2016 has once again provided me with some wonderful encounters with birds. The autumn in particular has been especially memorable with some incredible rarities along the Yorkshire coast. As we head towards the close of the year, here is a small selection of photographs of some memorable birds (and a mammal or two!) from 2016.
There has been a truly amazing spell of birding along the Yorkshire coast over the past couple of weeks. A sustained spell of easterly winds has brought a deluge of exciting birds from the heart of Asia and it has been a joy to be in amongst such a fantastic array of Asian waifs and strays.
One of my tour groups was lucky enough to have their visit during the early part of this spell and had an amazing time with Britain's fourth Eastern Crowned Warbler amongst a list of mouth-watering species that also included Arctic and Pallas's Warblers, Red-breasted Flycatcher, Great Grey Shrike, Jack Snipe and many many common migrants. A short trip report for this tour can be found at www.birdwatchingbreaks.com/2011Trip%20Reports/NEW_Yorkshire2016_TripRep.htm .
Of course like many other birders across the country, the opportunity to make the trip to Easington to see Britain's second Siberian Accentor could not be missed and is undeniably the highlight of the whole autumn.
If you fancy joining me on a tour along the Yorkshire coast, then why not get in touch. I can't promise such an amazing spell of birding, but there are always some quality birds on offer. so do drop me a line.
Here are a few photographic highlights from recent weeks.
In my last blog posting I suggested that my survey workload would be reduced this spring. This has turned out to be true, but the birding has been pretty exciting at times and I have been fortunate to be involved with some nice finds.
On 18th April, I visited Long Nab with pretty low expectations, but stumbled into a Short-toed Lark! A find I was delighted with. More details can be found at my Long Nabber blog, but here is a photograph of the bird.
Following not long after that was an even better find in the form of a second calendar year Pallid Harrier that Micky and I saw heading North at Long Nab during a ringing session in early May. I didn't get any photos, but remarkably this bird had been seen by Terry Hobson and Graham Jackson at Wykeham South Lake just 25 minutes earlier. Photographs can be found on the Scarborough Birders website.
In addition to undertaking some regular survey work I have enjoyed the company of two birding groups in May. Both groups enjoyed some fine birding. A short report on the experiences of the first group can be found below, whilst the second group was for Birdwatching Breaks, and a short report on that trip can be found here.
If you are interested in day trips or short break guided birding in the Scarborough and North York Moors area, then do get in touch.
After the work with the tour groups, I have continued with some surveying jobs in various parts of Yorkshire, with a site in Ayrshire and some work in other parts of Scotland in the pipeline. So, life remains busy!
Private Birding Tour in Yorkshire & Teesside - Tour Report.
This private group tour was planned several months in advance and an itinerary had been carefully drafted in order to ensure that we covered the best of the many wonderful birding sites that this part of Yorkshire has to offer. Of course weather has a significant role to play in what migrant birds might be around and thus a certain level of flexibility is always required. This could hardly have been more clearly demonstrated than with this short break. The itinerary had been significantly modifed within minutes of the group arriving, and it was two days into the trip before we got back to something resembling the original plan! However, there were some very memorable birds and a wonderful few days of quality birding was enjoyed by all.
A mouth-watering array of rare and scarce species were on offer during the course of the trip and we were fortunate to see many of the interesting birds present in the region. A superb group of migrant Dotterel were most obliging at Danby Beacon and a smart male Bluethroat posed in the open on short grass at Hartlepool. Two Whiskered Terns, a drake Garganey and five Spoonbills were seen at Saltholme, whilst the long-staying Surf Scoter was seen (eventually!) at Filey. A female Red-backed Shrike at Ravenscar and an Osprey cruising just below the cliffs at Bempton completed the rare and scarce bonanza. All of this was in addition to more expected fayre in the form of two Goshawks, male Ring Ouzel, Whinchat, Turtle Dove, a scattering of commoner passage waders, breeding waders of the North York Moors such as Golden Plover, Lapwing and Curlew and, of course the stunning spectacle that is the seabird colony at Bempton Cliffs with its Gannets, Kittiwakes and auks including the ever-popular Puffins.
