Sorry to raise your hopes as the title is not intended to presage a feature on a new birding mega - it is rather to warn you that this is going to be a rather long post...a megablog.
So let's get on with it!
April 23rd: brief afternoon visit to a windy, cold North Cave. Wondering if I could somehow find Spring! Few birds seen. A coot was sitting on her nest. April 25th: nice to meet the Spavins up on Hasty Bank heading for the Wainstones on an unsuccessful hunt for an eagle owl. Great views and a few pipits but little else to report.
Looking north-east - Roseberry Topping in the distance. Middlesbrough - the transporter bridge and Riverside stadium in the haze. Saltholme beyond, between the two.
Much cropped; it was a long way away!
No sign of the 'defensive' eagle owl, alas.
April 26th: another cold, windy day, not at all spring-like. I went to Fairburn in the afternoon. A great crested grebe was battling the choppy waters of main lake. On to Lin Dike. Cuckooflower [ cardamine pratensis] in the car park.
April 27th: a bit more promising. I always like to photograph sedge warblers in spring when they are doing their display flights and singing prominently. Here they are at Dorman's Pool, Saltholme. Looking for breakfast?
Also seen: linnet, whitethroat and a smart looking pochard.
A wren from the top car park at Dorman's.
I headed for Bowesfield nature reserve at Stockton. All seemed quiet until I spotted a pair of great crested grebes starting to display...I think it warrants the award of:
You've probably seen pictures of the weed dance - here's a new variant: the rag dance. I hope Mrs Grebe was impressed!
A fine stand of cuckooflower nearby. I finished the day at South Gare on the beach watching the sanderlings. They were taking on their summer colours and looked really pretty.
Dunlin and ringed plover too. A wheatear flew in.
April 28th: Tophill Low to see a purple heron. Eventually located at Hempholme meadow.
April 30th: Wombwell & Broomhill Ings: Main target was a wood sandpiper at Wombwell Ings. Little gull appeared but fled to Broomhill. I followed. Woodsand first.
Redshank and wood sandpiper size comparison.
Little gull was very difficult to track with a 500mm lens. So tern-like as they shift direction, twisting and turning - I had to try to predict where it would turn up next.
May 1st: One of those very memorable birding days...
Druridge Pools for a glossy ibis. However before we look for the ibis, after the runaway success of my 'Spot the Black-necked Grebe' competition the team has decided to run a second competition: 'Spot the Little Owl.' Answer later. Also at Druridge: a black-necked grebe - distant and not as pristine as others seen this spring. A lesser-black: cruel and ultra-smart! I just failed to catch it swallow a frog in one gulp. The owl was on a nearby farm building.
I drove south calling at the big roundabout by Saltholme to scan for some reported whimbrel. Very distant, I did as Spock would do and 'gave it my best shot.' [Leonard Nimoy: 'The Voyage Home'] Final call was at Sutton Bank after closing time. Hoping for a turtle dove.
Siskin after bathing. Dig the punk hair-style!
Year tick number 4 that day:-
May 3rd: a quick trip to Swinefleet to see dotterel shimmering in a heat haze well out of range of even my big lens. Another 'best shot' was called for. Not very good but you can [just about] tell they're dotterel. 3 in this image. Megacropped!
May 8th: Crimdon Beach for my annual pilgrimage to see the little terns. As I drove off the main road I looked out for a patch of early purple orchids I'd seen previously. Thrilled to see it still there. I put the 100mm macro lens on. Tide was high and the terns were out fishing. They never came ashore but could be watched fishing out at sea. Unusual to see a tern having a scratch whilst in mid-flight!
Quality deteriorates a little but you can see the bird is ringed on the cropped version.
Ringed plover in the tern enclosure. A few flowers from Crimdon Dene. Green alkanet [I think] pentaglottis sempervirens Ramsons [allium ursinum] Whitethroat
196 UK 2018
Harmonia axyridis spectabilis has arrived in York! Probably Europe's most invasive insect and better known as the Harlequin Ladybird, it may well spell disaster for many of our other ladybird species. It turned up on our landing windowsill. Apparently they like to overwinter in buildings. Don't we all?
