Thursday, 29 March 2012

Gone Fishin'.

28th March.

Gone fishin'. . .see him snoozin' by a brook
Gone fishin'. . .didn't even bait his hook
There's his hound dog by his side fleas are bitin' at his hide
He won't scratch 'em he's to tired he ain't got no ambition
Gone fishin'. . .learnin' fishin' worms to swim
I'm wishin. . .he wuz me and I wuz him
Wish I had a plane to fly here's what I'd write in the sky
Gone' fishin'. . .instead of jest awishin'

Just think Bing Crosby.

Monday, 26 March 2012

Sitting By the Lake

26th Mar. I sat by the lake and closed my eyes and thought it was mid summer today! Once my eyes opened again I studied the Great Crested Grebes behaviour taking careful mental notes. I managed some photos too. Both pairs of Great Crested Grebe remain.

I didn't ignore the other birds, and in particular it was difficult not to note the antics of the Coots. One of them preening at length before another left the nest to join it for a bit of mating. The light made the reflections and patterns on the water interesting today too. It was definitely a time to just sit/stand and watch. Chiffchaffs sang in the distance. Peacock Butterflies flew near, and rested upon, rocks at the edge of the lake.

I was joined by another grebe watcher later and we had an interesting chat as we enjoyed the sun. It was fellow patch worker and grebe watcher Sam.

Washed it yesterday and can't do a thing with it!

Cute Coot

Always love the effects on the water.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

RSPB Geltsdale and Black Grouse

Early morning atmosphere at Geltsdale

24th Mar. I was picked up by Sam and Malcolm just before 5:00am and we headed off into the mist westwards towards Geltsdale. In places visibility was very poor, so we had fingers crossed that things would improve the further west we got. They did to a large extent and we were the first to arrive at the reserve for the Black Grouse Lek viewing. Mist still filled some of the valleys and my question to the RSPB representative as to whether or not my scope would be used simply brought a wry smile! I took it along anyway. To be honest by the time I’d crossed the boggy land and climbed the hill in the coldness of early morning, I wondered if I ought not to have just relied on my binoculars. Note to self…….get fit! Good job I did take the scope however as the birds were some what distant. It was rather unfortunate that the valley the Black Grouse were lekking in was still holding mist. I can happily report however that we had reasonable scope sightings of three displaying cock birds and one hen bird. They occasionally disappeared in the mist. The latter possibly giving the best sighting of all as it stood on the wall attracted by the males. It was all very atmospheric even though the birds were rather distant. The cock birds could be heard. This was a great time of day to be out and a great area to be in. Brown Hares added some mammalian interest and I heard someone mention a Weasel, but I didn’t see it.

In addition to the Black Grouse we heard and saw Lapwing, Golden Plover, Redshank, Curlew and drumming Common Snipe. A large flock of Fieldfares fed on the ground in the distance. The Lapwings were especially active in display flight and noisy. Sam spotted a couple of Wheatears which had apparently just arrived this week. When we returned to the centre we were given tea and bacon sandwiches. I don’t much like bacon sandwiches if I’m honest, but having been out of bed since 4:00am and up that hill, I did get stuck into it. Red-legged Partridges were heard and briefly seen nearby.

Under the Hood gives Killy some instruction on Toads

I'm ignoring calls to change the blog name to Killy Toader!

Like me, warming up after a cold start to the day.

Afterwards Sam, Malcolm and I went looking for Dippers on the burn. By now the mist had disappeared more or less and it was quickly warming up in the sun. We found no Dippers on the clear cold water of the burn where a few Coltsfoot added some bright colour. We did find a pair of Stonechats showing really well in the now bright clear light, numerous Toads and on the window ledge of the centre, a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly warming itself in the sun. Meadow Pipits and Skylark were in the area. Before we left we chatted to the RSPB representative. I’m afraid I never did get his name. We decided that we must return to further explore the reserve and attempt to get up higher on the fells. Maybe in summer.

