Finally the time had come to do some serious post-exam birding. With goodbyes, get togethers and the world cup I had not really been out since my exams finished but today I decided to finally resume my birding adventures for the year.
All through exams I had decided my first call would be Swillington to try and get grasshopper warbler, as that would have been a lifer for me, so that was today's plan of action: Swillington and gropper. However, in the build up to my trip there had been reports of a summer Slavonian Grebe on the lake but then moving off, and just yesterday there was reports of a Pectoral Sandpiper. Possibly as a result of the spot sand experience I did not get overly excited about this, assuming that I would not see it.
As a result I did not even really consider the pectoral during my trip to the site. This time I made no mistake and walked along the canal to the site. Good thing too, as I picked up a fleeting Kingfisher along the canal. It landed somewhere but I'm not sure where, I could not pick it up.
Once on the site I started to pick things up. I got great views of Common Tern and Cormorant, as well as fleeting views of a flushed Little-Ringed Plover. There was an abundance on Tufted Duck and especially Black-Headed Gull.
The first thing I saw that I thought was worthy of a stop and photograph was a lovely family of Pochards in one of the channels. Its the first time I can recall seeing pochard chicks, another tart tick got for this year. They were quite cute, that's coming from a guy who does not think much is cute, but the mother was obviously agitated by the fact I had stopped, so I made sure my watch was short before moving on.
-Pochard with chicks
I could see in the distance two small clusters of birders, so wondered if they were watching the sand, or the slav. Initially I had wondered if they had found something new, and began hoping for a black tern. The smaller group were where the black-necked grebes were, so I wondered if they had found the Slav with them.
I reached the group, and when I asked 'anything about' they replied that it was the Pectoral Sandpiper, but that it was hiding currently. I suddenly realised that the Pec Sand had always been a real possibility, but somehow I had never considered it. As of 5 mins into my joining the watch a pair of birders said they were heading off to see if they could find it round the far side. They headed off down the causeway, but did not get far before they began to herald those of us who had stayed behind.
We caught up with them swiftly, they really had not gone far, and said they had it before trying to describe where it was. It was apparently on the causeway in front of us on a rock, but it was only when he said 'you don't need bins' that I spotted it, all of 6ft. in front of me.
To say I was over the moon would be an understatement, as this is a species I have always wanted to see, so to be within 6ft. on my first attempt was a pretty exciting feeling. After a few moments one of the birders said he was going to wander closer to try and flush it towards us. I could not believe what he was suggesting; it sounded like birding suicide. But as ridiculous as it sounded, it worked. The bird flew off and then landed closer to us, giving us great views. Sadly though our views were cut short by the arrival of a cyclist coming down the Causeway. The birder the bird could handle, but the cyclist it could not, and it departed far far away on the main lake. We managed to get 10 mins of great watching before the bird left, but I would have taken 10 mins of views like this over a few hours of a distant view.
The views we got meant I got some really good photos, and of a lifer that is not always possible. I got to watch it feed and wade, as well as bob and be alert. Overall it could not get much better, only if it had stayed a little longer.
So having picked that up it was already a great day, one lifer, a stunning adult Pec sand and so close. No matter what happened it could not take anything away from this.
I decided to head on down the causeway and over the 'gropper corner' to find myself a gropper. On the way down I hoped to pick up some insects, specifically purple hairstreak. I failed to find any hairstreaks, but did manage a juvenile male Black-Tailed Skimmer, which was perched in an awkward position for photos, so I only got record shots.
Also on the way round the back I found good numbers of Southern Spotted Marsh Orchid, including one which was possibly the biggest orchid of any species I have ever seen. It looked very impressive but due to the height of the grass I could not get a photo of the whole plant, only of the flower.
-Juvenile Black-Tailed Skimmer
-Southern Marsh Orchid
Sadly when I made it to gropper corner there was no sight or sound of any groppers. So that one remained amiss. Other birds I picked up on that bit of the walk included Curlew flying over, Wigeon which was something of a surprise at this time of the year, and a Common Teal on the main lake.
I moved further on round until I was up on the grass on the side, on the reserve where I had not made it before. Again there was not much going on round, up that way, but there was a kestrel on one of the old mining vehicles which looked really nice and showed well perched. But that aside there was not a great deal going up on the far side.
I headed back down onto the main path next to marsh to head back to the actual marsh. Along there way there was a pair of birders ahead of me who had stopped to look at something. I made it up to them and they said that there was a gropper singing in the shrubs. It did not sing while the 3 of us waited, but after they left I distinctly heard the reeling of a grasshopper warbler, for the first time ever. Sadly the bird itself did not reveal itself and as a result I can't tick it off. But its a start having finally heard such a distinct call.
During our wait for the gropper there were numerous birds singing behind, namely Sedge Warbler, Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Reed Warbler. I managed to find the Reed Warbler so I was able to grab an annual record shot, despite an abundance of reeds in the photo.
