Saturday, 5 January 2013

Patch Birding with the RSPB

5th Jan.  My second spurt of birding this year was again on patch.  This time co-leading a walk with Sam for the RSPB.  I wasn’t expecting lots of participants on a January day in Killingworth, but was happy to have thirteen very keen individuals on the walk.  The last time I led a walk on patch in winter was 2010 when the area was under ice and snow.  The weather was almost spring like today and the Blue Tits were checking out the nest box before I left home.  Seven people turned up in 2010 and I named them the magnificent seven.  Only four coped with the conditions and finished the four hour walk.  I’ll name the group today ‘the lucky thirteen’.

I was interested to learn the other day that there had been some kind of competition for January regarding species seen on foot from home.  Sam and I do much of our birding on foot from home as neither of us drive so that type of birding is nothing new to us.  I’m a strong advocate of birding on foot as you actually see a great deal more, although some may wish to disagree.  I don’t mean in terms of long lists, I refer to actually ‘seeing things’.  I have no competitive instinct when it comes to birding however so maybe that is why I had not noticed ‘on foot’ challenge.  We had amassed forty-six species on New Year’s Day so I was keen to add to that.  I threw out a challenge to participants myself today in that I set a target of fifty species, not giving a damn really as to whether we met the target or not.  It did add a bit of fun and interest.  Our walk today comprised of three main areas, the lake, the village and surrounds and the wagon-way.  Everywhere remained muddy!

The highlight on the lake was a Whooper Swan spotted initially by Sam who had previously filled in participants about some history of the area.  I of course always take the opportunity to point out the disgrace of the neglected floating monstrosity that was once a reed-bed and how it has just been left as an eyesore.  A fishing jetty was in a state of collapse and the concrete around it dangerously broken.  It had obviously been reported and we noticed action was being taken.  Well done council, now please move onto the reed-bed.  The Goldeneye and six Goosander attracted attention especially.  A small flotilla of Goldeneye were in full courtship display with that neck stretch.  I must try it sometime and see if it brings any results apart from hospitalisation.  Pied Wagtail was another new year tick.

W eventually moved from the lake and headed for the village area.  The church grounds gave us the likes of Treecreeper, Goldcrest, a flock of Goldfinch and other finches and tits.  Two Great Spotted Woodpeckers were caught in flight over the village and one seen behind the village.  Long –tailed Tits were found here too.  The Sparrowhawk flew over its usual territory and is now quite predictable.  We stopped at the big wheel for a quick bite to eat before heading to the wagon-way.  On the way we spotted a skein of maybe circa one hundred and fifty Pink-footed Geese flying north along the coast.

Initially on the wagon-way we found it very quiet although I suggested things can suddenly change here and they did.  Two Kestrels were found and in the distance Fieldfare could be seen.  A single Redwing was seen near to the stables.  Unfortunately the Short-eared Owl made no appearance today.  We eventually got much closer to the small flock of Fieldfare and had decent sighing of them both in the trees and on the ground.  Two Common Buzzards were found as they flew down the line of the hedge before perching in it.

A good number of Reed Buntings were found and near to and mixed with them we found Tree Sparrows which as a new patch tick became my birds of the day closely followed by the Whooper Swan.  I was quite chuffed as it was I who found species number fifty.  It was a lone male Yellowhammer.  It wasn’t long before we were counting numbers of Yellowhammer in the hedges.  There was at least fifteen.  We could now go home happy in the knowledge that the target had been met.  Around this time my mobile rang and it was Holywell Birder who was watching from the road.  He was on a bird race.  Good grief this competitive stuff is creeping in everywhere.:-)  I’m afraid I was unable to tell him that the Short-eared Owl was about.  Before we had arrived back into the centre of Killingworth we had added Collared Dove and Lapwing.

Sam and I had a long chat with a couple who where keenly interested in the wildlife and who had just moved to Killingworth from Longbenton.  I was able to tell them that their new home had been built on an area which I used to find good for birding.  They were quick to tell me that some trees where being planted in front of their home.  Well this isn’t going to make up for a loss of part of the patch, but we all live somewhere!  The guy actually knew the area as it was in the early 1960s so I wish I had had more time to talk with him.

We had added a further eleven year ticks.  This puts us on fifty-seven on foot from the front door.  I’ve not been off patch yet in 2013.  Yeah yeah, that might seem boring to some, but not for us laid back birders.:-)

Thanks to everyone who participated.  Special thanks to Sam.