Thursday, 31 January 2013

Ludwig Koch and a 'Red' Bullfinch

Now for something a little different……………………..

31st Jan.  Well it’s the last day of January and as yet I have not seen a Bullfinch this year despite scouting out the usual territories on patch.  Having had this failure in mind got me thinking that maybe next month is the best time to actually hear the rather quiet song of the Bullfinch which can be so easily drowned out when other birds start to sing.  Despite the rather quiet song, the Bullfinch is renowned for its abilities to learn new songs.  I seem to remember previously commenting on the blog about the large trade (in past times) in Bullfinches for this very reason.

For some reason I became involved in an email discussion about Bullfinches (as you do) with my friend Hilary this week.  Her comments concerning Bullfinches, Ludwig Koch (of whom I regret to say I knew few facts) and a group called Man Jumping (of which I admit I knew no facts) had me doing a little research.  I’d missed the talk on Bitterns at the NHSN on Friday as it was such a lousy evening weather-wise so I replaced that event with my research and found on the internet a radio programme involving and about Ludwig Koch

I won’t go into too many details about Ludwig Koch as if you’re interested (and I am sure you will be) you can listen to the radio programme.  I will cover a few points.  Koch was Jewish and worked in Germany prior to World War 2.  It’s believed he was the first person to record birdsong.  The recording was made of an Indian (Common) Sharma in 1889.  The recording was made by Koch when he was eight years of age and can be heard on the programme.

In 1936 Koch went to Switzerland using a return ticket given by Hermann Goring.  It’s said that Goring was fond of birds and other animals.  Well I suppose no one is all bad!  I can remember having heard that Hitler liked children, although in his particular case I suspect it depended very much on what race they belonged to!  Koch never used the return part of the ticket and came to Britain where he eventually became responsible for setting up the BBC Library of Natural History Sounds.  It’s said that in his day he was as well known as David Attenborough is today.

Where do the ‘Red’ Bullfinch and the group Man Jumping come into this I hear you ask?  Well, Man Jumping appear to have used some direct lines taken from a tale told by Koch and used them on an album by the name of ‘On the Rocks’.  I assume the lyrics are lifted from Koch’s tale as at least some appear in the radio programme and Koch is co-credited with them on the album.  So the following lyrics show how the Bullfinch, Man Jumping and Koch are linked………………..

Bullfinches - were very gifted mimics of all kinds of tunes. In France, we had one singing the French National Anthem,  La Marseillaise, very distinctly. There was a bullfinch in Berlin, I never forget it, singing the Communist Song, The Red Flag and when Hitler came to power in 1933, someone denounced the owner of the bird. He was arrested and was released only after the poor bullfinch had been killed. You see, even mimicking birds have to to suffer under dictatorship

The lyrics then go on to mention a meeting between Koch and Bismarck………………

So I remember that I even approached the well known Bismarck, a very tall man, a very big man, with a voice like falsetto, I never forget it......

Koch had met Bismarck and recorded his voice.  In the radio programme he explains that this recording had been lost.  (Hard for me to imagine Bismarck with a falsetto voice).

Koch was a musician and singer and I believe a professional singing career was abandoned because of health problems.

My friend Hilary has thought about the Man Jumping lyrics since our initial email discussion and she made the following comment, which I’m sure she won’t mind me pinching.  So I guess what links the themes is sound - bullfinches mimicking, Bismarck's falsetto voice, Koch's violin playing,  the mermaid's song and that explains why a band interested in sound (in a more technical way than your average band) would be interested in Koch. So it all fits once you tune into it as it were.’

So I missed the Bittern talk, but have learnt a lot this week.  Talks and presentations have to be good to attract me if I’m honest and I often say that I’m better off staying at home and reading a good book.  That is certainly true in respect of some talks I’ve been to, although I was sorry to have missed this particular one.

Ludwig Koch 1881-1974.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Blown to a Cattle Egret!

