Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Birding Holywell with Holywell Birding, A Continuation.

Before the rain came.

From the members hide.

A swollen burn.

I’d been looking forward for a while to spending a few hours birding with Cain, so it was with some pleasure that when my eyes opened this morning I beheld sunlight! I’d gone to sleep last night with the sound of rain bouncing off the windows. When I poked my nose out of the front door I put my tee-shirt back in the draw and got the winter gear out, but you can’t have everything in this life, and at least it wasn’t raining…yet!

Our arrival in Holywell village was met by the sound of Skylark song, seeming a little odd in the low temperatures that seemed to be keeping even the usual House Sparrows close to their hedges. There was a lone Greylag Goose in the fields as we made for the members hide. That hide serves very well as a refrigerator. We discussed the advantages of adding central heating. To me, it seems that Holywell Pond has been quiet of birds since last autumn and Cain, whose knowledge of the area is far greater than mine, agrees. Ok, the pond has been frozen most of the winter, but even before the ice age began it had seemed quiet to me. Birds on the water today were Little Grebes, Cormorant, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Coot and Moorhen. The occasional gull flew overhead along with single Lapwings and a couple of Grey Herons.

The feeding station was attracting numbers of Goldfinch, along with Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and a single Reed Bunting. Good views were had of a male Sparrowhawk as it manoeuvred between the trees in search of a Goldfinch lunch, although all of the birds escaped untouched and lunch was put on hold. The Little Grebes had not been easy to find and one of them had been calling from the reeds for sometime before it appeared. There are at least four of them at present. A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed occasionally from the other side of the pond, and both Curlew and Pheasant were heard calling from the same area. A Chiffchaff was eventually heard (my first calling bird of the year) and Wrens were singing in there usually far carrying way. A Mistle Thrush sang near to the hide, confusing us initially, before flying off. Interestingly also known as the 'storm cock' as it is known to sing in stormy weather, which was certainly the case today! After a while we walked to the public hide. Now if the members hide is the refrigerator, this was definitely the freezer and we soon made a get away. We were stopped in our tracks by a flooded path but not before having a good sighting of a Skylark! Now I reckon Cain would have got through there quite easily in his waterproof boots, but the guy's a gent and I suspect he thought I might fall in, so we made a detour! Perhaps no bad thing that we did because we heard what sounded like several Red Legged Partridges as we headed to the dene area by this alternative route.

I was hoping for my first Nuthatch of the year in the dene but it wasn’t to be. Where have they all gone? I haven’t seen one in there for months nor have I seen the usual Nuthatch in Killingworth. The burn was a muddy torrent and in one spot would have been good for white water rafting. It had flooded some field at the sluice end and was full to the brim. I think this is the most water I have seen in the burn, but Cain assures me it does get much worse. There wasn’t too much around birdwise initially apart from tits,Wren, Dunnock , Blackbird, Jackdaws and Wood Pigeons, but then we found the male Kestrel. As we watched close by it dropped from he tree and caught a vole before flying off with its prey. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers was seen high in the trees and another single bird was spotted as were at least three or four Treecreepers. There were numbers of calling Chiffchaff and we had good sightings of some of these. Cain had watched the Grey Wagtails nest building a few days earlier and now that area was under water. We also guessed rightly that we wouldn’t see the Dipper today. Signs of real spring life were few and far between.
Earlier in the day we had been in sun but the threatening rain filled clouds were never far away and towards the end of the walk, just when I said it seemed that the rain cloud had blown over, the rain started and socked us before we got back to the village, having had to make another detour because of flooded footpaths. A great few hours with good birding and good chat. A good way to end March.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Kittiwakes and Jazz on the Tyne

I reckon that when anyone is seriously interested in birds and other wildlife, the subject becomes a way of life rather than something one does as a hobby and only on occasions. I always watch for birds on bus, car and train journeys and even when crossing to go to the shopping centre. It wasn't surprising then, that I watched the Kittiwakes on the Tyne from the Sage last night. Not a bad bird hide at all. I can't help feeling it should have been on the north bank! I wish I had taken the bins!

I was having one of my rare nights out.:-) I was across there to see the Scottish National Jazz Orchestra and it was a great concert. The first half was a very different interpretation of Gerswhin's Rhapsody in Blue and after half time, or the interval as it would be called in posher circles, we had a tribute to Buddy Rich. The drummer, Alyn Cosker was top notch.

