Saturday, 30 April 2011

Doing the Wylam Walk.

If you don't want to pay two quid to visit the cottage, you can always spend the cash on the very nice ginger cake at the cafe behind

Is this the oldest tower signal box in the world? I was told during the walk that it probably is.

Spot the Kingfisher!

30th April. I was leading the RSPB Local Group walk today. The walks are all arranged to take place locally and are aimed to show participants the birdlife and other nature that is within their own vicinity. They continue to be well attended by members of the public and very successful. I have found a little niche here that helps me continue to put something back into my hobby whilst encouraging others and enjoying doing so. I am a little less inclined to bird watch in larger groups these days, but I really enjoy the involvement in these walks. I enjoy watching others discover elements of nature that are perhaps new to them. Many are surprised at just what can be found locally. No one could have failed to enjoy the walk in such surroundings and such fine weather today. I began by explaining just how important bird song and calls would be to enjoying bird watching to the full and so it proved today. I thank my colleagues for helping ensure that the walks continue to be well planned, advertised and organised in a professional manner. Weather-wise today’s walk was in stark contrast to the walk that ended last years programme and which was undertaken in freezing conditions otherwise it was conducted in a similar fashion. I think we gained two new members today which in itself makes the effort worthwhile. I think anyone that reads my blog will understand that I dislike the closed shop attitude that exists within some birding circles.

The butterflies weren’t ignored today and we found Small White, Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock. The Orange Tips were around in large numbers.

Having felt the cold breeze as I approached the village from the road bridge, we were soon warming up in more sheltered conditions along the old railway track heading towards Points Bridge (apparently also known as Hagg Bridge, Wylam Railway Bridge and Half Moon Bridge). The bridge was initially planned to have three spans built upon piers, but this was stopped because of concern about the mine workings under the river. Thus the bridge became a proto-type for the Tyne Bridge and Sydney harbour Bridge. Song from Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap was filling the air. The Blackcaps were close, but proved difficult to view in the now thickly covered hedges and trees. Participants began to realise why I had underlined the need to ‘listen’. The song of Wrens dominated everything else at times. Finches seen during the walk where, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Bullfinch. There seemed to be few tits about, but Great Tit was heard and Blue Tit eventually seen.

We looked for Kingfisher from Points Bridge, with no luck. A distant sighting of a single Goosander was made. It seemed that the Goosanders where further up or down river today. Mallard were around in some numbers and distant Swallows could be seen. Closer views were obtained of both Swallow and Sand Martin later into the walk.

A Red Kite was seen by all as it flew from north to south of the river, and a Sparrowhawk was seen by the lucky few as it flew low through the trees towards the pond. The pond itself held Tufted Duck, Mallard, Moorhen and Coot. Surprisingly the Little Grebe wasn’t seen or heard. By now the air was thick with insects and the planned stop for lunch was put off until a little later. Two Jays where seen as they flew towards the Spetchells. The Spetchells are the largest area of chalk habitat in Northumberland and the plant life here is quite special and attractive to a wide range of butterflies. I understand that the view from these hills is quite spectacular as you look down the Tyne Valley. The chalk hills are not a natural habitat, but waste from an ICI factory which closed down in 1963. Perhaps this is a good omen for the future in that it shows how nature can return to our industrial wastelands. It’s an area I need to take a closer look at in the future. Time didn’t allow that today.

Both Grey Heron and Cormorant were seen flying close to the River Tyne. Thanks to a friend in the group who knows the patch well, we had a good sighting of a pair of Common Whitethroat. The walk we completed is regularly walked by members of Wylam Bird Group. I’d gained some information from the groups report so I offer my thanks.

We found a pair of Common Sandpiper on our return towards Wylam village. This was a new tick for the year for me at least. As we came towards the end of the walk we watched the pair of Dippers.

Instead of heading straight for the railway station I took a walk along to George Stephenson’s Cottage. I’d been taken aback when I had looked earlier on the internet and found the cottage to be surrounded by trees. I was a youngster when I had last visited and remember the area was in the main open space. This little detour brought a nice pair of Goosander on the River, a Red Kite being mobbed by a Sparrowhawk and a couple of both Lapwing and Oystercatcher. The Blackcaps remained as illusive as ever. I rounded of what had been a really enjoyable day in the company of an Earl Grey and a piece of very nice ginger cake. I recommend that you visit the cottage if only to taste the cakes!