30th Jan.  An unexpected invite by AS brought me an unexpected Cattle Egret today.  Only the second one I have seen in the UK.  The first being on Islay.  The unexpected is always the best and it was all done in peace and quite with only a handful of birders about on what seemed an otherwise deserted island.  We crossed to causeway at 8:00am and it was minutes after our arrival at the given area that the Cattle Egret showed very well.  I believe I have heard mention somewhere that this is only the second record for Northumberland.  I can’t remember where I read that.:-) 

Cropped Cattle Egret
I had initially thought the wind wasn’t too fierce at all, but it wasn’t until we passed the flock of Fieldfare and a lone Meadow Pipit and walked on passed the castle and towards the harbour that the full force was felt.  It was difficult to stand upright at times and so the rest of the day’s birding was hard work, but nevertheless rewarding.  The wind ensured that many birds were staying down and hidden, but other highlights on the island were several flocks of Brent Geese, numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit and a couple of Red-throated Divers on the otherwise bird quiet but rather turbulent sea.  Wigeon, Teal, Lapwing and Curlew were on the Rocket Field.  Numbers of Grey Seal were seen in the distance and one rather closer, which seemed to be struggling to swim against a rough tide.

After leaving a sunlit island our next stop was Budle Bay.  Large numbers of Shelduck, Grey Plover and Common Buzzard were added to the day list before we moved onto Stag Rock.

Initially I thought we were going to be disappointed here, but patience and an ability to stand up to the cold wind paid off.  It wasn’t too long before we had counted thirty plus Purple Sandpiper, Shag, Common Scoters, a pair of Red-breasted Merganser, close in Long-tailed Ducks, a couple more Red-throated Divers and a difficult to follow and identify Red-necked Grebe.  Rock Pipit was also seen here.

The pools at East Chevington were wind blown and quiet.  Numbers of Goldeneye were found however, along with my first Gadwalls of the year.  Little Grebe were counted amongst other birds.  Large flocks of Pink-footed Geese could be seen in the distance south of the pools.  By now I had given up any hope of a reprieve from the wind.  I thought as were returned to South East Northumberland it would have eased, but instead it seemed to pick up even more strength and by the time we reached Cresswell bird watching was near by impossible.  With wind blowing into our faces causing tears to come from the eyes and rocking telescope and binoculars we didn’t give up before checking out the flocks of waders huddled together north of the causeway.  These included Lapwing, Curlew, Dunlin and Oystercatchers.  Three more Red-breasted Mergansers braved the sea like pond.  We’d passed more Pink-footed Geese on the journey from East Chevington.

So it had proved to be a very windy, but rewarding day and I had added sixteen bird species to the year list.  My thanks go to Andy S for the transport and good company.

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Thaw Sets In

27th Jan.  Such was the quality of the birding at the Rising Sun Country Park yesterday Sam and I decided to return again today and not bother going further afield.  A thaw had set in and walking on melting ice and snow was difficult.  In one particular area the flooding was so bad that we had to retrace our steps or face water coming over the wellingtons!  It really does underline how such flooding can suddenly take people by surprise.   On arrival breaking ice provided a nice picture.

There were a good number of birders about today again, but the birding was not as spectacular as yesterday.  We saw none of the star birds of yesterday today, but do believe that at least one Short-eared Owl had been seen early in the day and I note that the Bittern was recorded today, but not by us.

On arrival it was Stan the Red Deer Stag that was drawing the attention of photographers.  Good to see that mention is made of this stag in the NHSN book on Northumbrian Mammals.  He seems well used to having photographs taken now, but I would recommend that dog owners do not allow their dogs to approach him!  In the sunlight it was impossible to get decent sightings of the Fieldfare, but that was remedied later in the day when we watched a flock of forty with a few Redwings in amongst the flock.  We’d seen neither species in the park yesterday.

We checked the area for Little Owl once again, and once again failed to find it.  A flock of thirty-five Stock Doves were found and a flock of maybe twenty Linnet.  Again neither species had been seen by us yesterday.  A single Cormorant flew overhead and that again was a species not seen on the previous visit.

