Monday, 30 July 2012

Prestwick Carr

30th July.  I had a walk up to Prestwick Carr after having checked out the community room in Dinnington Village which is required for a presentation in November.  It’s a rather impressive community room taking up to one hundred and fifty people seated.  The place is also obviously well looked after.  We were shown around by a very helpful and friendly member of the community.

The sun was shinning, the red flags were flying on the carr and the guns could be heard.

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We'll keep the red flag flying here.
There were two birds of the day.  The first being Swift, which were everywhere and the second being Willow Tit, which could be heard in many places along the ‘bumpy road’.  The latter bird eventually giving a fine sighting.  Unfortunately I only had the compact camera today so wasn’t able to do it justice.  A large number of House Martins flew in the area north of the road, with a few Swallows.

Although quite a bit of water is still about the area looked so different from winter visits.  I wonder how many of the Short Eared Owl enthusiasts have been back to see the area in summer.

Summer on the carr
Meadow Brown Butterflies were quite numerous along with one or two Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies and a few White speciesCommon Buzzards were seen along with one Sparrowhawk, but surprisingly no Kestrels.  A Kestrel had been seen on the approach to Dinnington.  Other birds of note were Willow WarblersCommon Whitethroat which was carrying food as if still feeding youngsters, a small flock/family of Long-tailed Tits and two male Bullfinches.  A flock of Lapwing occupied the fields west of the road to the sentry box and Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew in the area.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

Willow Tit

Thunderous looking cloud gathered to the north where rain showers could be seen.  We left for home just as a shower of rain began.  The rain soon stopped and it hasn’t reached Killingworth as yet.  It had been an enjoyable three hours.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Jumper, Skipper and Tern

29th July.  Having been on patch with Sam a couple of days ago I knew it was quiet although we have been keeping a close eye on one or two developments.  We decided to try for butterflies.  The sun was out and this in mid to late afternoon meant that the Small Skippers and Meadow Browns were mobile and not allowing a decent chance of photographs.  The Frog was a little more obliging, at least it was eventually after much jumping about.

Common Blue Damselfly
I took an early morning stroll down to the lake today and found a Grey Heron on the floating ‘thing’ and unperturbed by my presence.  The base of the floating reed-bed is just an eyesore now and has been bent and twisted since the high waters in the past few weeks.  The Coots are still managing to nest there.  The Greylag Geese which raised young here last year gave up the ghost this time around.

Grey Heron
There were ten Common Terns flying up and down the lake and giving the chance of further practice with the camera.  Swallows and House Martins were well out numbered, as they have been most of the summer, by approximately twenty/twentyfive Swifts.  I’d heard on the radio that many Swifts have left the U K and the bad weather behind them.

Common Tern

It was still early so I walked across in the hope that the Small Skippers might be still quite settled and I timed it well.  There is quite a number of them now although I still haven’t seen any Burnet Moths.  A few other insects were showing.  After a while the heavens opened as if to remind me that it was summer!  I got the cover onto the camera bag and sheltered under a tree for a while.  With the rain continuing to pour I decided I’d had my fill and made for home.

Small Skipper Butterfly

Just thought I'd give the post title an Olympian feel in the event (if you'll excuse the unintended pun) of anyone not getting enough.

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Cool Coquet

24th July.  I was so hot during the afternoon I was wondering if I was coming down with some bug!  I was pleased when I was heading for Amble with Sam and Malcolm as I realised that at least the North Sea would be cool.  We had places on the Natural History Society of Northumbria boat trip around Coquet Island.  Not sure if I have said this before, but if I have, I’ll say it again anyway.  The society has made very successful efforts of late at an image change giving it in my view a much more modern day feel.  The website has improved beyond recognition and I’ve noted younger people have been going along to recent indoor meetings that I’ve attended.  The society does provide an excellent programme   indoor meetings (free to members) along with lots (seems to me more than in the past) outdoor activity.  I think other organisations could learn from this.  Change and modernisation is a must if organisations and groups wish to prosper  in times where there is so much on offer capturing people's attention.  Certainly well worthwhile and value for money  being a member of the Natural History Society, not least because of access to the reserve at Gosforth Park.

The trip was well managed and led, with a telephone call the previous day to confirm that it was going ahead.  The local weather forecast of rain by tea-time was wrong, and it proved to be a very pleasant evening.  I have to admit that this is the first time I have been across to Coquet Island.  It was good to see another Brian on board in the shape of Northumbrian Birding.  One of these days I will recognise you immediately Brian.  I think it is the change of gear that throws me.  The sea was almost like a mill pond at times and one of the boatmen said that it had been the nicest evening this summer!  Mind you I don’t suppose that would have taken too much!

