Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Of Gulls and other birds

Just when you think it's safe to use the S word, along comes an indescribably miserable day like today! Still, it's good for catching up, which seemed like an idea before February is upon us. I seem to have done quite a lot since last time, especially considering the time of year. I've decided to try to get down to some part of Rivelin Valley once a week if I can, and my second visit of the year was on 13th January. I walked down via the cemetery. Not for the first time I heard a nuthatch there, but failed to see it. Immediately on reaching the valley, I saw a large heron in the river, and thought I saw a woodpecker between the trees. The river was very high and the stepping stones were well under water. Again there were lots of fungi around - mainly jelly and crusts but a few oyster types as well.
As I sat by the bridge eating my lunch, I saw a very small creature darting amongst the tree roots. It was very quick, and although I had several sights over the next half hour, I didn't even manage to see whether it had a black tip to its tail, but it was certainly a stoat or a weasel. On a nearby dam, I saw another heron. it seemed very scraggy, and it occured to me how difficult it must have been for them to find food during the cold snap, when even the river was frozen. At the green, I saw what must have been a sparrowhawk bringing down a pigeon between the trees. As I disturbed them, it was a very unsatisfactory outcome for all of us - for me because I didn't get a clear view, let alone a photo, for the pigeon because despite the fact it got away, it must have sustained injuries, and for the raptor, because it didn't get its supper.
The following day, I decided to have a quick wander down to the river Don near the city centre. No sign of any kingfishers this time, but I saw a number of female goosander fishing. Reports say they are still around, and have been joined by at least one male. The pied wagtail from my last visit (?) was still at Kelham Island strutting around.
On the 15th, I went to Longshaw on a fungus foray with the local group. We had a plethora of experts. We found plenty of fine specimens and the rain managed to keep off for us for most of the time. I stayed behind at the end and had a little wander, and saw a few birds - lots of chaffinch, but also nuthatch, treecreeper, siskin, long-tailed tits, blue tits and great tits, but not the fieldfare or redwing I had hoped for.
The next couple of days were spent painting and preparing for my trip to Scarborough. Thanks to anyone who kept their fingers crossed for the weather; it was glorious! Just had a wander round Peasholm Park and the North Shore along to the harbour once I had booked in to my B&B. I saw Canada and Greylag geese , moorhen and tufted ducks in the park, and redshank, turnstone and rock pipit by the sea wall. I'd had a tip off about some interesting birds by the harbour, but by the time I got there it was too dark to see much.
I had anticipated spending my full day there to the north of Scarborough - Robin Hood's Bay, Ravenscar or Whitby, but I discovered that RSPB Bempton Cliffs was do-able on the train, so I went for that option. It was a really enjoyable day, the highlight being the gannets, but I also saw tree sparrows, goldfinch, brambling, greenfinch and blue tits on the feeders and a kittiwake,  a black-backed gull and quite a number of fulmar. As I walked back to the station at twilight, I'd hoped I might see some owls, but so such luck. But it was a fantastic sunset.

On my final day, I decided to go down to the harbour to see if there was any sign of the birds I'd been tipped off about. It had been a few days, so I wasn't especially confident. It was a dullish start, but by about 11am, it had turned into a glorious day, and it felt almost Mediterranean in the warm winter sun. To cut a long story short, I knew I was probably in luck when I saw lots of blokes with spotting scopes and long lenses dashing round the harbour, and sure enough, before long I'd seen an Iceland gull. a red-breasted merganser, and a great northern diver, not to mention a cormorant fishing, house sparrow, a range of other gulls (as feared, unable to put Martin Garner's excellent advice on gull ID into practice) and some very approachable turnstone. A leisurely stroll in the warm sunshine up as far as Scalby Mill and up onto the cliffs completed my stay very nicely. The sea was covered in hundreds of wigeon, and there were several flocks of lapwing circling overhead. I also saw a solitary oystercatcher and a couple more redshank.
I had toyed with the idea of staying for another night, as the weather was so nice, but decided to come home as scheduled and have a few hours in Rivelin the following day while the fine weather still held. It was bitterly cold in the valley, but I was rewarded with sightings of a treecreeper, long-tailed tits and a dipper, and back at the carpark, I put a bit of food on the bird table and attracted robins, blue tits, great tits, coal tits and nuthatches.
Yesterday, I paid an overdue visit to Old Moor. Although the weather was quite promising, sadly it deteriorated again to the poor light we seem to have had a lot of so far this year. However, the water was now all ice free, and I ended up with a long list of birds, if not photos, including 4 new ones: goldeneye, redwing, fieldfare and green sandpiper. I'd hoped I might see some of the waxwings that have been hanging around as I haven't seen any in 2011, but no such -  I'm just being greedy, I suppose. Did manage some nice pictures of some fine bullfinches by the feeders, though.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

