Sunday, 30 August 2009

A Good 'Tern' Out!

29th Aug. We had a good turn out for the Local Group walk at St Mary’s Island today. Participants included a lady who volunteers on Coquet Island so it was apt that we found Roseate Terns. It proved to be a good day for terns, with a large number of Sandwich and Common Terns and one Arctic Tern seen. Everyone had the chance to view four Roseate Terns and as all of the terns were together on the rocks it enabled comparisons to be made. Several of the participants I feel, quickly learnt that identifying waders, terns and gulls in various stages of plumage is no easy business!

As I had promised my self, I kept the party well away from the neglected wetland area and spoke to one or two people who feel the exact same way as me about the state of neglect. As the group dispersed three of us found seven Roseate Terns in a line on the rocks (the 4 I had seen earlier may or may not have been amongst them), with a lone Kittiwake. Well ok not the 67 Roseate Terns reported from the previous day I see, but I’ll settle for seven and the fact I had managed to time things for what seems to have been the peak movement of the Roseate Terns. In fact I had timed things for the tides so as to allow us to spend time on the island and simply hoped this would coincide with a few terns moving south.

The wind meant there was no butterflies to be seen in the grassland area although as I walked from Whitley Bay centre I had seen Small White, Large White, Small Tortoiseshell and yes, Painted Lady Butterflies along with Sand Martin, Wheatear and Kestrel. I was told that five Whinchat had been seen together on a fence of the ‘mast’ field. Numbers of waders seem to be building up nicely and the nine species we saw kept everyone busy and the one Grey Seal was a nice bonus.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Holywell to St Mary's Island

Holywell Dene
Painted Lady

Small Copper

Sea Aster

Painted Lady and Wall Brown Butterflies

Common Darter

27th Aug. Summer may be reaching an end, but the weather this morning was wonderful, with sun heat and clear blue skies. The only minor point to mar an otherwise peaceful morning was the dog walker whose voice echoed across the fields and reserve at Holywell as she called constantly for her three canine companions, as if to show that she was in complete control of the situation, which in fact was far from the truth. It seemed a bit of a pantomime although it has to be said, the dogs made no noise at all!

The area of Holywell was buzzing with Swallows and House Martins and I managed to count 4 Swifts and 2 Sand Martins over the pond before I moved on. Otherwise things were quiet, if you discount that dog walker. I had noted a female Great Spotted Woodpecker in the village as it climbed a telegraph pole before perching on top. The usual flock of House Sparrows were actively flying from hedge to field and back again and the odd Goldfinch was about. I did give up trying to count the Little Grebe on the pond with well over 20 I would say. Just as I left 6 Canada Geese landed on the pond and a Grey Heron finally put in an appearance and landed behind the island. One solitary Lapwing was amongst the Black Headed Gulls on the mud, and Greater and Lesser Black Backed Gulls flew over the pond. As I walked along to the track leading to the dene I could here the calls of Willow Warbler and one did finally put in an appearance. These calls were to continue most of the morning. I found a pair of Whitethroat in the hedge of the track way, but little else of note.

As I entered the dene I found a Stock Dove flying into the herbage above the culvert and as usual I didn’t see the Kingfisher! I had a very brief sighting of Grey Wagtail on the burn and in two or three places I found large parties of birds, travelling through the dene. The first party must have come across a Tawny Owl deep in the tree cover. I assumed it was being mobbed as it gave out a few calls and the Blackbirds and Wrens gave out long lasting alarm calls. I found a female Blackcap had joined the party of which seemed otherwise to consist of Great, Coal and Blue Tits. With the shafts of sun coming through the tree canopy cover, it made for a picturesque scene.

