Monday, 28 May 2012

Rambles and Drama in Northumbria

26th May.  The sun shone and the temperatures rose as the weekend stretched out, and what a wonderful weekend it was.  It began today as Sam and I were dropped off at Wylam for the beginning of a two day stint that was to be more about photography than it was to be about birds and wildlife, although a bit of everything was included.  We watched hirundines fly near Wylam Bridge before making off towards Wylam Railway Bridge aka Points Bridge, passing the rather picturesque tunnel of the old railway.  Numbers of Long-tailed Tits were seen on the way along with other woodland birds including Blackcaps.

Tunnel under old Railway Line

Passing Haggs Farm we stopped a while at the small pond nearby where we watched insects.  Most of the butterflies were white species and Orange Tip.  A red and black insect on the grass stems caught the eye as did Blue-tailed Damselflies.  We soon made for the chalk hill known as the spetchells.  I’ve often wondered where this name originated.  It seems the area was named such on old maps.  It’s the largest area of chalk grassland in Northumberland, although not natural.  It is the spoil heap of a chemical factory that closed in the 1960s.  I understand that during the Second World War there was concern that enemy aircraft would use the hill as a navigational aid when they flew on bombing missions up the Tyne.  It was for this reason that it was grassed over so as to make it less obvious.  Today it has I understand a wide range of plant life which attracts butterflies, sometimes rare butterflies.  Because of the heat I had hoped to find butterfly species.  We were soon on the top of the hill, but I saw little in the way of unusual plants.  Maybe we were too early in the year.  The only butterflies seen were white species and Wall Brown.  The latter showing in some numbers.  Never the less it was an interesting area and provided decent if not stunning views, and provided a nice stop for lunch.  As Sam said at the time, not many better places to have lunch.  We were out of the way of the crowds encouraged to the outdoor life, as in the main they remained nearer to the centre of Wylam.  It’s my experience that many folk are encouraged out by the sun, but don’t like too walk far.  Judging by some of their physiques a good walk would be beneficial.  The sun comes out and clothing comes off and in my humble opinion, in some cases it would be better left on! :-)  The highlight of our time on the chalk hill was the Common Buzzard that flew at eye level.  I’ve been reading with interest about plans for the Common Buzzard.


The return walk took us close to the Tyne and we soon found a pair of Common Sandpipers and heard Common Whitethroat.  We found small fish in shoals near to the bank of the river and found an ideal spot to photograph Points Bridge.  There were no Dippers at the usual spot, owing I guess to the noisy human ‘dippers’ in the water.  We saw no Goosander,  but there were several Grey Herons in the area.  We got chatting to a friendly guy who had told his children that they were Kingfishers.  Well at least he was trying, taking an interest and friendly.  I suspect many of the other folk in the area didn’t even notice the Grey Herons!  This incident does highlight how little some folk know of the most obvious wildlife.  Speckled Wood Butterfly was seen.

Usually prefer my fish fried!

Wylam Railway Bridge 

Before catching the train back to Newcastle we walked along to Stephenson’s cottage and had a drink and ice-cream.  It was here that Green Woodpecker was heard and Great Spotted Woodpecker seen.  A pair of Common Sandpipers was seen again near the road bridge, but I can’t be certain they weren’t the same pair seen earlier, up river.  We had stopped to take some photographs of the local cricket match before our visit to the cottage.  It was like a scene from Midsummer Murders, with the cricket being played on a hot sunny day as the small crowd relaxed in the sun.  There were no murders however, although I was a bit anxious that I might be knocked out by the ball that was lost several times in the bordering trees and hedge.  With the number of tea breaks and lost ball breaks, I think the teams may still be trying to finish the match as I type.

It had been a really good day with lots of interest.

Time out to watch 

27th May.  I was invited by Sam and his dad Malcolm to join them on a day out.  Sam was keen to get some photographs and the area chosen was Steel Rigg and Crag Lough on Hadrian’s Wall.  One of Northumberland's real dramatic areas.  It’s years since I had visited here.  I was expecting the masses to be out in the sun, but to be honest whilst there was a good number of folk about (many of them not British)  there weren’t that many that it spoilt the atmosphere.  I’d forgotten how difficult the up and down paths were!

