Friday, 30 September 2011

The All Weather Birders Face the Saharan Heat!

Sun Rising in the mist. The sun was in the east as I looked out of the window so I realised if I was on the wrong train, at least I was going in the correct direction!

The mist had cleared at Blacktoft.

Reflecting at Potteric Carr.

29th Sept. Yorkshire was the destination today and I was up at 4:45am in order to catch the 6:22am train to Doncaster where I was meeting fellow all weather birder, Tom. We had planned visits to both RSPB Blacktoft and the Yorkshire W T Reserve at Potteric Carr. We were soon on our way towards Blacktoft as the sun began to burn off the early morning mist. I really like this area of Yorkshire.

You may think my blog title is a little over the top, but I can tell you that walking around the reserves today certainly did not feel as though we were in the UK on a late September day. Hot it certainly was and we were pleased that we had splashed on the sun cream, if perhaps in my case a little too much! We walked for many miles today so liquid refreshment was important too. The white sandy pathways at Blacktoft along with the glare of the sun gave an exotic feel to the day. Blacktoft is a favourite reserve of mine and it didn’t disappoint today, although I was surprised to see some areas completely dry and even more surprised at not finding any Green Sandpipers or Ruff! However there were numbers of Spotted Redshank, well into double figures. One group of eleven feeding in typical style in quite deep water. The other three species of wader very well represented were Black-tailed Godwit, Redshank and Common Snipe. Good sighting was made of a young Water Rail, a year tick.

On arrival at Blacktoft we had been greeted by a fly over of a skein of Greylag Geese and an even larger skein was seen later in the day. Bearded Tits were well represented, but we didn’t get a really good look at any of them. We did hear them and have fleeting fly overs of a few small flocks. Ducks included the likes of Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveller, Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Duck.

Tom spotted Common Buzzard and there were Kestrels in the area. The real pleasure was in watching the Marsh Harriers, often at close range. There were four birds up in the air together for a good time. I never tire of watching harriers. I remember very clearly the first time I saw a Marsh Harrier, which was at Leighton Moss. As we watched the harriers we spotted four Little Egrets flying far away.

We enjoyed a walk up to Ousefleet where there was water. I think the first time I have actually seen water in this particular area. Small Copper Butterflies were seen on the walk and of course many of the local population of Tree Sparrows were seen.

By mid day both Tom and I were hot, thirsty and hungry so we were pleased to find a table in the car-park which was under the shade of the trees. After my lunch I could have happily taken a nap.:-) We decided to leave for Potteric Carr instead.

The last time I had visited Potteric Carr there was conservation work going on over a vast area. I was amazed to see the very positive results and also find some very nicely built new hides. Take note Northumberland! There are at least fourteen hides at Potteric Carr. One of them built in similar style to the all round viewing hide at North Cave, another favourite reserve of mine. The Yorkshire W T is to be congratulated on their achievement here. The other positive point about Potteric Carr is that it is not overly worked. It covers a vast area and some of it has the appearance of being left to nature. The sign of good management and a good reserve.

One of the first birds we sighted was a Green Sandpiper. It didn’t move throughout the time we watched it. I was pleased to be able to show another visitor this through the telescope. Then we set off to walk what seemed miles by the time we reached dusk. Grey Herons and Little Grebe were around in numbers. The newly managed area brought us the largest flock of Lapwing I have seen for many years. Several hundred of them. Very impressive each time they took to the air. We had a fine view of a Kingfisher. I shall be a dude and say that this was my star bird of the day, although the Marsh Harriers closely challenge for that title. The Kingfisher sat initially in the reeds before making the occasional dive, flying off to sit on a post and then flying off into the distance. Two more Little Egrets were found, on this occasion at closer range.

As dusk approached we walked in an area of the reserve which I had not been to before and this meant crossing the railway lines. It was a strange feeling walking through woods on the outskirts of Doncaster and near motorways, with the sounds of passenger and goods trains coming through the trees from several different directions. If it had been darker it would have been really spooky. One of the hides had the main eastern line running right next to it and between it and the pond! We returned to watch the Willow Tits seen earlier but this time had to be content to listen to their calls. We’d also seen Great, Coal, Blue and Long Tailed Tits. We’d begun to hear the calls of Jays and we did eventually see them. Speckled Wood Butterflies were seen and many dragonflies flew with us around the reserve the entire time we were there. Grey Squirrels were also about in large numbers. We returned to see if the Green Sandpiper had remained. It had left. This time of the evening, just before sunset is wonderful on a day like today had been. It was good to watch the sentinel Grey Herons as they watched the water. Now was that bird that flew in the Sandhill Crane (which had been monitored all day) coming into roost or was it just another Grey Heron? Sadly we may never know! :-)

A quick count of the day’s bird species came to sixty. It had been a great day spent in Tom’s locality. Thanks Tom. Its often who you bird with that really matters, and we always have a great day. By the time I was dropped off at Doncaster Railway Station, both all weather birders were cream crackered.

