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May 2014

3rd, Spring Gala at the NYMR
Originally we hadn’t intended to come up for the second weekend of the NYMR Spring Gala, the line up for the second week being very limited indeed with just the one working guest locomotive, but having purchased a full HD camcorder last week and glorious spring sunshine forecast for Saturday we decided to change our plans and spent yet another Saturday up at the wonderful heritage railway that is the North Yorkshire Moors.

The forecast thankfully proved accurate and for the whole morning and most of the afternoon the countryside around Goathland and Beck Hole was bathed in warm sunshine, the sweet coconut scent of Gorse filling our nostrils with its pleasing and evocative perfume. A decent variety of butterflies flittered in the warm sunshine too, with a small colony of Green Hairstreaks being noted in the very scenic area around Water Ark (between Darnholme and Beck Hole). Unfortunately I failed to get any pics of these lovely little butterflies but I’m sure I’ll be back up this way again soon.

However yesterday was of course more about train watching rather than nature spotting and though this years gala on the NYMR has been blighted by break-downs and other unforeseen problems it was nevertheless a very enjoyable day yet again. The vast majority of traffic was overwhelmingly dominated by home-based locos, with L.H.J.C 29 ‘Peggy’, LNER B1 61264 (running as 61034 ‘Chiru’ during the Gala), Black 5 44806, and Standard 4 75029 ‘The Green Knight’, while the single working guest steam loco was the LNER A4 4464 ‘Bittern’, a loco we saw a lot of last week.

The current lack of loco’s available to the NYMR has undoubtedly affected the NYMR this year (and last year as well to be honest), though hopefully Black Five 45428 ‘Eric Treacy’ should be back in service soon, while the overhauls of West Country 34101 ‘Hartland’, NER Q6 63395, and Standard 4 76079 are forecast to be completed in 2014…hopefully! The return of LNER A4 60007 ‘Sir Nigel Gresley’ from various events and mainline running around the country will also strengthen the home fleet in the not so distant future.

4th, Moths
Chinese Character (NFG) x1, White-spotted Pug (NFG) x1, Double-striped Pug (NFY) x1, Shuttle-shaped Dart x4, Common Quaker x1, Clouded Drab x2, Hebrew Character x1, & Early Grey x3.

5th, The high Wolds in early May
With warm sunshine this morning we headed up into the high Wolds for a short stroll around the village of Huggate, starting our walk near the church and heading northwards in the direction of Horse Dale. The village looked particularly pleasant this morning with flowers and blossom everywhere one cared to look, while in the fields surrounding this village of little more than 300 souls horses and sheep grazed peacefully. Walking down from the village we noted the flower rich hedgerow verges with Garlic Mustard, Cow Parsley, Dead-nettles, Wood Avens, and Campion to name but a few, these same flowers attracting butterflies such as Green-veined Whites, Orange Tips, Large White, and Small Tortoiseshell which fluttered past us as they went about their busy lives.

The main reason we had chosen this stroll however was the wonderful annual spectacle which occurs on a farm just outside the village, for here one can walk through a long avenue of pink and white blossomed trees which create a winding avenue across the hillside and down to the farm itself. This spectacle seems to get better year by year with the trees still not fully mature, and this year the show has been further complimented and enhanced by a field of luminous yellow Oilseed Rape which up here at least is now at its best.

With no particular rush to return home after our walk we decided to head up to Wharram Quarry, primarily to see the Dingy Skippers which occur annually at this location, but also to see how things were coming along at this little nature reserve which is noted for its wildflowers, orchids and butterflies. The Dingy Skippers were as numerous as expected while other butterflies seen around the site included Orange Tips, Whites, Small Tortoiseshells and a Comma. Meanwhile the number of wildflowers remains modest, though signs of better things to come were widespread with the leaves of Common Spotted Orchids dotted around the site. Hopefully the Bee Orchids will also put on a good show this year as it has been a few years since they had a really good year at this particular location.

