Fri 30th October 2015

Posted on December 20, 2015 at 7:40 AM

YORKSHIRE 2015 - part 3

Up early and keen to get in the field on 29th Oct, I headed back to Flamborough again. The poor weather looked like it was covering the whole county apart from the extreme coastline and so I thought I'd better give it some welly before the inevitable gloom set in. I thought that there was a small chance that the Hume's Warbler would get re-found but I'd let someone else do that whilst I went for a walk. I headed straight inland so that I could be one of the first to walk Old Fall hedge. There were quite a few birds flying round the Head area, mainly thrushes as yesterday. I rounded the corner and popped through the hole in the hawthorn bushes and was greeted with a fearful wind blasting into my face from the south. The famous walk between the field and the hedge was not easy-birding!

Old Fall Hedge, Flamborough, 29 Oct 15

There was not  a large variety on species on offer in this area, just a few Goldcrest sheltering from the wind and various thrush species feeding on the ground along the field edge. A few Skylarks and Reed Buntings further into the fields, and further still, small groups of Grey Partridge and Roe Deer. The only truly sheltered spot was on the north side of the plantation, but I couldn't find anything new there.

New Fall Plantation, Flamborough, 29 Oct 15

Blackbirds - Flamborough, 29 Oct 15

I thought that the south cliffs would be too blown out and so I retraced my steps back up the hedge to try the gardens and open areas adjacent to the road. The golf course was peppered with Redwings, Blackbirds, Fieldfares and Pied Wagtails, plus a Black Redstart feeding on the turf much closer. There were a few flocks of Tree and House Sparrows and common finch species in and around the gardens and I was very pleased to find two gloriously orange Bramblings, probably new in, feeding on the grass.

Black Redstart Flam 29Oct15 a

Black Redstart Flam 29Oct15 b

Black Redstart - Flamborough, 29 Oct 15

Bramblings Flam 29Oct15 a

Bramblings Flam 29Oct15 b

Bramblings - Flamborough, 29 Oct 2015

With nothing new seen around the Head, I thought I'd try South Landing where there'd be a few sheltered spots. The tit flocks there did not have many hangers-on, with very few crests visible, although I did enjoy watching Coal Tits and Treecreepers. I considered that it would be a good time to try and memorise some of these unfamiliar calls, but within a couple of hours I'd forgotten what they sounded like. I have no memory for sounds at all - I just cannot 'hear' things in my head. Even though I can see almost exact pictures of birds in my imagination, I cannot keep sounds in there. I thought there was bound to be a Woodcock in the trees so I stepped a few yards into the leaf litter to find one. Just  ten paces into the trees I flushed one and it flew across the valley. I suspect that there were many recently-arrived Woodcocks that day in amongst the headland's trees.

Flamborough Head 29Oct15

South Landing beach, Flamborough Head

Just as I was returning to the car park, the weather set in and the rain started to fall. I drove to the north side of the headland but it was even worse there and it didn't look like it was getting any better. I drove to Dane's Dyke as I knew that it was wooded there and so I could shelter under the trees, but there was little different present than was at South Landing, including another Woodcock. With the awful conditions, I headed back to the house after a particularly hairy drive down the country roads with standing water in every dip and not as much slowing down as I'd have liked.

Waking up on Friday 30th Oct, there was very little change with miserable rain and gloomy clouds hanging over the rolling wolds. It wasn't as bad as the previous afternoon, but I just couldn't drag my sorry ass out into the field! I had zero enthusiasm and consoled myself with Nicola's pancakes instead. When the weather brightened up and I had checked that nothing had turned up on the coast, I drove back inland to Leeds.

Autumn on the Wolds

Autumn colours on the Yorkshire Wolds

I was considering just veggin' out for the afternoon at my parents' house but news of a Great White Egret at Fairburn Ings got me off my backside and I headed down there for the last couple of hours of the day. Walking down towards the Lin Dyke hide I caught sight of something odd circling high over the marsh. I thought it was a late hirundine at first, but when I got it in my bins it was a bat! It was actually quite high and difficult to photograph and kept disappearing behind the trees, but I got a few record shots. I think it is very probably a Noctule Bat - maybe.

