Friday, 30 April 2010

Clouds and Terns Over the Tyne.

It definitely paid to be on the north bank if seeking the sun.

I enjoyed my ice-cream in the sun on the north bank of the Tyne today, whilst watching the clouds darken and the rain fall on the southern bank.
Not much around in the way of bird life, although numbers of Sandwich Tern have grown at Black Middens. One Common Tern seen flying up the Tyne from the mouth of the river. Only waders seen were Oystercatchers and a small number of Turnstone.

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Two Dry Birders Catch a Bus and a Black Headed Wagtail!

Busy at the nest.

Our walk to see the Wood Sandpiper and Garganey almost took us to the transporter bridge!

28th April. Up shortly after 6.00am, Tom and I were soon on the bus and arriving at Saltholme RSPB Reserve around 9.30am. Before the reserve opened I had thought, but it seemed it had opened today at 8.00am, although we appear to have still been almost the first to arrive. As it turned out, we had made a wise decision to visit today. We’d ticked Kittiwake as we crossed the Tyne and sighted a Kestrel on the journey. On arrival we were giving some very useful information by a volunteer on the reserve for which we owe thanks. It ought to be remembered that the RSPB would fail to exist in its present form without the work done by volunteers. Brown Hares were seen close by the entrance.

Tom and I decided to leave the reserve and return later, as we were keen to find some species which were reported ‘off’ the reserve. Many of our better sightings were found outside of the reserve today. We took the challenge of negotiating the roadway outside of the reserve and made for, what I think is Fleet pool. A ten minute walk I had been told. That must be in Teeside minutes time, as it was far longer on my watch! We did find Sedge Warblers on the way. We also found at least twenty Wheatears showing really well in one of the fields. When we got to the pool Greenshank, Ringed Plovers, Dunlin and Redshank were found right away. After some time, and not a little eye strain we did eventually find the Wood Sandpiper. There was a haze in the air which made viewing difficult and I’m sure we both have had better sightings, but never the less we did find it. We didn’t have so much luck with the Garganey until advised to walk even further down the roadway and thankfully this did bring very distant views of the birds feeding in a characteristic way. Then Tom got his eye on a gull which stood out from the rest. It seemed that it was one of the reported Little Gulls, but its markings were not as expected with only a small marking on the head and we found it difficult to judge size. When it appeared next to a Black Headed Gull, that seemed to clinch things. Once back at the reserve we were advised that the Little Gull had flown down to the pool whilst we were there and it did in fact have the peculiar marking we had found. I have to say well done to Tom for spotting this one at distance as I would have overlooked it had he not drawn my attention to the bird. We also found two Black-tailed Godwit at the edge of the pool. Risking our lives on this dangerous roadway had been worthwhile!

As we made off on our return to the reserve, eyes still a little blurred with strain, we found a flock of fifteen Black-tailed Godwit and a couple of Lesser Black Backed Gulls before taking another look at the Wheatears and accompanying Meadow Pipits. There was also plenty of Skylark song. We were treated to a demonstration of sideways throwing as a Mute Swan added additional material to a nest built near the roadway and notable findings along the way were a predated goose egg and a recently killed, presumably by traffic, drake Mallard. We began to pick up birds on the reserve pools which included Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Pochard and Tufted Duck. There was also numbers of Greylag and Canada Geese about, and we later added Pink-footed Geese to the list.

I had become a little concerned that the reserve would be an anti-climax after the excitement of the surrounding area. The pools in the main were very quiet. There were few people about today which was no bad thing. We were soon to add Shelduck, Shoveller, Mallard, Wigeon and Teal to the list. Sand Martins certainly out numbered Swallows and we found the odd Reed Bunting. Finches seen were Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Linnet.

It was starting to get very warm and I began to flag a little, but before we stopped for lunch we did pick up a couple of Yellow Wagtails. We had decided to go to Holywell last week instead of making a visit to look at the Yellow Wagtails at Creswell so I was pleased Tom had got his Yellow Wagtails today. There was more to come! Butterflies seemed to be in the main Small Tortoiseshell, with the occasional Small White. Then we took a welcome break and a sit down in the fresh air for lunch. Lapwings had been around and calling most of the time.

