December 2016

5th, Swinemoor – A quick visit to Swinemoor this morning brought little of note, indeed the wetlands were largely deserted at 11 am, but plenty of Greylags were noted distantly towards the northern end of the B-B Drain, whilst the floods hosted a few Herring and Common Gulls. I wonder where all the Wigeon and Teal go during the day?

7th, Tundale & Frendaldale – A morning walk in the Wolds near Huggate with Rosie on what was a grey, mild, and on the tops at least, breezy sort of morning. The countryside was remarkably quiet with no people and little in the way of wildlife, though the woods of Tundale did host a few Goldcrests and roving flocks of mixed tits. Further along the valley a Roe deer was flushed out, whilst above us large numbers of both Fieldfares and Redwings were heard passing over, a sound and sight we regularly encountered during our walk. In Frendaldale we were treated to a fine view of a Red Kite hovering in the breeze, something you don’t see them doing that often, whilst up at Huggate Dykes a particularly pale Common Buzzard mewed as it searched for food over the fields. The fields up here also hosted a few Hares, an animal I never tire of seeing despite the fact they are relatively common up here on the Wolds, though the best sighting of the morning would actually come on the drive home, a hunting Peregrine Falcon being spotted between Huggate and North Dalton. Peregrines are never numerous up here on the Wolds but there is little doubt that sightings are becoming ever more frequent these days, something which I am at least happy to see.

Red Kite (Milvus milvus)

7th, Woldgarth – A testament to just how mild the weather was this evening was the spotting of a Pipistrelle Bat hunting around the back yard, the bat in question almost clipping my head whilst I was out feeding and playing with the animals. I don’t thing this is the first time I have seen an active bat in December (actually I think I may have also seen one last year), but nevertheless it was certainly worthy of notation and recording!

10th, Woldgarth – As I cleaned out the rabbit shed I heard the unmistakable sound of a croaking RAVEN passing over the garden, the bird in question flying right over me as I frantically tried to spot this largest member of the Crow family. This is the first ever record of a Raven here at Woldgarth and it will be interesting to see whether this was just a one off or something which will become frequent as this iconic bird continues to spend eastwards across Yorkshire.

10th, North York Moors – We spent a thoroughly enjoyable day up at Grosmont and the Moors today, our young nephew keeping us thoroughly entertained throughout. Indeed I am not sure he stopped talking the whole time. Much of our time in the village was spent playing beside the Murk Esk, this bringing sightings of a lone Dipper and up to four Mallards on the river, whilst the woods of the area hosted a single Nuthatch and a few Treecreepers. Leaping Salmon were also noted in the river (at least I think they were Salmon).

Later we enjoyed a walk up in the Tranmire Bog area on the edge of Cropton Forest, the drive there bringing sightings of two Stonechats and of course plenty of Red Grouse, though for the most part the moors were quiet with little to see. However a walk with my nephew did allow me to show him a world rather different from what he is used to back in the suburbs of Hull, the dangers of upland bogs leaving a particular impression upon him. Indeed walking up here does pose dangers to those unaware of the risks, but with time one can learn where it is safe to tread, a good stick being vital to probe the ground ahead of you.

12th, Woldgarth – Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers are again regularly visiting the bird feeders, their favourites being the suet cakes and the peanuts. In the family home a Light Brown Apple Moth was encountered on the wall of the kitchen, whilst a Harlequin Ladybird has seemingly decided to spend the winter on the lamp shade of the table lamp in my office. Of course I would prefer it to be a native Seven-spot but I can’t bring myself to move the beetle now that it is in situ.

13th, Millingtondale – A good walk up on the Wolds with Rosie this morning, our destination of choice being the walk up Nettledale, along the top of Pasturedale and then over to Sylvandale before heading back and completing the circuit along the bottom of Millingtondale. The weather for much of the walk was dull and foggy, low cloud and drizzle enveloping the high Wolds of the area, but latterly things would begin to brighten up with even some very weak sunshine eventually. The underfoot conditions however were rather muddy to say the least, the bottom of Sylvandale being particularly bad with mud nearly up to the top of my wellington boots, but of course Rosie, being a Labrador, loved it all and thoroughly enjoyed getting soaked and covered in mud. However she was less keen when we had to clean her up when we got home !

Red-legged Partridge. Note the deformed beak of the bird on the far left.

