As we near the end of 2013 here is a selection of the more memorable birds I have seen in 2013. Or at least those that I managed to get decent photos of!
On Tuesday I spent a day in the company of Frank, a visiting birder from Philadelphia. In lovely sunny and fairly calm conditions we visited a range of sites in the Scarborough area with the aim of finding a wide range of species and hopefully finding a few new birds for him. With the short winter day offering under eight hours of birdable light, we began on The Carrs at Flixton just after 8am. Here, as the sun came up we were treated to nice views of a Barn Owl hunting over the fields. The River Hertford hosted a few Teal, Moorhen and a briefly seen Water Rail, whilst a Little Egret cruised west overhead. Flocks of Lapwinsg and a few Curlew were flying about in the distance. As we returned back towards the village it was evident that there were good numbers of Blackbirds present, with a notable count of at least 60. A few Redwings posed nicely - a new bird for Frank. A Lesser Redpoll and a few Goldfinches and Tree Sparrows were also seen well before we moved on to Flotmanby. Here we had distant views of some Eurasian Wigeon, but there was little to detain us.
At Ganton we worked some fields where crops have been sown for the benefit of finches and buntings. Here there were at least 57 Yellowhammer, ca 15 Reed Buntings, plus small numbers of Tree Sparrows, Chaffinches and nine Lesser Redpolls. An sizeable flock of Fieldfares numbered at least 140, whilst other species of interest here included Stock Dove and some more flocks of Lapwings. Cockmoor Hall near Snainton was our next stop and here we were treated to some wonderful views of Bramblings along with a variety of commoner tit species and three Treecreepers. Our drive through Troutsdale yielded Bullfinch and then the Forge Valley feeders produced close views of Nuthatch and Marsh Tit plus a Great Spotted Woodpecker. After grabbing a hot drink and a quick bite to eat we visited Wykeham South Lake where White-fronted Goose, Goldeneye, Pochard and Common Buzzard were the main items of interest.
The afternoon was spent along the coastal strip where a quiet Long Nab produced Skylark, Red-throated Diver and our first Grey Heron, Redshank and Oystercatcher of the day. At Scalby Mills we enjoyed getting close up views of the Eurasian Wigeon whilst the commoner gulls were also present in good numbers. Our final stop of the day was the Holbeck car park on the south side of Scarborough. Here as expected we soon located several Mediterranean Gulls, whilst on the calm seas we could easily pick out Common Scoter, Shag, Cormorant and a distant view of the Great Northern Diver that has been present for a few days now. With a respectable total of 70 species seen during the day, including a good number of life birds for Frank, it had been an excellent and most enjoyable exploration of the Scarborough area.
I am scheduled to lead a tour to south-eastern China for Birdwatching Breaks in November 2014. This is a tour I greatly enjoyed leading last year and am keen to return. If you are excited by the prospect of encountering mouth watering species such as Spoon-billed Sandpiper, flocks of Siberian, White-naped, Hooded and Red-crowned Cranes, Oriental Storks, Pied Falconet, vast flocks of geese plus Baikal Teal, Scaly-sided Merganser and a host of buntings, thrushes and other gripping species then this could be the trip for you. The trip report from the 2012 tour can be found here. Details of the itinerary can be found at the Birdwatching Breaks website. If the dates of the Birdwatching Breaks itinerary don't suit, then I am planning a private group tour running from 23rd November into December. If you'd like further details of the private tour, then contact me directly at email@example.com.
I am just back from a most enjoyable and relaxing week on the Portuguese Algarve, where Julie, myslef and a couple of friends were based in a villa on the outskirts of the small town of Tavira. This was not a birding trip as such, and I just spent an hour or two each day pottering around the environs of our villa or visiting the salt-pans just outside Tavira itself. Cloud and drizzle on our arrival seemed to have caused an arrival of Pied Flycatchers and a few other migrants and with very little effort I chalked up a bird list of 88 species (see below) during our one week stay.
I enjoyed spending some time with the camera and a selection of images are included in the gallery below.
