Sunday, 29 September 2013

Weekend Brings Sun and a Patch Tick

28th/29th Sept.  Saturday saw Sam and me heading for St Mary’s Island.  The Bluethroat had gone, we couldn’t find a Yellow Browed Warbler and we missed the passing Whinchat, so we just decided to enjoy our afternoon in the sun.  Sam managed to get some very good photographs of the Dunlin whilst I checked out the waders from the cliff edge and chatted to BB (NorthumbrianBirding).  The usual waders were around and many were showing well, and included Bar-tailed Godwits.

The wetland didn’t offer very much, although I’m told a Yellow Browed Warbler had been showing.  We found only Reed Bunting in the hedge. By the time we reached the gun mound I thought there was something special about as a couple of guys seemed to be getting excited.  It turned out that a Sparrowhawk had flown into cover with a small brown bird it had caught.  It couldn’t be…….could it?  The Sparrowhawk didn’t reappear whilst we watched.  Skylarks were heard on the move and there was good numbers of Rock Pipits about today as well as a handful of Meadow Pipits.  Sam spotted a few Redwings and Sandwich Tern was seen amongst the waders.  I was unable to find the American Golden Plover today so we decide to get down into the bay for a closer look at the flock on the rocky island.  I still saw no sign of it, but enjoyed the time spent down there anyway and the Golden Plovers did put on a great performance taking off in the bright sunlight.  We also examined a few of the weathered and eroded rocks down there.  We got chatting to a photographer who decided that the bay was a strange place to bring small children (a family were in the way of his photography plans I think).  I have to say I thought it an ideal place to bring children.

Rock Erosion

By the time we reached Seaton Sluice we realised that time had passed by quickly and it was time for tea, so we didn’t spend much time watching a none existent sea passage.  We shared one of the mega sized fish between us.  I’m amazed anyone can eat one of those plus a plate of chips!  We felt it would be dark by the time we walked to Holywell so decided to end the day here.  An excellent afternoon.

Sunday was just too good to waste so I decided to get out onto the wagon-ways on patch.  No crowds of folk here, but sadly few birds today either.  After I’d walked about a mile and seen little more than Magpies, other corvids, doves and pigeons and one lone Chaffinch, I decided that it was best just to treat today as a Sunday walk.  Although breezy enough to be bringing some fall of leaves the sun meant it was warm.  By the time I was heading for Holystone I did find a couple of flocks of Goldfinch flying down from the hedges to feed on thistle heads, and a few Linnets.

Near to the small flash I found a Common Darter Dragonfly, but by the time I sorted the camera it had flown off.  The delay proved positive however as a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly turned up (I’d seen one Speckled Wood Butterfly earlier on the walk) and after I’d managed to grab an image of that, five Common Snipe flew up from the area of the flash giving me a long awaited patch tick.  I hung around hoping that they would return and they did, but the sunlight made for difficult viewing.  The long walk had never the less been worthwhile.
Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
I walked a more or less circular route and the return element of the walk brought little other than exercise and fresh air.  I did find a couple of Pheasants feeding with a group of Magpies.  It was amusing to watch one of the Pheasants and a Magpie seeming to square up to one another as if two Premiership footballers.  The Magpie seemed to stand on a mound to look larger.  There was no real fall out and the birds all continued to feed.

Sow Thistle reflecting today's sun
So all in all a nice weekend with me at least paying some attention to the patch which has I know not been given so much attention this year as in the recent past years.  My reward was the Common Snipe.

Earlier in the week Sam and I had gone along to a very unusual talk/presentation/show (I’m not really sure how best to describe it) at the Hancock organised by the Northumbria Natural History Society.  It was focussed on seabirds and in particular Manx Shearwaters.  It was a mix of facts about seabirds, tales of one of the presenter’s expeditions as a young man to Iceland, folk tales and music.  Maybe not everyone’s cup of tea, although the place was packed out and it was all put over with passion.  The message at the end was that we should be putting pressure on Government to protect our seas and oceans.  I think many in the audience were shocked at the way seabird numbers are failing around the British Isles.  I suppose it is easy to hear of one or two good seasons in some areas and forget that there is a long term decline.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Seasonal Changes and an American in Toon.