At the further end of the dene just before arriving at the dipping pond I stopped for a drink. I got my eye on a Spotted Flycatcher and eventually found the pair. I watched them feeding for sometime. This was the highlight of the day as they were joined by Willow Warbler, Linnet and finally my second pair of Whitethroat. I could have sat and watched these birds for a good deal longer but I was hoping to make the fish and chip café earlier than is the norm. My next short stop was at the dipping pond where I found 3 or 4 Common Darter Dragonfly and a Blue-tailed Damselfly. Goldfinch called form the bushes probably well satisfied with their feeding on the nearby thistle patches.

Butterflies had so far been Small White, Large White, countless Wall Brown (they were every where), Painted Lady and 1 Speckled Wood in the dene. I noticed one Wall Brown trying to get amorous with a Painted Lady, but the latter quickly flew off. The salt marsh area was, as is the norm at this time of year, dotted with patches of Sea Aster Aster tripolium which seem to once again have taken a battering from the rain. Then it was time for refreshment and the fish and chips before once again striding out towards St Mary’s Island. I was hoping to find Common Blue Butterflies, but there were none. Last year these were numerous around the area of the cliffs. Although past the peak of their flight period I thought that thee would be some about. However, I was once again accompanied by Wall Browns. Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and eventually Small Copper Butterflies were found. I decided to risk life and limb and step over the fence on the cliff so as to get a photograph of the Small Copper. Well perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but I did get over the fence!

I’m leading a walk in the area over the weekend so I’m hoping for some decent birds. There weren’t too many around today. I did find 5 Wheatear in the fields near Seaton Sluice where the horses are kept and usually a good spot to check. Waders included Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Golden Plover, Redshank and Curlew and terns included Common, Arctic and Sandwich. I’m sure that would be enough to keep the party happy at the weekend as few will be birders as such. Of course there were the Eider Ducks, Fulmar, Cormorants and a Rock Pipit.

Towards the end of my walk I always take a look at the wetland area and inevitably find very little in the way of bird life. Today I found what looked to me an area in decay which seems to me to be in need of some management. The wetland itself seems to be completely overgrown. The viewing areas are untidy and overgrown with nettles, and the signs I saw covered in graffiti. Not a good way to promote Whitley Bay in my opinion and I wasn’t surprised to note that no one else was anyway interested in this area. Doesn’t this area fall within the council’s area of conservation? I don’t like to see areas ‘groomed’ too much and some neglect from the council ‘cutters’ can be a good idea. This area just seemed to be completely neglected and off putting. Perhaps another cut back! Birds seen there = Mute Swan and 2 Lapwings! I’ve decided to miss this area out of my walk at the weekend and tell the party why! A good walk otherwise with 59 species of bird (lower than my usual count on this walk)
I’ve visited St Mary’s Island since childhood and never realised how little I knew about it and its history until I have recently done a little background reading. I had spoken to an elderly lady in the fish and chip shop who had told me she gets very sad to think that the areas history is forgotten. I hadn’t realised that the hide on the island had been built in 1959 and used in some way for degaussing ships to protect them from mines laid during World War 11. To tell you the truth I didn’t know what degaussing meant until I looked it up!

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Whinchat on Patch.

Thistle Heads
Painted Lady Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Lge White Butterfly

22nd Aug. I decided to walk the waggonway today and rather pleased I did as I found a new and very much unexpected bird for the patch list. Whilst watching what appeared to be a growing number of Goldfinches feeding on the thistles I got my eye on a lone bird perched atop of thistles and grasses. It proved to be a female Whinchat. I watched it and length and took careful note of the plumage markings. I assume it was making for the coast.

Not too much else about bird wise, but I did find Willow Warbler in the hedges. Good numbers of Greenfinch and Goldfinch throughout the walk. At one point towards Holystone a large flock of Goldfinch was disturbed by a Kestrel which continued to hunt over the fields for sometime. Swallows seemed to be gathering in preparation for migration. Two female Pheasants disappeared into the crops as I passed and others birds included Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, and Linnet.

Still good numbers of butterfly around and I reckon this included 15/20+ Wall Browns which were very fighty and appearing to be engaged in courtship. Others seen were Large White, Small White, Green Veined White, Peacock, and 1 Painted Lady. The latter just before I arrived home.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Great Crested Grebes of Doubtful Parentage!

