Monday, 30 December 2013

A Year (2013) in the Life of........

You may not want to believe it, but another year has come and almost gone.  Once again I finish the year looking back on some memorable moments.

Wettest Moments.  These were without a shadow of a doubt the time I spent up in Teesdale in May!  Could it really have been so wet and cold in May?  Yes it certainly could, and having spent time in the area of Widdybank Farm and  High Force I was as near to being hypothermic as I have ever been.  Never the less some good birding included Black Grouse, Ring Ouzel and twenty minute watch through the falling snow (yes snow) of a male Redstart.  This was the day Sam was awarded his well deserved All Weather Birder title.  I still remember the comment from one lady ‘has it been raining’ she said in serious mode.  I let the rain drip from my body parts before considering an answer.

Coldest Moments.  See above.  Almost as cold, but at least not wet was the night in April that Sam and I stepped out into the streets of Bamburgh to take some night images.  Blimey was I glad to get back to the log fire that night.  Then I went to bed which I found almost as cold as the streets of Bamburgh.  Some great birding during the few days we stayed in the area, but it was hard to believe it was spring and there was certainly no sign of spring migrants which had wisely decided to stay on the continent!

Hottest Moments.  There were quite a few during a wonderful summer which provided us all with a great year for the butterfly watching.  One of the most memorable days was when Sam led us on a walk at Spindlestone and we ended the day on the Heugh with at least one member of the group falling asleep in the sunshine.  We didn’t come across that rancid beast The Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh, but we did walk into a couple of Highland Cattle with gigantic horns!  I thought of the Corporal in Dad’s Army when thinking ‘they would not like it up ‘em!  My lasting memories of the day include the many singing warblers (including my only Wood Warbler of the year) and Yellowhammers.  A great day.  I seem to remember another very hot day was had in Smardale and the butterflies were out in force that day.  I did not half enjoy my Coke at the end of that walk!

Windiest Moments.  This has to be the walk around Holy Island with Andy S in January.  We’d just watched the Cattle Egret (one of three egret species I’ve seen in Northumberland this year).  Red-necked Grebe was found at Stag Rock on our return.

Muddiest Moments.  Definitely these were spent in Seahouses harbour with the Eider Ducks having earlier watched the Long Tailed Duck.  At least we managed not to fall in.

Find of the Year.  Without a doubt the walks at Spindlestone.  I’d only visited the area once before and can’t help but think that the locals keep quite about this area and its wildlife.  It’s the only spot that I have watched Red Squirrels this year.  I’ll definitely be back having spent a good few hours there during the year.

Biggest Laugh of the Year.  This was had during our mini break in Bamburgh.  The finding of the World War 2 bunker led to plans to establish our Bunker Birder Tours.  Well OK, you had to be there to understand the mirth as to what we would do to anyone trying to muscle into our patch.  Anyway whilst all of this was going on we did find a Slavonian Grebe travelling north on the sea, which I seem to remember was a lifer for Sam.  We wondered later if the two folk sat outside of the bunker had sent for men in white coats.  Anyway Bunker Birder Tours are still available for 2014, although such has been the demand Sam and I have decided to up the price for any late comers.

Most Surreal Moments.  This was also in the running for my evening of the year.  It was a hot dry night at Slaley searching for Nightjars.  It’s not often I go there and come home hot, dry and unbitten but I did this year!  This was probably my best ever Nightjar evening and Sam, Carmel, Marie and myself had some really good sightings.  A Kingfisher kicked off the evening at Corbridge and there were Yellowhammers everywhere by the River Tyne, then on the way home a Tawny Owl sighting completed the night.  The spooky surreal moments came when we heard a droning sound in the forest that at times masked the sound of the Nightjars, and then walked towards the bright light with all sorts of wild thoughts running through our minds.  You had to be there to feel the tension rising.  Then it was men with netting over their faces that we bumped into.  It was of course a moth trapping event.  A great evening in great company and we are planning to return again in 2014.  Fingers crossed for another decent summer.