The list for the walk had come to forty and with the added detour at the end forty-two. I’d added both Red Kite and Common Sandpiper to my year list and I hope that everyone went home smiling.

I did note that one of the pubs has a fine selection of real ales. I have a good friend who may like the idea of a birding and real ale visit at some point.:-)

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Warblers in the Sun

Orange Tip Butterfly. Wish I'd been able to add a photo of the female too. I wasn't quick enough.

27th April. As I was leaving the patch today (Wed) I found my first Common Whitethroats of the year, a pair. Another male bird was heard singing a little further along the pathway. A Blackcap was seen and heard too, as where the Chiffchaffs. I began to wonder if I’m about to wake up from a wonderful dream and find that we have actually suffered heavy rainfall during the whole of April. Today was another sunny one although the easterly wind was quite chilly until lunchtime.

As the day went on I came across more Common Whitethroats and Blackcaps, and had a brief but clear sighting of a Lesser Whitethroat. This one teased me as it sang at length as it moved along inside the thick hedging. After my initial sighting of the bird I only caught it again briefly as it flew from one side of the pathway to the other. I was well chuffed with this sighting, however star bird appearances were not yet at an end as I went on to find Little Owl. So I ended up with three good new year ticks today. Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler song was frequently heard and I had some nice sightings of the latter birds.

Orange Tip Butterflies were about in some number, females as well as males. I managed good sightings of one of the females, but unfortunately only managed photographs of the males. I remember seeing a Moroccan Orange Tip Butterfly whilst in Extremadura a couple of years ago. Now that one was a real beauty, being yellow and orange rather than our white and orange butterfly. In the Spanish sunlight it was a great treat to see. Other butterflies seen today were Small White, Green Veined White and Speckled Wood.

I ended the day at Tynemouth and North Shields. Despite the light breeze it was hot behind the priory where it is a real suntrap. No migrant birds found though. I enjoyed a walk along to North Shields fish quay and of course I couldn’t resist the smell of fish and chips. I later climbed up the bank from the quay (note to self…really must get fitter. Could there be a link with the fish and chips?), and thankfully found my bus standing at the bus stop. I sat at peace with the world that is until the bus took a route I didn’t expect. Had I got on the wrong bus I wondered. Thankfully it was only a diversion!

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Terns on Patch

Cuckoo Flower

The Comma seemed attracted to the white material.

Herb Robert

'I'm not moving'.

23rd April. I took a walk today half hoping that I might find Common Whitethroat, but had no luck. However, I was soon listening to Blackcap, Chiffchaff and eventually Willow Warbler. This was the first of the latter that I have found on patch this year and as usual they are greatly out numbered by Chiffchaff. I seem to have interrupted courtship and/or territorial dispute as three or four Chiffchaffs met briefly in the tree in front of me. I noticed one of the birds had a great deal of green colouring in the rump and flanks. I may have got thinking about species if I hadn’t heard it calling.

The lightest of showers passed by almost unnoticed although thunder followed later in the day. A Grey Heron flew overhead on a couple of occasions and the air was full of bird song. One of the first butterflies seen was Orange Tip, and some courtship was taking place followed by the male flying low over the ground, I assume looking for more females. I noticed a good amount of Cuckoo Flower around today and it is no coincidence that this is one of the main larval food plants of the Orange Tip. Other butterflies seen where, Small White, Green Veined White, Comma and Peacock. Commas seem to be around in number this spring and this one seemed attracted to a piece of white material. The Commas I have found this year have all been very easy to photograph.

I walked across to the lake where I found what appeared to be a lone Swallow flying low over the lake and three Common Terns which were calling as they flew back and forth across the lake, often swooping down to the surface. These were my first Common Terns for the year. Two Common Terns were seen at the lake throughout the summer last year. Such streamlined and elegant birds. I’d noticed Cow Parsley was now in flower and also found my first Herb Robert of the year.

The two Greylag Geese remain at the lake. Two Coots are on nests on the small lake and all appears well with the Great Crested Grebes. The floating reed-bed is a complete mess now although still offering some shelter and the Coot chicks are growing fast. I noticed at least one large family of Mallard chicks. Numbers of Pochard remain on the lake.

