Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Walk to the Lake

19th November.  It wasn’t as cold as I had expected when I followed the path down to the lake, past trees still holding their autumnal colours, if a little faded now.  The skies were blue, but the sunlight was already weak and low in the sky.  Despite the chill in the air such days are in my opinion far superior to the damp dowdy days we have had during recent summers.

There were approaching 130 Canada Geese in the field by the smaller lake, and more of them on and beside the larger lake, so in total approaching 150 Canada Geese, not far short of the largest number I’ve seen here.  The Canada Geese were joined by 6 Greylag Geese.  Notable birds on the lake included 1 male Shoveler, 2 pairs of Gadwall, 1 pair of Goosander, 1 pair of Goldeneye and a late remaining Great Crested Grebe.  Happily the Great Crested Grebes have had another successful breeding year on the lake as many photographers will be aware.  Most of the gulls were gathered on the still frozen corner of the smaller lake.

On my return most of the Canada Geese were on the water of the smaller lake with the 6 Greylag Geese and most of the ice had disappeared and the gulls had dispersed. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Naturalist Notes of Northumberland in November

3rd Nov.  We attended the NHSN talk on Slugs and Snails this evening.  My verdict is, yes you can make a talk on slugs and snails interesting and fun and I think the rest of the audience, which was approaching one hundred, would generally agree the talk was excellent.  I have the book lined up for winter reading.  It’s the New Naturalist Slugs and Snails by Robert Cameron.

5th Nov.  Sam and I headed north to Drudge, on what was a very cold, bright autumnal morning, where the highlight on East Chevington North Pool was a Slavonian Grebe.  We walked from the Country Park down to the mouth of the burn at East Chevington, which if nothing else warmed us up.  We spoke to several birders/photographers here including AJ, who had arrived for the showing of the Twite and Shore Lark.  There were now two Shore Lark showing very well in the sun along with a flock of Twite at times showing equally well, the flock numbering around eighty birds.  After returning to the Country Park, instead of heading for Druridge Pools and Cresswell Pond we decided to travel to Mitford with the hope of finding the Hawfinch.  No Hawfinch seen on this attempt, but it was worth going for the autumnal colours.  We also took time to look around the church grounds as Sam has family links to Mitford.  I too have links which are more tenuous and fleeting in the great shape of things.  We made off to Big Waters.


Autumnal Colour

There was no sign of the pair of Red Crested Pochard at Big Waters, but we did see a family of Whooper Swans and were given directions by MF to the field where the Red-breasted Goose was.  I know this bird won’t be listed but I’m guessing it to be as wild as the Red-breasted Goose a few folks made their way over the border to see while ago. :-) Does this bird have a ring on its leg or not?  I’ve read conflicting thoughts.  We did think we could see a yellow ring, but could it have been a trick of the light?  From Big Waters we made for Prestwick Carr.

I’m sure someone has stretched the long straight road at Prestwick Carr, or maybe I was just tired!  It was Late afternoon by now and very quiet, although we chatted to two or three birders out to find the Great Grey Shrike.  During our walk we saw both Redpoll and Bullfinch and heard Willow Tit.  Before we reached the turning for the sentry box we looked northward and with my naked eye I picked up a white smudge in the distance. A view through the binoculars suggested Great Grey Shrike and this was confirmed once we got the scope onto it.  Sam and I decided to continue towards the sentry box in the hope of getting a better sighting.  We did get a very good sighting as the shrike perched for a long time in the bush.  The light was fading to an extent, but seemed to offer perfect conditions for watching the shrike.   I guess this is the same bird we watched in January and in previous years.

Record Breaker.  Tallest Goat.

So, a good day with some good sightings.  We made off as the light dimmed even more and the temperatures seemed to drop considerably.  The red flags were flying, so if the sentry was in his/her box I hope he/she had a flask of tea with him/her. We reached the car and were glad to get into it out of the way of the smell of the usual leaking gas which was especially bad today.  I figured that we had walked quite a few miles today, so the availability of a car hasn’t made us lazy.  I thought of Prestwick Carr at a time when the likes of Thomas Bewick and later Henry Baker Tristram would visit, when the area was far greater and undrained.  I did do a bit of reading about this area prior to leading a walk there a few years ago so know that it has an impressive bird list.

