Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Freezing, foggy Scaling Dam

Yesterday was a right off for the Quicky Challenge as I had to attend a family event all day and although a moorland walk was involved the opportunity for adding any interesting species was minimal. However, I found some very nice trees.

This morning dawned slowly but encouragingly, a Woodcock flew through the front garden as I stepped out into the gloom. Heading to the delightful Scaling Dam by a less than direct route brought Barn Owl. This was a rather good start.

It was very, very cold at murky Scaling first thing and although Goldeneye was quickly on the list the well searched for Willow Tit failed to show. Grey Wagtail was also hiding so the Cleveland end hide was approached hopefully.

Teal was quickly added, with a good count as well; Tufted were dug out; Coot gave itself up easily. Bonus bird, a Dunlin was feeding on the point. Information regarding the possibility of a Jack Snipe was checked out but was a no show and the recently reported Rough-legged Buzzard did not return. Little Grebe could not be found and horror of horrors there were no geese, not one, none; even a drive up the road to look in the surrounding fields failed to reveal a single Greylag or Canada.

There was little opportunity for birding later in the day. I did nip out at dusk hoping my Little Owl spot would give up its riches, but it didn't. I possibly heard a Song Thrush but it was not definite and the outing was only just saved by two Golden Plover flying high over the moor.

Monday, December 29, 2008


Running out of time I had to cover an Atlas square today, not very promising for a bundle of Quicksilver points but needs must. However, it wasn't quite as poor as I expected with Common Crossbill showing well and more unexpectedly a small flock of Lesser Redpoll. Bearing in mind that in a month or so a visit to this site will be a Song Thrush song extravaganza the lack of this species, still not a Quicky score, is not a little surprising; they are secretive little sods at this time of year.

A shopping trip to Whitby managed Turnstone by sight, we nearly popped one in the shopping bag. But the briefest of Rock Pipit and Grey Wagtail calls were not quite clear enough nor repeated again so that Starling could be 100% eliminated.

As I was wandering east of Whitby today .... Gyr!

Photo - Ingrid Kent

Ok, I'm fibbing, Ingrid Kent a visitor to Whitby photographed this bird on or around the 20th December 2008. As you can see it has ribbons. Bit of a warning to any claims of a Gyr in this area, read the full story here

The pic below rather gives it all away ....

Photo - Ingrid Kent

Thanks to Jon Carter for the info and getting the pix to me.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Macabre birding

Saltwick Beach

Being a somewhat macabre crew, the family wanted to see the dead dolphin and I wanted to confirm the ID so at a relatively early hour we were all back down at Saltwick Nab. The Curlew were feeding in the field this time and 55 were counted. I then checked out the Black-headed Gulls and bingo! Adult Mediterrranean Gull amongst them - a quick Quicksilver score. Then down to the dolphin (pix to follow). The dolphin is a White-beaked. Once I found my reference book I discovered that it is not out of its normal range at all.

White-beaked Dolphin again

Ellen decided that the dark red sea anenomes were deadly to small girls and spent much of the time counting them and screaming. Mollie apologised to the dolphin via sand writing and I stared hopefully out to sea. A suspicious diver went south, dark, slow flapping, biggish feet and unfortunately too distant but Black-throated was strongly suspected, a few minutes later I got onto another suspicious looking diver (perhaps the same) coming south, close and onto it too late I again failed the ID test. However, Red-throated Divers then showed themselves en masse with several flying into the bay and a three and then a seven going north high and fast. An Eider went north and then more frustration as an auk sp at distance evaded specific ID. No Purple Sands or Ringed Plovers revealed themselves and Dunlin was conspicuous by its absence. A Pied Wagtail flew down the beach. A very, very distant adult Gannet finally gave itself up. Fulmars were in abundance but no other petrel types honoured us with their presence.

We headed for the Nab itself with Ellen determined that various red and brown algal forms were also life threatening. Resorting to bribery ("We will stop at the Spar and I have money.) we eventually managed to ascend the National Trust path but oh despair! No Stonechat and amazingly no Rock Pipit. However, rewards are there for those who persevere and at the top of the path a familiar call alerted me to a point scorer. A glimpse of a flitting small bird, a leap over the fence and Chiffchaff revealed itself, rather an excellent bird for Whitby at this time of year.

