35 Birds I'd Like to See in 2012.

Bean Goose
Ruddy Shelduck
Red-breasted Goose
Velvet Scoter
Green-winged Teal
Black Grouse
White-tailed Eagle
Quail
Honey Buzzard
Rough-legged Buzzard
Stone Curlew
Great Shearwater
Jack Snipe (21st Jan.)
Common Crane (7th Apr.)
Caspian Gull
Glaucous Gull
Roseate Tern
Long-eared Owl
Tawny Owl
Hoopoe
Lesser Spotted Woodpecker (26th Feb.)
Citrine Wagtail
Woodlark
Shore Lark (7th Apr.)
Water Pipit (29th Feb.)
Nightingale (6th May)
Icterine Warbler
Grasshopper Warbler
Crested Tit
Bearded Tit (19th Feb.)
Penduline Tit
Chough
Common / Mealy Redpoll
Red-backed Shrike
Bee-eater

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Saturday
Apr212012

Failing Tide.

The morning tide brought practically nothing up river. I saw more birders down at Saul than I did birds from Middle Point.

Leaning on the lamp post at the corner of the street in case a certain little lady comes by.I picked up my first Reed Warbler of the year, as well as a welcome Whimbrel from the Zeiss Hide. My efforts to see a Water Rail or Kingfisher on the reserve (and thus for the year) remain unrewarded.

I also photographed a Blackcap in full song and a Grey Heron.

Blackcap.Grey Heron.I'm not sure what I'll do tomorrow morning. I'd like to try Saul itself for the tide and then Green Lane. Maybe see a Yellow Wagtail or a Whitethroat of some description. Or I could try Nagshead again for Pied Flycatcher (coming across one on only my second visit of the year would be a record...) - but if I leave that another week I increase my chances of bagging Wood Warbler on the same trip. The other option is to have a lazy morning at home. Probably see as many birds.

Still, it's nearly early May. Hopefully some good tides will bring some good birds. The first weekend of May last year produced Common, Arctic and Black Terns from Saul.

Middle Point hide

Sunday
Apr152012

Redstart and Firecrest.

A short afternoon mooch around selected Forest sites produced (amongst other non-year ticks) a splendid male Redstart at Nagshead and two Firecrests in the Yew Tree Brake area. Unfortunately, despite a couple of close calls, I could not lay eyes on a Pied Flycatcher at Nagshead.

I did photograph a Nuthatch, though.

Nuthatch.

Saturday
Apr142012

Ring Ouzels.

Today may have been a bad day for football, for Everton and a low point in the life of Sylvain Distin... but it was a good day for birds in Gloucestershire. Well, a good day for birds in Gloucestershire... for me at least. The Osprey / Ring Ouzel combination play was very much on. I've already posted some dodgy photographs of the Dowdeswell Osprey (which I understand remained around the reservoir until 0840hrs), but it is now my great pleasure to present in this entry dodgy photographs of Cleeve Hill Ring Ouzels!!!

Ring Ouzels.Yes, I have stopped the 'no-Ring-Ouzels-on-Cleeve-Hill' clock (or the 'Idontbelievetheyrereallyhere-o-meter') at 29 hours and 16 minutes. Two years of combing the area, and then this. It was amazing... less than ten minutes had passed before they showed on the main strip down from the bench beside the Heather Enclosure. In total there were eight birds in this group. Four males and (probably) four females. They were all, save one I thought (the foremost bird in the fifth photograph in the series of six below?), adult birds.

Thanks must go to @MPHobson for pointing me in the right direction.

Once I'd had a good look at them feeding infront of the bench from a distance I decided to try and sneak a little closer. They'd been in the same place for ten minutes - amazingly undisturbed. Some (IMHO) good fieldcraft - slow movement, remaining hidden (I even stayed upwind! - although I'm aware they're not Impalas) got me much closer. Although the wind on the common was a fierce easterly, down in the valley it was relatively still. The birds seemed quite at ease - calling to each other regularly.

Ring Ouzels.I'm pleased I went when I did. No people = lots of birds. Feeding on the ground with the Ring Ouzels were Meadow Pipits and Song Thrushes. I left at about 1845hrs. The wind was getting up and the Sun was starting to cast everything in silhouette. Birds...

Tree Ouzel.And people...

Saturday
Apr142012

Osprey.

