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by Jack Watson
This report has been prepared on a similar basis to that of last year and incorporates a monthly summary of some of the more interesting observations rather than a detailed species by species list.
The first two months of the year were comparitively mild January wet, February dry, with little sustained frost or early snowfalls. A single merlin and 12 snow buntings were seen on Spaunton Moor during the second week of January, and siskins regularly making use of garden feeders in Kirkbymoorside and Gilling. Flocks of up to 100 fieldfares in Kirkbymoorside, Ampleforth and Gilling areas. A flock of 10 bullfinches was noted in Gilling Woods in mid-January and a single drake goldeneye on the lake there. In Bransdale a pair of rough-legged buzzard were reported towards the end of the month. A dead black-headed gull bearing a Helsinki (Finland) ring was picked up on the edge of Castle Howard Lake in early January: this was duly notified to the British Trust for Ornithology who apparently are still awaiting details of date and place of ringing.
February produced a large flock of approximately 100 bramblings in the Low Park vicinity of Kirkbymoorside and a smaller group of 25 siskins, the latter remaining until the end of March.
The first three weeks of March will be remembered for the predominantly northern winds. Flocks of up to 25 pied wagtails were seen feeding amongst spread slurry on stubble fields in the Cawton/Gilling area. A skylark was heard singing in Coulton on March 6th and curlews were beginning to return to the lower valleys with a pair displaying in the Cawton/Gilling area during the latter half of the month. A change in wind direction to the south-west saw the first arrivals of summer visitors: chiff-chaffs in Gilling and Ampleforth on 22nd March; willow warblers 2nd April. An overlap here with winter visitors fieldfares last seen in Gilling on 9th April and in Low Park on the 19th, and brambling seen taking nuts in Pickering towards the end of the month. The third week in April brought in blackcaps, swallows and house martins though the latter were not seen again in Gilling until early May, when nest repair and rebuilding commenced. The first cuckoo was heard in Gilling on 22nd April, when golden plovers were calling on Roppa Moor and Bransdale.
Woodcock noted in Gilling and Low Moor towards the end of the month. Following two days of heavy rain at the end of April a small lake developed in the field behind my house in Gilling and on the following day two greylag geese took up residence and remained until the lake dried up shortly after.
The Cropton area produced single records of Goshawk and Osprey in the middle of May. The second week of May saw the influx of the later summer visitors: garden warbler; whitethroat; redstart; and spotted flycatcher in my neighbours nestbox (ultimately raising 2 young) also seen in Cawton and Lastingham. Swifts, usually some of the last arrivals, were heard and seen in Hovingham by mid-May, and seven mute swans in flight in Low Park. A pair of tree sparrows, not very common nowadays, were seen in Gilling in mid-May and two or three days later an escaped parrot. A wood warbler was heard singing in Ashberry Wood on the 8th May. Whinchats and wheatear seen in Bransdale.
June turned out to be miserable cool damp month, and broods of resident birds may well have suffered due to shortage of insect life. A report of a hawfinch being seen in Gilling Woods was an interesting first: in the same area both green and great spotted woodpeckers were heard regularly, the latter making good use of garden feeders. Sightings of barn owl in Slingsby during the first week in June, and little owls in Oswaldkirk and Nunnington Hall later in the month, and a spotted flycatcher nesting towards the end of June also from Slingsby, were received. Dipper and ring ouzel, as well as a male reed bunting, were recorded in Bransdale in early June.
Further sightings of barn owls (two individuals seen hunting) in the Slingsby area were reported in early August. A cuckoo was heard calling in Gilling Woods during the first week in July whilst I was scanning the lakes there. These lakes are regular haunts of coots and moorhens and a pair of mute swans nest there irregularly. I was fortunate to have excellent views of a kingfisher sitting on the reeds preening itself. Grey wagtails too frequent the area. Yellow wagtails seem to be relatively rare visitors these days so it was interesting to receive a report of a pair in the Cawton area. Buzzards are occasionally seen in the Ampleforth area, one being reported in the second week of July.
The Coxwold/Gilling Gap seems to be an east/west flight path for oystercatchers. I have no evidence of breeding here but it is not uncommon to hear and see them in flight during July/August they were recorded from Wass, Gilling and Hovingham.
One does not often receive reports of lesser black-backed gulls in our area so it was interesting to hear of five in East Ness during August. Sand martins also have been seen less frequently a flock of ten birds was however seen flying south over Slingsby towards the end of August. Redstart and Whitethroat were ringed and released in Low Park.
A flock of eight jays was seen in the Bridestones area in the second week of September. Reports of flocks of lapwings were received in early September from Ampleforth, Stonegrave, Slingsby and other area in the Vale of Pickering.
Post-breeding flocks of long-tailed tits were also noted in Gilling and Pickering during this period, and a wintering flock of golden plover in Slingsby.
A juvenile barn owl was seen on the road side verge in Slingsby during the first week of October. From the middle of October our winter visitors began to return small groups of fieldfares and redwing in the Cawton area while the last reports of departing house martins came in.
On 7th November large flocks of fieldfares (approx. 90) and common gulls (125) were seen in Low Park (Kirkbymoorside), also a flock of 11 collared doves. Barn owls were again reported in our Societys area towards the end of November in the Malton, Pickering and Sinnington/Marton areas. We have had more reports of barn owls this year than for some time, and all reports of sightings in 1999 will be most welcome. I have received a report of a firecrest seen in early December in the apple orchard of Ampleforth College: it is not a common species in this area.
The year ended with a good view of a male bullfinch taking his end-of-year ablutions with the sparrows in my garden bird bath.
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