We’d heard that both Black Headed and Blue Headed Wagtails had been reported on the reserve so as we approached back of Saltholme we were on the look out. There were certainly numbers of Yellow Wagtails flying to and fro and in the fields with the cattle. Tom did pick up the Blue Headed Wagtail at some point. We initially had no luck with the Black Headed so we made for the hide. We added Oystercatcher, Turnstone and one of the sightings of the day in Little Ringed Plover. A great sighting of this latter bird was had. Great Black Backed, Common and Herring Gull were added to the gulls seen today.

After spending some time in the hide we noticed some activity in the group of birders who had gathered where we had been watching the Yellow Wagtails and we guessed that the Black Headed Wagtail may have been found again, so off we went to find out. Once with the group I (and I’m sure a number of other people) found the directions such as ‘beside the brown cow’ very frustrating. A bit like someone saying, as they do, ‘it’s in the tree’ when standing in a wood! I guess it’s easier and more skillful to find the bird yourself and thankfully we did, although I have no doubt several visitors left without seeing the Black Headed Wagtail. It kept disappearing into clumps of grass and at times only its head was showing, but we did get excellent sightings. A partial pale supercillium was plain to see. I’ve read that if accepted this will be a first for the county. I also see that there is much doubt as to whether it will be accepted. To be honest I care not a lot, as it was a fine bird to see on the reserve in any event. I’ve looked at Ian Forest’s photos of the bird and I believe it was he who initially found it that morning.

So we both started and ended the day on a high, and also dry, with on a recount, and I hope we don’t have too many of them on May the 6th, sixty-one bird species on the list. I know Tom is looking on the bright side and counting it as sixty-two feeling that a split is coming soon in the wagtail department! :-) I’ve learnt quite a bit about Yellow Wagtails recently and I feel a book coming on. Buying one I mean, not writing one!
Now I see the weather forecast isn’t too good for Saturday. Let’s hope they have it wrong or I may be back to wet birder titles. Not that I’ll be too concerned, just as long as the day includes a Redstart.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Reeling on Patch.

Oi you lot, have you seen the mess those humans down there are making of our city? To think they had the nerve to ask for us to be moved after I'd white washed the flat!

27th Apr. Bird song is reaching a climax on patch with numbers of Willow Warbler songsters seeming to now be out numbering Chiffchaff. Other songsters included Song Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock, Robin tits and finches. I found a silent male Blackcap, but no Whitethroats in their usual territories as yet. I heard the reeling of at least one (possibly two) Grasshopper Warblers. I thought I’d picked up reeling as I walked along the roadway, but everything was being drowned out by traffic. Once down the wagon-way it was unmistakeable. I’ve never heard them before, in what is in fact an ideal area for them. Watched for a sighting for sometime and even moving to a bit of high ground giving excellent views over the area brought no luck. I’ll keep an eye on this spot and the area along the wagon-way I found the Grasshopper Warbler last year.

Last Saturday I was in town and purchased my Admiral Collingwood book that I promised myself and couldn’t resist another look at the Kittiwakes.

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Two Dry Birders Set a Target!

23rd April. The day had come and thankfully the sun was almost shining as my mate Tom and I left for Holywell on a mission. Still with memories of our last ‘wet’ trip and thorough drenching, we were geared up for the walk from Holywell to St Mary’s Island, and it has to be said the conditions couldn’t have been more different from our previous trip. We had set ourselves a target of seventy bird species on the walk. We saw little but gulls, corvids and pigeons as we made for Holywell village and when I found the village area very quiet and with no sign of hirundines, I began to wonder if we were on mission impossible. We did manage to begin our list with the likes of Collared Dove, House Sparrow and Blues Tit. When one of the locals said he had just watched a Common Buzzard being mobbed by crows over the pond we could have kicked ourselves for spending too much time watching the House Sparrows!

As it turned out the Common Buzzard, we are almost certain, was the far more impressive female Marsh Harrier we found flying over the reeds and being mobbed by crows. This good sighting was surpassed only by the later close sighting we had of the bird perched in the reeds. Certainly one of my better sightings of this species, and a year tick for both Tom and me. A great way to start the day and I’d have happily given up on the list for this sighting alone.

