Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Warbler festival at Tophill Low

I spent the morning at Tophill Low today. Driving in, on the approach road, I saw a roadkill rabbit and a very freshly dead Stoat near each other. I thougth about stopping to fetch the stoat, but a car was driving behind so I thought I'd do it on the way back. Unfortunately the stoat was completely flattened later, so I regretted not having stopped.
 On the bright side, the reserve was looking positively fantastic today, so green and lush. The long grassy meadows by the side of O res were dotted with various orchids, Yellowrattle, Bird's foot trefoil, Oxeye daisies and many more. My last visit was in mid Marsh, so the difference was quite staggering.
I decided to head south this time and walk my way around O res.
At North Lagoon, tufted ducks, a Little Grebe a mute swan and a lone male Shoveler. We watched a Buzzard soaring for a long time, and then a Marsh Harrier passing by.A large cloud of Swifts flew low hunting quietly over O res. It is hard to represent in a photo the feeling of being surrounded by a large concentration of Swifts, but my best one is at the top. The background music in the reserve was provided by a veritable summer festival of warblers: Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, and Willow, Reed and Sedge Warbler sung at some time or another all around. And I missed the Cetti's, that would have been great!
 At Watton I watched the Terns and BH gulls on the raft. A few Sand Martins were present, and many moulting mallards with a couple or three Wigeon amongst them.
It was mostly cloudy, and I saw a single butterfly, a Meadow Brown.
After the round trip to the south part of the reserve (and after missing the back to back hides somewhow, I am not even sure I have been in them), I decided to press on and head north. I made my way through D woods trying not to step on the many Arion black slugs and various snails crossing the paths. The feeders were mostly quiet but for a singing Chiffchaff and a nervous Moorhen and young on the pond. I joined Dave Ware on N Marsh hide, where very quickly a Kingfisher made an appearance and sat on one of the perches. It hung around for a few photos and then dissapeared towards the river. On a second Kingfisher visit it looked shiny green, sitting on a different perch. After a bit of bobbing it prompting caught a fish and hit it a couple of times against the perch before swallowing it. Although my views were partly obscured by the vegetation, it was great to have such close views of a fantastic bird.
 Just opposite were I was sitting a large, lanky heron appeared hunting on the shore. It looked very brown for a Grey Heron, especially the neck although it had grey shoulders. I think both Dave and I were wishing for it to become a Bittern, but after some debate we left it at Grey Heron. I was pleasantly surprised to find later that it was no less than a Purple Heron, year and country tick for me. The heron carried on hunting by the pond shore and we lost sight of it, not before Dave got some photos of it. Dave also pointed at a water vole disappearing amongst the reeds.
 I moved to Helmpholme meadows, but other than the quartering Marsh Harrier early on, there was little on sight. A big contrast with the full of barn owls and little egret trip back in March.
On the way back through D woods, a couple of Treecreepers and a family of Long Tailed tits.
Dryad's Saddle

Common spotted?
 Three different orchids of the genus Dactylorhiza. Several species of this genus hybridise often and are hard to tell apart.
A rabbit of many seen around the reserve
Oxeye daisies
Meadow Brown
Record shot of Kingfisher
Field maple seeds in D woods
Amber snail
Kentish snail
Girdled Snail
Marsh harrier over the river bank at Helmpholme meadows

