Sunday, 28 November 2010

Encounters with Nature by Two Deeply Frozen Birders!

A view from the village of changing skies.
Sunny on arrival, but a threatening dark sky over the North Sea.
Sunny by the burn, but looking a little threatening.
One of the deeply frozen birders, Tom, seeks cover!

It wasn't all dark skies, but none the less atmospheric.

Before the storm!

27th Nov. Waking to fair and clear skies, Tom and I decided that a little overnight snow wasn’t going to scupper plans of birding today. We were soon meeting up and off to Holywell Village, but not before Tom had described the Woodcock that had flown over his head as he was waiting at the bus stop in Heaton. Despite a further heavy fall of snow, a snowbound large vehicle and slithering cars attempting to block our departure out of Killingworth, it wasn’t to long before we arrived at a cold, but atmospheric Holywell. As we walked towards the pond area three waders in flight caught the eye. To be honest, I’m still not sure what species they were. A rather more exciting scene was that of a large skein of Pink-Footed Geese noisily flying overhead, soon to be followed by a flock of sixteen Whooper Swans. With these birds standing out so well, with a dark blue-grey sky as backdrop, I was reminded of Sir Peter Scott’s paintings of wildfowl. I’m sure he would have enjoyed paint this scene. The deep snow and the intense light ensured that birds showed well today. We were also soon watching a large flock of Skylark and Reed Buntings attempting to feed in the snow covered fields.

The pond was partially frozen and the hide cold. We managed to avoid another shower of snow whilst in the hide. The sky over the North Sea made it clear that we were in for snowfall at times during the day. The feeders had fortunately been topped up at the feeding station and visitors included a female Brambling, briefly seen. The predominant small passerines were Greenfinches. Birds on the pond included Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Mallard, Shoveller, Teal, Pochard, Scaup and Tufted Duck. A Grey Heron gave us a customary fly pass. At times the sky cleared leaving above the pond, but cloud was always threatening. Skeins of Pink-Footed Geese and Greylag Geese were with us most of the day, all adding to the atmosphere. We next began to walk in the direction of the avenue, pausing only briefly at the public hide where gulls seemed to be the predominant species with lots of Great Black Backed Gulls about today. More Skylarks were found.

It wasn’t to long before we were in the dene and oddly enough, quite warm. Mind you, we had more layers on than a pickled onion! Very quickly we found Treecreeper and three Nuthatches. The burn was running quickly and deeply and I’m sure when a thaw sets in it will be gushing. The feeders seemed to be attracting Robins in the main but there were no shortage of tit parties including good numbers of Coal and Long Tailed Tits. A Sparrowhawk flew through the trees and numbers of Pheasant seemed to be taking refuge from a shoot taking place on the adjacent farmland. The shoot seemed to go on all day as we heard it still, as we left for home as darkness set in. We found a single Song Thrush and a single Goldcrest in the dene too.

As we eventually reached the path towards Seaton Sluice we came across a number of Rock Pipits attempting to feed near some thawed ground. Tom quickly got his eye on another female Brambling feeding nearby. This gave us excellent views as we approached and Robin like it just kept a few feet in front of us before eventually doubling back. A clear sign of the difficult conditions, although the bird didn’t look unwell or starved. It was definitely my sighting of the day along with the Whooper Swans and geese seen early morning.

Packed lunches had been given the elbow today as the thought of a warm up in the fish and chip café appealed. It was a good decision I think because by now the warmth of the dene had given way to bitter cold air come from the North East. The chips and pots of tea went down well during another heavy snow storm which we avoided nicely. The storm gave a perfect reason to have a second pot of tea.

Tom and I agreed that any sea watch would be a short affair today, but we did take a look from the point at Seaton Sluice. The large flock of Common Scoter were close to shore as were flocks of Eider Duck. There wasn’t too much else on the sea of any real interest. We did watch as heavy downpours of snow blew in off the sea and at one point took shelter behind the NTBC hide. At this point it was almost impossible to see the sea at all.

With cold feet we set off on the walk towards St Mary’s Island, thankfully with the wind to our backs. The list of waders began to mount and we eventually listed Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Common Snipe. The Dunlin, as on our previous visit proved difficult to find, but an odd one was seen just before we left. By then with heavy snow falling I had been willing to give up on Dunlin altogether. The Common Snipe were on the wetland where we also added Gadwall and Wigeon to our day list. We had a good sighting of Kestrel flying blow us along by the cliff edge.