I’d thought the House Martins had been very late in arriving as there were none at all near the nesting area, but we soon found a small number feeding over the pond along with a greater number of Sand Matins, a few Swallows and eventually my first Swift of the year, although Tom had ticked Swift in Yorkshire a few days before. The pond provided a few birds for the list and these were Little Grebe, Cormorant, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Canada Geese, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, a lone female Goosander, Moorhen and Coot. After a little while we had a good sighting of Green Sandpiper and the feeding station provided the likes of Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting and Great Spotted Woodpecker, the latter bird entertaining us with some drumming after it had flown back across the pond. The air was full of the song of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff and these songs were with us until we reached the coast and we had several good sightings of both species.

On the way to the public hide we heard Grasshopper Warbler quite close by, and began to hear and sight our first Skylarks of the day. We found a few Lapwings on the mud near the hide, but no other waders here.

We checked out the area for Whitethroat but found none, only numbers of Linnet in the hedges. I seem to remember it was around here we had our first Kestrel of several seen today. The small pool in the dip of the field held three or four Greylag Geese. We were now beginning to feel at least a little more hopeful of reaching our target.

The avenue was very quiet, but we did tick Song Thrush near a piece of wet and muddy ground just before entering the dene. We spent some time in the dene with two or three short stops which proved productive. I hadn’t seen Nuthatch in the dene since last autumn, but today brought us one. Other species included another Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, two or three Blackcap, Great Tit, Blue tit, Long Tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Chaffinch and a pair of Yellowhammer. We had no luck with Kingfisher, Dipper or Grey Wagtail, the latter having been one of my bankers. I’d had Tom down as a Kingfisher magnet after our last visit, but the magnetism wasn’t working today (I'm thinking it may only be effective when it rains). It was in the dene where I seem to remember we had our best sightings of the Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs.

The saltmarsh area on our way to the lunch stop was very quiet, but by now the list was mounting and we were feeling confident and even beginning to wonder if we had set the target too low!

We did spend a little time checking the sea out off the cliff at Seaton Sluice and this brought us Common Scoter in some numbers and distant Gannets seen despite mist out at sea. The mist gradually moved in towards the coastline and by late afternoon the heat of mid day had gone and it was looking quite stormy. Anyway we did get closer views of Gannet ‘fishing’ later. Fulmars were numerous, and Tom ticked his first Sandwich Terns of the year as we watched their spectacular dives into the sea. Greater Black Backed Gull was also quickly added to the list, and there were lots of Eider Duck about. We did check the Cormorants really well but were unable to turn even one into a Shag .

Now, things began to get a little more testing as there seemed to be very few waders about and we knew we would need a few on our list if we were to get to the sought after seventy. Oystercatcher was an easy one of course, but even Redshank was initially proving hard to find. We did get it eventually and also added a small flock of Sanderling as they flew past. Turnstones were next on the list.

I’d had Rock Pipit down as a banker, but we found none, although there were many Meadow Pipits. What did surprise me were the large numbers of Reed Bunting. I just haven’t seen such numbers in the area before. Almost as exciting as the Marsh Harrier where the great views of Wheatear we had today. We reckon about a dozen birds, everyone giving a great sighting. This species has to be in my top ten. We also added Dunlin.

Did we get to our target of seventy species then? Well after feeling so confident at times, it seemed to be touch and go at one point and we found ourselves stuck on sixty-nine for some time. I even attempted to make a Reed Bunting develop into a Stonechat at one point s o as to ease the stress! We found none of the latter species by the way! We did get there eventually when we found a couple of Common Terns. Then we added Stock Doves found amongst the Wood Pigeons, Curlew, the latter having proven unusually elusive. As we were leaving the wetland area which provided noting new for us we did add Pied Wagtail to put us onto seventy-three species found on the walk. As well as the birds we had found two Seals, at least one of them definitely a Grey Seal (not sure about the other one), Peacock Butterflies, Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies and a number of White species Butterflies.
A great day, spent with someone with a similar outlook to bird watching as myself. We reckon we made life to easy for ourselves and think that eighty species is very do-able on this walk, given a ‘good day’. Watch this space. Star birds definitely the Marsh Harrier and the Wheatears! We can definitely get used to this sun and being dry birders!

Fingers crossed again for dry weather next weekend, as Redstarts are to be on the menu!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Yellow Wagtail Feast!