Most Unexpected.  Having sightings of Bittern, Water Rail, four Short Eared Owls, Peregrine Falcon and Willow Tit was an unexpected bonus during a day at the Rising Sun Country Park.  I firmly believe (even with the other leisure demands placed upon the area i.e. dog walking and other goings on of an assorted type) that if there was a will to do so, this park could be managed much better so as to encourage birds and other wildlife.  Anyone form the council reading this I wonder?  Probably not, as they all seem to be on holiday.

The Best and Longest Day.  I think this has to be the day spent with Hawkshead Photography and Serenity Boats on the Farne Islands.  I have Sam to thank for this as he invited me along as the second person after he had won this trip in the NHSN and NWT photography competition.  The weather was excellent, the company even better and it even included fish and chips in Seahouses before we joined the evening cruising around the islands again as the sun slowly sank into the sea, giving a Mediterranean feel to the North Sea.  Great day and some decent images as a result.  I smelt Guano in my nostrils for two days afterwards and thought about marketing the scent as a new after shave for real men! 

Mammalian Moments.  The best was definitely the Badger watch on a cold evening in spring which also brought us sightings of Otter and Roe Deer.  Other good moments included the Common Seal that behave perfectly for us during our private stranding on St Mary’s Island where 

Birds of the Year.  These are in no particular order but have to once again include the Great Crested Grebes on Killingworth Lake which are surely some of the most photographed birds in Northumberland!  The Kingfisher in Gosforth park Nature Reserve has to be up there too, if for no other reason than giving us such fantastic photographic opportunities, although we had to work for it spending many hours over several days waiting.  I’m not one for sitting around in hides waiting for images to crop up, but this one was a must have.  Up there too is the Bridled Tern seen on the Farne Islands.  When Sam, Tom and I visited we were left speechless when the Glad Tidings headed in the wrong direction and we wondered if we would reach our destination let alone see the tern.  This was a rare twitch for me and one of only three lifers this year.  The Great White Egret which Sam and I found late evening at Holywell Pond was a treat, not least because no one else saw it that evening as far as I know.  That evening stays firmly in my memory as does the juvenile Marsh Harrier at Holywell.  Then there is the male Hen Harrier watched at length as it hunted in Northumberland.  The twenty plus Yellow Wagtails seen on a wonderful summer evening at Cresswell have to be up there too, as have the Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers seen at Holywell.

Best Value Membership.  This must once again go the Natural History Society of Northumbria.
Irritants of the Year.  I’ve decided to ignore them.  The last few weeks of 2013 have been stressful to say the least and I ate my Christmas Dinner in the restaurant at NTGH during one of my regular daily trips during visiting hours.  Irritants there have been, but put into perspective they are all minor and I’d rather focus on positives.  I’ve come across many dedicated staff in our NHS and many other caring folk and they should all be applauded whilst we count our blessings and stop grumbling about life’s trivialities.

The coming year promises to be an interesting and exciting one and this will I hope be reflected in my blog.  Special thanks to close friends, the closest is pictured above:-).  I hope 2014 brings a peaceful and rewarding year to all.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Rising Sun and Back to Patch.

29th Dec.  Sam and I arrived at the Rising Sun Country Park only to find the centre was closed until 3rd January, so plans for lunch had to be forgotten.  A number of other people were disappointed too and one guy was ringing around a party of friends so as to change arrangements.  It’s most unlike North Tyneside Council to lose the chance of making a few quid!  Anyway the park was open and the dog walkers were making the most of it, so much so that we thought about making a breeds list for the day.

Two Treecreepers and parties of tits were encountered as we walked down to Swallow Pond.  The pond held numbers of Shoveller along with the usual birdlife.  We’d found a Kestrel early on, Greylag Geese flew overhead and Jays were heard in the plantation.  We usually find something of interest in the area of the farm, but there was little about today apart from Long Tailed Tits, although I mustn’t forget the covey of seven Grey Partridges which showed well.  A Grey Heron perched in the reed-bed at Dukes Pond.