Bird list
  1. Black-headed Gull        
  2.  Blackbird        
  3.  Blackcap        
  4.  Blue Tit        
  5.  Buzzard        
  6.  Canada Goose        
  7.  Carrion Crow        
  8.  Chaffinch        
  9.  Chiffchaff        
  10.  Collared Dove        
  11.  Common Tern        
  12.  Coot        
  13.  Cormorant        
  14.  Dunnock        
  15.  Goldfinch        
  16.  Great Crested Grebe        
  17.  Great Spotted Woodpecker        
  18.  Great Tit        
  19.  Grey Heron        
  20.  Greylag Goose        
  21.  House Sparrow        
  22.  Jackdaw        
  23.  Kingfisher        
  24.  Lesser Whitethroat        
  25.  Linnet        
  26.  Little Grebe        
  27.  Long-tailed Tit        
  28.  Mallard        
  29.  Marsh Harrier        
  30.  Moorhen        
  31.  Mute Swan        
  32.  Pheasant        
  33.  Pochard        
  34.  Purple Heron        
  35.  Reed Bunting        
  36.  Reed Warbler        
  37.  Robin        
  38.  Rook        
  39.  Sand Martin        
  40.  Sedge Warbler        
  41.  Shoveler        
  42.  Skylark        
  43.  Song Thrush        
  44.  Swallow        
  45.  Swift        
  46.  Treecreeper        
  47.  Tufted Duck        
  48.  Whitethroat        
  49.  Wigeon        
  50.  Willow Warbler        
  51.  Woodpigeon

Monday, 17 June 2013

My BBS survey: extreme birding

No, I didn't get a BTO Breeding Bird Survey square in the Scottish Highlands or the Outer Hebrides, I got one bang on the city of Hull, squeezed between the M63 and Hessle Road. After my local coordinator offered this square I looked at it from Google Maps and had no doubts as to why it was still remaining, unclaimed and unloved, as volunteers had already chosen more promising areas. A concrete-heavy, roaring urban jungle, with not even a park or leafy residential area, with a motorway and three linked roundabouts. Although it has got a tiny bit of Humber, and a small green area, the transects I was supposed to survey are in the most industrial and road heavy parts of the square, alongside a busy road and an industrial estate.
 Of course I didn't chicken out: this square was made for me. I have always enjoyed the challenge of finding wild things in the city, since I started birding daily in my local park in Spain. If any doubts were remaining this was also the square where I saw my first waxwings last year. I was set to go.
 I completed the early survey in April and the late survey today and can attest this has been quite extreme birding even for me. First, the noise levels are out of this world. I am quite used to birding by ear (and in town), but the heavy traffic of a busy road makes this very hard. I often had to stop and wait for a lull in the traffic to listen for the chirping of an out-of-view sparrow just a few meters away. Flight calls are tricky with this noise, was that a linnet that flew over, or another sparrow? you will never know if you can't hear them. I am sure there must be robins and dunnocks there, but they may have to remain unrecorded. Then, birding alongside a street restricts your view a lot. There is even a section lined with small trees so leafy that meant I could see or hear little.
 Walking along this busy street/road while carrying a large clipboard, checking the transect map printout every now and then to see when I had completed each of the transect sections, and filling the forms, while looking through binoculars checking roofs and buildings, with the camera on the side meant that I most likely looked a bit odd and completely out of place. Surprisingly, I had a single person asking if I was OK. I answered I was making a survey, with no details. My pen fell apart at some point, but fortunately I was able to find all the pieces and put it back together again. Next time I must remember to get a cord for the clipboard to be able to get the binoculars up without having to hold the clipboard between my knees, and a replacement pen!
 But what about the birds? The 'extreme' urban birding payed off indeed. On the unkempt corner of a car park, atop a whitebeam, a Whitethroat sung its raspy song and then burst on a flight song. Later, a flock of starlings flew over from the same supermarket car park where I saw the waxwings. Sparrows called from many derelict shop roofs. Twice, swifts flew past. Linnets fed on a patch of grass by a busy roundabout. To top it all, a pair of Herring Gulls sat proud on a chimney, where their nest and chicks were visible. I had never seen nesting Herring Gulls in the middle of Hull, that was my highlight of the day. I also saw many Lesser Black Back gulls and they must surely breed there too. Sure, the place was teeming with feral pigeons, but to clock 17 species in two visits does not seem bad at all for what I was expecting. And the riot of poppies by a street (photo above) was almost worth the whole trip.
 I plan to visit the square off survey season - possibly do the butterfly survey later in the summer. And I am sure I will be pleasantly surprised by the birds and everything else.
The vigilant Herring Hull parent over the barely visible chick between the stacks on the right.
The tiny chick (possibly a second one) is visible between the chimney stacks.
Lesser Black Back gull

