Chris Downes' Focus on Birds: Blog en-us (C) Chris Downes' Focus on Birds (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Sat, 11 Aug 2018 10:37:00 GMT Sat, 11 Aug 2018 10:37:00 GMT Chris Downes' Focus on Birds: Blog 68 120 4th-9th August 2018 A case of déjà vu!

August 4th - Buffy flies in to Blacktoft

Always distant, I did my best to get some decent images.

August 8th - Back to Blacktoft

I suppose I wanted a better photo of the buff-breasted sandpiper. Did I succeed? Not too sure - but I had a pleasant afternoon. Green sandpipers and yellow wagtails too. You'll know which are which...

The buff-breasted had flown off apparently - which explained why there was plenty of room in Marshland hide. And, it came back!

Eventually something unseen spooked everything and Marshland was quiet. I headed for Townend as I knew it liked to go there too...

The bird decided to come our way and set off on a long walk...

...and then the long walk back...

August 9th - Back to Kilnsea

No sign off the red-backed shrike, just the smell, reminiscent of a roadside snack bar, of food cooking in the new cafe they've built. Seems a strange place for a cafe and it's got a strange name too: The Discovery Centre. It was full of people believing they were doing their bit for nature watching the starlings on the feeder.

Under the Orwellian rules which currently apply I may well be banned frrom YWT land for expressing such opinions. All I will say is that the current situation is very sad and needs to be resolved. YWT must realise that some people are saying sensible things...

Birds. I went back to Kilnsea Wetlands. A wall brown posed on the bank as I approached - strong male sex brand. An immature med gull was on the second spit. Dunlins busy feeding.

Eventually went back to the canal zone. David and Chris told me to talk to a Scotsman who was 'on' the shrike. This worked out well although [and I know my hearing is rubbish] I could only understand bits of what he was telling me! Here's the target bird.

The bird dropped out of view so I went to Canal Scrape hide. Swallow still feeding young. Shrike duly appeared.

Snipe in front of hide. Action in the reeds just to my left. Sedge and reed warblers both looking fresh. 224 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Sat, 11 Aug 2018 10:37:18 GMT
30th-31st July 2018 East Coast Meanderings

July 30th

Up to Blackhall Rocks to see a drake surf scoter along with a velvet scoter and about 500 or so common scoters. A long linear raft of birds with the surf scoter showing well at the northern end of the raft. Too far for a photo. Later at Dorman's Pool a wader fest plus a juvenile marsh harrier kept me entertained. No photos from this trip however. I tried to photograph the harrier but it was a mite too far away.

July 31st

Barry and I set off fairly early for Flamborough, intending to visit Thornwick Pool. I hoped the wood sandpiper might be present and close. Year tick for Barry - the woodsand delivered. We headed south calling at Hornsea Mere. Little gulls and common terns. Plus an obliging Painted Lady. Ladies first!

Common tern, including one that was bothering a little gull dozing on one of the jetties. Little gulls - quite a few around.

Moi! photo by Barry. Spurn next - Kilnsea Wetlands and Beacon Ponds to be precise. For a full account of the wader filled day [20 species seen!] visit Overall we saw 62 species of birds that day.

At Kilnsea we had excellent views of a blackwit and of a greenshank. All photographed in Mediterranean-type light conditions.

222 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Sat, 04 Aug 2018 07:40:42 GMT
23rd & 25th July 2018 A Touch of Class

Two days out birding

In fact a couple of touches of quality birds. July 23rd took me back to Hartlepool to look out for the roseate terns. A small huddle of birders reassured me as I arrived. Three birds seen although whilst getting the camera sorted I missed the juvenile photograph-wise. Here are the two adults with a sandwich tern and common tern in there somewhere. I walked all round the Snook but things were fairly quiet. I was attacked Farne Islands style by a common tern [or was it an arctic - I didn't look that closely!] Summer sanderlings, oystercatchers and sandwich terns out on the sand. Juvenile common tern too. Limonium vulgare or common sea lavender attractive in flower. The drought continued and it was refreshing to see a sea of green as the samphire was growing well. It almost looked good enough to eat!

I headed for Saltholme before going home quite early. Phil Stead hide was action packed with bad-tempered black-tailed godwits putting on a show. Snipe present in good numbers too. Here comes a super set of images - all credit to the birds not to me.

