Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Holywell Brings 2009 to a Close

I may have a quick look on the local patch tomorrow if the ice shifts, but I more or less brought my birding year to a close at Holywell today with the added benefits of the company of Holywell Birder, aka Cain. :-) Thankfully once out of Killingworth there was little ice about on footpaths, although looking over the semi frozen pond and feeling the wind in the face as we walked over the open fields, conditions did resemble those of the Arctic at times! The last time I was down here with Cain we were counting and photographing butterflies. What a difference today!

On the way to the pond we sighted Kestrel and Sparrowhawk and a couple of Mute Swans in the field. Once at the pond things were quiet indeed, apart from the wind which was blowing a dusting of snow across the ice. Quite an atmospheric scene. Mallard and around eight Wigeon were together on the un-frozen area and that was it apart from a few corvids, gulls, Moorhens and Coots. A Goldeneye flew overhead. The feeding station was quiet too although the Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen along with Blue Tit, Greenfinch and Pheasant. A hoped for Water Rail did not make an appearance! I understand that someone had found themselves stuck in the hide recently and I had my fingers crossed that the door wouldn’t jam on us. I did have my turkey sandwiches with me so I would have coped for a little while, but I’m not sure how Cain would have managed. I would have shared my crisps of course! ;-) Thankfully we got out ok and found a mixed flock of Chaffinches, Greenfinches and tits in the hedgeway.

The ‘avenue’ was like an ice-rink so we walked across the open fields having negotiated the pools caused by a thaw. That wind out there was bitter so I was pleased for the relative warmth of the dene. We found a small flock of Lapwing in the fields on the way. The burn was deep, muddy and fast. It has to be said that there wasn’t too many birds down there either, although the feeding stations were busy with the likes of Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit and good numbers of Long Tailed Tit, along with several Robins. Small areas of the pathway were still frozen and a bit difficult to negotiate. We continued along the dene up to the road bridge and I saw an area I hadn’t seen before, but will certainly return too.

We made a quick visit to Brier Dene car park in the hope of catching the Mediterranean Gull. We couldn’t find it amongst the Black Headed Gulls, but having said that we couldn’t keep steady in the wind. The sea was high, rough and grey. Curlews, Oystercatchers and I think a few Dunlin were on and near the golf course.
Despite the lack of bird numbers I had enjoyed a really good few hours out there in the cold and that is largely to do with the good company, so I’ll be quite happy if that is me signing off on the birding front for 2009. In the event of me having nothing more to say this year I’d just like to wish everyone all the best and lots of wildlife for 2010. Cheers.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Back to Berwick.

Cliffs at Berwick. Mist lifting.

Bracket Fungi (species???)

12th Dec. Conditions were considerably different today than on my recent visit a few days ago, and when we drove into thick mist I didn’t think the group were going to end the day with a decent bird list. I am never in favour of using birding time for long stops in cafes, but I must confess that today our stop to use the facilities was welcomed even by me as I warmed up with a hot chocolate before heading down to what felt like Arctic conditions at the harbour. The tide was high and out there in the mist I could see the faint outline of birds on the sea, but just a little too far into the mist to make any definite identification. Fortunately we had several Red Throated Divers close in to keep people alert and I sighted a Great Crested Grebe, but only briefly before it disappeared into the mist. Eider Ducks were on the water and Red-breasted Mergansers were seen in flight. Cormorants were around in large numbers along with a lesser number of Shag. Apart from Curlew and Oystercatcher, waders were absent because of the high tide. We found at least two Reed Buntings close to the shore and numbers of Rock Pipit. I was glad for a chance to get back on the coach to warm up a little as we made for the cliffs near the golf course, not really expecting to see very much.

We broke for lunch and that was taken in the warmth of the coach and I sensed several people were not to keen to rush it! In fact once onto the cliffs it appeared warmer than the harbour and the mist did lift for sometime. We found one of the pair of Kestrel hunting over the cliffs and waders seen were Oystercatcher, 8 Grey Plover, Purple Sandpiper, a lone Sanderling, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew, more in fact than seen on Monday. When the mist at least partially lifted, the views were atmospheric. I picked up a lone Fulmar as I had done on Monday, but this time it flew along the cliffs directly towards us and past us. A Song Thrush was heard then eventually seen and a raft of Eider Duck was on the sea.

Our last stop was to be the river walk. As we had crossed the road bridge the river had been almost totally obscured by mist, so we were not expecting too much along the walk. We weren’t able to park in the town as it seemed a minor matter of a football match was staking place so we were dropped off up river where we walked down a rather long and muddy footpath towards the River Tweed. Along the way we got our eyes on some bracket fungi and its orange colouring added some brightness to the gloom in the hedging below us.

