Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Patch Matters!

30th Oct.  One of the positive changes I have been lucky enough to witness during my bird watching career is the recovery of some raptor species.  I would hope that all who have even a passing interest in birds and wildlife would appreciate this as a positive indicator.  I’m of course fully aware that some folk do not share that view and only yesterday I was talking to someone who spoke of the Sparrowhawk nuisance.  I’m attending a talk soon on the plight of the Hen Harrier and I know before I step into the lecture theatre that I’m going to hear the often repeated depressing information about Hen Harriers in England.  So progress does remain limited.  In my opinion it always will, until more and more effort is made by organisations to involve more and more people.  As I’ve said on more than one occasion most folk are never going to be serious bird watchers, ornithologists or twitchers, but many of them can be enthused by birds if the effort is put in and it’s that direction that much of the effort should go.  Hence my on going attempts to involve less serious bird watchers.  I do know that some of people I have come across, see birding in general as involving a clique at times.  Their word, not mine, but I can understand where they are coming from.  Many hobbies and interests often do seem to fall into the same trap.

Happily I have noticed quite a number of raptors on patch recently.  Just a couple of days ago Sam reported a Peregrine Falcon hunting over Killingworth Lake and today within seconds of leaving my front door had a Sparrowhawk being mobbed by crows above my head.

When I reached the lake I found the smaller area taken over by Canada Geese.  There were over one hundred on the lake today.  The flock of Greylag Geese, seen a few days ago, appears to have just been passing through and only the family of five Greylag Geese remain.  I was half expecting them to leave with the larger flock.  The pair of Great Crested Grebe were no where to be seen and also may now have left for the winter.  We had a bit of a false start recently when they disappeared only to return again.  I think their second and rather late brood has kept them back longer than usual whilst they built up resources.  Three Little Grebe remain.  The fourth one may just have been hidden.  There are still only two Goosanders (one of them the long stayer) and two Goldeneye on the lake at present, whilst Common Gull numbers appear not to have built up as yet. 

As happened yesterday afternoon, the light appeared to improve just before the darkness of the evening came in.

Monday, 29 October 2012

Grey Afternoon

29th Oct.  The cloud layer seemed to darken and the rain began to fall as Lee and I made towards Cresswell today.  As we passed the wind turbines several skeins of Pink-footed Geese were seen in the air.  We decided to make a quick visit to Druridge CP in the hopes that a Slavonian Grebe might appear.  We were greeted by a host of well fed Mallards and Mute Swans, before finding five Red-breasted Mergansers on the lake, but little else.

Another quick visit to Maiden Hall Lake brought little else other than gulls and a Kestrel as we passed West Chevington.  Time did not allow a stop at East Chevington as we headed for Cresswell.  As we approached the pond from the north several hundred  Lapwing were present along with fewer Golden Plover.  All of the Lapwing lifted at one point but I saw no sign of a predator.  A quick stop before heading to the hide gave us good sightings of more Red-breasted Mergansers, Great Crested Grebe and Scaup amongst the many Wigeon and Teal.

As we walked to the hide we found Tree Sparrows and Goldfinch in the hedges.

The hide was quite busy with local folk as well as visitors.  I’m pleased to say that I had another excellent sighting of the Jack Snipe today.  The lighting, or better to say lack of lighting, made the green sheen on this bird far more noticeable than it had been on my previous (first ever) sighting.  Six Common Snipe were on the sandbank. 

I’m happy to say we found a Slavonian Grebe on the pond.  Although to the north of the pond it showed very well.  Other birds on the water included Scaup, Common Scoters, Little Grebe and the long staying Long-tailed Duck.  The latter bird now looking at its best and flying across the pond.

A final stop was made at Prestwick Carr on the way home.  The cloud began to break a little and the light improved before the sun began to sink with darkness soon to follow.  Bird life seen and heard was minimal.  A Sparrowhawk was seen over the woodland area and a single Common Snipe flew overhead.  Curlews could be heard in the distance and a party of eleven Long Tailed Tits moved noisily through the hedge.  I saw no sign of winter thrushes.  We decided to cut our walk along the bumpy road short and make for home.  A grey afternoon had delivered a few nice sightings.

