Last week I was in the Peak District. I woke up early to explore a local nature reserve, RSPB Coombes and Churnet Valley. I took the longest circular path, and as I approached a stream, I heard an unfamiliar song and searched for the bird. It was a male Pied Flycatcher. It sung persistently and have a quick visit to a nest box nearby. I have known this species for a long time, as it was a regular migrant in my local park in Spain when I was a teenager, and I have seen it in migration as well in Spurn. The song reminded me of a Great Tit, although more thrilling and diverse. Pied Flycatchers breed in mature beech and oak forests, habitats that are pretty scarce in East Yorkshire. It is red-listed in the UK, due to severe recent population and range declines. Watercolour and pencil in Wacom Tablet.
You will be very lucky to see a Raven at Flamborough these days, as they are rare visitors. But Ravens bred in at least a couple of places at Flamborough, up until the mid 1830s. One of the last locations was near Breil Newk, when two stacks called the King and Queen rocks, graced the bay next to this headland. The King was toppled by a storm 50 years ago and is now just a rock visible on the low tides where Shags like to rest, but the Queen still stands proud. I can imagine ravens sitting at the top of the stacks, watching the nesting sea birds, waiting for a kittiwake to leave her eggs unprotected, or to spot a dead chick fallen onto the beach. The cliffs would have offered rich pickings during the nesting season, and during the winter, the Ravens would quarter over the grassy tops of the cliffs or the village pastures to feed. Their nest would not have been as impregnable as you would think, as in those times, ‘climmers’ from Flamborough village would descend the cliffs regularly to pick eggs to sell, not to mention tourists coming to the cliffs to shoot sea birds for fun. Raven nestling would be collected and sold to pubs and hostelries to be kept as pets, a common occurrence those times. Unfortunately, the Ravens of Flamborough did not survive to see the Sea Bird Preservation Act passed 1869, the first legislation to protect wild birds in the UK.
During one of my visits almost exactly a couple of years ago, I was unlucky to miss a passing Raven, which was seen in the company of a Red Kite, flying over the headland. I based this pencil sketch on an old postcard of the rocks, with a raven flying by.
An unexpected encounter with a Goldcrest on a local park, I watched as it came down to a pool covered on duckweed and rubbish in a local park, looked around and had a long bath, with I partly captured on video. I love the head on look of a Goldcrest, with their eyes looking like stick on jet buttons surrounded by a pale ring giving it a quizzical look.
On my drive to the airport on the way back from Spain a couple of days ago I spotted the shrike on a bush by the side of the road. One of the fondest memories of my early years was to spot the shrike on its post on the way to or from the beach during our summer holidays. Shrikes will sit on it’s favoured almond tree, bush or telegraph post wire for hours watching for prey. Shrikes are a family of predatory perching birds, with hooked bills similar to those of raptors. It’s mask and white eyebrow give the Iberian Grey shrike a fierce look. Grey shrikes mostly feed on large insects but they also hunt lizards, mice and birds. They often cache surplus prey on spines and thorns of bushes. I remember coming across my first mole cricked as an impaled prey of a grey shrike.
When reviewing photos of past holidays I found some distant shots of a male stonechat near Morston, at the North Norfolk coast. I was amazed at the vivid colours of the breeding male, quite used now to the more subdued autumn and winter tones of the bird. Just after moulting, male stonechat feather fringes are tan, and hide the bright black and orange tones that will be revealed when the feathers are abraded by use by spring. If was a sunny, late April morning and the saltmarsh was dotted with the bright yellow gorse bushes in bloom. The male stonechat appeared atop one of the bushes and I only had time for a couple of shots before it flew off. Pencil and watercolour on my Wacom tablet.
Last Monday I had my best views ever of a Short-eared Owl. My previous sightings had all been birds in flight, often distant or fleeting. This Short-eared owl, in plain daylight in a dull and drizzly morning, landed on a fence post and spent a couple of minutes sat there having a good look – and listen – around the long grass in front of it. Short-eared Owls are often active in daylight, and are winter visitors in my area. Last year it was quite poor in terms of sightings, and this early Short-eared owl bodes well for this winter. The owl flew off, its long wings flapping slowly at times looking like it was going to fall off the air.
Pencil on my wacom tablet.
I watched Goldeneyes displaying and courting a few days back at Far Ings, a Lincolnshire Wildlife Trust Nature Reserve. Goldeneyes males and females engage in eye catching displays even at their wintering quarters, and this is one of the most striking. The males throwing their heads back while keeping their heads quite stilted. They also call at the end of the display, which I have represented on the drawing. Watercolour and pencil on my Wacom tablet.