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Wildlife Sightings - December 2016

  • Sun 1st Jan, 2017

The month of December started as November ended with settled weather. Light winds were the norm and temperatures ranged between 8 and 10°C. The relatively mild spell continued for several weeks, it wasn’t until well into the fourth week before temperatures started to drop below freezing at night. Storm Barbara swept across the UK from the west in the third week but winds only reached a maximum of 50mph in the east and north of Yorkshire, far less than in Scotland. Light winds from the south, sunny days, coastal mist and crisp temperatures hovering just above freezing during the day ended the month.

December started with birdwatchers and photographers still enjoying close views of Great Northern Diver and Black-necked Grebe in Scarborough Harbour with another or the same Black-neck in Filey Bay on the 3rd. Two Black-necked Grebes were then present at Scarborough from the 10th and one at Top Hill Low early in the month. The Slavonian Grebe was also still on Lingham Lake at Nosterfield. The only Smew reported was a redhead on Watton NR on the 3rd. A Sooty Shearwater and Pomarine Skua flew past Flamborough on the 4th. Waxwing numbers had declined on the coast with many birds presumably moving west. A few lingered though with five in Helmsley and 11 in Scarborough in the first week.

Black-necked Grebe © Steve Race Black-necked Grebe © Steve Race  

Up to 11 Shore Larks continued their stay at Long Nab but were not seen after the 5th. Single Black Redstarts appeared at Filey and Flamborough with several more sightings including showy birds at Scarborough Castle and Whitby Abbey later in the month. Hawfinches are now very scarce in Yorkshire. Small numbers can sometimes be seen at Ampleforth Abbey and one was present here on the 4th and again on the 16th. Several Red-necked Grebes and Black-throated Divers were seen migrating up and down the coast in the first week. Shortly afterwards on the 11th a Black-throated Diver appeared on Wykeham Lakes from the 11th onwards and on the 12th a settled Red-necked Grebes appeared in Filey Bay with another off South Dykes/Sewerby. Alongside the South Dykes bird was a nice group of three Long-tailed Duck, three Velvet Scoter and 40 Common Scoter on the 12th-13th.

Black-throated Diver Wykeham Lakes © John HarwoodBlack-throated Diver Wykeham Lakes © John Harwood 

Black Redsart Scarborough Castle © Steve RaceBlack Redsart Scarborough Castle © Steve Race    

White winged Gulls have been very scarce this winter so a first year Iceland Gull at Filey on the 4th was welcome with another or the same bird at Lingham Lake, Nosterfield on and off from the 12th. A Little Auk was in Cayton Bay on the 7th; the only record anywhere on our coast this month. In the south of the county at Welwick the juvenile Pallid Harrier was seen again in the first week and thereafter continued to put on a great show throughout the month. As often happens when lots of birders turn up at a site many more interesting birds are found. Five Water Pipits was an excellent haul on the 6th. Also regularly present on the salt marsh were 2 Hen Harrier and several Short-eared Owl.

A Bittern flying over the Blue Dolphin at Filey was a very good local record on the 9th. Wintering Great-crested Grebes reached 12 at Filey on the 15th along with a Velvet Scoter and Red-necked Grebe. A Great White Egret was at Long Preston on the 7th, the same bird or another at Malham Tarn on the 14th and one at Stllingfleet from the 28th. After the record breaking autumn for Yellow-browed Warblers it was no surprise that some would linger on the coast. One was heard calling at Seamer Mere on the 8th and another joined a Long-tailed Tit flock at South Dykes Flamborough on the 22nd. A distinct period of goose migration took off mid-month. 222 Pink-footed Geese and 23 White-fronted Geese migrated through Spurn on the 17th. At Flamborough on the same day, 385 Pink-feet and 19 White-fronts along with 4 Whooper Swan were seen. In the Filey Bird Observatory area, 2 White-fronted Geese on the 17th were followed by 13 birds on the 18th. Small numbers were also seen at Scarborough on the 17th. This wildfowl movement may have also been responsible for depositing a new arrival of Tundra Bean Geese to the coast. The first was a single on the Links Golf Course near Danes Dyke on the 19th, seven were found in a field near Staintondale Scarborough on the 21st with two at Swinefleet on the same day and three at Easington on the 23rd. A single at Ruswarp was still present near the month end. 470 wintering Brent Geese were counted near Sammy’s Point Easington on the 28th along with a Black Brant. The Humber winter population of Pink-footed Geese was counted at 1,000 near Swinefleet on the 21st. A Common Crane over North Kilvington on the 19th was unseasonal. The largest number of Velvet Scoter was a settled group of up to 16 on the sea off the Stray at Redcar for most of the month. 35 Mandarin (presumed resident birds) were also counted at Hackness on the 17th.

