Saturday, 27 February 2010

Two Wet Birders!

26th Feb. Well the BBC home page weather forecast said heavy rain so I assumed the morning shower would soon fade away. I was wrong, and on this occasion the BBC was correct! If I had known would I have cancelled plans to do my Holywell walk? Probably not, as I had made arrangements with a mate to do the walk and I think he’s as passionate a birder, or perhaps as mad as me! Shelduck seemed to be the only birds on or near the Beehive Flash as we passed and as we walked towards St Mary’s Island, I had a feeling that the rain was here to stay. As we crossed from the cemetery Oystercatchers, Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Starlings were found on the golf- course and fields to the north. As we walked to the island the winds became stronger and the sea was raging. We were doing the walk back to front (I usually begin at Holywell) as I had thought the incoming tide would bring in plenty of waders. In the event many waders appeared to have their heads down and in the gales and rain where not easy to find. We did find plenty of Redshank and Curlew, and as we walked across to the island we found small flocks of Turnstone and a flock of c40 Knot which were at time very close to us on the causeway. We found several Rock Pipits, but no sign of a Water Pipit. Today was not really the day to be standing searching for the latter. At this point I did think the rain was going to ease, but it never did.

Sea watching was a non starter and in fact the sea looked almost deserted of birdlife with even gull numbers being few. We did find three Goldeneye and a couple of Eider Duck braving the waves. Cormorants and gulls were the only other sightings. The wetland held a number of Wigeon, fewer Teal and Moorhen.

The walk along the cliffs in the direction of Seaton Sluice was…..well, very wet, cold and windy! However Tom and I both got a year tick with Fulmar, and there were numbers about as they seemed to be one bird not put off flying in the conditions. We still couldn’t find anything on the sea and at this point a strong gust of wind took us by surprise. As we stepped back I managed to step into a deep hole in the cliff and painted a pretty picture when my left leg vanished! I could have broken my leg if my youth and fitness had not saved me! (Shut up!). I’m still having flash backs of this traumatic incident that could have seen me falling through the cliff onto rocks below and missing my fish and chip lunch, but I best not get too dramatic. We gave up any idea of a sea watch at the point at Seaton Sluice and made for our chips, and despite looking like drown rats, we enjoyed them. A guy we got speaking to in the cafĂ©, I think thought us mad for doing the walk we had just done, and even madder when I told him we were now walking on to Holywell.

At least once down by the saltmarsh and into the dene we were out of the wind, but not the rain. We quickly sighted a Grey Wagtail and further up the burn a Little Grebe, dived and took small flights. There was a large flock of Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch and a few tits in the area just before we reached the dipping pond. Now, when we had arranged the trip I had said to Tom that he might bring me luck in the form of a Kingfisher during the walk. I had yet to see one on my regular walk through the dene. I was explaining that a certain area is good for dragonflies in summer when what should we see, but a Kingfisher! It hung around long enough to give a decent sighting. A miracle in deed, and a just reward for our braving of such conditions. A Grey Heron and two Canada Geese also flew overhead.

As we negotiated some very muddy pathways, I heard my first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker of the year and a Kestrel flew through the trees before perching in front of us on the other side of the burn. Much of the birdlife was being drawn to the feeders along the pathways, although many of the feeders were empty. Many Robins, Dunnock, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Blue Tit. Wrens and Blackbirds were also seen and heard. Sadly, no sign still of Nuthatch or Treecreeper. Water seemed to be pouring into the burn from all angles.

As we were about to leave the dene along the path which feels very steep after having done a long walk in drenching rain, I had given up on seeing the Dipper. Then in a flash a Dipper flew through the culvert and down the burn! Our day was proving to be quite successful. As we walked up the avenue, two pairs of eyes focused at the same time on a Treecreeper. We watched for a while as it climbed and circled the trees in the hedgeway and as it flew to another tree to begin the process again. A very attractive bird and one that didn’t seem to concerned by out presence. We decided not to even try for any possible flocks of geese as by now that rain was reaching uncomfortable levels and reaching parts it should not! We made instead for the hides at the pond. The paths were flooded in parts and where not flooded they were very muddy. A single Teal was spotted flying away from the pond. The wind was making the public hide feel like an ice box, so we made for the relative comforts of the members hide and on the path to it found a lone Pheasant.
The pond itself was as quiet as I have ever seen it. Four Black Headed Gulls were the total gull population today and they were joined by small flocks of Tufted Duck and Wigeon with odd Mallards, Moorhen and Coot. Oh yes, and there were at least two drake Goldeneye and two Mute Swans. The feeding station was attracting tits, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and in some number, Greenfinch. When we eventually made off towards Holywell village, dripping wet and muddied both Tom and I had added a few species to our year list and I had eventually broken my duck with Kingfisher in the dene. Tom clearly brings luck so I am definitely arranging more birding trips with him, but hopefully on drier days! Despite conditions, I think even Scott and Amundsen must have feared, we managed 54 species (once adding the Collared Dove in the village) for the list. My clothes and bag are downstairs drying out! We reckon we can hit 70 species on this walk, so watch this space.

