Sunday, 27 February 2011

Day of Contrasts

Walking in the rain.

Walking in the sun.

26th Feb. Exactly one year ago to the day had led to the soaking of ‘two wet birders’ on the Holywell/St Mary’s walk, which is my favourite local walk. I thought it fitting to walk the route today and whilst I managed to reach the members hide just as the rain began, I soon began to wonder if another soaking was in store. As I sat in the hide, memories of wet holidays in Lakeland as a youngster come to mind, as the rain steadily become heavier. A female Great Spotted Woodpecker had been at the feeding station as I arrived and a small skein of Greylag Geese had flown over before I’d even left Killingworth.

The pond held Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal (by far the most numerous species present), Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Moorhen, Coot, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull, Common Gull and Great Black Backed Gull. The whistling of the Wigeon added to the atmosphere as the rain fell heavily onto the already high pond. A small flock of Lapwing were on the wing over the pond and later calling as they flew over the fields nearby. It was a grey beginning to the walk without a doubt. Once I’d left the hide a bit colour was added to the day by a number of Yellowhammers making an appearance and if snatches of song. Reed Bunting was found in the usual area and Skylark sang.

The heavy showers soon petered out giving only the occasional light shower once I was into the dene. Heavy rain returned before I reached Seaton Sluice. Song Thrush sang in the dene and there was the usual woodland bird interest mainly in the form of Great, Coal, Blue and Long Tailed Tit. A Nuthatch was found nearby and on the feeders. I’d been hoping for Grey Wagtail, but saw no sign of one all along the burn.

After lunch I noticed a drop in temperature as I stood on the cliffs and hat and gloves were found. There was a flock of eighty plus Knot at Seaton Sluice and the odd Purple Sandpiper was nearby. I found my first Kittiwake of the year over the sea, although most birds were way out and I couldn’t identify the auk species. Common Scoter were in small rafts offshore and of course there was the usual small flocks of Eider.

Once I’d set of walking again the clouds began to disperse and not long into the walk towards St Marys the sun was shining and the sky was blue, giving a very different feel to the day than had been the case in the morning. A rainbow was over the sea.

The flocks of waders made up for the lack of other bird interest. I soon found the large flock of Golden Plover in the distant fields and with them were Lapwings. Gulls stood sentinel like amongst them at what seemed to be fixed distances, no doubt waiting to take an easy meal from the plovers. The Lapwings soon took flight, but the Golden Plovers remained on the ground. There was one hundred plus Curlews on the rocky island north of St Marys and more in the fields to the east. In amongst them were Oystercatchers and Redshank. The walk ended nicely with more flocks of waders south of the island. This included large flocks of Redshank, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone and Dunlin. The Dunlin and Sanderling flocks being especially alert, and constantly taking to flight. A lady asked me if what she was watching was a Purple Sandpiper. I had to admit that I hadn’t seen it until she had pointed it out. The lady had been doing her homework and knew that Purple Sandpipers are often seen with Turnstone. She had also been able to identify the Bar-Tailed Godwits which have been around for some weeks now. These had dispersed when dogs had run into the wader flocks and had not returned, so I missed them today.

So my walk had begun under grey cloud, but had ended under blue skies. I’d felt the day had been quiet, but a count showed I had found sixty-one species. Kittiwake was new for the year list and I had not repeated the drenching of 26th February, 2010, not that this would have put me off.

Friday, 25 February 2011

Good Evening

25th Feb. I was going to write about the the £5,000 that Newcastle City Council has spent on a report which suggests that the Kittiwakes nesting in the city are putting off businesses and visitors. It seems that they are once again talking about 're-homing' the birds. Seems to me that the council can't make their minds up whether they have a tourist attraction in the Kittiwakes or a nuisance! I hope the councils future actions are being noted and watched carefully by appropriate authorities. Full story is in tonight's Evening Chronicle.

Anyway, I won't talk about it, but instead put up a photo I took from the front door this evening.

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Bright Patch brings a Green Woodpecker.

One pair of Great Crested Grebes.

