Friday, 8 April 2016

Home and Away

So the main thread of my last weeks birding, based in York, has been to focus on seeing things that I can't readily enjoy within the Ely10.  Cambridgeshire does have one very old record of Red Grouse but neither this or it's even scarcer brethren the Black Grouse could be expected to grace the county until the next Ice Age.  Icy it was on the tops of the Northern Pennines.
An especially early rise was needed to ensure we could see the Black Grouse lek in full swing, and swing it did with over 60 birds seen over 2 leks within a couple of miles of one another.  As the leks dissipated birds spread over more fields and could be seen well picking amongst the sward.  A couple of Snow Bunting flew over, rippling calls through the cold sharp air.  All around Curlew song trembled, Snipe drummed and plaintive Golden Plover calls intermingled with the bubbling communion of the grouse lek.  It was a beautiful series of moments.
At the coast, the photogenic species are scarce but regular visitors to the Ely10 in the right conditions.  
I have seen a Fulmar, many years ago, grounded in a field to the south of Wicken - I don't think there's been another in the Ely10 since. Kittiwakes do move through the Washes in early Spring every year, I've seen a couple in the past and undoubtedly many pass unnoticed.  There has been an occasion when over 100 have moved through during a day and I can only hope that I'm lucky enough to see a similar passage in the future.
Guillemots have been recorded  over the years moving up the tidal systems within the Ely10 and some have been well watched, not unfortunately yet by me.
Gannets have also been recorded with some regularity over the past few years over the Ely10 and I have managed to miss them despite some intense skywatching during protracted spells of overland seabird movement.   These movements are usually, but not exclusively, associated with strong NW winds and inclement weather during September to November.
More frequent but still not a species I have encountered are Seals, there are even records of these having bred at Earith Marina, which seems bizarre.
This young Grey Seal was tucked way on the Brigg at Filey where a Surf Scoter has taken up residence offshore.  It is now moulting into a more adult plumage, the white nape being diagnostic along with the opened winged dive. 
Three species increasingly encountered across Yorkshire are Tree Sparrow, Red Kite and Woodlark.  The Red Kite story is well known and birds are in filling from both the east and west.  Wheeling flocks of 20 or 30 birds can be seen around Leeds and singles from most vantage points during a prolonged skywatch. 

Tree Sparrows did become scarce but reassuringly I saw healthy numbers on the coast and inland. There is much to learn about the population dynamics of this short range migrant which in some parts of the globe is abundant and in others has become scarce or extinct.  The Yorkshire populations have been well supported by conservationists and enlightened landowners alike.  Having seen the Ely10 populations dwindle, there is some signs of small scale local increase a Yorkshire scale bounce back would be welcome.
Woodlarks are a favourite of mine and I could have only dreamt of singing birds on my local Nightjar heath when I were a youth.  Now the Nightjars have near enough given up the ghost in the Vale of York but Woodlark song breaks the dawn and I made time to drink them in.  The Sparrows and Kites will hopefully increase from there current population status in the Ely10. Woodlark has bred twice in Cambridgeshire at Kennet Heath just out of the 10, but are not likely to gain a toe hold again as there is no real habitat.  The few Breck type fields just east of Fordham could just hold a pair and maybe there's a bit of habitat in Chippenham Park somewhere. 
We've definitely lost Willow Tit as a breeding species in Ely10 and Cambridgeshire, I was very keen to locate some during my time in the north.  This is the fastest declining UK breeder and little is clearly evidenced about the causes of decline.  I had a few sites in the Lower Derwent Valley to try and drew a blank but did find a territorial pair on Allerthorpe Common nearby.  I went here on a hunch, a site I'd never visited, and was very pleased to have followed my instincts and read the habitat well.  It was a very wet experience but rewarding spending time with them as they went about their business including some nest site excavation. 
On the way back to the Fens I dropped into Fairburn Ings RSPB where Willow Tits visit the feeders. We didn't see any on the feeders but did find a vocal pair, that stayed high in the birches,  and at Eccup Reservoir nearby I was quite surprised to find a showy pair of Little Ringed Plover on the Dam.

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