Welcome to the 220 for 2022 – August Update.
1st August 2022 – no new birds today, but a surprise was in store at Strumpshaw where half way through my shift I was invited to step outside. I was met with all available reserve staff gathered to present me with my 20 years volunteering service certificate and badge. Very unexpected and very much appreciated. Thanks chaps.
3rd August 2022 – An afternoon trip to Cromer to collect tickets for the end of pier show (thoroughly recommended), was happily hijacked by way of joining a group of enthusiasts gathered on the beach throwing scraps of bread to an assorted collection of gulls. These birds, mainly juveniles, were pretty unfazed by us watching bunch, only taking wing when a couple of small children thought it would be great fun to chase them away. Despite boring eye contact with the mother, she didn’t have the wit to realise that we were actually interested in the birds and not treating them as playthings. Wonder why she thought a group of people were standing on the beach with binoculars and cameras pointing at the gulls, if not to actually take pleasure from simply looking and photographing them? Sometimes I despair. Anyway, with lots of useful pointers I eventually managed to take some pics of what I took to be not just a couple of Caspian Gulls, but also at least one Yellow-legged Gull. Not being particularly confident with identification, I subsequently submitted these to various specialist Facebook groups, and the result are documented below.
As I mentioned in last months summary, this group of gulls are very difficult to get to grips with. The default species, because it’s by far the commonest in the UK, is the Herring Gull. Sort that one out, and you are well paced to notice anything that doesn’t conform. I’ve produced an article on our large gull identification which you can find here. Although that article deals with winter plumaged gulls, it is still useful as a basic tool for Herring Gull ID, shape, structure, basic plumage and so on.
I initially thought the above depicted bird may have been a Caspian Gull, but it’s obviously not that species and instead is a Herring Gull. A full history was provided to me by the ringing authority:
5th August 2022 – a day out in the company of young Ros, who seldom ventures to the north Norfolk coast. We popped into the Bee-eater nesting site which is still being very well patronised. There were at least 6 of these beautiful birds on show, albeit distantly, but such a pleasure to know they have bred successfully on our own patch. Will they come back next year I wonder. Anyway, a tick for the lady.
Moving west, Cley beach proved as lifeless, birdwise, as Monty Python’s Norwegian Blue. The scrapes looked pretty much completely dry, so we decided to move further west to Titchwell. There we found plenty of birds, as well as a couple of wall brown butterflies and some eels swimming around on the brackish marsh. I find the beach area here fascinating, whether it’s the recent 20th century history and remnant wartime constructions, the wrecks of razor shells that crunch underfoot, the calls of migrant waders, or the sense of space and wildness. It is simply a rather lovely place to be. Today, as the tide swiftly ebbed, lots of Oystercatchers gathered to pipe their collective vocal chorus, their strident calls echoing across the flats. They were waiting for the mussel beds to be exposed, when they would feast before the incoming tide covered them once again. A few Sanderling scurried along the shoreline, while small groups of both Bar-tailed and Black-tailed Godwits rested on the quieter parts of the beach.
The fresh marsh revealed Dunlin, lots of Black-tailed Godwit, Ruff and 3 Golden Plover still dressed in their summer finery. Nothing new for me, but plenty for Ros’s year list.
10th August 2022 – another trip to pay final respects to a family member in the Midlands, meant we passed Grafham Water which lies just south of the A14. As well as providing a convenient and quite pleasant place to break for lunch, it also had the potential for a life species, indeed a first for UK, in the shape of a Cape Gull. This individual, which should be scavenging somewhere around the southern hemisphere, was found a few days ago loafing about at Grafham. Sadly, about an hour before we arrived the bird had flown off, resulting in groups of forlorn and dejected birders roaming aimlessly about in the vain hope it would reappear. A distant Great Black-backed Gull gave temporary hope, dashed by telescope views showing too much white in the wings. Not wishing to waste this element of the trip, I sallied forth in the searing heat of midday to see what I could find. It was an uncomfortable walk along the concrete dam, enlivened by a couple of adult Yellow-legged Gulls, fishing Common Terns and about 30 or so Yellow Wagtails.
I spent some time trying to photograph these perky little migrants, such numbers of which I haven’t seen for decades. But no Cape Gull. That rascal reappeared about 2 hours after we left. There was always the return trip to look forward to….
….but it then decided to forsake Grafham altogether and has not been seen since. A major miss really, because this bird had been around for a week and was very obliging. Never mind, on we go.
16th August 2022 – there’s been a minor fall of migrants this week, birds from Scandinavia perhaps, associated with mild north-easterly airflows. Opportunity allowed a morning trip to Winterton in the hope of catching up with one or two of these. Amongst the dog walkers, I soon bumped into another Walker, Colin by name, father of my ex NWT boss, Gemma, both of whom live in the village. He had a pleasant chat, and I learnt of the general location of some of the sought after gems; Wryneck in the bushes below Hermanus, Icterine Warbler in ‘the Oaks’ and Pied Flycatchers here and there. A short walk led me to another straggled line of birders, anxious to catch sight of the Icterine Warbler that had apparently moved position to occupy the belt of large sycamores lining the western slope of the dunes. I stood still, scrutinising every movement for some time, and was rewarded with a lovely Lesser Whitethroat, a couple of Blackcaps and a bright yellow Willow Warbler, but of the target bird there remained no sign. I moved on.
The area of small oaks a few hundred yards south is a difficult place to work, there is so much cover and precious little birdlife to excite. Finding nothing of note I had a good look at an area of gorse where a delightful family of Stonechats were tapping away and a few Whitethroats and willow Warblers made brief appearances. But nothing new for the year list.