This was an exceptional spell of birding which, despite some strong winds from the NE (responsible in part for the birds we enjoyed), was enjoyed by all group member and guide alike. I would also like to thank Nick Addey, Steve Wignill and Tony Clarke for sending texts and calling me to make sure that I hadn’t missed any snippets of breaking bird news during the course of this trip.
May 12th: Potter Brompton Carr, Filey, Flamborough.
Weather: Bright and sunny, but with an increasingly strong NE wind.
The pickup point for the group was Seamer train station. Arrival was delayed by an hour, but after arrival we were soon on our way into the field. I had found a few passage waders at Potter Brompton Carr prior to the group’s arrival, so we headed directly there. A walk produced some nice views of Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, two Ringed Plover, Curlew and Lapwing. A Sedge Warbler posed nicely in the brambles beside a ditch. Unfortunately there was no sign of the Wood Sandpiper I had seen just two hours earlier.
We then headed for Filey for our first look for the long-staying Surf Scoter. We couldn’t find it, but saw good numbers of Kittiwakes, and a couple of Gannets. News that there was a Bluethroat at Flamborough caused a quick rethink of plans, so we checked into the B&B in the village of Hunmanby and quickly headed off. While we were doing this, news of a Dotterel also at Flamborough filtered through. Excellent! Less than half an hour later we were arriving at Flamborough only to be greeted with the disappointing news that the Dotterel had flown off just five minutes earlier. We therefore hot-footed it to the hedge where the Bluethroat had been seen. It was being similarly difficult and not showing in the extremely windy conditions. After an hour or so of seeing little other than Linnets, we headed off for dinner at a pub-restaurant in Flamborough, somewhat chilled and a little disappointed with the start to proceedings.
May 13th: Danby Beacon, Hartlepool Headland, Saltholme RSPB, Filey.
Weather: Generally overcast with a moderate NE wind and some light drizzle at Danby.
The day began grey and rather windy again and I was again reconsidering what the best plan would be. A small flock of Dotterel had arrived at Danby Beacon the previous day, and news that they were still present gave me all the information I required. So we drove deep into the North York Moors National Park. On arrival at Danby we saw a most obliging Golden Plover and some Red Grouse before enjoying wonderful views of the Dotterel as they fed amongst heather close to the road. Eventually we decided we’d enjoyed enough and with news of a male Bluethroat at Hartlepool, we decided we couldn’t turn down the opportunity, and with the itinerary now ditched entirely for the day we headed directly there. On arrival there was no sign of the bird, but after some waiting around and the odd false alarm (not to mention a visit to the local chippy for one participant) the bird reappeared and we enjoyed excellent views of this gorgeous species. The disappointment of the previous afternoon was now ebbing away somewhat!
The next stop on our revised agenda was a visit to Saltholme RSPB reserve. Here we saw Tree Sparrows in the car park and then from the visitor centre we enjoyed excellent views of two Whiskered Terns hawking over the lake. Yet another rare species under the belt. Common Terns were also in good numbers on the islands just outside the window, whilst on the feeders, Stock Dove, Greenfinch and Goldfinch were noted. Leaving the visitor centre we had a breezy walk that added five Spoonbills, two Little Egrets, a smart drake Garganey, Pochard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Shoveler, some commoner waders, Pink-footed Goose and Barnacle Goose. A more than satisfactory haul!
With time getting on we headed back to base in Hunmanby, with a short and largely unsuccessful visit to Filey en-route.
May 14th: Troutsdale, Ebberston, Wykeham South Lake, Potter Brompton Carr, Filey, Ravenscar.
Weather: Sunny and bright with variable cloud, but chilly with a strong NNE wind.