I was hot as I walked home. A Pied Wagtail called and flew overhead. I reckon there’s rain on the way, maybe overnight, although the forecast for tomorrow suggests another fine day.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Black Scoter

19th April. I had made arrangements to meet up with a friend for lunch today and was wondering how I could gently suggest we took it at Bamburgh. In the event it wasn't too difficult. I think the brilliant weather helped to convince even a non birder that it was a good idea. Not quite so sure that with wet feet the idea sounded so good but by then it was too late.:-)

Arriving near Stag Rock, I found a small flock of Common Scoter, but no Black Scoter was to be seen. Joining a few other birders on the beach I found that none of them had been able to pin point the bird, but I knew it had been sen earlier in the day. I suggested a walk a little further north where we found two other birders, who had traveled for five hours apparently, who had tracked the bird down amongst a flock of scoter that I had seen fly in. My thanks to them for helping me pinpoint the Black Scoter. A lifer in the day of Brian. I have to admit however that it was a pretty lousy sighting. Never mind, better late than never, and it was one that I didn't think I'd get the chance to see.

Not having much time, I wasn't able to find the Long Tailed Duck and divers that were reported. However I did add Shag, Gannet, Guillemot and Puffin to the year list. If I'm honest I enjoyed the sightings of the Puffins more than the scoter. Yes really! Never the less, thanks go to my friend for the tolerance if nothing else.:-)

Monday, 18 April 2011

Walking the Parks and Dene

Wild Garlic


Comma Butterfly


I have my eye on you!

Far from the Maddening Crowd.

17th April. The chill of the morning (Sunday) soon disappeared to ensure that it was bright and warm. The light proved to be perfect for showing Jesmond Dene at its best. Too many people about at times for my liking and few birds, but as always an interesting walk from Heaton Park entrance, through to Armstong Park and onwards through the dene up to South Gosforth, passing much of historical interest along the way. I see there is work being done around the area of King John’s Palace so maybe the council have decided to make more of this ruin, which incidentally has no connection to King John. The more appropriate name for the building is Adam’s Camera, named after Adam of Jesmond and it is believed to have been built in the thirteenth century. It more than likely had farm buildings, stables of some sort and even brewing facilities surrounding it. King John’s well further down the path in Armstong Park is nothing more than a bit of Victorian work, possibly using stone from King John’s Palace. I also got my eye on some nice footwear hanging from the shoe tree. There’s certainly better quality stuff there than I was wearing on my feet!

Bird life appeared to be quite sparse today. The highlights were a pair of Nuthatch, a Treecreeper, Stock Dove and eventually a fleeting sighting of Kingfisher. Blackcap was heard. I don’t recall being in the dene on a Sunday since my childhood. The excellent weather had attracted the crowds and it was like the ‘old days.’ After a cuppa in the newly renovated cafĂ©, of which a good job has been made, I took a look around Pets Corner. It to has been renewed and is looking far cleaner and appropriate for the few animals that were there. As well as the pigs (see Porkaa Jokeaa) I found the goat breeds represented included a Guernsey Goat. This particular breed of goat was featured on television only last week as it is now a very rare breed. I learnt from the programme that during the war the starving inhabitants of Guernsey had taken to eating the goats during German occupation. The breed more than likely would have become extinct had it not been for one lady on the island who hid the goats in caves at night. I expect she was thought to be eccentric at the time. The Guernsey Goat is now bred in other parts of the UK. As with all of the rare breeds, the wider area that they are dispersed over the better, as this ensures that disease is not such a threat to the breed as a whole. Just the same as with wildlife conservation. The Guernsey Goat in the Dene was a little beauty, but was shy when it came to having its photo taken!

I really enjoyed the walk through the dene, especially once I was out of the crowds. Not many folk seem to choose to walk too far which means you can have a reasonable amount of peace and quiet even when the place is busy. I found a Comma Butterfly sunning itself on one of the many bridge walls. It kept out of reach of a good photograph initially, but then landed closely and was not flighty at all. The sunlight showed it off to its best. I was amazed so many people walked past it without evening realising, or perhaps in some cases, not caring that it was there. One family seemed more content to stand on the bridge and listen to their radio. I wondered why some people choose to go out on what are wonderful days in wonderful surroundings and take their damn radios with them. Other butterflies seen were Orange Tip, Small Tortoiseshell and Small White.

Plants seen included lots of freshly flowering Wild Garlic and Butterbur. The Butterbur is also known as Wild rhubarb and Butchers rhubarb. Its large leaves were used for wrapping butter in the days before refrigeration and have also been used as umbrellas and sunshades, such is there size. The plants scientific name is Petasites hybidus. Petasites derives from the Greek petasos, meaning a broad brimmed felt hat. Like Coltsfoot, the plant flowers before the leaves grow.