9th Nov.  We made north again today, this time in the direction of Lindisfarne.  Again, it was a bright but cold day.  Before reaching Lindisfarne we stopped off at Budle Bay where the highlights were 3 Little Egret, Grey Plover, several Bar-tailed Godwit and large flocks of Shelduck.


Morning light

As we approached the causeway at Lindisfarne the sun lit up the water to south of us.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to the island and not had, at least part of the time, spectacular lighting conditions and today was no exception.  We stopped before crossing the causeway to admire the family of Whooper Swans accompanied by one Mute Swan, and to watch at distance the flock of Brent Geese.  It was a good start to our visit on what bird wise turned out to be in general a very quiet day.  We stopped again to explore the Snook and the massive area of the shore now that the tide had ebbed.  This is a wonderful sandy beach and we had it all to ourselves until a couple joined us with their dog.  By now the wind was up and sand blew low over the beach giving a desert like effect.  I almost forgot that we had to walk back and this time face into the wind!  Small pieces of vegetation floated across the area in the wind and looking back at our tracks I found the dunes behind me lit by the sun and a rather odd effect appeared along the sandy beach, where possibly because of blowing sand and other small particles of debris, there was a multitude of colours in areas along the sand.  I couldn’t change lenses on the windswept beach, but in any event these kinds of images invariably don’t reproduce what you see at the time, therefore the view remains, but a very good memory.  We found the historical site which I must learn more about and walked back following tracks in the dunes, not an easy walk.  We’d seen little in the way of birds, but it didn’t matter.  It was atmosphere that mattered, and we did find a lone Ringed Plover, Linnets and Rock Pipits, and the occasional Grey Seal watched from the sea.

Whooper Swans

I was feeling tired before we had even reached the island car-park, but after we had had a hot drink and a bacon sandwich I was back to my normal self and ready to go.  We visited the Priory, something neither of us had done for some years, before setting off past the vicar’s garden and around to the harbour.  It was very, very quiet, in fact as quiet as I’ve ever seen the island.  Passerines were scarce, there was few waders to be seen and there was little on the sea apart from Eider Ducks, Cormorants and the occasional ShagCurlews were few but in the harbour, we found Grey Plover, Redshank, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit.  A rather torpid Red Admiral Butterfly attempted to warm itself near the upturned boats. There were few birders on the island, but the occasional one that we did bump into reported little.

Red Admiral Butterfly

We walked past Gertrude Jekyl’s castle garden, something I don’t remember doing in the past, and onwards towards the sea.  A short sea watch brought only Razorbill and Gannet.  As we walked back towards the village we watched a female Kestrel hunting over the hedges.  It became apparent to us that the Kestrel would wait until we had walked past birds in the hedge which were then disturbed, and the Kestrel would swoop low over the hedge.  This continued until we were at the end of the pathway.  The Starlings and Curlews in the field were certainly disturbed by this.  The seems to have learned this technique to perfection, although we didn’t see it catch anything.

We saw the occasional Fieldfare lift from the hedge trees, but it wasn’t until we reached the coach car-park that we saw numbers of Redwing and a fewer number of Fieldfare.

We were one of the last cars to leave the island but within plenty of time to miss the incoming tide.  There were again very good lighting conditions across the mudflats but again few birds.  We did have very good close ups of sunlit Curlews and Redshanks, but had left the cameras in the boot.  We were luckier that we had the cameras in hand when just before leaving the causeway and heading for home a small skein of Pink-footed Geese flew in our direction.

Pink-footed Geese

There was more to visiting Lindisfarne than birds and Sam and I agreed that we had experienced a good day and it was a shame that we had to leave behind what was going to be a very impressive sunset.

10th Nov.  We end as we begun with attendance at the NHSN for a presentation by photo journalists Ann and Steve Toon whose images where of excellent quality.  Mainly of African wildlife, but not completely so, as there were some from the UK and Thailand.  The talk was slanted towards conservation issues and included such items as the removal of Rhino horn in attempts to prevent poaching, and the vasectomies of Elephants to control numbers, controversial subjects indeed.  Once again there was a large audience present.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Ten Thousand Geese...Part Three.