The river walk was completely different from the walk on a bright day earlier in the week, but never the less atmospheric and enjoyable. The only sign that the railway bridge was there was when the sounds of trains crossing it emerged from the mist. Even at close quarters only the faintest outline of the bridge could be seen. Most of the birds on the river appeared to be Mallard, but I did notice birds diving on one occasion and on closer inspection found numbers of Goldeneye. Oystercatchers, Curlew and Redshank were along the river side once again and we found one of the Grey Wagtails and Rock Pipit. Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Dunnock, Wren Robin and tits were seen along the river bank. A few members caught sight of the Greylag and Canada Geese on the far bank of the river as the mist temporarily lifted. There were numbers of Grey Heron and Mute Swans about. Once back at the coach I found a mixed group of thrushes, which included Redwings, feeding in the hedge.
Even on a misty day as this had been, I always feel there is something very special about winter birding. Maybe it’s the light, maybe just the quietness or maybe it is the waders and waterfowl that are about in number, birds which I find quite special. Whatever it is, it certainly more than makes up for the often cold conditions and if I had to make a choice between summer and winter birding , it would be winter for me every time! We had a trip list of fifty-two species, which on a misty day like this, I thought non too bad at all. Add on to that a few seals, sadly one young seal lying dead in the harbour, and Roe Deer and it provided a very good trip. We had mince pies too and some very tasty treats provided by our French member! It must be Christmas soon! I had better get ‘me’ cards posted.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Dene Dippers

Ouse Burn

8th Dec. After my exertions in Berwick yesterday, I decided on a quiet walk through the parks and Jesmond Dene today where I planned to stop for lunch at the dene café. Well, so much for that idea! On one of the few occasions I don’t take my packed lunch with me, I find that they have decided to remove the café, at least until July 2010! I thought that café had lots of history attached to it? It seems not enough history attached to save it.

My walk began at the gates of Heaton Park. I’ve found this area to be a little hot spot for woodland birds at times. Hot spot it was today in more ways than one as the sun was shining onto the trees. Within minutes I had seen Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Starling, Black Headed Gull, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove and corvids. To cap it all the first bird I saw on arrival was a Grey Wagtail, sunlit in the trees. I wondered if I ought to go home now, but carried on anyway.

A little further into the park I found a Great Spotted Woodpecker being harassed by a Greenfinch. To be honest that was about it and once into the dene there was little bird life at all. This was the point I found the café had disappeared. I tried to get around the building works by an alternative route and fortunately had my first of several sightings of Dipper on the Ouse Burn here. I eventually found several Grey Wagtails and suspect at least two or three pairs in the area. A nice surprise was the female Goosander swimming near the bridges.

The burn was running high and fast and very muddy in colour. I stopped at the mill for a coffee and a bar of chocolate and heard Dippers calling and then sighted them fly up the burn. As I stood on the bridge the pair flew directly towards me back down the burn, giving a rather exciting view. The only other birds about were Mallard, Moorhen, Mistle Thrush, Robin and Blackbird.
As I continued the walk the calls of the Dippers were with me on several occasions as the fed on the edge of the burn often just keeping a few yards in front of me and I had numerous sightings of them until I reached South Gosforth. Unfortunately the hoped for Kingfisher never made an appearance. A good relaxing day though, with one of my favourite birds, the Dipper. Thankfully there were few folk about, apart from the usual joggers and dog walkers

Monday, 7 December 2009


River Tweed and Royal Border Railway Bridge.

A reccy of Berwick was required today prior to a group visit at the weekend, and despite hearing a dreadfull weather forecast as I was about to head from home, the day was in fact dry and mild. Several Common Buzzards were seen north of Belford along with the first of several Kestrels seen today and an active flock of Goldfinches.

A short sea watch from the harbour and cliffs brought sightings of 3 Red Throated Divers, numbers of Red-Breasted Mergansers, Common Scoter, parties of Eider Duck and a lone Fulmar. There were also numbers of Cormorant and Shag on and over a wind swept sea. The estuary contained numbers of Grey Heron, Curlew and Redshank, but little else apart from gulls. A flock of Sanderling were busy at the tide edge and a pair of Kestrels hunted over the cliffs.

The best part of the day was the walk along the Tweed from the town centre up to the woodland. The weather was on the change and whilst the lowering sun shone through thin layers of cloud at times, it became clear that it would not belong until rain arrived from the west. A numbers of Grey Herons stood statue like on the small island and numbers of Mallard, Pochard and Goldeneye were on the water. At least one pair of Grey Wagtail were found on the riverside and further up river Greylag Geese, Canada Geese and Mute Swan were found. The calls of Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank were heard along most of the walk and several were seen on the riverside and flying overhead and along the river. A flock of 200+ Lapwing were in flight over the river. The woodland pathway was slippery with mud and this area seemed devoid of bird life. The few passerines seen on the walk included Wren, Robin, Dunnock and Blue Tit. Another Kestrel flew overhead, as did a Sparrowhawk.