6th, Spring-time in the East Riding
Yesterday morning we headed across the Yorkshire Wolds to visit a delightful woodland nature reserve which at this time of year is at its best with gorgeous bird song (at least six species of warbler can be heard here at this time of year), flittering butterflies and lastly but certainly not least the magnificent carpet of Bluebells which can be found along the woods western and eastern edges. Due to the agricultural intensity of the East Riding the county is not blessed with many such woodlands with just a few fragments here and there, but nevertheless where such spectacles do occur they are perhaps all the more special and precious with the continuing preservation and conservation of such places being of utmost importance.

With the warm sunshine and plentiful wildflowers conditions were perfect for butterflies and amongst the bluebells Orange Tips, Green-veined Whites and Peacocks flittered about, stopping occasionally for a feed or a bask in the May sunshine. One Orange Tip was extraordinarily co-operative and posed for a few minutes before heading off once more on its restless flight. In the wood a few Speckled Woods were also seen and other butterflies spotted included Small Tortoisehell and Small White. However a less welcome result of the warm spring has been the early emergence of the mosquitoes which plague this ‘carr’ woodland in summer, indeed unless you want to suffer multiple and painful bites the centre of the wood itself is a no go area in June and July without some kind of deterrent, though thankfully the earlier emerging mosquitoes don’t have quite the vicious bite that their summer counterparts do.

After finishing our walk around the wood we headed a few miles down the road to a nearby wetland, undoubtedly my favourite wetland nature reserve in the county as the reserve offers varied interest within a fairly compact area. Within minutes of arrival the first major highlight of the day occurred as a party of screeching SWIFTS passed overhead, my first of the year, and through the morning we would see a few more of these birds whom to me herald the arrival of summer perhaps more than any other migrant bird. Along the whitening hedgerows Whitethroats and Blackcaps sang, the Whitethroats periodically performing short flight songs, and over the Main Lake a dozen or so Common Terns fished and displayed over the waters. Continuing along the track we could see goslings with their parents on the surrounding Ings and on the shore a Ringed Plover was spotted, feeding amongst the Shelducks and other common species of wildlfowl such as Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Mallard.

Unfortunately we did not have enough time to walk around the whole reserve and therefore didn’t have time to see the Avocets on the Village and Island Lakes, but the recording of my first Odonata of the year was more than ample compensation. All the specimens I found (about a dozen or so) were all teneral &/or female individuals and appeared to be Common Blue Damselflies, though my ID skills of damselflies at this early stage of development is very poor. A decent variety of butterflies were also noted including Orange Tips, Brimstones, Whites, and other typical species for the time of year, while striking black and red Froghoppers were abundant amongst the vegetation.

9th, Beverley
A HOOPOE was just north of Beverley this evening, with a fine looking specimen near the railway at Molescroft Carrs.

9th, Moths
Twenty-plume Moth x3, Flame Carpet (NFY) x1, Common Pug (NFY) x1, Waved Umber x1, Least Black Arches (NFY) x4, & Early Grey x1.

10th, Swithland Gala at the Great Central
Despite a poor forecast we headed down into deepest & darkest Leicestershire today to attend the Swithland Gala of the Great Central Railway. The journey down had been through heavy rain and low cloud, particularly in Lincolnshire, but as we arrived in Leicestershire the weather quickly began to improve with even some spells of sunshine by the time we reached Loughborough shortly after 9am. In the end the day would prove to be a mix of sunshine and showers, some of which were heavy, but fortunately we managed to avoid most of these with just one downpour at Quorn catching us out.

Upon arrival at the preserved 1950's style station at Loughborough we found the handsome loco 70013 'Oliver Cromwell' standing beside the platform, this British Railways Standard 7 looking as good as ever in its British Railways dark green livery. This loco is due to pass through East Yorkshire in the summer (including towns such as Beverley, Driffield and Bridlington) and hopefully it will be looking just as resplendent when it passes close to our home at the head of 'The East Riding', a steam hauled round trip from London Kings Cross to Scarborough.