One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds.
John Clare 173-1864

Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock

26th Oct.  This was to be my final full day north of the border, so we were hoping to make the most of it.  I have visited Caerlaverock WWT on many occasions, but surprisingly I’ve never visited Caerlaverock Castle or Caerlaverock NNR.  We intended to put that right today and on our drive to the castle via Dumfries and along by the attractive River Nith as it made it’s a straight course to the Solway, our chat included mention of Edward 1st, the Maxwell family, and the Scottish Covenanters, all having strong connections to Caerlaverock Castle.  For years I’d imagined Caerlaverock Castle to be a small pile of stones, instead of this I found a magnificent ruin, much of the building still standing.  After a very interesting wander around we took the nature trail to the ‘old’ castle foundations.  This older castle was abandoned because of flooding, it once stood close to the shore of the Solway which is now 800 metres away.  Our walk provided a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch.

Caerlaverock Castle

Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock

By now there was more sunlight and we made our way to the WWT where after a cup of tea we walked down towards the hide expecting to see a Great White Egret.  Sadly, it had not shown up this morning.  I was happy to make do with the Peregrine Falcon, perched out on the merse, preening at times and looking well fed.  Size told us immediately that it was a female.  A walk back to the centre brought a Red Admiral Butterfly sighting and afterwards we listened to the talk as we watched the feeding of the Whooper Swans et al.  Our first Gadwall of the trip was seen.  Pink-footed Geese were seen in flight as were the very flighty Barnacle Geese, initially disturbed by a flyover Common BuzzardCanada and Greylag Geese were also seen today.  Flocks of Black-tailed Godwit and Lapwing were also in flight on several occasions.  The Barnacle Geese continued to provide entertainment as they kept lifting, and at one point as we walked to the furthest hide they were right overhead and the sound was amazing, almost like machinery working above such was the din.  We never actually bothered with the furthest hide, but having seen more Black-tailed Godwit , Redshank, Curlew and a Grey Heron catching and attempting to swallow an Eel, and Roe Deer in the distance, we decided to return and climb the Tower Hide.  The usual waterfowl were in the pool below us, predominately Wigeon, as we looked over towards Caresthorn where we had watched the tower from a couple of days before.   We walked to the field where the Barnacle Geese were likely to be in number.  We weren’t disappointed, and more geese flew in whilst we watched on!  Leaving this spot wasn’t easy but we fancied another cup of tea before the centre closed.  No, no, it wasn’t an RSPB Group trip, we just felt really thirsty.  By now the sky was clear and the sun lit the whole area.  I felt a little sorry for the staff in the kitchen who only felt the heat of the ovens, but I suppose there are worse places to work.  Sam purchased a Peter Scott book.  At some point today, not for the first time we had seen numbers of Skylark.  There seemed to be quite a movement of these birds.  Meadow Pipit had also been seen although overall smaller passerines were low in number at the reserve duplicating the position at RSPB Mersehead.  I’m guessing that many more will be seen as winter approaches.

Whooper Swan

Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock

It was now time to visit the National Nature Reserve which is just down the road.  We walked down the path which leads through a farm-yard.  The barking dogs were locked up.  It wasn’t long before we were into one of my favourite habitats, reed-bed, which seemed to stretch for miles.  We passed Redwings and another single Fieldfare which were in the hedges.  Stonechat was also seen.  Three Common Snipe flew over-head and Water Rail was heard.  A Marsh Harrier flew high along the coast as it was chased by corvids.  We wondered whether this was the harrier from Mersehead or possibly another.  There had been no harriers reported at the WWT.  The silence was broken only by the call of birds, Curlews especially.  It was all quite a haunting experience and I could barely believe we had this whole area to ourselves at the best time of day.  We looked across reed-bed and merse towards the Cumbrian coast.  The sky was now cloud free and the sun was dropping down towards 570m high Crifell and causing a lemon glow in the early evening sky.  A narrow silvery line ran straight below Crifell, and I took this to be the River Nith entering the Solway and reflecting the faltering light.  We watched as the sun faded to a dot and quickly disappeared behind Crifell.  The atmosphere provided everything I like about such occasions.  I could tell that the weather was going to be good the following day.  Sadly, I was leaving soon but not before more birding in the morning.  It was almost time to make our return and prepare for dinner i.e. change my shoes.  This had been a perfect way to spend my last evening.