I haven’t walked the river footpath since childhood, well at least not as far as I did today, past the old castle, so today brought back some happy memories. I remember very well calling at a restraunt with my parents as a child and having fresh Tweed Salmon for lunch. The restraunt seemed very ‘posh’ to me at the time and having salmon for lunch certainly was then!
I was impressed with the Christmas lights in Berwick and they certainly put the annual pathetic show put up in Newcastle. I have to confess however that little ever beats Fenwick’s window display which I have been watching each year since the early 70’s. I hate having to push the kids out of the way to get close, but someone has to do it! The rain kept off until the drive home. We’ll have the day’s bird list to beat at the weekend.

Friday, 4 December 2009

One Brave Butterfly!

Swallow Pond

The horses had their coats on today and I certainly had mine on as I braved the cold and walked to the Rising Sun Country Park, passing a flock of maybe up to two hundred Lapwings on the way. I certainly wasn’t expecting to see any butterflies today, even though the sun was blindingly bright. However as the morning warmed a little, one brave Red Admiral put in an appearance as it flew across the fields and into the trees to seek some warmth. I know they are around all year now, but I don’t personally ever remember seeing one so late in the year. That'll probably be the last one of what I shall always remember as a butterfly year.

There were good numbers of Teal and even larger numbers of whistling Wigeon on the ponds today. There were several Shoveller about too and a lone Grey Heron was on the island of Swallow Pond. There was the odd Redwing along with the Blackbirds and Mistle Thrush feeding on the berries in the hedges and the fields near the farm held numbers of Curlew. As usual in the park the majority of birds seemed to be Wood Pigeons and Magpies! I did find a couple of Stock Doves in the pigeon flocks. A party of Long Tailed Tits fed near the pathway but I failed to find the Bullfinches that at least a couple of walkers mentioned having seen. Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch were seen.

A cuppa in the restraunt was more than welcome. They were doing a good trade with tables booked for Christmas lunches. It can’t be Christmas yet surely!!! On the walk home I caught sight of an unidentified skein of geese away in the distance flying along the coast.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Walk Ends With 'Golden' Treat.

Setting Off.
A few of the Golden Plovers.

Homeward Bound.

27th Nov. It was a cool, but bright morning as I left to start my pond, woods and coast walk, with the rising sun still painting the sky in the east a rather nice shade of orange. My first excitement of the day was to have a Kestrel fly directly at me as I walked between the village and Holywell Pond. I’m not sure if I had put it off a target prey item, but it appeared to fly directly at me until making a manoeuvre and flying over the nearby rooftops. I remembered a similar experience I once had when a hunting Sparrowhawk had narrowly, it seemed to me, missed my face as I walked through woodland. I also had a similar experience with a Barn Owl which flew directly at me, as if I wasn’t registering with it, before to veered off over a hedge.

I must say recent visits to Holywell pond have not been especially productive in terms of bird numbers. Today I was expecting much, but was rather disappointed. The expected flocks of waterfowl, especially Teal and Wigeon, just weren’t there. I found no Teal at all and only one pair of Wigeon. Have I just been unlucky? I found only one pair of Goldeneye, a small flock of Pochard and one Little Grebe amongst the Mallard, Moorhen and Coots. A small flock of Lapwing and four calling Redshank made a brief appearance over the pond. The feeding station I know has been the target of vandalism and that may explain the lack of available feed, but what was there was attracting tits, and small numbers of Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Dunnock, Robin and Wren, along with a female Pheasant. The water of the pond was quite high and judging by the waterlogged surroundings had been much higher in recent days. I decided to take a look from the public hide to see if I had been missing anything and just then numbers of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese flew in and landed on the fields behind the tree line. Only one lone Greylag called from the pond, as if it had drifted from its companions. Gulls on the water were, Black Headed, Common, Herring and Greater Black Backed. I found nothing more from the public hide from where the pond looked even more bereft of birdlife. Having spoken to a passerby the pond seems to have been very quiet recently. Having said this, there had been enough activity to make the visit well worthwhile. Sadly a dog walker found it quite ok to let his two dogs run loose around the reserve and down to the pond. I think I have seen more unacceptable behaviour by dog walkers on this my favourite local walk, than anywhere else I visit.

The woodland of the dene didn’t provide large numbers of birds either, apart from a constant fly past of Great, Coal and Blue Tits. A male Blackcap give a good showing as did a pair of Grey Wagtails that were found on the mud at the side of the burn, their wonderful colouring showing especially well in the limited light that was available. A passerby asked if I had seen the Kingfisher. He had watched it fly up the burn. Needless to say I have still to see Kingfisher in the dene. Perhaps I need to spend a day on one of the bridges to break my duck in this respect. A Brown Hare rested under the trees as I passed by and another Kestrel flew overhead.

