Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Israel, March 2017 - extras

Better late than.... a few leftovers from the memory card which slipped my mind until now - what a place!

Monday, September 4, 2017

A Flamborough spring

A much-delayed summary of an enjoyable and productive season down the road on the Cape....

As explained in previous posts, it was all about the workload this spring: tons of (very productive) surveys, wrestling with academia (intensively beavering away up to my end-of-May BSc deadline), wildlife guiding and event leading, and three-days-plus a week working at the Living Seas Centre (as well as nature writing and other bits and pieces) made for a manic few months. But it was all good - to have such an enviably rich and varied working week, all of which is directly related to the study or promotion of birds and wildlife, is a privilege that I don't take lightly.

But it does inevitably mean far less time for (single) patch birding, and simultaneously more opportunity for diversification. Gone are the rigid, self-imposed boundaries of the Filey recording area (although four and a half years obsessive hammering were hardly dull), replaced by a more opportunistic, ad hoc approach - which has not only cleansed my birding palate, but has paid off rewardingly. For the first year since returning to the Yorkshire coast five years ago, I saw my first Redstarts, Ring Ouzels, Pied Flys and Tree Pipits of the year not on the coast, but on territory in the forests and moors; and the majority of my half-decent self-finds (and indeed minor twitches) were outside my formerly strict FBOG recording boundaries. As good as a rest, as the saying goes.

Excluding the aforementioned surveying and guiding elsewhere across the county, the majority of those snatched, opportunistic birding sessions have been down the road in the Flamborough Bird Observatory recording area. A 25-minute drive and home to most of my working week at the LSC, the greater Headland has generously provided for me over these last few months, despite only impromptu stabs at select locations there. There's a more in-depth overview here, but with spring now conclusively behind us (and the first signs of the birding autumn kicking in), a brief look back of my Flamborough spring season seems timely.

After a quiet April (just as well, with lots of long days and few birding opps), May soon kicked the spring into gear. A message on the Obs whatsapp on the way to work re: a Siberian Stonechat just a few minutes from the centre on 6th was a timely reminder of the area's potential - after good views pre-work, I stole a half-hour lunch break for second helpings, and promptly bumped into a singing Wood Warbler in the ravine. Later in the day and after filling up the feeders, an interestingly late, dark, long-billed Mealy Redpoll appeared, signing off a great day within a stone's throw of the office.

Although opportunities for sky-watching from the LSC patio during promising conditions were naturally limited to five minutes snatched here and there, I was hopeful of quality flyovers - the first of which were three Spoonbills (which had been reported heading south at Filey) battling into the wind from the office window the following day; a classy and locally very scarce addition to the work list. Another successful local twitch followed a week later when Lee put out news of a flighty male Serin he'd briefly seen by the lighthouse; a couple of flight calls and high speed views later, and happily a quick roll of the die before work had hit the spot.

A week later still, and Thornwick Pools - a five-minute drive (or diversion) from the LSC - looked like a good option pre-work, with showers sweeping through and the possibility of a few waders dropping in. Happily, and just as colleague Ana arrived, a Temminck's Stint magically did likewise... a less-than-annual species on the Head, the bird was initially jumpy and hassled by the (attempted) breeding LRPs, but eventually settled and gave good views for a couple days.

A couple of weeks peppered with bits of interest around the LSC and beyond followed, before a quick buzz around the outer head south of the lighthouse on 4th June produced a surprise female Red-veined Darter on the clifftop path - the first of the year for the recording area of what is another less than annual species - and what seemed like a nice bookend to an enjoyable season.

However, while leading a seabird boat trip out of North Landing a few days later (on 9th), we chugged back into the bay just as a Common Crane circled over the cliffs and into view behind us... quite a surprise, and quite a challenge to communicate both the exact location and the gravitas of the sighting to our puffin-lovin' audience. But the good karma of not rushing off and leaving our punters as soon as possible on the beach paid off beautifully when, as I was bidding everyone goodbye in the car park ten minutes later, I picked it up circling slowly north-west and heading towards Bempton - allowing everyone to get better (and surer-footed) views. Better still, two days later it miraculously and very thoughtfully chalked itself up on the work list by staging a timely fly-by as I happened to glance out of the office window. Karma indeed.

And then there was this beast, of course, which - after several near-misses - finally played ball at the end of June.....

So, despite a lack of extended time in the field, opportunistic sessions snatched here and there made for quite a season down the road... let's hope there are similarly productive scores now the autumn as arrived.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Just another North Yorkshire morning....

What to do with a couple of hours spare birding time with Rich this morning? Despite blustery, often dark and wet conditions, we mustered seven Turtle Doves (together at a private site), three Honey-buzzards and a pair of Goshawks dog-fighting in the skies above the forest, and a fantastically-accommodating Red-backed Shrike back on the patch (which, after finding her ten days ago, I haven't had the chance to revisit since). Not bad for a damp morning in early August....

There are five TD's in this photo, plus a beautiful bonus Woodpigeon....

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Let There Be Rockpools

An LSC away-day with Ant leading rockpooling sessions at Runswick Bay - a beautiful cove on the North Yorks coast, near Whitby - this week produced a fantastic array of shoreline wildlife, most notably this surreal, psychedelic and stunningly beautiful Spiny Squat Lobster. My sense of wonder for the contents of our rockpools grows and grows.....

Common Starfish

Shore Crab (with eggs)

Velvet Swimming Crab

Broad-clawed Porcelain Crab


Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Red-backed Shrike, Filey - July 2017

A few hours off this morning and after checking the Dams and East Lea (quiet, but it'll come) and driving the Mrs to work I thought I'd check the pines at the top of Long Lane (for what, I couldn't say, at least not without jynxing them). A quick scan over the field towards towards Long Hedge, and voilĂ  - ten seconds of extremely early autumn scarcity returns in the shape of a Red-backed Shrike.

Just as quickly, it disappeared into the hedge, unfortunately refusing to co-operate again (although in wind and rain, who could blame it). After what can best be described as fitful birding here in the Filey area this year, a quality bird this early in the new season is very much appreciated.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Puffin Bombers

A huge pleasure to share our ultra-special local natural history with our dear friends Eike and Andrew over the weekend. They made the mistake of asking for lots of bird-related action, so that's what they got - under blue skies and bright sunshine - including an overload of Puffins, which are present in plague-like proportions here presently, especially at North Landing and along the northern side of Flamborough Head generally. Here's a few flight shots from a spot where they arrive and leave the cliffs, at full speed and at head height ...

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Israel 2017 - flava flow

Well, I was warned. Yoav smiled knowingly when I told him I was looking forward to the flava wagtails in southern Israel during the Champions of the Flyway week in late March, before wishing me luck..... As with plenty of other challenging and/or charismatic species, I didn't get as much time as I'd have liked to study them (no matter - plenty more to go at for next time, then), but even with just a comparatively cursory glance they're a colourful, confusing and cracking mixed bag.

The dominant forms are Blue-headed flava and Black-headed feldegg, but it's rarely quite so straightforward and the gene flow between forms - and the variability within forms - made for some enjoyable faux-knowing beard-stroking. I have a lot of questions, among them - Why do so many male feldegg (incorporating superciliaris) show small amounts of pale/white feathering on the crown, (and how much is therefore 'acceptable' in feldegg)? How much variety is there in the head patterns of female feldegg, and do they really typically show a supercilium? How extensive can the dark 'gorget' markings be on immature male flava (there were at least several showing this feature)? Who wants to pay me to go back there and study them?