Thursday, 17 August 2017

A Coastal Trip

16th Aug.  Sam and I headed north today and our first stop wasn’t for birds, but for books.  We called into Barter Books at Alnwick, not only a bookshop but a bit of history.  Northumberland is blessed to have a bookshop such as this.  The only other one I know that comes close is Michael Moon’s Antiquarian Bookshop in Cumbria.  Anyway, Barter Books was heaving with folk today and it was difficult to move without bumping into someone.  We headed initially for the Natural History section, or I should say sections.  There were numbers of New Naturalist and Poyser additions we were keen on but just like our local football club we shopped in the bargain basement today and I purchased a nice copy of Derek Ratcliffe’s Bird Life of Mountain and Upland before we moved onto Budle Bay.
One I took earlier as they would say on Blue Peter.

The tide was high and just on the turn when we arrived at the bay and all I could pick out that were in anyway close to us were flocks of Redshank of which there were many.  It was a bright sunny morning, bit of a rarity in its self this summer, although there was still that hint of a cold wind.   We stuck around for over an hour and watched the tide quickly ebb.  It wasn’t long before we were able to count at least six Little Egrets feeding and found a couple of Knot and Curlews.  Eider and Shelduck began to appear and we got talking to a guy visiting the area from Somerset and the conversation of course turned to birds and good birding sites in our respective home areas.  As we were talking a flock of birds feeding at the waterline was disturbed and we quickly saw why, as a Peregrine Falcon was flying over a remaining Redshank.  The Peregrine made several dives at the Redshank in an attempt to make it lift, but to no avail.  I had no sooner said, ‘the Redshank should be fine if it stays put in the water’ when the Peregrine swooped down again and lifted the Redshank and flew off with it alive and possibly kicking.  The Peregrine seemed to be heading inland but then turned, perhaps put off by us watchers, and flew out into the bay.  Several birds nearby had just kept on feeding throughout.  White species of Butterfly were numerous and we picked up Wall Brown Butterflies too.

We eventually made off south along the coast and stopped at Monk’s House Pool.  There were good numbers of Lapwing here but little else although we saw four waders lift which were probably Dunlin.  I did recently get hold of a signed copy of The House on the Shore by Eric Ennion, again purchased from Barter Books.  It appears to have been signed at Monk’s House in 1960 and owned by a gentleman who lived in Seahouses.  I found it very much a book of its time, the 1950s, and I enjoyed reading about Monk’s House Observatory, although I must say whilst I recognise the high quality of E Es artwork I didn’t rate the written text too highly, but that is just my opinion.

Seahouses was heaving with tourists as were the fish and chip cafes so we had our lunch at a pub in Newton.  It advertises itself as a ‘Gastro’ pub and so we had Gastro Burgers before visiting Warkworth Castle.  I’ve not been to the castle for many a year.  It was a bit difficult to imagine Robert The Bruce involved in his siege of the castle or Edward 1 paying an overnight visit, as today the castle grounds were more like a theme park or adventure playground.  We decided to visit again when things are quieter.  As Sam said on occasions throughout the day, ‘who is it that says Northumberland is quiet?’  Never mind it’ll soon be winter.

Later, we paid our first visit to the NWT Hauxley Wildlife Discovery Centre.  The car-park here was almost full and the centre quite busy.  I’m not a great fan of Hauxley reserve but if the centre can be put to good use as an educational establishment then that is all to the good.  The building itself seems quite pleasant.  We didn’t go out on the reserve as it looked very quiet as far as birds were concerned, although we saw a flock of Black Tailed Godwit and Dunlin.  I knew about the new pathways, but I can’t say I noticed any real habitat changes.

Next stop was Druridge Pools where Sam picked up a lifer in White Rumped Sandpiper.  There were more Black Tailed Godwits and Common Snipe.  We had a further sighting of Little Owl.  We later stopped at Cresswell Pond which was very quiet but we enjoyed a chat to a long-standing friend.  The Spoonbill on the west shore was dozing and there was no way we were going to see that bill!  We also found a lone Avocet.  By now we had also seen Red Admiral and Peacock Butterflies.

Today wasn’t a matter of getting away from the maddening crowd but simply joining them, it is August after all and we did have some pleasant chat with a few individuals.  Birding was quiet but as you can see from my report it wasn’t all about birding and so we had a very good day and the Peregrine Falcon sighting was special.


I’m eventually getting around to writing up our Swedish adventures so more of that anon.  