The trip was unsurprisingly focused upon Roseate Terns.  We did have some very good sightings of them.  We watched them in rather striking flight, on the island near to their nesting site (the dry stone walls here built by the guys in the Northumberland Dry-stone Walling Association I believe) and on the rocks nearer to the boat.  There were of course numbers of Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns to be seen.

Roseate Tern with juvenile to its left

Fish for was more of a watching trip than a photographic trip for me.

The Puffins put on a good show and small numbers of Guillemot were seen.  Some very nice sightings were made of pale phase Arctic Skuas.  I counted three, plus one Great Skua.  A lone Common Scoter appeared near to the island.  Plenty of gulls of course, and Rock Pipit and Turnstones were seen on the island.  Nice to see a few Grey Seals too.

So a good boat trip was had and by the time we returned to harbour it was with some relief I had cooled down and had my fleece on!  I think the young lady in the shorts waiting to go on a later trip might have found it a bit chilly out there.  We said our thank you, said goodbye to the Eider Ducks and headed to the fish and chip shop.  That wasn’t the end of the night however as we headed up to Warkworth for a walk along the River Coquet.  There were photographs to be taken.

A pleasant ending to the evening
The light was very good along the river bank and there was some nice reflections upon the water as well as the Castle being very effectively shown in changing light (unfortunately not captured by my compact cam).  Three, or was it four Goosanders were seen on the river as we contemplated on how nice it would be to live here.  In another life perhaps!  There were lots of insects about, none biting thankfully, and some large fish jumping.  Really enjoyed the evening.  It took my mind off the dentists.  I’ve now been.  Second stage of a deep root filling.  Third stage to come.  The dentist tells me he is going on holiday in a couple of weeks.  I didn’t ask him where, but I suspect it’ll be somewhere nice and I may be subsidising it!

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Quiet, but Dry Patch

22nd July.  I’ve not seen the lake so quiet for a long time, but at least the sun was shining and the surrounding areas are drying up helped by the quite strong wind.

The only thing of note on the smaller lake was the flowering Amphibious Bistort with carpets of it spreading over the lake.  When I first began to take a passing interest in botanical matters one of the first plants that really caught the eye was this Amphibious Bistort.  For some reason the name appeals to me.  I imagine that the way it spreads it could become quite a nuisance, but it makes it no less appealing to me and the birds like to use it as cover when napping on the water.  I remember trying to find Little Grebes amongst it.  I’ve not seen Little Grebes on the small lake for sometime now, although they have been on the large lake this year.  The reflections on the water were attractive today too.

I didn’t give much attention to the larger lake but did sit by the water for a while and watched Swifts and one or two Common Terns.

I decided to have a wander across to my favourite area for insects.  The wind ensured that there wasn’t going to be much around.  I was hoping for some macro shots, but I almost gave up before a moth caught my eye and in the same area a couple of Small Skippers and Common Blue DamselfliesSmall Skippers were here in abundance at this time in 2011, but not this year.  In any even neither butterfly nor damselfly would settle long enough to let me capture the image and the moth had disappeared completely.  A few insects did begin to appear, one of which was a Flesh Fly, a member of the Diptera family, SarcophagidaeSarco being Greek for flesh and phage Greek for eating.  The flies breed in decaying material and some species lay eggs in the wounds of mammals.  I remember watching a programme on TV about a lady involved with forensics.  Flesh flies are among other species of insect that are used in forensics for dating the time of death of body.  Flesh flies are one of the first insects to visit a dead body and the state of development of the insects is used for the timing of the death.  I seem to remember that the lady in question, an American, enjoyed her work!  Anyway this all gave me the chance to use the macro lens again

I'm not cut out for this high wire act!

Flesh Fly

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Snap, Crackle and Pectoral

17th July.  No finer way to start the day than with some cereal and a lifer.  I’m not too proud to admit that a sighting of a Pectoral Sandpiper would in fact provide me with a lifer!  So after the cereal my old friend Lee and I headed north to Cresswell full of confidence that we would soon be watching the Pectoral Sandpiper…………..

