Sunday, 21 February 2016

Post 391 - Rare new guest - Red Necked Grebe at Nosterfield

Red Necked Grebe (Podiceps grisegena) at Nosterfield
the best shot I could get with my camera. It was a
'grand' Yorkshire day and the water really was that blue! 
Hey everyone, Post 391 today and another find at a half term excursion to tell you about today. It was last Thursday and it was a 'Grand day' as they say in Yorkshire. I just had to get out so Mum, Dad, Esme and I headed to my local nature reserve, Nosterfield! You'll know if you read much of my blog that this is one of my favourite places and I love volunteering here as well as visiting. When we got to the reserve we bumped into the volunteers on a work day! We'd not put this one in the diary as it was half term and we didn't know what our plans would be but it was really nice saying hi to everyone and very handy too as they tipped me off that a special bird had been seen on one of the lakes there. So I set off to have a look. It's not one of the lakes I go to every time so it was good to have a different walk too.

It was at the far side of this lake
Well I got there and set up my new telescope and I had the chance to try out my new digi-scoping kit. It was a good job I had it as you will see from the photos as my camera didn't get very good shots. I'm still working out the digi-scope kit too but I hope you can tell from the shots that the bird is a beautiful Red Necked Grebe! Another lifer for me!

Well as this is a new species I had to do a bit of research and here's what I found:

  • The first thing I found out is that it is another Red List species as numbers are declining in summer and winter in the UK.
  • It is the rarest of the 5 species of Grebe found in the UK which are Red Necked Grebe, Little Grebe, Great Created Grebe, Slavonian Grebe and Black Necked Grebe.
  • There aren't many in the UK, a few (around 20) stay in the summer and might breed. They are joined by a few more in the winter when there are around 55 in the UK.
One digi-scoped image - it's harder than it looks!
  • Mostly they seem to hang around the south and east coasts so it seems I was really lucky to see one at Nosterfield.
  • Globally there are estimated to be over 190,000 and they mainly live and breed in Europe and Asia.
  • They are similar sized to Great Crested Grebes, just a little bit smaller with shorter necks.
  • They change plumage from summer to winter and this one was starting to change to its summer plumage where it develops its red neck that gives it its name.
  • In the UK at least they like to live on ponds, lakes and at the coast.
  • To eat they like insects, fish and crustaceans which they dive for and sometimes they bring them to the surface and shake the prey to kill it before eating it.
  • They weigh between 0.8kg - 1.6kg and are around 43-56cm long.
And a second - have to get the focus sorted! 
  • When breeding both male and female help to build a nest of floating vegetation anchored to some aquatic vegetation. Both parents also help with incubation of the eggs. 
  • One of my favourite Grebe facts is about their young - this one and the Great Crested Grebe at least - once the young hatch they climb on the parent's back and are carried around until they get too big. I've seen photos of this but not yet seen that in  the wild - I will be on the look out this Spring so I can hopefully get a picture!
Here's a few links to more information - check out the great photos at Arkive so you can see just how pretty these birds are. I will figure out my digi-scoping soon I hope!

Hope you enjoyed,


Friday, 19 February 2016

Post 390 - Brilliant Black Brant amongst Beautifully Graceful Brent Geese

Brent Geese (Branta bernicla)
Hey everyone, today's post 390 and as you'll know, earlier in the week I went to Spurn Point which is about a two and a half hour drive from where we live. It's such a good place to go to, there's so many reserves just packed into the small area, that you're bound to find something unusual or interesting. When I did my post on my trip to Spurn I mentioned I saw a flock of Brent Geese at Kilnsea Wetlands, a new one for me, but amongst them was one that I wasn't expecting to see either, a Black Brant! As there weren't any other birders around to confirm I wasn't 100% sure but I was pleased when I saw this tweet from today:

It was a tricky thing to get photos of as the birds were doing what they do, feeding, swimming about and flying off quite often. I didn't work out what kept disturbing them. I looked back through my photos and I did manage to get a reasonable shot of it.

So, what did I found out about not only the Black Brant, but Brent Geese in general?

