Monday, 26 August 2019

Too Darn Hot!

Aug. ‘My’ resident Wood Pigeons having successfully raised a family in the trees at the bottom of the garden have stayed on to enjoy the available seed and bird bath.  On warm days they have sat contentedly in the bath for up to twenty minutes and they were feeling the heat yesterday.

The water looks clean

How many people give Wood Pigeons a second look?  Not many I’m guessing.  Yes, I fear they are taking over the world and are as common as muck, but they aren’t an unattractive bird.

Just checking for those killer cats

Ahh, that's nice and cool

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

More Butterflies

Aug.  I am responding to the calls of 'more, more' from my perhaps limited, but appreciative audience.  So here are a few more images of Butterflies attracted to my garden during what now seem distant days of sun and heat.  The Painted Ladies were not alone in appreciating the Buddleia Plant.  Perhaps it should be made compulsory for everyone with a garden to plant a Buddleia.  'Plant a Buddleia for 2020' would make a good slogan I reckon.  When you do, be choosy as to the colour, as I understand certain colours are more attractive to the butterflies and I think I chose correctly.  Since the rains came I have had fewer butterflies but there is still one Painted Lady visiting the garden.

Red Admiral

The Red Admiral was once known simply as the Admiral and still is in Germany.  In France it is known as Le Vulcain, named after Vulcan the blacksmith of the Gods.  The alternative name for Admiral once used was Admirable and this name was favoured by some, including the novelist Vladimir Nabokov 


Small Tortoiseshell with Painted Lady.  The former being a rarity in the garden this year, with this being the only one seen.

Large White

List of Butterfly Species seen in the garden so far this year, in order of the number of sightings.

Painted Lady
Holly Blue  (remain in flight in the garden today)
Speckled Wood
Large White
Small White
Red Admiral
Peacock (fewer than usual)
Comma (1 only)
Small Tortoiseshell  (1 only and despite the problems this species has had in recent years having found only one is very unusual)

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Painted Lady Bonanza

Jul/Aug 19.  We begin with a quiz.  Can you name the newspaper responsible for the following headline on the internet?

Rare Painted Lady Butterflies are spotted across the UK for the first time since 2009 as they begin their once in a decade migration.

Yes, yes, you all have it correct.  It is of course the Daily Mail!  Three errors in one sentence implies a teeny-weeny bit of lazy reporting, and I use the term reporting deliberately rather than journalism.  To be fair, the article did include photos of butterflies and surprisingly they were Painted Lady Butterflies.  However, it is little wonder a great many of the population of the UK remain ignorant on the facts of the natural world when we have headlines such as this.  For the record, for anyone not au fait with butterflies, the Painted Lady is not a rare butterfly, it appears in the UK each year (this year just happens to be a bumper one) and it migrates each year.  If you want to know more stay clear of Daily Mail reports!  There is plenty of more reliable information on the internet.

I’m sure many of you have been and still are enjoying the spectacle of the mass influx of Painted Lady Butterflies, the largest influx since 2009.  I believe the previous good year for this species prior to 2009 was 1996.

The Painted Lady Butterflies have been on my Buddleia for over a week now and whilst I don’t claim to have had 125 which reportedly appeared on a bush at St Abbs, nor the swarm that flew over the Farne Islands, I did have 15 of them at one time on a bush along with Large White, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Comma.  This of course gave an excellent opportunity for photography and I thought I would share some of my images with you.  I certainly do not recall seeing so many Painted Lady Butterflies in 2009, but I didn’t have the Buddleia then.

When visiting in North Shields I found several more (double figures again) of the species on another Buddleia.  This all gave me the chance to enlighten at least three people regarding the migration of Painted Lady Butterflies from northern Africa.  They didn’t seem as impressed with the feat as I thought they ought to have been.  In the course of another conversation whilst lurking at the Buddleia, I learnt that my neighbour had found a Hawkmoth in her child’s bedroom during the hot weather and I was a bit jealous of that and not having been able to photograph it.  From the way my friend’s hands were held apart I began to wonder if in fact, it had been a juvenile Pterosaur.  The lady’s partner also informed me that his brother is into nature photography, so that was pleasing to hear.  Two days before when temperatures were high and I stood burning near the garden, a swarm of bees flew directly above my head, thankfully not landing on it.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you must be in the countryside to enjoy wildlife and nature as it’s simply not true.

