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Wildlife Sightings - January 2017

  • Tue 31st Jan, 2017

After a snow free end to 2016, January brought our first winter sprinkling of the white stuff on the 12th/13th. Temperatures dropped to -2° in York and hovered around freezing for a few days.  In the same period, northerly winds whipped up a proper winter storm with gusts on the coast reaching 50mph. This gale coincided with very high tides producing a huge North Sea storm surge. Lighter winds from the west then dominated the remainder of the month with temperatures hovering just above freezing during the day.

January Storm at Filey 2017 © Ian Robinson January Storm at Filey 2017 © Ian Robinson  

A new year dawns and with it brings renewed inspiration for discovering the natural wonders of North and East Yorkshire. On the 1st some of our old friends from 2016 were still with us giving people lots of pleasure; the Pallid Harrier at Welwick, Eastern Black Redstart at Skinningrove, Black Brant at Kilnsea, Great Northern Divers at Scarborough, Black-necked Grebes in Scarborough and Bridlington harbour, Red-necked Grebe at Filey, female Smew at Watton, and the Great White Egret in the Lower Derwent Valley. There were still plenty of Waxwings scattered across many Yorkshire villages and towns but the by far the biggest flock was in the far north at Middlesbrough where 200 were seen. Welwick and the north bank of the Humber was still the best place for raptors at the start of the month with up to two Hen Harriers, Marsh Harrier, Merlin, several Common Buzzards and three Short-eared Owls joining the Pallid on the 4th.

After the first signs of increasing numbers of Tundra Bean Geese and White-fronted Geese in December, geese continued to arrive in the first half of January. 38 White-front were found at Wheldrake on the 1st and 10 Tundra Bean flew over Seamer on the 2nd. A record flock (for the Scarborough area) of 36 was then found near Seamer on the 5th, increasing to 39 a few days later. A single white-front and a Pink-footed Goose in the same feeding flock created a great opportunity for identification comparisons. In the south of the county, 10 Tundra Bean Geese remained at Weeton along with 6 Whit-fronted Geese. More wildfowl arrived at nearby Spurn on the 10th when 11 Tundra Bean and 20 White-front were joined by a significant movement of 494 Wigeon.

The 8th was a significant day for birders in Yorkshire, the date of the annual Michael Clegg memorial bird race. This year 18 teams took part to raise money for the English Twite Recovery Project. The York Upstarts team found the highest number of species with 105 recorded. Joint top with a higher average were the ‘Gooligans’ team from Goole. 

Glaucous Gull Filey January 2017 © Mark PearsonGlaucous Gull Filey January 2017 © Mark Pearson 

Another species increasing in January were Glaucous Gulls, along with smaller numbers of Iceland Gulls. After a few sightings in the first week, the majority concentrated around the Rufforth tip area near York and Nosterfield Local Nature Reserve, there was a significant increase during and after the storm on the 13th. The winter movements and arrival in the UK of these two Arctic birds are often linked with north-westerly storms, worsening weather further north and decreasing food supply. Filey and Scarborough scored the highest with many other reports from locations up and down the coast. Filey had four Glaucous and one Iceland on the 13th and a minimum of five (although likely six or seven) on the 14th. Nearby two Red-necked Grebes, 10 Great Crested Grebes and 35 Red-throated Divers were sheltering from the storm in Filey Bay. In the Scarborough area there were five sightings of Glaucous Gulls and one Iceland on the 13th. On the 14th a minimum of eight Glaucous were seen along with one Iceland Gull. Four Puffins were also seen in the Scarborough area; a rare bird in January. Back over in York, at least four different Caspian Gulls were seen in the Rufforth area on several dates throughout the month. By the end of the month both Glaucous and Iceland Gulls were still being seen daily on the coast from Flamborough north and at Rufforth, Wheldrake roost and Nosterfield LNR.

Iceland Gull Scalby January 2017 © Steve RaceIceland Gull Scalby January 2017 © Steve Race 

Glaucous Gull arriving in the storm Filey January 2017 © Mark PearsonGlaucous Gull arriving in the storm Filey January 2017 © Mark Pearson 

The only report of Bewick’s Swans this month were two at Swinefleet on the 12th. A male Green-winged Teal was found at North Cave Wetlands on the 14th. The 14th also provided a good sea watch at Flamborough with three Glaucous Gulls, two Great Northern Diver, Black-throated Diver, Sooty Shearwater, Pomarine Skua, Little Auk and the three long-staying Long-tailed Ducks were on the sea off the south cliffs. Nine Mediterranean Gulls were in the Scarborough area on the 12th. These birds included two ringed adults; one from Hungary and one from Belgium. Nine were also seen on the 27th, all un-ringed. On the 15th January 16 Shore Larks were re-discovered at Crook Ness north of Scarborough increasing to 18 on the 20th . First seen way back in November these birds have certainly kept their heads down and out of sight since then! The wintering flock of Wigeon at Scalby were counted at 311 on the 17th. A Water Pipit was a good local find at Filey on the 17th. A Great White Egret was seen at Barton near Richmond on the 16th and the same or another arrived at Scaling Dam on the 18th to the 22nd. A Great Grey Shrike was seen again at Maw rig Langdale Forest on the 19th. A high count of approximately 60 White-fronted Geese were at Seamer on the 23rd and 55 Mandarin Ducks were counted in Troutsdale on the 22nd. A Manx Shearwater flew past Filey on the 22nd.

Mediterranean Gull Scarborough January 2017 © Nick Addey Mediterranean Gull Scarborough January 2017 © Nick Addey  

One of the few cetacean reports this month was a pod of four White Beaked Dolphin travelling south off Filey Brigg 20th Jan.

White-beaked Dolphin (archive photo) © Stuart Baines White-beaked Dolphin (archive photo) © Stuart Baines  

Pine Bunting York January 2017 © Chris Gomersall Pine Bunting York January 2017 © Chris Gomersall  

The rarest, new bird of the month in North and East Yorkshire was undoubtedly the adult male Pine Bunting discovered at Dunnington on the 20th until at least the month end. This was a fantastic find, almost certainly a consequence of the large number of vagrant birds arriving on the east coast in autumn last year.  

Pine Bunting York January 2017 © Josh JonesPine Bunting York January 2017 © Josh Jones 

On the 21st a female Smew was at Blacktoft Sands RSPB. A male and two female were then found at Hornsea on the 26th. Away from regular wintering locations small numbers of migrant Bitterns are continuing to turn up every winter on the coast. One at Flamborough on the 28th was the first on the headland in 2017. One remained at Hornsea Wassand Estate all month and inland one was at Nosterfield on the 31st. The best places for Velvet Scoter in the county continued to be Redcar where 12 were still wintering all month, Scarborough south Bay with up to six and Sewerby/South Dykes with nine at the start of the month. Redcar and Filey were the only place where small numbers of Snow Buntings were still being seen, a poor winter so far for this popular bird. A mid-winter Little Gull is always unusual, the only report this month came from Saltburn of an adult on the 29th

Smew (male) Hornsea Mere January 2017 © Alan WhiteheadSmew (male) Hornsea Mere January 2017 © Alan Whitehead 

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 Scarborough BirdersButterfly Conservation Yorkshire Branch  Yorkshire Nature Traingle  For National News: Birdguides