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Wildlife Sightings - April 2017

  • Tue 9th May, 2017

The weather in April started as March ended with high pressure, light southerly winds and warm temperatures reaching a tropical 19° in East Yorkshire on the 9th. There was a big change overnight as the 10th brought north-westerly winds and a drop in temperature of 10°. Mid-month then saw temperatures closer to average for the time of year but these fell again in the third week as a cold northerly to south-easterly airstream became dominant from the 25th continuing well into May. Rainfall was below average across the whole of the UK and it was the 10th driest April in a series since 1910.

 Green Hairstreak © Allan Rodda Green Hairstreak © Allan Rodda

The warm southerly airflow at the start of the month brought about an emergence of spring butterflies and an early arrival of migrant birds. A Holly Blue was seen at Tollerton near York on the 2nd. Green Hairstreaks usually emerge in mid-April but the warm temperatures led to several reports of these bright butterflies in the first week from the south of the County. A couple of weeks later there were lots of sightings including several in the Commondale area on the 23rd. Another stunning insect; Orange Tip were seen in many places during this period including seven in Pickering Woods on the 9th along with an impressive list of a further eight species of common butterflies. Moths were also enjoying an early boost. A Red Sword Grass was a good find at Low North Camp on the 8th. Another Red Sword Grass and a Scarce Prominent were included in an impressive 23 species of 83 moths caught at Pilmoor on the same night.

Scarce Prominent Low North Camp © Allan Rodda Scarce Prominent Low North Camp © Allan Rodda

A male Common Whitethroat found singing near Harrogate on the 1st was a very early arrival and another was at Skelton even further north on the 2nd. On the same date a Common Redstart was at Ruswarp and a Spotted Flycatcher at Fountains Abbey. A Common Quail was singing at Grimston on the 3rd and another was in Scarborough on the 8th, a Yellow Wagtail was found at filey on the 3rd. The first Willow Warbler of the year at Flamborough arrived on the 4th, on the same date a Common Swift was at Rolston, and Ring Ouzels were found back on their breeding grounds in the North York Moors NP also on the 4th, a singing Grasshopper Warbler was at South Gare and a Sedge Warbler at Burton Riggs on the 6th.

Grasshopper Warbler at Filey © Ian RobinsonGrasshopper Warbler at Filey © Ian Robinson

The drier weather also seemed to be suiting some impressive spring flowers as Early Purple Orchids appeared in good numbers at Danes Dyke Flamborough and Long Plantation at Filey where they have not been seen for many years. The first rosettes of Bee Orchid and Common Spotted Orchids were also starting to show in the Filey Bird Observatory area.

Early Purple Orchid at Danes Dyke © Richard Baines Early Purple Orchid at Danes Dyke © Richard Baines

These African bird arrivals mingled with lingering Arctic and northern European wintering birds. The Great Northern Diver was still in Scarborough harbor on the 1st and single Great Grey Shrikes were still in Langdale Forest, Stony Marl Moor and at Acaster Malbis on the 5th. The 7th may then have been a departure date for this species; up to two were seen in the Spurn/Easington area on this date. The fabulous flock of Shore Larks at Long Nab was still attracting admirers at the start of the month when 17 were present on the 1st increasing to 21 later in the month and as I write this on the 8th May, a small flock is still present! Seven Waxwings were seen in Pickering on the 4th. Small numbers of Glaucous Gulls were still on the coast in the first week of April along with a few Hooded Crows. One or two Common Ravens were also still being seen hopefully on their new Yorkshire coast breeding territories by now. Early April can be a great time for migrant raptors and probably the best month for finding roaming Northern Goshawks away from their sedentary breeding grounds. One seen at the unusual location of Sunk Island by the Humber on the 2nd may well have been a continental bird. On the 6th a Rough-legged Buzzard was near Helmsley and Red Kites were seen on the coast at Scarborough, Filey and Spurn during the first week.

Raven at Filey © Dan LombardRaven at Filey © Dan Lombard

The first rare bird of the month was found at Spurn on the lucky date of the 7th a very smart, male Western Subalpine Warbler, this kicked off a three day purple patch in the Spurn area.  Along with Woodlark, Great Grey Shrike and Firecrest the icing on the cake was the second Observatory record of Iberian Chiffchaff found in Kilnsea on the 9th. Hot on the heels of these birds was a Red-rumped Swallow which flew over Kilnsea wetlands on the 11th. Then after a quiet five days, the 16th brought two surprises a new Iberian Chiffchaff and a re-appearance of the Western Subalpine Warbler. 

Western Subalpine Warbler at Spurn © Jonnie Fisk Western Subalpine Warbler at Spurn © Jonnie Fisk

Green Woodpeckers appear to be pushing their breeding range closer to the North Yorkshire coast with almost annual records in early spring and this year was no different. Local birders got very excited at Filey on the 6th when one was found at Carr Naze with another or the same bird up the coast at Ravenscar the following day. An excellent year for Common Crossbills in their forest breeding areas resulted in lots of reports of juveniles fledging in April. An adult female was seen in Langdale forest feeding pine seeds to two young birds recently out of the nest on the 12th with over 50 crossbills seen in the same area on the 16th.  Visual migration was going well in the Filey Bird Observatory recording area early in the month as the warm south to south westerly airflow brought ideal conditions. A fantastically diverse species list included Crossbills, Whooper Swans, Redwings, Snow Bunting, Swallows, Marsh Harrier, Avocet, Sandwich Tern and Wheatear! A single Great White Egret on the 3rd was the rarest bird seen on the visual migration watches during this period. Two Great White Egrets were then found inland on the 8th at Wheldrake Ings and North Cave YWT with one then seen at Hornsea on the 10th.  

