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Thursday, 22 August 2013

Scarborough Fair? - No, P D Good Actually!! - 3rd to 9th August, 2013

For the first time, in over 42 years, I took a holiday without my wife earlier this month. No, I haven't disposed of her or lost her - it's just that our very aged cat doesn't do well, these days, being left in the care of a cat sitter. He still hasn't fully recovered from the last time we went away (in May). For the time being, therefore, we are having our holidays separately.

For my break, I decided on a week based in North Yorkshire. The plan was that I'd spend my time doing a little fossil hunting and quite a lot of bird watching - all in a relatively unfettered fashion! I managed to find reasonably priced-accommodation through the Discover Yorkshire Coast web site, and so set off with a week's bed and breakfast booked at The Russell Hotel in Scarborough.

So this is how my holiday progressed:

Saturday 3rd August 

Setting off after an early lunch, and finding less traffic than I expected, I arrived at The Russell shortly before 16:00. Glenn, who runs this establishment with his partner Lyn, was outside the front of the hotel to greet me. Check in was quick and painless, and Glenn came up with some good tips for my week's stay, including the location of a local Peregrine!

After sorting out all my kit, I set off on foot, through Peaseholm Park, for the coast. The park was busy with holidaymakers enjoying the brilliant sunshine, and the coast, when I reached it, was being redeveloped and a bit of a 'building site'. Undeterred, I continued southwards towards the headland on which sit the ruins of Scarborough Castle. Now I started to see the birds. At first it was just gulls (I don't take a lot of interest in these) and a Shag, but then I got to where the Kittiwakes nest on the cliffs. Unfortunately the cliffs face east and the sun was in the west, so the birds were in shade, and rather distant.

Kittiwake - Scarborough
A local birder pointed out the Peregrine to me as it departed (thank you), but at about 200 metres I didn't stand a chance of a photo.

I continued round the headland and into the town centre, looking for somewhere to have my evening meal. I was only about a mile (1.6 km) from being back at the hotel, when I discovered the Nishat Spice Tandoori restaurant. The food here was some of the best I have ever tasted in an Indian restaurant, and the prices were extremely reasonable too!

As I'd walked about 4 miles (6.5 km) carrying my photographic kit I was a bit tired by the time I got back, so settled in for a relatively early night.

Sunday 4th August

After a leisurely breakfast, I set off for Filey. Local bird photographer of note, Steve Race (who runs photographic workshops and guided visits as Yorkshire Coast Nature),  tipped me off about this place. It took a while to find the access to Filey Brigg (I wasn't looking for the Country Park - which is where it is) and, having parked up, I set off full of anticipation. 

I was getting distant views of birds below me, and soon spotted a Kestrel which landed on the side of the cliffs a couple of hundred metres away, and so made off in that direction in the hope of some images from above. It was up again before I got anywhere near, and the next thing I knew it was just above my head!  The first image, below, is for Doug and Noushka - you know why!!

Kestrel (female) - Filey Brigg
The Kestrel quickly got much more distant, but then shot a bit closer again - and suddenly there were two of them. Sadly, I failed to get a decent image of the two together!

I had a temporary diversion to photograph a Pied Wagtail collecting food - presumably for young.

Pied Wagtail (male) - Filey Brigg
After this I found myself captivated by the Meadow Pipits that were foraging for food along the cliff tops.

Meadow Pipit - Filey Brigg
A Linnet was also in the area, but rather more aloof!

Linnet (male) - Filey Brigg
The butterflies were, out in spite of the breeze. It might be one of our most common species, but the Peacock is certainly spectacular.

Peacock - Filey Brigg
My next target was Filey Dams. Finding this place is not easy unless someone gives you the magic clue !

There are two hides at Filey Dams. One is very close to the car park, and the other is a couple of minutes walk away. Both are worth a visit, but I found the further hide to be the most productive. I'll start with the more commonplace.

There are Grey Herons resident here, and they can cause some amusement.

Grey Heron - Filey Dams
The amusement came when a Herring Gull decided that it took exception to the Heron and continually and noisily dive-bombed it over about a five minute period. The Heron kept ducking down and was getting more and more ruffled as the onslaught went on!

