Monday, 30 December 2013

A Year (2013) in the Life of........

You may not want to believe it, but another year has come and almost gone.  Once again I finish the year looking back on some memorable moments.

Wettest Moments.  These were without a shadow of a doubt the time I spent up in Teesdale in May!  Could it really have been so wet and cold in May?  Yes it certainly could, and having spent time in the area of Widdybank Farm and  High Force I was as near to being hypothermic as I have ever been.  Never the less some good birding included Black Grouse, Ring Ouzel and twenty minute watch through the falling snow (yes snow) of a male Redstart.  This was the day Sam was awarded his well deserved All Weather Birder title.  I still remember the comment from one lady ‘has it been raining’ she said in serious mode.  I let the rain drip from my body parts before considering an answer.

Coldest Moments.  See above.  Almost as cold, but at least not wet was the night in April that Sam and I stepped out into the streets of Bamburgh to take some night images.  Blimey was I glad to get back to the log fire that night.  Then I went to bed which I found almost as cold as the streets of Bamburgh.  Some great birding during the few days we stayed in the area, but it was hard to believe it was spring and there was certainly no sign of spring migrants which had wisely decided to stay on the continent!

Hottest Moments.  There were quite a few during a wonderful summer which provided us all with a great year for the butterfly watching.  One of the most memorable days was when Sam led us on a walk at Spindlestone and we ended the day on the Heugh with at least one member of the group falling asleep in the sunshine.  We didn’t come across that rancid beast The Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh, but we did walk into a couple of Highland Cattle with gigantic horns!  I thought of the Corporal in Dad’s Army when thinking ‘they would not like it up ‘em!  My lasting memories of the day include the many singing warblers (including my only Wood Warbler of the year) and Yellowhammers.  A great day.  I seem to remember another very hot day was had in Smardale and the butterflies were out in force that day.  I did not half enjoy my Coke at the end of that walk!

Windiest Moments.  This has to be the walk around Holy Island with Andy S in January.  We’d just watched the Cattle Egret (one of three egret species I’ve seen in Northumberland this year).  Red-necked Grebe was found at Stag Rock on our return.

Muddiest Moments.  Definitely these were spent in Seahouses harbour with the Eider Ducks having earlier watched the Long Tailed Duck.  At least we managed not to fall in.

Find of the Year.  Without a doubt the walks at Spindlestone.  I’d only visited the area once before and can’t help but think that the locals keep quite about this area and its wildlife.  It’s the only spot that I have watched Red Squirrels this year.  I’ll definitely be back having spent a good few hours there during the year.

Biggest Laugh of the Year.  This was had during our mini break in Bamburgh.  The finding of the World War 2 bunker led to plans to establish our Bunker Birder Tours.  Well OK, you had to be there to understand the mirth as to what we would do to anyone trying to muscle into our patch.  Anyway whilst all of this was going on we did find a Slavonian Grebe travelling north on the sea, which I seem to remember was a lifer for Sam.  We wondered later if the two folk sat outside of the bunker had sent for men in white coats.  Anyway Bunker Birder Tours are still available for 2014, although such has been the demand Sam and I have decided to up the price for any late comers.

Most Surreal Moments.  This was also in the running for my evening of the year.  It was a hot dry night at Slaley searching for Nightjars.  It’s not often I go there and come home hot, dry and unbitten but I did this year!  This was probably my best ever Nightjar evening and Sam, Carmel, Marie and myself had some really good sightings.  A Kingfisher kicked off the evening at Corbridge and there were Yellowhammers everywhere by the River Tyne, then on the way home a Tawny Owl sighting completed the night.  The spooky surreal moments came when we heard a droning sound in the forest that at times masked the sound of the Nightjars, and then walked towards the bright light with all sorts of wild thoughts running through our minds.  You had to be there to feel the tension rising.  Then it was men with netting over their faces that we bumped into.  It was of course a moth trapping event.  A great evening in great company and we are planning to return again in 2014.  Fingers crossed for another decent summer.

Most Unexpected.  Having sightings of Bittern, Water Rail, four Short Eared Owls, Peregrine Falcon and Willow Tit was an unexpected bonus during a day at the Rising Sun Country Park.  I firmly believe (even with the other leisure demands placed upon the area i.e. dog walking and other goings on of an assorted type) that if there was a will to do so, this park could be managed much better so as to encourage birds and other wildlife.  Anyone form the council reading this I wonder?  Probably not, as they all seem to be on holiday.

