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The committee met recently and decided that regretfully, in line with other clubs in a similar situation, we have no choice but to cancel the programme for the rest of the year given the ongoing uncertainty about when gatherings (especially indoors) will be permitted and current rules on social distancing. Please read the letter from our Chairman for more details.

Sometimes, the discovery of a rare bird can be attributed to a fortuitous chain of events.

On 15th June, Craig Storton, a birdwatcher and bird photographer chatted to a farmer near the small village of Biggin, in the southwest of the York Ornithological Club’s recording area. The farmer commented that he had seen ‘a falcon with a white head’ recently. Craig decided to check this out and to his delight found the bird still present, sitting on wires near the farm. Being quite confiding Craig managed to get some great photos. He suspected the bird was a Red-footed Falcon and that evening sent the photos to a few friends and acquaintances to check his identification. One recipient was Paul Doherty who immediately confirmed the bird’s identity; but it was too late to do anything about it, being dark. Paul then emailed Jono Leadley, the YOC Bird Recorder with Craig’s photos and some details. The falcon had been present on the wires until 8.45pm but had been lost flying off to the north.

It seemed that the third Red-footed Falcon of the spring had slipped through the fingers of most local birders! Earlier in the spring, a male Red-foot had been seen with a group of Hobbies feeding over the pool at Wheldrake Ings, by Mikey Naylor, Craig Ralston and Nick Carter. Sadly, the bird didn’t linger, and Coronavirus lockdown prevented local birders searching the area. A little later as lockdown eased, Dave Waudby had a distant view of what he considered to be a female Red-footed Falcon over Aughton, looking north from North Duffield Carrs. Several local birders sprang into action and grilled the Lower Derwent Valley, but unfortunately the bird could not be relocated. The last accepted record for the York area was back in 2008 at Howden, so it really was about time there was a bird that stayed put long enough for local birders to catch up with it!

2CY Female Red-footed Falcon © Jono Leadley, June 2020

On Tuesday 16th June, Jono received the news on his early morning dog walk and decided it had to be worth a look. He realised it could well be a fruitless trip and his second failure to relocate a Red-foot in the York area this spring and the misty conditions would really hamper the search. Jono tried the lanes and fields around the Biggin area to the east of Sherburn-in-Elmet without success, widening the search to Little Fenton and Ryther, all to no avail. Giving the original area one last try, before heading back home to work, Jono spotted a large raptor circling low over a crop field, so he pulled up to investigate. Not a Marsh Harrier as he’d hoped, but a fine Red Kite. However, he noticed a falcon sitting on the wires in the distance – and the hunched, long-winged jizz looked good for a Red-foot! Within moments Jono had got his scope up, which revealed the pale buffy head and dark grey mantle of a Red-footed Falcon! Fantastic! Having put the news out to the local grapevine and news services, Jono shot round to the farm track which lead to the kennels and the farm to get a closer look.

The bird was very confiding and after a brief hunting foray into the field for a beetle flew towards Jono and landed on the telephone wires. The buffy head and underparts identified the bird as a female; both adult and first-summer males would be predominantly blue-grey on the head and underparts, while her age was confirmed as a first-summer (second calendar-year) by the paleness of her head and underparts and fine streaking along the sides of the breast. On these closer views, the bird’s tertials could be seen to be worn juvenile feathers. Meanwhile, Craig arrived; he had been watching the bird from his car. The two did a socially-distanced high five and enjoyed lovely views of the bird hunting from the wires at close range.

Within 20 minutes the first local birders began to arrive on the scene and shared the enjoyment of this great bird. At about 10.35am after a tussle with a male Kestrel, the bird unexpectedly flew steadily off northeast and disappeared into the distance. Would this be the last we would see of her? It seemed so, and despite a number of people searching the area, she did not reappear that day. It was then with great relief to those who missed her on the Tuesday, that she was back on her favourite wires the following morning and showed on and off for most of the day, sometimes going missing for a few hours, possibly to rest up in nearby trees between bouts of feeding, or possibly to drink and bathe.

