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?

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

(Survey) Seasons in the Sun

Pied Flycatcher, Lapwing chick

As June makes way for July, our very busy, productive and enjoyable ornithological survey season is finally slowing down. It feels like between us (happily the majority of the work has been with my good friend and comrade Rich Baines) we've surveyed most of North Yorkshire over the last few months, and we've been particularly fortunate to cover a wide variety of productive habitats to keep us on the ball and on our toes - never a bad thing after 0330hrs starts and long drives in the inky pre-dawn twilight....

Tree Pipits on territory

Whinchat, Stoat

Much of our work was for the Wildwatch project, on behalf of the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Our many transects cut through ancient woodland, in-by, pasture, marshland, moorland, farmland and more, and we were fortunate to find many target species breeding in what were often previously unsurveyed areas. I was also contracted to conduct Breeding Bird Surveys for the North York Moors National Park at Sutton Bank, which were also very productive and a pleasure to complete.

Turtle Dove, Willow Warbler

Fledgling Wheatear and Redstart

There were many highlights, often involving quite common species - being buzzed by just-fledged Wheatears at point-blank range before they were eventually shepherded away by their parents, finding nests of everything from Willow Warblers and Lapwings to Red Grouse and Oystercatchers, etc - but finding the scarcer target species breeding / on territory was a joy. Between us, these included such iconic species as Pied Flycather, Common Redstart, Hawfinch, Whinchat, Common Snipe, Ring Ouzel, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker, Turtle Dove, Tree Pipit, Golden Plover and many more.

Common Snipe, Grey Wagtail

So, back to several days a week at the Living Seas Centre means 'spare time' upcoming, which means addressing the mass of office-based work (including writing/editing the new Filey Bird Report, part of the next Yorkshire Bird Report, and lots of articles for the birding press) which has been metaphorically piling up recently.... and then, maybe even some local birding?

Monday, July 3, 2017

Nidderdale Whinchats

Happily bumped into two families of Whinchats on our Nidderdale surveys last week - such smart birds....

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Einstein A Go-Go

All's well that ends well. It's been around my neck (I'll let you work that one out, along with the above title) for some time now, but finally - in a howling northerly, with horizontal rain more akin to big sea-watching day in November - the weight was emphatically lifted. Where before I can easily claim some seriously bad fortune, this time, quite the opposite, although it was perilously close....

With the bird heading out to sea seconds before I arrived, I was already grinding my teeth and spitting obscenities as I huffed and puffed up to the viewpoint, but miraculously, it swung back around, drifted slowly and stylishly beneath us and through the auk assemblages, and disappeared - without apparently returning.

Despite the crappy conditions and poor light (ISO 3 million or so) my non-fancy camera worked hard and did the job pretty well considering.

With further thanks to the birding gods for once again rewarding my much less unhealthily insular, much more rich and varied credo this year - long may it continue.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Nosterfield Sabine's

Well, it would've been silly not to. After finishing up our surveys nearby (see next posts), Rich and I nipped into the (very impressive) wetland reserve of Nosterfield, barely a fifteen minute diversion on our eastbound journey back home. Any Sabine's is class, but an inland Sabine's in an unfamiliar plumage (first summer) is even more of a pull; indeed, it's the first one I've seen outside of the sifting-through-lines-of-Kitts-on-a-lengthy-seawatch routine here on the Yorkshire coast, and despite the relentless rain, we were treated to excellent views with barely another soul around.