Tired, thirsty and bitten, but unbowed I managed to find my correct seat on the correct train. Not always a simple task at Doncaster I have found. The last time I visited having been given free first class tickets by someone I ended up in Leeds and had to fork out about thirty quid to get back to Newcastle in standard class. That’s another story! The main thing is, Killy has his spark back.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

It Might as Well be Spring

27th Sept. Walking back from Forest Hall I decided to divert towards the lake. Two Chiffchaffs were singing in the trees near the church grounds as the heat of this autumn day began to build. I thought it rather spring like again as I watched a Coot carrying sticks to add to a nest in the centre of the smaller lake. Two grown young were sat on top of the nest. Lesser Black Backed Gulls and Common Gulls were in amongst the large flock of Black Headed Gulls.

I found a both single Little and Great Crested Grebe on the larger lake and at least seven Cormorants. Two of the latter were looking for fish whilst the others dried out, looking distinctly reptilian.

The eleven Greylag Geese in groups of seven and four out numbered the nine Canada Geese remaining at the lake. The group of seven Greylags were the two adults that had bred here earlier in the year and their still thriving offspring. Did all of the other Canada Geese move to Holywell? There was a fair number down there the last time I looked.

On Sunday I noticed large numbers of Red Admiral Butterflies on the wing. I noticed only one today. I did spot a first for the garden yesterday, in the form of a Speckled Wood Butterfly. This butterfly has began a colonisation of the area in recent years, but this was certainly the first one I have seen in the garden.

After an exciting pelagic at the beginning to September the rest of the month seems to have been a bit of a damp squib for me. I need to re-find my spark and will hopefully do so with a trip before the month is out.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Garden Birds

23rd Sept. I’m perhaps guilty of not watching the birds in my garden as much as I once did. However, I never let myself forget that this is how my interest in bird watching really began. I still remember ‘discovering’ Coal Tits in my garden many years ago and feeling at the time that I had found something really special. I had of course, and all these years later and in the intervening years I have had a pair of Coal Tits, which obviously breed nearby, visit the garden on a regular basis. Today was no exception and I found the garden to be especially busy with birds this morning. Interestingly enough, having purchased Birdwatch magazine this afternoon I found a reminder about the basics of garden feeding amongst many other interesting articles. I don’t buy the magazine, or any magazine, on a regular basis as I tend to think that for the cost of maybe four of them I could buy myself a half decent book. I do still prefer the feel of a book or magazine in my hand, despite the ease of gaining information from the internet.

I’ve often wondered how many twitchers feed the garden birds and take an active interest in them! I simply wonder because I find that some, not always twitchers to be fair, seem to find the commoner birds too mundane to warrant much attention. I’m pleased that Birdwatch magazine highlights David Lack’s works on the ‘simple’ Robin, including The Life of the Robin which I have to confess I’ve not read. It did remind me of the work done by John Buxton whilst a prisoner of war. His studies whilst in a prison camp resulted in a highly regarded monograph on the Redstart. I’ve not read that one either! I probably would if I could get a decent copy for a reasonable price. Birdwatch magazine did remind me however that there is a new monograph concerning the Kittiwake to be released by Poyser soon, so that sounds like a likely new read in the near future.

As I mentioned, the garden was busy today. My garden is small, but blessed with a tree/hedge lined pathway which is an encouragement to bird life. I consider myself quite lucky when I note the bird-less areas of often open plan gardens in the nearby vicinity. Years ago the tree/hedge lined pathway was far less disturbed. The pathway leads from the old village up to the wagon-ways and I suspect that it was once used by pitmen. I need to look into the history a little more. It’s still a pleasant walk and area despite the best attempts of some of the residents and council gardeners at destroying it. Parts of the hedge have been replaced by ugly wooden garden fences, and the gorse was ripped up years ago to be replaced by such. I feel that gardening to some minds is simply ripping things up and chopping things down. I guess that is how the environment as a whole is treated by many.

The birds in the garden today included two very active Chiffchaffs which had had drawn my attention to the garden in the first place. Between gleaning of the bushes they flew on numerous occasions to the bird bath. They hung around for quite some time. Greenfinches and Chaffinches were the other notable birds. Thankfully all looking fit and not apparently troubled by Trichomonosis (had to look that up!). Sadly I had a Greenfinch fly into the window yesterday and it is flying no more. It did give me a chance to look very carefully at its pristine plumage before giving it a burial. The Wren also appeared to be pristine. The hedging always ensures numbers of House Sparrows are about although the few Starlings are a fraction of the number that used to attend. Other birds seen in the short time I watched were Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove and Magpie, with gulls flying overhead. There are definitely more Lesser Black Backed Gulls in the area than in years gone by, although I’m not sure any were around today.