The Best and Longest Day.  I think this has to be the day spent with Hawkshead Photography and Serenity Boats on the Farne Islands.  I have Sam to thank for this as he invited me along as the second person after he had won this trip in the NHSN and NWT photography competition.  The weather was excellent, the company even better and it even included fish and chips in Seahouses before we joined the evening cruising around the islands again as the sun slowly sank into the sea, giving a Mediterranean feel to the North Sea.  Great day and some decent images as a result.  I smelt Guano in my nostrils for two days afterwards and thought about marketing the scent as a new after shave for real men! 

Mammalian Moments.  The best was definitely the Badger watch on a cold evening in spring which also brought us sightings of Otter and Roe Deer.  Other good moments included the Common Seal that behave perfectly for us during our private stranding on St Mary’s Island where 

Birds of the Year.  These are in no particular order but have to once again include the Great Crested Grebes on Killingworth Lake which are surely some of the most photographed birds in Northumberland!  The Kingfisher in Gosforth park Nature Reserve has to be up there too, if for no other reason than giving us such fantastic photographic opportunities, although we had to work for it spending many hours over several days waiting.  I’m not one for sitting around in hides waiting for images to crop up, but this one was a must have.  Up there too is the Bridled Tern seen on the Farne Islands.  When Sam, Tom and I visited we were left speechless when the Glad Tidings headed in the wrong direction and we wondered if we would reach our destination let alone see the tern.  This was a rare twitch for me and one of only three lifers this year.  The Great White Egret which Sam and I found late evening at Holywell Pond was a treat, not least because no one else saw it that evening as far as I know.  That evening stays firmly in my memory as does the juvenile Marsh Harrier at Holywell.  Then there is the male Hen Harrier watched at length as it hunted in Northumberland.  The twenty plus Yellow Wagtails seen on a wonderful summer evening at Cresswell have to be up there too, as have the Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers seen at Holywell.

Best Value Membership.  This must once again go the Natural History Society of Northumbria.
Irritants of the Year.  I’ve decided to ignore them.  The last few weeks of 2013 have been stressful to say the least and I ate my Christmas Dinner in the restaurant at NTGH during one of my regular daily trips during visiting hours.  Irritants there have been, but put into perspective they are all minor and I’d rather focus on positives.  I’ve come across many dedicated staff in our NHS and many other caring folk and they should all be applauded whilst we count our blessings and stop grumbling about life’s trivialities.

The coming year promises to be an interesting and exciting one and this will I hope be reflected in my blog.  Special thanks to close friends, the closest is pictured above:-).  I hope 2014 brings a peaceful and rewarding year to all.

Happy New Year.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Rising Sun and Back to Patch.

29th Dec.  Sam and I arrived at the Rising Sun Country Park only to find the centre was closed until 3rd January, so plans for lunch had to be forgotten.  A number of other people were disappointed too and one guy was ringing around a party of friends so as to change arrangements.  It’s most unlike North Tyneside Council to lose the chance of making a few quid!  Anyway the park was open and the dog walkers were making the most of it, so much so that we thought about making a breeds list for the day.

Two Treecreepers and parties of tits were encountered as we walked down to Swallow Pond.  The pond held numbers of Shoveller along with the usual birdlife.  We’d found a Kestrel early on, Greylag Geese flew overhead and Jays were heard in the plantation.  We usually find something of interest in the area of the farm, but there was little about today apart from Long Tailed Tits, although I mustn’t forget the covey of seven Grey Partridges which showed well.  A Grey Heron perched in the reed-bed at Dukes Pond.

We decided to return to patch today for a bite to eat rather than going to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.  I’d not been down to the lake for a walk for over a month, so I enjoyed the relaxing walk today.  The area may well have a green flag these days but it was unkempt today, with sheets of Polystyrene threatening to flatten the reeds and filling one corner of the lake.  It looked as though this had blown off the building site and hopefully it won’t take long before the mess is cleared up.  Perhaps by those responsible for it all flying around in the first place!

