The month opened with sub-zero temperatures, biting winds and widespread snow cover as the ‘beast of the east’ gripped the country. This resulted in cold weather movements and behaviour, with a constant south and westerly passage of Fieldfares and Wood Pigeons ,with smaller, yet noticeable numbers of Snipe and Lapwing. 300+ Snipe were feeding on the riverbank at North Duffield Carrs with other birds scattered throughout the site, whilst one lone bird was seen walking down the main street in Thorganby looking for unfrozen feeding opportunities. The same movement also brought a noticeable arrival of Jack Snipe into the area.
March is otherwise an exciting time with the passage and departure of wintering birds overlapping with the arrival of spring migrants and a host of other wildlife appearing on warmer days. One of the highlights is the now annual passage of spring, northward bound Whooper Swans with 450+ staging through the valley during the month in two waves – on the 14th and again on the 21st-28th. The Ruddy Shelduck was present until the 8th, the nine Barnacle Geese until the 9th with a Brent Goose (another near-annual visitor) on the 15th. A peak count of 716 Pintail was notable, with 176 Pochard still present and the deep water levels also attracting up to four Scaup (10th-25th) and two red-head Smew (27th). Three Black-necked Grebes arrived on the 30th, when there were also 18 Little Grebes and seven Great-crested Grebes around the reserve. There was an increase in Little Egrets arriving around mid month whilst regular sighting of Red Kites, Buzzards, three wintering Marsh Harriers and three wintering Peregrines continued, along with the first passage Osprey of the year north over Bank Island on the 28th.
On the wader front, the cold weather movements above aside, highlights were provided by a single Grey Plover on the 1st and Spotted Redshank on the 19th, both at North Duffield Carrs. Numbers of incoming breeding birds increased with 100+ Curlew late in the month and several flocks of Black-tailed Godwits also passed through the site. A first winter Iceland Gull lingered at North Duffield Carrs until the 11th whilst two adult Mediterranean Gulls were present at the Wheldrake roost throughout with another first-winter there on the 25th, and a Little Gull in the pre-roost gathering at Bank Island on the 3rd. The later date also saw a Scandinavian race Rock Pipit at North Duffield Carrs, whilst other notable records included the first Wheatear and Chiffchaff on the 23rd, Willow Warbler on the 25th, up to four Hawfinch during the month and a Common Redpoll (21st-23rd) at Thornton.
More spring-like and warmer days during the month provided the first butterflies of the year with Red Admiral (9th) and Peacock (14th) at Skipwith Common NNR – a site which also held the first Grass Snake of the year on the later date . Many thanks as always to everyone who has submitted records throughout the month, in particular to members of the YOC and regular valley birder Duncan Bye - thanks also to Duncan for the use of some of his photographs - credited DB.
Whooper Swan - 97 were present at North Duffield Carrs on the 1st, whilst a passage flock of 22 arrived at Bank Island mid-afternoon on the 3rd, possibly the same herd reported earlier in the day at North Cave Gravel Pits. 60+ were still present in the Derwent Farm area on the 9th including ‘resident’ colour-ringed birds G5Z and C3S. 173 flew north east following the River Derwent over Bank Island on the morning of the 14th, followed 30 minutes later by a further party of 88. 60+ still remained at Derwent Farm on the 15th, not tempted away by the passage herds, with 65 counted throughout the valley on the 18th. 46 flew north west on the 21st with 63 on the 25th. 43 were present at Bank Island for the day on the 26th while 15 paused on the Low Grounds on the 27th. 48 were then present at Wheldrake Ings on the 28th whilst 68 ‘resident birds’ remained at Derwent Farm to month end.
Mute Swan – Monthly maxima of 114 recorded on the 30th/31st when seven pairs were actively nest building around the reserve. The largest concentration were in fields by Derwent Farm where birds were present with the wintering Whoopers, 59 were present there on the 30th.
Pink-footed Goose – A single remained with the Greylag flock at Wheldrake Ings during the month with presumably the same bird with Greylags in the Melbourne and Thornton Ings area on the 23rd. A flock of 49 passage birds flew north-west over North Duffield on the 25th.
Greylag Goose – Numbers decreased rapidly from 500+ early in the month to c100 by month end – with just the local breeding population remaining.
Canada Goose – 220 early in the month decreased to c40 by month end.
Barnacle Goose – The long staying flock of eight remained in fields adjacent to Bank Island until the 9th.
Brent Goose – A single came into roost at Bubwith Ings on the 15th.
Egyptian Goose – Nine were present in the East Cottingwith area throughout the early half of the month, with regular sightings of a pair thereafter with a further two pairs in the wider area.
Ruddy Shelduck – A single remained in the Thorganby area until the 8th.
