Thursday, 15 June 2017

Sandpipers and Flycatchers

Now all the birds have arrived, I thought I'd spend some time getting to know a few a bit better. This week I did a couple of reconnaissance walks to search for interesting subjects and found a pair of nesting common sandpiper and a pair of spotted flycatchers. Today, I set about photographing them for the first time. (double click on images to see a greater resolution)

For the sandpipers, I have set up a hide on the river bank opposite a gravel beach I've often seen them active. Across the river, they're a little too far away to capture in great detail, so my aim is to capture some flight shots in the coming days.

The pair were under constant surveillance from a jay (a bird I wouldn't associate with predating waders) so the birds were jumpy and noisy. I'm hoping tomorrow they'll be more relaxed and I can get some better pictures in the early light.

The flycatchers are nesting behind the ivy on the trunk of a great oak tree along the road, so I'll be using my car as a hide. It's dark where they've chosen to nest, so I'm going to punch some more light into the scene using a flash stood on top of my car.

Finally, I came across this goosander earlier this week with what seems like an extraordinary number of ducklings (sixteen)!

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Duke of Burgundy

It was hot today, really hot... and with it being quiet on the bird front I thought I'd take my near-annual pilgrimage to the moors to look for Duke of Burgundy.

This butterfly is nationally scarce, but a few colonies hang on in North Yorkshire, centred around the town of Helmsley. They are tiny and easily overlooked, but the lekking behaviour of males makes them slightly easier to find; watch a bumble bee or other butterfly fly across the bracken and soon enough, a little male Duke will fly up to intercept the intruder!

Their tiny size (less than an inch across the wings) and restless behaviour makes them difficult to photograph, but I managed a few records before I fled the hillside to avoid an electrical storm. On top of a hill with a carbon fibre tripod is not an intelligent place to be when lightning strikes!

Patch Update

I missed out on a few passing migrants this Spring. Last year I noted reed warbler, grasshopper warbler, redstart and whinchat in May but things didn't work out this year. I'm sure they passed through, I just couldn't seem to coincide my time off with clement weather... indeed it felt there was a cold Northerly wind for the entire month.

However, a few birds fell to the binoculars: house martin and garden warbler were first spotted on 24th April and numbers have built up steadily through May. Yellow wagtail has only been heard, though I've not spent much time in their usual haunts. A single lesser whitethroat was heard near Bramper Farm and a hobby following the river was a welcome treat on 4th May.

The swifts returned on 6th May; the precise day I saw my first one last year, and I'm pleased to say they're using our roof space to roost again. On the same day, I finally caught up with corn bunting, singing atop a willow tree on the long river loop. To cap off a fine day, I also noted sedge warbler; the first one I've seen locally in a few years.

Also pleasing was the discovery of a couple of barn owl nests, just outside the patch boundaries.

The bird honoured with being my 100th species this year was spotted flycatcher, falling some two weeks after my 99th species. I was beginning to wonder whether I'd ever get there!

Willow warbler:

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Spring Arrivals

The long weekend promised much, but the cold winds put a dampener on things. By Friday evening, I'd only added swallow and willow warbler, two birds I would have added much earlier had I had time to get out and about.

Saturday morning never lived up to the weather forecast, and by the time I bumped into Nick at Warbler Corner, I was frozen to the bone. I took the short route home and called it a day. Come the afternoon, the weather had brightened so I ventured up to the North of the patch. From the car I noticed a number of small bids flitting across a field of bare earth: pied wagtails. I got out and stood watching for a while, expecting to see wheatear among them. Sure enough, they appeared... two handsome males.

Also among them, a small group of linnet; a bird that is especially numerous this Spring, nesting in the hedgerows all the way into the village itself.

I'd noted a number of meadow pipit tacking over in ones and twos all weekend, presumably migrating onto the moors inland. Indeed, the following bird seemed particularly exhausted, letting me right beneath it as it rested in a small tree.

Along the river, the birds were paired up and beginning to nest. I'm going to check all my nest boxes before the weekend is over and check up on the sites of last year's nesting marsh tit, woodpecker and treecreeper.

On Sunday morning, I rushed out before the forecast rains and glad I did, added common sandpiper... on the exact same day I saw my first one last year!

I also managed an extraordinary close encounter with this female goosander; too busy fishing to notice my approach.

Later in the afternoon I wandered to the pub and on the way was surprised to see a common whitethroat, creeping among the nettles in the hedgerow opposite. This is a particularly early record, in fact seven days earlier than my first last year, which was in itself an early record.

April Round-Up

Also added this year have been ruff (a patch first), little ringed plover, wigeon (another patch first), redshank, gadwall (yet another patch first - all on the flash of flood water near Great Langton), sand martin and blackcap.

Despite the flurry of new birds, I'm 2 species behind this stage last year, notably missing out on firecrest, osprey, stonechat, merlin and brambling... five birds I'm not guaranteed to see this year so it's going to be tight whether I get to 100% on the comparative scores.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

A Great Weekend & Mid-March Round-up

Well... sometimes everything just comes together, and this was one of those weekends. I started out with a walk around the long river loop on Saturday morning where I bumped into Nick. It was grey and quiet, so Nick and I mused about what we might see and what we'd seen by this time last year. Weirdly, we discussed siskin (a bird Nick had not encountered yet), went our separate ways and within 5 minutes, a flock of 12 or more siskin settled in the alder I was under.

That pretty much capped Saturday, but on Sunday morning the weather was much better and I headed to the North of the patch. Unlike the day before, birds were everywhere, active and confiding. Bullfinches have been present in good numbers all winter, but finally this cow and bull allowed me close enough for a picture.

In the woods, another flock of siskin descended on me and I managed this record-shot (something of a classic of the genre... blurred, obscured, and uninspiring).

