Friday, 29 June 2012

Great Crested Grebe Notes/Part Two

17th April Two tiny young chicks on the back of the female as she sat on the nest platform.  They became visible after the male grebe had been with food.  One of the young stretching its neck as the male bird swam away.  The male foraged nearer to the nest than usual and spent time in the reeds.  Perhaps searching there for appropriate invertebrate food for the young.  I’m sure the female will be on the water soon carrying the young.  I wait to see if more youngsters show up!  Only one Swallow seen in area of larger lake.

Hatching is spread over a period of days 25-29 days.  It is 25 days since I saw the birds first incubating

19th April  Wet and cold today and there had been heavy overnight rain.  Nest platform looked very low in water. Both adult grebes on the water today, with female carry what appears to be still two young.  Both young birds seen on the water briefly when male approached to feed them.  On one occasion the male approached with a feather and passed this to one of the young which was seen and photographed at distance with the feather in its bill.

21st April Water levels in lake very high after more rain.  Only one Grebe chick visible today!  Watched as it was fed down feathers by female.  Male grebe continues to seek food in reed-bed and not so much in open water.  Coots that had nested near to grebes now feeding three chicks.  Only one GCG found on larger lake and nesting appears not to have taken place here this year.

The loose and fragile structure of the flank feathers that loosen during preening may play a role in connection with the unique feather eating habit of grebes………Feathers are also fed to their young from the first day.  There is considerable dispute in the literature bout the odd feather eating habit………….The feathers contribute substance to stomach content and enable formation of pellets which are ejected……………Three main advantages of pellet ejection have been suggested. (1) Sharp fish bones are rapidly wrapped up in a felt like substance (preventing damage to the stomach wall) until they are dissolved.  (2) By ejecting pellets, the grebes get rid of indigestible roughage that is left after a meal.  (3) They can minimise the build up of gastric parasite populations, which may represent a considerable health hazard.  The Grebes/J Fjesdsa.

27th April  Water levels high again after more heavy rain during the previous day.  Only one of the Coot chicks seen (numbers had grown to five) and I fear adverse weather may have taken its toll.  The Mute Swan appears to be incubating on the nest hidden in the reeds.  I had been alerted by Sam Hood as to the possibility of there being three GCG young.  In fact there are, and all were on the water today for a short time.  All look fit and well.  The female now moving further from the nest site.

2nd May  All three young on water and calling loudly.  The two smaller birds were soon back on the female’s back.  They eventually joined the male in the area favoured for foraging and all three youngsters were back on the water with both adult birds diving for prey.  Remaining very nervous the birds all made off back towards the area of the reeds on the first sign of any approach by humans.  One youngster seems well in advance of its two siblings.  The Mute Swan continues to incubate.  Numbers of Swallow, Sand Martin and House Martin over the lake today, plus ten Common Terns.

5th May.  One young bird in centre of lake with foraging/diving male.  Two youngsters near reeds with female.  Much calling from all young.  One young spending time on back of female.  Eventually all five birds together in area favoured for foraging.  Adults favouring of young may have already begun.  Greylags appear to be nesting at larger lake.

6th May.  Pair of GCG displaying at Holywell Pond.  Sam suggested they  may be the pair from large lake at Killingworth.  I believe he is probably correct.  CS has long suspected that the second pair of birds at Killingworth were originally the pair from Holywell.  As one of the pair kept disappearing from Killy and one kept appearing intermittingly at Holywell. I belive the birds may have returned to original breeding site following demise of breeding area on floating reed bed.

8th May.  I was alerted by Sam  of large influx of Swifts over Killy Lake and also of all five GCG showing well on smaller lake.  I later found 55+ Sifts (Sam had watched a greater number) which slowly dispersed.  Initially I found only one adult GCG with two young.  There was a significant size difference in the two young.  I think perhaps it was the eldest and youngest of the three.  For over thirty mins there was no sign of the other adult and third young grebe.  There was continuous calling from the other two young, now being fed large fish.  I heard no calling from the third youngster.  This third bird eventually emerged from the reeds with the other adult.  Showing very clearly the fact that the adults have taken over care of different young.  All birds look to be well.

