Thursday, 30 May 2013

Against All Odds!

29th May.  Despite the bitterly cold early spring delaying nesting of the Great Crested Grebes this year they are now on the lake with what I think are two youngsters hitching a ride.  I counted two striped heads, but can’t be certain there isn’t at least another hidden.  Despite too, the fact that the Local Authority allowed the lowering of the lake by four inches during nesting which I continue to maintain resulted in the Great Crested Grebes abandoning their nest which was sited in the usual position.  After they had re-nested I wrote to a council officer suggesting that it would not be a good idea to raise the water levels until the young grebes had hatched as in past years the nest has been flooded on a number of occasions.  I received a reply telling me that the Local Authority bio-diversity officer was going to contact me, which I thought was a good idea.  That was sometime ago, and guess what?  Yes, no such person has bothered to contact me and it seems the water levels were lifted anyway!  As two people said to me this evening ‘they only alienate people’.  How true that statement is.  Clearly I shall need to take any concerns to a higher level the next time, and please believe me, I will!  Perhaps the elected Mayor may be more concerned about nature in North Tyneside!  After having read about the concerns for the state of nature I really do wonder if nature has a chance when the Local Authority  does not react to expressed concerns.  I know I am not alone in taking an interest in the Great Crested Grebes, but I have to wonder why this interest isn’t more widely held when it concerns birds which are quite rare breeders in Northumberland!  Anyway, as I say, against all odds they have so far been successful.

Interestingly I was speaking to someone tonight who claims that he resuscitated one of this pair of grebes sometime ago when it was found entangled on the edge of the lake.  If this is the case, and I have no reason to believe it isn’t, then it was a job well done as this pair has produced many youngsters.

Swifts flew over my head this evening and I spotted a Kestrel flying and hovering over the area where the British Gas buildings have recently been removed.  I remember watching Kestrels hunting here in years gone by but not for several years have I personally seen a Kestrel hunting here.  They won’t for much longer of course as the land will soon be covered by yet more housing!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Rising Sun to Holywell

28th May.  My morning began in Killingworth bus concourse and because of delays and boredom I thought a birds seen from the bus concourse list might be an idea.  Having listed two rather attractive Lesser Black-backed Gulls, a Cormorant and Black Headed Gulls my boredom increased to the extent I took a walk in the shopping centre.  To cut a long boring story short, I arrived at the Rising Sun Country Park to be greeted by Mark, a nice pair of Blackcap and at least three Brown Hares.  Common Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff were other warblers seen and/or heard.

The pond didn’t deliver what I had hoped.  I found three Little Grebe amongst the usual inhabitants, including a single Teal.  I had Brown Rats for company near the hide and the smell of stagnant water added an aroma to the air.  I counted several broods of Mallard ducklings.  A walk down to the farm brought little, but the return walk did provide an overhead Sparrowhawk and a pair of Great Spotted Woodpecker not far from the centre.  Mistle Thrushes approached the feeder area despite the large number of people about the place.  The Muschovy Duck was beside Dukes Pond (I’ve seen these birds wild in Guyana) and Stan the stag was resting in the fields.  We made off to Holywell after a bite to eat.

Two different views of Holywell
House Martins flew over the village and fields and Little Grebe called as we approached the hide.   Whilst Willow Warblers were in song I heard no Sedge Warblers near the pond at all on either the outward or return journey taken late afternoon.  The Common Tern nests on the island seem to be targeted by Magpies and the terns were noisily dive bombing them for much of the time I was there.  The flower meadow area is growing nicely and as I looked at a Magpie there I also found a Grey Partridge well hidden in the meadow.  The pond was generally very quiet but I did have the chance to watch Grey Herons and the Common Terns and Black Headed Gulls fishing.  Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls were on or around the pond, the former showing some varying plumages.  I took the chance to practice some in flight photography.  Skylark song above the open fields was ongoing throughout the afternoon.



Black Headed Gulls.

Common Whitethroats are all over the area’s hedges.  I also noted several Yellowhammers, Linnet and Willow Warblers.  Chiffchaff song is already lessening in the dene.  I sat beside the burn for sometime in the hope of Dipper and was rewarded by watching a pair.  I listened to a chorus of Song Thrush, Blackbird, Wren, Robin, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch as I relaxed by the burn.

The area is quite colourful at the moment with wildflowers including Greater Stitchwort, Red Campion, Bluebell (although these are well past their best now unlike the ones I’d seen at Spindlestone which were in their prime), Wild Garlic, Primrose, Cowslip and Herb Robert.

