1st, North Cliffe Wood – We enjoyed an afternoon stroll on what was a sunny and clement November day, the golden sunshine really bringing out the colours which are rather spectacular this year. The birches and hazels looked particularly attractive, the warm tones further emphasised by the copper coloured brackens, whilst in a few locations the Oaks likewise showed some good colour (they will probably be at their best in about a fortnight). As we walked along we heard the distinctive call of Marsh Tits amongst the roving bands of Tits, whilst in the heart of the wood a pair of noisy Jays could be heard calling. Roving bands of Goldfinches flittered through the birches, though despite a good search I was unable to spot any winter finches amongst them, though ample compensation came in the shape and form of a single WOODCOCK (Scolopax rusticola) along the southern path.
The variety of fungi on the woodland floor is now passed its peak, indeed the Grisette season is already over it would seem, whilst Brittlegills are also less apparent, though in their place they have now been replaced by the Butter-caps (Rhodocollybia butyracea), a greater variety of Bonnet (Mycena) type fungi’s, the emerging fingers of Honey Fungus (Armillaria mellea) and some Shaggy Scalycaps (Pholiota squarrosa) here and there. On the edge of the heath the Parasol Mushrooms (Macrolepiota procera) are still fruiting, with at least six being found in varying states of development, whilst back in the wood species such as Brown Roll-rim (Paxillus involutus), Birch Milkcaps (Lactarius tabidus) and even the odd Stinkhorn (Phallus impudicus) can still be found widely (as well as others beyond my very limited fungi ID skills!). However the best display was provided by the wonderful Fly Agarics (Amanita muscaria) with at least 18 being found this afternoon, including a clump of over a dozen along the western path. This is the largest count of this always impressive and attractive fungi that I have ever made at North Cliffe Wood.
Other observations of additional interest included at least three Common Darters (Sympetrum striolatum) out on the heath, these dragonflies favouring the shelter and warmth along the edge of the birch woodland, a single November Moth agg. (Epirrita dilutata agg.) in the heart of the wood, as well as a single Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) on the southern edge of the heath, the deer being disturbed by the cutting of the maize crop in the neighbouring field. Finally a skein of Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) were heard to pass over as we headed back along the access path, though again it was the fantastic golden colours of the trees which impressed most, the early setting November sun making the trees almost glow as we made our homeward once more.
4th, Woldgarth – It is now that time of year when the Wood Pigeons gather in the hawthorn tree to eat the berries, up to a dozen, and sometimes more, arriving to enjoy the heavy crop of berries in the mid and late-afternoon. The hawthorn is also starting to turn with the leaves now raining down upon the ground.
A scruffy juvenile Wood Pigeon
7th, Woldgarth – With the return of colder days and nights the birds have certainly begun to return to the garden, especially the beautiful and wonderfully diverse finches. The stars as ever were the brightly coloured Bullfinches, with about four or five currently visiting the garden, though the most numerous visitors at the moment are the Goldfinches and Chaffinches. The latter have certainly had a good year this year and I can’t remember a time when they were so numerous at the feeding station here at Woldgarth. Greenfinches also visit frequently, along with Great, Blue and Coal Tits, whilst beneath the feeders the Dunnocks, Robins, Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons share the scraps.
10th, Woldgarth – We had new windows fitted to my office today and according to our joiner he heard a few Ravens (Corvus corax) passing over in mid to late-afternoon. Ravens are rapidly expanding eastwards through Yorkshire, and indeed they have become increasingly common observations in some parts of the Wolds, including nearby Drewton Dale (barely five miles away as the Raven flies). Therefore it is certainly possible they have now reached this side of the Wolds as well, and if I can confirm the observation it would be the 105th species of bird to be recorded at Woldgarth since 2006.
11th, Woldgarth – As I glanced out of the window shortly after 6 am I noticed a bright light drifting through Orion and heading eastwards towards the rising sun, this bright light turning out to be the International Space Station (ISS). This is the first time I have noted this distinctive man-made object for several months.