I ended my cultural evening in bed listening to Radio Four. Sad I know, but there was a decent programme on what seemed to be about the spiritual effect birds have on people. I missed the beginning. I did hear Richard Mabey talking about how birds helped him get over his depression. Although he said initially that when he went out walking his depression got worse and not better, as he was so down at not been able to enjoy the bird as as he had done in the past, so to be honest I'm not so sure if it was the birds that helped him or just a plain old natural recovery. I suppose I could read his book Nature Cure to find out more, but to be honest I don't especially like his style of writing so I'll give that a miss I think. I do know that being out and about with nature gives me a lift and its when I'm at my most content. The Kittiwakes were a year tick by the way.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Goosander Display

Lichen after the rains.

25th Mar. Some warm and fine weather eventually arrived late afternoon so I wandered down to the smaller lake. I watched as one male and three female Goosanders left the shore and took to the water looking far more active and alive than they do during the winter. They looked in great condition and very alert. The females lifting and stretching their wings often and taking time to dampen and care for their plumage. The male seemed well in control of this little party and was soon displaying in typical fashion, with bill pointing and neck stretched high into the air. I think these birds will be off to the breeding area at any time.

In contrast to the very alert Goosanders the two pairs of Great Crested Grebe seemed far more laid back, with one dozing, head under wing, whilst another dived for food on the smaller lake. The other pair was, as last year, on the larger lake. Let’s hope that breeding success is as good as last year when five young were successfully raised.

I didn’t walk around the larger lake choosing rather to walk to behind the village hoping to hear the Chiffchaffs. In the event I didn’t hear any song from them. The fields were a quagmire and the church grounds impassable in places because of pools of water. The earlier rain had helped the lichen take on colour and on some trees they made very attractive patterns.

Monday, 22 March 2010

'Stuck in the Mud'

A muddy walk!

I paid a visit to Bedlington Country Park this morning taking the chance to suss it out for a future group local walk. The place does seem to have potential, but having become bogged down in mud, I think a little later in the year may be better!

There wasn't too much about in truth. Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit and Long Tailed Tit around in some number with a good deal of Wren song again. The highlight of the day was the two Common Buzzards. I heard them mewing and when I took a look across the fields they showed well flying around the tree tops. I recall the only other birds seen were Wood Pigeon, Blackbird and Chaffinch.

On returning to the car-park a Grey Wagtail flew up the River Blyth and a Treecreeper was seen in the trees near to the bird feeders. A stop at the Rising Sun Country Park for a spot of business brought a sighting of Lesser Black Backed Gull, a very smart bird in my opinion.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Chiffchaffs Back on Patch!

21st Mar. It’s officially spring and the sun shining, so I took a short walk on patch again having watched Man Utd beat Liverpool. Ha way the ‘Gunners’ is all I can say!

No calls so I thought I was to be disappointed again until I got my eye on a Chiffchaff low in the scrub area behind the village, an area where I would expect to find them. An ideal nesting area I would think. I’ve on one occasion found an over wintering bird here, but I’m confident that there have been none over wintering in this area this winter. I think I got my eye on a couple but difficult to tell as it/they kept low in the scrub until flying into the trees and out of sight. Whilst I stood and watched I got my eye on the first of two pairs of Bullfinch seen today, the latter pair told only by shape and white rump. Both pairs are in the areas where normally seen in spring.

There was lots of bird song today from finches, tits, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Wren and Skylark. The pigeons, Starlings and House Sparrows were making some noise too! I found a couple of Mistle Thrush in the fields along with the ever present Wood Pigeons. What looked to be a pair of Long Tailed Tits were seen. As I arrived home a Dunnock was singing its heart out from the top of the low tree outside of the house.

It was good to hear so much song from Wrens which surely have taking quite a bashing during the freezing winter. They were definitely the dominant songsters today and appear to have taken up many territories.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

No Chiffchaffs on Patch Yet!


What a difference two days makes! An I D would be welcomed.

Signs of spring.

Some reading material.
I feel spring is making only slow progress this year with the land on patch still taking time to recover from the long winter, although there have been a few signs of the changing seasons.

