Sunday, 30 July 2017

A week on the Yorkshire coast

For a few years now, I've made a habit of spending a week in Scarborough during the summer or early autumn. Having my main autumn birding trip booked for late September/October, a week in late July broke up the long summer break.

Just as I headed north news was breaking that the Bee-eaters had successfully bred (no prizes for guessing the front cover of the Notts 2017 Report.)

The first two days of the trip were blighted by various amounts of rain but a brief respite on the Sunday afternoon did allow a spell of my secondary passion - hoverfly watching and I was pleased to see a Helophilus trivittatus on the Asteraceae at Scalby Mills.  Nearby a Pied Wagtail seemed oblivious to my presence as it collected flies.

Helophilus trivittatus

Pied Wagtail

On the Tuesday, I caught a mid morning train to Bempton and made the pleasant mile and a half trek along the road to the famous RSPB reserve at Bempton Cliffs.  The walk was punctuated by a fine male Yellowhammer, which sang from a treeline by the road.  It stuck resolutely to its perch and didn't seem to be bothered by my lingering to get some nice shots.

Male Yellowhammer

Arriving at the reserve, there were a number of Tree Sparrows around the shrubbery behind the picnic tables.  Not a species that I see that often now days regrettably, so it was a good opportunity to get some images.

Tree Sparrows

Proceeding to the cliffs, one of the first birds I saw was a Fulmar, although they seemed to be in short supply and I managed just one record shot.  

I visited the various viewing points, getting some half decent shots of the auks, although the experience seemed tame when I thought back to my weekend on the Farnes.  Still, all very nice to see none the less.


Puffins and Razorbill

My main reason for visiting Bempton was to photograph Gannets and to that end it was a case of 'Fill your boots!'  The light was perfect with light cloud filtering the high sun and the birds were available to capture from every angle.  

3rd year Gannet

Adult Gannets

As well as the cliff nesting birds, I did a bit of sea watching, bagging a single Great Skua.  Elsewhere around the reserve were at least two Northern Wheatears, a Corn Bunting, Song Thrush and a Barn Owl, which showed nicely, just as I was changing the battery on my camera! 

The Wednesday was wet again -  a rather annoying drizzle, but undeterred I set off to see what was about, going via Marine Drive where a Rock Pipit remained long enough for me to get a photo. They always look a bit worse for wear in the rain, but still nice to see up close.

Rock Pipit

As rain became heavier, I put my camera away until I reached the harbour.  The precipitation eased a little, long enough for me to photograph the Cormorants that were sitting on a jetty.  They remained, obligingly and I eased as close as I dare without scaring them off.  Easily the best images I have of the species.


Following a trip to the local museum, which killed all of 40 minutes, the rain had returned to the earlier drizzle and the occasional dry spell. I had intended to wait for a nice day to attempt to photograph the local Med Gulls, but I decided I would chance my hand.  Purchasing a fruit scone and a pack of cheese and pickle sandwiches I was armed with enough goodies to tempt any gulls on a wet July afternoon.

Positioning myself in front of the sea wall in south bay, below Holbeck, I began to toss pieces of bakery into the air.  In about two minutes, I had three adult, two second summer and one 2nd calendar year Mediterranean Gulls flying and alighting close by.  One of the adults was bearing a ring (3LAN). Following this up with Renaud Flamant, it was ringed as a 3rd CY at Antwerp on 14th May, 2015.

Second summer Mediterranean Gull

Adult and second summer Mediterranean Gulls

Second calendar year Mediterranean Gull

Adult Mediterranean Gulls

The afternoon became a lot brighter and I did a bit more hoverfly watching and eventually finished up at Scalby Mills.  After a cool beer during which the heavens opened I sat by the sea wall to look for waders.  Always keeping one eye on the sky, I was surprised to see a large raptor appearing from the north. A quick look in the bins revealed a Red Kite. Not a species I had expected on the trip at all and as the bird wasn't too high I obtained a couple of nice record shots.

Red Kite

Thursday was another day of variable weather, but with the sun well and truly out in the afternoon, I decided to head out to Holbeck with a couple of bags of Crawfords mini cheddars (other cheese-based snacks are available.)

It wasn't long before I was again surrounded by Med Gulls and skillfully scattering the goodies, managed to get some birds down to a few feet.  There were two adults, but different birds to the previous day, these birds having less complete hoods.  There was also a 2nd calendar year bird. An adult Black-headed Gull came very close, so I decided it would make the basis of a nice head and neck portrait.

Adult Mediterranean Gulls

Second calendar year Mediterranean Gull

Adult Black-headed Gull

Friday was the first of two brighter days.  I spent the morning doing a spot of shopping and headed to Scalby Mills around lunch.  Looking back towards Scarborough I noticed a wader with the Black-headed Gulls, feeding on the tide line.  It was a largish bird but not a Redshank, and I suspected it to be a Knot.  I walked the 300 metres or so to the first bit of beach after the rocks and was pleased to see it was indeed a Knot in virtually full summer plumage.  I crept as close as possible and got one decent record shot before it was spooked by children and flew to the rocks.


