Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Patch Magician!

29th Oct.  The highlight of today’s outing was my first ever patch sighting (if somewhat brief) of a Merlin.  A female bird found hunting low over the field before disappearing behind tall grasses and the hedge.  This was near to where Sam had found a Merlin earlier in the year.  It has to be one of my best patch sightings of the year.  So after a long wait, rather like buses Merlins come in threes, with two sightings on Saturday and this one today.

I’d started my walk by visiting the lake.  The sun shone across the water which made viewing from some areas very difficult.  I found three female Goosanders and the one long staying male, along with two Goldeneye and a Little Grebe.  The wind had cleared the water of birds, so I didn’t spend time walking the length of the lake but instead made towards the village, passing fifty Canada Geese and two Greylag Geese.

Old faithful...the long staying Goosander.

 The walk to and along the wagon-ways was generally quiet apart from the sound of the flocks of Jackdaw and the distant metro trains and traffic on the A19.  I did find one Red Admiral Butterfly.  The quietness was broken by the sighting of the Merlin and that alone would have made the long walk worthwhile.  Shortly afterwards a flock of fifteen Fieldfare flew west.  There was little sign of much else until I reached the small flash where only Mallard and Moorhen were found.  A lone Mistle Thrush fed in the field nearby.

Autumnal Red Admiral Butterfly
As I drew near to the end of my circular walk some colour was added by the showing of a male Bullfinch and then Song Thrush, Blackird and tits were found visiting a feeding station.  I had earlier spotted one Goldfinch and heard many more.   The light was already going as I turned the corner and made for home.

Yesterday I’d attempted to look at the RSPB Local group web site for a reason I can’t remember.  The shock of what I found has made my memory go blank.  I was taken to a site advertising Love Films and Exotic East Asians Girls.  Honest, I was looking for the RSPB!  Somewhat taken aback I tried to enter the national RSPB site and was taken to this same site.  The line Exotic East Asian Girls caught the eye again.  Good grief, I know that the RSPB has changed its logo, the title and style of its magazine (BTW it’s far better, although I have to add that that wouldn’t have taken much doing) and its general emphasise, but as a long standing member I wasn’t ready for quite such a massive change as this.  I began to wonder if this was part of a new recruitment campaign.  You know what I mean.  Most members are stuck in there ways you know and it’s difficult to teach old dogs new tricks.  I wondered if they were changing the emphasise on the type of birds to seek out!  Well, before I started my letter to the RSPB Chief Executive today, which was going to voice my sheer disgust and general annoyance at such a disgraceful move as this, I decided to check the sites again.  It was with great relief that I found the sites had returned to normal.  I really hope that this hasn’t shaken too many of the members.  Anyway I must cut this blog short as I prepare to watch my new video before preparing to pack for Bangkok.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Hen Harrier and Holy Island Trip

One of the great pleasures of bird watching is coming across the unexpected, especially when such moments can be shared with a like minded person.  Earlier in the year Sam and I had been talking about Hen Harriers after Sam had been lucky enough to watch a ringtail flying close by an Osprey nest in Scotland.  His experience had made me a little envious (harriers are my favourite species along with owls, this week anyway :-)), although Sam was still anxious to see his first male Hen Harrier.  I didn’t think he would have too long as I felt he would come across a male sooner than later when in Scotland.  This week I have experienced one of my best ever sightings of a male Hen Harrier and I’m pleased that I was able to share the experience in Northumberland with Sam.   Certainly having watched the bird at length (Sam was able to get a number of record images), it is one of my top ten birding experiences of the year.  Because of the delicate nature of this species plight, I have decided not to use the image on my blog that Sam passed to me, but rather use an image that shows exactly how Sam felt having found such a magnificent species.  As it happens we are attending a talk in November given by the RSPB concerning the ‘Skydancer Project’ and Hen Harriers.  I wonder how many people in England who are not keen birdwatchers are actually aware of the ‘Skydancer Project’.  In fact I bet there are a few keen birders who aren’t that clued up!

Just seen a Hen Harrier!

