Monday, 31 January 2011

A Pain, a Pleasure!

A different look and feel to the area

31st Jan. First it was the pain, with an early morning appointment for dental treatment. The pain was all in the mind of course and in the event the episode passed by without a whimper. Never the less so glad was I to feel the fresh air and freedom from the dreaded ‘chair’, that I decided to hop on a bus down to St Mary’s Island. It was indeed a beautiful morning, if somewhat cold. To be honest I thought a trip would be worth it to reach my target of one hundred species before February.

I walked from Whitley Bay Crematorium towards the lighthouse and soon began to tick off a number of waders including Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Bar-Tailed Godwit. The Sanderling were feeding at the tide edge along with the Turnstones. It took me a little while to find bird number ninety-nine, a Ringed Plover. I later found flocks of them! Even harder to find was the Purple Sandpiper but I did eventually pick one up before it disappeared again behind rocks and seaweed. So Purple Sandpiper was bird one hundred.

I was confident about finding more now, but in fact didn’t get past the one hundred mark, but I’m well satisfied. A walk around the wetland area brought birds such as Teal in numbers, Mallard and Gadwall. I am no great fan of this wetland area, but I have to say it was quite busy with bird life today and looked amazingly good in the sunlight.

The mouth was still numb so I decided to try and walk this off as I made towards Seaton Sluice. There is an amazingly noticeable lack of small passerines about just now. The sea was calm and the light good, and calls of waders could be heard until I reached Seaton Sluice. The flock of Curlew were especially noisy and active today. I arrived at Seaton Sluice too late to find the flock of Knot as the tide had risen over their usual area on the rocks. With only binoculars with me I decided a watch from the NTBC hide wasn’t really worth the time, so I gave that a miss. I only found Eider Duck, Cormorant and gulls on the sea.

I was out less than two hours before I made for home but had really enjoyed the walk and the waders. Weekend at Norfolk coming soon with some guys from D BC so the year list ought not to stand still.

I’ve just reserved two tickets for the special meeting arranged by NTBC to be held on 31st March. Details can be found on the club site. The title of the talk is The Next Frontier of Birding in Britain. Sounds as though it will be a good night.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Redpoll Day

A day with Redpolls and friends. Report in Tom's blog Aughtonbirder

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Low Barns

By the Wear.

No not a lousy photo of a Mallard. I honestly didn't know it was there!

Lousy photo I know. Lights on the Tyne just to show I put in long days!

27th Jan. I visited Low Barns today with some friends from the Local Group. The first visit I’ve made for a few years. The ponds had been frozen until recently so I was aware that bird numbers would be limited.

The feeding station was busy with Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Willow Tit, Pheasant, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Greenfinch, Robin and Dunnock. As we began the walk around the reserve several Bullfinch were seen along with more Treecreepers and a Nuthatch was heard. Jay was a year tick.

The main pond held little apart from Mute Swan, Mallard, Teal, Coot and Moorhen. Cormorants sat in the trees. There was no sign of Kingfisher either on the River Wear or over the pond. I think maybe the frozen conditions had moved the bids on, or perhaps we just didn’t see them. I know that this particular area has always been well known for good opportunities to see Kingfisher. One female Goosander was seen lifting from the water and flying up river.

I remember that I was disappointed by this reserve on my first visit. I remember that much work had begun to improve the area for the longer term. Longer term conservation sometimes means shorter term losses. Despite in some respects a shortage of birds today, I enjoyed the walk around the reserve and along by the Wear. If my memory serves me correctly, there seems to have been vast progress made in the area of the reedbeds and West Pasture. Although I saw no sign of the recently reported Bittern and Otter.

As we passed West Pasture one of my friends spotted a Green Woodpecker fly into the hedge. It lifted in front of us and flew into the trees giving a partially hidden, but never the less good sighting in the trees. One of my friends is Irish and not too used to seeing too many woodpeckers. Another year tick for me putting me onto 98. I’m determined to reach 100 before the end of January. Looking forward to some more great birding over the weekend.

Monday, 24 January 2011

COUES, Elliott 1842-1899

What’s in a name, you might ask. Well quite a lot once you start to dig is the answer. We have heard lots about Coues’ Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni exilipes of late, and even I’ve watched at least two of them this year, but how many birders have asked themselves where the name Coues originates from? Well OK, I’m sure some know the answer, but I’m equally sure that many won’t have given it a seconds thought.

