Monday, 1 April 2019

Alkborough in flood

Spring tides and the high river Trent has meant that Alkborough Flats have flooded. Many of the field had water and some of the paths are only passable with wellies. It was a sunny morning, but with a chilly breeze. On arrival at the bottom car park a Cetti's singing, then a Chiffchaff. I had three Cetti's singing across the site during my walk today. I walked to the main hide. A pinging male Bearded tit gave me some brief views amongst the reeds, but it was my first this year. In the distance, a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits.
82 Black-tailed Godwits
 As I approached the hide I could hear the Avocets. There were well over 150, very active and quarrelsome amongst themselves.
In their usual spot at the back there was a pair of Pintail upending.
Many mallard on site, more that I've ever seen. As I was preparing to leave a Water Rail made an appearance in the clearing between the reeds, shortly followed by another.
Water Rail, amongst the greening reeds.
 I decided to do a circular walk by the Trent. There was an aggressive Mute Swan chasing any Greylag that dared landing on its patch. The coots were left alone. Two pairs of Little Grebes called from the reeds.
One of the entrances of what appears to be a Badger sett on the sea wall.
The view from the Trent, upstream. A wooded cliff by the river on the background.
Black-tailed godwits on breeding plumage on flooded field.
A Jay watching from a large tree. The mixed habitats of old trees by the wetlands means you can watch a Jay while hearing a Cetti's singing.
I returned to the main hide and had my lunch there. Marsh Harriers passes flushed the waders regularly. Buzzards, three at some point, were also soaring over the reserve.
Some quarrelling Avocets.
As I was taking my wellies off by the car I heard a swallow alarm call, and looking up, there it was, perched on a wire by the sewage works, my first Swallow of the year. I took a couple of quick photos and it took off, flying high and then north.

Saturday, 23 March 2019

The Minster Ravens. II.

So it appears there is still a Raven in Beverley Minster. It has been there for 500 years, carved in Oak. I'm quite keen to see it, as I can't find a single photo online. Today, a sunny, mild day, I visit the Mister again when taking the kids and an exchange Spanish student to see Beverley. I ask a welcoming lady about Ravens the Misericords as soon as we arrive inside. These are old leaning ‘benches’ with carved non-religious reliefs in their underside. One of the 68 misericords in the Minster is supposed to have a raven carved on a stump, facing a dove, and I’m keen to see it. The lady takes us to the misericords and explains their purpose, but can't tell us where the carved raven is. We look around, there are lots of animals and many birds and fantastic beasts on the seats. The lady is keen to help, and after a few minutes, returns holding a folder with photos and notes on each of the 68 misericords, which my daughter starts to go through like a detective! My son starts looking at each misericord as I speak to the lady and after a minute or so he calls ‘the raven is here!’. We go to him and there it is, on its stump, a quite nice portrait of a raven, made over 500 years ago on oak, facing a dove. The lady doesn’t know about the ravens, but she is keen to talk about the Peregrine falcons that have returned to the Minster and she points at the tall western towers, where the Peregrines have nested in recent years.
The Raven of Beverley Minster.
We walk around the Minster and then step outside to admire the building. Jackdaws are nesting, looking for sticks on the ground, and taking them to little corners. The pose for us on the stone carved statues.

Only a statue can remain that stone-faced with two jackdaws on its head.

More Information
Misericords of Beverley Minster. pdf. where I found the mention of the Raven carving on tree stump.

Monday, 18 March 2019

South Landing to Danes Dyke

The tide was low, but rising, the wind had eased and it was sunny so I decided to go to South Landing. I walked around the reserve woodland. A Yellowhammer called from a tree.
I watched the beach from the viewing point. A drake Eider was at the bay. As I descended the now repaired steps it became closer to the beach. Hard to take photos with facing the sun, but these were my best.

 Seven Oystercatchers, a Curlew, two Redshank and a few Turnstones fed on the sand by the rising tide. I was surprised not to see any Rock Pipits, but a dapper male Pied Wagtail was on the rocks. Colt's Foot flowers were aplenty and male mining bees fed on them.
I decided on a whim to walk to Danes Dyke via the beach, and then return on the top path as the tide would then be quite high.
Around eight Fulmars clucked on their nest sites, with one circling. There was a small group of eider, one immature drake and four females foraging offshore. I got to Danes Dyke at noon and had a lovely picnic on the rocks. It suddenly became cloudy and cooler. As I took the top cliff I found a Tiger Beetle on the path, which was cold and unable to fly, my first this year.
Green Tiger beetle.
Carline Thistle growing on the cliffs grasslands.
Three Common Scoters flying east. This photo reminds me of the contrast between the calm bay and the waves on the horizon, which looked like distant rolling hills. The wind was quite light, but changed from W to E in the afternoon, I wonder if the change created this strange pattern?
A young seal carcass at South Landing.
A Scandinavian Rock pipit, on its own at South Landing. Thanks to Mark James Pearson for the ID.

