Chris Downes' Focus on Birds: Blog en-us (C) Chris Downes' Focus on Birds (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Sat, 17 Feb 2018 11:45:00 GMT Sat, 17 Feb 2018 11:45:00 GMT Chris Downes' Focus on Birds: Blog 68 120 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
4th-5th February 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/4th-5th-february-2018 Intimate encounters...

The name I shall use from now on for those special meetings with wonderful birds. There have been 3 so far this year: kingfisher, desert wheatear and the black grouse - four is amazing for the first 35 days of the new year. Did I say 4? Read on...

February 4th

Hornsea Mere: no sign of long-tailed duck. Tophill Low next: glaucous gull still pleasing the crowds. In the woods I spotted a woodpecker...

Conditions at Bempton bordered on the unbearable down by the clifftop although in the car park seemed a different world. Clifftop shots first. It was hard work!


Gannet Jet propelled guillemots were nigh on impossible to track...

I gave up. Packed up and set off out of the reserve. I had just reached the end of the car park loop as the road rises when I saw, to my left, the unmistakable flight of an owl. Shortie? No, barn. Grab camera from the boot, cross fingers that it'll come back into view. Aim, shoot!

I said my goodbyes. Thankful for an amazing few minutes. It looked straight at me and carried straight on!

I never saw it again.

Decided to call at Brompton by Sawdon to see if the hawfinch might pose in the sun. No sign. Saw the ouzel once more.

February 5th

Going south with Barry for a spotted sandpiper when motorway problems made us turn back north. Not a day for photographs but we did see bittern, long-tailed duck and great northern divers. No sign of a shrike at Prestwick Carr. Just a couple of buzzards and a kestrel by the parking area.

The buzzard was a very long way off. I'm amazed this image works at all after such a heavy crop.

Kestrel in the gloom.

142 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/4th-5th-february-2018 Tue, 06 Feb 2018 16:52:52 GMT
31st January 2018 ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/31st-january-2018-ff An Ambition Achieved

An explanation of this post's title will follow later.

January 31st

First off though, a white-fronted goose at Water lane, Flamborough.

I then went to Thornwick Pool and saw a jack snipe bobbing away at the base of the reeds - scope views only, I'm afraid. Here's a blast from the past instead.

Jack SnipeJack Snipe I decided to drive south: no particular plan in mind. I sort of made it up as I went along, thinking vaguely about going to Spurn. I called at Hornsea Mere remembering a long-tailed duck was wintering there. It was very cold, very windy and the mere was very choppy. I failed to find the duck but another birder shouted to me to look above Swan Island: a peregrine was duelling with a marsh harrier. This continued for a couple of minutes until they drifted away. Great to watch and it seemed like a bit of a game: neither bird was going to hurt the other but they twisted and dived quite acrobatically. I probably had time to grab the camera: it was all ready to fire but I was too fascinated watching the birds.

At Easington I stopped at Dimlington Bungalows to see the rose-coloured starling. It showed straightaway! [for a change!] You can see it's starting to assume more adult plumage.

My next hunch was to try Kilnsea Wetlands. The little hide was occupied by a Trappist Monk [as my friend calls those birders who don't talk to you].

He listened to his radio and I realised he was a member of what many birders refer to as the Spurn Mafia: unless you're known as part of the in-crowd they are trained to be hostile and unfriendly. Pity really: Spurn should be more welcoming. I am a Friend of Spurn but I shouldn't have to tell that to the locals to get a bit of a welcome.

I digressed. Sorry.

A miserable dunlin was sheltering from the wind. When the rare breed sheep walked past him he didn't budge.

At the wetlands were about 700 brent geese. They all took off to go onto the grass in the field just across the road. I waved the camera around snapping away merrily. These 2 were the last to fly to the grassland. I watched them graze from Tiggy.

February 1st

At home we've been experimenting with a trail camera in order to see what's happening in our garden at night. We've known for some time that a fox visits the garden: now we know he comes every night and some nights more than once.

We have some smaller mammals. Like this one! He starts off on the black section of the long post. Then watch him go!

February 2nd: an afternoon trip to Wroot

I needed to find Idle Bank near Wroot but in the end the swans came into view quite easily. I drove on to where I could turn round, park and set up the camera. Then I headed back to the swans with my window down and the camera next to me on the passenger seat. [Safety belt in place so the warning bells don't sound] First I had to scan the 120+ swans that were there. A few mutes but mainly whooper.  Bewick Swans. The swan behind the centre swan is a whooper as is the swan doing contortions to the right!

I decided to finish the afternoon at Blacktoft. A magpie was enjoying the sunshine.

An Ambition Fulfilled

I've taken lots of photos of marsh harriers at Blacktoft over the years. Some have been quite nice but usually the birds were never quite near enough to give the image quality I craved. On this particular afternoon the light was good and one male harrier came quite close...

Once back at the car park, getting ready to set off for home, I spotted a couple of male bullfinches in the hedge. It was tricky to get an unobscured view but here's one of them.

138 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/2/31st-january-2018-ff Sat, 03 Feb 2018 17:25:24 GMT
26th-29th January 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/26th-29th-january-2018 Browse the Grouse - plus other goodies!