The ever present horse and cart of the rag and bone man

Friday, 14 June 2013

Swinemoor Common

It has been a while since I visited a new site, and, although I had planned to drive to Tophill Low this morning, I changed my mind and went to Swinemoor instead. It was a bit breezy, and not warm at all considering it's mid June, but the sunny spells made for a very pleasant visit indeed.
Swinemoor Common is one of the three ancient commons of Beverley -  the other two being Westwood and Figham. Swinemoor is framed by the river Hull, on the east, mainly by roads on the N and W and by an industrial estate on the South, and traversed by the Beverley and Barmston drain, which can be crossed by a bridge in the middle on the common. It is an area of pastures and wet meadows with shallow pools of water and areas of Hawthorn scrub and overgrown hedgerows. The river Hull in the area is fringed by reeds and agricultural land on its left margin.
 After crossing the gate to the common by Hull Bridge, I walk along the flood defence ditches down by the river. Reed Warblers and Reed Buntings sing from the reeds, with an occasional Whitethroat.
The views are fantastic, with Beverley Minster amongst the tree line in the distance, the bright pools the  meadows brimming with buttercups and the gentle meandering of the river.
 Although I had hoped for a circular walk, I had to return the same way, as the path was flooded on the south of the common. Once back by the entrance by Tickton, I walked to the drain and alongside it for a while.
 Bird wise, there were a fair number of Lapwings pairs around the central, flooded part, occasionally chasing Carrion Crows or squeaking and doing their aerobatic displays.
Swallows, Swifts, a few Sand Martins and House Martins were hunting.
A Redshank gave its mournful call by a pool where Gadwalls, Mallards and a Moorhen were feeding. On the far end of the pools there were some resting Lesser Black Backed and Herring gulls. A pair of Shelduck and some Teals were also present.
In a field, Rooks, Jackdaws, Starlings and Woodpigeons feed with a rabbit.

The Beverley and Barmston drain
On the grassy river bank, a Carrron Crow feeds on a duck egg.
The duck egg, looking fresh.
A carpet of buttercups on the common
There were lots of horses on the common. A group of mares stood by their sleeping foals. Others brayed in the distance.
The gentle meandering of the river Hull
Flock of white domestic geese and four Mute Swans.
Grey Heron
Lapwing mobbing crow.
A view of the common, looking North
Displaying Lapwing
Pool with Mute Swans
The beautiful Beverley and Barmston drain
 I make a stop for a thermos coffee by the Beverley and Barmston drain, overlooking what it looks like a ford. The horses must come here to drink and their hoofs keep the bank clear of plants and make a gently sloping muddy shore. A group of 8 or 10 House Martins collect mud for their nests. Nervous of being on the ground on their own, they came and went in groups, stopping one after another in the same area, and keeping their wings up, ready to take flight.
A Swallow flying up the drain collects a small white feather in mid air, and later another one gathered some grass, so it seems that the swallows are ahead of the House Martins nesting, although both species seem to be late nest building.
a wider area on the drain where the House Martins were collecting mud
House Martins collecting mud.

Swinemoor Common is a beautiful place to visit, and it is quite close to Hull and at the door of Beverley. I can't believe I haven't been before, but I will definitely return to the site to explore it more fully in the future. 

More information
Two local bloggers cover this site regularly
There are also articles on Swinemoor at Birdnerd and at Hull Valley Wildlife Group.

I parked on Hull Bridge Road at the north of the common. The entrance is by the bridge over the River Hull. There are no toilet facilities, although there is a pub by the bridge. There are further entrances on Swinemoor Lane and on the A1035.