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Dumfries and Galloway Adventures. Part Two

I’m presently reading Galloway and the Borders by Derek Ratcliffe, and number 101 of Collin’s New Naturalist Series.  It’s relevant to this trip of course and it ought to be remembered that without the likes of DR we may not have been in a position to watch Peregrine Falcons at Threave, or anywhere else in the UK for that matter.  It was DRs work in the 1960s that led to the findings of the link between pesticides and eggshell thinning in raptors.  This problem had led to a rapid decline in many raptor species.  DR was brought up in Carlisle and as a young man ventured over the border into Dumfriesshire and Galloway where he took a keen interest especially in the Peregrine Falcons and Ravens of the uplands.  Years later monographs for Poyser followed, concerning the Peregrine Falcon and Raven.  DR lived to see many changes in the area, not all for the better, afforestation being one concern.  The present plans by the Forestry Commission to extend the planting of none native trees in the area by a substantial amount would not have gone down well with DR.  Derek died in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2005 just after completing his book Galloway and the Borders.  I believe at the time he had been on his way to Lapland, an area he loved, and I would recommend his book Lapland (Poyser) to anyone interested in that area.  Thanks Derek Ratcliffe.


18th July.  We set off this morning for Castramon Woods, one of the largest semi natural broad leaved woodlands in the area.  The oak trees were once used for charcoal and bobbins.  As my journey had been delayed by several weeks we were aware that our target species would not be easily found and so it proved.  Sam did catch sight very briefly of a Wood Warbler, but we were unable to find Pied Flycatcher, Redstart or Tree Pipit.  Some Woodland species were seen and included Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  In any event the walk through the woods was a delight with the sunlight giving backlighting to the leaves and having a stunning effect in places.  It was midmorning and already very hot.  It would be difficult to be greatly disappointed in such wonderful surrounds, but what little disappointment we did feel was very quickly dissipated at our next stop.

We stopped at a Bridge over the River Fleet in expectation that we might find Dipper.  We never did find that species, but we did find Golden Ringed Dragonflies, long on my wish for list of species to see.  Once picked out from the bridge we managed to find a path down to the river bank and we settled here to watch.  It wasn’t easy to judge how many Golden Ringed Dragonflies there were but we reckoned at least three or four, which included both male and female.  This was to be nature watching at its best as we watched males patrolling, perching, courtship, male and female in tandem and flying high and possibly into the trees to continue mating and females ovipositing.  Whilst not the largest Dragonfly species in the UK, it is the longest and perhaps the most beautiful.  Unfortunately perching always took place on the other side of the


river so photographs weren’t possible, but this was all about watching anyway and there was also a pair of Grey Wagtails to keep an eye on.  All the time the sun blazed down and we were fortunate to have tree cover and shade to drop into.  The river reflected a multitude of green, umber and red hues and as we watched a Kingfisher flew along the river below and only a few feet away from us, lit perfectly by the sun and showing the blueness of plumage at its best.   I’m not sure if it was heat, hunger or thirst that finally dragged us away, but we did eventually move on.  We’d had all this to ourselves and it is this aspect of nature watching I love.  This was special.

We did stop off for a bite to eat and then moved on to Cardoness Castle.  This is a 15th century tower house with slots for dropping burning tar on unwelcome guests and a prison for those who got in!  It also offers an excellent view of Fleet Bay and we had good sightings of Siskin and Bullfinch here.  Next stop was a walk at Carrick which seemed to have excellent habitat for warblers.  Sam had been told that it was unclear if Lesser Whitethroats still nested here.  We can confirm that they do having found four of them along with Common Whitethroat, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.  After the walk it was time for a break before dinner.  The heat was exhausting and approaching 30 degrees and I can’t remember where we had seen the Red Kites, but perhaps it doesn’t matter as they are all over the place up here.

Refreshed after dinner we were off to Rockcliffe for a walk to Castlehill Point where there was once a Roman Fort.  A beautiful area with great coastal views and a wonderful estuary.  The wind from the sea was picking up a little and this seemed to be a ‘wind of change’.  We found the Common Scoters again along with the likes of Oystercatcher, Curlew, gulls including Kittiwake, Guillemot, Rock Pipit, Dunnock, Wren, Robin, Song Thrush, warblers, tits, Linnet, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and House Sparrow.  When we got back to the village we climbed to the Mote of Mark.  The site was occupied in the 5th and 6th centuries and it is thought may have been destroyed by the Northumbrians.  Don’t we get everywhere?  With a beautiful view over the Urr Estuary it was a wonderful way to end another great day.