After the excitement of the previous day we got back to something approaching the planned itinerary. In addition despite the continuing cold NNE wind we had another productive day. A visit to the Forge Valley feeders was quiet, but our walk amongst the delightful surroundings of Troutsdale was rather better. Spotted Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail, a brief sighting of a pair of Mandarin were most welcome as was the Dipper that posed for some time by a bridge. A bird of prey flying quickly along the ridge proved to be a Hobby; a scarce species in this area. A Blackcap showed nicely in a bush by the roadside. Further along the valley we paused for a male Redstart that flew high into the sky over its territory. A warming cup of coffee/tea was enjoyed whilst watching for raptors that included both Sparrowhawk and Goshawk.
Moving on we had an unsuccessful search for Turtle Dove near Ebberston and then visited a windswept Wykeham South Lake, locating a Yellow Wagtail on the way. However the visit did not yield a great deal else. A return visit to Potter Brompton Carr allowed us to enjoy more views of Greenshank and Black-tailed Godwit, plus a Grey Plover was new for the list. Filey was next up and we headed out onto Carr Naze where at last we connected with the Surf Scoter which was loosely associating with a flock of four Common Scoter. We had distant views of the scoter, but we could see all the pertinent features (eventually!) and a Greenland Wheatear posed briefly on the walk back to the car. News of a female Red-backed Shrike up the coast at Ravenscar soon had us heading in that direction and it was not long before we were enjoying nice views of this smart species. Returning to Scarborough we had a good dinner in a local Italian restaurant.
May 15th: Rosedale, Egton Road, Wykeham Raptor Viewpoint.
Weather: Cool, but light winds and partly cloudy skies.
At long last the winds abated and we were able to enjoy a less windswept day. After leaving the B&B we made a couple of largely unsuccessful stops before arriving in Rosedale, where we began our search for Ring Ouzel. This proved to be less straightforward than hoped, but after much patient scanning we were able to enjoy nice, if distant views of a smart male. A short drive took us up onto the nearby moors along the road to Egton. A smart Golden Plover was on a grouse butt. A stop by a stream yielded Stonechat and the hoped-for singing male Whinchat. After spending some time optimistically scanning for Merlins, we opted for a change of scene and visited the Wykeham Raptor Viewpoint. Here we saw several Buzzards and a distant Goshawk, but little else of note. Nearby Wykeham Forest Nursery hosted a Wheatear, but we called it a day and headed back to base. After dinner we tried for Nightjars. The early date made me wonder if we’d see or hear any, but in the event a single bird was flying about calling, although it did elude most of the group.
May 16th: Bempton Cliffs RSPB, Wykeham South Lake, Ebberston.
Weather: Sunny with pleasant temperatures and light winds.
The day began at Bempton Cliffs RSPB, where we enjoyed some warming sunshine, light winds and the fantastic spectacle that is the seabird breeding colony here. Teeming with life we had wonderful views of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Razorbills, Guillemots and of course small numbers of Puffins. Other species included numerous Tree Sparrows, Linnets and Whitethroats plus a singing Corn Bunting and an unexpected brief fly through by an Osprey! With the trip drawing to a close we decided to try for better views of Yellow Wagtail at Wykeham South Lake. This was duly achieved along with a surprise Marsh Harrier on the way and a flock of five Eider on the lake. The latter were of particular interest for my Patchwork Challenge yearlist! Our final stop was at Ebberston where we connected with a beautiful Turtle Dove sat on an open branch, a Willow Warbler and we heard a singing Garden Warbler. After doing the final bird list we headed to the railway station where the tour concluded
My spring survey workload is looking likely to be somewhat reduced when compared with previous years, so it has been a treat to spend some time in the local area, birding on the coast at Long Nab, on farmland in The Carrs, Wykeham South Lake and in the forests.
This Dipper was showing nicely along the River Derwent.
An obliging Marsh Tit was busy proclaiming its territory.