Despite the bitter cold, ice and snow I don’t think we felt the cold too badly today, although at one point Toms toes almost froze up so he might not agree.:-) It wasn’t an easy walk and I’m damn sure not many people, birders or otherwise, would have attempted it today of all days. However it was one of the most atmospheric days I can remember and with few people about we both really enjoyed the day. The light was wonderful and the skies changed by the minute and gave some stunning effects at times. I think we agreed that being out here in this atmosphere was as equally important as focusing on the bird life. It felt good!

As we neared St Marys Lighthouse the sky appeared like a watercolour behind the lighthouse. Was this the coming of Armageddon I wondered? No, I needn’t have worried, it was simply the build up of another very heavy snowstorm. I couldn’t help wonder what it was like to be out on that sea. The morning atmosphere along with the Pink-footed Geese and Whooper Swans had reminded me of the naturalist and painter Sir Peter Scott. The late afternoon sky to the east and the burning red sunset to the west reminded me of another artist, J M W Turner. The sky was certainly Turneresque. I remember reading about Turner putting himself through great discomfort, strapping himself to the mast of a boat during a storm at sea and sticking his head out of a fast steam train. The experience later produced some great paintings. I felt in a similar, if slightly less sadistic manner, that Tom and I had experienced a bit discomfort today, but that it would produce some good memories later.

The car park was a sheet of dangerous and jagged ice, and I was surprised to find anyone had even attempted to drive here. A few had. The stormy sky did eventually give up its snow and cover the blazing sunset. At this point it felt like an Arctic scene as a Sparrowhawk flew from across the fields in typical flapping and glide flight. We felt it best to leave now, but not before finding that Dunlin! We left with a list of 69 species of bird seen during what had been another great day. We didn’t find any great rarities and it just didn’t matter a jot!

28th Nov. Day of rest and football watching, in front of the telly.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Butterfly Interlude.

Marbled White

Woodland Brown

Common Glider

Blue-spot Hairstreak

Scarce Copper

Large Copper

Lesser Purple Emperor

It’s cold and it’s damp, so I thought a few butterflies would warm my blog. The shots were taken in 2008 when I stayed at Farm Lator in Hungry.

The Butterfly Bridge over the Derwent, which had been washed away in the floods of 2008, was on the agenda last weekend. It was so named because of the interest shown by entomologists in the butterflies of the area. No doubt it was a collector’s paradise in years gone by. I have developed a keen interest in butterflies in recent years and having just read Patrick Barkham’s interesting book, The Butterfly Isles, in which he sets off to see all the British species of butterfly in 2009, my mind turned to warmer days and insects. Patrick’s book is far more than a list of butterflies and he goes into some detail as to the lifestyle of each species and the difficulties involved in their conservation. The life of the Large Blue, from egg to adult, is especially interesting.

I imagined a group of Aurelians with nets on the Butterfly Bridge, which incidentally is to be replaced soon, and I found the following information on the internet…..

‘A select group of entomological collectors began meeting at the Swan Tavern in London’s Exchange Alley and by 1742 had founded The Society of Aurelians. “Aurelian”, originating from the Latin word aureus or aureolus, meaning golden or beautiful, was the name adopted by early members of the Society. This related to the iridescent sheen on the chrysalids of certain butterfly species such as the Peacock or Small Tortoiseshell. Tragically the premises in London were destroyed in the Great Fire, 1748, along with all the society records and collections.’

The origin of the English term butterfly is of some interest with numerous thoughts on the matter. Perhaps one of the most likely origins is it that it is related to the Brimstone Butterfly which has yellow colouring resembling butter. There is also a link with medieval superstition that there were that there were fairies or witches in winged form that stole butter and cream. Perhaps a rather less pleasant belief is that there is a connection with the old Dutch word boterschijte…butter shitter, because the excrement of some butterflies looks like butter.

The scientific name of the Brimstone Butterfly is Gonepteryx rhammi, meaning ‘the angle winged butterfly of the buckthorn.’ The Brimstone hibernates as an adult butterfly and is often on the wing as early as February and March. In calcareous areas it lays its eggs on buckthorn.

Lepidoptera is the name given to the order of animals that includes butterflies and moths. Lepidopteron is formed from two Greek words lepis meaning a scale and pteron denoting a wing. Butterflies and moths are distinguished from other insects in having wings composed of scales.

