Sunday, 30 September 2012

September Morn'

29th Sept.  I was at the lake before sun rise, but Sam had beaten me there.  I was in time to watch the sun rise over the smaller lake before counting one hundred and thirty-six Mute Swans on the larger lake.  It was a nice sight and it was far better to watch them in the morning light than it is listening to people complain that there are too many of them!  The family of four Great Crested Grebes remain as does the lone male Goosander and family of Greylag Geese, the latter been almost lost amongst the Canada Geese.  Two Grey Wagtails called and flew along the side of the lake before landing.  I returned home for a coffee and rest before later heading to St Mary’s Island with Sam.  We were timing things to meet the incoming tide in the hope of seeing plenty of waders, but I hoped that a few of this weeks ‘fall’ would remain in the wetland area.

September morn
Do You Rember
How we danced the night away
Two lovers playing scenes
From some romantic play
September morning
Still makes me feel that way
Neil Diamond
It proved to be a good hour or two for watching and photographing the waders.  There were lots of photographers out today.  The Golden Plovers looked at their best in the sun as they were brought further and further to the shore by the tide.  Other waders seen were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew. 

Ringed Plover



Golden Plovers, Lapwing and Oystercatchers being brought in by the tide

Our days often take in passing aircraft too, of which Sam has an outstanding knowledge and so is able to keep me informed.

Embraer 190
Not so many birder out as during the peak of this weeks fall of migrants, but still quite a few and as we approached the Willows we were told that the Yellow Browed Warbler was showing.  We saw it quite well.   A Lesser Whitethroat showed well in the same area.  When we crossed to the wetland we were rewarded with sightings of Spotted Flycatcher and two Goldcrest which Sam had initially heard.  I’m pleased to say my ears still pick up the calls too.  These birds came almost within touching distance from us.  Two Redwings were seen flying over the area.  It was proving to be a successful morning with only the wind a little of a problem.  Despite the wind it was remarkably warm.  It was good to see at least another two young lads out with cameras searching for birds.

Lunch was taken on a seat over looking the waders and the sea.  Even the Starlings were performing well.  Rock Pipits had been heard and seen in the North Bay.  Eider Ducks were clambering onto the rocks.

We decided to walk onwards towards Seaton Sluice and then onto Holywell so as to perhaps time the end of the walk for a showing of Short-eared Owls.  Not many birds caught the eye on the walk to Seaton Sluice but we did have a chat with a friend along the way and took the chance to look at the inquisitive Alpacas.

'Never mind laughing at my hair cut, have ya seen the state of yours?'
No birds of note were found on land at Seaton Sluice but we did find a couple of Red Throated Divers slowly moving north and watched them at length.  They were close to land and one of them was showing much summer plumage and the red throat could be clearly seen in the sunlight.  A nice sighting and a lifer for Sam.  Very rewarding for me to see someone so keen finding new birds (ones often taken for granted), and I think Sam may be sensing that sea watching might not be as boring as it sounds at times!  Never the less it can be tricky and a possible Little Auk turned into a piece of garbage and was swallowed by a Herring Gull!  There were several Guillemots in the area.  I visited the Tower Hide and used some of the time to clear some images from the card as it had filled up.  Steps into the hide are looking none too safe and I have reported this to NTBC.

Once on the path towards the dene we found the Seaton Burn really high and quite dangerous in a couple of places.  I certainly would not have liked to have fallen in there today!  We found a dead Pygmy Shrew on the path way.    The walk through the dene was as enjoyable as ever, but didn’t provide much in the way of birds although a Sparrowhawk was seen winding its way through the trees and Long Tailed Tits appeared at some point.  I was beginning to feel more than a bit tired.  The path out of the dene is my Mount Everest after a busy and long day.