18th Jun.  I visited one of my regular patch haunts today, although I have to admit I’ve not ventured that way for sometime.  A weak sunlight shone through the trees onto, in the main, dry ground.  The grasses and other plants had grown high and brushed against me as I made my way through them.  The only bright colour came from the garden escape asters.  It was so different from late spring and summer and few birds sounds could be heard and even fewer sightings of birds were made.  I did manage to pick up a weak huit huit call of a Chiffchaff which was again so different from the constant calling from these birds earlier in the year.  The only birds I had flying overhead were large numbers of Wood Pigeon, corvids and gulls.  The rattling sound of Magpies could be heard coming from the wooded area.  I wondered if the Fox was hidden in the dense undergrowth in a spot I have seem them on occasions.  The only other bird species I heard were tits.  Speckled Wood Butterflies flew in the sunbeams lighting up small open areas and a few white butterflies were in flight.  Today’s sun had brought a Specked Wood Butterfly to the garden again this morning.

The lake too had been very quiet yesterday.

21st Jun.  Sam and I headed for St Mary’s Island today and took in the crematorium grounds which was very quiet as far as birds were concerned.

As we watched the waders we spotted four Red Throated Divers flying south and as I collected the ice creams Sam found a pale phase Arctic Skua flying north.  Four of five Grey Herons stood along the shore line amongst numerous waders and a single Common Snipe was standing in the sea water.  Other waders seen were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew.  The Golden Plover numbers have built up nicely now and proved to be the highlight of the wader selection and as they were washed of the rocks north of St Mary’s Island I was able to pick up the American Golden Plover on the island although the birds didn’t settle for long (I scoped from well away from the flock).  A lifer for me however and Sam was able to get some decent images of other waders although the light could have been better.  Two or three visitors asked me what the large flock of birds were.  The small murmuration of Starlings had earlier put on a decent show.

We walked towards Seaton Sluice seeing only Swallows, Rock Pipit, Linnet and Goldfinches near to the cliff area.  I was unable to identify the only dark butterfly I saw at distance in flight.  There seemed to be little to no sea passage when we arrived at Seaton Sluice so we adjourned for tea before heading off on our usual route to Holywell.  Oh, we did find a Grey Wagtail at the mouth of the burn where the rock is cut out.  I don’t recall seeing this species in this particular area before.  We did later find another Grey Wagtail in the dene and in the area where they usually nest.  Numbers of Willow Warblers seemed to be fattening up prior to migration.  The tide had reached its highest point now and much of the area was flooded.

As we walked through the dene we heard a Tawny Owl call (perhaps a pair).  It was in the area that I know they nest.  Sam then got his eye on a Treecreeper close by us on a dead tree and suggested the tree might have been used by Tawny Owls.  Just as we were watching the Treecreeper, a Tawny Owl flew out and across the burn into the trees on the other side of the dene.  A rather nice and unexpected sighting.

We slowly walked up to the pond during which we discussed some future plans.  The light was already dimming as the sun dropped quickly in the sky.  It did give a nice effect as we sat in the hide.  As we had approached the Greylag Geese had risen and I wondered if something had disturbed them.  They soon settled again and we saw little other that Greylag Geese and Mallards on the pond.  On checking however I did fin a party of fifty+ Teal in the eastern corner of the pond and an odd Tufted Duck.  It didn’t look as though there was going to be any influx of waders this evening as only one Curlew arrived, dropped into the water, and then flew off.  It was never the less a nice atmosphere in the warmth and quiet.  Only a handful of Swallows appear to remain, down from the count of six thousand roosting in the area just a few weeks ago.  We decided to leave for home and as we made for the village a Greenshank called as it flew overhead.  It was more or less dark by the time we arrived back home, marking well the change of season.

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

Recovering Reed-bed

17th Jun.  I managed to take a walk down to the lake today as much for some fresh air after suffering from a heavy cold, as it was in the expectation of any wildlife excitement.  I also wanted to take a look at the new layout of the reed bed.  Yes, it has finally been restored and full marks to North Tyneside Council (well the guy concerned really (CM)) for at last getting this put right.  Thanks are also  earned for delaying matters until the Great Crested Grebe family are well and truly grown and approaching independence.  I’m pleased to see that the female adult had found a way onto the platform although I’m surprised to see the whole family sticking so closely to the nest site for so long as this hasn’t tended to happen in previous years.  I’m sure this family of grebes must be the most photographed birds in Northumberland, although the Kingfishers in Gosforth Park NR must be giving them a fair race for the title.  Great that all four juvenile grebes seem to be doing well and also good to see a pair of Little Grebes on the lake today.

