Friday, 22 April 2016

At Last a Proper Spring Day . . .

Thursday was best day of the year so far and the wanderlust took me out for a good walk around the locale, starting with the land around Sherburn Towers farm, Hollinhill Lane down to Low Thornley, through Thornley and Paddock Hill woods, the viewpoint walk to Far Pasture and home via the Derwent Walk. By far my longest walk this year, and with the heat I was pretty knackered by the time I got home.
Firstly up Hollinhill Lane to the farmland, the abundance of singing chiffchaffs was most noteable, and skylarks one two then three began their aerial serenades. Every now and then linnets would fly noisily overhead, a skulky song thrush, and though a few yellowhammers were seen, only one brief snippet of song was heard, shame that as its one of those quintessential sounds of the open spaces in the British spring and summer I love to hear. Butterflies were out in good numbers though, small torts and peacocks especially, with the occasional small white making up the numbers.
Just one pair of lapwings in a field was disappointing, and a flyover curlew the only other wader. Also only one meadow pipit heard briefly, used to be a lot more up here, may explain why we don't seem to get cuckoos any more. Only 10 years ago I had three calling from all around this same land (though still a bit early for them this year, I'll have to go back in a couple of weeks).

Best shot I could get of a skylark, three singing but way up high
and into the sun.

Lovely strong shadows cast along the path through the copse

Red Kite viewpoint at the bus terminus at Sherburn Towers
Viewed from afar and through the haze

Small tortoiseshell and Peacocks out in force
along the farm track

A panoramic view, shame it was so hazy

Best shot of a yellowhammer, must've been too warm for singing, they were all a bit skulky

On a brighter note, tree sparrows were in abundance up by Thornley kennels, one species which 10 years ago were as tricky to find as rocking horse cack, now they are seemingly all over the borough, though sadly the house sparrow is heading in the other direction.

Roadside Pheasant strutting his stuff in the sunshine

Linnet on a (very) distant wire, couldn't tell what it was through
bins so a max zoom shot was needed for ID purposes.

Red Kite turning the tables on a mobbing crow

My favourite old ruins look like they're being knocked down, bloody shame that :-( 

Another hazy panorama of the valley
 The trek along to Low Thornley stables was more about raptors, with a couple of red kites, a pair of displaying buzzards, and a kestrel atop a pylon. Birdsong here included a few blackcaps and willow warblers, I think a whitethroat, and possibly a marsh tit, just a brief snippet resembled a coal tit call but didn't sound right and tailed off differently. It came from a group of birds on the move and I couldn't lock on any of them as they disappeared through the trees.
More tree sparrows here too, and good to see the resident swallows back at the stables.

kestrel in regular spot atop a pylon

Red kite silhouetted in front of approaching plane

Pair of blue tits chased around this fence for some time

One of them looked like it was attached
to the fencepost by its arse

A shiteshot of two of the six swallows back at the stables

The woods were a bit disappointing, by early afternoon it was really warm, birds were singing but not much movement, more common warblers, but no sign of the crossbill pair I'd found the other day, though goldcrests were in their place now. A brief look at the pond and much the same as last year. an oily film on the surface, leaf litter strangling much of the bottom, far too much erumpent grasses and the tell-tale stirred up water meaning another hound had just been allowed to rampage through it.The only sign of life in the shallows were masses of sticklebacks, probably hoovering up every other life form in the pond (including the smaller dragonfly larvae). The smaller pond near the steps was full of sticklebacks too, never noted before, another setback for the rest of the pondlife.

Paddock Hill woods were quiet too, so on to Far Pasture where a few hirundines were the highlight and a pair of red kites displayed low over the wood yard. I was running short of time here so didn't bother with the pond, and made my way back home along the derwent walk, stopping off to watch a pair of displaying sparrowhawks over Gibside, and a pair of rabbits doing what rabbits do.

Half decent shot (for me) of a willow warbler at Far Pasture

Gibside panorama from the Derwent Walk

"No-one about, lets make some babies"

"Get up there"

"Shite, we've been spotted"

"I'll finish off when he's gone, bloody pervert"  

All in all a lovely stress-busting walk, more of the same please :-)

Sunday, 17 April 2016


Haven't posted anything for a while, life's a bit busy at the moment (understatement) and I'm not getting out much (if at all). I've still been snapping away mainly from the garden and a couple of visits to Far Pasture, and have a stack of photos I was going to post but honestly I just can't be arsed, nor could I be bothered to continue my photographic review of last year, so I've selected about half a dozen just to illustrate the text.

So basically I've seen a few butterflies when we had a few sunny days in March, some bees, in fact quite a few bees, coming to our flowering bush n the back garden (whatever it is). Saw the first worker Tree Bee today, all the others have been queens from 4-5 species.

Small Tortoiseshell
After a good few sightings mid-March, April has been very poor
for butterflies.  

This striking little bee turned out to be a mining bee of sorts

Spring migrants have been in short supply, chiffchaffs pretty widespread, and more recently heard a couple of Blackcaps and Willow Warblers. Have also noted sand martins, house martins and latterly a couple of swallows, all later than expected.

Kestrel in the haze at Far Pasture mid-march

Two for the price of one - Roe Deer and Badger footprints
from Far Pasture same day 

A few frogs appeared the same day, leaving behind many a clump of frogspawn

Skywatching (again during the few periods of good weather) was quite good at times, with Red Kites and Buzzards showing frequently and in good numbers over the village. A distant accipiter at the end of March had me convinced it was a distant displaying goshawk but I think I've been fooled again as it was suggested the strange looking tail made it more likely a sparrowhawk growing a new 'un.

Heavily cropped photos of strange looking distant accipiter had me convinced it was a goshawk.
The short-tailed sparrowhawk theory put the mockers on that though.

I also managed to miss no less than THREE passing Ospreys in the space of 10 days. The first photographed at Far Pasture on March 29th as it flew west, which would easily have been visible had I been outdoors, which I had been most of the morning, skywatching as I dabbled, but went indoors during a shower and got sidetracked by twitter, where I saw the sighting posted 12 minutes previous. I shot outside but obviously too late and cursed myself for missing it.

The second sighting was of one being mobbed by gulls in the Thornley Lane area on April 3rd, no photograph this time but a decent enough description confirmed by another observer later. This time I had been at Far Pasture and saw nowt, had I been at home it would have been viewable but distant, and being mobbed by noisy gulls probably an easy sighting.

I snapped this Chiffchaff along the Derwent walk on the 3rd
Maybe I should have stayed at home to look out for Ospreys

The third was on the 7th, again photographed at Far Pasture, I'd missed it by 45 mins though around the time it was sighted I would have been on the nine-arches viaduct watching a group of around 100 sand martins (and two house) with sprog1. Had I been looking in the right direction it would no doubt have been viewable from there.

Hearing news of a possible fourth at Chopwell Woods a couple of days later didn't do my mood any good either, I spend a good deal of time skywatching when I can't get out and to miss all those is a bit of a bummer to say the least :-(

Overall the spring so far has been cold and wet, as opposed to cold and dry last year. By emerging time for the first damsels most shallow ponds had dried up in 2015, surely won't be the case this year. And persistent overnight frosts last year contributed to a delayed and very poor turnout of early emergers (especially damsels). It's still cool this year but nowhere near as bad, so just waiting for a few degrees rise in temperatures and we should be seeing the first damsels before long.

Something to look forward to anyway :-)