I kept a look out for Grey Wagtail, Dipper and Kingfisher all along the burn. I was surprised to find only the latter bird, and that was only a very fleeting glimpse. I heard the Kingfisher coming, or I would have missed it completely. By now I was well away from the ‘maddening crowd’ and enjoying the coolness of the shaded burn. I eventually reached South Gosforth feeling that I had enjoyed a really interesting walk.

Porkaa Jokeaa

'Such a nice day dear, what do you fancy doing after Sunday lunch?'
'Errrrrr, lets just cosy up together pet and form a coalition.'

'Hey man Geordie, I'm telling ya, I'd rather be stuffed head first into a pork sausage skin and slowly grilled than spend another penny on watching 'the toon' play.'

Courtesy of the pigs in Jesmond Dene pets corner.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Golden Plovers Passing Through Patch

Green Veined White Butterfly

Garlic Mustard


16th April. After noting the Green Veined White Butterfly in the garden I decided to take a walk along the wagon-way today (Sat). Having found a Blackcap in full song all seemed to turn very quiet apart from the constant song from Chiffchaffs. I contented myself in capturing a shot of another Green Veined White Butterfly (there seemed to be numbers about today, along with Small Tortoiseshell) and taking a look at some of the plant life. I saw that the Garlic Mustard, White Dead Nettle, Red Dead Nettle and Forget-me-not species were all in flower. The latter I would think were garden escapes, but never the less a very attractive flower when seen in close up.

Further along the wagon-way I began to realise just how bone dry and hard the farmland is at present, following this unseasonal dry and hot weather. Prepare for a wet summer.:-) Whilst listening to the Skylarks and watching an attractive white necked Pheasant as it moved through the taller vegetation, I picked up the call of waders. On turning around I caught sight of two Golden Plover dropping into the field to the right of me. I guessed that there were more birds about and eventually watched as wings were lifted, showing the pale undersides. I wandered along the hedgerow to gain a better view and found circa 150 Golden Plover, in summer plumage, just behind a brow of the small hill in the centre of the field. I remembered that last year when I led a walk on patch we had found circa 200 Golden Plover in more distant fields, as they stopped off having left the coast. Golden Plover feed in small numbers in these same fields during winter. Having taken in the spectacle I moved off to look at the almost dried up small flash where I found only Mallard, Coot and Moorhen. Nearby a small flock of Linnet lifted from the field.

On my return I found a better vantage point to watch the Golden Plover which could now be heard calling. I found that there was in fact two groups of them and a made a count which suggested circa 250 Golden Plover were present. Quite a sight on patch, especially as the birds are entering summer plumage. Once back on the road I found them again but this time a little more distant. Whilst watching I picked up two Wheatear in the same field. My first Wheatear of the year. Whilst I watched the Wheatear the plovers must have taken flight. I later watched at least some of them in the air. My first Wheatear last year had been found on the same walk as we had found the Golden Plover flock. On returning home I checked the dates. Last years walk had been on the 17th of April! Following such events, incidents and patterns is one of the real joys of patch birding.

On my return I checked out the area behind the village for Willow Warbler. Despite having heard and seen the birds almost a week earlier over the past two years I have still to hear or see one on patch this year!

I have been to a busy Jesmond Dene today so haven’t looked to see if the plovers remain on patch. More of today’s visit later.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Skua.......What's in a Name?

Shetland Bonxies

I’ve recently realised my ignorance of the Skua species and have set about correcting this to an extent, by reading Robert W Furness’s The Skuas, one of the Poyser series of ornithological books. A planned pelagic later this year was another reason for delving into the book, which I’m now half way through. It’s proving to be an excellent read so far. It’s given me a break from reading about waders. I’d only seen the odd Skua before my visit to Orkney and Shetland last year, but that trip certainly made a great difference, with me seeing numbers of Arctic Skua and even larger numbers of Great Skua. Sightings of these birds, especially when watched from high cliffs, remain in my mind high points of the trip. I was interested in what Furness had to say in particular about the naming of the ‘Bonxie’ and I’ve since looked at Birds Britannica again to learn even more about the naming of these birds. What follows owes much to what Mark Coker and Richard Mabey had to say in Birds Britannica.