Male and female may each have a favoured chick……..This favouritism is often reinforced as in-chicks try to dominate their siblings……………In the course of the second week the parents may separate, more or less permanently, with one or two chicks each.  The Grebes/J Fjeldsa

20th May.  Watched GCGs for 45 mins and found only 2 young with the adults.  It’s seems one of the youngsters has been lost!  The larger youngster was noisy and continually begging for food whilst the smaller sibling swam quietly and alone by the reeds.  Both adults appeared to be feeding the noisy individual, but by far the main feeding was been done by one adult.

23rd May.  Only two youngsters confirming for definite that their sibling has been lost.  Very clear line seems to be drawn now with each adult feeding a different youngster.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Great Crested Grebe Notes/Part One.

Just some notes I've taken earlier this year as I watched the Great Crested Grebes on Killingworth Lake.  My thanks to Sam Hood for alerting me to some of the behaviour.  I've kept notes back as I didn't wish to encourage more disturbance than necessary.  This pair of birds have coped extremely well over recent years considering the situation of the lake and the obvious disturbance that occurs from time to time.

28th February.  The pair of Great Crested Grebes was back on the small lake and appearing to examine the area of last years nesting site.  I can’t be certain that they had not arrived a day or two earlier.  A single Great Crested Grebe appeared also on the larger lake repeating the pattern of 2011 when one bird only appeared here initially.

5th March.  I took the opportunity to watch the pair of GCGs on the smaller lake. One of the birds, the female I assumed, was adding to what may have been the base of last years nest. The male was in close proximity seeming to want to ensure all was well. After a while the female climbed onto the nest and after a little hesitation was mounted by the male for all of three seconds. Previously his facial tufts had been spread widely. I couldn’t see the neck and head of the female as they were hidden by reeds, but I expect she had these out-stretched in typical mating fashion. This mating sequence took place twice as I looked on and on each occasion was followed by each bird facing one another closely, shaking heads and bill pointing. The female then continued to add items collected nearby to the nest with the male continuing to look on in close proximity. The pair then swam close to the nest area.

Grebes are only able to copulate on a nest platform (or other firm substrate), but the first inviting is usually done on the water. (The Grebes/J Fjeldsa).

Reversed Mounting.  Reversed mounting is confirmed in at least ten species of grebe, so it is probably universal in this group…………Clearly, mounting cannot be used to determine sex in grebes.  Ejaculations are not confirmed to occur in reverse mounting, and the function of the behaviour is unknown. (The Grebes/J Fjeldsa)

7th March.  Sam H and I found the pair of GCGs on the smaller lake seemed to be having a break between shifts. There was little action as both birds floated around heads under wings. One eventually stretched its head. A little later both birds showed quite well, but swam away from us around the lake, at least one of them making an occasional dive. That was all of the action seen. It wasn’t long before Sam and I realised that the lone GCG on the larger lake has now been joined by another. This is the exact same pattern as last year. Unlike the two birds on the small lake which are well into mating now, this pair was at separate ends of the large lake and seeming to have no contact as yet.

12th March.  Mating took place on two occasions on the nest platform and within a short interval.

18th March.   Today the pair seemed to be adding material to the nest, after which the female lay on the nest platform, neck out- stretched and mating took place again, followed by the usual face to face head shaking and bill pointing.

23rd March.  GCGs now incubating egg/eggs.
Incubation is for 25 to 29 days with young hatching over that period.  Therefore first chick can be expected on 16th/17th April if I have witnessed first day of incubation.

26th March.   GCGs on larger lake remain apart with no sign of nesting attempt.  Pair on smaller lake continue to incubate.  Bird on nest stretched prior to moving from nest and allowing mate to take over nest duty at 16:10.  I was later told that family had allowed dog into lake and it had been chased off by a Mute Swan which had stick thrown at it by family.  GCG off nest had been frightened.