Other common birds flirted in the sunshine...

A walk around the fishing lakes turned up nothing. While returning through the wood, I saw a bird splashing in the river. My first thought was that it was a pigeon, but as I drew closer I was amazed to see this sparrowhawk. Occupied with what he was doing, he allowed me a good sequence of shots in difficult light, culminating with his puffed up drying in a riverside willow.

Out of the woods and into the fields, I spotted a small bird fly-catching. It was quickly accompanied by a singing individual; my first two chiffchaffs of the year.

Further along the hedgerow, meadow pipit and reed bunting were present in good numbers.

My favourite animal on Earth, feathered, furry or otherwise is the stoat. I can remember every day I've encountered a stoat and where; there's just something about them that I find so endearing. Today I had one of my best encounters ever. This individual spotted me, decided I wasn't a threat and just went about his business despite me. The sun was behind him, so he was difficult to photograph. Matters only got worse because he got so close (these images aren't cropped); at one point, he almost ran over my boot! Incredible!

Mid-March Round-Up

Since the end of January, I've added twelve new species to the year list, including jack snipe, whooper swan...

...and waxwing (all 2-pointers).

Also, making the list were golden plover (here with lapwing and shelduck... with a green sandpiper just out of shot)...

...goosander, skylark, linnet, red-legged partridge, canada goose and common gull. It means that I'm 3 species ahead of this time last year, missing out on barn owl, corn bunting, redpoll, redshank and red kite.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Signs of Spring

Exhausted with work last week, I took the Friday off and was glad I did; it was a beautiful morning to be out and about. The sun's rays have warmth and the birds have been triggered into song. In the garden, song thrush, blackbird and robins are the most vocal, while the house sparrows have begun fighting for roof space, noisily clattering along the gutters as they dispute.

Out in the open, below an increasing number of showy skylarks, the hedgerows are hosting a sing-off. The most notable bird being one of my favourites; the under-stated dunnock. This weekend was the first I've heard them this year and yet they've all come to life at once. This beautiful individual allowed me very close as he laid claim to his strip of thorn. NB: double click on pictures to see them in full resolution

Along the river, a flotilla of 6 goosander split equally drake and duck were seen. I had only seen the odd bird in flight thus far this year, so it was pleasing to see so many together. As I watched them fly up river away from me, I missed what was certainly an otter splash and vanish from sight. Also on the river were the first pair of oystercatcher, joining the lone bird that has been hanging about for weeks.

The year-list has been ticking along slowly after an initial flurry, and I've managed to add linnetferal pigeon (#patchgold), red-legged partridge and waxwing to the list since I last wrote. The latter feels like a bit of a cheat...

I got the call from Nick that they were present in Morton-on-Swale so rushed to see them. There were some 80 birds, but they began to disperse soon after i arrived. Nick put the idea in my head that I'd be able to record them on my patch so I went and stood on the highest point and watched Morton from afar until I spotted the large flock fly-catching at Morton bridge! Here is the best picture I could manage in the brief time they were at eye level.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

4th February

The sun was out on Saturday morning so I took to the long river loop. Goldcrests that have been the bird of the winter on the patch were completely absent and I began to wonder whether they were already working their way back to Siberia. I kicked up a couple of partridge on the way to the river and logged my first goosander of the year, flying on rapid wing-beats toward Morton-on-Swale.

The river has been quieter than normal, but the patch first of two little grebe a couple of weeks ago was followed up by the sighting of a solitary bird about 1km upstream. They're very cryptic and I wonder whether I've just blundered by them in the past.

Each year I've lived here, my first skylark sightings have come at the same place and this year was no different... two birds were singing at the NW-most bend of the river loop. Another sign of Spring, male lapwings have begun to hold territory in Thrintoft Ings. It feels like it's going to get colder before it gets warmer but I love how the seasons aren't defined, but instead feather together.

Fields that were laid to stubble last year are unusually covered in grass and alas the bunting and finch flocks cannot be found. I wondered up to the great hedge opposite the large ox-bow hoping to tick off linnet, redpoll, corn burning or brambling but none could be found.

Instead, I spotted a hare lying in its form in the field. From a hundred yards or so I edged closer and closer, camera held to my face. I find that hares react in two ways: they either bound slowly away at the first sight of me; or they hold their ground until I'm close before bolting at great speed. The hare above did the latter (the image above isn't cropped) allowing me within 20ft. It wasn't until I looked away and looked back that it was on it's heels and in the blink of an eye, 200 yards away.

Other mammals were obvious this weekend too; badger prints led out on the path from Thrintoft and otter tracks and slides were obvious on the far river bank opposite Scruton. Roe hoof-prints are everywhere and I even saw my first pygmy shrew in ages... the last one running up my leg whilst I sat in my hide a couple of years ago.

Friday, 3 February 2017

January Round-Up

As last year ended, I'd pretty much convinced myself that I wasn't going to give up as much time to the Patchwork Challenge this year. I found that despite it leading to some great sightings and a significant increase in my knowledge of Thrintoft and its geography, it had led to me take fewer quality photos... and I have a lot invested in my camera and lenses!

However, every day I've had free this year has been on a grey day with poor light so I've taken to twitching instead of photographing. Annoyingly, the results have exceeded my expectations and I'm hooked again. The graphic below shows my year-on-year progress; by this time last year, I'd logged 65 species and this year that number is 66.

I find it interesting to note the species I've failed to find this year that I had seen by this time last year and vice versa.

Of greatest note, is the discovery of little grebe, siskin and pink-footed goose... three birds that eluded me for the whole of last year. Damn! Now I have to reach 105 species in 2017...

These pink-footed geese have hung around for a week...

Proper updates from here on in...