Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Quick notice !

Unfortunately, due to an absence of WiFi facilities where I'm to be based, I'm not going to be in a position to post entries until Sunday of this week. Get ready for a marathon read !   Sorry folks !

Monday, January 30, 2017

Hawfinches, harriers and Common Cranes.

Yesterday, Sunday 29th, I spent virtually all day at Lynford Arboretum. I don't know the site at all well and so had a good explore around the place. It's famed , of course, for its Hawfinch sightings ( of which more later ! ), but there's much more to enjoy. Birds include Firecrest, Marsh Tit and Crossbill and many more given the wide variety of habitats.

As with many places in the Brecks there's a fascinating history associated with the place and the wide open spaces can be enjoyed by all, as yesterday testified,with dog walkers, joggers, horseriders and photographers out in abundance due to the nice weather ( at least in the morning ).

I'd gone there from early morning until late afternoon in order totry and see Hawfinch. I didn't , but I gained a lot of advice and saw a good array of the other species on offer including Crossbill, lots of Siskin, which were also in good voice, some fine Brambling, and also Water Vole and Muntjac.  The weather turned completely in the late afternoon when rain moved in for a time. I resolved to come back again in the morning ( today! ) and try and catch the Hawfinch before they dispersed..

I've often thought that the Hawfinches roost in or nearby to "The Paddock" area and then disperse out to feeding areas. With this in mind I was there at first light and, following a worrying few minutes when nothing was in evidence, was rewarded with a single bird appearing as if by magic and perching atop a tree giving first class views.  Nine other birds then emerged and were in view before they all flew off, but in two differing directions.  It was great to get flight views and calls as they went away.  By sheer coincidence I then met with some people at Buckenham Marshes who advised that they never visit before the afternoon or towards roost time ! I guess many disappointed visitors simply get there a little too late !

And so, as you can guess, I moved off early and went across eastwards to Strumpshaw and Buckenham Marshes.


The "extent" that is Buckenham Marshes looking towards Cantley.

As ever Wigeon and Teal were in abundance and plagued periodically by a marauding Peregrine !  Mallard, Shoveler, Shelduck, Canada Goose, Grey lag Goose , Pink footed Goose and White-fronted Goose were all in evidence plus Water Pipit and Stonechat,  but sadly no Bean Geese of which six of the wintering flock remain. Unfortunately little men in orange vests working on the railway line close to their favourite "corner" had possibly moved them on for the day !

The day's finale involved moving on to the Norfolk Trust's Hickling Reserve for the harrier roost.  Contrasted against what has seen over 80 Marsh Harriers attend this roost the showing was modest by comparison with my count being of only 26 birds. Nonetheless it was exciting as ever to see them arriving  and then quickly disappearing into roost within the reeds and rough vegetation. Two Hen Harriers were also a part of the spectacle with an extremely pale male bird arriving from the south and a ring tail moving in very swiftly a little later.  A Tawny Owl provided some  very early calls to end the day well previous to around 25 Common Cranes coming into roost at the very fall of darkness.  Not a bad day at all and I even got a glimpse of a Chinese Water Deer !

Countryside management or convenience cutting !!

Comments please ! The devastation alongside a layby in the aftermath of "hedge trimming ".

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Fenland transit !

In many ways this was always going to be a transfer day involving a renewed acquaintance with Fenland.  I really like the never ending horizons and wide vistas , but I'm not sure I'd chose it as my favourite birding area. For one thing , the road systems are too complicated and badly signposted ( at least I find so ).

The weather had improved after overnight rain and eventually saw some sunny periods and balmy 9C temperatures! I eventually found my way to the Nene Washes, after some devilish self navigation, only to find that it was more or less dry. Other than the walks along the embankments from the RSPB's car park I'm not sure of any other areas you can gain access to. Nonetheless, after Marsh Harrier, Buzzard, Kestrel and Sparrowhawk as highlights I managed to pick up three Common Cranes in flight that eventually alighted to feed but at considerable distance.

I then went across Fenland to the  Welney area.. A good view of a family party of (6) Bewick's Swans was nice and , later, several other larger groups were encountered including some Whooper Swans as well.