I used my macro lens for the first two images shown here otherwise they were taken with my 100-400mm lens whist attempting some variation to the resulting image.  The underwing of the butterfly is often as interesting to me as the upper-side and if taken with back lighting can often give the impression of stained glass (to my eye anyway) and if you have read my blog over the years you may remember that I have some interest in stained glass windows in particular.

I have a collector’s copy of David Measures Butterfly Season 1984 and initially I didn’t rate the paintings too highly.  However, over the years I have come to appreciate that colour and movement expressed in paintings is as important, if not more so, than the expression of a detailed and  exact depiction of the butterfly.  Perhaps I can use that to explain some of my less than sharp images!

I know there will be many an image of Painted Lady Butterflies about at present, but hope that you enjoy the ones I have added anyway.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Butterfly Season...Lurking Beside the Bushes.

Jul 19.  The last few months have been a period when my explorative exploits in the field have been curtailed to a great extent, hence an absence of blog posts.  I’ve found myself at times contemplating the likes of the myriad hues of green in my garden, weeds included, until I sprung to life and became a gardener of sorts.  I’ve also read a good number of books, one of them being a Little Toller edition entitled Emperors, Admirals and Chimney Sweepers which addresses the naming of butterflies and moths.  A fascinating insight in to the ‘name game’ (occasionally it does appear to have been a game) and a good book to dip in and out of.  However, as William Wordsworth noted in an early work as a young man, there is nothing better than watching and experiencing actual nature.

Enough of science and of art;
Close up these barren leaves;
Come forth and bring with you a heart
That watches and receives.

Early William Wordsworth lines.

So, having put down the books and moved to the hard labour in the garden I did end up watching and receiving, perhaps my efforts were being rewarded, in this case by butterflies.

Holly Blue Butterfly

The first notable sighting was the return of at least two Holly Blue Butterflies, which added a touch of colour to the garden, I now had blue to consider as well as the greens!.  I’ve always found this species difficult to photograph, but my lurking by the bushes paid dividends on this occasion.  I first noticed Holly Blue in the garden around twelve years ago and they were certainly uncommon in the area then, and since then they have been seen here each year.  I’m rather proud of them and wonder how many folks in Killingworth know we have Holly Blue Butterflies in the area, or for that matter how many even cares?  I know these butterflies can have two broods and the first appeared in May and as those making a further appearance seem in pristine condition I’m thinking this is a second brood, and all in my garden!  I did wonder initially if these were the first brood returning to lay eggs.

Holly Blue Butterfly

The Holly Blue is our only resident butterfly with a tree in its name.  The scientific name of Celastrina argiolus means holly tree little argus eyes.  I’ve recently learnt that the second brood of the Holly Blue prefer to lay their eggs on ivy.  Holly Blue is a relatively recent name for this species once referred to as Azure Blue.  I’ve watched this species further north in Scandinavia, where of course the food plant is something entirely different.

Now the 4th August, I still have the Holly Blue flying in my garden.  I saw for the first time that it was attracted to the Buddleia tree.  The Buddleia has this year attracted many different species, not least Painted Lady Butterflies in double figures.  This gave me the chance to take some images of this attractive species which I am saving for a further blog later this week.

Monday, 1 April 2019

Greeting Goliath and a Scent of Spring

26th Mar.  Today saw Sam and I down at North Shields Fish Quay for a close encounter with Goliath alias the Glaucous Gull.  OK, I can hear you all saying, ‘I’ve been there and done that’, but readers will know we always take a laid- back approach to bird watching and wait until everyone has moved along.  As it happens we weren’t the only birders to have seen this bird for the first time today as we were joined by another interested birdman from Gateshead.

Glaucous Gull

We had had other business before going to North Shields so I didn’t have my camera gear, but Sam had some of his and was able to get some good images, a few that I have included here, So, all images are courtesy of Samuel Hood.

Glaucous Gull

We found the Glaucous Gull not at all phased by the approach of people, cars and machinery, but apparently nervous of approaches from other gulls, so keeping itself very much to itself in that respect.  It certainly wasn’t interested in handouts of fish and chip scraps thrown out by passers-by, but simply stood back and watched whilst other gulls got into a frenzy of feeding.  The Glaucous Gull seemed to watch them with some distain, perhaps feeling it ought to rise above such unseemly street behaviour.  Perhaps I’m allowing anthropomorphism to creep in just a little.