27th March.  An egg clearly visible when GCG lifted on nest.  Other bird foraging successfully (small fishes caught and eaten) in usual area opposite before spending time near to nest and adding material to nest.  Coot continues to nest a few yards away on edge of reeds.

2nd April.  For the first time during incubation weather had turned cold and wet.  Little to report.  Interesting to note that Black Necked Grebes are now back at (undisclosed)  breeding site and Sam  and I had seen one in breeding plumage earlier in the day.  I’m told they had visited a few days earlier and then returned.  Or could they simply have been hidden in reeds?  I think probably the latter.

4th April  I checked on the pair following the extraordinary wintery weather of the previous day which had been continuous sleet, very cold and windy.  One bird lay low on the nest.  The other bird fished and was followed by two Coots intent on taking any prey caught by the grebe.  The grebe called as if to warn coots off.  The grebe crouched on water.  At 14:10 the grebe swam to nest, the sitting bird stretched and moved on to water to be replaced on nest by partner bird who appeared to do a little tidying of the inside of the nest before sitting.  I noted the Coot’s nest which had been on open water appeared to have been flooded and washed away.  GCGs nest appears to remain sturdy.  Very cold again today, with hail showers.  The grebes looked thoroughly soaked.  Some sun so hopefully there will be a quick dry out.
Preen oil.  Grebes are the only species known where the preen oil contains paraffin, thought probably to aid waterproofing. The Grebes/J Fjeldsa
Additional info.  Sam  had noted that the female grebe (we assume the smaller bird is the female) is more timid than the male when off the nest foraging.  Perhaps to be expected when there are eggs on the nest.  Sam has also noted the different style of foraging by the birds on the larger lake (he has seen some display by them) in that dives at centre of lake are much longer than that of the pair on the small lake and that there is more of a tendency to forage near to the edge of the lake early morning and late in day.  Perhaps this is simply related to habitat i.e. a larger lake with more undergrowth for hiding prey near to the edges.  Where will they nest is the question?  Will they nest?

5th April. Cold but sunny, allowing grebes to at least dry out.  Noted that I had seen first Swallows in Killingworth 4th April 2011 but none have been noted this year.

6th April. The grebe not on the nest was adding small pieces of weed to it before moving away to forage.  Pair of Mute Swans finishing off nest few yards away from nest of grebes.  The Coots nest on open water has reappeared.  Although water is down a little it looks as though the Coot has been busy rebuilding.

7th April One grebe added small pieces of weed to nest whilst other remained low on nest.  The pair of Mute Swans remains in area, but not at nest which appears bulky and finished.  Two pairs of Great Spotted Woodpecker in territorial dispute near to nest holes, later examined and entered by female bird.  Pair of Bullfinches also in this vicinity.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Rising Sun C P/Holywell

23rd Jun.  A planned trip was put on hold until the weather settles down and instead Sam and I began the day at the Rising Sun C P.  The day was a rather quiet one, but not without some interest.  Initially it was the numbers of orchids in flower that caught the eye.  I’ve never seen as many before in the area we looked at and I still feel that the heavy rains seem to have been a great help to at least some species of orchid.  The majority today were Common Spotted Orchids or hybrids, I think.  These commoner orchids always prove a bit difficult to identify, for me anyway.  I don’t see them often enough and today didn’t really spend anytime studying them closely.  Orchids of Britain and Ireland/A + S Harrap is a very good guide and interesting read however.

Because of the weather conditions we found not a single dragonfly or damselfly and I don’t recall any butterflies in the country park either.  That put paid in the main to the planned macro photography!  We did have a nice sighting of a Fox, with only its ears showing initially from the long grass where it seemed to be stalking a Magpie.  It soon give us a slightly better sighting as it moved towards us, but never quite as close as I would have liked.  It eventually disappeared into the woodland although never at any time looking remotely troubled by our presence.  I found foxes in this same area last year.

Wot 'ave we 'ear?

