Sunday, 23 September 2018

Autumn Migrants

Thrintoft is starting to look and feel a little more autumnal now. The trees are slowly on the turn and the cooler weather has seen me reach for the coat for the first time since Spring. Passing wheatear and whinchat suggest the birds think so too as they leave their summer breeding grounds and head South for the warmth of the Mediterranean and beyond.

Lovely female wheatear, one of four recorded on passage on 15th September...

...along with this distant whinchat, one of possibly two seen on the same day.

Groups of egret are a common sight along the Swale now. These little egret are ringed, but I couldn't get close enough to read them. I don't think it will be long before cattle egret or great white egret make the parish list.

This duck led to some brief excitement...

...before I realised it was a domestic duck. Probably a Swedish Blue and mallard hybrid.

When walking the patch, it can be as fascinating to find things out of place as it is to find things new. So I was pleased to find this marsh tit at the waterworks, many miles from their stronghold in Langton Woods and only the third site on the patch that I've recorded them; a single bird at Poole's waste being the second.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bursting with Butterflies

This year has been by far the best year for butterflies locally since I moved to Thrintoft; I've discovered new colonies of favourites and new species too.

Prior to this summer, my only records of Purple Hairstreak were in two old oak trees in the grounds of St Wilfrids church. Convinced there must be more, I made a more concerted and structured attempt to search for them atop all of the accessible oak trees. In mid-July my search paid off and I came across dozens of freshly emerged butterflies along the road at Poole's Waste... one of which stopped uncharacteristically low in the hedgerow and allowed me to fire off a few shots...

White-letter hairstreak are still doing well down Myers lane and the relentless sunny weather made watching them more enjoyable than usual. Always in the treetops, I've yet to manage a decent photograph of one yet. They come down to drink pollen from flowers only during drought, but I checked the adjacent fields nonetheless. Though I didn't find any hairstreaks, I did stumble upon a new (to me) colony of both small (top) and large skipper (below).

Blue butterflies are like hens teeth on the patch, so I was thrilled to find a holly blue on the buddleia in the garden. The buddleia has been a big draw this year, attracting tortoiseshells, peacocks, red admiral, painted lady, comma, wall, meadow brown, ringlet and all the white butterflies.

Today, I headed to the north of the patch to check on the lone (that I know of) colony of common blue on the patch. They can be found roosting on the tops of grass and other tall plants when the weather is cool and overcast.

Later this afternoon while walking to Warbler Corner, I found another blue... I thought it was a female common blue blown in the wind from the railway embankment colony on Nick's patch, but a closer look reveals it to be brown argus; a new species for the parish!

Complete Thrintoft butterfly list:

Small Tortoiseshell
Red Admiral
Painted Lady

Orange Tip
Green-Veined White
Small White
Large White

Speckled Wood
Meadow Brown

Small Skipper
Large Skipper

Common Blue
Holly Blue
Brown Argus
Purple Hairstreak
White-Letter Hairstreak
Small Copper

Patch Update

Since the cuckoo, it's been a real struggle on the patch. An inevitable lesser whitethroat eventually showed up in late May, and a singing sedge warbler looked like it might hang about on the Ings before it disappeared after a couple of weeks.

However in the last couple of weeks, there have been signs that Autumn is upon us and the birding might get a bit better. Redstart is becoming something of a regular bird and they tend to show up at the same places, as it was on 4th August when a male bird was briefly seen along the Thrintoft to Morton-on-Swale footpath.

From the garden I've ticked off all the birds of prey this year! A hobby yesterday added to peregrine, red kite, buzzard, sparrowhawk, kestrel, barn owl, tawny and little owl garden ticks! Fingers crossed I can attract enough small birds to the garden to draw in a winter merlin.

Finally, to reach 105 species and my best ever year, a greenshank passed briefly through warbler corner today, where incidentally the sand martins continue to bring food to what must be their third brood of chicks?

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.