Saturday, 31 December 2011

Another Year Ends

They think it’s all over…….well it is now! Well almost. I’ve never known a year go so quickly. In fact I think this is some Government plot and I think they have interfered with the clocks so as to make the pain of the recession seem shorter. I swear it is still only June! Unusually I have not had a holiday this year and all of my birding has been confined to Northumberland and Durham, apart from a couple of days in Norfolk and a couple of day visits to Yorkshire. It’s been a great year and my shaking off the shackles of the RSPB L G leadership has done wonders for my personal birding, in that I have far more time to myself. I thought I’d reflect on a few experiences during 2011.

Coldest Moments…..Quite a few moments to choose from, but I think maybe the hours I stood with Andrew and Tom on top of the hill at Rainton Meadows in January just about clinches it. (Not sure I ever recovered from treks up that hill :-)). My feet almost froze to the ground at one point. Worth it to watch three species of Redpoll though. The Coue's Arctic Redpoll being a lifer. I did see it (three of them I reckon). I think perhaps a few people left thinking they had seen it and actually hadn’t, but I guess they left happy. :-) After all the hours I spent up there I ought to know my Coue's from my elbow. Time will tell. Some beautiful birds amongst that flock.

Patch Highs…..I have without doubt spent less time on patch this year, especially during the latter months. I lost my spark for a while. Still had some interesting walks and hope to get back into stride come 2012. The two Tundra Bean Geese have to be the high. The return of the Short Eared Owls were another high spot and I hope to start the New Year with a sighting. Also very special watching the Great Crested Grebes raising two broods this year and having my first sighting of the likes of Green Woodpecker and Reed Warbler on patch. Thankfully areas of patch so far escape brick and concrete, although one small productive area has now been lost to housing.

Most Surreal Moments……Has to be the Twitching circus at Hartlepool headland for the White-throated Robin. Not being too used to this twitching lark I thought I was going to have to invest in a set of ladders this year. Happily I have avoided that expense and also avoided too much standing around in large groups being directed by self appointed ‘leaders’ and avoiding mega sized cameras, telescopes and their owners. Not my style at all and never will be really, but having said that, I did enjoy the day and I was in very good company, (Cain, Phil and Tom) so we had a laugh. Cain and Tom seemed to brush up on their business skills whilst negotiating with a builder over borrowing his ladders. I confess I was up a ladder on three occasions. I wasn’t gonna go home having been the only one to miss out. We all thought the Red Backed Shrike seen late in more peaceful surroundings was the bird of the day, and a stunner it certainly was! That was more my kind of birding and whilst I can’t really speak for others I think it was theirs too.

Most Rewarding moments……Has to be being involved with youngsters who come along to the occasional walk and talk I give for families and beginner birders. I find that they just like watching and talking about birds with no real thought as to lists, rarity alerts and all that goes with this. It’s a breath of fresh air. I’m especially pleased to see local Killy lad Sam getting involved. Mind you my own lists continue and this year has seen my best ever UK list. It’s always good to watch the knowledge and skill grow of some of the younger birders and bloggers. That has been very noticeable this year. Birding and wildlife will be in some safe hands in the future.

Biggest coincidence…..Having to visit the bushes at Holywell (not wise to have a pint or two whilst birding, in my case anyway) and have a Lesser Whitethroat pop out right in front of me. I didn’t need the bins (just as well) as it was within touching distance. One of several Lesser Whitethroats seen this year.

Longest Birding Trip…..Two days in Norfolk in February with Andrew, Derek and Colin (DBC members)brought some great sightings including Northern Harrier and Ferruginous Duck. The chase for the latter bird was an interesting one. I was just as happy with the flocks of Snow Bunting and Shore Lark. The trip got my year list flying and thanks especially go to Andrew for the arrangements.

Best Birding Day…..Impossible to say really. However the Holywell and coast walk which brought Tom and me a self found pair of Temminck's Stints remains firmly in mind as does the trip to Harthope along with both Cain and Tom, which brought us some great sightings.