The generic name Stercorarius I noted stems from a Latin word for dung. I’d learnt on my trip to the northern islands that terms such as Scootie Allan and Scootty Alin are used in relation to the Arctic Skua. Originally this was Scoutie which literally means shitty. The Welsh name for Great Skua is Sgiwen fawer which in English translates to dung skua. This all relates to the old misconception that skuas chased seabirds in order to catch and eat their excrement.

Moving away from ornithology I learn the British Fleet Air Arm’s first naval dive-bomber was named the Blackburn Skua. Not surprisingly taking its name from the Arctic Skua, because of the nature of the bird’s flight. The aircraft shot down the first enemy aircraft of World War Two and sixteen of these aircraft flew from Orkney to Norway in April 1940 and sank the German cruiser Konigsberg. This was the first time a major warship had been bombed and sunk in wartime. My brother, who is very interested in aircraft, reminded me of the merlin engines and kestrel aircraft. There are probably many more ornithological and aviation links.

The naming of the Pomarine Skua is interesting. It has been thought that the name was associated with Pomerania, the Baltic region shared by Germany and Poland. It is in fact a word originating from the Greek pomato, meaning lid, and rhinos, meaning nosed. This relates to the thin plates that overlay the base of the bill on all skuas. The longer name of pomatorhine skua was used until the mid twentieth century.

I can remember reading at some point that the term bonxie, used in Shetland (and now very widely) for Great Skua, meant bully. It seems to me now to be incorrect. It seems that bonxie was originally spelt as buncie and was a term used only in Shetland. This is thought to be derived from the Norse bunksi, meaning a heap or an untidy dumpy woman, which Furness says ‘describes the species on its breeding territory, though not in flight.’

Furness has some interesting comments to make about terms used for skuas, in particular in Iceland and the Faeroes, which can be used to some degree to date when the birds first appeared there. You may want to read the book to find out more. Hopefully I’ll finish the book over Easter and hopefully see some skuas on the pelagic. Keep watching for an action report from the ‘all weather birders’ later in the year.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Cresswell to Plessey

River Blyth Resident

Carpets of Wood Anemone

12th April. Sunny, but cool when I arrived at Creswell too late to see the Yellow Wagtail (I understand it had been seen at around 8.00am) and there was no sign of the Great Grey Shrike. Reports of birds seemed to have brought birders out in some number, most of them well wrapped up. I settled for the Stonechat, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits. Four Avocet were showing near the causeway. Nearby there were still a number of Pink-Footed Geese. Greylag and Canada Geese were also in the area. A Sparrowhawk was chased from the area by corvids and a Kestrel hovered over the dunes. A sighting of Coquet Island reminded me that a trip there is due later for Roseate Tern.

A walk up to the hide brought Tree Sparrows in the hedgeway. There were the usual waterfowl on the pond which included lessening numbers of Teal and Wigeon. Shelduck, Red-breasted Merganser and Goldeneye were amongst other birds on the wind blown water. Waders near the pond were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Redshank and Curlew.

A quick visit to Druridge pool brought sighting of Little Grebe, Shoveller, Gadwall and birds of the day, Garganey. What a cracking bird the male Garganey is! This was perhaps one of my best sightings of this species. Leaving Creswell brought a sighting of two Grey Partridge leaving the road and disappearing into the fields.

A relaxing couple of hours were spent at Plessey Woods where I found much of the undergrowth carpeted by Wood Anemone. Lesser Celandine, Wood Sorrel and Dog Violet were also seen. I was reminded just how important a little knowledge of bird song and calls is. Birds heard and seen included Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Mistle Thrush. Kestrel was also seen again, as were two Common Buzzards. As I watched the buzzards, House Martins flew into view, giving me my first sighting this year of this species. Out of the wind now it was much warmer here and I really enjoyed the walk along the banks of the River Blyth. A Grey Heron was frequently seen as it moved along the river. Both Garganey and House Martin were new ones for the year list.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

By the Tyne Banks

Tyne at Wylam

Speckled Wood

Small Tortoiseshell

Wood Anemone

The pond

I like tunnels.

A sunlit Tyne mouth. Wylam now seemed a long way off.

9th April. Is it really still only the early part of April? The weather is amazing! I took the train into the Tyne Vally today to suss out a walk that I am leading at Wylam later in the month. I noted that I can travel return to Wylam by train for the same as I pay to travel from home to the city centre by bus!