White-fronted Goose at Scarborough © Andy HoodWhite-fronted Goose at Scarborough © Andy Hood 

Two Great Grey Shrikes are wintering in the Great Yorkshire Forest this winter. On the 14th both were in Langdale with one at Low Woof Howe and the other at Brecken Howe. Sightings continued to the month end in this area. It’s also proving to be quite a good winter for Common Crossbill in this area with regular flocks in many places such as Dalby and Wykeham nursey area. A Raven over Seamer on the 23rd and Harwood Dale Scarborough on the 26th indicates our Ravenscar birds may be still around. The first report of a Glaucous Gull this month was one juvenile over Kilnsea Wetlands on the 28th.

By the month end Waxwings were on the increase again. After a dip in numbers over the past few weeks it sounds like these are new birds’ just arriving which bodes well for the rest of the winter. The biggest reported flocks were present in Middlesbrough with 220 in Sainsbury’s car park on the 31st, York with up to 44 opposite The Swan on Bishopthorpe Road (YO231JH), 108 in Sainsbury’s car park Hessle on the 26th, 20 on Yew Tree Lane opposite Ashville Sports buildings (HG2 9JW), 25 near Beech House Surgery on Stockwell Road in Knaresborough, 22 near the A63 at Hambleton and 33 in Scarborough by Halfords on Seamer Road. It was also a good month end for geese with flocks of White-fronted Geese present at Wheldrake; up to 27 alongside four Tundra Bean Geese, a maximum of 18 White-fronts at Starr Carr in the Vale of Pickering and three Tundra Bean settled in the Brotton area. Seven White-fronted Geese were near Skeffling on the 22nd along with another three Tundra Bean Geese and a further 21 White-fronted Geese which passed through Spurn on the same day may have been more arrivals. A flock of nine Taiga Bean Geese flying over Nosterfield Quarry on the 30th was a very good record.

Waxwing © Steve Race Waxwing © Steve Race  

A welcome report of a Bittern in the reed bed at Hornsea Mere on the 24th is a good sign we still have wintering birds at this site and another was along the canal at Ripon on the 29th. Starling roosts are becoming popular wildlife spectacles around the country. In our area, a large roost of 20,000 birds was performing at Saltmarsh Delph on the 29th alongside an evening flight of 400 Pink-footed Geese. On the last two days of 2016 a Black-necked Grebe arrived in Bridlington Harbour and Glaucous Gulls were fresh in at Skinningrove and Scarborough Harbour. One of the most photographed birds of 2016 was still surviving the cold weather on New Year’s Eve; the gorgeous Eastern Black Redstart at Skinningrove.

December 2016 was a below average month at one of our best Harbour Porpoise locations in Scarborough North Bay.  A maximum of 5 were recorded, recent years have seen a regular 7-10 in December. If you have any sightings at any time of year you can report them to Scarborough Porpoise on their Facebook page.  A pod of seven Bottle-nosed Dolphin was seen off the stray at Redcar on the 12th.

Harbour Porpoise at Scarborough © Stuart Baines Harbour Porpoise at Scarborough © Stuart Baines  

Richard Baines YCN

For more wildlife sightings visit these great web sites!

Spurn Bird ObservatoryFlamborough Bird ObservatoryFiley Bird Observatory and GroupNorthern Rustic blogspot Scarborough BirdersButterfly Conservation Yorkshire Branch  Yorkshire Nature Traingle