Chris Downes' Focus on Birds: Blog en-us (C) Chris Downes' Focus on Birds (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Sat, 23 Jun 2018 07:20:00 GMT Sat, 23 Jun 2018 07:20:00 GMT Chris Downes' Focus on Birds: Blog 68 120 17th-21st June 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/6/17th-21st-june-2018 Rocking horse droppings!

17th June - Scaling dam and Wykeham Raptor Watchpoint

Common buzzard, wren and linnet

Wykeham - tree pipit, showy garden warbler

19th June - Wykeham, Ellerburn Bank and Fen Bog

Spotted flycatchers in the car park when I arrived. Two honey buzzards wing-clapping plus goshawk, tree pipit and garden warbler still. Speckled wood on walk back to car park in the dark wood as lit by shaft of sunlight.

Ellerburn Bank YWT - first meadow brown of the year. Fly orchid still hanging on; most had finished.

Fen Bog YWT - small pearl-bordered fritillary in good numbers till the sun went in. Wonderful rare butterfly.

21st June - Washington WWT 

Semipalmated sandpiper on the wader scrape.

Webbing clearly visible in this shot. Another bird I hadn't photographed before - #331!

As I headed back to the car park a birder said to me:

''Nice bird'

I replied: 'Yes. Very good'

He added: 'Pretty rare. About as common as rocking horse droppings!'

I guess he was about right!

216 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/6/17th-21st-june-2018 Fri, 22 Jun 2018 20:00:26 GMT
6th-13th June 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/6/6th-13th-june-2018 From Blacktoft to Boghouse!

...calling at other stops in-between...

June 6th - an afternoon visit to Blacktoft. Plenty of house martins which was good to see. Otherwise very quiet. The usual suspects appeared.

June 8th: in the garden before storm Hector ran amok.

June 11th: Scaling Dam and Lockwood Beck

An osprey or two were in the neighbourhood...spotted in the pines on the far side of the reservoir. Going fishing: hovering high over the water looking for fish.

Caught a fish! Flew off with it onto the moor. Decided to go to look for spotted flycatchers at Lockwood Beck. Found one near the bird feeder station on the reservoir edge. Found another in a different area atop some conifers.

June 13th: back to Scaling Dam to walk down Boghouse Lane looking for whinchat was the plan. Thought I'd sit in the hide first and see if the ospreys turned up. Hide empty unlike last time apart from two birders. One said: ''Terry says it's still around. Shall we try?''

They left without saying what was still around.

A bit later another birder came in. ''Have you been for the shrike?'' he asked.

''What shrike?''

''Woodchat shrike down Bogside. Are you coming?''

We set off and eventually saw the bird. Curlews in the air around us.

No sign of whinchat. Anyway here it is - a super male woodchat shrike. Willow warbler. Camera battery failing, I headed back, swapped batteries and rested in the hide. Ringed and little ringed! Others had seen whinchat so I decided to do the walk again. Linnet.

Stonechat - never saw a whinchat. The shrike was still present.

So, considering the plan, the day was a complete failure. But a glorious one.

212 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/6/6th-13th-june-2018 Sat, 16 Jun 2018 07:10:27 GMT
29th May - 1st June 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/6/29th-may---1st-june-2018 The Sublime and the Ridiculous

Plus a few other Odds and Ends

1:The Sublime

May 29th: a new destination for me, the Rivelin Valley west of Sheffield. Barry and I hoped to see wood warbler, a bird I haven't seen locally for a couple of years. I did see one near Aviemore last summer but decent photos have eluded me. The area allegedly had six territories this spring. We found two of them without too much difficulty. All thanks to a contact on Twitter who provided site info and a map.

Here I am courtesy of Barry Bishop looking for our target bird. Amazed how young I look.

First bird was singing in and around a rowan tree. Second bird was in a much gloomier location and photography was a struggle with very high ISO rates and low shutter speeds. This one is just what I hoped for.

We moved north slowly, calling first at Anglers' Country Park. Some nice marsh orchid types were seen - some looking very robust.

