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.