We left and headed for an area of common /moorland. Its name escapes me. I know I have never visited this area of high ground near Haltwhistle before, although I’ve passed the sign for it many times. We took a walk on a couple of areas of the common and found numbers of Meadow Pipit, often showing that unmistakable parachute like drop, and Red Grouse and everything that comes with an area used for game shooting purposes. Sadly the opportunity of catching an image of a Red Grouse stood on a post right next to the car eluded us. I was too slow and unlike him, Sam had his camera in the boot! There will be another opportunity I’m sure. My attempts at photographing Red Grouse are not of very good standard I’m afraid so not appearing. Both Common Buzzard and Kestrel flew over the area. We thought it was another area worthy of future exploration, perhaps early morning. More Toads were found. Many having been flattened as they crossed the road. Views from here would have been very good had it not been for haze blocking out any distant view. We were getting hot by now and layers of clothing were being removed.

Our final stop on the journey home was at Whittle Dene Reservoir. By now there was some real heat in the sun. It was like a summer’s day and I enjoyed the sit beside the reservoir as the sunlight was reflected of the water. I suspect the water was still very cold in the deeper areas. We were all very warm by now and rather tired so this was a really nice ending to the day. Reed Bunting was found in the trees, a pair of Great Crested Grebe diving at length was found on the water along with Mute Swans, six Goldeneye. A pair of Grey Wagtails, the yellow colouring showing well in the bright sunlight flew overhead. Frogs were found in one of the man made streams which appeared to be used to control water levels in the reservoir.

So despite the misty start to the day which meant perhaps that the Black Grouse viewing was somewhat limited we had all experienced a really good day. My thanks go to Sam and his dad, Malcolm. The RSPB too of course for the very good work done in the Geltsdale area. The type of reserve I like, with not a café or cream cake in sight!

I’ve stayed at home today, mowed the lawn in the sun and watched a classy performance by the Magpies. Vive le Toon.

Friday, 23 March 2012

Dene and Patch

First Peacock Butterfly seen in 2012

22nd Mar. No sooner had I left the house today and I found my first identifiable butterfly of 2012. It was a Small Tortoiseshell. I say first identifiable butterfly as I saw one in flight at Gosforth Park Nature reserve on 18th March but not well enough to identify, although it to may have been a Small Tortoiseshell.

I was on my way for lunch with a friend and to take a walk in the dene, this time Jesmond Dene. The lunch at Millfield House was enjoyable despite the sound of so many pre-school children there for the morning. Bless ‘em!:-) Before we reached the café we’d found a pair of Grey Wagtails on the Ouse Burn. It was possibly the same pair that was seen a little later and further up the burn. The sunny day ensured that more butterflies made an appearance in the form of two separate Peacock Butterflies. I managed to photograph these two, but not very well.

As well as lunch the Kingfisher and Dippers had been part of the ‘carte du jour’. Sadly, after taking in the usual area that I find these birds it seemed that they were not going to appear on the cart! Then I eventually got my eye on a single Dipper, then the pair, which gave a good close sighting. No such luck with the Kingfisher however although it had been watched further down the burn by a couple we spoke to. The pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers was more obliging and after picking up the sound of drumming, coming ever closer, we got our eyes on the birds. My friend got sight of what may have been a Green Woodpecker, but I was unable to get on it. I have to find one soon!

The dene didn’t offer too many other birds and I hadn’t expected too many, but it had been an enjoyable walk. Brown Rats were out in force to enjoy the sun along the burn bank. I heard one Chiffchaff very briefly.

To make up for the non appearance of the Kingfisher I ended the afternoon with a cup of Earl Grey tea and a very large piece of cake. Very nice. I noticed a small child had her eye on my cake. The cheek of it! I gave her a look as if to say, go and buy your own, and she took the hint and moved along.

'And people complain about the mess made by some of the birds!!!

23rd Mar. I met up with Sam on Patch today. Rather cooler than yesterday.

The numbers of Chiffchaff on patch have grown rapidly over the past week, with calls now around the lake, village and other areas. Just waiting now for the first Willow Warblers to arrive in April. Lots of Chiffchaffs, but none giving me the opportunity of a good photograph. Wrens, Chaffinch and Greenfinch were numerous and in song.