26th January

Off to Teesdale and Durham moors for some grouse - I hoped. Barely out of Middleton-in-Teesdale and well before High Force I pulled up sharp when I saw a black shape - no, 2 black shapes in a nice green field near the river. I pressed on. I usually take the little road to Ettersgill to see what's there. I once had a nice encounter with grey partridge there. No partridge today, but more black grouse plus greyhens.

Scanning the area around Langdon Beck the black grouse were rather distant. I drove down to Cow Green reservoir. On much higher ground I soon saw some red grouse. Black and red prefer quite different areas with black grouse being often much more lower level birds, sometimes quite near farm buildings or at the roadside.

Once back at the main road I found 2 more black grouse in a field not too far from the road. One of those special encounters that make bird photography so exciting for me.

Cheers, mate! Thanks for showing so well!

From there I drove via Bishop Auckland to Hartlepool, hoping to see an iceland gull on an abandoned warehouse roof. Rather distant and sleepy, here it is. Plan completed I decided to call at the Headland and see what was about. Not a lot but  a few nice eider views from the Pilot Pier...

...and a splendid looking oystercatcher. I don't usually find oyk-pics very pleasing, but I rather like this one. A stunner!

29th January

Another day, another warehouse roof and, indeed, another bird.

And then another encounter with the iceland gull.

It was a day on Teesside with Barry. We got away early and headed for the pleasant sounding Windermere Road, Hartlepool. It's not pleasant! We spent a long time scanning the dereliction that surrounded us. Eventually Barry saw the iceland gull on a roof. Before I could set up the camera it flew off.

Meanwhile another birder pointed out a glaucous way over on the wasteland. Eventually this dark form glaucous showed well on a different warehouse roof.

I found the iceland some way off on yet another warehouse. Tricky to photograph through the bars of a gateway but it's very easy to see. I'll crop in a little [different photo]

Next Barry saw it on yet another warehouse roof. Game over! We called at Ward Jackson Park for parakeets then moved to the Headland. I hoped for knot. I got knot! [Plus a purple sandpiper!]

The salterns drew a blank for spotted redshank [although someone saw it 35 minutes later]  and no greenshanks on Greatham Creek. I suspect it was the same birder who then reported one after we'd left!

I snapped a shoveler. It was birds in flight that first attracted me to photographing the birds. This is a nice shot from Greatham Creek.

Lockwood Beck reservoir gave us redpoll and a treecreeper. Scaling Dam had no sign of any white-fronted geese. They dropped in after we left!! An excellent day's birding even though we dipped a couple of good birds. That, as they say, is birding. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

January 30th Song thrush singing away this morning in the garden.

131 UK 2018




]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/26th-29th-january-2018 Tue, 30 Jan 2018 17:23:30 GMT
18th January ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/18th-january-ff Recent sightings!

Since the last report I went to Rother Valley Country Park on Thursday 18/1 to look for a black-necked grebe on Meadowgate Lake in torrential rain. Bird seen distantly with a pair of little grebes.

On 19/1 Friday Sheila and I went to North Cave. We met Baz a birder I had met on holiday in Scotland. He was looking for a mandarin duck but hadn't found it. Later I found it out in the middle of Carp Lake. Also seen was the single pink-foot - easily picked out among the 80+ greylags by its dark head and very different bill.

A run-up to the north-east on Saturday 20th saw me at South Gare bright and early. Large flock of twite and linnet, but the two species were easy to separate on the ground in front of me. Afraid I can't split them when the flock is whirling around in the air. Also there were some bar-tailed godwits. I moved on to Hardwick Hall country park near Sedgefield.

Conditions were dangerous in places, especially on a narrow bridge you had to cross to get down to the lake. Rather than end up breaking the lens or breaking an arm trying to protect the camera I left it in the car. The above is an iphone photo. A shame really as the red-crested pochard showed really well in good light and fairly close so would have made for some super photos. However better to lose one set of photos than to face the alternative had I fallen. 

As it was I stayed upright holding on at times to the stone parapet of the bridge. Once out in the open and walking on the snow there was no problem although the final slope down to the lakeside looked so bad I didn't venture further. I called at Bishop Middleham for hawfinch but no sign: watched a goldcrest in the yew trees.

I returned south and to the coast. Walking out on Greatham Creek it was another world. Only 14 miles from Sedgefield but no sign of snow other than tiny remnants in deep shadow. Little wind so even at 2.5 degrees it wasn't unpleasant. Pair of greenshank and a few grey plover. Camera left in car again but probably unnecessarily this time!

This morning I dressed quickly, grabbed the camera and hid by the hedge across from my house to photograph a pair of roe deer. Here's a few photos of them.

I've not been out much the last few days - partly due to the weather and also Tiggy has been in the garage for a service and a new spring on her suspension. This took 2 days. Coming home with him this morning a low flying red kite near Allerton Castle was my first outing for 5 days.

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/18th-january-ff Thu, 25 Jan 2018 17:01:03 GMT
15th-16th January 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/15th-16th-january-2018 Two good days' birding

Monday 15th January

Sheila and I went up to Saltholme hoping for a long-eared owl. We got two - but one of them was rather hard to spot! As you will see.