On Thursday I thought I would look and listen for any returning Chiffchaffs which made there first appearance on 20th March last year. There was no sign of them, but what I did find was that a flock of around twenty Redwings still remain on patch, although they were initially well hidden amongst the trees and certainly not showing as well as earlier in the year. A few trees are showing signs of real life now and I came across fungi which I photographed. I now have the Collins Fungi Guide given to me as promised by a reader of the blog. As yet it hasn’t helped me identify the species I found. Blimey, I didn’t realise there were so many fungi! Seems I have work to do here.
Friday failed to bring any Chiffchaffs too, so I wondered if they would make an appearance again on the 20th. I was out this afternoon and there’s still no sign of them. The rain had made the recently dried pathways muddy again, but also seemed to bring some spring colour to the area. Some of the lichen is especially attractive at the moment. I took another look at the fungi I photographed on Thursday and it looks very different now. I think I’m going to have problems with this lark. I’d welcome an ID please until I get stuck into the guide.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming briefly today and I think I caught a brief sighting of it as it flew from trees behind the Plough pub. There was lots of song from Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Robins, Wrens, tits and finches. I also found a pair of Bullfinches.
I never did get to Iceland by the way. A nasty bug ensured that I had to call my trip off so I made use of the time spent resting by re-reading the New Naturalists, A History of Ornithology/Peter Bircham which is a good follow on from my re-read of The Bird Collectors I mentioned recently. I’m now onto a re-read of the Wisdom of Birds/Tim Birkhead. All full of interesting info on the history of ornithology. It’s quite strange what only in quite recent years academics use to think was factual information about birds. I wonder what after a few more years, what we take as fact will be proven to be false information? This is what makes for such interest. Birding and nature takes you in so many directions!

Monday, 8 March 2010

Beethoven's Birds and a Changing Patch.

8th Mar. It’s that time of year when the bird species on patch are changing, and during a quiet spell today and as I was humming Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony as I walked along the wagon-way, as you do, I thought I’d better mention those three birds which feature in the symphony. I know some may be sweating over this until they find out, such is the sophistication of readers of this blog! The birds are Nightingale (flute), Quail (oboe) and Cuckoo (clarinet). There must be loads of music which has taken inspiration from birds and bird song and a favourite of mine, just to show I do have varying tastes and I’m not a complete bore, is Albatross by Fleetwood Mac. An early instrumental by them from 1969! I have the 45 in my collection. I seem to remember reading that the music has deeper meanings than simply representing an Albatross, as you would expect from anything written in the 1960s, but to me it represents the Albatross really well.

Anyway, back on patch I had a Common Buzzard soaring and gliding right over my head today. I still get excited about Buzzards, and why not. I only had my first patch Buzzard fly over last year and so far have found two in 2010. Apart from the Buzzard the early part of the walk was the usual garden birds, this time including Long Tailed Tit and the ever present Wood Pigeons. There were fresh piles of Wood Pigeon feathers in the fields!

Once I had crossed over to the second part of the wagon-way which leads to Holystone I was beginning to think that I had imagined the interest of last spring down here, as there once again seemed to be little about. Then I started to get my eye on a few birds. The Kestrel was in the hedge far away in the distance and I found the first Lapwing of the year on patch, the colours of its plumage showing wonderfully in the sunlight. It stood like a perfectly still like a sentinel for some time before calling as it took off. It was the first of four Lapwings I saw in the fields today. There was no sign of a flock which flew around the area constantly this time last year. A Robin sat silently on top of the hedge, but as soon as I got my eye on it, it flew into the hedge, but began to sing right away as if showing off its talent.

I found the odd Wren in the hedgeway and at least three male Reed Buntings, none of which I would have shown if I hadn’t spent some time standing silently by the hedge. I eventually heard quite short calls of a bird which when it darted from the hedge I realised was a Yellowhammer. It flew off a short distance before getting into full song. I’ve seen many Yellowhammers this year, but this sighting was a first on the patch and the first song time I’d heard the song this year. Another patch year first was the two Grey Partridges which called as they flew up from the foot of the hedge as I approached. They looked far from grey in the sunlight, but disappeared into the dry grass, very close by, but not to be seen again. Skylarks were singing in the more distant fields.

The hedge was certainly a key feature today, as a Grey Heron which had obviously been on the other side of it, rose into the air as I moved away. Later, possibly the same Grey Heron, was mobbed by a couple of Black Headed Gulls and a Herring Gull. There is still no sign of any birdlife near the flash. The only life to appear near it today was a young guy pushing a bicycle across the field. When he reached the point where I was I heard some groans. It seemed he couldn’t get over the barbed wire and out of the field. He told me he thought he had taken the wrong path. I wondered what path he was referring to! He got out eventually and was off on his way.
As the dark cloud came in from the North Sea the patch became two different areas, the east darkened by the cloud and the west in full sunlight. By the time I got myself home I was under cloud, but it had been good to feel the warmth of the sun today. However I don’t want to get too hot so I hope to be making for Iceland on Friday. Not so much for the birds but hopefully for a look at the Northern Lights. Mind you, I am hoping for a Gyr Falcon. My blog may go quiet for a few days.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Lark Ascending.