20th August. Rather windy today and not a single butterfly seen except the odd Small White in the sanctuary of the garden.

There were numbers of Swallow and House Martin and the odd Sand Martin feeding over the lake today. A handful of Swifts flew higher in the sky and a lone Common Tern was actively feeding. It was the great Crested Grebes that took the eye again on the smaller lake. On my return home and after finishing my chicken pie and chips I reached for the copy of The Grebes/Bird Families of the World. I must try and read this again more thoroughly. It was interesting to check out how some of the bird’s behaviour I have been watching over the weeks is recorded in the book. Since the juvenile numbers have dropped to two I had noticed that one each of the adult birds takes one of the juvenile birds to feed. This is mentioned in the book along with the fact that the family will often make a complete separation. (It seems that the adult birds strongly favour one particular juvenile). This separation hasn’t occurred with the local birds as they were resting closely together as a family this afternoon.

What really had me looking in the book however was that the photographer who I have met at the lake before was insisting that the three juvenile birds that I had assumed had been lost had been ‘fostered/adopted’ by the second pair of Great Crested Grebes on the larger lake. I thought this a bit odd, but didn’t argue. Sure enough the other pair of Great Crested Grebes have three juvenile birds with them and whilst I had thought they had not nested I must admit I have neglected that end of the patch lately. On reflection I think these three juveniles look a good way behind the other two in development, but maybe I need to take another look. Anyway my book seems to suggest that any such fostering would be unlikely as ‘because of the intolerance to foreign (I assume foreign to mean of different species, but no further explanation is given with regard to same species) chicks brood amalgamation is not likely to take place in grebes’. It does mention however an example of a Red Necked Grebe raising the young of a Great Crested Grebe and suggests that juveniles lost during combat may be accepted by other adults. Has anyone witnessed such behaviour in grebes? I have read elsewhere that it is thought that the R N Grebes have had their nest parasitized by the G C Grebes. I’d also be interested to know if anyone has seen any sign of this second pair nesting on the larger lake.
Anyway, it is good to report that five juvenile Great Crested Grebes appear to be doing well on the lake. Bearing in mind the behaviour I have read about I will take note as to how the group of three juveniles progress.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Birds, Butterflies and Book.

Hedge Woundwort

Peacock Butterfly

17th Aug. I took a short walk to the lake today and just before walking into the church grounds I passed a juvenile Woodpigeon sat on the ground. It didn’t stir at all as I passed closely by and seemed to be enjoying the sun. It wasn’t long out of the nest, but didn’t seem injured. I was hoping no one would disturb it. I think people can do more harm than good in what they think are attempts to help birds. My next Woodpigeon find was a pile of feathers in the field near to the lake. On inspection I found the leg and toes of the bird along with some of its innards. A fresh kill it seemed and I suspect that a Sparrowhawk had been disturbed half way through a meal. I refrained from taking a photo of the remains! There weren’t many birds about, so after watching one of the adult Great Crested Grebes with one of the youngsters (I mistook the youngster for the other adult bird such is its size now) and the Grey Heron, I returned to the grassy area, despite the strong breeze, to look for butterflies.

Another short time out session brought me one Small Skipper which I reckon is now the last of the large numbers which have come to the end of their flight season. There were plenty of Small and Large White Butterflies and I eventually found a Peacock Butterfly. This could well have been the one I found at the beginning of the month as it sat on the exact same bramble leaves and seemed to patrol the exact same area. The grassy area is going back now. I took particular notice to find Yorkshire Fog grass Holcus lanatus as this is where I have learnt that the Small Skippers lay their eggs. I realised how little I know about grasses.I crossed the road and looked for the Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara which continues to flower. An area of Canadian Goldenrod Solidago canadensis, Rosebay Chamerion angustifolium and assorted plants was attracting lots of insect life including more Peacock and Small White Butterflies. I now realise that one of the assorted plants was Marjoram Origanum vulgare which is especially liked by butterflies I understand. I attempted to get a shot of the Peacock’s underwing. It wasn’t easy in the wind. I met with limited success although one shot despite the butterfly almost having left the frame does show the bark/leaf adaptation quite well. Would you ever find this, still, on a tree? I don’t think so.As I moved on I passed the Hawksbeard species. Well that’s what I think it is. Now the leaf and timing of flowering would suggest Smooth Hawksbeard but it looks ‘owt’ but smooth to me! Anyway on my return the juvenile Woodpigeon had moved on and I found Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica near the pathway.