Bat sp., Fairburn, 30 Oct 15

Whilst watching the bat in the bins, I was suddenly shocked when something swooped and had a pop at it! I soon saw it was a Peregrine which then came to perch on the power pylon above me. Not something I'd ever seen before, a bird of prey having a go at a bat - probably the highlight of the trip. Apparently, reading up on this, Peregrines do catch plenty of bats for prey, but I suppose they'll do this more in certain parts of the world than others. I wouldn't have thought it was a very common thing in the UK. This Peregrine probably got the shock of its life, sneaking up on what it thought was a tasty bird, then getting close and seeing this ugly critter in front of it. It's probably going to have nightmares.

Peregrine Fairburn 30Oct15 b

Peregrine - Fairburn, 30 Oct 15

Looking out from the hide there were a few Little Egrets but no sign of the Great White - hardly a surprise! However, a guy had a phone call which let him know that it had moved onto the part of the reserve called 'The Moat'. I knew where this was and hurried down there, parked on the roadside and peeked over the wall. Straight away the Great White Egret flew up from the closest bit of pond and headed off towards the direction I'd just been - flip! It was getting rather dusky now and I didn't fancy slogging it back down there again, but luckily it stopped in its flight and perched in view on a small tree where I could see it very well, albeit not very close. A Yorkshire tick for me!

Great White Egret Fairburn 30Oct15

Great White Egret - Fairburn, 30 Oct 2015

The next day I was up at five to catch an early flight back to Guernsey. As I was sat in the departure lounge, I received a text message - 'Pallid Swift at Flamborough' - absolutely bloody predictable. This made my mind up - no more October rarity-hunting trips to the UK. I'd given it a final chance and it had failed in its mission to find me ticks. October half-terms will now be spent finding rarities in Guernsey rather than twitching rarities in the UK. What could possibly go wrong.........


Early morning colours on the M60, Manchester

Wed 28th October 2015

Posted on December 5, 2015 at 9:55 AM


Tue 27th Oct - With nothing exciting turning up within reach and with my lodgings near the east coast unavailable until the next day, I decided to keep it local and head down to the old patch, Swillington Ings for the morning. It was a dingy, dismal day with dank mist and drizzle hanging in the Aire Valley. I walked around the hedges and plantation and saw a selection of common winter species. A flock of finches by the canal bridge contained two Bullfinch and three Redpoll. These were the first Redpoll that I have seen at close quarters for years - something so familiar that seemed so delightfully unfamiliar.

A wet and dank day by the Leeds-Liverpool Canal, Swillington Ings

I was joined by my sister and nephew, and we went for a walk around the reedbeds. Of course, at this time of year, there was not a lot of activity but we did hear a calling Cetti's Warbler. At the central watchpoint I set up the scope and we saw a few Pintail amongst the duck flocks and lots of other birds on the lakes - a lot more than I usually see anyway. I then caught a glimpse of a Kingfisher zip across the path and head into the reeds. I was desperate to get the 'scope on it so that my nephew could see it really well and I managed to spot it on a stem further up the channel. Then, just as I managed to get it into focus, a bloke on a mountain bike whizzed past and off it flew!

Such a shame, and I cursed the geezer, complaining that biking shouldn't be allowed on a nature reserve! But, thinking properly about it, that's clearly how this reserve has been designed. Along the tracks there were bikes, joggers, kids on scooters, mums pushing push-chairs, dog walkers and toddlers squealing. The key to conservation is getting the general public more connected with the natural world. If they are introduced to nature via their other hobbies then so be it. If they begin to appreciate what we have, then they are more likely to support conservation. I waved goodbye to my sister and had a nice relaxing walk back, enjoying Coal Tits, Reed Buntings and Jays along the riverbank.

Jay Swilly 27Oct15

Jay - Swillington Ings, 27 Oct 15

I considered having a wander around some other sites but I decided that a rest back at the house would be better (lazy!). I checked the web late in the afternoon and saw that a Hume's Warbler had been discovered at Flamborough. Excellent - a species that I had never seen before and exactly where I was planning to be in the morning!