Many were at a distance and difficult to see in the sense of an absence of a useful vantage point. Certainly the number of young birds appeared to be very low.

A trip alongside Ten Mile Bank through to Littleport produced a few passerines in the form of 30 Fieldfares, a Linnet flock and a mixed , loose party of Chaffinch and Greenfinch.  Blackbirds appear to be in quite good numbers generally and Lapwings were widely spread across the area, but basically that was it..

Friday, January 27, 2017

Spurn Visitor Centre proposal approved.

In a bewildering reversal of the decision taken previously to reject the proposal, the requisite Planning Committee of East Yorkshire Council on Thursday approved the new submission by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to build a new visitor centre at Spurn. Such was claimed to be revised and updated but, in all honesty, very little appeared to be in evidence in the details put forward.  This is to be funded by Eon via an alledged grant of  £900,000.

This is not the latest image of what the Centre will look like nor is the mast part of the application, but the general idea is authentic!!

The proposal has been controversial at best and attracted over 700 objections and less than a third of this figure from those in support. It has polarized the local community, the majority of whom were adamantly against the idea , not least based on the questionable management of the site by the Trust in the past and the dismissive relationship it offered the local residents. That very recent efforts have now been made by the Trust to address this situation in the form of creating a liaison group is most probably a step too late and it seems more likely that their every action will be closely and critically monitored.

I fully appreciate the reasons why the Trust might need to maximise visitor attendance and income from the site and the various management challenges which are now present associated with the site, but I remain unconvinced that this proposal is a viable option. Sadly there's a rock and a hard place dimension to this scenario.  Accepting the current level of attendance clearly generates insufficient income to cover the required routine management and increasing management tasks to do with safety any management body would critically examine other solutions. Extending the facilities puts inevitable pressure on a series of fragile habitats and, lets face it , on a diminishing land holding given the inevitable likelihood of further inundations by the sea and extensive erosion.  But beyond all these sort of issues that have concerned people, the projections of visitor attendance, I believe, are optimistic at best and will be the ultimate downfall of the whole initiative. Beyond the first couple of years, when curiosity and top heavy site promotion might see the figures suggested being realised , I honestly believe things will then deteriorate significantly resulting in the Centre operating part time and then closing altogether as the negative cost ratios will leave little alternative.

I admit to having objected to the proposal on that basis.  I don't envy the dilemma which otherwise would need to be addressed by the Trust and also admit that I have no sure fire alternative which might even be tried. But a decision has now been taken and it is necessary to abide by the outcome and see what happens.It's pointless being negative, aggressive or despondent on the one hand or unnecessarily promote the success of the proposal as a victory either. At the end of the day it is Spurn and its future which is important and I guess , whatever "side" you're on, there's some serious reflection to indulge in as far as what that future might entail.

White billed Diver quest !

The day didn't start well.   I overslept ( very rare for me ), it was foggy outside with sub zero temperatures and on the very day I was travelling down to East Anglia, at least eventually. So, overcoming all the obviously ensuing chaos I set off and decided to play safe and keep to main highway routes.  I'd decided to "call into Lincolnshire " and see the White-billed Diver on the River Whitam.  I eventually took the Sleaford road and cut northwards, although the visibility was improving . What nobody had mentioned is that there are some road closures and diversions in the vicinity of the bird's location which cost both time and patience.....but eventually I made it by early afternoon.

I was entertained by some Geordies , who'd been there all day and who had followed the bird northwards up the river and then back down again!  At least it seemed I was at the right end of the river stretch, although updated news that it was moving north again prompted the lyrics of that famous  Proclaimer's song, "I'm Gonna Be" , to play through my mind ( " But I would walk 500 miles, and I would walk 500 more"  ) . Absolutely nothing to do with divers or birdwatching of course, but it did seem apt, although it was so damned cold I'm not sure the pledge would have been carried out!!

Gaining the path on the eastern side of the river, it was a relief to see some birders watching the river intently a hundred metres or so along the path !  And, yes, there it was just swimming around mid river.