Crag Lough, Hadrian's Wall 

Watching birds was not the purpose of the day, but we did have good sightings of Common Buzzard, Kestrel, numbers of Wheatears, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and a bird with us all the time, the Jackdaw.  I’d forgotten just how dramatic this area is and some good photographic opportunities cropped up.  So many in fact, that we just kept on walking.  I’ve never been to the area on such a wonderful day.  Although very hot by now the occasional cooling breeze made us comfortable.  Really enjoyed the chance to take photos at Sycamore Gap.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that a child of maybe seven or eight had climbed the crags.  Took me all my time to look down from the top of them.  A lone Canada Goose was on the lough and an angler fished from a boat
Crag Lough, Hadrian's Wall 

Sycamore Gap, Hadrian's wall 

Crag Lough, Hadrian's Wall 

Hadrians Wall, Looking West 

The second part of the day was spent at Hareshaw Linn.  I knew this area as I’d visited once or twice.  It was sometime ago and I think that time had made me forget the distance.  So after a tiring walk on Hadrian’s Wall I felt a bit guilty in suggesting a visit to the waterfall.  By now the heat of the day was at its highest so it wasn’t an easy walk.  Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff were soon found, as was a Treecreeper.  We were hoping for Dipper and one was very briefly seen as we set off.

I’d asked Sam to show me one of his photographic techniques and he called me over to do just that after taking some photos near the burn.  This is where more drama occurred.  I stepped onto a very slippery flat rock and over I went.  I must have looked comical as I attempted to stand up on what felt like a sheet of ice.  A picture of me floating down the burn, which I almost went in, flashed before my eyes.  I managed to stand up with some assistance from Malcolm and Sam and so was saved from a nasty fate.  If I’d gone into the burn I know Sam was ready to jump in.  Although I suspect it was my bins and camera he had his eyes on.  Never mind if I had gone the journey I would have floated down to the North Sea at least knowing my gear would be put to good use.:-)  I only joke as I know Sam was concerned.  Another guy almost did exactly the same thing as I did so that made me feel better! :-)

We continued the walk and passed by a long stretch covered in Water Avens, another one of my favourite flowers which I have never seen in such abundance.  We wondered if we were ever going to reach the waterfall.  It must have been the heat that made me completely forget what it was like and when we reached the fall with the tree trunk in front of it I thought, good grief is this it!  Sam said he was impressed but I sensed he wasn’t.:-)  I did remember that you reach a dead end at the water fall so Malcolm walked on and found it round the corner.  Sam and I soon caught up.  Thankfully, I think both Sam and Malcolm were truly impressed by it this time!  Another great photo opportunity and this time I got to learn the technique without incident.  Three Grey Wagtails flew under and around the fall.  It offered us another dramatic part of the day even though the fall was not in full flood.   We had the place to ourselves until one of the locals arrived and told us what it is like here in winter when the icicles hang at the side of the fall and the water is more extensive.

Hareshaw Linn, new technique courtesy of Sam

Water Avens

Our time at the waterfall allowed us to cool down a lot and this made the return walk more enjoyable.  We soon found a Dipper and had good and long sightings of it.  Once back in the village we were all feeling cream crackered so the decision was made to make for home.  Goosander was seen on Tyne.

It had been an interesting and great weekend.  Hadrian’s Wall being the highlight.  We have such fantastic areas with much natural and historic value in Northumberland, and we should never forget that.  My thanks go to both Sam and Malcolm for helping me enjoy it so much.

Friday, 25 May 2012

At Home with Nature

24th May.  Yesterday was remarkable in two ways.  First of all I mowed the lawn, secondly, it was another hot day!  A couple more days like this and no doubt we’ll be facing another drought crisis………despite it having rained for two months!

Fear not, my day wasn’t wasted, as I had two unusual visitors to the garden in the shape of Holly Blue Butterfly and Hummingbird Hawkmoth.  The latter I believe is the first one I’ve ever seen.  Holly Blue Butterfly has visited before and I recorded it a few years ago.  Neither the moth nor the butterfly was around long enough for a photograph although I read that it is common for the moth to return at a similar time to the same spot so I’m keeping an eye open.  The butterfly landed very briefly on a holly bush at the bottom of the garden, but otherwise fluttered above the hedge line before disappearing against the background of a blue sky, as is the general behaviour of this species.  I assume it was a female looking for a spot to lay eggs.