This one looked a bit different - a bit of a hybrid maybe. Out on the water a pair of mute swans were showing off their cygnets. 

Cygnet #1 had the bright idea of hitching a ride! Final port of call was at St. Aidan's RSPB where we saw a single black tern [no decent photos this time - but here's a poor effort]...

...a shoveler...

...and little owl....

Not a bad day at all!

May 31st: Sheila and I drove up to Hartlepool to see a quail on the bowling green! Sounded a bit ridiculous... No sign although it was evidently still somewhere in the bushes round the green. We decided to go and see the little terns at Crimdon Beach and call back later.

A sea fret had rolled in. We could hear the terns as they headed out into the mist. To give you an idea of how bad it was here are a couple of photos of the birds in the misty conditions. As I shoot everything in RAW it's amazing what you can achieve by processing your images carefully. One thing, however, was apparent: somehow the mist particles in the air did seem to impede pin-sharp focus. Here's a set of photos that I worked on.

First common blue of the year in the dunes.

2: The Ridiculous - a quail at Hartlepool Headland

We returned to the Bowling Green. Eventually the quail came out onto the outside of the green from under the fence.

June 1st: Flamborough, Bempton, Hilla Green and Fen Bog

Thornwick Pool was very quiet. Reed warbler from the hide; wall butterfly outside the hide. Flamborough - I went to have another look at the lesser whitethroat. Common whitethroat too.

No sign of spotted flycatcher at Hilla Green but I may not have been looking in the right place. I explored the area near Dipper Bridge [as Nigel Stewart used to call it] - grey wagtail with food for its young? It was a quiet day overall but I went to nice places that I love. A tree pipit [I think] at Fen Bog. If it's just a mipit then that's fine too.

209 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/6/29th-may---1st-june-2018 Tue, 05 Jun 2018 14:23:04 GMT
26th May 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/5/26th-may-2018 Flamboblog!

May 26th: started at St. David's Lane, North Landing, looking for a rose-coloured starling. Not my first this year after a juvenile at Dimlington Bungalows, Easington, early in the year. After a heavy shower it appeared some way off on top of the hedge.

Closer! - on the wires above my head. On a TV aerial too. I headed for Thornwick Pool to see if the Temminck's stint was about. Someone said it flew off at 7.30 but it had been reported since.

Common sandpiper just to fool us!

I like this next photo: one for the novice birder. Little and large together. Temminck's was way off to the right from the hide. It came closer. I wandered back to the rosy pastor site. That's a lot better! Bempton rumours of a red-breasted flycatcher proved a dead end. Obligatory walk down to the cliffs.

Gannet photos like this are relatively easy and quite repetitive. I wanted to see if I could produce something a little different.

Some of the other locals... Picked Sheila up in York and we headed out to Swillington Ings, Lemonroyd Lake to see some black terns. Met a group of birders I'd seen at Bempton!

Oh yes, the terns. Challenging photography but here's the pick of the bunch.

206 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/5/26th-may-2018 Mon, 28 May 2018 11:54:33 GMT
22nd May 2018 ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/5/22nd-may-2018-ff A day in the Life [of a persistent birder!]

Left home about 6am and was on site at Whisby Nature Park before 8am. Immediately heard a nightingale near the footbridge over the railway line.

Next hour was spent trying to locate the bird. A bird suddenly appeared on a branch deep in the thicket. Shoot first ask questions later!

Dunnock! Oh well! Keep looking and listening.

In the past I've made sound recordings of birds with my iphone but couldn't upload the recordings to my website. The website didn't seem to recognise the file type. So, I thought, I'll just film the undergrowth when the bird is singing. It sort of worked.

Turn your computer's sound up really high, press play on the button below, then scroll down to see the actual bird that you can hear perched up high in the bush. I know it's technically flawed! [A video would be the answer I can hear you say!] but I think it's cool! A singing photograph!