A reserve, an urban riverside and a country jaunt

Made it back to RSPB Old Moor last Tuesday. It was a really disappointing visit, as much of the water habitat was still completely frozen and the waterfowl were all on the far side. Lots of goosander and wigeon, and I had a lesson on common gull IDing from the ubiquitous Man in Hide, (becoming even more ubiquitous than Heron of Doom). The best places were the garden feeders and the sparrow farm, but the light was also very poor so I only got a few poor shots. Yellowhammer, reed buntings and greenfinches mainly.
Much better was my Saturday outing when I set off from the city centre to follow the Don upstream towards Hillsborough. I got "stuck" for quite a while at Kelham Island as a result of seeing a kingfisher - my first in the city proper, although I've often seen them on the Loxley. It looked so special in this environment - the light was petty good as well, and the additional  presence of a great tits, blue tits and a strutting pied wagtail kept me entertained for quite some time. Not much further up, I saw a heron and a large flock of long-tailed tits.  After that, things got a little sticky - literally, as my path beyond Hillfoot Bridge went from a narrow tarmac road to a sea of sticky brown mud. I had hoped to explore a hidden cemetery nearby but the long paddle through the mud had left me exhausted and very grubby - also, it's impossible to enjoy the scenery and watch for wildlife when you are concentrating on where you are putting your feet.
Yesterday, in spite of very changeable and unpredictable weather, I decided on an outing into Derbyshire. After a few false starts, I took a path along Barbrook towards the reservoir. It's hard to believe that after all that seriously sub-zero weather, it actually felt much colder in the wind blowing across the moor. The wildlife had very sensibly stayed at home too. By the time I got to the end of the track, things had improved a bit, so I planned a circular walk which took me a little lower and through some woodland. This paid off with sightings of lots of treecreepers, a goldcrest or two and a trio of goldfinches. Also found a large clump of oyster mushrooms. OK, not a lot, but a very pleasant walk with some interesting skyscapes. Off to the N Yorkshire coast for a couple of days next week. Fingers crossed for those blue skies.

Monday, January 03, 2011

More fungi than feathers

Today was my first outing of the New Year. A combination of a cold, problems with the central heating and unappealing weather had kept me indoors thus far. Down in Rivelin Valley, much of the path was still frozen, so it was not too muddy. The birds were shy today, but I got quite a nice sighting of a jay, and several of goldcrests. Odd to think that I had never seen a goldcrest until last October in Suffolk, and now I see them all the time on my own patch. I think birding is about knowing what you are looking (and listening) for. I'm waiting for the day when I can get a decent photo; today I got some good views, but there was too much scuttling in undergrowth for a chance at a shot. I also saw a pheasant and a very exciting grey squirrel chase!
There were lots of fungi about. particularly jelly ears in all sorts of shapes and sizes, the usual long-lived brackets and velvet shanks. With the moss at its best, it was very colourful!
Last Wednesday, I ventured up to the start of the Loxley Valley trail, catching a bus up to Damflask, then walking home down the valley. Again, quite disappointing on the birding front. One of the dams had a solitary tufted duck on it, and the carcass of a canada goose on the ice. I saw jays and wrens, but nothing of note on the river itself. The later part of my walk brought me past the confluence of the Loxley with the Rivelin and a short walk along that valley. I was surprised at the difference in the two valleys in terms of how much more ice and snow still remained in Rivelin. I suppose it must be more sheltered; certainly, there was a huge amount of ice there immediately prior to the thaw. It seems like a different world now most of it has gone. I wonder what the rest of this winter has in store for us. There was a mist descending as I approached home, which made my walk through the cemetery very atmospheric. A pheasant on the path was the closest I had seen one to home. Perhaps they'll find their way onto the menu by next Christmas!
I've long had planned a garden sightings diary, and that began well with a dozen species on New Year's Day, including a bullfinch, which we haven't seen for a very long time. I'm planning a trip to Old Moor tomorrow, so hopefully that will get my "year list" off to a flying start (pun intended).