This event was well attended, thanks largely to our leader’s reputation as a consummate bird finder. Fifteen of us set off in the minibus, followed by four in a car. Our first stop was North Cave Wetlands, where species including Avocet, Yellow Wagtail and Little Ringed Plover were seen. We next headed over the Humber Bridge to Far Ings National Nature Reserve, where Cetti’s Warbler was heard but little was seen to cause excitement. Leaving Far Ings, we stopped on a busy main road (see photo) to train our telescopes on the distant Read’s Island, where the highlight was a Spotted Redshank in breeding plumage. Fortunately none of our party fell victim to the speeding traffic and we proceeded in the minibus to Alkborough Flats, where a number of hides overlook an extensive reedbed at the confluence of Trent and Humber. Several species were added to our list here, including Marsh Harrier, Bar-tailed Godwit and Little Egret. The long drive round the upper reaches of the Trent was accompanied by numerous back seat drivers shouting contradictory instructions, but despite this we managed to find the RSPB reserve at Blacktoft Sands, where those of us lucky enough to retain some hearing were treated on arrival to a Grasshopper Warbler reeling. We also had excellent views of Marsh Harriers. Leaving for home at 5.30pm and sharing sightings, we found we had amassed an impressive total of nearly 90 species. Many thanks to our leader Colin Slator.
As some of us waited in the sunshine for others to arrive in the car park at King Rudding Lane, a very pale Buzzard flew directly overhead, with a pair displaying further away towards Selby. Eventually ten of us set off for the “Bomb Bays” and a photographer in the distance alerted us to two Grass Snakes sunning themselves between a concrete ruin and a rose bush – utterly splendid views and lots of photos taken. These snakes were a first for some and the first live British ones I had seen since I was a teenager.
Another photographer told us where he had been seeing Woodlark, a short walk away. Whilst listening to a distant lark we saw Brimstone butterfly and Orange Underwing moth – spring at last! The lark duly appeared singing splendidly, then landed on the crown of a small oak, giving us great telescope views before it dropped to a ditch side to feed, still in view. We could not have asked for better. Lunch was taken back at the car park before we left for Bank Island, Wheldrake, where we enjoyed a drake Garganey, Swallow and Chiffchaff with plenty of other wildfowl and some Snipe. One or two then left us while the rest went to North Duffield Carrs where the scene was much more like winter with four Scaup, two or three Whooper Swans, two Marsh Harriers and lots of Wigeon; Teal and Pintail for support. All in all a great day out. You should have been there!
As usual, a sprinkling of snow led to traffic chaos in Harrogate and we were 30 mins late setting out. The snow fizzled out north of Ripon and it was a beautiful sunny day when we arrived at Hartlepool. It was high tide at the Headland and we were treated to the sight of a raft of Common Scoters very close inshore. Further out there were Red-throated Divers and Great-crested Grebes, as well as a Harbour Porpoise. Walking along the sea wall we enjoyed close-up views of Purple Sandpipers, Knot and other waders; sheltering behind a breakwater were many Eiders. Moving along to the fish dock, we were disappointed in our quest for white-winged gulls and the only bird of interest was a Red-breasted Merganser. At the Marina we obtained excellent views of a Black-throated Diver (a “lifer” for me) but the hoped-for Slavonian Grebe did not materialise. At Seaton Carew lunch was shared with a couple of Mediterranean Gulls who were eager to swoop on the titbits offered and gave excellent views. Luckily, the only shower of the day occurred whilst we were sitting cosily (ha-ha!) in the minibus, though we never saw the sun again after lunch. Whilst walking towards Seal Sands we were lucky enough to see a hunting Barn Owl; Greenshank, Stonechat and Rock Pipit were also “bagged”. The biggest treat was in store when we arrived at the hide, from which Sue spotted the elusive Slavonian Grebe (another “lifer” for me), which was very obliging, demonstrating all its salient features. Later, at North Gare we missed out on the large flock of Snow Buntings, which seemed to have absented themselves from their usual haunts. Pursuing a tip from a local birder that there was a large number of Long-tailed Ducks at Dorman’s (?) Pond, we bypassed Saltholme and went thither, only to find that said L-t D were in fact Pintail – a pretty sight, but not exactly in the same league. By this time Saltholme was closed so we departed for home, very pleased with our final tally of 66 species. Many thanks to our leader, June, for keeping us in order and finding so many interesting birds.
Note: Thanks to Mike Neate who kindly agreed to let us use his photo as an example.