The short trip to Dowdeswell Reservoir didn't seem like such a bright idea when I left the house at 0530hrs. Gloomy and wet. On site, 0615hrs (the bird's regular morning routine) passed with no sign. I began to wonder, but fortunately without cause. At 0630hrs the Osprey flew west to east down the reservoir (I didn't see where it came from), circled above the treetops before disappearing - apparently - back into the trees. It did try to land at the top of one evergreen, but true to form a Crow wouldn't let it. I left at 0700hrs, by which time there had been no further sign.

As it cruised over the water I did fire off a couple of record shots, but the light was embryonic so the best I can do is say that yes... it's an Osprey.

Osprey.(The untouched images are very dark, and my Photoshop skills are remedial at best.)

I might try for it later in the afternoon, but now I must focus on the F.A. Cup semi-final. COYB.

Wednesday
Apr112012

North Yorkshire.

I feel like Bishop Brennan. Like the old man, I've just received a great big kick up the arse. With a trip to Scilly in September looming, and lady luck otherwise engaged resulting in more than a few frustrating dips, my promising start to 2012 had started to flag.

The Easter bank holiday weekend (6th to 9th April) had long been earmarked for a tour of North Yorkshire, so trips and ticks of any sort were at a premium in March. Petrol costs more than gold bullion. Still, two March evenings at Aust in the company of the Short-eared Owls were more than enough to ensure I didn't forget how fantastic birds are to simply watch and enjoy - lists be damned.

So perspective was becoming a problem... i.e, I was starting to gain some. That's what breaks do, they tempt you with reason, which is no good if achieving one's goals is dependent upon ignoring reason. Ahem...

As I said, Scilly is coming and I can't afford to waste it. Traveling there costs more than putting a man in orbit, and staying there more than putting one on the Moon. I could see the point of no return - the point at which my resources would not stretch far enough to see 214 birds in one calendar year. So North Yorkshire... it would be make or break.

Whilst I won't go so far as to say the weekend has definitely made my year, it has delivered what Father Crilly delivered to Len. To my list and to my motivation, a great big kick up the arse.

The bare necessities (binoculars still hanging around neck).

Friday, 6th April

An horrendously early start. Alarm at 0430hrs, out the door by 0510hrs. I was away, but it wasn't only me going up North. Most of my immediate family would be staying for the weekend too. If you have been reading this blog for long enough you will recall that in August of last year my brother married in the delightful market town of Pickering, North Yorkshire. A convenient spot because it is where his wife's parents now live. This weekend would be a similar affair to that fabulous one... minus the nuptuals. And the stress. Plus loads of birds. It's the sort of affair that - if one is lucky enough to have a close family - one cannot help but enjoy.

The weather forecast for the four days ahead was dodgy. Saturday looked like it would be the best day and Monday the worst. Monday would be awash. This rather put pay to one part of my plan. I had intended to make my maiden visit to Spurn on Monday. Spurn is 80 miles south of Pickering, and the trip is indirect. It didn't seem like a good use of resources to drive down and back on either the Saturday or Sunday. Far more sensible to spend Monday there en route south. But in the pouring rain? No. So Spurn was probably out. Postponed only until October, I hope.

My 'Grandma', who is 84, who has loved birds for most of her life, and whose late husband was ultimately responsible for me falling foul of the hobby, was coming up in the designated rest-of-family car a couple of hours behind me. We were going to meet, mid-morning, at Blacktoft Sands RSPB to see what we could see. My only previous visit to Blacktoft in July of 2011 (link here) produced Marsh and Wood Sandpiper, Spoonbill and summer plumaged Spotted Redshank. Not to mention stunning close views of the resident Marsh Harriers. I wasn't expecting such fireworks on this visit, but did want to show my Grandma and Mum (who also loves birds) a truly fantastic reserve.

So I had two hours to see the probable - is it still probable? No. It's not. So I had two hours to see the Thayer's Gull at Elsham just off the end of the M180 - only a short distance off the route to Blacktoft.

Map of the area.Shortly before 0800hrs - when I was no more than 30 minutes away - the Gull was reported as showing well in the field on which point 'A' lies on the above map. I thought my luck was in! A terrible shame then, that it wasn't. The next alert, at 0811hrs, advised the bird had flown off with all the other Gulls to the field above point 'B'. This field is, as I discovered upon arrival, not viewable from the road. It's the centre of a shallow valley - from which neither the minor road nor the A15 offer views.