Yesterday also provided me with the opportunity to photograph Blue Tits carrying food to a brood in a decorative nesting box.  Not the type I would buy personally, but given as a gift and it has served its purpose well.  I’ve noted both Magpies and next doors ‘moggies’ keeping an eye on the adults flight.  I have no hatred of cats, but do have some hardened Satsumas at hand, purely as a deterrent.

Garden Birds

Early evening saw me down at the lake for a short spell.  It looked almost Mediterranean.  I watched the Great Crested Grebes and found one of the Common Sandpipers and the Little Grebe that Sam had alerted me too yesterday.  It's certainly he that has put the effort in this week!  We saw two Common Sandpipers yesterday and had a wonderful sighting of Reed Warbler in the sun.

Down by the lake

I seem to remember that it was the night before that I heard in complete blackness, a brief piece of song from a Song Thrush.  I’m used to hearing Blackbirds and Robins during the night, but I can’t say I’ve heard Song Thrush at such a time before.  I’ve noticed several Song Thrushes about the area of late.

Sam and I were at Holywell on 22nd May and spent a very atmospheric evening down there.  Many displaying Common Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and other warblers down there now.  We watched Dipper and Grey Wagtail in a dene looking more and more like it’s summer and had numerous sightings of Great Spotted Woodpeckers.  I know there are two pairs of woodpecker down there and thinking there may be more.  We had no luck with owl sightings on this occasion. We did stumble across several nesting sites of other various species.

I was able to spend a short time at Prestwick Carr on 23rd May.  I had no luck in finding Redstarts, but did find a single Whimbrel near Canada Geese.  The bird took off and flew close by me and seemed to flutter like a butterfly for a second or two.

Holywell Dene

I always take the line that there is little need to travel far to watch and enjoy nature.  This week underlines that principal.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Harthope Valley...Ring Ouzels and All

19th May.  It was the annual visit to Harthope Valley today.  The primary focus being on Ring Ouzels, but other great birding is available in this very atmospheric area.  I was wondering to myself how lonely this valley must have been when the likes of Sir Walter Scott and Daniel Defoe used to come here to walk.  I didn’t have Walter or Daniel as company today (as far as I’m aware this pair didn’t write blogs, but they did get a few words down on paper I believe), but did have SamUndertheHood, Cain Holywell Birding and  Phil Crammy Birder.  Four pairs of eyes are better than one!  Anyway, on the down side the weather was about as un-spring like as you could get, on the upside, it wasn’t raining!  We noted on entering the valley just how bare of leaf many of the trees were.  I guess because of the position the trees here are always late starters, but I’m sure the extremely poor weather of late will have held things back.  Further evidence of poor weather was the fast flowing and deep Harthope Burn and the very wet conditions under foot.  The lower stretch of the valley was unusually quiet in relation to birds and birdsong.  Still atmospheric however and offering good opportunities for photography which I’m sure will be reflected on Sam’s blog.  I’ve already seen one of Sam’s landscape images and it’s a class one, proving that you don’t need a lot of light to take great photos.  So take a look or miss out on a treat.
Peaceful Hills

There were plenty of Red Grouse about today and as we climbed the more we saw.  The Ring Ouzels provided good sightings and I reckon we saw at least six and probably more than this, although difficult to be exact because of movement.  I reckon we also saw four pairs of Whinchat too, not coming quite as close to the footpath as they did last year, but still giving good sightings.  A pair of Stonechat was also found.  There was plenty of Willow Warblers about and two Garden Warblers were seen.  A Grasshopper Warbler was heard in what I thought to be an unexpected area for them.  A pair of Kestrels flew in the area, but the nest site found last year appeared to hold nothing.  Meadow Pipits were about the area as was an occasional SkylarkWrens were numerous.  We took things slowly allowing us to take the atmosphere in and to allow for photography time.  Curlews flew and called overhead.  Once back down to the valley floor it was time for lunch, but not before finding Wheatear.