Fritillaries are some of the most beautiful of butterflies and whilst I have seen several species in Europe, I have to confess that I knowingly saw my first in Britain only last year, and that was the Dark Green Fritillary at Smardale, Cumbria. Patrick Barkham writes of his visit to Smardale to find Scotch Argus, another butterfly I saw during our fieldtrip. I now know that the term fritillary was given to butterflies as it is Latin for ‘checkerboard.’ The fritillary butterflies have checkerboard patterns on the upper sides of their wings

The Glanville Fritillary has an interesting history and was once found in much of south-eastern England and as far north as Lincolnshire and in fact the butterfly was once known as the ‘Lincolnshire Fritillary.’ It is now confined to the area of the Isle of Wight and the Channel Islands. A small population in Somerset is thought to be an unauthorised introduction. The name of Glanville is derived from a highly respected entomologist by the name of Lady Eleanor Glanville who had collected some of the first specimens. Lady Glanville’s will was contested by relatives under the ‘Acts of Lunacy’ as the relatives argued that ‘none but those who were deprived of their senses would go in pursuit of butterflies.’ The case was found in Lady Glanville’s favour after leading entomologists gave testimony. Perhaps this does reflect the general feeling of that day about the butterfly collectors! Maybe it is a view of butterfly and bird watchers still held by some. :-)

One Butterfly tracked down by Patrick Barkham is the Mountain Ringlet. The only population of this species in England is high on Lakeland fells, including Fleetwith, near Honister Pass in Cumbria’s Lake District. I spent most of my holidays as a child on the farm at the foot of Honister Pass and as I got a bit older I backpacked in the Lake District and have been up on Fleetwith several times. Sadly, even though I have been up there on some very hot summer days I have never seen the Mountain Ringlet. In fact butterflies were the last thing on my mind at that time. Even if I had known they were there it is doubtful if I would have seen them. In cooler weather, and I seem to remember it is often cool in the Lake District, they hide low in the grasses and are almost impossible to find. They require matt-grass. Such are the needs of butterflies that conservation can prove difficult and our changing climate is going to affect them and cause headaches for the conservationists. I do feel a trip up Fleetwith Pike needs to go on my list of things to do next summer however. This short interlude with the butterflies has been enjoyable, but now I must get back to some winter bird watching.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Return to the Derwent Valley

Mist greets us on arrival.
A touch of colour below the viaduct.
It might be raining, but the thought of lunch brings a smile.
Pastel shades.

20th Nov. A very different atmosphere today as I arrived at Winlaton Mill, but an atmosphere none the less. The rain had stopped, but looking towards the west there was low lying mist and it seemed that it wouldn’t be long before some rain fell again. There was to be showers throughout the four hour walk, but nothing that would put off anyone other than the most fair weather of birders. I was joined by another eleven keen and adventurous participants, which made for a nice round and friendly group. Two of us counted three Common Buzzards before anyone else arrived, all perched high on the tree line to the south. After a quick introduction we were off in the direction of the Nine Arch Viaduct.

I noticed that there were far fewer Jays showing on this occasion, but we did eventually see a couple and later heard at least one. The autumnal colours of October had been replaced by a more pastel like winter colour in the trees. Cormorant, Grey Heron and Mute Swan were all seen in flight and the lake held a female Goldeneye along with numerous Moorhens and Mallards. We found where the Butterfly Bridge (so called because the area is renowned for its butterflies) had been washed away in the 2008 floods, but an initial check for Dipper went unrewarded. Dipper was eventually seen. I’m told this area of the river is good for odonata. Goosanders were seen flying above the river and eventually at least one was seen by the group on the river. Long Tailed Tits were heard before being seen and Treecreeper appeared. Several quite large flocks of Siskin were seen both in flight and feeding. Goldfinches were spotted amongst these flocks. One or two participants spotted Bullfinch.

By the time we were up at the Red Kite viewing area near the viaduct the rain was coming down quite heavily and I began to think it unlikely that the kites would be seen. In fact we did eventually see three or four Red Kites, but not as closely as had been the case in October. A Sparrowhawk also flew overhead, and a flock of Redwings was seen. The odd Mistle Thrush was about. The rain meant that the planned lunch stop was delayed and we later ate lunch in the Thornley Woods visitor centre. Thanks go to the guy working in the centre.

Having made the dramatic crossing of the A694 (all survived) out side of the centre, we all visited the hide. Tits were numerous including many Coal Tits. A Nuthatch was eventually found and a Roe Deer seen crossing between the trees. The usual Grey Squirrels were numerous. It strikes me as odd that in some areas great efforts are made to dispatch Grey Squirrels, yet in other areas they are left alone. This doesn’t make sense to me! Maybe I’m being to simplistic. I do understand the idea of refuges for Red Squirrels, just don’t think it will work. As we sat in the hide the rain became heavier and it looked set to continue. We decided to move on and most took the quick route along the road back to Winlaton Mill. I was tempted to jump on the bus for Newcastle, but the rain stopped and I continued the walk as planned retracing some of my footsteps along the by now very muddy woodland trail. Mud and peace appealed to me far more than busy traffic and noise A couple of us saw the female Kestrel, looking a bit forlorn in a tree. Probably the same one I came eye to eye with in October.