View from Mote of Mark

19th July.  Having gone to bed last night listening to heavy rain it was a pleasant surprise to wake to a bright dry day, in fact the forecast thunderstorms never did materialise today.  We set off for the Loch Ken area.  There were of course a few Red Kites as well as Common Buzzards.  Bird wise it was a quiet time of year, but we enjoyed the walk to the hide and whilst we sat there the number of bird species seen did add up and included our first Willow Tit of the trip along with the likes of Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long tailed Tit, Jay, Nuthatch and a family of Great Spotted Woodpeckers with the male, female and two juveniles all present at the same time.  We agreed to move on and as I stood up I caught sight of a bird flying in and suggested to Sam that he might want to sit down again as it was unmistakably the shape of an Osprey I had seen.  We were aware that an Osprey had fed here the day before and we believed the likelihood was that this was the same bird returning.  Sam eventually read the ring number and it was the male adult bird from Threave.  Black 80 was first seen at Threave in 2008 following the construction of a nesting platform in 2007.  The bird was identified back then and traced back to RSPB Glaslyn, at the time the only successful Osprey breeding site in Wales.  Black 80 has been breeding at Threave since 2009.  Anyway, we weren’t going to rush away now and we soon watched this Osprey dive, take a fish and then fly off.  Another star sighting of the trip and especially rewarding for Sam as he has so much connection to the Threave Ospreys.   Once again we had the whole area almost to ourselves.


All Osprey images of Black 80 and heavily cropped.

The latter part of the day was spent exploring the Galloway Forest area and hills.  Ravens were seen and we took time to watch the Red Deer.  The Feral Goats weren’t found.  We rounded the day off with another hearty meal and a relaxing evening, my last of the trip.

Red Deer

20th It was time for my return home today but not before a morning tour beginning with a short visit to RSPB Mersehead a favourite reserve of mine.  We knew there wouldn’t be much birdlife so we only visited the centre.  Yellowhammers were among birds visiting the feeding station and we learned about the successful breeding of the Barn Owls.  Next stop was Southerness and I must learn more about that very old Lighthouse.  We drove around to Paul Jones cottage but didn’t go in.  I’ve known of Paul Jones for many years as I was always made aware of his attack on Whitehaven harbour during the American War of Independence.  It’s an interesting story as is the story of Sweetheart Abbey and New Mill.  We visited the Abbey and the old mill workings before moving on to Drumcoltran Tower, a 16th Century tower which is in the grounds of a working farm.  Some of the final wildlife I saw in the area was dead.  We found two dead bats in the tower, species yet to be determined…I think Sam is working on that, and a dead Goldfinch which appears to found it harder to get out of the tower than get in.  Some time was then spent in Dumfries town prior to my bus ride to Carlisle.

Sweetheart Abbey

My thanks go to Sam who had done lots of ground work prior to my visit and without whom the visit would not have been possible.  I can recommend him as a tour guide.

Since childhood I have visited the Cumbrian side of the Solway, but I am far less au fait with the Dumfries and Galloway side, so made some new discoveries during what was a great trip.  I’ve set myself the task of learning much more about the area and its history, hence my present reading of the book by Derek Ratcliffe.  I also have a book first published in 1955 The Solway Firth by Brian Blake.  Throughout my life I had cursory glances at this book which was always on the bookshelves of my aunt and uncle in Whitehaven.  I never read it fully.  Some years ago just prior to her death, my aunt gave me the book.  I intend to read it now.  Interestingly it was written during the years when Derek Ratcliffe made his early visits so I will find the Solway area as he did at that time, if only on the written page and in photographs.      


Saturday, 29 July 2017

Dumfries and Galloway Adventures. Part One.

16th-20th July.  Unavoidable incidents made for a delay to my trip over the border, but all good things are worth waiting for and my few days of birding and culture were eventually done under clear skies and sunshine.  By, did it get hot at times.

16th July.  The train from Newcastle to Carlisle went at a snail’s pace because of rail works, but I needn’t have worried about catching the onward train to Dumfries as it wasn’t operating at all.  I was assured of good sightings of Common Buzzard as I sat back on the replacement bus service which included a tour around Annan, a rather nice town I thought as I breathed in diesel fumes.  I met up with Sam on arrival and we made for Kippford situated on the Urr Estuary where I was to stay for the next few days.   A hearty meal at one of the local pubs overlooking the bay was enjoyed before we set off for the evening.  It was my first visit to this village, but hopefully not my last.  Red Squirrel had already been added to the list as we saw one leaving a local garden.