One of several Ring Ouzels at distance

Once lunch had been taken we walked further up the valley stopping at the farm house to inform of an injured lamb by the roadside.  Unfortunately the place was deserted.  A message was left later for the ranger so hopefully the lamb was eventually rescued.  At the farm we did pick up a calling Cuckoo which was heard far better a little further up the valley.  I think there may have been two Cuckoos calling as later calls were picked up again near the car park.  Birdlife in this area was sparse to say the least.  I put much of this down to poor weather conditions.  A couple of Lesser Redpolls were seen and Grey Wagtail was seen on the burn.  Common Sandpiper was eventually heard and later in the day briefly seen.  We decided to take a look further down the valley, but this didn’t make a great deal of difference to bird numbers seen.  I did hear the first Chiffchaff down here and when we stopped at the bridge to look for Dippers we heard/saw the Common Sandpiper.  Both Grey and Pied Wagtails were found but there was no sign of Dipper at any point although what appeared to be a used and now abandoned Dipper’s Nest was found.  I think water levels may have had an effect upon where the Dippers were.  I’ve never before visited Harthope Valley and not seen both Dipper and Green Woodpecker.  I saw neither today, although Phil did hear the Green Woodpecker.  Plenty of ouzels today, but none of the ‘water’ type.  Before we left two Red-legged Partridges provided me with a photo opportunity.  Unfortunately Sam had left his camera in the boot.  Best I don’t say any more about that!:-)  Red-legged Partridge had been seen earlier, going up the drive of someone’s home, as we had approached the valley.   Common Buzzard was seen as we left the valley.  Goosanders had been seen flying down the burn.

Red-legged Partridge

On our return we stopped at Branton Gravel Pits.  I’d never been here before and was quite impressed.  I’d like to explore this area in more depth sometime.  There were plenty of Sand Martins, Swallows and House Martins here.  There had been a dearth of them near in and near Harthope Valley.  Sedge Warbler and Lesser Redpoll provided good sightings and Sam I believe has a good image of the Sedge Warbler.  I failed with this one so I’m making do with my Red-legged PartridgeLong-tailed Tits were in the trees as we left.

As we were homeward bound a Common Buzzard was seen lifting having caught an Adder.  I need to do a little research into Common Buzzards taking Adders and how they deal with them.  I’m not sure how common this is?  So despite a rather dull day weather wise it was far from dull otherwise.  A really good day, with good company.  A good day can often be measure by how tired you are at the end of it and at least two of us were drifting off on the way home.  Thankfully the driver didn’t.  Thanks Cain.

20th May.  More like it is approaching summer today, so I took a stroll down to the lake.  I watched the Great Crested Grebes for about forty-five minutes.  At some point I’ll put the notes I have taken overt the past weeks up on the blog.  Whilst watching I heard the song of Reed Warbler.  Two birds singing, I’m positive.  Over the larger lake I found four Common Terns but a complete lack of hirundines until I saw two Swallows eventually come to the smaller lake.

I walked over the fields to the village area and there was plenty of birdsong including Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Song Thrush.  I neither saw nor heard any sign of expected Blackcap and Common Whitethroat.

Great Crested Grebe on Patch

Wednesday, 16 May 2012


15th May.  I spent a few hours down at Holywell with Sam today.  We were met with one hail shower, but despite being on the chilly side sunny spells lengthened as the afternoon passed and evening brought clear skies and the area was delivering its best.  The focus initially was on a little more Dipper study.  Surely no one can tire of these birds.  Well we can’t.  Despite have seen no sign of young birds I was assured by another birder that a young Dipper had been noted the day before.

No, you can't have too many Dippers! 

Our peaceful style of birding brought some extra benefits in the way of Water Shrew (my recent small mammal experience paying dividends), an addition to my mammal list for the area, and a nest of the Blackcap which was pointed out to us by another passer by, who had a very good knowledge of the dene.  He had passed the nest with the female sitting on eggs and I agree with his thoughts that this clutch of four eggs is unlikely to survive.  It was barely hidden at all and open to predation.  I hasten to add that we were not disturbing the nest which was close to a pathway, although it’s likely that predators will!

As we watched Grey Wagtails the sun shone through the trees onto the well filled and relatively fast running burn giving a chance for some landscape photography.  The lighting conditions changed frequently.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker, one of several noted today, entered a nest hole.