Gulls move though, don't they? There were plenty of people present to wait with... so I waited.

Patient to a point.Over the next 45 minutes plenty of large Gulls flew from the invisible field over the minor road, but none dark enough. A Sparrowhawk displayed.

Running out of time, I decided to join the hopeful souls trapsing up the path from the minor road to point 'B'. The field was obscured by a thick head-height hedgerow. A spiky thick head-height hedgerow. There were two gaps over the lip of the valley (approximately where the 'B' lies, affording views north into the field), and as the Gulls swarmed and danced in this field a few people - lucky enough to be in the right position at the right time and able to get their scopes up - got fleeting views of the Thayer's on the deck. I was not so lucky. Although I was in position before most people I was not in the right position and could not get a view of the bird before it flew off to the North-East.

People weren't pushing each other, but if they were lucky enough to hold useful ground they didn't budge. Can't blame them, I suppose. Views must've been frustratingly brief and no matter the numbers a birder always wants that clinching full view. What I couldn't tolerate, however, was the constant stream of expletives from some individuals who didn't get exactly what they wanted. From grown adults, quite appalling attitudes were on show even if nobody had the cojones to act on their big talk. I left at 1000hrs, without even a semi-conclusive view of the Thayer's. I thought I may have caught it in silhouette, but before any useful light hit the bird I was looking at the back of someone's yellow jacket. For those with a longer window of opportunity than me the Gull continued to show over the weekend.

I had an appointment to keep at Blacktoft.

I found the family party in the Marshland Hide watching 5 Snipe and 24 Avocets. The Snipe were giving good views as they poked around in the low greenery. Very calm. In contrast the Avocets were frenetic. They squabbled over small (presumably) nesting spots, with each other over mates and for the victors, the right to court. Delightful.

Avocets.Common Snipe.A male Marsh Harrier flew past too, but I knew everyone would get great views of many Marsh Harriers from the Singleton Hide later on. We watched two Black-headed Gulls mate but there was no sign of the Little Gull.

From the Singleton Hide I counted a maximum of nine Marsh Harriers in the air at any one time. A truly optimistic sort tried to claim one distant male as a male Hen Harrier. His speculation was quickly dismissed, but a male Hen Harrier is too important a sighting to get wrong and my blood pressure took more than a few minutes to dial down! Birders, if you're going to make a mistake, please try to mistake a less awesome bird for another less awesome bird.

The Marsh Harriers:

Marsh Harriers.The female Marsh Harrier is my favourite bird. The male's plumage, whilst striking, is too haphazard to win out over the simply stunning golden cap of the female.

A good afternoon was had by all. No rain to speak of. It was certainly a welcome stop on the long haul up to Pickering. Everyone enjoyed great views of the birds. My Grandma looked transported. I can't help but ask myself, at 84, how many more chances is she going to get to see Marsh Harriers perform at such close range?

The Harriers were a tick, as were the resident Tree Sparrows on the feeders.

Tree Sparrows.Dodging the increasingly persisent rain showers I remained at Blacktoft for a couple more hours. I wanted a crack at those Bearded Tits. No tick to be had, but my fleeting glimpse earlier in the year at Newport Wetlands left me wanting more. Unfortunately some remodelling at the Ousefleet Hide has seen the reed edge move away into the distance, and there was nothing doing at the Singleton or Townend. I did see two Bitterns in flight (definitely two birds) at the First Hide. Alas, I wasn't quick enough to photograph either.

That evening I did wonder if the failure at Elsham and the (from my perspective only) so-so haul at Blacktoft (two year ticks only) was a bad omen for the next few days. Then I remembered there's no such thing as omens and went to bed.

As it happens, Saturday would turn out to be really rather splendid in-very-deedy.

 

Saturday, 7th April

For the previous four days two Common Cranes had been feeding in a tilled field between Malton and Scarborough - at a place called Sherburn Ings. I didn't ever work out what the 'Ings' referred to, but Sherburn was just off the A64 - not far short of Filey.

I arrived shortly after 0800hrs only to find the pair were not in the advertised field. Far too quickly, despondency set in. Suddenly a poor return off the weekend seemed very likely. I shook myself and scanned the surrounding fields, quickly locating them feeding in the distance near a railway line. Two Common Cranes. Unfortunately there was no way to drive closer to their location, so I had to make do with distant telescope views.