During a horrendous journey home through the Metro Centre traffic jams, I at least had tomorrows birding to keep me focused, even if tomorrow may be another wet day. Another wet day birding would in any event beat shopping in the Metro Centre hands down. I was later sent info from one of these GPS fitness measurement devices. If correct we had walked almost five miles. It didn’t seem that far to me. However isn’t modern technology a wonder!

I am now in possession of my 2011 Expedition Ardnamurchan callendar personally delivered by Holywell Birding. If you haven't got your copy best be quick before stocks run out. It'll be no good complaining later. It's very good.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

On Patch Again.

18th Nov. I decided to take a walk along the wagon-way today. No sooner did I get out and the light began to go, but I kept going and did the full circle coming back via the village. I must admit I had been tempted to turn back fairly early on the walk as there appeared to be little about.

Blackbirds were everywhere today. An influx from Scandinavia perhaps. In the hedge, some distance away from, but running perpendicular to the wagon-way, I spotted Redwings, but in no great number. This stretch of the wagon-way brought little else than corvids, gulls, Greenfinches and House Sparrows. I got speaking to a guy who realised I was watching birds, the binoculars being a bit of a give away. He told me he had seen a woodpecker in the trees at the end of the path and gave a good description of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. Apparently he has been watching woodpeckers nesting in the area for two or three years. I seem to remember seeing one of these birds in this particular area, but it isn’t where I would usually expect them.

By the time I was on the Holystone end of the wagon-way it was feeling bitterly cold and cloud was making for darkness. It was only 15:10! I think I would have given up at this point, but I got my eye on a Common Buzzard in the distance flying over Backworth. A few minutes later a pair of Kestrels were flying closely together, high over my head. One eventually seemed to head off eastwards towards the coast and the other flew down to land behind the hedge on the opposite side of the field.

On my return I noticed that the stubble was doing a good job of hiding at least four Pheasants, whilst another wandered along by the hedge. In with the Pheasants were Magpies, Wood Pigeon and a small flock of Linnet. When I took my eye off them I found that the Common Buzzard (I assume the same one from earlier) had flown nearer and was above the field adjacent to the wagon-way. It eventually landed on a pylon and looked very insignificant as it sat high up on one of the girders. Flocks of corvids were now flying towards Gosforth Park to roost, not doubt via their stopping off point at West Moor. These flocks can be quite a sight in winter. My eye was taken by black dots further away toward the coast. The dots looked as though someone had placed lots of tiny black spots onto the darkening sky. Looking through the binoculars I found that the spots were in fact very large flocks of circling gulls stretching across the sky, over what I guessed was near the tide-line. In the east the sky was a mixed colour of blues, yellows and mauve, but behind me in the west it was simply a dull grey. Another flock of corvids flew across in front of the gulls. I heard a sprinkle of light rain hit my coat and then felt the lightest of showers on my face. It came to nothing, but I thought it best to head for home. I had my hat and gloves on by now and thought a power walk was in order so as I could warm up. Well OK, power might be a slight exaggeration, so let’s just say faster than normal! For much of the walk home my only company was a field full of Rooks and car headlights.

Having watched the Squacco Heron last week I was saddened to hear of its demise, although not altogether surprised as this must happen to many of these birds which are outside of their normal range. I have to say, I saw no sign of the bird being pushed too hard when I was up there, although there were few people about so what the weekend brought I don’t know. I did read a very good overview posted on Bird Forum (I don’t look in often these days) as to why the drop in temperature and water levels are likely to have effected feeding and thus probably brought about the bird’s demise. I think I would certainly go along with that explanation.

Most things about fieldcraft have been said so no point in adding anything really, although in any event, I have no real idea if fieldcraft. or lack of it, had any part to play in this incident.. Fieldcraft has to be learned however, and it is those who should have learned it and know better that I have little time for, and I’m sure some of them consider themselves experienced birders! Selfish motives often send common sense out of the window of course. The world has more than a fair share of selfish people, so no doubt some of them call themselves bird watchers. It would be a sad day indeed if bird watching became seen to be an elitist occupation, with only those who feel entitled to know about the whereabouts of birds sharing such information with each other. Education and challenging unacceptable behavior is the only way forward, so that everyone can enjoy a great pastime in the way that suits them best.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

A Look at Patch.

As autumn turns to winter on patch.