When we arrived at the open area and looked across the fields there was little action so we took a look at the pond which was quiet also, with a few Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck and the odd Little Grebe being the highlight.  We didn’t stay her long, but instead moved back to the fields.  As we approached a Short-eared Owl was seen hunting.  We took up our place in the hedge and watched two pairs of Kestrel hovering in the distance whilst we waited to see if more Short-eared Owls would appear.  A Common Buzzard was being mobbed by a flock of corvids as it flew over by the obelisk.  It wasn’t long before we had four active Short-eared Owls.  Two of them were flying close together at times and another was being harassed by a corvid.  We enjoyed some close up sightings before the birds disappeared from sight again.  By now the pale moon in the east was beginning to appear more brightly and I half expected an appearance from the Barn Owl, but that was not to be.  Another birder out looking for owls got chatting to us about birds in the area and as we were doing so a Peregrine Falcon flew low over the field we were in, giving yet another excellent sighting.  Sam watched it soon afterwards fly across the pond.

Some of the Short-eared Owl action
We decide to make for home as the sun dropped below the horizon.  It had been a long day of dawn to dusk birding, with only a short break during the morning.  As we approached the pond we saw two of the Short Eared Owls hunting in the field adjoined to the pond.  They flew eastwards as we passed by.  Taking a quick look from the public hide we saw that a Grey Heron had appeared and a Pheasant was perched on top of the fence.  A skein of twenty-three Pink-footed Geese flew north.  I was beginning to feel the cold now, but it was still a pleasant evening.  Further on and close by the feeding station we found a large pile of feathers from a pigeon/dove.  These were no doubt from quite a fresh kill.  Perhaps by the Peregrine Falcon or a Sparrowhawk.  As we stood in the village a Great Spotted Woodpecker was added to the day list as it flew from one tree to another.

One of 'those special days' ending

If I had a day that I could give you
I'd give to you a day just like today
If I had a song that I could sing for you
I'd sing a song to make you feel this way
John Denver
It had been a very special day offering so much variety and ending in some very special sightings of raptors and owls.  It was as if we had written a script as to how we would like the day to pan out.  It had included at least three lifers for Sam and a really rewarding experience for me.  The day list came to at least seventy species.  I still need to double check that I haven’t missed anything off the list.  We’d also seen one Common Hawker Dragonfly in the dene and at least two Red Admiral Butterflies flying together at some point.  So September, which has offered a number of highlights, has ended on a high.  Let’s see what October brings!

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Another Day in Paradise

Think twice
'Cause it's another day for you and me in paradise
Think twice
It's just another day for you
You and me in paradise (Another day in paradise, ooh)
Phil Collins

26th Sept.  What a difference a day makes.  Instead of rough seas, heavy rain and wind, the sky was blue and the sun shining this morning as Tom and I headed for St Marys Island.  A very rewarding few hours was spent between here and Tynemouth.  At the latter we had hoped to find the Great Grey Shrike seen early morning, but there was no sign of it and I reckon it had just passed through.  As far as I’m aware it was seen flying into the area of Priors Park, but a search brought nothing.  We checked again for the Barred Warbler, but again there was no sign.  We did find Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers and Spotted Flycatchers.  There was some suggestion that a Red Breasted Flycatcher had been seen, but the guys I spoke to couldn’t confirm it and we saw no sign of one.  A couple of Siskin were seen.  What a difference it made standing with the sun reflecting from the river instead of listening to the pounding of waves under leaden skies and feeling damp.

It shocked me to find out that N T Council give us owt for free!  I'm surprised that they don't at least charge when there has been a large fall of migrant birds!

It was hard to imagine what yesterday had been like!
It was the early morning and later visit to the St Mary’s Island area that was the most rewarding.  We managed to miss most of the period that the mist came down whilst we ate our lunch at the fish and chip café.

We managed success in tracking down two (possibly three) Yellow Browed Warblers.  One of them showing really well.  Other warblers seen today were Blackcaps, Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat, Reed Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.  Goldcrests were also seen as were at least six Spotted Flycatchers and at least four Pied Flycatchers.  Several Redstarts were seen very well.

The waders were showing well, with flocks of Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and a few Curlew.  Sea passage seemed light and sea watching was cut short by mist dropping and then the wind.  Are we getting soft or wot?  A small skein of pale bellied Brent Geese was seen flying north. A single Guillemot and a handful of Sandwich Terns were also seen along with Eiders and an unidentified swimming duck.:-)

Lots of familiar faces today, some of which I could place a name too (even if it did take a bit of time with one or two), many more that I couldn’t.  Everyone was friendly and in good spirits.  Apologies to one in particular, as I have no particular images to show, arty or otherwise.  Didn’t have the camera gear today.  Although hang on,  I did manage a few of shots with the pocket camera however just to prove that there is a sun up there. Ha ha

My tribute to Andy Williams who died aged 84 today.  A great artiste and a favourite singer of mine for many years.

