Monday, 2 July 2012

Wildlife Weekender

Another weekend, another new bird, and another lovely morning exploring some local wildlife with the kids.

The tick was an Alpine Swift on Sunday 1st July, at Buckton Cliffs, East Yorkshire (although it felt like Cleveland by the time I’d walked there along the cliffs from Bempton). I’d earned enough brownie points to have the late afternoon free for some birding, so decided a trip to the sunny east coast was the best bet – especially if there was a new bird in it for me.

I parked at Bempton RSPB, and after walking almost all the way the Filey, I arrived at the trig point where most people had been viewing the bird. There were no other birders present when I arrived at 18:30, so I set about finding it among the thousands of similar sized and similar coloured birds whizzing around in front of me. The large numbers of Gannet, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Herring Gull, and Rock Dove didn’t hinder the search too much, but the clouds of brown/black and white Guillemot, Razorbill and Puffin did.

After about ten minutes I picked it out, being the only small black/white bird breaking the horizon (very occasionally), although it was the Swift shape that first made it stand out. I stayed and watched for an hour as it came in and out of view, most of the time with barely a flicker of its wings. The sickle shape of the bird was striking; the wings were so long and swept back. The tail was long and forked. On closer inspection the upperparts were a dark brown, not black; but this contrasted well with the clean white breast.

I watched through my bins as it swooped dizzyingly from high up, silhouetted against the clouds, to down towards the cliff face below me against a background of surf and rocks. Because of this movement, scope views weren’t easy and photos (with my old compact camera) were nigh on impossible.

I was a lovely evening to be sat on a cliff staring out into the North Sea – warm, sunny, with a mild breeze and few clouds. Very quiet – I suspect many people were at home watching the Euro 2012 final.

Filey Bay from Buckton Cliffs, East Yorkshire - Sunday 1st July 2012

On the way back to the car I got some great views of Corn Bunting, some of which I’d heard singing while watching the Alpine Swift. I managed a photo through my scope before this one flew off, but it really doesn’t do justice to the views I was getting.

Corn Bunting, Buckton Cliffs, East Yorkshire - Sunday 1st July 2012

On the way back I attempted to listen to the football on the radio, but the MW reception is pretty poor in the Wolds. So, the obvious choices were The Queen is Dead by The Smiths and Black Sabbath's Sabbath Bloody Sabbath. Obviously. And I got a lovely bonus of a Barn Owl floating around over the road and right over the car at Wetwang.

Before my rabid inner twitcher took over, I’d had a great weekend experiencing nature with the family. On Saturday 30th June I took my kids around Rodley Nature Reserve. Regular readers will know this is my patch (or one of them) and I am often singing its praises. “Proper” birding isn’t easy with kids, but if you want to educate and inspire children with a range of wildlife without going far from home, you should bring them to a place like Rodley NR.

This Saturday’s visit didn’t disappoint. We watched the Common Tern family, one adult fishing while the other sat protectively with the youngster on the raft. A pair of Mute Swan made their stately way from the duck marsh to the lagoon with their eight cygnets in tow.

My favourite sight was a pair of Little Grebe displaying in front of the hide we were in. The birds faced one another and arched their wings while shaking their heads from side to side. Then, both birds sank simultaneously. After the surfaced they “ran” across the water towards each other, before settling down and repeating the whole courtship ritual again. At first I thought it might be a threat display, until I saw the level of synchronisation and, ultimately, the way the birds seemed otherwise happy in each other’s company.

We did some pond dipping, finding all kinds of stuff in our nets: half-grown frogs, water boatman, pond skaters, minnows, and so on. Over the pond were some blue damselflies (either Azure or Common Blue – not sure) and a Four-spotted Chaser. Around the pond was a scruffy young Common Whitethroat, recently fledged because it seemed to be having trouble landing on a suitable perch!

Four-spotted Chaser, Rodley NR, Leeds, West Yorkshire - Saturday 30th June 2012

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