1 Oystercatcher, 6 Lapwing, 8 Black-headed Gull, 20+ Common Gulls, 23 Herring Gull, 4 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 8 Stock Dove, 1 Cuckoo, 2 Yellow Wagtail and several small flocks of Starlings with juveniles.

I tried for the Quails again in the evening without luck but did also encounter 2 Oystercatcher, 32 Lapwing - looking like a post-breeding flock of presumably failed breeding adults, 5 Mallard, 14 Greylags, 2 Red-legged Partridge, 2 Cuckoo - including a female responding to the male's calling. Sweet.

Sunday 5th June

I had other commitments in the morning but after lunch we headed down Kelk Beck and around Great Kelk: 2 Gadwall, 23 Mallard, 3 Tufted Duck, 1 Little Grebe, 1 Kestrel, 4 Buzzard, 8 Lapwing, 2 herring Gull, 200+ hirundines feeding in the lee of Turtle Hill Wood, 4 Yellow Wagtail, 8 Whitethroat, 1 Bullfinch, 2 Reed Bunting.

The only other chance to get out was an hour from 6-7pm around Harpham. Nothing much to add except 3 Great Spotted Woodpecker (at 3 locations).

Some photos...

A baby Blackbird that had still to grow a tail and most of its wing feathers. Bobbing around on the grass verge is a risky strategy when you can't fly - let's hope he didn't become a trophy kill for a bored cat!

Collared Dove on nest. Not quite well enough hidden if you ask me! 

The second year I have found breeding Pochard at this site, though not last year. These are quite a scarce breeding bird in UK so it feels an honour to be able to watch them as a young family.

Beautiful male Greenfinch at Harpham. They're common enough, especially near gardens but still well worth a close look.

Leaving the comedy photo until last. I've never tried to snap a swift before so I'm just delighted that one made it into shot. There were several blank blue sky photos accompanying this one. Must try harder.

Butterfly totals for the weekend as follows:

'Whites' - 7
Large Skipper - 5
Small Tortoiseshell - 4
Speckled Wood - 4
Common Blue - 3
Peacock - 1
Wall - 1

With the addition of Quail and Cormorant the year list is now 103.

102 Quail
103 Cormorant

Monday, 6 June 2011

Quail of a time

For once my timing was perfect. A warm day and still air in summer is precisely the cue to go out listening for Quail. And so that's what I did last Friday evening. And I located three different calling birds in a couple of hours or so cycling around the lanes. Excellent!!

The first was near Kelk Lake, calling from a field of spring corn along with a couple of Grey Partridge. I spent a while listening to it calling every minute or two, hoping that it would stray into the tramlines for a quick view. It didn't. The second bird was close to Great Kelk coming from somewhere in one of two wheat fields. This one was much closer (louder) but their voice carries so well it's difficult to know how close. Third and final bird was at Lowthorpe, also in wheat. It was 10.30pm by this time and I'd had enough. I tried again on Saturday, visiting two of the three sites again, this time it was much colder and rather breezy and there was not a squeak to be heard. Draw your own conclusions about when is best to hear Quail!

While it is clear there are a number of birds in the area to call this an 'influx' might be a bit over-egging it. I think it's luck and we get some every year. Quail are widely reported in Holderness each year with occasional 'influxes'. However, you need to get lucky and the evening weather conditions help greatly, not something I've had in my summer visits over recent years. My last record was in 2009 when I flushed a male at Harpham in August - blogged here.

Apart from this excitement the weekend was as you'd expect, summer in full swing, lots of baby birds and general family activity. A Hobby was seen hunting on Sunday lunchtime and after my grumbles about missing species in the previous blog post I managed to see a Cormorant briefly. More write up later.

Some photos first.

Female Common Blue butterfly. Aren't they fantastic? Early June seems rather early for them but maybe the long dry spring has moved the timing forward - will that mean a better or worse summer for them?

Large Skipper at Kelk Beck. I've not seen any of these in the last two years so it was very pleasing to see several this weekend. Their shape and flight is more like a moth but they're lovely little critters when you see them close up. 

Male Azure Damselfly along Kelk Beck. I've never paid much attention to damselflys before and this is remarkably the first one I've properly idenfied in the area. Apparently they're very common. I've no reason to doubt that.
Female Common Blue Damselfly at Harpham. The greyer colour would be replaced by bright blue in a male. The tail pattern differentiates it from the Azure Damselfly. 
Enough for now. Be back with a few birdy pictures.