Moon river, wider than a mile
I'm crossing you in style some day
Oh, dream maker, you heart breaker
Wherever you're goin', I'm goin' your way

Two drifters, off to see the world
There's such a lot of world to see
We're after the same rainbow's end, waitin' 'round the bend
My huckleberry friend, moon river, and me

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

All Weather Birders Get Drenched!

25th Sept.  I thought Tom had slept in this morning and was about to go back to bed for an hour just as he arrived after having had to divert from flooded roads.  Killingworth Lake had flooded the road.  Several other roads were closed.  We headed to Tynemouth where after some patience we managed to locate the Barred Warbler.  Unfortunately there was no sign of a Red-Breasted Flycatcher although we were teased a bit until we realised the flycatcher we had glimpsed was in fact a Pied Flycatcher (it’s been around sometime apparently), which eventually gave a good sighting.  We thought there may be two Barred Warblers, but it seems the second bird seen moving through the hedge was likely a Garden Warbler.  There were numbers of Wheatear about.  Wigeon were seen flying south at the mouth of the river.

Next stop was St Mary’s Island where we began to find numbers of birders, including Holywell Birding and Crammy Birder, drawn out by the conditions.  Up to now we had been lucky and the morning had been on the whole dry!

Numbers of Redstart were seen as we walked along behind the wetland area.  Unfortunately I only saw them briefly.  We where hoping to find the Yellow Browed Warbler, but never did (I believe Phil saw it).  A Yellow Browed Warbler gave me the run around last year and I eventually found one so hope to do the same this year.  We did find two more Pied Flycatchers, a rather late Swift (although I note the last one seen in Northumberland in 2010 was on 7th Oct) and a Goldcrest that kept me thinking I’d found the Yellow Browed Warbler.  A single Chiffchaff was also seen.

The heavens eventually opened, the mist thickened and the wind became stronger and I was so glad not to be on that sea today!  Having said that we couldn’t have been much wetter had we been on the sea.  Tom’s boots weren’t letting water in, they were letting water out!  I did get some very good sightings of some of the Redstarts as the rain dripped off my nose.  We eventually made for home with only one remaining birder facing the conditions.

We heard that Ring Ouzel had been seen at Tynemouth and that a Corncrake had been flushed onto the pathway at St Mary’s today.

I don't need sunny skies for thing I have to do, cause I stay home the whole day long and think of you
As far as I'm concerned each day's a rainy day, so It might as well rain until September

Carole King 

Monday, 24 September 2012

Holywell and Coastal Atmosphere

21st Sept.  Sam and I had planned to spend a couple of hours down at Holywell this evening and we couldn’t have picked a better time to visit.  We stayed until darkness set in and out in the fields watched the light gradually fade from what was on the whole clear skies.  The moon became brighter, the sky in the west more colourful and eventually we watched the local farmer ploughing in darkness.  The lights from the tractor adding to the evening’s atmosphere.  It’s no good fooling myself into thinking I’m in the true wilderness here, there’s few truly wild places left anywhere, but at least it does give a sense of wildness and freedom.  I get similar feeling from some of the wagon-way routes on patch and at Prestwick Carr when it isn’t carrying too many visitors.

Sun Setting over Holywell
We’d taken in the pond before moving out onto the fields in the hope of watching owls.  I counted over ten Little Grebes on the water, four of them swimming together in a straight line formation.  The feeding station held at least six Tree Sparrows on the feeders.

As we left the public hide and walked eastwards the first Short-eared Owl was seen hunting.  We were soon watching four of these birds, at times hunting close by us.  At times in front of us, then along the hedges to the side of us and then behind us.  We watched the Short-eared Owls at length.  As the light intensity faded the Barn Owl was seen to appear from its roosting sight.  It was distant at first, but did eventually fly along by the hedges giving closer sightings.  As darkness set in we made off towards the village, but before we had gone very far the Barn Owl appeared along the hedge just yards form us before it vanished from view.  It had been another good evening of owl watching.