Tuneful church grounds.

24th Feb. If wishes were horses then beggars would ride,
On clouds of white stallions with bright fiery eyes,
Chasing stars into corners of yesterday's skies.
Where life was a game and good fun was the prize.

No, I haven’t decided to go all poetical, but the above lyrics have been on my mind for the past couple of days and remained with me when I took a walk on patch late afternoon. You could have almost imagined today that spring was approaching such was the light, warmth and bird song.

Bird of the day was definitely a flyover Green Woodpecker. This was a new patch tick for me. It flew over the village area and westwards towards Gosforth Park as I walked from the lake towards the church grounds. It was flying quite high so not an especially good sighting, but a very distinctive one.

I had walked around the lake and found most of the birds that I had seen on my previous visit on ‘gloomy’ Sunday. I couldn’t find the young Whooper Swan photographed by J B. Maybe it has moved on, or maybe I just didn’t look well enough. The Goldeneyes were showing especially well today as was the pair of Great Crested Grebe on the larger lake. It also looks as though we may have the return of the pair that nests on the smaller lake too, as once I had reached this lake I found a lone Great Crested Grebe, but not its mate which may have been in the reeds. I’ll keep a look out for these birds as we enter spring. It was good to see a couple out with binoculars and camera gear taking photos of the birds and also a family walking around the lake taking areal interest. I always find this a breath of fresh air when I see members of the public taking an interest. As I’ve often said before, wildlife depends upon the interest and awareness of the general public for long term conservation to succeed. I think a minority of keen birders forget this at times. I never will, and will always encourage.

Having walked across to the church grounds and had sight of the Green Woodpecker, I found the grounds in a completely different atmosphere than I had on Sunday. The area was alive with song and calls. Interestingly I found a number of Coal Tits. Songs and calls heard included Song Thrush, Blackbird, Robin, Wren, Chaffinch, Greenfinch and tits. A small flock of Greenfinch flew into the top of the trees whilst I was there. Starlings, Jackdaws and Rooks were also noisily at business in the tree tops. Rare birds are not a necessity for an enjoyment of nature and in any event ‘beggars’ in reality can’t expect everything! I listened for Nuthatch but didn’t hear it. The reddening sky showed through the trees and as I walked home I heard another snatch of Song Thrush song. The red sky this evening seemed to promise a fine day tomorrow although the weather forecast seems to differ.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

Gloomy Patch

20th Feb. I decided to spend a short time today looking around the lake area. Cold, dull and gloomy sums things up quite well, even before I get to the conditions on patch! All of the grass areas were muddy and water-logged and even some of the paved areas flooded. The geese and swans use of the areas around the lakes made it almost impossible to stand up in places.

I understand from NTBC reports that figures for Mute Swans on Killingworth lake reached a new record high of 166 in December. Most of the lake was frozen solid, but a small area had been broken up and there was supplementary feeding going on, so I guess Mute Swans had been attracted from other frozen areas. There is still certainly well over 100 Mute Swans on the lake at present. Numbers of Canada Geese had been very high too, although until I reached the smaller lake I thought many had disappeared. Numbers do seem to be down now, but there were still good numbers of Canada Geese on the smaller lake. I found one bird in the flock which to my eyes could only be a hybrid Canada/Greylag.

Maybe 6 Goosander remain and I haven’t seen more than this number on the lake this winter. There are at least three pairs of Goldeneye. I watched the pair of Great Crested Grebes for a while as they engaged in head shaking, bobbing and bowing. I imagine it is one of last years pairs returning.

Other birds on the water were Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot, a large flock of Black Headed Gulls, Common Gulls and Herring Gulls. I found that the Oystercatchers now seem to be frequent visitors. I initially found two on the side of the lake, then found another lone bird which took off eventually and called as it seemed to fly to the smaller lake.

I noticed someone was out there taking photographs and I had wondered if there was something of note about. If there was, I didn’t see it.

I walked across towards the church grounds. The gloom didn’t lift. I found corvids and Wood Pigeons, Starlings, tits and calling Greenfinch. The church grounds were quiet. I made off home.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Efficient all Weather Birders!