16th, Woldgarth – A skein of Pink-footed Geese were heard passing over as I fed the rabbits this evening, a sound which I always enjoy hearing. Good numbers of Pink-feet seem to be about this autumn.
17th, Pickering – Stopped off at Pickering (North Yorkshire) this morning to see if we could catch up with the c.70-80 WAXWINGS (Bombycilla garrulus) which have been showing well near the swimming pool for the past week or so. In the end they proved easy to find, and indeed a friendly resident allowed us to enjoy some great views from their property, the tree in front of their house being the birds favoured place to roost after feeding on nearby berries. One can never fail to be impressed by these stunning winter visitors, though for me their charming trilling calls are just as wonderful, whilst it certainly looks like this is turning out to be a good winter for these wandering birds with large numbers of reports from around much of the country, especially in northern and eastern parts. However it was disappointing that the weather was so grey and overcast, this making photography very difficult indeed, but I was able to grab a few record shots which meant I went away happy enough.
Waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus)
17th, North York Moors – A trip to Cropton Forest brought very few birds indeed, though some lovely Goldcrests (Regulus regulus) were noted, whilst a single Stoat (Mustela erminea) was also recorded running across one of the many forestry tracks which cut across this area. The countryside up here is now rather bleak, the weather today making it appear especially so, though some stubborn larch needles, especially on the younger trees, are still providing some colour. However on lower ground, especially in Newtondale, and also down in the sheltered lower parts of the Esk Valley, plenty of autumn colour can still be enjoyed, though what with the rain and wind today many of the leaves were falling at a rapid rate, autumn now certainly giving way to winter, up here at least, for yet another year.
17th, Yorkshire Wolds – On the journey back from the Moors we took a detour over the high Wolds, this bringing sightings of large numbers of Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) in the hawthorn scrubs and hedgerows, hundreds being encountered near Fairy Dale alone. Fieldfares have always been one of my favourite birds, indeed no other bird, apart from maybe the ubiquitous Pheasants, do I associate more with the Wolds in winter than these Scandinavian migrants, their chattering calls as they move from one bush to another being such a part of a season, which I at least, look forward too. Meanwhile the amount of standing water on many of the roads was another striking feature this afternoon, indeed the Wolds are usually free draining with flooding being rare, but down around Burdale and Fimber large sections of the road were covered with muddy and unappealing water. Flooding was also encountered near Kiplingcotes, the period of heavy rain around midday obviously not helping matters, and it is to be hoped that things don’t get much worse.
Fieldfare (Turdus pilaris)
18th, Woldgarth – Pink-footed Geese (A. brachyrhynchus) were once again heard passing over in mid-evening, the skein being of a decent size judging by the number of birds heard. I wonder if they are still migrating birds, or simply birds which are returning to roost somewhere along the nearby river Humber.
20th, Woldgarth – I conducted my first garden bird count of the winter this morning, the survey taking place around 11 am and lasting about half an hour. Only birds actually within the garden were counted, whilst the count was of individual birds only, in effect making this a minimum count of each species. By the conclusion of the informal survey some 44 birds of 15 species had been recorded, the best of the lot coming in the shape and form of two BRAMBLINGS (Fringilla montifringilla), one of which was a female, whilst the other was possibly a juvenile male, at least judging by the markings. These are the first Bramblings I have encountered this winter so this made the observation doubly welcome.
Brambling (Fringilla montifringilla)
The complete list of birds recorded was as follows; Blackbird x1, Blue Tit x4, Brambling x2, Bullfinch x2 (one male & one female), Chaffinch x6 (two males & four females), Coal Tit x1, Dunnock x1, Great Tit x2, Goldcrest x1, Goldfinch x12, Greenfinch x8, Magpie x1, Robin x1, Sparrowhawk x1 (male), and Wood Pigeon x1. As you can see finches are still dominant as regards the most common garden birds at Woldgarth, with five species being represented today thanks to the arrival of the Brambling pair. I wonder if the Bramblings will hang around or quickly move on to pastures new ?