13th Nov. With autumn changing to winter, but with blues skies and a mere breeze left of the gale force winds, I took a short walk on patch today. The muddy pathways were at least made more passable by the layer of now decaying leaves of various shades of brown. I did notice that despite the gales some leaves still managed to hold on. One large tree appears to have been up rooted by the winds and was already being carted away in the form of logs. Whilst the sky above remained blue, I noticed an ominous blanket of cloud building up from the west which seemed to indicate that the forecast for rain tomorrow was going to be correct.

I stayed around the area south of the village in the main and there was no more than the usual birdlife about, although I noted that the numbers of Common Gulls appear to be building up. There were plenty of berries, but only Blackbirds appeared to be taking advantage of them. I have generally found that the winter thrushes are late in arriving in this area. As I returned I heard the call of a raptor and on looking up found a male Sparrowhawk being chased of by a gull. It was a nice sighting, as it flew right across in front of me with the blue sky acting as a backdrop.

Having ‘waded’ through the monograph on Tundra Plovers and just finished it, I felt a bit of a change was required in my reading matter. I’ve just began a rather lighter book The Butterfly Isles/Patrick Barkham. Patrick sets out to see all of the British species of Butterfly in one year. He’d initially had his interest in butterflies turned on as a child when searching with his father for the Brown Argus Butterfly at Holme, Norfolk, and describes the small silvery insect flight perfectly. The initial few pages suggest that this will be a pleasant read. I like the North Norfolk coast and the pines and dune area at Holme in particular, so my interest was grabbed from the start. Once I’ve finished this I’ll be ready to take on another wader monograph. Dotterel I think.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Why's That Heron Squaking?

Cos it’s a Squacco……stupid!

11th Nov. (Remembrance Day, Lest we Forget). Despite a dreadful weather forecast, Tom and I decided last night that we wouldn’t allow a drop of rain to prevent us taking a look for the Squacco Heron at Morpeth and that we would be up there this morning come what may. I have definitely developed a growing twitch of late. Anyway, as I left the house this morning, things were not looking overly bright, but in fact take away the odd small shower, this morning was a sunny one in Morpeth. The sun is still shinning as I type.

I got a little mixed up with my bridges in Morpeth, but after taking some advice from a local we headed for the blue one! The Squacco Heron had been last reported near here at around 7.00am. We actually ended up walking as far as the weir without any luck, before deciding to take a walk back towards the town. We were surprised to be the only birders about until we got our eye on another on the opposite bank at which point Tom saw movement on the river bank. A bird had lifted and then dropped again. It proved to be our target the Squacco Heron. I’m not sure that the guy on the opposite bank right next to it actually picked it up. A couple of birders were watching it from a little further along the river. The sighting we had was decent enough, but it eventually lifted and flew across to our side (town side) and gave us excellent views whilst it fed just a few yards from us. Two guys on the opposite bank timed their arrival perfectly, because as soon as they stepped out of the car the bird was visible to them. Once we had crossed the river we chatted briefly and the bird appeared to fly off up river towards the town, although I think it may very well have quickly dropped down into the vegetation again. That was a good job done, a lifer for Tom and my second Northumberland Squacco Heron, following my sighting of the East Chevington bird a few years back. We didn’t ignore the other birds that were about which had included Grey Heron, Grey Wagtail and a party of tits including a good number of Long Tailed Tits. We decided to treat ourselves to a cuppa in Morpeth as way of celebration.

The weather remained good so we decided to have a walk through the park and along the river. We found a male Sparrowhawk enjoying the sun high up in the trees. We later found one or two birders searching for an illusive Squacco Heron. I think we were lucky that we had found it early on. Tom told me he had brought his sandwiches in the event off being there for the long haul, but they had not been required! An excellent morning.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Diving With the Divers!

Seventy Whooper Swans on the pond bring a great day to a perfect end.
A clear day at Cresswell and a great day to be out birding

6th Nov. To Cresswell today, via Ashington. An early start saw us into Ashington sooner than expected. The skies were clear and I felt the cold despite the sunshine. Tom and I weren’t quite expecting to be greeted by Waxwings and we were both pleased with a year tick outside of the Northumbria police station. We saw Starling like birds fly across the field and there was little doubt that they were Waxwings when we saw them drop onto the berries. A good sighting was had of over twenty birds. I’m not sure what risk you take these days standing outside of a police station with binoculars and telescope seemingly pointing at the building, but we weren’t arrested. Having stocked up with food we made for the bus to Cresswell and reached our destination shortly after 9.30am. These early starts and long days are becoming an enjoyable habit. It seemed a little warmer as the sun had risen in the sky.