Pied Wagtail.
Porpoise Carcass at South Landing.
The steep steps down to South Landing, newly repaired.

Colt's foot. 
Danes Dyke.
Looking back towards Beacon Hill.

Saturday, 9 March 2019

The Minster Ravens. I.

The bells are ringing and their all-enveloping song provide the soundtrack for the trip to Beverley. It is a sunny, but cold and windy, afternoon as I approach the Minster. I intently look to the southwest tower, scanning the window ledges. It is an awesome feeling to visit the Minster while knowing that a pair of Ravens had their eerie there, long ago. Nelson (1907) in his book, Birds of Yorkshire, gives some tantalising details on the pair of ravens nesting on Beverley Minster until 1840. As it was often the case at the time, the adults were left well alone, but the young were taken every year. Apparently a mason called Gray would take the young from the nest with a borrowed fishing net. I was puzzled by the line “the young were distributed to the hostelries in the town” as I assumed to be cooked. But, no, they were not for eating! A few days later, reading the following excerpt from the Transactions of the Yorkshire Naturalist Union (1898), I understood what the nestlings, obviously taken alive with the fishing nets, were for:
Many years ago the Raven used to breed in the Mausoleum at Castle Howard, but has now disappeared from there. This nesting place supplied familiar living specimens to the hostelries at various places along the old York and Scarborough turnpike road.
It appears that obtaining nestlings and trading them alive to be kept as pets was a profitable undertaking, so this together with relentless direct persecution by game keepers and egg collecting may have contributed to the demise of Ravens as breeding birds across England in the XIX century.

I enter the Minster. An old man welcomes visitors and hands leaflets. I ask him if it is possible to climb the towers. He informs me there are roof tours, but a visit to the tower may be arranged. I need to speak to little Flint, I just missed him, he is in charge of the bells. Indeed, I notice that the bells have stopped ringing.

I step outside and walk around the Minster. No ravens, but their smaller relatives abound. A small flock of Jackdaws are calling from the large trees on the yard. A few fly over the roof, against the wind. There is also a pair of Crows on Hall Garth. Beverley is a green town even now, surrounded on the west and east sides by large commons even now still used for grazing cows and horses, I can see why a pair of ravens would like to settle here. I need to arrange that trip to the towers to have a look at Beverley from a Raven's perspective.
The South West tower, presumably the one holding the nest on a ledge by a window.
The west towers.
Highgate, maybe ravens once fed on these cobbled stones.
A pair of carrion crows poses in front of the south west tower.
Carrion Crow with the minster as background.
Jackdaw, one of 11 settled on trees.

More Information
Nelson. 1907. Birds of Yorskhire. Full text available at Biodiverity Heritage Library.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Windy spring day at Allerthorpe

A windy day, the tail of storm Freya, but mostly sunny and mild. I head to Allerthorpe Common. Walking through the bridleway Siskins call and upon reaching the broad area where the pylons run a cheerful chipping call alerts me to a large flock of Crossbills, more than 25. They move to a group of tall scots pines, but I manage some shots of them feeding. I came across them several times, once them sitting on birches, with males singing.
Female Crossbill.
Male Crossbill.
Singing male with female. Part of the flock, that kept together moving around.
Male Crossbill.
Although not focused, I love the contrast of the red rump of this male crossbill and the background on this shot.
A Tawny owl hooted twice at about noon. Walked to the north side of the reserve on the glade with the electricity pylons. There had been some removal of gorse and other vegetation, but I kept watch for sunbathing adders.
 I returned the same way and entered the small YWT reserve. There were lots of minotaur beetle exit holes on the ground, and just next to one I saw a beetle! I jumped for joy only to realise it was dead!
Minotaur beetle nest hole.
And the dead Minotaur beetle female. Some marks in the elythra suggest predation, and it feels like an empty shell, maybe only the abdomen contents (eggs?) predated.
I got to the largest pond in the heath. There was a large congregation of spawning frogs, males squabbling for females and a lot of spawn. I estimate several hundreds of frogs were there.
Frogs spawning.
A small area of the spawning aggregation.
View of the pond.
 Although the heath is not a very large area, I walked carefully on the narrow paths made by the grazing sheep in the summer keeping my eyes peeled for adders. In a clearing, on the shelter of a patch of heather an adder was basking. I slowly lay down to her eye level. And took some shots. My binoculars made a rustling noise and the adder slithered into the heather.

I waited a few minutes and the adder slowly came out. I managed a short video before it disappeared for good.

I came across this frog near the pond.

A view of the heath, with a few large pine trees and birch.
There are three owl boxes fixed onto the trees. They appear to be in use. Underneath the one above I found this lovely mound of owl pellets. I will update once I find out what's in them.
Barn owl pellets.

A view of the heath.
I had heard the contact call of Siskins, and later I came across Redpolls and Siskins on the birch trees, singing with some Goldfinches.
A male Redpoll
Marsh Tit with food.