The promised Spar provided no goodies in the car park but the detour to Ruswarp to sort out birthday party arrangements produced Grey Heron and Muscovy Duck ( I can't have that can I Andrew?).
Black-headed Gull Tree

During our travels Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk gave themselves up.

Gardening afternoon finally produced Greenfinch, just one on the feeders and Yellowhammer calling from one of the Sycamores.

A little local knowledge at the end of the day provided good views of Tawny Owl.

I think this now makes 64, but most importantly some quality birds.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

White-beaked Dolphin (I think) RIP

A rather sad event today was the finding of (what I think is) a dead White-beaked Dolphin on the beach at Saltwick. This is a species I've not seen alive, having looked the wrong way on a couple of occasions or been distracted by Wilson's Petrels or other feathery things.

The dolphin did not appear damaged just dead. I guess it might have stranded itself but more likely it's just died out at sea and got washed in. I don't think this species should really be in the North Sea at this time of year?

Cancellation leads to Quciksilver points

A cancelled family event due to my sister-in-law driving her car into a bollard (people ok, car rather poorly) provided a bit of birding opportunity.

The garden has been very quiet of late, I suspect some neighbour of spending exorbitantly on gourmet bird foods. Greenfinch are currently absent and the Chaffinch flock is rather pitiful. However, a single Goldfinch made an appearance and added a point.

Late afternoon I shot to the coast in the hope of adding the Velvet Scoter that I've suspected of lingering off the coastguards. Success in the shape of a duck Velvet, 65 Common Scoter, 24 Eider (a good count here). Cormorant were also added but although I could hear Turnstone I could not see them, so I've not counted them (yet).

I then went to Saltwick (more on this later) where the roost added Redshank. Somehow I failed to add either Rock Pipit or Stonechat.

Driving back through Whitby to buy some milk I managed Mute Swan in the harbour, in the dark.

During my driving about today another species was added which I don't mention on the blog (persecution) so the total so far is a slightly more respectable 51.

Quicksilver update

Singing Dipper

The challenge started slowly with late emergence as the offsprings' usual early Christmas start - the 4 a.m. stocking opening - led to morning torpor. A trip to the coast found Kestrel on the way but three glimpsed divers were not ided and thus not counted so the seaside stroll, a traditional Christmas morn event, added relatively little other than the expected Curlew, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Shag. A pair of Bullfinch through the kitchen window on the faithfull dock seeds provided some encouragement.

This morning's Atlas square produced some quality in the form of Dipper, singing and displaying, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, singing Marsh Tits and singing Mistle Thrush.

A cheeky attempt to add the Mickleby Bean Goose failed, although a single Wigeon was with the Mallard at the flood. Then on the return a small falcon glimpsed a couple of times was surely a Merlin but the views were just not quite conclusive.

So what's the score? A rather meagre 42 (43 if I count Feral pigeon).

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dash south

No birding because I'm knackered.

Had to dash south and say Happy Birthday to my mum - this involved far too much driving and managing small persons in the back of the vehicle for an inordinate number of hours, tempers were somewhat frayed at the edges when we finally landed back home yesterday evening.

Of interest were both Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush in song in Sussex, I've not heard either species singing here for some months. Song Thrush is the more surprising, I doubt one will be singing here for three months yet. (Bit of an over-estimate this; end of January last year was the first one.)

I've some Atlas squares to "do" before the month end. What with too much work, serious lurgy and this mad travelling they've still outstanding. Should be able to do one tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker?

These pix of a Lime Tree damaged by something - the damage looks very like damage by sapsucker sp to North American trees but this tree is in Peasholm Park, Scarborough.

So either there is or has been a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in Peasholm Park or something else has caused this.

Compare the holes in this picture - click - to the damage in the pix below.

Can Great Spotted Woodpecker do this? I've never come across it but ....

Any ideas gratefully received, please post ideas in the comments box or email to

I've just had a look at BWP and it appears that Great Spot can and does do this. Apparently the behaviour is very rare in UK but common in Sweden and feeding on Lime is specifically mentioned. Bearing in mind that these pictures were sent to me by a tree specialist and he'd not seen this before suggests that this feeding behaviour is extraordinarily rare in UK. Anyone else come across this?