26th Oct.  It was the local group annual trip to Holy Island today and although cloudy as we left the city, the torrential downpour of the previous evening was behind us.  The clouds thinned as we approached the island and the light seemed to be immediately above it.  I felt it was going to be another atmospheric trip to one of the most atmospheric areas in Northumberland.

We’d counted over one hundred Pheasants as we headed north and also caught site of a covey of six Grey Partridge.  We crossed the still wet causeway and found a Merlin sitting on top of a post.  Waders fed nearby the causeway as the tide withdrew.  Once out of the coach members were soon watching a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the trees by the coach-park.  Unfortunately Sam and I couldn’t sight it, but once around the corner and heading into the village we had two Great Spotted Woodpeckers on the stone wall close by us.  We headed for what we know from experience is a good vantage point across the bay.

A very confiding Robin

 The atmosphere now was increasing, with the sounds of calling Grey Seals beginning to lie out on the wet sands, and calling Eider Ducks.  The white shape of swans in the distance soon grabbed our attention and we found that we had eight Whooper Swans.  A great start for Sam who had his favourite species right away.  What seemed to be the entire island population of Brent Geese soon had our attention and although distance and light made it difficult to confirm, we are quite sure that there were some dark bellied sub species in amongst the large numbers of pale bellied sub species.  Small skeins of the Brents flew past us on a number of occasions and formed a flock nearby.  Again lighting conditions made photography difficult.  In the distance we could see a massive flock of Wigeon.  A flock of Knot flashed in the sun as they flew over the bay.  In front of the geese we reckon that the flock of Golden Plover amounted to between 2,500 to 3,000 birds.  They were quite a spectacle when they all lifted.  In front of the Golden Plover were large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit which lifted too and flew to a more distant area.  Such was the pleasure in watching the flocks of geese and waders we stayed in this one spot far longer than we had planned.  The usual Red-breasted Mergansers were in the water below us.  We eventually said goodbye to the very confiding Robin which at times was at our feet and we made for the area near St Cuthbert’s Island.

A few of the Brent Geese
We again watched the flock of Brent Geese which were close by.  Any decision about attempting to get closer for photographs was soon made for us as some dog owner allowed their ‘pet’ down into the area and frighten off the geese and any waders that were nearby.  I expected dog owners might have a little more sense and respect when on the island, but sadly my expectations are clearly misplaced as far as some are concerned!  There were more Red-breasted Mergansers nearby.

We visited the viewing tower which hadn’t been quite finished on our visit last year.  That extra height really does add a great deal to the vista.  Unfortunately we didn’t find very much apart from Eider Ducks and Cormorants on the water and in any event it was so warm in there that the scope steamed up!.  I think it is the first time I haven’t found Red-throated Diver here.  One or two of out group members did find a distant Salvonian Grebe later.  Thankfully we weren’t troubled anymore during the day by thoughtless dog owners and we headed for the harbour where we found Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Turnstone and Rock Pipits.  A few landscape images were taken before we visited the new building overlooking the Rocket Field.  Numbers of Teal were surrounding the pools.

 The scope was dropped off before we headed down the Straight Lonnen where we spent some time admiring the farmyard ‘chicken’ collection which includes some stunning birds.  We soon had our second brief sighting of Merlin (a new species for the year list) and a brief sighting of a small number of Fieldfare (my first of the autumn).  As we sat down and took a break for lunch we watched five Roe Deer across the fields.  Skylark, Meadow Pipits and large numbers of Curlew were in the area as was at least one Kestrel.  I got my eye on what I put down as a flock of Linnet, but later having spoken to another member who had been able to take a closer look it seems that they were Twite.  I believe we had missed a Blackcap as we were probably to busy admiring chickens.  On the whole there were few small passerines about and certainly nothing that anyone would mark down as a rarity, which to be honest didn’t concern us at all.  Whilst I appreciate we all have our different focus, having read recent threads on a certain forum concerning mad dashes to Shetland and elsewhere for twitching purposes, I feel I have nothing what so ever in common with the folk involved in this type of birding.  Much more my style is a relaxed day on Holy Island.