Caerlaverock NNR

Caerlaverock NNR

Caerlaverock NNR

Dinner was another good one and I watched the Plough in the sky when we headed back to base.  That wasn’t the pub, it’s was the constellation.   On return we stood outside and looked at the stars in the very clear sky, but not for too long as it was almost freezing!  We heard a Tawny Owl calling again tonight, and a Fox also.  I thought it would be cold in the morning and it certainly was.

27th Oct.  We waited until 9.00am and for the temperature to rise to 4C before leaving for Threave.  It was bright and sunny as expected and we had hopes of finding White-fronted Geese.  Unfortunately the White-fronted Geese were not to be found this morning, but we enjoyed our walk around the reserve anyway and after the few days birding that we had experienced there could be no complaints.  Over two hundred Pink-footed Geese did provide a spectacular fly past.

Pink-footed Geese at Threave

We looked over toward the island on the River Dee and of course had a fine view of Threave Castle and the nest of the Ospreys which hopefully will now be enjoying the African Sun.  It just seemed like yesterday when I had been watching the Osprey family at the nest and Black 80 fishing at Loch Ken.

Threave Castle and Reserve

The reserve looked at its best today and there were to be some new birds for the trip list.  We saw Goldcrest and heard both Willow Tit and Redpoll.  The Red Kites have moved to their winter roosts and I thought I was going to be unlucky with that one, but no, a Red Kite flew across in front of one of the hides, its flight following the course of the river.
So, we eventually made off for Dumfries where we had lunch before Sam dropped me off to catch the train for Newcastle.  Unfortunately, Sam was working the following day.  I arrived back in Newcastle at 5.00pm to face the traffic jams, but more than happy with a trip bird list of ninety-six species and some great memories of birding experiences.  My thanks go to my guide, and more importantly, special friend Sam.

I had the idea for the title of these reports from Dumfries having noticed one of Sam’s books entitled A Thousand Geese.  It was written by Peter Scott and James Fisher and published in 1953.  It’s certainly thanks to Peter Scott and conservationists like him, of which I’m sure there have been many, that we can celebrate the success of species like Barnacle Geese.  Thankfully there are successes to celebrate amongst the doom and gloom that we continually hear about concerning wildlife.  Let’s remain positive!  My title could as easily have been, Twenty-five Thousand Geese, as Sam and I think that is at least nearer to the total number of geese we saw over the few days of the trip.  The quotes from the poetry of John Clare came to me as an idea having been directed towards Clare’s work by friends Hilary and Kelsey and having just read a biography of Clare by Jonathan Bate.  Clare had a difficult life and ended it in an institution, or as they called it in his day ‘a mad house’.  John Clare cared deeply for the natural world and had a wonderful eye for nature, and I can but wonder what he would have made of our adventures with the geese. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Ten Thousand Geese...Part Two.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
From Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Otter Pool at Wood of Cree

             25th Oct.  Overnight rain had ceased before dawn and we left early under clearing skies for the long drive to Glen Trool which was to be a stop off prior to a visit to the North Rhinns and Loch Ryan.  I day dreamed of the adventures of Robert the Bruce as we arrived at the road into the glen, only to find the road closed, we surmised because of fallen trees caused by the recent storms.  Undaunted we decided to take the narrow road past nearby Wood of Cree.  Whilst we didn’t walk into the woods we did stop and visit Otter Pool.  There were no Otters, nor was there any other sign of life on the reflective still waters of the pool, but it did offer a rather pleasant autumnal scenic image.  Our visit wasn’t without reward in the form of birds however, as we added Raven, Jay, Nuthatch and Treecreeper to our trip list.  The Raven was heard before being seen very well as it flew past us with the woods as a background and then perching for a time before flying off into the distance.  Sparrowhawk was also seen.  The sun was now breaking through and the air was still, but cold.  The air was anything but still when we arrived at the edge of Loch Ryan as the wind blew off the loch and I was unable to warm up until we found some shelter in one off several stops we made to view the loch between Innermessen and Stranraer.

