Sunday, 31 October 2010

Rapturous Raptors!

30th Oct. An early start saw me in Chester le Street for shortly after 8.30am to rendezvous with Andrew K. This was to be an adventure today into North Yorkshire, and quite an adventure it turned out to be.

On arrival at Sleddale where a number of birders had already lined up, we quickly found one of the Rough Legged Buzzards in a tree. Not far away was a Great Grey Shrike of which we had some decent sightings during the morning. This one was a UK first for me. The action soon began for real although I did do the Great Grey Shrike justice. Imagine the following. Three Rough Legged Buzzards in the air at once and single bird’s often giving good close up sightings and showing that distinctive hover like stance in the wind. Rough Legged Buzzard in the air with Common Buzzard and Peregrine Falcon. Male and female Peregrine Falcon in the air together in friendly tussle, and blimey was that female a size? Peregrine Falcon chasing a Red Grouse to ground right in front of us, and latter a Wood Pigeon narrowly escaping a chasing Peregrine Falcon. A Sparrowhawk mobbing a Peregrine Falcon, and a Common Buzzard mobbing a Rough Legged Buzzard. Kestrels providing some background hovering and a supporting cast of numerous close up Red Grouse, more distant Common Buzzards and a fly by from my first Fieldfares of the winter. I heard someone mention Goshawk way in the distance, but I honestly don’t think anyone identified it with any great confidence. This had turned into the finest raptor watch I’ve ever had in the UK. Pity we had missed the Merlin seen before out arrival and pity the Hen Harrier didn’t join the party, whilst we were there anyway.

I have only seen Rough Legged Buzzard once before and that was the bird that turned up near Holywell/Whitley Bay a few years ago. The sightings were far better today and I’m also a little more bird wise now. It was good to compare the differences between the Common and Rough Legged Buzzards over a period of two or three hours. I don’t think I have ever had such a good opportunity to consider the reverse sexual dimorphism in Peregrine Falcons either. I wasn’t the only one to think the female in this case was towards the maximum size limit. There was a third Peregrine Falcon by the way. Great stuff although the excitement didn’t stop the cold wind reaching places it ought not too and I was tempted to ask Andrew for some anti freeze to rub on my bits and pieces as we left for Scaling Dam, but I decided to make do with the car heater to warm me, and the icicles soon disappeared.

On arrival we found the female Long Tailed Duck and a single Whooper Swan amongst other waterfowl, some I think of doubtful parentage. After a short watch we made off towards Rainton Meadows Nature Reserve where I had a feeling we might find something decent.

First bird of note was a calling Willow Tit which we didn’t manage to see. We were on operation Jack Snipe and owl. We found neither, but what we did find was eleven Whooper Swans looking very dapper on the pond and looking as though they were there for the night. Ten Common Snipe were also found. Other birds seen included the likes of Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Gadwall, Grey Heron, Lapwing, Redwing, Siskin et all.

As usual my trip south of the border provided a grand day. Raptors were the stars of the show and seen in number. Three Rough Legged Buzzard, five+ Common Buzzard, three+ Sparrowhawk, two+ Kestrel, three Peregrine Falcons. More important that quantity was the quality of the sightings however, and I think it will be a while before this is repeated. It wasn’t just a long rapturous raptor day though and I was very pleased with the Great Grey Shrike and other sightings. Jack Snipe is on the back burner for now. Not literally of course!

It was a Foghorn long day yesterday and I’ve been out and had another excellent birding day today, but there is only so much Killy Birder can do in a weekend, so I’m off to soak in a hot bath and will write up today’s exciting installment tomorrow. Anticipation is a wonderful thing!

Friday, 29 October 2010

Autumn Footsteps.

An autumnal feel to the area.
Path to Thornley Woods Centre
The Nine Arch Viaduct
There's a Grey Wagtail there some where!