We took a look on the Lake. I noticed the smaller lake was in need of a good clean up. Surely it would take little effort to clean this mess up! Rubbish included a chair, the usual empty beer cans (I hope if there are any Newts around that they stayed clear, or they could end up inebriated!), a baby’s dummy and an assortment of fellow humans’ rubbish!

We watched the Great Crested Grebes briefly. A Coot sat on its nest.

The larger lake still held a couple of pairs of Goldeneye doing the neck stretch display. A Sparrowhawk flew high overhead for much of the time which seemed to unsettle the birds at the edge of the lake. A number of Lesser Black Backed Gulls were about today.

I enjoyed the walk and the chat about birds, photography and much more. An early start in the morning so an early night tonight me thinks. More anon.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Dipping and Wagging Into Spring

Spring.....Light at the end of the tunnel!

Lesser Celandine

20th Mar. It being officially springtime Sam and I decided that another trip to Holywell Dene was due. On this occasion concentrating on only a small area for birding and photography. Sam had begun work experience yesterday and now had the day off. That’s the type of work experience I would have liked! :-)

A call at the pond found very little either at the feeding station or on the water. We didn’t stay long as we anticipated stopping off here again on our return. Reed Bunting was seen and at least twelve Pied Wagtails fed in the newly ploughed east field. There were probably more of this species hidden in the dip of the field. Skylark was heard then seen. A Kestrel was seen at some point. We headed down the avenue to the dene, and this area was to fill most of our day.

The water of the Seaton Burn is very low at present and I’m thinking that and heavy rains in the near future may wash out some nests in the bank. Wrens were very numerous and certainly appeared to be building nests low on the bank side. The dene is certainly showing signs of spring with some flora visible now and the air full of bird song. Chiffchaffs sung from high in the trees and could not be found until I heard the huit huit call of one of them coming from a low bush. This eventually provided the first sighting of Chiffchaff for 2012

Nicitating membrane of the Dipper's eye shows here.

What we had really come for where sightings and photographs of the pairs of Dipper and Grey Wagtail. Both were found very quickly and provided us with entertainment for a good period of time. A Dipper/s sung for a short period before showing well and the Grey Wagtails flew up and down the burn collecting nesting material which they took to the nest on regular occasions. Time was well spent watching these birds. Our relaxed style for the day paid off as the likes of Treecreeper appeared nearby and Nuthatch called and was later seen. A Song Thrush’s repetitive song came from high in the trees and the calls of Chaffinches were very evident. We were in quite a dark area of the dene but the sun managed to shine light in patches through the trees and we were soon feeling the heat although the cool wind could still be heard above us. Stock Doves were in the trees above us.

We took some time out from watching the Dippers and Grey Wagtails and walked along the dene footpath. Two Redwings flew up from the burn where they had been bathing and drinking. Sam decided to get some landscape shots from the centre of the burn. Not too difficult to do as the water was so low in places. Still, I decided to stick to the bank! We stopped to talk to a couple out walking and no sooner had they mentioned Great Spotted Woodpeckers when a pair appeared in the trees beside us before flying off above tree level. A pair of Mallard swam on the burn and the area held numerous tits, Robins, Dunnock and Blackbirds. One of the Robins gave the irresistible opportunity for more photographs. The same pair of Grey Wagtails we had been watching earlier was found further down stream. Great Spotted Woodpeckers were heard drumming at times throughout the day. The usual Jackdaws could be heard overhead.

Returning to our starting position in the dene we had more good sightings of the pairs of Dipper and Grey Wagtail and Sam had a really good sighting of a Weasel which I only had the briefest of views as it disappeared into the undergrowth. Our mammal list for the dene is growing.

Walking into a rather more neglected, but over used (some would say for the wrong reasons) area of the dene we found two pairs of Great Spotted Woodpeckers. I reckon between bouts of courtship they were involved in a territorial dispute. Noisy and flying a speed around the tops of the trees and occasionally landing on the branches and trunks of the trees, this provided a very good sighting. I’m sure there must be at least three pairs of Great Spotted Woodpecker in the area of the dene visited today. We spent a little more time in the dene before leaving to the sound of Song Thrush singing.