Brent Geese, Loch Ryan

The species that really caught the eye were the Brent Geese, first seen only at some distance and the wind wasn’t helping keep the telescope steady.  When we later moved towards Stranraer we came very close to these Brent Geese and could hear their calls very clearly.  This is perhaps as close as I have been to Brent Geese.  We initially counted about ninety birds, but more flew in as we watched and there were still some more distant birds, so well over one hundred.  The closest birds were on the water in front of us and quite close to the road and pathway, so they are clearly used to disturbance, although they were on their guard and ready to move should anyone try to get too close.  We found flocks of Scaup and the likes of, Whooper Swan, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Great Crested Grebe, Shelduck, Wigeon, Tea, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew.  We eventually left for the northern tip of the Rhinns and Corsewell Lighthouse, thinking that we had even stronger winds to look forward to at this good sea-watching point.  The remains of Corsewell Castle, a 15th Century Tower House and in ruins for 400 years, were to the left of us as we approached the point.

Brent Geese, Loch Ryan.

My initial thoughts were that the northern Rhinns were not as attractive as the southern area that we had visited in early summer, but I had reason to change my mind especially on arriving at Corsewell Lighthouse, which incidentally holds an hotel.  It helped that on arrival we found that the strong wind had lessened to a refreshing breeze and it was, thankfully, much warmer now.  The Mull of Galloway is quite an experience, but Corsewell has an appeal of its own.  It’s not an easy spot to get too and I’m happy to say we had the area to ourselves throughout our time here.  The view is excellent, and we took in Northern Ireland, Kintyre and it’s Mull, Arran, Ailsa Craig and the coast-line of Ayrshire which at times was well lit by sunlight.  A few of these areas brought back happy memories of previous trips to both Sam and me.  There was no lack of sea birds with a steady passage Including Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and other gulls, Gannet, close-up Red-throated Diver in some number and Rock Pipit was seen passing by.  We also watched the ferries passing between Belfast and Stranraer which came and left on a regular basis.  It wasn’t easy to pull ourselves away from this wonderful seascape, but we had another stop to make for more watching of Loch Ryan, this time from ‘The Wig’, and time was precious.

Corsewell Lighthouse

There’s a pleasant circular walk at The Wig which takes you past the shore of Loch Ryan, so close you are warned of waves caused by the ferries, although I didn’t see any sign of them whilst there.  Nearby there the area of an RAF Airbase which was used during the war and where the great comedian Tony Hancock was based during war service (who can forget his classic line in the Blood Donor…A pint? That’s very nearly an armful!)  Parts of the runway can still be seen.  Loch Ryan was strategically very important during the Second World War.

Ayrshire coast in distance from Corsewell 

Our walk brought sightings of numerous passerines, Siskin was heard, and Redwings again seen along with a single Fieldfare.  This time even greater numbers of Scaup were seen, some rafts of them very close to us and we’d seen hundreds before we left.  Sam picked up our second Slavonian Grebe of the trip and there were numerous Red-throated Divers, Shags, and Red-breasted MergansersGoosander was also seen.  I think we would agree that our sighting of the day was in the form of Great Northern Diver (the Brent Geese not far behind) , six of them in a group and although some distance away, not too far to recognise that five of them retained most of their summer plumage.  The plumage of the sixth bird was more diffuse and may well have been a juvenile bird.  At one point the six divers formed a tight line and even the passing ferry didn’t seem to disturb them.  An excellent sighting indeed.  Two Common Seals appeared to inspect us from just off shore.  It was now time to retrace our steps to the car and return south, or more precisely east, to our accommodation and prepare for another hearty meal.  Light had gone by the time of our arrival back at base.  Sam heard Tawny Owl calling tonight.  I was so cream crackered tonight I didn’t care if the rain had returned or not.  It had been another great day’s birding with sixty-nine species seen.  Still more to come.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Ten Thousand Geese...Part One.