I’m thinking we have walked a good number of miles this weekend in very difficult conditions and I’m feeling cream crackered, but very happy to have enjoyed such a good weekend just a short journey from home.  The walk up the hill was enjoyable and we were almost alone up there with the crowds of yesterday no longer interested as the snow no longer provided a track for sleds.  The Fieldfares ended our day very nicely, especially as they took to flight and perched in the tree beside us.  It would have made a great image had the light not have already faded so much.  In fact it did make a great image anyway, just not possible to show a copy of it.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Rising Sun Country Park Delivers

26th Jan.  My morning began well with a Redwing visiting the garden and becoming the 24th species to be recorded on the garden list this week.  Sam and I had planned a visit to the Rising Sun Country Park.  On meeting up I found that Sam had recorded Grey Wagtail, Shoveller and the long staying Whooper Swan at the lake early morning.  We left for the Rising Sun with no real great expectations, but some hope of maybe finding Little Owl and perhaps Red Fox.

A frozen Swallow Pond
The visit began well with a Kestrel.  The whole area was under quite deep snow and Swallow Pond was frozen still.  Walking was hard work at times.  Little was found until we reached Swallow Pond and of course even here there was little on the frozen pond apart from gulls.  I checked the edges for signs of life, but found nothing of significance.  Birds were coming down for seed that had been laid down nearby and this allowed good photographic opportunity.  Numbers of Robin, tits (especially abundant were Coal Tits), Chaffinches and Reed Buntings.  A single Lapwing was seen in the area.  Four Grey Partridge were seen in an area where we had half expected Red Fox.  We decided to walk onto Dukes Pond and on the way found a pair of calling Willow Tit.  There was no sign of Jack Snipe at the pond.  By the time we had checked this area out it was time for lunch and I can tell you that the soup at the cafe was excellent!

One of many.

Reed Bunting
We retraced some of our steps as we headed for the farm area.  We had no luck in locating Little Owl.  However as we wandered around the area Sam disturbed a Pheasant and as he was recovering from the shock of the bird flying up at his feet, in turn the Pheasant disturbed a Peregrine Falcon which had been on the ground.  The Peregrine Falcon flew over our heads giving a good, but brief sighting, as it disappeared over the fields.  Song Thrush was also found in the area as was a Short-tailed Vole which quickly disappeared under the snow.

We eventually arrived back at the hide at Swallow Pond and as soon as I saw so many folk there I thought something must be about.  I was waved into the hide by AS who said that a Bittern was being watched.  Sam and I were soon onto the Bittern which showed well as it moved through the edge of the reed cover.  Even when it moved further into the reeds it showed well as it head pointed in customary style.  This sighting was enhanced by the showing of a Water Rail in the same area.  I knew a few faces of the birders present, but in the main not the names.  Pleased to meet and chat to all including AJ.  As we were keeping an eye out for the Bittern, it was Sam I think who got his eye on a Short-eared Owl behind us.  I wandered over to take a look it wasn’t long before we were watching not one, not two, not three but four Short-eared Owls.  All up in the air at one point, two or three of them came very close to us.  One of them was indeed very light coloured.  I wonder if this could be the very light bird Sam and I saw on patch on 1st January?  Sam wandered off to try and get a better sighting and I eventually followed.  Three of the owls were flying in the field at this point.  One of them was seen overhead.  The day was certainly delivering.

One of four Short-eared owls against the sun.
Just before we left this area we returned to the hide and were able to watch the Bittern in flight being closely followed by a chasing Grey Heron!  We watched as the Grey Heron returned, but didn’t see the Bittern again.

We returned to the centre via Dukes Pond.  Mute Swan and Mallards were seen in flight.  We thought we had found our Fox until we realised it was someone allowing their dogs to run across the fields and into the reserve area at the back of the pond.  Two women with their dogs actually tramped through the fields themselves, clearly not realising why there are footpaths!