We'll keep the green flag flying here!
Local Swanbusters have denied that there is a plot to replace Mute Swans with polystyrene blocks!
The lake still holds the pair of Little Grebes which have been around for quite some time, along with large numbers of Tufted Duck, Pochard and Mallard.  There were at least eight Goldeneyes present, far less than this time last year.  Most of the Canada Geese have departed and it is probably these birds that we saw near Gosforth Park last week.  Only three Goosanders were seen.  The walk to the village didn’t bring too much in the way of birds.

It had been good to be out in the fresh air and sunshine and I enjoyed the day. Our next trip out will be to welcome in a new year.

Monday, 23 December 2013

Holywell to Seaton Sluice

22nd Dec.  Sam and I seemed to be the only folk bird watching on our route today, although we came across a group of walkers and one or two groups of joggers/runners.  We were fortunate enough to reach the hide at Holywell Pond just before the onset of the only heavy shower to hit us during the walk.  We looked out for the reported Scaup on Holywell Pond but, found none.  At least eleven Gadwall were found, along with Little Grebe, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Duck which were joined by several Great Black Backed Gulls which flew in from the west fields.  A Common Buzzard flew over the northern woodland.  Just before we moved on a lone Canada Goose called as it flew in and landed on the water.


Despite the feeders having been topped up at the feeding station we found only one or two Blue Tits.  As we made for Holywell Dene we were unable to locate any geese.  The mud stained Seaton Burn ran deep and fast. A wait to see if we could find the Dippers brought us nothing except time for a chat, although shortly afterwards we came a cross a Dipper further down the burn.  The Dipper seemed conscious of our presence, but fed happily not far from us and wasn’t disturbed at all until other walkers passed by at which point it flew up the burn, but still offered us a good sighting through the scope.  Nearby one of the feeding stations in the dene attracted Treecreeper, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Robin and Chaffinch.  We watched for some time the acrobatic tits on the coconut shell. Bullfinches and Blackbirds were also seen in this area.

We stopped at the dipping pond, but the area around it was silent and it wasn’t until we were approaching the area of Seaton Sluice that we noticed Mallards on pools of water on the marsh area.  As we watched them a Grey Heron appeared on it’s regular territory and flew off and put what it thought was a safe distance between it and us.

Our intention would normally be to walk to St Mary’s Island and beyond, but today was to be short, the previous day being the shortest day, and we knew any light would soon be lost.  A decision was made to make for home after a short look over the sea.  The pastel sky behind St Mary’s lighthouse reflected the fact that our decision to walk no further was the correct one.  We found Oystercatchers, Knot, Purple Sandpipers and Turnstones below us as the tide came in.  Across the sea we found a number of Red Throated Divers flying north, several Razorbills, Common Scoters, Eider Ducks and Cormorants.  At least two Rock Pipits called as they flew around the area.

By the time we set off for home the wind was bitterly cold and the light had gone.  We resolved to make sure we do some serious Dipper watching in 2014.  Mind you this has to fit in with many other plans we have.  The day had given us the chance to discuss some of these plans and speculate on what might be some good camera lenses.

Killy Birder wishes you a peaceful Christmas.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

500 Up!

14th Dec.  And yeah, sorry but there will be more to come. :-)  If my maths is correct this is blog number 500 from Killy Birder.  It was the 4th April 2009 that I wrote my first blog following a walk I led in Jesmond Dene for the RSPB Local Group at the time I led the group.  My role in the group is far more tenuous these days, although I still lead walks, usually now co led with Samuel Hood.  My role changed, as too I hope the style of my blog has changed, especially from the photographic angle.  Cain Scrimgeour (hasn’t he done well? :-)) encouraged me to begin the blog, so you can blame him for it all along with Alan Tilmouth who at the time managed the site for North East blogs.  My all weather birding exploits with Tom Middleton ensured that the blog kept going.  Three of the many decent guys I’ve met via bird watching in recent years.

I’m afraid because of difficult circumstances beyond my control, opportunities to get out into the field have been very restricted of late, but I was very pleased to get out today with Sam.  For various reasons we called off the plan to walk the coast and Holywell route and instead returned to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve and Prestwick Carr.  Both areas offer great habitat.  Whilst temperatures weren’t that low the cutting wind made it feel as though they were, especially when it blew over the open areas of the carr.