Evening on the Carr

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Raptors, Owls and a Bittern

27th Oct.  On Friday night I noted temperatures down to 1.5 degrees by 6:45pm and guessed that it was going to be a cold day on Saturday.  A txt from Sam at 10:45pm to say it was snowing had me looking out the window.  Yes it was snowing and it looked like a night in mid winter rather than October.  I sorted my warmest clothing out for the morning and once out into the fresh air the next day I was glad I had done that.  I was also pleased that I’d topped the bird feeders up.  Oh well we can relax in the knowledge that the authorities have stock piled enough salt to build a new mountain range.  Hopefully, come mid February they won’t suddenly realise that it is the wrong type of salt or that the wrong type of snow is falling!

Sam and I had permission from the NWT to put posters up at Big Waters and Holywell Reserves so we headed for the former first.  A Sparrowhawk greeted us on arrival and from the sounds coming from the bushes and trees it soon made a successful kill.  A Kestrel was also nearby.  Then the walk up to the hide provided little in the way of birdlife.  The feeders at the feeding station had yet to be topped up so that was quieter than usual as well, although about a dozen Tree Sparrows fed there and offered some entertainment.  Oh, and mustn't forget the Willow Tit that would have made a very good photo had the camera not been in my bag.

Tree Sparrows
Wigeon were on the pond in some number along with a small number of Greylag Geese.  Little Grebes were the only other birds that grabbed our attention until Sam spotted a Bittern fly in and disappear into the reed-bed not to be seen again.  Not seen by me at all!  We stayed in the hide for some time and the only person we saw was I think one of the volunteers.  A Grey Partridge flew across opposite the hide.  I felt the hide was colder than the air outside and I didn’t warm up at all until we made off.  I had hoped a few birds might have been brought in by the cold but we found little.  Surprisingly, we did find a Common/Migrant Hawker Dragonfly which refused to settle, but flew around us until we left.  It seemed to be catching the odd insect despite the icy cold temperature of the morning.

We eventually made off towards Holywell, spotting a Peregrine Falcon flying over the fields at Seghill.

The pond at Holywell was almost deserted when we arrived apart from a few Greylag Geese, Mute Swan, Little Grebes, Mallards, Teal and eventually two Goldeneye.  The new feeding station was deserted as feeding appears to have been put on hold because of the plague of Brown Rats.  A small Brown Rat appeared under the feeders at the hide as a few Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch and tits fed.  A small skein of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead and over the tree-line opposite, corvids mobbed two Common Buzzards and a Peregrine Falcon.  The falcon flew off but the buzzards remained and flew in the vicinity.  At one point over our heads.  I can’t say if the peregrine was the one that we had seen at Seghill or perhaps one of a pair.

We made off in the direction of the dene and by now there was at last a little heat in the sun.  We found another Common/Migrant Hawker Dragonfly which spent time flying around us, but again didn’t settle.  Nearby a Speckled Wood Butterfly disappeared along the edge of the field.  A group of six/seven Grey Partridges were disturbed and flew off.

Autumnal Touch...but it felt like winter!
The burn in the dene was brown, fast, deep and wide and so there was little chance of Dippers appearing.  The autumnal look was enhanced by sunlight and gave good opportunities for photographs.  I’d previously got my feet a little wet negotiating a flooded path.  Sam had been wise and worn wellingtons.  Much of the area continues to be flooded and waterlogged.  I fear this winter can only bring more widespread flooding to the Northeast as the ground has just had no time to dry out at all.  We found the feeding stations empty of feed and birds.  We eventually climbed out of the dene and made for the tracks into the open space in the hope of owls.  We initially thought the hopes were to be squashed and found only Linnets and Goldfinch in the fields.  Never the less we made for out usual viewing point and after a while with only the cattle, including a rather large bull for company, two Short-eared Owls were seen flying along by one of the hedges.  They flew north and disappeared until one eventually returned and flew right by us.  They later seemed to be hunting in a different area so we made a move.

