Monday, 31 December 2012

That Was the Year That Was!

31 Dec.   I’m more than satisfied that 2012 has given me what I wished for, good health, happiness and good nature watching with good mates (also a Pomarine Skua, if somewhat distant!).  In my customary fashion I consider some of the highlights below.  (All photos taken on patch within ten minutes from my house.  Not bad for a Towny!).

Wettest Moments.  Despite a year of heavy rains, mud and floods I don’t recall too many soakings.  I guess one of the biggest drenchings was in September when watching the fall of migrant birds with fellow all weather birder Tom.  Water poured from Tom’s boots and we were so wet we cancelled plans for the fish and chips!  It was never the less a grand day and we dried out the following day as we watched even more migrants.  Oh, and I mustn’t forget the downpour on the cliffs at St Abbs when Sam, Malcolm and I were acting as sponges.  It did put a bit of a dampener on photography plans, but not all. We dried out in the sun later.  The walk had started well with a pair of Peregrine Falcons flying close to the cliffs and a Black Redstart greeting us in the car park.  The trip en-route was wet too, as someone (who shall remain nameless) attempted to flood the coach with tea when a flask accidently broke.:-)   Members were treated to ‘morning teas’ although I noticed it didn’t prevent some disappearing into the teas shops on arrival at St Abbs to begin their café list!  (Sadly, I know some locals were hit heavily by the floods and I hope 2013 sees them dry)  

Coldest Moments.  Without doubt this was in Norfolk in January as Andrew, Oliver, Tom and I watched geese, including the Lesser White Fronted Goose.  I felt cold and nauseous at the time, but later picked up as we watched fifty plus Marsh Harriers (thirty plus in the air at one time) fly in to roost along with Common Cranes, Hen Harrier, Merlin and Kestrel.   The fish and chips at Great Yarmouth in the evening did not approach the quality to which I have become accustomed, despite being twice the price, but I enjoyed the pint afterwards!  My tip is simply don’t go to Norfolk if it’s a fish and chip supper you're after!

Hottest Moments.  This has to be the idyllic hot weekend that Sam and I spent the Saturday at Wylam on the banks of the Tyne when birding included photographing a village cricket match.  The following day was even hotter when I joined Sam and Malcolm on a walk at Hadrian’s Wall at Crag Lough and also up to Hareshaw Linn,  Bellingham.  The latter day was very hot, humid and tiring (and I misjudged the distance to the waterfall, so may not have been too popular.:-)), but we left dreaming of summer days to come.  They didn’t!   The walk at Hareshaw Linn could so easily have been highlighted in my wettest moments as I slipped on algae covered rocks and almost fell into the river with all my gear!  Two great days and perhaps the carpets of Water Avens provided my Botanical Moments of the year

Most Distant Trip.  As last year it was the couple of days spent birding in Norfolk which brought over one hundred species including the elusive Golden Pheasant.  It’s the geese, Marsh Harriers and Common Cranes I remember best. 

Most Surreal Experience.  I think that has to be Sam managing to add a monkey species to an RSPB trip list on our return from Leighton Moss.  I kid you not.  We did have a monkey.  Probably give me my best Laugh of the Year (along with another, that I won’t put on my family friendly blog), as we sat and watched serious faces on the coach as they noted that someone had added monkey to the trip list.  No one asked who had seen it!  Life can be taken too seriously you know!  At least one or two had a chuckle.

Briefest Bird Sighting.  That has to be the Bearded Tit (I refuse to call it a Reedling :-)) seen at Leighton Moss.  We relied upon a blurred image taken by Sam to confirm the species.  Never mind, they all count!

