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! :-)


  1. Great report
    And your spot on Golden Plover numbers at St Mary's have dropped to only a handful of birds in the past week or two. It was interesting to find out they stop off at Killingworth on their way back to their breeding grounds.

  2. Thanks D.
    I'm thinking that particular spot is likely to be a regular stop off point for the Golden Plover as I saw a few of them around this time last year, although only a small number then. Of course larger numbers may have been hidden in the dips of the fields even then. Cheers. Brian.