Moving down to the sheds we came across a number of the Great Central's home fleet, including the Southern Railways (SR) King Arthur Class 'Sir Lamiel', the British Railways (BR) Class 2 78019, Great Northern Railways (GNR) N2 Class No.1744, and London Midland Scottish (LMS) 8F 48624, all engines we had seen during the GCR Winter Gala in January. However the star was the impressive 9F 92214, a beast of a loco and one which until this year formed part of the NYMR's home fleet. When I learnt about the sale of this engine I was very disappointed to say the least, it was after all one of my favourites up at Grosmont, but at least it has found a good home at the GCR and is in good hands as regards its long term future. However given just how resplendent this engine was up on the NYMR I'm not sure I approved of the 'weathering' which was applied to the engine for this gala!

The two guest loco's at the GCR were the NYMR based Lambton Tank No.29 'Peggy', an engine obviously very familiar to all NYMR members, while the other was a new one to us in the form of GWR 57XX Class 0-6-0PT No.5786 / L92. This GWR pannier tank has had an interesting history and ended its working days on the London Transport network, eventually being withdrawn as late as 1971 on the Metropolitan Line. Indeed it still carries the attractive maroon livery of the LT network and in the sunshine looked fantastic as it passed us first at Rothley and latterly again at Quorn.

The sidings at Loughborough meanwhile held their usual array of interesting Diesels which I always enjoy looking at even if most other visitors don't even give them a second look. To be honest the current diesel fleet on the NYMR isn't very exciting with just a couple of Class 24's, a Class 25, a 31, a 37 and a few shunters, whereas down here the diesel fleet is far more varied with a dozen or so operational units. Indeed one of the surprise treats of the day was the presence of D9016 'Gordon Highlander', the huge Class 55 Deltics being immensely powerful machines which have a real presence and who dwarf the vast majority of steam locos. It was a shame it wasn't running as they also sound impressive with their huge diesel engines but hopefully I'll see one working somewhere this year.

11th, Dodging the showers
This morning we decided to have a restful stroll along the western edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, a busy day the day before meaning we desired a peaceful walk in the countryside we have come to call home. However upon arrival it became clear that the area had recently experienced an intense shower with water flowing like rivers down the lanes and paths, and indeed as the morning unfolded it would become very much a case of dodging showers and finding cover whenever any squally showers came our way.

By late morning these showers even became thundery with loud rumbles coming from a storm which thankfully drifted just to the north of us and just as we concluded our walk another intense downpour hit the region with localised flooding and very poor visibility on the journey home. However thanks to a spot of luck and keeping a constant eye on the threatening dark clouds (from the western edge of the Wolds you can see the weather coming from miles and miles away) we mercifully remained largely dry.

The main purpose of our walk was to enjoy the annual spectacle provided by the carpet of ‘fragrant’ Ramsons which can be found in the woods above the pretty village of Bishop Wilton, a community which lies right at the foot of the Wolds and whose church has an impressive spire which dominates the village. In the hawthorn scrub and along the hedgerows Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs were frequently heard, a beautiful sound, whilst a few butterfly species were also seen including Green-veined Whites and Orange Tips.

13th, Moths
Garden Carpet x1, Grey Pine Carpet (NFY) x1, Scalloped Hazel (NFY) x1, & Least Black Arches x1.

15th, Moths
Flame Carpet x1, Shuttle-shaped Dart x2, & Flame Shoulder (NFY) x1.

15th, A spring morning around Beverley
A fine spring morning here in the East Riding with the whitening hedgerows and abundant bird song making it a delight to ride through the countryside surrounding our home this morning. Willow warblers sang around Old Hall Farm whilst Linnets and Goldfinches abounded in the hedgerows and all in all it was a perfect May morning.

16th, Moths
Nettle-tap (NFY) x1, Light Brown Apple Moth x2, Twenty-plume Moth x1, Garden Pebble (NFY) x1, Garden Carpet x2, Mottled Pug (NFY) x1, Common Pug x2, Double-striped Pug x4, Brimstone (NFY) x1, Clouded Silver (NFY) x1, Cinnabar (NFY) x1, Least Black Arches x1, Shuttle-shaped Dart x7, Clouded-bordered Brindle (NFY) x1, Pale Mottled Willow (NFY) x1, & Spectacle (NFY) x1.