The tide was high so there was good numbers of Redshank around the area of the salt marsh. I also had a good close sighting of a female Goldeneye here before it decided to fly up the burn. A Little Grebe was also on the burn, but dived and wasn’t seen again. It was now time to sit down for my fish and chip lunch, but not before finding a number of Oystercatchers along the verge by the roadway. It had been a fine morning weather wise and so I found it odd that there were so few people about, and even the fish and chip café was very quiet.

The tide was beginning to recede as I walked towards St Mary’s Island. There was little on the sea apart from small rafts of Eider Duck. Oystercatchers, Redshank and an odd Ringed Plover made an appearance on the shore below. A lone Lapwing and Curlew was found in the fields along with a pair of Stonechat. As I continued the walk I saw in the distance flocks of what I initially mistook for Starlings. Strange how distance can play tricks on the eyes. I soon realised they were Golden Plover, and by the time I reached the ‘mast’ field small flocks had gathered into a large flock and were calling in unison from the field. More and more birds flew in to join the growing flock and this made for quite a sight. This was catching the attention of a number of none birders who were keen to know what species the birds were. A photographer was busy taking photographs and I heard him admit he wasn’t a birder but had been ‘taken’ by the sight. I reckon there were at least a thousand birds in the field by the time they had all flown in. I watched and listened for some time. The birds stopped calling as one and as I expected took to flight. At times the flock provided a display that was on par with Starlings coming into roost. For the rest of the afternoon I was entertained by flocks of Golden Plover. This was quite a sight in the and there was perfect light and conditions for watching this show which to me seemed to be birding at its very best! Certainly wader watching at its best!

The shoreline close to St Mary’s, both to the north and south held good numbers of waders. Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Redshank and Curlew were all there, generally in good numbers. There were also numbers of Rock Pipit. I thought I best give the wetland area a quick look over just in case! In fact there were good numbers of Gadwall and Teal there with the odd pair of Wigeon and a Mute Swan.
It was time to make off towards home now and as I did so I found the sky turning a pale orange again reflecting the fact that the days are so short at this time of year. The temperature was dropping quickly. What had seemed such a quiet day had turned up 57 species of bird and a display by the Golden Plovers that will go down as one of this years birding highlights.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Back On Track.

Peaceful Patch

Whoopers at Martin Mere

15th Nov. Having been down to Martin Mere with the group yesterday, seven hours travelling for four hours birding, I was rather relieved to be able to take a quiet stroll on patch today. Although Martin Mere held its attractions in all honesty I wasn’t that impressed although I suppose I have recently been spoilt by my trip to the Scottish Islands. There were lots of waterfowl in Lancashire of course and the numbers of Whooper Swans was impressive, but the pick of the day for me was the two Peregrine Falcons on a telegraph poll that I watched as each individually took to flight, both have stretched and exercised the wings. I was pleased to watch overhead the Starlings coming into roost just as we were getting prepared to leave. The group’s day list came to sixty-one species.

I decided today’s weather was too good to let pass by without a walk on patch so I made for the lake. There were many anglers out today, but not too many birds! The Grey Heron was in its usual position beside the smaller lake and there were growing flocks of Black Headed and Common Gulls otherwise little about this area other than Mute Swan, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot and Moorhen. Corvids fed in the fields which were a quagmire after the heavy rains.

I counted fifty-one Canada Geese near the larger lake and reckon their numbers are increasing each winter. There were so far only two Goosanders on the lake with the odd Goldeneye and many more of the species seen on the smaller lake.
As I walked back at 3.00pm in the already fading light I reflected on the walks I had in spring and summer. I do like the skies at this time of year and look forward to some sky watching throughout the winter

Monday, 9 November 2009

Islay and Jura Pt 2

He wasn't going to move!
Walk around the Bay

Cloud over Islay Sound and Jura



Islay Sound

Paps of Jura

Red Deer stag, Jura

1st Nov. It rained and at times it rained very heavily! In the afternoon we were due take the five minute ferry crossing from Port Askaig to Jura, but before that we visited the area around Loch Gruinart. There was at least some shelter there to take our lunch. I saw my first Red Throated Diver of the trip today and my first Great Crested Grebe. In the main it was a morning for watch the geese again. Some in the party took a walk to find Chough which apparently roost in one of the barns nearby. I just couldn’t work up the passion for another soaking so missed out on the two Choughs that were found in bedraggled state. I’ll just have to live with the disappointment! The disappointment was eased when we found a Cattle Egret (a UK tick for me) and another ringtail Hen Harrier on the way to the ferry crossing. A flock of twenty Brent Geese (pale-bellied) was also seen today. We were soon on Jura and driving along what appears to be its one road. I’d been looking forward to spending time on the much wilder island. We were soon catching good sightings of some the islands 5,000 Red Deer. Once at the Jura Hotel at Craighouse we watched the bay for Otters. With no luck on this occasion, but as the hotel front windows overlooked the bay I thought that there would be every chance of Otter sightings at some point. I went off to bed that night in peace and quiet.