Shelduck – Up to 100 birds were present early in the month with birds dispersing in pairs throughout the area as the month progressed. Up to 40 were caught and colour-ringed during the month – please look out for our yellow and red darvic rings.
Wigeon – Up to 11,000 were present early in the month but were widespread, and with deep flooding thereafter, combined with birds departing, numbers quickly reduced. 1000 were present in the Melbourne and Thornton Ings area on the 23rd reflecting the re-distribution of birds to areas of shallower flooding, whilst a full count on the 30th produced 6340 still present across the site.
Teal – Numbers decreased during the second half of the month whilst the remaining birds moved to areas of shallower flooding. Up to 900 were present in the Melbourne and Thornton Ings area on the 23rd – undoubtedly pushed up this area of the reserve in order to find suitable ‘dabbling’ conditions. A full count of 5120 was made on the 30th.
Mallard – Often under-reported and under-counted - 750 were present on the full count on the 30th. The first predated egg was found on the 23rd with another on the 30th – breeding no doubt well underway for some early birds.
Pintail – 500+ were present at North Duffield Carrs on the 2nd with 716 present throughout the site on the 3rd – the highest count of the winter and no doubt the result of spring passage birds arriving. As usual with extensive and deep flooding in the valley, good numbers were present in the Melbourne and Thornton area during the month, with 150+ there on the 23rd, when 176 were still present on Wheldrake with an estimated 450+ present through the valley at this time. A full count of 424 were still present on the 30th/31st.
Gadwall – Monthly maxima of 245 throughout the site on the 30th, with several pursuit flights noted towards month end.
Shoveler – As usual with extensive and deep flooding in the valley, good numbers were present in the Melbourne and Thornton area during the month. 107 were on Melbourne and Thornton on the 23rd with 307 throughout the valley on the 30th.
Tufted Duck – The extensive flooding with the onset of spring passage saw an increase in numbers with 120 between Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings on the 25th. 200 were present across these sites on the 29th with a full count of 364 throughout the valley on the 30th.
Scaup – A single female was present at Bank Island late on the 9th (CSR, FM) when two were also reported from Wheldrake Ings (per birdguides). All three were then present on Wheldrake on the 10th and 11th, whilst four were present on the 23rd/25th.
Pochard – 176 were present at North Duffield Carrs on the 1st with 120 still there on the 2nd. 67 were still present at North Duffield on the 17th with 55 at Aughton on the 18th. However, numbers declined quickly thereafter with just 15 (10 drakes) remaining by the 30th.
Smew – Two red-heads flew over Bank Island towards Wheldrake on the 27th (CSR).
Goldeneye – 11 were still present at Wheldrake Ings on the 11th with five between North Duffield Carrs and Aughton Ings on the 18th. Eight were present at Wheldrake Ings on the 25th with 15 there on the 29th and 30th.
Goosander – A single flew over North Duffield Carrs on the 6th whilst a drake was present at Bank Island on the 9th. Five (including a single drake) were at Bank Island on the 10th with two at Wheldrake Ings on the 11th. Two pairs were present at Bank Island on the 22nd whilst a single drake flew west at Thorganby on the 31st.
Cormorant – Numbers at the Wheldrake Ings roost remained fairly stable with 24 there on the 11th. A flock of eight passed over Bank Island mid-day on the 19th. 23 were present throughout the site on the 30th including a pair copulating at Wheldrake Ings – the first attempted breeding for several years – possibly in response to the high water levels.
Grey Heron – Increasing numbers were present throughout the site as the month progressed with 15 adults in the heronry on the 21st when several newly hatched egg shells were found. 17 were present across the reserve on the 30th – many feeding on a glut of frogs at this time.
Little Egret – Following the big freeze a single returned back to Bank Island on the 5th and was present thereafter. Four were present at Melbourne on the 16th whilst five flew into Bank Island on the 19th. Six were present throughout the valley on the 30th/31st.
Little Grebe – Numbers increased during the month with birds returning to territories on the flooded Ings – a total of 18 birds (seven pairs) were located on the 30th with a pair nest building at North Duffield Carrs on that date.
Black-necked Grebe – A single transitionally plumaged bird was present at Wheldrake Ings on the 30th when two were also found at North Duffield Carrs (CSR). One of the Duffield birds was colour-ringed – having been originally ringed here as a chick in 2004 - setting a new European ringing longevity record for the species. A winter plumaged bird was then located on Bubwith Ings on the 31st (DB, CSR).
Great Crested Grebe – A single at Bank Island on the 3rd with a pair at North Duffield Carrs on the 15th and a single again at Bank Island on the 28th. Three were present at Wheldrake Ings on the 29th with seven across the reserve on the 30th and eight on the 31st. Additional pairs had also returned to breeding ponds in the wider area by month end.