Wed 28th Oct - I set off from Garforth before first light and headed East towards the Yorkshire coast. It was far from ideal driving conditions and by the time I climbed up Garrowby Hill onto the Wolds, I was driving through dense fog. Luckily, it wasn't too bad as I reached the mighty white cape of Flamborough and I soon found the bush where the Hume's Warbler had spent the following evening. There were a handful of birders waiting for it to wake up and I wandered round the clifftop in the faint drizzle of early morning.

Flamborough Head clifftop - the bush to the bottom right was the bush that had the Hume's Warbler.

There was no sign of the Hume's, but in the dark and dingy conditions it felt that it may still wake up and come out later in the morning. After a while I wandered around the area a bit and saw a Black Redstart on the lighthouse wall and found a Firecrest along the nearby hedge, which showed to just a few feet. I kept returning to the bush but pretty soon I got very bored and decided to do a circuit and return later. I headed along the south side of the headland and started north along old fall hedge. There were plenty of thrushes around, especially Blackbirds, and the weather was getting a bit better.

Then a guy passed by saying that the warbler had just been seen! So I hot-footed it back to the spot, walking very very fast and totally knackering myself out. Apparently, it had just flown up over the clifftop towards the very dense patch of bushes by the car park, and was not showing. Humph! A group of us kept vigil for ages but apart from someone saying they'd had a couple of very brief sightings there was not a sniff. We all saw something sneaking through the undergrowth towards us and momentarily thought we had it, but another Firecrest popped out in front of us. All this time, the drizzle was turning to rain and gradually we all were getting soaked. I became very annoyed and uncomfortable and eventually threw in the towel (not literally - that would not be appropriate birding etiquette). I retired to the cafe for a fried breakfast and a cuppa. The weather got worse and worse as I sat staring out of the window, and I drove away back to my sister's place on the Wolds, planning to try again tomorrow.

Terrific conditions at Flamborough Head

Mon 26th October 2015

Posted on November 21, 2015 at 2:05 PM


The idea behind booking a birding holiday to the UK in my half-term holiday in the last week of October is that I will see some rare birds. The presumption is that there is BOUND to be a couple of top-notch rare birds around at that time of the year and I am BOUND to get one or two ticks. A while ago, I used to have this week in Scilly where the plan would generally work. I have seen plenty of stuff on those trips in the past. However, recent changes to travel scheduling has meant that it is nigh on impossible for me to get there from Guernsey - which, to be honest, is probably a good thing since it was becoming a ridiculously expensive trip. So instead I have been sticking to the mainland and have been willing to drive a reasonable distance to the mega-rares that will be turning up in this rarity-spattered month.

So, the theory sounds fine, but recent efforts have been beyond poor - Cornwall 2007, Yorkshire 2011, Norfolk 2013 - the only sniff I've had of a tick on any of these trips has been the Semi-p Plover (whoop-pee-do..), and the supporting cast of other rare and scarce migrants have been non-existent. This year I vowed to give it one last chance. If it was no good in 2015, I would not 'do' the October half-term ever again. So on Sunday 25th October I took the plane to the UK for 5 days birding, based in Yorkshire. Tick or die!!!

* * * * * * * * * * * *

With seeing rarities being the priority, it was of interest that on the Saturday afternoon before setting off, a Bufflehead appeared on a lake in Cumbria. "It was of interest" of course indicates that I was far from excited or "pumped" at the news because, as with all wildfowl, I didn't know if it had flown the Atlantic, or flown over a garden gate to get there - the ugly head of 'cage-hopper' rearing up. However, no-one had had any indications that it wasn't wild, and so it was a case of "I suppose I'd better go and see it then".

