Monday, 29 May 2017

Wykeham Raptoring

On Saturday a couple of work mates joined me in an attempt to catch up with returning Honey Buzzards at Wykeham Forest. Paul and Pete are colleagues and mates and we have been trying to do this for a couple of years. We went for the last weekend in May as its the only one I had free but we were aware we could be a couple of days early but felt it was worth the chance as there had been a strong movement of birds across the UK. We arrived on site at 09:45 and the weather was tropical. Hot and humid with barely a cloud in the sky but the forecast was for humid weather and potentially heavy showers in the afternoon. Ideal raptor weather. 

Active scanning by yours truly (left) and Paul (right). It was HYOT at this point.
Within seconds of arriving there was a male Goshawk over the far ridge. This was soon followed by a plethora of Buzzards, a couple of Kestrels and a Sparrowhawk. A further, more distant Goshawk was stretching its wings before a small falcon moved west along the far side of the valley. I casually called it out as a Kes but thankfully my more observant colleagues said it looks weird. Shorter tailed than a Kes and yet with a shorter hand and weaker flight than a Hobby. The bird had a dark back, wings and tail and buffy, orange belly and underwing coverts. It looked hooded with a pale gingery head. It flew slowly west and circled at the head of the valley. When it circled it showed a white face which all three of us picked up and Pete felt it also showed a small, black mask although neither Paul or I noticed this. The white face and hooded look was the most obvious feature and along with the structure and underwing coverts plus the jizz it all added up to a female Red-footed Falcon. Sadly too distant for photos as it flew along the far side of the valley but extended views and 90 minutes after presumably the same bird arrived at Long Nab. Potentially the same bird went south at Spurn mid-afternoon, one of five in a two day period for the site.

We persevered and added a couple of additional Goshawks including an absolute flyweight male that took a little while to decipher as it was so scrawny and small but the jizz was all nazgul. A Red Kite meandered east along the valley after Paul picked it up with Buzzards and was lost to view. We shifted watch point and the rain began, just a light shower but it threw up the small gos again and he gave it the beans as he undertook an aerial pursuit on a feral pigeon. The piebald columbid managed to evade the Goshawks clutches but it was awesome to watch. Continued rain caused a change of plans and we headed back into the forest.

We rolled up at Wykeham Nurseries as I assured my colleagues that this was the place for Turtle Doves. Despite their scepticism (sitka spruce and Turtle Dove?) I assured them that they were in the right place. Just a few minutes of watching Lapwings nesting amongst small spruce saplings confused them enough and then a small dove was espied by Pete feeding in the margins. It allowed reasonable approach and Pete papped it before we moved on. Another bird was feeding in a different field and we got extended views before it flew up into a tree. A superb bird and great news that they are back - fingers crossed for them this year. We decided to have another bash at the watchpoint.

Another Red Kite worked west and was seen intermittently over a 20 minute period when we also saw a couple of Goshawks including a monster female bird. It was obvious that the watch ending deluge wasn't far off when I picked up a distant raptor circling. It moved south-east closing the distance a little and showed a white rump on a brown ground colour. Ringtail harrier. I got the boys on it but it was obvious it wasn't a Hen Harrier. It was incredibly long-winged and long-tailed and just seemed to float. My thoughts narrowed and when it decided to put the hammer down to climb and move east it showed a bounce and lightness plus a very long hand, Montagu's Harrier. It was transitting over the valley like the patrolling birds I'd seen when they were fresh in at El Hondo in Spain and lacked the power of the Pallid Harrier from the winter. Paul had already seen a couple of Pallid's this year, the juvenile female that I saw on the Humber and the adult male holding territory in Bowland plus the female Monty's at Blacktoft and he shared my view on the ID. Pete also felt the bird was incredibly rangy and buoyant. Two rare raptors in one day and despite the lack of Honey Buzzards we were delighted with the outcome. The only way it could have been better was if a Short-toed Eagle flew through (and we got a photo).

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Hit and Run


Last weekend the arrival of a female Siberian Stonechat at South Landing spurred me into action and I managed to creep away for a couple of hours to have a look. A quick reference to Martin Garner's invaluable Autumn book from the Challenge series refreshed what the points of interest were, especially as there were initially thoughts (unfounded) of Stejneger's. Thankfully I have also been working on heaths in south Devon and had become acquainted with the white-rumped intergrades into rubicola from hibernans. On arrival it looked to be a pale and a uniformly pale peach rump was shown in flight as well as the upper-tail pattern pointing to a female Siberian rather than Caspian. The bird showed exceptionally well along a series of posts and I got great views although the light was somewhat dull and I made do with some cruddy record shots.


A Swift hawking by Highcliffe Manor was my first on patch this year after seeing a couple in the week around and about. A trip to Thornwick Pools failed to locate much of interest but news of a Wood Warbler at South Landing had me speeding in that direction post haste. I failed to see the bird but I was the only person who wasn't on site as it was found to hear it sing as a couple of penny spins were let go before it melted away. Good enough for a patch year tick anyway...