Lighthouse at Mull Of Galloway

Despite the clock ticking it was a warm evening with good light so we had plenty of time left for exploration and began at Orchardton Tower, a well preserved 15th century circular tower house.  Having climbed to the top and taken a good look around we headed off towards Balcary Bay and Cliffs.  This proved to be an excellent walk in another area new to me.  I spotted numbers of houses that I coveted. There were great views from the cliffs across the Solway and Irish Sea to the fells of Lakeland, St Bee’s Head and the Isle of Man.  I even found my cousin’s old cottage on the cliff edge near St Bees Head.  Had it not been for heat haze I’m sure we could have picked out individual folk over a distance of about 20 miles away.  On the climb up the cliff path we found some interesting plant life including Common Rock Rose, Wild Thyme and Devil’s Bit Scabious.  Bird species of the day was a pair of nesting Black Guillemot in a recess on the cliff side.  Other birds seen included Rock Pipit, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Cormorant, Guillemot, Sandwich Tern and Kestrel.  Whilst the Black Guillemots were the bird of the day, the sighting of the day had to be the large flock of Common Scoter in the Solway.  There seemed to be no end to the extent of the flock and we were looking at a number in four figures rather than three.  I’ve no doubt this is the highest number of this species I’ve ever personally recorded and it was quite a sight.  As the light began to fade a little it was time to make our way back down the narrow cliff footpath and head back to Kippford.  It had been a great beginning to the trip.

Harebells at Mull of Galloway

17th July.  We were up and ready to leave quite early and we were under clear blue skies and already warm as we made off towards The Mull of Galloway.  A Red Kite was seen early on our journey.     Our first cultural stop along the way was made at Cairn Holy Chambered Cairns, which are very interesting Neolithic burial cairns.  We spent some time here examining the site and taking in the view over Wigtown Bay.  There was a gent there taking measurements and notes and when he gave me a riddle to solve concerning the solstice etc and I began to think I’d dropped into a remake of the ’Hobbit’.  Being no Billbo Baggins I left the talking to Sam.  We then made off towards Wigtown in search of books.  Wigtown was designated Scotland’s National Book Town in 1998.  In one of the bookshops (there didn’t seem to be that many) Sam got his eye on a book about the ‘Longest Day’ on the top shelf of the World War 11 books.  We asked if we could have a look at it.  The young lady brought the steps and said she wasn’t happy using them, which Sam and I saw the funny side of.  Yours truly climbed them.  The book wasn’t that good so Sam climbed up to put it back.  Just goes to show ‘you can’t judge a book by its cover’.  There appeared to be no New Naturalist books so we were soon off to the Rhins and Mull of Galloway.

It's a few years now since I had the pleasure to stand and overlook the Solway from the Mull of Galloway so I was eager to get back and on this occasion we were also able to view the area from the top of the lighthouse, after a chat with the assistant who had welcomed us.  She wa originally from the Northeast of England and I made the fatal error of calling her a Geordie when in fact she was a Mackem.  We had expected lots of butterflies but saw very few, once again underlying the fact that it has been a poor year for them.  We saw White species, Common Blue, Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Red Admiral.  There was certainly lots of Birds-foot Trefoil, and Sea Campion and Harebell were among other plants seen.   Birds seen included Fulmar, Gannet, Shag, Cormorant, Kestrel, Kittiwake, Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill and Raven.  A Wheatear was seen with a juvenile bird in the exact same spot as I had seen this species on my last visit.  Bird of the visit was without doubt Hooded Crow, not a common bird for this area.  It was made even better by the fact that we saw Hooded Crow with Carrion Crow and an intermediate bird.  We spent a good bit of time in this area, stood close to the most southerly point of Scotland, checked out the foghorn and enjoyed the sights of Luce Bay.  The weather remained perfect throughout the day.  The tar near the RSPB site was melting and although a hot day I do think it was probably a fault in the tar rather than the heat which had been the main cause of this.  A Brown Hare was recorded at some point during our journey today.

We stopped off at a busy Portpatrick where we found only one pair of Black Guillemot in the harbour wall and took the chance to catch a bite of dinner.  It was getting hotter.  Sam took a drive through Gate House of Fleet where we photographed a Grey Heron in a tree over the pond and where  the early evening reflections were wonderful (I think that was today!). We then drove over the higher road to Lauriston whilst taking in the scenery.