2nd Nov. We were up for a pre breakfast walk to look for Otters, and again with no luck. By now I was expecting rain and I wasn’t disappointed, although the mist and cloud soon broke up to lend a wonderful atmosphere to the island. Some of the skies over the next couple of days were magnificent, the light was wonderful and if nothing else the rain, which came only in showers now, brought out the colours in the landscape to great effect. There were numbers of Red Breasted Merganser in the bay this morning along with Eider Duck and Common Seals.

The morning and early afternoon were taken up with the drive along the western side of the island where we passed wonderful bays, the Paps of Jura at times their tops covered by cloud and at other times perfectly clear under blue skies and Loch Tarbert which attempts to cut the island in half. It was a fascinating drive with many stops and many Red Deer including numbers of impressive stags. We drove to the end of the public road and at one point almost burnt out the vehicles clutch. We found both ringtail and male Hen Harriers, both giving short, but good views. As I turned from the male bird a male Merlin flew past over the moor on the other side of the road. Again we saw numerous winter thrushes and Common Buzzards now were with us almost constantly and of course there were numbers of Raven and Hooded Crow. I also managed to get my eye on my first Goldfinch of the trip. There were loads of good photographic opportunities and I thought that given more time on Jura there would be some excellent walking to be done.

Having returned to the hotel for lunch we were driven around the bay and most of us walked back. I saw another Merlin at the start of the walk. It was good to be able to step out and walk some of the past few days meals off! The skies were wonderful with storm clouds meeting blue skies and as the afternoon went on the sun caused areas of the sky to look a bright yellow as it also shone across the water. The afternoon shower was only short lived. Still no Otters though!

3rd Nov. I decided to skip the pre breakfast walk and stay in bed as I had heard heavy downpours during the night. I couldn’t rest however, thinking what might be being found by those few who had gotten out of bed so I joined them. It was just as well I did as an Otter was performing in the bay. This was our first of the trip and everyone had excellent views as it ducked and dived whilst apparently almost constantly eating. It lay on its back on several occasions and handled what seemed to be fish and crabs. I was surprised at how long these animals are when seen at full stretch in the water. Our watch carried on into the breakfast room until the Otter finally disappeared. Mallards, Grey Herons and Red Breasted Mergansers were also about.

Now today I had been tempted to join the small party going to visit Barnhill (where George Orwell wrote 1984) and the Corryvreckan whirlpool. Once I heard we were not guaranteed to see the whirlpool in action I decide against this as it meant repeating the journey of the day before with the extra march over very wet moorland. I decided a change would be better and went along the western side of the island where a walk along the beach was planned. I’m pleased I made this choice as before the day was out we had found three more Otters, one of which finally came onto the shore giving great views. We had some magnificent Red Deer stags in close up to, none of which seem to be especially concerned about our presence. One of them was a special beast indeed with seven points on each antler. We were later told that there numbers of similar size on the island.

The walk along the beach was a refreshing one with wonderful lichens and some interesting plants I have yet to identify. Kestrels and Common Buzzards were around in number. I reckon we saw thirty plus Common Buzzards today and that is probably well underestimated. We also had another excellent sighting of Great Northern Diver on Islay Sound. There were more Common and Grey Seals about too. One bird which surprised us was a lone Arctic Tern as it seemed so late for this bird to be still about. Gulls seen were Black Headed, Common, Herring, Great Black Backed and Kittiwake. Black Guillemot was also seen, and the shoreline gave me good sightings of Rock Pipit and more Stonechat. As we watched one of the Otters the ferryman told us he had seen two White Tailed Sea Eagles the previous day. This made us decide to return in the afternoon. Some of the rainbows seen today were magnificent. On our return for lunch we had a sighting of one of the birds of the trip as a Golden Eagle flew directly towards us from the hills and flew quite low over our heads giving great views.

We were soon heading back to the same area. White Tailed Sea Eagles on the mind, but to be honest I wasn’t really confident about seeing any. Then I got my eye on two large birds flying in front of us and over the Sound. They were quickly confirmed as White Tailed Sea Eagles as we quickly got ourselves in a good position to watch them. I had great scope views. I seem to remember the birds were tagged L and D (or was it H?). We watched them for about thirty minutes as they flew together over the Sound then eventually landed and perched in the trees on Islay. Our intended walk was forgotten by now as we also found an Otter and Red Deer. One of the Red Deer stags came down to the Sound to drink and taste the seaweed. It wasn’t perturbed by us at all. I felt that I could almost have touched it. Any walk along the beach was in any case out of the question now as the tide was high. It had been an excellent day and I’d hardly been wet at all! Again there were some wonderful skies and lighting conditions.

