Summer with Start Birding

Well what a changeable season we have had so far! The theme of low temperatures and torrential rain has continued into summer with only the occasional few days of sunshine.

As we await the news of how this record breaking spring and summer has affected the breeding success of British birds, I’ve resigned myself to the fact that my swifts did not occupy the boxes on our house this year and that our local swifts have already started on the journey to their wintering grounds in Africa. I had really built up my hopes that a new colony would be created this year at home and I’m very disappointed although, with the sound of my swift CD playing for weeks, I feel that swifts have been a large part of my life since the first records of birds arriving in the UK were being submitted.

If you would like to contribute to logging the outward journey of swifts – or indeed any sightings of migrating birds then you can log on to Bird Track to submit your records

So what have I been up to over the last few weeks? Early summer is a very busy season for Start Birding. Trips have included a full day at RSPB Bempton Cliffs and Filey Dams Nature Reserve (run by the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust). 

The sun shined on us most of the day, however we did have to dodge the raindrops a few times which is what led us to begin our day in the hides of Filey Dams. Every cloud has a silver lining though and our retreat for cover was rewarded with wonderful views of barn owls sitting outside their box.

Barn owl at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Filey Dams

The cooler, damper weather kept the familiar smell of Bempton Cliffs to a minimum. Puffins were easily seen amongst kittiwakes, fulmar and razorbills; while lines of gannets and guillemots striated the narrower cliff ledges.

RSPB Bempton Cliffs

As we made our way northwards along the coastal path, we could see a storm gathering over Scarborough. The sun was shining over the reserve and we were able to get some fantastic views of sun kissed gannets breeding very close to the path.

a rather stunning view of a gannet

The cloud was getting nearer and more threatening so we decided to make preparations for a soaking. Luckily we had full waterproof gear with us. Just as well because, at the newest and furthest viewpoint, the heavens opened. We retreated to the visitor’s centre to dry out before heading back to Filey to view the Brigg from the cliff tops.

Storm clouds over Scarborough

At the beginning of July, I led a trip to North Cave, another Yorkshire Wildlife Trust reserve. It is a joy to watch this reserve grow and develop and I recommend a visit. Due to the high level of rainfall, the lagoons held a lot more water than usual which had obviously affected the growing numbers of avocet that have been attracted to the reserve in recent years. Last year I counted around 60 birds at this time of year, on this particular trip I didn’t see any. I was pleased to see that a corn bunting was still singing in the same place as I’d seen it in the spring. I don’t know whether or not it bred successfully and hopefully we’ll hear news of that later in the year.

This trip was closely followed by one to Alkborough Flats and RSPB Blacktoft Sands. Alkborough Flats is the site of a relatively new project where the flood bank on the convergence of the Ouse, Trent and Humber was breached, causing 450 hectares of farmland to be flooded. About 350 avocets had gathered there, perhaps the ones that were missing from North Cave and, as we discovered later, from Blacktoft Sands. Black-tailed godwit and ruff were also present. After a walk around the lagoons we finished the day at Blacktoft where we managed to see spotted and common redshank, green sandpiper, more ruff and quite a few marsh harriers. Most of the ducks were in eclipsed plumage making identification a good challenge for my novice birdwatchers.

Alkborough Flats from Julian’s Bower

The rest of early summer has been filled with festivals and shows; the Roundhay Live Show where I had a stall; the Woolfest at Cockermouth; the Yorkshire Show (getting pushed out the car park by a quad was fun after a torrential downpour flooded the field); and ceramics shows at Rufford Park and Penrith.

What’s next? My new programme of events and newsletter will be coming up in the next few days. Birding in Scotland and the annual International Bird Fair at Rutland Water will follow quickly after that. Hope I see some of you there. You can pick up a Start Birding leaflet at the Bird Holidays stand in Marquee 1 at the Bird Fair. If you want to add your name to my distribution list then please contact me on 07778 768719.

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