How about that for a bill?  Whow!  gradually the bird moved northwards, diving at intervals which, in some instances, saw it move quite a distance.  It seemed totally unfazed by the attention it was receiving  and simply moved around at its own pace. eventually I decided to return to the car, process the photographs  and gloat !!  One thing I did discover , which I confess I've not seen previously , at least not as clearly. The bird showed a very distinct "spectacle" appearance when seen head on.

So a bad start which ended well !!

Added note!   Various people have made comments about this bird/entry which, I confess, I've not really understood until today when I had a chat with a birder whilst at Lynford. Apparently around ten years ago there was a similar record in the same vicinity with the bird getting hooked up by a fisherman and, I think, dying eventually.  All is now clear.....I'm not into avian resurrection or time zone changes !  I'd be living on Islay at the time or away somewhere and clearly missed the sad news.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Lucky love's labours ! 22.1.2017

Yesterday saw my son, Matthew, and I visit various places around Wakefield and Leeds. A cold day, in fact the temperature never reached more than 3C and , for quite a time , was on freezing.  It was misty too at times with even odd flurries of snow in the afternoon.  Very much a labour of love, but that's birding !.

Our first stop was in Ossett where a Black Redstart had been reported. This was present in the graveyard surrounding a rather imposing church. Now, it has to be said, creeping around in a graveyard in freezing temperatures immediately after dawn carries an atmosphere all of its own ! Thankfully the bird showed itself fairly soon and seemed quite oblivious to the attention it was receiving from us and a couple of other birdwatchers. It appeared in good condition, fed frequently , but also took time out to sit and preen showing its tail pattern and white wing edgings off to good effect.

Next we went on a Waxwing hunt ! Driving around Morley in poor weather is unlikely to lift your spirits I have to say, (  some would say otherwise I'm sure ) , but on drawing a blank  we followed a hunch of Matthew's and went to the White Rose Retail Park.  Being a birder gets you to some of the most edifying places !  And, yes, berry bearing bushes there were some,  but not with Waxwings. And then in what I suspect was one of the far flung corners we came across a party of 17 birds sitting atop a tree on the edge of a car park and occasionally diving down to feed.

We watched them for quite a time and listened to their muted calls. Surprisingly a Magpie which descended with a flourish into "their" tree didn't spook  them and they continued to preen and simply sit there.

Eventually we'd had our fill and moved on to more conventional birding at Swillington and Fairburn. Neither of us really know the former site, other than one location, but this provided us with a good selection of species ( Goosander, Sparrowhawk, Goldeneye, Pochard, Shoveler, Teal and a sizeable flock of Canada Geese across the river  ).  This was a day to keep on the move and so we eventually transferred to the RSPB Reserve at Fairburn. Lunch first and then a series of walks around the various trails. It was good to see so many people out and about on what was a penetratingly cold day and the car park was virtually full.

The locations where feeders were present presented a focus for many people and provided us with views of what is now begining to be a species you've really to seek out with a vengeance, Willow Tit. Other species entertained including good numbers of Tree Sparrows, Goldfinch, Blue, Great and Coal Tits , Greenfinch, Dunnock and a couple of Redpoll, which I heard , but missed. This generated talk between us of the recent decision by the BOU to "lump" Common (Mealy ) and Lesser Redpoll together and the inevitable discussion that will now continue revolving around the "Redpoll complex " !

A period spent watching along a favoured dyke for Kingfisher and Water Rail was unsuccessful , but provided tremendous views of a Little Egret feeding in the shallows which could be seen to contain hundreds of small fish. An attempt to see the Smew which is present on Village Bay was both futile and frustrating. Given much of the reserve runs adjacent to a busy main road the number of safe viewing locations is small and a long trek is required to cover this large section of the reserve. This must be a real frustration for the RSPB too and no obvious or immediate solution seems possible.Nonetheless we managed to find the Great White Egret and we both had what I suspect were the best views ever, both at home and abroad, and ones that will take some time to surpass.  It was mid-afternoon, the temperatures were not going to improve, mist was emerging and even odd snow flurries were developing,so we called it a day.  In reality not a bad one either, doing what you love best and being rewarded with a good return !