I set off from Wylam centre in the direction of ‘Points Bridge.’ The song of Blackcap was soon picked up, and in fact I saw at least four males and two females today. My first of the year. Chiffchaff song was everywhere throughout the walk and several of the birds were seen. Swallows flew above the river, but not in great numbers. Mute Swans were seen on a pool just before arriving at Wylam Station and Mallard and Goosanders were seen at various times on the river. Butterflies were catching the eye almost as soon as we’d set off on the walk. I had a couple of friends from the Local Group with me. One of them being Spanish made for some interesting discussion regarding species! I did remember that Milvus migrans was Black Kite, not that we saw one of those today. We didn’t see Red Kite either! Anyway, butterflies seen were Orange Tip, Peacock (well into double figures), Small Tortoiseshell and Speckled Wood. I wasn’t able to identify fleeting glimpses of white species, but I’m sure some at least were female Orange Tip. Wren and Chaffinch song was competing with the Chiffchaffs song but never matching it in quantity. Song Thrush was heard.

Having reached Points Bridge, we watched from the bridge for Kingfisher, but none appeared. I did later watch a Dipper flying down river, initially through my binoculars until it reached me and carried on down river. Plants seen included Wood Anemone, Lesser Celandine and Violet species.

The pond near the Spetchells (chalk hills produced by spoil heaps from ICI production of ammonium sulphate, which ceased in 1963) held Mallard, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe, the latter giving its unmistakeable call. Lunch was taken near hear and the break give us the chance to pick up the drumming of Great Spotted Woodpecker and the mewing of Common Buzzard. Grey Heron flew overhead as did Kestrel and a Jay flew into the trees opposite. Noisy calling suggested that there were more Jays in the trees. Pheasants were calling periodically throughout the walk.

As we made the return journey I commented on the lack of Willow Warbler. Within a minute one began to sing in trees close by. It eventually gave us a very good sighting. Another new one for the year list. Tit species had included Great, Coal, Blue and Long Tailed Tit. We made off in the direction of Points Bridge again to have another look for Kingfisher. This time the peace and quiet was broken by yelling and cursing of a group of people camped on the river bank, no doubt brought out by the sun. If people want to curse that’s fine by me, but do they really need to share it with everyone else in the area. One of the females was the worst offender. Numbskulls! There was no Kingfisher seen. Perhaps they had moved to a more refined area. A little further along the pathway I found a Dipper on the rocks. There were lots of youngsters about. Their decent behavior put to shame the adult louts further up river!

Having timed the walk to perfection, there was just enough time to grab an ice cream before jumping on the train back to the city. I decided to carry on down to Tynemouth. This time by Metro. Yes, I lead an exciting life!

I had expected Tynemouth to be a little cooler, but had not expected such a drop in temperature. Once off the Metro I wandered down towards the Priory, braving the cold and leaving my jacket off. Well, I didn’t want to look soft in front of all tee-shirt brigade. I eventually gave in and put my jacket on. It really was cold and in stark contrast to the heat at Wylam. I’m soft, and I know I am. I left the binoculars in the bag until I was down to the pier, but did pick up the nesting Fulmar. There was nothing in the vegetation south of the Priory but I had soon added a new bird to the year list when two Sandwich Terns flew up river and landed on Black Middens. The odd Eider Duck was on the river and I picked up Great and Lesser Black Backed Gulls, Cormorant and Oystercatcher. Once out of the wind and approaching North Shields Fish Quay, I warmed up again. I came across another Neanderthal. This time she was shouting foe her dog. It was almost at her feet, but you would have thought it was across the river in South Shields such was the pitch of the calling. A visit was to be made to Christian’s fish and chip restraunt. Sadly I found that Christian’s is no longer! It has been taken over by a firm called Oceans. You are greeted and taken to a table now. I was tempted to say that I only wanted fish and chips. The portions seem to have shrunk, although I have to be fair and say I enjoyed the meal.

I was soon on my way home with three new year ticks in Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Sandwich Tern. I’d enjoyed the walk at Wylam in the sun and the visit to Tynemouth and North Shields was a good contrast. It really is atmospheric down there of a sunny evening. There was a holiday atmosphere about the place as the passengers waved from the massive ferry as the sun reflected from the Tyne. When I repeat the walk on 30th April I am expecting more summer migrants will be about. Hopefully the sun will shine then too.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Swallows Return to Patch

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

A small group of a much larger area of Coltsfoot

7th April. A warm sunny day, almost like summer. I walked much of the patch, so walked several miles today. I was determined to find Swallows!