Greater Stitchwort

White Deadnettle

Red Campion.  Unlike most plants that are hermaphrodites, each Red Campion plant is male or female.  I've been reading a very interesting book A Sting in the Tale/Dave Goulson, which describes how Red Campion can suffer from sexually transmitted deseases.  Fungi by the name of smuts have purple spores which are spread by bees and which once having infected the female plant, the plant is forced into a transsexual imitation of the male!

I left for home as the cloud began to look ominously threatening and the air cooled.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Sunny Birder

Sunny Birder

Little darling, I feel that ice is slowly melting
Little darling, it seems like years since it's been clear
Here comes the sun
Here comes the sun, and I say
It's all right
Lennon, Harrison & McCartney

I was sure this was a Green-veined White Butterfly then couldn't find the spot on the wing when I came to look at the image.  Then remembered that early forms often don't have the spot.   This one is on Cuckooflower

One of a couple of very faded Peacock Butterflies

26th May.  Sam and I spent a few hours in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve today and had the place almost to ourselves bumping into only two other people in there.  To have such peace and quiet on such a wonderful day is worth the membership subscription, even before adding any other benefits.  We explored some areas not looked at by us before.  Of course the reed-beds were alive with the song and calls of Sedge and Reed Warblers and we managed good sightings of both especially two Reed Warblers in one of the willows.  Common Terns flew over the pond and several were on the nesting platform. Swallows, House Martins and Swifts fed over the pond. One Swallow rested on top of a reed for some minutes before flying off.  Jays made there usual harsh calls across the reserve.  Butterflies that caught the eye were Green Veined White, Orange Tip, Peacock and Speckled Wood.  I had a brief sighting of a Common/Pygmy Shrew almost at my feet before it scuttled into hiding.  A couple of Song Thrushes were seen.  A very enjoyable few hours in the sun.

Enjoying the sun

Germander Speedwell?  Been a bit neglectful of botanical matters recently and its so easy to forget.  Stunning blue.

On my return I took the chance of a little practice with the macro lens in the garden.  Some interesting results.  A few are shown below.

Saturday, 25 May 2013


25th May.  Today’s RSPB walk had been planned for some months so fingers had been crossed for some time now in the hopes of being blessed with fair weather.  I’m not superstitious, but the crossed fingers paid off and we were able to spend time in the sun.  No, not superstitious and just as well, as there was thirteen participating on the walk.  In fact a nice number ensuring a friendly feel to the day.  I was able to relax with Sam taking the lead in an area he knows so well.  It proved to be a day about habitat, history, a Laidley Worm, great birds and other wildlife, all enjoyed with no little laughter. 

I’m going to keep my report of the day short for a change.  It’s been a long day in the sun.  Opportunities for photography are somewhat limited on such days, but hope the few images I show here reflect the atmosphere. Having now been involved in leading these walks for a few years, I have to say that I haven’t enjoyed any one of them more than today’s.  One of the memories that will stick the most I think is the bird song which included many Song Thrushes and the likes of Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Wood Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat, Yellowhammer and Skylark.

Another memory will be the time spent on Spindlestone Heugh which turned up a fleeting sighting of Lesser Whitethroat along with the stunning views of the Northumberland coastline.  I shall also remember that the highland beast, with what I’m sure are the largest horns I’ve ever seen!  I’m sure it was a gentle beast!

We set off from Budle Bay at 10.00am and it must have been around 4.30pm when we returned having seen fifty-six species of bird and also Roe Deer, Brown Hare, Bank Vole and Common Toad.  Butterflies seen included Large White, Small White, Green-veined White, Orange Tip, Peacock and Speckled Wood.

Thanks go to all who participated (I’ll be surprised if they don’t want to return to Spindlestone soon).  Special thanks go to Sam for his work and good humour and not to mention, his introducing me a while ago to such a great area.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

RSPB Birds, Nature and History Walk and Presentation

Poster by courtesy of Samuel Hood (Under the Hood Photography)

We also have two places left on the Spindlestone walk on Saturday 25th May.  Details available on booking.

The recent State of Nature Study makes for some depressing reading, although I'm sure much of it will not have come as any real surprise to those who are involved in watching nature on a regular basis.  Older watchers will have witnessed the steady decline over many areas, whilst also acknowledging some major successes in other areas.

The work done by various groups and organisations to put forward the facts is to be applauded.  Especially because much of the work is done by volunteers.  Despite the work of such organisations wildlife continues to decline.  This is hardly surprising when we witness so much loss of habitat and hear so little from politicians about what they intend to do to ensure that nature is firmly placed on the political agenda.