Coot – Monthly maxima of 287 on the 30th/31st by which time many were actively nest building.
Osprey – The first of the year flew slowly north at Bank Island on the 28th (CSR, FM).
Red Kite – Two were over North Duffield village on the 9th with a single over Bank Island on the 14th and another at North Duffield Carrs on the 18th followed by two there on the 19th. A single was present at Wheldrake Ings on the 25th with three there on the 29th and another (or one of the same) at Bank Island on the 29th and 30th. A single was present at Elvington for most of the month.
Common Buzzard – Good numbers were present around the valley with displaying birds observed from a number of sites. A single at Bank Island on the 14th was seen to knock a Barn Owl off a fence post and was later observed harassing it in flight. 12 were in the air together over Wheldrake and Bank Island on the 29th with eight elsewhere in the valley on the 30th.
Marsh Harrier – Single cream crowns were regular at Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings throughout the month, with scattered sightings from elsewhere including three at North Duffield Carrs on the 18th and two there on the 19th. A single cream crown at North Duffield Carrs on the 30th was observed catching a Skylark.
Peregrine – A single adult male and immature female were present at Wheldrake Ings on the 11th. Three were reported throughout the valley on the 18th with regular sightings to month end.
Kestrel – Good numbers present throughout the site.
Merlin – A single at North Duffield Carrs on the 23rd.
Grey Partridge – A single was present at Wheldrake Ings on the 25th with two in the reedbed there on the 29th.
Water Rail – Three were present at Wheldrake Ings on the 3rd while two calling birds had returned to the reedbed with falling water levels there by the 30th. Two were calling at Bubwith Ings on the 31st.
Oystercatcher – Numbers continued to increase with breeding birds and spring passage individuals passing through the area. Eight were present at North Duffield Carrs on the 9th with six at Wheldrake Ings on the 10th. Seven were at North Duffield Carrs on the 29th when four were also at Ellerton. A total of 19 were present throughout the site on the 30th with 23 on the 31st.
Grey Plover – A single flew west over North Duffield Carrs on the 1st.
Golden Plover – 95 flew south over North Duffield on the 25th with seven east over Ellerton on the 29th and 16 over Bank Island on the 31st.
Lapwing – 1000+ remained throughout the valley on the 10th, although in numerous smaller flocks throughout and with several displaying pairs at this time.
Dunlin – Up to 50 remained in the Wheldrake area on the 10th with 65 at Aughton Ings on the 17th followed by 98 at Bubwith Ings on the 18th. There were no records thereafter with extensive flooding which presumably forced birds out of the area.
Ruff – 32 were at Wheldrake Ings on the 10th with 15 remaining with Redshank on the riverbank at Thorganby on the 31st.
Common Snipe – Small parties were observed continually arriving or heading through the valley on the 1st, heading south or south west – presumably in response to cold weather conditions. 300 were found feeding along the riverbank at North Duffield Carrs on that day (with an estimated 500+ throughout the site), whilst a single bird was seen walking along the road in Thorganby village looking for unfrozen feeding opportunities. 20 were in fields by Elvington sewage works on the 4th. Following the thaw, a ‘whisp’ of 43 flew over Bank Island on the 6th. Extensive flooding thereafter presumably forced most birds out of the valley with few records to month end.
Jack Snipe – Five were present at Bank Island on the 1st, while a single was flushed from a road side ditch in the Spaldington area on the 2nd. Four flew over a Dunnington garden on the same date whilst two were found later drinking from a roadside puddle before being flushed by vehicles. Three were at Bank Island on the 3rd when two were present after dark feeding on the melting track at Wheldrake Ings.
Woodcock – A single was flushed on the path between the two hides at North Duffield Carrs on the 3rd with a single a Seavy Carr on the 31st.
Black-tailed Godwit – 12 remained at Wheldrake Ings on the 3rd and 4th with 21 present there on the 11th. Five were still present in a fairly extensively flooded valley on the 17th with 11 at Wheldrake Ings on the 25th. A single was present at North Duffield Carrs on the 26th while 39 were present at Wheldrake on the 29th-31st. A single colour-ringed bird remained throughout.
Curlew – Birds were well scattered throughout the site with lots of display and song from the 9th. 41 were present at Wheldrake Ings on the 25th when 27 were also recorded at Thornton Ings – an estimated 100+ present throughout the site at this time.
Redshank – 20+ were at Bubwith Bridge on the 18th, with birds returning to breeding sites on the Ings - six at Wheldrake Ings and three at Bank Island from the 29th and five at North Duffield Carrs on the 30th. A full count of 51 on the 31st.
Spotted Redshank – A single was present with other waders at North Duffield Carrs on the 19th (CG).
