Friday, 24 April 2009

Rising Sun and Bird Song.

Yellow Archangel
White Dead-nettle


23rd April. I had a short meeting to attend at the Rising Sun Country Park so took the chance of a little birding on the walk there and in the park itself. The park seemed quiet in terms of birdlife, but the facilities were being put to very good use by several coach loads of youngsters, which was good to see. I couldn’t help but smile when I heard one young lad say to his mate ‘this walking around is boring’. He sounded just like me at his age! At his age too, I can only ever recall knowing the song and calls of Cuckoo, Tawny Owl and House Sparrows. The latter I knew well as they were all over the place on my walks to school. I can only ever remember hearing one Cuckoo in the countryside as a child and that was on a Sunday morning on a visit to Derby of all places. It’s strange how this has stayed with me. I understand my high frequency hearing began to go down hill in my twenties so perhaps mine may be a little cream crackered now, but it hasn’t stopped me trying to get to grips with song and calls which I think is so important to bird watching. The importance was reinforced in my mind when on one or two birding tours I noted the final list would have been well down without someone’s expertise in tracking down calls.

So where once upon a time bird song would have been an ignored background noise to me, or even an early morning annoyance, I’ve been taking a growing interest in listening as well as watching for sometime now. Now on my walk yesterday there wasn’t anything of real note (if you’ll excuse the pun) around bird wise, but never the less quite a lot of song. Bird song and calls I recall on my walk included Mute Swan (2 flying over my home as I left), Pheasant, Herring Gull, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Skylark, Swallow, Wren Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Magpie, Jackdaw, Rook, House Sparrow, Chaffinch, Linnet and Greenfinch. I have missed some and not included the waterfowl at Swallow Pond. I think undoubtedly the Black Headed Gulls there won hands down in the ‘noise’ stakes. Lots of Lapwing calls today too. On my return I think I may have heard a Sparrowhawk, but the noise outside of Asda ruined any chance of confirming that and I certainly didn’t sight it.

I find listening to the songs of the common birds above very useful, in that when something less common is heard I may not know what it is, but at least I know what it isn’t and can investigate a little more. I’m not that good at identifying birdsong and have to re-learn the warblers each spring! I also rely on habitat clues and find learning much easier that way rather than trying to rely on my recordings on CD, which never the less are still a useful learning tool. If someone played me recordings of songs outside of their usual habitat that I reckon would throw me completely, but I am getting better slowly and I’m still learning, high pitch hearing problem or not.

I’m pleased I ended up with a list of 42 species on what wasn’t really a birding expedition. I was also advised as to a good spot to find Lesser Whitethroat by one of the local birders. At the moment I’d settle for any Whitethroat!
I also found some decent botanical interest, much of it outside of the park although there will be some interesting plants come into flower in there soon. Even the Dandelions looked good today. Other plants found included Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria, Red Campion (very pale so I reckon hybrid of red and white) Silene dioica, White Dead-nettle Lamium album , Yellow Archangel (garden escape variety) Lamiastrum galeobdolon argentatum, Ground Ivy Glechoma hederacea and Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis. I believe the latter is called such as it flowers at a time when the first Cuckoos are heard in spring, which takes me back to where I began with my childhood Cuckoo.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

On The Waggonways.

Peacock Butterfly
Garlic Mustard

Russian Comfrey

22nd April. The afternoon was too good to waste so I decided to have a walk along the patch waggonways. My walk began quietly apart from finding a pile of feathers from a newly plucked Wood Pigeon. Initially the birds in the main were tits, pigeons, corvids, Blackbird, Robin, House Sparrow, Chaffinch and Greenfinch. I did eventually here the song of a single Willow Warbler. There were quite a number of butterflies about in Small White, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. Near the farmland I found the patch of Russian Comfrey Symphtum x uplandicum that I discovered last spring. I learnt that this plant was used for cattle fodder and although it now grows behind someone’s house I assume the area was until recent years all farmland.