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Carlton Marsh LNR 14.1.2017

I'd been looking forward to this visit for some considerable time.  The fact of the matter is that I lived opposite the reserve for about ten years (  approx. 1959 -1969 ) and was dying to see how it had been developed. I haven't the precise dates or details but a distant relative had actually sold the low lying marshland known as Carlton Marsh to the Barnsley Council. At some point Eric Bennett ( Barnsley Planning Dept ).........yes, he who designed the Old Moor RSPB Reserve as well.....devised a plan for the area which, later, was designated as a Local Nature Reserve.  At that time a rather badly polluted stream meandered through the swampy valley-bottom area which , at times, became far worse as the Council determined a policy to locate a series of car breakers yards in the adjacent locality. Whilst the latter businesses remained,  things gradually formalised and became better, although the odd dispute remained in place. Essentially the area comprised a wet juncus ridden area with little open water and , vastly compared to the present, little or no tree cover, although scrub was present on the railway embankment. It was perfectly possible to see down the valley from Far Field Cottages where I lived with my parents. Whilst we are talking of a span of over forty years to the present it is to the credit of Barnsley MBC that the area has been retained and , when possible, has had money spent on it resulting in the marvellous place it is today !  One thing that I've repeatedley dwelt on in recent days is that I've potentially lived somewhere that has had Bittern within 300 yards, except the timing was awry!!  But enough of the old boy ramblings and onto the present day!

So, what does the reserve look like today?

Extending down the valley there has been a number of quite large water bodies created recently, whose potential has yet to be realised.  The biggest surprise is the sheer amount of tree cover which has been introduced, drawing in a wide variety of species ( they've even Common Buzzard in the area! ). It has a car park, a great hide, a pond for schools to utilise for dipping purposes and endless seats perched on the elevated railway embankment to the west allowing a series of views to be taken over large sections of the reserve.  In the past the duck species present would have been limited to Mallard and Teal.  Gadwall, Tufted Duck, Mallard , Teal, Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Grey lag Goose and various gull species were present on my visit even though most of the "lagoons" carried a thin coating of ice.  The overall species list that has been recorded is awesome and the number of breeding species is also impressive. At some point I'll review the latest Annual Report and reveal a little more of the treasures present or recorded!!

Throughout all of the reserve's emergent  "history" a local stalwart in the form of Cliff Gorman has been a permanent presence at the reserve  ( about 43 years....sorry Cliff ! ) and I suspect will remain so for some considerable time yet. At 70 years he's " nobbutt a lad" as they say in this part of the world and I suspect will turn in more than a few relevant records in the years to come!! Here he is yesterday in the early morning light doing a scrutiny of the main lagoon...

We walked the whole length of the reserve, discussed much ....and I learned a great deal... and saw quite a number of birds ( a great start to the occasion when I'd determined to commence a "Birds seen in Yorkshire List, something I've never done before ).  The future looks good for the reserve too. In recent times the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust Ltd has agreed a five year contract with the Barnsley MBC  to oversee the management of various sites, which includes Carlton Marsh,  and it appears has already injected some expertise into the development of the area.

I could go on ...and on !! I thoroughly enjoyed the day, the Red Fox sightings, the emerging knowledge that Willow Tits were present on site and a whole host of other aspects. I shall be back and hopefully regularly too. Thanks to Cliff ( and to Eric Bennett and Keith Bannister who couldn't be there on the day ). And , oh, Bittern is currently resident ( there has been two ! ) and there is a very suitable reed bed........


The High Road south ! 8.1.2017

Departing fairly early the plan was to take advantage of travelling past the area and call in at various sites in Strathspey en route.  Thoughts of Crested Tit, Scottish Crossbill, even Black Grouse, were enticing but despite some intensive searching in three or four areas I got nothing!! Hardly surprising given time was of the essence and luck does come into things.

An eventual breakfast/lunch overlooking Insh Marshes provided a few birds to look at, but nothing new , so I pressed on. My objective was The Cuile, north of Pitlochry ( PH16 5QU ) which is north of Perth.  Last year , during January and February, a male Ring-necked Duck had been in residence  and, this winter, the bird had turned up even earlier well before Christmas.