4th Nov. Today was our day to return to the mainland and onwards to home. An early breakfast was had and we were off at 7.00am towards the ferry for Islay. On reaching Islay we made for the ferry to the mainland which left from Port Ellen. The crossing was smooth and some good views were had especially of Jura. Birds seen on the crossing included Black Throated Diver (the first of the trip), Manx Shearwater (the first of the trip), Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Black Guillemot. On one side of us the skies were dark grey and stormy, and on the other bright with white cloud and large blue areas. This seemed to sum up the weather on the trip. The crossing on this mill pond in daylight was very enjoyable after the initial crossing had been taking in heavy rain, wind and darkness. We were soon heading for Glasgow and I managed quick sightings of some wildlife on Loch Fyne which included a very brief view of another Otter and a Little Grebe.
It had been an excellent trip despite the odd soaking. In my eyes the weather had added to the atmosphere. If it had been drier I’m not so sure we would have seen many more bird species. Perhaps a few woodland birds would have been added to the list as we never ever made the woodland area. My only disappointment was not adding Chough to my UK list. Another time perhaps, but in any event I’m not complaining. Islay and Jura are two very different islands so I would find it impossible to really say which one I preferred. Each one has its strong points, but I did really appreciate the wildness of Jura and a bedroom on it that was not over a noisy public bar!

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Islay and Jura Pt 1

The Atlantic from Port Wemyss, Islay
Port Wemyss, Islay

Cliffs at Oa, Islay.

American Monument at Oa, Islay.

Cliffs at Oa, Islay

29th Oct. After a train journey up the east coast in full sun where I spotted several skeins of geese, possibly Pink Footed Geese, I was met at Edinburgh by drizzling rain which continued off and on as I travelled onwards to Glasgow. We were soon heading past Loch Lomond, Loch Long and Loch Fyne on our way to catch the ferry from Kennacraig to Port Ellen, Islay. I had recorded my first Common Buzzards, Ravens and Hooded Crows on the journey from Glasgow and during a short stop at Loch Long the only Peregrine Falcon and Lesser Black Backed Gull of the trip. There was a number of variable hybrid Hooded and Carrion Crows on the shore here. The rain became heavier as we approached the west coast and darkness set in very early. Happily I managed to eat my scampi and chips and drink my red wine on the ferry before the waters became choppy, which made walking in a straight line impossible, and no, the red wine had no role in this. After the two+ hour crossing we were soon at out hotel at Bridgend on the island, and as my room was above the bar I was entertained until almost midnight by pop music, as I prayed for quietness and for drier weather for morning!

30th Oct. The morning was cloudy, but in the main dry. I was fully aware of Islay’s reputation of perhaps being the best place in Europe to see geese and I remembered Peter Scott’s comments about it, but I hadn’t been prepared to see quiet so many and this trip definitely provided my best ever geese watching by far, many of them at very close quarters. The Greenland Barnacle Geese (up to 40,000 on the island I believe), were of course the most numerous and we began to see large flocks of these within minutes of leaving the hotel as we travelled the edge of Loch Indaal. There were also a number of smaller flocks of Greenland White Fronted Geese and these again provided my best ever sighting of this species that I have only ever seen at distance at Loch Ken in Dumfries. Smaller numbers of Greylag Geese were also seen. Geese were to be seen in their thousands throughout the next three days on Islay.

We were making for the RSPB Reserve at Loch Gruinart and before arrival we began to see our first flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare, which again were to be seen in large numbers throughout the trip. Eider Duck were seen on the sea as were numbers of Red Breasted Merganser, another bird often seen over the few days we were on the islands. The reserve at Loch Gruinart provided us with some good sightings of more geese of course, but also Grey Heron, Shelduck, Wigeon, Mallard, Gadwall Pintail, Shoveller, Teal, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye. Our first small flock of Whooper Swans was also seen here. Around lunch time the rains returned so we sought shelter in the hide and the reserve centre which provides a good large window view across the reserve. Waders seen were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew and Snipe. I have to say, the trip as a whole did not bring sightings of too many waders. The rain became steadily heavier and some discussion took place about a visit to a distillery! I had already made it known I don’t like whisky unless mixed with dry ginger and that comment was met with some sniggering. I don’t know why! Anyway I opted to return to the area near our hotel for a walk in the woodland with some others whilst others couldn’t resist the pull of malt whisky.

In the event I never made it to the woodland as I was tempted by another guy to walk back to the hotel around the edge of Loch Indaal, a walk of four miles. As it happened I was easily tempted as I was feeling a bit tied to the vehicle and as the rain had eased it seemed a good idea at the time. Well, we all make mistakes and this turned out to be one of mine. No sooner had the vehicle left us and the rain came down heavily and never ceased to do so throughout the walk. It was being blown in off the sea and loch by strong winds and my face was stinging from the force of it. It wasn’t all bad though as I found a Slavonian Grebe on the Loch edge, the first of only two seen throughout the trip and we had the pleasure of walking close by flocks of Barnacle Geese as they lifted and flew over our heads. Snipe were seen also. I wasn’t so keen on the cattle I had to walk through although they seemed as cheesed off with the rain as I did! Four miles began to seem one hec of a long way, and was I pleased when our friends returned from the distillery and picked us up after three miles. I was soaked to the skin by a mix of rain and perspiration caused by my waterproofs. Young Sean, a staff member at the hotel took my clothes to the drying room. In fact it would have probably been easier just to peg me up in them so wet was I. Anyway I’m sure it will be an experience I shall look back on with fondness. I had a cappuccino before diving into a hot bath.