I’m assuming that the metal fencing which covers the newly planted reed-bed is a temporary method of keeping the birds off.  This I can understand of course, but I won’t understand if it is to be left permanently!  As the information boards have always said quite clearly that one of the purposes of the reed-bed is to offer birds such as swans, Moorhens and Coots a peaceful area to nest.  It would be sad indeed if attempts are ever made to keep birds off permanently. Watch this space.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Weekend Crowned by Kingfisher

7th/8th Aug.  I’d heard that the change in winds promised to bring good sea passage and possibly a good fall of birds on Saturday so Sam and I visited the coast in the afternoon.  Apart from the good assortment of waders always provided at this time of year and an Arctic Skua flying south we didn’t find anything out of the ordinary.  We did manage to get sand blasted in the cold wind as we watched the waders just as one or two folk passed us wearing tee-shirts and shorts!  We also bumped into several birders we knew today.

When we got to Seaton Sluice we found that there wasn’t too much room ‘at the inn’ as the Tower Hide was occupied by three sea watchers who apparently weren’t seeing to much either, although we believe there had been birds out there in the morning.  We sat outside off the hide for a short time and had good sightings of Wheatears.  The Common Rosefinch was either long gone or hiding in vegetation as no one was picking it up now.  We settled on having our tea.

After tea a short stint in the hide brought us another Arctic Skua, this time flying north.  A flock of about one hundred and forty Eider Duck were joined on the sea blow the hide by several Common Scoters, as we watched the Fulmars and Gannets.

So not that much about, but an enjoyable day anyway and we watched a couple of Common Whitethroats as we made off for home.

Today (Sunday) saw us making for Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.  We’ve recently put in the hours trying to capture images of the visiting Kingfisher/s.  The reserve is generally quiet at the moment so we made straight for the hide where we were told that Kingfishers had been showing earlier in the morning.  After about an hour and twenty minutes, during which a Little Grebe provided some relief, a male Kingfisher flew in close to the hide.  It proved to be an excellent ‘model’ and perched, preened and fished within a few feet/yards of us for at least twenty minutes.  I’ve seen many Kingfishers, some good sightings, but often as a blue flash before my eyes.  This is the best sighting I’ve had.  I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

After the excitement we took a short walk around part of the reserve but didn’t make the full lap that we usually do.  Instead we retraced our steps and found two Roe Deer crossing our path.  The weekend had certainly been crowned by the Kingfisher sighting.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Go and Get Spotted!

3rd Sept.  I’d two birds on my mind as Lee and I left for the coast today.  They were Spotted Crake and Spotted Redshank.  I felt conditions offered us a good chance to find both these species.  Ok, I had also re-checked the identification characteristics of White-Rumped Sandpiper, but I wasn’t going to loose too much sleep if we didn’t find a bird I have seen at distance before and which left me pretty cold (just as well as it happens).  Yes I know, I’ll never make a twitcher!

We began with a quick watch over the rocks at Cresswell which brought us a number of waders and Eider Ducks.  Next stop was Cresswell Pond.  Unfortunately there was no Spotted Redshank but there were four (possibly five) Greenshank.  Conditions at the pond seemed ideal, but apart from Redshanks and a few Dunlin it was fairly quiet, so we decided to move on and return later.

The North Pond at East Chevington proved to be far livelier.  It wasn’t long before we had spots before us in the form of Spotted Crake which gave a very good sighting as it came out onto the mud.  Conditions at the North Pool were ideal too.  Unfortunately I wasn’t able to pick up the Spotted Redshank which had been seen on the west side of the pool before our arrival.   Neither did we see the White-Rumped Sandpiper, nor did anyone else whilst we were there, although it had been watched before our arrival.  One or two people, now possibly bored with the Spotted Crake, seemed a little surprised that we were both keener to get the crake which was a lifer for us.  Anyway we enjoyed watching the circa thirty Ruff and even more numerous Black-tailed Godwits.  I didn’t count the numerous Dunlin and Redshank, but when they all lifted when a Peregrine Falcon flew over it was obvious that there were quite a few!  We had seen Common Buzzard earlier in the day.  Other waders included Lapwing, Ringed Plover and Sanderling.  Common Snipe numbers were also significantSandwich Terns were around in fairly small numbers, but making quite a noise.

We found a well developed juvenile Great Crested Grebe.  I was wondering if the nests I had seen on the pool earlier in the year had produced successful broods (or could it be one of the Killingworth birds, you never know)?  The ‘fab four' Bar Headed Geese showed well, as did their fellow fence hopping Lesser White-fronted Goose that I’m told has been around the area for some time.  Well fence hoppers or not they all help the ID skills and I confess I have added a similar fence hopping Lesser White-fronted Goose to my year list before now (but that was a Norfolk bird, so I can I be forgiven?).

