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by Jack Watson

This year;s report is in two parts: the highlights of the year’s records; and a list of species reported within the Society’s area with approximate location and date, to serve as a basis for comparison in future years.

The year began relatively mild and amongst usual Tits (Blue, Great, Coal and Marsh) as first visitors to my garden bird feeders were a single male Siskin and a pair of Tree Sparrows. The latter became occasional visitors throughout the winter and spring months. Castle Howard Lake, though outside the area of our Society, is well worth a visit during the winter months. In mid-January I estimated that there were 300+ Canada Geese, 200+ Greylags and approximately 100 Goosanders (male and female). You may recall that in my report for 1998 I mentioned finding a dead Black-headed Gull at the edge of this lake bearing a Helsinki ring. In June I was advised by the British Trust for Ornithology that the gull had been ringed as a year-old bird near Turku in southwest Finland in June 1996 – a short life, but well-travelled.

Towards the end of February small winter flocks of Yellowhammers were seen regularly in the Gilling area, feeding mainly on rough ground alongside the Holbeck stream. A Dipper, an uncommon bird here, was also seen along the stream.

Song Thrushes seem to be somewhat of a rarity in the Gilling area, and reports of this species from other areas would be welcome. A single bird was seen in my garden during early March. This month sees the arrival of our first summer visitors: Chiffchaff here on 15th March, and Willow Warbler and Blackcap singing during the first week of April. A Swallow was reported at Thornton-le-Dale on the 7th April, and a Cuckoo at Lastingham on the 28th. A Common Sandpiper was heard and seen on one of the lakes in the Gilling Woods from the 26th to the 28th April.

May proved to be an interesting month, headed by Swallows and Martins in many areas from the early days of the month, followed by Spotted Flycatchers (Gilling and Slingsby) and Swifts towards the month end.

There were reports of 2 Ospreys in the area, one on a manmade lake (where?) in the vicinity of Kirkdale during the first week of May. A more unusual sighting by myself and others was a White Stork, sitting on a large tree accompanied by three Cormorants at the north-western end of Castle Howard Lake on May 30th, and subsequently grazing in the nature reserve area at SE709710. Further enquiries indicated that this could have been an escape from the Harewood collection – a free-flying White Stork had also been reported from Clumber Park (Nottingham) within the same period.

June 1999 will be remembered as a particularly wet month (yet again). flood pic Following 36 hours of non-stop rain during 7/8th of the month I awoke to find my back garden completely under water (see left) and a Kingfisher sitting on the clothes line! The floodwater fortunately subsided as quickly as it had appeared and within two to three days I saw four juvenile Tree Sparrows sitting on the rose trellis being fed by the parent birds: they remained within the vicinity of the garden for the next week or so. Were these the offspring of the pair seen in early January? Who knows? During this same period we also had two juvenile Great Spotted Woodpeckers in the garden – also being fed by the parent birds and the bird feeders were made use of by Nuthatch. Tree Creeper and Spotted Flycatcher had also made a brief visit to the garden.

During this period the garden is usually a relatively quiet place: a few of the Tits still make use of the bird feeders but it is noticeable that particularly during the month of August the numbers are much reduced, many no doubt dispersing to nearby woods and fields. There are however other compensations: juvenile Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers making an appearance seeking insects amongst the plants and shrubs.

Swallows and House Martins began to gather from mid-September onwards: flocks of up to 200/300 birds were observed over the Gilling area, insect-hunting before migrating to warmer climates. Whilst small numbers lingered until the end of October the main migration seemed to be somewhat earlier than usual. Our winter visitors Fieldfares and Redwings began arriving in small numbers in early October.

Fieldfares and Redwings continued to arrive during November but there were no large flocks of 100 or more birds such as have been recorded in previous years. One of the highlights during this period was a report from a member of a Red Kite between Ampleforth and Wass on Christmas Day.

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