Common Cranes.Cloudy and grey skies, distant and grey birds. Not ideal, but with nobody else around I punched the air in delight. And then again. Hopefully these birds would be the start of a roll. In the hope of a better view I would come back at the end of the day.

Filey - a place I was delighted to return to. In August I was allowed one afternoons birding and chose Filey (link here). I was charmed on that summers day by the headland, the Brigg, a great range of birds and the unaffected seaside air. I saw my first wild Eiders that afternoon.

Mid-morning I parked up near the headland (£5.00 for 24 hours parking) to check the bay for ducks and divers. Before I'd even glanced at the water a Wheatear flashed it's white rump at me. Then a second (bird not rump!). A group of runners rolled up in a minivan, took a group photograph and jogged off down the north coast. The tide was going out, uncovering the Brigg. I spotted a diver of one flavour or another (Black or Red-throated) near the beach. To my immense frustration I couldn't locate it in my scope and it disappeared. That was a tick missed, for certain.

A rain shower clipped Filey, leaving the coast dry but it was enough for me to leave the camera in the car as I walked out onto the headland. The wind was blowing from the north. This meant the bay was relatively sheltered. The water calm. A haven for something good, surely? Only some Shag (dandy with their prominent crests), Common Scoter (all female) and later four Eiders (2m, 2f).

The action belonged to the north coast. A bit like Bempton Cliffs, but on a smaller scale. Thousands of birds though. Gannets, Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Guillemots*, Razorbills and Puffins. Bolstered by uncountable gulls, giant rafts of them colonised the water. Auks shot from the cliffs out to sea like guided missiles (although Puffins do seem to lack the 'guided' element of that description). Cacophonous, seemingly chaotic, yet familial and alive. What a time breeding season is on the coast - birds in their finest finery, reproducing in style. ;-)

*my first Guillemots since 2009! What a thought that is. Just goes to show that if you don't visit every sort of habitat at the right time over the course of a year, you can so easily miss species most would consider gimmes!

At low tide I walked down to the end of the uncovered Brigg and, at the very end, picked out my first Purple Sandpipers of the year. Later a group of 21 flew down into the bay to feed on the beach - the largest single group of Purple Sandpipers I'd ever seen. The wind was a beast at the end, large waves crashing over the rocks. Although the tide was going out the possibility of a soaking still existed. The things a birder will do to see some Purple Sandpipers! Two groups of six Gannets pushed north past the Brigg. In the face of the wind they made most progress by keeping low to the water.

Midday. The cloud had cleared, the threat of rain dropped to zero and the Sun had come out to play. The rest of the day would be glorious - the best weather of the weekend by a mile. I knew that a Great Grey Shrike and two Shore Larks had been seen over the last few days just north of the Old Tip (which is along the north coast at Filey), and after the Purple Sandpipers I did begin to walk in that general direction but my plan had always been to visit Bempton Cliffs and Flamborough Head in the afternoon. So, safe in the knowledge the Shrike and Shore Larks had not yet been seen today - and safer still in the knowledge I would not see them no matter how hard I tried - I left Filey for Bempton.

Filey Brigg as viewed from Bempton Cliffs.I thought the sea birds at Filey were an impressive sight, but no amount of mental preparation can erm... prepare you for Bempton. I'd not been before, and really... wow. I may never have seen so many birds in one place at one time.

A comment on the reserve itself. The given viewpoints (five of them) are very good, but I was frustrated that the walks in between them (marked by fences) seemed to deliberately offer no views of the cliffs. No doubt this is a public safety issue. Although places like Filey have no fences to stop daft sods from plunging to their doom, they are not RSPB land. Neither do they have the reputation required to pull in holiday makers. Both factors make Filey et al unlikely to be subject to the tedious regulation of crowd control - something Bempton has to be conscious of. Not to worry though, it was an easy matter to bypass the fences if I needed a better view of something.

Two raptors showed well. A Kestrel hovered imperiously on the seaward side of the coastal path - scanning the grassy upper slopes of the cliffs for rodent prey - and then a Peregrine, which was clearly after something bigger, younger and covered in fluffy down.

Peregrine.I think that's a nice photograph. The head is well lit and the pose good.

It was a joy to watch the Fulmars departing their ledges and immediately banking onto the wind.There were lots of cameras about. Lots and lots of cameras. The vast majority were operated by those who only seemed to think of the Gannets and Puffins. Poster boys, after all. In response I decided to go for the Guillemots and Razorbills instead. Much harder. Here are my best efforts.