Short-eared Owls

We ended our day out with some grand and close up sightings of Short-eared Owls.  Three in total, including the darkest bird which showed really well at times.  At one point it landed on a post very close to us, giving a very close (possibly the closest ever) encounter with a Short-eared Owl.  Yet another great ending to a day.  This is what birdwatching is about!

Monday, 22 October 2012

Holy Island...Birds, Dolphins, Seals and Sites

20th Oct.  The RSPB group trip to Holy Island set off from Newcastle on what was happily a mist free morning.  I knew that the weather of recent days would not be conducive to large falls of birds on the island, but to be honest if I had my choice of spending six hours on the island in decent clear weather or foul weather, I’d definitely pick the former for this type of trip.  I have been there during the latter type of weather also.  For Sam and me in particular, it was planned as a birding and photography day, so chasing rarities on the island was not on our agenda.   There is of course plenty of good birding to be done and good habitat to take in on Holy Island, even on a day which some would consider quiet.  If we were to come across a rarity, that would have been an unexpected bonus for us.

The outward journey was uneventful apart from catching up on some chat and we were soon crossing the causeway with the sun shining on the remaining pools of seawater.  Our ‘baggage’ was shared out between the two of us.  That is to say, Sam kindly offered to carry some of my photography gear as I’d felt like a mule the night before on testing my ability to carry photography gear, scope, tripod and assorted bits and pieces.  The scope was a priority today for at least part of the walk we had planned.

A favourite vista

We started at the point where I have previously seen Long-eared Owl.  There was no sign of one today and the bushes/trees here seemed to have been cut back.  One of our first species seen was Barn Owl however.  I also picked up a very distant Peregrine Falcon perched on the sands, which showed better and better as the light improved, and a pair of Kestrels flew and hovered beside us.  I’d named the day ‘Mission Brent Goose’ as Sam had been keen to see these having seen his first single Brent Goose in Colywell Bay  last weekend and we were soon rewarded with good and fairly close sightings of numbers of them.  We had numbers of them flying past as well as on the ground.  A large skein of Pink-footed Geese flew overhead.  There was a very large and unmistakeable flock of Golden Plover which stretched for a lengthy distance across the sand before lifting up into the air.  Other waders seen included Oystercatchers, Grey Plover, Redshank, Curlew and large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwits.  When we walked around to St Cuthbert’s Island we found two Red-breasted Mergansers.  One Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly was seen on the wall of the school.

Numbers of Grey Seal were stretched out on the sand and on watching the sea several heads of Grey Seal bobbed up now and again.  The waters were unusually quiet I thought, with the largest number of birds being Eider Ducks.  We did find a Red-throated Diver showing really well close to the shore and a Razorbill.  I felt wader numbers in the main seemed down in comparison to previous visits, especially Grey Plover.  The beach in the harbour held Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Redshank and Curlew.

The Farne Islands were showing nicely in the distance


Wasn't it David Copperfield who visited a family who lived in an up turned boat?

As we’d walked around to the harbour the rain had begun and it was feeling cold.  Now that was definitely not on our agenda given the forecast for sunny weather.  The rain didn’t last very long and the positive side of this was the views south across the water were stunning as the sun partially shone down onto the sea through various shades of grey cloud.  This area does give a favourite Northumbrian view of mine as I look south towards Ross Bank Sands and Bamburgh Castle.  Ross Bank Sands is on a list of places to visit this winter.  I was told to be careful where I point the binoculars if I go in the summer as the beach is used by naturists.  Now I never knew that!  I suppose I could go naked and then no one would complain binoculars or not.  Although come to think of it maybe complaints would be forthcoming.  When the sky began to clear the view of the Farne Islands and Bamburgh Castle were excellent as was the sight of Lindisfarne Castle.  After picking up the usual Pied Wagtails near the harbour it was time to drop the scope onto the bus, nay, nay…coach!  We then headed down the long lonnen where we intended to take lunch.  I’m surprised that on such a wonderful day so many decide to have their lunch on the coach rather than in the open air.  Well I suppose it was better than heading to the cafes and I’m guessing a few cups of tea were sold today!