Lee and I coped well considering we are miserable failures with regard the sandpiper and we counted our blessings, few though they may be, as we headed for Druridge Pools.  The water was low outside of the hide, but low and behold there was little to no mud so we didn’t stay around here very long.  Highlights here were the numerous Wall Brown Butterflies (you have to understand that life is not all about birds) and the family of five Stonechats found on our arrival at the parking area.  We did find some Teal.

We returned to Cresswell Pond and I found a Wheatear north of the causeway.  A Marsh Harrier gave a very good sighting as it flew north.  We saw Shovellers as we walked to the hide and there were Tree Sparrows in the hedge.  I’d not yet given up hope of finding a Spotted Redshank.

There were plenty of Redshank, plenty of Dunlin, Bar-tailed Godwit, several Common Snipe and at least two Greenshank remained, but I wasn’t able to locate a Spotted Redshank.  A Common Buzzard flew over the pond and a Red Admiral Butterfly almost joined us in the hide.  We stayed around for a while and picked up a Common Sandpiper and eventually I got my eye on it……….yes a Spotted Redshank.  Where it appeared from I’m none to sure, but it was its method of feeding that took my eye to it.  A very attractive bird indeed.  It was an ideal bird to end our outing on.  I tried to write our sightings on the board, but the felt tipped pen was dry.  Good grief there’ll be complaints to the NWT about this! :-)

Just before we left I received a txt from Sam.  He had just watched Bittern and Water Rail at the Gosforth Park Nature Reserve so Lee dropped me off there on our way home.  Sam would have been with us had he or we known he was to have his freedom today.  By the time I met up with Sam the heat of the afternoon had built up.  I added no more to my day list than Willow Warbler, but it was a good ending to a very good day.  We’d spoken to some very nice people along the way, I had seen some very nice waders and I had got myself spotted and added to my life list and added Spotted Redshank to my year list.  Don’t concern yourselves on my missing the White Fronted Sandpiper as I want no unhappiness on my behalf.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

Feeling Mellow

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.
Courtesy of John Keat’s

Aug 31st.  I was feeling mellow as the crowds of the afternoon had dispersed from the area around St Mary’s Island and as Sam and I watched the waders and gulls.  The evening light duller now and the breeze more biting than it has felt for sometime.  Autumn is almost upon us.  The quietness of the evening was slightly tainted by the approaching curses of a group of foul mouthed females of the moronic type, more to be pitied than despised I suppose, but definitely best ignored, as such attention seeking nuisance makers soon pass by when  attention is not forthcoming.  I couldn’t help wonder what evolution had in store for these pathetic creatures once they reach adulthood!  The waders were far more interesting and entertaining and those seen today were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew.

We wondered if the pale phased Arctic Skua that flew south was the same one that we had watched from the Tower Hide at Seaton Sluice, and which was flying north.  It had landed on the sea just slightly north of the hide and fairly close to shore, thus giving a fine sighting.  We also tracked four Manx Shearwaters flying south in a small group.  Sam had managed to find at least another two Manx Shearwaters.  There had been a surprisingly high number of Fulmar flying along the cliff edge and also out at sea.  On occasions they had flown very closely to the hide.  Large numbers of Gannet were flying north and south and we watched as they dived on occasions.  Three dark phase Arctic Skuas flew south.  Gulls, including Kittiwakes, Guillemot, Sandwich Terns and the usual Eider Ducks made up the rest of the list from an hours sea watch.

The sea watch had followed our fish and chip teatime stop.  The walk through the dene had perhaps been as quiet as I have ever found it.  A Redshank high up the burn had entertained us as it searched for food in an area that appeared to be providing plenty of prey.  The bird had been so intent on feeding it appeared not to be phased by our presence and that of other passers by one bit.  A single Red Admiral Butterfly had been found on the footpath and numbers of Speckled Wood Butterflies had been seen again.  A look for odonata brought only one Common Darter.

A well fed Redshank
At an early stage of our walk from Holywell we had found a Southern Hawker Dragonfly near the pond and several Wall Brown Butterflies.  Our hoped for waders at the pond did not materialise and apart from the flock of Greylag Geese this area had been very quiet too today.  We did bump into BB (Northumbrian Birder) walking in the opposite direction to ourselves.

August has been a very rewarding month.  Waders (especially Green Sandpipers and Greenshanks), butterflies, the Great Crested Grebe family on patch and warm summer evenings have been the highlights.  When Sam and I arrived back home the light was fading fast and we were already talking about autumn and winter birding, without doubt our favourite period of the year for this pursuit.