Monday, 9 October 2017

River Hull. Stage 15. Snakeholm Pastures and Wansford

A balmy, calm day with sunny spells, I start the stage at Wansford. I have a foray around the village, and walk along Nafferton Beck, one of the tributaries of the river Hull. A couple of Grey Wagtails fly off, one of them singing from a roof. On the lake at Mill Farm, a large flock of Wigeon takes off. There are also Little Grebes, Little Egrets, Cormorants and Greylag. I return to the bridge over the river Hull (called West Beck here) and enter Snakeholme Pastures, a small YWT nature reserve comprising a couple of fields by the river Hull. A Kestrel flies ahead of me.
 The river has clear water over the chalk, with a lot of marginal vegetation and plenty of aquatic vegetation and occasional willows and elder on the banks. The flow of water is faster than downstream and the river crosses 5 m altitude contour line in this stage and the banks don't appear to have been artificially embanked, although dredging has taken place until recently. In a deep pool with a gravelly bottom I watch a group of Grayling, lazily swimming in the current. Later I see a large Brown Trout on the edge of the stream.
I surprise a Barn Owl sitting on a large hole of a dead tree, but I am too slow to take a photo before it flies away. The river meanders and so do I following it, trying to stay close to it. A Kingfisher calls coming downstream and turns swiftly over as it spots me. 
As noon approaches, the sunny spells become longer and I heard the mewing of some Buzzards that have started soaring. Crows, Rooks and Jackdaws fly up to ride the rising air with some gulls too.
As the temperature also rises, many adult Caddis fly and there are active Common Darters, with a mating pair. Small Tortoiseshells, Red Admirals and Small Whites are on the wing.
 Snakeholm Pastures joins Copper Hall and Skerne Wetlands in a large protected area lining the east side of the river. There is evidence of some work to improve the river margins, reducing erosion, but the section in the farm with Galloway cattle is almost bare in the river bank.
 On the way back a couple of Jays fly into an oak in a small copse by the path. I saw a total of 55 birds during the stage. Altogether, a beautiful, wildlife-rich stretch of river.
Nafferton Beck at Mill Farm.
The lake at Mill Farm.
The entrance of Snakeholme Meadows.
View of Wansford Bridge over the River Hull.
A wobbly bridge over the river.

A group of Grayling
And my best shot of one of the Grayling showing the large, colourful dorsal fin.
I sneaked close to this Brown Trout, which was swimming close to the bank.

Common Darter.
Mute Swan flyover
An impressive Ash tree on Copper Hall farm.
Little Egret
Caddis Fly.

More information
Snakeholm Pastures. YWT website here.
Skerne Wetlands. YWT website here.
Interview with Jon Traill, the site manager of Skerne Wetlands.

Monday, 2 October 2017

A trip to Selwicks Bay

The westerly wind lashed strong and I decided to go to the coast, to an east facing beach sheltered by the cliffs, Selwick Bay, just below the lighthouse at Flamborough. It was very breezy atop the cliffs and I made my way down on the steep path and steps, and quickly found respite from the wind. I searched the scrub at the side of the path for migrant birds and I soon found a young Stonechat. There were at least three in the area, sallying for insects during sunny spells, and watching intently from their perches in prominent dry flowerheads. Large flocks of goldfinches and Linnets were also about.
A few House Martins flew over the cliffs, they didn't seem to mind the wind. There are several nests in this bay and others at Flamborough headland, but these are more likely to be migrants.
 There was a Migrant Hawker dragonfly hunting in the beach, flying low over the kelp in the tide line, which is buzzing with flies. As for other invertebrates, a few Red Admirals and some Carder Bees.
The steep steps and the Flamborough lighthouse. 
There is a fold in the chalk sediments at the cliff, where strata are vertical instead of the usual horizontal in much of the Flamborough coast. 
A small creek near the area of rock folding is parallel to the stairs,
Beach robin foraging for flies among the strand line kelp.
The tide was low but rising.
One of two very sleepy turnstones were roosting atop the beach.
Also some pied Wagtails, showing how cryptic they are on a background of pebbles.
View of the bay.
There were a couple of meadow pipits on the beach. This one had a quick bath on a freshwater puddle from the creek.
The usual Rock Pipits were around too.
Male Stonechat.
There were at least six grey seals, some looking young. Several were dozing, but this one spent quite some time watching a couple of dogs running on the beach.
Another male Stonechat. 
A male Whitethroat sheltering from the wind in some brambles.