July 25th was quite exciting. Franklin's gull apparently in front of the hide at Scaling Dam. I had seen one [badly] flying off about 11 years ago at Farmoor Reservoir in Oxfordshire. This was  very different and as a former colleague would have delighted in saying, it ''really nailed it!''

For about an hour it slept and the assembled throng watched those tremendous white eye crescents.

Eventually the bird stirred. From here on I'll let Mr. Franklin do the talking. [The real John Franklin was a napoleonic Royal Navy officer who later tried on several expeditions to find a North-West passage through the Arctic seas] Here's my Mr. Franklin... Finally we spotted just in front of us a a very little little ringed plover. Say ahhhh!!!! 221 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Sat, 28 Jul 2018 09:38:24 GMT
18th July 2018 A pleasant afternoon at Blacktoft Sands

No targets, just looking for some nice photo opportunities of waders and anything else that might be around. I started at Marshland. A few ruff were quite close. I spotted a greenshank sleeping on the mud. Eventually it flew a few dozen yards to join another greenshank out on the lagoon.

As well as ruff there were spotted redshank to be seen. This dusky maiden was further out than I might have liked!

A spoonbill over on the far side.

I spotted a few bearded tits around the lagoon. There's two in this shot plus a wagtail juvenile if you can pick them out. This one's a bit clearer. They are never very close at Blacktoft. Alkborough Flats can be very good - if your luck's in! I moved on. Green sandpipers at Townend hide. Spot the dragonfly...

...perflection: a common snipe...

...and marsh harrier resting in a bush. Finally: a couple of butterflies from the walk back. Red admiral and comma.

Since then Sheila and I had an afternoon at Hartlepool Headland hoping for the reported roseate terns. They didn't return but we watched the common and sandwich terns instead. Conditions were very pleasant with little wind. Speaking personally I'm ready for something a bit different weather-wise. I just hope I don't live to regret those words!!

219 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Sun, 22 Jul 2018 15:33:44 GMT
15th July 2018 There's more to come!

[I hope!]

Spurn on Sunday 15th July, hoping the greater sand plover would still be around. On arrival things looked grim: lost somewhere north of the Narrows. I decided to go to Kilnsea Wetlands' tiny hide [Get a bigger one, please!] and see what was afoot.

A grass snake made an impressive appearance.

Little gull adult and curlew sandpiper on far side of the main spit. Very distant hazy photos.

Something sent all the sandwich terns off towards the estuary.

Set off home as nothing was showing. Got to Patrington when I looked at the phone. I wish I still had a functioning pager! 

However, 'GSP on Easington Beach' came up on the phone. I turned back. After all, it would be a lifer!!!!!

The bird was on the beach still. I'm a little amazed how the other beachgoers continued to walk about on the sand in front of a line of 60-odd scopes and cameras on tripods as if they weren't there!

First view.

I had fabulous views of this "new for me bird" in the scope. After a while staring out to sea the bird flew over us and higher up the beach so I was looking into the sun to photograph it.  Then it flew south down the beach, but not too far. I left it whilst the other toggers scampered after it. As they do.

Great day. 

219 UK 2018   436 UK Life list

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Wed, 18 Jul 2018 09:03:45 GMT
9th-12th July 2018 And then the Balloon went up!

Something from a few weeks ago: on a very hot day our bird bath, much frequented by our house sparrows, was occupied comprehensively by an overheated wood pigeon. Cock sparrow looks on in disgust! [photo by Sheila]

July 9th - Barry and I went to Flamborough area. We started at Thornwick Pool. Fairly quiet... an impressive stand of marsh orchids on the far side. A couple of little ringed plover were present and house martins were dropping in to collect mud. You had to be quick to catch them! Green-footed gallinule youngsters [translating the latin binomial: gallinula chloropus] also known as moorhens! Small skipper outside the hide plus a speckled wood butterfly which, unusually, held its wings closed on landing.

We had a coffee at Bempton RSPB. Jackdaws were very tame.

We headed down to the cliffs for the obligatory gannet fiesta. A linnet was showing where we had hoped to find a grasshopper warbler. There were still quite a few puffins around. Gannets!

