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Wildlife Sightings - February 2017

  • Wed 1st Mar, 2017

February saw a return to relatively mild weather compared to January with no real cold period in North or East Yorkshire. The first half of the month was dominated by light winds from the south veering east and north-east. Things began to change in the third week with westerly airflows starting to dominate, continuing to the end of the month. The biggest weather event of February was undoubtedly storm Doris which arrived on the 23rd. Winds in our area reached 40-50mph on the coast which although strong, was far less than the centre of England where Doris concentrated her wrath! The storm blew out in 24 hours, by the 24th the winds dropped and the sun shone, an amazing turn around.  

The mild weather meant most of our rare and scarce birds were still showing well in the first week including January’s star bird the Pine Bunting at Dunnington which was still present on the 28th. Joining the bunting as the main attractions, were the Pallid Harrier at Welwick, Black-necked Grebes and Great Northern Divers in Scarborough Harbour, Red-necked Grebe at Filey, the 17 Shore Larks at Crook Ness and the Eastern Black Redstart at Skinningrove. Resident birds were starting to react to lengthening days and sunshine. February is often a great month for Northern Goshawks. Good sightings came from North Yorkshire throughout the month. 

Immature Goshawk North Yorkshire Feb 2017 © Paul CoombesImmature Goshawk North Yorkshire Feb 2017 © Paul Coombes 

On the 1st a Leaches Petrel flew past one lucky observer at Scalby Mills and a male Green-winged Teal was equally brief as it appeared and then quickly moved on at Filey Dams on the 3rd. Many of the Tundra Bean Geese present in January had moved on but good numbers of White-fronted Geese were still around. 57 in the Spurn area on the 1st was a good local count. In the same area during the first week was the Black Brant in the company of 850 Dark-bellied Brent Geese. Waxwing numbers were fairly low in comparison to previous months. In Knaresborough a flock of 90 were seen on the 10th, 32 were near Goole and smaller numbers in Nosterfield, York, Hornsea, North Ferriby and Bedale. The 4th was a good day to be birding in the Nosterfield area as a male Ring-necked Duck was found alongside an Iceland Gull. The following day a Bittern was also seen. The wintering Bittern at Hornsea was also still present and seen well later in the month.   

Bittern Hornsea Feb 2017 © Steve Tout Bittern Hornsea Feb 2017 © Steve Tout  

On the 4th sea watching was rewarded as an unidentified dolphin species was seen at Flamborough, then on the 6th ten White-beaked Dolphin were seen heading north past the Fog Station. A Common Crane was seen near Northallerton on the 8th and on the 9th a Grey Phalarope landed briefly at Kilnsea Wetlands. Lapland Buntings have been very scarce this winter so the arrival of a small flock of eight (increasing to 12 a few days later) near South Landing Flamborough on the 15th was significant. The first summer migrant arrival was a very early Little Ringed Plover found at Scorton on the 13th. On the same date a close ‘Blue’ Fulmar drifted south past Gristhorpe near Filey.

'Blue' Fulmar Feb 2017 © Mark Pearson 'Blue' Fulmar Feb 2017 © Mark Pearson  

Lapland Bunting Feb 2017 Flamborough © Andy Hood Lapland Bunting Feb 2017 Flamborough © Andy Hood  

Mid-month saw the Scarborough team of moth enthusiasts venturing out into the night. A quick result was achieved as the scarce micro moth Acleris Cristana was caught by the team near Wykeham on the 15th. The third week saw the first butterflies venturing out from hibernation as the temperatures rose. The 17th appeared to be a significant day as the first Brimstone’s of the year were found near Kirkbymoorside and Malton. A Small Tortoiseshell was also seen in Scarborough on the same date.