22nd April. Another sunny if cool day took me to Cresswell and East Chevington. Fist stop was Cresswell for what we hoped would be Yellow Wagtails. We weren’t disappointed with six of these birds being seen at close quarters, eventually joined by the ‘channel wagtail’ which had been reported. To be honest I hadn’t been aware of this hybrid ‘channel wagtail’ until having read a recent very good article in the Durham Bird Club Lek mag. It was interesting to note this bird and it is the pale white throat immediately came to mind. There was no sign of the black headed wagtail, feldegg. A shame, but I do have that sub species on my list from a trip to Romania in recent years. Interestingly I saw recently that there is talk of pressure to make this one a separate species. There were plenty of Pied Wagtails around today, but I didn’t see any white wagtails. The Yellow Wagtails had been an excellent start to the day and the first of today’s Meadow Pipits were close by.

Next stop was the pond where my first Common Sandpiper of the year was found on the edge of the reed bed. No sign of the hoped for Jack Snipe during my short visit. There was a good number of Gadwall on the smaller pond leading to the hide. Birds on the pond itself included Great Crested Grebe, Shelduck, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Red-breasted Merganser. Waders were few in number but included Oystercatcher, Lapwing Redshank and Curlew.

After a cuppa it was off to East Chevington. The water was high and the birds few. The most significant birds for me were my first of the year Sand Martins, in some numbers. There were many more Gadwall out on the water and several Grey Heron in the area. Skylarks could be heard singing from the direction of the dunes and Meadow Pipits were numerous.
We stopped at Cresswell on the return journey at what must have been around 4.00pm and no wagtails were to be seen, apart from two Pied Wagtails. So we headed off home, finding a Kestrel on the way. Forty-four species on the list, but definitely a Yellow Wagtail day!

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

North Shields to Tynemouth

View from Shields

Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum

The jaw bone.

Not a red admiral

Common Scurvygrass Cochlearia officinalis ??

Weathered cliff under the Priory.

End of the road!

Having been grounded by an Icelandic volcano, I thought a good alternative to walking the AndalucĂ­an Sierras today, was to visit North Shields and Tynemouth. Well ok, but at least the sun was shining and the fish and chips in Spain aren’t as good! Clear skies meant good views as I walked from the centre of Shields down to the quay passing on the way the remains of an old church on the banks, which I don’t ever remember seeing before. There’s much work going on along the quay itself, so it wasn’t too easy to listen for bird song as the cranes were continually pounding something into the concrete. I bet that’s a real joy to listen to all day if you live down there! Still, birds heard today, but not seen where, Dunnock, Robin, Song Thrush and Willow Warbler.

As I was taking an interest in some of the historical buildings I heard then got my eye on a Pied Wagtail which seemed to have nested in one of the empty buildings not far from the New Dolphin pub, which has a jaw bone of a great whale outside. Does anyone know what species it is from? I seem to remember a plaque said it was found off the Tyne in 1998. After taking some nourishment I walked along to Tynemouth. The tide was just beginning to go out, so waders were few and far between, in fact only Oystercatcher and Redshank were seen. Gulls seen were Black Headed, Herring, Greater Black Backed and Kittiwake. The odd Fulmar was also found. There was little on the water apart from a pair of Eider and Cormorants. Surprisingly there were few people about today so the atmosphere was good.

I took an interest in an Admiral which wasn’t a red one on this occasion. Admiral Collingwood, of course. Having looked at the photos I took I realised later that I have never really looked in detail at this monument before. I was more than a little surprised when a local stopped for a chat and asked me who the statue represented! On getting home I did a little homework on the great man and now realise why we were held up in Morpeth a little while ago on the way to Harwood Forest, as some kind of parade was taking place. I now know that March 2010 was the 200th anniversary of Collingwood’s death and that there have been ongoing commemorative celebrations in his home town of Morpeth. I’d also seen a new biography of the man in Waterstones last week. I must buy it and read it.,_1st_Baron_Collingwood

The whole area up to Tynemouth seemed to be covered in Alexanders Smyrnium olusatrum and I also found a small patch of what I think is Common Scurvygrass Cochlearia officinalis. I’m not definitely sure about the identity of the Scurvygrass, as I felt the flower might be a little larger than what I’m used to seeing en-masse at Seaton Sluice and I confess I was a little lazy in not checking the leaf, so would welcome comment. It would however fit in nicely with my theme of Admiral Collingwood though, as the leaves of Scurvygrass contain lots of vitamin C, and were eaten by naval men in order to prevent scurvy. Although I suspect the admiral had something a little more substantial. There was numbers of Linnet, Goldfinch and Greenfinch in the area.