So arriving at Manchester Airport around breakfast time, I got the news that the Bufflehead was still present, and so my plan was to head North up the M6. My enthusiasm was a bit strained to be honest and it was a bit of a relief when, just as I was waiting to collect my hire car, Ian and Andy texted me to say that it had a bright yellow ring on it! I'd already seen one plastic Bufflehead at Hornsea many years ago, and I was more than elated that I hadn't driven all the way to the Lake District and seen it already. Unfortunately, there seemed to be no other birds in the North that I especially wanted to go see, so I had a relaxing afternoon at my parents' house in Leeds, ready to hit the coast the next day.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Monday 26th October : Up very early and off I went, driving East along the M62 towards Spurn. I was excited as I hadn't visited Spurn for over a decade, where I had done some terrific birding when I lived in Yorkshire. Even way way back, when I first started birding properly, on 17th Sep 1989 me and Dad spent a couple of hours in the afternoon there and saw 2 Barred Warblers, 2 R-B Shrikes, a Rosefinch, a Little Bunting and a Greenish Warbler! Then there was a spring day in May '95 when I went to twitch my first Subalp, before jamming into flyover White Stork and Black Kite - a 3-tick day. Then later in the same year, on 19th Sep, when I counted 135 Redstarts, part of a fall of drift migrants, and found a female Subalpine Warbler at Sammy's. I've had at least 15 British ticks in the Spurn area, so it held a lot of happy memories, although I suspected that I wouldn't recognise the place.

Roe Deer Spurn 26Oct15

Roe Deer - Canal, Spurn

The plan was to get there at first light, but I didn't realise that the speed limit once you pass Hull rarely strays above 30. I finally arrived, parked up in the last car park before the gate and went for walk round the Kilnsea area. There was nothing especially rare seen the day before, apart from a fly-through Pallid Harrier which I didn't expect to be around still and the long-staying AGPlover which I would look for later.

I walked up the canal in very dingy conditions and noted that there were plenty of Reed Buntings and Goldcrests in the bushes, and a spattering of thrushes in the grassy areas, with the odd Skylark moving through. Reaching the corner at Kilnsea, a Black Redstart was sheltering and a Chiffchaff was calling but there was not massive numbers of late-autumn migrants. The tide was well out but I could still pick out various waders feeding on the mud including a few groups of Knot. Walking back east along the road there were more Goldcrests in the hedges and lots of Blackbirds, with a single Mistle Thrush showing well.

Mistle Thrush - Kilnsea, Spurn

I headed up Beacon Lane without seeing much new and then back south along the beach. I had a few looks out to sea but I didn't fancy doing any seawatching, then continued back to a cafe for a splendid snack. Nearby a couple of Stonechats fed in the fields along with a few Fieldfare and Redwing. So not much variety, but I was having a nice time and I headed south onto the peninsula. Of course, the last time I visited Spurn I drove down to the end of the point in the car. That was before the storm surge that turned Spurn Head into Spurn Island. South of the Warren I looked out to a new landscape, where a beach had replaced the solid land.

Spurn breach1 26Oct15

The breach at Spurn and the new 'Spurn Island'

Spurn breach2 26Oct15

The end of the road.

Turning round and heading back North, a flock of 8 Brambling flew right past me really close and dropped down in the bushes near the Obs. This was at the 'narrow neck' where the visible migration watches happen at Spurn and, even though there was just a few things moving today, you could see how great it must be on a big day. Most things seem to pass very close and very low. Back near the car, someone informed me that a Pallas's Warbler had just been discovered but I searched and searched the bushes to no avail.

I thought I'd head up to the 'Kilnsea Wetlands' area to look for the American Golden Plover. I had never seen these new wetlands before - they did not exist when I lived in Yorkshire. I was expecting a couple of small pools, but when I looked out of the hide I was amazed at the huge size of the scrapes. There were not many waders on the lake but I suspected it was because it wasn't high tide yet, but I did find the juvenile American Golden Plover asleep in the distance. It could hardly be said to be showing well, but at least it was quite a rare bird and was a Yorkshire tick for me.