At first he had his back to us but then he turned to look to the right.

Then he faced us and the sun nicely caught his 'ears'! In the above photo you can detect a second owl on the left. As we walked back we watched a pair of stonechats. Fighter jets over the visitor centre. Sheila spotted the black swan cruising the main lake. The green-winged teal was said to be showing at Saltholme Pools hide. I'd fallen for that trick before only to find it had disappeared in the long grass: this time we struck lucky. It's like our cat: sleeps about 21 hours a day and disappears when you most need him! Well, here he is, showing a few signs of life!

Tuesday 16th January

Snap decision to go to Brompton by Sawdon church to see hawfinch and a very early ring ouzel. No sign of hawfinch but found the ouzel in the field across from the church. Photographed into the sun which explains the bright fringing round the bird. The forecast snow hadn't materialised and Tophill Low was only about 14 miles away across country. A pleasant drive on the back roads to Driffield and I was surprised how soon I got to the waterworks. Hoping for a glaucous gull which comes to roost in the afternoon, I soon had 3 redpolls in the gloomy woods on the ramp up to the new hide.  Quite a pale bird.

If you want to see small birds, the feeders at the new hide are an excellent spot. Grab a blue chair and sit in the hide but some way from the glass. If you stand right by the window you'll see very little.

On the feeders I saw chaffinch, greenfinch, goldfinch, siskin, blue tit, great tit, marsh tit, coal tit, robin. The only downside is the use of special 'Horrorglass' in the hide. This means photos taken from in the hide are blurred and the excellent telescopes provided are worse than useless. Some strange planning decisions going on there, Yorkshire Water! 

If you want a decent view of D reservoir go to the left hand cubicle and open the window slots! What will they do when there's a really rare bird present and there's only room for 4 or 5 birders in there?

I watched the assembled waterfowl - coots, wigeon, tufties, great crested grebe, a few of the commoner gulls. Here's a pochard and a nice goldeneye.

Anyway, the glaucous turned up early at about 2.30. Looked different when the sun came out.

After a while it flew out onto the reservoir. Time for a biggy?

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/15th-16th-january-2018 Wed, 17 Jan 2018 16:04:11 GMT
10th-13th January 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/10th-13th-january-2018 It's just good to be out!

Words used when things don't go entirely to plan. Two such days this week. Wednesday 10th January up in Cleveland/Co. Durham I managed to see nothing new for the year list but still enjoyed my day. South Shields pier area: Mr. Crow in the car park.

Lots of waders...dunlin, sanderlings and purple sandpiper. Dunlins followed by a sanderling huddle and purple sandpipers.

Look what turned up among the ringed plovers! A rather dull snow bunting.

No sign of a glaucous gull. This great black-back came close!

Finally a cormorant just off the car park. An afternoon run out to Fairburn Lin Dike hide on the 11th January saw this distant drake smew. Always a thrill to see a white nun!

First photo is uncropped to give an idea how far it was even with the 700mm equivalent lens plus extender. Believe it or not, the smew is just north-west [as it were] of the left hand coot.

Same photo cropped. Here's the best few of the crop - also much cropped! You can only tell the pictures are in colour from the first shots with the shoveler in view.

Another afternoon run at the last minute to Scarborough on January 12th to try for a waxwing at B&Q. We'd seen them there in a previous year. Got really lucky this time! At first they [3 birds] were up in a tree and the light was tricky as was finding an unobstructed view.

Then they flew down to a low-growing cotoneaster bush for berries. The birds had already eaten all the visible ones and were now poking their heads into the bush for more! Then head up with berry in bill! I always think they can look quite fierce. Next one is my favourite shot.

January 13th I went back to South Shields for the glaucous gull; to North Shields for a firecrest; to Wingate quarry for a little owl and to Saltholme for a long-eared owl. I saw none of them: another dot day for year ticks! But it was good to be out!! I think. It was very cold at Seaton Snook where I had close views of 6 snow buntings but no twite. Altogether a blank day.

I encountered a co-operative rock pipit however - so here s/he is! Even little brown jobs can make interesting images in my view.

Putting your best foot forward! A turnstone was too cold to be bothered moving. Second photo is uncropped.

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/10th-13th-january-2018 Sun, 14 Jan 2018 16:30:17 GMT
6th-8th January 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/6th-8th-january-2018 Steady as she goes!

Birding progress is reasonably good so far this year. I've had a few local trips where photography wasn't really practical. It was nice when Sheila and I bumped into some bird racers from York Ornithological Club at Ellerton Church. We picked up a few ticks there including whooper swans and a ruddy shelduck.

Photos relate to the 6th and 8th of January. Starting with Saturday 6th Janaury I went up to Hartlepool. Good number of year ticks. I found a brambling in the hedge at Saltholme. Later it turned up at the Watchpoint feeders. I tried to creep up on a party of fieldfare in a tree at Saltholme but they flew off as I approached. I swung the camera, clicked and hoped... 8th January took me up Forge Valley, along Marine Drive Scarborough and then on to Holbeck. No seed at Forge Valley so I supplied some. Amazed how quickly the birds appeared: they must have had spies out watching me!