The lonnen proved to be very quiet both of birds and people although we had sightings of a number of Goldcrest.  The flooded conditions accounted for numbers of people turning back I reckon.  Sam and I aren’t put of that easily, although one area was especially difficult to get through and we both ended up with wet feet.  We heard that there were Short-eared Owls about so we stopped at a good vantage point for lunch.  We picked up the likes of Grey Heron, flocks of Lapwing, Teal and Curlew, Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Linnet.  We believe we may have seen Merlin, as well as Kestrels.  I was very surprised that there were so few people about today given the really good weather.  The afternoon was very warm

Short-eared Owll Pellet I believe.  Look closely and you may be able to ID remains.
We eventually reached the reserve area and took in the sea from the dunes whilst watching three Short-eared Owls.  As I looked out to sea I picked up a Dolphin swimming south, then another and another.  For once the Short-eared Owls were forgotten as we watched the White-beaked Dolphins surfacing and on several occasions breaching.  They were moving quite quickly southwards.  However we had great sightings of them.  It was difficult to be exact with numbers as the pod was well spaced out, but we reckon that there was at least eight White-beaked Dolphins, and I would say every likely more than this.  As far as I’m aware only one other member of our group saw them, but he did agree on at least eight dolphins.  This was a first sighting of Dolphins for Sam and the first time I have seen more than a couple together in UK waters.  This was a great and unexpected sighting and my best ever cetacean watch in the UK.  We were delighted and this has to be the sighting of the day!  This proved to be one of those natural events that make you realise why watching wildlife is so exciting and why you should always be on the lookout for the unexpected.  We did think about trying for even better views, but decided instead to head out of the dunes and watch the three (or was it four?) Short-eared Owls from an appropriate distance.  Sam had found what we believe is a Short-eared Owl pellet before actually sighting the owls.  Full marks for observation there.  Sam managed decent photographs of the White-beaked Dolphins given the distance between them and us.

Distant Short-eared Owl over the dunes.

Courtesy of Samuel Hood.  One of the White-beaked Dolphins.  If you look closely you can see the splash of another and the fin of another.  Great experience.

 The area of the Lough brought us large flocks of Teal, several hundred, and I believe only an odd Wigeon.  We did get the chance to photograph Goldcrest near to the hide.  I didn’t manage to match Sam’s recent images of Goldcrest, but I’m still more than happy.

A few of the hundreds of Teal near the Lough

An obliging Goldcrest near the Lough

  By now it was time to take a slow walk back towards the coach.  Six hours were flying by!  We’d seen only a few of the group members throughout the day.  Where were they all I thought?

Every now and again we would come across something worth photographing, including poppies, and as we got nearer Lindisfarne Castle the light seemed rather good for photographs of it.  I’m hoping some plans for a photographic expedition to the island in the future may come to fruition.

Poppy by the wall

A good way to reach the end of a great day on the island.
Back at the coach someone spotted a Great Skua fly by, but unfortunately that was missed by us.  I’m also aware that at least one Snow Bunting was picked up by a member/s.  Surprisingly only an odd Redwing had been picked up.  I had seen Mistle Thrushes just after we had arrived.  We seemed to make a quick get away to head for Budle Bay for the customary short stop there, but not before seeing the Sparrowhawk flying near the village.  We’d spent six great hours on the island and I’d never at any point felt rushed.

Budle Bay was fairly quiet in comparison to previous visits.  We were rewarded with the likes of Little Egret, a flock of Barnacle Geese, Shelduck and Goldeneye which were all new for my day list of species.

Common Buzzard was seen from the coach as we returned to Newcastle as the sun set.  I remember on one previous trip to the island as a group we had a group day list approaching ninety species.  No group list was done today for some reason, or if it was no one shared it with me, but I’m sure it would not have approached such figures.  Numbers just didn’t seem to matter today on what had been a very special day as far as I’m concerned.  The sighting of those White-beaked Dolphins will stay in my memory for sometime to come and ‘Mission Brent Goose’ had been a massive success.  Thanks to Sam for the usual interesting chat and good humour along the way. :-)  It was one of those days that you feel your returning home having truly spent the day in the wild and with nature.