Fox appears

The hide at Swallow Pond offered cover from the one and only heavy shower we faced today and we were pleased to see some of the breeding success at the pond as well as watching Little Grebes, Common Terns and Lesser Black Backed Gulls.  W had seen the Red Deer stag on arrival and watched him over on the other side of the pond.  His antlers are growing.  Skylarks had been seen.

Dukes Pond provided more sightings of Common Tern and also a family of Little Grebes.  One of the adult birds was catching fish on a regular basis and bringing them to the young birds.  A Kestrel flew in the area.  We left the park and moved onto Holywell.

We paid the pond two visits and found it generally quiet as were the feeding stations.  Birds that were seen here included Mute Swan and cygnets, Little Grebes, a single Teal, two Shelduck, Grey Heron, a single Redshank. Common Terns, Swallows, House Martins, Swifts and gulls.  Sedge Warbler was heard and briefly seen as were Reed Buntings.  Other warblers seen or heard today were Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Common Whitethroat and Blackcap.  The burn in the dene was not especially deep today, but it was very mud stained.  The walk through the dene brought little in the way of bird life.  The sun never quite stayed out long enough to encourage butterflies or dragonflies, although we had sightings of Red Admiral Butterfly and White species.

Once at the dipping pond we decided to return to Holywell rather than carry on to the coast where we anticipated that there would be little about.  Taking the higher path through the farmland we hoped that some owls may be encouraged out early in the evening after all the rain of late.  That wasn’t to be while we were there and we settled for sightings of Yellowhammers and Meadow Pipits before ending the day at the public hide near the pond.

It had been a quiet relaxing and enjoyable day, allowing time to discuss some future wildlife watching and photography plans.  Thankfully I was not out in the heavy rain which occurred around noon today (24th).   I’m now hearing thunder!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

I Have a Dream!

I have a dream that one day the sun will shine from the heavenly skies and light up England’s green and pleasant land.

I have a dream that before too long all bloggers will join hands and dance naked through the forests of Northumberland as their skin glows and tans under the heat of summer sunshine.

I tell you all my comrades, that before too long the skies will brighten, the air will warm and the rains will cease throughout the valleys and hills of God’s own county, Northumberland, and we will all survive to tell the nations children and  grand-children that we under went the darkest days and over came the torment  without flinching.

I have a dream that once again hose pipes will be banned throughout our beautiful land and that flowers will wilt for want of quenching as the reservoirs slowly empty and this land of plenty cracks and dries.

I tell you all, I have a dream and that dream will not die until I step out into the land I love unburdened of waterproofs, woollen hat and gloves.  I have a dream that soon we will all stand together arm in arm and face the sun and cry out ‘summer has arrived!’

Killy Birder 21st June 2012

Somewhere over the rainbow
Way up high,
There's a land that I heard of
Once in a lullaby.
Somewhere over the rainbow
Skies are blue,
And the dreams that you dare to dream
Really do come true

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Gosforth Park NR, Jesmond Dene and Howick

17th Jun.  Today Sam and I decided to visit Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.  Previous heavy rains meant that the pathways were a bit of a quagmire and the reserve a Mecca for insects.  I have the bite marks to prove the latter and I later reacted badly to bites on my hands.  I’ll remember the insect repellent in future.  The Piriton tablets appear to have done the trick, but have made me very sleepy!

The day brought some decent sightings of both Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers.  The feeding station as expected was quiet, but Nuthatch was seen.  Jay was heard and we later found that one of these birds had been caught by the ringers of which there seemed to be a number in the reserve today.  We found a Blackcap struggling in the nets.  A Sparrowhawk flew high over the reserve and we had good close sightings of several Reed Warblers today.  The Reed Warblers were very active flying over the reed-bed and into bushes nearby and showing really well at times.    I understand that there was at least one Common Tern chick on the island, but I didn’t see it, although Sam found the remains of a Common Tern egg.  The identity of which was confirmed by PD.  Grey Herons and Cormorants were about, but there was little of real interest on the pond, although Little Grebe was seen.  A single Roe Deer was briefly caught sight of as it ran off into the woodland

Common Terns

I was quite pleased to get away from the biting insects as we headed for Jesmond Dene, although the visit had been a good one.  The dene brought us little in the way of birds although we had good sightings of the pair of Dipper and took the opportunity for some landscape photography after having visited the café.  It’s always a nice walk through the dene, but hoped for views of Kingfisher proved impossible, not least I guess, because of the over growth of the foliage.