When I did eventually spot the bird I shuffled about trying to navigate a route through the twigs and foliage to get a focus lock on my 500mm lens. Here are the results. I was even able to keep track as it moved through the bush. Final shot somehow typifies all that's wonderful about Springtime, I think.

This nightingale was the 330th species of British bird that I have photographed in the last 9 years.

You don't have to pay to park at Whisby until 10am. Downside of that is that everybody, and I mean everybody, walks their dog before 10am. Upside was that I was ready to set off on my travels on the stroke of 10 o'clock. 

Next stop Little Scrubbs Meadow at Chambers Farm Wood. I wanted to revisit the wonderful marsh fritillaries. I was not disappointed - there were hundreds flying, mating, fighting... I spent a wonderful hour with them.

100mm macro lens for this section. Green-veined white and four-spotted chaser on the walk to the meadow. Dingy skipper in the meadow.

Marsh fritillaries. The plan was to go to Covenham Reservoir as I headed back north but there were no reports of black tern/white-winged black tern so whatever was there the previous evening had moved on. I decided to go to Frampton Marsh.... Rumours of a ruff lek... Someone posted on twitter you could save yourself the cost of a flight to the far north by going to Frampton Marsh. So I did.

Lots of heat haze but I think you get an impression of the total chaos of three strutting, fighting, chasing males. Females present. Black-tailed godwits and gulls unperturbed but dodging out of the way when things got manic!

Good game: see if you can spot any female ruffs [reeves].

205 UK 2018


]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/5/22nd-may-2018-ff Fri, 25 May 2018 15:43:12 GMT
9th May ff 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/5/9th-may-ff-2018 Quiet times...

It seems somehow I can't stir myself to go out birding. Everything seems such a long way from here that I keep changing my mind about going out. Anyway, here's a few photos from not very far away...

A couple of visits to North Duffield to listen to the corncrake. Eight hours in total over two mornings. Heard only. View from Geoff Smith hide - corncrake off to the right somewhere!

May 13th I started at Skipwith Common. Tiger beetles... ...and a four-spotted chaser dragonfly.

Visited Tophill Low to see the reed warblers. They were very active but also very tricky to photograph as they kept low in the reeds which, maybe, aren't yet tall enough to hide the birds fully. Orange tip on its food plant, cuckoo flower. Another four-spot at Tophill Low. North Marsh.

May 16th in our garden - Sheila spotted a mouse coming to drink at our bird bath. I grabbed the camera [Always keep one handy!] Later that day I watched distant hobbies at Wheldrake Ings.

View from the Pool hide at Wheldrake Ings plus the old wind pump.

A pair of common terns were on a raft

May 18th: Blacktoft Sands RSPB

Marsh harriers and a tricky blackcap that kept eluding me!

Quiet times, I said. Maybe I was wrong! Juliet turned up. I spoke loudly in Townend hide: 'There she is!' 'Where?' the other 3 birders asked. I tried to explain without taking my eye off her. 

Now the purists will tell me I can't call her Juliet because she was a Capulet and the Montagues had an 'e' at the end. Who cares! I'd spotted Juliet over Blacktoft. Here she 200th bird of 2018 There was a nice drake garganey at Ousefleet. Worth the walk! May 20th: last minute decision to go to Broomhill with Sheila to see if the red-necked phalarope was still around. Judging by the number of cars in the car park we guessed it was. Room downstairs only. Always distant, as Juliet was, but these shots didn't turn out too badly.

201 UK 2018


]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/5/9th-may-ff-2018 Mon, 21 May 2018 13:44:00 GMT
23rd April - 8th May 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/5/23rd-april---8th-may-2018 THE MEGABLOG!

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.

Common terns.

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:

Intimate encounter #7 2018

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

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/5/23rd-april---8th-may-2018 Fri, 11 May 2018 10:47:52 GMT
13th-21st April 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/4/13th-april-2018 Miscellanea...

Bad news and good news...

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!

April 14th - afternoon visit to Blacktoft


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.

April 15th: Kildale; Scaling Dam; Lockwood Beck reservoir; South Gare - a grand day out!