The tide was out and the beach was seen at its sunlit best. The sea look, perhaps deceptively, calm. A small flock of Knot were found and the occasional Ringed Plover, but in the main waders seen were Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew. Skeins of geese were in the main Pink-Footed Geese, but we also saw Canada Geese as they flew to the pond area and there was a small flock of Whooper Swans in the air. We watched the sea at various times during the day and my mind is playing tricks as to when we saw what. However the best sightings were of the Red Throated Divers. We got well into double figures and, although we may have seen some birds on more than one occasion, we did have a small flotilla of half a dozen divers followed by a lone bird on one occasion. They were often well in to shore giving excellent sightings. Other birds seen over or on the sea included three Red-Breasted Mergansers, numerous Common Scoter and Eider and a flock of Wigeon.

We walked along the road to the pond. There were few passerines about, but plenty of small skeins of Pink-Footed Geese in the distance. A number of cars were parked near the hide and it seemed to remain busy all day. The hide was noisy. As someone who likes to bird in peace and quiet I found this irritating, although I appreciate most in the hide were keen just to watch the birds. I have no objections to talking in hides, but there are limits and they were broken today, with no thought giving to those trying to quietly watch from the hide. I’ve had the same unpleasant experience at Saltholme recently, and I felt strongly enough about it to write to the site manager to complain. I know I’m not alone in my feelings and make a plea on behalf of birders who just want to bird in peaceful surroundings and not a social club atmosphere! Anyway, when peace was restored it felt much better.

A Peregrine Falcon was in a tree in the distance to the left of the hide and remained there motionless for a lengthy period. Pink-Footed Geese landed in the distance, but most disappeared behind the brow of a hillock. There was no sign of a Jack Snipe or Bittern whilst we were present, but I note that the Bittern was recorded at some point during the day. We did wonder about one bird that flew into the reeds. It may have been Common Snipe as there were numbers of them around the pond edges, but it did seem small in flight. It wasn’t seen again, but a Green Sandpiper did fly from the same area giving a very good sighting as it flew across the pond. A bit late in the year for this one I thought. Teal and Wigeon dominated the pond but there were also several Goldeneye and a Scaup, Mute Swans and three Whooper Swans. Grey Herons and Lapwing were around as usual.

We walked on to Bells Farm and Pond where there was a mixed flock of Chaffinch, House Sparrow and Tree Sparrow and lots of activity on and around the pond. At some point we found a flock of Golden Plover in flight. A number of Twite were in their usual winter quarters near the cattle. I noted a large not so friendly looking bull in the field. Chatting to the farmer, he told us Snow Bunting had been around earlier in the week. We decided to take a look for that on our return as we pushed on to Druridge Pool. On the way we had a good sighting of a Sparrowhawk as it flew in usual fashion low down along by a fence and into the trees. It was a wonderful day to be out and about. Druridge Pool didn’t add to much to the list, but amongst new birds seen for the day were Gadwall and Shoveller. At least the hide here was quiet as we were the only ones in it! The water was very high.

The return walk was made through the dunes, where a couple of pairs of attractive Stonechat were found, and then along an energy sapping beach. I took a breather at what I think were wartime concrete defences. I thought the tide was now going back out and Tom thought it was coming in. I think it was whilst we watched a close up Red Throated Diver, that Tom was proved to be correct. We ended up with wet feet as we were caught by a wave and my tripod and bag stood in sea water. That got us moving again as several Sanderling flew over the sea.

When we come to the burn we decided to search for a possible Snow Bunting. All we found were the Twite, Goldfinch and Pied Wagtail having checked the flocks out very well. I kept an eye open for that bull! Then we found the burn had become deep and cut off our path. We tried a number of methods to get across without getting feet soaked. Tom tried to cross over on a piece of old tree trunk, but I think having become envious of the Red Throated Divers habits and not wishing to be up staged, took to diving himself. I can tell you he was out of that water quicker than the Red Throated Divers. Luckily not too soaked. I shall award him ten points for the dive however.:-) Its usually me who has the falls! We decided to walk along by the burn and a few yards along it we found a small foot bridge. Never mind, we don’t like to take the easy ways! So off we trod on four wet feet my old walking shoes squeaking all the way. Tom spotted a Kestrel on the fence. We eventually got back on the road.

We’d had a long day, but time had flown. We came across Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting and continued to watch the flocks of Pink Footed Geese in the air. We wondered if another visit to the pond hide was worth missing the bus and getting a later one. Decision time was made very pleasant when we found that a flock of circa seventy Whooper Swans had flown onto the pond. A wonderful sight as the sun began to go down and the light disappear somewhat. I’m not sure what made our final decision to go for the bus, although seeing the hide full once again was certainly a factor as I think were wet feet! We’d both had another great days birding with 64 species being the days count, easily beating the species list from our previous visit. It was a mega journey to get back home and I was sleepy, damp and cold at the end of it, but well worth it to have the type of day that can only be shared with someone of the same mind set as to what birding is all about.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Tyne Valley Trip.

