Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Waxwings on Patch

26th Feb.  I took a stroll down to the lake today in the hope of watching the Great Crested Grebes as much as anything.  I soon had one of the pair in my sights.  Closer to me were a pair of Shoveller, occasionally calling and the male taking to fight.  One of the Coots appears to have already built a nest platform.

I’d been there for a short time when I saw Sam in the distance.  He didn’t see my waving as he was concentrating on the Great Crested Grebe, so I begun to walk towards him.  As I walked along a small flock of birds flew overhead.  Looking like Starlings, but sounding like something else!  I got my bins sighted on them as soon as they settled in top of the tree.  Waxwings, and at least twenty of them.  I shouted to Sam who at this point still not identified me.  He was already on the Waxwings as he had remembered what I had said some time ago about their call and he had recognised right away the fact that they weren’t Starlings.  The birds didn’t hang about for long and soon circled above us and flew off in the general direction of West Moor.  Great to see them on patch (often things come to those that watch and wait) and I’m pleased Sam was there too so as to get a short, but decent sighting.  He’d actually been watching the pair of Great Crested Grebes whilst I had until then only found one of them.  We watched them for some time and managed a few distant images.  They were far from active although initially had been diving to feed.  I reckon they are checking out the usual nesting sight and swam resting close by it. 


The Shovellers are more regular visitors now.

Goosanders remain along with Goldeneyes and the Whooper Swan.  The pair of Oystercatchers fed in the fields before flying off down the lake with the flock of gulls.  It soon turned chilly when sitting for a period of time so we said our farewells and made for home.  I walked home across the fields and via the Church grounds where I found a large flock of Redwing and Goldfinch.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen briefly as it flew into the same area before flying deeper into the trees and drumming.  The grounds are a mass of Snowdrops now, with some snow still remaining in patches around them.  I thought I smelt spring in the air as the days grow ever longer, but I may have been overly optimistic.  It’s good to be optimistic.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Great Crested Grebe Presentation

25th Feb.  Although Sam and I had planned a days birding over the weekend, waking to the heavy snow fall on Saturday made me realise that sometimes even birding can wait!  In this particular case, until some better weather comes along.  We took the chance to spend at least part of the weekend working on our presentation concerning the great Crested Grebes on Killingworth Lake that we had both watched for many hours last year.  Happily the pair has returned.  The presentation is to be given to given to the RSPB Local Group on 12th March and Washington WWT (probably in April) in the near future.  Also to any other organisation that may request it.  Sam has some top class images and even I have some decent ones, although it will be those of Sam’s we use primarily in the presentation. :-)  It was time well spent last year.  Could these Great Crested Grebes be the most productive in Northumberland in recent years?  Certainly NTBC BINs would suggest that they are indeed an un-common breeding bird in the area.  The pair on Killingworth lake has certainly done their bit.  We’ll be keeping a close eye on them again this year especially observing progress whilst work is being done in the vicinity of the lake.  My email has been sent to the council and to be fair I have to say I received a quick and supportive reply on this occasion.

Cold dark nights have meant I’ve caught up on some reading of late.  Not always related to the natural world, but very often it is.  A recent read has been  Drawn From Paradise, The Discovery, Art and Natural History of the Birds  of Paradise/ David Attenborough and Errol Fuller.  Inclined towards art, it does include some very good prints and tales of characters involved in the discovery of these birds.  Sadly the binding of this book doesn’t seem to be too good.  I had to return the first copy I purchased as it fell apart on opening!  To my mind if a book is worth printing and publishing it is worth doing well.  Often these days this doesn’t happen.  Inside the book I noted that the dust jacket is described and in fact it doesn’t have a dust jacket!  Makes me wonder if some last minute savings were being made with this one.  Sadly books are not made the way they used to be.  I’ve been reminded however to read more thoroughly Bird Families of the World, The Birds of Paradise/Frith and Beehler.  A much more academic work.  I note that it sells now for considerably more than I paid for my copy some years ago.

