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Best YCN Birding Days 2020 – Margaret Boyd

  • Fri 4th Dec, 2020

At the end of every birding day I always ask my clients which has been the best bird and what has been the best birding experience of the day. Just like each trip, everyone’s response is different and unique to that person and to that day. And for each day I also have my best bird and experience too.

Common Crossbill - male © Richard BainesCommon Crossbill - male © Richard Baines

So, for 2020, my best bird? It has to be the Common Crossbills on our Forest and River Birding Day. They have been abundant all year, and to the surprise of many of our clients, they can give fantastic views at any time. At the start of spring we had our final birding day before restrictions of all sorts became the norm. Joining me on this trip were three clients. One, a regular customer for several years who enjoys the camaraderie of being part of a birding group. The other two clients were newer to birding and were perhaps, like anyone on a new venture, apprehensive of what to expect on one of our trips, commenting afterward: “I felt so welcome, you put me at ease about what to expect”. The views of displaying Goshawks over the far forest from the raptor viewpoint had been a little distant. Not unusual, but not something that would capture the imagination of those new to birding.

YCN Forest & River Birding Group © Margaret BoydYCN Forest & River Birding Group © Margaret Boyd

I headed to another part of the forest where we could walk through an area of mixed, young woodland to emerge onto a grassy bank overlooking more of the forest. For the clients who were new to birding, everything we saw was exciting so a slow walk down this path was brilliant; Coal Tits and Goldcrests flitting between the trees, delicate Treecreepers, a Marsh Tit with its sneezing like call, Goldfinches chattering in a feeding flock. Here too were Crossbills, flying over at first in small flocks then finally a small group landed to give us great views. Putting the telescope on them I could show everyone the bright green plumage of the females, the streaky underside of the immatures and yes, the brilliant brick red of a fully grown adult. We spent a long time watching them feed, soaking in their identification characteristics but also their behaviour too. And that’s precisely what one of our customers commented on “I had the time to just watch the birds and enjoy them, we weren’t rushing on to find others which is what I expected a bird tour to be and was a bit worried about that”. He was hooked!

Juvenile Spotted Flycatcher © Richard BainesJuvenile Spotted Flycatcher © Richard Baines

Moving on to my best birding experience of 2020. A Dipper feeding on the river Derwent. This was later in the summer with a mixed group of clients, a keen youngster with his mum, a couple eager to photograph some new birds and a lady just wanting a full day dedicated to birding. The afternoon was spent down by the river, walking only a short distance, but seeing so many birds; Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Treecreeper, Bullfinch, Song Thrush, a fleeting glance of a Kingfisher, a family of Spotted Flycatchers. Add to that, Common Buzzards overhead, a Grey Heron stalking its prey, Grey Wagtail, Mandarin duck flushed from the Ox bow lake. Just as we were heading back, I spotted on the other side of the river, under the overhanging boughs, a Dipper feeding at the edge of the water. The lady remarked “I really don’t know how you spotted that, I would have never picked up on it, thank you, it’s wonderful”.

Eurasian Dipper © Steve RaceEurasian Dipper © Steve Race

Settling down on the bank we got the telescope on it, people got their cameras out, it waded in and out of the water, swam a bit upstream, flew to its perch on a rock, seemingly obliviously to our presence. For that moment it was our bird. “I’ve seen dippers before but never felt so close to one, being able to study it, brilliant”.

I often find it hard to pick out the best birds because I enjoy so much of what I see. The experiences I remember best are showing our clients the fantastic birds that we have in the area and sharing that experience with them.

Margaret Boyd YCN Guide