List of species recorded
4. Cattle Egret - Small numbers near the salt pans.
5. Little Egret
7. Spoonbill - Up to 15 at the salt pans.
8. White Stork - Odd singles.
9. Greater Flamingo - Up to 49 around the salt pans.
10. Osprey - A single carrying a fish at the salt pans.
11. Short-toed Eagle - A single near the villa.
12. Booted Eagle - A group of four over the villa one afternoon with at least 11 the next morning.
14. Black-shouldered Kite - Slightly surprised to see a single between the villa and the town of Tavira.
15. Water Rail - At least three at the salt pans.
18. Black-winged Stilt - Easily seen at the salt pans.
20. Stone Curlew - A single flew over the salt pans.
21. Ringed Plover
22. Kentish Plover - Up to 30 around the salt pans.
23. Grey Plover
24. Knot - Up to 8 at the salt pans.
28. Curlew Sandpiper - Up to 40 at the salt pans.
29. Little Stint - Up to 12 at the salt pans.
31. Common Sandpiper
34. Black-tailed Godwit
35. Bar-tailed Godwit
38. Black-headed Gull
39. Slender-billed Gull - A single adult flew over the salt pans.
40. Mediterranean Gull - Up to 60 at the salt pans.
41. Lesser Black-backed Gull
42. Yellow-legged Gull
43. Sandwich Tern
44. Collared Dove
45. Little Owl - Fairly common around the villa.
46. Tawny Owl - A pair heard calling at the villa.
47. Great Spotted Woodpecker
48. Hoopoe - Just two sightings of single birds in flight.
49. Swift - A single with a flock of hirundines.
50. Woodlark - Singing near the villa.
51. Crested Lark - Common
52. Sand Martin
53. Barn Swallow
54. Red-rumped Swallow - Small numbers included several over the villa.
55. House Martin
56. Yellow Wagtail - Just odd sightings including individuals of the forms flava and flavissima.
57. Grey Wagtail
58. Redstart - A couple near the villa.
60. Whinchat - A single near the villa.
61. Wheatear - Odd birds around the salt pans.
64. Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola) - Fairly common.
65. Garden Warbler - Small numbers around the villa.
66. Blackcap - Singles on a couple of days around the villa.
67. Whitethroat - One near the villa.
68. Sardinian Warbler - Abundant.
69. Willow Warbler - Singles near the villa.
70. Western Bonelli's Warbler - A single in the garden of the villa.
71. Chiffchaff - Odd singletons.
72. Pied Flycatcher - The drizzly conditions on arrival were doubtless responsible for up to 20 around the villa then. Numbers declined during the week with just odd birds present by the end.
73. Spotted Flycatcher - Singles on two days.
74. Long-tailed Tit
75. Blue Tit
76. Great Tit
77. Southern Grey Shrike - One at the salt pans.
78. Short-toed Treecreeper
79. Azure-winged Magpie - Common although tricky to photograph. Often in large flocks (up to ca 30).
82. Spotless Starling
83. House Sparrow
84. Common Waxbill - Odd birds around the villa.
88. Corn Bunting
Most of my local recreational birding takes place at Long Nab. I have recently begun a new blog dedicated to my birding along the Scarborough Coast. This can be found at Long Nabber.
I also conduct regular bird monitoring at Potter Brompton Carr for Potter Brompton Farms ltd. A blog covering the birds of that area can be found here.
This blog will be updated with news from tours for Birdwatching Breaks and other private guided birding trips. Forthcoming tours include trips to Northern India and Tunisia & Algeria. Find out more at the Birdwatching Breaks website.
With the overnight rain persisting into Wednesday morning I was pretty slow in getting out into the field. I had to go into Scarborough, but decided on a quick check of the new viewpoint at Wykeham South Lake was in order. This proved to be a worthwhile move as a Little Tern flying over the lake was a very nice surprise. Disappointingly it didn't linger long and after about five minutes it departed high to the north-east. It remains a surprisingly rare and erratic visitor to the Scarborough Birders recording area. Since 1970 there have been just 17 records involving 27 individuals in the area and of these just two have been in the spring, illustrating its rarity in the area.
Continuing with my plan to head into Scarborough, I was on my way into town when a text from Steve Wignill gave me news of a Red-backed Shrike, so a further diversion found me at Scalby Beck, but disappointingly there was no sign of the shrike. Two Redstarts were clearly new in, but with other things I really need to get done I had to leave. Predictably the shrike reappeared after I left, but with other commitments dealt with I returned in the late afternoon to enjoy some nice views of this very smart bird. A couple of record shots are below.