Mediterranean gulls x8 at Holbeck car park. Next stop Bempton. Just 2 gannets [both adults] and hundreds of guillemots on the sea and on the cliffs. Bridled version mid-left. Filey Brigg or Carr Naze from Bempton. I always think it looks like a man-made structure. Finally I dropped down to Blacktoft for the roost. Three marsh harriers and a crow in a bush at Singleton hide.

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/6th-8th-january-2018 Tue, 09 Jan 2018 13:47:20 GMT
4th-5th January 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/4th-5th-january-2018 A Good Start

January 4th I went up to Fountains Abbey near Ripon to [hopefully] see some hawfinches. I knew to head for the West Gate. I parked and walked towards the entrance scanning the yew trees as I went. I thought I'd better pay and go in to the grounds a bit to explore properly. An unpleasant woman in her little booth said it would cost £15. 'That much?!' I replied. The sarcastic woman replied 'You can pay Gift Aid if you want, then it's £16.50.' I told that was too expensive. I kept my cool and left but, I must admit, I was left feeling very angry. I don't understand how they can charge one adult that kind of money. Perhaps I'm completely out of touch. I think I paid about £7 quid at the Castle Howard Arboretum  - and that was for hawfinch too!! 

Very expensive birds hawfinches.

Happy ending. I hung around in the rain. Scanning leafless trees as well as the yews. Five showed up, bless them. And free of charge too! Wasn't sure what to do next as I knew the light would soon fail. Nosterfield sprang to mind. Only 10 miles away. 

I was surprised to find a single avocet there... ...and a bedraggled kestrel.

The quarry site was quiet. Redwing and curlew in the rain.

January 5th. Indecision time! Eventually decided to spend  the afternoon at Lemonroyd Sewage Works [tourist hot spot] and persist until I saw a water pipit. It took me about a quarter of an hour. No photo because the coarse fine mesh netting makes it tricky. The bird performed beautifully. I watched it for a bit on the sewage bed then it jumped up onto one of the rotating arms and did a full circle in front of me before dropping down again! Beware: there are a few meadow pipits there too [plus grey wagtails].

Time left to go down the causeway at Swillington Ings. I drove round to Methley Bridge. At the far end of the causeway a kingfisher was perched on a bulrush in the sun. To my consternation someone was standing about 4 feet from it. I approached. The rest as they say is mystery! Just a trusting bird. Also seen: great crested grebe and goldeneyes.

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/4th-5th-january-2018 Fri, 05 Jan 2018 17:12:19 GMT
January 1st 2018 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/january-1st-2018 The Early Worm catches the Bird!

Early start saw me in Cowpen Bewley country park by 7.55 as the light was still dim. Slowly the birds appeared. Next stop Ward Jackson Park - met a few local birders getting their fix on some reliable species. Parakeets showed well in the early sunshine. Went back to Tiggy for camera - the bird waited patiently! Newburn Bridge area [via the marina]  for the linnets and the lapland bunting. Soon dealt with! Normal stuff on the beach at low tide; pied wagtail on the rock armour.

Then on to North Gare. Skylarks x3 in the car park. Nearly overlooked them hunkered down in the grass. Second bird visible top left. Snow buntings at Seaton Snook [very flighty] then on to Saltholme area. 

Year list building nicely!

By one o'clock decided [as I had planned in my mind if the bird was still around] to bomb off to Whitby for my friend the wheatear. I knew where to park and where to go as this would be my third visit. Wanted it on the 2018 list! Previous visits it was always on the ground. January 1st is obviously Post Day!

Happy New Year Everyone!

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2018/1/january-1st-2018 Tue, 02 Jan 2018 14:09:57 GMT
2017 Highlights 31st December 2017 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/12/2017-highlights-31st-december-2017 2017 Highlights

A few photos from each month - each month titled but no individual captions.

Not all are rarities - often just an image I liked.

Test yourself to see if you can identify them all!


Great White EgretGreat White Egret Glaucous GullGlaucous Gull Great Northern DiverGreat Northern Diver Rock PipitRock Pipit Short-eared OwlShort-eared Owl SmewSmew White-billed DiverWhite-billed Diver FieldfareFieldfare Black-necked GrebeBlack-necked Grebe Black RedstartBlack Redstart CraneCrane Black GrouseBlack Grouse


MandarinMandarin BluethroatBluethroat PintailPintail Black SwanBlack Swan GadwallGadwall

Next one's a bit tricky! GoshawkGoshawk Great Northern DiverGreat Northern Diver


Velvet ScoterVelvet Scoter Lapland BuntingLapland Bunting Snow BuntingSnow Bunting DipperDipper Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull Corn BuntingCorn Bunting KingfisherKingfisher


This one's a bit tricky too!

Montagu's HarrierMontagu's Harrier Cetti's WarblerCetti's Warbler GarganeyGarganey OspreyOsprey

Might make you scratch your head!