Once back at the centre, birds found here included Mistle Thrushes, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Yellowhammer.  A thaw had set in, but it was going to be a while before all this snow had shifted.  We’d half expected to find Mr Sedgedunum Warbler in the park today, and so it was no surprise to find him sitting at the picnic tables.  Goodness me he looked cold sitting waiting for that Jack Snipe to appear! :-)  We found Stan the Stag with the horses near to the supermarket.  A Sparrowhawk flew in the area to help end what had been a great visit to the Rising Sun Country Park.

Doesn't he look chilled? :-)

Stan the Stag
A day list of bird species in the mid forties included four new species for the year list in Bittern, Water Rail, Peregrine Falcon and Willow Tit.  Great Day, producing the type of birding we enjoy.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Love in a Cold Climate

Sometimes words are superfluous, which I guess is just as well if you’re of the avian order.

Monday, 21 January 2013


21st Jan.  I do remember a time when I hadn’t seen a Sparrowhawk.  One of the first I did see was at Aviemore.  I remember I didn’t get a good look at it as it felt as if it almost clipped by face with its wing when it flew past me in a wooded area.  I’m pleased to say Sparrowhawks are commonly seen now and I have hardly been out this year without having decent sightings of one.

My postage stamp garden is quite regularly visited by Sparrowhawks and I know of a nesting site not to distant from my home.  Today I looked out of the window to find that for once the birds in the garden had disappeared, not because of the neighbour's damn cats, but because of the male Sparrowhawk which was sitting on the fence begging to be photographed.  I was pleased that the pair of Song Thrushes had disappeared.  My camera was upstairs so despite a fitness run to get it I assumed the bird would have flown when I got back.  It had disappeared when I returned.  However it hadn’t gone far and flew down onto the lawn then onto the bird table.  I took some rather pathetic photographs through the window.  I’ve realised before that the Sparrowhawk often shows little real fear so I chanced to slightly open the door.  I’m pretty sure it realised I was there, but it remained on the bird table roof allowing good opportunities for photographs.  It had become the twenty-third species to visit the garden and nearby since the snow showers began.  It hung around for quite a while and eventually left to seek lunch elsewhere.



Sunday, 20 January 2013

Focusing on Patch

20th Jan.  The falls of snow have ensured that Sam and I have focussed our attention on patch this weekend cancelling plans to reccy a future walk we are to lead in spring.  That hasn’t been a bad thing and we were out again this morning for two or three hours.

No apologies for more swans!

 I have had the chance to practice with the camera but admit that I must get to grips much more with all of the settings.  The light was very poor this morning.  The swans and other waterfowl have had much positive attention at least from Sam and me!  The Whooper Swan remains.  There were some very attractive scenes this morning even in the poor light.  The lake appears to be in a slow thaw with I would say less than half of the larger lake frozen now.  The smaller lake remains ninety percent frozen, but rather thinly so anyone daft enough to stand on it would go straight through.  Common Gulls were numerous on this smaller lake this morning.  The numbers of Goldeneye have increased from yesterday and they appear to have been enticed back following the thaw.  No Goosanders were found.  I believe Sam had seen a Grey Heron early in the morning.

Whooper makes a landing.

And takes a bow later.

Other significant sightings included an overhead Sparrowhawk, Great Spotted Woodpecker, a couple of Redwings and a Weasel.  Good sightings were had of the Weasel, but unfortunately we failed to capture an image.  Although Sam has seen Weasel near the lake before, it’s a first for me.  I’m taking an increasing interest in mammals seen, having had a good year with them in 2012.  I’m also currently reading the NHSN book Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles of the North East and strongly recommend this very significant book which is volume seventy-three of the society’s transactions.  Dr Phil Gates (who will be known to many bloggers and readers of the Guardian) says of this publication ‘this timely and authoritive account of the past history, present status and future prospects of our most charismatic animals is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the wildlife of our region’.

A good read.
On a slightly different note, but still linked to the NHSN, there is to be a talk at the Hancock on Friday evening (25th Jan) concerning Bitterns.  Sam (the Bittern Magnet) and I will be there if at all possible.

