For the Whin!

Whinchats are birds that are fairly easy to see around my neck of the woods, but I’ve been too lazy to go up and see them so far this year. Last night I remedied this with a visit to Broomhead Moor, with my mate Andy, a frequent wanderer of that area who managed to locate them for us pretty much to the nearest stalk of bracken! We watched a family party – a pair and at least two juvs – flitting around the rocks and bracken, and had a great added bonus of the mountain hare below snuffling around. Crap photo alert…

Mountain Hare (in there somewhere...)
Mountain hare, honest…

Elsewhere curlew were still about in fairly good numbers, a buzzard soared overhead, ridiculous amounts of red grouse were flushed from the heather as we walked, and a golden plover called from somewhere not too far away. At Broomhead Res a grey wagtail was in the conduit, and a few new fluffly mallard ducklings were around.

A nice bonus on the way back was a little owl perched on a pole near High Bradfield.

EDIT – just noticed a horrible typo where I’d typed “hair” instead of “hare”. If anyone sees me they have my full permission to smack me on the back of my head for that.

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One of those days…

It’s been one of those days where you feel you don’t really see much, but when you get back you realise you’ve seen plenty… one of the curses of keeping a birding year list is that you end up by this time of year, if you’re not careful, getting annoyed by the lack of new stuff coming your way, feeling like there’s nothing interesting around when in fact you’re seeing as much good stuff as ever. Of course there’s way more to life than keeping geeky lists, plenty to see and enjoy wherever you go, and the minute you stop realising that is when you’re on a slippery slope towards turning birdwatching into trainspotting…

Leash Fen

This morning I started off with a trip up to Leash Fen. It was mainly to get a photo to illustrate a forthcoming birding walk I’m doing for Birdwatching magazine, but obviously also to have a look what’s about. It was fairly quiet on the Fen itself, with only a male stonechat standing out, and the usual meadow pipits cheeping away. I walked up towards the bus stop at Owler Bar, through the woodland to the east of Ramsley Moor, with jays, siskins and a great spotted woodpecker in the woods, and a calling common buzzard above.

Near Owler Bar I was surprised to look across the road and see this beautiful pair nonchalantly milling about in the ferns!..

Red Deer

I got back to town about lunchtime and decided to have a quick hop up to Orgreave Lakes, where a yellow-legged gull had recently been reported. That’s the other curse of year lists – squinting through gull flocks! I got there (briefly annoyed looking at Birdguides that a bloody stone curlew had turned up at Beely Moor now I was way over the other side of the city!) and soon found the flock of lesser black-backed gulls that was keeping their yellow-legged cousin company. Scanning through I came across a gull the same size and shape, with a much lighter mantle (but not, I thought at the time, light enough for a herring gull…), fired off a quick photo, and then suddenly they startled at something and the flock took to the air, half of which disappearing off site taking the “yellow-leg” with them.

Zooming in to the photo I really can’t rule out herring, especially as there’s no sign of yellow legs on the bird. From what you can make out on the pixellated monstrosity there is a hint of quite long primary projection, but the bill looks less chunky and the mantle colour not that much darker than the BHGs around it, suggesting herring. And of course, YLG’s legs usually stand out a mile off… The jury’s out, and so no year tick for me then!

Possible yellow-legged gull...

It was dull and drab weatherwise, so not a lot of insects around, but it was good to see plenty of gatekeepers around, which weren’t on the wing yet when I was at the site two weeks ago.

Gatekeeper

A quick scan of Catcliffe Flash aftwards revealed a perched kingfisher, a few pochards, and the usual cast of great crested and little grebes, cormorants, herons and juvenile coots.

And I still felt disappointed by the day’s birding! But writing this blog post has made me realise I’ve had a great day out. OK my list is unchanged. I dipped the yellow-legged gull (a species I saw hundreds of in Italy in May!). I didn’t get to see the stone curlew due to being in the wrong place at the wrong time. But I got kinfishers, woodpeckers, buzzards, stonechats, cormorants, herons, grebes, pochards, siskins, jays… some of the best birds the country has to offer, plus butterflies and some beautiful red deer! That is a good day by anyone’s standards, and that’s what it’s all about.

Proper Gropper Heartstopper

Grasshopper Warbler
(Note – I didn’t take this picture! It’s by Roger Sanderson on Flickr, and used under the Creative Commons Licence.)