Fourteen of us assembled outside the gates of Ripley Castle and were greeted by the sight of two Nuthatches in a nearby tree. We then entered the castle grounds, where unfortunately a shoot was in progress, so we could not enter the deer park. Nevertheless, the disturbance created by the beaters caused several groups of deer to sweep majestically across the far side of the lake. The birds on the lake seemed unperturbed by gunfire and we counted 4 Goosander, 33 Shelduck., c50 Mallard, c300 Black-headed Gulls, two Herons and four Cormorants. A dozen Curlew were feeding in the deer park. After perambulating the near side of the lake we had an uneventful stroll back through the woods and thence into the walled garden, where it was gratifying to see feeders provided with many small birds in attendance, including another Nuthatch. We were also intrigued to see a Monkey Puzzle Tree in fruit, which is apparently a rare event in this part of the country.
Leaving the castle grounds (many thanks to Sir Thomas for allowing us free admission) we proceeded up Birthwaite Lane, where unfortunately the Bramblings were not present this winter. However, we were rewarded with excellent views of a pair of Bullfinches feeding on nettle seeds. We once again ran into the shoot as we approached Cayton Gill, but they were kind enough to allow us free passage. In the gill itself we enjoyed the spectacle of at least four soaring Buzzards and three Red Kites, one of which was seen to dive bomb another, inoffensively perched in a tree. Having run the gauntlet of two very frisky horses, the walk back through fields on permissive paths (thanks again, Sir T) was uneventful.
A total of 41 species was seen, for which our leader Rob Adams and our telescope bearer Andy Hanby are to be congratulated.
The weather was kind to us and we enjoyed sunshine for most of the day, whilst nearby Hull appeared to have been afflicted by heavy showers.
Disembarking the minibus, we were told in no uncertain terms by June, our leader, to stop talking and start stalking. Obediently scanning the bushes for rarities we turned up a Chiffchaff, which gave good views, a small party of Goldcrests and a nice male Stonechat. A woodcock flew up out of a ditch and disappeared into a stand of trees. Very little else was seen at the landward end, so we took our lunch in the minibus and then headed for the point. There we spent some time observing the Heligoland trap into which a Brambling (a lifer for some of us) was desperately trying to get, for reasons best known to itself.
There were also Redwings in the elder bushes. One of the highlights of the day were the two Black Redstarts which were showing well as we made our way back landward along the road. The main “tick” however was the Yellow-browed Warbler, whose presence was indicated by the gaggle of twitchers gathered at the side of the road. It gave as good views as we could have hoped as it flitted in and out of the bushes, clearly displaying its pale supercilium and double wing bar. As the state of the tide was favourable, the day ended with some wader watching, which turned up Bar-tailed Godwit as well as the more common species.
We also did some sea watching, where a raft of Common Scoters was the main attraction. Unfortunately the wind direction was not tending to bring birds close inshore. A species tally in the region of 70 was cause for great satisfaction and all declared it to have been a very enjoyable day. Many thanks to June.
We drove across the Pennines into Cumbria to the Smardale Gill National Nature Reserve, one of only two English sites of the Scotch Argus butterfly, a species in flight during late July/August. We might also be lucky to see another English butterfly rarity, the Northern Brown Argus. Also, the reserve was home to Red Squirrels, and there were a number of orchid species that should still be in flower. When we arrived the weather was dull and overcast, with a forecast of rain; the books had advised that the Scotch Argus only flew in sunshine, so we were keeping our fingers well crossed.
After an hour and a half, or so, we stopped for lunch in an old quarry. On the way we had noted Common Spotted and Fragrant orchids among the many wild flowers, but had not by then seen a single butterfly. While we were still eating our sandwiches, we met up with another group being led by the Cumbria Wildlife Trust warden for the reserve, who told us that Scotch Argus’ were definitely around, and where we might see them; he confirmed we probably would not see the Northern Brown Argus as it was finished for the year.
During the afternoon, as the weather improved, butterflies could be seen flying over the moorland grasses. It was soon apparent that these included a number of Scotch Argus. We were particularly fortunate that the weather was dry, but still cool and overcast. In these conditions the butterflies preferred to rest in among the grasses to taking flight, which presented us with the great opportunity to take close-up photographs; and to capture specimens to examine in-hand. We were thus able to admire the striking, velvety, dark chocolate-brown, with an orange band, of the upper wing of a newly emergent Scotch Argus. Similarly, we were fortunate to capture and closely examine another of the reserve’s less common species – Dark Green Fritillary.
It was raining steadily by the time we returned to the minibus, but everybody had thoroughly enjoyed the trip. We never saw the red squirrels, but we did see seven species of butterfly: Small Skipper; Common Blue; Dark Green Fritillary; Scotch Argus; Meadow Brown; Ringlet; Small Heath.