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.

April 17th: Wykeham Lakes; Kildale [again] and South Gare [again]

 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.

April 19th: Saltholme and a Ring-necked Duck

Kestrel on the walk back to the VC.

April 21st: Saltholme and a new woodland site...

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...

184 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/4/13th-april-2018 Mon, 23 Apr 2018 20:08:51 GMT
3rd April 2018 ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/4/3rd-april-2018-ff Hogging the Limelight!

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.

A Compendium of Grebes

- or: Intimate encounter 2018 #6

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.

173 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/4/3rd-april-2018-ff Tue, 10 Apr 2018 10:42:16 GMT
29th March ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/29th-march-ff A Spring in my step?

Maybe not just yet but we're getting there!

29th March

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.

30th March: An afternoon at Blacktoft Sands

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!

165 UK 2018


]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/29th-march-ff Sat, 31 Mar 2018 11:50:04 GMT
25th-26th March 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/25th-26th-march-2018 You never know, you just never know...

...what might happen next. Even when you plan your day it can so often turn out completely differently.

Two Yorkshire Days

March 25th

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.

March 26th

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...

Intimate encounter 2018 #5 - a mustelid blast!

...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!

163 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/25th-26th-march-2018 Wed, 28 Mar 2018 14:50:44 GMT
20th March ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/20th-march-ff A pretty coot foot!

Phalaropus being Greek for coot foot - this was a grey coot foot, off the South Pier at Bridlington harbour [20/3/18]. Most of the time it was directly below me as I photographed it from almost overhead. Karl Dutton & Brett Richards also watching. A few from a bit further out first.

Then it came close up against the pier wall so we were looking almost vertically down on it.

Reports of a black redstart at Flamborough tempted us to try for it.

No sign round the lighthouse or fog station. A tired looking juvenile kittiwake was sheltering on the clifftop.

In the car park a chap was with a small point and shoot camera was photographing something in a bush. I went across to him.

'Brown bird just flew into that bush,' he said.

So it did. Kestrel!

161 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/20th-march-ff Wed, 21 Mar 2018 16:55:47 GMT
14th March ff 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/14th-march-ff-2018 Untitled!

Couldn't think of a decent title for this post. 

March 14th - morning at Overton

Reports the previous evening of a snowy owl at Overton near York made me go and check things out prima luce. No sign and I wasn't that surprised. After all the publicity in the press and on TV any pale barn owl seen at night could be easily deemed a snowy owl by a non-birder. However I saw grey partridges - gone by the time I got the camera out - and some hares were running away too.

March 14th - afternoon at North Cave

Hoping for a reported egyptian goose or a few sand martins I drove out to North Cave. Neither turned up but I had a good walk round. A kestrel hovered close to me but always had his back end to me.

Gadwall, shovelers and teal on the Island Lake.

The drake shovelers were working together but occasionally one would peck at the other's back end! Black-headed gulls like to annoy the herons! It makes a change from annoying each other!

The main attraction was a green-winged teal. I spent an hour or so pointing it out to people and explaining the differences from common teal. Here are a few shots of this bird that showed quite well. On the walk back I saw a mediterranean gull from the Village Lake hide. It was explaining to the black-headed gulls that it owned the place: So clear off!

UK 160 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/14th-march-ff-2018 Sun, 18 Mar 2018 14:14:58 GMT
10th-11th March 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/10th-11th-march-2018 An ambition fulfilled!

But which one? Not anything on March 10th!

Saturday March 10th

Snowy owl confirmed as still present Thornham Point, Norfolk. Within half an hour I had an overnight booking in Hunstanton, everything packed [thanks to Sheila], lunch and flasks etc included and I was on my way. Instructions were to go to Titchwell and walk. I decided to go to Thornham harbour to get a feel of what was happening. Lots of scopes trained on the distant shoreline. Thanks to Brett Richards [of Flamborough seawatch team] I soon had scope views of the snowy owl. I eventually saw it fly about 60m to the left! 

