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BLYTHS REED WARBLER

I couldn't believe it, a Blyths Reed Warbler, when the news broke and it was in striking distance I was delighted. It was a very obliging bird, I took my good friend Graham Todd and we spent a good couple of hours watching and listening to this magnificent bird.

The first thing you notice when you get near this bird is its call, unmistakable and distinctive.
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ROSY STARLING IN BARNSLEY

The Rosy Starlings had been turning up all over the country when the news came in that one had turned up in a street in Barnsley. A Barnsley birder, Ron Marshal who lived in the area called me and said it was showing well. But I wasn't in a position to go, then call after call over the next few days, first Graham Todd and he had great images then Phil Smithson and agin with great images.

That was it, I was off, when I got there many birders I knew were back for a second look including Ron and his wife Joice. I was a great day with locals asking questions and getting involved.
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SPOONBILL & AVOCETS

Spoonbills have managed to make their way to Alkborough flats for many years. Views of these rather large and rather strange looking birds tend to be from a distance and obtaining any kind of photographs or video is nigh on impossible. Below is some video of one such far-off bird, they were many people there that evening, all looking for the Spoonbill.

This particular bird flew in about 15 minutes after most people had left which was about 7 pm. Usually they stay in the same place but this one kept flying to the Humber and returning to this particular spot every 20 minutes or so.

EY UP IT'S FRYUP DALE

It's 7 am and I'm on the road towards Westerdale in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. With me I have my daughter Hannah, we are sat in the car looking at these very vulnerable Lapwing chicks. These beautiful little pieces of life have little idea of the struggle to survive that is ahead of them.

The parents of this chick are only a few metres away but they are very clearly in the view of some Black Headed Gulls hovering just above. Only a few seconds from being taken by the very clever Gulls and the Lapwing parents are up in the air chasing them away, I'm sure that this must be an hourly occurrence. In the background we can hear Curlew and one of several cuckoos we have heard so far.

I have never heard three completely separate cuckoos in any place in my birdwatching history. Maybe I have just led a very sheltered life. Hannah who is extremely keen and very willing to learn birdwatcher is very excited at all the sights and sounds going on around her, she is in heaven.
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Take a look at the size of the foot on this chick and how disproportionately large the foot is at this stage in its life.

This bird will not fall over with feet like that.
Meadow pipit are one of our most common moorland birds but they never cease to amaze me. No matter where you are on the moor there is always more Meadow pipit watching you, than you watching them, they are one of the most widespread of all the birds in the UK holding in excess of 1.9 million territory's (Source: BTO) However there has been a very steady decline in populations since 1994 up to 2019. (BTO.et al)
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Take a look at the image below and think about what you can see. Can you see anything at all other than the moorland bracken? If I hadn't seen it fly in, I most certainly would not have seen that I think is a daytime flying Moth called a Bordered White. Can you see the antennae waving around in the wind? No! They are very clear to see.
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Perhaps the picture below makes the moth a little easier to see. If I am totally wrong about the species please let me know, I would be very grateful for correction and information as there are several species that look quite similar. All entomologists with an opinion welcome. All the information that I gather on moths and butterflies comes from the excellent butterfly conservation website. if you haven't been on this website take a look.

https://butterfly-conservation.org/moths/bordered-white
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At the point where the below photograph was taken we could very clearly hear a corncrake, a Cuckoo and a Whimbrel. Now I get very excited at Corncrake but to hear a Whimbrel at the same time! This is all too much. We were joined at this point by the gamekeeper Michael who was interested in what we were doing, we had a chat about the obvious Corncrake screaming away in the background and about birds in general, he told me about his son Robbie who was a very keen birdwatcher and he is only five years old. Robbie is desperate to see a Bullfinch and any kind of Woodpecker in his garden, I hope you get your wish Robbie, good luck.
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At this point I need to apologise for the poor quality of the photographs in this blog. The heat haze was causing havoc with the focusing on the camera. Above, we have a photograph of a flying whimbrel and in my opinion one of our most beautiful birds. Several thousand birds pass through in April and May and if we are luck we get to see a few, like the one above.

For the past few years Whimbrel have visited the excellent Lower Derwent Valley just south of York and this is my usual haunt to see them but with the lockdown for Covid-19 I have not visited recently.
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Above we have a few shots of one of our most iconic visitors, the wheatear.
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Above: Curlew, I can remember a time when if you visited the uplands of Yorkshire or even the lowlands you would see many many curlew and now you only see a few.
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Above: Spotted Flycatcher.