We can't only blame politicians however, as individual members of communities often show little interest, insight or concern as to the needs of local wildlife and habitats and to conservation.  It takes little thought to understand how nature is hit when one looks at how local habitats are these days used by individuals (in their gardens is one example) and by Local Authorities who seem to want to ensure cleanliness at all costs.

I live in hope that the organisations and groups in the area that I live will fight strongly in the interests of nature and conservation.  I will in future only support those that I can see actively doing so.  In the meantime I shall in my small way continue to raise awareness as an RSPB volunteer.

Wednesday, 22 May 2013


21st May.  Sam and I began our late afternoon walk at Whitley Bay Crematorium.  There was little about of real interest, but I did take the chance to take some images of  Plantain whilst Sam continued to study the war graves, of which there is quite a number in this cemetery.  My wild flower guide describes Plantain as ‘rather dull perennials’, and I can only assume that the write of that statement has not taken time to look closely at them, as I find them far from dull when seen in close up at this time of year.  We chatted to a couple who initially thought we were twitching.  Goldfinches, Blackbirds and Wood Pigeons provided a chorus around us.  We ended up meeting the pair again on St Mary’s Island and had chat about a proposed trip to Finland that the guy is going on in a couple of weeks time.  He said he was interested in sounds as well as birds so it was a pity we didn’t have longer to chat.  Sam and I had just been discussing that very area and I have to say we were a bit envious as this is somewhere we have in mind to visit.

Ribwort Plantain Plantago lanceolata
We walked along the south bay before crossing to the island and found one female Wheatear in amongst numbers of Pied Wagtail, House Sparrows and a single Rock Pipit.  Swallows flew low around us and occasionally rested on the rocks.  The Wheatear was very flighty but didn’t leave the general area.

Pied Wagtail
There are few waders about now, but despite it been a fine evening there were few folk either.  We passed a young guy with a metal detector who seemed to have some luck and a young lad on a unicycle who seemed to be enjoying himself along the cliff pathway.  We’d heard the Fox was showing well at the wetland, but we were too late to find it, but we did have good sightings of singing Common Whitethroats and Sedge Warblers.  There were also several Reed Buntings showing and a Skylark song accompanied our walk to Seaton Sluice. A small number of Sand Martins had also flown over the wetland.  Numbers of Eider Duck were resting on the rocks as well as being on the sea.

Seaton Sluice did provide us with a Fox sighting, but perhaps not of the type we would have expected.  After a check of the area during which I was to late with the camera to capture the Kestrel, we went for our fish and chips.  An interesting conversation took place involving various personalities including Jarvis Cocker of Pulp fame.  I decided that our rather elegant Fox suited the name of Jarvis and I’m sure that will stick now.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Harthope...A Pleasant Valley Sunday.

Another Pleasant Valley Sunday
Here in status symbol land
Mothers complain about how hard life is
And the kids just don't understand

Creature comfort goals
They only numb my soul and make it hard for me to see
My thoughts all seem to stray, to places far away
I need a change of scenery
Lyrics by Carole King and Gerry Goffin and sung by the Monkees.

19th May.  Recent years have always included a spring trip to Harthope Valley in the Cheviots and this year was to be no exception.  I enjoy the area so much, at least partially because of its remoteness, as once away from the small parking areas you can have the place and its wildlife to yourself, well away from the rest of generally noisy humanity.  As Andy, Sam and I approached Wooler today we were glad to have left the thick mist that marred part of the journey behind us.  That’s not to say that the morning was fine spring weather, as it was far from that, with thin mist never far away from us.  However at least the previous days heavy rains had departed and we were free to enjoy the area to the full.  The burns ran fast and at least in places the trees appeared to be coming into some colour.  We had seen a Common Buzzard on our journey north and this was to be the only raptor seen today.  Our short stop at the bridge at Carey Burn brought us sightings of Dipper and five Red Legged Partridges, whilst Chiffchaff called.  We were passed here by the small NTBC group I knew were also visiting today.