Razorbills.Guillemots.Both species. The Razorbills looking a bit like those 'decorative' ducks an old lady might mount on her wall.Guillemots at rest.Razorbill at rest.Of course, have camera will phot. The Kittiwakes and Gannets could not be ignored forever. Particularly the Gannets. As you walk south along the cliffs you reach a point where the Gannets are nesting at the top of the cliff no more than ten yards away. Here, you get a sense of scale that you simply don't get anywhere else. Gannets are usually so distant, off shore, off port or starboard, bow or stern... you don't ever appreciate their size. Wonderful!

Gannets coming into land almost at your feet. Almost. Nature up close.

Gannets.And Kittiwakes.

Kittiwakes.The feeders near the Visitor's Centre were good value. Tree Sparrows everywhere, but also Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Yellowhammer. Three Red-legged Partridges were in an adjoining field.

Just as I prepared to leave Bempton birdguides updated with news that the pair of Shore Larks had been seen once again in the tilled field north of the Old Tip at Filey. This was quickly followed by news that the Great Grey Shrike was also still about - and showing well. Holy shit, Batman. I'd assumed the Shrike had gone. It had been caught and ringed the previous evening. Wouldn't that spook it? Evidently not.

I was on the horns of a dilemma. Do I stick to my plan and visit Flamborough Head (Ring Ouzel maybe?) - I reckoned the waters off the southern shore of the headland and from South Landing would be calm and a good bet for a diver - or do I go back to Filey and risk wasting the rest of the day? In the end I compromised. I continued south but only to South Landing. My list was calling out to me. I'd missed a Great Grey Shrike near Bristol already this year and couldn't pass up such a golden opportunity. If I got it, I wouldn't have to go tearing around Cleeve Hill when the inevitable bird shows up there later in the year. The Shore Larks, well they would be an unbelievable bonus.

South Landing was quiet anyway. Another two Eiders the best birds on offer. I was back at Filey by 1630hrs - primed for disappointment. The Old Tip reserve is bordered by Filey to the south and a private field to the north. There were three birders stood in the middle of the field - two with 500mm lenses and one with a scope. All three were watching a hedgerow intently. My heart began to race. As I approached them they gestured for me to avoid getting too close to a particular area of hedgerow. After I'd worked my way around to their location I could see why...

Great Grey Shrike.Wallop. Lanius excubitor. Even it's proper name sounds cool. It sat on that branch for at least 7 minutes. Not on the look out for prey, but just watching. The field and us. It regurgitated a food pellet. Reassured, we made gradual progress towards it - admiring through the telescopes and firing shutters in equal measure. The above photograph was as close as we got before it flew off a short distance. We certainly didn't spook it as it moved when we had been stood in silence for a minute or so. I caught one usable image of it in flight (see inset) clearly showing the small white wing patch characteristic of the nominate race - also no white base to the tail. Anyway it didn't go far... just a shame it perched facing entirely in the wrong direction.

Great Grey Shrike.By now it seemed to be on the hunt once again. I asked the others about the chances of seeing the Shore Larks. They'd seen them today in the field to the left. "Far from a guarantee" was the message, but they were there.

The tilled field.The houses in this photograph represent the northern extent of Filey. The field in which the Great Grey Shrike was still hunting is immediately to the left. Despite being told it was a big field I was nonetheless rather daunted by the surprisingly big field. Two other birders were on the look out, but had only seen Skylarks. But... when your luck is in, your luck is in. After just two minutes scanning the field one of the two called out "Shore Lark!" and then "Horizon!". And they were. If you walk a little further down the side of the field from where the above photograph was taken the undulation in the middle creates an horizon. The two Shore Larks were poking their heads above it. Yellow and black. Yellow and black. The pair made a few short flights back and forth - occasionally landing closer to us, occasionally further away. Never close enough for a good photograph but definitely good enough for excellent telescope views.

Both birds in the same image. They are there, honest.My two best efforts.This was wonderful, and exactly the sort of thing I'd hoped for from the weekend. Two cracking birds, one a troublesome year tick and the other a wholly unexpected lifer. There and then I was happy to chalk up the last few minutes as some of the best I'd ever had in the field, but that would've been horribly premature.

