Ma @ Donna and child

Hello birdwatchers

I hope that you have managed to catch up with some of our winter visitors over the last couple of weeks. Thanks to everyone who emailed me about their waxwing sightings. It has been great to hear that Leeds birdwatchers have managed to see them for the first time this year.

Since my last blog, we have been experiencing some real autumnal weather. We’ve been shivering in our classroom at Rodley, peering through fog in the vale of York and battling with an icy wind on the Lincolnshire coast. Thankfully we’ve had plenty of warm clothing, blankets and cups of tea to keep out the cold.

On 24th November, our planned ringing trip was postponed due to the fog. Feeling disappointed, we headed off to North Duffield Carrs in the hope that the fog would lift and we would be able to view enough birds on the lagoons close to the hides. We had encouraging views of the sun emerging from the mists but, instead of lifting, the fog very quickly got worse. I decided that it wasn’t worth staying so we headed west to RSPB Fairburn Ings.

Canada geese fly onto a fog covered lagoon

On the journey, the thick fog lifted then dropped again making us unsure about whether we would manage to see any birds that day. Thankfully, Fairburn was clear when we arrived and we managed to see waxwing, redwing, siskin, tree sparrow, kingfisher, and plenty of wildfowl before the fog and the freezing temperatures finally got the better of us.

Throughout this year, I’ve been taking my mobile cafe on each of the Start Birding trips which, I think, has really been beneficial to my companions. My guests have the choice of a selection of teas, coffee, hot chocolate, juice and a range of different biscuits to provide some much needed calories.

Last weekend we took a trip to Donna Nook, one of the best places in the UK to get close up views of grey seals, the third rarest seal in the world. Only a low fence separates viewers from new born and growing seal pups. Close to the scenes of maternal bliss, testosterone fired males engage in combat to win the rite to mate with the females as they come into season.  Many males can be seen bleeding from their battle scarred, blubbery necks and it is amazing how fast they can move across the sand when chasing off a rival.

Warring male grey seals

newly born seal pups with their mums

An exhausted male: grey seal males are the largest of all UK mammals
a proud mum with her pup (photo by Rodney German)

seal milk is almost 60% fat and pups can grow from 15kg to 40kg in 3 weeks

Unfortunately, not all pups thrive to look like overstuffed sausages. Some are either still born or die soon after being born. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but what is surprising is that the dead seal pups and seal afterbirth create a very strange birding moment. My guests very quickly went from revulsion to fascination and disbelief as they watched turnstones avidly eating seal flesh just a stones throw away from the path; behaviour you usually only expect from crows, gulls and passing raptors. Don’t look at the next photo if you’re squeamish!

a turnstone eating seal afterbirth

Along the Lincolnshire coast we saw flocks of meadow pipits and skylarks feeding on the ground. Waders included turnstone, grey plover, curlew, dunlin and redshank and a flock of dark-bellied Brent geese flew in from the fields towards the middle of the day.

This coming weekend, we’re heading to Pugney’s and Calder Wetlands in Wakefield. There is a long-tailed duck there at the moment and smew, scaup and American wigeon in the area so fingers crossed for a good day. We’re hoping to see bittern on the reserve at Pugneys and the forecasted cold weather will give us the right conditions.

Next week will be the last of this year’s indoor classes at Rodley Nature Reserve. We will be having a festive party with birdwatching games and exercises then will enjoy a break before starting again in January. If you are interested in hearing more about indoor and outdoor classes in 2013 then my next newsletter will be out very soon. You can email me to receive the list of my forthcoming trips on or call me on 07778 768719.

Finally, I’d like to say goodbye to my friend and long-term furry companion, Josh who sadly didn’t make it to Christmas and died at the end of November aged 17. He was such a character and the house feels empty without him. He will be missed for a very long time.

Thanks to everyone for your kind words and for your understanding and support over the last couple of weeks. Rest in peace Josh. You’ve been an absolute star x

Josh 1995-2012

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