28th Oct. The more I watch birds and nature the more I come to believe we have some great areas on our doorstep. I was checking out one such area today, as I made plans for an RSPB local walk. The Derwent Valley area south of the Tyne is not one I know well, but I always remember Keith Bowey of Red Kite fame saying just how much he loved this area and its wildlife. My visit today will I think be one of many more to come.

I began my walk from Winlaton Mill and headed for Nine Arches Viaduct, initially along the north bank of the River Derwent. A sunny autumnal day meant that the colours were showing well. Few people were seen until after lunch when family groups started to appear, but by that time I had enjoyed the peace-fullness of the area. The first bird that grabbed the attention was a Jay, one of many seen and heard today and there had apparently been a recent influx into the area from what the worker at The Thornley Woods Centre later told me.

Red Kites can’t be ignored in this area although they are after all only part of what’s on offer. As I approached the high ground near the viaduct I had a short sighting of a Red Kite as it flew past a gap in the tree line. I took a short diversion to the viewing site and after a short time found two more kites in the trees. After a while there were six Red Kites up in the air at the same time. On the walk up I’d found two Dippers and a Grey Wagtail on the river and a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew overhead at some point. Siskins were feeding alongside tits. Two Common Buzzards and two Kestrels also seen. One of the Kestrels in tree at very close range, kind of eye to eye with me, and it just sat and watched from a safe height.

The footpath was taken through the woods to the centre. Little was seen from the hide here although a Treecreeper was spotted in the distance. My last visit here had been in winter and very cold weather when I found good numbers of bird species around the feeding station. I was back amidst the crowds in Newcastle city centre before 3.00pm where I made my first ever purchase of wellington boots, which are not something I have worn much since being a kid. It’s amazing what you can pay these days for wellies! I feel I’m prepared for the heavy snows of winter now, and that is what everyone seems to be telling me is coming.

I later read that the Nine Arch Viaduct was built only because the Earl of Stathmore wouldn’t allow the railway to go through his estate at Gibside. I have every sympathy for the man, as I wouldn’t like ‘rith-rath’ traveling through my garden in their filthy steam trains either. Although it has to be said, my garden doesn’t quite reach the size of Gibside Estate.

Monday, 25 October 2010

A Windy but Colourful Seawatch

No Little Auk (and no golfers) at the end of this rainbow!
Not the best time to be stuck on the island!
A rainbow over Holywell

24th Oct. I’d had today in the diary for a bit of sea watching practice as the weather forecast had appeared to suggest appropriate conditions and I have someone keen to come along and suffer with me. I’m not sure, as it turned out, that the wind direction was so perfect, but Tom and I ventured forth anyway, but not before checking out Holywell Pond and the dene. I’m pleased we decided to include this.

The resident Great Spotted Woodpecker greeted us as we arrived at the members hide and it wasn’t long before we found the Long Tailed Duck on the pond, although it was playing hard to get with head tucked under for most of the time. Other notable birds on the water were Black Necked Grebe, Scaup and a couple of Goldeneye. Numbers of Teal were quite high, with low numbers of Wigeon. Little Grebes were there along with the usual Mallard et al. A Grey Heron flew across the pond as we watched. I have to confess that I took little notice of the gulls today, but remember Black Headed, Herring and Great Black Backed. In hindsight I remember Tom describing what may have been a Common Gull. Two Pink-footed Geese flew over the trees at the back of the pond. Tom had seen a small skein of pink foot on his journey this morning.

The first of several of today’s rainbows was seen over the pond before we set off. The walk down to the dene was pleasant, but largely uneventful although I seem to remember Reed Bunting in the hedge, a small flock of Lapwing over the fields and what is always a good sighting, two Grey Wagtail along the burn. A Treecreeper and Willow Warbler were found, but in the main it was tits and Chaffinches. Robins for some reason were notable by their absence which was in stark contrast to our previous trip and it wasn’t until we were approaching Seaton Sluice that we found one in song. The only shower of rain to hit us was a short one. The dene was looking attractive with the sunlight making for contrasting shades of colour.