The two men with whom I watched the Shore Larks had had their fill and dashed off the catch up with the Shrike. A few minutes later I spied a couple walking down the side of the field towards me. They kept stopping and checking on a bird in their binoculars (binoculars - always a good sign). They muttered something about black markings on a bird's face and "whatever could it be?" Once they were near enough I offered Shore Lark as an explanation. No. It turned out the bird they were puzzling over was much closer. It turned out the bird they were puzzling over was a STUNNING summer plumaged male Lapland Bunting. For me, a 'plumage lifer'. I showed them the bird in my Collins, and they left delighted (they'd also seen a male Snow Bunting earlier in the day!). What did I do then? I started to come to terms with the possibility that maybe fortune does balance itself out over time!

Common Crane. Great Grey Shrike. Shore Lark. Lapland Bunting.

Bloody hell.

Unfortunately the Bunting didn't stay long. Before I could get my camera on it I made sure both the man and woman had seen it through my telescope. Then it flew off - although I understand it did reappear the following day. Still, what a tilled field. Gotta be in my all time top five tilled fields.

1745hrs. I was making my way slowly back along the coastal path to the headland and the car when something made me drop my telescope onto the grass. A hunting Barn Owl had flown right past me! Broad daylight. Right past me. A Barn Owl. Barn Owl in broad daylight. Me. Barn Owl. Right past me. Everybody's dead, Dave. I fired off some record shots and then watched as it landed about a hundred yards ahead of me, shooting a look that said "Yes, that's right, I'm a freakin' Barn Owl", before continuing on in the direction I was heading - lost to view.

Barn Owl.I only saw it once more, distantly from nearer to the headland. But heck... a BARN OWL!!!! I never see wild Barn Owls. This was the first time I'd ever seen one in flight in daylight. Silent. Ghostly. Fantastic. I had to sit down. I honestly had to sit down. What a streak today had been. To reiterate:

Common Crane. Great Grey Shrike. Shore Lark. Lapland Bunting. Barn Owl.

The early evening conditions were admittedly perfect for a Barn Owl to get out and hunt. Calm, clear and peaceful. Perhaps it would've been more surprising not to see one.

Just to think though, had I not checked birdguides as I left Bempton Cliffs, that quintet would've stopped at Common Crane. Flying solo.

The sign really adds something, dontcha think?A final scan of the bay produced nothing of interest except the Shag and Eider. Time to head back to Pickering for the evening meal and a family game or two... but not before the promised stop at Sherburn Ings to see if my luck would hold. And whaddaya know... it did.

They had flown in only minutes before I arrived.The light was failing, but who cares.

The last few miles back to Pickering flew by. The evening flew by. I slept like a log - albeit on a temporary bed. I slept like a log on a temporary bed. As The Cat once said when two of his ideas were acted on in one lifetime... "When you're hot, you're hot." Today's haul may not impress top birders (although it should be enough for anyone in my opinion), but it certainly knocked the socks off me.

 

Sunday, 8th April

I did not decide my destination for the day until I was sat in my car - key in the ignition - at 0830hrs. Spurn still seemed like an attractive propositon, but in exchange for a full tank of petrol? I wasn't convinced. Plus there hadn't been anything really brilliant there for a few days now. The best recent (save a fleeting Ring Ouzel) bird had been a Great Grey Shrike in the triangle and I'd taken care of Great Grey Shrike business yesterday.

So Spurn was out, but I still needed to work out some year ticks and maybe a lifer or two. I quickly formed a plan - thank goodness for 'Bird News Anywhere'. There was a Glossy Ibis and drake Garganey at Saltholme RSPB in Cleveland (Middlesbrough) and a semi-reliable Hen Harrier at Wynyard Park just outside the city. I would have to cross the moors to make best time, though, so a morning walk around Scaling Dam Lake to see the Red Grouse seemed perfect.

The A169 north out of Pickering towards Whitby was thick with fog. Treacherous, yet at the same time brilliant. My fictionalised view of pretty much any moorland is thick with fog, cloud or rain, cold and windswept. This was most of those things. Fortunately for my chances of seeing some birds the turn onto the A171 east brought slightly lower ground and better visibility. And Scaling Dam.

This photograph taken later in the morning, AFTER the weather had cleared.It was still a perfect setting, light rain and patches of lingering fog. I parked at the far end and walked clockwise around the lake. The moorland lies to the right of the lake from where I stood to take the above photograph. The A171 disappears west. The walk took a couple of hours. The going was occasionally very soft, but the bird life was abundant.