Monday, December 15, 2008

Playing with Bubo

I've not kept my lists up-to-date but being unwell and needing something fairly mindless to do I started adding lists to Bubo. The life list is a wacky one. BB rares can only be added with a date and a place. Here BirdGuides Online Guide to Rares comes in handy. The earliest BB I saw was the Covehithe, Suffolk, Nutcracker in the invasion of 1968. I can remember hassling my parents to take me, we were on holiday in Thorpeness. The bird was very tame and I fed it banana sandwiches. Nowadays I would be out and about around Thorpeness looking for my own one instead. (The following year a possible flew high over Minsmere in/off most likely - no I could not id it, it wouldn't have entered my brain - but my mentor of the time was straight on to the possibility.)

I knew I'd seen a Long-billed Dowitcher at Staines, it took me a while to track it down to 1977 though, I could remember who was with me that day, just no idea of the year. Then I struggled to remember if I'd seen Caspian Tern, I had a feeling that maybe I had seen one at Minsmere. If I had seen one there then it must have been with Peter W and on the point of mailing him it suddely clicked into place ... but then I phoned for a chat anyway.

Apparently my "target species" is Ruddy Shelduck. You are kidding ... I wouldn't even hurry to Scaling Dam for one of those - actually Scaling Dam is a likely spot, the north-east's escapee Mecca. Actually the "target species" feature is rather good a it helps prevent you missing out commons - like I hadn't seen GB-bGull.

Anyway enough of this, I'll to work tomorrow, regardless. Either that or I'll end up really sick, lists, honestly, better get my life back. (Now where's my Nepal log book, that'll be a good one to add.)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Further Cormorant calamity

We leave the docks in to seed on the bank outside the back of the house, the Bullfinches like to feed on these.

Louise did the Cormorant thing again, I was probably outside getting the coal when it went past as well .....

Bubo lists

These are a really neat idea, take a look.


The weather finally eased up and this morning is a still, dull, misty kind of a day. The bird feeders are busy again. Water is pouring off the moor, our little trickle through the pond and out down the side of the garden is something of a torrent.

In my sick bed (oh, so very sick, man flu? No, this is ... oh, a near death experience, at least - thanks for your concern Nick, it is definitely required) Asteroids finally paled and I read the latest British Birds. Poor old BOURC are getting a bit of a drubbing again on a number of fronts, I can never really understand all this passion over the list. Personally I think caution should be the watch-word and archeologically dodgy Eagle Owls and 'maybe' Bulwer's Petrels should be excluded from what is the definitive, scientifically justified list of birds of these fair isles. Actually there was a bit of cheering of BOURC in places as well as a number of jolly splits are in the offing so the list is nearing 590.

I once sat in the pub, The Britannia at Dungeness, with three observers of the two, at that time, accepted Irish records of Bulwer's Petrel (Reflected Glory points 119). Subsequently one of these records was consigned to the dustbin of history but the 1973 one is still considered good. It was interesting reading the observations of the three observers of the claimed Cumbria bird in 1990 as Bulwer's has always been a seawatching Shangri-La, not that I've even had a likely suspect off UK or Irish shores. However, over a two week period in Madeira and on a yacht down to the Salvegens I saw rather a lot of this species, even seeing a chick in the hand. The really striking thing about Bulwer's is the way it flies. Now I'd need to dig my notes out to give a good description but of the many I saw on that trip there was never any doubt because they negotiate the waves via a particularly striking flight pattern which if I recall correctly includes a frequent, but irregular sharp zig and then a zag to get the bird back on its original course. It is a flight that is so different from anything else that any seawatcher on a UK promentary would go "Expletive! Expletive! Expletive! Expletive!" because you would know immediately you'd struck gold (well, black and brown actually but never mind). Somehow I don't get the sense of this from the Cumbria descriptions and additionally the size, 25% smaller than a Common Tern, is just wrong. That the bird was in view at 600 - 800 metres (that's not too far out) for 7 or 8 minutes would indicate to me it wasn't really motoring in the way I'd expect a Bulwer's to be shifting. So disappointing chaps but there you go, you've probably got over it now anyway. For my money that bird was probably a Leach's, the description of the flight matches exactly what I would expect of that species in a heavy sea. And the lack of white in the rump? Well that can be the devil to see on some individuals in heavy weather. The long tail? Some weed or other detritus attached to it. Maybe I've got the wrong impression here from the little bits of description in BB but for what it's worth that's my ha'pence.

Had a bit of a search for some movie footage and there's none on YouTube and can't find any elsewhere, however, here's a link to some stills - first US record, Monterey Bay, 26th July 1998.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Black Grouse?