Once I reached the waggonway which leads to holystone things began to pick up a little with numbers of singing Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Linnet. As I walked down the track I picked up the song of a Grasshopper Warbler. I reached an area where the song rang out clearly and spent some time trying to track the bird down. I reckon it was either in the hedge or directly behind it as I had no luck. Still, I count song as important as sightings and it is another patch tick for me. The nearest to the patch I have found Grasshopper Warbler in the past is at the Rising Sun Country Park. As I spent some frustrating time looking for this bird I watched a Skylark in display flight just above head height over the field. It was still there on my return. I also found a stunningly coloured Pheasant in the longer grasses and began to find the first of a number of Reed Bunting seen today. This area is very good for farmland birds and long may it stay that way. I had no Yellowhammer today and I’m still looking for my first Whitethroat of the year.
There was a number of Lapwings around in and over the fields and I found a party of 4 Stock Doves feeding in the fields. I’d have spent a bit more time with the Grasshopper Warbler, which again frustratingly sang every time I moved from its vicinity, but dinner called so I had a quick walk home. The flash is all but dried up and there is much Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis growing around that area. I noticed quite a bit of Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata growing in the hedges on my return and heard Chiffchaff. 'Twas a good afternoon.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Upland Birding

Marsh Marigold
River East Allen

Wild Pansy


18th Apr. I was looking forward to the Local Group fieldtrip to Allenheads if for no other reason than to leave behind the mist, cloud and cold that had been covering the north east coastal areas these last few days. On arrival in the village I thought I was going to be unlucky as it was on with outer coverings, scarf, gloves and fleece hat! At least it was dry! This upland area of Northumberland close to the border with Durham has a wealth of history, with industrial archaeological remains of the lead mining industry, lime kilns and now empty upland farmsteads. I wished that time had allowed for a little more exploration of these aspects, but today was in the main for bird watching and as it turned out there was certainly no lack of birds to watch! Allenheads has claims to be the highest village in England, but there again, so does Nenthead in Cumbria, so I suppose you make your own choice on the matter. We were certainly in the upland area.

Some members were treated to sightings of Red Kite on the outward journey. Lapwing, Snipe and Sparrowhawk were also amongst birds seen from the coach. We were soon walking through woodland listening to the many songs and calls of the birdlife. One member of the group, who is unsighted, was of much help here, often picking up calls before other members. Our first Willow Warblers were found and seemed to compete with the Song Thrushes as the most dominant songsters. Other typical woodland birds were heard and this included the loud repetitive call of a Nuthatch from high in the trees. A Yellowhammer was heard briefly too.

We were soon onto higher ground and moor land which offered fine views of the area and as the day went on the views became ever clearer as the cloud broke and the sun shone. We caught sight of 2 unmistakeable Grey Partridge in flight early on the walk and they were to be the first of several seen and heard today. The air was full of the sound of Lapwing, Curlew and Oystercatchers. The former seeming to be in flight everywhere one looked. A couple of Golden Plover, bearing the wonderful breeding plumage were seen briefly in flight and later on the walk a small flock of them were found. There were fleeting views of Snipe, whilst Red Grouse were calling, it seemed from a little higher on the moor, and one member on his first trip with the group had a sighting of a Black Grouse which sadly landed behind a wall, not to be seen again by other members. One or two other members who had decided to take shorter walks nearer to the village also found Black Grouse and heard Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Good views were had of Common Buzzard and Kestrel. I had a brief sighting of a Merlin as it landed in a field. It quickly disappeared behind the ridges of the field not to be seen again so I was unable to point it out to others. Although whilst trying to locate the bird we did find Mistle Thrush! It was shortly after this that we stopped for lunch. I seem to remember that it was in this area that we found Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Two Fieldfare were seen a few members at some point along the way. The views at this point were at their best and the crumbling derelict farm buildings were dotting the area. A Stock Dove flew from one of the buildings. Also at this point I confess that I dropped back from the group so as to enjoy the quiet and peace of the area and to take one or two photographs. I listened to the calls of the Meadow Pipits and distant Red Grouse. Our first Wheatears were found on this part of the walk and these were certainly my first of the year. It was good to find them in such beautiful surroundings.

We began the second part of the walk on lower ground on the banks of the River East Allen. By now it was bright and warm. The area offered some wonderful botanic interest which included patches of Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria, Wild Pansies Viola tricolor and an attractive patch of Wood Anemone Anemone nemorosa, no where near woodland as can be the case.

The walk along the river bank brought us sightings of Willow Warblers in large numbers and several pairs of very attractive Wheatears. Pairs of Pied and Grey Wagtail were also found on the rocky areas of the river. Grey Wagtails are one of my favourite birds, but seeing the Pied Wagtails in this light and by the water made me think what stunning birds they are too. I’m afraid I never did see the Dipper, but several members did and our new member who had seen the Black Grouse found a Water Vole in the river. I missed this too, but our new member was having a successful day! Swallows and Sand Martins were found too, but I didn’t think in large numbers. One member had a fleeting sighting of Siskin and later better views of Siskin on bird feeders along with Goldfinches.

