On Sunday 24th February I drove to Mirfield to look for the ring-billed gull. No sign, so part two of the plan was to head further west to Middleton near Oldham where a siberian chiffchaff was holidaying on a stream in a tiny nature reserve in a well built-up area. [Location: Albany Street, Middleton SD 880 050] The satnav took us to within meters of the wooden footbridge I needed to find. Another birder was present and he introduced me to a group of goldcrests that were exploring the shrubs on the stream edge. There must have been up to 6 of them bobbing about busily, rarely still enough to fire off a shot that might be reasonably focused.
Chiffchaffs were also present and singing too. My earliest ever chiffchaff. However the pale grey-winged 'sibe' was elusive flashing by and going high in the trees - another birder identified the different calls. Here's the one I photographed...
Long-tailed tits were in the mix too.
Then I returned to Mirfield to the weir on the River Calder to look for the gull again. There must have been half a dozen disappointed birders. A local told us it doesn't come on Sundays when Biffa [a local recycling place] isn't operational. However we spotted a kingfisher hiding in tree roots and other detritus by the lock gates. The weir protects barges as they enter the river from the Calder and Hebble Navigation canal.
Male Kingfisher [all black bill]
So no ring-billed gull but smart Herring gull, black-headed gulls and common gull all on the weir in this photo.
Let's have another look at the smart bird!
On Thursday February 28th I went up to Hartlepool to see a red-necked grebe - the only 'regular' grebe I hadn't seen this year. I arrived at the pilot pier at about 10.15 to be told that the grebe had swum out to sea only about twenty minutes earlier and had disappeared. I spotted some drake eider inside the harbour and endeavoured to get closer.
Common scoter were outside the harbour, along with knot and a few other regular waders. I decided to go down to Jackson's Landing and see if the black-throated diver was still about. The block paving outside the abandoned building was being picked over by four pied wagtails.
And I soon spotted the diver. Although I had already seen it a number of times, this is a very good bird and I was happy to see it once more as it swam obligingly over to me! The light was amazing and although the sun was not shining directly I was getting amazing shutter speeds so I lowered the ISO to 100: these shots are the only photos I have ever taken with this camera at 100 ISO. Needless to say this freakish light didn't last.
On towards North Gare via Newburn Bridge. Two med gulls were present. One, on the beach, seemed to have a full summer hood but was very distant [it being low tide] and it flew off into the bargain. My long serving friend, good old Medusa, however, was shouting at me from her lamp-post! I waited till she went for a fly past, swapping lamp-posts as she does...
North Gare held fields of gulls, great rafts of them which, to be honest, I didn't feel like spending the day scanning with the scope. A birder was atop a mini-dune, on a camp seat working through them. I contented myself with trying to get close to lapwings from a moving car!
All quiet at Majuba Road, Redcar, I headed for Skinningrove. Little was about there either: a wren dodged among the rock armour and refused to stay still enough for a photograph. A curious sign on the metal gates of the crumbling pier caught my eye. The German is perfect, including the fading umlaut: 'Every night I dream of you!'
Fulmars were flying noisily from the high cliffs. You don't often see the tail fanned out like this as the bird controls his flight near the cliff top.
There was no sign of stonechat or blackstart. Redshank flew off from the beach as the tide encroached.
I ended up at South Gare. Little to report but the steelworks was very active and, poking the camera between the struts of the metal fence, I managed this dramatic shot. Picture of the day - and not a bird in sight!
Plan was to see black grouse at any of four different sites. The sad truth is that we drew a blank even though 7 males were later reported that afternoon at Shaw Farm. Were we blind!?
However we did have a very good day. Well, I did and I hope Barry did too. He got three year ticks - grey partridge that I spotted in a field full of fieldfare and redwing en route to Langthwaite. Raven near Shaw Farm and lots of red grouse. Cue for some photos!
Different bird, different side of the road looking into the sunlight giving a misty effect that I really like.
Eventually this bird spooked itself into flight. They make quite a big, slow-moving target. Poor things don't stand a chance!
On we went, trying site after site! Eventually I headed for Saltholme and Hartlepool as our day list cruised towards 50 birds. At Newburn Bridge we paid a quick hello to Medusa.
On to Hartlepool Headland and the pilot pier. This turnstone was tossing a crab shell about.
Just offshore right in the harbour mouth a guillemot was diving.
The smart eiders I saw earlier in the week looked even better in the bright sunlight [12 degrees!].
I have said it many times before, but the thing about birding is that something good nearly always happens. Often something good and unexpected. Towards going home time Barry spotted a group of waders on the beach - not far from people, dogs and children... We went to look. We went down onto the beach. We ended up on our knees down at knot level. Knot portfolio coming up... But Barry first, photographing these friendly chaps...
This dumpy one has a ring. It amazes me how often I photograph ringed birds. There must be a lot of ringers out there...
This fellow was particularly confiding and came very close.
Final image of the day.
Sunday 3rd March. Back to Mirfield for the fourth time to try for the ring-billed gull yet again after seeing great photos taken Saturday by Ray Scally. Total failure but a few pleasant surprises on the way to total failure!
Swan geese lurking in the undegrowth.
Biggest surprise was the appearance on the weir on the River Calder, well inland therefore, of a kittiwake.
This lesser black-backed looked smart. Notice how his back looks a different colour in different light or from another angle.
Ok. Jobs to do. Birds to see!
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