Iceland Gull – A single 1st winter remained in the North Duffield area early in the month, commuting from arable fields to the NDC roost on the 1st - 2nd, and present again there on the 11th (AW).
Lesser Black-backed Gull – 15 were present at the Wheldrake roost on the 21st with 21 there on the 30th.
Mediterranean Gull – Two adults with black hoods were present in the Wheldrake roost on the 3rd with two adults and a first winter at the roost there on the 25th (DB).
Little Gull – A single was present with Black-headed Gulls at the Bank Island pre-roost on the 3rd.
Tawny Owl – Birds have been heard calling around the NNR base at Bank Island, whilst the one pictured below had a lucky escape after being found by the side of the road having been hit by a car. After a short stint with Jean it was soon released back into the wild.
Barn Owl – Several day time feeding birds were seen during the freezing, snowy weather at the start of the month. Following the thaw when birds were desperate to feed, a total of seven were noted at a number of sites - North Duffield Carrs (3) Bank Island (2) and Thorganby (2). Increasing numbers were seen throughout the area thereafter with three again at North Duffield Carrs on the 23rd.
Skylark – 27 singing or territorial birds were present on the flood bank between East Cottingwith and Bubwith Ings on the 31st when the Ings were extensively flooded.
Sand Martin – The first six of the year were present at Bank Island on the 29th.
Rock Pipit – A single at North Duffield Carrs on the 3rd was a bird of the Scandinavian race (AW et al).
Meadow Pipit – Up to 65 were present across North Duffield Carrs and Bubwith Ings on the 18th.
Stonechat – No records following the cold weather freeze early in the month which either took a toll or forced birds elsewhere.
Wheatear – The first of the year, a female, was present in fields off Hagg lane, East Cottingwith on the 23rd (MS).
Fieldfare – Up to 1000 were scattered throughout the valley on the 2nd, with birds in local villages feeding in gardens and drinking from roadside meltwater. Following the thaw, large flocks of 400, 230 and 120 moved back north-east on the 5th. 300+ moved over Bank Island on the 14th when 170 were present on Skipwith Common NNR. 600 were present on the south east side of the valley on the 18th. 100 at Thorganby on the 30th were followed by 20 at Thornton Ellers on the 31st.
Blackcap – A pair, presumed over-wintering, were present on garden feeders at Elvington on the 30th (AF).
Chiffchaff – A single singing bird was present at Melbourne on the 23rd (NC), Wheldrake Ings on the 25th (AF) and at the base at Bank Island on the 28th (CSR, FM). Five were present between Bank Island and Wheldrake Ings on the 29th with two at North Duffield Carrs on the 30th. Another single was at East Cottingwith on the 31st.
Willow Warbler – A single was present at Skipwith Common on the 25th.
Common Redpoll – A single was present at Thornton on the 21st -23rd in a flock of 15 Lesser Redpoll (NC).
Hawfinch – A single was present at Elvington sewage works on the 4th (AF) with a female in a Thorganby Garden on the 17th and two males at Bank Island on the 18th (CSR).
Brambling – 15 at Elvington on the 4th with a single still present there on the 25th.
Linnet – Up to 200 were present in the Thornton area on the 23rd.
Yellowhammer – 20 were present in the Bubwith area on the 18th with 15 at Thornton Ellers on the 31st.
Nuthatch – A single was singing in the heronry wood at Thicket Priory, Thorganby/Wheldrake on the 21st (LM), with two in the priory grounds on the 25th. Singing birds were also present at the Escrick Duck Decoy wood during the month.
Corn Bunting – 12 were present at Elvington on the 4th with singing males at Thorganby Ings and Thornton Ellers on the 31st.
Weasel – A single was seen regularly in the reserve base garden at Bank Island throughout the month.
Brown Hare – 26 were counted throughout the site on the 31st including 14 at Thornton Ellers.
Grass Snake – The first of the year was present at Skipwith Common on the 14th. followed by another on the 26th.
Adder – A total of 10 were present on Skipwith Common on the 29th – the first of the year.
Common Lizard – Three at Skipwith Common on the 26th were the first for the year followed by eight there on the 29th.
Common Frog – Up to 11 were seen crossing the road between Wheldrake and Bank Island after dark in rain on the 15th – all heading towards the Ings. Large amounts of spawn were then recorded at Bank Island on the 26th.
Smooth Newt – The first of the year were six in the reserve base pond on the 28th when several were also present at the Escrick Duck Decoy.
Red Admiral – The first of the year was present on Skipwith Common NNR on the 9th (LM). A single was then present in a North Duffield garden on the 25th.
Small Tortoiseshell –Two were present in the reserve base garden on the 29th with another at Wheldrake Ings on the same date.
Peacock – A single, the first of the year, was present at Skipwith Common on the 14th. Two were present in a North Duffield garden on the 25th.