View up river of a clean Tyne.

2nd Nov. As I tried to get across to Newcastle Central Station with traffic piling up as far back as Gosforth Park, I soon realised that the police helicopter was in the sky for a purpose and it wasn’t there to wave me off! I understand a body had been found in the early hours, and it wasn’t long before I was being told that a stabbing had occurred. Chinese whispers are dangerous things, and of course no such thing had happened. I finally managed to arrive in time for my train into the Tyne Valley, in fact I had forty minutes to spare having checked times on the internet which had clearly not been up to date. Think I may just use the old fashioned telephone the next time.

I’ve been traveling along the Tyne Valley by train since I was a babe in arms. Thankfully the line avoided Dr Beecham’s (he was a doctor I seem to recall, or am I getting confused with Beecham’s powders?) axe in the sixties and is still going strong, although some of the branch lines from it are long gone. Oddly enough I boarded the train from the platform I used to use as a boy and that I have not done for many years. It got me reminiscing as the rain ran down the coach windowpanes. Some would have us believe that everything in the past was rosy and that the grass was always greener and that the sun always shone. Perhaps the sun ‘always shines on TV’ but I can confirm that it didn’t always shine on my youthful head. I have a friend who is a bit of a steam engine buff and looks back on them with wonder. I simply remember noise, smoke, unpleasant smells and slow journeys. Mind you today’s journey was very slow and the carriages dirty. A sign of things to come perhaps, in our debt ridden society, although it has to be said I did reach my destination safely. However, much has improved in the environment since my boyhood and when the sun does shine you don’t usually have to peer through smoke to see it, and the Tyne itself is no longer the filthy health hazard of years gone by, witnessed by the common sightings of Otters and the numbers of Salmon in the river. Ok, bird numbers for many species are down now, but even that isn’t true for every species. Pessimism about wildlife can be off putting for those just showing an interest and whilst we must be realistic, I think we should also be positive.

As I say I’ve passed through this area on numerous occasions and looked out of the train windows, but I have rarely done much walking in the area as I've tended to only 'bird' from the train. Today was to be different and I got off at Wylam station looking forward to exploring a walk.with a couple of friends from the Local Group who live in the area.

The sun was timed perfectly to welcome me as the rained stopped. We were to have clear skies and sun until the end of the walk when the rain began again. We walked through some interesting habitat where autumn colours were showing very vividly and berries were numerous. We were soon finding the likes of Redwing, Song Thrush, Redpoll, Siskin, Goldfinch and Bullfinch. We spotted two Red Kites fly over the river from north Bank to south. Now you would not have seen them when I was a youngster. Other birds along the pathways included tits, amongst them a sizable party of Long Tailed Tits, and Treecreeper.

On the river were numbers of Goosander and one or two Grey Herons. The first Grey Heron I saw looked almost as if it was a garden statue, but it wasn’t. I definitely heard the mew of a Common Buzzard, but didn’t see it. When I looked I saw only corvids. Another Red Kite was seen, possibly being one of the earlier birds that had been sighted. A few Cormorants flew up river and Mallard was seen on the small pond in an area I felt look well worth keeping an eye on.

As we made the return walk back towards Wylam centre, a brief but good sighting of a pair of Kingfishers was had. They quickly circled into the thick herbage not to be seen again, but at least one of them giving a really good view of upper and lower plumage. A little further along a pair of Dippers was found. I was with at least one person who knew this area well and it underlined the benefits of watching a local patch on a regular basis.

Thirty-four species were seen on the walk, a walk I intend to repeat and lead next spring, before we broke for a very pleasant lunch over looking the bird feeders, during which the rain restarted. I noticed my friends have a massive water pistol. I have one on my shopping list so the neighbours cats best be warned! By the time I was back in the city, having passed Mute Swans and numerous gulls during the journey, it was dark and pouring down.

3rd Nov. The Hedgehog has been feeding on the lawn. It seemed to enjoy the haddock that I had purchased from Morrison's and which I thought was of a disgusting flavour. Don’t worry, there were no bones in it!

Monday, 1 November 2010

A Velvet Touch!

When short of photos stick on a shot of St Mary's Island to add some colour!