This morning I had an enjoyable visit to Troutsdale where I spent a bit of time checking out a few species in preparation for forthcoming tours in the area later in the spring
Goshawks have been in evidence on a number of days over the past few weeks, whilst a walk in Wykeham Forest afforded some nice views of Crossbills today. Chiffchaffs are now widespread in the area and I heard my first singing Blackcap of the spring this morning.
Troustdale produced nice views of Dipper (photo above), plus territorial Marsh Tits (photo above). Searches at a number of locations for Willow Tit have been fruitful with a couple of territories in The Carrs.
At Wykeham South Lake a House Martin was with the Sand Martins, whilst a migrant flock of 10 Goldeneye were new in. Little Ringed Plovers have been present here for a week or so now, whilst over the surrounding woods and copses good numbers of Common Buzzards were circling over their territories.
I have some availability for tailored birding tours in the North York Moors and along the coast, so if you are interested in a day trip or a short break, then please get in touch.
Here is a selection of memorable photos from another busy year.
A Glaucous Gull on a beach along the Kintyre peninsula in January.
An Iceland Gull on a beach along the Kintyre peninsula in March.
A Lapwing on the North York Moors in April.
Red Grouse on the North York Moors in April
A Wood Sandpiper on one of my survey sites in May.
An obliging juvenile Ruff at Johnson's Marsh, Scarborough in July.
An approachable Black-tailed Godwit on one of my survey sites in August.
Short-eared Owl at Long Nab. One of several individuals seen during an excellent influx in the autumn.
A Grey Junglefowl at Nagarhole in Southern India.
The stunning White-bellied Blue Robin in Southern India. More Southern India photos in the gallery.
This blog has been neglected for many months, so here is a selection of photographic highlights from the memorable year that was 2014.
With the spring not too far away now my forthcoming survey work commitments for the busy spring period are starting to become clearer.
This morning I toured a number of sites in the Vale of Pickering that I am likely to be required to survey this year. A nice selection of farmland species were in evidence and it promises to be an interesting spring. A couple of pairs of Lapwings were already showing some signs of breeding behaviour. Other species included Yellowhammer, Linnet, Tree Sparrow and Song Thrush. A nice flock of Siskins included a number of singing males of which the bird pictured left was one. Buzzards continued to be in evidence as they begin re-establishing their territories. The bird below was photographed last week.
Yesterday a tour of a number of local sites was largely uneventful, although the Black-throated Diver remains in residence at Wykeham South Lake and there was a steady trickle of Sky Larks heading south along the coast or arriving from the sea. Finishing the day at the Holbeck car park on the south side of Scarborough it was as usual a delight to spend time with the Mediterranean Gulls that winter here. It won't be long before these are on their way to their breeding colonies and there were a couple of adults not far off full breeding plumage. A selection of images are shown below.
Colourful, noisy, chaotic, a country of great contrasts with often shocking and disturbing poverty sometimes pressed up right in your face. It is frequently a challenging place in which to travel. However, there is always something to see and the wildlife is fantastic. Consequently I am always on the lookout for opportunities to visit this incredible country and my most recent visit took place in January.
Indian is a country which has somehow got me hooked like no other and always leaves me wanting more. My first visit in 1991 was hard work. Great birding, generally friendly and welcoming people; a complete travel experience. Yet that first visit was just too much. Too much hassle. Too much poverty. Too much red tape. Too much like hard work. Too much diarrhoea! I left vowing never to return, and in 30 years of worldwide travel covering over 50 countries, no other country has left such a strong impact on me.
However, despite the feelings engendered by that first trip I was tempted to return in 1998, a trip to Goa. A somewhat softer option compared to the rigours of the north, but I really did enjoy it. Three further trips in Goa and excursions through the southern states of Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadil and I have become firmly hooked. I have been returning for varying lengths of time almost every year ever since with visits to far flung parts of the country including Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat there are only a few states which have yet to receive my attention. My latest trip was as a guide for a small birding group covering the same itinerary that I opted for back on that first trip in 1991. I have traveled this circuit on half a dozen occasions now and it never ceases to inspire me.