Whilst I make light of the conditions I did notice three helicopters flying south down the coast and I suspect they were on there way to try and find the poor woman who was washed away to her death in Yorkshire yesterday. Never mess with the conditions!

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Thrushes and Woodcock

23rd Feb. Not so much spring in the air today, but going by the temperature drop, mid winter! I took a late’ish afternoon walk on patch. There was nothing much about until I got to the fields behind the village and found a flock of 150-200 Redwings feeding, with a few staying in the trees. With them were two Fieldfare, six plus Mistle Thrush, a single Song Thrush staying near to the hedge and Blackbirds. Corvids were also in the field along with a single Pheasant and Starlings.

Once I got to the other end of the village and onto the wagon-way I had a fleeting sighting of a Woodcock flying over. This was in the exact some spot as I had seen one at the beginning of the year. I thought a couple of guys with their dogs may have flushed it, but when we got talking they said not. They didn’t know what a Woodcock looked like, which is fair enough, and asked if it had a long bill. They went on to tell me they regularly see a number in the fields. I think in fact they mean Curlews, but they did point out a footpath they follow so I think I’ll take a look down that way. The only other bird of note was a hunting Kestrel. I was pleased to get home out of the cold.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Stag, Budle, Spindlestone and Ross

Budle Bay Geese

A castle with childhood memories.

18th Feb. No, not a firm of solicitors, but the areas visited yesterday. Having seen some recent reports the urge to have a look up there was irresistible. I’d initially planned to go to Fenham Flats having read Crammy Birder’s recent report, but Ross Back Sands pulled me in that direction, and time didn’t allow for both areas. The journey to Bamburgh was uneventful apart from Kestrel and a fleeting sighting of a Sparrowhawk flying over the hedge. My forecast was correct and we were dry all day although did run into snow on the roads near Bamburgh in the morning and apparently left heavy snow showers behind us too! Passing Lucker always reminds me of childhood holidays at a caravan site at the back of the Apple Inn, where I used to collect bottle tops. Well, we didn’t have computer games then! The site of Bamburgh Castle always brings back memories of childhood excitement too.

The car park near Stag Rock was almost full. I’d forgotten it was half term. The tide was well out, but there was good sightings of rafts of Common Scoter, a couple of Red Throated Divers and a lone Long Tailed Duck. The flock of Purple Sandpiper were on the rock and waters edge, but I didn’t see any other waders apart from Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew. Too many folk around I suspect. The next stop was Budle Day. The tide was still well out so it wasn’t ideal viewing. I was surprised by the large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits which were all across the bay. Other sightings included Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew. There were no geese about at all.

We soon headed off in the general direction of Spindlestone and whilst we drove around in circles trying to find the pool a Common Buzzard, Greylag Geese and Yellowhammers were found. The pool was found and so were more Greylag Geese. I found the Bean Geese. I confess if I hadn’t heard that these taiga Bean Geese were there I may have missed them. A very nice year tick. Then with some sign that the weather might be changing for the worse we were off to Ross. By the time we parked up the skies were bright again. We walked down to the shore avoiding the flooded areas with only Redshank and Curlew catching the attention. I initially thought we were going to be unlucky, but soon began to pick up birds on the sea.