Now, all of the recent talk of butterflies had me reaching for an old book of mine I purchased in a sale several years ago. The book is Bright Wings of Summer/David G Measures and I paid £1.95 for it. I know the cost as I found the price tag still in the book. It’s not an especially good book, and all of the writing which accompanies the butterfly paintings from the authors note book is almost illegible without straining the eyes! The book is also a bit dated. Were they really worried about the climate cooling in 1976, the date the book was published? How things change. Never mind. I have still enjoyed reading the book over the past couple of days. I think it is good to go back and look at old books, carrying with you a hopefully growing knowledge that ageing brings to at least most of us. The book covers in brief things like butterfly courtship, breeding and egg-laying.

I began to daydream about 1976. I’m sure some of you will remember it was that very hot summer. You could even say I was ‘hot’ then too, with a little stretch of the imagination! I was well into back-packing then folks and I distinctly remember climbing Fleetwith Pike and the Haystacks with my mates in the Lake District. Or was that 1977? Never mind near enough and that was a hot summer too. By the way if you ever climb Haystacks you may find an old hat of mine up there as I left it beside one of the tarns. Its one of those army camouflage jobs. Very nice too, so if you find it please tell me. Wot’s he going on about I hear you ask. Well, it happens that I now find that the scarce Mountain Ringlet can be found on Fleetwith. Now I never knew that! I suppose I had other things on my mind in 1976! Perhaps Bri is going to have to go into training and get back up there, but without a back-pack this time.

There was also a very good programme on Radio Four this morning about the re-introduction of the Large Blue Butterfly to southern England. I learnt that this butterfly larvae feeds on Wild Thyme and then drops off and exudes a sugary substance which attracts a species of Red Ant which carries the larvae of to it’s nest where the larvae eat the ant's young over the coming months, before dragging their selves out as fully developed imago Large Blue Butterflies. They don’t survive long in the full adult stage, but do mate, which is something I suppose. Then the whole thing begins again. Interesting or wot? I’ve never seen a Large Blue Butterfly. I must get that on my list of things to see.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Hot Days on Patch 3

Wall Brown
Wall Brown

Painted Lady

Great Mulleins

8th Aug. The hot days just keep coming. I was off along the waggonway again today and numbers of butterfly seemed to have increased. Numbers of Wall Brown were way into double figures today, and I was so intent on trying to take a photo of these flighty butterflies I failed to confirm in my own mind, the sighting of Small Coppers. I’ll need to pay another visit t confirm. There were several Painted Ladies and numbers of Peacock today and other butterflies seen were Small White, Green Veined White, Red Admiral. Meadow Brown and Small Skipper. I failed to catch a photo of a rather attractive silver moth so it has gone unidentified. More and more these days I tend to stand (or sit) and let nature come to me so I spent a good a lengthy period of time in the grassy area and it paid dividends. This in my mind is the great advantage of being alone or at least being with a like minded person. The one major failing of being out with the group is the noise and chatter. The temperatures have steadily crept up over the past three days, and today was a scorcher at times.

I had found the Goldfinches still very active on the thistle seeds and in the same field were Feral Pigeon, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove and Stock Dove. Numbers of Greenfinch were in the hedges and Chiffchaff could be heard. Swallows flew overhead and of course the usual corvids where about.