It has been logged on the Harlequin Ladybird Survey website as sightings are still wanted from ''up north'' - many parts of the south no longer need sightings as the insect is well-established. The advice is don't kill them: scientists are concerned that people may start killing off our native ladybirds by mistake!
Two bearded tits in the next photo - very distant at Townend lagoon. Male on the right - can you spot them? Zooming in a bit...male only this time. Wrens galore. Cetti's seen but I wasn't quick enough! A couple of butterflies.
Looking for wheatears at Kildale: no sign but 5 ring ouzels seen...and an obligatory red grouse. On to Scaling Dam to see a common sandpiper -very distant.
Camouflage! Spot the bird!
Here it is - an LRP. View from the hide at Scaling Dam. Now for an excellent session at Lockwood Beck. Siskin. It's a female brambling. Lots of redpoll action! ...and a goldfinch!
Next stop South Gare. Parking can be tricky when it's busy. I had to park on a shed roof! At Paddy's Hole - better known [to me at least] as the little harbour. Unbelievably windy. Triplet of shags heading out into the estuary.
Wheatear seen fleetingly. Big surprise was a second close encounter this year with black-necked grebes. This time just one in the Hole! Remember those 'Spot the Ball!' competitions? Well, here's my version: Spot the BNG! Not too hard. I don't think.
It's taken me years to discover where the permissive view screen actually is located. First visit drew a blank looking for a black-throated diver. Second time lucky.
From Wykeham I drove to Kildale again. Still no wheatears!! How about more ring ouzels? [male and female]
Plus an obligatory red grouse [again!!] But I like this image. Just outside Twiggy - from the car. Very repetitive! back to South Gare.
Eider Linnet on a fisherman's hut roof. Common scoters on the estuary.
Kestrel on the walk back to the VC.
It just keeps drawing me back...
A rather large Chinook helicopter flew over the reserve.
Blackcap near Phil Stead hide.
A friendly kestrel perched in a tree near the entrance to the reserve. I walked closer. I walked closer and closer and closer. It didn't mind at all.
Finally it took off. Uncropped full frame image.
Next stop Bowesfield reserve. No sign of gropper or warblers: wheatear showed for me on abandoned building. I decided to visit a site I'd heard about near Helmsley. Rumours of wood warbler and redstart. Met a guy there and we walked together. He heard redstart. I saw 2 pied flycatchers and marsh tit, chiffchaff and willow warbler plus tree creeper, nuthatch, song thrush and a mixture of tits. Here's a chiffchaff.
Oxalis acetosella or wood sorrel. Tastes of lemon but poisonous in very large quantities. It's fine to nibble a couple of fresh tasting leaves. [I hop----------------------------------------------------------------! In a YWT wood...somewhere...
You may have previously seen some video clips of foxes taken with our trail camera. Now that the hedgehogs have come out of hibernation they have been quite active in and out of our feeder station. Last night things turned a bit ugly!!
3-way fight. Mr. Paleback takes on all-comers and, eventually, chases the other two away!
A trip to Swillington Ings with Sheila [April 1st] in search of black-necked grebes and hirundines drew a blank. Most exciting bit was crossing the flooded causeway from Methley Bridge. It was even deeper on the way back! I only took a couple of photos - of a great crested grebe. Repeat performance: a trip into deepest, wildest Lincolnshire at East Halton on the Humber saw me watching the same corner field for several hours with Simon and Karen Spavin. I did see a bird dive into the bushes several times and it was probably the bluethroat but I never got a decent view and I didn't add it to the year list.
Someone picked up a newt off the concrete bank. We put it back in the damp grass.
Winters' Pond, where I parked, held another great crested grebe. The water was very choppy in the strengthening wind when I left.