I felt the colder air and wind as we approached Seaton Sluice as we found our first Curlew and Redshanks of the day. By the time we reached the point I realised that sea watching was not going to be easy in this wind and the tripod could not be held still. Having explained to Tom that the hide at Seaton Sluice was privately owned by the NTBC and that we couldn’t use it, I had my ‘eureka’ moment. I remembered that I’m a member now (since last weekJ) and as there was someone in the hide we thought we would take a look. Thanks to Rob for letting us in, as I’m not the proud owner of a key as yet! I’d heard the hide was not especially comfortable lets say, but to be honest having gotten out of the wind I found it quite snug and I’ve never been one for wanting central heating and carpeted floors in hides. So we spent a little time in the hide. We’d been hoping for Little Auk today but never did find one although I understand two or three had been seen in the morning. We did have a good sighting of another Long Tailed Duck along with a couple of flocks of Wigeon flying north, numbers of Common Scoter, 5 or 6 Red Breasted Merganser, several immature Gannets and Eider Ducks. There were Purple Sandpipers below us. We had to leave with the key owner, but we will be back in the future once I get my key.

More rainbows stretched over the sea as we departed for a cuppa tea in Castaways. I think Tom thought he had entered a time machine and been taken back to the 1930s, but the tea was good and welcome. I gained the impression that Castaways ‘Caff’ (dare I call it a caff?) is not used to having birders arrive with bags, telescope and the rest! J Refreshed by the tea we set off towards St Mary’s Island. Compared to our last visit during the ‘great fall’ things were very quiet. We decided theta there would be no record counts today. The wader list began to increase however with us eventually adding the likes of Sanderling, Dunlin, Turnstone and Golden Plover, the flocks of the latter putting on the usual aerial performance. The sea was rough, the tide high and the wind strong. I later learnt that the tides are at their peak this weekend.

Having avoided the hole in the cliff that has so nearly brought my birding career to a swift end last winter, we joined some hardy sea watchers outside of the toilet block and heard that they had seen little, but that they had seen a Little Auk. We moved on fairly swiftly, auk-less as it happens, as things seemed very quite. We took a look at the wetland which we found dead, although Teal and Gadwall flew overhead at one point. The real excitement appeared to come form the fact that some youngsters had been trapped on St Mary’s Island and this had brought three police cars, and two helicopters from sea rescue. As we left the area the larger sea rescue helicopter appeared to be preparing to go down for the youngsters. I wonder how much this little escapade has cost the taxpayer.

Tom and I headed for the crematorium grounds where we found absolutely nothing in the way of bird life apart from some noisy House Sparrows. As we prepared to return home another rainbow, probably the most vivid of the day appeared out at sea. We had a list of 63 species, but had found no gold or Little Auk at the end of the rainbow. We had as usual enjoyed the day and more sea watching is at the top of the agenda over the coming months and hopefully some sea birds to add to the year list will be forthcoming

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Patch Peace!

17th Oct. At last I found time to enjoy some tranquility on patch. Tranquility and Killingworth might seem an odd pairing, but seeking out the appropriate spots ensures it isn’t such a misnomer. I saw few people about and the ones I did see were mainly on the backs of horses. I did keep bumping into three young lads on bicycles who I felt thought I was some kind of novelty value. Pleasant kids though, and one of them said to me ‘hello, are you having a good day today’. It sounded like he was repeating something his mum had taught him to say to elderly men and women. When I came home I spent a few minutes examining my face in the mirror just to check if I was indeed ageing fast! I thought not, but I guess I would say that. I may hunt out the moisturiser tonight anyway!