Birds of the Year.  I tried to whittle this down to a top five, but gave up trying and make no apologies for lack of rarities, as that will never be my criteria for the amount of enjoyment a bird or birding gives.  The enjoyment for me comes form the all round experience.  So here are a few in no particular order, Great Crested Grebes watched and studied at length on patch throughout most of the year by Sam and me, Bitterns seen at Gosforth Park with Cain and then Sam, the latter becoming Bittern Magnet of the Year,  Jack Snipe which finally became a lifer and gave  great sightings at Cresswell, Great Grey Shrike obligingly perching on a fence next to me at Prestwick Carr and perhaps giving me my best ever sighting of a species I have seen many times, Dippers (a favourite species) which Sam and I have studied for many hours  this year at a number of territories,  Short-eared Owls again watched over many hours by Sam and I, European Roller watched in Yorkshire along with Sam and Tom and perhaps the nearest I came to twitching this year and Grey Phalaropes seen on the North Sea Pelagic with NEW Tours when accompanied by Cain and Tom et al.  I ought not to forget the Peregrine Falcon that almost flew into the faces of Tom and I at the Tower Hide, Seaton Sluice.  Where’s ya camera when you need it?  Mine was back at home!  I have seen more Peregrine Falcons in 2012 than ever before.  Best also add the Water Rail seen in Jesmond Dene in January, a first on the record books for the dene area in over one hundred years.

Find of the Year.  Walk at Howick introduced to me by my friend Hilary, which gave me ‘Last night I dreamt I went to Howick again’ moments.  Best done when it’s quiet of folk, even if that means in the rain!  Wonderful to walk from the woods towards the bay and sea.  They do a very nice coffee and walnut cake up there too and I’m able to sneak into the café unnoticed and so avoid any association with ‘teashop birders’.

Irritants of the Year.  Surprisingly few and minor ones are not worth a mention in any event! Must highlight the mosquitoes in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve, which in the summer set my allergy off and left me with hands twice the size as normal!  So bad was the reaction I decided to cancel a planned trip to Slaley for Nightjars as I feared another dose.  Those damn Piriton tablets have a depressing effect too, although at least the itching calms down and you just feel crap instead.  I’ll also include empty vessels as in ‘empty vessels make most sound’ types, and those who always think they know best, but rarely move their butts to do anything for wildlife or anything else of importance.

Most Exciting Mammalian Experience.  No doubt about this one being the pod of White-beaked Dolphins watched by Sam and me passing Holy Island in October.  The best UK cetacean experience I’ve had and the fact that we were watching three Short-eared Owls too at the time only helped add to it.  That day on the island was one of the best days of the year.  Also good to see that the Red Squirrel hangs on in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve too.  This was seen in December after we had found three Bitterns.

Most Rewarding Experiences.  Dipper watching by several river banks, Short-eared Owl watching on several evenings under forever changing skies at my favourite local area of Holywell, watching Great Crested Grebes raise two broods on patch, the fifty Marsh Harriers with Common Cranes et al seen at one site in Norfolk, the Sept migrant fall at Tynemouth and St Mary’s Island, becoming involved in photography (especially the Macro element) and my involvement in various other ongoing projects with Sam.

Unusual Experience.  Seeing a Common Buzzard lifting with an Adder as prey on a return from Harthope Valley with Sam, Cain and Phil.  An excellent day.

Membership Giving the Best Value.  With free entry to umpteen talks and fieldtrips available along with entry to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve and lots of literature and internet updates it has to be membership of the revamped Natural History Society of Northumbria.

Best Investment.  My Canon 100mm 2.8 Macro IS.  I reckon 2013 will see it in use quite a bit!

Well, 2012, the year of the Short-eared Owl is ending.  I’d like to say all the best to everyone for 2013, but especially to those who I have been able to trust and rely on throughout the year, and those who inspire me, help me and/or make me smile.  I’m especially keen to see youngsters take an interest in nature and I’ve been very fortunate throughout 2012 to often have had a very knowledgeable guy who shares my passion for nature along side me.  Thanks for reminding me of what’s important Sam and I look forward to our joint 2013 projects and exploits.  We have a good few on the calendar (supplied by Under the Hood Photography) already.  My only real resolutions are to continue to take a keen interest in bird and wildlife ecology, behaviour and conservation, remembering that identification is only part of the whole, and of course take forward my photography not only in the area of nature, but also landscape (there’s a hint there to someone!:-))  Oh, and of course, keep all my promises and one promise I have made myself is to remain Killy ‘Non-competitive’ Birder.:-)

Sam Hood, great young naturalist, great friend and Bittern Magnet.

Now if you’ve bothered to read up to here it’s time you sat back, put you feet up and relax and remember that austerity may be over by 2018 if ‘that man’ has his figures correct, which I very much doubt!  Maybe Killingworth Lake will have a new floating reed-bed by 2018 too!