21st Oct A bird count on Killy Lake today produced the likes of One-hundred and forty Mute Swans (plus one dead Mute Swan in the reeds which is going to be removed), seventy plus Canada Geese, thirty-one Greylag Geese (most of which have just appeared), a pair of Shoveller, two female Goldeneye and one Goosander, the pair of Great Crested Grebes (rapidly heading for winter plumage and which we are surprisd to see are still about) and four Little Grebes, plus numbers of other regular waterfowl.

Addendum.  I now see there was a large movement of Dolphins past the Farnes on 21st Oct.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Jack Snipe and the Removal of a Burden!

18th Oct.  I feel a load had been removed from my shoulders and a definite sense of relief and achievement tonight.  Yes, I have at last added Jack Snipe to my life list!  I’d set this as a goal for the winter and I’ve scored already.

I took the chance of a few hours birding today with my friend Lee.  We took in Cresswell Pond first of all and it was nice to feel able to leave the coat in the car.  It was like a summer’s day.  Tree Sparrows into double figures greeted us as we headed towards the hide.  There were already a number of cars parked in the usual area.  We reached the hide to hear that the Jack Snipe had been flushed by a Sparrowhawk along with the Common Snipes.  I counted sixteen Common Snipe which had returned, but saw no Jack Snipe amongst them.  We weren’t the only disappointed faces.  It was good to see both Long-tailed Duck and Scaup on the pond however, along with the likes of Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal and Goldeneye (females).  (Sam tells me he has found female Goldeneye on Killy Lake today.  I have never given much thought to the females of this species arriving at wintering areas first but it does seem to be the case).  Lapwings were around in large numbers.  As we made off from the hide we found a number of Goldcrest in the hedge along with Goldfinch.  We saw numbers of Greenfinch further along the road.  More than I have seen for sometime.

We headed for the Ponteland hide in Druridge Bay in the hopes of catching sight of the Slavonian Grebe.  Unfortunately it had moved on.  I found out later that it hadn’t gone far, but we failed to see it and settled for more Goldcrests and five Red-throated Divers close in at Druridge Bay.  On the drive up there we had stopped to look at three Whooper Swans in fields just north of Bells Pond.  About fifty Pink-footed Geese showed well a little further to the south, but lifted as a military aircraft noisily flew over their heads.  There seemed to be a military exercise going on today.  Where’s Sam when you need him? :-)  Also seen in this area were large flocks of Curlew both in the fields and overhead and a single Bar-tailed Godwit.  I don’t really think I have paid as much attention to Druridge Bay as I ought and remained myself just what a wonderful area this is.

There was little to be seen in the park at Druridge and we decided to miss out East Chevington, having been told there was little about there.  Instead we returned to Cresswell Pond as I thought that there was every chance that the Jack Snipe would make a return.  After a quick lunch break we made for the hide again to find it busy.  As we entered Ian Kerr told us that someone at the other end of the hide had there telescope on the Jack Snipe.  I nonchalantly moved to the other end of the hide.  Well in fact I may have moved up quite quickly and attempted to push Lee out of the way.  The Jack Snipe was close to the hide and it turns out it had been there all of the time!  It was not easy to locate and my thanks to the guy who had his scope on it.  I eventually located it with my binoculars and we got the scope onto it.  Squatting at first, it then began to preen.  Then the bouncing began making it more obvious.  It continued to bounce.  I took time to take in a sighting that I have waited and waited for.  A great bird.  Jack Snipe will be a challenger for my bird of the year.  I eventually left feeling a burden had been lifted.  I doubt if anyone in that hide knew just how good I was feeling!

Next stop was West Hartford.  I’ve not been here for ages.  We found Mistle Thrush and Wren, Corvids and Gulls, but little else.  We didn’t get close to the pool as the ground was so waterlogged, but from where we stood there seemed to be nothing on there apart from the odd Black Headed Gull.  I admit we weren’t there long.  I’ll need to visit again soon.