Elliott Coues (I believe pronounced cows in the anglicised version), was one of Americas’ great ornithologists and one of the founder members of the A.O.U. He is remembered in the names of mammals as well as three birds, Coues’ Flycatcher Cantopus pertinax. Coues’ Gadwall Anas strepera couesi (extinct) and of course Coues’ Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni exilipes.

Coues was a medical man by profession and saw service in the American Civil War. He later served in the area of Arizona and faced the Apache. During service in Western North America he formed a large collection of birds and mammals, some new to science at the time. One of the birds new to science was Grace’s Warbler Dendroica gracie which was discovered in the Rocky Mountains and later described by Spencer Fullerton Baird and named after Coues’ sister Grace Darling Coues.

A prolific writer of ornithological works, Coues had over fifty publications in one particular year! Some of the better known works are Key to North American Birds (1872), Check List of North American Birds (1873), Birds of the Northwest (1875) and Birds of the Colorado Valley (1878).

Coues was known for his very strong views concerning ornithological matters. Where have I heard that before? He would have gone down well or maybe not, on some birding forums I know. :-)

You might like to look up Jens Wilken Hornemann too! I am wondering if Hornemann and Coues were linked in anyway apart from their share in the name of the Arctic Redpoll. Obviously not in a personal manner, because Hornemann died the year before Coues was born.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Foghorn Long Day Includes Rainton Return

22nd Jan. I was up before dawn today and soon meeting up with Tom as we boarded the bus to the grand metropolis of Chester-le Street. I was a little concerned that our chauffeur for the day Andrew may still be in bed so I give him an alarm call which seemed to do the trick, as we set off in the darkness from Newcastle.

We were soon by the River Wear allowing Tom to tick off Mandarin Duck and the Scaup, along with Goosander. These were to be three new year ticks of a good number for Tom today. The primary reason for our trip was to return to Rainton Meadows for the Redpolls. So yes, we were soon marching up that hill again, this time as drizzle fell. Lesser and Mealy Redpolls were very quickly showing well. We watched for some time as the drizzle continued. At one point a very likely looking contender for an Arctic Redpoll appeared although there was no consensus on it being one. Photos were taken and we await an outcome. Arctic Redpoll or not, we did have more good views of the other two species. Willow Tit turned up near the feeders as well as tits, Siskins and Goldfinches. Towards the end of our vigil the Redpolls appeared en mass. We eventually left the hill. However, with us all being unsure of Tom having ticked the Arctic Redpoll, I feel it won’t be too long before we are back up there again. My first Shelduck of the year flew over to the pond and these were to be the first of many seen today.

No Long Eared Owl was found today which was a little disappointing, but we kept on going. We watched the gull flocks for a short time, but found none of the scarcer birds we would have liked to. Both Tom and I are keen to get more to grips with gulls and I seem to remember Andrew mentioning he had a gull ‘tip’ in mind. Oh that’s good I thought. Then when we arrived at the tip at Seaton Carew I began to wonder. There had apparently been sightings of several white winged gulls and other scarcer gulls earlier in the day, but I won’t go into them as I didn’t see any! An Iceland Gull was flying in the flock when we arrived. I believe Andrew saw it. I have to confess that I need a gentler introduction to gull watching and will be getting down to Blyth Harbour soon. Standing watching these thousands of gulls at tips is perhaps simply not my forte. I have respect for the guys that can pick these gulls out from the flocks, but I can’t see me ever getting into this type of birding in any big way. Take a look at if you wish to see one of the interesting and queried gulls. Anyway by now I had my mind on a date with a Ring Necked Duck which was to be a lifer for me, so may be my thoughts were to much on this and getting warm again.:-)

We eventually set of for Cowpen Bewley. On arrival and before walking to the pond we had a very nice male Brambling in the hedge along with Tree Sparrow, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer. Once at the pond I soon got my eye on the Ring Necked Duck. I found that this little beauty is one of those birds that drawings in guide books do not do justice too. I had a good long look at lifer number two for the year so far. Gadwalls were around in numbers, providing another year tick, along with the likes of Mallard and Tufted Duck.