Location map

View Larger Map

Today's Bird List
  1. Blackbird    
  2.  Blue Tit    
  3.  Carrion Crow    
  4.  Chaffinch    
  5.  Collared Dove    
  6.  Dunnock    
  7.  Gadwall    
  8.  Goldfinch    
  9.  Great Tit    
  10.  Greenfinch    
  11.  Grey Heron    
  12.  Greylag Goose (domestic)    
  13.  Herring Gull    
  14.  House Martin    
  15.  House Sparrow    
  16.  Jackdaw    
  17.  Lapwing    
  18.  Lesser Black-backed Gull    
  19.  Linnet    
  20.  Mallard    
  21.  Moorhen    
  22.  Mute Swan    
  23.  Pheasant    
  24.  Pied Wagtail (yarrellii)    
  25.  Redshank    
  26.  Reed Bunting    
  27.  Robin    
  28.  Rook    
  29.  Sand Martin    
  30.  Shelduck    
  31.  Starling    
  32.  Swallow    
  33.  Swift    
  34.  Teal    
  35.  Whitethroat    
  36.  Woodpigeon    
  37.  Wren

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Burton Constable lake walk

This afternoon we went for a walk on the grounds of Burton Constable. It was cloudy, but pleasant enough. On arrival, by the reception buildings, Swallows, House Martins and Swifts fed on the air, while House and Tree Sparrows chirped from the roof.
 We took the lake's walk, which we missed last time we visited. A long, straight path over long grassy pasture land with scattered trees and small copses leads to the lake. The kids run ahead as there is an 'adventure playground' by the caravan park at the other side of the lake.
 A Great Spotted Woodpecker chips from the trees.
By the lake on the shore, a Pied Wagtail busily hunts insects for its hungry fledgling (above).  The lake shores have lots of Yellow Water Lilies.
There was a large flock of Greylags and a few Canada Geese with grown goslings.
Also by the lake, a large cloud of House Martins passed overhead. As we leave the lake area, we watch Swallows and sand martins on the short grass collecting nesting material.
The wagtail fledgling
The male Mute Swan. None of the adults were ringed
Sleepy Cygnet
The always entertaining Rooks making for an interesting composition
Mallard family with ducklings jumping over water lilies.

An unusual tree, probably grafted between a Horse Chestnut with white flowers and a hybrid Horse chestnut (red flowers). The base of the trunk was not obviously divided.
The kids got very excited about a white stag in the distance, but it was just a well placed sculpture
A resting mallard family
view of the Burton Constable house
Large shells of Swan Mussel, Anodonta cygnea, left on the side of the lake. They were about 15 cm long. 
Bridge over the lakes. Large swathes of Yellow Waterlilies in front of it
The promise of an ice-cream had the kids rushing back on the long straight path
Male swallow by the stables. He sung, and then engaged in a long preening bout, only occasionally raising its head.
The sperm whale skeleton lays on a large room by the stables. The author Herman Melville, was inspired to write a passage of Moby Dick after seeing the whale skeleton.
Sculpture of 'Herman' the sperm whale
Two busy House Martin nests. Two 'guano' mounds accumulating on the window sill.
An adult peeks from one of the nests
Bird list
  1. Blackbird        
  2.  Canada Goose        
  3.  Carrion Crow        
  4.  Chaffinch        
  5.  Collared Dove        
  6.  Feral Pigeon        
  7.  Goldfinch        
  8.  Great Spotted Woodpecker        
  9.  Great Tit        
  10.  Greenfinch        
  11.  Greylag Goose        
  12.  House Martin        
  13.  House Sparrow        
  14.  Jackdaw        
  15.  Lesser Black-backed Gull        
  16.  Linnet        
  17.  Mallard        
  18.  Moorhen        
  19.  Mute Swan        
  20.  Pheasant        
  21.  Pied Wagtail (yarrellii)        
  22.  Rook        
  23.  Starling        
  24.  Swallow        
  25.  Swift        
  26.  Tree Sparrow        
  27.  Woodpigeon