Anyway there was no great excitement on patch today although I did enjoy the peace. Birds found included two Kestrels, two flocks of Long Tailed Tits, a small flock of Yellowhammer and as I was about to return a flock of Lapwing was seen over in the direction of the Rising Sun Country Park, very likely having lifted from Swallow Pond. I did take a wander around a patch of scrub and trees which I’ve never really looked at before. It seemed a likely area for something out of the ordinary and I shall keep an eye on it. Today it turned up one of the flocks of Long Tailed Tit and I watched their acrobatic antics at close range for a good time.

The flock of Lapwing were seen at distance and thankfully I recognised the flapping wings immediately, which was just as well as I had given a talk at St Mary’s Island concerning waders just yesterday, and I had explained that flocks of Lapwing can be quickly picked up. It had been a good day yesterday with twenty-eight participants. The sun shone and gave ideal condition for pointing out the waders. We found ten species very quickly, with the Golden Plovers winning star prize for beauty, as the sun picked out their plumage so well. I was pleased that some Purple Sandpipers had turned up too.

Despite it being a wader day I encouraged everyone to take a look at a bird that had drawn a small crowd near the wetland. I admit my encouragement had been given chiefly as I wanted to take a look myself. It turned out to be a Redpoll. A Lesser Redpoll in my opinion, although I realise that Common Redpoll had been reported too, and there was a bit of discussion going on.

My talk had meant a little research into all things ‘waderish’, and I had been interested in the following. The scientific name for Eurasian Golden Plover is of course Pluvialis apricaria, said he, as though this simply rolls off the tongue as soon as such a species is seen. Now the English translation of pluvialis is ‘rain maker’ and the translation of apricarius is ‘living in sunny places. This may seem odd, until one knows that the species was thought by early naturalists to actually be two seperate species, such is the difference in the summer and winter plumage. No doubt a common error made with many species in the past. The winter plumage bird was often seen at the start of heavy rains. So there’s nothing unusual about the name at all when seen in this context, as it is simply made up from what was once the names of two separate species.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Record Breakers!

10th Oct. I’d gone to bed on Saturday night thinking that birding might be that extra bit interesting on Sunday, and so it proved to be. I set off with my mate Tom, having made a slight change to plans, and headed for Tynemouth on what was a warm, but still misty morning. We were greeted by an overhead pair of Sparrowhawks as we passed Priory Park and we were soon onto the Dusky Warbler , which was calling and on the move constantly below the priory. We both managed good sightings of what was a lifer for both of us, before taking a look around for the Great Grey Shrike that had been reported the day before. There was no sign of it, so I settled for the Siskins and the first waders of the day in the bay. We didn’t want to spend too long here and we soon made off towards Whitley Bay Crematorium. I was surprised that there were so few birders about at the late hour of 9.30am. I guess even some twitchers may like to stop in bed of a Sunday morning!:-) I became aware later that both Shore Lark and Red Breasted Flycatcher were reported at Tynemouth, but car-less, as I am, we were allowed only one shot, as a return was impossible.

The crematorium failed to throw up the Brambling of the previous day and I recall in the main only tits and several Mistle Thrush. St Mary’s Island area was pulling us towards it and we soon made off. The tide was way out on arrival and we soon found that not all twitchers had stayed in bed! There was a real mix of birders down there today and a few non birders kept asking what all the fuss was about. The mention of Red-Flanked Bluetail brought only vacant stares from one or two. For once the wetland was alive with birds, although there was little on the pool apart from Gadwall and Mute Swan. During our wander around the wetland area and the willows we came across large falls of Goldcrest and also Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Sedge Warbler, Song Thrush, Redwing and Reed Bunting et al. Oh yes, and we did have excellent sightings of the Red-Flanked Bluetail. Everyone was being very polite and forming queues to watch it and moving on and letting others in to take a look. Another significant lifer for both Tom and I, and no doubt many others. We did see an interesting warbler which we couldn’t place at all and I wonder how many rarer migrants may have gone un-noticed today. We narrowly missed both Redstart and Redpoll. Every bush seemed to have Goldcrest in it and at times it became difficult to know which way to look!