I did pick up a couple of calling Sandwich Terns (my first of the year) on Black Middens. As I passed Killy Lake on the way home I also caught sight, from the bus, of a Common Tern (also a first for the year) over the lake
Early on the walk I had spotted a Swallow over the houses near the quay, and later spotted another at Tynemouth. I had some more excellent sightings of Fulmar at close quarters at Tynemouth and also found a small group of Sanderling in the bay and what I am pretty sure was the odd very distant Dunlin. Just below the Priory is a real sun trap and I found my first Small White Butterflies of the year, along with a Peacock Butterfly. Small Tortoiseshell had been seen earlier.
I enjoyed my walk in the sun so much I’m beginning to think I can well do without the hassle of airports and flight to foreign shores. Just as well really, considering my record so far this year! I’m working up to a day with my fellow wet birder on Friday, so have everything crossed that the sun continues to shine, or at least there is no torrential rain fall! More of that anon.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Killy Leads the Multitude

17th April. Today was a repeat of the walk I had led on 2nd January. The ice and snow was a distant memory, and today brought sun and clear skies, although the wind was still chilly in places. I had been hoping for a group of approaching twenty so was surprised to find we had thirty-six participants turn up. Eighteen members and eighteen non members. Perhaps not ideal numbers for a ‘bird walk’ but remember these walks are used to introduce people to an interest in the nature around them so I was delighted to be joined by so many keen people. The group consisted of experienced and knowledgeable birders, right through to complete novices.

We began at the lake where many eyes were transfixed upon the Great Crested Grebes and their nesting activities. We seem to have five Great Crested Grebes at present. The fifth one being pointed out to me by Brian R. The Grey Heron put in an appearance as did the two Oystercatchers which called as they flew down the lake and which have become a regular fixture now. At least one Coot nest has chicks in it and the Mute Swan nest also caused some interest. All of the winter residents appear to have left now, although several Canada Geese remain. Numbers of Lesser Black Back Gulls seem to be continually growing. I think a pair may be sussing out a stony waste sight as a possible nesting area. The lake was quiet apart from likes of the expected Mute Swans, Tufted Ducks, Mallard, Coots and Moorhen. I was very surprised to find not a single Swallow, House Martin or Sand Martin near the lake. They were around in large numbers at an even earlier stage last year.

The walk took us in the direction of the village passing a very good area for butterflies and insects. A little too early in the year and we saw only one Peacock Butterfly here today. We began to hear our first Chiffchaffs, but the stars of the day for many participants were the pair of Nuthatch which we watched at their nesting sight. From a safe distance I wish to add! I remember Nuthatches being one of the birds along with Dippers that got me so excited about bird’s years ago and I noticed a similar effect upon a number of people today. Sparrowhawk was seen by some participants near to the township and I was pleased to hear an experienced birder in the group explaining the natural balances between raptors and song birds to one or two of the group.

I had been hoping for some warblers in the scrubland behind the village and in the event we were soon watching Chiffchaffs and a Blackcap and listening to a Willow Warbler. No sign of Whitethroat here as yet. Other birds in this area had included Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Pheasant.

We eventually moved along to the first wagon-way and after a short diversion took a break for ten minutes during which almost everyone had good views of a pair of Bullfinches, the male looking especially good in the sun. Dunnock were also seen in this area.

As we walked along the roadway towards the Holystone wagon –way I got my eye on a couple of Swallows which eventually landed on the wires. These had been the first of the day. I think there were only three or four in the area. Then as we approached the wagon-way we began to pick up the Lapwing territories.