Monday, 1 May 2017

Some stuff

So the last couple of weeks I have been back at work and based in Devon. This has been pretty successful with some good birds, some good inverts and some good plants. The first week I was working with Pete and we had the fortune to find a Goshawk territory with some incredible views of the birds going about their business. I managed the following snap which doesn't bare comparison with Pete's selection.


Last week was less birdy although I saw the Goshawks again and had Pied Flycatcher briefly but it had its highlights. Monday commenced early for me as I had to head to Devon via Dartford and had to do some Cetti's Warbler monitoring. My first Lesser Whitethroat of the year was present on the Dartford site and I had pretty much finished work by 9am but I then had to haul to 220 miles to Devon. I had a slow amble down with stops at Portland as I hadn't visited the obs before and managed to catch up with my first Whimbrel and Arctic Skua of the year. A jaunt to the Axe estuary was great as I finally laid eyes on this pretty cool piece of Lyme Bay which I had read about in the Backwater Birding thread, then blogs and latterly through PWC and twitter. Not much in the way of birds, just a handful of Whimbrel but a great place to see.

Pearl-borded Fritillary
Work was largely uneventful but I got to see my Uncle Mike and his wife Maureen. It was the first time I had visited their house in Brixham and it was really good to see them in a different context to recently after more than a decade without making the effort. A hearty meal and we were soon talking rubbish! Work continued to be relatively steady but I did my first butterfly survey and despite the less than ideal conditions we had at least 9 Pearl-bordered Fritillarys. I also found some very early Green-winged Orchids which was a new plant for me.

PWC Tick fest


I was granted a couple of hours to go birding this afternoon as news of bird after bird trickled in at Flamborough. My wife could see I was starting to get angsty and sent me on my way. The main cause of my interest was a female Garganey on the outer head. This is a potentially difficult bird and the lack of one in late March, early April meant that I wasn't optimistic that it was a species I would connect with. I managed brief views on Head Farm Pond and saw Andy Hood there. In amongst the cloud of hirundines were a number of House Martins which were also new. A quick stop at roadside flash provided a Green Sandpiper wading in the shallows with a brace of Pheasants.


I knew I had limited time and to make the most of it I headed to Thornwick Pools. I opened the car door to a rattling Lesser Whitethroat which was my first PWC one for 2017. At the pools I could hear a cacophony of several acros and Sedge Warbler was easy to untangle. After a while I saw and heard a Reed Warbler. In amongst a few Pied Wagtails was a single female Yellow Wagtail and also a distant White Wagtail. The final new bird of the flying visit was a Common Sandpiper which dropped back in after 20 minutes or so. Also knocking about were 5 Dunlin, 1 Ringed Plover, 1 Snipe and 1 Little Ringed Plover. Garganey, Common Sand and Green Sandpiper are new birds for the headland taking me to 187. Also up to 122 species/149 points on the head.




Wednesday, 26 April 2017

After Dad

Dad passed away a month ago tomorrow. It feels like forever and no time at all. It was both tragic and sad and yet a relief and a blessing. Dad was brave to the end having a long conversation with me on the Monday prior to his death about a Rebus book he has leant me (and I'm still only 100 pages in) but was obviously starting what I anticipated to be a slow decline. By the Thursday he was much worse and by Friday evening he was bed bound. A long, hard weekend of caring for him with my mother (I used to be a nurse, she is a practice nurse and it afforded him far more dignity than having nurses come in) and then he slipped away quickly and quietly by Monday lunchtime surrounded by those that love him. Euphoria was our initial reaction as it was over and he was no longer suffering but this was soon replaced by intense sadness and a reflection on our time together and a future without him.

Dad, me and Tom atop the Moors in North Yorkshire, probably at Danby in the mid 90s when we were in our early teens.
This post wont be too awful I promise, just rationalising why I haven't been blogging and a quick reflection. My brother Tom came over from Australia for the funeral and was here for a fortnight. I was off for three weeks as well as I work 120 miles from home and wasn't in the right place to be away from home. Tom, Mum and myself worked through Dad's clutter. He appeared to have kept every paint tin and door handle since 1987 and considering how prolific a decorator my mother is that was quite the feat. Two skips full of junk plus a couple of dump runs and charity shop donations mean't that Mum didnt have the dispiriting process of working through his belongings. Dad would have preferred it that way. He had no truck with us having a shrine either physical or mental to his life and whilst he hoarded crap would have been glad we got rid of it without ceremony. Mum seems ok and whilst sad managed very well.