More work to be done on the presentation this week and hopefully a little time to look on patch before the end of the month.

First Great Crested Grebe presentation for RSPB LG/ Tuesday 12th March 2013 (7:00pm) at St James' Church Hall, Northumberland Road, Newcastle (£2)

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

The Saltholme Experience

19th Feb.  Sam and I left for RSPB Saltholme early this morning.  The bright winter sun in clear skies was at times blinding.  The brightness lasted for a while on arrival and then the cloud was seen drifting in from the north.  I was surprised at just how quickly we were left in cloudy and very cold conditions.  We watched the transporter bridge as the sun completely disappeared.

This was Sam’s first visit to the reserve and I think he had had different expectations as to what it would be like.  Bird wise it was very quiet indeed and we plan to get back down again later in the year.  The staff and volunteers were all very helpful.

We took a wander around as much to let Sam get a feel of the place as much as expecting to find much wildlife.  It wasn’t long though before we had found the likes of Common Snipe and Little Egret.  Like a number of other people we took a look in the area where the Long-eared Owls are, but as I had expected didn’t have any luck.  No one else that we spoke to found them either.  We really needed some one there who could point us to the right spot but I had been told the day before that because it was half term it was unlikely that staff would be available to go out with us.  All we saw in the area was Great Spotted Woodpecker, Grey Wagtail and Meadow Pipit.

I think we eventually saw at least five or six Little Egrets on the reserve.  The flocks of Canada Geese were active, but only Greylag Geese were seen otherwise.  Best of the waders were a couple of distant Black-tailed Godwits.  Other waders seen were Redshank, Lapwing in numbers and Curlew.  We had no luck in finding the Green Winged Teal when we looked off the reserve.  Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and several Red-breasted Mergansers.  Little Grebes and Great Crested Grebes were also seen.  The feeders and hedges were attracting Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and numbers of Reed Bunting.  Kestrel was seen just before we came home.

The numbers of children visiting the reserve during half term didn’t seem to mind too much about the lack of birds. :-)  Sam and I got so chilled at one point we headed for the café to warm up.  It was doing a roaring trade!  Too much mint in the soup for my liking though. :-)

On leaving the reserve t catch the bus for Middlesbrough to get out connection to Newcastle we found the remains of a Fox by the side of the road.  A few bones and fur was all that was left.  We had hoped maybe to get some images of Foxes toady but my camera never came out of the bag.  Good day though with lots of laughs.  The weather worsened on the way home.  Sam nodded off.  He said I did too for a short time.:-)  Little Egret and Black-tailed Godwit were new for the year list which moves slowly upwards.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Swanbusters Two

18th Feb.  Very much patch based today.  Sam alerted me to the return of a Great Crested Grebe on the lake.  It took little encouragement for me to shoot down and take a look.  As I chatted with Sam I saw a second Great Crested Grebe.  We are sure that this will be the pair from last year which we studied in depth.  Really nice to see they are back and we are thinking they may have flown in during what had been a very clear night.

Good to see old friends

 Numbers of Goldeneye were calling and displaying and the Whooper Swan remains.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming and Sam had earlier seen an Oystercatcher.