21st, Woldgarth – 33.1 mm (1.30 inches) of rain were recorded today (0900-0900), making this the wettest November day since records began at Woldgarth in 2003. It was also the wettest day at the weather station since the 10th of August 2014. At the moment the monthly total is standing at 81.0 mm (3.19 inches) and it remains to be seen if will pass the magic 100 mm mark, something which hasn’t occurred here for now well over two years. Meanwhile flooding was recorded in many parts of the country, which given the rainfall is hardly unexpected, though other than extensive standing water and some rather full and muddy field drains, we seem to have escaped the worst of it yet again here in East Yorkshire.
21st, Swinemoor – Cycled past Swinemoor this morning, via Weel Road, and despite the fact it was still pitch black, I could hear birds out on the expanding winter floods, the extent of which should surely only increase given the forecast for the next few days (lots of rain!). Most apparent of course were the always noisy and gregarious Greylag Geese (Anser anser), though also picked out were some whistling Wigeon (Anas penelope), a sound which I always love to hear. Common year round residents such as Mallards and Lapwings could also be heard, though I will have to return in daylight hours to do a more comprehensive check of the birds currently wintering at this under-watched location.
A handsome drake Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)
22nd, North Cave Wetlands – A late afternoon visit to the local wetlands proved most productive, with good amounts of wildfowl and typical winter passerines being encountered as we wandered around the reserve on what was a mostly cloudy and distinctly late November feeling day. Swans were particularly well represented, with at least 19 Mute Swans (Cygnus olor), most of which were located at Island Lake, this particular lake also hosting a lone Black Swan (Cygnus atratus). However the biggest highlight would come in the winter stubble field north of Far Lake, this hosting a single Whooper Swan (Cygnus cygnus) which was gleaning for food in the rapidly fading light of a short November afternoon. Whoopers are always great to see, indeed they are my favourite Swan species after Bewick’s, and they are especially welcome when they turn up at one of my principal birding locations.
Geese too provided plenty of interest, the herd of Greylag Geese (Anser anser) in the north-east fields easily numbering in excess of 250 (this being a very conservative count). Among this huge throng a single Bar-headed Goose (Anser indicus) was picked out, and I wonder if this is the same bird which has often been seen wintering around the area, on and off, since at least 2007. As we made our way along Reedbed Lake the sound of Pink-footed Geese (Anser brachyrhynchus) could be heard, a skein of 200+ birds eventually being spotted as they headed back south towards the nearby Humber estuary. Large number of gulls were also seen heading back towards Humber as the light continued to fade, whilst Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) likewise began to gather as darkness fell.
The reserve is also host to a decent sized roost of Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) these days, with 20+ being spotted in the Alders separating Far and Carp Lakes, whilst evidence of the changing times came in the shape and form of three Little Egrets (Egretta garzetta) also roosting in the Alders beside Main Lake. It is not that long ago when it was rare for these relatively new arrivals to winter this far north, but as the population continues to expand it would seem things are changing fast. Meanwhile a single Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea) was fishing beside Main Lake, this same area also hosting a trio of Great-crested Grebes (Podiceps cristatus) and a few Little Grebes (Tachybaptus ruficollis).
Winter thrushes were abundant, as one would expect at this time of year, Redwings (Turdus iliacus) seemingly outnumbering Fieldfares (Turdus pilaris) by four to one, though a search for winter finches proved fruitless. Still a good view of one of the resident Green Woodpeckers (Picus viridis) was much appreciated, whilst better yet was the sound of a Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) from deep within the wet scrub between Island Lake and the Dragonfly Pond. Back at the lagoons themselves the number of wildfowl was impressive, Teal (Anas crecca) alone numbering in the hundreds, whilst others included 30+ Wigeon (Anas penelope), 50+ Gadwall (Anas strepera), 25+ Shoveler (Anas clypeata), 15+ Pochard (Aythya ferina), a lone Shelduck (Tadorna tadorna), and of course common residents such as Tufted Duck (Aythya fuligula) and Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos). A few waders were also noted among the ducks, including at least 7 Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) and a half dozen Redshanks (Tringa totanus), these helping to push the species total for the afternoon to just over 40, not bad for a couple of hours ‘work’ in late November.