The Wagon-way appeared quiet and I could hear no song from the usual Yellowhammers, but the wind wasn’t helping. Yellowhammer was eventually seen by one participant as a flyover only. I thought this part of the walk was going to be a dead loss until someone got there eye on a flock of birds just below a dip in the fields. They were quite distant, but clearly Golden Plovers. I’d say at least 200, and I assume they had moved away from the coast. I believe that they hadn’t been seen at St Marys for a week or two so perhaps they had been here a while. I’ve seen Golden Plover in the area before, but never in such numbers. Then at least three Wheatears were spotted. Not only a new year tick for me, but in fact a new patch tick! We found another Wheatear on our return journey. Linnets were also seen flying over the fields but numbers continue to be well below that of last year. I caught sight of Kestrel hunting over the fields and another, a female, was found on top of one of the posts.

It was soon time to make our way back to Killingworth centre along another wagon-way. There wasn’t too much seen along this part of the route apart from corvids, pigeons, finches and tits. We did find Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies.
It had been a good four hours and I reckon many of the participants left feeling surprised at just how much is out there in the vicinity of Killingworth. I hope a few are encouraged to keep looking and a few more to join us again in the future. The bird list had come to forty-eight species which I think surprised people too. It could have quite easily risen above fifty as there were a number of birds I had half expected which we didn’t see or hear. Two or three participants disappeared into Killy Club and I and a few others made for the Killy Arms for dinner. It seems booking a table there on a Saturday evening makes little difference as they had forgotten we were coming! We got our dinner eventually and to be fair, I have to say it was well received. I wasn’t keen on the chips though. I suppose I have been spoilt by the fish and chip shop at Seaton Sluice.

At the end of the walk one of the participants was voicing bewilderment at how some of us could recognise bird species as what he called great distance and of course we got talking about shape and 'jizz' and simply knowing what to expect in certain habitat. I must say that it did remind me of my early birding days when I used to wonder how on earth birders could recognise a bird at distance. I like to remind myself that what is so common and accepted by some of us is bewildering to many. Anyway I think everyone was cream crackered..............or perhaps it was just me! :-)

Monday, 12 April 2010

Butterflies Aplenty!

A day when butterflies took the eye.

12th April. Having been round to the Killy Arms to reserve a table for participants on an after patch walk dinner this coming Saturday, I took a roundabout walk down to the lake with expectations of seeing at least growing numbers of Swallows. Despite the sun it was deceptively chilly down there. I found only one solitary Swallow! I did eventually confirm that one of the Great Crested Grebes is on the nest and in fact has been for several days now. The other pair don't seem to have taken matters that far yet.
It had been butterflies that took the eye today with numbers of Peacock and Small Tortoiseshell on the wing. Although still very flighty, one of the peacocks seemed to take a liking to me and once it saw I was not out to eat it, kept returning and settling close by me. The Tortoiseshells were a little more difficult but one of them did eventually settle near me at the side of the lake. Whilst I find butterflies can try the patience when one is trying to get a decent sighting, there are days and times when some species are very enquisitive and can often be easily approached.
Lots of warblers about now and today I heard the unmistakable alarm call of a Blackcap, in the same large garden as I had heard the Willow Warbler yesterday.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Willow Warbler Returns to Patch

11th April. I was thinking I was going to be unlucky and not find a Willow Warbler on the same date as 2009, but I picked up the song coming from the large gardens behind the village, as I walked across the still sodden playing fields. I'm fairly confident I got my eye on another close by where the song was coming from.

The area where the school burnt down a few years ago was holding a number of very flighty Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies, which give me no opportunity to photograph them. This is also the spot where I found the Peacock Butterfly just a few days ago and I had sighted one or two in different areas again today.

The Nuthatch is very busy at the nest hole. I watched for sometime to see if I could see the pair, but eventually decided to walk off. I just got around the corner and the bird began to call loudly. I returned to find it almost upright calling from a branch close to the nest hole. The calling initially only brought some interest from a couple of Blue Tits which seemed to drop in to investigate, then another Nuthatch flew in and seemed to disappear into the nest hole. I decided to leave them at peace at that point.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Harwood Forest and Friends!

Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara reflecting the sun.

10th April. I’ve just realised I’ve recently past my first birthday on Bird North East. My ramblings in this blog would never had occurred if I had not been encouraged to join in by my friend Cain (Holywell Birding), so you will have to blame him. I'm certainly glad I joined up.

Today took me (or should I say another friends car took me) to Harwood Forest in search of the Great Grey Shrike. Passing Angerton Lake brought back some memories of my visit to Hartburn last year. I must get back up soon. On this occasion only Mute Swans, Greylag and Canada Geese were seen fleetingly as we passed by, with a couple of Yellowhammers in the hedgerow. To be honest, I was hoping as much for good sightings of Crossbill as much as Great Grey Shrike today. In the event, that was just as well!