We decided to return to patch today for a bite to eat rather than going to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.  I’d not been down to the lake for a walk for over a month, so I enjoyed the relaxing walk today.  The area may well have a green flag these days but it was unkempt today, with sheets of Polystyrene threatening to flatten the reeds and filling one corner of the lake.  It looked as though this had blown off the building site and hopefully it won’t take long before the mess is cleared up.  Perhaps by those responsible for it all flying around in the first place!

We'll keep the green flag flying here!
Local Swanbusters have denied that there is a plot to replace Mute Swans with polystyrene blocks!
The lake still holds the pair of Little Grebes which have been around for quite some time, along with large numbers of Tufted Duck, Pochard and Mallard.  There were at least eight Goldeneyes present, far less than this time last year.  Most of the Canada Geese have departed and it is probably these birds that we saw near Gosforth Park last week.  Only three Goosanders were seen.  The walk to the village didn’t bring too much in the way of birds.

It had been good to be out in the fresh air and sunshine and I enjoyed the day. Our next trip out will be to welcome in a new year.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Holywell to Seaton Sluice

22nd Dec.  Sam and I seemed to be the only folk bird watching on our route today, although we came across a group of walkers and one or two groups of joggers/runners.  We were fortunate enough to reach the hide at Holywell Pond just before the onset of the only heavy shower to hit us during the walk.  We looked out for the reported Scaup on Holywell Pond but, found none.  At least eleven Gadwall were found, along with Little Grebe, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Duck which were joined by several Great Black Backed Gulls which flew in from the west fields.  A Common Buzzard flew over the northern woodland.  Just before we moved on a lone Canada Goose called as it flew in and landed on the water.


Despite the feeders having been topped up at the feeding station we found only one or two Blue Tits.  As we made for Holywell Dene we were unable to locate any geese.  The mud stained Seaton Burn ran deep and fast. A wait to see if we could find the Dippers brought us nothing except time for a chat, although shortly afterwards we came a cross a Dipper further down the burn.  The Dipper seemed conscious of our presence, but fed happily not far from us and wasn’t disturbed at all until other walkers passed by at which point it flew up the burn, but still offered us a good sighting through the scope.  Nearby one of the feeding stations in the dene attracted Treecreeper, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Robin and Chaffinch.  We watched for some time the acrobatic tits on the coconut shell. Bullfinches and Blackbirds were also seen in this area.

We stopped at the dipping pond, but the area around it was silent and it wasn’t until we were approaching the area of Seaton Sluice that we noticed Mallards on pools of water on the marsh area.  As we watched them a Grey Heron appeared on it’s regular territory and flew off and put what it thought was a safe distance between it and us.

Our intention would normally be to walk to St Mary’s Island and beyond, but today was to be short, the previous day being the shortest day, and we knew any light would soon be lost.  A decision was made to make for home after a short look over the sea.  The pastel sky behind St Mary’s lighthouse reflected the fact that our decision to walk no further was the correct one.  We found Oystercatchers, Knot, Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones below us as the tide came in.  Across the sea we found a number of Red Throated Divers flying north, several Razorbills, Common Scoters, Eider Ducks and Cormorants.  At least two Rock Pipits called as they flew around the area.

By the time we set off for home the wind was bitterly cold and the light had gone.  We resolved to make sure we do some serious Dipper watching in 2014.  Mind you this has to fit in with many other plans we have.  The day had given us the chance to discuss some of these plans and speculate on what might be some good camera lenses.