Short-eared Owls

Night approaches

 23rd Sept.  Despite the long day out at sea yesterday Tom picked up Sam and I at 7:15am and we headed for St Mary’s Island in the hopes of finding the Yellow Browed Warbler/s.  Mist covered Killingworth Lake after what had been a very cold night and the deep orange sun was beginning to rise in the east beyond the small lake.  As we passed Backworth flash, mist still lay low across the fields.  We arrived at St Mary’s Island Wetland before 8:00am and before the crowds and dog walkers had began to appear, although I believe Whitley Birder and one or two others had beaten us to it.:-)  It was a grand morning with clear light.  The tide was high, but appeared to be now on the turn.

We had no luck with the Yellow Browed Warbler but I was just as pleased to find my first Pied Flycatcher of the year which showed really well (a first winter or female bird).  We checked out the firing mounds too, but found little there, although at some point Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Wheatear and Reed Bunting appeared, although I missed the Wheatear.  The waders had gathered on the island and included large numbers of Golden Plover.  When some divers made there way across to the island the waders lifted and the Golden Plovers flew around the top of the lighthouse, their light undersides flashing brightly in the sunlight.  Other waders included Oystercatchers, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew.  I chatted briefly to a visitor and he seemed happy to have checked out the waders through my telescope.  He left saying he must get one.  I think he may get a shock when he looks at today’s prices!  I saw at least three Red-throated Divers fly south, two small flocks of Common Scoter and one Manx Shearwater fly north during the short time we were there.  It wasn’t planned as a long visit so we soon headed off.  Time had passed by quickly.  The Beehive flash was checked as we passed, but nothing of an avian nature was seen.

It was late afternoon when Sam and I returned to Holywell.  By now the clear sky and sun had been replaced by rather threatening cloud.  As the evening wore on the cloud did break up and it was a cold, but on the whole a pleasant evening.  The pond was quiet so we headed pretty quickly out into the fields again and took up our positions.  We were entertained by at least two pairs of Kestrels (one had perched on top of the obelisk for sometime before having been joined by another), possibly more, as we waited to see if the Short-eared Owls would turn up.  We had waited about an hour before one was seen and it flew off towards the coast, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it was seen hunting down in the vicinity of St Mary’s Island again.  The only other sighting we had this evening was a distant one as a Short-eared Owl was seen hunting briefly.  We weren’t to be treated to the display we have watched recently, but as I said at the time, it would be boring if things turned up on schedule and there would be no excitement.  In any event we enjoyed watching the Kestrels and to be honest it’s sometime since I have watched them so intently.

Large areas of the fields are ploughed now and although extensive grassy areas remain, this may have an effect on the owls staying put or moving on.  The farmer was certainly busy again tonight and didn’t leave until darkness was well set in.  I’m sure he wanted to make full use of the fine weather having seen the forecast as to what was to come in the next few days!

A very different sky tonight.

Before we left for home we stood and listened to at least one pair of Tawny Owls calling form Holywell Dene.  I’d earlier commented on some dark ominous cloud building up and no sooner had I done so when the rain began.  It was just a sprinkling and didn’t last, but it was warning of today’s weather.

We heard high pitched calling from the tall grasses and thought it maybe a vole or even a vole being predated.  However having looked at this blog joesnaturesmoments I’m wondering if it might not have been Brown Rats!

A hide with a view, even as darkness approaches.
I’ve had a great weekend, so thanks to all involved.  It has been a weekend that provided wide open spaces on both sea and land and some clear wide skies and not least some great birding moments.  It had been so good to be out and it all ended on a high.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Magic Pelagic

22nd Sept.  After a rather restless night with thoughts turning to rough seas, I was soon off in the morning with Tom and Cain as we travelled towards the River Tyne to join the pelagic arranged by
This was to be my third pelagic withy N E W T and each has been an enjoyable experience. 

As the boat began to sail we saw Great Spotted Woodpecker in the distance and a lone Guillemot in the marina.  Was this to be a good sign?  We were soon passing the north and south piers and hitting a bit of a swell.  Although cold, the sun was shining and the skies were clear and this remained the case throughout the eight hours of the trip giving a fantastic atmosphere to the day.  As the swell dropped off it was at times like being out on the Mediterranean Sea.  A large skein of Pink-footed Geese flew south as we left the River Tyne and entered the sea.  A few Teal were also seen.