Best Birds…..Again impossible to say however a few did bring much pleasure and include the likes of The Tundra Bean Geese on patch, Greater Yellowlegs in the company of Grey Phallarope, (I saw the G Yellowlegs on four occasions), the Desert Wheatear seen when I visited with John quite recently, Red Backed Shrike, the Coue's Arctic Redpoll (in fact all the Redpolls), Northern Harrier, the numbers of Short Eared Owls and I could go on and on. Seabirds have to be in there too as I’ve done more than my usual amount of sea watching this year and have had good sightings of Storm Petrel, Manx and Sooty Shearwaters. Sadly Long Tailed and Pomarine Skua still elude me. Maybe next year? As I’ve said on more than one occasion, the birding just gets better and better the more that time moves on.

My hopes for 2012? Well, good health and being happy will do me fine, with some good birding with good mates thrown in along the way. I wish that for everyone. Oh, and I hope to have plenty of opportunity to walk between Holywell and St Mary's Island and of course stop for fish and chips.

My thanks to everyone who has helped and inspired me throughout 2011.


Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Underthehood with Killy Birder

28th Dec. No, no, no, I haven’t suddenly given up birding and began a new interest in the mechanical workings of American cars. I wouldn’t know one end from the other of one of those. Cars I mean! I do know one end of a bird from the other, on a good day I do anyway. No, the post title only reflects that Underthehood Sam recently participated in an RSPB walk and we afterwards promised one another that we would meet up to take a closer look at waders. Today was the day. Sam had checked the weather forecast and it was a good one. I think he checked it before the warning was made about strong winds.:-) To be fair I’d checked it too! I can vouch for the fact that the wind was strong and whilst crossing St Mary’s Island causeway I had thoughts that I might see myself playing Quidditch along with Harry Potter and his Hogwarts gang. Well ok so I haven’t been reading classical literature (it may be one day) over the holidays. Good stuff though, and I’ve got the boxed set so you may hear more from the wizard in 2012! You never know it could bring a whole new style to my blog!

Wind or no wind, waders it was going to be! Off to a good start at Seaton Sluice with at least ninety Knot present along with Oystercatchers, Redshank and Turnstone. I couldn’t find any Purple Sandpipers, but the rocking of the telescope didn’t help matters. Eider Ducks seen on a rough sea, but little else. In my case too much Christmas pudding ensured lunch was a quick one before setting off towards St Mary’s Island. The wind was getting stronger.

A Kestrel was seen near the cliff edge, as at one point it struggled to hover in the wind and seemed to give up. Everything else appeared to be keeping a low profile. The winds did ensure that we saw few people about.

I wondered why people seemed to be struggling on the causeway to the island. I soon found out when we got on there! At times it was difficult to keep grounded. Sam seemed to be having a problem keeping his camera steady and stabilised lenses weren’t made to be stable in such conditions I guess. Not to worry, and we didn’t, we did eventually have good sightings of Oystercatchers, Knot, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Sanderling (in large numbers), Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew. There weren’t many opportunities for close up photography. Sorry Sam we didn’t get as close as I had hoped, but there will be another time. However a few Turnstones did eventually oblige and I believe a few other shots were taken. Hoping to see them on Sam’s blog. As we departed the winds were getting even stronger.

Despite the winds it was a very good day. Thanks Sam, I enjoyed your company.

I’m now off to finish the last chapter before I begin The Chamber of Secrets. This lot should fill in a few hours until the lighter nights, and yes I’m going to watch the DVDs too! I’m certainly hoping Hagrid continues to be part of all this as he seems a down to Earth chap to me.

Nearly forgot the single Barnacle Goose spotted by Sam at Seaton Sluice.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Treecreeper again and a Merry Christmas to all.

23rd Dec. Having seen Treecreeper on patch for the first time this year on 22nd Dec I was really pleased to find a Treecreeper (probably the same one) in the garden on 23rd Dec. This is only the second time I have ever seen this species in the garden and it was in the exact same spot as the last one I saw. It made for a nice Christmas present.

Anyway, just like to wish all birders, bloggers and everyone else for that matter a very

Merry Christmas!