31st Oct. We had an early morning walk planned, but in fact stayed in the vehicle, as yes you’ve guessed, it was raining still. We drove along the edge of Loch Indaal again and watched the flocks of Barnacle Geese, White Fronted Geese and Greylag Geese and on return and over breakfast I spotted in the hotel grounds my first Song Thrush of the trip. One of our party was keen to find the two Richardson’s Canada Geese that were reported on the island. I couldn’t help feel he was going to require some luck! (We never did find them). The good news was that the forecast suggested that the rain was to come in the form of heavy showers today and that was how things turned out.

We were soon heading for the cliff top reserve at the Oa. On the journey birds included numbers of Raven, Common Buzzard, Stonechat, House Sparrow and Reed Bunting. At the start of the walk towards the American Monument (which commemorates American servicemen lost during the First World War) on the cliff top, we had a fleeting glimpse of our first Hen Harrier, a ringtail. There were many more Common Buzzards, Ravens and Hooded Crows throughout the walk, but none of the hoped for Choughs. The showers came as promised and conditions underfoot were wet in the extreme. There were large flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare about which were seen well, as were the large flocks of Twite which fed close to us. Linnets, Meadow Pipit and Rock Pipit were also about. The light was wonderful and the Antrim coast could be seen very faintly through cloud and mist. After taking in the excellent views from the clifftop we walked back to the vehicle and I managed to miss the first Merlin of the trip as I lagged behind talking to a guy who was visiting from Leeds. Despite the heavy shower this morning, this was to be the best day weather wise we had on Islay and at last we were seeing the island at its best.

After lunch we were to take the drive via Bridgend to the bay at Port Wemyss. The journey was to bring us some excitement and a great sighting. Over the hills to the east two large birds were seen and it didn’t take to long to realise these were Golden Eagles. It didn’t take long for us to jump from the vehicles and everyone had great sightings. They put on a fine display of circling over the hills as we watched for around ten minutes. They gave fine views. Red Deer, Roe Deer and Islay Brown Hare were seen on the journey and once at the bay both Grey Seal and Common Seal were found. It was a little disappointing that there were not the expected numbers of divers around, but we did have a fine close up sighting of Great Northern Diver. Other birds included Cormorant, Shag, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew and Turnstone.

We returned to the RSPB Reserve at Loch Gruinart in the hope of seeing the geese come into roost, but the majority had beaten us to it. On inspection the fields were covered with thousand upon thousand of geese, of course in the main Barnacle Geese. This was an amazing sight in itself especially as the flocks occasionally lifted. A volunteer at the reserve advised us of Hen Harrier roost, but I felt we visited too late and nothing was seen but Common Buzzards, although our only Goldcrest of the trip was heard calling.
It was of course Halloween and the hotel was holding a party in the bar so my room was throbbing along with the music so I felt it best to stay downstairs for a drink myself. It was entertaining to say the least as I almost accosted by Miss Piggy, a member of staff in a Miss Piggy mask. I had earlier watched Miss Piggy slurping from a bottle of wine. Then Count Dracula joined us complete with blow up doll strategically strapped to his body, and the description I shall leave to your imagination. Thankfully the party moved on at 11.30pm and I could get some sleep!

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Demon Twitcher or Simply Indigestion?

Look closely, it is!


21st Oct. As you know I’m not a twitcher as such but a change is as good as a rest. As I sat in the pub with a mate and ate my lunch it seemed a small demon twitcher was rumbling away within me, or was it the fish that had caused indigestion? Whatever it was I asked my mate if he fancied viewing the Glossy Ibis at Druridge Pools. The ‘Glossy what, where?’ was the reply. My mate's a none birder except when he is out with me, when at times it is forced upon him. I guess he’s grateful because as a non birder he’s seen some decent birds because of me. That’s how I look at it. Anyway despite the heavy downpour, thick cloud and stormy looking sea we decided to take a look. Neither of us was dressed for birding, or in fact, such lousy weather.

I’m pleased to say that with wet feet and wet everything else we arrived at the hide to find the Glossy Ibis close by. I’ve seen umpteen of these birds on my travels, but I have to confess it was good to have such a good sighting locally. The weather also ensured there were few people about. Only three other non twitchers in the hide, although one or two more approached as we left. A number of Snipe close by the hide too. I think my mate was secretly enjoying himself when I suggested we leave. Anyway he’s going home to look up Glossy Ibis on the internet.
I might be the last birder (although having said that I know I’m not) in the North East to have seen this bird, but no matter, a Glossy Ibis it remains and I watched it in peaceful surroundings, if somewhat wet, so my patience had been well rewarded. I may not be a twitcher, but neither am I a fair weather birder! The demon in me seems to have settled down a bit now.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

After the Rain.