Grey Heron and Herring Gull - Filey Dams
Next it was the turn of the Crows - not just any Crows, but the Filey Crows. These are achieving celebrity status as they are fooling quite a few people with their identity. This next image shows why!

Carrion Crow (leucistic) - Filey Dams
This is one of a family of Crows. One adult (I believe the male) is normal. The second adult shows a small amount of leucism. However, the juveniles are all quite markedly leucistic, and spectacular - particularly in flight!

Carrion Crow (leucistic) - Filey Dams
The further hide was good for waders, and this place has seen some real gems in the past. On this day I got good views of Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper. As I'd never before managed a passable shot of a Green Sand, this is what I concentrated on.

Green Sandpiper - Filey Dams
Green Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper - Filey Dams
The next bird had me foxed (I'm not good at waders!) until a local birder put me right. It was a juvenile Dunlin (so no black belly). Later, it was joined by a second one. I rather like the second image below, where the Dunlin is dwarfed by the gull!

Dunlin (juvenile) - Filey Dams
In the last two images, you're starting to see the effects of one of the problems with this further hide. In the late afternoon the sun (when out) is full in your face and photography (and bird identification for that matter) becomes rather difficult.

If it hadn't been for the birder who put me right about the Dunlin, I'd have (dis)missed this next bird. A Garganey flew in. I'm pretty sure it's a male, mainly because of the speculum, but I'm not sure if it's a juvenile or an adult in eclipse plumage.

Garganey (male) - Filey Dams
It seems that the bird had just arrived to roost as it soon tucked its head in and went to sleep as shown in the last image above.

Calling in at the first hide on my way back to the car, I managed a shot of a Tree Sparrow.

Tree Sparrow - Filey Dams
Feeling peckish, and as the light in my face was making life difficult, I set off back to Scarborough, where I had another great meal at the Nishat Spice (on the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' principle!).

Monday 5th August

I'd made arrangements for an early breakfast as I was going to do some fossil hunting, which is tide dependent. I woke up to pouring rain, but I was still on the road before 06:00 and on the beach at Reighton Sands by 06:30. For the next six hours the rain was incessant. Furthermore, the fossils in this area are mainly to be found in sticky clay. I was later told by a 'local' that they call it 'friendly clay' as, once you've got it. it never leaves you! To cut a long story short, I finished here absolutely plastered in mud, soaked to the skin, and with only a couple of choice (and minute) specimens (plus a fair bit of 'rubbish') to show for my time.

I returned to my hotel, had a shower, and then decided a nap was in order! Whilst I kipped the sun came out. As I'd had no lunch, I decided on an early tea and headed off to Walkers Fish Restaurant in East Ayton. This place has an excellent reputation, and I thought I'd give them a try with a simple Haddock and Chips. It was superb, and the huge bowl of (locally made) Amaretto ice cream afterwards was the icing on the cake!

Suitably refreshed I thought I'd head back to Filey Dams. As it was later than my previous afternoon visit, the adverse sun problem was worse. This was made even more frustrating when I arrived to find that a Barn Owl was out and roosting in a tree about 200 metres away, and straight into the low evening sun! There's been some extremely heavy post-processing done to get the following images, the second of which shows the owl passing its nest box as it headed off on a hunting expedition.

Barn Owl - Filey Dams
The Black-tailed Godwits and Ruff that were visible were not photographable, but I did take some shots of Green Sandpiper, but no better than those from the previous day.

Tuesday 6th August

Another early start had me waiting for the tide to go out enough before I could get round the headland to the east of Whitby harbour for more fossil hunting. Once I'd got round the headland with only slightly wet feet, it was only a few minutes before I found the best Ammonite that I've ever found. I started chipping it out of the rock that it was in, but decided to finish it off with a proper job when I got home. I cleaned myself and the tools off in a rock pool, put everything in my bag, and set off for some more fossil hunting. I did OK, but nothing like as good as that first find. On my way back again, I noticed a kid hammering away in the distance where I'd found that first fossil. He then walked towards me with a smug grin on his face. I asked if he'd had any luck to which he replied "quite good actually". It was only when I reached the spot where I'd found that fossil, saw the rock with the impression of where an ammonite had been, and checked my bag, that I realised that I'd picked up everything except the fossil !!! I'm not sure if this is conclusive proof that I'm getting old and stupid, whether it's evidence that I don't do well on early starts, or if it's an indication that I'd just left my brains at home. I suspect it's a bit of each!