We were then off towards the industrial belt of Teeside which to me always looks attractive in its own way. We saw a skein of Pink Footed Geese at some point and flock of Greylag Geese. Canada Geese had been seen early morning.

Owls were now to be the principal target. However we were soon picking up flocks of Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank and the odd Seal in the water. Tom picked up a couple of Dunlin and Black-Tailed Godwit, both new year ticks for both him and me. Andrew quickly sighted a Barn Owl in the distance, its head poking out of a small building. It soon moved on to various posts and then came closer as it began to fly along the hedge line. In the other direction and some distance away a Short Eared Owl was picked up which did eventually fly a little closer to us.

Someone mentioned that a Black-Necked Grebe had been seen in front of the hide but a long way out in the bay. Tom and I decide to take a look for it. Initially we found only numbers of Red-Breasted Mergansers and larger numbers of Shelduck. We did eventually pick up a grebe way off in the distance which on closer inspection was quite clearly the Black-Necked Grebe. This had been an unexpected year tick for both of us. There were large gull flocks out on the water.

By now it was getting dark and the flames and lights of Teeside industry was beginning to light up. It had been one of those long Foghorn days, but a very productive one. Despite my comments on the gulls I know the all weather birding team have in mind further study. We were soon on the bus back to Newcastle with one of us already in the land of Nod.
:-) I know I slept well last night! We’d come home with a day list of sixty-three species. I may have missed one or two, but I don’t think so. This included nine new year ticks and a lifer for me and I think a good list of year ticks for Tom. Some excellent birding today. We’ll be back! :-) In any event the all weather birding team have their next days birding adventure planned already.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

All Weather Birders Take a Diversion to Blyth

The sun begins to warm the air at Holywell Pond
A few of the feeding Sanderling and Turnstone

19th Jan. Yes, after a mid winter break in play, Tom and I are back in birding partnership again and where better to kick off again that on a favourite walk from Holywell to St Mary’s Island, where we rarely fail to score. Today was to include a diversion to Blyth South Harbour however, so we were up at the crack of dawn, out with Jack Frost and in the hide at Holywell Pond before the birds had come to the feeding station. As we were commenting on how quiet the pond was, and it really was quiet, with Teal and Goldeneye being as interesting as it got, the birds awoke and seemed to arrive at the feeders en-mass. Pheasant, Blackbird, Robin, Dunnock, Goldfinch. Greenfinch, Great Tit, Blue Tit and Chaffinch all appeared. However the highlight was the female Brambling which Tom initially got his eye on and which hung around long enough to give us a really good sighting. Then it was off along the new path which is being built by the trust, their staff just arriving as we set off. The public hide brought us little. The water was high.

After finding Redshank, the first diversion of the day took us across the fields to look for geese. None were found, but a distant skein was seen, which we took to be Greylag, but we couldn’t be sure. Back in the direction of the dene we found a lively group of seven Red Legged Partridges. Grey Partridge was also seen at some point. We found the dene itself, in contrast to the pond to be lively with birds. At least four separate Great Spotted Woodpeckers were seen, two Treecreepers and Nuthatch was heard. Great, Coal, Blue and Long Tailed Tit were all seen in number, but not Marsh Tit that had been mentioned by a passer by. I suspect he had mis-identified Coal Tit. Robins were numerous around the feeder areas and of course the usual Wrens and Blackbirds were seen. I’m pleased to say we found a Tree Sparrow in the same area as we had found it on our previous visit. Little Grebe was seen on the burn.

We were soon at Seaton Sluice and catching a bus along to Blyth. In fact we got off the bus to quickly and had a hard slog along the beach to get to the South Harbour. The walk was worth it as we soon found our target bird, the Red-Necked Grebe. Nearby was a Red-Breasted Merganser. As we wandered around a little we did find the odd Eider Duck and Cormorant on the water. A few birds flew in and landed in front of us. I asked myself, are we going to be lucky here? We were, and the birds proved to be five Snow Buntings. They gave us excellent views. Three or four years ago I had watched Snow Buntings in almost the exact same place. We had our lunch sat in the sun and were soon off again with new enthusiasm.