Holywell Dene

Instead of walking back along the higher path on the edge of the dene we retraced our steps hoping for more sightings of Dipper, but their frequent flights up and down the burn had ceased.  The Avenue held numbers of Willow Warblers in song, Common Whitethroat and Blackcap.  I still haven’t been able to track down Lesser Whitethroat!  As the evening went on we bumped into Cain S who had seen two Common Sandpipers.  We quickly located them and had a good sighting.  Not before Sam had caught sight of a distant flying Barn Owl which gave us a fleeting view.  We had no luck with a Short Eared Owl which had been reported in another area.

The patch of farmland which had provided a wonderful scrape area last year, attracting a number of waders has unfortunately not developed as it did last year.  The all weather birders found two Temminck’s Stint there on 14th May last year.  I seem to remember it was much warmer that evening.  Nothing like that today, but we were happy enough with the two Common SandpipersLinnets and Common Whitethroat and Willow Warbler were all we found near to the gorse area.  Sedge Warbler was heard as we watched the Common Sandpipers.

Willow Warbler

As Swifts flew overhead we decided that it was time to begin to head home.  More evening visits to Holywell are on the agenda.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Warblers, Whimbrel and Tiger Moths!

Willow Warbler
12th May.  I’d almost forgotten what it was like to have the sun on my face and having to take layers of clothing off rather than searching for gloves etc etc.  Sam and I took advantage of a rare sunny day and began at Prestwick Carr.  Now that the Short Eared Owls have departed, so have the crowds and it was an atmospheric morning on the flooded Carr with song from warblers and flight from large numbers of Orange Tip Butterflies (both males and females showing very well) along the bumpy road.  At one point we even took an interest in the beetles of which I know the Carr is historically renowned for.

We began the day with the Orange Tip Butterflies.  I’d not seen any in 2012 until today, so this certainly made up for previous non sightings.  Small Tortoiseshell and Small White Butterflies were also seen.  The air was filled with the sound of Willow Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and an odd Blackcap.  I also heard Willow Tit briefly.  A Kestrel was found on our arrival, but we saw no other raptors today.
Orange Tip Butterfly (female)
Orange Tip Butterfly (male)
Beetle species?

I was pleased that when we bumped into PF that he informed us Whimbrel were still about the area.  It wasn’t long before we had two calling Whimbrel fly low over our heads.  A year tick for me and a lifer for Sam.  We found Wheatear in the same area.

It seemed strange to see Mute Swans swimming in an area that had appeared perfectly dry the last time I had visited the Carr.  A handful of Greylag Geese flew over the area.  I’m planning a talk on this area later in the year so took the chance to grab some photos of the areas under water.  Unfortunately the army were shooting today so we weren’t able to walk past the sentry box.  This will require a further visit maybe one evening very soon.  Apart from the blasts from guns the area was at its peaceful best and we only met maybe a half dozen birders today.  

Before leaving Killingworth we had seen large numbers of Swift again over the lake and there were also good numbers at Prestwick.  Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Reed Buntings were also seen.  On our return walk we decided that it was time for a sit down and some lunch.  This is when the Tiger Moths appeared.  It was a special sighting having these three aircraft fly over our heads and I’m wondering how many people can say that they have seen Tiger Moths fly over Prestwick Carr?  I’m guessing not too many in recent years!  I was a bit to lazy to reach for the camera, but Sam has taken some shots.  It was special to in the sense that Sam has a family connection with this model of aircraft, which I’ll leave him to go into if he wishes.  I think one of these shots may find their way into my talk.  The aircraft were flying north and I assume they were on their way to some kind of air show/display.  We found some colourful beetles at this point too.

A little information from the internet concerning the Tiger Moth..’the de Havilland DH 82 Tiger Moth is a 1930s biplane designed by Geoffrey de Havilland and was operated by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and others as a primary trainer. The Tiger Moth remained in service with the RAF until replaced by the de Havilland Chipmunk in 1952, when many of the surplus aircraft entered civil operation. Many other nations used the Tiger Moth in both military and civil applications, and it remains in widespread use as a recreational aircraft in many countries. It is still occasionally used as a primary training aircraft, particularly for those pilots wanting to gain experience before moving on to other tailwheel aircraft, although most Tiger Moths have a skid. Many are now employed by various companies offering trial lesson experiences. Those in private hands generally fly far fewer hours and tend to be kept in concours condition.’
Prestwick Carr

Next stop was to be the Rising Sun Country Park and after a very late lunch and a walk around, we left the Carr shortly after watching a Roe Deer buck running through the sedge north of the road.  I think Chiffchaffs were the first birds to greet us when we arrived at the Rising Sun.  We also had sightings of Common Whitethroat, but there didn’t appear to be as many around in this area as there had been in 2011 at the same period.  Lesser Whitethroat was not found despite a good search of the relevant area.

