Sunday, 13 May 2018

Cuckoo! 100 Up

Since I started doing the Patchwork Challenge, I've reached 99 species each year and then got stuck for a number of weeks. My 99th bird this year was swift on the 28th April; eight days earlier than in the two previous years. This bird turned out to be a lone vanguard, as the swifts still haven't returned to the village.

And so the wait for the hundredth species began. I predicted it would be one of lesser whitethroat, yellow wagtail, whinchat, wheatear, hobby, spotted flycatcher, reed warbler, sedge warbler, grasshopper warbler or redstart. Choosing ten species is barely a prediction and I still got it wrong.

On 12th May I watched a cuckoo being chased by a crow, fly through the treetops at Poole's Waste. I'm thrilled to see one in the village again; when I first moved to Thrintoft in 2006, I took it for granted that I could hear them calling as I played quoits at the pub. It's been many years since they were last heard and I'm sure it'll be many more before they're heard again.

It's been quiet throughout the patch, with migrants seeming very thin on the ground. The biggest sign of the warming weather is the grass and nettles, which seem to have sprung from nowhere to be thigh high in a matter of days.

As such, the photography has played second fiddle to covering the kms on foot each weekend. Grey partridge (above) return to Thrintoft in number in summer, or they certainly become more obvious.

The Tour de Yorkshire was an excellent distraction on a perfect Saturday afternoon last weekend

Patch Year List

Monday, 23 April 2018

Surprising Finds

I can't seem to use my holiday allowance up each year, so this Spring I'm making a concerted effort to make the most of the nine days I've rolled over. Today, I sacked off work and headed to the North of the patch to see if I could find common sandpiper.

On the way I stopped off at the stell outside Great Langton and was amazed to find whooper swan...

and Egyptian goose.

Egyptian goose is a patch first for me and I was surprised that they counted in the patchwork challenge. In Shrewsbury (where I hail from), these geese were an ornamental bird in the town's largest park.

Along the river, I counted 3 common sandpiper and was fortunate to watch them display to each other. One bird (presumably the female) would run quickly with her tail feathers fanned, while two birds (presumably male) would fight, wings held high, for her attention.

While I sat patiently hoping for the sandpiper to get close (they didn't) a handsome male blackcap came and sang from the scrub next to me....

I couldn't resist checking the stell again on the way home and was glad I did. The geese had moved on but as I watched the whooper swan through the binoculars, 2 little ringed plover dropped in, adding a fourth new bird to an already fantastic day on the patch.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

April Arrivals

Spring is definitely here and each time I go out now there are more and more birds in the sky and in the trees. First of the migrants back for me were blackcap and chiffchaff:

The blackcap was sub-singing in the hedgerow outside my house. The last time I had a blackcap in March it was also sub-singing; the behaviour is usually associated with young birds at the end of the season.

Next back on 8th April were sand martin, swallow...

...and willow warbler:

The weather has been pretty foul, so the arrival of new birds (or my appetite to go looking for them) slowed down for a couple of weeks. I did manage to tick off corn bunting and redshank; the latter was feeding in a muddy pool in the field beyond my garden.

This weekend has been fair with a southerly wind and the increase in birds has been notable. Common whitethroat gave itself up yesterday with its chaotic song. House martin are starting to explore the eaves of the houses in the village, and one of my patch favourites, garden warbler, showed well near the river.

Snake Pilgrimage

Every year I head South of York to look for grass snakes and adder. Unfortunately, it looks as though I've missed the grassies and they've dispersed into the wetlands. Adder don't tend to stray as far from their hibernaculum and I found these two under some gorse bushes in the warm sunlight. The first adder was a beautiful golden colour that this photo does no justice for and was one fo the biggest adders I've ever seen.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Lesser (Not very) Redpoll

Today felt like the first day of Spring for me, with the sun having some genuine warmth to it. Work commitments and a weekend break in London meant I've missed all of the good weather to date. I decided to tackle the whole patch today, hoping to find my first summer migrants.

I started this morning at Langton Woods and invited fellow photography enthusiast Gareth Atkinson along to walk my normal route. I figured two pairs of eyes are better than one and it was great to have some company.

Wildlife-wise, it was disappointingly quiet... though I suspect Gaz and I missed a few things as we chatted at length over many topics. Pick of the walk was a couple of lesser redpolls, my first of the year. I'll be honest, I wouldn't have seen them had Gaz not been there so I was very grateful for his better observation skills!

We both recognised them immediately as redpolls, but shortly started to doubt ourselves... neither of the birds displayed any visible red at all... it was only on zooming in on some pictures that we were able to discern the eponymous red forehead at all.

Later that morning I tackled the long river loop on my own. The only real Spring visitor I saw was oystercatcher... in fact they were everywhere, paired up on every gravelly beach along the Swale.

I have a few days off now, so fingers crossed for those African visitors.