Back in the pond area we found at least six Tree Sparrows in the hedge. We chatted to volunteer BK who was painting the viewing are at the feeding station some extra wood has been added to each side in an attempt to keep the dogs out. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew into the treetop. We watched as someone in the distance walked their dog across the farmland where Skylarks nest, rather than take the footpath. Sam and I had seen two blokes earlier in the day walk down the far end of the pond with three dogs, allowing them to run into the pond and flush birds from the reeds!

The pond was still noticeably quiet, but the following species can be listed, Little Grebe, Cormorant, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot, Lapwing, Redshank, Black Headed Gull, Common Gull, Herring Gull and Lesser Black Backed Gull.

After finishing my flask of coffee we made for home. It had been a really good day and rewarding day with a species list of fifty-one. Not at all bad considering the relatively small area covered. It had been a day to sit and watch a limited number of species, but in fact it had proven to be very fruitful in the sense that so many other species had appeared. If only the Kingfisher had turned up we would have had a complete set. A wonderful atmosphere in the dene added to by a bit of chat.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Patch and Park


18th Mar. Having met Sam near the lake we spotted three Oystercatchers flying over as we approached the smaller of the lakes. One of the Great Crested Grebes was near to the nest and another further towards the centre of the lake. The light wasn’t too good at this point so we decided to do a little exploration and return later.

At least one pair of Goldeneye remains on the larger lake. Only one Great Crested Grebe was found here. We wondered if the pair had been put off by the demise of the floating reed bed. Both Pied and Grey Wagtail were briefly seen on the edge of the lake.

The last time I had been down to the lake (12th Mar) I had watched the Great Crested Grebes mating on two occasions on the nest platform. Today they seemed to be adding material to the nest, after which the female lay on the nest platform, neck out- stretched and mating took place again, followed by the usual face to face head shaking and bill pointing.

I knew the Chiffchaffs were due to appear in Killingworth as I first heard them here on 19th March last year, so we made off to listen for them. Initially nothing was heard from them and we settled for a non appearance today. Chaffinch and Robin song seemed to dominate. Then whilst checking out another area we did finally hear the unmistakeable call of a Chiffchaff. I reckon there will be several more around tomorrow. Shortly after this we made off to Gosforth Park.

We met Paul Drummond, the warden at the entrance and he told us that he had slightly earlier watched the Green Woodpecker so we kept our eyes and ears open for this, but with no luck today. Having seen the number of cars parked outside of the reserve I assumed that the hide at the feeding station was going to be busy. In fact it was very quiet and we found that the cars in the main belonged to the volunteer working party. Whilst we are all basking in sunshine this dry weather is not good for the birds or reserve. Paul told us that in twenty-two years of having been at the reserve he has never known it so dry at this time of year. This week is of course forecast to be another dry one. The concern is that the rain will eventually arrive at the wrong time. On a purely selfish note I have to say I’m enjoying the dry weather.

Species seen at the feeding station were Stock Dove, Blackbird, Dunnock, Robin, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long Tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting. A Song Thrush was heard and seen nearby.

Altogether now.....

Win or lose, sink or swim
One thing is certain well never give in
Side by side, hand in hand
We all stand together

Lyrics courtesy of Paul McCartney and the frog of course.

We had an enjoyable walk around the reserve and found numbers of frogs and frogs spawn near one of the lake viewing areas. The light was showing the reserve at its best and the sun offered some warmth after what had been a chilly start to the day. No Bittern was seen today. We’d have been pushing our luck expecting more good sightings. This was the Sam’s third visit to the reserve and the first time he hadn’t had good sightings of these birds

Nice atmosphere. no Bittern!

A Cormorant perched in the tree on the far side of the lake as a number of Grey Herons flew around the area. Greylag Geese, Shoveller, Wigeon and Pochard were amongst birds on the water. Small flocks of Wigeon flew overhead and the whistling from this species was very noticeable today. At least two Common Snipe rose from the reed-beds and flew across the pond. The flash outside of the reserve held Oystercatchers and I wondered if these may have been the ones we had seen at Killingworth earlier in the day. A patch of Coltsfoot added some colour and there were numbers of bees about today.