It wasn’t long before we were ticking of numbers of Sooty Shearwaters (7+) and Great Skua (4+).  Afterwards some discussion took place as to the chances of one of these skuas having been a Long-tailed Skua, but that was not going to be confirmed sadly.  The Sooty Shearwaters were seen especially well and two of them were seen on the water with gulls near one of the fishing boats.

We did go through a lengthy period of seeing little, but numbers of auks, Fulmars and Gannets, but such was the day and the perfect light I’m sure no one was perturbed by that at all.  The quiet period ended dramatically as two small birds flew close to the boat and landed on the sea.  These turned out to be two Grey Phalarope and photos can be seen on Cain’s HolywellBirding Blog.  These were without doubt the birds of the day and caused no little excitement.  When the organiser gets excited you do know you have found ‘good birds.’  The Grey Phalaropes took off, but returned and were even closer to the boat giving excellent sightings.  I understand that these are only the second and third of this species to be seen on N E W T pelagics.

Sea watching from land can be a good experience but nothing beats being out at sea with the birds and they were being seen at their best today.

Other birds of note included several skeins of pale bellied Brent Geese (fifty in total) flying north, at least five Red-throated Divers (four of them flying together), a single Manx Shearwater, Wigeon, Eider, two small flocks of Common Scoter, Puffin, Guillemots and Razorbills.  Cain got his eye on a distant skua which turned out to be a lifer for me in the form of Pomarine Skua.  So the day was going a treat.  Tom spotted a small flock of Ringed Plover in flight and more waders were seen as we returned to the River Tyne.  Adding to the list all of the gull species seen, it came to quite a number.

We were back on dry land for 5:00pm and the sun continued to shine.  Wonderful day and amazing how quickly eight hours passes.  I hope to be back and take part in a fourth trip!  Thanks to Cain for the lift and to Martin Kitching for organising the trip, and thanks to the crew also for making the trip a safe one.  If you haven’t been on one of these trips you’re missing a real experience.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Reflecting on Patch

18th Sept.  The sky, cool breeze and changing patch atmosphere reminded me that we are now well into autumn.  I had taken the short walk down to the lake and found upwards of thirty Swallows feeding over the lake.  Rain fell for a brief time, but generally the sun was bright and there was good reflection on the small lake.  A handful of Lesser Black Backed Gulls remained on the sports centre roof and they had been joined by Common Gulls and many more Herring and Black Headed Gulls.  A small number of Pochard were on the water.  The Amphibious Bistort is long past its best, but hanging on to some colour.

I soon found the Great Crested Grebe family.  The two youngsters are now becoming independent and almost reaching the size of the adult birds.  One of them exercised the wings as it almost lifted and flew down the lake.  Watching this family of birds had me reflecting upon the pleasure I have had this year having watched the pair of Great Crested Grebes successfully raise two broods.  I spent many hours watching these birds often in the company of fellow patch birder Sam.  We’ve had the privilege of watching these birds through every stage.  We’ve wondered at times if the birds have got to know us.  Having come across the second nest unexpectedly on 5th July I had at the time given the birds little chance of success with their second clutch of eggs.  I’d found the nest from day one of egg laying and in a very vulnerable position.  Neither bird was on the nest at the time although one egg was visible, and the nest was waterlogged and wind blown.  I thought the birds may have abandoned it.  Fortunately they went on to lay two more eggs.   Sam and I had our fingers crossed for the birds for almost a month as we carefully watched progress and then again as the young have grown from day one.  I believe the heavy rains of July were the saviour of this pair’s second brood of the year, as it kept everyone away from the nest.  I wish I had a pound for every time I heard a parent say to their child, don’t go there its too wet!  It wasn’t just the children who stayed away.  Large fish had been left stranded on land the day I found this nest, which under-lined just how much rain there had been and how high the lake had risen.  We’ve had some great photo opportunities and no doubt some of these will be shown at some point.  Watching these birds encouraged me to learn much more about this species and grebes in general.  Watching them has been one of the highlights of my birding so far this year.  It was good to share the experience with Sam.