Nature wise it was the winter thrushes whom once more were the main feature of the walk, though this time Redwings outnumbered Fieldfares three to one, whilst in the birch woods between Nettle and Pasture Dales a large flock of finches was encountered. This flock was largely composed of Goldfinches and Chaffinches, though I am pretty certain I heard a few Bramblings amongst them too. These same woods also hosted hundreds, if not thousands of Wood Pigeons, these all thunderously taking flight as we made our way along, and further interest here was provided by a single White Pheasant amongst the quietly grazing Belted Galloway’s of Nettledale. Further along our walk we heard a day calling Tawny Owl at the head of Pasturedale and came across a pair of Roe deer, though a search of the water margins at the pond at the bottom of Sylvandale turned up nothing more than a few Moorhens (in the past this has often been a good site for wintering Water Rail). Finally both Buzzards and Red Kites were observed and heard in a few locations during the course of our two hour walk.

A beautiful Red Kite

13th, Woldgarth – After finishing our evening tea I noticed a curious bug at the bottom of the raspberry container, the species being totally unfamiliar to me. Knowing that the raspberries had come from Spain meant that I knew it would be difficult to identify the species from the British books and websites which I usually utilise, and even now I am far from certain. However I do think it was a species of Ground Bug (Lygaeidae) and have tentatively identified it as a Oxycarenus lavaterae, a largely Mediterranean species which can be abundant in the right areas. A little research suggests that the bug is becoming more widespread across Europe, though I can find very few references to the species here in the British Isles.

Oxycarenus lavaterae ?

14th, Woldgarth – An exceptionally mild start to the day, the temperature just shy of 11 C at 9 am, and as a result it felt almost spring like as I fed the animals and exercised the dog. The spring-like feeling was further emphasised by the birds, many of whom were singing away despite the fact we haven’t even passed the solstice yet, the Robins being particularly vocal. However under foot conditions remain miserably muddy and there is little prospect of this changing any time soon.

17th, Swinemoor – Arrived down at the river just as it began to get light, the fat gibbous moon shining down upon the brown waters of the river and reflecting beautifully through the riverside reeds as I gazed westwards across the winter floods. Since the weather has been largely dry so far this month (just 16.2 mm so far), the floods have actually receded since my last visit, though enough water remains for good numbers of Teal and Wigeon. As I enjoyed the sounds provided by these winter visitors I also became aware of a singing Mistle Thrush in the woods east of the river, something I have heard quite a bit during this recent mild weather.

Continuing down river a dog walker heading northwards along the Barmy Drain flushed up a 100+ Lapwing, their black-and-white plumage catching the ever increasing light, a sight which I stopped and admired for a few minutes before continuing on. A Kingfisher flew past me as I neared Grovehill, this stopping briefly on one of the moored pleasure craft which litter the riverbank here, whilst on the river I flushed up a dozen or so Teal, a bird I do not actually encounter on the river itself that often.

To the east over Weel Carrs a Barn Owl quartered the rough fields, a common but always welcome sight, but there was no sign of the Short-eared Owl I spotted back at the end of November. In the sky above a trio of Cormorants headed southwards, though far more interesting (at least in my view) was a single Grey Wagtail along the eastern bank of the river at Grovehill, an uncommon beauty in less than beautiful surroundings. Indeed as I departed the area and headed for home I had one last treat in the shape and form of a fishing Kingfisher within 10 metres of where I watched, the bird in question perched on one of the mooring ropes of the Syntan. If only I had had a camera !!!

18th, North Cliffe Wood – A Sunday morning stroll around my favourite woodland nature reserve on what was a grey and pretty nondescript mid-December day. As we headed down the western perimeter path we noted a large flock of Goldfinches amongst the birches, though despite a search amongst them I failed to pick out any winter finches or anything else worthy of mention. However a few mixed tits were with them, including a couple of Marsh Tits, whilst in the nearby oaks a few Treecreepers were noted ‘creeping’ up the broad boughs in their characteristic mouse-like way.

As we headed out onto the heath a Great-spotted Woodpecker was heard ‘peep-ing’ in the distance, and as I searched for it my attention was caught by the always impressive sight of a Jay flying low in front of us, this giving us ample time to admire this beautiful bird. Since I do not encounter Jays that frequently on t’ other side of Wolds I always enjoy seeing this striking member of the crow family. As we continued onward another Jay could be heard calling in the heart of the wood, though the heath itself proved quiet, a covey of Red-legged Partridges being the only observation worthy of notation.