On arrival at the causeway I wondered if it was even worth getting the scope out of the car as surely the Pectoral Sandpiper was going to be seen so easily that any such device would not be required.  I lifted it out anyway.  We crossed the road and looked.  What we found was a lone Redshank and a herd of cows heading down the field for a drink at the pond edge!  We were soon joined by a number of other equally disappointed birders, but at least they appear to have already seen this bird on previous days.  Lee got his eye on what he initially thought might be the bird we were after but it turned into a stone.  We knew the bird had been seen this morning, but someone suggested the fine weather had encouraged it to leave.  Yes, it was fine today and it was good to feel the sun on the skin, if somewhat a shock to the system.  One or two fellow birders made off very quickly.  We hung around for a while and watched the Linnets and Pied Wagtails.  I was just going to suggest moving on and calling back later when Lee, who had been watching juvenile Pied Wagtails, suddenly found a wader in the background.  Yes it was the Pectoral Sandpiper!  It didn’t fly in, so must have appeared from a dip in the landscape.  So we started the day with a lifer after all and I have to say I found it quite an attractive bird.  Not like a Dunlin (I had half expected it be just that) at all and quite a distinctive species.  As Collins Bird Guide says, when upright it is very like a small Ruff in appearance.  Oh well, everything comes to those who wait and it was a good clear sighting giving a Collins Guide view.

We moved off and headed for East Chevington wondering if the Red Backed Shrike was still about.  If it is we didn’t find it, but we did find more sun and my first Roseate Tern of the year.  It was amongst large numbers of Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns.  Otherwise the area was generally quite, but we did spot a couple of Mediterranean Gulls.  I’d heard a Sedge Warbler on arrival and we caught a brief sight of one or two later.  There were numbers of Reed Bunting.  Little Grebe was seen along with the likes of Grey Heron and gulls.  So maybe not that quiet.

Next stop was Druridge Pools.  There was no sign of any owls.  The walk to the other hides was aborted due to flooding of the pathway.  I decided that to get up there would require us to treat it as an army obstacle course and if I’d wanted to do that I’d have given up birding and joined the army.  I was told that some one had attempted the route with dog in one arm telescope in another.  Another birder arrived in wellington boots which seemed to have been a wise decision, but personally I preferred not to wear wellington boots on one of the few sunny days of the summer!  I was getting really warm by now, but felt a bit of a cool draft down my back.  I soon realised that it wasn’t a breeze getting up but the fact that my  shirt bought at Next had ripped open down the back.  Now this is no Mark’s and Spencer rubbish, and when I shop at Next I expect better quality.  You can’t trust anywhere these days.  Time wasn’t wasted as I caught sight of a Cinnabar Moth.

We arrived back at Cresswell and headed for the hide finding Tree Sparrows along the way.  The sand bank area held two Avocet, Oystercatchers, Lapwing, twelve Dunlin, Turnstone, Redshank, five Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew.  Also seen here were Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns along with four Mediterranean Gulls and five Little Gulls, one of the latter being an adult.  There was a number of Shelduck, mainly juveniles on the water.  I remembered that these birds form a crèche.

No sea watching was done today but instead we made for Beacon Lane and Arcot.  OK then, so I’d read that Crammy Birder had seen a Little Owl in this area.  I didn’t!  In fact it was very quiet.  We did see the first Blackbird of the day and watched a Song Thrush bathing in a puddle.  I was told by a passing driver who stopped to speak (he either had to stop or run us down on the narrow lane) that there are plans to develop this area with 1,000s of houses.  Not more damn houses!  Anyway he looked at me and said ‘but don’t worry it won’t be in your life time’.  I’m still wondering what he meant by that the cheeky devil!    Much of the area near Arcot seems to be a quagmire, not helped I suspect by the introduction of the cattle and horses.  I have to admit I wasn’t there very long so can’t comment too much, but I’m wondering what they have done to the area with fences having been put up. The cattle seem to be in the area where I have seen Grasshopper Warblers in the past.  I did hear Willow Warbler and briefly saw Sedge Warbler and Bullfinch.

So a good day was had with fifty-eight species, a lifer and two for the year list.  No photos today ‘cos’ no camera.  It didn’t rain in the afternoon as had been forecast, but have no fear it’s raining now!  High pressure on the way however.  On arrival home I met my neighbour who had been enjoying the sun.  I made her day by telling her its ‘gonna’ rain heavily tomorrow.

Note to self………must do some sea watching soon!

Monday, 16 July 2012

RSPB Presentation and Walk 11th Aug.

Poster courtesy of Samuel Hood

Full details of this event can be found at

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Creaking Bookshelves.

9th July.  I’ve just received my copy of Birds of Durham in the post today.  As the cover says, this is the first complete overview of the county’s bird life to be published since 1951.  Well done Durham Bird Club and all others who cooperated and helped sponsor this work.  I’ll look forward to dipping in and out of the 1,014 pages of this heavy volume.