Whooper Swan.  Sam and I have learnt over the weeks that few people realise this swan is on the lake and many of those that have noticed appear to have little inkling as to species 
Part of our morning was spent at the White Swan Centre at the consultation meeting about plans for the Killingworth Lake and surrounds.  As I’ve said before I’m not really taking the term consultation very seriously, as cynical though it may seem, I believe the plans are made and aren’t going to change.  To be fair, I do accept that some of the plans are good ones and could improve the area, although I’d like to see more emphasis on encouraging wildlife rather than discouraging.  As I’ve also mentioned before I take with a pinch of salt the issue of people voicing concerns about being intimidated by the wildlife and I as much as said so this morning.  Over many years all the intimidation I have seen has come from humans towards the wildlife and not the other way about.  Intimidation from their pets too, and this afternoon gave a good case in point when a dog was allowed to chase the Mute Swans.  One of the swans almost running into the posts and breaking a wing!  The posts by the way are I’m told the beginning of a trial to see if fencing will help keep certain areas free form swans etc.  Guess they have to as it’s a trial as the consultation is on the day that the work began!  As I say however some of the ideas are good ones and I only hope that the council do not simply listen to the views of a vocal minority of people.  There were a number of vested interests represented today but the atmosphere was friendly and all seemed to take others views into account without showing any animosity.  That’s how it ought to be.  I was told that this wasn’t the case on Saturday and that some face some hostility.  If that’s true there are some who should feel ashamed.  I like to think I left that kind of behaviour in the primary school yard!

Anyway I provided two pages of thoughts from Sam and me.  I’m hoping who ever gets this to read can understand my writing.  We have suggested some educating about the lake wildlife and have even offered our services, so no one can claim we make a noise and then walk away.  It’ll be interesting to see if the council responds.  Anyone who watches the lake may see some changes in the near future.  Now that the Great Crested Grebes are back I only hope their breeding attempts and that of other birds is not disturbed.  We intend to email the Council so that there won’t be any excuses should this occur!

Sam and I noted the golden Weeping Willow that has been planted.  I’m not to good on trees I admit but I would have thought a more wildlife friendly tree would have been more appropriate.  There’s to be a naming ceremony later in the year.  I favour Walter the Weeping Willow myself.:-)

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Mersehead Mist and Starlings Missed!

16th Feb.  It seems that Sam and I are developing a pattern of heading west and finding ourselves leaving decent weather behind and entering drizzle and mist.  That was the scenario today as we headed for RSPB Mersehead with the RSPB Local Group.  Mersehead is one of my favourite reserves.  Wild, open, near the sea and no cafes!  We also had a stop at Gretna on the return to look forward to, as this was in the programme of the day, or so we and other members believed.  The journey north westwards seemed slow today, not helped by road-works.  A rather long café/rest stop brought some strong comment from some members who simply wanted to get on with the bird-watching.  Bird wise there was little to see on the journey as the mist and rain was coming down.  We did manage to pick up a Kestrel and a small skein of Pink-footed Geese after crossing the border.  We also passed a flock of forty/fifty swans which we couldn’t identify in the mist.  They were still there just south of Dumfries on our return and we saw that they were Whooper Swans.

You can rely on the Barnacle Geese appearing!
On our arrival the drizzling rain ceased, but the mist was with us most of the day.  Sam and I avoided the main group and looked at the birds in the hedges leading to the hide and at the feeding station at the centre.  In the main these birds were large flocks of Chaffinch, Yellowhammer and Greenfinch, along with tits, Tree Sparrows and House Sparrows.  The large numbers of Yellowhammer, were showing well, but the light was poor and there was little point in even attempting photographs.  When we reached the first pool I was disappointed to find little in the way of waterfowl apart from Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal in quite small numbers and not showing well.  Someone sighted a Pintail in the far corner, but it must have disappeared into the reeds as we never caught sight of it.  We decided to head off on the walk that would eventually take us along by the Solway coastline.

Sam in the wide expanse of the Solway

Always something to photograph

Again, there were few birds about, although this area can be enjoyed without birds and in the main we had the whole area to ourselves as the rest of the group had set off and dispersed around the reserve earlier.  We did have distant views of large flocks of Barnacle Geese and a few smaller flocks closer by.  The calls of Lapwing and Curlew could be heard and flocks occasionally seen.  Once down to the beach we found that the tide was far out in the distance.  Along the very flat sandy landscape the sea could not be seen.  The Cumbrian fells showed in the distance, sunlit in part but with there tops covered in cloud and some snow.  I could make out Black Coombe quite clearly but was uncertain as to the others.  There were no waders about what so ever and apart from the odd gull fly past we saw only three Shelduck.  Sam and I enjoyed the walk and took advantage of the opportunity to take some landscape images.  I was surprised to see a long line of snow so near the saltwater area, along the beach.  The mist was still low over the hills to the east of us although eventually the area did lighten somewhat.  I was pleased to have Sam to chat to as I think I may have felt very isolated in this wilderness had I been alone.