18th Feb. I was in North Shields with Tom at 8:00am this morning. The target was the Iceland Gull. I wasn’t expecting to find it quite so quickly and once down by the river both our faces said it all when we found the white winged gull almost immediately. It was a striking bird and to me it had ‘Iceland’ written all over it. I appreciate I have had the benefit of previous discussion and photos to go on. :-) Please see report from Aughton Birder too.

I’m no expert on gulls and only found my first ever Iceland Gull in Feb 2009 at Cresswell Pond. Incidentally that bird had also been reported as a Glaucous Gull too. I remember checking it out in my Collins and making a definite I D of Iceland Gull when some guys came into the hide and tried to convince me it was a Glaucous Gull. They had seen it reported as such. At least one of them knew far more about gulls than I did (or do), but he had not checked the bird out and accepted the report. It wasn’t until he saw the long primary projection that he accepted that it was an Iceland Gull. As has been mentioned frequently recently, we need to check things out closely and not take things for granted especially other peoples reports.

Today’s Iceland Gull was initially seen in flight, then at at distance between the ferry landing and the swish housing block along the quay. We did manage a closer view later of the bird on the water and in flight. It eventually flew across to the south bank. It did appear to me to have a long primary projection.

So with the gull found so quickly and efficiently we decided to walk along to Tynemouth. There were few waders about apart from Oystercatchers and the odd Redshank and Curlew. We did take an interest in the gulls, but so nothing else out of the ordinary, apart from some odd looking Herring Gulls. Our walk took us half way along the pier but there was little on the sea and visibility was poor. I did pick up my first Fulmars of the year, already back on the nesting sites, and there were numbers of Eider Duck on the river. A Song Thrush was in full song as we passed the Priory. We made of home soon afterwards. I’d really enjoyed the morning.

I decided to get off the Metro at Palmersville to take a look in the Rising Sun Country Park as I knew a Mediterranean Gull had been reported the day before. No luck there, but the place was quite atmospheric with whistling Wigeon and calling Pochard. I found that there was a Goosander on the pond. Coal Tits, Long Tailed Tits and Treecreper entertained me as I looked for the Mediterranean Gull. A Kestrel was also seen.

I’m pleased I was out of bed early this morning! I was home before lunch time.

Sadly I found later that a Mute Swan at the Rising Sun had to be destroyed last week having been shot by at least three different weapons. No doubt the culprits have gone home very proud of their actions. Not much you can say about people of that nature, so I won’t waste my time doing so.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Hornemann. Jens Wilken 1770-1841

What’s in a name?

The Arctic Redpoll Carduelis hornemanni often has the distinction of being the most northerly wintering passerine. The digestive tract of this species is especially adapted to take in large amounts of food during the short days which is then digested slowly during the long nights. The difference between Arctic Redpoll and other redpoll species was first noted by Carl Peter Holboll and in describing this species he named it after Jens Wilken Hornemann, and the description first appeared ‘Ornithological Contributions to the Fauna of Greenland’ which Holboll wrote in 1840.

Holboll was a Danish zoologist with a long connection to Greenland, where he frequently traveled until his death in 1856, when a ship taking him to Greenland was lost at sea.

Holboll’s father worked as head gardener at the botanical gardens at Copenhagen Museum and Jens Wilken Hornemann had been a lecturer at the Botanic Gardens before becoming Professor of Botany. For thirty-five years he had been a leading botanist. Hornemann had few links with ornithology, but did take a keen interest in the exploration of Greenland and of course knew C P Holboll because of the connections with his father. Hornemann supplied a list of plants of Greenland which was included in ‘A Narrative of an Expedition to the east coast of Greenland,’ which was published in 1837.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Save Your Forests/Chopwell Rally

13th Feb. I attended the Rally at Chopwell Woods today. I refrained from stripping my clothes off and handcuffing myself to a tree (I'm sure you'll be relieved to hear that), it was far too damp and chilly for such antics, but at least I was there. The handcuffs if not the strip is being held in reserve should the Government decide not to change course!:-) There were several hundred attenders today. I believe that there is a long winded consultation document on which individuals can make comment on the final page. I hope many will seek this out and return it with comments so that the pressure builds.