I recently finished reading the Poyser edition The Kittiwake/J C Coulson.  You have to admire anyone who is involved in long term research of any kind, and as this book contains research first begun in the 1950s it tells us a great deal about the Kittiwake and in particular covers their progress on Tyneside.  The central focus of the research is the Tyne and Marsden Kittiwakes.  To fully appreciate this book I think you need to be interested in minute detail and be ready for lots of statistics and graphs.  I personally found it hard work and confess I missed parts out.  I don’t find it easy even trying to retain such large quantities of statistics and feel that reading this type of book can turn into a bit of a chore.  Another one best dipped in and out of I think.  My feeling is that I’ll enjoy The Atlantic Gannet/Bryan Nelson a good deal more once I get around to reading it.  This is an updated edition of a book that has been around for a number of years.

 The Wisdom of Birds/Tim Birkhead was voted ‘Best Bird Book of the Year’ (2009) by the BTO and British Birds.  I’ve read that one twice and found it fascinating so I was pleased to get hold of a copy of Bird Sense, the latest offering from Tim Birkhead.  Tim is a professor at the University of Sheffield where he teaches animal behaviour and the history of science.  Bird Sense is written in the same style as Wisdom of Birds.  As the title suggests it focuses upon what we know of the senses birds use to interpret their environment. It has separate chapters for seeing, hearing, touch, taste, smell, magnetic sense and emotions.  Do birds have emotions?  Well that question is asked and explored a little.  It brings the reader up to date with the present knowledge regarding bird senses by looking at some earlier ideas and research.  Thus showing how the present accepted position has been reached.  This is done quite concisely and is written in a way I’m sure even the general reader can understand quite easily.  It raises questions about what we don’t know and can only guess at and underlines the fact that scientific thought and beliefs are always changing.  Having read this after The Kittiwake, I found this style and content much more to my liking.  I didn’t think it matched up to the Wisdom of Birds and has less content, but having said that I’m going to read it again.  I’m also attracted to some of this authors other works.

Some reorganising of the bookshelves will be necessary.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

In Macro Mode

The only Large Skipper Butterfly found.

7th July.  Yes I’ve at last gone and done it.  I’ve bought my Canon macro lens.  Thoughts of cash leaving my vaults had me in a sweat for a day or two, but don’t concern yourselves as the rain has cooled me down.

I met up with Sam who had been busy photographing for a couple of hours on patch today.  Birds seen included Great Crested Grebe and the now apparently resident male Goosander, now in eclipse. Common Terns and hirundines were about, but my main objective was to get some practice in with the new lens.  The chat invariably turned to photographic matters as well as birds and other wildlife.  My growing enthusiasm for photography owes much to Sam as does any improvements I may make, although he is I know too modest to take credit for this.

Anyway I thought I’d post a few of my trial photos as very much a beginner to real macro photography.  Sadly we only found one Large Skipper Butterfly where last year there were many in the same area.  The damn damselflies would not settle at all.  I eventually settled for some practice on the Bees, Hoverflies.  Very much a hand hold only photographer at present, I do hope to get into this macro and other photography more seriously as I go along.  I have to now, having spent cash on the best quality lens I have ever owned!

The patch is a bit of a quagmire in places.  At least one very large fish had been washed up and stranded and now lies rotten on the grass and another lay in the water.  I noted a few residents on the lake shore had the sandbags at their doors.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Tern,Tern, Tern.

5th July.  With so little sunshine of late I thought I best take the chance this afternoon and have a walk on patch.  I decided to take a look at the lake.  Despite the flooding Coots still sit on nests and there are successful broods of Coot and Mallard, one of the latter with nine ducklings following.  It was nice to see some youngsters being introduced to them.  Sadly, as far as I can tell, there has been no successful broods of Mute Swan.  At least two pairs built nests and were sitting on eggs.  The eggs from one of the nests disappeared very quickly!  The family of Great Crested Grebes disappeared from the small lake last month.  A pair of Great Crested Grebe remains on the larger lake.

Five adult Lesser Black Backed Gulls were on the sports-centre roof along with a small number of Black Headed Gulls.  A few Swifts, Swallows and House Martins were flying over the lake.

Thankfully the grass has not been cut right up to the edge of the small lake.  I’ll give the council their due in this respect.  The edge is always left to grow wild.  I hope this will remain to be the case and that the current fixation from certain quarters concerning a desire to ‘tidy’ everything up does not alter this pattern.  Some things are best left alone for the sake of the wildlife.  I for one do not want to live in a sterile area.  I noticed that the cutters were out today, but seem to have just cut back some edges.  One of the roundabouts has been also cut only around the edge.  Is this a sign that the council are taking more note of conservation?  Let’s have a clean area to live in, but for goodness sake leave as much as possible of what is natural!

I didn’t walk down to the far end of the lake.  Instead I watched the Common Terns (six of them) and took a little time to capture some photos.  It’s a while since I had some practice with them.