As we left the area of the river we headed for slightly higher ground again for a slightly more quickly paced walk back to the village, but not before have a good sighting of the flock of Golden Plover, as someone noted returning to their breeding grounds. With everyone impressed with that stunning plumage once again. We had also found an unexpected pair of Teal on one of the pools and on another larger pool we had found a number of Greylag and Canada Geese with a lone Moorhen. Mallards had been seen in flight on a few occasions throughout the day. Lesser Black Backed Gull also joined the growing list of bird species.

An enjoyable and fun day had been had by everyone, and as we completed the ‘ever popular’ bird list at the car park in the sun I think we all agreed that the group list of 62 species (soon to become 63 with a Grey Heron sighted on the return journey) had been a good one. So with House Martin flying above our heads and many group members now with sun tanned faces, or were they just tired I wonder, we were soon off on our return to the city.
As I now sit at my computer on Sunday evening, typing the report of the previous day, I have the windows open so as to listen to the song of a Willow Warbler in the garden, which is such a good reminder of the previous day in the uplands of Northumberland.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Little Gull Brings Patch Tick

Wild Cherry

Mute Swan

14th April. A return by me to Killingworth Lake this afternoon ensured I secured a patch tick when I found the Little Gull. Although actively feeding tern like over the water, this handsome gull was easily seen as I approached the lake. I watched for sometime, and at times it flew within a few yards of me, giving me probably my best views ever of this species. I’m sure there can’t have been many previous records of Little Gull on Killy Lake, at least not in recent years. The usual Black Headed Gulls were there of course (and it was good to compare the Little Gull with them) and 2 Lesser Black Backed Gulls flew down the lake as I watched. The Great Crested Grebes remain, although still no sign of courtship or nest, and Grey Heron is now a regular, today catching a large fish from the smaller lake.

Birds found in the church grounds included Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Blackbird and Mistle Thrush. I later heard much calling from around the Nuthatch nesting hole and found the pair of birds. Even managed to take a less then perfect photograph from a safe distance of one of the birds at the nest.

I took a look for any early arriving Whitethroat in the usual area, but the only warblers about were Chiffchaff. Time wasn’t wasted however as I found a pair of Bullfinch feeding from new shoots amongst the trees.

A really good time of year with more and more greenery showing, much blossom on the trees and just enough bird song in the year so as not to get too confused!

Monday, 13 April 2009

Sand Martin Feast

I picked up, a little late, that a Little Gull had been seen on Killingworth Lake this afternoon so decided to have a walk round there early evening. As I had expected all of the gulls had left the lake by the time I arrived. Another patch tick missed! I missed the Mandarin earlier in the year too!

My disappointment was eased by the number of Sand Martins feeding across the lake. Impossible to estimate numbers but upwards of 100 I reckon. New arrivals I assume. I watched and listened to them for a good while until I began to chill and decided to take a quick walk round the lake before returning via the village. Everything was settling down around the lake apart from a few youths! ;-) I note they have built kiddies play area down at the bottom of the lake. I can only hope it remains there and does not encroach onto my patch!

There were a few Swallows amongst the Sand Martins and a few relaxed Cormorants around the Lake. A Grey Heron watched the water intently from the pathway until I approached and then it flew across the lake. Quite a few Canada Geese remain and the 2 Great Crested Grebe still seem content to keep to there own areas of the lake. Chiffchaff, Willow Warblers, Chaffinch, and Blackbirds were amongst the songsters as I passed through the church grounds.

I got myself a photo of the Cormorant. Don't expect too many bird photos. They have to be big and close for me to get them.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Willow Warbler on Patch

Wood (?) Forget-me-Not
Peacock Butterfly

Lesser Celandine

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

11th April. It was good to feel the sun on my face as I walked the local patch today. I was hoping for newly arrived Willow Warblers in the area behind the village that I usually have my first sighting of the year. There was certainly plenty of bird song Chiffchaff, Wren and Blackbird predominately, and the calls of Pheasant certainly couldn’t be missed. No Willow Warbler here however.

As soon as I had left the house I had come across Small White and Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies and I was to find more Small Whites and a Peacock Butterfly as I got into my stride. The local Sparrowhawk flew high overhead whilst other birds in this area of the patch included Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Chaffinch and Greenfinch along with the usual corvids and pigeons. The Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria seemed to be at a peak of flower and I also found Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scriptus and Wood Forget-me-not Myosotis sylvatica, although I can’t be sure whether or not the latter was of the garden escape variety. A beautiful flower in close up.