Evening at Threave

We weren’t finished yet and we drove down to Threave and walked to the castle, the area where Sam is presently employed.  Threave Castle is on an island in the River Dee and the castle was the idea of Archibald the Grim.  I think I’ve met one or two of his ancestors whilst birding!   We were hoping for Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons.  We found one of the juvenile Ospreys on the nest and soon after its sibling on a tree nearby.  The second bird was soon in flight.  There was much calling of Ospreys and Peregrine Falcons and also Redpolls which were in the trees close by us and showing well on occasions.  Greylag Geese and Oystercatcher provided background sounds.  Are there many places where you can stand and listen to both the calls of Ospreys and Peregrines at the same time?  I think not.  Both species have had successful breeding years in the area.  (I’m giving nothing away here as it is all public knowledge and encouragement is given to folk to go and view them).  Whilst the Peregines could be heard I thought we weren’t going to see them, but just as we were getting ready to pack in for the night as the sun sunk down towards the horizon, the female Peregrine Falcon was found on the castle wall and we had excellent telescope views of it.
 
The evening at Threave will stay with me for a long time, as will the entire day which had been a long and rewarding one of 14 hours on the go with just an odd break to eat and drink.  There were many more bird species seen of course.  Part two to come. 

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Good Re-Tern

Yes, I’ve returned.  I never meant to be away but Lazarus AKA as my PC had used up his/its nine lives and refused to rise as I was about to prepare my report of 2016, hence I’ve been without internet access since last December and managed to survive.  I’ve not been inactive however and quite recently returned from a tour of Sweden.  More of that in the future once I have come to grips with my new system and its use of images.  My break from the keyboard has allowed much catch up on reading, which is no bad thing, and one of my latest reads was a birthday present, The Return of the Osprey by Philip Brown and George Waterston (a man largely responsible for the success of the Osprey project at the time) with some of the photographs provided by Eric Hosking.  Issued in 1962, good grief some of you weren’t born then and the Beatles Love Me Do was scrapping into the charts, it gives an interesting account of the return of the Osprey to Loch Garten.  Also addressed is the return of the Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit.  An interesting comment at the end of the book is made as to the very unlikely return to the UK of the White -tailed Sea Eagle.  If they only knew!  Now, onto some highlights of a trip down the coastline made by Sam and I last week.

5th July.  For various reasons, we knocked on the head the idea of a trip to the Farne Islands and decided to work down the coast from Budle Bay.  It turned out to be a rewarding 10-hour stint of birding.  The tide was on the turn, the previous days of rain had ceased and the light was good as we arrived at Budle Bay.  The star bird here was a Spotted Redshank.  A stunning bird when in summer plumage and it showed well, often among numerous Redshanks.  It took us a while to be certain that we were also watching a Whimbrel as it was feeding at some distance, but eventually we confirmed the species as it approached closer to us.  The now customary Little Egret was also nice to see.  Kestrel and Common Buzzard were seen and I mustn't forget the drake Scaup showing well..  We spent a good bit of time in the bay before making off towards Seahouses for lunch.  We stopped at Monkhouse pool and found both Arctic and Common Terns and a nicely plumaged Black-tailed Godwit.  I decided that I must get hold of a copy of the book about Monkhouse Bird Observatory.

We watched the crowded boats and the queues of people at Seahouses and expressed pleasure that we weren’t among them as we tucked into our fish and chips.  Bird of the day was to come at Low Newton scrape in the form of White-winged Black Tern.  We watched this bird for about twenty minutes before it flew off in the direction of the sea, sadly for a few folk who arrived to see it.  This is truly a top bird and I shall continue to call it White-winged Black Tern as I believe that describes the bird well.  Although later in the day I caused some amusement when tiredness was creeping in as I called it Black-winged White Tern.  I must have been so busy concentrating on the tern that I missed the Peregrine Falcon briefly seen by Sam.  Next stop was to be Long Nanny for Little Tern.
We walked from the carpark to the bridge and then doubled back.  Just as well because this give us our best sighting of Little Tern hovering in an angel like flight over the burn.  It also allowed me to pick out the White-winged Black Tern on the sands amongst Arctic Terns and gulls.  It hadn’t been visible from the watch point so was missed by the rangers there.  I believe the bird is known to roost here.  We met up with a friend of Sam’s who is working here.  Sandwich Tern was heard and seen making it five terns for the day list.  As we left a young Wheatear was found in the dunes as were numbers of Common Blue Butterflies. Other butterflies seen today were Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Red Admiral.  I’ve found it a very poor year for butterflies. Little Terns were seen on the nest and one of many pairs of Stonechat seen today.