Said the night wind to the little lamb
Do you see what I see
Way up in the sky little lamb
Do you see what I see
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite
With a tail as big as a kite

Said the little lamb to the sheppard boy
Do you hear what I hear
Ringing through the sky sheppard boy
Do you hear what I hear
A song, a song
High above the tree
With a voice as big as the sea
With a voice as big as the sea

Said the sheppard boy to the mighty king
Do you know what I know
In your palace wall mighty king
Do you know what I know
A child, a child
Shivers in the cold
Let us bring him silver and gold
Let us bring him silver and gold

Said the king to the people everywhere
Listen to what I say
Pray for peace people everywhere
Listen to what I say
The child, the child
Sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light
He will bring us goodness and light

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Short Walk on Shortest Day.

Great Lime Road runs on the other side of the buildings. The road was built in 1793 when Killingworth Moor was enclosed. The name 'Lime' is derived from the Latin term for boundary.

Greylag Geese with a few of the Canada Geese seen on a previous visit.

22nd Dec. In stark contrast to any walks I took in December 2010, it was warm and sunny around by the lake today. It was difficult to imagine the frozen conditions of last year. The shortest day, but not really at all like winter today, so long may it continue.

As I passed through the park area a flash a white caught my eye as it flew across my path. It was a Treecreeper which I watched climb the beech tree in typical fashion. As far as I remember the only Treecreeper I’ve seen on patch this year. The church grounds held decent size flocks of both Goldfinch and Greenfinch. I’ve seen no Nuthatch or Goldcrest in this area this year.

The sunlight was being reflected off the surface of the lake and the birds were shown to great effect today, especially the Goosanders, as their colours were shown perfectly. There were four male Goosanders on the small lake and a total of thirteen Goosanders altogether. The way the females were closely following the males seemed to suggest that the warm day had them thinking of courtship! I counted four Goldeneye, two male and two female. Initially I found only eight Pochard, but later saw more at the top of the lake, but only at distance as it’s an area I rarely bother to visit. Playgrounds, car-parks and a mass of birds waiting to be fed is not really my thing, so I usually avoid it! Thank goodness for the relative tranquillity of the smaller lake. I counted eighty-four Canada Geese and noted that the Greylag Geese remain.

The only other thing of significance was the flocks of corvids on the playing fields. Gathering before going to roost. Gulls included Black Headed, Herring and Common Gull.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Winter Thrushes and Short Eared Owl

Watching a patch isn't only about the birds!

18th Dec. Not having spent much time birding during December, and no real time at all on patch, I shook off the lethargy to spend a couple of hours along the wagon-ways this afternoon. The iced pathways came as a bit of a shock to the system, as did the cold air, but it was a fine day to be out. In places the broken ice lay like bits of a jigsaw puzzle and showed just how thick the ice had become last night. Flocks of Wood Pigeon and Magpies seemed to be everywhere.

It wasn’t long before I began to find small flocks of Redwing in the hedge ways near to the wagon-way. Three or four flocks, no larger than perhaps fifteen birds to a flock I reckon. Single birds flew along by the wagon-way. This is the largest number of Redwing by far that I have seen on patch so far this winter. One of the flocks also included a small number of Fieldfare. All of these birds were quite active. Searching for food no doubt, as I didn’t see many berries left on trees. Further along the wagon-ways towards Holystone I found a further small flock of Fieldfare. Nothing like the numbers I had found in the fields in the latter part of November.

I had hoped to find Short Eared Owls and I wasn’t to be disappointed. On this occasion only one bird, but it showed really well as it hunted the longer grass area which looks to me to be a likely roosting area. I watched it for some time and it appeared not to be phased at all by the dog walker who passed quite closely with two large dogs. Both dogs well controlled. I noticed the guy got straight onto his mobile when he spotted the Short Eared Owl, so perhaps he was informing someone of its presence. I informed a mate too and found he was watching a Short Eared Owl not that far away! A Kestrel also hunted in the area. I eventually moved off, but kept looking back as the owl continued to hunt. I thought I might find other Short Eared Owls in another area but I was to see only this one bird. Maybe its companions have dispersed to a wider area now.

I heard a Pheasant calling at some point, but there were few other birds about apart from tits, Blackbirds, Wren and Starlings. I did also find a male Bullfinch.

