42/365 – Long Tailed Tit

This little chap looks like he’s about to start doing requests!

Long tailed tit hanging out

Hanging around in the wood

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Oh No I Think I’m a Twitcher

“A twitcher is someone who will go to great lengths to view new bird species. For some twitchers their pursuit can turn into an obsession and can involve extensive travel, dedicated monitoring of birding hotspots and networking with other twitchers.”

I had to travel down South for work this weekend and I had read that almost on my route, there was one of the influx of Hawfinches, so I thought why not go and try and see it as they are a pretty rare bird normally. Last year we had a massive influx of Waxwings into the UK and this year a similar number of Hawfinch have arrived, and as with the waxwing I’d never seen one. Unfortunately the weather was dreadful so the images don’t do this stunning bird justice.

Hawfinch

Hawfinch

The hawfinch is the UK’s largest and rarest finch with a small resident population which are usually difficult to spot. This resident population have been joined this winter by thousands from the continent where crops of their usual food is in short supply.

Perching hawfinch

Perching hawfinch

It was easy to spot where the bird was as it has attracted a small crowd and so I guess I became a twitcher. They are quite a chunky bird compared to the usual finches we see in the UK but it is their remarkable conical beak which makes them stand out. This beak can exert immense force which allows them to crack seeds other birds can’t use. They are able to crack a cherry stone, which if you’ve ever bitten one will know they are a tough nut to crack!

Hawfinch feeding

Hawfinch feeding

Compared to the pictures I got of the waxwings last year these are a bit disappointing but as we Twitchers say, “It’s a tick”.

29/365 – Male Pheasant

Pheasants have a habit of jumping out from under my feet whenever I go out on the moors. This one startled me when I peeped over a wall and he was directly below me. One day they’ll be the death of me. Photographer shocked to death by pheasant isn’t the greatest epitaph!

Male pheasant in an icy field

Male pheasant

Out On The Wiley, Windy Moors

To steal from Ms Bush it certainly was when I ventured onto the moors recently.

As soon as I stepped out of the car I was greeted by a pair of hunting kestrels who both hovered above my head before swooping away to try another spot. They were joined by a third at one point and there was always at least one clearly visible.

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The ground was frozen solid and there was a harsh wind which really bit through your clothes. It didn’t seem to bother a flock of fieldfares who were feeding on one of the fields. These winter visitors arrive each year from more Northern climes so the freezing moors were probably a milder place than their usual feeding grounds. There were around 20 mixed in with a flock of starlings who flew from field to wire and back again.

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A trip to the moors wouldn’t be complete without my usual shock from disturbing a pheasant, and this trip was no different as this handsome fellow jumped out from behind a wall just as I looked over it. He was joined later by a stunning female resplendent in the winter sun.

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Ravenscar Seals

For a birthday treat to myself I decided to go and see some more December babies at the grey seal colony at Ravenscar on the East Yorkshire coast.

Grey seals are the largest breeding seals in the UK and around half of the worlds population are found around our coasts and have been doing well in recent years with numbers doubling since the 60’s. They come ashore to give birth at sites around the UK late in the year and at Ravenscar there is a “rookery” of around 300 seals. I’ve been to Donna Nook where they number in thousands at this time of year but seeing them amongst the rocks close to the sea is a different experience. The descent down the cliff is quite hard work but well worth it when you almost have to step over and round seals dozing amongst the rocks.

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I made my way down to the sea being very careful as I scrambled over the rocks to ensure I wasn’t disturbing the seals as they were often difficult to spot. I’d obviously missed the main birthing time as most of the pups had been fed up by the females and had piled on the pounds. The females feed the pups on their fat rich milk for a couple of weeks and then they’re on their own!

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A lot of the pups were almost ready to head out to sea as their layer of birth fur was clearly shedding probably being rubbed off as they lay on the rocks or being scratched off by the pups strong claws. The white birth fur is called lunugo and moults between 9 and 18 days.

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I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to see any really young pups till I came across this one who wasn’t very old at all as the umbilical cord was still clearly visible. The pup was sleeping so I sat and watched for a while as it dozed, snored and dreamt.

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When born these pups weigh about 15 kilograms and gain another 2 every day while feeding. It’s like having Christmas lunch every day!

As I was about to leave (it was freezing) another young pup emerged from a crack between some rocks and made its way to its mum for a feed.

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What a great way to spend a birthday, well worth the freezing cold and the climb back up the cliff!!