We followed the coastal route down to Hauxley where we were keen to see the new centre.  In fact, we didn’t see it as we arrived on the dot of 5pm to find the gates being locked.  We were allowed to turn around in the carpark and we headed for Druridge Pools. 
No one was able to locate the Pectoral Sandpiper whilst we were around Druridge Pools but apparently it had been seen at 4:30pm.  We made do with 3 Wood Sandpipers (I note 4 had been seen together at one point), Ruff and some stunningly plumaged Black-tailed Godwits.  Little Owl was seen at distance.  We looked at the larger pool where I see little these days and found a Great Crested Grebe.  What has happened to the muddy scrape that used to attract birds here?  I know the heavy rain doesn’t help, but I can’t remember this area been very good for ages.  We took another look for the Pectoral Sandpiper with no more luck.

Barn Owl was seen over the dunes north of Bell’s Pond as we travelled to Cresswell Pond.  The water was very high here and I suspect the Avocet chicks reported would not have survived.  Avocets were seen along with Little Egret and we watched Reed Warbler feeding young in front of the hide.  A second Barn Owl was seen perched on the fence as we left hoping for a closer look at Little Owl.  In the event the Little Owl showed perfectly and provided great images.  Sadly, no images with this report until I get my head around my new system.

We ended the marathon at Linton Pond as the sun shone down on us.  We failed to locate the Slavonian Grebe but I’m not complaining.  We’d had a great day with some very special sightings.  The White -winged Black Tern must be the star bird, but that Little Owl sighting was a close second.  Seventy-five bird species in total.  Who was it said that July and August is a poor time for birding?

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Winter, Walking and Watching



17th Dec.  I remember a time when I walked, often long distances, admired the scenery, but if I’m honest didn’t take in too much of my surroundings.  Watching (and listening) is paramount now and has been for some years and for me there is no better time to do this than on clear winter days such as today has been.  The walking element is still important to me, but is far more focused on the natural world around me these days.

To the hide.
 
Today’s walk began at Holywell Village and of course led to the area of the pond.  Temperatures had dropped considerably from yesterday’s mildness and the light was sharp and clear in the late morning sunlight.  The tree lined pathway to the hide was far busier than usual with small passerines including Tree Sparrow.  The reason why became clear when we met trust volunteers in the hide who had just topped up the feeders.  We saw the first of a number of Reed Buntings outside of the hide and the family of Mute Swans were beneath the windows.  The coldness of the hide overcame any temptation to settle too long here and we made for the public hide having heard the call of Water Rail and overhead the call of Fieldfare.  The pond was relatively quiet and only three Wigeon appeared to remain, and no Teal were seen today.  Gulls, Black Headed, Common, Herring and Greater Black Backed, flocked on the surface of the water along with wildfowl which included Greylag Goose, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Mallard and Gadwall.  A solitary Grey Heron stood on the island.
 
Pink-footed Geese
 
All was silent apart from the distant call of a Curlew as we headed out into the open fields.  Two skeins of geese then flew overhead, the first may have been Greylag, the second definitely thirty-five Pink-footed Geese, their calls clearly heard.  Then Sam picked up the call of Grey Partridge which we failed to sight as we scanned the ploughed field.  A Kestrel hovered and a Sparrowhawk flew northwards from the dene.  I had just been joking about my failure to sight a single Yellowhammer in the UK throughout 2016, at least in part as my outings have been hampered at times, when a Yellowhammer flew across the field and into the hedge.  It was a relief to get this on my list and it was followed by at least two more in quick succession.  It’s good sometimes to have to wait for such sightings of common birds then you don’t take them for granted, of course the Yellowhammer is far less common now than it once was.  Such was my pleasure in watching this species today I’ve included a few lines form a John Clare poem.  Perhaps it is a bit unseasonal as the poem is about nesting Yellowhammers.  John Clare certainly used his eyes and ears when watching the natural world around him and cared about it deeply and I have my friends Hilary and Kelsey to thank for introducing me to his poems.

