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May 2008

1st - A beautifully singing Blackcap heard singing in the garden this morning.

North Cave Wetlands & North Cliffe Wood - Went birding at North Cave on a pleasant spring morning. Warblers in much evidence with Willow warbler, Blackcap, Reed warbler, Sedge warbler, Common Whitethroat, and a Lesser Whitethroat. Avocet numbers up to 27 now, and a couple of Lapwing chicks were seen, plus up to twelve Greylag goslings too. Great Crested Grebes seen displaying, and Sand Martins were buzzing around the Turret hide. A few Swifts were seen overhead, and a Buzzard loomed over the reserve at one point, scattering the gulls on the lagoons. Wildfowl numbers now well diminished, but six species are still represented. In total fifty species were seen around the reserve.

After our trip to North Cave we went up to North Cliffe wood, where the Bluebells are a week away from their best. Amongst the Bluebells are Primroses too, and other flowers included Wood Sorrel and a few I couldn’t identify. The gorse on the heath is now fully out and giving a gorgeous perfume which fills the air with the smell of early summer. The Azaleas are also just starting to flower here and there, and the Silver Birch is coming into leaf now. On the forest floor the Ferns are unfurling. Birds in the woods included a good number of warblers, including Willow warblers, Chiffchaffs, & Blackcaps, one of which was singing beautifully deep in the wood. A pair of Bullfinches was also observed. A fantastic morning in beautiful surroundings.

2nd - The screeching of Swift’s heard over Beverley this morning, the sound of summer. A Whitethroat was also heard on the wasteland of the former Clariant factory. In the garden a pair of Bullfinches were seen in the Crab Apple, munching on the blossom which is now quite glorious.

3rd - A type of Blue butterfly was observed in the garden today, the first ‘blue’ of the year.

4th, Dalby Forest - Another mornings cycle around the ‘Great Yorkshire Forest’, where leaf warblers were heard in abundance throughout the route. The Wild Garlic along the river at the bottom of the dale was particularly pungent as well, a very emotive smell that reminds one of many a happy day spent out in the woods at this glorious time of the year.

5th - A Sedge Warbler was in one of the field ditches this morning, and a few Whitethroat’s were also heard in the hedgerows and scrub. The horses at Black House Farm are back out in the fields.

6th - Quite a few Whitethroat’s seen and heard this morning in the Parks, there numbers seeming to increase year by year at the moment.

7th - The whiskers on the Barley just starting to appear. A Sedge Warbler again heard in one of the field ditches this morning. In the garden the beech is just starting to green.

Bempton Cliffs - Another visit to this seabird colony on a lovely sunny and warm day. The cliffs as busy and noisy as ever, and the distinctive smell of such a colony has now become quite strong. No eggs seen yet, and on the grassy cliff tops the Kittiwakes were still seen gathering grass for their nest repairs. Away from the seabirds a couple of Corn Buntings were seen and heard amongst the fields above the cliffs, and in the car park scrub a few Whitethroats were also about. A lovely mornings outing.

8th - Lilacs coming into flower around the town, and Cow Parsley is now appearing in abundance along all the local roads and lanes, and the odd bit of Hawthorn is also beginning to bloom.

9th - The temperature rose above 70 degrees for the first time this year.

10th - A female Long tailed duck was reported at Weel fishing ponds.

10th, Journey to Lochaber - Travelled up to Torlundy, a few miles to the north east of Fort William, with Jenny and Andy. Were staying in a lovely chalet, called Skylark, with has a great view of snow covered Ben Nevis which looms above Torlundy village. In the garden there are Azalea’s, with one bush coming into flower. Bird life around the cabin is really good too, with finches, tits, doves, thrushes, dunnocks, crows, including Jays and Hooded Crows, buzzards, chiffchaff’s and willow warblers, Robin’s, Swallows, and House and Sand Martin’s. Also heard in the vicinity are Curlews and a Cuckoo or two. It truly is a lovely spot and I look forward to the remainder of the holiday.
 On our journey to Torlundy the gorse on the Pennines and Southern Uplands were in full flower, and from Loch Lomond north so was the wild broom. Snow still covering many of the high peaks, and coming through Glencoe was a beautiful and magnificent experience, the beauty of which I was completely unprepared for. The high peaks and the hazy sunshine which radiated down upon the glen all added together to create a scene of which I shall never forget.