The Mute Swans were very active this morning.

Having crossed the fields, and plodded through snow some inches deep, we found the church grounds quiet in terms of birds, but do think we found the trail of a Fox.  On a previous visit we had found some war graves in the grounds so took a closer look today.  We found that in fact there are four war graves.  Very poignant.  I’ve lived in Killingworth for many years and have to be honest and say that up until the past couple of weeks I didn’t know these war graves existed.

The Snowdrops we had found in flower and photographed on a previous visit are now under inches of snow.  Others were found but were not yet in flower.

So as always we had an interesting and enjoyable walk and made the most of the morning before heading home to warm up and note that the leucistic Blackbird is becoming a regular visitor to the garden.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Frozen Lake and Frozen Fingers!

19th Jan.  So those early spring like days in January have gone to be replaced by an Arctic wipe-out.  Sam and I were wrapped up in many layers when we met at the frozen lake this morning.  I’d walked through snow inches deep to get there, so started off around the lake quite warm.  The warmness didn’t last.  The lake itself, although for the most part frozen, wasn’t as heavily frozen as I had thought and the Mute Swans feet were almost breaking through the ice and a large area at the top of the lake remains free of ice.

Mute Swans on the march 

The light wasn’t good this morning as more snow was gathering in grey skies, but there was still opportunity to take some photographs between the heavy snow showers.  Sam spotted the Whooper Swan initially on the centre of the lake with head and bill initially hidden.   It then made its way down to the end of the lake to be fed with barley.  When Sam and I reached the feeding party we had an interesting chat with the lady feeding with the barley.  It was good to be able to talk to someone who really knows about the wildlife on the lake, who shares our interest in it and who was able to point out individual Mute Swans.  We found the Mute Swan that had been ringed in Edinburgh and that has also been seen at Druridge, as well as the visitor from Gosforth Park Nature Reserve where no doubt the pond will have been frozen solid.  I also had pointed out to me one of the oldest Mute Swans on the lake, and I seem to remember it had been a breeding bird at Shibdon.  It was nice to have a chat with someone who gives much time to actually taking an interest in the birds' welfare and who reads our blogs.:-)

 Whooper Swan with Black HeadedGull

'Morning guys.  Would ya mind removing the carrot from me right nostril?'

A real birder isn't put off by a slight covering of snow!  Under the hood under camouflage.

'It's me he's it's me, no no it's....... '

We noticed that most of the Goldeneye appear to have moved on since the lake froze, although two or three males and at least one female remain and came close to the lake shore.  We saw no Goosander but didn’t look on the smaller lake today so the resident Goosander may be there.


Sam and I had planned to walk to the village, but having been caught in two or three heavy downfalls of snow we decided to make for home and have a hot drink.  Our fingers were beginning to freeze in wet gloves.  We’d enjoyed a couple of hours on patch in the snow.

On my return I continued to take an interest in the garden birds.  Always good to do this and remind myself where my interest in birds began.  This week has seen visits from less than regular birds.  The garden has attracted twenty-two species in all including a brief visit by a Goldcrest.  A Song Thrush was down to feed this morning and surprisingly not chased away by the Blackbirds of which there was at least ten at one point.  Earlier in the week I had a pair of Song Thrushes and I can hardly remember a time when I have seen more than one in the garden.  Mistle Thrush has been in to and also a single Long Tailed Tit.  Both Greenfinch and Chaffinch have visited in larger numbers than usual, but so far not the hoped for Brambling!  No sign of Bullfinch or Siskin either.  At this very time I do have quite a pronounced leucistic Blackbird visiting for the first time.  Is it by any chance your leucistic visitor Sam?