It may come as a slight surprise that Red-backed Shrike is more regular in the area than Little Tern with at least 40 previous records in the area.
So after a most enjoyable day it was back to moorland surveys on Thursday morning. A pretty typical selection of North York Moors birds were recorded on the moors east of Scaling Dam although things were generally pretty quiet. The highlight of the morning here was a Hobby flying over heading east. On my way home I dropped in at Long Nab, where Nick Addey had found a Red-backed Shrike yesterday evening. I soon found it and enjoyed some nice views of this individual which was frequenting the ringing site and feeding well. A singing Sedge Warbler was also present, not a regular species here.
I've spent the past week undertaking bird surveys in the Scottish Borders and for once the weather has been reasonably kind. Highlights of the survey work have included Short-eared Owl on breeding territory, a 1st summer male Hen Harrier and some impressive numbers of breeding Snipe, Lapwing and Curlew along with a few Redshank. However, perhaps the most unexpected encounter was with a family party of Woodcock which wandered across the track in front of the car on a couple of occasions. This is the first time I have seen a Woodcock with chicks, so it was a truly special experience and a reminder of why I am lucky to be doing this for a living.
After a long period of undertaking surveys in various places it was great to be able to pay a visit to my patch at Long Nab and enjoy some glorious spring sunshine. On my way I stopped at Johnson's Marsh, but saw nothing of any note. On arrival at Crook Ness it was evident there wasn't a great deal about although as I did my usual circuit around Long Nab it was good to be able to spend some time with newly arrived summer visitors such as Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Whitethroat. Most of these will have been local breeding birds, so the only definite migrant headed for pastures elsewhere was a Wheatear that performed nicely.
On returning to the car, I pondered my next move and had it in mind to visit Wykeham Lakes, but was in two minds and headed in the direction of Scalby Lodge Pond. As I passed Johnson's Marsh a large white bird grabbed my attention - that wasn't there before! It was a good job there wasn't anything following me as I slammed the brakes on and abruptly veered across the road to pull up in the gateway. To my amazement it was a Great White Egret in superb breeding condition. A welcome addition to my Scarborough area list and a find tick as well. It is presumably the same bird that was near Bridlington a little while ago, but where has it been? Just goes to show that if a big white bird like this can disappear for days on end, what else is lurking out there?
This blog has been rather neglected of late so here is a quick update and hopefully more regular updates will appear here over the course of the spring and summer, always assuming this cold easterly airflow ever ends! Local birding has been fairly hard work over the past few weeks and there has been little to get the pulse racing. So, regular survey work has occupied me for much of the time.
One of the most rewarding projects I am involved with is monitoring the birds on Potter Brompton Carr. The farm at Potter Brompton has signed up for a Higher Level Stewardship agreement and I undertake regular visits to see how the bird populations are responding to the measures being implemented. I blog about the birds on the Potter Brompton Fams website which can be found here. The Barn Owl pictured here was one of two performing nicely over the weekend, and this morning two Egyptian Geese were a major surprise as this is a rare species in the local area.
My most recent overseas tour was to Cambodia and Vietnam. My first visit to the former country was fascinating and highlights included Giant and White-shouldered Ibis and Mekong Wagtail. The Vietnam sector of the tour was also most enjoyable and was the fifth occasion I have visited this exciting birding destination. Among the highlights were Bar-bellied and Blue-rumped Pittas, wonderful views of skulking species such as Collared and Orange-breasted Laughingthrushes and much else besides. I led the tour for Birdwatching Breaks and the trip report can be found here.
With the busy spring period getting into full swing before too long I hope there will be more to post about before too long.
Spoon-billed Sandpiper at the Minjiang Estuary.
A busy period of work has taken me to survey sites in the Scottish Borders recently which have been typically quiet and there hasn't been a great deal to report.
However, much more exciting was a trip to China where I led a tour for Birdwatching Breaks. Although the weather was against us at time we saw some great birds, with Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Oriental Stork, Baikal Teal, Baer's Pochard, Scaly-sided Merganser, six species of crane, Reed Parrotbill, Pied Falconet, Japanese Waxwing, a splendid selection of buntings amongst the many highlights. The tour report can be found here and a gallery of images from the tour can be found here.
Freelance ornithologist and tour leader based in Scarborough, N Yorkshire.