Five eggs, pen-scribbled o'er with ink their shells
Resembling writing scrawls which fancy reads
As nature's poesy and pastoral spells—
They are the yellowhammer's and she dwells
Most poet-like where brooks and flowery weeds
As sweet as Castaly to fancy seems
And that old molehill like as Parnass' hill
On which her partner haply sits and dreams
O'er all her joys of song—so leave it still
A happy home of sunshine, flowers and streams.

The pathway to the dene differed greatly from the solidly frozen walkway we had followed on our previous visit and it was deep mud and waterlogged in places.  We were soon watching more passerines in the hedge including Chaffinches and Reed Buntings.  The sun shone dazzlingly through the now leafless trees and made our sighting of the flock of Brambling difficult viewing.  There appeared to be a slightly larger flock than on our previous visit, but the birds were very flighty and it was difficult to estimate numbers, although we thought about thirty.  A Dipper sang as we watched the Brambling and other woodland birds including Long Tailed Tits and Nuthatch.  We eventually made a descent into the dene where the light was already beginning to lessen and the colour was predominantly that of winter, umbers and browns.  The walk to Seaton Sluice offered little in the way of birdlife once we had left the flock of Brambling and other woodland birds behind us.

Dene path

 
After a very late lunch we walked to the headland.  It was difficult to believe it was December as there was no hint of a breeze and the sea was flat calm, emphasised by the very stable passage of a small fishing boat leaving harbour.  As we are approaching the shortest day of the year the sun was dropping low in the sky, but there was still a good amount of light and in contrast to the dene quite a range of colour.  The deep blue of the sea was cut at the horizon from the much paler blue of the sky, just as if someone had drawn a curved line with a pencil where the colour changed.  What small amount of cloud there was over the sea and coastline was patchy, thin and mauve in colour, but looking south the thin layers of cloud behind the lighthouse was becoming a deeper shade of orange as the minutes went by.    We were stood on rock slightly below the top of the cliff so we were protected from any sound coming from the passing traffic.  With no wind there was silence apart from a lapping tide below us, with a larger wave occasionally raising the sound level and pounding on the cliff to the north.  The surf made varying patterns as it ebbed and flowed over the almost flat table like rock surfaces.  Even the small flock of Oystercatchers stood motionless and without calling until two or three lifted, flew south and made their familiar call.  A lone Curlew and a number of gulls passed over the sea, again apparently silently.  Small pools of seawater trapped on the rock reflected an almost silver light.  Sam pointed out the steps apparently carved into the rock which came to a sudden stop where the cliff dropped steeply to rock below.  I had never noticed these steps before and wonder how old they are.  It would seem that there have been changes in the structure of the cliff for them to end so sharply with a sudden deep drop at the edge.  Perhaps the steps were put in at the time the Deleval’s altered the course of the harbour?

Tranquility 

Sam in action

 As we walked back to the village it felt a little like returning from a long trip.  The sun wasn’t far off setting as we travelled home and I was thinking that there would be a good sunset to view this evening.  Temperatures were dropping.  Perhaps some may be surprised, but my bird of the day was without doubt the long awaited Yellowhammer!

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Gosforth Park Nature Reserve



6th Dec.  We were drawn to park life today despite the cold air and poor light.  The feeding station close to the entrance was surprisingly quiet and according to PD, has been in recent days, the birds clearly finding plenty of natural food.  Both Nuthatch and Treecreeper showed well among some other common woodland birds.  Sam and I had heard that there maybe up to five Bitterns in the reserve at present and it seems even that might be an under estimate, so it seemed more than possible that we might see one today.



Treecreeper

We eventually left the hide at the feeding station and headed out on our usual circular walk.  The reserve was quiet in terms of both people and birds, and the atmosphere was typical of a winter’s day.  This time last year after heavy rain I seem to remember that the paths were extremely muddy, but today there were relatively dry and covered in fallen leaves.  In the quietness of the still wood I stopped as I heard a breeze drift through the trees.  It was if someone had opened a door and allowed a light draught to enter the woodland.  I turned to look back along the pathway and watched momentarily as leaves fell, from what I believe was an oak tree.   The leaves reflected what little light existed and drifted slowly and erratically down to the ground in the manner that snowflakes fall on a calm windless day.  The silence helped tune me into the habitat around me and it was all quite magical.  Shortly afterwards Roe Deer ran at speed across our path and were lost sight off as quickly as they had appeared in view.  The squawk of invisible Jays broke the silence as did our own speech.  There is still a good amount of leaf still to fall and very noticeable was a hazel tree holding what appeared to be almost new green growth.  I noticed that the ruins of the old boat house are now more clearly seen after work to clear the area.  The fact that this ruin is no where near the edge of the pond now,simply reflects the changing habitat over the years.  When we did look across the pond we found it still frozen in many areas.