'Like me haircut?'
The pond was fairly quiet, although the hide was chockaa.  Teal, (although not the large flocks I had seen there last year) were about, as was a single Shoveler.  I got my eye on four overhead Whooper Swans.  By now the warmth of the day was vanishing and being replaced by cold air which seemed more suitable for the time of year.  We found out that some members had sighted a pod of Dolphins of the coast (probably Bottled-nosed Dolphins).  Well, we’d had the pleasure of Dolphins last year so were where happy with our sightings this time around.

We stopped of at Budle Bay on the way home taking in the best of the light before darkness began to set in.  The highlight was the stunning sight of a Little Egret in bright sunlight and image reflected in the water.  I added Shelduck and Grey Plover (I’d overlooked the ones on the island) to my day list.

We headed for home as the sun lowered, but still shone on Holy Island.  I fell asleep for a few minutes on the coach.  A great day, as always.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Birding South East Northumberland

24th Oct.  It was a perfect autumn day with clear skies and a warm sun, if a somewhat cold feel to the air near to the coast.  I was with Lee and his friend Zenab, so the conversation turned to birds in Iraq for at least part of our journey up to Cresswell.  We found a flock of Pink-footed Geese on our journey.  Our initial stop brought us seven Red Throated Divers eventually making north away from a flock of gulls which seemed to have found an easy feeding area.  Two Eider Ducks nearby were easily seen on a flat sea, very different from yesterday when the wind was up.  Waders included numbers of Ringed Plover, Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew.  A Sparrowhawk flew from the west over our heads and flew along the coast line, with markings showing very clearly against the blue sky and in the sunlight.  A male Stonechat was seen as we drove towards Cresswell Pond.

Numbers of Tree Sparrows, Goldfinches and a large flock of overhead Lapwing greeted us as we walked to the hide.  The highlight seen from the hide was the eight Whooper Swans.   At least eight Common Snipe rested close to the hide and others flew high above the pond.  I caught sight of a Godwit species overhead, but the Water Rail which had shown well before our arrival was now lying low.  The water was very high and quite clear of birds, although numbers of Wigeon and Teal were around the edges of the pond with one lone Teal directly in front of the hide.  I was beginning to feel the cold air as we set off for East Chevington.

The North Pool rewarded us with a single Slavonian Grebe, at least seven Pintail, twenty plus Gadwall, more Wigeon and Teal, numbers of Goldeneye and a chat with DY.  We were noticing numbers of Red Admiral Butterflies on the wing today.

We made a quick visit to Druridge Bay Country Park, not in any expectation of finding much bird life, but for me just to quickly check out the route of an RSPB walk I’m co-leading on 4th January.  Anyone fancy a brisk New Year walk?  We’ll have hot drinks and even mince pies to tempt you perhaps.  Anyway, we didn’t see much here to warm the blood in the way of birds, but we did find a rather nice pristine fungus which I was told by a helpful passer by is commonly named Penny Bun Fungus (or was it Halfpenny Bun Fungus?).  I’ve looked it up on the internet and what is called a Penny Bun Fungus there, looks nothing like what I saw.  Can anyone advise please?

Penny.Halfpenny Bun Fungus???  Can anyone help?

I don't know this one either.

Nor these.  I 'm just to tired to check my very helpful book if I'm honest.  
Having made for Druridge Pools we found very little about, although we did find more Red Admiral Butterflies and a lone Peacock Butterfly.  What I think was a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly was seen in flight.  As we prepared to leave we saw the pair of Stonechat.  It’s nice to see that these birds may be recovering a little after the recent severe winters caused them almost to disappear from the area.

I can't help feeling I won't be seeing many more butterflies this year.

A hide with a view...only this one at Druridge Pools didn't include many birds today!

  We decided to give a second stop at Cresswell Pond a miss, as the water was so high we weren’t hopeful that there would be anything new from our previous visit.  The north end of the pond was devoid of life apart from a few gulls and a single Redshank.  The road was flooded too.

We stopped at the Queen Elizabeth 11 Park where the only a single Pochard stood out from numbers of Tufted Duck, Canada Geese and Mute Swans.  The latter species being very well fed by passers by.  I can think of a few folk who wouldn’t like the idea of Mute Swans being fed!!! :-)  Clearly Swanbusters have not reached this area as yet.