I heard a Willow Warbler in full and continuous song as I came to the roadway. I eventually picked up the stunningly yellow bird in someone’s garden. I wonder if the residents were listening to the song. There is certainly a lot of movement of Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff at present. I spotted a Chiffchaff in the hedgerow once I joined the second part of the waggonway. The usual Linnets and Yellowhammers were about and also quite tuneful. I’m looking forward to that flash returning.

It had been a wonderful walk with butterflies at every step and as I made my return walk to catch the football match on the T V, white butterflies were every where over the fields. A Kestrel flew off as I approached the roadway. There was no action as I passed the Sparrowhawk nest. The Great Mullein Verbascum thapsus which was growing in the hedgerow near by could not be missed. I made a mental note to get a photo another day, so much was the pull of the football. I can’t believe I’m saying that!

9th Aug. It gets hotter and hotter. This can’t last! Anyway I returned to take my photograph of the Great Mullein. I hung around for a while in the hope of seeing the Sparrowhawks, but to no avail, although the calls were tantalisingly close. More Peacock Butterflies too.

I have received my British and Irish Butterflies/Adrian M Riley. My first look over this book suggests that I have made an excellent buy here and it contains all I want about flight periods, larvae plans and food plants. I must admit I didn’t realise that there were so many sub species of British and Irish butterflies. I shall be getting stuck into this soon. To good and big to use out in the field though. Published in 2007 I guess it was like most books a little out of date even when published, but in these times of quickening climate change, that is to be expected. It’ll do me none the less. I’ve already picked out a field trip for the group to Cumbria next year which given decent weather and appropriate timing should bring us Scottish Argus and Dark Green Fritillary

My other new book, a late arriving birthday present as it happens is the double volume The Birds of Scotland/SOC. I’ve so far just had a quick look but it seems to me to be a stunning and informative book. Worth every penny (especially when you get it as a present and it’s someone else’s pennies) and it will get its place on my book shelf for ‘special books only’. I have some good winter reading material here.
10th Aug Well, it has rained today, so allowing me to sort my reports out.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Hot Days on Patch 2

Grey Heron
Great Crested Grebe

Speckled Wood



7th August. Another hot day and a walk to the lake, finding a Speckled Wood Butterfly in the church grounds, a first on patch and showing just how much this species appears to be extending range I reckon. Other butterflies seen today were Small White, Peacock, Meadow Brown and Small Skipper.

The small lake was quiet. The resident Grey Heron appeared to be undisturbed by my close proximity as it watched the water intently for sign of movement. It wasn’t long before I found numbers of Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies.

The pair of Little Grebe was there, but I have seen no sign that they have nested. The pair of Great Crested Grebe swam with one juvenile bird a piece in toe. One of the youngsters seems still to be quite reliant upon the adult for feeding whilst the other seems to be content most of the time to seek its own food. Both remaining youngsters have come along very well. The occasional Swallow flew over the pond whilst the flock of Black Headed Gulls made for a pleasing sight whilst flying to feed amongst the rubbish which had found its way into the lake. I need to have a look on the larger lake which I’ve neglected of late.

I called at the site nearby where the school had been demolished and I found a favourite flower of mine, Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara, with this one appearing in various stages of growth. Whilst in places, in full flower and budding, part of the plant was also in fruit. The berries still green.
I returned via the church grounds and as I made for the open area opposite the estate I watched as a dragonfly flew around the area and between the trees, most of the time lower than 5`. I was unable to get a decent look at it before it flew off into the church woodland, but did catch sight of green on the abdomen. It’s colouring, size, flight and habitat confirms to me that it was a Southern Hawker. Another first on patch.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Hot Days On Patch. 1

??? Moth

Ruddy Darter

Peacock Butterfly

Small Tortoiseshell

Meadow Brown

Canadian Goldenrod

5th Aug. Well ok, not hot bird wise, but hot none the less. I had noticed numbers of butterfly passing the windows this morning and I found that the attraction was the Butterfly Bush Buddleja davidii in a neighbour’s front garden. I was tempted to get my binoculars on the bush to pick them out, but thought better of it. I decided to take a walk along the wagon way instead. I was initially disappointed, but things soon picked up.