The southern path through the birches, alders, hazels and willows held few birds, bar a small family group of Bullfinches, though this area was productive for fungi. Indeed whilst the majority of the larger fungi types have now already faded for yet another year, a good variety of the more subtle and smaller species can still be found if you look carefully amongst the rotting woods. Candlesnuff fungus was particularly abundant, as was Yellow Jelly Fungus, whilst a few species of solitary Bonnet types were also encountered here and there (beyond my ID skills I’m afraid). Velvet Shanks, a species I most associate with early winter, were fairly widespread too, most of these attractive fungi being found growing on diseased Willows in the middle of the wood.

Heading back through the heart of the wood we conducted one of our winter Woodcock counts, this simply taking the form of counting how many birds we flushed up as we headed along the path. Last December we failed to find any when we did this, but today we had much better luck with a minimum count of nine, a not unimpressive count at all. Indeed we have been checking on Woodcock numbers in this wood for about five years now and so far the highest number has been 13 on any given day. Whilst most views were typically fleeting, we did have the pleasure of actually spotting one of these cryptic and elusive birds on the path ahead of us, a rare and special treat.

19th, Swinemoor & Figham – A dawn stroll along the river on what was a misty and chilly morning, a touch of frost lying upon the rough grass which covers the riverbank. Down at Figham the mist was actually fog with visibility no more than 50 metres out on the common itself, though Swinemoor was thankfully relatively clear in comparison, the sprawling town of Beverley clearly evident on the other side of the pasture. Having set out later than usual there was more light available for me this morning, and as I scanned across the extensive area I could see (and hear) good numbers of both Wigeon and Teal. A dozen or so Shovelers could also be picked out on the larger areas of floodwater, as was a single Redshank looking for food along the water’s edge, but other than these observations it was pretty quiet with no Barn Owls or mammalian life encountered during my dawn perambulation.

26th, North Cliffe Wood – On a sunny and breezy Boxing Day morning we headed across the Wolds for a quiet stroll around these peaceful woods. Indeed a few other people had had the same idea and at least four other families were enjoying the winter woodland as well, such ‘crowds’ at North Cliffe being rare outside of the bluebell season. As regards the natural world things were pretty quiet with just the usual suspects such as Jay, Marsh tit, Treecreeper and Green Woodpecker being worthy of mention, though we did enjoy some great views of a pair of Buzzards whom were squabbling right above our heads. We did not conduct a Woodcock count today (I don’t do this more than twice a month to avoid excessive disturbance), but nevertheless one was flushed up from beside the eastern perimeter path.

A friendly Robin also allowed me to try some nice close-ups with my new Nikon P900, the results of which I am pretty happy with. I have now been using this camera for over a month, and whilst I have yet to give it a proper work out, I have been more than satisfied with its performance throughout the trial period and I have decided to keep it for the longer term. Image quality is at best average, though it is much better than my old Panasonic Lumix FZ45 in that regard, though what stands out is the improvement in speed compared to the old bridge cameras, the autofocus and the EVF being outstanding compared to older bridge cameras. The lens is also superb and it is quite liberating being able to wander around with a light and relatively compact camera which can do macro one moment, and then zoom out to 2000mm (35mm equivalent) for some distant bird or whatnot. In many ways it is the perfect camera for a nature blogger and hopefully it will continue to provide me with more photos to illustrate my blog in the coming weeks, months, and God willing, years.

29th, Woldgarth – A garden bird count on what was a sunny and cold afternoon brought a decent number of birds into the garden, a total of 46 birds of 17 species being counted during the half hour survey. Birds recorded were as follows; Blackbird x2, Blue tit x5, Bullfinch x5, Chaffinch x4, Coal tit x1, Crow x2, Dunnock x1, Goldcrest x1, Goldfinch x4, Great tit x4, Greenfinch x3, Long-tailed tit x3, Magpie x1, Mistle thrush x2, Robin x1, Sparrowhawk x1, and Wood Pigeon x7.

30th, Woldgarth – Another bird count on what was another sunny and chilly day, though this time the count took place in mid-morning rather than early afternoon. Prior to the count I put up some old bread on the lawn, primarily to attract corvids but also in the hope of attracting gulls, and in the end this proved most successful with at least a dozen Black-headed Gulls and a trio of Common Gulls descending down into the garden to grab the diced bread. In total 63 birds of 18 species were recorded and numbers were as follows; Blackbird x4, Black-headed Gull c.12-15, Blue tit x7, Bullfinch x7, Chaffinch x2, Coal tit x1, Common Gull x3, Crow x2, Dunnock x3, Goldcrest x1, Goldfinch x2, Great tit x3, Greenfinch x3, Jackdaw x2, Magpie x3, Mistle thrush x1, Robin x1 and Wood Pigeon x6.