The sky at this time of year can be wonderful and this afternoon was no exception. The patch being on high ground gives a very good vantage point for watching the sky. I heard Mistle Thrushes in one of their favoured areas of the village as I made my return home to thaw out. The Short Eared Owls have been a special highlight of my patch birding this year. Not sure if I’ll get back out before Christmas, hopefully I will, but in any event I’m looking forward to planned trip out between Christmas and New Year.

Friday, 9 December 2011

.....Tide Waits for no Man!

My feet didn't know what was going to hit them!

A small proportion of the total number of geese disturbed by gunshot.

Beginning a flight further north.

9th Nov. I took the chance today to reccy a walk planned for early January, given decent weather. The weather today was certainly more than decent and I can only hope that it is something like this come January.

Approaching Cresswell Village the skeins of Pink-footed Geese in the air looked like murmurations of Starlings. I later had fine sightings of the geese in the fields just south of the pond area. They took off at the sound of gun shots and filled the skies above as they flew north. Always a fine sight to see such numbers of geese. Having roughly counted the number in one of my photographs I would estimate that the totals number was around eighteen hundred. Three Grey Partridges lifted from the fields and Lapwing, Redshank and Curlew were all seen there to before I had reached the pond.

The pond was once again taken up with Wigeon and I’d estimate numbers at circa fifteen hundred. Golden Plover numbers seemed to total circa three hundred and Lapwing circa four hundred. The only other birds of significance were a handful of Dunlin near the causeway and one Black-tailed Godwit. The water of the pond remains very high.

On heading to the path through the dunes to the sea a pair of Stonechat were found. I’ve had no Stonechat on my list for sometime and then this week come across them twice.

A walk along the beach in fine conditions, as the tide was high and once again waves giving off sea-spray, was cut short as I misjudged the incoming waves and my feet and lower legs were soaked. As if I wasn’t cold enough! I watched the water raise from my boots. I’d done enough to ensure the route to be taken in January would be timed well. Not the first time that I have had my feet wet here and I’m wondering if I could arrange this to happen in January just so as to add a bit of excitement for participants!:-)

I enjoyed watching a hunting Kestrel before heading back (squelching) to the village and once again passing a male Stonechat. A quick look at the sea before heading home brought two Red-throated Divers and two Guillemots flying north. Earlier three auk (sp) had been seen also flying north. Only one Eider Duck was in the vicinity. The Pink-footed Geese had definitely been the highlight of the day.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

A Wheatear, a Warbler and a Killy!

A sunny Newbiggin coast line.

Wind, high waves and sea spray. It was near here that the warbler nearly took to flight!

Yet another room with a view. This time at Hauxley.

It was getting cold in Warkworth gut by now!

7th Dec. The warbler was John, Sedgedunum Warbler who had asked me if I’d like to join him on a trip up the coast. Having been lacking a little in motivation recently I found it a golden opportunity to get moving again. The wheatear was the Desert Wheatear which we hoped had remained at Beacon Point, Newbiggin, and which was to be our first target of the day. Of course, there is only one Killy. John picked me up before the sun had risen and despite the wind and cold air we set off dressed for a Siberian winter, as as it turned out, it was just as well we were!

The sun was rising from the sea as we trekked along to Beacon Point. We seemed to be sheltered a little from the winds, although I believe John was nearly blown away on one occasion. Despite the wind the day was blessed with perfect lighting conditions, except when facing the sun. Flocks of Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Sanderling, Golden Plover, Turnstone and Redshank entertained us as we walked. The target was found quite easily and the Desert Wheatear give us good and close sightings as it stayed near to the coastal edge and out of the wind. A very nice bird, although I did notice the displaced alula as mentioned elsewhere. It was a good start to the day. The Desert Wheatear became flighty and flew off northwards along the land edge. We did continue to sight it, but unfortunately not well enough for John to get a good photo opportunity. Full marks to John for putting sighting and study of the bird before getting a photo! A life tick for both of us. It didn’t appear to return to the area we first came upon it so I hope the late comers who we spoke to later got to see it. On the return walk we found the lone Snow Bunting which I almost dismissed, as initially any distinguishing markings were washed out by the sun. Rock Pipits were about and a lone Guillemot was picked up at sea. I found Mediterranean Gull before setting off towards Cresswell.