'Going Home.' Yes that's right, Dvorak's 9th!

Oi, who you calling common?

I made along the wagon-way towards the Rising Sun Country Park today, not so much for some relaxing bird watching, but for yet another meeting. Meetings can be boring, very boring, but this one wasn’t as I’m pleased to say everyone there was enthusiastically involved with birds in one way or another. Still, on such a pleasant spring day I intended to do a little watching and I’m pleased to say I found my first Skylarks of the year on my outward walk. Mr (or was it Sir?) Vaughan Williams caught the atmosphere very well in his composition, Lark Ascending. I’m no expert on classical music, but that is definitely one I like. Here’s a good question for a quiz related to another bit of classical music I like. Name three birds represented in Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony?

I came across the singing Skylarks as I watched the Wood Pigeon flock in an attempt to find my first Stock Doves of the year. I did eventually pick a couple out. Then I was off to the Rising Sun where all seemed quiet apart from the usual Magpies and corvids.

Once the meeting was over I managed a walk around part of the country park and picked up my first Lesser Black Backed Gulls of the year. There was no sign of the Redpolls which had been recently reported. Most of the birds I came across in the trees and hedges were Goldfinch. The Pochard and Mute Swans were looking at their best on the small pool. Common, but very smart birds! The hedges in the park had been well and truly trimmed and the dipping pond has under gone a big re-vamp. This was a good pond for odonata in summer so I hope it soon settles. I made off for my return walk home as the sun and temperature both began to drop.

Monday, 1 March 2010

Raptors 5 v Pigeons 0

As I took a walk along the wagon-ways today I noticed that once again some of the trees were taking the weight of flocks of Wood Pigeon. One tree in particular seemed almost to be ‘in fruit’ with them These birds seem to be always restless and I have kept my eye open for raptors, but as yet haven’t found any attacking the flocks this year. From the number of remains I found today, I’m wondering if my observation skills are up to scratch! I found five separate piles of pigeon feathers, three of them being in one field alone. The last pile was on my return and there had been a fresh kill with the bloodied remains of a Wood Pigeon, tail feathers erect, lying in the field and attracting hungry Magpies to the leftovers. The Wood Pigeon is doing well as a species and certainly the raptors appear to be benefitting from it. I wonder if this explains why it is usually the male Sparrowhawk rather than the female that visits my garden. I think the female may have herself easier pickings out here in the fields. I’m also wondering if there is a Peregrine Falcon hunting out here. Likely I suppose, as they are seen nearby although I have never seen one on patch. Now I’d like one of those for my patch list!

Having left the estates and the usual garden birds behind, I was once again pretty much alone on the wagon-way. I caught sight of the back of what I think was a Reed Bunting flying from the hedge. I did eventually catch sight of a bird in the ploughed fields and no sooner had I seen it and a flock of c40 Linnets lifted from the field. I later saw a few more Linnets flying in that general direction so I think perhaps the large flock which was there during the spring of last year is gathering again. This is the first time that I’ve seen any sign of them this year. The only other bird of note in the area was the usual Kestrel that hunts here. It eventually caught something and took it to a post to devour. The only bird life at the flash was two Carrion Crows. The whole area is far wetter than this time last year.

I began to retrace my steps at which point I got my eye on what I initially thought was a harrier! To be honest I’m still wondering. It was away in the distance and soaring at height above the area over the Rising Sun Country Park and River Tyne. I thought the tail and wings were too long for a buzzard. However Common Buzzard is far more likely and unless I hear of anyone else spotting a harrier I shall put it down as buzzard. Perhaps the guy who regularly bird watches in the Rising Sun was about today. It was being mobbed by a lone gull and eventually drifted out of sight, possibly across the Tyne with flapping and gliding flight.
The return walk was a little more tuneful with more bird song and I found the likes of Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch, along with numerous Great Tits and fewer Blue Tits. I’d enjoyed the walk and on the whole the skies were blue and it had seemed quite warm in the sun. However, temperatures where dropping steadily as the afternoon went on and there had been patches of ice about on areas not getting the sun.