If life seems jolly rotten, there's something you've forgotten
And that's to laugh and smile and dance and sing
When you're feeling in the dumps, don't be silly, chumps
Just purse your lips and whistle, that's the thing

Always look on the bright side of life
Always look on the right side of life
With thanks to Monty Python

Sunday, 30 December 2012

Golden Patch

30th Dec.  I’m still very much a patch birder and I was out there today with Sam with whom I’ve enjoyed many hours of patch birding this year.  This is just a short report prior to my end of year remarks which you may find not so short. :-)

We headed for the lake to begin a walk through a muddy and sodden patch which hasn’t been dry since early spring!  The light was good at times and the Goldeneye, Goosanders and three Shoveller showed their colours well.  Since the big freeze of recent winters numbers of over wintering Goosander have fallen and we saw only three or four today.  Goldeneye numbers over wintering have increased significantly and whilst difficult to count we saw at least fourteen/fifteen today.  The Shovellers I think are visitors from Gosforth Park.  There were significant numbers of Tufted Duck and perhaps a few more Pochard than I saw on my previous visit.  I think Sam got his eye on a Grey Wagtail.  The usual lake birds were there too as were numbers of people feeding them.  It was good to note a few more birders about also.  A rainbow stretched right over Killingworth.  Oh, and a Little Grebe remains on the lake and a Grey Heron was mobbed by gulls.


Unfortunate that the light had gone, so this Goldeneye wasn't able to show off it's colour

Where's 'me' bread?

The Great Spotted Woodpecker was making some noise and we eventually spotted one being mobbed by Magpies before heading off towards the village.

The regular Sparrowhawk was seen well overhead.  This is probably the one seen in Sam’s garden eyeing up the bird feeders.  We had a nice surprise in the church grounds with at least three Goldcrest and a Treecreeper showing well.  Eight Long-tailed Tits were also seen as was a sizable flock of Goldfinch in my favourite patch hedge.

Getting a bit dark but stll a nice sighting of Treecreeper
We are leading a walk on patch next weekend and we received three added bookings this morning.  Hopefully participants will be sensible and wear wellingtons or waterproof boots ‘cos’ they’re going to need them!  The mud behind the village is inches thick.  Never mind it’ll dry up once we are into drought condition in 2013!  We didn’t complete the whole of our planned route today, but may do that on New Years day if the weather is decent.  As we returned home under darkening skies two more Goldcrest were seen along with a Coal Tit.

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Making Waves at Christmas

23rd Dec.  No sooner does the rain stop then the winds begin, which I suppose is better than ice and snow.  Sam and I had decided to take advantage of a forecast break in the current monsoon season and get in a little landscape/seascape photography.  We hadn’t really bargained for the wind being quite so strong so the tripod and filters weren’t put to much use.  The wind did ensure some good wave photographic opportunity once we had arrived at Seaton Sluice.  Photography was to be the focus today and so birding was secondary, which is perhaps just as well as there wasn’t many birds to be seen.  The one advantage of the strong winds and flooded footpaths was that there was few folk about either!  Well, as there is more to life than birds and I can certainly do without crowds of people, the day got off to a good start.

I’ll allow the photos themselves to describe the coastal scene.

We had planned to walk to St Mary’s with more photography in mind.  The wind was so strong we abandoned that idea and walked through the dene to Holywell Pond instead.  Although managing to avoid falling branches I couldn’t avoid the flooded footpaths and began to think I ought to have worn my wellingtons again.  There were few birds to be seen in the dene apart from a large tit flock moving through the trees.  I enjoyed the walk none the less.

We weren’t expecting to see much at Holywell Pond because of the conditions.  There was little on the water apart from a lone Cormorant, a few Mallard and a few Canada Geese.  I would not have liked to have been out on water today myself!  The resident Kestrel showed really well,  a Grey Heron landed on the pond edge and flocks of Lapwing flew overhead.  I initially heard Curlews calling before spotting them beside one of the flashes along with more Lapwing.  Sam spotted a flock of about one hundred geese south of the pond.  I initially thought that these were Pink-footed Geese until seeing them in better light and finding them to be Greylag Geese.  Chaffinch, Greenfinch and Goldfinch were seen in the hedges along with Tree Sparrows.  The Kestrel seemed to be following us!