Killy Birder wishes you a peaceful Christmas.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

500 Up!

14th Dec.  And yeah, sorry but there will be more to come. :-)  If my maths is correct this is blog number 500 from Killy Birder.  It was the 4th April 2009 that I wrote my first blog following a walk I led in Jesmond Dene for the RSPB Local Group at the time I led the group.  My role in the group is far more tenuous these days, although I still lead walks, usually now co led with Samuel Hood.  My role changed, as too I hope the style of my blog has changed, especially from the photographic angle.  Cain Scrimgeour (hasn’t he done well? :-)) encouraged me to begin the blog, so you can blame him for it all along with Alan Tilmouth who at the time managed the site for North East blogs.  My all weather birding exploits with Tom Middleton ensured that the blog kept going.  Three of the many decent guys I’ve met via bird watching in recent years.

I’m afraid because of difficult circumstances beyond my control, opportunities to get out into the field have been very restricted of late, but I was very pleased to get out today with Sam.  For various reasons we called off the plan to walk the coast and Holywell route and instead returned to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve and Prestwick Carr.  Both areas offer great habitat.  Whilst temperatures weren’t that low the cutting wind made it feel as though they were, especially when it blew over the open areas of the carr.

Gosforth Park N R was quiet and the Bittern Magnetism didn’t work this week, although I’m told three Bitterns had been seen today.  Quiet or not I always enjoy the walk through the reserve and today two Roe Deer ran across our path.  The feeding station attracted the usual regular woodland birds and the pond held Shoveller, Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal along with the regular Mute Swans and Moorhens.  Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard and Kestrel were all seen and Water Rail was heard calling.  The sun shone at times giving a perfect winter light to admire the pond, reed-bed and surrounds.  A flock of a dozen Redwing were seen perched and then flying high over the trees and Jays called as they moved through the woodland.  It will be a great shame upon the local authorities if future planning decisions do not take into account the needs of this city reserve.  By the time we set off for Prestwick Carr it looked as though a storm was brewing, but the build up of thunderous cloud soon passed and by the time we were at the White Swan Pub the sun was again breaking through.

We walked along the bumpy road and past the sentry box as the wind gained strength.  Seeing some interesting highlights and finding our target birds along the way made the walk worthwhile.  Fieldfares were around in numbers with fewer Redwings.  We chatted to a few people along the way including SP and PF.  It was almost dark when we arrived back in Killingworth.

I did manage to find time to attend a meeting this week concerning the Skydancer Project to which Sam and I are now signed up to as volunteers.  I thought the meeting might last half an hour but in fact we where there over two and a half hours and picked up much information.  (We enjoyed our dinner in Newcastle afterwards)  Although this project is half way through completion it has given us both something practical and very worthwhile to get our teeth into.  Sam hopes to take this forward via Sixth Form College and we also have our first presentation already agreed (and remain open to requests for more so if you happen to know of any interested community groups please let us know).  This is something we will be giving high priority to in 2014.  Sadly, having read the Newcastle Evening Chronicle tonight I  was reminded once again of the carnage caused by illegal persecution of raptors in the UK and especially in northern England.  We feel very positive towards the Skydancer Project aims and despite the bad news this year concerning Hen Harrier breeding failure we intend to remain positive in our outlook.  Sadly I have read comments at times about the Skydancer Project which seem to indicate that the impossible is expected of it.  Perhaps in some cases a full grasp of what the project is about is required.  If it simply raises an awareness of Hen Harriers then I think that in itself is a job well done within the UK where so many people in my opinion are unlikely to have seen a Hen Harrier or even know what it is!

The Genuine article, Samuel Hood at Prestwick Carr.

I think blog 500 should include a few images so I will include a few favourites from 2013.  I have always written my blog for my own pleasure and needs, but I’m happy that a few others folk seem to enjoy it.  My thanks go to all who read it. I dedicate this one to Samuel Hood a loyal and trusted friend (not always easy to come by)   who has never once let me down.  I reckon Sam has a great future and I feel sure you’ll be hearing more of him in years to come.  Keep the passion for photography, wildlife and conservation going Sam and keep soaking up the knowledge and be your own man…oh and keep making me laugh.:-)  Thanks to an OGG. :-)

Monday, 9 December 2013

Images and Friends

Saturday saw the RSPB Group's informal meeting at the Rising Sun Country Park.  I guess that it being in early December meant that it was never going to be well attended.  I enjoyed the day though and especially the chat with those who took the time to pop along for a short time.