Monday, 30 May 2011

Missing you already

Something a bit different. A recent conversation got me thinking about birds that have gone awol this year. The harsh winter had a definite impact on a number of species but it's not always obvious straight away what the effect is since some birds just move on. However this winter many had nowhere to move on to. Here's a quick summary of my thoughts:

Wildfowl, Waders and other water birds:
Most waterbirds simply moved on but generally there's been little obvious impact. That said I'm missing Shoveler for the year list though they are quite scarce and unreliable in their appearance locally. No sign of Great Crested Grebe either, though the poor form of Kelk Lake is the obvious reason. More inexplicable is the complete absence of Cormorant. Very odd indeed. As for waders the number of Lapwing is down with c40 birds in April and May. Snipe have been very hard to come by - just 4 records - but I think we will have to wait until autumn to get a better idea of the extent of any losses. No records of Redshank yet but Spring passage never produces many, autumn and winter are better.

Raptors and Owls:
No apparent impact. I am yet to see a Peregrine this year but it's doubtful that has anything to do with the freeze. Barn Owls seem to have clung on though a few have clearly gone missing. Hopefully a decent summer with good productivity can go some way to restore numbers. Other owls seem ok though they're so hard to locate it's tricky to be sure.

Few were using the area during the worst of the weather and it's been a slow spring but again I doubt that's due to the freeze.

Near Passerines (pigeons, kingfisher, woodpeckers):
Kingfisher is the biggest worry in freezing weather - they can find themselves with nowhere to go. Fortunately there have been three sightings so there's reason to be cheerful. Pigeons are as numerous as ever and Great Spotted Woodpeckers are as they were.

Selected Passerines:
Skylark - plenty singing around Kelk Beck and Harpham where you would expect them. Meadow Pipt - only one record of two birds in March, which is a very poor showing. Grey Wagtail - just one record, earlier in May, a relief but unprecedented in recent years to wait so long for the first of the year. Wren - while I haven't been counting the impression is there are significant losses. Blackbird - gardens seem to have theirs, a sure sign human intervention in terms of feeding is a life-saver, but away from there the woods and hedgerows seem emptier than usual. A good summer should sort that out. Tits - Blue and Great Tits emptied out of the woods and into gardens and the return has not been as strong. Long-tailed Tits are only marginally down. Finches - the garden feeding finches such as Goldfinch and Greenfinch appear ok but Linnet flocks are much reduced with only two counts over 40 so far. No sightings of Siskin or Brambling in the winter, they will be very welcome year ticks in late autumn.

Monday, 23 May 2011


3 COMMON CRANES were apparently seen in fields to the west of Kelk Beck on Sunday.

They're not a species I've yet encountered in the area but if I were drawing up a list of possible new birds they'd be on it. In East Yorkshire they're occasionally noted in ones and twos, indeed there have been several this year. Perhaps the biggest challenge is that they tend to be seen only in flight and less often on the ground so it's very much a case of right place right time.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Room 101

While April gets the juices going with new arrivals I prefer May. There are still birds arriving but everything is in full swing, the spring greenery turns lush, and there's always a hint of unpredictability. Unusual birds might just turn up.

Well it wasn't quite to be but finding a Grasshopper Warbler will do me. Supporting cast of Marsh Harrier and Hobby make it alright.

Friday 13th May

With long daylight hours I was able to squeeze in a couple of hours on Friday evening around Little Kelk. Among the birds seen were 31 Greylags, 2 Tufted Duck, 2 Grey Partridge, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Cuckoo, 19 Pied and 2 Yellow Wagtails feeding in the pasture, 1 Reed Warbler.

A couple of toads were walking across the wet road at dusk.

Saturday 14th May

Morning walk around Lowthorpe-Harpham produced: 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 26 Lapwing, 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 3 Herring Gull, 20 Stock Dove, 60+ Swift, 1 Kingfisher, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 20+ Sand Martin, 18+ House Martin, plenty of Swallows, 1 Sedge Warbler, several Blackcap, 1 Garden Warbler, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Common Whitethroat, several Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler, and 48 Linnet.

There would no doubt have been more warblers singing had it not been for the fairly strong wind keeping everything in the undergrowth.

Afternoon cycle around Gembling-Foston produced: 26 Greylags, 2 Canada Goose, 1 Gadwall, 4 Grey Partridge, 3 Little Grebe, 4 Grey Heron, a female Marsh Harrier at Brigham Quarry (photo below), 1 Oystercatcher, 1 Common Sandpiper, 30+ Sand Martin, 3 Yellow Wagtail, female Wheatear at Gembling (possibly a 'Greenland' type), 1 Sedge Warbler, 3 Common Whitethroat, and a Tree Sparrow.

In the evening I took a look around Little Kelk again and found: 4 Grey Partridge, 1 Oystercatcher, 2 Little Ringed Plover (same as Friday), 1 Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 40+ Sand Martin near Gransmoor Quarry (presumably still nesting there?), 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 8 Common Whitethroat, and 150+ Corvid feeding in a fresh cut silage field.

