Park Lake

gulls and tufted duckPeasholm Park, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, 12.25 p.m., 55°F, 13°C, 75% cumulus, breeze from north north-west: A pair of tufted ducks float by, ‘sleeping’ and preening.

A herring gull goes into its bathing routine: wings held out, it dips its head and spreads water over its back.

On the sunny side of the pagoda roof of the floating bandstand seventeen herring gulls are snoozing, all facing into the prevailing breeze.

High tide, North Bay, Scarborough.
High tide, North Bay, Scarborough.

Herring Gull Mating

  1. South Bay, near the lifeboat station, 3.30 p.m. (top of page, bottom right sketches): A herring gull is standing on the beach apparently just watching the world go by. It starts calling, the laughing cry that instantly conjures up a picture of a seaside town for me when I hear it in a radio play.gulls mating
  2. A   second gull flies down and the first calls at it as if in greeting, but perhaps with a degree of agitation – ‘and where have you been?!’. The second bird responds with a head nod.
  3. The pair see off a rival.
  4. There’s a mating, a successful mating, I guess. It’s the female who has been waiting on the beach.
  5. The female waggles her rear end. The male leaves first, then the female.

It reminds me of a 1980 book, The Golden Turkey Awards, featuring what were affectionately judged to be the worst ever movies. It included a close up of two sea gulls with the caption ‘One of the steamy love scenes from Jonathan Livingston Seagull.’

The Bittern Hide

Reedbeds seen from the Bittern Hide
Reedbeds seen from the Bittern Hide, 11.40 a.m., 40ºF, 6ºC. The Reedbed hide is just visible in the background.

swanRSPB Old Moor, 10.40 a.m., 39ºF, 4ºC, Reedbed Hide: We passed through a snow shower on the way here but as we walk to the Reedbed Hide there are only a few sleety spots in the wind.

Two mute swans are upending by the reeds as they make their way to their nest site, a mound of reeds.

grebetufted duckA great crested grebe motors over towards the swans, calling as he nears them (judging by the large cheek frills, this is the male). It’s a surprisingly loud call for what I think of as one of the quietest of wildfowl. My bird book describes the grebe’s spring calls as ‘a series of guttural far-reaching “rah-rah-rah” notes’. But, instead of skirmishing with the swans, as we thought he might do, he dives near them. Perhaps when he saw how large they are in close up he decided not to escalate the situation.

Mid-lagoon, two male and one female tufted ducks are diving.

Gadwall & Grebe

gadwall sketchesgadwall upendingI’M IN LUCK as one of the ducks that I’d like to get more familiar with is there just in front of the hide at Pugneys reserve lake; I sketch a pair of gadwall dabbling and occasionally upending.

gadwall dabbling

The male looks plain grey but when I get the binoculars on him the finely striped breast comes into focus. The female looks rather like a female mallard.

Tufted, Shoveller & Pochard

tufteds ducks


Most of the other ducks are resting. Pochard and tufted duck outnumber the gadwalls by about a hundred to one but all of them are resting, head tucked beneath the wing. Occasionally they’ll all move away from the willowy bank, perhaps because they become aware of a dog passing by on the nearby path.

tufted ducks

tufted duckThey’re not adopting the sort of pose that would be useful in a field guide but I do my best to get the head-tucked-in pose down on paper and to take in their general shape and proportion.

They turn around as they float so that isn’t as straightforward as you might think that it should be.

shovellersThe shoveller are more active and a small group of males and females crosses the lake, helpfully keeping that field guide pose as they move.


Inevitably my eye is drawn to the striking plumage of the drakes.



grebe winter plumageI’m not used to seeing the great-crested grebe at this time of year so I take notes about its appearance and check it against the book later.

Usually we see them out on the middle of a lake where they seem larger. This one, that diving close to the hide, didn’t seem much larger thangrebe diving the black-headed gull which was following it around probably with the intention of stealing any tiddler that it might catch.

grebe preeningThe grebe is a white as a penguin beneath when it turns to preen its breast between dives.

Waterbirds and Fungi

greylag goose

I LOVE the 30x zoom on my new camera. There’s an element of luck in what the autofocus chooses to latch on to but you can take several shots and hopefully one will catch something. The 4600 pixel wide images give plenty of scope for cropping in to find some suitable composition, like this Greylag keeping a wary eye on me.


tufted duckblack-headed gull divingI knew the Canada Geese would head for the water if I got too near. Having the zoom on maximum flattened the perspective and emphasised the pattern of black and white, like musical notes on a stave.

If I can get such close ups as this in a few minutes just ambling along the lakeside path imagine what I might be able to do if I spent a morning in one of the hides at a wetland reserve.

black-headed gull diving

crow in willowIt would be interesting to try a catch bird behaviour on film – like this juvenile Black-headed Gull diving into the lake, possibly to catch fish or perhaps even small freshwater mussels. A series of images might provide some clues. The camera has a continuous mode for capturing movement.

Water birds are good subjects to experiment with as they’re large and usually not hidden by foliage so when we saw a Carrion Crow in a waterside willow I tried photographing it.

Grey Heron

grey herongrey heronI was struggling to keep the camera steady when I tried to photograph the Grey Heron preening itself in a willow at the other side of the lake. The image is rather blocky but it would be useful if I was gathering reference for an illustration.

It’s good to see a heron engaged in some kind of activity rather than standing at rest.


agaricagaricNot surprisingly after the warm humid weather that we’ve been having there were one or two fungi about. The toadstool with the scaly cap is a relative of the Fly Agaric while the purplish, smooth capped  and much eaten into toadstool (below, right) looks to me like one of the Russulas.

russulaBut today I’m content to get to know my camera. I’m looking forward to using it to get to know the names of a few more fungi in the autumn.

Waterside Walk

ABOUT THREE-QUARTERS of the lake at Newmillerdam is ice-covered this morning but there’s room for Tufted Ducks to dive, apparently for freshwater mussels, in a spot ten or twenty yards from the shore between the boathouse and the war memorial, where I’ve seen them diving before.

Can there really be so many mussels in the lake?

Nearer the shore we can see these shells, at least some of which look empty. I’ve boosted the contrast in the photograph because of the glare on the water surface.

Amongst the Mallards there’s a single Pink-footed Goose, which hisses as it pecks at some scraps that a visitor has left on the path.

Barbara picks up this feather which I assume is from the goose but looking at my photograph of the bird, a breast feather like this should be greyer and banded horizontally, rather than streaked vertically, so I think this is more likely to be a feather from a female Mallard.

At first glance, as it dives under, the Dabchick or Little Grebe looks like a diminutive duck but, as it keeps bobbing up briefly, we can see the more pointy bill of the grebe. By the boathouse we see a Goosander, a saw-billed duck (the saw-like edges of the bill help it grip small fish).

I’ve drawn squirrel-nibbled cones on several occasions but, as it was too cold to be comfortable to stop and sketch, I picked these up to draw in the studio later.


As we walk back through the conifer plantations, there’s a twittering all around us in the tops of the trees. Even with binoculars I can see no more than a dark silhouette, possibly with streaky plumage, but the shape and the shallow notch in the tail make me think it’s a finch and the size, about the size of a Blue Tit, narrows it down to Siskin. Siskins visit in large flock during winter and often visit conifer plantations.