At the time of writing, Thursday 18th June, the Red-foot has become somewhat of a celebrity with many birders making the trip to Biggin to admire her. The farmer informed Craig that she had been present about a week, so it looks like she is settled in the area and feeding well, so she may well be around for a little while yet. The ghost of those missed Red-foots can finally and firmly be laid to rest.

Red-footed Falcons breed in eastern Europe and Asia, wintering in Africa. Their migratory behaviour results in them being a regular overshoot to Britain, particularly in spring when their migration takes a more westerly route. In some years when there are prolonged south-easterly or easterly winds, good numbers can turn up, with 1992 being a particularly memorable influx, resulting in the second confirmed record for the York area, at Fulford Golf Course. Good numbers have been found in Britain this year, despite the limitations of lockdown, with lingering birds at various sites including Thorne Moors in South Yorkshire. This small falcon is mostly insectivorous, catching dragonflies and other insects in flight, in the manner of a Hobby, but also hunting from a perch, shrike-like, which seems to be the favoured mode of the Biggin individual. She has been seen to take beetles and earthworms and apparently has been klepto-parasitising the local Blackbirds and robbing them of their worms!

Hopefully this Red-foot will remain a little longer allowing others the chance to see this cracking species in the York area.

Previous accepted records of Red-footed Falcon in the York area are:

  • Howden Station, first-summer male from 26 to 27th May 2008
  • North Duffield Carrs, female, 19th May 2002
  • Fulford Golf Course, female, 25th June 1992
  • Brandsby, 5th September 1984 – hit by a car.

Birders wishing to see the Red-footed Falcon should check @yorkbirding for news. On site, please do not drive or park on the farm track leading to the kennels. You may walk on this as it is a public footpath but please leave your car on the wide grass verge at the entrance to the track. Please avoid blocking the residents’ access. The bird frequents the wires around the farm, but can wander off for periods.

By Jono Leadley, Recorder

As the club is unable to meet on 5th May owing to the lockdown, we would like to encourage you to spend a bit of time this evening indulging your passion for birds and birding as you would if you had attended the meeting. To assist with this, Jono Leadley and Duncan Bye have put together a York Birding Quiz to tax all the bird brains in the Club!

People can share around, and keep their answers for their own interest. It is just a bit of fun and there are no prizes!  We suggest that you try and do the quiz on your computer/tablet screen as it will use up a lot of ink to print and it is better for the environment not to print things unnecessarily. It will be distributed via the YorkBirding distribution and can also be downloaded here.

Note: There is an error in Round 1 question 8 – the clue should read: Block Litigated Wad

UPDATE – And here are the answers.

Jono Leadley turned up an exciting find yesterday when he came across a Red-rumped Swallow at  Acaster Malbis during his daily lockdown exercise. A quality bird and only the fourth for the York area, if accepted!

Read his account and see the videos he took on his blog at: http://birdingdad.blogspot.com/2020/04/lockdown-birding-red-rumped-swallow.html

The YOC Committee regrets that, owing to the restrictions on gatherings and  general movement for anything other than essential business plus the uncertainty about when it will be safe to meet up again, the YOC meeting and trips in May and the BBQ at the start of June are (as you will not be surprised to hear) postponed/cancelled. This is in line with other groups who have also been forced to suspend meetings, close reserves and cancel surveys for the time being.

The most important consideration is that everyone stays safe and well.   

In light of government advice for everyone to avoid social gatherings and to keep social ‘distance’ over the next few weeks in an attempt to contain Covid-19, the Committee has had to bow to the inevitable and postpone the April indoor meeting due to take place on Tuesday 7th April. We will look forward to Craig Thomas coming to speak to us at a later date instead.  The April Club outing to Ripon City Wetlands and Staveley on Sunday 5th is being cancelled too.   