The main interest at Dukes Pond was the Kestrel and the pair of Common Terns.  The male tern hovering over the water and once diving and catching prey, taking this and feeding the female bird which was perched on a post.  The male then entered the water and preened and cleaned.  Not often I recall seeing this.  We then walked down to the farm area where we spent sometime.  I recall seeing several pairs of Reed Bunting and finches included Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Linnet and Greenfinch.  We later walked up ‘the hill’ and took in the panoramic views.  Skylark, Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and Meadow Pipits were around this area.  We ended up at Swallow Pond where there wasn’t a great deal of action although we caught sight of the stag in the fields and had better views of him later.  No antlers now of course.  Two Grey Herons flew close by.
Common Tern

There were areas of damp ground providing ideal habitat for Cuckoo Flower and Jews Ear fungi were found.
Cuckoo Flower
Jews Ear Fungi

Sam and I are giving a presentation at the Rising Sun in August so we took some time to discuss this and a few photos were taken.  We’ll give details in our blogs at a later date.  By now it was close on 7:00pm and there were few folk left in the country park, so after a long day we thought it time to head home with a bird list of fifty plus species and three Tiger Moths.  It had been a very good day.

Monday, 7 May 2012

Busy Birding Brings a Yaffle.

5th May.  Today began with an Oystercatcher found on the roundabout near West Moor, as Sam and I traveled to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve, initially in the hopes of seeing some small mammals.  It was an event arranged by NHSN.  A group of maybe ten/twelve of us all stood around in anticipation.  Dress included gloves, woolen hats, scarves, wellingtons or boots.  Yes, it felt like winter in the very cold air and the boots were certainly necessary for negotiating the area of swamped pathway.  Initially the mammals that caught the eye weren’t that small at all, as they were Roe Deer.  One of them watched by us as it ran through the field adjacent to the reserve where I believe there had been plans to build executive housing!  Now shelved, thankfully.  We then went on to examine traps left out earlier whilst considering some of the small mammals to be found in the reserve.  We found one Common Shrew and I seem to remember four Bank Voles, one of them with what looked like a rather nasty tick attached closely to the eye.

After the mammal session Sam and I spent a couple of hours wandering around the reserve.  We eventually found the Green Woodpecker!  In fairness I have to confess Sam heard it first and we briefly watched it as it flew across the reserve.  Briefly seen, but long heard as it continued to yaffle as we walked around the area.  Three other distinct sounds were that of the Water Rail, Jay and Reed Warblers.  None was actually seen.   

I couldn’t resist the chance to photograph another posing Robin!  A much more compliant model than Common Terns!  A pair of Little Grebe was on the pond, but little else of note was seen here. Swift, Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin were seen.  As well as the Reed Warbler song we found numbers of singing Blackcap, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and one Common Whitethroat.  Pairs of Reed Bunting were showing well.  Nuthatch and Treecreeper were both found.
Despite the flooded areas (no doubt because of such heavy rain of late) the reserve is beginning to look lush now and it was a good time to wander around it.  Plenty of green leaf, but not enough so as to make bird watching difficult.  We eventually left to make for Prestwick Carr.  Skylark was seen high in the sky.  We never did make Prestwick Carr.  It’s a long story!  Instead we went back to patch and took a walk around the lake where we initially watched the Great Crested Grebes.   I then got in more practice photographing the Common Terns.  A White Wagtail (patch first) was seen with a number of Pied Wagtails.  There were no Swifts today, but Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin were present.  Both the Whooper Swan and the lone male Goosander remain.

It had been a very cold, but very enjoyable day with fifty-one species on the day list of birds and the four mammals seen today, Roe Deer, Rabbit, Common Shrew and Bank Vole.  At last, Green Woodpecker goes onto the year list as does Reed Warbler.  Missed the Green Woodpecker in Cramlington by two weeks.  Mind you, might as well miss it by two weeks as two minutes as the end result is the same.