A possible Black Grouse sighting has been reported to me but:

  1. I've a bad and seriously bad and very, very bad case of the lurgy - woe, woe woe is me
  2. and it's totally ****ing it down in buckets with a nasty, cold south-westerly to boot
So I'm staying behind the nice warmth containing, newly double-glazed windows drinking lemon flavoured paracetamol and seeing the very few birds that dare to risk the elements around the 2-barred Xbill bait (no harm in upping the stakes).

The one excitement in my day - apart from discovering an online version of "Asteroids" was to watch the mad tom cat attempt to ambush a tree rat. Tree rat comes off peanuts (I've no energy to go out there and hurl things at it today); tree rat sits on ground in usual cute sit up on haunches style munching peanut; tree rat starts to hoppity loop across the lawn; huge ginger tom cat emerges from nearby hiding place (braving wind, rain and generally inclement conditions) and misses it by a tails breadth. In the past when he's caught these he's eaten the lot, claws, tail, skull, everything. These are not my favourite beast, falling only fractionally lower than Rattus norvegicus in my list of introduced vermin that should be erradicated. In particular because there is a relatively recent sighting of Sciurus vulgaris not so many klicks away from here.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Gripped off again, again, again, again

A Cormorant flew past this morning and then returned to fly over the house, disappearing before I could be alerted from my slumbers. So not only two in four days in the tetrad but a garden tick as well as it entered air space.

There have been Bullfinches around the garden for the last few days, both commoner woodpeckers, Great Spotted Woodpecker on the feeders, the occasional Redwing and Fieldfare and one Siskin.

Things are quiet on the rat front too but for a dog sized critter in one of the vegetable recycling bins - gives you a bit of a start when you're chucking the tea leaves in.

Not much doing at the moment. I cruised over to sunny Scaling Dam this afternoon hoping for some gull action. 9 Great Black-backed Gulls and a dozen or so Black-headed Gulls were a bit of a disappointment. There were 148 Teal, 18 Wigeon, 207 Mallard and 2 Goldeneye but in gulls there was a significant shortage.

Off to Sandsend then. 2 Red-throated Divers and 8 or 9 Shags. But gulls were also in short supply here with just 100 Black-headed Gulls and 30 or so Herring Gulls with but 10 Common Gulls. There was a Rock Pipit or two here as well.

Off to Whitby then. Here there were gulls, not huge numbers but gulls none the less. Three or four hundred Herring Gulls, and a few hundred Black-headed Gulls. The usual chip feeding created a flurry of larid activity. Also off the East Pier there were 61 Common Scoter, 4 Eider off the Harbour entrance and a few Shags and 3 Cormorants. Oystercatchers and Turnstone were also in evidence.

Feeding larids chips

At dusk a decent sized roost of Black-headed Gulls gathered off the Spa, about a thousand I estimated. Despite these being sortable no more interesting species could be found amongst them.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Crepuscular activity

On the way in to work late yesterday afternoon there were two Woodcock sitting in the road surrounded by snow.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Gripped off again,again,again

**** Louise scored Cormorant today on her walk to school with the girls, another tetrad tick, another tetrad dip.

Barn Owl was flying yesterday morning over the snowy road and fields of one of my new Atlas squares as I headed to work. I need to check this area in the summer at dusk, methinks.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Gripped off again again

Louise gripped me off today with a smart male Stonechat that led her and the girls to school along the dale. I've not recorded one in the home tetrad. Presumeably the cold and sprinkling of snow had brought this one off the head of the dale (two tetrads away) where I have recorded them.

Also today a spectacular rise in Common Gull numbers at home. Unusually for mid-week I was at home whilst it was still light late afternoon. For the first time in about a year there were significant numbers of Common Gulls heading out of the dale with an estimate of 550 which I suspect was probably on the low side.

Rodent trouble continues with a further Rattus alert this evening. The unseasonally cold weather has perhaps displaced them and they are searching for winter quarters. Fortunately I was working in the kitchen and spotted the cat carrying a long tailed beastie upstairs. Luckily she took it to the laundry basket before dropping it, so it ran behind. Armed with the my trusty broom I summoned reinforcements and Louise surprised herself by taking the front line (having donned her wellies) and ushered the relatively small, teenage type rat into the (rapidly emptied for the task) coal scuttle. Result.

The trap had been sprung this morning but no beast was found within - hopefully this was it. With luck just one to go.