26th, North York Moors – We made our way up to Grosmont this morning, enjoying the crisp sunshine up on the high ground and admiring the sea of fog which lay across the Vales of Pickering and York, a beautiful sight to behold as we gazed back southwards. Grosmont itself was the same as ever, though the heavy rain at the beginning of the week had brought large amounts of soil, sand and stones from the high ground, whilst thick mud had been deposited at the ford across the river Esk. Judging by the mud-line the water level must have been rather impressive. Bird-wise not much was about (apart from Pheasants and Grouse of course!), though a male Stonechat (Saxicola rubicola) was seen near the top of Sleights Moor beside the A169.
After finishing at Grosmont we decided to head across to Rosedale and Hartoft Rigg, this wonderful vantage point being perhaps my favourite corner of the National Park. In the early winter sunshine it looked particularly beautiful, the golden larches still providing some colour in the increasingly bare and skeletal countryside, whilst to the south we could once more look across a sea of virgin white fog which had enveloped the lowlands below, the highest points of the Howardian Hills, and the Yorkshire Wolds beyond standing above the all consuming blanket of water vapour.
26th, Yorkshire Wolds – The fog down in the lowlands was equally dramatic from up on the Wolds, the view from above Duggleby and down the Great Wold Valley being particularly spectacular, emphasised even further by the setting of the sun turning the sky pink and eventually red as it set low in the south-west sky. As we gazed across the Great Wold Valley I became aware of a large flock of Bramblings (Fringilla montifringilla) in the beech trees above us, these colourful winter visiting finches seemingly having a good year this winter judging by the large number that I and others have seen.
27th, Swinemoor – I cycled past Swinemoor this morning shortly prior to dawn for a bit of ‘ear birding’, this again revealing good numbers of Wigeon (Anas penelope) and plenty of Greylag Geese. However this time I was also able to pick out a few calling Teal (Anas crecca) as well, especially in the central pools, whilst with more light this morning I was able to see that the current floods are already of a decent size and should provide good conditions for the remainder of the winter. Further notes included a single Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) flying south down the river at Hull Bridge, whilst a beautiful Barn Owl (Tyto alba) was quartering over the rough pastures of Weel Carrs, this area being the strong-hold of this owl species in the Beverley area.
Teal (Anas crecca)
29th, Swinemoor & Figham – A wonderfully crisp start to the day along the river Hull this morning, frost lying heavy upon the ground and light patches of low mist hanging over the fields and carrs. As dawn broke the south-eastern sky became fiery red and all in all it was the sort of morning which made you glad to be alive. Bird wise Greylag, Wigeon and Teal all made themselves known as I cycled past Swinemoor, their calls filling the still and frigid pre-dawn air, whilst over Weel Carrs at least two Barn Owls (Tyto alba) were quartering over the rough pastures. However the best sighting of the morning came down at Figham Pastures where a single Short-eared Owl (Asio flammeus) was seen distantly quartering over the coarse grasses of the eastern most part of the common. This is the first SE Owl I have seen in the Beverley area for a few years and hopefully it will hang around for a bit.
29th, Woldgarth – The leaves were tumbling from those trees which still had leaves today, the cold and frost making them fall like snow-flakes upon the frosted ground. Indeed most trees are now largely bare, including the hawthorn, ash, whitebeam, lime, horse chestnut and birch, with just the beech and sycamores still hanging on to their lower leaves. However if we have any strong winds soon I think these too will soon be stripped bare as well.
30th, Beverley – I came across my first Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) of the year whilst helping my eldest sister move into her new house on the other side of Beverley, the rather grey and plain moth being attracted to the utility room window. Since I rarely trap in the winter moths this is a species I do not come across very often, so it was rather pleasing to stumble upon it whilst otherwise busy with other things. There was also a rather spectacular sunset this evening, the sky turning fiery red for a good quarter of an hour or so, the impressive spectacle being reported in many other parts of the country as well.
A fiery sunset over the old homestead