Gosforth Park NR
6th May.  It was to be another birding/nature day with Sam.  This time we headed for Holywell and a date with a Dipper.

First stop was the pond area which appeared to be very quiet.  However we did find Tree Sparrows at the feeding station.  The first of several Great Spotted Woodpecker sightings was made and a pair of Great Crested Grebes was watched as they displayed.  I have a theory about this pair, put into my mind initially by Sam.  I know Cain S believes the second pair of Great Crested Grebes may well have been the pair originally at Holywell.  I think they may have returned having found no suitable breeding site on the large lake at Killingworth this year now that the floating ‘thing’ is defunct.  I know that a single bird had been seen from time to time at Holywell and during the same period one of the pair kept disappearing from Killingworth Lake.  Both birds seem to have gone from Killingworth now and suddenly there is a pair at Holywell!  I think they have investigated and returned to what was possibly an original site.  Anyway they were nice to watch and were found as we watched and listened to a Sedge Warbler which according to locals I spoke to has only just arrived.  This is the first Sedge Warbler I have seen this year although I did hear an early one a few weeks ago during the all weather birders day at Spurn.  I agree with comments made that the weather of late has delayed both hirundines and warblers although numbers do appear to be picking up now.  There was also a pair of Little Grebe on the pond and much calling from them.  Grey Herons were also seen along with Oystercatcher and Lapwing.  Pairs of Reed Bunting were also seen.

Heading down the Avenue to the dene we found Blackcaps, Common Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff.  We were unable to locate Lesser Whitethroat, apparently heard yesterday.

Much of our time in the dene was spent with the Dippers.  It was one of these burn side spells that I enjoy.  Just waiting for things to come to you and listening to the woodland sounds, having a chat occasionally and eating my bait.  The Dippers showed well and the Grey Wagtails briefly.  I believe we caught a snippet of Dipper song.
Under the Hood, Under Cover!
We did have a stroll down the burn.  At one point I left Sam to Photograph Rats which he seemed to be enjoying (should I be worried about this guy?:-)), whilst I watched the Blackcaps and other birds.  Nuthatch was seen again and the pair of Grey Wagtails found.  On our way back we stopped for more Dipper watching and then walked onwards up the burn where it was very peaceful in contrast the other area frequented by lots of people and dogs today.  We found a nice area of Bluebells and a patch of one of my favourite flowers Wood Sorrel.  Spent some time here just listening to the water in the burn, bird song and the bees.  A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers made a couple of appearances.
We eventually headed back towards The Avenue passing the young cyclist who have made this area of the dene there own.  They seemed to be risking life and limb with some stunts and I was tempted to suggest that they might be safer watching the birds.  I thought better of it!  On reflection I did miss my chance to get some good photos as they twisted the bicycles in mid air.  I remember as a schoolboy helping to make a patch of land on the Fosseway into a kind of speedway track where we used to use our bicycles as speedway bikes.  I was never much cop at sport but I was quite good on that track, if I say so myself.  We never did anyone any harm.

The Common Whitethroats were quieter now, but there was still some singing from them and I also picked up the song of YellowhammerLinnet and Goldfinch were found.  Unfortunately there were no waders at the pond, but we did find Shoveller and Shelduck.  The Canada Geese have six goslings.  Swallows, Sand and House Martins were flying over the pond and Skylark sang.  We must bet back for an evening as I’m sure that there’ll be waders about.  In fact I know both Green and Common Sandpiper were seen the day before. 

Another very enjoyable day with a day list of fifty-three bird species.  One lonesome butterfly and several rats dining on bird seed in the dene!
Green Veined White Butterfly

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Terns and Hirundines over the Lake

2nd May.  Today was the first day of the year that I have watched terns and Hirundines in number flying over the lake.  There were at least ten Common Terns, thirty-five + Swallows, ten + Sand Martins and a handful of House Martins.  I tried to capture a decent photograph of a Common Tern.  I was too particular about the background, being on the wrong side of the lake and by the time I started to feel the cold I gave up.  Not checked yet to see if I got a half decent shot.

I had gone down to take make a few notes about breeding birds and eventually got talking to one of the managers from the Parks Department.  Both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were heard near to the lake
Never mind, I have all summer to practice!