On my way back to the car I stopped off at the shop of Justin, the chocolatier, to buy a Captain Cook's Cannonball (the biggest rum truffle you've ever seen!) for my lunch - yep. I'm definitely into healthy eating!

I'd been told about the Raptor Viewpoint in Wykeham Forest, and that was my destination for that afternoon. I arrived to find three guys coming away who said they'd been there three hours, and only seen three Common Buzzards in that time. My hopes, therefore, were not high!

In the event, I didn't see a single raptor, but I really enjoyed my time here, relaxing in the sunshine, and watching the other wildlife around me. There were masses of bees around on the Knapweed flowers - often three to a flower head. Sorry, I don't know my bee species.

Bee (unidentified) - Wykeham Forest Raptor Viewpoint
There was also a profusion of Silver Y moths. Although one of Britain's most common moths, they do seem to be having an exceptionally good year this year. By amazing coincidence I see that this next image was taken on exactly the same flower head as the previous one - there were thousands to choose from!

Silver Y - Wykeham Forest Raptor Viewpoint
The butterflies were not so evident, but there were a few Small Skippers around.

Small Skipper - Wykeham Forest Raptor Viewpoint
The star of the show for me was the Common Lizard which sunned itself, briefly, on the railings in front of the seat. Sadly, it never moved to a more photogenic location, but just crept under the metal sheathing.

Common Lizard - Wykeham Forest Raptor Viewpoint
On my way back to the car I found fungi rowing under the pines. I don't know my fungi, but I suspect that this is a Russula species.

Russula spp.? - Wykeham Forest
That night I ate at my hotel. It was a fixed menu and the food, although very good and plentiful, was not to my taste, so I didn't repeat the exercise.

Wednesday 7th August

Another early start, and this time off to Runswick Bay for my fossiling. I spent a long time here and with some success too.

That afternoon I paid a visit to the scenic Forge Valley, but I didn't get there until mid-afternoon. From one of the car parks there is a pleasant boarded walk alongside the River Derwent (not much more than a stream here), and I took this northwards. Little was seen of interest, and the only photos I took were of a female Common Darter dragonfly, and these were not very satisfactory. Incidentally, this was the only dragonfly/damselfly that I saw all week, and people I spoke to said that this area was really short of them this year, but that in Lancashire, to the west, they were doing really well.

Further up the road I found a 'birdwatchers car park'. This had space for about six cars, and the car park was ringed by feeders - all completely empty. I'd got some mixed bird seed with me and placed some in a couple of places. The birds were there immediately, but the light was awful. I made a mental note to come back at a time when the light was better but, as a reminder as to where this place was, I offer the following image.. 

Grey Squirrel - Forge Valley
That evening, it was back to Walkers for a Tuna Steak with Lime dressing and a side-salad.

Thursday 8th August

The morning and early afternoon were spent at Bempton Cliffs and I took so many photos here that I'm going to save these until my next post on this blog. The header image to my blog is a taste of what's to come.

In the afternoon I returned to Filey Dams. I'd really taken to this place. The local birders are very friendly and helpful, and there were also some interesting discussions about camera equipment. In my local area, as a Nikon user, I am very much in the minority. Up there, I only saw one Canon user - everyone else was Nikon! A couple of the guys had recently bought the later Sigma 105 mm macro, and I was knocked out by the results that they were getting - one guy even let me try his out on a bug only about 4mm long, and the results were amazing. 

The birds are pretty good here too. This time there was a bit of cloud around, and I managed some distant shots of the Black-tailed Godwits.