On arrival at Harwood who should I bump into, but another good friend Andrew (Foghorn) who had given me directions the evening before. I thought, if an ardent twitcher like Andrew was appearing there must be every chance of finding the target bird.

As we left the village it wasn’t long before I was hearing Crossbills, but not getting any sightings. A Goldcrest was soon found and soon after, numbers of Siskin. It was good to have the sun out today but it made the trek a bit on the humid side, but best not complain of a little heat I suppose. I found three Common Buzzards flying in the distance but saw no other raptor species today. One Tree Pipit was seen on the outward walk. We soon joined the small group on the lookout for the Great Grey Shrike which had apparently been last seen at 9.00am. It was now approaching 1.00pm. Well we all hung around for quite some time and I just don’t believe that the shrike was still in the same area. I was determined not to leave before Andrew, and then read about an excellent sighting later in his blog. We never did see the shrike. There was another couple of Tree Pipits in the area and we heard Snipe, Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming, Song Thrush and the endless calls of Chiffchaff. Anther Common Buzzard called and gave a better sighting than the earlier faraway birds.

I took a short walk to look across another likely looking area for shrike and caught sight of a Crossbill flying overhead. I took a walk back in that direction again later after Andrew said he had seen a Crossbill at close range. The highlight of the day was when I found the male and female Crossbill lit by the sun just a few yards in front of me. The colour in this bird is really stunning and I appreciated that today, more than ever before. We made back to the village soon afterwards, shrike-less but unbowed and everyone had had good sightings of Crossbill by the time we got back. A couple of Mistle Thrush flew near the village..
The heat of earlier in the day had dissipated which made for a more comfortable walk. There had been a number of butterflies around today, but I had only identified Peacocks. There was lots of Coltsfoot Tussilago farfara which I had been looking for on patch recently and had not found in the usual area. A good day, with a little help from my friends, and a good way to begin year two of my blog. A Red Squirrel was seen as we drove out of the forest.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Nuthatch Spring Cleans!

Back on sentry duty!
9th April. As I passed by on the bus today, I had a good sighting of the two Oystercatchers near the smaller lake that had been reported by John (Sedgedunum Warbler) so on my return I decided to hop of the bus and have a short walk on patch. By then the Oystercatchers had gone. There wasn’t much happening at all at the lake although I’m wondering if the Great Crested Grebes have a nest on the reed edge. I was pleased to see the sentinel Grey Heron back at its usual spot. It didn’t seem phased at all by my presence. Perhaps a little too trusting by half, considering its position!

I carried on in the hope of hearing some early Willow Warbler song, but that wasn’t to be. However I did catch snatches of calling from a Nuthatch and I found one at last year’s nest hole. It disappeared into the hole for a while then came back to the entrance and appeared to be doing a bit of spring cleaning. My first Nuthatch of the year and I had been wondering where they all were.

Further on the air was full of calls from Chiffchaffs, and the song of Wren, Robin, Song Thrush and Blackbird with the occasional call of a Pheasant and Mistle Thrush. The song from the Song Thrush followed me for a fair old distance. As I moved on I heard some rustling in the undergrowth and what I initially though was Rabbits turned out to be a Fox slinking away. It disappeared as if by magic giving me only a very brief sighting. I’ve had a sighting here before.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

First Swallows and Peacock

7th April. I caught sight of two Swallows as I passed Killingworth Lake in the bus yesterday so I thought I would take a look again today. Incidentally, my first Swallows of 2009 were seen in Holywell Village on the same date. I did find two Swallows again over the smaller lake, but only two and they were there only briefly. My first of the year. Back of the village where I recently found the Chiffchaffs brought me another year first in Blackcap and on the walk there I found my first Peacock Butterfly, in fact my first butterfly of the year. I’m off to a slow start with the butterflies this year, having recorded several by this time last year. Chiffchaffs were calling in several places today, including the church grounds.

The lake had been quiet with only one of the two pairs of Great Crested Grebe making an appearance. I recorded only one Goosander, a male. I counted eight Lesser Black Backed Gulls.