He hears the wild geese gabble oer his head
And pleasd wi fancys in his musings bred
He marks the figurd forms in which they flye
And pausing follows wi a wandering eye
Likening their curious march in curves or rows
To every letter which his memory knows
John Clare 1793-1864

23rd Oct.  Having crossed the border and reached the Scottish Solway coast by early evening, Sam and I decided that a stop was in order to take a look for bird life.  Our focus over the next few days in Dumfries and Galloway was to be birds and other wildlife, with a little culture and history thrown in.  As we approached the shore of the Solway we found large numbers of Redwing lifting from the soaked and berry laden hedges.  The sky and waters of the Solway were still leaden grey, but the heavy rain had stopped and as the Redwings took a break from their feast, in the fields close by us, they showed every marking very clearly in what was a post storm vivid light.  We managed to catch sight of several other species either on the water or in the near vicinity of it and these included Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Goosander, Red breasted Merganser, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Curlew. This was enough to whet the appetite before making off for our destination and a very good dinner at one of the local pubs.  We went to sleep to the sound of heavy rain fall.

24th Oct.  We awoke to the sound of heavy rain fall, but happily it was forecast to cease later in the morning.  The rain had eased slightly as we set off and stopped by the time we had reached Caresthorn, on the Solway estuary.  I noticed the Solway waters had  formed a very dark grey line along the horizon, although closer by lighter shades of grey reflected the fact that the cloud did give hints of breaking up, but at this point in time no blue sky was visible.  We soon brightened up with an excellent sighting of Slavonian Grebe and the calls from a number of skeins of Pink-footed Geese which flew overhead.  Great Crested Grebe was also seen.  The hedge between us and the village was attracting larger numbers of Greenfinch than I have seen for a long time.  At this point another birder approached us, he having just found a Redstart which we never did see.  This guy was significant, as he was the only birder we bumped into during our few days of birding, except for those we encountered in reserves.  As Sam said, this whole area is very under watched and reported.  Everywhere I looked across the estuary there was large numbers of Oystercatchers.

Sign at Caresthorn

By now we were confident enough to set off on a walk along the shore, which was a new area for me,  without taking waterproof trousers.  The tide being low, we were treated to some good sightings including Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, many Shelduck, Mallard, Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal and Red breasted Merganser.  Waders were soon heard and seen and as well as the many Oystercatchers we located Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew, the latter birds call being heard.  There was no shortage of other passerines, Linnets being one.  There had been many more Redwings.  Having taken in the sights and sounds during what had been a rewarding visit, we made off towards Southerness, just a little further along the Solway.  I especially wanted to photograph the lighthouse which stands on the shore there.

We were soon standing looking out over the Solway again and standing next to what is the second oldest lighthouse in Scotland, modernised at some point by the famous Stevenson’s.  I carefully took up positions on the slippery rocky shore too get the images I wanted.  I felt, on what was still a grey storm threatening morning, that this spot with its unusually designed lighthouse, gave off a rather sombre Dickensian atmosphere and David Copperfield would not have looked out of place.

Our next stop was to be RSPB Mersehead.  We took a single lane, rain laden potholed road to get there.  We were soon to find that skeins of Barnacle Geese were flying along the coast and over our heads.  Sam pulled in to a passing place so we could listen and watch.  Passing cars splashed mud and goodness knows what else onto his recently washed car, but that was the last thing on his mind as we watched wave after wave of yapping Barnacle Geese fly over us.  The skeins were making all kinds of shapes in the sky above.  Just as we thought we had seen them all pass, more skeins would appear with a background of hills behind them.  There were a number of Pink footed Geese amongst them, but predominately the sky was full of Barnacle Geese.  This sight and sound provided my best experience of watching geese and I include the action I had seen on Islay a few years ago.  It can be argued that there are few wild places in the UK, but wild experiences are still available, and this was just that.  In any event I think wildness can often be simply a state of mind.  Thousands of Barnacle Geese landed in the fields between us and the Solway.  Incidentally, these fields are not part of the reserve underling the fact that whilst reserves have an important place in providing refuge for our wildlife, areas off the reserves are just as important   and should be provided.  This does require ongoing discussion, work and at times compromise if wildlife is to have a secure future in our ever increasingly populated island.  We estimated that we had seen at least 5,000 geese at this point.

