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This is more rather than less than I posted on BirdForum earlier. The snowy scribbler raised the flag for another stupid o’clock BF meet at Bolton Abbey. Since I joined BF this has been a much anticipated annual event.

The trip is a rare opportunity to enjoy this avian extravaganza that is rightly called a dawn chorus. Not to say that it is better to the usual urban fare (but it is). No two visits are the same. One year it was a couple of Woodcock disputing territory. Another, I found a patch of Toothwort (more would follow). And this is probably a good time to gloss over Mandarin Duck.

Going back to the non-avian highlight – I wasn’t convinced about the naming of a female Otter so did a bit of rummaging. Queen and sow were touted on less reputable websites. The fact is she’s a bitch.

What I wasn’t expecting to find is that it was used as a verb for a form of poaching; to otter. My favourite (obsolete) definition is “An American breed of sheep having short crooked legs and long bodies”. I can’t see that doing well in the Strid.

And further, the word derives from the same Indo-European base as water, variously; otr, otor et. seq. It may also be one of those Middle English words that have lost the ‘n’, as in nadder; notyre.

That’s quite enough rummaging in the OED online (free access with a UK library card btw).

Well, maybe not quite finished. Five consecutive nights of cricket from NZ… bloody brilliant finale. Gripping.

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On a crisp, frosty morning I waited for me mate. This was enlivened by Mistle Thrush, Song Thrush and Redwing all in the same field of view. The brief ‘chack’ above wasn’t repeated and so Fieldfare remains as a possible. Soon after Keith appeared and we set off.

Today’s target was to check out a possible sighting of Black Grouse. This was not to be, I suspect the original report was erroneous. Red Grouse can look very dark. For what it’s worth the site looked very promising; a conifer plantation adjacent to moorland. This is exactly the sort of habitat where I used to stumble across them when surveying in County Durham and Northumberland.

We had planned to look last week but hill fog scuppered any ideas. The weather was fantastic on the day, as was the location. It was one of those magical mornings you encounter from time to time when the world seems fresh and new. Visibility was near perfect and the views were extensive. On the trip over the snow-covered Dark Peak had glistened in the sun as we headed north from Otley. As we kitted up for the walk we took time to enjoy the vista. It was possible to pick out the Langdale Pikes and the amorphous moors of the Yorkshire Dales.

Once we had dropped down from the road the cutting north-easterly wind disappeared and our multiple layers became excessive. Keith even removed his dead badger hat. A very pleasant walk but no BK. Ho hum.

For the afternoon entertainment we headed to Bolton Abbey. After walking down Storith’s Lane we pottered off up the path towards the stone hut. Out of the wind I was clearly over-dressed and I disrobed. Stupid me put my coat over the camera and promptly walked off without it. Luckily it was still there when I returned a few minutes later.

People-wise it was quite busy and we had to wait for a seat at the hut. All the usual suspects showed extremely well although my attempts a photography yielded empty frames. It’s early in the season but I wondered about the lack of territoriality. There were at least a dozen Great Tit and a couple of Nuthatch and multiple Coal Tit (and freaking Mallard). What happens to those birds that choose to nest in the area? Does breeding success decline as they spend so much time defending their territory?

Suitably rested we wandered off towards Barden Bridge. The climbs seem harder in this direction. At the view of The Strid Keith picked out a Dipper stood on a rock. The water level was low and that’s the first time I’ve seen one ‘in’ The Strid. Shortly afterwards he picked up a Treecreeper on a nearby ash tree. Second year tick of the day.

I’m very much looking forward to the spring meet. Wood Wobblers, Redstart and Pied Flickers. Tasty.

Cracking weather for the first BF meet of the year. A crisp start to the day and it turned out very mild and sunny. At one point I noticed the thermometer in Keith’s car reached 16C.

After a fairly uneventful drive we arrived at the car park near the Geoffrey Smith hide. In short order the team was assembled. AndyK, Rob, RichardG and NickT making his debut, Keith and myself decamped to the Geoffrey Smith hide.