I approached the lake and returned via the area which is often very good for butterflies and insects.  I saw no butterflies today.  A very bad year for them, despite a good start.  I did notice Common Blue Damselflies in tandem over the lake.

Once back at home I stood by the front door in the sun for a while.  I suddenly realised that there was a newly fledged Blackbird in the bush right next to me looking as though it was waiting to be fed.  I left it in peace.

For several nights before the ‘Great Storm’ of 2012, a Song Thrush sang throughout the night.  I haven’t heard it again since the storm occurred.  Now if it had been a Mistle Thrush aka Storm Cock that would have really had me thinking there was something to its vernacular naming!

The fledgling Blackbird is now on the windowsill!

To Everything (Turn, Turn, Turn)
There is a season (Turn, Turn, Turn)
And a time to every purpose, under Heaven

A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late

Courtesy of Pete Seeger

Monday, 2 July 2012

My Special Mug!

Spain have the cup, but that falls into insignificance when weighed against my special mug.  A birthday gift from my mate Sam and more than worthy of a place on my blog.

Modesty prevents me from explaining the inscription, however I will say that the owl in the hat is Ogwin Short Ears (don't ask) one of the Short Eared Owls which wintered at Prestwick Carr.  Photo taken by Sam of course.  It was an exceptionally cold day, as you can see!

The mug is to be kept for special occasions.  I'm just thinking I could use it to celebrate lifers, so as to ensure it will last.

Thanks OGG, a very special mug indeed!:-)

Martin Mere

30th June.  It was another early morning start for Sam and I as the coach trip to Martin Mere left Washington WWT at 7:00am.  The journey was a long one, but did take us through some attractive countryside.  We did think whilst walking around the bird collection during part of the day, that instead of travelling to Martin Mere to look at the White-headed Ducks, a trip to Spain to watch them in the wild may not have taken us much longer than the journey this morning.  Anyway I did enjoy looking around the bird collection from various areas of the world and it gave some good photo opportunities, as did the captive Otters.  I appreciate that captive species are not everyone’s cup of tea, but the good work done by the WWT has to be recognised.  I remembered the talk about the Spoon-billed Sandpipers earlier this year.

One in the collection

We could have been holidaying in Spain by the time we found this one

The site at Martin Mere, as anyone who has visited will know, is an extensive area.  The large ‘Marsh Harrier’ hide is quite impressive and Sam seemed to remember that the narrow long hide was perhaps the longest in Europe.  If it isn’t the longest it has to be ‘one of the longest’.  A few areas seemed to me to be a bit unkempt, but on reflection I realise that atrocious weather conditions of late have had to be dealt with, so maybe I’m being a bit over critical.  I have to say though that I’ wasn’t impressed by the reception given to us by ‘In Focus’.  Well in fact we weren’t given a reception at all, the guy in the hide preferring to stay on the telephone the whole time we were in there.  We didn’t receive a hello or a goodbye.  I appreciate people have other business to attend to, but at least part of the conversation on the line was about the other callers planned holidays, so I reckon in this case it wasn’t pressing business!  Perhaps I don’t look as though I’m in the market for new optics.  In fact I am.

An impressive hide
At least two Marsh Harriers were seen during our visit.  One of them very distant, and the other one not too close.  At least three Common Buzzards (sightings well into double figures in total for the day) and a Kestrel were seen.  Obviously not the best time to visit for large numbers of wild birds, however we did have a male Ruff in some summer plumage and Black-tailed Godwits in the same.  Other waders seen were Avocet, Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing and Redshank.  on the journey home I saw a Common Snipe in flight.   It was just a brief sighting Sam and you were dozing at the time! :-)  On the journey down an even briefer brief sighting was made of Wheatear.  I have a feeling we may have seen Raven, but I’m not confident enough to record it.

The Marsh Harrier showed well in the bins!
Warblers for the day were Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler and Chiffchaff.  A young Treecreeper was seen briefly.  Swifts and Swallows were about most of time we were at the site.  We came a cross some fungi, one of which was larger than a football.  I can only assume that it was a Giant Puffball Calvatia gigantea

Giant Puffball?
We intended having a go in the canoes, but time really didn’t allow this.  I don’t think we would have seen too much from the canoe anyway, but I’m sure some fun would have been had.:-)  We made do with an ice-cream.  We only caught the edge of a storm so didn’t get wet, although at one point as the sky darkened I certainly thought that was going to happen.  So despite no canoeing it was an Under the  Hood and Killy fun day with lots of laughs.  Some laughs helped the long journey home fly by as the rain bounced off the coach between bright periods.