Lee decided to test Zenab’s knowledge of UK species seen today.  I can only say that her knowledge of UK birds far exceeds his or my knowledge of Birds of Iraq!  Apparently she gets Hoopoe in the garden at home.  I think she thought I was joking when I said I was arranging a group trip to her home!  It had been a very nice way to spend a sunny autumn day.  Its going to rain heavily tomorrow so I’ll think I’ll do the shopping…..well I will do the shopping, as I have little choice if I wish to eat.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

A Natural Naturalist

23rd Oct.  Sam and I visited Prestwick Carr today in an attempt to sight the Great Grey Shrike, but saw no sign.  At least the rain had stopped!  The area was very quiet, but we did sight a small flock of Redwing flying over the woodland, a flock of around a dozen Long Tailed Tits, Willow Tits, Meadow Pipits and three Common Buzzards.

Wader watching.  One of the real joys of birding.
After our failed search we headed for the coast which was quiet also although we had the waders to entertain us, amongst them at least three Bar-tailed Godwits.  Not much luck with the photography either as both the light and waders failed to cooperate.  To cap it all the fish and chip café was closed when we arrived for our much needed tea.  Not to be beaten we sat and enjoyed our fish and chips (from the shop) in the shelter.  We watched as the Kestrel was hassled by initially one determined gull and then two of them.  I was impressed by Sam’s owl like hearing when he picked up the sound of approaching Pink-footed Geese far sooner than I did (which reflects just how much this guy has learnt over the past couple of years and how much more he’s going to learn in future years.  A natural naturalist, in my opinion).  A skein of 70/80 geese flew from the sea, over our heads and towards Holywell.  With fading light our own destination was not to be Holywell on this occasion, but home.

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Hawthorn Dene, Durham.

19th Oct.  Today was to be used to explore the area of Hawthorn Dene (Durham) with a view to leading an RSPB walk in the area in 2014.  Sam, Marie and I set off to an area that none of us had visited previously in the hope that rainfall would be limited to light showers.  Although rather misty at times the rain did keep off for the duration of the walk.

Hawthorn Dene and surrounding limestone meadowland is managed by Durham Wildlife Trust.  The deep ravine of the dene cuts through magnesian limestone and much of the area is ancient semi natural woodland.  The limestone meadowland is managed so as to help growth of the array of plants that grow in the area which in summer is very attractive to butterflies.  In a directional sense I found the circular walk from Hawthorn Village straightforward, but as far as negotiating it was concerned it wasn’t quite so easy with the constant up and down walks on what was a very muddy path in places.  It was certainly worth the effort though, and the changing level of the path gave some very different views of the dene which was very atmospheric in the thin mist and dampness of the day.  As you leave the dene you cross an un-gated railway line where care is needed.  Then you reach the cliff looking over the beach and sea.  A rather steep and difficult (especially when wet as they were today) set of steps that leads down to the bay.  A rather long drop if you slipped.  Whilst the view was OK, it in no way matches walking from the woodland at Howick in Northumberland and meeting the shoreline and sea, so I didn’t have a  Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again’ moment.  We didn’t take all of the steps down to the beach, but had lunch nearby.  It was from the cliff that I spotted a flock of Common Scoter flying northwards and Sam got his eye on a Velvet Scoter at the tail end of the flock.  A lifer for Sam and very well spotted.  A year tick for me.  There was little bird life around the small bay area apart from two Oystercatchers, corvids, gulls and pigeons.  A single Cormorant also flew north.  We bumped into a birder who had just come up the steps.  It seems he had found little around the beach area, but he did mention that two Yellow Browed Warblers had been found nearby.  Is this to be a record year for Yellow Browed Warblers in the UK I wonder?  I also understand that the colliery shale that is washed up onto the beach and comes from various localities along the coast contains an interesting array of plant life.  Much of the area we visited has SSSI status.

The return walk was on the whole level, much quicker and through mainly a plantation of trees, which never the less gave a very nice view down through the tall avenue of trees.  We found a couple of Kestrels in this area and on arriving back at the car we found a sizable flock, or should I say charm of Goldfinches.  We did check out some of the naming used for groups/flocks of birds, a few I knew and many I did not.  I was most surprised by a siege of Bitterns.