17th, Moths
Feathered Bright (NFG) x1, White-shoulder House Moth x1, Light Brown Apple Moth x1, Bee Moth (NFY) x1, Silver-ground Carpet (NFY) x1, Red-green Carpet (NFY) x1, Mottled Pug x1, Common Pug x2, Double-striped Pug x1, Seraphim (NFG) x1, Brimstone x2, Scalloped Hazel x2, Clouded Silver x1, Swallow Prominent (NFG) x1, Least Black Arches x2, Shuttle-shaped Dart x5, Clouded-bordered Brindle x1, Small Clouded Brindle (NFG) x1, & Green Silver-lines (NFY).

17th, Orchids and butterflies up on t' moors
Today was one of those perfect and idyllic days when the world seemed like paradise, when even a few irresponsible dog owners failed to even annoy me, and when the sun shone down upon the wooded valleys and heather moors of the North York Moors, bringing with it a plethora of new life to behold and observe. Below is a short account of our day searching for some of this natural beauty in this glorious part of the world.

Our day began at the YWT reserve at Ellerburn Banks, our first ever visit to this preserved area of limestone grassland being dominated by Dingy Skippers flying from flower to flower, with Burnet Companion moths also proving plentiful around this scenic site which is located on the edge of Dalby Forest. Birds-foot Trefoil, Tormentil & Common Rock-rose were in flower while the sweet smelling gorse and white hawthorn hedges added extra splashes of colour to the attractive early summer scene.

However the biggest highlight of our wander around this 7 acre site was the discovery of two spikes of Fly Orchid near the middle of the nature reserve, a new species for me and one I had hoped to see somewhere this summer. Having never seen this orchid species before I was amazed and surprised to see just how small they are and I could have easily missed them hadn't a Dingy Skipper directed my gaze towards them.

After finishing at Ellerburn we headed north to Goathland & Beck Hole, enjoying a stroll down to the impressive natural gorge known as Water Ark. With the hot sunshine a few brave individuals were enjoying swims in the deep pools which form below the many small waterfalls which occur along this narrow, steep-sided valley, though our reason for visiting was somewhat more sedate with a few interesting species of butterfly being our principal targets. It didn’t take us long to spot our first Small Copper of the year, and then moments later our first Small Heath of 2014, but the best was yet to come with a small number of Green Hairstreaks fluttering around the Gorse and Birch scrub, a cracking little butterfly with metallic green underwings which glistened in the May sun.

We finished our day at Tranmire Bog, passing over the huge expanse of heather known as Wheeldale Moor. As we crossed the moor, which on a sunny day like today looked idyllic and welcoming, we noted Pipits, Curlews and Lapwings displaying, and at one point I glimpsed a distant Golden Plover looking resplendent in its beautiful summer plumage. Tranmire itself was quiet with little going on, this boggy area of ground above Cropton Forest being home to some rarer species of dragonfly and butterfly in summer, but nevertheless it was a nice place for an evening stroll, a perfect end to what had been a perfect day in this beautiful corner of north-east Yorkshire.

18th, A Phalarope at North Cave Wetlands
This morning we headed across to North Cave Wetlands, primarily just for a stroll and a bit of casual birding in the fine late spring/early summer sunshine, but upon arrival we learned that a Red-necked Phalarope had been spotted on the reed-bed lake (many thanks to Angela at the Wildbird Cafe) and therefore our casual stroll became a brisk walk to see this rare visitor. This is in fact the first ever record of Red-necked Phalarope at North Cave Wetlands and by an extraordinary stroke of luck we had also been present when the first Grey Phalarope was recorded on a cold & unpromising day back in September 2007.

Thankfully I had remembered to pack my long lens for upon arrival we found the bird to be somewhat distant and would have been well beyond the reach of my normal lens, though after a while the Phalarope did come closer to ourselves and the dozen or so birders whom gathered to watch from the bank. After grabbing a few quick shots we settled down to simply watch the bird for a bit, marveling at the fine features and striking plumage of a female in summer plumage. It was also satisfying to tick off another bird on my growing Yorkshire list.