Cuckoo shot coming up. [Regular readers know that a 'cuckoo shot' is a very distant view of a bird, not even qualifying to be as good as a record shot!] Well, this is the ultimate cuckoo shot! The snowy owl is on the shoreline left of the two posts. Looks like a dark blob!

Let's zoom in a bit. She's turned her head to look at us! Lifer 435 anyway. Scope views were much better.

I headed to Titchwell. Watched a woodcock in someone else's scope; yellow-legged gull reported and seen out on the Freshwater Marsh. Red-crested pochard on Patsy's Reedbed.

Sunday 11th March

Next morning I had a late breakfast and waited till 9am to see if the owl was reported. Sadly it was reported late morning when people had much closer views. I was long gone at Frampton Marsh by then. It was a lovely day: ruffs, newly arrived avocets, lots of skylarks...

[Note the leg colour on these birds - from yellow to salmon pink to grey]

...a few barnacle geese and lapwings.

I headed north. Decided to have another break at Broomhill near Old Moor. Just a young woman in the car park. We chatted. She'd been standing there since 11am. It was ten to two. Turned out she was from Lostock Hall near Preston where I used to go train-spotting many years ago. We shared memories of places we both had frequented decades apart. I told her 2 o'clock was a good time for the hawfinch. She asked me to keep watch while she slipped across to look at the pig pond. I said I'd scream 'Preston' loudly if it turned up.

Ambition fulfilled coming up.

I spotted a lump in the depths of one of the trees. Raised my bins and shouted 'Preston' very loudly. Eventually the young woman heard and came back. I'd taken my eye off the bird but it was still there. Two o'clock precisely. She got her lifer in heavy shade but she was happy.

Ambition fulfilled not because it was a year tick - I'd seen quite a few - but I wanted a decent, well-lit photo and all my efforts so far had been dull, grey shaded, overcast or distant efforts. This time was better.

First attempt trying to penetrate the framework of the tree. I moved round to a different angle. The sun tried to come out at just the right moment. The only British bird with a stainless steel bill!

Went to Wombwell afterwards; saw a chiffchaff and met up with Robin and Kirsty from my last Scotland trip. They'd dropped in to see the yellow-browed warbler. I was happy with the chiffchaff and set off home.

Great weekend!

160 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/10th-11th-march-2018 Mon, 12 Mar 2018 16:07:32 GMT
6th-7th March 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/6th-7th-march-2018 Spring still on hold?

March 8th

Sitting in my warm study to write this, the ploughed field across from our house is striated with black and white lines - snow in the furrows and soil visible on the ridges. The view is punctuated with large black dots which are a selection of the local crow species, jackdaws, rooks and crows. 

Looking back over the last few days...

March 6th

Return to Wombwell. I hoped to see the firecrest this time. I did after much searching - had it briefly in the brambles on the 'wrong' side of the river. Too quick to grab a photo unfortunately. Had another go with the yellow-browed warbler.

From there I drove across country to Hornsea Mere where I looked for some bean geese but no sign. A pair of common scoter were seen along with my third long-tailed duck of the year. [Previous two were at East Chevington and Holme Pierrepont] The Hornsea bird although very distant was looking quite smart.

March 7th

Briefly I thought spring had come [until I looked out of the window this morning 8/3] Wednesday was a nice day. I headed for Barton on Humber. I needed to find Pit 25. Without the excellent directions from Simon Spavin I would never have got there! Pit 25 is one of the eastern pits, east of the Sailing Club. I spent about three-quarters of an hour trying to find a slavonian grebe. The light was tricky. Although a lovely morning, from the embankment I was looking into the sun to see across the pit. I had just about given up hope when it appeared out in the middle of the pit. Where had it been hiding the last 45 minutes?

Anyway, here's Pit 25. Quite big with plenty of wildfowl including goldeneye and 3 species of grebe. The pits were formed as various brickworks were established along the riverbank. Just the occasional sign remains like this old brickworks chimney.