The pond at Cresswell was more like a sea today and it’s a while since I saw the mud area so deeply covered. The whole area was monopolised by large flocks of Wigeon with far fewer Teal. The first Lapwings of the day were seen here. Incidentally, I’ve just had a flock of Lapwing over the garden today! One Lapwing remained in situ all of the time we were at Cresswell. A lone bird, and I began to wonder if it was injured. Amongst other birds seen at the pond were Cormorant, Shoveller, Redshank, Curlew and Common Gull.

As we made off towards East Chevington I saw no sign of the flock of Twite. A rare sighting these days of Stonechat was made on the walk to the viewing point at north pool. I realised something of importance was about when I saw the line of birders outside of the ‘metal box’. It was of course the Greater Yellowlegs that had drawn attention. It was nice to get yet another sighting of this bird. I must be honest and say I was even keener to find the Smew as I required it for my year list.:-) I did eventually find the redhead Smew, but not before finding a Long Tailed Duck, also a year tick. The pool provided some good birding today. Birds counted included fifteen Gadwall, at least twelve Goldeneye, three male Pintail, a Red-breasted Merganser, and again, numbers of Wigeon and Teal.

Perhaps the star turn at East Chevington was in fact the Otter which provided great sightings as it tussled with and ate an Eel out near the islands. At one point it was on the island. It seemed to be enjoying itself in the water as Otters so often do. It was pointed out again later and so we had great opportunities to watch. I have seen many Otters but confess this is my first sighting in Northumberland. Great stuff indeed. This visit and my previous visit to East Chevington have both been very rewarding.

Next stop Hauxley, was very quiet in comparison to what had gone before, but did provide the only grebe of the day in Little Grebe. A few Greylag Geese were seen (we saw no other geese species today, although someone mention large flocks of geese, probably Pink-footed Geese in the fields south of Hauxley) and more Wigeon and Teal. Some of these ducks were showing really well in the lighting conditions. Near to the entrance numbers of Tree Sparrow were seen along with Chaffinches, Wren, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Song Thrush and Blackbird.

Last stop of the day was at Warkworth gut. The previous occasion I was here I saw very little because of thick sea mist and hail blowing into my eyes. It has to be said, even though conditions were very different today there wasn’t that much around in the way of birds. It was an enjoyable walk none the less and by now the sun was setting. It was very cold. More Wigeon and Teal were around, along with Redshanks and gulls. Curlew too, and their haunting calls added to the atmosphere as the light began to depart. I confess I don’t know whether the small flock of birds flying quite near to us were Linnet or Twite, although I tend to think Linnet. The wind was by now making it difficult to hear any calls at all. We did find another Song Thrush and Wren.

The day had included some very good highlights including a lifer and three year ticks. Sixty-one bird species in total, on my reckoning anyway. The wind had not spoilt a very good day at all. It certainly cleared my head which occasionally needs clearing! My thanks go to John and also the people we came across who were all friendly and keen to chat about the birds and area. The Desert Wheatear was a real bonus as I had thought my chances of getting to see it were slim.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Prestwick Carr

1st Dec. I spent a short time on the ‘carr’ this afternoon with a friend from the local group who had never seen Short Eared Owls before! I thought there would be a good chance that this duck would be broken and so it was. Enjoyed a chat with both PCW and Sedgedunum Warbler and one or two other folk I couldn’t put a name to.

The short light showers I was expecting turned out to be quite heavy ones, but at least four Short Eared Owls put on a good display between the bouts of rain. My friend went home very happy and had been treated to some close up views of the owls. Some wow moments for her I think.

I had no time to track down the Bean Geese or Great grey Shrike. Just enjoyed the atmosphere of the area, with Kestrel and Willow Tit calling, four Common Snipe overhead and the flock of Fieldfare moving between the roadway and trees just to the south. A pleasant way to kick off December even if I did get wet during my short visit! The skies to the north were clear of rain cloud, but I couldn’t capture the colour with my camera.

I remembered that until I visited to see the Ruddy Shelduck at Prestwick Carr a few years ago I barely knew of the area's existence or importance for wildlife. I’m sure most people pass by the area without giving it a second thought. However, judging by the number of cars up there today, there are certainly more minds tuned into the area these days. I’ll have to try and get back up there soon.