The male Goosander remains and further down the lake I found a single Little Grebe amongst the many Tufted Duck.  I assume that this is the same Little Grebe I have seen on occasions throughout the year.  At some point there was a pair.  Mute Swans flew down the lake in V formation.

As I returned home I bumped into Sam and so we watched the Great Crested Grebes again for a while.  Although almost independent the young are still taking food from the adults.  We wondered for how much longer they would remain on the lake.  Hopefully we’ll be able to watch this very successfull pair of adults again next year.  Perhaps we may see some progress with the floating reed-bed too, although I won’t be holding my breath over that one despite having heard of some progress in that respect!
Four Pied Wagtails flew beside the lake as we walked home.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Soprano Entertains Before Visit to Leighton Moss

13th Sept.  I was down at Washington WWT this evening with Sam and Malcolm as we attended a Bat talk and walk.  A good turn out of WWT members and folk there from the Durham Bat Group.  It was an enjoyable evening.  A couple of live and recovering bats were shown to us in close up.  The Noctule Bat looked as if it could give quite a bite with those sharp teeth!  The other recovering bat was a Whiskered Bat.  Conditions for the walk were far from ideal as it was quite cold and windy, but we soon found Soprano Pipistrelle Bats with the aid of the bat detectors.  Sam was first to detect them.  The guy who led the talk had been sceptical that there were any Soprano Pipistrelle Bats in the vicinity of the trust grounds, but now knows better.  I have to say I have never knowingly seen or heard a Soprano Pipistrelle Bat before so a lifer for me.  Common Pipistrelle was also found and they do sound very different.

‘The Soprano Pipistrelle is a small bat that was only formally separated from the Common Pipistrelle Pipistrellus pipistrellus in 1999. The two species were first distinguished on the basis of their different-frequency echo-location calls.’

We went down to the river in the hope of detecting Daubenton’s Bat, but had no success.  I have seen these before and have actually watched one out hunting in the noon day sun.  There was some thought that a Long Eared Bat might be around after someone had picked up sounds on the detector, but it was never seen/confirmed.  A very enjoyable evening and a nice friendly group of people.

15th Sept.  It was an early start today.  Well, early as far as RSPB LG trips go.  We left Newcastle at 8:00am as we headed for the A69 and M6 to take us to Leighton Moss RSPB Reserve.  Kestrel, Common Buzzard and Great Spotted Woodpecker were seen on the way, but no Ravens over Shap.

On arrival Sam, Mark, Marie and I headed straight for the causeway and public hide to look for Bearded Tits.  (We were told later that it was a little early in the year to see them feeding at the grit trays).  We met with no success.  However we did see a couple of Reed Warblers and birds on the water included Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe, Shovellers, and Gadwall.  The stars here however were two Migrant Hawker Dragonflies and photos where managed at distance.  The Migrant Hawker is one of the first dragonflies I really took a lot of interest in and one early identification marker I learnt about was the champagne glass shape on the base of the abdomen, which was clear to see today.  What I did notice was that because of timing the reed-beds were very quiet.  The last time I had been to Leighton Moss they were ringing with the song of Reed and Sedge Warblers.  We decided to walk to the Eric Morecambe Hide at the estuary.  It’s quite a walk and eats into birding time considering we only have a few hours to spend here.

One of two Migrant Hawker Dragonflies near the hide.
I’d been keeping my eyes peeled for the one remaining female Marsh Harrier we had been told was about and I was soon rewarded.  The four of us had good sightings of this bird as it flew low over the reed-bed.

Once down to the hide we found around twenty Little Egrets, Grey Herons, large numbers of Black-tailed Godwits and Redshank, Curlew and more Gadwall.  Teal, Wigeon, Mallard and Shoveller were also present.  As far as I’m aware no one found the Spotted Redshanks that had been present the previous day and without my scope today I had no chance of picking up the distant (so I’m told) Curlew Sandpiper.  I’m not sure if anyone really did.  No one with a scope I spoke too seemed to have seen it.  Greenshank were present somewhere, but I failed to find them.  I did have the camera gear and so got some decent images although many were very distant.  We did have some more very nice sightings of another female Marsh Harrier, initially far out in the estuary but later much closer and flying over one of the pools.  I reckon this was a second female Marsh Harrier in the area still.

