Tuesday, 23 February 2021

Urban birding at Hull: Curlew

A large wader with a long, down-curved bill, the curlew is unmistakable. They are brown with pale specks and the underside is whitish with dark speckling and barring. The legs are grey. Males and females differ on the length of the bill, with the larger individuals with proportionally longer bills being females. Male bill length ranges between 10 and 13.5 cm, whilst females bill length ranged between 12 and 16. Bill length alone can be used to sex curlews with an accuracy of 95%.
In the photos above the differences in bill size of these individuals is clear, the one on the left likely a male, the one on the right a female. Both photographed near The Deep, 23/02/2021.
Food in the mudflats
Curlews can feed on stubbles, on grassland and also on mudflats. Sometimes, individuals will forage on the Humber flood bank. To feed they probe the mud with its bill, in search of ragworms and other invertebrates.
Curlew feeding by the mouth of the River Hull. 22/02/2021.
Individual probing the gaps between the stones in the sea wall. 20/03/2020.
Estuarine wintering waders
Curlews breed in upland moorland and grassland and winter in coasts and estuaries. The Humber is a nationally important wintering ground for this elegant, large wader. Its mournful call alert the walker to its presence in mudflats. In the Hull area, Curlews are wintering and passage migrant birds. Most records are from October to March, although they can be seen year round. According to the WeBS survey results, over 2500 curlew winter in the Humber, with a peak in January. The wintering population is made mostly of Scandinavian and Russian birds, with some UK and Irish birds. It Hull, Curlews can be seen from the mouth of the River Hull near The Deep through to Victoria Dock until Salt End, individuals normally feeding quite scattered on the mudflats. Larger numbers can gather near Salt End, where they roost.
Curlew in flight. Victoria Dock, 22/02/2021
Curlew breeding and wintering populations in the UK have experienced serious population declines in the last couple of decades. The species is now Red Listed in the UK and one of the most pressing conservation species. It is also near threatened worldwide since 2008. Breeding population declines have been linked to a range of causes, many of them indicating human led changes in the environment: from increased predator pressures, to habitat loss and fragmentation due to woodland planting, and to increased trampling of nests in high density stocked improved pastures where there are no tussocks and rushes offering some protection. The Humber Wader Ringing Group has ringed Curlews with colour rings and also satellite tagged Curlews to help understand their movements in the landscape and aid in the conservation of this threatened wader
Curlew silhouette in the Humber by The Deep, 6/3/2020.

More information
Summers, R. W., P├ílsson, S., Etheridge, B., Foster, S. & Swann, R. L. Using biometrics to sex adult Eurasian Curlews Numenius a. arquata. Wader Study Group Bulletin 120, 71–74 (2013).
Broughton, Richard K. Birds of the Hull Area.
Brown, D. et al. The Eurasian Curlew – the most pressing bird conservation priority in the UK? British Birds 108, 660 – 668 (2015).

Urban birding at Hull: Mute Swans

The Mute Swan doesn't need describing, it is a familiar bird for most people. It is a resident bird, but not very numerous at Hull, with the number of breeding pairs are likely to be around five or less each year, due to the lack of suitable lakes and water courses for them to breed. 

The Breeding Pairs

Pickering Park. A pair has successfully fledge young every year at least since 2017. The pair is ringed (841 and 842). They allow their cygnets to remain all through the following breeding season, so often there are two batches of young with the adults. This is possibly to do with the large size of the lake. These are my notes with cygnets at the grown stage: 2020 (3 cygnets), 2019 (started with 8, then 4 cygnets), 2018 (5 cygnets), 2017 (4 cygnets).

Oak road. Another place where a pair raises young most years at least since 2012. They often move between the lake and the river Hull.

Beverley and Barmston Drain. A pair bred near Sculcoates Lane (2020, 4 cygnets) and possibly at Hall Road (a pair was present). Possibly in other secluded spots along the drain.

East Park. Has bred in the past, but no recent breeding. There are often several individuals present during the winter.

Noddle Hill. Has bred, but no recent records.

Bramsholme reservoir. Has the largest swan aggregations in the winter. Up to 34 in October 1997 according to Richard Broughton, numbers seem much smaller in recent years.

Holderness Drain. Old records of pairs present.  

Pearson Park. Occasional dispersing young have stayed the winter.

Let me know in the comments if you know of any other breeding pair.


Mute Swan populations are stable in the UK, after a period of population increase, possibly driven by the banning of lead weights for fishing. However, it is an Amber listed species due to the size of the UK wintering population. The Mute Swan has a Biodiversity Action plan in Hull. Main threats are disturbance of nesting birds and entanglement with fishing gear. Dispersing young are liable to collisions with buildings and overhead cables. Contact the Police Wildlife Liaison Officer if you witness any attacks to swans or their nests.Contact the Police Wildlife Liaison Officer

Oak Road pair with grown cygnets. 30 July 2020.
Pickering Park pair with new cygnets. 31 July 2020.
Pickering Park cob busking. 26th December 2020.
The pen on ice at Oak Road. 2nd January 2021.
The pen at Oak Road Lake on her nest amongst the reeds. 4th May 2020.
More information
Broughton, Richard K. Birds of the Hull Area.
BirdTrends BTO. Mute Swan.