Although the water levels were considerably lower than our December visit there was still an awful lot of water about. Several years ticks quickly tumbled as we worked our way through the waterfowl. Perhaps the highlight was a couple of pairs of Pintail, always smart birds to see, and a male Goosander that swam close to the hide was very welcome. Having filled our boots in the hide we wandered down the road to look at the fields around Derwent Cottage Farm.

Try as we might we couldn’t find the Bewick’s Swans (or should that be Tundra Swan?) that have been around for some time. There is only so long that you can look at Whoopers half a kilometre away. We whizzed up the road to Ellerton. Much Barn Owl poo in the porch of the church. And so we looked at more water. Another 2 pairs of Pintail and a pair of fly-by Gypo Geese was about it. I managed to miss the flock of Barnies that flew through when I was walking around the cemetery.

Heading south we stopped off at Aughton. Not much different to report except a female Bullfinch as we were leaving. Strangely the highlight for me was the horse pasture along the track just before the gate on the way back. It’s difficult to explain to non-botanists but it looked ‘good’. Maybe it was just the glorious sunshine and thoughts of Spring but it seemed to demand a Wheatear bobbing about. Instead we made do with a nice Song Thrush which was quickly followed by two Corn Buntings singing from nearby hedgerow trees.

Back to Bubwith and a plethora of waders. Shed loads of Lapwing and Golden Plover. A bit of searching turned up 2 Blackwits and 3 + 3 +1 Ruff (they took some counting) and a fair few Dunlin. And then they all took to the air. Peregrine. Rob thought there might have been a couple of Knot in the flock but they will have to go down as ‘possibles’. Time to wander back to the cars.

Um. A quick repositioning found us staring almost straight into the sun at the access road to Derwent Cottage Farm. The flock of Whooper was still there but at a range of over half a kilometre we were struggling. Amazingly, first one and then two Peregrines were found sitting in the stubble field to the left of the farm. Some confusion followed as we variously tried to relocate the second bird. “It’s left of the first bird,” didn’t help if you were already looking at the left-hand bird but it was eventually sorted out. For the record the leftmost bird was a big female.

Somewhat disheartened we moved back along the road towards the car park to get a better angle on a couple of birds ‘hiding’ behind the farm buildings. Finally a smallish swan with a clear square patch of yellow wandered out, shortly followed by the second bird. A Yorkshire tick in less than ideal circumstances but I’ll take it. Andy was rather more sanguine having seen the birds at much closer ranges previously.

After a brief discussion which in fact merely consisted of Keith saying, “Where next?” and me saying “Skipwith” we popped up the road. Despite the beautiful weather in turned out to bit a bit of a damp squib although Kestrel was the fourth raptor of the day. Jinxed, me? Nope. Rob had to leave for a prior engagement and Andy had to go in search of fuel so the remaining four called in at Thorganby. Now the viewing platform may or may not be a good vantage point but on Sunday it wasn’t. I was distinctly underwhelmed on what was my first visit.

Next up was Acomb on the outskirts of York. Three sat navs and me navigating for Keith with only a visual memory of the map. Guess who won? The Waxwings were sat up in a tree as we drove past looking for a place to turn around. Approximately 40 birds in all that were rather put off from feeding in their favoured tree by a feisty Fieldfare but very obliging nonetheless. After a rather confused call frim Andy he eventually made it only to park under the very tree with the birds, one of which quickly made a deposit. Nick and Richard arrived eventually and a certain amount of camera action ensued. I have to say that I am pretty fed up with the number of images that have appeared on the interweb. Churlish maybe but there is no doubting they are very photogenic and often confiding. They are very appealing to watch but for me it is the trilling calls that set the heart racing.

And so to the final venues of the day. The fields adjacent to the Red Lion pub failed to produce any birds although Keith picked out a hare across the road. A quick relocation found us by Rufforth tip and walking down to the airfield. Maybe it was because it was Sunday and the tip was closed(?) but there was a distinct lack of gulls. Tim Jones has been grilling the gulls of late and has, along with others, turned up a bunch of Caspo’s amongst others. Sadly it was not to be on the day. I did however find a 1960 OS map of York!

I missed a couple of birds on the day but a total of around 70 was a good haul. A thoroughly enjoyable day and a few more birding sites to store in the memory banks.

I like this birding lark.

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