Monday, 15 April 2013

Allenheads, Coast and Patch

13th, 14th  & 15th  April.  Having had such an active week, I can’t believe seven days have passed since our island stranding.  I’m cream crackered tonight, but life is for making memories and I have made some great ones this last week.  I’ve decided to combine this weekends exploits in order to catch up.

Saturday saw Sam and me off with the RSPB gang to Allenheads.  Good to be in the uplands despite the deep snow still lying in places.  I went in almost up to the knees in one spot.  Sadly, dead wildlife and sheep seemed to reflect the harsh conditions of late.   We started the day with Brown Hare on the journey which I am sure only Sam and I saw, a round of Happy Birthday for Sam, and then a couple of Frogs one of which  looked rather odd on the snow.  The area around Allenheads village seemed birdless in comparison to a previous visit I had made with the group at a similar time of year.  However Song Thrush was in full song and Chaffinches called as we started the steady climb.

Cold feet

Some folk seemed to set off at ramblers club pace, but the serious birders took things far more gently.  We were rewarded with a long distance sighting of Black Grouse (I hope for much better) and far more sightings of Red Grouse.  I reckon we saw at least eight Common Snipe in display flight and four or five Woodcock made brief appearances.  I’m pleased that we found several Wheatear which I assume have just arrived.  A few saw passing Swallow, but I’m afraid I was photographing that Frog in the snow at the time.  Meadow Pipits were numerous and the odd Skylark was heard.  Three Golden Plover landed very close to us and other birds I recall on the higher ground were Pheasant, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew and Stock Dove.  We later had close sightings of Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush.

The area is good for photographs of course, but today’s light was not good (at least not in the direction wanted), although we still seemed to miss a few species in attempting to get some images.  Someone pointed out a distant Common Buzzard in an otherwise raptor free area, but I never caught sight of it.  Common Buzzard was seen on our return journey.  We walked along the river and sat taking in the peace and quiet.  Sam and I agreed that you don’t need the area to be buzzing with birds to enjoy the atmosphere and surroundings.  If we had walked a little further we would have found Dipper and Grey Wagtail.

Allenheads upland atmosphere

 We avoided the café, but thankfully we couldn’t avoid the very nice cake, as Sam was presented with a birthday cake capped with his favourite species, a Whooper Swan.  Everyone seemed to enjoy their piece of cake and the Whooper Swan returned home with Sam.  I think it is made of marzipan.  It was very kind of Marie to make the cake, which I think reflected Sam’s popularity in the group and gratitude for his voluntary input into it.  A great day was had.

Sam puts in some field-craft practice before the presentation

The cake!
14th April.  Sunday’s arrangements were made at a late stage, when we decided that a trip down to the coast would be appropriate.  We hoped for migrants.  We hadn’t expected the very strong wind!  Little was found although a start to the day brought a very brief sighting of Black Redstart.  Despite the wind it was warm and hats and gloves were not required.

The wetland and willows area at St Mary’s island was very quiet apart from a nice sighting of Goldcrest.  We crossed to the island before the tide came in, where the highlight was a Common Seal.  Walking to Seaton Sluice wasn’t easy in the strong wind.  We did eventually pick up four Sandwich Terns, Kittiwakes, Lapwing, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew.  Meadow Pipits were again about in number.  Sam picked up a couple of Swallows, but having been in conversation I missed them!  The Kestrel was flying along the cliff edge.

A surreal moment of the day was when Sam and I heard a piper playing on the cliffs at Seaton Sluice!  I have to say he sounded quite good.  After having our snack we decided to return home earlier than planned.

The Piper calls the tune
I later got txt from Sam telling me that there were Swallows and Sand Martins over the lake.  I couldn’t resist and I was down there like a shot.  I soon had my first Swallows and Sand Martins on the year list.  Obviously quite a bit later than 2012.  I missed the Shelduck which were a patch tick for Sam and would have been for me too!  Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard and a few Goldeneye remain on the lake.  We looked at the wooden beams that have been put in to prevent the Mute Swans from accessing the grassy area to be fed and noted that the numbers of Canada Geese had dropped right down.  The Mute Swans were being fed in another area of course.  The edge of the lake in places is nothing but a dangerous and neglected disgrace and I can’t help feeling it is simply a matter of time before someone has an accident and falls into the lake.  I am surprised that in this day and age, when there are those who will jump at the first chance of taking legal action, that the local authority are not keenly aware of the possibility of being sued in the event of injury.  The floating reed-bed which I understood to have been renewed by April remains an eyesore, with no hint of any work having been started.  No doubt the weather will be blamed for the delay.

So on what had seemed a very quiet day we still ended up with fifty-four species of bird on the day list.  I decided to keep a search for Willow Warbler on patch until another day!  I was just too tired.  So, a great week that I have really enjoyed to the full.  Much madness thrown in, but it would be a sad life without some madness. :-)

Tonight as I typed out the above report, a Blackbird was/is singing outside of the window which I have now opened.  I’ve missed the Blackbird song so far this year, and bird song in general.

15th April.  Monday included another walk on patch.  Chiffchaffs were numerous although the hoped for song of Willow Warbler wasn’t heard.  One of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers showed closely and well.  Numbers of Swallow have increased and between fifteen and twenty fed low over the playing field and occasionally joined Sand Martins feeding over the small lake.  I also saw a lone House Martin (my first of the year) flying with the Swallows which I had been alerted to by Sam this morning.  A couple of Lesser Black Backed Gulls were on the lake.  Increasing amount of bird song today.  Windy, but sunny and warm.


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