Kittiwake chick - some of the youngsters were much closer to being ready to go than this one. Our search for the gropper proved fruitless. Juvenile swallow on a gate.

We spotted swallows gathering mud from a pool by the overflow car park. One of those special moments. My favorite shot

July 10th - visit with Sheila to see the ''teaspoons'' at Fairburn Ings. Great views of the family in a scope but too distant really even for 700mm equivalent of lens magnification. Still, you get the idea.

Parent incoming.

Four youngsters buried in the foliage!

July 11th - southern hawker dragonfly popped into the house. He left unharmed. July 12th - trip to Saltholme to see a grasshopper warbler but we failed even though it was seen by others when we were in the wrong place! Made do with a confiding sedge warbler in the car park. It didn't mind how close you came. It was his bush and he wasn't to be dislodged! Finally this morning [July 13th] much excitement down our road before breakfast. A hot-air balloon was perilously low over the adjoining street.

It drifted over the A59 gaining a little height and missed Manor School - just!

Finally finding the right kind of current the balloon did really go up!

217 UK 2018 - still!

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Fri, 13 Jul 2018 12:20:22 GMT
7th July 2018 Greatham Creek; Bishop Middleham; Staveley YWT


A couple of garden occurrences. One of our hedgehogs is squatting in one of our greenhouses. Here he is. This common green grasshopper hopped into the house yesterday. Exoskeleton looks mighty impressive!

1: Greatham Creek/Greenabella

Distant curlew sandpiper. No scope with me. Excitingly energetic grayling butterflies, common darter dragonfly and some orchids - probably fragrant.

Small heath, meadow brown and small skipper

2:Bishop Middleham quarry.

Went the wrong way at first and ended up on the top level of the quarry. There were even a few dark red helleborines up there. This was my first.

Descending the steps to the quarry floor. Knapweed with six-spot burnet; robin's pincushion on wild rose.

The dark-reds...

Fragrants and twayblades and a white common spotted, I presume. Martians!! Lots of little green men!

...and a pyramidal. Top beetle!

3: Stavelely YWT

Marsh helleborines a bit past their best.

218 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Sun, 08 Jul 2018 20:28:13 GMT
3rd July 2018 A few images from Bempton Cliffs

I went hoping to catch up with a grasshopper warbler but I was obviously in the wrong place at the right time as it was seen nearby. I had gone to where I had been told it liked to show. Oh well, that's how it goes sometimes.

Settled for one of the many whitethroats around. Reed bunting

I decided to try my hand at a few flight shots as the birds were shooting past quite high which makes for nice photos if you're quick enough.

Puffin on the cliff.

Puffin departing - feet of razorbill, kittiwake and puffin all visible! Razorbills and guillemots Razorbills squabbling and then flying off. Razorbill flight shots Ringlet and large skipper butterflies

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Thu, 05 Jul 2018 16:28:11 GMT
27th-29th June 2018 Record shots

1: St. Aidans around Oddball - June 27th

      Sheila and I went to see the little owls. Eventually we saw one owlet - a bundle of fluff really.

2: Kilnsea Wetlands - June 29th

My phone app told me the squacco heron which had ''flown north'' earlier was back in the Holderness field on the east pond. It was nice to escape the heat and enjoy fresher conditions of 15 degrees. Slight mist. Bird soon seen. Always some way off but no complaints: great scope views eating newts, frogs and eels.

Popped into the hide on the way back. Sandwich terns out on the spit. Yellow wagtail juvenile outside the hide.

217 UK 2018

]]> (Chris Downes' Focus on Birds) Sat, 30 Jun 2018 14:36:08 GMT
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) Fri, 22 Jun 2018 20:00:26 GMT
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) Sat, 16 Jun 2018 07:10:27 GMT
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) Tue, 05 Jun 2018 14:23:04 GMT
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) Mon, 28 May 2018 11:54:33 GMT
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) Fri, 25 May 2018 15:43:12 GMT
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) Mon, 21 May 2018 13:44:00 GMT
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) Fri, 11 May 2018 10:47:52 GMT
13th-21st 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) Mon, 23 Apr 2018 20:08:51 GMT
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) Tue, 10 Apr 2018 10:42:16 GMT
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) Sat, 31 Mar 2018 11:50:04 GMT
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) Wed, 28 Mar 2018 14:50:44 GMT