After enjoying our cup of tea and a shortbread we decided to leave the Phalarope for a while and headed around the rest of the reserve. On the shallower lagoons Avocets and Little Ringed Plovers were highlights, with at least two Avocet chicks being spotted despite the frequent attentions of the Black-headed Gulls, while in the reed-beds Reed & Sedge Warblers sang constantly. Atop the flowering Hawthorn hedges Whitethroats sang, while in deeper cover at least one Lesser Whitethroat was heard and ever so briefly spotted as it tried to remain hidden amongst the thick undergrowth.

In the south-western corner of the reserve damselflies were flying about in large numbers, many again lacking their mature markings and colours which made ID’ing difficult for my limited skills, but thankfully a few Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies were spotted with mature markings which allowed me to confidently ID them. Along the footpath a couple of Garden Tiger caterpillars were encountered, as was a striking Cinnabar moth and a Common Carpet moth. A moderate breeze meant that butterfly numbers were not that great but nevertheless a decent variety of species were noted including Brimstone, Orange Tip, Green-veined White, Speckled Wood and Peacock. An additional sighting was the brief appearance of a Stoat along the footpath, I yet again being too slow to get a photo of one of these fast-moving predators.

19th, Moths
Light Brown Apple Moth x1, Twenty-plume Moth x4, Bee Moth x4, Chinese Character x1, Flame Carpet x1, Silver-ground Carpet x1, Garden Carpet x1, Common Marbled Carpet (NFY) x2, Grey Pine Carpet x1, Rivulet (NFY) x1, Common Pug x2, Treble-bar (NFG) x1, Brimstone x3, Scalloped Hazel x1, Peppered Moth (NFY) x2, Waved Umber x1, Sallow Kitten (NFG) x1, Cinnabar x1, Least Black Arches x2, Dark Sword-grass (NFY) x1, Shuttle-shaped Dart x18, Flame Shoulder x1, Nutmeg (NFY) x1, Cabbage Moth (NFY) x1, Bright-line Brown-eye (NFY) x1, Clouded Drab x2, & Clouded-bordered Brindle x1.

19th, Bempton Cliffs
We made our way to the wonderful Bempton Cliffs nature reserve in the far north-east corner of the East Riding of Yorkshire this morning, and with clear blue skies, light winds and temperatures in the high teens it was a cracking day with so much to see and enjoy at this seabird city. Indeed though one always knows what to expect when visiting Bempton Cliffs at this time of year, it nevertheless never fails to impress the senses with the sights, sounds and smells of thousands upon thousands of Kittiwakes, Gannets, Guillemots, Razorbills, Puffins, Fulmars, Rock doves, and Gulls whom call these high chalk cliffs home for the summer months.

Equally impressive at this time of year are the cliff-top wildflowers, dominated by the dark pink flowers of Campion which grows in profusion beside the footpaths and on areas of fallow ground. These flowers attract butterflies and moths, the coastal location meaning that the odd migrant species maybe found from time to time, but during our visit we saw only an abundance of Rivulet moths, Small Tortoiseshell butterflies, Peacocks and the odd Wall.

However the biggest highlight of our day at Bempton would not come at the cliffs but would instead come near the visitor centre, where a keen-eyed birder and volunteer had spotted a Turtle Dove deep within the willow scrub. It took me some time to find it myself as I had no binoculars (stupidly I forgot them) but eventually I located it and was able to grab a few record shots before it moved on to another part of the reserve. This is my first Turtle Dove of the year and the first I’ve seen in the East Riding for a number of years.

20th, Summer arrives
The weather has been wonderful in this part of the British Isles lately with temperatures exceeding 20 C every day since Thursday and a glorious abundance of sunshine bathing the countryside I have come to call home. Temperatures reached a peak on Sunday with a high of 23.2 C (73.8 F), while Monday and today haven't been far behind with highs of 23.1 C and 23.0 C respectively, though the May record of 26.9 C (80.4 F) is unlikely to be broken, at least for the time being. It looks like the weather will become somewhat cloudier and less settled in the rest of the week but beyond that things look promising for these early days of summer.

