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Saturday 27 October 2018

A Grand Day - on 27th September, 2018

It was forecast to be a fine-weather day, so I set off to visit Willington Gravel Pits, where I had not been so far this year, although it is not very far from my home. This place can be good for birds, and also offers the possibility of dragonflies.

The first viewing platform gave some pleasant views of Black-tailed Godwit, Lapwing, and Little Egret, and a Snipe came in and landed reasonably close but in a position that made photography difficult.

Black-tailed Godwit (Limosa limosa) - Willington Gravel Pits

Lapwing (Vanellus vanellus) - Willington Gravel Pits

Little Egret (Egretta garzetta) - Willington Gravel Pits
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Willington Gravel Pits
The 2nd and 3rd viewing platforms didn't yield anything of interest and when I got to the hide at the end of the run it was quite busy with people. There was plenty to see, but all at a great distance. I took very few photos, but did grab some shots of a Lapwing flock in flight and also of a distant Ruff. Close examination shows other birds in the Lapwing flock some of which were, I believe, Starlings and two of which were Black-tailed Godwits. There was at least one other bird which was a Godwit-sized wader, but I can't identify it.

Lapwings + other birds - Willington Gravel Pits

Ruff (Calidris pugnax) - Willington Gravel Pits
I wasn't able to stay long as I'd told Lindsay that I'd be back for an early lunch time. I headed back along the track, finding the Snipe was still in the same place, and was resting.

Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) - Willington Gravel Pits
Working out that I still had half an hour to spare before I needed to head homeward, I took a short walk along the path that leads to the railway bridge and canal. Here I saw a few Common Darter dragonflies. These mainly seemed to have the preservation of future generations on their minds.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male + female in cop) - Willington Gravel Pits
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Willington Gravel Pits
I arrived home to find that a rather special bird, plus another slightly less special, had been discovered only a couple of miles (3 km) from my home. The finder was local birder, and 'thoroughly nice bloke', Mick Smith, who kindly gave me directions as to how to find its location. I quickly had lunch and set off again.

Parking in Donisthorpe church car park, I set off down the track, which is the bed of a disused railway line. It was only a walk of just over 800 metres to get to the point where I could see the stretch of water below me. I managed to find a spot with an extremely narrow field of  view through the trees and the nearest bank approximately 70 metres away (per Google Earth).

Fortunately I quickly spotted the lesser of the two birds - the Great Egret. It was, however, in an un-photographable position. My luck changed when it flew off to the right and landed on higher ground in the adjacent field. I managed to find another spot where I had a clearer view.  It was now, however, about 120 metres away. It then did the most massive poo and headed back to the water. Had it done this to save polluting the water?

Here are a few of the Great Egret:-

Great Egret (Ardea alba) - near Donisthorpe
It was definitely my lucky day, however, when the Glossy Ibis strode into view at the near bank. In this next image, which contains both the Egret and the Ibis, you can see virtually my whole field of view. It probably included less than 10% of the water surface, and the visible stretch of near bank was probably less than 1% of the total water's edge.

Great Egret and Glossy Ibis - the flash near Donisthorpe
The Ibis stayed in the visible stretch for quite a while, but at that range the photos were never going to be great. Here are some that I did manage:-

Glossy Ibis (Plegadis falcinellus) - near Donisthorpe
The Ibis eventually wandered out of sight and, having waited a little while in case some birders showed up wanting to find the location (none showed), decided it was time to leave. I realised that I'd not been to Ticknall Limeyards for a while, so set off to visit there.

Having arrived by the lake that's usually the most productive for dragonflies, I found a couple of Migrant Hawkers, and a single Common Darter. I tried for some shots for a while, but then the sun went down and all was lost. I didn't quite come back empty-handed, but it was a close call!

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Ticknall Limeyards
Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (male) - Ticknall Limeyards
It had, thanks to Mick, been truly a Grand Day Out!

Thank you for dropping by. My next post might well feature an owl or two!

Friday 19 October 2018

Mixed Feelings - 17th to 20th September, 2018

This is my second attempt at writing this post. For reasons that I won't go into, my first attempt stalled. It started off long on words and short on images. It's still short on images, but not quite so long on words. It's definitely not a photographic post - I just wanted to get a message across.

Lindsay and I recently had a short break based in Helmsley, North Yorkshire. We booked accommodation at The Royal Oak in the centre of the town. This year I was a little apprehensive about one particular aspect of our visit, as there has been so much bad publicity about raptor persecution, with Yorkshire having the worst record of any county. Nevertheless, we were both looking forward to our stay.