An easy return.
At the beginning of the walk we had soon had sightings of Jays.  We heard Jays calling throughout the walk in various areas.  We’d also soon found a mixed flock of tits, heard a Blackcap singing and had not so good views of a warbler which was either Chiffchaff or Willow Warbler high in the trees.  Song Thrush was also seen here.  Even though we are into autumn and leaves are falling, bird watching was not easy in the dense woodland.  We did hear Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Goldcrests and Long-tailed Tits, but never did see them.  We did see three or four Grey Squirrels.  We hadn’t expected vast numbers of species of bird at this time of year, but I think it could be very different in spring and early summer and Sam and I are planning our future walk for May 2014.  Anyway there had been enough woodland species to keep us happy and we had a very good few hours in an area new to us.  I think much more photography will be in order next time around.

Two things that I had especially enjoyed seeing were the numerous clusters of fungi and the Wood Horsetails Equisetum sylvaticum..

Equisetum is a living fossil as it is the only genus of the class Equisetopsida, which for over one hundred million years was much more diverse and dominated the understory of late Paleozoic forests.  Some reached up to thirty metres in height.  The name ‘horsetail, arose because the branches species resemble a horses tail.  The scientific name Equisetum derives from the Latin equus, meaning horse, and seta, meaning bristle

Friday, 18 October 2013

Reynard and Magpies

24th Oct.  I took a quiet walk on patch today so as to enjoy the sun.   Although bright and warm, the changes to the colouring of the foliage made it quite obviously autumn, as did the masses of berries, and the leaves on my lawn.  I think the birds will be well fed this year!

I’d caught sight of a Mistle Thrush feeding on berries in the trees at the bottom of my garden earlier in the day and as I wandered I came across another in flight.  Mistle Thrushes had been absent from my walks recently.  As I walked along by the hedging and stone walls I saw little, but listened to the calls of common garden birds, gulls and corvids.  Once I’d reached a different vantage point I saw that I may have well walked closely beside a Fox.  As I looked over the fields I saw that a Fox was resting behind the wall I had followed earlier.  It seemed quiet content to enjoy the warmth of the day and had no eye on making a meal of one of the many Rabbits or party of six Pheasants sharing the area with it.  A single Stock Dove was also feeding along with crows and gulls.  The only disturbance to the Fox seemed to be Magpies which were constantly mobbing it.  I watched the Fox eventually lethargically stand up and slowly walk across the field and then follow the direction of the hedge which it used for cover.  It disappeared from view on occasions but the presence of the following Magpies gave away its movements.  It appeared again as it walked through a small flooded area before stopping to rest again in the sun behind some housing.  The Magpies were relentless and on one occasion there was at least fifteen of them along the hedge as single birds flew over and at the Fox.  The Fox didn’t waste any energy attempting to chase them but instead made off once again in the direction from which it had come.  I eventually lost sight of it, but from the rattling calls of the Magpies I suspect the Fox was still present when I left the area.  I believe this to be a well trodden path used by Reynard, so I will keep a look out.

With so many Magpies present I was reminded of the related rhyme and this one is the longest I could find after a quick search.  There are many different versions.

One for sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth

Thirteen beware it's the devil himself.
The rhyme has its origins in superstitions and the magpie was considered a bird of ill omen in some cultures.  A version of the rhyme appears to have been first recorded around 1780 in John Brand’s Observations on Popular Antiquities.  I know someone who salutes Magpies so as to ward of ill luck

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

John Barrow (1764-1848)...What's in a Name?

I think we must all have places that excite our minds and leave us with wonderful memories.  Once such place as far as I’m concerned is Cumbria, and the English Lake District in particular.  This is an area I have visited since very early childhood and to this day I remember the awe I felt on travelling through the passes and narrow winding roads of the often mist covered fells as a youngster, often with only my family and the herdwick sheep as company.  I think it must have been then that I learnt that the beauty and drama of nature isn’t lessened simply because you’re being soaked by torrential rain.  I’m not so sure I fully recognised that as a child.  I was pleased to find that Sam had found his recent week spent in Cumbria with his school such a pleasure, and his account of the trip naturally included his activities, including an unexpected dip into a tarn, narrowly avoided broken limbs (not his), wildlife, bird names and a ‘pepper pot’.  This has given me the opportunity to add to my blog which I can’t help feeling has become a little stale of late, although I hasten to add the birding hasn’t been stale.