Once off the bus again at Seaton Sluice we decided not to christen my ne NTBC hide key as the weather was so good. We just watched form the headland although with the tide really high now there wasn’t too much about. Common Scoters were seen.

The highlight of the walk to St Mary’s Island was a male Stonechat. Flocks of Golden Plover were seen at distance and in flight. Oystercatcher, Curlew and Sanderling were added to the day list. More Sanderlings were seen nearer to the lighthouse along with a single Grey Plover and Turnstones. The wetland held Teal, Tufted Duck and Lapwing.

As we came towards the end of our walk another mixed flock of Sanderling and Turnstone were found frantically feeding at the tide edge. A raft of circa ninety Teal was on the sea. As we made for the end of the walk a lone Bar-Tailed Godwit was seen amongst the Curlew flock. The air was turning cold again after a warm afternoon when I had felt the warmth of the sun for the first time in many weeks. We made towards home as the lowering sun continued to shine brightly in a sky of mixed colours. Greylag Geese were seen near to the Bee Hive flash. The forecast was for another frosty night with temperature lowering to minus one centigrade. As per usual it had been another great days birding and it was good to get back out there with my mate. Red-Necked Grebe and Snow Bunting shared top of the bill, with Brambling running them close. We had sixty-two species in total. And our year lists are coming along nicely. Once in Killingworth I walked home thinking of our trip to Rainton Meadows coming up on Saturday and another early start. Perhaps I was thinking of Saturday too much, or perhaps I was just cream crackered again, but I tripped and fell flat with all my gear landing beside me. Tom I think was by now getting on the bus and oblivious to my ordeal.
:-) Thankfully I have youth and fitness on my side……………well a bit of fitness anyway, and I hopped up. Don’t despair, I am in one piece and so is the gear. Having taken a needle and tweezers to the splinter I picked up at Blyth, I shall have made a full recovery by Saturday’s kick off.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A Look at the Lake

18th Jan. Spurred on by John’s ( Sedgedunumwarbler ) recent post about a return to normal on the ponds, and to loosen up for more intensive birding tomorrow, I took a look at Killingworth Lake today. It was pleasing to the eye to see no ice, a lake thriving in birds, common ones but no matter, and the sun reflected upon the water. The later point a bit misleading as it was still damn cold with a coating of thin ice on patches of the fields I crossed.

It was good to see a lone male Goosander on the smaller lake along with Mallard, Tufted Duck, Pochard, Coot and Moorhen. Gulls in the main were Black Headed and Common Gull.

When I crossed to the larger lake I quickly found four more male Goosanders with a lone female and there was at least two female and one male Goldeneye nearby. The lake was covered in Canada Geese and I suspect my recent estimate of eighty birds was some what under played. The numbers of Mute Swans definitely seem to be higher than in recent times and amongst the Canada Geese resting on the edge of the lake were two Greylag Geese. Most of the Pochard were on the larger lake and in the main taking a nap. The lake was more active with birds today thasn I have seen it for a long time. I took a look at the gulls but saw nothing out of the ordinary, but it wasn’t really a long look.:-) Along with those already mentioned were Herring Gull and a couple of young Great Black Back. I think Tom ( AughtonBirder ) and I will be having a session or two with gulls in the near future. We need to get our eyes in. I want to be ready when a Slaty-backed Gull arrives on patch :-)

Friday, 14 January 2011

Return to Rainton Redpolls

14th Jan. I made a return to Rainton Meadows today. This time with Cain (Holywell Birding) without whom I would not have got there.:-) We picked up Andrew (Foghorn) on the way. The chief targets of the day were these awkward Arctic Redpolls.

Not to be rushed we made for the Wear where we had a fine sighting of male Scaup, although some of the other targets were missing today. Then it was off to Rainton Meadows and up that ‘flippin’ hill again. I was warm when I set off today in these almost tropical temperatures of late, and warmer still when I reached the top of the hill. That warmth wasn’t to last as we stood in a chill wind. It was very quiet with few birders compared to the weekend and not many more birds. No sign of Arctic Redpolls amongst a small flock of Lesser and Mealy Redpolls. We went down the hill without having reached our target. However time was filled nicely with other species and lunch. I’ll let others tell you of events if they wish. The ponds have thawed out in the main.

Eventually it was back up the hill and such is my increasing fitness I almost trotted up. I’m sure that this will be confirmed! I knew there was some action as the few birders already there were watching intently. However it took Andrew to tell them that there was an Arctic Redpoll alongside a Mealy Redpoll in the bush in front of us. Well he has had some practice of late! Practice we were all grateful of if I’m honest, as these birds are causing some problems and I don’t mind admitting had me struggling. However I did note very quickly the very small bill, white rump and white ground colouring, although it was not a classic Arctic Redpoll. The bird in question perched for some time giving all round views. I had a short sighting of another Arctic Redpoll as it came to the feeder briefly. In fact I was thinking I saw another, but was told it was a very light Mealy Redpoll so I have some way to go before I can claim any expertise on Redpoll identification.

Great to have three species of Redpoll in a session of birding. I’ve been hoping for Arctic Redpoll since I watched for it amongst the Mealy Redpoll at Aberlady about five years ago. My first lifer of 2011! Thanks go to both Andrew and Cain.:-) I'll be back, Redpolls or no Redpolls, as I have really liked the area since my first visit some time ago.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Jesmond Dene, and Weird or Wot?

The burn was running fast today.

The mill on the Ouseburn

13th January. I’d set myself a target of five new species for the year list today. I thought the most likely new finds would be Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Grey Wagtail, Dipper, Kingfisher and Goldcrest. I know that’s six but I didn’t expect to find them all!

On my way to Heaton Park I was crossing Morrison’s car-park when I saw a flock of maybe a dozen birds flying about and I initially thought they were Siskins. I care not what folk think about me these days so I got the bins out in the middle of the car park. As I reached railway embankment some poor chap told me he thought I had been watching him. I’m not sure what he was implying and I didn’t ask. He told me he was watching for trains passing and was collecting numbers in his book. Weird or wot? No not me, him! Anyway we got chatting and it made identification of the birds a little more difficult. However I did get a decent look and they were a small flock of Redpoll. I can’t be certain if there was Meally in there with the Lesser Redpoll although with my recent experience I am suspecting there was an odd one there. Wouldn’t be surprising, with the vast numbers which seem to be about. Anyway I introduced the train spotter to a new bird and gave him some of the finer details. I hope he was impressed. He told me that watching the trains was a cheap way to spend the time and it also allowed him to socialise. I got off on my way before he had much time to socialise with me as I had those five species to find. I don’t have a problem with train-spotters by the way, nor the bloke in question who seemed a decent guy. I used to go across to the Central Station and further afield with my big brother when I was a kid, and still have books with the numbers in. I have friend who is into trains and even knew someone really into buses. When the Tyneside Metro was built he travelled from London especially to ride on it.

On entering Heaton Park I very quickly found Great Spotted Woodpecker and Sparrowhawk. A handful of Siskin soon followed and then I heard and then saw Nuthatch. New bird number one. I found three of four flocks of Long Tailed Tit today, along with Great, Coal and Blue Tit. It wasn’t until I was through Armstrong Park and into the dene proper that I found new bird number two. This was a pair of Stock Doves sitting in what appears to be used as a large nest hole. I’d forgotten that these were likely.

The water in the Ouse Burn was deep, fast and murky. I did eventually find Mallard and Moorhen. New bird number three was a close up Treecreeper. Then all was pretty silent. Jesmond Dene itself is not a great place to watch birds in my opinion, and if they carry on sawing down the trees at the rate they have been, it will be even less inviting. I remember being told last year that many of the trees are diseased and old. Seems sad that so many have to be sawn down. Perhaps thought might be given to replacing trees with natural species, after all £6,000,000 is being spent on this! I have my doubts on that one however.

I was beginning to think that three new species was how it was going to stay until near the end of the walk the Kingfisher turned up as I was looking up the narrow inlet for Dipper. The Kingfisher showed well in three flypasts and was new bird number four. Within a minute or two new bird number five appeared in the exact same area, and that was the Dipper. I later heard it and saw it fly up the burn. I came home happy. I’m hoping the train spotter had some joy too.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Quiet Patch

A bit of colour.:-)

11th Jan. Having returned quickly to laid back mode I was on patch today, taking the wagon-way route to Holystone and back. I reckon that I’ve walked a good few miles already this year.

It was generally very quiet. The peace was broken by some guy who had been happy to allow his dog to run free across the farmland. His whistling could be heard all along the wagon-way, although perhaps not by the dog, which took no notice what so ever. I think the dog was firmly in control. I saw little until I got onto the tracks to Holystone then found a flock of thirty plus very flighty Yellowhammer in the hedge and in the stubble field. I’ve never seen this many on patch before. Behind them I could see what I thought were Fieldfares, but I couldn’t see them very well. On the return I had a much better sighting of the Fieldfares working their way through the stubble field. I reckon forty plus, with another twenty or so flying over the more distant fields. The closer birds looked very attractive as the sun lit them. The Kestrel was hunting in its usual territory.

I had gone out in the hopes of finding Lapwings today, but instead found six Golden Plover feeding in the ploughed field. A new year tick for me. Taking a detour down past the ‘big wheel,’ I found some of the path still iced over, although in most other areas the paths have thawed out as had the small flashes.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

It's Arctic Out There................Where?

8th Jan. I’ve had a long standing arrangement for some months now, with Andrew K, which involved him taking a lead with a local group walk at Rainton Meadows. When I got out of bed at 6.15am there was heavy rain which continued until I set off for the town. By the time I was on the bus to Chester-le Street it had stopped and thankfully the day was blessed with sunshine. The walk wasn’t due to begin until 10.00am so Andrew and I had time to take a look in the vicinity of the reserve and also the River Wear. The river provided some good species which included Whooper Swan, a very nice female Mandarin, a Scaup drake and a number of Goosander. Even the Pied Wagtail flying overhead provided a new year tick so we were off to a good start.

By 10.00am our little group consisted of seventeen very keen participants and once parking arrangements were sorted out we were soon watching a mixed flock of Siskin, Lesser and Common Mealy Redpoll. It began to dawn on me and some others that actually finding the Arctic Redpolls amongst these flocks might not be so easy after all! Never the less we marched up the hill in confident mood. We didn’t, at least some of us didn’t, march down again for sometime. The flocks of Lesser and Common Redpoll were certainly flighty today, initially more so because of an overhead Sparrowhawk. They were providing a test for the most observant and experienced birders. I think that the walk participants soon began to realise why these birds are challenging. I was delighted to see such large flocks, and the Mealy Redpolls were certainly displaying a variable shade of plumage amongst the flock. Several birders kept thinking they had found an Arctic Redpoll, me included on two or three occasions. I can’t be at all confident that I did, and I honestly don’t think anyone in our group did either. Some of the other birders around were trying to convince themselves that they had, but not that convincingly.

Some of the group took a walk around the reserve whilst Andrew and I along with one or two others braved the cold until lunch time. It was a good experience despite my dipping on the Arctic Redpoll. Willow Tit and Goldfinches were around too. We finally left the hill for lunch when we met up with everyone. All of the ponds have been frozen for sometime now so they were indeed quiet. A pair of Kestrels had provided some entertainment. but I certainly needed my lunch to warm up. There was no sign of the Bittern.

All the participants had enjoyed the morning but the best was yet to come. Andrew organised a visit to a Long Eared Owl site (area not disclosed) and organised it very well. This was definitely the highlight of the day for everyone. Several participants had never seen Long Eared Owls and one person had never seen an owl in the wild. We watched two Long Eared Owls today. One thing everyone became very much aware of is that it is the interests of the birds that is the priority. I think this is an experience several people will remember for a long time.

Later in the day we visited the area around Joe's Pond and found more Redpolls, numerous Bullfinches, Siskin and Reed Bunting along with commoner birds. The odd Fieldfare had been seen along with plenty of gulls!

Time flew and it was soon time to say our farewells. Everyone left smiling. Andrew and I weren’t finished and so we marched up the hill again. The Lesser and Mealy Redpolls kept coming, if in fewer number than in the morning, but still there was no convincing sighting of an Arctic Redpoll. I’m going to have to have another go! We did see Fieldfares.

We marched down the hill again and I latter took great solace when we found two Tawny Owls at roost.

Canada Geese, Teal and Wigeon were found in some fields, no doubt having found some water that wasn’t frozen solid. As we drove back to Chester-le-Street as the evening was setting in we passed a flock of around forty Fieldfares and a Song Thrush.

My thanks go to Andrew for providing the group with a great experience. I left him with my motto ‘I’ll be back.’ This could be quicker than he expects.:-) Cream crackered, I counted up my new year ticks on the bus which in fact totaled seventeen species. I remembered the one Redpoll I had seen at Whitley Bay last year and I am even more convinced now that the one I saw was a Lesser Redpoll although not everyone agreed at the time. So I may have dipped on the prize bird, but I learnt something and I hope others did too. Learning something new each time you go out is something to be aimed at.

9th Jan. I can't get away from Bullfinches. I found two males in the garden today. Both enjoyed a drink and a bath.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Under Winter Skies

Winter skies over the patch.

5th Jan. I can’t say I have enjoyed the ice and snow, but the winter skies have been wonderful. When I was a youngster the sky was either light or dark, cloudy or clear and I didn’t take too much notice of it unless I was checking to see if it was going to rain. If I was asked to offer advice to any youngster now (I haven’t been asked :-)), I’d tell them to observe everything about the natural world that they had time for and to always ask themselves HOW? and WHY?

Well it’s now almost the 6th Jan and I still haven’t been off patch to bird watch. I took to the wagon-way again today. It was a very different atmosphere from my previous walk as there were many more birds about. In the main tits (including a nice flock of Long Tailed Tits), finches, gulls, corvids and pigeons. I did feel however that I couldn’t fail to add to my year list.

The first new species found was one of my favourites, a Bullfinch. Two pairs in fact, which were feeding near the hedge. I suspect they had been visiting some garden feeders nearby. Lucky owners of the feeders! I watched them for a time and hung around to listen for any sign of song from them. I didn’t hear anything.

A little further along the wagon-way I stopped to look at the tree that I had found the Sparrowhawk in just before the New Year. No Sparrowhawk, but this time two Common Buzzards. I didn’t actually notice the second one until it flew out of the tree and made off towards Backworth.

Out on the road I made to join the Holystone wagon-way. I took a look over the fields as I’m always in hope of Short Eared Owls turning up again. What I found was a group of six, possibly seven as it was hard to pick them out, Grey Partridges. I assume the same group that I have seen recently. They were well hidden in the centre of the field and once I had joined the wagon-way again it was impossible to see them at all. So the day brought me three new species, and nice ones at that.

Instead of retracing my steps I walked on past the stables, where I had a brief sighting of another four Grey Partridges as they lifted and then landed behind a dip in the field. I walked back via the pathway behind the flash which is still frozen. I’m pleased I went this way as I passed a flock of Yellowhammer in the hedge and had another view of the six Grey Partridges. I retraced my steps from here on and as I passed the tree I found the two Common Buzzards again. One flew off with what looked like carrion, followed by the other soon afterwards. Then I found the Bullfinches again this time two males and three females together feeding on the pathway before they lifted and give great views of them sitting in the hedge. I have only ever seen singles or more often pairs on patch before. The sun was low in the sky now and I was almost home. Still saving myself for some exciting off patch birding!

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Crow versus Heron

3rd Jan. It had been a short and bitterly cold short walk and I had given up all hope of adding any new birds to the year list. I’ve yet to leave the patch this year. Just as I was going to return to a warm home I caught the flapping of what were obviously the wings of a Grey Heron. It seemed to land in the hedge, maybe two hundred yards away. It soon confirmed its presence as it flew out into the field pursued by a crow. The heron landed, as did the crow, in the centre of the field. They seemed to be starring each other out in a battle of wills. The heron flew a short distance again, followed by the crow and the battle continued. Then both took of again. This time the heron landed next to the very narrow burn that runs at the back of the housing estate, and almost nonchalantly stood its ground, with the crow as ‘companion.’ A second crow, this one with leucistic plumage, flew in to join them briefly, but it seemed uninterested and soon flew off. Such was the distance, the heron looked small and insignificant. Perhaps hunger was adding to its determination, but determined to stay it certainly was. I wondered if it was the same bird I have seen mobbed by crows in the sky above my patch as I have stood and watched until it became a distant view. As I left both birds remained still. Unlike me, neither bird had a warm home to return to. This winter has been a cruel one so far. I hope both the heron and the crow survive it!