We completed the day earlier than plan and headed for home initially thinking we might take a look on patch.  I think we were probably of the same mind concerning the wind and so decided against this.

It had been good to get out and about again and we had made the most of the dry day and enjoyed doing so.  This was to be my last outing before Christmas (I think), although I’m sure not the last one before  the New Year so it just leaves me to wish everyone

A Very Merry Christmas

Sunday, 16 December 2012

The All Weather Birders Hit the Sherry

15th Dec.  I met up with Tom and we headed for Holywell where we watched the sun rise.  The omens were good, the skies clear and the temperatures not to low.  Flooded fields, roads and pathways told the tale of the previous day’s downpours.  Having had the disappointment of a closed fish and chip shop last weekend you can imagine what was to be our target for lunchtime!  In any event the all weather birders had had a bit of catching up to do this week.  Sam was unable to join us on this occasion, as he is living it up in the far south.

We were greeted at Holywell Pond feeding station by a number of species including the now numerous Tree Sparrows and the resident Great Spotted Woodpecker that flew into its usual patch high in the trees.  Two Mute Swans flew over our heads.  Once down at the hide we found the water in the pond extremely high.  I’m pleased to say there was some life on the water today!  This included large numbers of Mallard, at least six Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye.  The most numerous gull species on the water appeared to be the Great Black Backed Gulls.  We had seen Common Gulls in the fields as we had approached the pond area.

Overhead several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew in from the north east.  I estimated at least three hundred of them.  Although the largest skein seemed to land in the fields north of the pond others seemed to disperse further afield and we heard more Pink-footed Geese in the air later as we walked through the dene.  A flock of circa forty Lapwings were also in the air.  A Kestrel was flying in the area before taking up what seems to have become its favoured position.

We eventually made off towards the dene and looking southwards found numbers of Curlew, Lapwing and a single Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on the edge of one of the flash ponds that were to be seen throughout the day.  Our path was blocked by flooding so we retraced our steps and entered the dene from an alternative direction which gave us a closer sighting of the waders, especially the Bar-tailed Godwit.

No plodging today!
Once into the dene we found water was poring into the burn from all directions.  The burn itself was very deep and very fast running.  There was going to be no Dipper sightings today I feared, and I was correct.  It was hard to imagine Sam and I had plodged in the burn earlier this year.  There was no way I would have gone in today.  The water was coming through the culvert at a rapid speed and further into the burn the rocks of the waterfall could not be seen at all.  We did find Stock Dove and a pair of calling Nuthatches.  There were also the usual woodland species including Great, Coal, Blue and Long Tailed Tits.

Despite rather difficult and wet walking condition in places (mud up to my shins at one point) we eventually reached Seaton Sluice having passed another Kestrel on the way.  The sea  looked grey and deceptively calm , but waves reaching the shore were high and rough.  The yellowing sky to the south was very atmospheric and worthy of a photograph or two.  I only had the compact camera today.  Waders included Oystercatchers, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sanderling, Knot and three Purple Sandpipers.  We also found the first of many Rock Pipits today.  Then it was time for fish and chips.

Grey sea and high waves

Tower hide in atmosphere

More atmoshphere

To my surprise the fish and chips were accompanied by a tray of Sherry and mince pies.  A very nice gesture I thought.  Sadly Tom does not like Sherry or mince pies.  As they say however, every cloud has a silver lining, and I do like ‘em.  So I knocked back both the drinks of Sherry before we left.  The small fish was as usual ginormous, so I had no room for the mince pies and had to bring them home!  As we left Tom suggested that it would be good if one of the many Starlings was pink.  You know, I could have sworn a few were!  Again there were few folk about on such a nice day.  I guess many would be in the Metro Centre spending their cash and loosing their tempers.  Tom commented on the fact that everyone we did meet today was in good spirits, I could only surmise they too had been for fish and chips.

The sea now was blue and there was a very different atmosphere although not for that long as dark purple cloud came in from the north and west and the light soon faded.  I had been able to point out to Tom the 777 flying into Newcastle.  I think he was pleased.:-)  Anyhow my aircraft spotting is improving!