Acleris Cristana  Feb 2017 © Allan Rodda Acleris Cristana Feb 2017 © Allan Rodda  

Arctic gulls continued to show almost daily near Rufforth tip which was the best place in the county to see Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull from the north and one or two Caspian Gulls from the east. Total numbers of each species in the area have been difficult to estimate as new birds are seen regularly and there have been thousands of gulls on the tip. An adult and a probable juvenile Kumlien’s Gull were also there on the 22nd. Farnham gravel pits and Allerton tip were also in the gull mix early in the month. On the 10th there were five Glaucous Gulls at Farnham, four at Allerton and four at Rufforth, an excellent North Yorkshire count for this species.  On the 17th a new Great Grey Shrike arrived for an extended stay at Acaster Malbis near York. On the same day the Langdale wintering bird was seen and present until at least the end of the month... 

Great Grey Shrike in Langdale Feb 2017 © Richard Baines Great Grey Shrike in Langdale Feb 2017 © Richard Baines  

Spring Usher is an under-recorded moth in East and North Yorkshire and very variable in colour and form. On the 25th the local moth group caught 19 Spring Usher, 45 Pale Brindled Beauty, 12 March Moth, 1 Satellite, 5 Chestnut and 1 Engrailed at Low North Camp near Scarborough. By the end of the month the team had caught 324 individual moths in four sessions, a great haul for February. What appeared to be a new arrival of Waxwings was noticed from mind-month with small numbers moving through East Yorkshire in and around the Hull area. On the coast 15 were in Scarborough on the 17th and 2 at Filey on the 20th. Whilst inland up to 200 were seen in Morton on Swale!

Spring Usher North Yorks Feb 2017 © Allan Rodda Spring Usher North Yorks Feb 2017 © Allan Rodda  

Cetaceans were back off our shores in the third week. On the 20th four White-beaked Dolphins were seen off Filey and on the same date a possible Bottle-nosed Dolphin from Long Nab. The following day two White-beaked Dolphins were seen off Marin Drive Scarborough.  Short-eared Owls are always a popular bird to see and the best place in February was Bempton Cliffs RSPB where up to three were regular throughout the month. Also in the Bempton area were an excellent flock of 76 Corn Buntings on the 24th. At the opposite end of East Yorkshire, one of the best places to see the wonderful Hen Harrier in the winter is the Humber. Blacktoft Sands RSPB was graced by a male and a female on the 19th and one ringtail on dates throughout the month. Both Iceland Gull and Glaucous Gull were seen at Top Hill Low on the 26th. Back on the marine front, at South Landing Flamborough, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust living Seas team were having a great month in the rock pools. An egg case belonging to a Small-eyed Ray was found in the third week of February. This is very rare in our county, only the second time it has been found in Yorkshire both times by the YWT team! Another case from a Small-spotted Catshark was also found. Whilst this is a fairly common species finding an egg shell is rare. 

Small Spotted Catshark Feb 2017 © Anthony Hurd Small Spotted Catshark Feb 2017 © Anthony Hurd  

The flock of up to 11 Velvet Scoter remained off Redcar all month. Twite have been scarce on the coast at the three Yorkshire Bird Observatories this winter, maybe they have all been at Barmston where a good flock of 50 were found on the 19th. On the 24th two Tundra Bean Geese near Scarborough may have been new arrivals and 11 remained in the Wheldrake area on the 28th. The end of February is often a trigger for resident birds to move back into their breeding grounds either closes by or further afield. A Firecrest at Blacktoft Sands RSPB on the 19th and a Woodlark seen flying over Wheldrake on the 25th was a good indication spring is just around the corner! Rare bird find of the month goes to the Coue’s Arctic Redpoll found amongst a flock of Lesser Redpoll and Mealy Redpoll at Dunnington on the 25th. A great example of when there are lots of birders new rare birds pop up out of the woodwork!

Velvet Scoter Redcar Feb 2017 © Damian Money Velvet Scoter Redcar Feb 2017 © Damian Money   

Richard Baines YCN 

This article covers North and East Yorkshire. For more wildlife sightings visit these great local, regional and national web sites

Spurn Bird ObservatoryFlamborough Bird ObservatoryFiley Bird Observatory and GroupNorthern Rustic blogspot , Yorkshire Naturalists UnionYorkshire Wildlife TrustScarborough BirdersButterfly Conservation Yorkshire Branch  Yorkshire Nature Traingle  For National News: Birdguides