The large rafts of hundreds of Common Scoter were impressive and some were constantly on the move. I reckon I saw twenty plus Slavonian Grebe and almost as many Long Tailed Duck. I’ve seldom had better sightings of these birds many of which were close to shore. I soon got the scope onto a Great Northern Diver which was also very close to the shoreline. There was also numbers of Red Throated Diver. This is the kind of sea watching I like! Eider Duck were about in number, as were Shag and Cormorants. We didn’t have as much time as I would have liked in this area, but I’d like to get back to explore at length.
As we were heading back to Bamburgh for a cuppa at the Copper Kettle, I suggested another stop at Budle Bay as the tide would be coming in. The view was wonderful as we drove towards the bay, as the sun lit the waters. I spotted geese in the fields north of the bay and we took a sudden stop here. It wasn’t until I was out of the car that I realised the numbers were so high. I had hoped for pale bellied Brent Geese today and here they were. I reckon many hundred, and a sizeable proportion of the Northumberland population. There were a number of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese amongst them. For all I know there may have been some Bean Geese in there too. This was a great sight, which only got better as the entire flock lifted and flew above us with the bay and open seas providing a grand backdrop. This was without doubt the highlight of my birding in 2010 up to now and why I find winter birding so exciting. It wasn’t easy to leave, but just before we did four Canada Geese flew over the now settled flock below. I was surprised to find the tide had filled the bay. Only a few Teal and Wigeon were on the water as we passed. We’d had some real quality birding in great surroundings today. The roads had cleared of the morning’s snow, but some fields still held a thin covering.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Spring on to Patch.

Spring is bursting out all over...........

16th Feb. It felt and sounded like spring was in the air today, although there was lots of cloud looking ominous and the water underfoot reminded me that we are still in winter. As I walked through the church grounds where numbers of Goldfinch were in song, and across the fields to the lake, I noticed that the Common Gulls appeared to be out numbering the Black Headed Gulls and I just don’t remember seeing so many in the area before. I tend to take a look for a Mediterranean Gull these days, but have never found one on patch and today was no exception.

I found that a Great Crested Grebe had arrived back on the lake and five Goosanders remain. The Goosander numbers have failed to reach the heady numbers of last winter. There were several Goldeneyes and the odd Pochard. Canada Geese numbers remain high and two Greylag Geese are still about. Otherwise it was the usual birds on the water and a couple of Cormorants by the edges. Good to see so many buds on the trees.

I’d hope to fine some early signs of Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria in the usual spot behind the village, but only found areas of earth dug up again to provide ramps for the cyclists. Not only that, but trees pulled and sawn down so as to strengthen the ramps. They had obviously grown tired of the ramp that they put up last year so have left that and moved to another area and dug that up. :-( I did come across a pair of Bullfinches in this area and think I caught a snatch of their song. It wasn’t easy to pick out as there was so much song from other birds today. I was just thinking to myself that winter thrush numbers had been well down on patch this year when I turned and found a number of Redwings in the trees. I thought initially about fifteen but when I continued to walk I found more scattered amongst the trees. Difficult to estimate numbers, but I would think forty to fifty plus. A handful of Mistle Thrush flew over too.

I heard several, and saw the odd Wren today, and Chaffinches and tits were singing. The House Sparrows were noisy as I approached home and the air had been full of Robin and Blackbird song and calls.

I looked at the weather forecast as I’m hoping to do some coastal birding on Thursday. Heavy showers I see. However, as it said it was supposed to be raining heavily today I won’t lose any sleep over that forecast. The forecast on the BBC home page has got to be the worst forecast around. There you are, I have just this minute heard wot’s his name on Look North, say that Thursday is to be mainly dry. However spring was short lived as we are down to minus degree temperatures again during the night.
Did anyone notice I had Kikki making a comment on a previous post? Not a bird I would welcome on my year list, thank you very much. I think a scan is in order to ensure she didn’t bring any nasty infections with her!

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Newton and Long Nanny

Changing skies at Long Nanny.

'hat'll be the Day!

13th Feb. It was a Local Group trip today with sleet on the outward journey and rain on the return, but happily dryness in between. We were told today by the guy checking tickets in the car park that coaches aren’t allowed to park here (no sign to that effect however), although to be fair he didn’t make too much fuss about it as we were about to leave anyway. I think one or two drivers will have returned to find tickets on their car!

We found Gannet, Eider Duck, Goldeneye, Cormorant, Shag, Great Crested Grebe, Guillemot and gulls as we watched the sea. One member who walked to the point found Red Throated Divers some distance out at sea. Waders on the shore were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew. We found many more Curlews in and above the fields when we later walked to the pool. The odd Shelduck was on the tide line, and the odd Rock Pipit appeared and called from time to time.

I found a female Merlin in the on the way to the pool and several members had good sightings as it sat on a fence before flying off low across the fields. The pool and the area around it seemed quiet. Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Moorhen were seen on the water. A Grey Heron flew across in front of the hide. One of our members found a single Snipe in the very wet areas near to the hide. As I walked back along the beach I found a single Purple Sandpiper feeding with the Turnstones. I don’t normally eat on the coach but I was pleased to get out of the cold today, so quickly ate my sandwiches before we left for Long Nanny.