A few nights ago I had a walk up to White Lee Moor on a tip off where to find a reeling grasshopper warbler. Although I have heard one reeling once before, it’s probably the commonest bird in the local area that’s still a “bogey” for me, and I was quite keen to actually see one.

Walking up from High Bradfield, with a nice large flock of around 30 lapwings entertaining me on the way, I got to the part of the moor, near the large transmitter mast, where the grasshopper warbler was. The air seemed full of linnets twittering away, a stonechat alarmed somewhere in the vegetation, and pheasants and red grouse could be heard from the surrounding moorland. Before long, at 8pm, the umistakable reel of a grasshopper warbler piped up, no further than about 10 feet away from where I was stood.

For a very frustrating hour I tried to pinpoint the sound, looking for the drab brown bird perched in the reeds, to no avail. Grasshopper warblers rotate their heads while singing, making it almost impossible to get a fix on exactly where their insect-like song is coming from. Eventually I saw a small, brown LBJ flit from the reeds into the base of another clump of vegetation, and soon the reeling began again from the direction this bird had travelled in. Of course it’s quite possible I caught a glimpse of one of the many linnets that were around, but I’m 90% sure it was the”gropper” I caught a glimpse of, and it’s getting chalked up as a rather unsatisfactory “tick”. Hopefully I’ll get better views of a showier singer before long, but I do feel I had a typical grasshopper warbler encounter up there on the moors!

Thorne, North Cave and Blacktoft

North Cave Wetlands
North Cave Wetlands

On Saturday I had a trip out eastwards, starting at Thorne to finally pick up turtle dove, a species that has managed to elude me up to now, despite several attempts. After a few laps of the rhododendron path we finally heard one calling, and got brief views of two tiny doves, wing-clapping softly as they took off, flying over our heads. It’s a “tick”, but I still want better views!

From there on to North Cave, where apart from three avocets, a couple of common terns and some oystercatchers, there wasn’t too much of interest bird-wise, so we moved on to Blacktoft Sands, picking up bearded tit for the year as they flitted around the bases of the reeds, as well as black-tailed godwit, spotted redshank, ruff, dunlin, ringed plover, little egret and the obligatory marsh harrier. I did see one interesting looking wader at the back of the Marshland hide that looked promising for wood sandpiper, but it vanished before I had chance to scrutinise it fully to rule out juvenile redshank. Ah well.

As always this time of year, the most photographic subjects were the insects…

Emerald Damselfly
Emerald Damselfly (Thorne)

Large Skipper
Large Skipper (Thorne)

Four-spotted Chaser
Four-spotted Chaser (North Cave)

Comma
Comma (North Cave)

Orgreave

This morning I had a trip up to Orgreave Lakes to have a look if a black-necked grebe that has been there for the last couple of days was still there. On the way to the bus station I had a bit of a meander round the City Centre riverside, picking up a few sand martins by Blonk Street, and the rather weird-looking leucistic carrion crow by Millsands, plus a couple of new broods of mallards.

Leucistic Carrion Crow
Weird crow…

At Orgreave the BNG was a no-show, but there was plenty more to see, including ringed plovers, great crested grebes, hundreds of swifts with a few house and sand martins mixed in, and loads of singing skylarks and whitethroats.

Orgreave Lakes
Orgreave

I had a walk to Treeton Dyke to see if the BNG had relocated there, but the water-skiers put paid to anything interesting lurking on the lake, with just a few sedge and reed warblers shuttling away in the reeds for interest.

On the bus on the way up I thought I caught a glimpse of a little egret on Catcliffe Flash, so I had a walk down there and sure enough there was one lurking. They’re still a fairly scarce bird in the Sheffield area, and always nice to see locally.

Little Egret

Also on the lake were loads of family parties of coots, a great crested and little grebe, a pochard, and a quick flypast from (believe it or not!) my first kingfisher since New Year’s Day!

And finally, it’s getting into that time of year when I start posting insect shots, and here’s a couple. I’m not 100% sure I’m right with my dragonfly ID, so any corrections would be much appreciated.

Ringlets
Ringlets (there were loads of these about)

Black-tailed Skimmer(?)
Black-tailed Skimmer?