In one of the hides we noticed a swastika had been scratched on the back wall. I couldn’t help wonder if the NHSN had been taken over by some right wing organisation, or if it was simply the work of local yobs entering the reserve to do what ever they do in there. I felt it would be the latter. As we prepared to leave the area four Greylag Geese flew off towards Killingworth and that Song Thrush continued to sing near to the lodge.

It had been a really nice and relaxing day, offering some good local birding and giving our first Chiffchaff of 2012. It was nice to reflect on looking over the fields next to the NHSN reserve that they are to remain fields for at least the foreseeable future! It would have been a criminal act if they had not. Good to see that people do have power at times when they act with a common cause.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Return to Washington WWT/Photos


Is it a frog or is it a toad? Whatever it is, it escaped the Smew’s bill after a struggle. I was concentrating so much on getting the photograph, that I wasn’t sure what happened next. I must learn not to let the camera distract me from what is really important, and that is watching the wildlife. Sam tells me a clean break was made. Recently watched a redhead Smew at QE11. I thought it looked more attractive than this one. I’m not sure why there was no drake Smew at Washington WWT. Maybe there is an obvious answer to that. The drake is a favourite of mine.

Chilean Flamingo

I’ve seen the Greater Flamingo in Coto Donana, Spain and both Greater and Lesser Flamingo in southern Africa, but I’ve never seen the Chilean Flamingo in the wild. One of my birding/natural history highlights was flying in a Cesena aircraft, just above a flock of flying flamingos on the Skeleton Coast, Namibia.

Ruddy Shelduck

I’ve spotted one on Killy Lake a few years ago, and at Prestwick Carr. It was the same bird. I’ve also seen a pair on the Humber. A beautiful bird. If I can’t convince anyone at least the Humber birds were wild, I have seen the real thing in Romania.

The dad of the friend and ex work colleague of mine that I walked with at Holywell recently has I understand started to follow my blog. I’ve put this one up for him. Hoping he keeps following.:-)

Common Crane

Have you got my best side there?
At least I’ve seen a few Common Cranes in Norfolk. Belonging to a very interesting family of birds. If I was to concentrate on seeing all the individuals of a family, the cranes would be at or near the top of my list for such an attempt. It would certainly take me too some interesting places. I’d recommend a reading of Peter Mathieson’s book, Birds of Paradise, in which he tours the world in search of cranes. As well as the Common Crane, I have the Grey (Southern) Crowned Crane, Blue Crane and Wattled Crane on my life list. I can’t really count the Sandhill Crane as I’m far from convinced that it was a wild bird, even though the tour leader was suggesting it might be!

Mandarin Duck

As I’ve said before, far too flashy a bird for my liking. Never the less it does help make a nice photograph as this drake admires its own reflection in the water. I hear we have more Mandarin Ducks in the UK than in China. I got the impression most of them are at Washington WWT!
Sick as a Red-Breasted Goose

‘Oh no, not more flippin seed.
Go away I just want to have a kip. Sam had more success in force feeding the Hawaiian Goose.

Wood Duck

This one gives the Mandarin a run for its money in the flashy bird stakes. I’ve seen one in British Columbia, Canada.

Red-breasted Goose

I’ve not been lucky enough to sight any of the occasional Red-breasted Geese wild in the UK. No doubt most are escapes anyway. A very attractive bird that I really would like to see in the wild, and if necessary I may have to book myself a European trip.

Hawaiian Goose

The WWT did much good work in ensuring the survival of the Hawaiian Goose. I hope that they meet with as much success with the Spoon-Billed Sandpiper. Now that is one I would love to see in the wild! The presentation at the Hancock on Tuesday evening was a very interesting one and included some video footage of the expedition to Eastern Russia. It won’t be an easy task breeding these birds in captivity, but I shall follow progress with interest. Good to see several familiar faces at the talk, although I was surprised that there wasn’t a few more there from the bird clubs.