Once parked up I took a short walk back to check out the c20 dark bellied Brent Geese, birds of the day as far as I was concerned. As we watched another Merlin was spotted and I managed to catch sight of it as it appeared to land behind the dip in the field with the geese, possibly having chased prey. Two or three birders were about looking for the Lapland Bunting which had been photographed in the tree. They left after a while feeling that they were looking for a ‘needle in a haystack’. I would have sacrificed the rest of my days list of birds…no…I would have sacrificed our group members, for a sighting of Lapland Bunting, which would have been a lifer for me. Sadly the sacrifice proved unnecessary, although I was happy enough with the Brent Geese and Merlin today.

The walk along Long Nanny provided sightings of Kestrel, Little Grebe, Teal and Redshank and at the bridge we looked over to the west to find a small flock of Pink-footed Geese. No sign of Twite although I see a flock of seventy had been reported earlier in the day. On a personal level I wasn’t to concerned, having seen Twite at Cresswell the day before, but I would have liked to deliver for the group. I was still dreaming of a Lapland Bunting! The bay provided a large flocks of Dunlin, along with Oystercatcher, Sanderling and Ringed Plover some of the latter displaying in a small group. I found my first Stonechats of the day in this area although I understand at least one had been seen by other members earlier in the day. There were a few Common Gulls about as well as the Black Headed, Herring and Greater Black Back Gulls.

On the return walk I thought we were to be caught in a downpour but it never came. A small skein of Pink-footed Geese flew over head and some Roe Deer were seen in the distance. Goldfinch song was coming loudly from the trees near to the car park, and a line of Redwing with a solitary Fieldfare was on the wire. I couldn’t resist another look at the Brent Geese and I encouraged everyone to get along there to take a look. I thought it a little odd that not everyone took the chance! A single Yellowhammer was seen in the hedge by some members. The white Peacock was also causing some heads to turn.
The day had seemed a little quiet at times, but never the less we had a group list of sixty-four species which later became sixty-five when I spotted a Common Buzzard just a little north of Newcastle.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Cresswell and Druridge Pools

I’d kinda made a promise to show friends the Twite near Bell’s Pond today, so I left with them this morning with fingers crossed. We skipped the planned stop at St Mary’s Island and headed straight for Cresswell where our first stop was at the village to take a look on the sea, where nothing of note was seen. There were plenty of Eider Duck, Oystercatchers and Curlew and the usual Pied Wagtail. I thought it would be a good idea to try for the Twite next, and we set off.

Our journey was broken just before reaching Cresswell pond when we spotted four to five hundred Pink-footed Geese in the fields. We also found a decent sized flock of Fieldfare, initially quite close to the road. This flock was soon one down when one of them was taken out by a Kestrel! This happened vey quickly and I had initially though the raptor was a Sparrowhawk, as it hunted in that manner. We watched the hedge for sometime as two corvids stood guard where the raptor was busy and only the occasional lift of wings was seen. Then we found that it was definitely a Kestrel that flew off. We then made off to look for the Twite. These birds were very active today and initially only settled out of sight in the dips of the dunes. It was quite frustrating seeing the hearing the small flocks on the move. Several eventually settled for a while on bushes and gave a good scope view. My friend had his lifer! I didn’t see any sign of geese near Bells Pond. I must say the Twite have been much easier to find this winter. Last winter I had to climb into the dunes to find them in the large dip, although with them were Snow Bunting and Redpoll and I have seen nothing like this with them this year

We moved on to Druridge Pools where I knew four Smew had been reported. There was much more water in the area than I seem to remember from previous visits. Birds in the pools to the south of the path included numbers of Wigeon and Teal and at least one Shoveller. A few years ago I had excellent sightings of five Short Eared Owls in this area, but I’ve never seen any there again. A fellow birder mentioned that the Smew were still about. We met several birders today, probably like us, with Smew on their minds. Were you one of them I wonder? Well, we found three redhead Smew. I believe there are four, but three will do me as it is three more than I had on last years bird list! A very neat bird. The drake adult Smew is a favourite of mine, I just wish I could find one or two of them! Grey Heron, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were amongst other birds seen.