Monday, 17th September 

We got away from home shortly after 10h00, stopping for lunch in  Boston Spa. It was then a run of less than an hour to Helmsley. Shops were visited, and an ice cream enjoyed, before we checked in. We had dinner at La Trattoria, a few doors down from The Royal Oak

  • Finding two Peter May books that I wanted, in a charity shop in Boston Spa
  • Ryeburn of Helmsley (twice!) - the best ice cream we have ever tasted anywhere!
  • Excellent tapas-style dinner at La Trattoria
  • Finding that our bed would be uncomfortably hard
  • Finding that our room was above the bar with throbbing bass from the music till 23h00 
Tuesday, 18th September

After breakfast, a tour of the town and an ice cream before departing onto the moors for a picnic lunch and an  afternoon on the moors, south of Cockayne. Dinner that night was at Helmsley Spice. I feel that I must enlarge on this matter as it was probably the worst Indian meal that we have ever experienced. We got off to a bad start when I said I had an intolerance of bell peppers (capsicums) but was OK with chillies. The response was that all their curries were based on the same 'gravy' which contained peppers! There was just one main course that I could choose without peppers. We both ordered the prawn on puri starters - and ended up with extremely sore mouths! - not hot from chilli, but as if there had been something very caustic in the mix. My main course was just OK, but Lindsay (who likes a hot curry) said that her Madras was ridiculously hot. We were both rather poorly that night, but Lindsay took a couple of weeks to fully recover from a sore tummy.

  • A great breakfast at the Royal Oak
  • Ryeburn's ice cream (again)
  • Finding a wonderfully realistic life-sized sculpture of a Snowy Owl in the Sissons Gallery
  • Scenery on the moors - but with reservations!

Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis) - North Yorkshire Moors
  • A poor start after a dreadful night's 'sleep'
  • Coming away from the Sissons Gallery without the Snowy Owl
  • The endless reminders (sight and sound) that these moors are used by barbaric shooters
  • High winds keeping the birds down
  • An awful meal at Helmsley Spice
Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) - North Yorkshire Moors
Red-legged Partridge (Alectoris rufa) - North Yorkshire Moors
Wednesday, 19th September

After another good breakfast we set off to a different moorland area, having bought a picnic lunch to take with us. This time we stayed further east, through Hutton le Hole, Rosedale Abbey and Lealholm, to Castleton. We got back to Helmsley in time for an ice cream and had Dinner at The Royal Oak.

  • A good breakfast at the Royal Oak
  • Scenery on the moors - but with reservations!
  • Finding a place called Low Bell End!
  • Dale Head Farm Tea Garden - apart from the sound of gunfire
  • Ryeburn's ice cream (again)
  • Dinner at the Royal Oak 
Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus) (female) - by Hutton le Hole
  • A poor start after a poor night's 'sleep'
  • The endless reminders (sight and sound) that these moors are used by barbaric shooters
  • Extremely high winds which, coupled with heavy rain, were stopping traffic on the moors 

Red Grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica) - North Yorkshire Moors
Thursday, 20th September

After a gentle start and a late-ish breakfast, we went for a farewell ice cream and headed homeward.


It had, over all, been an enjoyable break. However, the (lack of) comfort of the bed and very windy weather conspired against us to a degree.

One aspect, however, was upsetting to both of us, and that was the constant reminder that we were in shooting country. Groups of vehicles (mainly of a 'certain type') parked near long lines of shooting boxes on the moors, and the sound of gunfire spoiled what should have been a fabulous experience. Outside of the towns and villages, I estimate that 95% of the birds we saw had been put there purely to be shot - Red Grouse, Red-legged Partridge, and Pheasant were everywhere. The density of road-kill was far higher than I have ever seen anywhere before.

Even in Helmsley itself, the presence of shooters was evident in the evening, acting as if they owned the place (they probably did!) with yobbish arrogance.

Neither Lindsay nor I can understand the mentality of persons who take pleasure from the maiming or killing living creatures. It's frightening to think that these people probably have the same disrespect for the well-being of fellow human beings.

Speaking with several of the 'locals' I didn't find a single person who approved of shooting. However, the story was the same with everyone - shooting attracts people from all over the world and whilst low in numbers, these people are prepared to spend huge amounts of money to satisfy their barbaric lust to destroy life. This money then lines the pockets of the privileged few - who, sadly, are in powerful positions.

However, the tide seems to be turning. It was pointed out to me that many businesses in Helmsley were shutting down due to a major turn-down in the local tourist industry over the past couple of years, whilst most other tourist areas in UK are experiencing a bit of a boom due to people taking what I believe is called 'staycations'. Could it be that Lindsay and I are not the only people who have decided that, in spite of its many attractions, the area is being desperately spoiled by the shooting fraternity and, like us, will almost certainly not return - unless the shooting stops.