I always enjoying rising early but at this time of year when the weather is glorious it is a joy to be up and about when most people are still snoozing away in their beds, indeed I feel immensely privileged to have the freedom to be able to do so without the many other commitments & worries that so many other people have to face in these oft difficult times. It is also a blessing to have such rural countryside around our home and when I cycle along the peaceful Cow Parsley & Campion lined lanes, with larks ascending from the fields, songbirds singing in the woodlands, and livestock grazing peacefully in the bedewed buttercup strewn meadows, it is hard to imagine that life can possibly be any sweeter.

26th, Swinemoor
Male GARGANEY at Swinemoor this morning. Two Shelducks & an Oystercatcher also seen there.

29th, Swinemoor
A couple of Snipe at Swinemoor, one of which was seen drumming despite the murky skies and persistent drizzle. Also 5 Gadwall and 2 Shelduck. No sign of the Garganey.

30th, Swinemoor
3 Gadwall, 1 Shoveler, 1 Snipe, and 4 Lesser BB Gull at Swinemoor this morning. Meanwhile Stock Dove was seen nearby, while a Tufted Duck was spotted heading towards High Eske. To the east of the river a Buzzard showed well and I finally managed to hear my first Cuckoo of the year, albeit very distantly.

31st, West Coast Steam in Mid-Norfolk
On a sunny and pleasant early summer’s day we headed down into deepest and darkest Norfolk to attend the Mid-Norfolk Railway (MNR) West Coast Steam Gala, where locos on show included the beautiful maroon liveried LMS Jubilee 45699 ‘Galatea’ and LMS Royal Scot 46115 ‘Scots Guardsman’. These two locos were new for me and though viewing and photography was quite difficult due to the large crowds it was nevertheless pleasing to see these two steam engines, especially at Dereham where the two locos put on a synchronised performance down the length of the station, an impressive sight indeed which would have looked fantastic on video (note to self don’t forget my camcorder next time!).

31st, Titchwell Marsh
After our trip to the MNR we headed up to what is my favourite nature reserve in the whole of England, the fabulous RSPB Titchwell Marsh deep in the heart of the birders mecca that is the north Norfolk coast. As usual the reserve didn’t disappoint with two Marsh Harriers greeting us as we made our way out on to the reserve. In the reeds the explosive metallic calls of Cetti’s Warbler mixed with the more familiar songs of Reed & Sedge Warblers, and after a period of expectant scanning and listening the pinging calls of Bearded Tits were picked out with at least 4 being spotted as they moved through the reedbeds. Over on Thornham Marshes 2 pairs of Red-crested Pochard were seen with their young while a calling Cuckoo could just be picked out calling from atop a bit bramble scrub.

At the freshwater lagoon over a 100 Black-tailed Godwits were feeding right in front of the Island Hide, these being joined by numerous Avocets, Redshanks and other typical wader species such as Little Ringed Plover, & Lapwing. Latterly a smaller number of Bar-tailed Godwits were spotted distantly and as we sat and watched them the pig like squeals of Water Rail could be heard from deep amongst the reeds.

Moving to the brackish and saltmarsh areas of the reserve we were rewarded with nice views of Little Terns fishing over the lagoons, these also being joined by the more numerous and larger Common Terns. Curlews, Turnstones and a single Grey Plover were additional welcome sights, with gulls, Avocets and Shelducks also being numerous here.

A brief bit of sea-watching proved unproductive, though out at sea a Great Crested Grebe was spotted, while along the shore further Turnstones, Oystercatchers, and Sanderling were added to my notebook. However this part of the visit did confirm to me the need to upgrade my current optics with my ageing scope and bins starting to look positively archaic compared to some of the wonderful (but very expensive) optics now being used by most birders.

On the journey back to the car-park we passed the marshes once more, noting a hunting Barn Owl distantly and listening to the hushed booming calls of Bitterns, whilst in the reedbed a variety of flowers were noted, most notably Ragged Robin and Marsh Orchids, a beautiful way to end yet another trip to this little piece of earthly paradise on the north Norfolk coast.