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.

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