Dad in 1980, the wildman that Mum fell for. Terrible hair. The beard followed soon after and I didnt see his face until I was 11.
We couldn't get a funeral for Dad for a fortnight so on Wednesday, April 12th we said goodbye to my hero. He was far from perfect as a person but he was the best Dad I could have wished for. Caring, compassionate, proud of us and good fun, we shared many a joke (often at Mum's expense). Tom read a fantastic eulogy summing up Dad's devotion to his family unit and whilst his childhood was touched upon it was his life as a father and a husband that defined him and where he succeeded so well. Tom, my brother-in-law Ady and myself were 3 of the pall bearers. We were expecting 6 in all but it was so heavy which I couldnt believe. It was only at the wake afterward that my brother told me that only 4 of us carried him in. I was at the front with Ady so we couldn't see how many there were. It was an honour to carry Dad in and one I'm so glad I did. We had a trio of songs that summed up Dad's life with him coming into 'One More Night' by Phil Collins. Dad wasn't a huge fan but it summed up his devotion to Mum that they endlessly played Yahtzee to terrible white-boy soul that Mum loved on an evening and it reminded us of the late 80s early 90s period. The curtains came round his coffin to 'Chasing Cars' by Snow Patrol. Dad's musical repertoire didn't increase much after he hit 50 but this was on loop in his car or when he was on the computer. Finally we left the crem to 'Come Up and See Me (Make Me Smile)' by Cockney Rebel. Dad loved this song and found it galling that Mum saw Cockney Rebel live twice when she didn't really care for them. It lightened the mood and we said goodbye. For me Dad started my love of rock music and whilst he was generally pretty mainstream he loved listening to decent songs and set me off with a number of touchstones which I fondly returned to this month.

At his happiest, relaxing outside. Usually with a fag.
A special mention must go to Reverend Roy Shaw, a close friend of my father who had few of them and a former colleague (briefly) of my brother, mother and myself in various guises when he was a social worker. Roy conducted the funeral with a great aplomb and I personally couldn't have been more grateful for his efforts which I know were extremely trying for him. Also to my sister and my wife who read poems that looked at Dad's life and the future and how we must move forward with him our hearts. And move forward we shall. Tonight is the first time I have connected with the emotions Dads death left inside me without a torrent of tears. I'm ok, I'm coping ok but I love my Dad and I miss him dearly. A difficult month but one to treasure and remember as well. Good times, bad times.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

Patchwork Shenanigans

A byproduct of the current home situation is that I am off work and needing time to get away and process. Birding has always been my escape and thus it is once again so. Spring is just getting underway at Flamborough and new additions have been flooding in with 8 new in the last three days despite missing an excellent seawatch this morning.

Crane - one of three.
I started off with a little seawatch on Wednesday which produced a few nice birds including three Little Egrets south which were the first record for the year. The other bits and pieces are here on Trektellen. It was the first 'trek' seawatch I had done entirely by myself at Flamborough so it felt good to be contributing data. There was also a Great Northern Diver on the sea amongst some modest movement. It was however interrupted by a Whatsapp message from the obs group which came through 40 minutes late about a party of three Cranes on Northcliff Marsh. I screeched up to Old Fall Gate and started scanning but with no luck as it appeared they had cleared off. Then I heard some bugling as they flew low towards me. They saw me as they approached the road banking up from a couple of metres in height to 8-9 giving me a scrambled chance to get some photos. Not the best but I was a happy lad. They landed near the cliff edge apparently but I didn't see them again in the gloom.

A Little Bunting was seen briefly at this point in a private garden but I didn't manage to see it as it disappeared and efforts whilst scanning the Yellowhammers at South Landing only yielded a displaying Lapwing and a singing Chiffchaff, both of which were new for the year on patch. Soon I was back to reality and headed off to complete chores.

After missing the first I managed to connect with the second and third LRP of the day.

Yesterday I missed the first good seawatch of the season but made amends somewhat with some common migrants in the North Landing area. Two Sand Martins over Thornwick Pools were the first of five seen whilst a cat moving down the side of the pool flushed four Snipe which then made themselves at home beside the lower hide. I had at this point missed Craig's LRP which had already moved onward. A further Sand Martin hunted over Thornwick Bay itself. A Chiffchaff sang from beside the pools and an interrogation of Holmes Gut revealed a further three along with two Goldcrests.

A tour of Thornwick cottages turned up four Wheatears including just a single male bird but a jaunt up to North Dykes produced just a single Buzzard and two final Sand Martins. A message on the local grapevine alerted me to a brace of Little Ringed Plovers back at Thornwick and upon arriving Brett and Cynthia kindly put me on to them for my fourth year tick of the day and my PWC list hit 101.

Annoyingly I have missed 10 species over the last few days, most of which I should get back but there was some quality with Iceland Gull, Little Gull, Med Gull, Common Tern, Sandwich Tern, Swallow, Woodcock, Hooded Crow, Firecrest and Shoveler seen. Hopefully I should get plenty of time in over the next couple of weeks and add a good few more.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Night Dad

'Night Dad' was the regular refrain over the last few years whenever we went our seperate ways so it only seemed fitting to bid his passing in a similar manner on Monday. He was my Dad and latterly since becoming a father myself we have become mates. A coffee, a fag and a moan were his raison d'etre, especially since his cancer returned and over the past three months there has been plenty of opportunity to say what needed to be said which ultimately wasn't much. It was more fun to talk waffle. Now, with his passing I feel a maelstrom of emotions which will distill in time just to sadness I imagine. For the first time this evening I had that 'I'll just tell Dad that' moment but of course I won't. So for one last time 'Night Dad'.

Dad with Abby on the ferry to Thassos. Our last proper conversation was about how much he enjoyed playing air hockey with me there. Super time, super memories, Super Dad.

Ornithological Idiocy

How brains and birds become mutually exclusive