The site is very pleasant, quite small, enclosed largely by trees and comprises a water body towards the bottom of a hillside which itself plays host to a golf course.  How on earth did a Ring-necked Duck locate such a small, quiet location I wondered.  Other birds were present ( Mallard, Tufted Duck, Mute Swan and Little Grebe ) but the whole scene portrayed the tranquility of a small local site that might have been overlooked !  The bird was easily located , appeared utterly at ease and provided great views.

After prolonged and relaxing views I made my way south to overnight at Kinross.  The next couple of days or so bear little or no mention. Poor weather, very strong winds plus snow and general mayhem was forecast which prompted me to head off south early after seeing precious little on the day when such conditions began to arise.  Thankfully I "escaped" the frustration of the Forth Bridge being closed, the blown down trees in Northumberland or the snow which followed  as , by then, I was approaching home!! Not quite the plan I'd had in mind but "positive luck" seemed to be on my side for this one!!!

Birding around Kirkhill, Beauly. 7.1.2017

Well the pre and post Christmas and early New Year sojourn at Kirkhill was now at an end and the time had arrived to travel southwards and home. The journey up had been mixed with snow across the Drumochter Pass and northwards, but with milder periods then developing interspersed with some pretty windy interludes!!  The forecast now appeared to be changing.

The very edge of Kirkhill village borders on farmland which itself then resides adjacent to the Beauly Firth. Various woodlands are in evidence so its a nice mixed  bag of habitats. The weather had been relatively good, contrasted against what this area can actually receive in winter, but this certainly didn't deter birds from visiting garden feeders. In fact, a wider variety of species was actually seen in a garden setting than without!!
Regular walks out with the dogs encountered both Grey lag and Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans could be heard trumpeting from down near the Firth. As ever titmice were in evidence ( Great, Blue, Coal, Long-tailed ) as were finches and buntings ( Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Brambling, Bullfinch, Siskin, Yellowhammer ) with numbers of House and Tree Sparrows as well.  A Great spotted Woodpecker dominated the feeders at times and the expected ground feeders were present ( Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock, Wren ). However no Starlings were seen in over two weeks ! Tawny Owl was encountered on a couple of occasions too. Together with corvids, gulls, Common Buzzard and the odd Woodpigeon and Pheasant quite a variety was recorded between periods of more earnest birding.  Doubtless things will alter as the intensity of the winter takes a more firm grip on things overall but, overall , I was pleased with what had occurred to form the "bedrock" of a Year List for 2017

Quest at Clachnaharry Bay, Inverness. 6.1. 2017

Encouraged by reports that the American Wigeon present around Clachnaharry Lock ( note the spelling ) was somewhat tame and easily viewed I called in to the area after being in town.  Late morning is not the most ideal time for some areas particularly when coupled, as on this occasion , with the tide being low in the Beauly Firth ! And so it proved ! The Clachnaharry circuit is much favoured as a  local walk, indeed, it more resembled an exercise area at Crufts as constant numbers of  our canine friends were given their morning constitutional around its boundary.

Clachnaharry Lock is at the end of the Caledonian Canal and essentially effects entry into the Beauly Firth. The bird had been recorded within the lock on a regular basis and even grazed on its well maintained embankments on occasion. But not on this particular morning !   A fine male Goldeneye, and small parties of Mallard and Tufted Duck were within the basin, but that was it.

  I walked the whole circuit and eventually found the bird sitting out on the open water of the Firth, which, relatively speaking,  was quite a distance away given low tide. My hopes of a picture or super close views were dashed, but that's birding!!  This is a very convenient site which juts out into the Firth, but has "enclosed" corners on each flank with exposed mud that attracts waders and gulls. Well worth a visit and, who knows, you might even see an American Wigeon !!

Two days on the Black Isle.( 3rd and 5th January ).

Finally a couple of days emerged when I could get out for complete days. Both were quite contrasted as far as weather conditions were concerned with the first being fine , but with a strong SW wind and the second day being almost calm. Sadly the incoming tide was late in the afternoon on the 3rd and into the evening on the 5th.