Before the rally I did take a walk. I was hoping to find Goldcrest but didn't. It wasn't ideal conditions for birding and the paths were very muddy. The following were found however, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Treecreeper (lots), Nuthatch (more heard than seen), Robin, Blackbird, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Carrion Crow and Magpie. I did catch a glimpse of a raptor, but it was only a glimpse as it was more or less hidden by the trees. It may have been a Red Kite, but I couldn't be sure.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Norfolk Bird Pics

White-Fronted Geese (Derek Charlton)

Shore Lark (Derek Charlton)

Spotted Redshank (Derek Charlton)

Kindly sent to me by one of the members of the famous four, Derek Charlton of DBC. To late to include in my report.

Save Your Forests



Save YOUR forests from privatisation


at (I seem to be having problems with links so sorry if this one doesn't work)

Protest Rally at



Be there! Bring family and friends
These woods belong to YOU!!!

Monday, 7 February 2011

Some Norfolk Highlights 4th - 6th Feb. Part Two.

Such was the timings for breakfast, we were able to have a good few hours of well earned sleep before we were off again. This time, heading for Havergate where we saw two Bewick Swans. We also found Ross’s Goose today. Then it was off to Buckingham Marsh.

This marsh is a vast area. I have a feeling I have been here before some years ago and then had entered by a different route, but I may be wrong. We had hoped for Bean Geese here but they appear to have moved on. We did find the much talked about Lesser White-Fronted Goose. It was amongst Greylag Geese, or at least near to them, and chasing them off at times! This would be a lifer for me. The whole area was teaming with Wigeon which seemed oblivious to our presence. Waders seen included Golden Plover and Snipe. A small flock of Barnacle Geese landed in the area. I was the only one of the four who saw a Bearded Tit rise and then quickly drop back into the reed bed. That made up for the handful of species I had missed on the trip.

By lunch time we were being drawn to the Ferruginous Duck at Cockshoot Broad. The problem was that no one seemed to know where this broad was and it couldn’t be found on the map. I suggested we ask someone! Maybe I broke some twitching rule here as it seemed that idea was not to be taken up. Instead the technology amongst the group was used. Technology doesn’t always work however and whist it did take us within maybe a few hundred yards of where we needed to be it had not taken into account the river which we couldn’t cross. So the map was reverted to and a drive a several miles took us to the opposite side of the river where we had initially arrived. A walk then took us to the broad. There was no sign of Ferruginous Duck. However we did get good sightings of a Bittern, Kingfisher and Otters (not everyone saw the Otters) before being told that the Ferruginous Duck had flown down river. We did eventually catch up with it on our return walk and had a decent sighting of the illusive Ferruginous Duck.

By now it was too late to stick to the plan of watching for a better sighting of the Northern Harrier. We did spend sometime watching for Golden Pheasant with no luck. However during the watch we did have close up views of a Muntjac Deer and a Marsh Tit. On leaving the reserve we found posts had been locked to block the entrance! We were saved by the small car and made off back to the B+B.

The following morning was planned out to allow plenty of time for another crack at getting a better view of the Northern Harrier. Before that however we had a long distance sighting of a Rough Legged Buzzard near Holkham when we stood on the drive down to the pine area, Queen Anne's Drive I think. Several more Marsh Harriers where seen this morning. Three hundred plus White Fronted Geese gave us excellent views as they were in the fields near the road. A great sight.

We then stood in the quite strong, but warm wind hoping for Northern Harrier. Those who wait are often rewarded and we were. I picked the bird up as it seemed as usual to appear from no where and this time it headed straight for us and past us towards Titchwell. In doing so, it gave a great sighting.

We ended up back at Titchwell. By now the wind was really picking up strength but despite this we did take a look at the sea. There were large rafts of Common Scoter quite close in. Red Necked Grebe and Gannet were both seen but neither by me.