I heard the other day that there is to be another cold winter. Not so sure I place much faith in these forecasts as yesterdays forecast for a fine sunny weekend changed today to include some rain showers! However if it is to be cold again I’ll be keeping an eye open for some scarcer garden visitors. Best ‘do’ autumn first though!

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

A Short Outing

20th Sept. The morning had an clear autumnal feel and smell to it and although I had business to deal with and thus no time for birding the walk down to Forest Hall was a refreshing experience and I did notice the amount of weak song from Robins.

Later in the day I had the opportunity to make a quick visit to Prestwick Carr, but not before having lunch at the Cannon, Earsdon. Incidentally I’d recommend the food there. In stark contrast to the ‘lite bite’ I’d experienced in Killingworth recently, I was treated to a ‘real’ good lunch in a ‘real’ pub atmosphere and for only a couple of quid extra. I’ve just read this about the Cannon on the internet. ‘It used to be called The Spread Eagle and the name was changed to Cannon Inn during the Napoleonic wars , presumably because a ship full of French soldiers was captured along with at least one of their cannon in the river Blyth about 1805.
The soldiers were held prisoner in Earsdon where there was a garrison stationed. One of the houses in the village was always referred to as the Barracks’.

I saw from the local news today (21stSept), that there is a man sat up in a mature tree in Earsdon attempting to prevent it being taken down. I think he must have just gone up there today as I saw nothing of that sort yesterday.

Anyway, I was unable to spend very long at Prestwick Carr (I have it down for some winter visits) and I was unable to watch the owls although a number of birders were about in wait for them. A walk along the road did bring small flocks of birds moving through, including Willow Tits, Long Tailed Tits and Bullfinches. The Kestrels were active and Common Buzzard was seen in the distance.

Correction...I hope no one has dashed to Earsdon to look for the man up the tree. The gent is still up the tree as I type, but the tree is in Irton, Yorkshire! I could have sworn they said Earsdon earlier!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A Windy Cresswell

The deserted sandy area at Cresswell Pond.

13th Sept. With the wind having calmed a little, relative to Monday anyway, I didn’t refuse the opportunity to visit Cresswell today. I wasn’t expecting too much to be about, but was happy with the number of waders found. Time didn’t allow much of a seawatch, but rafts of Eider and a couple of Gannets were seen. Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone and Redshank became the first waders on the list. There were few people braving the winds today and the few visitors that were around seemed to prefer the comfort of their cars.

The sand bank at the pond was empty of birds except for one Curlew. However despite an initial feeling of emptiness about the place there were in fact many birds to be seen , mainly in the immediate area west of the pond. I was unable to pick up a reported Little Stint but there were good numbers of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Curlew and Dunlin along with a number of Redshank, two Black-tailed Godwit and five Ruff. The board indicated that Ruff had been in double figures earlier in the day.

The male Scaup was seen well. Also seen was a rather confusing Tufted Duck with large white marking at the base of the bill. I seem to remember a Grey Heron braving the winds and flying in front of the hide at one point. Birds in the main were absent from the pond apart from the flocks of Mallard, Teal, Wigeon and Tufted Duck. There were two Gadwall at the north end of the pond, along with a Little Grebe, and a Kestrel occasionally hovered over the east side of the pond. At least four Shoveler were at the side of the water and I got my eye on a lone Stock Dove.

Two or three Common Terns had been seen along the shore on arrival, along with Kittiwake. One more Common Tern was settled beside two Sandwich Terns at the north end and another Sandwich Tern appeared west of the pond.

A quick visit was made to Druridge Pools where there was little seen of any note. The only goose of the day was seen here and that was a single Canada Goose. A Little Grebe was on the water.

On Return a stop was made at Prestwick Carr where the wind was no lighter and dark cloud began to threaten a downpour although that didn’t materialise during the walk up along the footpath past the sentry box. I think the wind kept any owls down and all that was seen were a pair of Kestrels which seemed to be enjoying the windy conditions, a single Pheasant, Linnets, Greenfinch, Goldfinch and tits.