We crossed to the island and had a look on the sea and found only gulls, Great Crested Grebe, Cormorant, Common Scoter, several flocks of Eider, and a juvenile Gannet very close to shore. We were joined at lunch by more Goldcrest. Rock Pipits had been encountered and we later added Meadow Pipits. There hadn’t been too many waders about, but the incoming tide brought a few more and we ended with quite a number of Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Turnstone, Sanderling, Redshank, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit and we added Common Snipe as we later took a look in the fields. I saw no sign of Knot or Purple Sandpiper.

Eventually heading off towards Seaton Sluice we bumped into Holywell Birding and one or two other familiar faces. I was pleased to hear Cain also had a good sighting of the Red-Flanked Bluetail. Tom and I found numbers of Skylark and the sighting of Lapland Bunting in flight was a ‘lifer in the day of Tom.’ I’m now an old hand with this Lapland Bunting, having had them as a lifer last week. I just wish I could get a decent sighting of one. There were lots of Reed Bunting about, a single Wheatear, Linnets and at least four Grey Partridge in the field. We found the latter on returning for another look after Cain had mentioned sightings of Lapland Bunting. A brief sighting was had of Merlin and better sightings of Kestrel.

We found little apart from Wren and House Sparrow in the scrub area at Seaton Sluice and quickly made off through the dene towards our final destination of Holywell pond. We added nothing new to our list on the quiet and pleasant walk through the dene, but found another Goldcrest. Early evening seems to avoid many of the dog walkers in the dene, so it is rather more peaceful.

We’d set a new record for this walk of seventy-four bird species way back in early summer and Tom had in his sights the target of eighty today. I was never really confident of reaching such dizzy heights today, but by the time we had reached Seaton Sluice I did think seventy species was on the cards. With lifers for both of us and such good birding I realise numbers don’t matter but it adds a bit extra fun to the day.

On the walk up the avenue I suggested we take a look eastwards across the fields and as we did a small flock of eighteen Greylag flew overhead and we had a brief sighting of Yellowhammer. Nearby we found Pied Wagtails in the ploughed field.

It was almost dusk now, but the pond brought us a few new species including a few Swallows, Little Grebe, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot. We walked from the public hide to the members hide to find that the pool was deserted at that end. A Helicopter flew over and everything lifted from the far end of the pool. We were more than satisfied to find our list had risen to seventy-five and a new record just waiting to be beaten when we reach the magical eighty in the future! As we left the hide to make for the village the regular Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into the feeding station, where I noted a number of trees have been taken down. That put us onto seventy-six for the day.

Well, the forecast had been for a sunny day. Well I suppose it was, if you were in an aircraft above the mist and cloud. It had been quite warm and I had a real sweat on as I walked uphill in the dene. In any event Tom had said we would have a good day even if it rained. That’s that’s kind of attitude to birding I like, and we have reached a good time of year for being out there in autumn and winter. As it happens we kept dry and that hasn’t always been the case. It had been a great days birding and good to chat too, to passing birders.

I’m very much into waders at the moment and have just begun to read Tundra Plovers/Byrkjedal and Thompson, having just finished The Lapwing/Shrubb. The latter was a bit dry spending, a bit too much time describing agricultural practice. If I have read Amazon correctly, it seems that Poyser are bringing out a new addition of Nethersole-Thompson’s Greenhanks, which I must get a hold of, as I fear the early editions may be a tad too expensive these days. So while I’m not watching them I shall at least, part of the time, be reading about them.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

I'm Still Standing!