We did eventually reach Mersehead.  The highlight here was of course more Barnacle Geese which at time were quite active and in the air.  At times we were very close to them as we walked along the pathways and watched the individual sentinel geese watch us intently from the outside of the flocks.
By now the sun had broken through and it was quite warm.  The hills around the reserve showed their autumn colours of fading yellow, brown and umber.  Apart from the geese the reserve was very quiet, the pools especially, with one of them dried out in part.  However, we did add a pair of Whooper Swans and the odd Canada Goose to our morning list, otherwise the waterfowl were in the main Mallard, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Shelduck.  A Marsh Harrier was seen but somewhat briefly and distant and the hedges held many Redwings.  Smaller passerines were fewer in number than is often found here but included House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer, most of them at the feeding station.

 We took a walk down to the shore by which time the light was fading and there was rain in the air, so we made back towards the car and before we reached it the rain had come on quite heavily.  Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel had been seen as we made off towards our accommodation.  After another good dinner we once again went to sleep to the sound of heavy rainfall as we thought of our early start and long trip tomorrow.  We believe we had seen 10,000 geese today.  More to come.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Birds Brighten Dull Druridge Day

19th Oct.  We left Killingworth behind under grey skies and an invasion of Redwings and we were soon under even greyer skies at Druridge and this time the sky above us was full of Redwings coming in from the North Sea in great numbers.  Flock after flock was seen and heard as we spent time at the north end of East Chevingtons North Pool.  The sky did on occasions lighten but the sun never ever really made it through.

Sam and I initially made for the hide at Druridge Country Park that overlooks North Pool.  I remember not too long ago that the feeding station here attracted good numbers of species.  It has perhaps met its demise as I saw nothing there today although on the walk to get there we did have good sightings of Bullfinch and Goldcrest and a good chat to a couple about Dumfries and Galloway, and dogs.  I think areas can be over managed at times, but this can’t be said of the area around the hide and the view over the pool is not good because of growth in front of it.  I’m pleased to say it didn’t spoil our sightings, especially of the Marsh Harrier and Great White Egret.  Water Rail was heard from here as was Kingfisher and I had an extremely brief sighting of the latter bird as it flew along the line where the reeds meet the pool.  Most of waterfowl was in the centre of the pool.  We walked down to the hide between the dunes and pool which offered a rather better view.  Birds included Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Shoveler in numbers, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck.  A second Marsh Harrier was seen to the north of us and it dropped into the reed-bed and out of the way of the chasing corvids.  It didn’t lift again whilst we were there, ending hopes of a good close up photograph.

Mist over the sea meant it wasn’t a day for sea-watching but we did find large numbers of Common Scoter and a couple of Gannet.  If there was anything unusual among the Common Scoter we didn’t find it.  Stonechats were seen in the dunes.

We later walked to the mouth of the burn and were told we told what species we had just missed!  Never mind we did have a good close sighting of two TwiteRinged Plover were gathering in numbers close to the tide line and other waders seen here were Oystercatcher, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone and Redshank.

We next took a break at the café south of Cresswell Pond.  I can recommend the omelettes.  As usual the place was packed.

Druridge Pools were next.  I’d been reading JFs blog and seen that there had been some really good sightings here lately.  Well, it was the quietest I’ve seen the place for a long time so it seemed everything had moved on!  We did have the likes of Common Snipe, Black Tailed Godwit and Ruff.  When we decided to move to the other hides we were stopped by a motorist to be told that a Bee-Eater had just a few minutes before flown south over the pools.  We must have just missed it!  To compensate for our ill luck, we bumped into some old friends that we hadn’t seen for some time and had a good chat.  They were on the lookout for the Bee-Eater too.  Having visited the other hides and decided to move on Sam picked up the call of a Bee-Eater and we found that it was almost above our heads.  We had quite a good sighting of it.  It was a Northumberland first for both Sam and me.  Would I have swopped this sighting for repeating the experiences of sightings we have had in Europe whilst standing under blue skies and a hot sun………. well, in short yes, but there is nothing like a new bird in your county I told myself.  We joined a number of other birders waiting for a further sighting of the Bee-Eater, but it wasn’t to be whilst we were there, but we did hear its call as it flew in the area of the pools.  Definitely bird of the day.