Hoad Monument..The 'pepper pot'.  Courtesy of Samuel Hood.

The ‘pepper pot’ in question is the Hoad Monument on top of the Hill of Hoad at Ulverston.  This marble obelisk looks rather like a lighthouse and was built to commemorate John Barrow.  More anon about John Barrow but before I go on I have to mention that my conversation with Sam later took me down some unexpected pathways.  One of these pathways led me to William Joyce, perhaps better known as Lord Haw Haw.  Joyce was hanged for treason soon after the Second World War having broadcast propaganda from Germany on behalf of the Nazis.  Having read a little about Joyce my view would be that he was little more than a fascist thug.  Interestingly during one of his Broadcasts during the war he informed that people of Ulverston that ‘their pepper pot’ would be destroyed by German bombing.  It never was of course.  What I hadn’t known was that the title of Lord Haw Haw was not only given to William Joyce, but had been previously used for other German Nazis propagandists.  I hadn’t known either that in what was a complicated case, Joyce had made a deal with his prosecutors to save his wife from prosecution for treason.  Apparently it was agreed to keep quiet about his association with MI5.  The hangman responsible for the execution of Joyce was Albert Pierrepoint who is known to have hanged over 400 people, some of them war criminals.  After retirement Pierrepoint related the story of him having hanged a man that used to visit the public house that Pierrepoint managed/owned in partnership with his wife.  Apparently Pierrepoint had been on friendly terms with the man.  Now I’m thinking you would have to be a fairly cold person to be a hangman, but even colder to hang someone that used to visit your pub and chat to you!  Now I could go on for ever and talk about Derek Bentley, hanged in the 1950s and many years later given a full pardon and also the song performed about Bentley by Elvis Costello, entitled ‘Let Him Dangle’ but I best return to John Barrow.

Sir John Barrow was born near the village of Dragley Beck, on the northern shores of Morecambe Bay and he was educated at Ulverston.  He went onto become a founder member of the Royal Geographical Society and for over forty years was Second Secretary to the Admiralty.  It was in this latter role that he supported attempts to find the North West Passage and individual explorers such as James Clark Ross (Ross’s Gull), Edward Sabine (Sabine’s Gull) and John Franklin (Franklin’s Gull).  Barrow’s role was during this period more or less a desk job and he wasn’t directly involved in the expeditions however Barrow’s Goldeneye Bucephela islandica retains the common name in his honour.  I personally have only ever seen one Barrow’s Goldeneye in the wild and that was in Northern Ireland.  Barrow is also remembered in the place names, Point Barrow, Barrow Sound and Barrow Straits in the Arctic and Cape Barrow in Antarctica.

Whilst not directly involved in the Arctic Expeditions, Barrow was most certainly well travelled having spent periods of his life in places such as China and South Africa.  Barrow apparently shot a Hippopotamus and many years later whilst at the Linnaean Society of London when a Hippopotamus skull was being discussed he informed those present that it was not as large as the one he had been responsible for shooting.  Barrow later found out that in fact it was the very one he had shot!  Barrow must have had a sense of humour as he later used to retell this story.  He also must have held some influence as it is believed it is he who recommended St Helena as a good place to exile Napoleon Bonaparte.

Barrow’s writings include a ‘Life of Peter the Great’, biographies of Lord Howe and Lord Anson and The Eventful History of the Mutiny and Piratical Seizure of HMS Bounty.