As for birds, here's a swan... ...the song of reed bunting seemed to be everywhere... ...the female was a much shyer bird... This was quite a pale bird.

Oh yes, slavonian grebe. Mega crop 'cuckoo shot' as I call them.

Rumours of a red-necked grebe near Thealby [thanks, Simon!] sent me a bit further west, near Alkborough. Bagmoor they seem to call it locally. It's not clearly there at all on OS maps but it's now quite a large stretch of water controlled by Anglian Water. Red-necked grebe was scoped a good way off [into the sun again] but that made 4 species of grebe in a morning.

I headed for a break in the hide at Alkborough. No sign of any bearded tits but lots of waders on the sand from the hide. A chap came back from out towards Trent Falls saying that after 2 double bends there was a green field with 2000 barnacle geese in it. Curious, i set off. I didn't get far before this happened.

I didn't count them.

The nicest part of the morning was spent with a confiding stonechat that was doing little display flights just ahead of me. No sign of any female to display to he decided to show off to me. I stood still and he came unbelievably close. Here he is.

I was home for lunchtime!

156 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/6th-7th-march-2018 Thu, 08 Mar 2018 16:29:11 GMT
28th February ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/28th-february-ff Something was bound to turn up!

28th February

Heavy snow overnight made me keen to keep an eye on the birds in the garden and in the field across. Eventually redwing and fieldfare turned up not only in the field but in the conifers in the garden and eventually on the ground under our feeders. The redwing were fleeting  and nervous. Skylark also seen feeding on the ground in the field. The fieldfare posed in the back garden. A few more common visitors today.

In the afternoon the redwing appeared in the garden as well.

Next day...

March 1st

Not as many birds about. The song thrush has a prominent brown cap - not always as obvious as this. Also, tree sparrow still with the house sparrows.

The important visitors turned up late morning... ...and so did these regulars!

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/3/28th-february-ff Thu, 01 Mar 2018 16:18:08 GMT
24th-26th February 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/24th-26th-february-2018 Bits 'n Bobs

Weather imposes a bit of a hiatus in my birding quests so I'll do the very latest update. The last few days have been quite good with a couple of very nice surprises. So, here goes...

Saturday 24th February

Troutsdale. I'm thinking of having Troutsdale signs removed and all references to the dale removed from all maps. I'd like it to be kept a secret, a sort of Shangri-La...

I stopped where I thought the goshawks might fly. Apparently they did but before I came. I settled for a couple of buzzards. I met a local birder down at Dipper Bridge who said he'd seen nothing but a few goshawks and a treecreeper. Lucky lad! I asked if there were dipper about. 'Water's still too deep,' he replied. I said that nonetheless I'd promised myself a walk along the river so I set off and he climbed into his 4x4 and left. I walked about half a mile there and back. On my way back I had a nice surprise. Dipper checking the water's depth. It was Nigel Stewart who told me about the dippers here. I often think of him. Life can be very cruel. Make the most of it, I always think. Carpe diem und so weiter! 

I headed for Bempton. Unfortunately I seem to time my visits with days when the auks have gone back out to sea as they tend to do off and on at this time of year.

Obligatory gannet shot and then I enjoyed trying to get some fulmar shots. I find photographing them quite a rewarding challenge... I walked south hoping to track down some corn buntings.  There's a fenced off field about 800m south of Staple Newk with a permissive footpath running westwards on the south side of the field. It is signed. I walked to the south-west corner of this field and waited. There were plenty of little birds about. Tree sparrows, skylark singing overhead [in spite of the freezing temperature] and yellowhammer on the fence. In German yellowhammer is called goldammer. Generally, in German, the buntings are called something ending in -ammer. So, Yellowammer means yellow bunting. And I deliberately got rid of the letter h! No hammers involved!

You'll be relieved after all that to know that the Grauammer turned up.

Big treat coming up! Passing through Burton Fleming late afternoon on the way home something came up briefly from behind a hedge and then went down again. Immediately I thought 'owl'. I pulled onto the grass verge by the cemetery, grabbed the camera and peered over the cemetery gate. My second chance barn owl encounter this year. Worthy of any calendar I think!