I headed towards a small area of stunted pines. Here at last success, in the form of a gorgeous little Pied Flycatcher that twice briefly showed itself, giving its location away by a soft ticking note. A shy little madam this one, which would not reveal anymore of herself despite me hanging around, camera poised for 30 minutes.
It was becoming obvious that since the day was warming up, bringing forth holiday makers, hikers etc that birds would begin to fade away into the extensive cover to avoid disturbance. I consequently retraced my steps, surprising a family group of hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crows feeding in a trough of the dunes. I pondered briefly whether I could count one of the adults that showed a good percentage of Hooded Crow plumage, but decided I couldn’t. Even though it’s my ball, I’ve got to play fair.
Another lengthy but empty search for the Icterine Warbler and I was homeward bound. Good to know autumn migration has begun, over the next few weeks it should hot up to provide many opportunities for additions to the year list.
23rd August – 27th August 2022 – Yorkshire. With one thing and another it has been a stressful month. Sitting at home, pumped full of anti-biotics and pain killers following extraction of a troublesome tooth and ‘deep clean’, which left my jaw feeling as though it had had an encounter with a sledge hammer, I opened the iPad and booked a few nights away in East Yorkshire.
The afternoon of the 23rd saw us looking over a busy shallow water scrape at the RSPB reserve of Blacktoft Sands, where feeding busily amongst the many Ruff and Redshank was a Pectoral Sandpiper. This stray from the Americas turns up in the UK every year in small numbers. Having missed a bird at Cley the previous week, I was quite glad to make the acquaintance of this wayward wader. Pectoral Sandpipers are larger than Dunlin, but not quite as big as the medium sized waders such as Ruff. I always think it has a rather elongated look, with a barrel chest and slightly drooping bill. Those features, together with the bold, clearly demarcated, chest band (giving the bird its name), can be seen in the scruffy images below.
The 24th represented what I consider to be a perfect summer day; warm and bright, with plenty of high puffy white clouds and a gentle breeze. Thank goodness the oppressive heat of the last few weeks had dissipated. Bempton Cliffs had the pleasure of our company today. The albatross had long gone, last being seen off the west coast of Ireland, but it was still wonderful to stand atop the sheer chalk cliffs and watch Gannets, Fulmars and Kittiwakes pass by. Seabirds were a delight, but we had another target in our sights in the form of another lost soul from Central Asia. A trek of a mile or so led us to a hedgerow, beside which a few birders with telescopes were expectantly waiting.
We joined them, and a couple of minutes later the sought after bird, a rather smart Turkestan Shrike (Lanius phoenicuroides), popped up onto an exposed twig. What an obliging bird this was, sitting there quietly waiting to be photographed and admired. It occasionally had a bit of a scratch, and once flew down to snatch a hapless moth from the grass, but otherwise it seemed content to soak up the sunshine. We duly paid homage for an hour before leaving to indulge in more traditional coastal pursuits – yep, you’ve guessed it, strolling along the prom at Filey, ice cream, sand castles and the ilk.
In total contrast to the previous day, 25th was a bit of a washout; cool, wet and uninspiring. We did spend some time trying to find a Merlin on the moors, but had only Red Grouse as a reward.
The following afternoon, once again in perfect summer conditions, I indulged in a spot of sea watching from the vantage point of high cliffs at Flamborough Head. Watching a constant stream of Kittiwakes and Gannets moving north was interesting enough, but a trio of Manx Shearwaters living up to their name by skimming the surface of a largely calm sea was even better.
The morning of our final day, 27th, was once again spent at Bempton Cliffs, albatrossless but nonetheless full of fantastic seabirds. Not only that, but an obliging Whinchat popped up right in front of us to have its photograph taken.
Do we ever tire of seabird photographs? I think not.
On the way home, and just a few miles from the M62, we found the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve of North Cave. Here we were treated to distant views of a juvenile Spotted Crake. This bird played hard to get, skulking around in reed cover and only occasionally showing itself for a few seconds. Eventually we got a decent enough view, but too far away for photography. Nice reserve though, and the enterprising mobile snack bar, majoring in chip butties, provided a very welcome source of midday sustenance.
31st August 2022 – Sheringham, Norfolk. Over the past few days the wind has been blowing from the north or north-east. I’d seen reports of various skuas and shearwaters being seen, so this morning I hoped to join the party by spending an hour or two scanning the waves from Sheringham sea front. Here, from the conveniently sheltered snugs, you have a pretty good panoramic view of the North Sea stretching away towards a wind turbine dotted horizon. I always find there is something quite calming about sea-watching. With an eye glued to your telescope that you slowly arc left and right, you almost enter another world. All I could hear was the thunder of waves on shingle, and all I could see was the limited field of view afforded by the scope. Groups of Gannets and Kittiwakes silently streamed past my vision, terns aplenty fished as they were blown eastward, And then a large, dark bird appeared moving purposefully east low over the wavetops, a Bonxie, or Great Skua if you prefer. A short while later a lovely pale phase Arctic Skua followed the same path, beating strongly into the sheering wind. Further out, I espied a few more Arctic Skuas chasing the fishing terns, but failed to see anything else new for the year. A very enjoyable end to the month though, which has been, all things considered, pretty good.
Darren is closing the gap fast, and has also caught a dose of gull mania (there is no cure). His monthly round up of excursions and sightings can be found here. Tim has experienced another dry month, but has told me he plans for all that to change now autumn is upon us, so I expect him to boost his tally considerably during September. Sean is having a bumper year as far as species count is concerned. He has a target of 200 in his sights, which considering he has no transport of his own, would be an amazing feat. You can read his months summary here. Elizabeth, Ros and Allan are moving steadily forwards, and with still 4 months left they have great opportunity to increase their scores. It would be great if all of us could breach the 200 barrier, there’s plenty of time and plenty of birds left for that to happen. Watch this space!
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