Black DuckBlack Duck RedpollRedpoll Scottish CrossbillScottish Crossbill Red SquirrelRed Squirrel Black-throated DiverBlack-throated Diver


PtarmiganPtarmigan Hooded CrowHooded Crow White-tailed EagleWhite-tailed Eagle Green Tiger BeetleGreen Tiger Beetle SwallowSwallow Early Purple OrchidEarly Purple Orchid DotterelDotterel Little TernLittle Tern Iceland GullIceland Gull Reed WarblerReed Warbler NuthatchNuthatch Duke of BurgundyDuke of Burgundy Small BlueSmall Blue


Marsh FritillaryMarsh Fritillary Broad-bordered Bee HawkmothBroad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth Rose-coloured StarlingRose-coloured Starling Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier

I'm no reed warbler!

Marsh WarblerMarsh Warbler

Grasshopper WarblerGrasshopper Warbler Tawny OwlTawny Owl BitternBittern Bee-eatersBee-eaters

Careful! Sabine's GullSabine's Gull SpoonbillSpoonbill


White-winged Black TernWhite-winged Black Tern

Common Blue DamselflyCommon Blue Damselfly Large SkipperLarge Skipper Marbled WhiteMarbled White Emperor DragonflyEmperor Dragonfly Wood SandpiperWood Sandpiper Roe DeerRoe Deer Little GrebesLittle Grebes Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank RuffRuff HeronHeron SpoonbillSpoonbill


Little OwlLittle Owl Clouded YellowClouded Yellow Purple HeronPurple Heron Willow WarblerWillow Warbler Sandwich TernSandwich Tern Hawker DragonflyHawker Dragonfly


Pectoral SandpiperPectoral Sandpiper

Another tricky chap!

White-rumped SandpiperWhite-rumped Sandpiper

WryneckWryneck ChoughChough WheatearWheatear Little GullLittle Gull Spotted FlycatcherSpotted Flycatcher Lesser WhitethroatLesser Whitethroat Barred WarblerBarred Warbler HobbyHobby Yellow-browed WarblerYellow-browed Warbler Little StintLittle Stint Red-necked PhalaropeRed-necked Phalarope Curlew SandpiperCurlew Sandpiper Bearded TitBearded Tit Little EgretLittle Egret Scops OwlScops Owl Long-tailed SkuaLong-tailed Skua Red-breasted FlycatcherRed-breasted Flycatcher Red-backed ShrikeRed-backed Shrike Rose-coloured StarlingRose-coloured Starling


Red-backed ShrikeRed-backed Shrike Slavonian GrebeSlavonian Grebe Long-tailed DuckLong-tailed Duck StonechatStonechat Whhopers near Loch of StrathbegWhhopers near Loch of Strathbeg EiderEider PtarmiganPtarmigan CapercailieCapercailie CrossbillCrossbill


BullfinchBullfinch HawfinchHawfinch WrenWren Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Tree SparrowTree Sparrow ShovelersShovelers Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Water PipitWater Pipit TwiteTwite Long-eared OwlLong-eared Owl KestrelKestrel KestrelKestrel Shore LarkShore Lark


Red-breasted MergansersRed-breasted Mergansers CurlewCurlew Purple SandpiperPurple Sandpiper

2017 The Verdict

Overall it was a wonderful year for photos and that has led to me producing 2 photobooks this year - over 350 pages of photos all together. In terms of year ticks [all UK] I reached 273 which is exactly the same as last year - disappointing as I was well ahead of last year right until late September.

As for my targets - the only reason I have them is that they spur me on, make me go out when I'm in two minds...

2017 targets

1: See 40 species in/from the garden – achieved 14/11/17 [2 red kites] – now 42

2: See 100 or more species within the modern York boundary. 53 – more effort needed!

3: 10 lifers in UK in any combination of birds and butterflies. 7 - 6 birds, 1 butterfly

4: Website hits to reach 35,000 – achieved 21/09/17

5: Go on 2 more birding adventures - achieved 1: w/c 29/04/17; 2: w/c 21/10/17

6: BirdGuides Iris photo total to 7,000.  7,000 achieved: 21/05/17 

7. Fastest hundred: achieved 10.53 a.m. on January 5th

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/12/2017-highlights-31st-december-2017 Sun, 31 Dec 2017 23:59:00 GMT
19th December ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/12/19th-december-ff And it's all over now, Baby Blue

Leave your stepping stones behind, there something a-calls for you
Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you

You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last
But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast

And it's all over now, Baby Blue

December 19th went to see a lapland bunting near Newburn Bridge. Tricky to photograph because of the traffic but seen nicely. Red-breasted mergansers displaying at Hartlepool Marina. Synchronised swimming! Further round the area it was bath time.

Oystercatcher OystercatcherOystercatcher Redshanks do it more thoroughly!

RedshankRedshank RedshankRedshank No sign of 4 reported water pipits at Dorman's Pool. Just moorhens, a single redshank and 8 blackwits.

Later spent a couple of hours at Hurworth Burn reservoir but saw no sign of the [escaped?] gyr falcon.

December 24th saw a desert wheatear very distantly at Abbey Farm close by Whitby Abbey. There was a howling gale and it was very much a case of spot the dot in the bins, then point the camera at about the right place [using the black bath as a guide], and hope. Most were useless [bird not visible] or blurred. But, it was a very long way away. Taken with a 740mm lens, including the extender, and then much cropped, here are my 2 just about usable images...