Monday 26th February

In spite of the weather forecast and the odd snowflake drifting down Sheila said I should go to Wombwell and try for the Richard's pipit

Even more exciting if a little beyond belief was the report of a yellow-browed warbler at the same location. It seems every site has its glory days. The pipit looked splendid in the scope when it appeared from behind the tufts of grass and dips in the ground. Everyone saw it eventually. The yellow-browed was spectacularly easy to see. Leaf warbler in February when there's no leaves certainly helps but the bird is so quick and the hawthorns so dense that clear views are rare and then you've to get a focus lock and by then the bird has hopped left or right or just vanished! Still I did my best... Did you know they can levitate too?

152 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/24th-26th-february-2018 Tue, 27 Feb 2018 12:34:48 GMT
20th February ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/20th-february-ff October flashback!

I spent a week in Scotland last October and featured the photos on my return in my blog. However, I mentioned at the time that one 32GB memory card had failed and although the photos were there they wouldn't download. Sometimes I was able to download one or two photos before the error messages began to flow. Recently I tried again. So far I've downloaded about a dozen images, concentrating on getting a couple at a time from each time I took a few shots.

Later I discovered I could download easily as long as I only downloaded 1 image at a time. Eventually it [whatever it is!] catches on and happily tells me there are no files on this card. You get back in by re-starting the computer. Removing and reinserting the memory card doesn't wash!

They date from 24th-26th October 2017.

First off: drake eider showing off on the Ythan estuary.

Next Findhorn seafront. Hooded crow trying to break a cockle by dropping it onto the shingle beach. I tried to catch the bird dropping the cockle but I never succeeded in getting bird and cockle. Here's the result.

The carrion crows don't like the hooded crows but in the end there's a broad spectrum of in-between hybrids. This shot exemplifies this.

Offshore were rafts of birds. What are these? Very distant I'm afraid. Answer at the end of the posting.

On to the Black Isle and to Udale Bay [an RSPB roadside reserve]. Here were pinkfeet...

...and as the light failed, a raft of scaup. I'd never seen scaup in this number before and the photo only shows a fraction of the birds present.

February 21st. Working in the garden I heard a clucking noise sort of above and behind me. Our pheasant had dropped in and was lecturing me from atop the fence. He eventually came down when I went indoors. He lingered quite a while and was happy to be photographed by Sheila and myself.

A cat shadowed the pheasant but didn't dare get close.

Trying to get a better view of our pheasant from the vegetable garden I spotted movement in the conifer that I instantly recognized. [Strange sentence! I don't mean I instantly recognized the conifer but I recognized the movement - I suppose you'd call it jizz...] Always a thrill to espy a goldcrest in our garden - first one this year.

February 22nd. Sheila fancied a trip to the seaside so we eventually chose Hartlepool. We began with a stop to check what was at Saltholme but decided to leave for a walk from the Zinc Works Road into the dunes and out to Seaton Snook. I was looking for snow buntings. They flew off towards North Gare and I was left with this skulking bird in the dune grass.  Assuming it's a skylark. Little else seen. A curlew was out on the mud. Shooting into the sun produced this contrast image. We headed back short-cutting across the sand. We also walked along the Headland watching the eider ducks and drakes and had lunch at the Black Redstart site where we saw.... a blackbird!

Finally a quick walk round Ward Jackson Park: the parakeets were not seen. It was quite calm and we had a very pleasant day.

Answer: raft of drake long-tailed ducks.




]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/20th-february-ff Fri, 23 Feb 2018 13:09:58 GMT
13th February 2014 ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/13th-february-2014-ff Softly, softly catchee birdee...

February 13th

Early morning our roe deer were very close to the field edge across from our house. I dressed quickly, grabbed the camera and went out. The deer are used to people walking along so were not disturbed. They get more wary if you stop and look their way. I stood beneath a small tree.