I walked across the playing fields to the lake and found 2 Lesser Black Backed Gulls amongst the Black Headed Gulls and a pair of Great Crested Grebe, although they were on separate parts of the lake. A lone female Goosander remains and I assume this is the bird that has remained here for the past two summers when all the other wintering Goosanders have left. A Grey Heron flew down the lake as I watched on and there were several Cormorants about. I suspect the anglers were not too happy about their presence. The Mallards looked striking as the sun lit their heads and the green colouring formed varying patterns. As I began to retrace my steps I heard the song of a lone Willow Warbler and walked over to the trees to catch site of it. If it was a newly arrived bird it looked fit enough to me! It was the only one I found today and my first of the year. The small patch of reeds looked in a sorry state, but a couple of patches of Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris added some colour.
I took a stroll through the church grounds and found a Mistle Thrush on top of an old gravestone. I thought it would have made a good photograph even with my compact camera, but it flew off to quickly for me to take the shot. As I neared home my mobile rang and I stopped to read the text. That was a spot of good luck. It’s a nuisance having to get your spectacles out to read a text messagem but such is my short sight these days. At least, thankfully, there is ‘nowt’ wrong with my long sight! In the event, by the time I had fiddled on with this, I caught site of a Nuthatch at what turned out to be its nest hole. I watched it for some time as it made several flights to and from the hole and worked at ‘cementing up the hole to down size. A great way to end the walk I thought. I shall be keeping an eye on this nest to see how things work out. This is one of the great advantages of patch birding.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Pond, Wood and Coast

Greater Stitchwort
Pond Dug By Friends of Holywell Dene

Holywell Dene

6th April. I’ve been putting a lot of effort into the Local Group recently so as to get things settled and stable for the future so today I was determined would be for me! I decided that the best bet would be for me and my mate to walk the pond, wood and coast path that I am so fond of. I thought we might hit upon at least some early summer arrivals. It was a cool, but pleasant spring day.

On arrival at the village at the beginning of the walk we soon ticked of Swallow and House Martin, the first of the year for me. In fact the village seemed alive with birds including numbers of Goldfinch. The pond was quite lively to with Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Shelduck, Mallard, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot. I also quickly found some rather handsome summer plumage Little Grebe and Great Crested Grebe, one of the latter on the nest at the edge of the reeds. A single Grey Heron was also on the fringes of the reed bed and gulls seen were Black Headed, Herring, Great Black Backed and a single Lesser Black Backed. The feeding station was quiet apart from Greenfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker.

I was beginning to give up hope of finding the reported Garganey, just as I heard an unfamiliar call as three birds flew in and landed on the water. I was sure I had caught sight of the familiar white stripe of the drake and sure enough on inspection there were 3 Garganey (2 drakes). This was to be my bird of the day and one I rarely see, and I shall be getting the C Ds out to listen to and learn the call for the next one I find, although I’ll have probably forgotten it again by then. A great start to the walk. As we made down to the other end of the pond a Kestrel was seen. Whilst searching for the Garganey again I had a brief sighting, I’m certain, of Green Sandpiper which flew from the reads and straight back in again not to be seen again.

We made down the track to the woodland area and found numbers of singing Linnet in the hedges. We found the burn in the dene to be very low indeed. Floral interest included Primrose, Primula vulgaris Bluebell Hyacinthoides non-scriptus, Dogs Mercury Mercurialis annua and Common Dog Violet Viola riviniana . Treecreeper was soon found and I heard Nuthatch and quickly found it high in the trees on the other side of the burn. I was surprised that I didn’t find the Grey Wagtails. Numbers of Wren were in song and Long Tailed Tits were about. When I went across the burn to photograph the Primroses I found two Stock Doves in the trees.

The area of the salt marsh was quite as per usual with only a small flock of Redshank found other than corvids and pigeons. This is an interesting are flora wise however, and the Common Scurvygrass Cochlearia officinalis was covering large parts of the area and I also found Greater(??) Stichwort Stellaria holostea. The fish and chips at Seaton Sluice tasted as good as ever and I swear that you can’t find any tastier any where in the north east! The tide was at its highest point when we reached the sea.

I soon found numbers of Eider Duck and a lone Guillemot on the sea along with a large raft of Kittiwake which appeared to be moving south. I had hoped for Wheatear but failed to find any so made do for numerous Meadow Pipits which seemed to be everywhere along the cliff tops today. I later found only one Rock Pipit. The song of Skylarks, with an occasional sighting, had by now replaced the constant song of the Chiffchaff, heard earlier in the woods.