Almost as soon as I left the car park I heard and saw my first Willow Warbler of the year, then - on a small scrape - a Little Ringed Plover.

The first Willow Warbler of the year is always worth photographing.Little Ringed Plover.Then the gutteral calls of a male Red Grouse filled the air. One couldn't enter the moorland (no bad thing) but birds were holding territory only a few yards from the fences. Along the back of the lake I saw a total of nine Red Grouse - 7 males and 2 females. The Sun rarely shone, but to be honest I was much happier seeing these birds for the first time in these steroetypical moorland conditions.

Red Grouse.The male and the female together is probably my favourite photograph of the whole weekend. They really couldn't be better posed. Just as the sea birds are dressed up in their gladrags this time of year, the male Red Grouse are in a bulldog frame of mind. One male won't tolerate another getting too close to him - I watched numerous noisy stand-offs - and yet when a female does show up more than one male inevitably moved to claim her. Short vertical flights with accompanying calls were commonplace. One female (the one in the photograph, actually) turned her back on a male and appeared to provocatively ruffle her feathers. I thought there might be something going on but nothing further transpired.

The moorland.On the water I only saw a pair of Little Grebes, a few Great Crested Grebes, Goldeneye and lots of Tufted Duck. Around the lake as a I walked were Curlew, Reed Buntings, a Mistle Thrush, a Common Sandpiper, Meadow Pipits, Chiffchaffs, Dunnock, Lapwing and a Kestrel. I'd been told to look out for Willow Tits, but I didn't see or hear one. Best of all were two Short-eared Owls seen in aerial combat over the moorland.

A singing Dunnock.I spent three hours in Middlesbrough. I drove through it and back to get to Saltholme RSPB. The reserve was fine, but elsewhere it felt a bit like I was in the town the Dementors built. I admit the poor weather didn't help, but what I saw felt underprivileged, run down, grey, old - barely recovered from it's industrial past. Haunted. The Transporter Bridge seems to be the only landmark. A bloody big blue landmark, but perhaps more a poignant reminder of better times than a pointer to any sort of bright future.

On a lighter note, all the way up to Pickering from 'The SOUTH' (as the motorway signs put it) one sees signs for 'The NORTH'. For a southerner like me Pickering feels like the NORTH, but as one approaches Middlesbrough there are still signs on roads that rocket up past it promising 'The NORTH'. As if nobody wants to actually be the NORTH. Made me giggle. Places down south love being the SOUTH. ;-)

Taken from the tracks around Saltholme RSPB.As I said, Saltholme RSPB itself is pretty good. A vast expanse of reclaimed industrial heartland filled with birds. Well, today 'filled' might've been an exaggeration but I did see the Glossy Ibis that had been present for a couple of weeks now. It was 'asleep' - preening only occasionally - from the Halverton Hole viewpoint. Alas, I tempted fate by spending so long admiring it that as soon as I got the camera out it flew! I have one photograph of it in flight which is tragically out of focus. Here it is, because I'll be damned if the first photograph I ever take of a Glossy Ibis isn't going on this blog.

Some electricity pylons.As you can see, it's a stunning image.

I watched another Short-eared Owl quartering fields off to the left of the lakes. The drake Garganey did not show. Neither did the Water Pipit in Fire Station field near the Visitor's Center. A shame, because I'm sure the Water Pipit would've been in fine summer plumage by now. I had to make do with a Redshank.

As I walked back to the car, and as the weather closed in further still, news came up on birdguides than a Bluethroat (no, make that two Bluethroats) were at Spurn today. I tried to get irate at this news, but then thought once again about my list. A big list requires birds, sure, but it also requires as many birds as possible for as little outlay as possible. One expensive mega tick at Spurn versus two really good ticks (Red Grouse and Glossy Ibis) here? The math don't lie. Also my rampant success yesterday made it hard to dampen the mood by drawing on any bitter experiences. I was happy with what I had, and who knows maybe a twitch for a Bluethroat will happen later in the year. I'd drive a long way for that, but not for Red Grouse or Glossy Ibis.

My final stop before travelling back to Pickering was Wynyard Park 'Raptor Viewpoint'. A ringtail Hen Harrier was supposed to be about, and I'm sure it was. Not for me, though. Not today. I would simply put up a photograph of the very large mound I stood on to look for the Harrier, or the view I scanned, but for some inexplicable reason (especially since I usually do photograph spots I bird in) I didn't pull out a camera once. Let's just say I was looking over tree tops in a similar (but smaller scale) way one does at New Fancy View, that the Hen Harrier didn't show, but that a Buzzard and Kestrel did.