A quick stop was made at Prestwick Carr on the way home.  The rain began as we arrived and looked as though it was going to continue so we only took a short walk along the bumpy road.  It allowed time for me to hear Willow Tit and pick up on some very nicely showing Siskins and a Lesser Redpoll.

On leaving Prestwick Carr we were soon back into the sun.  My neighbour tells me that there had been no rain in Killingworth.  A very good day and great to have at last such a good sighting of a bird I’ve wanted to find for so long.  It has set me up nicely for the weekend!  I heard someone say today that there is to be an Indian summer at the weekend.  I’ll settle for dry!  Now let me get my birthday mug! :-)

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

What's in a Name?...Edward Blyth (1810-1873)

Edward Blyth was one of the most highly regarded ornithologists of his generation and species named in his honour include Blyth’s Kingfisher, Blyth’s Hawk Eagle, and Blyth’s Tragopan as well as Blyth’s Reed Warbler and Blyth’s Pipit.
Blyth attended school in London and left at the age of fifteen having shown a disposition to explore the local wildlife during his school years.  It had been hoped that he would attend university and eventually move into the church.  His passion for natural history continued.

On coming of age and gaining an inheritance, Blyth bought a Druggists business, but continued his interests in natural history and supplemented his incoming by writing articles for publications and papers for scientific journals.  His subjects ranged from Habits of the Bearded Tit, The Predaceous Habits of the Shrike, to Observations on the Cuckoo and The Occurrence of the Carrion Crow in Ireland.  Another project of Blyth’s was to add notations to an 1836 edition of Gilbert White’s Selbourne.

Blyth’s druggist business inevitably failed and for a time he acted as Curator for the Ornithological Society of London.  Due to poor health he was advised to seek a warmer climate abroad and when he was offered the position of Curator of the Museum of the Asiatic Society of Bengal he accepted this and arrived in Calcutta in September 1841.  He devoted the next twenty years to the natural history of British India, improving the museum and updating the catalogues.  His poor health restricted his fieldwork although this did include one visit to Burma.  He received specimens from the likes of Allan Octavian Hume and Robert Swinhoe who sent skins from Formosa and China.

Blyth’s Reed Warbler was first described by Blyth as Acrocephalus dumetorum and Henry Dresser added the current vernacular name in 1876.  Blyth was also the first to describe Blyth’s Pipit, but the scientific name he gave it is no longer accepted.

When he returned to England papers by him continued to appear in the Annuls and Magazine of Natural History, The Zoologist and The Ibis and other works included the Natural History of Cranes.  In 1860 he became one of the original Honorary Members of the B.O.U.

During his time in India Blyth corresponded with Charles Darwin.  Although not well acknowledged, Blyth may have played at least some part in influencing many of Darwin’s ideas and it could well have been Blyth who warned Darwin of Wallace’s similar ideas on evolution.

The above information is taken from B and R Mearns Biographies for Birdwatchers (1988)

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Wader Watching and a Red Kite on Patch

13th Oct.  Sam and I had once again timed our arrival at St Mary’s Island so as to hit the tide as it brought the waders close to shore.  The first thing that hit us was the fact that in the sunshine it was warm on the 

Colours on the Lapwings showing well today.

I was hoping the Golden Plovers would take to flight.

We were dropped of at the cemetery and as we walked down towards the lighthouse we watched Lapwings, Redshanks and Curlew feeding in the fields to the left of us.  As expected we also watched the flocks of Golden Plover and Redshank as they were brought in by the tide with lesser numbers of Oystercatcher and Turnstone.  We spent most of our time with the Sanderling in the North Bay and managed some quite decent photographs.  The occasional Eider Duck swam close to shore.  The area was quite busy with a number of photographers taking photos of the lighthouse as the causeway gradually covered by the incoming tide.  There was the usual group who had left the return to the mainland too late and had to get their feet wet!  I’m undecided as to whether such people like to get their feet wet or just like the attention!  Rock Pipits were around in their favoured area and it was better to watch them.