We set off for Cresswell Pond and found Little Egret in the area.  As we approached we could see the pond was overflowing and there appeared to be few birds about.  To be honest as the light began to fade and the rain continued, yes it was raining by now, the area looked bleak.  We were both of the same mind, ‘let’s give this a miss, head for home and count Bee-Eater as our last bird of the day’.  As we drove down the A19 and the heavens opened we agreed that the correct decision had been taken.  A very good day.     

Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Lazy Sunday Afternoons

Lazy Sunday afternoon
I've got no mind to worry
Close my eyes and drift a-
Close my mind and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away
Small Faces

17th Sept.  I no longer get involved with leading walks now unless I’m asked as I’ve found that this way there’s almost a guarantee that at least you have interested folk along.  Today I was out walking with wallers, yes that right, members of the Drystone Wallers Association.  They had been keen to see parts of the Druridge Bay area and so we visited Hauxley to see the new centre there, East Chevington where we missed the Marsh Harriers by seconds and Cresswell Pond.  It was a perfect day for walking although we didn’t in fact walk that far and it was useful to have cafes at the start and finish.  It began to rain as we ended the walk so that ensured that the café near to Cresswell Pond was doing a roaring trade.

I think folk were quite impressed by the NWT centre at Hauxley and it was certainly busy today with various things organised.  I didn’t see too much in the way of birds from the centre although what we did see included a few Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal and wader flocks of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Dunlin and Curlew and one Black tailed Godwit which I could have sworn was a Greenshank until the volunteer got her scope onto it (it was a long way off and I didn’t have my scope.  There was of course a large number of Tree Sparrows at the feeding station, lots of Coal Tits and some large Brown Rats for those who wanted some mammal interest.  As I mentioned we just missed the Marsh Harriers at East Chevington and they didn’t show again whilst we were there, but there was enough birds to keep us interested and I think everyone enjoyed a walk along to the mouth of the burn where there was a large flock of Goldfinch feeding.  I couldn’t make any other species out within the flock.

Red Admiral Butterfly

Bird of the day appeared at Cresswell Pond in the shape of Little Stint which was within a flock of about thirty Dunlin.  Other sightings here included Kestrel (one of three seen today), Great Crested Grebe and 3 Little Egrets.  Common Buzzard had been seen on our journey north.  As interesting as the birds was the fact that I found out that Ray one of the participants had been responsible for re-building a large section of the drystone wall that leads from the car parking area up to the entrance to the pond, as well as having re-built other sections of wall in the area.  Those who know the area will realise that the wall I mention is much lower than the road.  I’d never given any thought to the fact that of course the road has been heightened over time and was once much lower.  It had been a nice way to pass a few hours with interesting and interested people who I shall meet again in October as Sam and I are presenting our Great Crested Grebe talk to the group.  This will be I think the fifth time we have presented this particular talk.

Peacock Butterfly

23rd Sept.  As I’ve said before, 2017 has been a lousy year for Butterflies in my opinion.  The only time I have seen any number of them was when I visited Sweden.  I’ve spoken to folk in other areas who confirm that it is not just my own judgement about it being a poor year.  I was pleased to day to note five of six Red Admirals in the garden and more in the hedge that runs along the back.  Also present were two Speckled Wood and a Peacock ButterflySpeckled Wood Butterfly are now the most regular butterfly seen in my garden.  More surprising this past week has been visits by at least three, possibly more, Small or Large Skipper Butterflies.  They were very active and would never settle so I was uncertain which species it was although if I had to put cash on it I’d go for the small species.  My books tell me that this species ought not to be around after early August!

Speckled Wood Butterfly

 Another pleasant Sunday only spoilt by a poor performance by the Magpies at Brighton.  Normal service resumed I guess.