Today I'd hoped to see four particular species - Red Grouse (yes), Glossy Ibis (yes), Garganey (no) and Hen Harrier (no). That's not bad. Three out of four would've been very successful. Two was not bad. I drove back to Pickering via Thirsk. It look slightly longer than it would've taken had I crossed back over the moors, but the driving was easier.

It came as no surprise that I failed to see the Hen Harrier, but dipping the Garganey was a disappointment. I had a plan, though. Tomorrow I would drive back to Gloucester, and a little south and east of Pickering is Tophill Lows NNR... where a pair of Garganey have been for the last few days...

 

Monday, 9th April

Early starts for three successive Easter weekend days (two earlier than I would get out of bed on a work day) take their toll. I had to sleep in this morning else I'd never drive all the way back to Gloucester in the afternoon / evening without causing a pile up.

A lazy breakfast was followed by a trip out to see if the Cranes were still at Sherburn Ings. My Grandma and Mum wanted to see them. They weren't there. In fact as I write this on Thursday (12th) they haven't been reported since Sunday evening. The rain was up and about though, just as promised. It barely stopped all day, wherever I went, and Spurn produced nothing of note. I made the right call on that one.

I set off for Gloucester at 1430hrs with two stops in mind.

Tophill Lows NNR - lying between Driffield and Beverley, Tophill is a water works / water treatment plant that's found a niche as a bird hot spot. A bit like Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire, only with more pools and lagoons. Typically it took longer than it really should've, but the two Garganey did eventually show on the Northern Lagoon. I'm sure that on a nice day, when rain isn't lashing at you from every angle and the hides aren't dripping a rhythm, Tophill is a top place to watch birds, but today it felt like a mission. A mission to get in, tick, and get out. Mission accomplished, thankfully.

Garganey.The Northern Lagoon. Actually one of the smallest bodies of water on site. The Garganey were on the far side, and to the left.Ten Acre Lake, Hatfield Moors - could I see the Red-necked Grebe? I'd seen pictures of it, resplendent in summer plumage, and thought it would be the perfect way to round off the weekend. The lake is just off junction one of the M180. I arrived at about 1700hrs, and therefore a couple of hours before the light failed me. Access is poor, down a pot holed road to a remote Natural England car park. Despite the word 'England', this place felt about as close to a redneck state as I've ever seen in this country! Minor roads had signs on them warning people to stay out - and of the consequences if they didn't. Small houses were filled with guard dogs and clapped out cars, 'yards' had been decorated with trash and each person I saw looked at me as if I was 'in their face' or about to run off with their daughter. Not to mention the dirt bikes rampaging up and down the lanes. I was, in all honesty, rather unnerved.

Still, the lake and adjacent moors are a hot spot for birds and well watched. They have plenty of blogs devoted to local sightings, so perhaps I caught everyone on a bad day or let my imagination get the better of me. I was tired. Whatever the case the Red-necked Grebe, despite a thorough search of the entire lake, could not be found. I've just had a look at the Hatfield Moors Birding Blog (link here) and it has not been seen since Saturday. I hope it hasn't died, but since it's been coming back to this lake for a few years now without taking the hint, I guess that's the most likely explanation. Sad, but from the point of view of my sanity it's a more palatable one than it simply not showing when I turned up to see it.

Ten Acre Lake.I left the Sun to set over the lake by itself. The drive back was a long one, but I was keen to get on so went non-stop between Goole and Gloucester. Back at about 2200hrs in time for Match of the Day. Tired really wasn't the word.

 

Conclusion

Kicking Bishop Brennan up the arse.A very solid birding trip. Some genuine highs. Three lifers (Common Crane, Shore Lark and Red Grouse), 22 year ticks, some outrageous good fortune, good company, a Magnum ice-cream at Filey and an Easter Egg to munch on.

The run of birds I enjoyed on Saturday will take some beating. I'm really not sure if even Scilly will be able to match it. I sure hope so.

Scilly though... provided I can keep ticking off the regulation common birds in the intervening weeks... now the prospect has legs. This evening I am 29 birds up on this date in 2010. Some will be birds that I could expect to get on the islands anyway, but as they say... it's better to have points in the bag than games in hand.