The Black Brant - centre of picture
  • Well, firstly, there seems to be about 560,000 Brent Geese worldwide, while there are only 115,000 Black Brants.
  • I'm not 100% sure how many Black Brants there are in the UK, but there are about 100,000 of the normal Brent Geese.
  • The Black Brant is basically a subspecies of Brent Goose, sometimes called the Pacific Brent Goose. 
  • Black Brants usually live in Alaska where they breed and move to Baja, California for the Winter. They are a scarce visitor to the UK
  • The Brent Goose is an Amber Status bird in the UK, but is doing better in Europe and Globally.
  • They almost became extinct in the 1930's because there main food source 'Eelgrass' became almost extinct, too, with disease. 
There were quite a few at Kilnsea
  • Nowadays, Brent Geese have moved a bit inland to find their food, looking for agricultural land for other grasses and winter-cereals.
  • They are found, only Wintering on the Coasts of North, East and South England as well as most of Ireland's coast too.
  • It's about 60cm long with a wingspan of 115cm, with both Male and Female birds weighing quite a hefty 1.5 kilograms!
  • They do seem to be declining, though, for example, the Black Brant alone has declined from about 200,000 to what it is now.
  • This is because of reasons such as hunting, foxes and diseases. In fact, of 6 fitted with radio tags in 2002, only one survived because of these pressures. One was found in the larder of an Inuit hunter.
Flying about!
  • They first breed at 2 years, and usually die 9 years later, at 11. My age! :-( The oldest was 28 years, 2 months and 12 days!

Here are some links to some more information:

Hope you enjoyed,


Post 389 - Half-term Excursion to Humber Estuary

Arriving at Spurn Point!
Hey everyone, well today is post 389. It's half term and as Dad had taken the week off we managed to get some great family days out, and one planned for a place I'd never been before. Well I say that, I got to a bit of this place when I went to Blacktoft Sands as that's part of this huge landscape. I'm talking of course of the Humber Estuary and in particular I headed to Spurn Point!

Now I've mentioned before that Yorkshire's big, well it took over two and a half hours to get there. It was worth it though as I saw lots of great birds and a number of nature reserves that were all quite close to each other. It meant that I saw lots of habitats and species in one day! It was a lovely bright day, cool and a bit wild at points too.

It was a long way so I made a full day of it so today's post is a bit longer than usual!
So where did I get to?

Spurn Point

View across to the point
A Stonechat watching me.
Well I headed here first. I knew it would be near high tide when I got there I hoped lots of the birds would be close to the land rather than way out on the mud flats. I've had quite a few trips lately where the birds are quite far away so Dad and I planned that.

You have to be careful though as a lot of days at High Tide you can't walk down to the point as it washes over the sand bank. On Tuesday we could have gone to the point safely but it was a 6 mile walk to the point and back again. Dad's got a bad knee and needs an operation so we only went about a third of the way.

Waders galore!
It didn't matter though really as there was plenty to see. There were some dunes with grass where I saw a lovely Stonechat flitting about. Then there was a bit of grassy sandy areas before the mudflats and sea. I saw Shelducks, Sanderlings, Knot, Godwits (Black-Tailed and Bar-Tailed I think), Redshanks, Dunlins, Curlew and Turnstones,

We went to the sea hide near the visitor centre for a while and watched the sea for seals that had been seen that day but sadly we didn't see any this time. I think I'll have to come back and have another look though as apparently you can see whales here sometimes too,

Kilnsea Wetlands

At Kilnsea entrance
We moved on from Spurn as it was getting near to dinner time. On the way there we had passed another nature reserve, Kilnsea Wetlands. When I read up about this reserve I found out it is quite new and has been made to replace habitats being lost at other parts of the estuary.

Brent Geese in flight
It didn't seem to matter to the birds that it was new though. I saw quite a lot here including Goldeneye, Teal, Wigeon, Lapwing, Mallards and Brent Geese. Dad and I were the only ones here and it was lovely to see the birds so close and in a place that was really peaceful.

Well it was peaceful for us but the birds kept taking off and landing. I'm not sure why, I couldn't see any raptors and there wasn't anybody around to disturb them. It gave me a chance to get some nice photos of the birds in flight though. Eventually we left as we were starting to get hungry and had to find a place for dinner.

Hodgsons Fields

Hodgsons Field
A Buzzard being seen off!
After Dinner we carried on to the next reserve. When I read about this one I knew it was going to be a reserve that would be much better in Spring or Summer but as we had to pass quite close by to it I thought it was worth at least finding out where it was. As you can see from the photo it was quite bare grassland at the moment. Looking around through the binoculars there weren't many birds, the odd Woodpigeon, Great Tit etc.

As we were thinking of going I then saw the only raptor I saw that day apart from Kestrels hovering at the roadside on the journey. There were a group of crows in the trees and a few suddenly went up into the air. I then saw why, a Buzzard was coming their way. A few of them started to mob the Buzzard until they were certain it was going away again!

