Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Birds, Flora and a White-clawed Crayfish.

White-clawed Crayfish
Water Avens

The Boathouse

Hartburn Woodland

25th May. My Bank Holiday was spent in the sun with friends at Hartburn, Northumberland. I don’t know that particular area well so was pleased to spend some time walking through the farmland and through the woodland along the banks of the Hart, with a good lunch and wine on the lawn providing a pleasing interval and enabling me to top up on the sun tan!

I caught sight of Swifts and Lapwing on the journey and on arrival was soon watching Swallows and House Martins flying over the garden and fields. I understand that the House Martins had only recently arrived here. Great Spotted Woodpeckers also visited the garden and amongst the birds on the feeders were a good number of Siskin and Tree Sparrows. Pied Wagtail was also seen. The walk through the farmland towards the wooded banks of the burn brought Common Buzzards, Black Headed Gull, Lesser Back Backed Gull, the song of Skylarks and Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chaffinch, Linnet and Yellowhammer. The male of the latter looking stunning in the sunlight. A distant Grey Heron was seen in flight and the usual corvids and pigeons were numerous.

The floor of the long established woodland along he banks of the Hart is rich in flora and there was certainly a profusion of Bluebells Hyacinthoides non-scriptus and Wild Garlic Allium ursinum. Other plants of note included Woodruff Galium odoratum, Wood Sorrel Oxalis acetosella, Primrose Primula vulgaris, Wild Strawberry Fragaria vesca, Bugle Ajuga reptans and Water Avens Geum rivale. The woodland floor was also thick with ferns. We were in a very private area so saw no one else at all. At times it was as if going through a secret garden. At one point I heard a distant Cuckoo calling. There was much song from Wren, Blackbird, Robin and Chaffinch and a couple of Blackcaps. A male Bullfinch was seen high in the trees. I picked up the sound of Great Spotted Woodpeckers and we watched both the male and female visiting the nest hole. My friend found us a (now threatened) White-clawed Crayfish, to the best of my knowledge the first one I had ever seen.

It turned out to be a longish walk through the woods, made longer I suppose by frequent stops to listen for bird song and look at the flora. We later found a pair of Grey Wagtails further along the burn at the point where the ford is.
The bearby field held Pignut Conopodium majus
The lake held 2 Little Grebe, Mute Swans, Canada Geese and Coot and is probably much better for waterfowl in winter. A Sedge Warbler sang loudly in the small reed bed.
It proved to be an excellent day which provided a bit of everything including a very nice wild flower meadow, and I hope I can get back there soon.

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Pond, Wood and Coast Again!

Mateing Orange Tip Butterflies
Celery-leaved Buttercup

Greater Stichwort

Holywell Dene

Star of Bethlehem

Holywell Pond

22nd May. The decision today was whether or not to visit Cresswell, or take my favourite local walk from Holywell to St Mary’s. The latter won the day, as the thought of a stop for fish and chips was a temptation just too hard to resist. The forecast was for rain showers around mid day, but the morning began in sunshine. We were soon picking up large numbers of Swallows and House Martins in Holywell Village and on the walk to the hide a high flying Sparrowhawk was seen just before a singing and active Whitethroat was found. The first of three or four Whitethroat to be seen today.

The feeding station at the hide was deserted. The first bird I saw on the water was a Ruddy Duck, the first one I have seen for sometime. Sedge Warblers were soon heard and when I walked to the public hide I had my scope on one. A Kestrel hovered in the air at the east end of the pond. Birds on the water included Little Grebe, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot. Pairs of both species of geese led large families of goslings around the pond. I couldn’t find the Great Crested Grebes which had been nesting on the edge of the pond on my previous visit. Once at the east end of the pond I found Grey Heron which appeared to have been hidden behind the island, and two Shelduck flew in and landed on the water directly in front of me.

On walking away towards the track leading to the dene I heard Greenfinch and found a Reed Bunting in its usual territory. The first Willow Warbler was heard and seen on the track towards the dene and once in the dene the occasional Chiffchaff was heard. It was very noticeable just how quite the Chiffchaffs have now become compared recent weeks. It’s the same on the local patch. I guesed birds where not going to be easy to view in the dene with so much foliage now, and on the whole I was correct. Birds seen included Blackbird, Song Thrush, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Robin and Dunnock.

Small White Butterflies had been around in large numbers from the start of the walk and I spotted a Green Veined White too. I was surprised to find a good number of Orange Tip and Speckled Wood Butterflies in the dene. I found a pair of the former mating with another trying to join them. I managed to photograph the pair. When I went down to the burn to take a couple of photographs I found a Spotted Flycatcher, with bill full of insects, flying to and from a branch perch over the burn. This is a first sighting of Spotted Flycatcher I have had on this walk and I remembered Holywell Birder’s very recent sighting of this species near to the hide. I’m afraid I went one better, as I seem to have found a pair with the other bird perched above the burn on the wires. A nice find in deed and a first for the year. Just before this find, a Tawny Owl had called at around mid day.