I continued on round, heading to where the black-necked grebes are. They have been more secretive recently due to their chicks but apparently they were out a bit while I was watching the sandpiper. There were none around when I turned up there now, but I did not stay long.
There were a few birders looking for the pec sand, so I asked about the slav. They informed me that the Slav was still on Skelton lake, but that it was a trek to get there. I decided to just go for it. The pec sand was not around for the moment, apparently on the far side of main lake, and there was not much else about so I saw no reason why not.
On the way out of the reserve I had Common Buzzard, but the best raptor I had was a Red Kite that was soaring over the canal on the way out. I spotted it initially but the view was short and I wondered if it was just a buzzard, but I spotted it again afterwards over the trees, so I could get some year record shots and add to what had been a exceptional day.
So began the trek to Skelton Pond. It was a long way, and the sun decided to come out during that period, making the walk very painful and exhausting. On the way there I managed to pick up no additional species, but there were some low flying cormorants overhead.
I eventually made it to the lake. Apparently someone on site was giving the birders jip, and that apparently you should not go by yourself, but I figured I should just go for it, and fortunately I did not find this guy. Apparently the Slav was with four GC Grebes, but when I arrived to swiftly found that the GC Grebes had split up and were at various points that I decided to set up.
I set up at about 5 different points across the but had no joy with the Slav, so resigned myself to the fact that I probably would not find it. I had picked up some other stuff, for the day such as Shelduck.
But finally, at the 5th set up I got lucky. I first checked out a tufted duck thinking I had found it, but when I spotted the bird next to it I knew that I had actually got it. The only issue was that it was too far away and I was unable to get any decent photos of the bird. I got a few decent views of the bird, before moving off to try and get closer.
The path led away from the waterside, so I decided after a walk that it would be an idea to cut through the wood to the edge of the lake to try and get closer to the bird to track its movement. I knew it was a risk and I got scratched and bitten for it, but once I made it to the edge of the lake I refound the bird and was able to get some better photos. However, after 5 mins of watching the bird I glanced at my watch and realised that I would probably have to call it quits if I was going to make it for the train. As a result I could not wait for the bird to come closer, and so my photos and view would both be of the distant bird.
But, to have found a Summer Plumaged Slavonian Grebe was quite something, another excellent lifer for the day and now only one grebe away from a full house of the British Grebes. It was a stunning bird, showing off its horns, but sadly too distant to fully appreciate it like I could the Black-Necked I had seen earlier in the year. It was a little disappointing I was unable to really get good views, but I was happy to have found it.
-Mute Swan and Summer Plumaged Slavonian Grebe
-Summer Plumaged Slavonian Grebe
When I say I saw the time I realised I would have to walk at some pace to make it, and I was already very tired. It was at this precise moment that my shorts buckle decided to rip and my shorts promptly fell down. I had to swiftly improvise before making a march for the station.
I made it in the end, by about 5 mins, but I made it, and that is the important thing. On the way back I picked up a female Goosander and also a Little Egret flying down the river. This left me with an incredbile day list, with 2 smashing lifers. Well worth the trip up, despite not getting my target bird, but I got two that given the option I would rather have had.
So, the days species list...
Swillington Ings: Kingfisher, Common Tern, Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Swift, Carrion Crow, Black-Headed Gull, Cormorant, Coot, Pochard, Great-Crested Grebe, Oystercatcher, Reed Bunting, Sand Martin, Swallow, Whitethroat, Goldfinch, Mute Swan, Blackbird, Little-Ringed Plover, Skylark, Sedge Warbler, Gadwall, House Martin, Magpie, Starling, Pectoral Sandpiper, Grey Heron, Wigeon, Kestrel, Lapwing, Woodpigeon, Graylag Goose, Mallard, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Shoveler, Curlew, Teal, Common Redshank, Pheasant, Meadow Pipit, Reed Warbler, Common Buzzard, Red Kite, Pied Wagtail, Long-Tailed Tit, Meadow Brown, Common Blue, Large Skipper, Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Large White, Red Admiral, Small Tortoiseshell, Cinnabar Moth, Black-Tailed Skimmer, Common Blue Damselfly, Common Blue-Tailed Damselfly,
Skelton Lake: Shellduck, Little Egret, Slavonian Grebe, Goosander, Common Tern, Canada Goose, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Swift, Carrion Crow, Black-Headed Gull, Cormorant, Coot, Pochard, Great-Crested Grebe, Reed Bunting, Sand Martin, Swallow, Whitethroat, Mute Swan, Gadwall, House Martin, Magpie, Starling, Grey Heron, Woodpigeon, Graylag Goose, Mallard, Lesser Black-Backed Gull, Herring Gull, Shoveler, Pheasant, Pied Wagtail, Meadow Brown, Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Large Skipper, Common Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Common Blue Damselfly,