That said, the starting point in Delhi is not my favourite of destinations. Traffic jams abound and that most essential of items on an Indian car, the horn is put to constant use. Delhi has recently been confirmed as the world's noisiest city, with noise-levels such that people suffer from age related hearing degeneration a full 10 or 15 years earlier than would be case elsewhere in the world. But, whilst you may not move around the city very quickly, there is always something to look at, something incredible going on (at least to Western eyes at any rate). However once clear of the city and heading for the town of Ramnagar, gateway to Corbett National Park, you are passing through a flat agricultural landscape of the Gangetic Plain with fields planted with wheat, mustard and sugar cane. A few hours of this and that great Himalayan mountain range with soaring, snow-capped peaks begins to rise up. Gently rolling hills at first, with magnificent rivers characterised by braided, rocky strewn streams and those hills cloaked with forests that are home to the wildlife which is the principle reason I return time and time again.
Entering the magnificent Corbett National Park always inspires. The first of the parks to be set up and protected by Project Tiger this area is home to an impressive 200 or so Tigers and a wonderful array of birds. Limited to moving around the park by open-top vehicles called Gypsies it can be a bit frustrating, but you soon find an excellent selection of birds and mammals and have a good chance of finding the iconic Tiger. Highlights on this most recent trip included a Brown Fish Owl dozing on a branch in the early morning sunshine, a diminutive Collared Falconet perched high in a tree on the forest edge, a Changeable Hawk-eagle having just finished its meal of an egret and of course the three Tigers we saw plodding slowly across the track in front of our vehicle.
Moving on to the hill station of Nainital the increased elevation brings you in range of a different selection of birds and with magnificent views of the distant, snow-covered peaks of the high Himalaya this wonderful area provides a fine array of superb birds. Quiet spells are interspersed by periods of dynamic activity as mixed feeding parties of birds move through the trees, fast-flowing streams and rivers are home to gorgeous White-capped Water Redstarts and Spotted Forktails. Precipitous grass-covered slopes attract the globally threatened Cheer Pheasant, whilst wheeling flocks of Altai Accentors can be most confiding.
Dropping back down onto the plains this classic itinerary takes in the world famous Keoladeo National Park at Bharatpur, whilst a visit to this part of India would not be complete without a visit to the incomparable Taj Mahal.
For the wildlife enthusiast there is little not to like on this itinerary. Superb opportunities for seeing some of the most wonderful birds and mammals on the planet plus a bombardment of rich experiences unlike no other country in the world. Simply fantastic.
This latest trip was with Birdwatching Breaks and a birding trip report can be found here.
If you are interested in visiting India then I am available to arrange and guide birding trips throughout the country, so contact me for more details.
A sizeable flock of Bramblings have been present at Cockmoor Hall (north of the village of Snainton) since early December at least. As I had to head into Pickering today, I stopped off on my way home in order to have a look. At least 14 were still present, feeding on the beech mast close to the road and I managed a few pics during my short stop there.
Christmas Day dawned with beautiful clear blue skies and strong sunshine. So with an hour spare before the festivities kicked off I took the chance to have a look at Wykeham Lakes. Pretty quiet there with a drake Goldeneye and a few Tufted Ducks the only interest. Continuing around to the west side of the lakes, I paused for a smart male Brambling at Hutton Buscel Carr and enjoyed some nice views in the bright sunshine. A bit further along the road some greyish brown blobs in a bush attracted my attention and on raising my bins I realised they were in fact a flock of nine Waxwings. Always a treat they lingered long enough for me to get a few pics before they flew off towards Ings Bridge. An unexpected and very welcome treat on a Christmas morning.
Also from the Christmas period a pic of a Mediterranean Gull which as usual can be relied upon at the Holbeck car park on the south side of Scarborough. One of five birds present just before Christmas.
Freelance ornithologist and tour leader based in Scarborough, N Yorkshire.