Jesmond Dene

18th Jun.  A planned visit to Howick with a friend of mine had had to be called off last week so I’m pleased we had the chance to fit in a trip up there today.  The sun was shining so it proved to be a very different atmosphere than the wet and windy day that we had faced on a previous visit.  Kestrels were seen on the journey north and Common Buzzard flew over the estate on our arrival.  After a lunch in the dining room which we had almost to ourselves once again, and a check of the bird feeders, we set off on the round walk through the estate and down to the sea.  Nuthatch, finches and tits had been at the feeders.  A Song Thrush sang as we set off on the walk although there was generally far less bird song than there had been in April and fewer bird species appeared.  The pond we passed by held a pair of Mute Swans with eight cygnets, which appeared to be used to having their photograph taken.  Cormorants, Grey Herons, Mallard, Coots and Moorhen were also present as were large numbers of damselflies, which in the main were Common Blue and Blue Tailed Damselflies, many of them in tandem over the water.

Happy family

As we walked through the wooded area it seemed that far fewer birds were about than remembered from the last visit, but I assume the thicker foliage and smaller amount of bird song was giving this impression.  Birds that had been seen included tits’ finches, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches and Chiffchaff.  A faded Peacock Butterfly was found as were Common Spotted Orchids, one looking very tall indeed.

It was nice on this occasion to walk from the woodland to the open sea shore and find that we were warmed by the sun rather than being soaked by rain.  A little time was spent here.  Birds seen from this spot included gulls, Fulmar, Mallard, Shelduck and Eider Ducks.  I was surprised to fine no sign of terns or auks.  As we walked along the coastal footpath Linnets, Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Yellowhammers were found.  One of the Yellowhammers looked almost white.  It was hard to tell if this was simply the sun lit conditions giving this effect or if the bird was extremely pale.

We ended what had been a very enjoyable walk back in the busy dining room.  In light of the feeling that we had seen far less in the way of bird life on this visit, it was surprising that the day list of species came to forty-eight, only one less than the previous visit.  I’m told that in total over the two visits, sixty-two species were seen and heard.  I’m sure given time for further exploration, especially along the coast, that number could be raised quite considerably.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Black Red Starts St Abbs Adventure

St Abbs in the gloom.

The open sea, cliffs and seabird colonies suggest to me a great day in the outdoors.  I’d been looking forward to a trip over the border to St Abbs for sometime and pleased to say my companions on the day included Sam and Malcolm.  Heavy rain throughout the outward journey, plus tiredness from the previous day’s adventures in Yorkshire ensured that little of interest was seen until we reached our destination.  I needed something to shake off the tiredness before we made our way along the cliff tops to the lighthouse and a very nice male Black Redstart in the car-park did the trick wonderfully.  After this sighting I set off with a spring in my step which was further enhanced when we were soon watching a pair of Peregrine Falcons, both on the   cliff side and in flight over the sea.  Bird and wildlife watching to me has as often as much to do with interesting and appealing habitat as the individual species and today the habitat was stunning.  Even long lasting heavy showers which began to soak through outer layers of clothing and join the perspiration gathered after each steep climb couldn’t marr such an experience.