31st Oct. Tom had giving me a good idea for a title for the blog today, along the lines of Ghostly Birding. Halloween you see. However that would maybe depend on few birds being seen, and that wasn’t to be the case, so I came up with an alternative. Any threat of mist and drizzle seemed pie in the sky as we headed for Holywell Village under clear skies. (Apologies to Holywell Birding. I’m not attempting to take over your patch Cain. Just like the walk, so keeping it warm whilst you’re awayJ) Tom had amassed a decent list even before we met up, but I’m pleased to say I didn’t miss out on any of these as the day progressed. Nowt I hate more than missing something seen by someone with me, even though he wasn’t at the time, if you follow me! The frequency of Magpies should have indicated something as going to happen in ‘toon’ today!

We soon found that the female Long Tailed Duck, Scaup and Goldeneyes were still on the pond, and a fair number of birds had been listed as we had walked from the village. I was surprised to find no Teal or Wigeon visible on the pond. There was the odd Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Mute Swan (no Whoopers today) Mallard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coots. Black Headed, Common, Herring and Great Black Backed Gulls were in the centre of the pond too. A small flock of Lapwing flew around the area and I’m sure the skein of geese to the north was Pink-Footed Geese. I noticed that there was nothing on the board in the hide and it’s not because there hasn’t been some fairly decent birds about the area. So we put some on there. Birding from hides is not in truth my favourite pastime, but I always enjoy being in that members hide at Holywell, especially early morning and evening. The feeders had been taken over by a growing number of Greenfinches. A flock of circa ten Common Snipe flew across the pond landing down by the public hide where we later had sightings of two or three. If we hadn’t seen them fly in I reckon we would have missed them completely.

The fields were checked out closely and a number of Skylark and Linnet found as well as four wet feet. As we entered the dene there was much activity as birds were flying to and fro across the burn. Great and Blue Tits in the main, but one Nuthatch was found amongst them, a welcome sight as this species has been a rarity in the dene of late. We noticed in contrast to last week Robins were once again in abundance. A flock of Long Tailed Tits were found feeding as we neared the end of the dene and a pair of Grey Wagtails had been a welcome sight. The fall of leaves is certainly gaining pace now.

Still key-less (that’s key-less, not clueless) Tom and I headed to the point at Seaton Sluice for a bit of a sea watch. Yes, we both knew that conditions were not right for such a task, but at least it was warm and the telescope could be held still today. Well I say it was warm and it was when we started but it didn’t last and we soon had the gloves out. There was no one there to let us into the hide this week. Initially there was little about but Common Scaup in some number, Eider and an immature Gannet, but then we soon had a good sighting of a Red Throated Diver then some excitement when three Velvet Scoter flew in from out at sea giving us an excellent sighting and both a year tick and our bird of the day. I’d been commenting on the fact that the only time I had seen a Kingfisher in Holywell Dene was when Tom had first accompanied me in the rain. I was surprised to look downwards and see the flash of blue of a Kingfisher flying close to the cliff and disappearing around the corner, presumably then flying into the mouth of the burn. That was certainly an unexpected bird on our sea watch. Tom then had information from Flamburgh Head. In four hours a single Pomarine Skua had been seen. Well, if we were gonna wait until it reached us then I was gonna be very cold. The Purple Sandpipers were showing well below us as they did last week and a growing number of waders were gathering as the tide began to recede. We eventually moved on, once again not only key-less but ‘aukless.’

Waders seen today were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Redshank, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and Common Snipe. Despite a good search we didn’t find any Dunlin at all and I suspect the birds had flocked together somewhere at the back of the lighthouse. I have still to seen any Knot at St Mary’s island this year. We did see a sizable flock of Pink-footed Geese eventually fly south.

Drizzle had been forecast by 3.00pm but it didn’t arrive although looking southwards the sea sea and sky were becoming greyer by the minute and the light was disappearing quickly. We had failed to equal the number of species from last week by one species and were stuck on sixty-four. As we left for a quick look in the crematorium grounds we had a fleeting glimpse of a Peregrine Falcon (my glimpse very fleeting indeed) as it flew in from the shore, quickly disappearing across the fields as if by magic. We were once again on sixty-five species. Anyone scrutinising my blog will see that last week I mentioned sixty-three. Well, I had forgotten Grey Partridge and Common Gull! We found nothing in the crematorium grounds and we ended what had been another excellent days birding at this point, or we thought we had until a skein of Greylag Geese flew in off the sea putting us on sixty-six species. Another great day had ended!...................No not quite. Tom found the derby result and Newcastle were beating Sunderland 4-0………….no 5-0……… 5-1. Well we had to allow them a consolation goal didn’t we? Yes a great day indeed!