Later that day I went out with Barry to Broomhill and Old Moor. I didn't take the camera. It was a wet and very cold day but we had nice views of the perched peregrine at Old Moor and I was pleased to be first to spot the hawfinch at Broomhill. See for his photos. Meanwhile...I tried to snap her [it's a female] with my iphone!! That is a hawfinch, honest! It didn't really work, did it?!

Here's one I took earlier! [Castle Howard Arboretum last year]

Today, February 14th, we saw 3 tree sparrows in our garden together, so we now know there's more than just the one. I know they're fairly common in Yorkshire but it's still a thrill to see them here in York. These were taken through the glass of a bedroom window.

Then on Friday, February 16th, I was having breakfast when I spotted this smart chap from the kitchen window!  I tried to creep up on him on the premise that all pheasants are stupid! Stupid me; he flew off!

Later I headed north to Washington to look for the wild ferruginous duck at the WWT reserve. It's been dropping in there for a long time. Not sure what it's provenance is however...

I do think ferruginous ducks are very handsome in a slightly understated kind of way. Not understated at all are the smews. Afraid I can't resist spending a bit of time with a few of the captive birds. Smew in courtship mode were very exciting.

My favourite shot Cranes too! There are lots of other super birds to see but none have quite the attraction for me that these 3 species have [except perhaps the southern shovelers]. Captive they may be but they're still beautiful birds and lovely to spend a bit of time with.

En route home I called at Greatham Creek Salterns determined to try again for the overwintering spotted redshank. Near to giving up as usual I walked north along the embankment for about 300m. Boom! There it was next to an ordinary so the differences stood out really well. Scope views only I'm afraid.

148 UK 2018

Still 11 behind last year!

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/13th-february-2014-ff Sat, 17 Feb 2018 11:44:41 GMT
7th February 2018 ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/7th-february-2018-ff Chris goes white water kayaking!

Well, not really. I wanted [7/2/18] to have another go at travelling south to Holme Pierrepont in Notts to try to see the spotted sandpiper. My previous encounter with a spotted sandpiper involved an exhaustingly long walk in pre-camera days. This one sounded rather more accessible.

This time the motorways were kind. I broke my journey and photographed a couple of thrushes under a beech tree.

Song thrush

Mistle thrush

On arrival at Holme Pierrepont, the National Watersports Centre, I learnt that kayakers had frightened the bird off towards the River Trent. 'Bloody kayakers!' someone said. I dared to point out that the white water rapids that the bird seems to prefer had been built for kayaking not for rare waders. 'Spose so!' he answered with a grin. There were a few other birds about...

Kingfisher on the wires that hold the navigation poles in place. Grey wagtails - one had been taken by a sparrowhawk I was told.

Still no sign of the sandpiper. I thought I'd try my hand at action photography!

I explored the site which also caters for rowing events. On the Regatta Lake a long-tailed duck had been found.

Eventually the spotted sandpiper came back - by the bridge towards the far end of the rapids. 

It might not like the fast moving kayaks but people didn't seem to bother it at all and you could get quite close.

Better keep an eye open for that sparrowhawk!

Black Velvet

Velvet scoter seen in South Bay, Scarborough close to the harbour. That was Thursday. Friday, late morning, Sheila and I set off in rain/sleet for Scarborough to have a look. We parked on the south side of the harbour. As we drew up Sheila announced: 'I can see it.'

Not having much faith in her identification skills I assumed it would be a cormorant. She's much more sharp-eyed than I am, however. And I had to eat humble pie: with the scope I confirmed she was right. It all makes for an interesting test of the power of a 52 megapixels camera combined with 700mm [equivalent] lens pulling power.

Here's an uncropped view of the bird well out in the bay...

...and here are the best of the crops It dived a lot and it was anybody's guess where it would surface.

Unfortunately it never came close but the images give a good idea of a drake velvet scoter, I think.

About 50 turnstones were busying round our feet, running along in front of us like clockwork toys. Sheila asked me to include them too!


144 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/7th-february-2018-ff Sat, 10 Feb 2018 12:34:40 GMT