More light after lunch
There was little to nothing on or over the sea but we did eventually find Eider Ducks in some number, a single Red-throated Diver flying north, two pale bellied Brent Geese flying north and one or possibly two female Common Scoters close in towards land.  These birds are rather attractive when seen closely.  Then we glimpsed a Peregrine Falcon fly by along the cliff below us being harassed and chased by two gulls.  The peregrine disappeared not to be seen again, although waders lifted further along the coast line and we think they may have been disturbed by the predator.

I scanned the area around the lighthouse and we began to pick up the first flights of Golden Plover.  As I scanned the ground I’m sure I picked up the face of a certain ‘Northumbrian’ Birder.  Now this is extraordinary, as I often don’t recognise this particular species when he is standing right next to me!  Or perhaps it was the sherry kicking in again!  We did eventually find a sizable flock of Dunlin.  I commented a short time ago that I hadn’t seen much of this species this year.  We took a close look in case the Black Redstart was still hanging about we didn’t have a sighting of it but did find numbers of Rock Pipits.

We decided to take a look at the wetland before heading for home.  This is done out of habit rather than in expectation of seeing anything of much interest in this neglected area these days.  As it happens we were to be pleasantly surprised with an overhead flight of seven Common Snipe which brought our wader list up to thirteen today.  We later had good sightings of eight Common Snipe on the wetland and I was able to enter into the Christmas spirit and show a couple of ladies these birds through the telescope.  Tom had been confident that we would see Reed Bunting and so we did.  There was also a good number of Teal on the overflowing pond.  I’m also quite positive that we spotted a Green Woodpecker flying in the vicinity of the wetland having approached form the direction of the island.  That’s not only a new tick for this particular area, but a new tick for the entire walk

Just before we left we picked up the first Grey Heron of the day as it flew over the fields.  Numbers of waders including Lapwing and Curlew were in the fields.

The Common Snipe had been a good omen suggesting that the once mighty Magpies might sneak something from their meeting with City (a long story behind this which I won’t bore you with).  I was therefore overjoyed when our taxi driver told us the result had been a 1-1 draw!  I was rather less overjoyed when I got home and saw the true result.  Never mind my nose was still feeling the warmth of the Sherry and no Taxi Driver’s incorrect tale will spoil what had been a very good day which had given us sixty-three species.

We drove passed the Bee Hive flash and found that it covered the road and had joined other temporary flashes in the fields opposite.  The fields around the Backworth area look like swimming pools in places and Backworth flash and Pond are well filled!

Monday, 10 December 2012

Coast, Dene and a Quiet Pond

9th Dec.  I spent yesterday afternoon with Sam as we looked at the likes of Golden Eagle, Capercaillie and Ptarmigan.  Rather nice prints in a book in this case, but at least we were warm!  Today we completed the walk from St Mary’s Island to Holywell Pond via Holywell Dene in rather colder conditions.  There was a chill wind, but at least the skies were clear and the sun shone.  Surprisingly there were few folk about.  This was the first time for a while we had completed the whole walk.  We set off with thoughts of a fish and chip lunch on our minds.

It was ideal weather and lighting for watching the flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing in flight.  Quite sizable flocks of both were in the fields to our left as we approached St Mary’s Island.  Greater numbers of Golden Plover had congregated on the island as the tide was high and these lifted from time to time to join separate flocks already in the air.  It was quite as sight and a one that I never tire off seeing.  I’m just surprised so few people on such a glorious morning were there to admire them although I confess it was nice not to have the crowds disturbing the peace.  Other waders seen today were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Knot, Redshank and Curlew.  The sea was calm and quiet of birdlife apart from a few Eider Duck and a couple of more distant ducks, which I think were Wigeon.

Golden Plovers flocks

Sharing a platform

Bathing alone
As we approached Seaton Sluice we were entertained by aircraft with a Hercules passing by on at least two occasions.