Sam and I were there with our selection of printed images.  This was a trial run of our display boards and I’m confident that we’ll be using them again at future events and presentations.  In fact we already have one presentation lined up for 2014.

I unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) can't seem to download the image that includes me!  So we have Samuel (Under the Hood Photography) next to our prints and Samuel's digital display. 
We only had the chance of a short walk on Saturday, but from the accounts of others it seemed that there wasn’t that much bird life about although we managed to see small flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare.

One thing I did gain on Saturday was a signed book.  It is ‘John Clare, This Happy Spirit’ by R K R Thornton and Carry Akroyd.  It contains a selection of poems by Clare and some very nice illustrations.  My thanks go to friends Kelsey (editor) and Hilary for this.

The Winter comes, I walk alone;
I want no birds to sing
To those who keep there hearts their own
The Winter is the Spring.
No flowers to please, no bees to hum;
The coming Spring’s already come.
John Clare

Thanks again to all who supported the day.

Saturday, 30 November 2013

To Gosforth Park NR with a Bittern Magnet

30th Nov.  I was much in need of a restful few hours so was pleased to take some time out in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve today with my trusted Bittern Magnet, Sam.

We arrived at the reserve to find the reserve under sunshine and with a storm cock singing loudly from the top of the tree.  Thankfully no storm arrived, but it did cloud over and become cold as the day went on.

Our walk around the reserve brought us good sightings of amongst other things Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Roe Deer, a single Grey Squirrel and horses in what I think was the first race at Gosforth Park today.

The pond provided us with sightings of Cormorant, Grey Herons, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveller, Tufted Duck and numbers of whistling Wigeon.  I’m also quite sure we had a female Scaup here today which kept diving near to the reed-bed and tern island.  Sighting of the day however was a very close fly past of the hide by a Bittern.  Well I suppose the Bittern was no more than could be expected when the Bittern Magnet is present.  The Bittern appeared out of no where and was in any event too close to photograph as it went past the hide.

As we headed towards the feeding station Jays were heard. Believe it or not some senseless dog walkers allowed their dogs to run into the reserve.  Four of the damn things.  One of them running into the reed-bed.  The explanation from one senseless owner was that his ‘dogs were running’.  This guy had obviously never heard of the word control.  What chance for giving nature a home when the world is full of thickos?  The feeding station sightings included the usual Great Spotted Woodpecker and today at least three Treecreepers.  Good day with the Bittern Magnet.  Thanks Sam.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Holywell to St Mary's island Again

23rd Nov.  I never tire of the walk between Holywell Village and St Mary’s Island, although I think maybe this is the first time I have walked it in a while starting at Holywell Village.

I understand that the pond had been covered in geese yesterday, but today it was very quiet during the period Sam and I were in the members hide, with only small numbers of Wigeon and Teal amongst the many Mallards and the odd Tufted Duck.  I can’t help but feel that the area on either side of the hide which was once a very attractive feeding station for numerous birds has never been the same since the surrounding vegetation has been cut back.  Perhaps in the longer term there will be some gain.  It’s always a spot that has appealed to me.

We didn’t spend long in the public hide before making off into the open fields hoping to find geese.  We did have several skeins of Pink-footed Geese in the air.  Although they appeared to be preparing to land we couldn’t find them in the open fields.  Instead we contented ourselves in finding two Grey Partridge and twenty plus Tree Sparrows (a conservative estimate), amongst which we also found Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Siskin and Yellowhammer.