Christmas then put paid to any birding for a few days. After a string of domestic disasters [dead dishwasher, cupboard lights in kitchen failure, gas leak in greenhouse, shower partly broken]...Sheila encouraged me to get out birding as my reward for getting the problems solved or at least solutions in hand - so I went back to Whitby on the 28th December.

It was cold, sunny, blue skies and the desert wheatear was waiting for me on the farm track only yards from the Abbey car park. There's been a few of what I call classic bird encounters this year. This, as you will see, was one of them. Up there with the best and what a finale to 2017!

A review of the year 2017 will be posted at midnight precisely on December 31st!

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/12/19th-december-ff Fri, 29 Dec 2017 13:56:15 GMT
10th December ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/12/10th-december-ff There's a Rolling Stones track...

...entitled: 'You can't always get what you want'. It seems appropriate. [Copy this and try pasting into your browser! Ignore the advert.]

It's my all time favourite Rolling Stones track. Play it loud.

Cut to the quick, Chris!

Ok. Sunday I went up to South Shields to see a very smart drake long-tailed duck. I broke one of my key rules: never leave it till the third day. Meant to go Saturday. Should have: it had gone. Had to make do with the also-rans.

Rock pipit on the pier. Rock PipitRock Pipit Rock PipitRock Pipit

Sanderling huddle on the beach by the pier.

SanderlingSanderling SanderlingSanderling

Best shots were probably my best ever of purple sandpiper [looking quite purple in some shots!] on the rocks [by the pier!] Purple SandpiperPurple Sandpiper Purple SandpiperPurple Sandpiper Purple SandpiperPurple Sandpiper Purple SandpiperPurple Sandpiper Here are my 2 favourites.

Purple SandpiperPurple Sandpiper Purple SandpiperPurple Sandpiper

Tree Sparrow

It's uncanny how Sheila can spot a tree sparrow in our garden with confidence when, with my eyes I need bins to make sure. She's always right. I love to have them in the garden as they come so rarely - some years not at all. But they only come when it's very cold. One has been coming most days this month so, today [16/12], I decided to see if I could get a photo.

Once I got set up in the back bedroom the tree sparrow had disappeared. I snapped a couple of house sparrows in the winter sunshine. House SparrowHouse Sparrow

House SparrowHouse Sparrow House SparrowHouse Sparrow Eventually the tree sparrow appeared but was partially obscured by twigs.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow

Another half hour went by and I got these shots on the feeder outside the kitchen window. All shots through double glazing.

Tree SparrowTree Sparrow Tree SparrowTree Sparrow Tree SparrowTree Sparrow Tree SparrowTree Sparrow

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/12/10th-december-ff Sat, 16 Dec 2017 14:59:38 GMT
2nd December ff http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/12/2nd-december-ff The Final Flourish?

Saturday December 2nd Sheila and I decided to head for the Humber Bridge and/or Spurn. However the unlikely white-capped black wheatear in Scunthorpe turned out to be an escape as I had suspected from the first report. So we didn't turn off for the bridge but continued to Kilnsea hoping to see the lesser yellowlegs. Two good views but it was always distant and flighty so no photos.

Excellent year tick of a bird I really like to see. 

Sunday resulted in a local trip to Wheldrake with a glossy ibis and an american wigeon reported. The ibis had disappeared and the site was pretty inaccessible due to very high water levels. From the tower at Bank Island car park it was possible to scope the american wigeon briefly whenever it stirred itself from its snooze. It seemed that every wigeon except this one found the time to move around a little. Jet lag obviously! Still, two year tiks in two days isn't bad for December. Year total could well settle on its current level of 272. [One less than last year.] Ironic really that at the start of September I was 25 ahead of last year. That certainly says something about this year's autumn here in the east coast region.

Monday 4th I went to Hartlepool area. Water pipit seen briefly at Phil Stead's; 12 snow bunting seen flying off at Seaton Snook disturbed by some walkers who, according to some photographers present, walked straight through the little flock of snowbunts in front of the photographers. About 70 twite seen there too.

Later I found this on the beach 400m north of the Zinc Works Road entry to the beach. About 5 feet long and very solid, the carcase had not yet been attacked by any gulls etc. The cognoscenti at Phil Stead hide confirmed it as a harbour porpoise. Harbour PorpoiseHarbour Porpoise Harbour PorpoiseHarbour Porpoise Little else of note.

The green sandpiper was still at Phil Stead's along with its mate, the redshank. So just a couple more shots of them. RedshankRedshank RedshankRedshank RedshankRedshank Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper A male mute swan flew noisily straight towards us. Mute SwanMute Swan Mute SwanMute Swan Something I should have learnt a long time ago: the male or cob mute swan has a much more obvious knob on its bill.