We plodged back along the pathway so as to take the drive to Cresswell Pond. Geese were seen as we passed Bell’s Pond so we stopped to take a closer look. It turned out to be a party of Canada Geese. There were also good numbers of Wigeon and a few Teal on the edge of the pond. I didn’t see any other geese down there, but another birder said that he had seen grey goose, but that it was not the reported Bean Goose. Pity as I would have loved to have found one so that I could have told a certain birder ‘south of the border’ that I had ‘bean’ and done it.;-) Several hundred of what I took to be more Pink-footed Geese were seen in the west, flying south.

Cresswell pond was eventually reached. Goldfinch were calling from the hedge near the car parking area and in the hedge lading to the hide Dunnock, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting, Wren and Great Tit were found. House Sparrows and Starlings called form the area around the buildings.

The water in the pond was lower than I had expected and the mud bank contained numbers of Redshank and Lapwing. Oystercatcher, Curlew and Dunlin were around the edge of the pond in numbers as were more Wigeon and Teal. Birds on the water included one Little Grebe, Mallard, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck and Shelduck, with more of the latter on the edge of the pond. As I took a short walk to the bushes I spotted a small bird drop into the reedbed. When I returned to the hide I watched until what I think was the same bird flew out again, but I still have no idea what it was. We ate lunch before leaving. I was a bit surprised that having seen so many birders about, we saw no one else in the hide.
I thought it would be a good idea to stop and take another look at the Pink-footed Geese, to try and identify the reported couple of White-fronts. With the sun now out and us looking into the light, this proved impossible. It wasn’t made any easier by numbers of the flock being hidden in the dip of the land (that’s my excuse anyway). So no luck there. We did find three Greylag Geese. I saw the Lapwing lift over the pond and my friend spotted a Peregrine Falcon flying overhead, so we did both add a year tick with that one. This seemed to be a good time to set of home. I’d had a good day and I sensed my friends had enjoyed it too, with one taking a lifer home with him. I had found three new ticks for the year list in a list of fifty-one species.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

In Bed with Lady Amherst!

B + R Mearns Titles

Look, if Boulmer Birder can use suggestive titles, so can I. ;-)

In fact I did have Lady Amherst in bed with me last night, although I have to say she was only on the printed page. I’m interested in the naming of birds and I was re-reading a chapter on the Lady A last night. I hadn’t picked up before that as well as having kept pheasants and bringing a pair back to England with her, she had also sent the seeds of plants back to England during her stay in India. One of these plants had been Japanes Anemone Anemone vitifolia. I probably wouldn’t have given this much though had I not seen this anemone for sale at our RSPB celebration last year. I thought them very attractive plants and was given one which I subsequently planted. It looked a lonely figure alone in the garden, so I shall have to get my hands on a few more

I suspect many birders don’t pay too much attention to the names of birds, and to be honest I didn’t during my earlier birding days. I became interested, at least in part by accident, when I used to take part in an internet quiz set by a fellow birder. He used to set question about historical characters who had birds named after them and whilst most of the quiz answers were not too hard to find on the internet, the character questions and dates asked for often tripped people up. I found out, again partly accidently, which book he was using and found a copy so the questions became rather straight forward for me.;-) It perhaps earned me a little street credit as good at googling, if nothing else.

The book I managed to get my hands on was a second-hand copy of Biographies for Birdwatchers B + R Mearns. It covers Western Palaearctic names. No longer in print it wasn’t that easy to get a hold of, but it was well worth a read. I later managed to find a pbk version of Mearns Audubon to Xantus, which covers North American names. Barbara and Richard Mearns live in Dumfries now and are both involved in ecology and wildlife in one way or another. The Bird Collectors is another of their books and another which has a place on my shelf for ‘special books’ is titled John Kirk Townsend…Collector of Audubon’s Western Birds and Mammals. The later book was a great read and has some great colour illustrations. I get the immpression that Townsend and his like did much of the work and Audubon took much of the credit. That sounds like what happened where I used to work.

You just have to look through a bird guide such as Collin’s to come across a host of common names of birds, which on some research takes you to some interesting histories. Name such as Bonaparte, Audouin, Pallas, Ross, Sabine and Franklin. That’s just the gulls! Then you can get into the scientific names too, and of course to keep it local we have Bewick and Tristram.
There’s a good amount of information about the books here

Now someone has just e-mailed me to say that they think my anemone was in fact anemone japonica and not anemone vitifolia and mentioning hybrid this and hybrid that! Don't these gardeners take things very seriously? They're worse than birders! Anyway they are both Japanese anemone and look the same to me, so I'm sticking to my story. I'm not having my tale spoilt. ;-)

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Fog on the Tyne!

Mouth of the Tyne.