Glaucous Gull

Sam and I spent some time with Goliath and agreed it was probably the best sighting of a Glaucous Gull we have ever had.  Whilst we were there it flew from the roof of the Fish Quay sheds to the wall of the quay carparking area, flew a short way along the river and back and across to South Shields, but it did seem to prefer the company on the north side of the river.  I’m sure it could tell us a few interesting stories of what it has seen already in its relatively short life, and even I can be fascinated by the thoughts of where this bird has been and grant you that some gulls can be very interesting.  Kittiwakes are of course another example and I heard my first Kittiwake calls of the year today and watched as numbers of them flew along the Tyne.  There was also a sizeable flock of Eider Duck on the river.

I’ve always liked North Shields and its community, a place of character and characters and in the main a friendly atmosphere.  Massive changes over recent years of course, but the character remains.

27th Mar.  We decided to visit Druridge today and our first stop was Widdrington Pool which seems to me to be attracting more and more birds.  Throughout our few hours in the area the scent of new growth was in the air, giving a real feeling that spring had arrived despite the grey cloud and cold.  The most distinctive fragrance was that from the Gorse, much of it in flower now and along with Hawthorn blossom there was a touch of bright colour to be found.  I do think Gorse is a far better term than furze, which always suggests to me an old fellow’s stubble.  I’ve noted that there is some rather expensive Gorse fragrance in a bottle for men and women available.  It might be just what some of you birders out there want!  I’ve no wish to smell like a coconut with a touch of citrus, so I’m keeping clear of it.  I’ll save money and simply have a shower!

We had some decent sightings at Widdrington, our best of the day in fact, including 2,000+ Pink Footed Geese in the fields, 12+ Whooper Swans, Great Crested Grebe, 3 Scaup, Kestrel and Common Buzzards flying low along the ridge of the hill opposite.  With many of the waterfowl ready to return to breeding areas it gave the feel of change which was added to by the calling Chiffchaff.

Chatting away we missed the turn off for Druridge Country Park and so ended up at Hauxley by accident.  We didn’t stay long, but it was good to see the numbers of Tree Sparrows.  For some reason or other the birds remaining in mind are Lesser Black backed Gull and Long tailed Tit.  The car-park was almost full so something is being done correctly on the reserve, perhaps it’s the tea and cakes.

From Druridge Country Park we looked over East Chevington North Pool.  Along with a lone dark bellied Brent Goose, a lone Sandwich Tern spotted only by Sam and more Great Crested Grebes we found a few other species of wildfowl and heard Water Rail and Little Grebe.  A quick look out over the sea brought us sightings of a couple of Red Throated Divers.

Having taken a break for a bite to eat at the Drift cafĂ©, yes we were able to get in on this occasion, we passed a Grey Partridge on the wall near Cresswell Pond as we made for Druridge Pools which once again we found very quiet, with no waders to be seen except an odd Curlew.  There was plenty of pairs of Shoveler too, engaged in circular feeding.  Sadly, we may have missed the Bewick Swan in a field of Mute Swans, the former being reported the following day.

Cresswell Pond was quiet again too, but we managed to count 8 Avocets.  A stop at Newbiggin brought us nothing of real interest and it was then homeward bound from what we judged to be a quiet day.  A later count showed that we had still managed to list 65 species today.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Spring Equinox in Wild Northumbria

20th Mar.  It was the spring equinox today and our plan was as much to explore some wilder areas in Northumberland.  We soon found that a watch over Harwood Forest from Winter’s Gibbet was probably not going to offer much in the way of reward as the wind blew and we veiwed low cloud in poor light.  It wasn’t meant to be like this.  Skylarks sang and a few Meadow Pipits were seen, as I imagined how bleak it must have been when Mr Winter’s body hung here in 1792.  We moved along quite quickly with the intention of making a return later.  Several Common Buzzards had been seen on our outward journey and continued to be seen during the day.

