Thursday, 24 April 2014

Swillington Ings

Today we were back into the swing of things, and I started off my few days birding with a long awaited trip to Swillington Ings. This site has been getting increased press recently due to the number of unusual species that it seems to get. Another reason it is doing so well is the occurrence of Black-Necked Grebes in summer plumage that spend their summers here. That was the big draw for me, even though I managed to tick them yesterday. 
So after long train journey on which I was robbed by Northern Rail, standard, I arrived at Woodlesford and began to make my way onto the site. I decided to stick to the roads and enter from the Western side, since my map was better that way, and I did not want to risk getting lost.
Once on site I began immediately, with Kestrel and Skylark quickly recorded. It was not long, a short walk down the side of the Eastern Reedbed that I encountered my first Black-Necked Grebe of the day. What had really struck me was how close it was to the path, and how little it seemed to care. These were a long way from yesterdays distant skulking birds that I was unable to really photograph. This bird seemed to be unable to stop showing off right in front of me.
It really was a joy to watch, but eventually he drifted off into the middle of the pools and behind some reeds. Either way I got some stunning shots, of a really stunning bird. In my opinion, they are the best bird on the year-list this so far this year for me. 
-Black Necked Grebe
I decided after that to go have a look at the Mere, as that was where most of the key bird species seemed to turn up. I checked from the side nearest to where the grebes were but could make out very little so decided to wander round the back and see what I could find.
What I found was a pair of very helpful local birders who come to the site regularly. They guided me to a large flock of Black-Tailed Godwit in full summer plumage, a Common Sandpiper, only ticked for the year yesterday, and the undoubted highlight a sleeping male Gargany. They said I would be able to get a better view further up, so headed that way.
It took a while but the Gargany did eventually wake up, assisted by the arrival of a pair of Shelduck onto the bank. There it ambled into the water and began swimming. Even through the scope the view was not great the bird was so far away, so given that information please respect my frankly awful record shots, not helped by the fact that blogger has decided to intensify their green-ness. 
However, I was able to watch the bird for some time, and eventually tracked down the second. It was only a short swim however, as it soon decided to go back to sleep, becoming a small brown mass with a white eye stripe. Being only my second ever Gargany I was very excited by this sighting.
-Male Gargany
After a while the birders that I had spoken to joined me, and we relocated all the birds mentioned before. After a while he left and began watching further up the bank while I remained where I was. After some time my second year-tick of the day dropped in, when a small group of 4 Common Terns flew by. Initially I was unsure if they were all common, so when the birder returned down the path towards me I half expected him to tell me that there was an Arctic among them. 
-Common Tern
However his news was more exciting than that, as he had tracked down a pair of Whimbrel on the far side. We headed back up and got to watch them feeding on the far side for some time. By chance they were with a pair of Curlew, so you could really appreciate the size difference. But once again, because they were on the far bank the view was poor and it was only occasionally that you could really make out the eye stripe, though the size of the bill was clear, which was another bird give away. 
As to the photos its the same scenario as above, in that they were distant and that blogger had exaggerated the green. However, it does the job of being a record shot, a badly needed one as it has been some time since my last whimbrel. The whimbrel are the birds on the left if your struggling, the curlew are the ones on the right. 
-Whimbrel and Curlew
When I had finished at the Whimbrel, a large crowd had gathered, I set off in search of garden warbler as there had been one singing. I did not track down that bird but did track down another year-tick in the form of Whitethroat. Initially I only heard it but after a while I got views of it in flight, and flitting through the brambles, sadly no photos though; the bird was too quick for that. At the same sight there were Common Terns diving into the river which was lovely to watch.
I decided to wander round the top and head back down to see if the Grebe had come back out. The walk round the top produced very surprisingly little, but once back at the grebe site the bird (only one today) was still there flaunting his ravishing plumage, giving great views. The only downside was that the sun had moved to behind the bird, so that the photos have had to be edited in order to get their features to stand out. However, that was only really a photo issue as I still got incredible views from my perch on the bank.
-Black-Necked Grebe
I left the grebe and headed back to the mere for a bit, hoping for some terns to fly in. They did not. The only thing to add from before was a ruff, a female that was hunting along the shoreline.
I decided to make my way off the site via the western reedbed so that I would then have covered most of the site. On this bit of the walk the number of flies made it very unpleasant, but I did pick up a female gargany, self found from the reeds. I was struck by how pale it was, and when I got the bins to it I could clearly see the eye-stripe. This is the first time I have ever seen a female gargany, so to have identified it all by myself I was well pleased. Sadly it did not stick around for photos and drifted off into the reeds not to come out while I was there.
There was a Bittern Booming along this part of the walk but as is so often the case I failed to see it. The final year tick of the day was achieved right at the end of the walk just as I was leaving the site. I heard a call from the reeds that I did not think was a sedge warbler, and I was right. After much hunting I finally got brief views of a Reed Warbler, though the view was brief as it kept its head down during its song. The flies made it pretty unbearable but I waited for some time for it to shows itself, though the only thing that came out of the reeds was Reed Bunting
And that was it birdwise. Feeling very heavy legged I almost missed the train and had to run with all my gear, and after a shower I realised I was extensively sunburnt, which was not an ideal outcome, but such things must be taken when out birding.

Species List:
Swillington Ings: Greenfinch, Mallard, Black-Headed Gull, Robin, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Woodpigeon, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Gadwall, Blue Tit, Carrion Crow, Blackcap, Great Tit, Swallow, Chaffinch, Mallard, Jay, Moorhen, Kestrel, Graylag Goose, Tufted Duck, Canada Goose, Mute Swan, Reed Bunting, Skylark, Little Grebe, Pochard, Cormorant, Starling, Great-Crested Grebe, Black-Necked Grebe, Common Sandpiper, Black-Tailed Godwit, Curlew, Wigeon,Gargany, Shelduck, Greater Black-Backed Gull, Redshank, Linnet, Teal, Oystercatcher, Common Tern, Whimbrel, Stock Dove, Shoveler, Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Ruff, Grey Heron, Pied Wagtail, Reed Warbler, Sand Martin

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