This barbaric killing and maiming has to stop, and the illegal persecution of wildlife must be fully prosecuted with much higher penalties.


I'm relatively certain that my next blog post is not far away, and will be on a happier note!

Thank you for dropping by.

Monday 1 October 2018

Kelham Bridge - on 24th September, 2018

I had intended this blog post to be one about the recent visit that Lindsay and I made to North Yorkshire, but my writing stalled for reasons that I won't go into here, so here is an account of a visit I made to a local Wildlife Trust site.

I had decided that it was time I started reconnecting with the local avian scene, so headed off to Kelham Bridge. This site can be good for Kingfisher, although I didn't see one when I'd visited three weeks earlier.

As I entered the site, a Small Copper butterfly was by the gate. I've mentioned, in previous posts, that this delightful species seems to have made a strong comeback this year after years of decline. I take great pleasure, therefore, in showing yet another image of this species.

Small Copper (Lycaena phlaeas) - Kelham Bridge
I called in at the first (west) hide where there was just one other person. We had just started chatting when a Kingfisher appeared and stopped for less than a second on a stick in front of the hide before flying off to the island, 70 metres away.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (male) - Kelham Bridge
It stayed on the island for a short while before flying to some Reedmace at the edge of the pool, even further away.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (male) - Kelham Bridge
The Kingfisher soon disappeared from this position, and I hung around for a while, waiting for its return. The only other birds of any interest from this hide were a Green Sandpiper and Snipe, which were also very distant.

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) + Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus) - Kelham Bridge
After a while, with little happening at this location (although a few dragonflies were distantly seen), I set off to the the second (east) hide. On the way, I stopped briefly to photograph a Common Darter. It was a poor shot, but I include it here as it could be my last female Common Darter shot of the season.

Common Darter (Sympetrum striolatum) (female) - Kelham Bridge.
I arrived at the second hide to find three other people there. I found a reasonable spot to sit, and joined in with the chatter that was going on. One person was saying that one photographer had been in the hide and had complained about the position of the sticks that had been put in to aid Kingfisher photography. He'd particularly cited one stick (which happened to be one that I'd taken there last year!), saying it was far too close to the water and a Kingfisher would never land on it.

We didn't have to wait too long before a Kingfisher arrived and, having momentarily visited a couple of locations, came and landed on 'my' stick, that a Kingfisher would never land on! It stayed a short while before departing without having attempted to fish.

Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis) (male) - Kelham Bridge
I stayed for another two and a half hours, but the Kingfisher did not return. I did, however, take some shots of the Little Grebe that came a little closer at one time, and also of one of the Mute Swans that was just looking serene, as usual!

Little Grebe (Tachybaptus ruficollis) - Kelham Bridge
Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Kelham Bridge
There were several dragonflies around, with three species being noted. As well as the aforementioned Common Darters, there were Migrant Hawkers and Brown Hawkers. I tried for some flight shots of the Migrant Hawkers, but didn't want to adjust my camera settings in case the Kingfisher reappeared, so the results were grim. Here's one 'just for the record'.

Migrant Hawker (Aeshna mixta) (male) - Kelham Bridge
At one point, a Brown Hawker flew down and landed on a grassy slope about 10 metres away from the hide. I've never seen a Brown Hawker settle anywhere but in a tree, so this is another poor shot 'just for the record'.

Brown Hawker (Aeshna grandis) (male) - Kelham Bridge
Having given up on the Kingfisher, as the light was quickly disappearing, I set off back to the first hide. On the approach path I noticed some Shaggy Inkcap fungi, which I hadn't seen earlier. These are, apparently, rather good to eat in their early stage, but I shall not be trying them!

Shaggy Inkcap (Coprinus comatus) - Kelham Bridge
Back in the first hide, I noticed that one of the swans was now there and, whilst looking at it, I also saw that there were two Snipe in the same area. They were, however, over 100 metres away. 

When I looked at the second shot, below, I noticed that there was also a Water Rail in frame - can you see it?

Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) + Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Kelham Bridge
Snipe (Gallinago gallinago) + Water Rail (Rallus aquaticus) - Kelham Bridge
With a lot of flapping and noise, the swan took off and flew overhead. It was now time to go.

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) - Kelham Bridge
I could get quite into this bird photography thing - it might just catch on!

I'm not sure what my next post will feature. It might be the delayed account of our North Yorkshire visit, or it might feature some local birds seen recently.

Thank you for dropping by.