Birds are few and far between on patch at the moment, and have been throughout the previous month which has focussed my attention on the insects. On reaching the farm I did find numbers of Swallow and House Martins hunting over the field and the first few of many Goldfinches to be seen today, feeding on the thistle seeds. Summer is not the time for birds on this particular walk. I was drawn to some Dyers Greenweed Geista tinctoria (I think!) on the side of the track and later a patch of a very attractive plant which was attracting many insects. On later checking I found this to be Canadian Goldenrod Solidago canadensis. I also began to notice just how many people have Butterfly Bushes in their gardens!

Small White Butterflies had been with me the length of the walk and when I came to the small open grassland area I began to find Green Veined White, Small Tortoiseshell (numbers), Peacock (numbers), a single Red Admiral, Meadow Brown and the odd Small Skipper which seem to be coming to the end of their flight period. Moving along it was a pleasant surprise to find the road between Killingworth and Backworth closed as repair work is being carried out on the bridge. It’s amazing what a difference this makes to the walk. I do remember when this road was a quiet country road, but no longer, so I’ll be happy if it stays closed for sometime. I found a single Painted Lady Butterfly as I crossed to the continuation of the waggonway as I made in the direction of Holystone. Now that there are crops in the fields birding was restricted. I had earlier heard the occasional huit huit of Chiffchaff and now found and heard Wrens, Linnets and Yellowhammers. I disturned a flock of 50/60 Goldfinch, which apart from two birds had been hidden within the hedgerow. Again these birds had been busy on the thistles. Apart from this there was only the corvids, pigeons and gulls. Numbers of Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Meadow Brown Butterflies continued to appear.

At the point I turned around to return I found a couple of very flighty Wall Brown Butterflies which proved impossible to photograph. I’d like to think that the edges of the fields which contain many species of wild flower are deliberate policy on the farmer’s behalf. In amongst the assortment I found a large patch of Scarlet Pimpernel Anagallis arvensis which was just coming into flower and lots of Pineappleweed Matricaria discoidea. The later actually being quite attractive when seen in close up.

I had noticed that there was no sign of any Swifts in the area. Walking homeward I caught brief sight of a Sparrowhawk flying into the trees with prey, probably caught in a garden on the estates. It wasn’t long before I heard the calls of Sparrowhawk chicks and probably the female bird. I hung around for a while, but was unable to catch sight of any of the birds which where still calling excitedly as I left for home.

6th Aug. No real chance for birding today but I did take some time out to look at the area where the Sparrowhawks have nested. On approach I caught sight of a Sparrowhawk flying high in the sky above the site. I took the chance to wait and see if the male would fly in with food. There was no action at all, but I was joined by a Ruddy Darter Dragonfly and a rather attractive blowfly, a Greenbottle species of the Lucilia genera. Blowflies I understand are one of the first flies to come into contact with carrion because of their ability to smell this from long distance. It is another one of the insects that is important in the science of forensics. I must read up a bit more about this then order my Butterfly Bush!
I ended the day finding a rather attractive moth in the garden. I suspect this is a common moth. Can anyone I D this for me please?

Sunday, 2 August 2009

Insects On Patch 3

Peacock Butterfly.

As the sun shone today I was out for a short walk to the patch of grasses down the road and was taking particular attention to see if I could find any Cinabar Moth caterpillars on the Common Ragwort. I'm not sure why I did this as I've yet to see a Cinabar Moth on patch! None found, but I was rewarded with this little poser below. I have seen lots of butterflies this year, but few Peacocks. Lots of Flesh Flies about today too. The number of Small Skippers has fallen, although some are still around along with Small Whites.

I could hear the huit huit of Chiffchaffs, and a few Swallows and Swifts were about. I didn't get any furhter than the patch of grass!