There had been much botanical interest. One of the banks of the burn was a mass of Wild Garlic Allium ursinum. The hedge verges were often covered in Red Campion Silene dioica and Greater Stichwort Stellaria holostea. Herb Bennet Geum urbanum was beginning to show and Herb Robert Geranium robertianum was quite abundant. The pick of the flowers I found were Star of Bethlehem Ornithogalum angustifolium (which may be a garden escape) and Celery-leaved Buttercup Ranunculus sceleratus which I found growing in a wet area near the salt marsh. I remembered that I had found this plant groing in the pond in the dene last year.

As I had come out of the dene I had seen a number of Brown Hares. A pair with young I reckon. We chatted to a couple who where locals and friends of Holywell Dene. They had the same views as me with regard to thoughtless dog owners. In the dene I had been obviously watching birds on the burn when someone decided to throw a stick into the water for their dog. The lack of common sense and manners of some people never ceases to amaze me!

Lunch Taken at Seaton Sluice, he walk was continued along the cliffs to St Mary’s Island. Dark thunderous cloud was over Blyth and I thought I was going to get a soaking. It was clearly raining out at sea. Thankfully only the odd drop of rain was felt before the cloud moved further out to sea and the sun shone again. There was very little wind and for once conditions were pleasant for a short sea watch. Unfortunately there was not a great deal to watch and I have never known the area between Seaton Sluice and St Mary’s to be so devoid of birds. Having said that there was good numbers of Fulmar nesting and flying along the cliff line, a single Kittiwake was seen and othe birds included Gannet, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Lesser Black Backed Gull and Greater Black Backed Gull. Eider Ducks, Cormorant and odd Shag were also about. The only waders seen were a small group of Oystercatchers. Lapwings had been seen further inland. Common and Sandwich Terns dived for fish.

Over the fields Skylarks sang and there was good numbers of Meadow Pipit and Linnet. Another Reed Bunting was found and Goldfinch were seen at some point.

I thought we might find some waders nearer St Mary’s but it was not to be. The wetland was quite too with only Mute Swan, Moorhen and Teal. Sand Martins were eventually found in number and we watched as a small number flew to and from the nesting site. A Willow Warbler sang on the wetland and gave a very good scope view. I had added Wall Brown Butterfly to the list as we walked along the cliffs and noticed large patches of Cowslip Primula veris.
The latter part of the walk had seemed very quiet and I felt a number of birds which I would have expected were missing. I ended the walk sitting in the sun admiring what appeared to be an empty sea. Never the less I was pleasantly surprised when I got home and added up the list which came to 65 bird species

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A Whitethroat at Last!

Lords and Ladies
Ribwort Plantain

Hawthorn Blossom


17th May. My absence from the blog can be explained in two words gastro enteritis. Yes I have been down with some nasty bug and have had to make do with the garden birds and a garden visit by a Green Veined White Butterfly. I did manage to see a Fox as I passed Earsdon on 9th May which was the same day as I caught sight of my first of the year Common Terns over Killy Lake. I managed to explore the patch briefly last week, but today was my first real birding for some time. Two hours bought me 40 species of bird.

I took a look at the Nuthatch nest hole first of all and the male seemed to be visiting with food so a good start to my walk. It was amazing how differently the nest hole area looked now with ivy grown up and the trees in full leaf. Not far away I also found a plant I have never knowingly seen before in Lords and Ladies Arum maculatum. I walked across to the lake hoping for some butterflies on the way, but all I found today were whites. There is an amazing change in the scenery over the past two weeks with many of the trees appearing to be in full leaf and the hedges lined with Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris, and much Hawthorn in full bloom. Wild Garlic Allium ursinum was in full flower now too. Chiffchaffs, Blackbirds, Chaffinches and Wren sang in the church grounds.

On reaching the lake I found the pair of Great Crested Grebe at the nest. This year they seem to have picked a better spot away from the pathway and main road and they are in the centre of the lake. A Coot also sat on a nest and I later noticed Coot chicks were about. Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins all hunted for food over the smaller lake and they were soon joined by noisily calling Common Terns. A Cormorant with white breeding patch clearly showing flew overhead. A Pied Wagtail was stepping across water plants as it fed. The lake was edged with Meadow Buttercups Ranunculus acris and Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis. The larger lake still held the lone female Goosander. Other birds on the water included Mute Swan, Canada Geese, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Moorhen. Herring Gulls flew overhead and Black Headed Gulls were feeding. A lone Lesser Black Backed Gull flew across the lake.