Another trip to Swillington Ings and a long walk from Oddball down to the reedbed as the causeway was now well under water. However I virtually doubled my life list of black-necked grebes. I saw 11 different birds that day. [18 were reported!] I saw yet another great crested grebe too! But here they are - a real star turn. Black-necked grebes!
We'll let them float away now...
I called at Fairburn Ings, Village Bay end, on the way home. Soon had over a hundred sand martins in the sky. My first of the year. At Charlie's hide I watched a couple of gulls over the water. I suddenly realised one of the gulls wasn't a gull at all. The scope soon confirmed it was a tern. Another 2018 first. I counted it as a common tern but would appreciate any views on this. Photographed at some distance and considerably cropped.
My most recent sortie was yesterday [9th April] to North Cave where I spent a long time searching for little ringed plovers. It was after 2pm when I eventually found a pair distantly on Cell A. Scope views only but a good tick. Early morning fog/mist hadn't helped the search. Although it was well into the afternoon, I drove on the M62 and M18 to Adwick-on-Dearne to see a pair of garganey. I had pretty precise directions as to where the birds were located [it's a pretty big area] and after a 15 minute-walk I saw them immediately. They never came right out into open water but I thought I got some nice images of this lovely bird. Walking back at the end of a great day's birding, a song thrush was singing by the car park.
Maybe not just yet but we're getting there!
Scout Dike reservoir reported a pair of garganey. No sign when I got there. No cetti's warbler, bearded tit or sand martins at Old Moor - it was cold, breezy and damp. Coltsfeet [?!] a sign of spring? Bullfinches showing nicely. Journey back north to Swillington Ings: jay my only year tick of the day seen as I drove along. Swillington Ings quiet too. Catkins and pussy willow.
I must admit I was amused by the new tarmacadam car park - you get out of the car, set off into the second half of the car park only to trample through coffee coloured mud all the way to the flood bank. After that the paths were pretty solid and in good order. So the new car park surface keeps you clean for about a minute! Yesterday the section as far as the toilets was appalling.
However Blacktoft does deliver the goods. Cetti's warbler between the floodbank and reception in the reeds. Lots of harrier action and a nice group of barnacle geese.
Barnacles first. There were eight birds - after a while they flew off.
Marsh harriers. Funny how the old brain works... As a child on caravan holidays in the Rain, sorry Lake District, we used to play a game called Pik-A-Stik. This photo brought those days back to me. I can't imagine why!
...what might happen next. Even when you plan your day it can so often turn out completely differently.
Sheila and I went to Flamborough and then on to Bempton. Razorbill and shag from Flamborough.
At Bempton we watched the gannets and auks, including a few puffins on the cliffs. We walked to Staple Newk and saw a few more puffins.
I went to North Cave first. I had a plan or a list of 'hoped-fors' but they all came to nothing. North Cave was quiet but I did enjoy watching a stoat down the far end of Dryham Lane. Unfortunately although I had four sightings it was always on the far side of the hedge and I was just able to glimpse it each time as it ran along a large plastic blue pipe.
On then to Alkborough where I sat in the hide with Carl Dutton and watched the avian world go by.
You could be forgiven for thinking the centre of this photo shows some white birds [avocets] on a sandbank. But you'd be wrong! The 'sandbank' is a mass of black-tailed godwits [plus a few dunlin and redshanks]. Spot the interloper! Everything was very calm and as nothing much was happening I said my goodbyes and headed for Blacktoft - no bearded tit or spoonbill. A tick free day.
Like I said at the head of this posting you never know what is going to happen. That's the thrill of it. I arrived at Blacktoft thinking cetti's warbler, sand martin. I saw nothing new. A little grebe caught a fish!
I walked back along the path my scope, camera and bins were somehow heavier with the disappointment. Suddenly...
...a weasel appeared and, bless me, it began to run towards me. It ran a few feet, stopped then ran on again. The camera clicked away. Eventually, too close to focus my 500mm lens it turned off into the grass and disappeared. Enjoy!