Dramatic cliff-scape

I’d forgotten that the walk is quite a long one and at times the rain made it seem even longer.   Some good birding was had with the likes of Shag, Fulmar, lines of  Gannets flying north and south (from nearby Bass Rock), Guillemots, Razorbill, Kittiwake and, oh yes, that one Puffin!  I say one Puffin, as I only saw one.  I was told that there was a few more, but to be honest at the point I found them the rain had soaked me and lets face it, one Puffin is quite as good as ten!  Puffins don’t make my top ten of birds I’m afraid.:-)  Many more exciting seabirds I’d place before it, although I can understand the appeal.  I found that Kittiwake and auk numbers seemed to be down from a couple of previous visits I have made, but there was still numbers to make for a good experience.  One of the ‘stacks’ was covered in Guillemots.  The cliff landscape was as good as ever and the rain perhaps in some ways enhanced the atmosphere and colour, although it did prevent much of the hoped for bird photography.  Someone reminded me that this rock had been laid down following the major volcanic explosions from the Cheviot area.  There is indeed much interesting geology to be found and folds in the rock a little further north bring home the to you forces of nature over the millenia.  A number of what looked to be predated eggs shells where found on the cliff top.  On reflection I believe these were Guillemot eggs.  The shape perfected to prevent them rolling off cliff ledges.

Northern Brown Argus Butterfly

Rock Rose

As we left the cliffs for the return via the loch and reed-bed, an area I really enjoy wandering through, the rain slowly petered out and there were signs of blue sky.  The path was in places extremely muddy and slippery.  The reed-bed held Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Reed Bunting.  Willow Warblers were also heard.  A lone Northern Brown Argus Butterfly was found (I suspect more would have been seen if time had been taken to search).  Sadly the sun would at this point just not show so we only had sight of the underwing.   This was fine as I don’t think I’ve ever had the opportunity to examine the underwing of this species and on this occasion it just sat tight.  Rock Rose so much associated with this butterfly and it’s only larval food was nearby, but easily over looked, as it was completely dominated by the Birds Foot Trefoil.  There is a good comparison to be made between Northern Brown Argus Butterfly and the sub species Castle Eden Argus Butterfly which I have seen on occasions at the old quarry at Bishop Middleham.  A small percentage of the Durham sub species also has the white forewing spot and is indistinguishable visually from the Scottish Northern Brown Argus in such cases.

I found the odd Northern Marsh Orchid near to the loch and also found that the landward side of the cliff were carpeted with Thrift and Birds Foot Trefoil to a higher degree than I have seen before.  Perhaps these particular plants have benefitted from the almost constant rains of late.  We took a break here for a late lunch.  I felt I needed some calories to add energy for the steep climb back towards St Abbs village.  It was about here that I suddenly noticed that it was absolutely silent.  No wind, no rain (not even bird song) and best of all no human chattering.   Total peace, in a world where such moments are becoming more and more difficult to find.    The silence didn’t last long and I admit I was the one who broke it by verbally pointing it out.  The sheer drop down to the sea was more noticeable on the return than it had been on the outward walk when rain was in the eyes.  The long drop into the North Sea was later brought home to me as I viewed from the village.  It was at this time I began to hear the Tawny Owl calling from the wooded area.  Not so unusual to hear during the day, but unusual to hear the calling going on for so long at this time of day.  By now the sun was shining and it actually felt like a summer’s day in June!  Grey Partridges had been seen early on in the day and the only wader of the day, Oystercatchers, had been heard during the walk.  Smaller birds included Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Song Thrush, Blackbird, Common Whitethroat, Chiffchaff, tits, finches, Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers.  Swifts, Swallows and House Martins also put in regular appearances.

Harbour Nest site

I’d never ever been down to the village or harbour so I enjoyed a visit there today.  Two boats were taking divers out.  I’m very happy on the sea, but less so in it, but I do understand the fascination of diving into a world I’ll probably never ever venture into apart from watching it on the screen or looking at images.   I doubt if I’ll ever personally visit areas under water such as Cathedral Rock and the Amphitheatre.   This was one of the UK s first protected off shore areas.  I was happy enough today with my ice-cream in the sun and watching Herring Gulls on nests in the harbour, a lone Eider Duck and the rather sad sight of a lone Guillemot low in the water in a quiet corner of the harbour.  It looked exhausted and not long for this world.

So there is a sun!