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

River Hull. Stage 14. Skerne Wetlands

It was a warm day, still and with light cloud, with a very autumnal feel. Robert Jaques joined me in a walk around Skerne Wetlands, meandering around the river Hull. The area is a very new Yorkshire Wildlife Trust nature reserve, still undergoing restoration work to convert a former trout fishery into a more natural and biodiverse wetland as an integral part of the River Hull floodplain.
 This upstream stretch of the river, which is a chalk stream, is called the West Beck. It is narrower and deep, its waters transparent, its banks lower and clothed in vegetation and willows. A kingfisher flies off from near the bridge over the river. Pools and ditches sandwich the river. Some of the pools where fish were reared are now fringed by reeds, and short after our arrival a Marsh Harried flew off. The squeals or Water Rails could be heard from the reeds.
 We walk south towards Corpslanding on the east bank of the river, the path covered on long wet grass (note to self: must bring wellies next time). We alert three Roe Deer, which were resting and feeding on the bank, and they slowly move away behind some trees. We turn round to walk upstream from there. We flush a Kingfisher twice more. The stage finishes when we hit a non entry barrier by the weir opposite Copper Hall. The north side of the reserve is accessed more easily through Wansford and Snakeholm pastures, which will be the next river stage.
Information panel by the car park.
Reed beds by the river, looking SW.

The River Hull or West Beck from the bridge, looking downstream.
Little Egrets.
Roe Deer.
A family of Mute Swans, with five young of the year. 
The meandering river looking upstream.

More Information
Skerne Wetlands. YWT website here.

Monday, 18 September 2017

A three flycatcher day at Spurn Head

A forecast of Northerly wind and sunny skies quickly convinced me Spurn was the place to head to. The northerlies were relentless, but it was a very bright day with sunny spells. The tide was quite low as I arrived in the Blue Bell car park. I noticed that the recent rain had made some impact on the crumbling cliff, with deep cracks on the boulder clay as I followed the path north to the Warren. At the warren a Yellow-browed Warbler was flitting on some sycamores. The light was not great and I only had fleeting views. I walked around the beach before turning round towards the Blue Bell. There were plenty of birdwatchers about today, even an organised group. As I was arriving to the Blue Bell, a bird flew into the hedge. A robin chased it and the bird showed: I thought it was a pied flycatcher, until I saw the plain brown wings and the white side patches on its short tail: a Red-breasted Flycatcher, a lifer! I beckoned a birder who was coming down the road, it was also a lifer for him. I starting drawing a sketch of the bird, thinking it wouldn't appear again, but it did, and I was able to take a few shots. After a little while with no more appearances I left the scene. By then, a small crowd had formed looking for the bird and I later found out that a few others saw it. 
 After a celebratory expresso in the Blue Bell, I headed to the churchyard, where a Pied Flycatcher had been seen. I had some fleeting views and a poor record shot. I moved onto the Crown and Anchor and just opposite a Spotted Flycatcher gave very good views as it sat on the sun occasionally darting after an insect, the third flycatcher species of the day.
 Despite the mild temperature and sunny spells, the wind made it a hard day for insects. In a few sheltered spots there were Migrant Hawkers and Common Darter dragonflies. A Silver Y fed on Red Clover in Beacon Lane. The best insect by far was a nesting aggregation of Sea Aster mining bees, very close to the visitor centre under construction.
 As I returned from the salt marsh, a Swift passed over, lingering overhead as it flew against the wind for a while. I hope is not the last one I see this year. 
Low tide.
Common Gulls resting on the beach.
Meadow Pipit.
Silver Y feeding on red clover.
Spotted Flycatcher.

Saltmarsh with the spit and lighthouse in the distance.
Aster bee, Colletes helophilus coming out of her nest.
Sea Aster mining bee, Colletes helophilus
A nesting aggregation of Sea Aster mining bees on a sandy beach by the saltmarsh, near the new visitor centre.
Sea Aster mining bee feeding on Sea Aster.
Male Common Darter.
Pair of crows dropping shells. I went where they were afterwards, but couldn't find what they were dropping and eating on the shingle spit.