The walk down to the dene was quiet apart from four Skylarks.  We doubled back so as not to miss out the likely area for Dippers and it wasn’t to long before we were watching one of the Dippers in the burn.  Grey Wagtail was also seen well.  I felt that the dene itself was unusually quiet of bird life for the time of year.  Neither of the feeding stations had been topped up, not that this is meant as a complaint, as I know all this is done voluntarily. The feeders at the reserve were almost empty as well.  Woodland birds seen included Great, Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tits.  Although the light was poor it is a nice time of year to be in the dene.

Purely coincidently this favourite of walks includes my favourite fish and chip restraunt.  Before we had lunch we watched the Stonechat and counted numbers of Redshank flying up the burn.

The after lunch sea watch was restricted as we had no telescope with us today, but we still managed good sightings of close in Common Scoters, Red Throated Divers, Goldeneye and Eiders.  Sam found a couple of Long Tailed Ducks.  Waders below included Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper, and Redshank.

I thought this young lady looked to be a bit of a swinger!
Our walk along to St Mary’s Island was in ever increasing poor late afternoon light.  Rock Pipit was found and we added Curlew and Lapwings to the list of waders.  We were ready for home by the time we reached the wetland which provided us with the likes of Gadwall and Common Snipe.

A good day had been had.  It’s good to walk!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Winter's Coming to Patch

21st Nov.  I’d been alerted to a growing number of Goosanders and other birds on the lake yesterday so took the chance to walk down to the lake today during what I thought was a gap between the showers.  Unfortunately the gap wasn’t a wide one and the rain began again even before I had arrived at the lakeside and then just got heavier as I wandered around.  I found four Goosanders on the small lake and also a lone female Teal.  Looking across the larger lake I initially wondered if there had been an exodus of birds from this area.  The water was high and I saw little.

It wasn’t long until I began to pick out more Goosanders, which appeared to have formed three separate parties.  The males looking quite stunning even in the rain and dull light.  I reckon there were at least eighteen birds and as they were constantly diving and the groups were split across the lake I may well have missed one or two.  It’s good to see this species back in number because since the first really icy winter of three years ago numbers of wintering birds have been low.  Hopefully there will be no long big freeze this winter and the birds will stay.

The single Great Crested Grebe remains as does a single Little Grebe.  Pochard numbers are beginning to build and I counted at least five Goldeneye.  By now I was pretty wet and watching wasn’t too easy.  I decided to back track rather than walk right around the lake.  I did a rough count of the Canada Geese which now are over the one hundred and thirty mark.  The Greylag Geese remain in the flock.  Other birds included Mute Swan, Mallards, Moorhen and Coot.  I remember Sam telling me that there had been, I think, seven Shoveler on the lake earlier this week, but they seem to have moved on.

I walked towards the village noting that there are still only a few Common Gulls in the area.  Robins were singing heartily now.  Just before I reached the village I walked past a large mixed feeding flock of mainly tits and finches.  I decide to hang around now that the rain had stopped and the birds were noisy and active.  The species most represented was Goldfinch, but there were also good numbers of Chaffinch and Greenfinch.  In the latter case it is the most numerous of this species I’ve seen in a good while.  Other birds seen with the party were Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit a lone Siskin, a lone male Bullfinch, maybe at least two Goldcrest and a large number of Blackbirds.  I kept a look out for the local Sparrowhawks, but none appeared.

A late autumnal scene on patch

Then around the's good to see this Morrisons shopper has a wide taste in drinks.  Now where would you like to stuff this lot?  Please send your comments to 'Chavsof'.

The walk through the village and surrounds brought little.  The scene was typical of late autumn and possibly remains rather more colourful than one would expect in late November.  Last nights rain had ensured that areas were quite flooded and we have the muddy pathways back once again.  The only real interest was watching a Magpie which had found a method of balancing on a thin branch and reaching a bird feeder put in the area.

