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Wildlife Sightings - December 2017

  • Wed 3rd Jan, 2018

December started with a northerly airstream, dropping temperatures close to freezing on the 1st. By the 3rd the wind had backed into a more regular westerly flow but temperatures continued to be at or slightly below freezing. Snow warnings were issued for the weekend of the 9th and 10th amid the Arctic blast brought to us by storm Caroline! the largest snow falls occurred in West Yorkshire away from the coast. By the third week the snow had long gone and the 20th brought even milder weather which continued up to the last few days of the month with daily temperatures between 8°C and 10°C. Snow arrived once again on the 29th, favouring inland areas of Yorkshire but by the last day of the month it was all gone again as daily temperatures rose slightly.

Gannet at Filey ©  Mark Pearson Gannet at Filey © Mark Pearson

The month kicked off nicely with some good movement over the sea on 1st, which included Pomarine Skuas at Filey (two) and Spurn (one), Velvet Scoters past Filey and Flamborough, a Glaucous Gull past Filey, Blue Fulmars past Filey and Flamborough (the first of about 15 during the month), and two Little Auks past Spurn. The highlight of the day - and one of the clear highlights of the month - was a distinctly unseasonable one, discovered in a flooded field in Kilnsea – a Lesser Yellowlegs, taking a somewhat lengthy detour on its North to South America migration.... 40 Snow Buntings at Aldborough on the same day were a sign of the flocks to be found lurking in lesser covered areas. Inland a male American Wigeon was found amongst the large numbers of Eurasian Wigeon on the 2nd at Bank Island Derwent Ings National Nature Reserve (NNR). At the time of writing still present on the 2nd January. The good run in the Derwent Valley continued on the 3rd with a Glossy Ibis at Wheldrake. 

Lesser Yellowlegs Kilnsea © Daniel BranchLesser Yellowlegs Kilnsea © Daniel Branch

Three Mealy Redpolls at Flamborough and a Eurasian Bittern at Hornsea Mere on 2nd were followed by the return of the Easington Rosy Starling on 3rd (where it remained into the new year), the first of a good month for Black-throated Divers on the same day (passing Long Nab and Flamborough), and a Siberian Chiffchaff at Filey Dams on 4th, when Alborough added eight Shorelarks to its growing wintering passerine tally and the Flamborough seawatch contained single Velvet Scoter and Red-necked Grebe; a Richard's Pipit was also along the north cliff there, continuing what is now an almost expected wintering presence.

Rose-coloured Starling at Easington © Daniel BranchRose-coloured Starling at Easington © Daniel Branch

An adult Pomarine Skua past Spurn on 5th heralded a somewhat quieter few days locally, although the same site registered another Pomarine Skua the next day and further Black-throated Divers on 6th and 7th. Another reappearing rarity surprised observers further north on 8th, in the shape of the Wykeham Lakes Cattle Egret; another Glaucous Gull at Filey on the same day preceded a lone Little Auk heading back north past Flamborough the following day, when a male Hen Harrier in off at Filey was one of four along the coast and the Humber during the week. Nine Snow Bunting and 24 Twite were present at South Gare on the 9th. Common Scoter are a rare inland sight so two at Welton Water were a good find on the 9th. Lapland Buntings have been scarce all winter so a single was notable at Hummersea on the 10th and another was near Loftus on the 16th.

Twite at Skelton © Damian MoneyTwite at Skelton © Damian Money

Flamborough got in on the Pomarine Skua action on 10th, the same morning a Great Egret dropped in at Tophill Low and eight Shorelarks were still in situ at Aldborough. Another two Velvet Scoters passed Flamborough the following day, when a Mealy Redpoll arrived at Spurn and 55 Snow Buntings were counted at Barmston. The Long-tailed Duck remained at Hornsea Mere throughout, with other ones and twos registered quite frequently at the main seawatch spots. A single Taiga Bean Goose was picked out from a flock of Pink-footed Geese by a keen-eyed birder at Nosterfield Carthorpe Mires on the 10th and a single Bewicks’s Swan was found amongst 134 Whooper Swans at North Duffield Carrs on the 13th.

Snow Buntings at Filey ©  Mark Pearson Snow Buntings at Filey © Mark Pearson

Scouring coastal fields and dunes for wintering passerines continued to pay off as the second half of the month approached, with up to six Lapland Buntings and two Richard's Pipits at Flamborough, Lapland Bunting, Shorelark and up to 22 Snow Buntings at Filey, 60 Snow Buntings at Redcliff and up to 58 of the latter, as well as 17 Twite, at Barmston. Easily the pick of the bunch, however, was the cracking male Desert Wheatear which chose the Whitby clifftop as its long-term pit-stop from 16th, remaining into the new year and delighting many visitors there with characteristic tameness. The Derwent Ings wildfowl hotspot turned up trumps again on the 16th with a male Green-winged Teal. A very unseasonal Little Ringed Plover was at Scorton Gravel Pits on the 17th.

Desert Wheatear Whitby ©  Andy HoodDesert Wheatear Whitby © Andy Hood 

Apart from the long-staying Yellowlegs, scarce waders were understandably thin on the ground considering the time of year, although a Little Stint was at Brough Airfield on 12th and Jack Snipes were sprinkled along the coast, with a peak of four at Flamborough on 22nd, while easily the best wildfowl report of the month was of another (or the same Nosterfield bird) Taiga Bean Goose at Adlingfleet on 18th; at the other end of the Humber, 2000 Brent Geese in the Spurn area the following day was a new record for the site. Two Red-necked Grebes were on the sea at the regular site of Sewerby on the 20th, being joined by a Long-tailed Duck a day later. Barnacle Geese were also on the move at the end of the month, with up to 60 passing each of the coastal hotspots between 29th and 31st.

Brent Geese at Kilnsea © Daniel BranchBrent Geese at Kilnsea © Daniel Branch

Black-throated Divers continued their good run with several more passing Flamborough, Spurn and Filey before the end of the month, and further Red-necked Grebes passed Flamborough and Filey; at the former, an impressive assemblage of Great Crested Grebes peaked at 63 on 30th. Arctic gulls gave an otherwise quiet end to the month white-winged flourish, with an Iceland Gull over Seaton on 25th, Glaucous Gulls at Filey (two) and Spurn on 27th and another past Grimston on 29th, and finally an adult Iceland Gull ghosting past Spurn on 31st. A single Rough-legged Buzzard was seen at Copmanthorpe on 29th and there was another sighting a day later at Bainton in East Yorkshire during what has been a quiet winter for this Arctic raptor.

Glaucous Gull at Filey ©  Mark Pearson Glaucous Gull at Filey © Mark Pearson

Two species present on almost every day of the month with sightings in many places were Hawfinch and Great Egrets. Almost anywhere there were significant areas of mature woodland and Hornbeam, Hawfinches continued to be found. They did appear to be turning up in more places than earlier in the winter but this could have been due to more people being aware of the influx and looking out for them. The biggest numbers were seen at Fountains Abbey with 36 reported on the 26th, 29 at Gilling East on the 29th and over 50 still at the Yorkshire Arboretum mid-month whilst a small flock on Dog Kennel Lane at Thornton-le Dale was popular with Scarborough Birders. Apart from one or two records including a single bird at Scaling Dam on the 23rd, the distribution of Great Egrets was predominantly away from the coast with regular sightings in the Stavely, Thirsk area and Derwent Valley area. Their gradual increase continues.

Many thanks to all the observers who contributed sightings and photographs. 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

Mark Pearson and Richard Baines 

Yorkshire Coast Nature