All of these shots were taken just outside of the back door. All but one show rain drops caught in spiders webs.

Monday, 12 October 2009

Holy Island Invasion!

Time to go.
Lough and Dunes.

Fox Moth Catterpillar

Salad Burnet ???

Fungi ???

There's four Scaup there somewhere!

Spot the Birder. Newcastle L G in action.

10th Oct. It was neither an invasion of Vikings nor rare migrant birds, but of forty-one keen Newcastle RSPB Local Group members on their annual October trip to the island. Durham group were up there too. The early morning mists had soon cleared to leave us all in an excellent frame of mind and the island very atmospheric, an atmosphere added to by the haunting calls of the hundreds of Grey Seals basking on the sands. Some of the seals came up close giving excellent sightings. We were early arrivals on a then quiet island, having on the journey spotted Sparrowhawk and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

We were soon around to St Cuthbert’s Island where we soon picked up on and near the island Grey Heron, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Red-breasted Merganser and Kestrel. Thousands of waders were way off in the distance. Flocks of Eider Duck were numerous as were small flocks of Brent Geese in flight. There was no bright sun to hinder watching and so Red Throated Divers, four Scaup, Razorbill and a Velvet Scoter were quite easily picked up on the water. Cormorants were in large numbers and a smaller group of Shag were found.

Around by the harbour Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Bar-tailed Godwit, Rock Pipit and Pied Wagtail were found. Over on the rocket field we found Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing and Snipe. By now gulls seen had been Black Headed, Common, Herring and Great Black Backed. Black Tailed Godwit was also seen on the island by some members. After dropping one or two items onto the coach we set off along the long lonnen where we took a lunch stop where we were joined by nother more than Dunnock and Robin but talk of Yellow Browed Warblers has many of us making a U turn and retracing some of our steps. Those that did return were in the main rewarded by brief but good sightings of two Yellow Browed Warblers. I confess a lifer for me! Always good to see a new species even if somewhat plain as this one is.

As we carried on towards the Lough we found numbers of Linnet, Meadow Pipit and Stonechat. We had no sign of the reported Short Eared Owl. Only one member of our group did sight it today and that was our coach driver! We did find a few Red Admiral Butterflies, some large caterpillars (I’d appreciate an I D. Edit. Now confirmed as Fox Moth), some interesting fungi (again an I D would be appreciated), and lots of what I’m told was Salad Burnet Sanguisorba minor (again help would be appreciated as the leaves shown in my Blamey and Fitter book look nowt like this). One of our members who had done a bit of a sea watch had found Black Necked Grebe, Kittiwake and Guillemot.

We saw numbers of Gannet as we approached the Lough and a member suggested that they were out at sea. I certainly hope that they were, or following their dives they would have had severe headache! At the hide a group were watching the bushes. Someone had spread the word about a Lapland Bunting which all agreed was in fact Reed Bunting of which there were several around! When a further two reported Yellow Browed Warblers were found they had magically turned into Goldcrest. In the same bush was my bird of the day a stunning Brambling. At the Lough we added Little Grebe, Moorhen, Coot and Pintail to the list.

During the day we had seen several Redwing, Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush, and of course the usual pigeons and corvids. There had also been numbers of Swallow and House Martins still on the island. Certainly there was no shortage of insects for them to feed upon and at one point I walked through a cloud of them. As we prepared to leave for our customary stop at Buddle Bay the clouds began to disperse and the sun shone. I hadn’t minded the cloud cover which had added to the atmosphere, especially during the morning, and had helped the bird watching. I can still hear those Grey Seals and see Lindisfarne Castle under a wonderful sky!

The late afternoon atmosphere was equally good at the bay too, where although the tide remained quite far out there were birds in good numbers. There were more Brent Geese and we added Pink-footed Geese, Shelduck and Grey Plover to the list. There was good numbers of Lesser Black Backed Gulls. After around thirty minutes of watching the bay we were on the coach for the return journey and our compulsory bird count. The list today came to 84 species! Then as we were nearing home several of us who had not drifted off to dream land caught sight of a Common Buzzard as it flew in front of the coach, bringing the list up to 85. As I said, bird of the day for me was the Brambling.
The only headache of the day was wondering how we can transport so many members in future as demand for places is growing fast. Thanks to Durham RSPB group we managed to get seven members on their coach today. I must say it’s not a bad headache to have as recruitment of new members has been my top priority. Such numbers can be easily managed when divided into smaller groups ensuring everyone has a good day. The next group trip is to Martin Mere.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

A Song from Killy.

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all, my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall