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.