A relative of an iron foundry owner who offered Barrow (in his early life) a place on a whaler heading for Bear Island and Spitsbergen, Barrow did accept this offer and began to learn the skills of a sailor.  Perhaps this is where his interest in the North West Passage began.  He discovered what it was like to be stranded by ice and Barrow never went north again.  Sir John Barrow died suddenly in November 1848, while writing at his home.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Killingworth Lake

15th Oct.  I took some time out to visit the lake this afternoon and was pleased to find that we now have three Goosanders on the water.  A welcome return.  There weren’t many Mute Swans to be counted on the water, although they now seem to be all over the place since the fencing was put up.  I’ve lived in Killingworth since the 1970s and I have never before seen the road traffic held up so often by Mute Swans, as has happened in recent weeks.  Nor have I seen the Mute Swans entering areas that they have been visiting recently.  Some may try and convince me they are moving around to seek food now that certain people have stopped feeding bread to them.  I simply don’t accept this rather convenient reasoning and would argue that it is the blocking of access to areas of land that has caused this problem.  I also took a look again at the new floating reed-bed and fear that the wire mesh around it looks rather permanent.  I suppose it does give the Cormorants somewhere to perch.  There were five Cormorants there today.  How long before there is an out cry about too many Cormorants taking the fish from the lake I wonder?  A daft question from me I suppose, as I’m sure there has already been noises made about this over the years.  At least it’s nice to hear that a few bird and bat boxes have been put up about the area.

The wire mesh doesn't look very temporary to me!

But it must be temporary as the signs make it clear the area is to be used for nesting swans etc!

Anyway, at least I bumped into Sam by the lake and it was good to talk to someone else who knows a little about wildlife, its needs and conservation issues surrounding this.  We found the pair of Little Grebes and then a third Little Grebe on the smaller lake.  Two of the juvenile Great Crested Grebes (now adult sized) remain as do the parents birds.  I’m not sure where all the Pochards have gone, as we counted only one.  A single Shoveller flew over our heads as we spoke and a single Grey Heron had taken up its now regular position.  Sam had heard a Grey Wagtail beside the lake earlier.

I took a walk across the playing fields and found that the flocks of gulls have yet to build up to sizable numbers.  There had been no Goldeneye on the generally quiet lake as yet.  I heard only tits, Chaffinches and Wrens in the trees and bushes.

I read in the newspaper today that David Cameron is going to support a watering down of the Fox hunting ban (no surprise there then, although I never believe everything I read in the papers.  You just have to look at what is written about Killingworth Lake to realise facts are the last thing many newspapers concern themselves with).  There seems to be complete turmoil with regard to the Badger cull, Common Buzzards are the growing enemy according to some, although these same people seem to have well and truly conquered our breeding Hen Harriers and now I hear that we have concerns being expressed about growing numbers of Otters and Pine Martins.  The RSPB’s latest call is to ‘Give Nature a Home’.  Let’s hope in years to come we still have some nature to give a home to.  Let’s be positive though, as I know that there are at least some who care and even know what they are talking about and can see past their own selfish needs.  It’s for those people I have a more interesting post lined up for next time.

Whilst it’s good to talk I have to dash off and prepare for our country’s venture towards Brazil and the World Cup.  For that reason and that reason only I have pulled Willie from a long, long sleep in the cupboard.  I know many of you will remember him from 1966.  So let’s hear it for the lads and World Cup Willie!  If only we had Bobby Moore, Gordon Banks and Nobby Stiles back in an England shirt along with our Empire, Swan Hunters, The Stoll Cinema, trolley buses and aniseed balls!

Don't mess with World Cup Willie
Dressed in red, white and blue, he's World Cup Willie
We all love him too, World Cup Willie
He's tough as a lion and never will give up
That's why Willie is fav'rite for the Cup
Willie, Willie, he's evry'body's fav'rite for the Cup

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Just Great...Skuas.

13th Oct.  I’ve had a pretty non active period so I was determined to get out and about today what ever the weather.  As it turned out the weather was far better than had been forecast with just a bit of drizzle in the wind.  Sam and I discussed the benefits of winter birding as we joined the beach at Brier Dene and watched the high tide on the turn as four Great Skuas flew north fairly close into shore.  The flocks of Golden Plover could be seen flying over and around St Mary’s Island.  Dog walkers were out in some force.

On reaching the wetland we found at least two Goldcrest and heard others.  I’m also confident the Firecrest was heard too, although not sighted.  It’s gone onto my heard only list and Sam’s growing ‘in the presence of’ list.  It wasn’t long before we got chatting to regular birders Jack B, Brian R, Darren, Michael F and Andy S.