Patch Update

All the action in the last couple of weeks has come in the garden. I didn't think I'd top snipe as a garden visitor this year, but have since recorded peregrine fleetingly over and even a hunting barn owl. My next door neighbour claims it has turned up at the same time every day whilst I've been away, but as luck would have it... when today I was ready for it with the camera, it's not showed at all.

Peregrine and redpoll take me to 83 species for the year... not bad at all given the lack of summer visitors, and weirdly, the exact same count I've had on March 29th for each of the last two years.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

After the Thaw

The only snow that remains from last week lies sheltered behind the North facing side of a hedgerow, or compacted into piles of ice. The rapid melt has created dozens of pools across the parish so I headed out this weekend optimistic of finding something new or interesting.

A walk around the long river loop turned up nothing new, though I enjoyed watching spooked hares kicking up spray as they fled across the waterlogged fields. It might be my imagination, but fieldfares seem to be heading North already. Last year I had a small flock pass over on the 8th May!

With not much going on, I tested one of my theories... that singing loudly as you approach an animal causes it not to flee so willingly. The thinking behind this is that if I'm making lots of noise, I can't possibly be stalking prey. While I cannot say with confidence that my theory is correct, I did manage an unusually close encounter with this pair of yellowhammers as I murdered a Beatles classic.

In the North of the patch, the flash outside Great Langton was covered in birds. Wigeon, lapwing, curlew and pied wagtail were too numerous for me to be bothered to count. A drake and duck shoveller were my first on the Patch and a welcome tick for the year.

At the church, the finch flock had changed considerably. Originally chaffinch and brambling, the brambling had gone by last weekend and was replaced by a few linnet and greenfinch. This weekend it was predominantly linnet with one or two chaffinch thrown in, together with a lone bullfinch... a bird I don't recall seeing feeding on the ground before.

To my surprise, the flock was joined by completely white bird, which I deduced to be a leucistic linnet. Unfortunately, the camera was at home charging, so I vowed to return on Sunday and try again for this and the shoveller.

What a difference a day makes! To my surprise the flash was now almost devoid of birds. 30-40 lapwing and 3 green sandpiper remained but there was no sign of a single duck. Disappointed, I headed to the church to try my luck for the white linnet. Thankfully the bird hangs on... here it is photographed from some 100 yards away, hence the grainy image!

And some images of the linnet group...

As always... click on the images for full resolution versions.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

More Winter Treats

This snow can hang around as far as I'm concerned. Enthused by the number of birds on the river yesterday evening, I headed back down this morning. My first reward was a reed bunting under the water works. It was my first of the year, which is unusual as they're normally pretty commonplace. It's also probably the last of the common resident birds that I'd failed to see this year, so it's going to be tough going from hereon in. Bring on Spring.

On the corner where I'd seen dunlin yesterday was pretty quiet. Anglers were gathering on the other side of the river for a competition, and they spooked snipe and woodcock as they dragged their tackle along the bank here. I carried on following the river up-stream, hoping to reach the best stretches before the anglers did. On the way I disturbed The Major; a majestic old heron, wonderfully marked that I encounter frequently at the same pond. Most of the heron here are juveniles so this cleanly marked bird stands out a mile.

I relocated the dunlin at the spot I usually find one of my wintering green sandpiper. He hid from me behind a snipe.

As I stood watching the waders, a small group of long-tailed tits surrounded me, allowing some very close views.

The anglers continued to file along the river bank and ahead of me they flushed these wigeon; species number 80 for the year.

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Dunlin and Teal

The heavy snow has driven many birds to behave differently. Twitter is awash with excited records of fieldfare and redwing in gardens... even little concrete squares in the city. I too have noticed an influx of thrushes to the food I've put out, but was amazed to find three snipe in the ditch that runs along the length of my garden. I'm a bit miffed, because I confidently predicted that the next unusual garden sighting would be curlew.

Any standing water has frozen, so birds that rely on open water or wet mud are forced to feed elsewhere (hence the garden snipe). The river can be a big draw during the big freeze and Nick messaged me on Saturday morning to say that he'd seen redshank and wigeon on the Swale at Morton. These are both birds that would add to my year-list so as soon as I was done with parenting duties, I headed out with optimism.

There were lots of birds about. Teal erupted from every ditch and the river was dripping with them. These are ducks that ten years ago were pretty scarce around here... I've no idea what's caused the recent increase in numbers, though there's no question that there is plenty of habitat for them.

At the South Western extreme of the patch I spotted a small wader in flight with some teal. It was short in the bill with no trailing legs or tail, so I got briefly excited that it might be jack snipe. I couldn't track it down to confirm so mindful of the fading light, I jacked in the search and wandered North along the river. I kicked up countless snipe, a green sandpiper, two woodcock, a dozen goosander and yet more teal.

I reached the point in my usual walk that would force me away from the river. I decided that today the river was turning up the goods and was my best bet for something unusual, so I turned around to trace my steps back to the beginning. I'm glad I did... the small wader had returned and this time settled in plain sight. I crept up as slowly as I could until I could take this picture... a dunlin! My first ever on the patch, though a bird I often expect to see in the flashes that persist though the winter.