It wasn’t long before I had found three Peacock Butterflies, in total I found six today, and also my first Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly of the year. Hibernation had not acted positively upon its appearance. The Peacock Butterfly would sit on the path in the sun and then lift when approached by what I assume was the male, and then take part in what I seemed to be courtship flight. I’ve noticed time and time again that the Peacock Butterflies will approach me to suss me out, before sunbathing again nearby. Later in the day I had a brief sighting of a white species butterfly. I know fight timings are not written in stone, but this seems early, and I wondered if it may a been a female Orange Tip, as I have seen males in that particular area before.

Incidentally the nice little patch of scrub and tree which was recently flattened already has the walls of a house built upon it!

I was soon watching my first Swallows of 2011. Two appeared above the farm buildings as I joined the wagon-way. I’m guessing that they will return to a nesting site in the farm buildings. My first sighting of the year was a day later than last year when I had seen two Swallows flying over Killingworth lake. I watched today’s birds for sometime as the songs of Chiffchaff, Wren, Robin, Song Thrush, Greenfinch and Chaffinch were in the air around me.

Despite not seeing very much I enjoyed the rest of the walk along to the flash near Holystone. There had been plenty of bird song with Chiffchaff accompanying me throughout much of the walk. One Chiffchaff flew from the tree and landed within feet of me and just carried on calling. I discovered a pathway through a stand of trees which I’d never walked through. It looked an ideal patch for warblers although all I saw today was a Coal Tit. Linnets lifted from the field to the right of me and I counted eleven birds and later saw a trio of them which could well have been that small flock broken up. At the flash there was a pair of Mallard and two Moorhen, along with a number of Jackdaws. It was here that I got my eye on another two Swallows catching insects over the flash. The stables are nearby and may be providing a nesting area. On my return walk two more Swallows swooped low above my head and another single bird was seen flying over the fields. The female Kestrel flew onto the pylon and rested for a few minutes before flying off to hover over the field. A Yellowhammer’s song was heard but I couldn’t pick the bird out in the hedge. Skylarks were singing.

Almost home, I decided to extend the walk and carry on down to the small lake where I’d looked yesterday and found no Swallows, so I wondered if they might be there now. Once there I watched the Great Crested Grebes and the usual inhabitants. I was thinking that no Swallows were about and decided to move off and just as I did I caught sight of two more Swallows flying high above the school which is nearby the lake. No sign of Sand Martins though. In Total I had found nine Swallows today. I can’t of course be definitely sure that I hadn’t seen at least one of them twice. What ever it was good to get them on my list. I arrived home tired.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Painful Beginning to April

5th April. I can’t help feeling that evolution dealt humankind an evil blow when it took us down the pathway of ‘teeth.’ Do we really need them I wonder? OK, I accept that they make us look ‘prettier’ when smiling and that they do help anyone wishing to gnaw through a T-Bone steak. However, I’m sure toothless gums with a little toughening could do the job just as well. Anyway, for the second time in recent visits I have visited the dentist feeling quite happy with the world, just to leave and then suffer days of tormented agony. I had a tooth filled and think the dentist used a shovel to scrape the tooth out before the filling went in. The pain killers have been rattling inside me for the past few days, but I managed to venture out on patch today. Anyway I never want to upset any man or woman who has the power to hold a drill in your mouth so I’d just like to say I hold nothing personally against my dentist.

I was down by the lake by 3.30pm hoping for a Swallow. There was no sign at all of any hirundines. I saw two Swallows over the lake on 6th April last year, so will pop down to take a look tomorrow. Pleased to say that the pairs of Great Crested Grebe progress nicely.

There is little chance of anything remaining hidden in what is now almost a ‘bald’ floating reed-bed. Hopefully something will be done with this later in the year. It was warm today, but cloudy and windy and that wasn’t going to entice butterflies. I didn’t see any. I decided to take a walk and listen for any early Willow Warbler. I wasn’t optimistic that any would be on patch yet and I was proven correct. Numbers of Chiffchaff have built up. Wren song seemed to predominate. The birdsong was rather rudely interrupted by a collective going off of house alarms in the area. I passed at least three homes where the alarms were blasting away and of course, with no one taking a blind bit of notice. Like teeth, I’m sure that these alarms serve little positive purpose. I found the odd Lesser Black Backed Gull before going home to find the paracetamol.