Raptors on the move in the second week included an impressive adult White-tailed Eagle over Hay-a-Park gravel pits on the 11th. The following few days were very productive in the Nidderdale area with three Hawfinch present in Fountains Abbey, Pied Flycatchers arriving on their breeding grounds and two Ospreys at Gouthwaite Reservoir. The first Turtle Dove to arrive back in the North Yorkshire forest area where a good small population still exists was seen on the 17th. Pied Flycatchers can be rare on the coast in spring as the majority of inland breeding birds arrive from the south prior to migrants on the coast. April this year saw several males arrive at or around the same time as those breeding further west in North Yorkshire. The first on the coast was at Flamborough on the 15th followed by another male at Spurn on the 21st and one at Scaling Dam on the 29th.

Blacktoft Sands RSPB was a great place to be mid-month with 12 Spotted Redshank on the 16th, five Common Cranes flew over on the 19th, a female Garganey and a long staying female Montagu’s Harrier arrived on the same date. This period kicked off a mini movement of Common Cranes as one flew over Barden Scale Raptor Viewpoint on the 19th, one over Grimston on the 20th and one was found at Swinemoor on the 22nd. A very early Curlew Sandpiper was at North Cave YWT from the 17th with another at South Gare on the 27th. The 21st saw the first significant spring count of Wheatears this year at Flamborough with 58 being recorded across the whole Headland. A Hobby was also seen on this date, the first of the year at Flamborough. A Red-breasted Flycatcher was a great spring find at Skinningrove on the 25th. It was proving to be a good month for Scarce Prominent moths in VC62 with ten caught on the night of the 20th alongside Scalloped Hook Tip and Clouded Silver. A further 17 Scarce Prominent were caught on the 21st, all at Low North Camp near Scarborough

The final period of April often produces some great birding and this year was no exception. After a Great Grey Shrike arrived on Barden Moor for several days from the 19th, it was then all about coastal raptors for several days from the 20th. Visual migration watchers at Hunmanby Gap were rewarded with a female Montagu’s Harrier on the 21st, a fantastic adult male Pallid Harrier then flew north at Grimston on the 24th whilst the female Montagu’s Harrier remained at Blacktoft RSPB waiting for a male… During this period Osprey and Marsh Harrier were also seen at Filey. Migrant Willow Warblers caught and ringed on the 21st at Filey were dominated by birds showing strong characteristics of the race Acredula. The purple patch in the Filey Bird Observatory area was rounded off with a Red-rumped Swallow flying south on the 24th passing Spurn later that same day. A smart male Green-winged Teal was found at Nosterfield on the 21st. There were very few Cetacean sightings this month away from the resident Harbour Porpoise population, so two Bottle-nosed Dolphins seen at Filey on the 24th were a welcome sight. The 29th was another significant day at Spurn with both Savi’s Warbler and Nightingale found alongside the first Dotterel of the year.

Willow Warbler (Acredula) © Dan LombardWillow Warbler (Acredula) © Dan Lombard

The last few days of the month also saw a rush of Arctic waders and Terns, no doubt blown of course or halted on their migration by the strong winds. 52 Arctic Terns got the show on the road at Spurn on the 28th the first of the year at this site. After a lull on the 29th, the 30th was to see the biggest movement recorded all the way down the coast. A seawatch at Long Nab produced 69 Grey Plovers, 31 Bar-tailed Godwits, 6 Whimbrel, 29 Knot, 11 Dunlin, 149 Sandwich Terns and 9 Arctic Terns moving south in the strong and chilly south-south easterly winds. Nearby 41 Arctic Terns and two Black Terns were at Wykeham Lakes. The Filey area recorded 38 Bar-tailed Godwits, 15 Whimbrel, 14 Knot and 16 Sanderlings along with one Black Tern. Spurn stole the Tern show, with impressive numbers including 861 Arctic Terns and 57 Black Terns! These Terns were also found in smaller numbers inland including 19 at North Cave YWT. A Gannet seen flying over the A19 at Ricall was good evidence that even huge seabirds were being affected by the strong on-shore winds.

Migrating Black Terns Spurn Bird Observatory TrustMigrating Black Terns Spurn Bird Observatory Trust

Bar-tailed Godwits were arguably the wader stars during this period with Thornwick Pools at Flamborough providing the best opportunity for photographing these iconic birds. 20 were present here on the 30th, several in beautiful summer plumage. On the same date a Red-breasted Flycatcher was found on the outer headland at Flamborough. A small number of songbirds struggled in on the last day of the month including a single Turtle Dove at Filey and a late group of 25 Waxwings were seen once again in Scarborough. The Scarborough moth group found one of their long time targets at Forge Valley NNR on the night of the 30th in the form of the small macro moth Oak Nycteoline. Three of these localized moths were found during the moth catching session.

Bar-tailed Godwit South Landing Flamborough © Andy HoodBar-tailed Godwit South Landing Flamborough © Andy Hood

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