It wasn’t long before we were on the way home.  A Grey Partridge remained in the same area as we had found it on arrival and I understand the Black Redstart, had in typical fashion, hung around the walls and building all day.  We had a Common Buzzard flying across the road in front of us and one or two Kestrels over fields adjoining the road.  I refuse to let a bit of rain spoil my days and the morning downpours, whilst soaking us and putting a stop to some planned photography, did not spoil what was a grand day, a grand walk and a fun day too.  My species list came to fifty-eight.  I had added nine species to the year list over a couple of days.  In fact ten if you include the Cormorant which for some reason I had forgotten to add in early January.  So an armchair Cormorant was added, so to speak.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Under the Hood with the All Weather Birders!

I knew it was time to cast away the lethargy.  No better way to do this I thought than have a trip to Yorkshire with good mates.  Under the Hood Sam was mad enough to join me at 4:00am as we set off to Yorkshire to meet up with Flat Cap Birder Tom.  I left thinking that this might be an introduction for Sam to foul weather birding, but as it turned out our spirits (and our heads) were hardly dampened.

We met Tom at Doncaster and we were soon passing YWT Potteric Carr, the Humber Bridge and the delights of an early morning in Hull, on the way to Spurn.  A Merlin was briefly seen as we approached our destination and Tom picked out a Yellow Wagtail feeding on the road.  On our arrival at Spurn we were met by the calling of at least two Cuckoos (we had at least three or four of these birds during the day) and Gannets passing over the sea.  Song Thrush flew from the bushes.  Initially it was windy and cold, but at least it wasn’t raining now and we had brought plenty of clothing!  It seemed to me that we had Spurn to ourselves and this is something I like about birding in this area.  Lots of open space, with few people in the vicinity.  We did notice the usual police presence however.  I’m sure they have attached a tracking device to Tom’s car!

Sea watching at Spurn never seems to be very rewarding, although we did pick up a Sandwich TernMallard and Gadwall were also seen flying over the sea.  The wader watching was far better and at the lagoon we found at least forty Grey Plovers, some in summer plumage, along with Avocets and chicks, Ringed Plover, Knot (some in summer plumage), Turnstone, Dunlin, Sanderling and Bar-tailed Godwit.  I thought I had picked up a Little Stint, but as some of the birds disappeared behind the ridge it was never confirmed so not counted.  Other waders seen during the day were Oystercatcher and Curlew.  One of the unexpected highlights of the day was watching the Little Terns at the nesting site at the lagoon as they fed fish to one another.  Common Terns were also there in very small numbers as were two Little Egrets.

Whilst I was otherwise engaged, Tom and Sam found another Merlin and at some point Common Buzzard was seen, although I seem to remember that was during the return drive.  Roe Deer and a Grey Seal added some mammalian interest.  The recent rain had also brought out a variety of snails!  We also took notice of some of the World War Two historical interest.  Smaller birds seemed to be keeping well down, although there were numbers of Common Whitethroat seen in one of the stretches of hedge.  A favourite  hedge area of Tom’s.  Other smaller birds which were seen included tits, finches and Reed BuntingsGreat Spotted Woodpecker was seen in flight at some point in the day.

We had perhaps not seen Spurn at its best because of the weather conditions, but it was as always atmospheric and on the whole a dry visit.  It was Sam’s introduction to Spurn and I reckon we’ll all be back.  We left the area sooner than anticipated because we had an engagement at Albrough with a very attractive bird, or at least we hoped we had.  On the way we found Grey Partridges.  It didn’t take us too long to get to Aldbrough and there was our bird sitting on a post in the field as we passed (this birding lark can be so easy at times:-)).  It was of course the European Roller.  This was Tom’s third visit to see this Roller, but he didn’t seem to enjoy it any less.  We had great sightings of this bird as it showed off the wonderful plumage.  I did see the juvenile bird at Holy Island a few years ago, but the adult bird is stunning and this one showed far better.  Having seen a number of European Rollers and other species of Roller, I have to say than none have given me as much pleasure as this one did today.  I was especially pleased for Sam that he had got to see it.  It was interesting to watch how a Meadow Pipit rarely left the side of the Roller, obviously benefitting from any small insects thrown up.  The Roller immediately pipped the Little Tern as my bird of the day.  In fact it could well turn out to be my bird of the year!  There were a handful of birders about, but in no way was it a large twitch as I expect most who wanted to see the bird had already been along.  I don’t like the crowded twitch atmosphere so this pleased me.  I do enjoy showing people birds however, so it was my pleasure to show a couple of what I think were non serious birding ladies the bird through the telescope.  I think that they were impressed.  Not with me and my scope, but with the bird.  I do find it interesting how some folk approach bird watching and it is interesting to watch sometimes.  Today we had two guys who turned up and immediately asked to be put onto the Roller, a bird it was actually quite hard to miss even with the naked eye.  Now I’m the first to admit that I’ve benefitted from being put onto birds often enough myself, but not usually before I’ve bothered to at least take a look for myself!  I would have thought for those carrying expensive optics, that part and parcel of the pleasure is looking to find the bird yourself.  That’s   just an observation I make.  On the way back to the car we heard the unmistakable call of Corn Butting.  Next stop was to be RSPB Blacktoft.  Kestrel was seen on the journey.  We saw six plus today.