The rain fill heavy grey cloud began to gather overhead again as I made for home.  I could hardly believe it was only 2.30pm such was the darkness.  Just before I arrived home I spotted a Sparrowhawk flying with intent towards the area where all of the passerines had gathered to feed.  I think maybe this Sparrowhawk may have a good dinner!

If Great Crested Grebes spell spring and summer on patch, then Goosanders definitely spell winter!

Invite from Newcastle RSPB Local Group

Newcastle RSPB Local Group have organised a social get together at the Rising Sun Country Park Centre on Saturday 7th December (10.30am-2.30pm).  No charge of course, but hopefully a little cash will be raised by request for a small donation.  The get together will include a digital display of members photographic images and a small display of wildlife prints taken by Samuel Hood (Under the Hood Photography) and myself.  If anyone happens to be at the Rising Sun C P on the day please drop in for a chat.  The centre cafĂ© is very handy.:-)

On the 4th of January 2014, Samuel and myself will be kicking the year off by leading a walk at Druridge Bay on behalf of the RSPB Local Group.  Hopefully we won’t be walking through ice and blizzards!  Details of the walk can be found here (booking for the walk is essential as places will be limited).

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Dumfries & Red Kites with a Scottish Accent

16th Nov.  I was tucked up in bed this morning when I was suddenly woken by the doorbell.  For a few seconds I wondered why the postman was disturbing my peace so early in the day.  Looking at my clock and realising it was after 7:00am I suddenly remembered that I had told Sam that we ought to be off to Newcastle early in the morning as we were co leading an RSPB trip to Dumfries and I felt we ought to be there before others arrived.  My mobile rang and sure enough it was Sam at my door!  Fortunately I had prepared my gear the evening before, so hopefully I wasn’t too long getting ready.  I grabbed a banana and placed it in my pocket (for breakfast) as I left the house and was almost fully awake as we arrived in Newcastle for the off.  Everyone was on the coach, so we left pretty quickly without ceremony.  I’m still not sure what happened to the alarm clock!  Maybe it is cream crackered, or maybe that is just me.

We were heading initially for Loch Ken, Dumfries and hoping to find Greenland White Fronted Geese in great surroundings.  The morning was quite grey, but dry and pleasant enough. After a few problems with road works and diversions we were all soon watching Red Kites, Common Buzzards and a skein of Pink-footed Geese as we approached the car park at Loch Ken.  The late autumn fall meant that leaves of varying colours remained on the trees and the smell of pine at times filled the air as did the calls of the Red Kites.  The latter sound as I told others, being like my attempts at whistling.  I’ve never been able to whistle.  I can’t whistle, but I can appreciate wonderful habitat and Dumfries still has plenty of that.  Sadly I have to say that North Tyneside Council seems intent on destroying what green habitat we have left in our home area (see latest planning proposals), but my comments about that will be left to another post.

There was limited time at our disposal so the focus was at first on finding Greenland White Fronted Geese.  Unfortunately we failed in the attempt to do so.  Either these birds had moved to another area, possibly Threave as Sam suggested, or they were well hidden.  This is the first time in four attempts that I have failed to see these birds in the area.  The group had to content themselves with the large flocks of Greylag and Canada Geese, along with large numbers of Wigeon, smaller numbers of Teal and the odd Goldeneye.  A small flock of Whooper Swans added to the cast.  It looked like a family or two.

Sam and I along with others decided to leave the viewing platform and take the path into the wooded area.  Birds seen or heard included Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay and a good number of Fieldfare were showing well, with the odd Redwing in amongst them.  Parties of Linnet were from time to time flying over the open areas as were Goldfinches.  The most numerous birds in the hedges and trees appeared to be Chaffinches, with only the odd Greenfinch showing.  Most of the time we had Red Kites and on occasion Common Buzzards showing.  A Kestrel hovered in front of us and on the return walk a Sparrowhawk was seen.  A flock of over one hundred Lapwings flew around the area and at times when flying above a Red Kite individual birds would drop from the flock so as to mob the raptor.  I understand some members of our group had found Red Squirrel.  Sam and I returned to the viewing platform hoping that we might find the White Fronted Geese before we left, but again we were not in luck.  We returned to the coach with the sound of gun shot from the shooting party echoing around the area.