It wasn’t long before we were climbing o higher ground in the Hawsen Burn area.  This path seems to get more difficult to negotiate as each year passes.  I know later in the summer it can be very difficult once plant growth is high.  I had promised Andy Whinchats and Ring Ouzels aplenty today.  The Whinchats certainly obliged with I’d estimate at least five or six pairs of this species.  At least one pair seemed to be nesting on higher ground than I had noted them in the past.  Red Grouse were about in numbers and were often lifting from the heather and showing well in flight.  Skylarks were heard and there were numbers of Meadow Pipit about.  Willow Warblers were quite numerous too.  The odd Curlew was heard as it flew over the area.  Unfortunate we found no sign of Ring Ouzel apart from detecting what we thought was calling on one occasion.  We spent a good bit of time in this area and it wasn’t for the want of trying that we failed to spot this species.  This is the first time I have walked this area in spring and not seem them, usually seeing them in some numbers.  It’ll be interesting to find out if the other group had better luck in the afternoon.  Sam did get his eye on a Grey Partridge which Andy and I saw briefly as it flew across the heather.  Wheatear was seen briefly and again later as we left the valley.

No shortage of Whinchats
One thing which made up for the lack of Ring Ouzels (fortunately we had had a sighting in Teesdale last weekend) was the finding of Slow Worm.  The first Slow Worm I have ever found and a very interesting reptile it is.  Having read the Northumbrian Naturalist, Mammals, Amphibians and Reptiles of the North East, I see that Slow Worms can live perhaps 10-15 years.  I have actually just read on the internet that 30 years is perhaps not uncommon and that in fact the record age for a Slow Worm in captivity is held by one which lived until 54 years of age at spent much of that time at Copenhagen Zoo.  Sam had told me how attractively marked that this species can be and having looked closely I can see what he means.

My first ever Slow Worm.  Wonderfully marked.
Once back down by Harthope Burn we set off to walk up the valley, passing the NTBC group on their way back.  We exchanged a few words as to what had or hadn’t been seen.

Under the Hood Photography...a name you'll hear more of in the future I'm sure!
I expressed surprise that we hadn’t heard Cuckoo.  In fact initially the area seemed very sparse of birdlife apart from Swifts, Swallows and House Martins.  We did eventually pick up some decent sightings which included a pair of Common Sandpipers, a pair of Spotted Flycatchers and a pair of Grey Wagtails.  Yet another pair of vocal Whinchat were found.  A third Grey Wagtail was seen on our return walk.  A pair of Pied Wagtail were seen at Langleeford Farm.  Song Thrush was heard singing and Mistle Thrushes seen and heard in flight.

No shortage of Chaffinches in the valley.

 By now the skies had cleared and the sun was hot as we sat and overlooked the burn and watched the Common Sandpipers.  We’d dressed for the conditions of the morning so a layer or two had to be removed.  As we began our return walk we each picked up the call of Cuckoo.  It was difficult to attempt reach a point where we knew how many Cuckoos were about.  We saw one briefly as it flew across the valley.  Then later when Andy was sure he had seen a Ring Ouzel in flight we had a rather better sighting of Cuckoo.  I was lucky as I happened to have my binoculars at my eyes when it flew past so I have a very good but very brief sighting.  I’d estimate that there were at least three Cuckoos about this area.   We saw more Oystercatchers and Curlews, the latter birds displaying above the valley sides.  House Martins were busily collecting mud for their nests that were about the farm area, but we were only able to get a distant image with the cameras.  Some more general interest was added when we found a Common Toad and a Green-veined Butterfly.

Green-veined White Butterfly

Common Toad
After having made the most of our day we set off, stopping at Carey Burn again where we found the Red-legged Partridges were still about the area.  Lesser Black Backed Gulls flew up the valley.  Our first Lapwing and Greater Black Backed Gulls were seen as we approached Wooler again.  I don’t think I was the only one that was tired.  I reckon we had walked a good few miles.  I reckoned we’d seen very few people on our walk but Sam and Andy took delight in listing the ones we had seen which eventually formed a little list.  I think it is that when I’m in such areas I’m focussed on the area and the wildlife and people tend to pass me by in more ways than one.  It had been another pleasant valley Sunday!

Friday, 17 May 2013

Great White Night!

16th May.  Marsden was blessed with sun today, but it was still cold!  I’d gone down there for lunch with a friend and we took advantage of the fine day to walk the cliffs and beach.  I’m always in my element when there are sea bird colonies to watch.  The cliffs were covered with the nests of Kittiwakes and Fulmars of course.  Several pairs of Razorbill were also seen on nests and visiting the sea to fish.  We commented about our initial view along the cliff edge and past what remains of Marsden Rock that surely if this landscape was on some hot continental coastline that there would be much show made of such an area.  Thankfully it isn’t and it was cold so quite quiet and peaceful.  I do think I was tanned a little.