The Sanderlings were the entertainers today.
As we walked up to the willows Redwing were seen as were a number of birders.  I guessed there was some rarity about.  We chatted a while to some friends, one who asked if we where heading to Holywell.  We must be getting too predictable!  As it happens we weren’t going that way today, but instead heading back to patch via Seaton Sluice.  So we didn’t spend long at the mini twitch, and we didn’t therefore struggle to tell whether the bird (unseen by us) was from Blyth or a Paddyfield or both!  A Common Snipe flew overhead before we moved on.  We did have a quiet lunch accompanied by a hovering Kestrel and Skylarks. 

On Watch!

More Sanderling as the tide comes in.

Earlier in the day Sam had said his two target birds for the winter were Brent Goose and Waxwing.  He didn’t have long to wait for the Brent Goose as we found one on the water in Colywell Bay.  It lifted and circled right past us giving Sam his goose on a plate, so to speak.  Once at Seaton Sluice we found a nice pair of Stonechats on the bank of the harbour after which we headed for Killy passing a flooded Backworth Pond which we aim to check out during the winter months.

Once back on patch we headed for the wagon-ways with the intention of checking to see if any Short-eared Owls had arrived.  I think neither of us thought we would find any and we were correct.  Initially the area seemed really deserted of bird life, although I mentioned that I’d be surprised if we didn’t see a Kestrel.  One of the first birds of note was a female Sparrowhawk flying high above the hedges and obviously checking them out.

We then came across a flock of about twenty Lesser Redpolls which were very active.  We did manage to get quite close to them, but the light was against us as they flew from the hedge-way and across the fields.  There does appear to be large numbers of Redpoll about this autumn.  This is actually a patch tick for both Sam and I.

The walk was a circular route and we did eventually come across one of the Kestrels perched on the wires.  This sighting was followed by a small flock of maybe eight Mistle Thrushes with the odd Redwing and Fieldfare included.  Two Grey Herons stood motionless in the fields.  Nearby, but on the opposite side of the pathway we disturbed three Grey Partridges which we watched as they travelled across the field and disappeared into a hedge.  A Pheasant called from the other side of the path and was eventually seen.

Then as we walked up the pathway Sam got his eye on some action in the hedge-way.  He called Red Kite!  Sam got a short but decent view of it as it seemed to be disturbed by a Common Buzzard and Carrion Crows.  It flew off to the west.  We were unable to follow the flight of the Red Kite as it was hidden by the hedge.  We hurried up the pathway to find an opening, but by then the Red Kite was out of sight.  I don’t think it had time to fly out of sight and so I think it may have landed again in one of the more distant fields.  We weren’t able to relocate it.  My sighting was brief indeed, but never the less it was another patch tick for both Sam and I.  I had been made aware that a Red Kite had been seen in this same area a few months ago, but I hadn’t located it, but the finder had felt it had flown off.  We were able to watch the Common Buzzard as it flew quite closely by us for a short time, during which most of the time it was being mobbed by Carrion Crows.

A small number of Linnets perched on the wires and a party of tits including Great, Blue and Long Tailed moved through the hedge.  Two Reed Buntings were in another hedge to the right of us.

There was the usual high number of Wood Pigeons and Magpies.  A few Feral Pigeons and at least one Stock Dove were found amongst them.  Just to underline that there are numbers of raptors around we found a plucking post and the fresh remains of a Wood Pigeon.  The way the feathers were distributed suggested that at least two or three kills had recently been taken here.

Some of the evidence!
As we made off towards home flocks of Black Headed and Herring Gulls seemed to build up in the fields and a sizable flock of Starlings were occasionally in the air.  The skies which had clouded over at the start of our walk were again quite clear and there were some wonderful cloud formations to the north and west.  The rain which had threatened earlier never did arrive.  The temperature had been amazingly mild until the later part of the walk when temperatures seemed to begin to drop.

So another very good day during which we both added two new birds to our patch list and Sam had a lifer with the Brent Goose.  I have to say the time on patch was both rewarding and exciting and I’m really pleased we stuck to our plans today.  It was the first time for some while that either of us had visited the wagon-ways.  I think the coming months will see us returning a few times.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Prestwick Carr...RSPB Talk and Walk

Poster courtesy of Samuel Hood

Full information can be found on the Local Group website here
Booking is essential.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Kingfishers on the Carr

7th Oct.  After a chilly start to the day the air soon began to warm as Sam and I arrived at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.  During our time there the garden by the lodge was attracting Red Admiral and Speckled Wood Butterflies.