 This RAF plane is a C-130 Hercules, They are/were produced by Lockheed in America, the RAF use two different variants of the aircraft the C-130K and the C-130J, they are used to haul freight and troops, the Americans have been using them since the Vietnam war and I believe they the aircraft that the American met office use to fly into the centre of hurricanes  to get readings!  (Info provided by Samuel Hood)

Boeing 777 (largest aircraft to use Newcastle airport )

Then disaster occurred.  We found that the fish and chip shop was closed.  My fault, as I had forgotten that there is no Sunday opening during winter.  We dejectedly headed for the Kings Arms, but after some thought we decided just to carry on with the walk.   I got through the day on a banana and half a packet of crisps.  The path between Seaton Sluice and the dene was almost impassable in places.  I can’t remember ever seeing it so muddy and waterlogged.  We found a Common Buzzard being mobbed by corvids, and a Kestrel was also in the area.  Further on Sam suggested we take a look at one particular area as we might find a Kingfisher.  I think this was said jokingly, but on remembering that I had found one here before.  No sooner had Sam said this and a Kingfisher flew across the burn and headed down stream!  A brief, but nice sighting.  Only the second sighting I have had of Kingfisher actually in the dene, although I did have a third sighting of one flying along the cliff side and turning into the burn.  A single Redwing was seen at distance.  The burn itself was muddy and deep.  There were no Dippers to be seen today!

We had a very nice sighting of a male Bullfinch at one of the feeding stations.  Other birds visiting included Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, Nuthatch, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Chaffinch.  Goldfinch was seen later as was Grey Heron, possibly the one that seems to roost in the dene.

The Avenue provided a sighting of two female Bullfinches and Song Thrush.  The fields towards the obelisk didn’t provide anything of interest but we decided to check out the flash which has appeared in the field east of the pond.  I counted seventy-nine Greylag Geese (no not obsessed by numbers just had the time) which we had heard on approach.  Sadly this area had been dry during wader passage and so had not attracted species  ( iget the impression that the farmer doesn't like a pond in the centre of his field which I suppose from his perspective is understandable), unlike the previous autumn when the area had been well worth watching.  Temporary flashes had formed further east earlier in the year and I’m told had attracted some birds, although I saw nothing out of the ordinary.

The pond itself proved disappointingly quiet again.  Wigeon and Teal were seen, along with the usual Mute Swans.  A Sparrowhawk flew over the pond towards the tree area and six Jays flew into the Willows at the back of the pond.  Now the latter species was of interest as I don’t recall having seen Jay on this walk before!  A Kestrel provided some entertainment as it perched in the trees at length seemingly unconcerned by our presence and that of other passers by.  Sam didn’t mind getting muddy boots in order to get a decent photograph.  Tree Sparrows were in the hedge in some number as where Goldfinch and just as we were making off a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in to take up its usual position above the feeding station.  Another was seen in the village.  I reflected on some great hours spent in this area over the past year.

I’m cream crackered tonight, so I hope tiredness hasn’t meant I’ve missed anything of importance.  Perhaps the cold wind (or the lack of fish and chips) has had an effect on me!   A great day, great chat and great walk as always.

Friday, 7 December 2012

More Attenborough

Perhaps I'm a bit slow and everyone has seen this collection long ago, but just in case you haven't and are interested in David Attenborough's early programmes take a look here.

I watched the episode about the Komodo Dragon last night.  Well OK, in black and white, very dated and poor quality picture, but still very interesting, especially as I'd just read the book.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Wrapped up in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve

2nd Dec.  Sam and I had agreed to spend a short time at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve today and so we left this morning sporting more layers between us than a pickled onion has.  It was freezing, but the layers worked and we were both feeling quite snug by the time we made for home.  Apart from one of Sam’s feet and both of mine, we were feeling quite warm.  My very over priced wellingtons don’t keep my feet warm, although I was thankful for them today.   Although the pond was frozen I can’t say everywhere was crisp and even, as at times we had to plodge through mud and pools of water as has been the case most of this year.  Speaking to Paul D we were reminded of when he had expressed concern regarding the drought.  That seems a long time ago now!

As we’d made the visit with Bitterns in mind we made for the pond hides as soon as we arrived.  We heard that a Bittern/s had been seen before our arrival.  There was little on the frozen pond apart from Moorhens so we initially contented ourselves with the Common Snipe (at least three) that circled above us, a Grey Heron and a lone Wigeon, both in flight.  Sam soon got his eye on a lifting Bittern and soon put me onto it before it dropped into the reeds again.  During the morning this Bittern was quite active and we saw it lift on two or three more occasions.