First time I've seen this one.  The feathering around the eye is white too.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013


15th Jan.  There appears to have been much talk locally about the number of Mute Swans on Killingworth Lake.  I suspect much of the talk has been done by a vociferous, but limited number of people.  The Evening Chronicle included an article last week (and I understand on 14th Jan also) as to the way numbers of Mute Swans have grown over recent years and also the growing number of Canada Geese.  Much of the blame for this is in the eyes of some locals very much at the hands of those who feed the birds large quantities of inappropriate food.  The Chronicle also reported on the poor condition of the area and the suggestion is this is the fault of the birds.

Mute Swan
I do of course acknowledge that feeding birds large quantities of bread or other inappropriate food in any pond environment is not in the long term interests of either birds or the ecology of the pond or lake.  There does appear to be too many Mute Swans on Killingworth Lake relative to its size.

Mute Swan
However as a regular user of the Killingworth Park area there are a few points I’d like to make.
  • Surely everyone appreciates that the mess around the lake is not entirely the fault of the Mute Swans.  We have had perhaps the wettest summer recorded in the area during 2012 making for very muddy conditions.  You just have to walk anywhere in the Northeast to understand that many areas are muddy and waterlogged.
  • Numbers of birds on the lake vary considerably throughout the year.  The Chronicle article calls the number of Mute Swans at 181 and Canada Geese at 89.  In respect of the Mute Swans that is one of the higher numbers, although they have reached 190 on occasions.  In respect of the Canada Geese the count the newspaper was given is actually way below the number I counted on 24th November 2012 as at that time there were at a minimum 153 and that number remained for a few weeks.  That high number I believe had little to do with feeding, but these were birds passing through the area.
  • Quite a lot of the dirt and rubbish around the lake, and in it, is caused by humans rather than the birds.  Some may remember images I have put on this blog in the past where such filth has been left to accumulate in the lake.
  • One off the worst sites is the floating reed-bed that has been completely neglected by the council, and such neglect floats there for all to see.  I’ve been told that there is a grant to be used to rectify this problem and I hope that this is done as soon as possible and with as little disruption to wildlife as possible (especially during breeding times). 
  • Suggestions that the reed-bed was killed off by birds attempting to nest on it have been made.  In my view if a floating reed-bed is placed in the lake, what do people expect other than birds attempting to nest on it?  In fact I and others who are regular users of the park believe the reed-bed was killed off by recent icy winters and that it has been left as an eyesore ever since.  I made my views clear on this some time ago and at least one senior council officer agreed with the view I expressed.
  • As I say, over feeding of the Mute Swans and other birds is clearly not a good idea and I hope that that issue can be resolved.  What in my view seems to have been forgotten is that the council provided feeding of the birds during long periods when the lake was frozen.  I believe a local supermarket provided food.  That was to be applauded, but of course this in itself attracted birds from other areas and more than likely explains some of the increase in the Mute Swan numbers.  I’ve raised this point on more than one occasion, but have never been given any response which would suggest that anyone had acknowledged that this feeding may have attracted more Mute Swans or other waterfowl to the lake.
  • It should be noted that Mute Swans travel to the lake from various areas and I have seen one there only this week that was ringed in Edinburgh and I’m told another visits from Blackpool.
  • I’ve heard tales of concern having been expressed by a parent/s about their child/children being frightened by the Mute Swans.  Putting myself in the position of a small child I can understand how that can occasionally happen.  Being towered over by large objects or animals can be frightening when you’re very small.  Surely however this is part of growing up and an ideal opportunity to teach children about wildlife and what they ought to fear, and more importantly not fear.  Hopefully we won’t reach the point of hearing concerns about children being attacked by Mute Swans or being carried off by them!  I can only say my memory suggests that an early introduction to birds for me as a child was going to the local ponds to feed them.  The lake and its wildlife should be used to the full to introduce youngsters to the nature around them.  Council, schools and families should work together in this respect.  I’m certainly aware that some families do encourage their children’s interests in this respect as I’ve often seen them around the lake.
Whooper Swan (Killingworth Lake)
Anyway, I’m glad to have read that there are wildlife organisations, including the RSPB, involved in advising the council as this will hopefully ensure that there is oversight as to how any problem is dealt with and that  actions are taken after proper advice is sought.  I noted that the local Councillor has stated that people like to watch the swans.

