Trip report: Lower Derwent Valley (2 March 2024)

Nine members travelled in shared cars to the Lower Derwent Valley, near York, on a rather unpleasant morning.  A damp, biting wind banished the merest suggestion of spring, but the rain largely held off until the afternoon.

We began our visit at Wheldrake Ings.  Since the R. Derwent burst its banks in November last year, the fields of the Ings have remained inundated and the area resembled one vast lake.  Large numbers of wildfowl were present, including Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Gadwall, Mallard, Shoveler, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye.  It was necessary to work our way along the very muddy paths to get a closer view from the screen, before at least some of the party could locate a couple of the Scaup we had been told were present.  A single Great Crested Grebe was also spotted.

Without wellingtons, we had to turn back.  A Red Kite passed overhead and a Buzzard flew into a tree on the far side of the flood.  Passerines were scarce, but several Long-tailed Tits were in the riverbank trees, while Pied Wagtails foraged along the flood margins.  Three Roe Deer grazed in a distant field. 

Along the road at Bank Island, the flooding was also extensive, with no access to the hides.  It had been mostly dry until this point, but now the rain arrived as forecast and we sheltered beneath the viewing tower.  The wildfowl array here was similar, with the exception of a few Mute Swans and a single Coot, so we decided to drive a few miles South to Bubwith Bridge.

By this road bridge across the R. Derwent, there had been regular sightings of an American Wigeon amongst a huge flock of Eurasian Wigeon.  Between the heavy showers, we scanned the area.  Both banks were extensively flooded and there were huge numbers of Eurasian Wigeon in the water and grazing any exposed grass.  There was no sign of the American Wigeon, but Oystercatcher was a new addition to the list and a huge murmuration of Dunlin passed overhead.  We crossed the road to view the flooded field to the South, where the usual wildfowl array was joined by five Whooper Swans.  We also noted a small group of Redshanks and two Ruff, hidden amongst the tightly packed sleeping ducks.

Whooper Swan at Bubwith Bridge (Richard Cowen)

At nearby North Duffield Carrs there had been a report of Green-winged Teal earlier in the day.  We made our way to the hide (fortunately this path was accessible), where several other birders were looking for the bird.  The view here was across another vast temporary lake stretching across the Derwent floodplain towards the village of Aughton.  In the distance, a dry field held half a dozen Red-legged Partridges.  Three Little Grebes were diving in the area immediately in front of the hide.  We were told that the levels had begun to drop a little in recent days, exposing some banks which were dotted with large numbers of Teal and Lapwing.  Scanning through them produced more Dunlin, a few Oystercatchers and three more Ruff, but no Green-winged Teal. 

Our final stop was at the village of Thorganby, just South of Wheldrake, where there is a convenient viewing area near the village hall.  The platform overlooks the West Cottingwith Ings, another vast lake at the time of our visit.  Shelduck in the distance were new for most of the group, as we had previously only encountered a few flying overhead.  The rain stopped and the sky had brightened with a small rainbow, but it was time to head for home.

Rainbow over West Cottingwith Ings (Walia Kani)

It was fascinating to see the vast extent of the flood waters and the spectacle of huge numbers of ducks.  I’m not sure I can think of anywhere that has so many wintering Pintail as the Lower Derwent Valley.  We were unlucky not to see either the Green-winged Teal or the long-staying American Wigeon, but there was simply so much suitable habitat they could easily vanish out of sight.  Our list for the day was 54 species, of which the Scaup were a highlight.

Julie Hogg

Trip List

  1. Canada Goose
  2. Greylag Goose
  3. Mute Swan
  4. Whooper Swan
  5. Shelduck
  6. Shoveler
  7. Gadwall
  8. Wigeon
  9. Mallard
  10. Pintail
  11. Teal
  12. Pochard
  13. Tufted Duck
  14. Scaup
  15. Goldeneye
  16. Pheasant
  17. Red-legged Partridge
  18. Woodpigeon
  19. Collared Dove
  20. Coot
  21. Little Grebe
  22. Great Crested Grebe
  23. Oystercatcher
  24. Lapwing
  25. Golden Plover
  26. Curlew
  27. Ruff
  28. Dunlin
  29. Redshank
  30. Black-headed Gull
  31. Great Black-backed Gull
  32. Herring Gull
  33. Lesser Black-backed Gull
  34. Cormorant
  35. Grey Heron
  36. Red Kite
  37. Buzzard
  38. Kestrel
  39. Magpie
  40. Jackdaw
  41. Rook
  42. Carrion Crow
  43. Coal Tit
  44. Blue Tit
  45. Great Tit
  46. Skylark
  47. Long-tailed Tit
  48. Wren
  49. Starling
  50. Redwing
  51. Blackbird
  52. Robin
  53. Dunnock
  54. Pied Wagtail