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Wildlife Sightings - November 2017

  • Tue 5th Dec, 2017

Relatively mild weather at the end of October continued into the start of November. The month was dominated by westerly and southerly winds as indeed the whole autumn has been. Several short blasts of colder air from the north didn’t last very long or drop temperatures below freezing until after the middle of the month. On the 17th the first light frost was recorded with a drop to a minimum of 0° in Humberside. These lower temperatures continued for a few days but then it was back up into double figures from the 21st – 24th. The first longer spell of Northerly winds bringing colder weather started in earnest on the 28th to the end of the month.

As the 'overlap' month when autumn morphs into winter, November is one of the best and perhaps most underrated periods in the birding calendar, and for sheer variety, the penultimate month of 2018 was an excellent one here in North and East Yorkshire.

Sea-watchers hope for strong northerly winds at this time of year to temporarily 'push' scarcer seabirds down into the lower reaches of the North Sea, and we had several periods of such conditions in November. While they didn't deliver the numbers hoped for, they did deliver a wide variety of classic seasonal scarcities for those braving the established watch-points. Top billing went to a White-billed Diver that passed Spurn on 8th – only the second record for the site – and other diver action included increasingly numerous Great Northern Divers and a small number of Black-throated Divers, with multiples from Flamborough and Filey and a single from Hornsea.

At the opposite end of the size scale, perhaps the most hoped-for visitor from the far north during these conditions is the Little Auk, the diminutive and charismatic miniature cousin of our more familiar local breeding auk species. Sightings fell into three several-day periods – the beginning, middle, and end of the month – with single figures from six sites, and a peak of 14 past Filey on 12th. A Black Guillemot flew past Flamborough on 3rd, where Balearic Shearwaters went north on 15th and 19th, while both a Leach's Storm-petrel and a Grey Phalarope were classic storm-blown goodies at Filey on 12th. Sadly, one of the latter was found inland in a Malton parking lot and despite best efforts didn't make it back to the open ocean.

Glaucous Gull Flamborough © Andy HoodGlaucous Gull Flamborough © Andy Hood

Other seabirds included a good spread of Glaucous Gulls, two Sabine's Gulls (past Spurn on 10th), a Caspian Gull in the Tophill Low roost on several dates, regular Long-tailed Ducks and Scaup, the odd late Sooty Shearwater and a good spread of Pomarine Skuas (peaking at 12 past Long Nab on 12th). Scarce waders were in short supply, although a report of a Semipalmated Sandpiper at Whitton Sand on 4th would be the bird of the month if proven; otherwise, a few late Little Stints were the pick. Likewise, scarcer birds of prey were thin on the ground, but a smart Rough-legged Buzzard took up residence in the Bempton and Buckton area from 18th, wandering into Filey airspace on at least two occasions.

Hawfinch Yorkshire Arboretum © Steve RaceHawfinch Yorkshire Arboretum © Steve Race

Red-necked Grebes were fly-bys at Filey, Flamborough and Spurn, while a more accommodating individual took up a several-day residence at Wykeham Lakes early in the month. This freshwater hotspot had a productive period, with a Cattle Egret also there mid-month, while a Glossy Ibis was an elusive guest at Hornsea Mere on several dates; both sites, and various others, were visited by the increasingly unsurprising Great White Egrets. Perhaps the story of the autumn nationally is the ongoing mass influx of Hawfinches, and while the coast had but a modest peppering, inland sites saw flocks building in unprecedented numbers, with up to 60 at Yorkshire Arboretum! In contrast, odd Waxwings were the exception rather than the rule.

Pied Wheatear Skinningrove © Abi Thornton Pied Wheatear Skinningrove © Abi Thornton

The rare passerine migrant prize of the month goes to the finder of the Pied Wheatear at Skinningrove on the 6th, a fantastic discovery considering how little in the way of suitable weather there has been for such migrants. Other hardy stragglers arrived in the shape of a Pallas's Warbler at Filey on 14th, a Barred Warbler at Spurn on 11th and 12th, a Bluethroat there on 8th and Siberian Chiffchaffs there and at Bempton, while another good late autumn for Shorelarks included reports from at least six coastal sites and peaks of seven at Aldbrough and six at Flamborough. Snow Buntings were well spread, with a high of 32 at Flamborough; Lapland Buntings were thinner on the ground, but the now traditional early winter presence of Richard's Pipits was maintained with two birds at Flamborough and singles at Spurn, Filey and Grimston.

Bluethroat Spurn © Dave Tucker Bluethroat Spurn © Dave Tucker

Siberian Chiffchaff Bempton © Jo Hood Siberian Chiffchaff Bempton © Jo Hood

Up to three Harbour Porpoise were present as usual off Scarborough Marine Drive all month but there was a distinct peak in numbers on the 25th when ‘multiple pods’ were reported along with a lot of splashing activity between animals. There were quite a few butterflies reported early in the month as the mild weather from October continued to create suitable conditions. A Comma at Yorkshire Arboretum on the 5th was a good late find along with more expected Red Admirals seen in many places. The cooler and windy weather proved difficult for moth nights but the Scarborough team still managed a good haul of 27 December Moths at Wykeham Causeway on the 14th. 

Shore Lark Flamborough  © Andy HoodShore Lark Flamborough © Andy Hood

Mark James Pearson and Richard Baines YCN 

Many thanks to all the observers who contributed sightings and photographs. This article covers North and East Yorkshire. For more wildlife sightings visit these great local, regional and national web sites

Spurn Bird ObservatoryFlamborough Bird ObservatoryFiley Bird Observatory and GroupNorthern Rustic blogspot Yorkshire Naturalists UnionYorkshire Wildlife TrustScarborough BirdersButterfly Conservation Yorkshire Branch  Yorkshire Nature Traingle  For National News: Birdguides