Munlochy Bay held few birds on either date due to the tide being fully out. A few Oystercatcher, Curlew, Wigeon, and Shelduck were in evidence and Red Kite swooped and floated above a distant hillside. Chanonry Point provided a brief view of a fine Bottle-nosed Dolphin quite close in and an immature Gannet, but little else. Across the "spine" of the Black Isle towards the Cromarty Firth,  still operating as a dismantling site, graveyard even, for several drilling rigs previously in the North Sea.

It was at this point the wind started to rise and viewing conditions over the Firth deteriorated. There were certainly birds around but difficult to see. As an example , I located the Greater Scaup flock, counted it five times and got five widely different figures! Cutting my losses I went straight on to the RSPB reserve at Udale Bay and spent the remainder of the afternoon there.

There was a lot of birds around.  Shelduck, Mallard, Teal, Wigeon, Curlew, Redshank, a Black-tailed Godwit, Little Grebe and distant Pink-footed Geese. I'd a memory of a Green-winged Teal being present previously so I optimistically spent some time going through the dispersed feeding Teal, without any luck, but in the process found the American Wigeon within the increasing numbers of Wigeon grazing at the head of the loch. Brief, but reasonable, views were obtained before it did a disappearing act amongst the large number of its relatives!

The second date was an altogether different situation. Other than Munlochy Bay I didn't bother covering any sites on the east of the Black Isle , but went straight to the "mouth" of the Cromarty Firth and worked my way westwards towards the head of the loch.  Good views of Slavonian Grebe, Long-tailed Duck, Eider, Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and, finally, the Greater Scaup flock, which numbered between 350/400 birds.  I had my breakfast/lunch further westwards looking out over the , still, largely empty loch.

As the tide moved in very slowly good views were had of common waders , including again a single Black-tailed Godwit, small numbers of which are now a common feature of the area.  The locality , now a designated NNR, is not without its history as information boards outline ( click on the image and read the details. )

Moving on to Udale Bay again the tide was fully out, and even eventually , advanced very slowly. An obliging Peregrine sat on on what I understand is a regularly used perching post and provided a welcome diversion. The afternoon moved on with birds appearing very gradually with the still distant tide. A predicted low tide, calm conditions and a High Tide time of early evening meant opportunities were inevitably restricted so, with dusk approaching, I eventually called it a day after what , after all, had been two good days of birding.

Monday, January 2, 2017

High hopes for 2017 !

Here's to the future now
It's only just begun.

So, in the words of the song, the time of year has arrived again when , for birders, unfettered anticipation and a possible resolve to see more than in the immediate year previous arises. 2016 was, for me, a year of extremes, but not in a birding sense. I moved south from Islay back to my native Yorkshire, not an easy change but one which holds increasing possibilities. Now a year of  "can do better " ( much better in fact )  is certainly on the books.

Unfortunately, since last Spring, a number of things emerged which frustrated attempts at any "immediate birding" or systematic coverage locally. Thankfully all these are now sorted out and the future is bright with opportunity for wall to wall birding. It's the first time for decades that I've had few or no circumstances to tie me down.  Trips have been planned, including much more time being spent on the East Coast and I'm really looking forward to it all !!   I might even try a 2017 Year List !!

As a taster of what possibilities are present , news came on New Year's Eve that a new Yorkshire record had been set by Garry Taylor in 2016 when he saw 285 species within the year in the County.  Mega place !!  Whilst I shan't be chasing that figure I'm hoping 2017 holds promise to deliver a reasonable proportion of what clearly can be seen within the County. It is a big place after all !! 

I'm in Scotland at present and whilst I can't start much in earnest until the 3rd, local opportunities are certainly not barren or unexciting. With Pink-footed Geese occasionally feeding in the field next to the house, Whooper Swans calling from the Beauly Firth in the distance and a wide variety of passerines visiting the garden feeders from the surrounding farmland and woodlands I'm certainly not frustrated or disappointed. Positively encouraged you might say !

Whilst I've taken my foot off the pedal in recent times as far as Blogging is concerned, I can promise I'll now be returning to the fold and relating all that happens in the upcoming year. Ready to be bored ?  I'll even weave in a few aspects linked to conservation for respite......can unfettered anticipation be taken any further I ask?