Sunday, 15 November 2015

Crag Martin at the Crooked Spire

After moving back to York a month ago, I finally got the opportunity to get to Spurn for the weekend, just in time for the tail end of the hurricane to hit the UK. Arriving at 10:30 I nipped into the wetlands, stopping at the car park for a while to watch a short eared owl quartering the field across the road. From the hide there was only a dunlin, redshank, and a flock of brent geese, and after 20 minutes I decided to head down to the reserve. 

There wasn't much moving there either and the clouds were brooding. I wandered down the point past the wash-over, but the beach was bare and the waders well dispersed over the exposed mud, so I turned back north. As I walked between sea-watch and the Blue Bell I could see another SEO over Canal Scrape, but aside from a couple of goldcrests at beacon lane, that was as fun as it got. I forged onwards to the lagoons, hoping for snow bunting on the beach, but no luck; then the rain hit, and I enjoyed a damp half hour trudge back to the obs. The persisted brizzle was quick to soak me through and turn my thoughts first to hot drinks and drying off, then to curries and pints.

Sunday started dismally; as the rain tailed of at 9 the next morning we stood on the cliff top, counting through the siskin, goldfinch, redpoll and twite. There was little moving on the sea, just a few divers and auks, but I did pick up my first little gull on the Humber. All last week I had been looking at the reports of crag martin at Chesterfield, but had not had the opportunity to get on the road. After fidgetting at sea-watch for half an hour in the hope of something exciting I cracked, said goodbye to everyone, and hopped into the car. 

Two hours later I'd parked the car and found the small crowd off birders at the church. As I arrived one car was leaving for the stadium, where the bird had been most recently sighted, but it suddenly appeared round a building and began circling the church.

I watched the bird for just over an hour as it made quick passes around the crooked spire, only once vanishing across to the stadium. Luckily the rain held off, but unfortunately for me the bird was just to fast for me and my poor camera. I did get a couple of records, but none of the real super-shots that I saw on the LCD's of some of my fellow twitchers. Still, one closer to 400!

Tail spots just visible

Buff under-side

Thursday, 5 November 2015

Chaos in Crete

A belated post following a workshop on storytelling in science education Rachel (FSC Scotland) and I were running at the European Marine Science Educators Association conference in Crete. Cushy right? 

I'd gotten a little preparatory reading done and, as far as I could tell, the Heraklion area was not the buzzing hub of Cretan bird life; but after a drab Scottish summer and the short winter nights on the horizon, I was certainly ready for a chance to be out in the warm (hopefully not too warm). I was also aware that spare time would be incredibly limited, so I set my sites low with hope of a handful of new species: maybe a shrike or two, or a new heron, perhaps a red-throated pipit... 

On the first day there was the usual disappointment. The venue were nowhere near fresh water, there were very few birds on the surrounding wires, the scrub was filled with sparrows... As we walked along the sea front I failed to spot a single gull or wader. Inside, I was grumbling... too warm... bloody heavy camera... gotta be a dry river bed somewhere...

We eventually reached the aquarium, our venue for the week, and I got my first hints of wildlife. In amongst the ubiquitous sparrows, a few crested larks and pipits foraged... not much, but a start. 

Crested Lark

prob. tawny pipit

The next day I cracked it. Look up. As I sat dejectedly with a coffee I watched a falcon come in from the sea. Then a flock of egrets go over. Then purple heron. Three hooded crows. Over the break I ticked of a further four species before giving up and immersing myself in the haze of networking and strong coffee that is the conference day.

Unfortunately that was abut it, aside from the flyovers the real highlight was the incredibly confiding kingfishers that worked the little inlets along the beach. But there was so much promise in the hills that loomed on the horizon, covered by low scrub. When I return I'll be heading to those hills (more prepared for the hot weather), with warblers in my sights. Until then I have the memory of strong coffee, friendly delegates, and the promise of doing it all again next year in Belfast.

Storytelling workshop