I was pleased to find a flock of maybe 150/200 Golden Plover which lifted from the fields. They flew overhead for sometime seeming unwilling to settle again in the field as the tractor occasionally moved around. I saw them well enough to make out the wonderful summer plumage of these very attractive birds. Lapwing and Curlew were also around but in quite small numbers. An occasional Fulmar flew near to the cliff. And small flocks of Oystercatcher flew by over the sea.

The north beach had one Redshank on it and nothing else. I found only two Turnstone later, as we approached the golf course. I have to admit I rarely see much of note on the wetland area but today at least found a single Snipe with the Mute Swans, Teal and Gadwall. I really do think the drake Gadwall is an attractive bird.

With the tide being high it had not been the best time to walk along the cliffs, but by the end of the walk I was more than satisfied to note that I had 68 species on my day list, 6 of them new for the year list.
This is always a grand walk with a variety of habitat. I have Holywell Birder to blame for my raising my interest in this area sometime ago ;-) His enthusiasm is catching!

Parks and Dene

Bridge over Ouseburn
Wood Anemone

4th Apr. Today I was to lead a walk in the parks near the centre of Newcastle. Thankfully after much planning the threatened rain did not materialise and 30 participants arrived, surpassing my expectations by some distance. The walk was to focus upon the historical aspects of the area as well as the birds and other natural elements. Anyway it was good to have such a group of interested and knowledgeable people of all ages (the youngest being a lad around the age of 11) with me and this all added to my enjoyment of the day.

As we waited at the park gates which had been the agreed meeting point, Chiffchaff, Wren, Blackbird, Chaffinch and Grenfinch song predominated. Quite early into the walk we had excellent views of a busy male Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch. Two displaying Sparrowhawk flew high above us adding some of the unexpected. Mistle Thrush was found also. The infamous ‘Sycamore shoe tree’ brought a mixture of comments, but I think I agree with what seemed to be the majority view that adding shoes to other trees to make it more of a ‘shoe street’ is unsightly and takes something away from the original tree. We enjoyed sightings of the more common woodland birds as well as the historical structures in the area before walking down to the bridge over the Ouseburn for what was to be the first of many watches for Kingfisher. We also admired the deeply grooved bark of what is an Ash tree of some good age. No Kingfisher, but there was the sighting of our first of several pairs of Grey Wagtail, and Song Thrushes which had come down to bathe in the burn. Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria grew on the banks of the burn. Before we reached Jesmond Dene we found a rather attractive area of Wood Anemones Anemone nemorosa. The Wild Garlic Allium ursinum was still not yet in flower.

Another stop was made to give some time for a Kingfisher and Dipper watch, but he best view we had was of a very large Rat on the side of the burn. If anyone had plans of dipping their feet in the burn I think such ides had been firmly knocked on the head. Once into the ‘Dene’ proper we were amongst an area of exotic trees and shrubs, the gardens laid out for Lord Armstrong in the mid 19th century. This is an extremely interesting area to wander through, still with remains of some of the industrial use this area has been put to use for in the past and despite the exotic nature of the planting there was still a good amount of birdlife to find.

Birds found included Mallard, Moorhen, Herring Gull, Wood Pigeon, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch. It was interesting to watch a very busy Stock Dove flying back and forth across the burn bringing nesting material to a nest just below us on the bank of the burn. Another pair of Grey Wagtails were found at there nest amongst the ivy on one of the picturesque bridges. In fact we saw at least 4 pairs of Grey Wagtails today.

We took a short break for lunch at the pavilion near the waterfall and old mill and everyone had time to admire these and the rather grand trees at hand which included Silver Birch, London Plane, Yew and Spanish (Sweet) Chestnut. I have read that the spiralling groves in the bark of the Spanish Chestnut (thought to be introduced by the Romans) may have gained its name because the groves resemble the twisting skirts of flamenco dancers. A nice story, but one I think unlikely to be true.

As we carried on moving further through the dene we found Treecreeper and another Nuthatch, both giving good views. The highlight of my day was watching our youngest participant, who had told me very politely at the start of the walk that he wasn’t interested in birds, getting quite excited whilst watching these birds. I must admit the Nuthatch in particular was one of the birds that excited me even before I was so keen on bird watching. It led me to take a keener interest, so let’s hope it has the same effect upon this young person. We found small patches of Spring Squill Scilla verna and Colstfoot Tussilago farfara
We returned via the now disused sandstone quarry where once very high grade Sandstone was found and shipped around the world in the shape of grindstones. All the time we kept an eye open for those elusive Kingfishers and Dippers but with no luck. It was a successful day in all other respects and once again shows that you don’t have to travel far to enjoy nature. I celebrated by buying ‘me’ self an ice cream cornet!