Kittiwake, Kittiwake.
We walked along to the Sand Martin colony and watched the birds flying in and out of the nest site.  I looked north and picked up many familiar sites on the coastline.  At one point on the walk I almost convinced myself that I’d picked out a Red-rumped Swallow, but then accepted that it had probably been a trick of the light (although I am left wondering).  A pair of Kestrels was watched copulating near what I think was the likely nesting site.

Before leaving we took a walk south of Souter Lighthouse. Initially I thought there was little about but I soon picked up the song of Common Whitethroat and Blackcap.  It had been a really nice way to spend a few hours and Razorbill was a year tick. 

Souter Lighthouse
I spoke to Sam on the way home and we agreed our arrangements for a visit to Holywell in the evening.  The sun was shining when we arrived at Holywell Village, but there was still that nip of cold in the air.  We arrived at the members hide to be told that a Cuckoo had been seen and heard.  Surely enough after a few minutes we heard the call of Cuckoo.  Not only a first of the year for me, but a first for me on this walk.  Sam picked up the song of Reed Warbler and there were numbers of Sedge Warbler singing that manic song of theirs.  Swallows were flying over the pond.  We later found larger numbers of House Martins and occasionally Swifts swooped low past our heads making quite some noise as they did so.  Other birds on or near the pond included Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Mallard, Gadwall, Shelduck, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Grey Heron.  We found a pair of Common Sandpiper near to the public hide.  Lapwing, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Skylark and Reed Bunting flew in the area.

It was the intention of Sam and me to walk down to the dene and then walk back across the open fields.  This is such a pleasant way to spend such an evening.  By the time we had walked to the east flash and checked it out our plans changed and we just continued walking northwards.  Our walk was a slow one as we were trying to capture images of the many Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Goldfinch, Linnet and Yellowhammer.

The light went quite quickly this evening as the clouds quickly came in from the south and west.  We took a stop in the open fields on our return hoping for sightings of owls, but we had no luck with that, finding only distant Pheasants.  We walked back to the public hide and the Common Sandpipers were showing well.  I saw no sign of Green Sandpiper as reported in the hide when we looked.

Malcolm had kindly offered to pick us up.  When Sam made contact he was out walking the dog so said he’d be thirty minutes.  I suggested checking out the members hide again.  I thought this would fill in the time on a very nice evening before we went home.  I hadn’t expected to find anything of importance.  As we chatted in the hide and prepared to close the shutters and leave for home I caught, from the corner of my eye, something flying in from the west end of the pond.  I took a look and it was an egret being mobbed by corvids.  It was a split second when I called Great White Egret. The bird gave a great sighting as it flew to the east end of the pond and landed in on the edge of the reed-bed.  Sam was off, texting Malcolm on the way to say we might be a little longer arriving at the village.  I locked up and followed.  As it happens the bird wasn’t visble from the public hide, but it soon took off again and flew back across the pond.  The hole in the hedge gave us a good viewing point.  It flew into the reed-bed again than onto the top of the trees.  It was for a short time accompanied by a Grey Heron giving a really good perspective of size.  We did check for Purple Heron!  We watched it on top of the trees for several minutes as I sent a txt to Holywell Birding who unfortunately was otherwise engaged.  We knew we couldn’t hang around much longer in the now dimming light so we agreed to make of home with apologies ready for keeping Malcolm waiting.:-)  As we prepared to go the Great White Egret took to flight again and eventually flew behind the tree line, I thought probably getting prepared to roost for the night.  I note that Great White Egret was reported at Druridge Pools today and assume this is the bird that has been showing around Northumberland the past week or two.

Common Whitethroat
On my travels outside of the UK I have seen I estimate hundreds of Great White Egrets.  I’ve been on trips where they are almost completely ignored as they are so common and the birders prefer to concentrate on finding other species.  They’ve always attracted me, but this is only the second Great White Egret I’ve seen in the UK.   Sam and I are very rarely involved with twitching as we prefer to do our own thing in our own way.  I have to say though, that finding such a species ones self on what is really our ‘second patch’ gives a very rewarding feeling and I’m pleased that I can still get excited about bird watching.  I was delighted that Sam had only his second sighting of this species and certainly his best by a long chalk.  Made even better as we had so narrowly missed the species at Prestwick Carr recently, presumably the same bird.

Yeah I know!  You had to be there really. 

On reflection I realised that had not Malcolm taken the dog for a walk, we would have missed the Great White Egret.  We definitely owe one to the dog!

So another typical, more than pleasant, Holywell evening, offering quite a bit of botanical interest now too, along with great birding.  This all meant that it was better than ‘All Right on the Night’.