Below: Stonechat.
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INTERNATIONAL DAWN CHORUS DAY

Sunday, the 5th of May 2020 was international dawn chorus day. I ventured out at silly o'clock to do this recording especially for you. Actually I'm lying this recording was planned for 10:30 on dawn chorus day just to show that the singing at this time of year never stops.
This file has taken me a long time to edit. I found it very difficult to get rid of the wind noise in the background as international dawn chorus day is notoriously windy. In reality I did get up at 4:30 this morning however the wind was so powerful that I would not have been able to record anything.

I set off walking from home to get to the woodland at about 10:15 am. The wind had significantly dropped and I suspected that the birds would be singing and indeed they were. So, with the birds singing and the dog walkers screaming at their dogs I started to set up the microphones. The above Recording is the result of my labours.

THEY'RE HERE!

They come every year without fail and every year people ask me "have you seen the Yellow Wagtails" and undoubtedly the answer is no. Then I go looking for them, and after two or three days I find them. All the photographs below are taken on a cricket pitch. Usually they turn up during the second or third week in April, to our locality anyway.

The species which visits and breeds in the United Kingdom is one of the yellowest of all yellow wagtails. In fact there is only one other subspecies more yellow than this one. The species that visit us is the Western Yellow Wagtail. There are many many subspecies all over the world.
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If you see a Yellow Wagtail and walk towards it, the bird will undoubtedly fly away, but if you watch carefully you will notice that it will only fly 20 meters or so.

Nearly all Wagtails have this trate so it's worth noting.
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Above and below photographs showing the markings on the Western Yellow Wagtail, unmissable, unmistakable and beautiful, this is one of the brightest visitors and breeders we have.
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Pied Wagtails below: these birds were in the very next field to theYellow Wagtails. The Pied Wagtail have been around for months. In fact we have a pair that visit us every Christmas and have done for five years. On this occasion I managed to observe a behaviour that I have not noticed before.

I observed one of the birds articulating it swings above it body backwards. Some bird species do this in order to fake injury and lead you away from its nest especially if they have young. This was something quite different this was a pair bonding and displaying and both birds were doing it.
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WELL I NEVER NOTICED THAT!

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It's quite early in the morning and I'm going for my lockdown permitted walk although why we have to use the word permitted is a mystery. The sun is shining and there is little wind as I leave the house. Today I have decided to take a slightly different and longer route. Also today I have decided to look at other things like trees, the woods I walk in and the bluebells I look at every day, thinking "WOW" they are so gorgeous then walk past them. For today is a new dawn! Well, not really just in a better mood, my permitted mood of the day is 😊 until it changes that is.
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I have seen the Peregrin this morning and that's made me happier because I was afraid it had abandoned the nest, but I am assured that the nest is in tact and being tended to proficiently. This information comes from a chap called Graham Todd, now I have lived in this village for 24 years and in that time or for as long as I can remember I have read Hillam News. A wonderful part of Hillam News is the birding column, written by Graham every month and it's good, very good and for all these years it has played a part in my obsession with birds.

I had never met Graham and had no idea where he lived other than in Hillam. As I said I was walking in my happy mood and when I, along with my wife entered the woods, we noticed a man with binoculars walking towards us. We exchanged pleasantries at the permitted distance and I asked if he was local and the rest is history because I had now met Graham Todd, the man the mystery and the birding guru that had shaped much of my birding for so many years.

I am very happy to say we now exchange text and email sightings almost every day at the permitted distance of course and that distance is about three gardens or so, he lives just around the bloody corner.
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Now enough about Graham, and onto butterflies trees and landscapes. At this time of year everything looks pristine, brand-new and noteworthy. The trees are in full blossom butterflies look beautiful like they were born yesterday, they probably were. And without all the pollution in lockdown Britain the air is clear and full of oxygen it makes you glad to be alive.

The peacock butterfly at the top of this page and the wonderful Hairy Backed common butterfly above we're on the same path basking in the Sun. What? Never heard of the hairy backed common? It's actually a new species found locally and only identified by me. That could be a load of Tosh it could in fact be masking my inability to identify this beautiful butterfly. I have scoured the books including the Collins guide to butterflies and cannot match this one exactly. I am sure it will be common and widespread, it looks like, well a bit like Vanessa Atlanta but I suspect not. Maybe even a Fratillary of some kind from the genus Nimphalidae, or just a Painted Lady. If you know, email me, if you don't know, please spend hours and hours researching it and email me to let me know as I would genuinely love to know.
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Above is a Cherry blossom tree (Prunus) apparently frequented by a Little Owl a gentleman told me, but I pass this tree most days and have not seen it for myself. Just over a small track from this tree is a very healthy and very noisy flock of Skylark. They are almost impossible to photograph, they are either too fast or too far away so I was lucky to accidentally get the shot below, not great but adequate for identification.
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Let's talk yellowhammers, yellowhammers are definitely near the top of my favourite birds list. They are definitely near the top of my bird sounds list. They scream from the treetops "a little bit of bread and no cheese pleeeeease" listen to the recording and say it to yourself and you will never forget the sound of this mighty start to spring.
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Tree Pipits and Meadow Pipits! I can't believe I'm going here. First of all the only way to tell the difference without really good views is sound. Their calls and Song is quite different.