American Golden Plover - Kilnsea Wetlands, Spurn (phone-scoped)

It was now into the afternoon and rather than head back towards Kilnsea I decided to have a walk along Sammy's Point since the tide was now coming in fast. In the horse paddocks at Sammy's there were 100+ winter thrushes feeding, about half-half Redwing and Fieldfare, along with 100's of Starlings. Another Black Redstart was amongst these and Goldcrests called from the hawthorns. A couple of Goldcrest decided that feeding on the saltmarsh was a suitable thing to do. At the far end a Merlin suddenly dropped in and sat up on a bank. Due to the bushes being in the way it didn't see me and I was able to stalk it quite close. It had prey so I suppose it was waiting to eat it, probably disgruntled that I was trying to take its photo. As I climbed up the bank back onto the sea wall I was surprised to see the water had raced right in, and the mud-feeding waders were now piling past overhead.

Merlin Spurn 26Oct15

Merlin with prey - Sammy's, Spurn

Goldcrest - Sammy's, Spurn

Looking at the time, I decided that it would be beneficial to head back to Leeds, to get past Hull before the rush hour. I didn't realise that the Pallas's Warbler had been showing during the afternoon right next to where I had parked the car earlier - d'oh! But I was pleased with an enjoyable day out in the field in pleasant weather conditions.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Along the beach at Kilnsea I walked amongst the debris left by the sea where it had eaten away at the soft coast and thus eaten away at the edges of the village, gradually reclaiming the land. Concrete blocks, eroded bricks and twisted iron were strewn around the sand like something out of an post-apocalyptic film set. Giant slabs of concrete stuck out of the sand as though an alien space-craft had crash-landed in Yorkshire. A stark message of the power of nature.

Spurn erosion3 26Oct15

Spurn erosion1 26Oct15

Spurn erosion2 26Oct15

Sat 24th October 2015

Posted on November 7, 2015 at 2:00 PM

The second week of October was looking quite promising whilst I worked my patches during the weekdays. On Thursday 8th there was a small wave of new arrivals with a few Wheatears, Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests right out on the headlands, and numerous of the latter in the woods at Le Guet, along with a Firecrest. The day after there were plenty more Chiffchaffs in the willows along Port Soif nature trail, so I was positively expectant heading into the weekend.

On Saturday 10th the Sultans hit Pleinmont but it was a little bit quieter than I expected in the bushes, with few passerines grounded, although there were some interesting birds migrating overhead. We had big, big problems with a mystery falcon that we never got a decent look at. We first saw it fly East, at distance, across the northern side of the headland. All I got on it was that it was very pale below and darkish above and that it wasn't at all obvious what it was. An hour or so later, what was presumably the same bird suddenly appeared above us, in the company of a Kestrel, over Valniquets. It was just silhouette, and it quickly dropped behind the trees, but the identification just didn't click for us. Then a bit later, Mark saw it briefly again off the cliffs and this time it seemed to head out to sea and away. There was talk of a possible Red-foot, but it will have to remain a frustrating mystery.

Most of the morning was spent looking out for this bird but we had a few decent flyovers including my first Lapwings of the winter, and my first two Crossbills for ages. These birds flew East over the scramble track really quite low and close, even close enough to see their tiny crossed bills as they bounded by.

The next day (11th) I took out Anais for a drive, and - I don't know how this happened - we ended up at Pleinmont again. There seemed to be more birds in the trees than yesterday with the top path above Vaux de Monel especially good for Chiffchaffs and 'crests. I was definitely surprised not to find a Yellow-browed here but 3 Firecrests were typically great. Walking back to the car we bumped into the island's first Black Redstart of the Autumn - always a sign that the migration season would be soon coming to an end.

Black Redstart Plein 11Oct15

Black Redstart - Pleinmont, 11 Oct 15

Anais trying to pick out an Eastern Crowned in the lane by Vaux de Monel.

On the way home I distracted Anais with sweets and crisps, and stopped to see the showy Snow Bunting that had been at Fort le Crocq for a few days. I managed to take a few photos from the car window as it hopped around amongst the tyres and other photographers.

Snow Bunting FLC 11Oct15 b

Snow Bunting FLC 11Oct15 a

Snow Bunting - Fort le Crocq, 11 Oct 15

On 17th October we had another Saturday morning up at Pleinmont. In some areas there were lots of common migrants around, but in others it was totally dead - very patchy. Highlights were a few Ring Ouzels and I managed to see 3 Firecrests in one bins-view! We also had a late Yellow Wagtail and lots of other birds to look at but. alas, we couldn't find anything rare or scarce.