Black-tailed Godwit - Filey Dams
 I also took some distant shots of Ruff, but there are better to come later. The Green Sandpipers were still around.

Green Sandpiper - Filey Dams
 A Shoveler then obligingly swam past the front of the hide and then started preening.

Shoveler (female) - Filey Dams
The last thing to arrive, before I set off back to my hotel, was the family of 'Filey Crows'.

a 'Filey Crow' - Filey Dams
That night, it was back to the Nishat Spice for another excellent meal, followed by sampling the wares of the local micro brewery, Wold Top, back at the hotel.

Friday 9th August

This was my last day based in Scarborough as I'd be departing early the next morning, and it seemed appropriate to return to Filey Dams as I'd not yet been there in the morning. I took another relatively early start and was in place by about 07:30.

It turned out to be a good move as I didn't have to wait long before a large male Ruff put in an appearance and steadily approached the hide until it was only about 20 metres away. This is, by far, the closest I've ever been to a Ruff.

Ruff (male) - Filey Dams
The excitement rose when a Greenshank arrived and started to make its way towards me, much as the Ruff had done. I've never photographed a Greenshank before, so I shall indulge myself a little here.

Greenshank - Filey Dams
A second bird then flew in to join it. I was having a field day!

Greenshank - Filey Dams
I was going to put in some photos of a Heron and a flock of Lapwing in flight here, but these seem so mundane that I'll leave you with another Green Sandpiper that decided to grace my lens during this session.

Green Sandpiper - Filey Dams
In the afternoon I set off for Dalby Forest, with a pass kindly supplied to me by my hotel. I took the scenic route, along Forge Valley, stopping to strategically lay some food at the 'birdwatchers car park'. This time I did manage a few photos, concentrating mainly on the Willow Tits (I think that they were 'Willow' rather than 'Marsh') that I'd seen on my previous brief visit.

Willow Tit - Forge Valley
I noticed that a lot of the birds here were ringed ('banded' in American parlance). I also took some shots of Coal Tit.

Coal Tit - Forge Valley
It's strange that many of the birds seemed to drop in on the same stump as they arrived - there were plenty of others to choose from!

I'd not been there very long before someone arrived in a car with two young kids, and noisily started to fill up every feeding post with bread - I'd carefully placed my bait so that all the birds would be attracted to a small area where the light was best. Time to go, I thought!

Continuing to Dalby Forest, I had a pleasant drive and a lakeside walk, but with no photo opportunities. I stopped off in the visitor centre to buy presents to take home and then set off back to Walkers for a Crab Salad tea, followed by more of the wonderful Amaretto ice cream.

After tea, I still had plenty of time in hand, so where better to spend my time than at my new-found favourite - Filey Dams. This proved to be a good move as, although the light was even worse (bright, and full in my face) at the far hide than on my previous visits, I did mange some photo opportunities (all very heavily post-processed).

This time I had (I think) two juvenile female Ruff together. I know that I took some photos of male and female together to show the size difference, but I must have scrapped them as sub-standard as I can't find any now, other than the last one below, which doesn't really do the job!

Ruff (juvenile females?) - Filey Dams
Ruff (juvenile female? plus male) - Filey Dams
Suddenly I noticed two Little Egret in a tree in the distance - they really are spreading northwards! One of these stayed firmly obstructed by branches.

Little Egret - Filey Dams
To my delight, a Barn Owl appeared and went to the same roost position as the previous time. However, this time I got the distinct impression that I was looking at a juvenile. I've included the first image to show the position of the roost in relation to the owl box.

Barn Owl (juvenile?) - Filey Dams
The light was so utterly difficult by now that I felt it was time to go. I called in at the hide by the car park to find that the light was more manageable here. The Egret that had been obscured was now visible, albeit at a greater distance.

Little Egret - Filey Dams
Suddenly there were four of them, and one of the local Herons did not seem very happy and started kicking up a racket.

Little Egret - Filey Dams
When the Barn Owl briefly appeared again at about 250 metres distance I felt that this was a high that provided a fitting time to leave.