Friday 8th December I went back to Hartlepool. A good number of mergansers were on the main marina pool. Red-breasted MergansersRed-breasted Mergansers Red-breasted MergansersRed-breasted Mergansers A very cold windy walk right round the Snook produced little of interest. At the end of the Zinc Works road a lot of reed buntings [about a dozen] were rooting about by the stile. This one perched up on the fence for me. Reed BuntingReed Bunting Reed BuntingReed Bunting A robin was sunning himself in the Dell where it was a lot warmer in the shelter from the wind. RobinRobin I eventually made my way back to Saltholme and to Phil Stead's hide. Very quiet but full of old men chatting! Teal looked well in the sunshine. TealTeal TealTeal

Lots of curlew and wigeon along the North Gare road. CurlewCurlew CurlewCurlew CurlewCurlew CurlewCurlew CurlewCurlew The wigeon were grazing by the roadside. When I stopped they flew a bit further away except this one who didn't want to give up his patch of grass. WigeonWigeon

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/12/2nd-december-ff Sat, 09 Dec 2017 16:58:24 GMT
26th November 2017 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/26th-november-2017 A Cautionary Tale!

You can't ever get a day back again once it's over. I know that but I decided to try. I gave it my best shot!

Let me explain. Friday 24th November I went up to Saltholme. I took some great pictures: post-mounted stonechats, some lovely twite flight shots, long-eared owl, flight shots of green sandpiper and shore larks a-plenty. I stopped on the way home to sort out everything in the back end of Tiggy so I could unpack quickly when I got home. I made a coffee. Not unusually I took the memory card from the camera to put in my wallet.

Somehow it never got there. I was mystified when I got home that I couldn't find it. Anywhere. Eventually I came to the conclusion I must have dropped it in the lay-by where I made the coffee. Saturday Sheila and I did gardening at our son's in Pontefract but at the end of the day we drove up to the lay-by to see if the memory card was there.  It was. It was wet and had clearly been run over. Smashed. If you've ever wondered what the inside of a compact flash card looks like, now's your chance! Broken memory cardBroken memory card

So I decided to go back again on Sunday [26/11] to do it all again.

Stonechats still at their posts. StonechatStonechat A pair in fact. First target nailed!! StonechatStonechat Remember my last posting with this photo of the Snook? Seaton SnookSeaton Snook Well, this time it was very much as I'm used to seeing it. Seaton SnookSeaton Snook The twite performed so I met my second target. Most were hiding in the samphire but a few had ventured onto the causeway rocks. TwiteTwite TwiteTwite TwiteTwite TwiteTwite TwiteTwite TwiteTwite

I had to hope that the long-eared owl hadn't dropped down out of sight. The Reserve has provided what is described [jokingly, surely?] as a new viewpoint. Here it is: a squelchy mud pile retained with a couple of planks. It is slowly getting lower as the mud spreads out into the brambles! New facility this week: a chicken-wire covered step!! 'Viewing platform' Saltholme'Viewing platform' Saltholme Wellies recommended.

The owl was there. Long-eared OwlLong-eared Owl Ok. We're not doing badly. Walking back I saw some barnacle geese not far from the path. They're usually much further away. Barnacle GeeseBarnacle Geese Lost in my thoughts and walking in the heavy shade of the banking near Paddy's hide I suddenly noticed a kestrel hovering in front of me. Normally when this happens I'm looking at the back end of a kestrel. This encounter was different and rather special. I don't think it had spotted me hidden in the shade.  KestrelKestrel KestrelKestrel KestrelKestrel KestrelKestrel KestrelKestrel KestrelKestrel KestrelKestrel KestrelKestrel KestrelKestrel

Bonus session that replaced the green sandpiper shots. I did see the greensand at Phil Stead hide but it was in the shade and so no photos this time. 

I had tried North Gare for the shore lark first thing but no sign. So, after lunch I went back. The light was full of a mixture of harsh contrasts and shade. Late afternoon sun was slowly fading. Slowly but nonetheless quicker than I expected. I sat down on a rock and looked at the tiny samphire area the larks seem to prefer. Nothing. I reviewed the kestrel photos. Suddenly I heard a bird call. They had come for me.  Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark Shore LarkShore Lark

Mission accomplished. What was lost was found.

Don't drop your memory cards - be more careful, Chris!

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/26th-november-2017 Mon, 27 Nov 2017 21:53:13 GMT
18th November 2017 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/18th-november-2017 All's right with the world!

Saturday 18th November. Phil Stead hide, Salholme. Arrived 9.05. Amazing light. Waited 2 hours for water pipit - not photographed one properly before. In the meantime took a few photos of other birds.


RedshankRedshank RedshankRedshank RedshankRedshank Black-tongued carrion crow

Carrion CrowCarrion Crow Carrion CrowCarrion Crow Carrion CrowCarrion Crow Carrion CrowCarrion Crow Common snipe kept us guessing by bobbing like a jack. Eventually came out into the open. SnipeSnipe SnipeSnipe SnipeSnipe Some greylags flew over.

Greylag GeeseGreylag Geese A green sandpiper treated us to ultra close-up views!

Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper Green SandpiperGreen Sandpiper

Eventually a water pipit appeared reasonably close to the hide. Success!

Water PipitWater Pipit Water PipitWater Pipit Water PipitWater Pipit Water PipitWater Pipit Water PipitWater Pipit Water PipitWater Pipit Water PipitWater Pipit I walked out to the new viewing mound for the long-eared owl but it had dropped out of sight. A male stonechat let me get ridiculously close - I took a few shots, walked a bit closer and so forth until he was very near to me.