Dancing on Ice

Having moved to another hide we saw another Bittern lift from the reeds at the other end of the pond.  We knew it was definitely a different bird as someone in the hide had been watching the one we had originally seen and we saw it again.  Then coming in from another direction a third Bittern stayed in the air a very short time before dropping in the area of the second bird we had seen.  No sightings were made on the Bitterns on the ground and we had only fairly brief and rather distant sightings of all three in the air.  None came close enough for decent photos, but we aren’t going to complain about that.  I’m trying to think if I have ever seen three separate Bitterns in one day.  Maybe once at Minsmere, but at no other time can I recall having seen three and certainly not in less than an hour.  There is no doubt that we saw three separate birds and Paul D confirmed that they are there.  We’ll be back hoping for photo opportunities, although I doubt if Sam will, or in fact need, to improve on the images from January.  I do know he’ll be trying to.:-)

As we had made along to the hides we had heard and then seen Jays and  Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen from the hide as was a sizable flock of what I thing were Goldfinch flying up from the distant tree line.

There were quite a few members in the reserve today and we chatted at some length to one or two.  As we continued around the reserve I thought I could hear the sound made by a squirrel.  Sam thought he got his eye on a Red Squirrel and there it was!  We watched it at length as it entertained us high in the trees.  At one point the Great Spotted Woodpecker flew in to take a look at it.  We confirmed it was in good health and later made the report.  No Grey Squirrels were seen!  This is the first Red Squirrel I have seen in the reserve for some years.  Near by we had good sightings of three Roe Deer as they slowly moved through the plantation.  The visit was proving to be an interesting one.  Treecreeper and Kestrel were both seen.

A survivor!

Tolerant of our presence, but on alert
As we got further along the pathway this is where I was definitely glad I’d put up with cold feet and put my wellingtons on.  A stream of what seemed like melt water was running across the pathway and past the still quite thinly frozen pools.

A tricky pathway.
The feeding station gave us the chance to take our now customary photo of Great Spotted Woodpecker.  We’d seen three or four today.  We then decided to make for home but not before having another  chat to Paul D and recording our sightings.  Paul told us that whilst working in the reserve he had found the Bitterns quite active on Friday but had not seen them at all on Saturday.  It had been a good four hours.  We’ve had a little spell of no birding, so we’d had time to catch up on some chat and started to make plans for 2013. 

Information.  Samuel Hood and I are taking a few (few being the word at the moment!) RSPB members around our patch on 5th January.  We'll be including lake, village area and parts of the wagon-way system.  If anyone would like to join us please contact me either by email (I know some who read my blog have this ) or by giving me a call.  Details can be found here. 

Friday, 30 November 2012

Dining with Naturalists/Part Two

I'm hoping that the following five guests will bring a nice balance to the table.

Thomas Bewick.  I think it only right that I have one or two local naturalists along and I’ve chosen Thomas Bewick as one of them.  As a youngster I don’t ever remember having been told about Thomas Bewick.  Mind you I don’t remember being told much at school at all about the natural world (or those involved with it).  I’m not so sure things have changed very much even today, although I do think young people are generally more aware of the environment.   I do think Bewick led a fascinating life and I like his prints.  I believe even to this day there are those in most fields who like to have control of information (and think they have a right to) and the science/natural history arena is as prone to this as any other.  I believe very strongly that everyone is entitled to information and it should not be withheld unless there is a very good case to do so.  What Bewick did with his prints was to perhaps for the first time, ensure that the wonders of nature were available to many more people in printed form.  Until then it seems cost inhibited the majority owning such things and therefore sharing the available information.  I get the impression that Bewick didn’t travel very much and have recently read that he didn’t even visit the Farne Islands and relied upon birds being sent to him from collectors.