The May indoor meeting will almost definitely be postponed too and, as things stand, the North Wales weekend trip in May is extremely unlikely to go ahead.  Looking a little further ahead, the June BBQ could also become a casualty. Regarding the May and June events we will confirm what is happening nearer the time.  

In the meantime, we hope that everyone stays well and is able to enjoy some birding at least, even if it becomes limited to our garden birds serenading us with spring song.  

On 8th March, 11 met at Filey for the monthly trip. Highlights there were Purple Sandpipers on the Brigg, Red-throated Diver and Gannet out to sea plus several displaying Skylarks. It was very windy so we headed for Troutsdale where we dipped on Dippers at the regular site though there was a Grey Wagtail. Raptors showed well though, there were a few Buzzards, Sparrowhawk and Kestrels but the highlights were two female Goshawks displaying and giving close views. Then on to Castle Howard but we didn’t catch up with the Hawfinches reported recently though decent views of a Barn Owl was seen by half the group on the way home.

The YorkBirding website works well using the Chrome browser on Windows 7 and 10. It is also functional using Safari and Firefox on newer versions of Mac OS; definitely works with v10.14. However, some issues have been noted on other technologies:

Minor issue using the Edge browser – the Twitter feed scroll bar is not visible, however the Tweets can be scrolled using a mouse wheel.

Internet Explorer 11 – The Twitter timeline does not display, however the link works to take you to @Yorkbirding where you can see the history.

Mac OS v9 – There are issues with the menu and the display of the new-style gallery (as used for 2019 photo competition, sorry the old-style gallery is not compatible with the latest WordPress) using old versions of Mac OS and Safari. Suggest trying a different browser.

Samsung browser on phones – the menu is difficult to use, try using Chrome on the same device.

UPDATE The Field trip on Sunday 9th February was postponed because of Storm Ciara. I was hoping to rearrange it for this coming Sunday (the 16th), but that isn’t really possible. The B1223 which is the main access route to the Lower Wharfe is currently flooded in three places and that means access is limited and difficult (via minor single track roads) and I have been advised that at least one section of it is not expected to reopen until 2nd March. Add on the fact that another storm is expected to bring high winds and more rain this weekend and it’s clear that the trip can’t run.

A note from Paul Doherty regarding the trip originally planned for 9th February:

“At Tuesday’s Club meeting I mentioned the poor weather forecast for Sunday and raised the possibility that the Field Meeting on Sunday 9th February might have to be postponed. I have been keeping an eye on the weather forecasts and it has stayed poor for Sunday. I’ve just had a look at the Met Office and they have a warnings posted for wind and rain:-

Storm Ciara will bring very strong winds and potentially some disruption to travel throughout Sunday.

What to expect

  • Injuries and danger to life from flying debris are possible

It’s clear that the wind and rain would mean we would see very few birds, plus travelling by car and even walking amongst the trees could be dangerous, so I think the only decision is to postpone this meeting. To be honest the forecast is so bad that running the trip isn’t really an option.

I propose to reschedule it for Sunday 16th February and will circulate more details in due course.”

On 3rd December, the club held its annual photo competition. Many thanks to Tom Lawson for his work in preparing the show and running the evening. Thank you too to Peter Watson and Barry Thomas for standing in as judges, a difficult task.

The results of the popular vote after Peter and Barry had whittled down the entries to a short list were:

World:

  1. NORTHERN FULMAR by Phil Moss
    2 = GANNETS by Terry Weston
    2 = CREAM COLOURED COURSER by Terry Weston

Rest of the UK:

  1. KESTREL by Terry Weston
  2. SHORT-EARED OWL by Antony Ward
  3. COMMON TERN by Tom Lawson

York Area Nature:

  1. STOAT by Terry Weston
  2. SOUTHERN HAWKER by Trevor Walton
  3. PAINTED LADY by Antony Ward

Congratulations to the winners and to all who took part. The winning photos have been published in a gallery.