Time had been limited at Loch Ken as we were aiming to be at the Red Kite feeding station at Bellymach Farm well before the feeding actually began and I’m pleased we managed the timings very well.  A few members had not been to the Loch Ken area and most had not visited Bellymach Farm.  In fact this was my first visit to Bellmach.  Sam and I are very much aware of the pros and cons of such feeding stations for the Red Kites.  I’m pleased to say that this brought some questions from one or two members and I was pleased to be able to express my views.   Over the centuries before health and hygiene took over our lives there would have been areas where waste products would have been left and this would have attracted large concentrations of Red Kites and other scavengers.  I would simply ask the question, are the feeding stations any different?  I also feel very strongly that anything that captures the public interest and manages to excite them about raptors and wildlife in general has to have many good points, and Bellmach Farm certainly does this.  I was pleased to hear the points raised however as these trips should not be simply a ‘coach trip out for the day’ but they should focus the minds of participants on  wildlife and conservation matters and that was what Sam and I had tried to achieve today.

On arriving I counted at least sixty/seventy Red Kites already circling the area, with one or two perched in the trees.  They were soon joined by a number of other kites and we estimated at least one hundred Red Kites were flying around us.  I have certainly not been surrounded by so many Red Kites before and found it a really great experience and I had the feeling that most of our members felt likewise.

The lighting conditions in general were not good for photography but I was reasonably happy with a few of my images.  The great benefit was just being amongst the birds and also watching the surrounding area as the light from a weak sun occasionally lit small areas on the hills, of what as a whole is a very picturesque place.

I’d like to think that no one was disappointed.  Hawkshead Photography was visiting with a group at the same time as our selves and I spoke with an old friend of mine J who I hadn’t seen for years.  J is very much involved with the Red Kites in our own area.     Sam and I also spoke at length to Callum who was representing the RSPB.  It was good to be able to talk about the needs of the Red Kites and about the problems that they have faced since re-introduction.  Callum was extremely positive about moving forward with regard to raptors in general and seemed to feel that the initial evidence is suggesting that the issue of vicarious liability is having a positive effect in parts of Scotland.  Let us hope that this will one day soon play a positive role in the rest of the UK!  I gained the impression that there are ongoing and amicable discussions amongst various groups and organisations.

Incidentally, 2013 is the 10th Anniversary of the Red Kite Trail in Dumfries and also the tenth anniversary of the first chick Red Kite being produced following the reintroduction programme which has been such a great success in the area, although as Callum informed me they did have there initial share of poisoned birds in the area. 

It was soon time to leave as darkness wasn’t far away, so I knocked back my Cappuccino.  Sam and I had really enjoyed our day and it had been good to visit an area that appeals greatly to both of us and have some interesting discussions along the way.  Our thanks go to everyone we had contact with on the day.  I’m sure we’ll be back to Dumfries soon.  The Red Kites and Whooper Swans were of course our star birds of the day.

By way of preparation for the day I’d re-read ‘The Red Kite’ by Ian Carter.  This book was published in 2001 so does not cover the re-introduction of Red Kites in either Tyneside or Dumfries.  It does discuss the introductions in southern England and northern Scotland and is a very informative read.  It’s a book that can be easily read in two or three days.  I often find books concerning ornithology/birds/nature are either aimed at the complete novice and therefore assuming the reader knows very little, or they are dry and scientific and therefore damned hard to sit down and read.  This book is published by Arlequin Press and I find in the main that their books meet an ideal compromise and are aimed at the likes of me.  I’ve now started to re-read ‘The Barn Owl’ Colin Shawyer which is from the same series of books.