StonechatStonechat A bit closer StonechatStonechat The North Gare shore larks had unfortunately crossed to South Gare. A walk out to Seaton Snook was pleasant enough but the tide was very high and the twite had dispersed. The causeway out to the Snook had been breached by the tide. Seaton SnookSeaton Snook A bit of shopping at Hartlepool Tesco then I called at Newburn Bridge. Not many waders about - mainly sleepy ringed plover.

I called this post ''All's right with the world.'' It isn't really. When I see the persecution of birds of prey on supposedly protected land; the damage plastic is doing to our oceans; the way big business 'forgets' commitments it made when planning permission was granted and the way that in general mankind is happily trashing the planet I wonder just when we will learn or be forced to learn. 

In the meantime little old me can mourn when I can no longer find wood warblers or lesser spotted woodpeckers but, on Saturday, I called at Newburn Bridge in the hope a med gull might appear. No sign on the 2 previous visits.

Herring gulls on the lamp-posts; black-headed gulls out on the water. A great black-back flew around over the car park. Great black-backed GullGreat black-backed Gull Great black-backed GullGreat black-backed Gull Wait a minute! What's this coming in? Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull Mediterranean GullMediterranean Gull And so, just for a moment, I did feel indeed that all was all right with my world.

A great day's birding!

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/18th-november-2017 Mon, 20 Nov 2017 14:23:09 GMT
11th-15th November 2017 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/11th-15th-november-2017 When you wish upon a star...

Maybe something wonderful can still happen. In the improbable meantime I carry on birding. A trip to South Landing, Flamborough [November 11th] produced little more than a meadow pipit... Meadow PipitMeadow Pipit ...and tree sparrows at Bempton... Tree SparrowTree Sparrow ...or perhaps my heart wasn't quite in it. However a determined drive back to St. Aidan's did get me brief and distant views of a dartford warbler. Rather good Yorkshire tick!

Not getting out so much lately - only because there's not a great deal tempting me - but on the 15th I went to Alkborough Flats hoping for bearded tits. Unusually, none seen. Place was full of chattering wrens. Seems like it is the season of the wren at the moment.

WrenWren WrenWren

Spotted redshank outside the hide plus posing snipe. Spotted RedshankSpotted Redshank SnipeSnipe Distant marsh harrier in dead tree.

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier

Carried on to Blacktoft to see a green-winged teal. Not a year tick [saw one January 11th at North Cave]  but hoped for some photos. Sadly it was on the far side of Marshland hide. Here's the best of the crop. Crop being the appropriate word! Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Green-winged TealGreen-winged Teal Shovelers

ShovelersShovelers Walked down to Singleton for the harriers. Really good scope views of a perched merlin.

Lots of waders including blackwits [I'm really good at pressing the shutter just as they all bury their heads in the water!] and about a dozen ruff.

Black-tailed GodwitsBlack-tailed Godwits RuffRuff Nothing flew close so I'll end with a couple of harriers waiting for the roost. Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier

Marsh HarrierMarsh Harrier

270 UK 2017

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/11th-15th-november-2017 Fri, 17 Nov 2017 09:43:43 GMT
7th November 2017 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/7th-november-2017 Wrens!

Well, I think I got the title about right...

Two wrens and an interloper were involved in producing this little posting. All taken at Skinningrove when a pied wheatear failed to turn up. However I am really thrilled with this set of photos. WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren WrenWren DunnockDunnock WrenWren

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/7th-november-2017 Tue, 07 Nov 2017 15:16:46 GMT
5th November 2017 http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/5th-november-2017 Blinded by the light!

Squeezed in a visit to Castle Howard Arboretum yesterday before going to a family Bonfire Party in the afternoon. Couldn't stay long but the hawfinches did appear much to the delight of the many birders present. From the state of the car park and adjoining roads the arboretum must have had a financial field day! [£7 per head]

Any attempt to photograph the hawfinches high up in the hornbeams was a battle against the light which was bright and harsh. Someone moaned: 'The sun's in the wrong place!' I replied [to a complete stranger]: 'No, it's in the right place. It's either the birds or us who are in the wrong place!' Some of the crowd laughed.

A pair of bullfinch were in a small tree and were nicely lit. When one took off I kept my finger on the shutter - I always shoot in al servo mode... BullfinchBullfinch I thought this photo might be improved by straightening the bird up a bit!  BullfinchBullfinch That's better, isn't it?

Ooops! It's gone! BullfinchBullfinch Some photos make me smile. I think it's a cannonball finch!

Pointing a 500mm lens [700 mm with extender] hand-held up into a fairly distant hornbeam into the light is tricky. Here's a few of my reasonable efforts. I have used photoshop in some cases to lighten the shadows without over-exposing the whole image. Others worked all right as they were. HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch

                                                                                  Call me Bill!!


HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch HawfinchHawfinch

269 still UK 2017

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) http://CHRISDOWNESBIRDS.COM/blog/2017/11/5th-november-2017 Mon, 06 Nov 2017 16:56:23 GMT