Wading in with memories of the year’s geese and gulls

SEASONAL: A waxwing, flocks of which enlivened winter watching

SEASONAL: A waxwing, flocks of which enlivened winter watching

First published in Birdwatch by

THIS is a chance to look back on what has been an interesting, if not classic, 12 months for birdwatchers. The year kicked off with large numbers of geese still present from 2011. Snape Mires and the Nosterfield area were particularly attractive and attracted flocks of over 100 Whitefronted Geese and more than 70 Bean Geese.

The now regular early winter movement of Pinkfooted Geese saw skeins of birds over many parts of the area with 500 north over Ainderby Steeple the largest recorded. Up to six Snow, 48 Barnacle and six Egyptian geese were also seen.

Nationally the early months of the year brought huge numbers of Iceland Gulls to the country and we shared in this bonanza.

The roost at Lingham was the most productive spot with at least six different birds recorded.

Sightings of Glaucous and Mediterranean gulls added to the gull watchers’ winter delight.

An interesting movement on February 26 saw a pair of Roughlegged Buzzards fly over Mortonon-Swale and Ainderby Steeple.

These two birds were picked up by a birdwatcher in Romanby where, amazingly, they were joined by a third rough-leg. To complete an unprecedented day for this magnificent Arctic buzzard, a fourth bird was seen drifting past Sutton Bank.

Other winter records of note included the long-staying Crane, two Black-necked Grebes and Jack Snipe at Nosterfield, two Hen Harriers over Romanby, two Little Egrets at Bolton-on-Swale, three Scaup at Cleasby, 14 Twite at Newsham and Smew and Scandinavian Rock Pipit at Scorton.

With mild and sunny conditions, the first migrants were very early with the earliest ever record of Common Sandpiper on March 11 and an exceptionally early Swallow at Morton-on-Swale on the 17th. Little Ringed Plover, Osprey, Sand Martin, Wheatear, Ring Ouzel, Blackcap and Chiffchaff were all seen before month end.

March also saw the usual strong movement of Whooper Swans heading back for their northern breeding grounds including a herd of 51 birds at Newsham Ponds.

A wet and cold April significantly slowed migration and many breeding birds were very late on their nesting sites leading to a generally poor breeding season.

There were some highlights, though, including the consolidation of the Avocet as a local breeding bird with two pairs successfully nesting at Newsham Ponds as well as nesting at Nosterfield. Regular summer sightings of Hobby almost certainly indicated at least two breeding pairs of this handsome falcon.

Even more exciting was the confirmation of Bittern breeding in the reedbed at Nosterfield – this is the first documented record of breeding in North Yorkshire.

Spring/early summer also brought a sprinkling of rare birds. Pick of these was a Ringbilled Gull, the first local record, which briefly dropped in at Scorton Quarry. Nosterfield hosted a Bee-eater from the Mediterranean and Buff-breasted Sandpiper from North America as well as an exquisite little Red-necked Phalarope.

But for many people the highlight of the spring was an excellent movement of Black-tailed Godwits through the area. Birds were seen at all of the local waters and peak counts included a record 234 at Nosterfield, 142 at Newsham ponds and 94 at Scorton Quarry.

Other spring highlights included Glaucous Gull, Smew, Blacknecked Grebe and Grey-headed Wagtail at Scorton Quarry, Great Grey Shrike on the army ranges, Little Egrets at Newsham, Morton-on-Swale and Nosterfield as well as a record number of sightings of Osprey in the local area.

Late summer and autumn brought a good movement of waders. Some of the more interesting sightings included Wood Sandpiper, Turnstone, Spotted Redshank, Curlew Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper. But pick of the birds was a Broad-billed Sandpiper, only the second local record of this rare Scandinavian wader.

Owls were also much in evidence in the autumn with a small influx of Short-eared Owls. Two of these took up residence at Nosterfield, showing exceptionally well to an appreciative audience. At one point there were five species on the reserve with Barn, Longeared, Tawny and Little all seen.

The heavy rain and extensive flooding in the autumn did give the impression of an inland ocean at times and perhaps that explains the arrival of sea birds to the Nosterfield area. These included a Gannet, Red-throated Diver and 15 Common Scoter.

Other autumn highlights included Garganey, Black-necked Grebe and Bar-headed Goose at Nosterfield, a Yellow-legged Gull at Semerwater and four Little Gulls at Newsham.

The second winter period, dominated by rain and mild conditions, was very quiet only enlivened by a reasonable influx of Waxwings. Flocks of up to a dozen birds were seen at a number of sites with one or two larger flocks including at Bromptonon-Swale where this bird was photographed by local birder Richard Stephenson.

The year ended with two nice finds at Nosterfield – a drake Long-tailed Duck at Lingham and a rare American Green-winged Teal on the reserve itself.

Finally, just a reminder that I am always happy to receive your sightings of interesting birds at nick.morgan1@virgin.net


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