A North Tyneside website describes Killingworth Lake Park as ‘a wildlife escape in an urban environment’.  I sincerely hope that it remains that way in the long term and therefore hope that any plans that are now being made are made in order to ensure that it does.  Much of North Tyneside has been built upon in recent years.  I was reminded recently, that this in itself, may cause wildlife to seek the few sanctuaries left in the area.  Many of us want Killingworth Lake and lakeside to remain an area where we can walk with wildlife and we will carefully monitor how the area develops.  I was reminded recently that everyone’s needs must be considered and I only hope that includes the needs of wildlife.  If the wildlife is to be given continued priority then the plans will have my support and I’m sure the support of many others.  I’ve just learnt that  there is to be a consultation meeting soon (appropriately being held at the White Swan Building!) and I shall attend if at all possible. 

Whooper Swan (Killingworth Lake)
I’ll leave you with the following (with apologies to Ghostbusters) :-)

If there's somethin' strange in your neighborhood
Who ya gonna call?

If it's somethin' weird an' it don't look good
Who ya gonna call?

I ain't afraid o' no swan
I ain't afraid o' no swan

If you're seein' things runnin' through your head
Who can you call?

An invisible cob crappin’ in your street
Oh who ya gonna call?

I ain't afraid o' no swan
I ain't afraid o' no swan

Who ya gonna call?

Sunday, 13 January 2013

'Bean' and Gone

13th Jan.  No apologies for pinching that title from a fellow birder we met today. :-)

It was still dark when I met Sam and Tom in Killingworth this cold morning.  We headed straight off to Holywell, stopping briefly between Earsdon and Backworth where we found Stock Doves, but not what we had hoped for.  We were hoping for geese at Holywell and we certainly found them, as hundreds appeared above us as they dispersed to various areas as the sky now lightened to give that very good winter light.  There were small numbers of Greylag Geese, some found on the pond, but in the main they were Pink-footed Geese.  The sun rising painted the sky in attractive colours.

I’d be very surprised if anyone had beaten us to the members hide today!  The pond was quiet but we were treated to a single Scaup.  Other birds on the water included Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck and single Goldeneye.  Jays were heard in the trees on the opposite side of the pond and a Common Buzzard seen briefly as it flew low behind the trees.  The feeding station visitors included finches, tits, Reed Bunting and the now regular Tree Sparrows.  Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard and then seen very briefly.  Curlews called and were seen overhead. We walked towards the obelisk area but other birders who told us that the Pink-footed Geese and flown off towards Durham and that our target bird had probably ‘bean and gone’.  We too a look anyway and found only empty fields.

We decided to walk down to the dene in search of the Dippers and heard Red Legged Partridge and saw Sparrowhawk and Song Thrush on the way.  The walk down was well worthwhile for we did find the pair of Dippers without too much of a hunt.  The water in the burn is much lower now and the Dippers were looking healthy.  I’m unable to recall now when we saw our first Kestrel of the day but we found five or six in total.

Our next stop was near the Beehive flash which is still over-lapping the road.  We stopped as we had found at least some of the Pink-footed Geese.  We estimated circa two hundred and when I had a spare moment I did a count and found our estimate to be near correct as I quickly counted two-hundred and ten.  It was just a quick count and I will have missed a handful so I reckon two-hundred and twenty were within sight, with more probably beyond the dip in the field.  Tom carefully checked all that were visible and found no Bean Goose.  We did watch as three Roe Deer moved slowly across the open field.  Eventually they joined the Pink-footed Geese and provided a very nice scene.  When a few of the geese almost took to flight the Roe Deer were easily spooked and ran off into the distance.  One of the highlights of the day.  A shot was fired in the distance and it seemed that the geese were going to take to flight en-masse, but they relaxed again and stayed put.  A flock of forty Lapwings flew in the area.