Wild Northumbria

The sky had cleared a little and there was even a sign of the sun by the time we took a walk at Fontburn Reservoir.  Redpolls were heard as we left the carpark for a walk and numbers of woodland birds were seen, including Long Tailed Tits.  Skylarks continued to sing.  Perhaps the most interesting sighting was of the Wren displaying which brought back memories of the pair of Wrens I once watched fight almost to the death.  Cormorants, Oystercatchers and Lapwings were seen and I caught sight of a bird high on the ridge which I wondered if it could have been a Little Owl, but there was no certainty there.  This is certainly a site for a return visit.  Peacock Butterflies were seen, but not for long enough to photograph. A return visit to Harwood brought no extra sightings other than a Kestrel.  Sam had had a very good sighting of Goshawk here a few days earlier.

Winter's Gibbet

Our best sighting of the day was of at least 90 Whooper Swans on Sweethope Lough.    A stunning sight even though we had to watch from the road and through the trees.  Little Grebe was heard here.  I’ve recently learned that Sweethope was once owned by the industrialist Charles Parsons who is buried in Kirkwhelpington Churchyard, only a few miles away.  C A Parsons was founded 130 years ago and in 1968 employed 16,000 staff at the Heaton Works.  Makes me wonder where everyone works these days!  My father was employed at Parsons all his working life and as a child I used to enjoy looking at the Turbinia, built by Parsons, when it was in the museum in the Exhibition Park.  It can still be seen in Newcastle.

      But now they drift on the still water,
      Mysterious, beautiful;
      Among what rushes will they build,
      By what lake's edge or pool
      Delight men's eyes when I awake some day
      To find they have flown away?
      Wild Swans at Coole/W B Yeats

Next stop was the River Wansbeck at Wallington, although on this occasion we didn’t visit the gardens and hall.  A walk from Paine’s Bridge along the river brought sightings of Dipper, my first of the year, and a pair of Grey Wagtail.  The woodland here was holding high numbers of Nuthatch, many were heard and some seen.  A pair of Treecreeper was also seen and at 13.10 hours precisely a Tawny Owl give out a call.  High on my reading list for 2019 is a book by Laura Trevelyn, The Trevelyn’s and Their World.  It was after the death of local politician Charles Trevelyan, that the Wallington Hall estate was passed to the National Trust.

Paine's Bridge

As we drove away from Wallington I noticed that the weather was taking a turn for the worse and mist and rain soon set in so we passed Colt Crag Reservoir, but didn’t stop, although thought it an area well worth exploring in the future.

Capheaton was our last stop of the day as I wanted Sam to see the lake here, which is part of Capheaton Hall estate where Algernon Swinburne the poet used to visit his grandfather and who was also a regular visitor to Wallington Hall.  My brother lived at Capheaton some years ago so I know the area quite well.  Birds we found on the lake included 2 Whooper Swans, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye.  Our first Chiffchaff of the year was heard calling here too.

We left for home in what can only be described as inclement weather, and drove along Silver Hill.  The name Silver Hill may refer to the hoard of Roman silver, though to be possibly from a temple, found here in the eighteenth century.  Much of the treasure was melted down soon afterwards, but some of it remains in the British Museum.  I remember when Silver Hill held a line of massive trees which in leaf was quite a stunning sight along the road edge and it was always a good area to find fungi.  The trees had to be cut down because of disease and what remains now seems to be in the main Silver Birch Trees.
Whilst a shame that the weather changed for the worse it had been a good interesting day and we will return.

   The swallows of dreams through its dim fields dart,
   And sleep's are the tunes in its tree-tops heard;
   No hound's note wakens the wildwood hart,
  Only the song of a secret bird.
   Algernon Swinburne

Monday, 25 February 2019

Tranquillity, Light, Borders, Raptors and Ring-necked Duck

24th Feb.  Sam and I decided to leave behind the fog and a probable busy coastline, we guessed Lindisfarne would be especially busy over half term so decided against a visit and instead headed west to the less inhabited and more rugged inlands of Northumberland, and as it turned out Cumbria too.  Our journey began in fog and it wasn’t until we were well along the A69 and the Tyne Valley that the sunlight began to break through.  We found a Peregrine Falcon flying into trees close to the road, a Kestrel, a flock of Whooper Swans flying north and the first of many Lapwings to be seen today.  We found ourselves in and out of fog as we proceeded along the Tyne Valley until we eventually found more permanent sunlight.  Once on the moors the light was bright, the air quite still and in sheltered areas warm.