James Alder.   James Alder died in recent years and I often think of him as a modern day Thomas Bewick.  He’s the third member of the dinner party that I have met and another local man.  In his case, I’ve met him on a number of occasions.  James will certainly keep the conversation going as I remember being with him on one occasion when for three hours he told me of his life story.  A very good artist, James used to spend time as a youngster on the Tyne drawing/painting wildlife and local scenes having been let out of school by a headmaster who had recognised his talent.  A fascinating gentleman, who worked with Royal Worchester Porcelain for some time as senior consultant sculptor of birds and flowers.  His conversation will be varied and I know he was a good friend of Yehudi Menuhin the violinist.  James introduced me through his TV appearances to my favourite UK bird species, the Dipper.  I understand that it was James Alder’s careful study of Dippers that showed that it was often not the nictitating membrane of the bird’s eye that was seen flashing across the eye, but instead it was actually the white feathering around the eye which often confuses people.  I know James travelled quite a bit, but to me it is his careful studies of birds and other wildlife, which may seem common to some, that I remember him most for.  That’s the type of birding I advocate too.  In his later years James was commissioned by both Queen Elizabeth 11 and Queen Mother to produce books of the Birds of Balmoral and Birds of the Castle of Mey.  He also became President of the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

John Kirk Townsend.  I did think of inviting American artist James Audubon along but to be honest what I have read about the guy makes me suspect that at least some of his fame was built upon the backs of others, so instead I’ve chosen a man closely associated with Audubon, and that is John Kirk Townsend.  Townsend was an enthusiastic ornithologist.  He was native to Philadelphia, but crossed the Rocky Mountains to the Columbia River in 1834 and also made two visits to the Hawaiian Islands.  He found ne wspecies and no doubt saw species on on the Hawaiian Islands that today are extinct.  He returned with a massive collection of bird and mammal specimens which where used by James Audubon in his preparation of Birds of America and Viviparous Quadrupeds.  It would be good to hear from Townsend about his experiences in North America at that time in its development.  The book John Kirk Townsend written by Barbara and Richard Mearns describes wonderfully the travels of Townsend and is much more than a book about birds.

Peter Scott.  Son of Antarctic explorer Captain Robert Falcon Scott, Peter Scott was amongst other things an artist, naturalist, conservationist, broadcaster and writer.  I remember rather vaguely from childhood a TV programme that Peter Scott presented.  I’m trying to recall the name of it.  Was it called ‘Look?’  Yes it was, and low and behold some  film clips can be seen here   Perhaps best known now for founding the Wildfowl and Wetland Trust, he was also Founder Chairman of the World Wildlife Fund.  I remember as a youngster looking at prints of Peter Scott’s paintings of geese, never thinking that I would see such things.  I’m pleased to say since then I have on many occasions and have visited Islay (an area which Peter Scott said was the best place in Europe to watch geese) to watch Barnacle and White Fronted Geese.  As a young man Peter Scott was a wildfowler until he decided that it was better to shoot with a camera and paint and conserve wildfowl.  Of course he won’t be the only person at dinner that frequently used a gun!

Alexander von Humbolt.  Thirty years before Charles Darwin, Alexander von Humbolt travelled in South America on one of the greatest scientific expeditions of the nineteenth century.  Darwin held the man in great esteem.  The trip included the first scientific exploration of the Amazon by Europeans.  Now I must admit to not knowing too much about Alexander von Humbolt but I’m going to make the effort to find out a lot more about him.  It’ll certainly be good to discuss with him his travels in South America during which he mapped out much of the area.  I think there will be a few at diner who wish to thank him!

So if I have added up correctly that is my ten guests.  I’m sure you have noted, not a twitcher amongst them!  Sadly I have had to miss many off the invite list.  Three who nearly made it were Joseph Banks, Georg Steller and Jacque Cousteau.  I’ll have to see how this dinner goes and maybe have another at a later date.

Now I’ve decided to add just one more person to the list.  Yes I know I said no one else could come, but I’m making an exception.

Samuel Hood.  Yes it’s my trusted naturalist friend Sam.  Not quite as experienced and esteemed as the other guests as yet, but there is nothing to say he won’t be in years to come.  Anyway I’m sure the other guests, being the people they are, would find it a great privilege to pass on their experiences to a young naturalist and also to look at some of his photographic images after dinner.  I know Sam will be more than able to hold his own in the conversation around the table.  So you’re in Sam and if the others don’t turn up we will go birding instead.

I think I best order the large Cod and plenty of tartar sauce.  There will be plenty of chips if any of the guests are vegetarian.