Instead of walking around the lake I decided to double back and walk across the playing fields to behind the village where I hoped to find my first Whitethroat of the year. On reaching the area I heard both Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers singing. It wasn’t long before I had found a male Blackcap near its usual nesting site. Dunnocks were also nesting there and feeding young. The usual Corvids were about. I walked around the area but neither saw or heard Whitethroat.

As I walked up the road to the village I found the field to the right full of Wood Pigeons, but little else apart from the odd Jackdaw and several Pheasants, one of the attractively plumaged males calling loudly. Robins and tits seemed to be the only other birds about in this area. I took the road to the right and walked down the wagonway. I hadn’t given up hope of a Whitethroat as I know they usually nest in this area. I have just recently learnt that Whitethroats where once known as nettle creepers, reflecting their favoured nesting areas.
I hung around the area for a time and my patience was rewarded with a singing/displaying male Whitethroat which was actively moving around his territory and singing from various perches. I was happy so begun to walk home, still with the song of Chiffchaffs in my ears and the sight of Greenfinches. I was happy to clock up 40 species of bird in a couple of hours and hopefully I’ll be back to normal soon.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Redstarts and Flycatchers

Wood Sorrel (pink variety)
Golden Saxifrage


30th April. As I waited for the bus I came across my first Swift of the year flying over Killingworth Lake. I didn’t have time for further investigation.

29th April. Today, well half of today, was spent south of the Tyne at Tunstall Reservoir with a brief stop at Muggleswick. I always enjoy the walk around the reservoir and through the oak woodland even though I generally find the area either windy and cold, or just plain cold! Today it was cold, at least at the start of the walk, but soon warmed up. I had three species of bird in mind today, Redstart, Pied Flycatcher and Wood Warbler.

On the journey down we had come across a Kestrel, which seem in my mind to becoming a rarity in places. We spoke to a birder just before entering the woods and he confirmed at least one pair of Redstarts were about and explained where he had seen them. Little was seen from the wall of the reservoir apart from a Pied Wagtail and a couple of Goldfinch. Oh yes and two Mute Swans flew overhead along with a number of Greylag Geese. Taking a walk to the area the other guy had mentioned I found little but Swallows flying around the fields plus the song of countless Willow Warblers which was to remain with us as we walked through the woodland. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers seemed to greet us as we entered the oak woodland area and I eventually lost count of the number of Treecreepers. It wasn’t to long before a pair of Redstarts was found and they gave great views as they flitted through the trees on occasions perching for short spells. I reckon the Redstart qualifies for the term exotic! After watching at length lunch was taken before walking the circle around the reservoir. Another male Redstart was found and confirmed to be one of another pair when we encountered the other pair again further along the pathway. Other birds included Great tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Chaffinch, calling Pheasants and a singing Mistle Thrush.

At the far end of the Reservoir I found my first Common Sandpiper of the year, Grey Heron and more Greylag Geese, one pair accompanied by 4 youngsters. Much of the woodland floor had been covered by Wood Sorrel Oxalis acetosella. This has to be one of my favourite plants such is the delicate flower and wonderfully shaped trefoil leaf. I think their appeal is also that they are often seen in half light at the foot of trees on moss or tree mulch. I found a small patch of the pink variety which is not, as far as I’m aware, very common. Other plants included Primrose Primula vulgaris, Golden Saxifrage Chrsosplenium oppositifolium, Garlic Mustard Alliaria petiolata and Dog’s Mercury Mercurialis perennis and Violet species.

There had been no sign of the hoped for Pied Flycatchers and Wood Warblers. We made off for a quick visit to Muggleswick and to an area where we had seen both these species in previous years. I caught sight of an Orange Tip Butterfly on the journey. I learnt it best to remember to follow the correct path on the walk here, as I suddenly found myself on a rather narrow and slippery area with a long drop below into the river. I don’t like heights at the best of times and could not remember this situation in the past so quickly got back onto the correct path, which itself is not an easy one to follow and negotiate. I am pleased to say the effort was rewarded with great sightings of a pair of Pied Flycatchers.

Chiffchaffs called here, but I picked up no calls from Wood Warblers. I did at one point think I had struck lucky finding a warbler in the trees which seemed to have the more obvious yellow colouring of the Wood Warbler. I didn’t see it well enough with the sun in my eyes so I have put it down as a Chiffchaff and wishful thinking. I did catch sight of a Tawny Owl flying on the edge of the woodland and a Sparrowhawk. As I walked back out of the wood I found a small patch of Cuckooflower Cardamine pratensis and Speckled Wood Butterfly.
So I was happy to settle for two out of three of my target birds today.