Ring Ouzel Plein 17Oct15

Ring Ouzel - Pleinmont, 17 Oct 15

The final decent birds before the half-term holiday were two more Snow Buntings that were present along the path between Vazon cafe and Fort Hommet. I popped down to see them in my lunch hour on 19th, just after a very wet morning. Unsurprisingly, I walked up the path, looking ahead trying to spot them, before practically walking on top of them by my feet. More ridiculously tame Snow Buntings, blissfully unaware of the idiocy of human beings. 

Snow Bunting Vaz 19Oct15 b

Snow Bunting Vaz 19Oct15 a

Snow Bunting Vaz 19Oct15 c2

Snow Buntings - Vazon, 19 Oct 15

Sat 3rd October 2015

Posted on October 4, 2015 at 3:10 AM

The Autumn's birding choices are always dictated by the weather, particularly the strength and direction of the wind. We had some nice easterlies in the second half of September, good for drifting in migrants passing through Europe. However, we'd ideally like changeable conditions. Even good winds can become unproductive when they are the same for days on end, especially when the sky is fully blue and when they are so strong that birding becomes unmanageable. So it was pretty hard work trying to find migrants in constant fresh easterlies and sunny skies. Not complaining though - I'd rather get stuck with winds from the east than anywhere.

Before this high pressure appeared over the UK, I did some seawatching from Jaonneuse on 19th. A typical selection of seabirds was seen but nothing outstanding - 14 Sooty Shearwaters were new for the year, plus a handful of other shearwaters, skuas and terns.

It wasn't until the next weekend that the winds properly turned from the east, and on the saturday morning a few good birds were seen on Pleinmont. So I headed up there on Sunday (27th) and, with Wayne and Mark, covered most of the headland. It was pretty blowy on the top but we could see that some Meadow Pipits were migrating and we recorded all three wagtail species over and a Siskin or two. The bushes were pretty quiet with just a few Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in pockets, but we found a Garden Warbler by the camping field. I then suffered a bout of bad luck as I was deep within the trees at Pezeries when a Great White Egret flew over, in the company of a flock of Grey Herons. All the other birders on the headland saw it but I missed out as I was tucked away. Luckily they are becoming annual here so I am sure I will grip it back pretty soon.

Before we left, we decided on a final circuit of the Mont Herault fields, and we soon saw a Hobby go past us heading East. It was an adult bird and gave terrific views, although I was slow with the camera.

Hobby - Pleinmont, 27 Sep 15

We tried to walk through as many fields as possible to make sure we didn't miss anything and finally, whilst we were tramping our last potato field, we put up a large pipit. Unlike the bird I had a couple of weeks ago, this individual gave out a longer, drawn-out call and so proved to be a Richard's Pipit. We watched it head back over our heads, hover over a field for a short while and then head off distantly east, just like the Tawny did before. So I'm on a hat-trick of large pipit finds - completing it though may be a touch fanciful.

The next week's birding was difficult. There seemed to be birds around but conditions were not often suitable for searching. I managed to find two Tree Pipits getting buffeted around Fort Hommet on 28th Sep, where the Rose-coloured Starling was seen for a second time. The next Saturday morning (3rd Oct), the winds had settled down a bit and it felt pretty good up at Pleinmont. There had been an increase in common migrants but we were disappointed in the variety. We had 3 Whinchats and a Firecrest, plus two fly-past Mistle Thrushes as the highlight.

Wayne snapped me 'doing' the fields at Mont Herault. We are so lucky here on Guernsey that, in general, there is free access to many field systems, and we can actually get in there and work them for migrants. On so many headlands in the UK, interesting fields are fenced off and all you can do is look in from the outside and wonder what might be in there. You can see how warm it is at the moment as I am still birding in a t-shirt in October.

Clouded Yellow

Clouded Yellow - Mont Herault, 3 Oct 15