Dead as a Dodo......or in this particular case a Wryneck!
Speckled Wood Butterfly. My butterfly species of the year
Summer Evening at Druridge Pool
Cinnabar Moth Caterpillar

5th Oct. Have you ever woken up and wondered what has happened to the last two months? I had that feeling about August and September when I looked at my blog. Problems with viruses (both computer and human) have been the reason for my lengthy absence. I just couldn’t get into the blog, nor make any comments on any other blog and many other things on the internet. With the help of some computer literate brains, not my own I hasten to add, and the aid of Mozila Firefox, which until yesterday I had thought was a type of cheese, I’m back! Happily I have noticed that during my absence I have gained two new followers. I say happily, although it has me now wondering if my blog is more popular when I don’t put anything on it, than it is when I do. For the sake of my sensitivity please don’t answer that!

Long summer evenings at Cresswell and Druridge Pool watching Barn Owls and the lone Knot still in mostly summer plumage seem a long way off now. I even managed a tick of the long staying Whiskered Tern at Saltholme, on what wasn’t such a warm summer’s day. The local patch has been neglected somewhat by me, but I have still had some busy patches of birding and butterfly watching in particular. One evening at Druridge Pool I counted seven species of butterfly, plus Burnet Moth, each in numbers, on the short walk along the path to the pool. That same evening the vegetation near to the dunes was covered in the caterpillars of Cinnabar Moth. The butterfly that has surprised me most this year is the Speckled Brown, which seems to be for ever extending range and numbers in the area. Perhaps my best sighting of butterflies was in Northumberland Park, North Shields, once again underlining the fact that you don’t have to go far to be close to the splendour of nature. I was in the park on a sunny September day checking out a future RSPB local walk. The sun was flickering through the trees giving patches of wonderful lighting effects which showed up the numbers of flying Speckled Wood Butterflies to their best. Red Admirals were flying in their typical habitat too. I also took a special interest in the Terns this year, and managed to catch a sighting of Roseate Tern at St Mary’s Island.

I’ve watched as wader numbers have gradually built in the vicinity of St Mary’s Island and the Golden Plovers have put on some great displays so far this autumn. I was down there on 2nd Oct and watching for Lapland Bunting in the stubble field when a female Merlin flew low across the field before perching on the fence for a few minutes giving excellent views. It had also briefly flushed Lapland Bunting, but only very briefly so I had a lifer, but at distance and the bunting soon disappeared into the stubble not to be seen again. A dark bellied Brent Goose was on the rocky shore line.

An earlier visit to the coast had me chasing after a Wryneck seen the day before by Holywell Birding and Crammy Birder. I found the Wryneck, but sadly it had breathed its last and was lying outside of Seaton Sluice Social Club! That day I walked up to Holywell Pond where I found Black Necked Grebe and on the way had my second sighting in a few days of Marsh Harrier in the area, and also found two Spotted Flycatchers very close to where I had found them last year. I had watched the Marsh Harrier a couple of days before as it was harassed by a corvid right in front of the hide at Holywell Pond.

I became a twitcher for a day when I visited Durham and was taken to some good sites by A K of Foghorns Birding Adventures. We spent a long day in the field and ended up in South Shields for fish and chips, but only when it had become too dark to bird watch anymore. Some good birds that day included 4 Little Egret, Marsh Harrier, 3 Curlew Sandpiper, 4 Spotted Redshank, at least 8 Whinchat, Spotted Flycatcher, Redstart, Red Backed Shrike and the bird of the day for me, a Firecrest at Hartlepool headland. It had been the best sighting of a Firecrest, watched at length, that I have had. That was quite a day. I had been on the go from dawn to dusk!

Yesterday, 5th Oct, I visited Low Newton and Long Nanny. There was again a decent display of waders, including 3 Bar Tailed Godwits and more displays by Golden Plovers and Lapwings. I was unable to find the Pied Flycatcher that a fellow birder had been looking at and didn’t see anything out of the ordinary although a few Redwing flew in and I counted four Stonechats, a bird that has been missing from my sightings this year. Never the less it was a great day and it was good to be walking out there. Three Grey Seals were fairly close to shore.

I’ve been reading some of Geltsdale Warriors report of exploits on Mull. Some really good stuff, very well written and worth a look at Geltsdale Wildlife Warriors blog.