Sunday 15th May

Morning walk along Kelk Beck and around Great Kelk showed up: 4 Greylags, 4 Canada Goose, 4 Gadwall, 9 Tufted Duck, 2 Grey Partridge, 1 Little Grebe, female Marsh Harrier (same as Saturday), 1 Hobby briefly, 14 Lapwing, 2 Black-headed Gulls (scarce in May!!), 2 Herring Gull, 3 Yellow Wagtail, 6 Sedge Warbler, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 5 Blackcap, 3 Lesser Whitethroat, 6 Common Whitethroat, and 2 Reed Bunting.

A second lacklustre attempt at Harpham in the afternoon didn't see many new birds except 1 Mute Swan, 1 Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 1 Little Grebe, and a male Grey Wagtail at New Road - a long awaited year tick!

Despite the wind a few butterflies were noted over the weekend

'Whites' - 36
Orange Tip - 15
Red Admiral - 5
Wall - 2
Small Copper - 2
Speckled Wood - 1

Some photos. I put a photo of a single Stock Dove up last month but couldn't resist this one of a pair at Harpham. Just lovely.

A pair of Yellow Wagtails at Foston, neatly showing the difference between male (left) and female. Birds were seen at six sites over the weekend, an encouraging number.

Little waders can be a nightmare for the uninitiated. Small and brown and usually a long way away. If you squint you can make out a Common Sandpiper. Those colours aren't an accident.

Oh no, more tiny waders. These are the two Little Ringed Plovers at Little Kelk - the yellow eye ring is diagnostic in separating them from the slightly larger Ringed Plover.

Saving the worst of the best till last. Undoubtedly the most hopeless picture of a Marsh Harrier you'll see this spring. But it's still a photo of one. And I'm chuffed with it even if no one else is.


The year list is a 'ton up', actually 101. Additions were:

094 - Swift
095 - Reed Warbler
096 - Garden Warbler
097 - Common Sandpiper
098 - Marsh Harrier
099 - Hobby
100 - Grasshopper Warbler
101 - Grey Wagtail

And that's it. June and July will be slow for birds but plenty of butterflies and there should be some drangonflies to look at.

Ah, Grasshopper

Despite battling the wind all weekend I have reached the 100 species milestone for the year. One more in fact. Highlights were a Marsh Harrier, a Hobby, 2 Little Ringed Plover (presumed same as in April), 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Cuckoo, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 1 Garden Warbler.

The Grasshopper Warbler was the personal highlight despite, typically, not being seen. Just a few bursts of song in the morning.

Enough. A few non-birdy photos for amusement before I get the rest of the details ready.

Not an everyday sight - a steam engine. This one is owned by a local steam enthusiast. Occasionally they get them out in the fields in autumn to do a bit of ploughing, which involves one engine at each side of the field pulling the plough on a wire back and forth.

An Orange Tip butterfly. Damn difficult things to photo, or at least for someone with my pitiful patience. When they do rest they usually do so with closed wings. Double bonus!

Small Copper walking on bird poo. Erm. Delightful little butterflies, and not at all common locally. This one was in a spot I've never seen them in before near the houses in Little Kelk.

Not the most popular farmland mammal but aaah you have to admire their cuteness. These two were happily hopping around in a gateway at Foston.


More later...

Monday, 25 April 2011

Friends Reunited

Finally. The weather has remained hot and dry for the best part of the month which has resulted in early migrants across the region. Over the weekend 16-18th a number of species had already made touch down including a record number of Yellow Wagtails, and earliest records for Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat. Other good birds included 2 Little Ringed Plover, 2 Whimbrel, 1 Wheatear, and 1 Corn Bunting (1st of the year!).

Saturday 16th April

Harpham-Lowthorpe: 2 Greylags, 1 Sparrowhawk, 4 Common Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 14 Lapwing, 6 Stock Dove, 1 Tawny Owl (calling), 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 8 Swallow, 20 singing Blackcap (also 3+ females), 9 Chiffchaff, 4 Willow Warbler, 1 Goldcrest, 4 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Coal Tit, 1 Tree Sparrow, 110 Linnet (2 flocks; 70+40), 1 Bullfinch.

Gembling-Foston-Wansford: 24 Greylags, 2 Canada Goose, 2 Shelduck, 2 Teal, 8 Gadwall, 10 Mallard, 4 Tufted Duck, 2 Grey Partridge, 6 Little Grebe, 12 Coot, 1 Oystercatcher, 2 Green Sandpiper, 30 Sand Martin, 5 Swallow, 4 Yellow Wagtail, 10 Pied Wagtail, 4 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Willow Warbler, 15 Tree Sparrow, 30 Linnet, 1 Reed Bunting. Activity at the heronry is in full swing at one point a pickup drove along the track next to the wood and put up the adults - 32 in total wheeling about above the heronry at once!