Monday, 22 February 2021

Urban birding at Hull: A walk to Victoria Dock

A cloudy but bright morning, I head towards Victoria Dock, as the flood defence work has opened another stretch by the river bank. My main aim was to see my first Curlew of the year. I meander on the back streets towards town, to avoid the busier Princes Avenue and Spring Bank. As I cross Liddell Park, a skein of 94 Pink-footed Geese fly over northwards. My first pinkfeet this year, what a feeling of spring!
 I carry on towards Scott Street. A group of Herring Gulls are sitting atop a roof, and with them, my first Lesser Black-backed Gull of the year. Lesser Black-backed gulls are migratory, and they are now coming in numbers, many from Spain.
I stop to watch the river where Scott Street bridge used to be. A new set of railings allows a view of the river. A Herring Hull watches me from a light on the opposite edge of the old bridge.
Herring Gull.
Downriver from Scott Street bridge. The river is sandwiched here by buildings, with no space for a riverside path or a green bank.
I carry on along Wilcolmlee, then cut across to wander around the old Charterhouse cemetery and cross George Street, joining the riverbank path on the East side of the river. A Redshank is a bit nervous, bobbing occasionally as it feeds. I notice the river is puzzlingly flat, looking like a lake. A bit ahead it becomes clear why: the flood barrier is down, holding the river water and stopping the tide coming in.
Alarmed Redshank.
Drypool Bridge.
After Drypool Bridge, I walk along the Museums Quarter. Redshanks are scattered along the mudflats, with a 4 individual roost forming near Scale Lane Bridge. 
Saltmarsh by Myton Bridge.
The Flood barrier is down!
As I get to the mouth of the River Hull, I spot a Curlew, very busily feeding in the company of a Redshank. 
Curlew Feeding.
Curlew and Redshank.
The newly refurbished flood barrier by Victoria Dock Village.
Another Curlew, this one feeding on the Humber bank. Its noticeably shorter bill indicate it is probably a male. A third individual was visible in the distance near the Siemens factory.
A Black-headed Gull roost with a Common Gull on the right.
And a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls by the dry dock.
Stretching Lesser Black-backed Gull.
This Carrion Crow was not very pleased about the pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls (the same pair as above) and kept displaying and cawing until they left.
Curlew in flight.
It starts to rain lightly and, having reach the end of the open path at the Half Tide basin, I start my way back. 
Thirteen Redshank roost has gathered on the river bank by Scale Lane bridge.
This Blackbird appeared puzzled by the Blackbird song coming out of the speaker at Scale Lane Bridge. From these railings it flew right to the bottom of the speaker and then took off before I could take a photo.
The avenue of poplars at Queens Gardens. I do hope they can stay, this is one of the most beautiful sights in town and a refuge for wildlife.
A pair of Greylags upending at Queens Gardens is an unusual sight...
...as was a Coot at Princes Quay!
No Med gull today atop Princes Quay, but it was nice to find a Black-headed Gull J1P1 from the Norway scheme, coming all the way from Oslo.

Sunday, 21 February 2021

Urban birding in Hull: General and Western Cemetery in February

I usually go for a walk to the Hull General Cemetery on Sunday mornings. It is very muddy at the moment, but it is usually a great place for a socially distanced walk with a soundtrack of bird song. It was overcast but mild today, with barely any wind. I kept an eye on the grass, hoping to see some Redwings, but they were none. A Song Thrush and a Mistle Thrush, amongst many others, were in song. I approached a Yew and, from its dark depths came the thin high pitched song of a Goldcrest, I got to a second Yew and a second Goldcrest singing! I crossed Chanterlands Avenue to continue my walk on the other side of the cemetery. A largish bird landed on the ground with some swagger, a Jay! I had my camera on the wrong setting, so I only managed some blurry photo before it flew onto a Holly. Last year I heard and saw a Jay in the cemetery, but I never managed a photo, so I was pleased with the record shots.     
 On the way back, on the general cemetery, I heard the song of a Treecreeper, which I managed to locate. The light in the cemetery wasn't great for photography, but here it is, atop a branch.
Two Stock Doves were courting high up on an almost horizontal large bough covered on lichens and moss. Looking through binoculars I felt like I was in some remote old growth forest. There was a lot of alarm calling and then a silence. A female Sparrowhawk landed for just a couple of seconds atop a tree before flying off. They often do this!

Mistle Thrush.
The Jay amongst the headstones.

Urban birding at Hull: Sculcoates, week 7, second visit

 A mild, cloudy day with a little wind. I find my first Lesser Celandines in bloom on the way to Sculcoates. As I get to the drain, I notice a Greenfinch singing, replying to another one. A little further there is a cacophony of Song Thrush song, as I move closer I realise there are 3 Song Thrushes in a small area, singing at the same time. There are a lot of birds in song.

Singing Greenfinch.
One of the singing Song Thrushes.
A Stock Dove near a possible nest site, a rotten trunk with plenty of woodpecker holes.
I walk through the north Cemetery at Sculcoates. The water has receded and all the paths are now passable. A single Bullfinch is in evidence. A Cormorant flies over.

I move onto the river. The tide is quite high with little mud exposed. I search for the Redshank roost. They are a bit closer than last time and easier to photograph. I count 13, all with tucked bills and holding on a single leg. If you look close you can see that some have their eyes open. When they want to move, they hop on their exposed leg, not bothering to get their tucked leg out.  
Redshank roost.

Spring does feel in the air now. The morning chorus is quite noticeable, the Black-headed gulls showing their dark heads.