Called in at the newish pub in Killingworth for tea. I see why they called the scampi and chips a ‘lite bite’. It was certainly ‘lite’ and made me realise how good the value is at the fish and chip shop! I had enjoyed a few hours out and will try and get a look again on patch as soon as possible.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Lonely Looking Sky

Lonely looking sky
lonely sky, lonely looking sky
and bein' lonely
makes you wonder why
makes you wonder why
lonely looking sky
lonely looking sky
lonely looking sky

Lyrics courtesy of Neil Diamond

10th September. In a stark contrast to last weeks venture on the North Sea I took a quiet walk out on patch today, during which the sunshine was interspersed by a light shower of rain. Autumn is definitely with us and the fields of crops are being cut, although the trees remain densely covered in foliage not making for easy bird watching.

With the threat of rain I had the wagon-way to myself. There was a lack of birds as well as people! The only real interest was what appeared to be a movement of Willow Warblers and some nicely coloured autumn birds where seen in the hedges. I think by now I can pick up the difference in call of the Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff quite easily with the former seeming a much softer and more gentle call to me.

The rain shower was blown eastwards and out to sea by the warm wind and the sky was in a constant state of change. Few birds meant I spent time watching the sky.

The second part of the wagon-way brought a few more people, but few more birds. The large flock of Linnets that I had seen in this area a short time ago were down to single figures today. The only other birds in any number, apart from the gulls, corvids and pigeons were the constant overhead Swallows which won’t be here for much longer.

Apart from a nice sighting of a pair of Sparrowhawks and a few Swallows that’s about the extent of my birding this week.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

All at Sea with the All Weather Birders

The blue Fulmar close to the boat.

2nd + 3rd Sept. Saturday was to be the long awaited pelagic for the all weather birders with but before that, Tom and I took a trip down to Holywell Pond on the Friday evening. Unfortunately Cain was unable to join us. It was as atmospheric as ever down there, but there weren’t too many birds about. The highlights were the Mediterranean Gull (which in hindsight we decided was going into its second winter), the Greenshank which was first of all heard and then seen flying across the pond looking for somewhere to settle, although it never did, and the Common Buzzard performing aerobatics whilst being mobbed by maybe eight corvids.

The gulls on the mud took off after hearing gunshots in the distance and they and other birds never seemed to settle down again. There were numbers of both Lesser and Great Black Backed Gulls on the pond and a few Common Gulls were about too. The growing flock of Teal was in the east corner of the pond and a few Grey Herons were about the area. A walk to the members hide to stretch our legs found us Great Spotted Woodpecker and several finches and tits at the feeding stations. Tom and I called it a day eventually, as we intended to watch the football in the pub. The football didn’t materialise, but the pub did and instead of football it was chat.

Up with the larks on Saturday we met up again and were both off to the Royal Quays to join the converted lifeboat for our eight hour pelagic. Our dreams of year ticks and lifers were never made reality, but we did have a great day out on the open, and not too rough sea, as the sun shone for much of the time.

As we left the Tyne we found the likes of Common and Sandwich Tern and quickly got our eye on a small flock of Teal once out of the river mouth. There were to be no great rarities today, but that was of no concern as it was just so good to be out there. Our interest in seabirds is a growing one. So much to learn and enjoy. We did have two Great Skuas come in close and over the boat and a rather less exciting sighting of a distant dark phase Arctic Skua. It was also good to watch a relatively close Sooty Shearwater. The bird of the day for both Tom and I was the blue Fulmar and that performed very well for us. We also had good sightings of a number of Mediterranean Gulls off Newbiggin. Mainly first winter birds, but there was also at least one adult bird.

The organisers were disappointed that it had been a quiet day birdwise, but I saw no sense of disappointment from the participants. I think just like Tom and I they were enjoying the atmosphere of being out there on the North Sea as much as anything. I always like to be amongst the flocks of birds on the sea and we certainly were. One of my favourite seabirds is the Gannet (must get myself a copy of Bryan Nelson’s monograph on the Gannet) and there were plenty of them around, along with the Kittiwakes, Fulmars and others. Tom did get his eye on a diver species at one point, but by then the rain had begun so I think it had been difficult to identify with certainty. There were one or two small flocks of Common Scoter and of course the Eider Ducks. Numbers of Guillemot and a few Puffin. The guys with the boat got there eye on a fin in the water at one point and we sped off in search of cetaceans, but never found them. A small young seal was found.

The rain began and rarely stopped maybe for the last hour and a half of the trip so we all enjoyed a good soaking during the fast return trip. By now I was feeling perfectly at home on the waves. It was good to pass by and see all of the points that we had bird watched from over the past year including Cresswell, Newbiggin, Seaton Sluice, St Mary’s Island and North Shields where we had found the Iceland Gull.

It had been a great day. This is the second pelagic trip we’ve done with NEWTs. I’m sure we’ll be back. I’d strongly recommend to anyone, whether experienced birder or not.