Welwick Saltmarsh

Welwick Saltmarsh?
Little Egret.
So after that we carried on with our journey to another reserve that was close by. Well, Dad used the Sat Nav to get to this and as we didn't see any signs or anything we think it was this reserve. It was certainly a big area of saltmarsh. I got to the big bank and had a look round and took a few photos. There wasn't much to see and on top of the bank it was really exposed and wild. I thought it was going to be a little disappointing as we turned round and started back towards the car, cold and not having seen any birds.

Then, as if to make up for it, I saw a big white bird flapping its way across our path a little way ahead. As it came closer I could see it was a lovely Little Egret! Fantastic.

Paull Holme Strays
Silhouetted Sandpiper 

At Paull Holme Strays
Feeling a bit chilly it was back into the car and starting to head towards home, but there was one last reserve on the way that we thought we would have a look at as once again we had to pass close by it. This reserve was a big area of mudflats again next to the river. There was a climb up a big sea wall to see it and the people coming down as we got there warned us it was a bit wild. It sure was, I found it hard to get many photos as it was so windy - it was very hard to keep the camera still. The views were great though, you could see a long way. According to the Wildlife Trust this is a place where lots of waders come to roost and feed. There weren't so many when I got there but there were some Common Sandpipers feeding. I also watched a huge ship go by called Nordic Nelly!

Common Sandpiper (bottom right) dwarfed by
Nordic Nelly
So a great day out and I saw a lot of places that I hadn't seen before, I also hadn't seen Brent Geese before so that was nice too (watch out for a post on them soon!). It was great to see this landscape which is a mix of huge river estuary and all its wildlife next to all the ships and ports on a wild and windy day. It's nice to see that nature can exist alongside all the industry of the ports, it certainly shows how important the Wildlife Trusts' work is making sure that there is enough of the different types of habitat that the birds need to feed, roost, nest etc. It will be good to see it in the summer or Autumn too so I hope to get back there then.

Hope you enjoyed,


Monday, 15 February 2016

Post 388 - Brilliant Sightings at Bolton-on-Swale

The best photo of the day, a female tufted duck that came close enough to
get a decent photo of.
Outside of the little hide at Bolton-on-Swale
Looking over the lake to where most of the birds were
Hey everyone, today's Post 388 and in my last post you'll have seen that I have been to Bolton-On-Swale Lake. It's another reserve not far away from me just like Nosterfield. It's a bit like Nosterfield too as it used to be a sand and gravel quarry and now its a big lake. There aren't many in North Yorkshire so they attract quite a lot of wading birds and wild fowl. It's got a nice mix of habitat around it too, some grassland on the far side of the lake, some patches of reeds and woodland.

This reserve is well tucked away and used to only have a tiny hide that you could get to down a long bumpy track. It's still got the tiny hide and long bumpy track but there's also a new viewing screen. I'm going to go back to that one day - I only used the hide this time as it was quite cold and windy and it was chilly enough in the hide!

My last post on Pochards which is just one of the species that I saw there. I've also updated that a bit too with some great facts and photos that @birdbrainuk gave me. I'm quite jealous as all the Pochards I see are normally the other side of whatever lake I'm at but in London David said that they are often swim round your feet!

Well I went to this reserve as part of my reserves challenge and as we hadn't been for a while, its a route my family don't go often which is a shame as it's a lovely little reserve. It turned out to be a great time to go though. In my last post I mentioned someone leaving the reserve tipped us off that there were some Scaup on the far edge of the lake. Well with the aid of my new telescope I saw some! A lifer for me so I was pleased about that. And like the Pochard they are also a Red List species, so another one to add to that challenge. The photos though were too blurry to tell what they were so I must get my digi-scoping kit soon!

Looking the other way - not a sausage!
As well as Pochards and Scaup there we were also a few Lapwings and Curlew about, also Red List birds. There plenty of Cormorants, Swans, Tufted Ducks, Canada Geese, Coots, Herring Gulls, Teal and Wigeon.

There were also Robins, Great Tits, Blue Tits and Wood Pigeons in the trees on the way to and from the car.

So not a bad little trip out, I'm sure I'll be back there before too long.

Hope you enjoyed,


P.S. I've added a page at the top now which links to the map which logs where I've been so far.

Thursday, 11 February 2016

Post 387 - Patiently Perusing Puddling Pochards

Pochard (Aythya ferina) at Bolton-on-Swale
Hey everyone, today's 387 post and recently, as part of my reserves challenge, I went to Bolton-On-Swale Lake nature reserve, I haven't done a post on this yet, but one will be coming in the next couple of days. But when I was there, I saw some amazing birds with my new telescope, that's another post too! As we were going into the reserve a man coming out told us that there were some Scaup hanging around near the back of the lake. But it's not the Scaup I'm focusing on in this post, there were also some Pochards hanging around too. So that's this post. I've found a snag with my telescope, I can see birds much better with it than I can with my camera, so my photos aren't so good today. Planning to get a kit though soon so I can do some digi-scoping which should improve things!