11th, Fort William and cycling along the river Lochy - The day dawned to the sound of morning rain and Cuckoo’s calling in the surrounding woodland. A fantastic start to my first morning in the Highlands for many a year. The rain soon cleared and after Jenny and Andy got up, we went down to Fort William. The town is a typical highland town, a bit grey and un-interesting, but nonetheless a convenient and welcoming place. It was very quiet at first, but after 11am it quickly became busier, as tourists came into to visit the many tourist themed shops which dominate the main street. We enjoyed a cup of tea at an outside cafĂ©, and then made our way back to our cabin after picking up some essentials for the week ahead. During the sunny and clement afternoon we went for a cycle down to the river and the Caledonian canal where the gorse filled the air with scent and added to the beauty of the scene, with the green and wooded dales, and the snow covered peaks all around. Stonechats seen in the rough fields, and Pipits and Skylarks sang in the sky’s above. A very enjoyable cycle and much longer than had been intended (17 miles in all), all the more to my liking.

12th, Leanachan Forest - Went for a cycle through Leanachan Forest, covering twenty miles and through beautiful forestry land, with the snow patched mountains a backdrop to our journey. Many Cuckoo’s heard throughout the forest, as well as leaf warblers, and in one clearing a Tree Pipit was seen displaying, a new species for me. A most enjoyable day of cycling through fantastic scenery.

13th, Ben Nevis - Climbed Ben Nevis today, a most enjoyable and rewarding climb, though it did become quite strenuous towards the end. We set off early so we had the climb fairly much to ourselves, and it was a beautiful morning with reasonable visibility. The temperature was also ideal for hiking, hovering in the low to mid teens. We reached the summit at 11 am, and the top was still covered in a deep layer of snow from the past winter. Indeed some impressive cornices over hung the north face, and one could have easily mistaken it for some Alpine plateau.

At the top a Raven was spotted passing over. The journey down was less pleasant, with increasing numbers of people heading up the mountain, and the constant jarring of limbs meant stiffness became increasingly a problem as we progressed downwards. However the sight of a few Wheatears hopping about the rocks and boulders made for a welcome and pleasing observation, as I had noted an unusual absence of this handsome little species on the ascent. When we reached the bottom our legs were like jelly and so we bathed them in the chill and clean waters of the river by the car park. A fantastic, if somewhat exhausting, day.

14th, The Isle of Skye - Went to Skye today, taking the short ferry journey from Mallaig. On the way to Mallaig we passed the viaduct that features in the Harry Potter films, and the memorial to Bonnie Prince Charlie, at Glenfinnan. On the ferry journey we saw Porpoise’s, along with a few Guillemots, & Razorbills. We toured around the south of the isle of Skye, where birdlife was quite impressive, with Eiders, Oystercatchers, Cormorants, Shags, Ringed Plovers, Shelducks, Rock Pipits, & Buzzards. We stopped at a most pleasant spot and had a small picnic, where there was a fantastic white beach, and there was a view of the Cullins, and some of the smaller isles in the distance. We then drove up to Broadford and had fish and chips before heading back home, this time going over the bridge to the Klye of Lochalsh. The journey through the glens back to Fort William was outstandingly beautiful and we passed the famous highland castle of Eilen Donan, where unsurprisingly there were many coaches in the car park. We also stopped at the memorial to the Commando’s, just a few miles to the north of the Fort William. A wonderful and more restful day.

15th, Nevis Ski Lift - As we remained somewhat crippled after our climb the other day, we had another fairly restful day, and took a ride of the Nevis Gondolas up to Aonach Mor. Unfortunately the mountains were shrouded in cloud, but I always like this sort of mountain hut places. We had a drink and a bite to eat in the little restaurant, and then we watched people setting off on the Downhill Mountain Bike route, a course which is famous internationally, and stages World Cup meetings. In the afternoon we popped into Fort William for a bit of shopping.

16th, Leanachan Forest - On this our last day in Lochaber, we cycled into Leanachan Forest again, on another fine and pleasant day. We have been largely lucky with the weather on our trip to what is supposed to be Britain’s wettest town. In the woods Cuckoo’s & warblers were again seen and heard in good numbers, and this leisurely cycle through these peaceful woods was a fine way to end our trip to this beautiful part of the western Highlands. I am most grateful to Andy and Jenny for allowing me to join them on this holiday, and hopefully we can do it again one day,

17th, Journey home - Travelled back home, leaving at half past four in the morning. Passing through Glencoe, which was enveloped by cloud, was again a fantastic sight, made the more dramatic by the gloomy early dawn twilight. Quite a few Red deer were seen out on the moorland as well. After a long journey, returning by the same route as we had come by, we arrived home just before noon.

17th - Arrived back from Lochaber to find the Hawthorn now in full bloom, both in the hedgerows and the tree in the garden. Silage/Haylage making also under way. The buttercup’s on Westwood Pastures are also now out and the Red Hawthorn is also just starting to flower. Horse Chestnut now in blossom too. Amazing what can happen in a week at this time of year.