Grey Herons and Little Egrets near to the Eric Morecambe Hide
The walk had been worth it and we were further rewarded on the up hill return with a sighting of three young Swallows being fed as they sat on a ledge of an old barn type structure.  More images were taken.  I’m also wondering in hindsight if a Dragonfly with yellow marking we briefly saw was in fact a Black Darter!

Hungry Swallows
We’d allowed time to look in at Lillian’s, Tim Jackson and Griesdale Hides.  This area was a little bit over populated by people for my liking and I’m afraid I feel there is a bit too much emphasise from the RSPB on shopping and cream scones on the information handed out.  Everyone’s needs must be catered for of course, just not my style.  I don’t remember seeing anything of note from Lillian’s Hide, but we did have nice sightings of a Red Deer and Great Spotted Woodpecker from the Tim Jackson Hide along with more Black-tailed Godwits.

Red Deer
On he walk back to the centre we stopped at one of the cuts in the reed-bed and were joined by others.  Nothing was seen here other than Robin and Long-tailed Tits.  Then the others moved off and we had one of the sightings of the day when a Bearded Tit made a kind of ‘flash past’.  I’d seen the bird in the reeds and as I lifted the binoculars it shot across the open space as another had done before it.  We four were the only ones in the group to see this species today and I didn’t hear any other reports from visitors.  As if to mark our success a Sparrowhawk also flew over the reed-bed in front of us.

I was surprised later to find that we had not only been the only ones lucky enough to find Bearded Tits, but that few others if in fact any others, had seen the Marsh Harriers.  Some did see the Peregrine Falcon and Marsh Tits, both missed by me.  The reserve had been very quiet of birds and perhaps a visit earlier in the year may have been more appropriate, but it had been a good day none the less.  I stumbled across Leighton Moss many years ago when I was returning with friends from Morecambe one evening.  I really loved the place, but had little time to view it.  I shocked myself today when I remembered how long ago that visit had been.  It had been a wonderful summers evening.  I’ve been back of course and on one occasion spent a few days in Silverdale which allowed me to visit the reserve early morning and evening.  That in my view is when you find the best atmosphere.  It was during this visit that I first watched a Grey Heron struggling to swallow a large eel.  I remember that event as though it were yesterday.  The Silverdale and Arnside area has a wonderful atmosphere about it without the flood of tourism that you have a little further north in southern Lakeland.

I eventually caved in yesterday and visited the café for a cup of tea.  There was no time to look at the books however in what I know is a good collection.  We were soon heading back to Newcastle when for the first time on an RSPB LG trip a participant sighted a monkey, species unknown.  I won’t name the participant but I am surprised he didn’t mange a photograph!  Common Buzzard was seen again.

I’d be interested if anyone can point me in the direction of information about the history of the Red Deer herd at Leighton Moss

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Return of an All Weather Birder!

11th Sept.  I’d come back from the shopping centre thinking how cold it had become so had ensure I had some of my all weather gear available before going on a short sea watch with all weather birder Tom.  Yes, this adopted Geordie from Yorkshire is back in the area!   Cold it may have been, but the sun was shining, so with Tom in shorts and sun glasses and me wrapped up like a Christmas parcel, we may have looked a little odd.:-)  Anyway watch out for his flat cap over the coming months as I’m sure he’ll be out and about.

We headed for the Tower Hide at Seaton Sluice checking a rather over full Bee Hive Flash where we found nothing of interest.  We did however find Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard at Hartley which give us a good start.

Once in the hide things seemed to slow down somewhat.  However it’s surprising just what did appear in quite a short space of time.  There were a few highlights.  The first being a White-beaked Dolphin going north.  I was told later that there had been a number of them in the bay recently.  A Wheatear perched on the wall directly in front of the hide only feet away from us.  A Manx Shearwater flew north and a dark phase Arctic Skua flew south.  Perhaps the most exciting sighting of the day was the Peregrine Falcon which chased a wader over the sea and seemed to get easily out maneuvered, before flying directly towards the hide and veering off just before it arrived.  It looked directly at us and I kid you not, Tom dooked his head as it certainly did appear to be coming straight at us.  This sighting alone would have made the visit worthwhile.  This has perhaps got to be my best sighting ever of a Peregrine Falcon as we came eyeball to eyeball with it.  I didn’t have my camera equipment today and in any even it all happened very quickly.  It would have been an exciting image however, but never mind.