Meadow pipits below (immediately) are usually lighter and can appear biscuit coloured like this one. But sound is the tool of choice unless you are very confident and have seen many of both in different seasons and different landscapes, they vary enormously.

These photo's were taken just the other day along with the Tree Pipits within the same tree group on the edge of farmland east of Burton Salmon.
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The Tree Pipit below as you can see is markedly different this one is much darker and more heavily marked with a darker head more pronounced striping and a whiter eye ring. I was fortunate enough to spend up to half an hour listening to this one singing, there were at least five Meadow pipit and four Tree Pipit in the same group of trees.

Right: Another Tree Pipit with its very distinctive song.
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TREE PIPIT

MEADOW PIPIT

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Above: Just because I love them, there are literally hundreds around where I live, they are fearless and quite cheeky, the Goldfinch.

Below: I have never seen any of these where I live and had it not been for these strange times, maybe I wouldn't have, Grey Partridge.
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ANOTHER LOCKDOWN WEEK

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Its Monday and 6.20 in the morning, my first day of not working, I have been awake precisely five seconds and all I can hear is the loudest Chiffchaff in the universe. This Chiffchaff sounds like it's in the bedroom, which is amazing because I can usually hear the odd Chiffchaff throughout the year, but far far away and definitely not in my bedroom. I have to my knowledge never had one in my garden either.

The next thing I do is a big mistake, I grabbed my wife's shoulders and shake vigorously in fact over enthusiastically vigorously "a Chiffchaff, a Chiffchaff, a Chiffchaff" Outside the window, can you hear it, can you can you? Now with arms flailing and fists clenched she tries unsuccessfully to take my head off but she was in the wrong position. She was however in the correct position to get the brass bedside lamp! A superb start to the day, a Chiffchaff.
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I didn't know it but my day was about to get better, much much better. I went downstairs and looked into the back garden, the sun was shining and the usual Blackbirds were around and about in the garden. At this time of year we also get a pair of Pied Wagtails, they have been coming for at least seven years. They always look brand new and I knew that within a few days they would be collecting nest material and making a brand new family in the neighbours garden somewhere out of sight and secluded.

I grabbed my camera and binoculars and a large cup of coffee and sat in the garden looking and listening to the proper sound of spring, this was going to be a brilliant day of lockdown. I had made my wife a cup of coffee and as we sat 6 feet apart with her staring at me we contemplated our day.

Do you fancy coming on my walk with me I asked, yes she said with a smile. That always made me feel uneasy! As we sat in the sunshine three Buzzards appeared overhead and I grabbed my camera they kept getting closer and closer and I was able to obtain the shots below.

Maureen had gone to make a 2nd cup of coffee and I could see two birds very high up in the sky and quite far away. As they got slightly closer I could see immediately that these were Falcons of some kind, but they were very high in the sky. I once again grab my camera and started taking photographs, some of these shots are below but of very poor quality but you can see that they are indeed Peregrine Falcons.
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I now, could not believe my luck. I have lived in this house for 25 years and never once seen a Peregrine Falcon anywhere near where I lived. I even started doubting myself, was this a misidentification, was I still asleep or was I concussed, waking from my brass induced semi coma?

All the time this was going on, the Chiffchaff was getting even closer to the back garden and within a few minutes he was in my trees singing his head off. He still is now as I type this up.

I got some new birdseed yesterday, two 15kg bags of mixed seed and a 20kg bag of sunflower hearts and a 2kg bag of Mealworms. My idea was to mix it all together to make a superfood for all the birds that grace my garden. With the mix done and all the feeders full to the brim we set off on our 4 1/2 mile walk. The walk takes us completely off-road through farmland and mixed woodland and back and usually we never see a soul.
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It really is a beautiful walk in the sunshine but a mud bath in bad weather. However today the sun is shining brightly. As we walk past the "horse fields" there is a huge electricity pylon just to our left, as we walk past this pylon I could hear the sound of a Peregrine Falcon. I looked back and after a few seconds picked up the Falcon in my binoculars it was way up at the top of the pylon screeching and calling, but why?

After a few minutes of watching I could see nesting material being brought in, this is now very very exciting.
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Now, is this the most stupid of Pigeons, I think it was saying "who's there"



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