18th, North Cave Wetlands - Went birding with Dad this morning on a lovely early summer day. Breeding amongst the birds of the reserve is now at various stages, but the all the early breeders now have young, including a pair of Great Crested Grebes. Avocet numbers are now at fifteen. Passage migrants are also still represented with a couple of Common Sandpipers, and also interesting was a pair of Pochards, and a lone Teal. A Barnacle Goose was seen amongst the Greylag geese, quite possibly the same one that was seen for a time last autumn. Warblers again well represented, especially in the western shrubs and scrubs, where a Red Kite was also seen soaring above the reserve. The Swifts put on a good display of their flying skills along Dryham Lane, sweeping past us at head height and so close you could hear there wings cutting through the air. Indeed bugs are now plentiful, and a few Speckled Woods were seen on the wing. Other interesting observations from around the reserve today included my first Little Ringed Plover of the year, along with a few Stock doves, and a Buzzard. In total 54 species were seen this morning.

19th - Barley now in full whisker, and local hedgerows are now at their glorious best.

21st, The Farne Islands - Travelled up to Northumberland this morning, leaving at around 6am, so that we could go out to see the seabird colonies on the small Farne Islands, which are just a few miles off the coast in the Bamburgh area. We travelled by boat from the small seaside community of Seahouses, the harbour of which hosted a number of handsome male Eider ducks which allowed some very close views as we sailed by them, as well as other typical harbour species such as Turnstones & Oystercatchers on the rocks, and Gulls eyeing up a quick meal from the passing tourists. The short boat journey of about half an hour was most enjoyable, and as we drew closer to the islands so the seabirds became increasingly apparent. All observed in the surrounding seas were Seals, and a number were seen basking on the rocks, obviously little perturbed by our presence.

All the usual auks were about, along with lots of Shags, Eiders, and three species of Tern (Common’s, Arctic’s, & Sandwich’s). The Arctic Terns had apparently become aggressive in the past few days and Dad and I enjoyed watching people being mobbed by this fearless little birds. We were ourselves attacked, though Dad, wearing a thinner hat than myself, was actually the victim of quite a painful assault. We had a few hours on the main island, and we able to approach nearly all of the species to remarkably close quarters, this allowing one to observe there behaviour and day to day activities. Indeed you had to be careful not to stand on many of the Eiders and Terns as a number of them nested right alongside the path, and in some instances on the path itself. A fantastic day out in a beautiful area of the British Isles.

22nd - Starling fledglings seen feeding on the lawn with the adults today, probably looking for leather jackets. A pair of Bullfinches were also heard.

25th, North Cave Wetlands & North Cliffe Wood - A quick visit to North Cave this morning, which was quite quiet really. However the first Avocet chicks are now about with at least two family groups, and the total number of Avocets is now back up to 28. The parents with chicks are now very aggressive and it was entertaining to watch them take on all who came to close to their young. A Shelduck family was also seen, with eight young in all, and the Black headed Gulls now have a few chicks. Other interesting observations around the reserve included a full plumaged Dunlin, and the lone Barnacle Goose was again seen.

After our brief visit to North Cave we went up to North Cliffe wood, where the Azaleas are now in flower, though the Bluebells are now well beyond their glorious best. Most trees are now in full leaf, including the Oaks. Along our walk through the wood we came across a family of Long tailed tits, and a number of Brimstone butterflies were seen, especially beside a field of Oilseed Rape along the west of the wood. A beautifully singing Blackcap was also heard in the wood. We then drove back home near Houghton Hall, and up to Arras, and the countryside is really looking quite beautiful now, with the hedgerows in full flower and grass lush and green. A fantastic morning.

27th - A Chiffchaff was singing in the garden today, a most welcome sound. Some thundery rain overnight.

29th - Both a Chiffchaff, and a Blackcap were heard singing in the garden today.

30th - A fledgling Blackbird seen in the garden.

Monthly Review
Spring began to turn into summer as this month progressed, with most plants, trees, and flowers now out or in flower, and most insects and birds having now made an appearance. Breeding amongst the birds also well under way with a few fledglings already seen. However the big headline of the month was the sighting of a Long tailed duck at Weel fishing ponds, a new species for the borough.

The weather during the month was largely settled, with less than half of the average rainfall, and it was frostless. It was quite cool during the middle of the month, but the beginning and end of the month saw some very pleasant days with temperatures into the high teens and into the twenty’s. Indeed on the 9th the temperature rose above 70 F.