As we headed off towards Seaton Sluice Rock Pipits were found and numbers of Meadow Pipits were found in the fields along with singing Skylark.  A number of Golden Plover were close by us in the fields and the flocks of Lapwing were more distant.  We were treated once again to a display from the small murmuration of Starlings.

I understand those of refined taste have been following my blog to learn of premier fish and chip restraunts.  Unfortunately at this time of year the best of the lot is closed on Sundays so I took the chance to introduce Sam to the delights of Castaways Café.  I can recommend this establishment with some authority.  We enjoyed our small detour before partaking in some seawatching.  Unfortunately sea passage today was not as it had been in recent days, but never the less we did add at least another eight Great Skuas to the list, which wasn’t bad considering neither of us had seen a single one this year until today.  Several Red-throated Divers were also seen flying north.  Small flocks of Wigeon. Teal, Eider and Common Scoter were also seen as were large numbers of Gannet.

Such was the expected weather I had left the photographic gear at home, but as it happens as we had left Castaways we had found the sky over the sea much clearer and as time went on we seemed to be surrounded by blue sky, although this didn’t last for long.  A good day with the usual good chat.

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Quiet Wetland

6th Oct.  Sam and I set of from the Briar Dene car-park today.  Although there seemed to be quiet a bit of activity in the bushes close to the beach we found only Goldfinch, Robin and tits.  The walk towards St Mary’s Island gave us Pied Wagtails in double figures.

Our intention today was to try and photograph waders, but such was the warmth, sunny weather and large number of folk we eventually gave that idea up.  Instead we just sat and watched with interest the antics and fashions wear of visitors of the human kind.  Some of it very interesting and I’d like to make a video and play it back to the folk concerned.  There was little in the way of migrant visitors of the avian kind though.  The large flock of Golden Plover were washed from the island in North Bay as the tide washed over it and other waders seen were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit.  I still haven’t managed to find the Purple Sandpipers that I know are there somewhere.  The sea was like a mill pond today and there was little of interest on or over it.  Eiders and Cormorants of course.

Before sitting in North Bay we had taken a look at the wetland and Willows after chatting to BR.  The area was silent apart from the calls of I believe at least two Yellow-browed Warblers.  On returning home I listened to recordings of this birds call just to confirm we had that correct.  One bird was calling from the North West corner of the wetland and another which I saw very briefly in flight was calling as it moved through the Willows.  It was Sam who caught sight of the Peregrine Falcon directly over our heads.  It disappeared as it flew south.  As we walked to Seaton Sluice a Kestrel was briefly seen flying along the cliff edge.  Numbers of pairs of binoculars where focussed upon the sea but I can only think they were watching the boats rather than birds.  Unusually our visit did not include fish and chips although had restraunt been open I may have been tempted.  Castaways Cafe is on the list for an intended visit soon.

Maybe next weekend will bring a fall of birds such as I enjoyed in the area last year.  Until then we’ll make do with an image of Sam in action, or rather better described as preparing for action which didn’t materialise.  We enjoyed the afternoon none the less.

Friday, 4 October 2013

A Rare Twitch

4th Oct.  Yes, I joined Tom and Sam on a rare twitch today and visited Druridge for the Subalpine Warbler. (Sam suggested I ought to have worn a balaclava to protect my image as non twitcher).  We arrived to find that it had being showing well.  So well that others present were getting ready to leave.  We hung around for a while as the rain began to fall and had a brief if not too good a sighting in one of the bushes in the dunes.  Then the bird flew off.  I’m pleased to say that after a while it reappeared in the bush on the west side of the road where it had been seen before our arrival.  This gave the chance of far better sightings for all present.  A few familiar faces present (many I only know by sight) which included Phil A and Jack B.

Large skeins of Pink-footed Geese and a Kestrel kept us entertained during our wait and on leaving for Creswell the family of Stonechats were seen.

 The water at Cresswell appeared to be quite high, but some mud area was showing.  Waders seen about the area were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Common Snipe.  A good number of Teal were present at there was at least seven Little Grebe on the pond.  The sky blackened to the north and the rain began again as we prepared to leave for home.  The Subalpine Warbler was a UK tick for me and I believe a lifer for Tom and Sam.