We were walking anti clockwise so came to the small hide first.  The one and only occupant that we met there and chatted to informed us that at least two Bitterns had been active.  After a short time we had sightings of two, maybe three Bitterns, one of which flew across in front of the hide before dropping into the reed-bed.  Wrens called on either side of us, a Goosander flew around above us apparently trying to find open water on which to land and Sam was sure that he heard Siskins fly over the hide.  Sure enough when we left the hide we found a mixed flock of birds nearby which included a numbers of Siskins, Long tailed Tits and a Goldcrest.  The flash outside of the reserve held Teal, Tufted Duck, Coots and gulls.

A short stop in the other larger hide was not rewarded with sightings, although by now the light was rather better and the winter colours of the reed-bed and backing of trees showed more clearly.  We left, completed the circular walk of the reserve and decided to walk back to our own patch where we found two male Goosanders on the lake along with the likes of Gadwall and Shoveler.  It had been an enjoyable refreshing and atmospheric walk and I’m only too pleased that I can complete these walks now as there have been times this year I could not.

The Natural History Society talk last Friday had been excellent.  Nick Davies passion came across really well as he talked about the habits of Cuckoo’s and we were managed to get our books signed by him.  If you haven’t read the book it is certainly worth a read and its title is simply Cuckoo, Cheating by Nature.

On a slightly different note I was sorry to see James Littlewood leave the role of Director of the Natural History Society, but wish him well in his new employment.  I feel under James directorship the society has greatly modernised its outlook and style.  Long may that continue.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Geordie Shore Lark at Druridge Bay



30th Nov.  Lee, Sam and I were three men on a mission today.  We headed for Druridge Bay with Shore Larks on our mind.  I also reminded my comrades to keep an eye open for the Hen Harrier, not that they needed reminding.  It was only slightly milder than yesterday, but the light was perfect.  A small skein of geese, probably Pink-footed Geese flew over as we journeyed north.

No sooner had we parked up at East Chevington and I looked across the open space and immediately called Hen Harrier.  The ringtail initially distant flew directly at us and past us onwards to the dunes.  It was a perfect sighting to begin our day and we had further good sightings of this bird seen in perfect light as we walked to and arrived at Chevington Burn.  Then it wasn’t long before the seven Shore Larks returned to the area giving a very good showing on the sands.  To the south east large skeins of Pink-footed Geese lifted in the vicinity of one of the wind turbines.  I’m sure these turbines are breeding!  Individually these massive objects have a beauty to behold, with that wonderfully curved design of the blades.  On mass they are a blot on the landscape.  I half expected to see an irate Don Quixote ride by on Rocinante.  A flock of Twite and a flock of Goldfinch flew close by, a Kestrel hovered to the west of us and on the sea Red throated Divers swam, one or two very close to shore.  Guillemot was also seen.  The Kingfisher also made two or three appearances.  Our walk back to the car brought sightings of Redwing.  North Pool proved to be quiet, Mute Swan, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Little Grebe were among birds seen before we headed for Druridge Pools.

Hen Harrier

Hen Harrier

With time limited now our visit to Druridge Pools was fleeting, Common Snipe and Pintail being the highlights.  We actually spent more time in the dunes overlooking the sea and walking a short way along a sun lit beach in order to get close to Red throated Divers which were swimming very near the shore.  A Long tailed Duck was also seen.  Our first pair of Stonechats for the day also showed really well in the sunlight.

Pink-footed geese
 
Our next stop was Cresswell Pond where we found a Little Egret at the north end of the pond.  Another Kestrel, this time perched on one of the posts south of the farm.  Once in the hide we found the pond fairly clear of birds although two Red-breasted Mergansers and an odd Goldeneye were about.  Large numbers of Wigeon edged the water, a flock of Lapwing joined by a few Golden Plover stood on the mud area and a Common Snipe was seen on the edge of the reed-bed.

Druridge Bay

Red-throated Diver

 The day ended quietly as we walked past Tree Sparrows in the hedge, but our mission had been successful and enjoyable and we thought there were many less rewarding ways in which we could have spent the hours.  The sighting of the Hen Harrier would have been my bird of the day had it not been for the appearance of seven Shore Larks.  Winter birding at its best and Druridge Bay seen at its best too.