Green Lane-Kelk Lake: 2 Mute Swan, 3 Shelduck, 7 Grey Partridge, 1 Coot, 1 Barn Owl, 4 Yellow Wagtail, 1 Blackcap.

Sunday 17th April

Kelk Beck: 2 Mute Swan, 2 Greylags, 1 Canada Goose, 2 Teal, 2 Gadwall, 10 Mallard, 2 Tufted Duck, 1 Little Grebe, 3 Common Buzzard, 1 Kestrel, 3 Coot, 10 Lapwing, 1 Curlew flying north, 1 Barn Owl, 1 Tawny Owl (flushed from hedgerow!), 2 Sand Martin, 10 Swallow, 2 Yellow Wagtail, 6 Pied Wagtail, 1 Sedge Warbler (heard since 14th - earliest ever record), 3 Blackcap, 2 Chiffchaff, 8 Willow Warbler, 2 Long-tailed Tit, 30 Linnet, 3 Reed Bunting.

Green Lane-Barf Hill: 2 Greylags, 5 Shelduck, 2 Teal, 2 Gadwall, 8 Mallard, 4 Sparrowhawk, 2 Common Buzzard, 2 Kestrel, 2 Oystercatcher, 2 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Snipe, 1 Green Sandpiper, 15 Herring Gull, 21 Yellow Wagtail, 12 Pied Wagtail, 2 Blackcap, 1 Common Whitethroat (earliest record), 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, 1 Tree Sparrow.

Kelk Lake at dusk: 2 Whimbrel flying east were a huge surprise - the first for many years and only my fifth record. Also seen 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, 30+ Sand Martin, 10+ Swallow, 1 Blackcap, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Long-tailed Tit.

An exceptional movement of gulls was noted - 1540 Common, 3 Herring and 4 Lesser Black-backed Gulls. In winter such a number of Common Gulls would be expected but they typically become scarce by April. Around 90% were immature (2CY/1st summer) birds which is not surprising. Not a single Black-headed Gull could be picked out. Where these birds are feeding during the day is a mystery but presumably they went to roost in the bay, as they do in autumn. How long these flights have been taking place is also unknown - could they have been preparing to leave for northern Europe?

Monday 18th April

A third day gave me the chance whizz around the best bits one more time. Not as successful as hoped but I did find a pair of Kestrels mating at Harpham plus a Sedge Warbler nearby. On the Yellow Wagtail hotspot the numbers had fallen to 12 but there was also 5 Golden Plover, 22 Lapwing, and 1 Wheatear (another year tick!). 1 Lesser Whitethroat at Gembling and a second Common Whitethroat of the weekend, this one near Kelk Lake. 2 Bullfinch in Little Kelk and, finally, a singing Corn Bunting. The latter was a most welcome year tick, shockingly there was only one bird noted in the whole of 2010.

A few more photos...

Plenty of butterflies have emerged including this fresh Speckled Wood at Barf Hill.

Wheatear in Little Kelk. I failed to find one at all last year so this is very pleasing. I've never had one at this location either, and Spring birds tend to appear on bare & freshly prepared spring crops.

One of the Yellow Wagtails. As above these birds often appear on bare fields in Spring but these were all in the pasture - some even feeding around the feet of cows! In addition to the 21 in this field a further 6 were found. Quite exceptional numbers.

Two of the five Shelduck seemingly resident this Spring. One of the pairs has even been found prospecting for nest sites at a farmyard!

Finally - a Grass Snake, deceased. Not clear what killed it, certainly not a road kill. Fully stretched out it was about 3 feet long.

As mentioned earlier a good number of butterflies were on the wing including; 3 Holly Blue, 4 Orange Tip, 29 Peacock, 19 Small Tortoiseshell, 3 Speckled Wood, 28 'White' sp

Other sightings were the dead snake, a dead Mole, 4 Roe Deer and 1 Water Vole.

So where does all that leave us? Additions to the year list were, in order of appearance:

079 Swallow

080 Sand Martin

081 Blackcap

082 Willow Warbler

083 Yellow Wagtail

084 Sedge Warbler

085 Little Ringed Plover

086 Common Whitethroat

087 Whimbrel

088 Lesser Black-backed Gull

089 Lesser Whitethroat

090 Corn Bunting

091 Wheatear

In addition to these House Martin has been seen, and Cuckoo put in an appearance on Tuesday 19th - yet another earliest record!

092 House Martin

093 Cuckoo

The Whimbrel are the 135th species since I started the 'once a month' survey in January 2007.