We left for the long journey home thinking that over a weekend we had done very well indeed. A short stop at the Golden Triangle brought nothing.

By my counting we had reached a count of 109 bird species. Even taking into account the few I missed I personally managed to score over the 100 mark which included 32 new species for the year list. Ferruginous Duck and American Wigeon are new UK ticks for me. Northern Harrier will be also, once it is split from Hen Harrier, which seems very likely. Lesser White-Fronted Goose would be a lifer it were a wild bird and I suppose that is the question. However I enjoyed seeing it out there what ever that decision maybe.

My top five birds over the weekend, in no particular order are Northern Harrier, American Wigeon, Shore Lark, Snow Bunting and Bittern. The Lesser White Front would be in there if I could be certain it was wild.

We arrive home to find it had been raining up here! Must admit I knew that, as I had been informed. Lucky in Norfolk this weekend I think.

Some Norfolk Highlights 4th - 6th Feb. Part One.

I’m not adverse to early morning starts as you will know, but leaving the house at 1.30am on Friday morning was not easy. I’d been given a wakey wakey text from my mate Tom, but sadly that had come the day before as he had the days mixed up bless him! :-) Tom will be off later this month on his own Norfolk adventure.

My partners in crime were AK (driver), DC and CW. We found ourselves in Norfolk as some patches of light began to appear in the sky and a Song Thrush was heard singing near the service station. We took a very short stop to look for Golden Pheasant at the Golden Triangle, but none were seen, although some saw the Woodcock.

The Northern Harrier (only a third record for Britain I believe) was high on the list of target birds. We found shelter from the winds behind a building at Thornham Marsh as we put the telescopes to use. The North Norfolk coast has as I’m sure you know some large areas of marsh and many of the raptors we saw today where at long range. They included Marsh Harriers and Hen Harriers. At closer range Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were both seen. On arrival we had found a Lapland Bunting in flight as it kept returning, and we had excellent close ups of Spotted Redshanks. I heard and saw my first Skylark and Meadow Pipits of 2011. Dark bellied Brent Geese were all over the area and Little Egrets gave bursts of flight. Flocks of Knot flew by the shore and the air was full of the calls from Curlew and Redshank.

The next stop was of course the nearby Titchwell RSPB Reserve. It was interesting to note the work that has been done on sea defences to protect at least part of the reserve. Things had altered a great deal since my last visit. Alarming to note how much land may eventually be lost however. We were soon finding the odd Little Egret and more Brent Geese, a flock of Linnet and a flock of Twite and Skylark. At least three Water Pipit were seen, one of them giving an excellent close up sighting.

On the pools and mud we had the likes of Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveller, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Goldeneye, Avocet, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Turnstone, Black-Tailed Godwit and twenty plus Ruff, one of them being especially light in colouring.

We later made of in the direction of Cley. One of the really good sightings for me over the weekend was watching thirty-five Snow Buntings at close quarters as they dropped into a car park. The American Wigeon was found without too much trouble on the pools that edge Cley Reserve. We walked alone behind and on top of the dunes seeking Shore Lark. The outward journey in the wind brought us none, but on the return a small flock of Shore Lark flew in and landed not to far off us. Eventually these give us one of the top sightings of the trip as the birds fed on the stony ground.

All agreed that the top bird of the trip was the Northern Harrier although today it was seen only at distance. When will this bird be split from Hen Harrier I wonder? It certainly looks very different, seems to hunt differently and has a very different flight. When we watched it flew at great speed and not like a Hen Harrier at all.

By the time the light had begun to fail I think we were all ready for a rest. It had been windy but dry and the wind had not in anyway spoilt the birding. As we returned to the B + B we found thousands of Pink-Footed Geese in what seemed to be a turnip field. Obviously going to roost and feed for the night. There may well have been other species of geese in there with them but the failing light made identification impossible. It appeared as a carpet of geese and more birds where flying in as we left. A fish and chip supper went down well tonight.

More to come.