Gosforth Park N R was quiet and the Bittern Magnetism didn’t work this week, although I’m told three Bitterns had been seen today.  Quiet or not I always enjoy the walk through the reserve and today two Roe Deer ran across our path.  The feeding station attracted the usual regular woodland birds and the pond held Shoveller, Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal along with the regular Mute Swans and Moorhens.  Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard and Kestrel were all seen and Water Rail was heard calling.  The sun shone at times giving a perfect winter light to admire the pond, reed-bed and surrounds.  A flock of a dozen Redwing were seen perched and then flying high over the trees and Jays called as they moved through the woodland.  It will be a great shame upon the local authorities if future planning decisions do not take into account the needs of this city reserve.  By the time we set off for Prestwick Carr it looked as though a storm was brewing, but the build up of thunderous cloud soon passed and by the time we were at the White Swan Pub the sun was again breaking through.

We walked along the bumpy road and past the sentry box as the wind gained strength.  Seeing some interesting highlights and finding our target birds along the way made the walk worthwhile.  Fieldfares were around in numbers with fewer Redwings.  We chatted to a few people along the way including SP and PF.  It was almost dark when we arrived back in Killingworth.

I did manage to find time to attend a meeting this week concerning the Skydancer Project to which Sam and I are now signed up to as volunteers.  I thought the meeting might last half an hour but in fact we where there over two and a half hours and picked up much information.  (We enjoyed our dinner in Newcastle afterwards)  Although this project is half way through completion it has given us both something practical and very worthwhile to get our teeth into.  Sam hopes to take this forward via Sixth Form College and we also have our first presentation already agreed (and remain open to requests for more so if you happen to know of any interested community groups please let us know).  This is something we will be giving high priority to in 2014.  Sadly, having read the Newcastle Evening Chronicle tonight I  was reminded once again of the carnage caused by illegal persecution of raptors in the UK and especially in northern England.  We feel very positive towards the Skydancer Project aims and despite the bad news this year concerning Hen Harrier breeding failure we intend to remain positive in our outlook.  Sadly I have read comments at times about the Skydancer Project which seem to indicate that the impossible is expected of it.  Perhaps in some cases a full grasp of what the project is about is required.  If it simply raises an awareness of Hen Harriers then I think that in itself is a job well done within the UK where so many people in my opinion are unlikely to have seen a Hen Harrier or even know what it is!

The Genuine article, Samuel Hood at Prestwick Carr.

I think blog 500 should include a few images so I will include a few favourites from 2013.  I have always written my blog for my own pleasure and needs, but I’m happy that a few others folk seem to enjoy it.  My thanks go to all who read it. I dedicate this one to Samuel Hood a loyal and trusted friend (not always easy to come by)   who has never once let me down.  I reckon Sam has a great future and I feel sure you’ll be hearing more of him in years to come.  Keep the passion for photography, wildlife and conservation going Sam and keep soaking up the knowledge and be your own man…oh and keep making me laugh.:-)  Thanks to an OGG. :-)

Monday, 9 December 2013

Images and Friends

Saturday saw the RSPB Group's informal meeting at the Rising Sun Country Park.  I guess that it being in early December meant that it was never going to be well attended.  I enjoyed the day though and especially the chat with those who took the time to pop along for a short time.

Sam and I were there with our selection of printed images.  This was a trial run of our display boards and I’m confident that we’ll be using them again at future events and presentations.  In fact we already have one presentation lined up for 2014.

I unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) can't seem to download the image that includes me!  So we have Samuel (Under the Hood Photography) next to our prints and Samuel's digital display. 
We only had the chance of a short walk on Saturday, but from the accounts of others it seemed that there wasn’t that much bird life about although we managed to see small flocks of Redwing and Fieldfare.

One thing I did gain on Saturday was a signed book.  It is ‘John Clare, This Happy Spirit’ by R K R Thornton and Carry Akroyd.  It contains a selection of poems by Clare and some very nice illustrations.  My thanks go to friends Kelsey (editor) and Hilary for this.

The Winter comes, I walk alone;
I want no birds to sing
To those who keep there hearts their own
The Winter is the Spring.
No flowers to please, no bees to hum;
The coming Spring’s already come.
John Clare

Thanks again to all who supported the day.