Red Admiral Butterfly
We visited the feeding station hide on two occasions and began to understand why there may have been few birds about at times after we watched the Sparrowhawk make a number of attacks.  The Sparrowhawk’s first target was the Great Spotted Woodpecker, which narrowly escaped as the hawk almost smashed into the tree, after having I’m sure made contact with the woodpecker.  Next to gain attention from the hawk was a Magpie!  On our second visit the Great Spotted Woodpecker made yet another narrow escape.  If it had been a cat I’d have said it surely must be down to seven lives!  The Sparrowhawk definitely has an eye on that woodpecker!  A Nuthatch, tit species, Blackbird and Wren were amongst other birds at the feeding station.

On my reckoning, seven lives left!
Once we were walking around the reserve we decided very quickly that the decision to wear wellington boots had been a good one.  The mud was deep and the ground waterlogged in places.  We met few people in the reserve on what was a beautiful day.  The fungi were beginning to show well and the foliage of some trees beginning to show some colour.

If not already named I'd have suggested 'Talking Heads Fungi'.
Birds on the pond included Mute Swan, Shoveller, Mallard, Gadwell, thirty-six Wigeon, Teal Pochard and Tufted Duck.  We heard at least one remaining Sedge Warbler and Water Rail.  Sam catching a glimpse of the latter bird which was making continuous calls.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew over the pond.

After ending the walk we cleaned our boots the best we could before heading off in the direction of Prestwick Carr.  Here we had the opportunity to plodge through water rather than mud, the area still being well flooded in many parts.

As we joined the bumpy road Sam wondered if we would see a Marsh Harrier.  I suggested not at this time of year and said that perhaps a Hen Harrier would be more likely.  A little later Sam answered the call of nature and whilst so engaged I looked up and called to him that I had spotted a Marsh Harrier.  He just laughed!  It took me a while to convince him that the harrier was flying across the northern area of the carr in a south easterly direction.  Sam did eventually believe me!  Nearby Willow Tits called.  We also found Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel over the carr today.  Sam was quick to see two late Sand Martins flying south.

Dragonflies caught our attention along the bumpy road and at the turning up towards the sentry box.  These included numbers of Common Darter (we did wonder if we had seen a Ruddy Darter, but weren’t certain), Common Hawkers, Migrant Hawkers and Southern Hawker.

Migrant Hawker

Common Darter

 We kept a look out for the Little Gull which had been recorded the previous day, but found only Black Headed Gulls.  The most interesting stretch of the walk was the flooded path up to the sentry box.  The field to the west is still well flooded and held flocks of Lapwing, Curlew, Canada Geese and a few Pink-footed Geese.  The pathway is flooded and we could not have gone very far but for our wellingtons.  The water came to shin height in places.  The red flags had just been taken down.  There may well have been more waders in the fields, but with just binoculars it was difficult to pick anything up and in any event our attention was taken by an unexpected pair of Kingfishers.  They were on occasions dropping into the water on the pathway and then flying up and down the pathway before perching in the hedge-ways.  We didn’t really get an opportunity to photograph them, but we were both happy enough with the sightings.  The unexpected is often the best!  Flying in the area was a flock of Lesser Redpolls which we managed to get good sightings of when they settled from time to time.

Sun reflecting from flooded fields made for difficult wader watching.

Sam checks out his waterproof trousers whilst watching the Redpolls!

There were few people about today and the sunlight reflecting from the flooded fields and carr made for a good atmosphere.  On the return walk we bumped into PF.  We also had better sightings of the Willow Tits and two Willow Warblers.  Three Common Snipe called and circled over head.

It had been such a good day I decided early on that I would make no attempt to rush home for the match.  I clearly made the correct decision!  It had been a special treat indeed to find the pair of Kingfishers on the carr.   It had been a day of mud, water and good birding!