Saturday, 30 December 2017

Desert wheatear, Whitby

Desert wheatear

We travelled through snow and ice across the wild North Yorkshire Moors to the beautiful coastal harbour town of Whitby. Hard to believe as we crossed this bleak and hostile landscape that our target was a bird which breeds in the equally harsh yet meteorologically opposite arid steppe and desert zones in North Africa and the Middle East. Desert wheatear is a regular, annual, late autumn / early winter visitor to the UK, though goodness knows why. It should be wintering on the edge of some desert in Africa or south west Asia, yet here it is, the picture of health, thriving on a coastal footpath on the east coast of the UK, a region notorious for it's icey winds and certainly not noted for its desert like habitats. Nor is this bird a one off, in fact it was the second desert wheatear I have seen between Christmas and New Year on this stretch of coast in recent years.

Desert wheatears can be very approachable, but this bird was exceptionally so, often landing within  3 or 4 feet of us. As seems to be the norm these days, meal worms were being thrown onto the footpath to keep the bird in its favoured area for the benefit of photographers. I can't say that I'm in favour of this behaviour. It's often justified by asking "what's the harm in feeding birds?", well that may be a valid point if the food is being left to help the bird through the hardships of winter, but not if it's just to help photographers get better pictures. Providing the food may actually delay the birds departure and make it more susceptible to a lack of natural food and even harsher conditions deeper into the winter when the photographers have taken their fill of pictures and no longer provide the meal worms.

After we left Whitby we headed for Flamborough Head, and near Buckton we screeched to a halt when Ray spotted this large falcon on the telegraph post. It looks very like a grey morph gyr, but it's actually an escaped falconers hybrid which has been in the area for a couple of weeks.

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