6th Feb. Well mist anyway, and by the time I was down at the mouth of the Tyne most of that was only out at sea. It was cold however and not even my fish and chips at Kristian’s could make me feel warm for long. Kristian, whoever he is, seems to have done well for himself following the rebuilding of the quayside. I remember when the fish and chip shop was exactly that and not the large restraunt it is now, and I remember North Shields when it was….well, North Shields! By the way I still rate the fish and chips at Seaton Sluice the best in the region.

I rarely hear of rarer gulls down at North Shields now that fishing boats are almost extinct, but I did sort of keep an eye open for them. All I found was Black Headed Gulls, one or two with full black heads, Herring Gulls and Greater Black Backed Gulls. At times they were in near riot as they were fed fish and chips and other assorted rubbish by passers by. The gulls seem to rate Kristian’s as highly as the folk in the restraunt. The occasional Blue Tit and a Pied Wagtail was seen around the area.

As I got close to the river I found a line up of around one hundred Cormorants. I remembered the time some years ago when I had been excited by the sight of many thousand Cormorants line up along the piers somewhere near Vancouver. I seem to remember the mixed flocks included Pelagic, Double-crested and Brandt’s Cormorants and they looked like a massive ancient army on the move. This stands up there with my other unforgettable birding moments. Getting back to today, there was quite a large number of Eider Duck on the Tyne and at the mouth and I think numbers may have been brought in with the mist. A year tick for me as it happens.

I found two Sanderling on the shore and a handful of Redshank and Oystercatchers. I thought these and the Carrion Crows were going to be it until I got closer to Tynemouth and saw a small flock of Dunlin fly down river. I eventually found that they were likely to have been the same birds whish were on the rocks in front of a flock of one hundred plus Golden Plover. I also managed to pick out a small number of Turnstone.

Despite the cold and rather dreary day I had enjoyed an atmospheric walk, with foghorns going and lights flashing at the end of the pier. I feel the pull of South Tyneside so I have thoughts of a ferry trip soon!

Following my comment about the fact that I must get myself a fungi i d book I'd like to thank the very kind person who has offerd to give me one. Very Generous! Now, I'm also thinking I need some decent camera gear!!! Best shut ya gob Killy, and don't push ya luck.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Alone on the Wagon-way

As usual, an I D would be welcomed. I must get myself a decent Fungi I D book. Thanks to Dean, I can say it's Velvet Shank.
Still frozen farmland.

I thought I ought to live up to my name and get out on patch today. By the time I did it was turning into a cold grey day and I’m sure I smell more snow in the air. Once out of the estate the pathways were still icy, and looking south I see the higher ground south of the Tyne is still snow covered.

Despite the greyness of the day there are signs that time is moving on and some new green growth is coming through. There was plenty of bird song too. The most notable was Song Thrush, two singing high up in the trees. I had seen the Song Thrush before I left the estates, along with Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Woodpigeon and Magpie.

As joined the wagon-way I found a large flock of very active Goldfinch along with more tits, including Coal Tit, Collared Dove, Chaffinch and Greenfinch. I watched and listened to the Goldfinch for a while. There’s always a large flock of House Sparrows in this area and today was no exception. There was little to be seen near to the farm apart from Magpies and Woodpigeons. Further along the wagon-way, large flocks of the latter had gathered in the trees and were very restless taking to flight time and time again. I stopped to take a photograph of the fungi. I realised that I had barely passed anyone on the walk so far and that was to continue throughout the afternoon. By now it wasn’t only humans that were missing, but avian life was noticeably absent too.

I continued down the wagon-way towards Holystone with only a single Rabbit for company, until I was level with the flash. The flash had grown into three areas of water, but each was frozen. It wasn’t until I began to retrace my steps that I found a Grey Heron which flew parallel to the wagon-way. It landed near to the flash and once landed wasn’t easy to see in the grey light against the hedge and earth. I may well have missed it if I hadn’t seen it fly in. A female Kestrel made short hovers over the field before keep returning to its perch on top of a post. I remember when Kestrels were commonly seen hunting in Killingworth centre, but no more now that almost every inch of land has been built upon. I heard the faint and distant call of a Curlew, but there was little else about apart from gulls, corvids and Blackbirds. I aimed for the village and home to complete my circular walk and got my eye on the distinctive flight pattern of a Mistle Thrush. I thought it was alone until it flew into a small flock of maybe eight to ten birds which soon disappeared into the distance.
I reckon the areas of the wagon-way will be a little more productive come March.