We’d certainly left the crowds behind us and were able to enjoy the calls and songs of birds in peaceful surroundings.  Perhaps the most noticeable song was that from the numerous Skylarks, but other notable calling came from Red Grouse, Lapwings and Curlews.  The open moors and brilliant light gave a feeling of real freedom.  I was surprised at the large number of Lapwings mainly in two sizable flocks and the numbers of Red Grouse showing well at times.

We spent two periods on the high moors, the periods been split by some time spent on lower ground in search of the reported Ring-necked Duck.  We were unable to find it on the pond, but amongst numerous wildfowl we did find at least six Whooper Swans here.  A Kestrel was watched hunting nearby and Sam caught sight of a flock of distant Golden Plover.  Fieldfare were also seen.

On return to the moors it wasn’t long before we had a decent but quite brief sighting of a Hen Harrier (ringtail) hunting in very typical harrier habitat.  Merlin was also seen at some distance and I watched it swoop towards a crow and disappear behind the mounds, not to be seen again by me at any rate.  Our raptor count was doing well but we had been unable to sight the recently reported Rough Legged Buzzard or at least we can’t be sure.  A buzzard was seen briefly at great distance but it was possibly Common Buzzard.  We’ll never be certain.  We continued to enjoy the other bird life, especially the Lapwings, which when lifting with a flock of Starlings had put us onto the Merlin.  The sound of Skylark and Red Grouse continued to fill the clear air.  Well at least clear until the smoke from heather burning began to fill the air.  If we hadn’t seen the initial burning sites and been able to smell the smoke in the air we could have mistakenly believed there was haze in the air.  It didn’t spoil the atmosphere, but one must question what on earth this does to the environment!  One of the sightings of the day for me was a Raven seen well.  It flew off eastwards, but later Raven calls were heard.

Retracing our tracks we returned to lower ground and eventually crossed the border into Cumbria.  At the Hamlet of Tindale, we found Siskin in the trees.  Deciding not to walk from here to Tindale Tarn and having seen the sign ‘Bull in Field’ I can only express relief at that!  Instead we made off to Geltsdale RSPB Reserve.  On arrival we found the car-park full.  This surprised me as on previous visits there has never been anyone else about.  We ate our lunch and then set off for a walk towards the centre and Tindale Tarn.  At this point the light was still good so when Sam found the Ring-necked Duck on the tarn accompanied by four Pochard, even at great distance we had a fine sighting.  We were later told by a local birder, the only ‘real’ birder we came across on the reserve, that although present on the tarn off and on since January, the Ring-necked Duck is a first for Geltsdale reserve.  On the way along the path we managed much closer sightings and found a Peacock Butterfly, our first butterfly of 2019.  When we were at the reserve a few years ago we had also had our first sighting of a butterfly for the year, on that occasion a Small Tortoiseshell.  Other birds on the tarn included Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Mute Swan.  On our return walk we walked with a couple who had been in the hills all day.  Having seen few people on the reserve I assumed most of the parked cars had held walkers rather than birders.  There were in fact few birds about but we intend to return later in the year and in any case we had our Ring-necked Duck on the list!  During our visit to the reserve I had enjoyed some moments of complete silence, a rare opportunity these days even in the countryside wilderness.

By now the light had changed again as clouds had almost filled the sky.  It was time to make our return home, but not before we had stopped at Grindon Lough back in Northumberland.  Even in the duller light we enjoyed our time in Hadrian’s Wall country and during our time at the lough the cloud cleared to give us wonderful, if a little weaker, lighting conditions.  The air was again filled with bird calls, this time in the main they were calls from Canada Geese, Wigeon and Curlews but just before leaving we heard the mewing call of Common Buzzard.  Again, there were numbers of Lapwing in the area and a Sparrowhawk had been seen on the way to the lough, giving us quite a list of raptors today (six species).  We also added Pink Footed Geese to our list a few seen both on the ground and in the air amongst the Greylag and Canada Geese.  It was still very mild when we left Grindon Lough having spoken to two birders whilst checking we had missed nothing of rarity.

Hard to believe it is still February, but I’m not complaining.  We had without doubt made a good decision to head inland and keep away from the busy coastline.  It had been a very special day in my two favourite counties of England.  Bird of the Day?  Well that title must go to the Ring-necked Duck, a very attractive bird indeed, but it did have some stiff competition!