Barn Owl - Filey Dams
Had I had a good holiday? - you bet I had! Do I want to return to the area? very much so! Would I stay at the Russell in Scarborough again? - certainly! Do I like having a holiday on my own?  - I'm not going to answer that one in case it gets me into trouble! 

I hope that you can find some interest in the above. I'll be leaving this post to run for a few days before posting on my session at Bempton Cliffs.


  1. A totally amazing post Richard, full of great images, it's so good to get photographic ticks of certain species and you filled your boots with waders. That Dunlin looked in danger from the gull though. I like the Willow tit as I had some confusion between the two and found your images to be very helpful.
    That Barn Owl box is that a camera inside? Top of door frame at the back of the box small circular object.
    Thanks for keeping my foot fetish suitably fed, not only with a Kes' but those lovely long rear talons on the Mipit too.
    I'm glad it's not only me who find Yorkie birders a friendly bunch it can really make a good day out...can't wait for the Bempton post but having been I know how long it can take to go through all the images.

    1. Thanks Doug. It certainly gave me some photographic 'ticks' that I was more than happy to get, including (amazingly) Shoveler! I'm sure I have had shots of Shoveler before, but it seems that they were not good enough to 'publish'.

      Not sure about the Barn Owl box. Nobody mentiioned a camera, but then they might not, for security reasons.

      I probably didn't stress enough in this post just how friendly and helpful the birders up there were. They were a major part of my enjoyment of my time there.

  2. Wow,where to begin,lets start with your Header,magic.
    I was amazed with this set,absolutely wonderful images of some of my favourite species,outstanding details.
    loved the Willow Tit,i thought your Kestrel was superb,wish i was standing beside you.
    What a great tick list,also thought your Macro was great,all in all Richard.
    You ticked all the Boxes.

    1. Thank you for your very kind words, John. They are very much appreciated.

  3. Wonderful series!! Boom & Gary of the Vermilon River, Canada.

    1. Thanks Gary - best wishes to you and Boom.

  4. It sounds like a very interesting holiday and you've shown a very interesting series of birds. I especially like the in-flight Kestrel and the Green Sandpiper with its wings up about to take flight.

    1. Thank you Mick. I really had a most enjoyable time!

  5. Fabulous photos of these wonderful birds!

  6. Looks like you had a great week. Great series.

  7. Amazing post and photos! Awesome collection of birds!

  8. wow Richard that was a mighty powerful post. So much to see and enjoy from my side of the world. Such a variety and your photographs so wonderful clear. I loved all the bird types and I was especially interested in the Garganey which reminded me much of the Pacific Black Duck of Australia

  9. Hahaha!
    As a "foot-fetishist", I admire the kestrel in flight of course!! ;-)
    What a post! All these excellent pics make me feel I was by your side!
    Great sightings, Richard!
    I know I have several Barn owls on my property, but I can never see them! :(
    It drives me crazy!!
    You melanistic crow is incredible, we see a Blackbird or a corvidae with white feathers once in while but managing pics is another story, brilliant!
    Keep well and may your cat's health improve!

    1. Thank you for your kind words and good wishes Noushka, which are much appreciated. I'm dreading loosing this cat, and it will be our last.

  10. Great set of pictures - next time can a add a few more pictures!!

    I am in the early stages of planning a trip to the UK - I think I may have to add a few of these sites to the itinerary!

    Cheers and thanks for linking to WBW - Stewart M _ Australia

    1. Thank you Stewart. Maybe we could meet up when you visit UK. I could introduce you to some of my owls!

  11. HI Richard Just discovered your blog and I am so glad I did (joined now). What an outstanding documentation and photographic record of your week's birding. I felt I was there with you and enjoyed every bird that you found. The shots of the Kestrel and Green Sandpiper are fantastic, liked the Willow Tit as we do not get them in Northern Ireland and I could go on and on. I hope Stewart comes over to N.I. when he comes as I would love to take him birding.

    1. Thank you, Margaret, for your very kind words. I have a feeling that Stewart will get plenty of invitations!

  12. What a wonderful series of fantastic shots! I love your header too.


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