Sunday, 31 October 2010

Rapturous Raptors!

30th Oct. An early start saw me in Chester le Street for shortly after 8.30am to rendezvous with Andrew K. This was to be an adventure today into North Yorkshire, and quite an adventure it turned out to be.

On arrival at Sleddale where a number of birders had already lined up, we quickly found one of the Rough Legged Buzzards in a tree. Not far away was a Great Grey Shrike of which we had some decent sightings during the morning. This one was a UK first for me. The action soon began for real although I did do the Great Grey Shrike justice. Imagine the following. Three Rough Legged Buzzards in the air at once and single bird’s often giving good close up sightings and showing that distinctive hover like stance in the wind. Rough Legged Buzzard in the air with Common Buzzard and Peregrine Falcon. Male and female Peregrine Falcon in the air together in friendly tussle, and blimey was that female a size? Peregrine Falcon chasing a Red Grouse to ground right in front of us, and latter a Wood Pigeon narrowly escaping a chasing Peregrine Falcon. A Sparrowhawk mobbing a Peregrine Falcon, and a Common Buzzard mobbing a Rough Legged Buzzard. Kestrels providing some background hovering and a supporting cast of numerous close up Red Grouse, more distant Common Buzzards and a fly by from my first Fieldfares of the winter. I heard someone mention Goshawk way in the distance, but I honestly don’t think anyone identified it with any great confidence. This had turned into the finest raptor watch I’ve ever had in the UK. Pity we had missed the Merlin seen before out arrival and pity the Hen Harrier didn’t join the party, whilst we were there anyway.

I have only seen Rough Legged Buzzard once before and that was the bird that turned up near Holywell/Whitley Bay a few years ago. The sightings were far better today and I’m also a little more bird wise now. It was good to compare the differences between the Common and Rough Legged Buzzards over a period of two or three hours. I don’t think I have ever had such a good opportunity to consider the reverse sexual dimorphism in Peregrine Falcons either. I wasn’t the only one to think the female in this case was towards the maximum size limit. There was a third Peregrine Falcon by the way. Great stuff although the excitement didn’t stop the cold wind reaching places it ought not too and I was tempted to ask Andrew for some anti freeze to rub on my bits and pieces as we left for Scaling Dam, but I decided to make do with the car heater to warm me, and the icicles soon disappeared.

On arrival we found the female Long Tailed Duck and a single Whooper Swan amongst other waterfowl, some I think of doubtful parentage. After a short watch we made off towards Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve where I had a feeling we might find something decent.

First bird of note was a calling Willow Tit which we didn’t manage to see. We were on operation Jack Snipe and owl. We found neither, but what we did find was eleven Whooper Swans looking very dapper on the pond and looking as though they were there for the night. Ten Common Snipe were also found. Other birds seen included the likes of Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Gadwall, Grey Heron, Lapwing, Redwing, Siskin et all.

As usual my trip south of the border provided a grand day. Raptors were the stars of the show and seen in number. Three Rough Legged Buzzard, five+ Common Buzzard, three+ Sparrowhawk, two+ Kestrel, three Peregrine Falcons. More important that quantity was the quality of the sightings however, and I think it will be a while before this is repeated. It wasn’t just a long rapturous raptor day though and I was very pleased with the Great Grey Shrike and other sightings. Jack Snipe is on the back burner for now. Not literally of course!

It was a Foghorn long day yesterday and I’ve been out and had another excellent birding day today, but there is only so much Killy Birder can do in a weekend, so I’m off to soak in a hot bath and will write up today’s exciting installment tomorrow. Anticipation is a wonderful thing!


  1. WOW, what an exceptional day!.
    I must admit at being sad however. I had planned a visit to Sleddale yesterday myself but the forecast was for mist and drizzle and as i had planned to walk some distance also, i cancelled. So your excellent account Brian was kinda painful but enjoyable. i would have settled for a Rough-legged Buzzard never mind all the other stunners.
    Good on yer, i'm a slightly less shade of green now. Mind, i did see the Toon demolish the Mackems by some way of compensation

  2. I hope that you get the chance to pop down John. Exceptional sightings to be had. It certainly looks good walking country too. I managed to see the highlights of the match last night. I'm not one to gloat over others misery of course, but '5-1 5-1 5-1' The 'entertainers' are back! Cheers Brian.