Other birds seen from the hide were a single Red-throated Diver going south, one or two Fulmar, lots of Gannets, Cormorants, Mute Swan, Eider, Kestrel, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, flock of Golden Plover, Lapwing, six Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, flocks of Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, three or four Sandwich Terns, one Puffin, one Razorbill and many Guillemots.  Lots of gulls and hirundines of course.

So all in all a good sea watch.

We stopped off at Holywell on the return journey.  By now even Tom was encouraged to add the bottoms to his trousers such was the cold air.  I’m thinking even this all weather birder had wished he had also added some other layers once we were out in the open fields and in the cold wind.  How it had changed from the balmy evenings of the previous weekend!  Tree Sparrows were seen at the feeding station as was the almost resident Great Spotted Woodpecker.  The pond was been blown about and there was little on the water until the mixed flock of gulls flew in.  I think most of the Little Grebes were taking shelter although we saw two or three along with the likes of Tufted Duck and a juvenile Grey Heron.  A small number of Sand Martins were seen with the Swallows.

We had no luck in finding the Short Eared Owls.  Two Kestrels were in the area and our list of raptors today was looking good once we added the Sparrowhawk flying in the vicinity of the pond.  We bumped into Cain, Holywell Birding as we were leaving.  As you’ll see from his blog Cain saw an Osprey flying south soon after we had left.


10th Sept.  Such has been the intensity of my outings over the past few days, with more planned in the coming days, I fear I may be playing catch up for a while with the blog.  Today I visited Wallington Hall for lunch with a friend.  The cloud looked threatening, but it was almost dry when we arrived.

Wallington Hall is an old haunt of mine as my brother used to live over the road at Capheaton for a few years and it was an easy trip to visit the neighbours at ‘the hall’.:-)  In actual fact my previous visit was made about seven years ago and was the first trip I joined with the RSPB Local Group.  Doesn’t time fly by quickly?  Anyway, having got over the shock of realising that to become a member of the National Trust would cost me £53:00 (I don’t think it’s a mis-print), I paid my admission and had a rather nice lunch after which the first stop was at the new glass fronted hide.  The car parks had been full, but we saw few people so I don’t know where everyone went to!

I was impressed by the hide.  On approach a Nuthatch was seen rising from the lawn and up into the trees.  Swallows and House Martins were gathering in large numbers.  Two more Nuthatches were seen from the hide along with Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great, Coal and Blue Tit, a young Robin, Wren, Chaffinch and a poorly looking Greenfinch.  I believe it was a Wood Mouse that was taking nuts from the pile.

Another hide with a view

After a bit of time in the hide we headed for the longer walk that takes you through some very attractive woodland, along by the river and past the well known attractive bridge.  Goldfinches were seen at some point.  Looking over the vista from here reminded us just how English the landscape is here.  I expected a personality from Pride and Prejudice to come along on a horse at any point.  That didn’t happen, but I did turn and catch literally a split second sighting of a Kingfisher rising from reeds and flying into the trees and maybe along the river, never to be seen again.   Before we reached the stepping stones to take us over the river a Dipper flew up river, again giving only a brief sighting.  I remembered that this area under the Beech Trees is very good for Brambling in winter.  There were few birds of any description in this area today.  Then the rain began and seemed to get heavier and heavier.  It didn’t spoil the walk at, all but did soak us.  It decided to ease off just as we reached some cover in the Walled Garden.

A fine walk by and over the Wansbeck

James Paine's bridge, built across the Wansbeck in 1755
I’d had my eye on the cakes in the restaurant and was hoping there would be some left!  There was, so we got over the soaking with a nice cuppa tea and an even nicer large piece of coffee and walnut cake.  It was a nice ending to a very nice day.  I hope my steps hadn’t quickened to much as I passed the Chinese Pond in anticipation of ‘me cake’!  We left with me wondering where all the folk out of the cars had gone to.