As I neared home I heard the chipping call of a Great Spotted Woodpecker. I caught sight of it high in the tree. The silence on the rest of my walk had been very noticeable, but I was happy that I had taken the short time out which had added two new birds to the list.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Swan Lake

2nd Jan. Ok, a better title would have been Canada Goose Lake, such are the numbers that have congregated at Killingworth this winter. I stopped counting at seventy, as I was becoming cross-eyed, as the flock were altogether. I’d say in total there are around eighty of them. I also noticed that the supplementary feeding of the Mute Swans has not been without problems. See the photo of the council notice above.

Both the larger and smaller lakes are still frozen apart from the end where I assume the ice has been broken up, and this is where all of the birds have congregated. No early year tick of Goosander this year sadly, but there were numbers of Goldeneye and Pochard, accompanied by the usual residents today.

I walked across the fields and was eventually rewarded with a few Redwings in the trees. Then it was back for the football.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A New Year, a New List.

I find lighting effects through the trees at this time of year really attractive.

1st Jan. It’s a pleasant feeling when your number one concern on getting up on the 1st January is merely, ‘what is the first bird I’m going to see?’ In this case it was a House Sparrow from the regular little flock. My birding continued in laid back fashion as I watched the garden. After birds two and three, Black Headed Gull and Starling, the Coal Tit appeared at the feeder. Unusually the Greenfinches were the most numerous species after the House Sparrows. Years ago Greenfinches were a regular visitor in numbers, but today brought more than at anytime in more recent years. I watched until I had clocked up 13 species (I’m not superstitious, well not unduly). Other species being Chaffinch, Blackbird, Dunnock, Robin, Wood Pigeon, Blue Tit, Great Tit and Carrion Crow. There has been little sign of Wrens over the past month and I recall only seeing one briefly and today was no exception.

It was then time for my New Year walk on patch. I knew I could clock up a few birds in no time around the lake, but I decided I wanted peace as well as birds. I may pop down tomorrow. Today I stuck to the wagon-ways and the back of the old village. Magpie was on my list before I had got around the corner and soon afterwards a party of Long Tailed Tits was seen. Collared Doves were around the farm in large numbers but from then on the area seemed barren of birds. It was as quiet as I have ever known it.

After quite a hike I did manage to find a Kestrel, at first a long distance sighting as it perched in a hedge but it was soon on the move and showing better. The hedges seemed to be holding very little. On retracing some steps I did find Yellowhammers, the male showing wonderfully in the sun, and also a single Reed Bunting. I watched a distant skein of geese flying northwards up the coast line. I had no idea which species they were. Two Mistle Thrushes flew by.

Rain appeared to be falling either on the coastline or out at sea and rainbows were with me most of the time that I was out. For a minute or two sleet fell lightly on me, as cloud passed over. By the end of the walk the sky to the west was bright and sunlit, but the eastern area looked as though some poorer weather was on the way as the sky turned a pale shade of yellow in places. I’d managed to see Common and Herring Gulls in number overhead, and one Great Black Backed Gull. Jackdaws and Rooks were in the trees as I made for home. A few Goldfinches had been seen too. Wren was heard.

As I said, laid back birding today as I’m saving myself for an exciting year ahead. If 2011 rewards me as well as 2010 then I’m going to be well satisfied. I have one or two targets in mind. The list is on twenty-eight by the way. Listing definitely has its place and adds to the enjoyment. I hope everyone enjoys there birding and nature watching in 2011, in the way that suits them best.

I’m waiting for two books to arrive, monographs on Greenshank and Ruff so my research into waders continues. I did try and support a local firm when I ordered a monograph on the Dotterel. First there was a problem with the website and then when I contacted them by telephone I was told that they couldn’t at that point tell me if they had the book that they were advertising. I was promised that they would call me back the following day. That was weeks ago and I’m still waiting for the call! I’ve decided that if local firms can’t be bothered with local customers, I’m going back to using Amazon, and I have. I’ve found Amazon very efficient and on the odd occasion something goes wrong they correct it quickly, so you generally save money and receive an efficient service too.