We next headed for St Mary’s Island.  The tide was way out and the waders were well distributed, but we saw Oystercatcher, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew.  We didn’t hang around long, but were long enough to find at least forty Common Snipe on the wetland area.  Two foxes that seemed to fancy game bird for lunch were reported, but we didn’t find them.

Our brief stop at North Shields didn’t bring success in the way of Iceland Gull, so another visit will be needed.

On returning to Killingworth a walk around the lake provided at least fifteen Goldeneye, the Whooper Swan, but only one male Goosander was seen well on the smaller lake.  The Goosanders appear to be moving between ponds and I had seen two flying over Killingworth last weekend.  Sam pointed out to me the Mute Swan that had been ringed in Edinburgh.  I like Sam’s answer to a lady who asked how a certain bird will have reached the lake.  It’ll have flown here he suggested.  Not only birds fly however, as time has flown too and we will hopefully see the Great Crested Grebes back in late February.

When the all weather birders get together with under the hood it is always a good session of birding.  This morning was not exception.  Conditions were ideal.  I reckon it must have been good because by the time we had reached North Shields, Sam was over heating and had to dispense with his coat.  I have to say I kept mine on!  We had found sixty-two species during the morning without really trying too hard, and were home in time for lunch all three of us with a few more new species for the year list.  (Temperatures seemed to be dropping again and I could almost smell snow).  Thanks guys, it was an excellent morning.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Gosforth Park Nature Reserve

12th Jan.  The plan today was to spend time at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve before heading to the coast for some photography and a little more birding.  Well the best of plans and all that……  In the event, with Sam and I having been caught in the sleet shower which seemed to last for ever, we got no further than Gosforth Park.  No matter, as this allowed us to adopt a slower pace and we thoroughly enjoyed the few hours we spent at the reserve despite it being rather quiet.  As well as getting rather wet, the walk was rather like being on army manoeuvres such was the state of the ground.  Surely the reserve has never been so muddy?  We were shin deep in water and mud in places and I suspect were two of very few people who attempted to walk the full circular route.  On arrival we had found lots of cars.  I know the reserve is getting more popular, but not that popular I thought!  We later found out that the group were involved in the Red Squirrel project.

We initially passed by the feeding station and were soon watching three Roe Deer and a flock of woodland birds including both Treecreeper and Nuthatch.  The Treecreeper was coming down to the mud and water to bathe.  Apart from Blackbirds there was little other in the way of birds showing.

Once at the hide we found that two Bitterns had been seen.  We watched for them for some time, but they didn’t show again.  At least three Jays were seen flying across the reed-bed.

Moving along to the larger hide, which is actually quite small, we found that we had missed the Water Rail again.  I caught sight of a flock of Common Snipe flying some distance away and counted twelve of them.  The flock began to circle the area and gradually came closer and closer to us.  Clearly looking to land, we were lucky that they chose to do so close to the hide.  We had nice sightings of these birds, but it was not to last.  As well as our eyes being upon them, the Sparrowhawk had also been watching and flew in making no little noise in the process.  It landed right in front of us in the reeds and we initially thought it had caught prey such was its behaviour.  In fact it hadn’t, but of course the Common Snipe disappeared.  I’m not sure if a few went deeper into the reed-bed but when we saw the flock flying later, it contained only six birds.  The pond itself was very quiet with only Mute Swan, Mallards, Moorhens, Coots, a pair of Wigeon and a pair of Teal.  The sighting of the Common Snipe and the Sparrowhawk would have made the visit well worthwhile had we seen nothing else.  It certainly provided one of my better sightings of Sparrowhawk.

Walking along towards the feeding station we found three Grey Herons on the flash pools outside of the reserve.  The feeding station itself provided tits (including numbers of Long Tailed Tit), Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Reed Bunting and of course the Great Spotted Woodpecker made an appearance.  We’d by now decided to give the coast a miss, so our laid back approach continues.  There’s always another day.  We’d added six new species to the year list and really had a very enjoyable few hours.