Roller.  All photos courtesy of Samuel Hood.  
But Sam has asked me to point out distance 
and lighting effected quality.

Once at the reserve we were soon adding the likes of Reed Warbler, Sedge Warbler and Tree Sparrow to our day list.  There were many more Avocets of course, but few other waders.  Perhaps the water was just too high.  We did have some very good sightings of Marsh Harrier right in front of the hides.  I reckon we saw at least five separate birds.  Male, female and juvenile were all seen very well and Sam has now added another favourite bird to his growing list.  I have to say that the harriers are certainly my favourite species of raptor.  A long distance sighting of Sparrowhawk was made.  Both Little and Great Crested Grebe were seen.

Marsh Harrier

We’d kept an eye open for the Marsh Warbler with no luck and then the heavy rains came so we had dived into the hides.  We managed to avoid any soaking today.  Later on I initially put down a snatch of song to a Sedge Warbler.  Tom’s ear was better trained on this one and he’d already been down to see it.  We stopped and listened and it certainly was what we were after.  A strange song indeed with what I described as ‘squeaky toy’ sounds in the middle.  We were listening to the Marsh Warbler.  No doubt about that.  There was a lot of bird movement at this time, but I caught sight of the bird.  I’ll be honest and say not well enough to confirm what I had seen.  Never the less as far as I’m concerned I had enough evidence to add this Marsh Warbler to my life list.  The song being perhaps more important than a clear sighting in this case.  Would I have picked this bird up if I had not known it was there?  Well maybe not, but I know I’m not alone with that!  On several occasions I’ve seen birders leave sites delighted that they have seen a species when quite clearly they have not.  At least I had evidence to back me up.  Another of the day’s highlights, but somewhat behind the European Roller.  Thankfully we almost had the reserve to ourselves.  One of my favourite reserves and I can never understand why it is always so quiet.  I guess not having a café helps.:-)  Be a great shame if they ever add one!  There’s always a wonderful atmosphere about the place and the surrounding area reminds me of the North Norfolk coast.

We did a bird count as Tom drove Sam and I back to Doncaster Railway Station.  It came to seventy-nine.  We must have missed one somewhere along the line as I’ve written my list and it actually comes to eighty species.  I’ve not slipped one in to round up……..honest!  Incidentally Sam won the contest at estimating number of birds seen.  I’m surprised Sam and I stayed awake until we arrived back in Newcastle just before 10:00pm.  I fell asleep as soon as my head touched my pillow later though and bet I wasn’t the only one.:-)  It had been a long day, but an excellent one with two great guys.  Well, three if you count me!  Hopefully it will be repeated in the not too distant future.  Thanks guys and thanks especially to Tom for the driving.  Cheers.

Addendum.  I thought it odd that we had never heard Chiffchaff at all.  Sam seems sure he did briefly at Blacktoft and I’m thinking we saw Great Black-backed Gull.  This would bring the list to eighty-two.  I’m quite content with the round eighty though.