So, after a huge wait since the last bird post, here are the facts:
They were quite far off with a few Coots for company
  • In the Winter and the Spring, the Males are very distinctive, I could easily identify them when I saw them. 
  • They have a bright, Red-Brown head, a black front and tail, and a pale grey body over the rest of them. 
  • In eclipse the Males look much more like females do, mainly brown and grey and are much better camouflaged against predators. Though this is mainly only July to August time before males get their bright plumage back.
  • This bird is actually a Red Status, so it does kind of count towards my Red Status challenge which I've kind of got going in the back of my mind, though I don't think really I'll manage all Yorkshire Reserves and all Red Status birds this year!
Camera zoom wasn't up to it!
  • There are around 48,000 wintering birds in the UK, not much compared to some species. In the summer there are only around 350 to 630 breeding pairs in the UK. 
  • A decline in breeding and wintering populations is why they are a Red Status. Numbers have been declining over the last 30 years, between 30-50% in Europe

  • One reason they may not be breeding well in the UK is that they seem to breed early, compared to Tufted Ducks anyway. Pochard broods appear from May to July and if the weather isn't good they can have low success rates. Tufted Ducks brood are later and often miss bad weather so they are more successful.

  • They are about 46cm long and they have a 77cm wingspan. 

  • They only weigh around 930g (both Male and Female birds). 
Pochard - thanks @birdbrainuk!
  • On average they live for 3 years, but the oldest ever was 22 years and 10 days. 
  • Habitats they like include lakes, slow rivers, reservoirs and estuaries. 
  • To eat the dive for aquatic plants, seeds, insects. snails and small fish.
  • They are found in the UK all year round but as the numbers above tell you they are much more common in Winter. They come here from Russia and Europe to escape the cold and I am seeing quite a few at the moment.
  • A strange thing I found on the internet about Pochards is that apparently in Finnish mythology the world was formed out of a Pochard's egg. I wonder what Stephen Hawking would make of that! 
And another from David.

Here are some links to some more information:

RSPB - Pochards

BTO Birdfacts - Pochards

Birdlife - Pochards

Hope you enjoyed,


Friday, 5 February 2016

Post 386 - Great Weekend Going Wild at Garbutt Woods

The lovely Garbutt Woods and some lovely bracket fungi.
A lovely gnarly tree by Lake Gormire
Hey everyone, Post 386 today and little update on my reserves challenge. In Post 384 I covered a few reserves that I managed to see on the way to Wheldrake Ings last Saturday. The weather was wild so when Sunday looked calmer I was able to get out again. I stayed a bit closer to home this time and went to an old favourite reserve at Garbutt Woods. This is just about inside the North York Moors and it's right by Sutton Bank, the UK's highest inland cliff, well I think I read that but if they aren't they are still very spectacular! There's a White Horse carved in the hill not far away and from the top of Sutton Bank you can see England's Finest View you can see all the way to the Dales on a good day. Next door to the reserve is Lake Gormire which is the last glacial lake in Yorkshire, very atmospheric. It's a pretty awesome place!

I've been here quite a few times as my family loves coming here for different walks. It's been a pretty great place for fungi this year especially Fly Agaric. It was a weekend for finding massive bracket fungi. I saw some at Moorlands Nature Reserve on Saturday. The ones here at Garbutt weren't quite as big but still very impressive!

I don't know which storm has had the most effect but there seems to be a few tress that have suffered, but then there are a lot of fallen trees and deadwood lying around which is probably one of the reasons why the place is great for fungi.
More great brackets

One of my favourite discoveries here was in Lake Gormire. I did a post on this back on Day 174 - I found a spooky resident in the Lake, a Leech!.

It was a lovely calm and quiet day and a lovely walk. On the lake there were a few Goosanders and Tufted Ducks and lots of Chaffinches and Tits in the trees. I didn't see a huge variety of wildlife this time, but it's such a lovely place that it doesn't matter. I'm sure I will on another visit.

We were being watched at points!
There wasn't a Yorkshire Wildlife Trust sign at the entrance of this reserve, well I couldn't find one the way I went in so I haven't got a shot of me by that this time.

I mentioned in Post 384 I've been putting my reserves challenge in a map - well this is it, you can see it below, and I'll try to keep it up to date as I go through the year - well Dad and I will as I need a bit of help with it now and again but I think it's a great way to show you where I've been.

Hope you enjoyed,


Map of My Nature Reserves Challenge