I decided this was worth a drink, so I returned to the pub for a nice pint of Wainright's Golden ale.

Refreshed, I headed up the steps to the path that looks down to Johnson's Bay to the east and Scalby Beck to the west.  Along the path was a pair of Linnets with young in the nest and I got a photo of the male.  The sun was a bit strong but I thought it was a nice image.  

Male Linnet

After an enjoyable walk along the Cleveland Way where I failed to photograph Sand Martin (too fast) and a pair of Stonechats (too dangerous) I headed back down to Scalby Mills.  Here I spent a very pleasant hour watching a pair of Barn Swallows feeding young.  I had seen them the previous day but in rubbish light. With the sun now behind me, I got one really nice and somewhat artistic shot of a juvenile Swallow.

Barn Swallow

Beer O'clock at Scalby Mills

The Saturday, being my last day, I thought I would check out the harbour in hope of photographing Turnstone, as there had been a full breeding adult at Scalby the previous evening.  Alas, there were no birds around, but as I walked back along the sea wall, I saw the (Red) Knot from the previous day standing on the edge of the walk way.  I stalked it on hands and knees to begin with, and eventually ended up on my belly, as I got the bird down to 10 feet!  I obtained what I think are pretty good images!  Even if I say so myself.


I headed back along Marine drive and joined Stuart Baines who was leading the weekend's cetacean watch.  I was more interested in the cliffs behind me, and as I was watching a Peregrine, a Cuckoo flew out from the headline and did a semi circle and back over town.  The Peregrine took a Kittiwake and ate it, disjecta membra and all and I got one dodgy flight shot, before I headed back to the B&B for my bags.


Andy Hall  

Monday, 3 July 2017

Perfect Puffins!!!

With the adrenaline from the Bee-eaters still pumping, I have an early night and a crack of dawn start on the Saturday morning.  After taking a six o'clock train to Grantham and then a Virgin east coast 125, I'm on my way to Berwick-upon-Tweed by half past seven.  The birding starts in the railway station of the border town as an incredibly confiding Pied Wagtail struts along the platform. 

Pied Wagtail

After whiling away an hour in the not unpleasant town centre, I catch a bus to the little town of Seahouses.  This has to be one of the most scenic bus rides in England with the double decker bus affording great views of the country side and the amazing Bamburgh Castle.

Bamburgh Castle

Budle Bay

Bamburgh from Warren Mill

After dropping off my rucksack at my guest house, I walk down to the little harbour at Seahouses where I have an enjoyable hour taking some photos of the local birds.  The light is excellent and I obtain some decent images around the harbour.

Black-headed Gull


House Sparrow


Just before 3pm I hop onto one of Billy Shiel's boats for a three hour trip that includes a full hour on Inner Farne.  With the breeze creating a bit of a swell, we pause close to a small collection of rocks where a group of Atlantic Grey Seals are basking.  I've seen these animals before but I am more than chuffed at just how well this group show from the little boat. 

Atlantic Grey Seals 

Continuing the cruise past Longstone and Brownsman Islands we moor on the steps at Inner Farne. The fun starts straight away as I run the gauntlet of the Arctic Terns, which have chicks right next to the path and some defend their space aggressively, while others are totally chilled out posing for photos.

Arctic Tern

Taking the central path, I pass a small colony of Sandwich Terns, whose chicks are somewhat more advanced than the Arctics and given their large bills are happily breeding at a safer distance, though still quite close.

Sandwich Tern

Continuing on the far side of the 18 acre island, I meet the puffins and the real reason for the trip. Birds are making constant flights overhead returning from their fishing expeditions.  After sussing the situation, I position myself with the light in the right place and with respect to the favoured flight path of the birds.  After a few attempts I eventually clinch a really nice flight shot, with the bill slightly open and with all the settings maxed out, get a shot with the wings caught nice and sharp.


I now wanted to get the classic puffin photo with the bill full of fish.  At the end promontory some birds are alighting right next to the path, just beyond a roped off area.  A bird comes in with a bill full of sand eels and it remains for me to get the money shot.  I had seen Puffins on Inner Farne in early June, but they were further away.  These were simply breathtaking views.  It has to be one of the best hours birding I've done for a long time.


I take the opportunity to get a few images of the cliff-nesting species, which are all showing at point blank range.





Getting back to Seahouses for 6pm, I have a slap up meal of fish and chips at a local restaurant and feeling tired after the early start, I have a rest in the guest house, before an evening walk and I have a lovely adult Gannet fly right past the harbour wall as dusk approaches.


The Sunday starts with perfectly blue skies and I have a pre-breakfast walk to St. Aiden's where House Martins are collecting nesting material on the slippery rocks.  It's so nice to see this species on the ground.

House Martin

After a cracking full English, I head for the harbour hopefully, but I'm told that the sea is just too choppy to allow landing on Staple Island.  Instead I take a cruise around the islands, which includes sailing almost within touching distance of Staple, where the small and the noise of the birds has to be experienced.

Longstone Island

Brownsman Island

Inner Farne

Staple Island

Guillemot and Razorbill

Wonderful stuff!