As we left the beach and walked into the wood we found a number of Barnacle Geese not that far from the footpath, but they were soon in the air when approached by a Common Buzzard which perched on the fence before flying of in the general direction of the geese.  There was little in the way of birdlife in the woodland, but we did find Treecreeper and Long Tailed Tits.  The second pool provided us with our first sightings of Pintail which where a year tick for both Sam and I.  Nothing like the number I have seen here in past years though and not such good sightings as in the past.  We neither saw or heard Ravens, but understand that one or two others in the group had done so earlier.

Mist covered mountains
Sam and I later searched for the Twite that had been seen earlier in the day, but they seemed to have moved on.  We also missed the Peregrine Falcons.  Seemed to be a day of missing things!  The group list actually came to a respectable tally, but on the whole everyone thought it had been a very quiet day and unusually quite for Mersehead.

We passed a one or two Common Buzzards on the way to Gretna on our return journey, where I assume everyone thought we were going to try and watch the Starling murmeration…..or where we?  After a quick comfort stop we headed past the gathering flocks of Starlings, one of them quite large.  In fact heading past was exactly what we did do, as we joined the motorway!  There were disappointed and bewildered faces on the coach and I still don’t know why the planned stop was missed as no one told us.  Perhaps there was a good reason and not as someone suggested that the driver wanted to get home for his tea.  It seems we’ll never know!  I’m sure if it had been explained that would have at least satisfied people in part.

Sam and I had a very good day and hope to get back to see the murmuration at some point under our own steam or at least the steam of a close source who we can rely on.:-)  I felt sorry for Sam as I know he had been looking forward to at least attempting to see what is a wonderful natural event.  It reminds me that you can’t always rely on what it ‘says in the brochure!’

These mist covered mountains
Are a home now for me
But my home is the lowlands
And always will be
Some day you'll return to me
Your valleys and your farms
And you'll no longer burn
To be brothers in arms  

Lyrics by Mark Knopfler

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Walking With Ravens in Hadrian's Country

9th Feb.  Sam and I had a walk to explore prior to repeating it in August as an RSPB Walk.  We were joined by my brother today in the area of Greenhead and Hadrian’s Wall country.  We left a bright North-East and headed into light drizzle and some mist as we ventured westwards.  Both the drizzle and mist was to descend at times throughout our walk, but in no way enough quantity to spoil the day.  We were in an area of much natural, geological and social history and as my brother knows the area well we were able to make the most of it.  Hopefully the added interest will attract participants to the walk later in the year.  Whilst parking up we saw less than a handful of people and throughout the walk we saw only wildlife and ourselves.  I wasn’t expecting a long list of species today but did hope maybe that we might see Ravens.

The area was boggy to say the least and it wasn’t long before our feet were wet.  We’d seen a Kestrel early on.  Much of the walk was on rough boggy ground and with the short, but regular climbs quite tiring.  A pair of singing Dippers were soon found and two Roe Deer seen running off above us.  Another Dipper territory to add to our growing list of watched Dipper territories in Northumberland.  I think Sam may have had a brief sighting of a Merlin.  As we left the wooded area we disturbed a Woodcock which gave us a brief sighting as it noisily flew off.  I think a previous brief sighting of a bird disappearing behind a dip in the land may have been Woodcock too, but I’m not certain of that one.  As we walked across open boggy ground a Common Snipe lifted and flew briefly in typical zigzag fashion.  At this point we decided to stop for a bit of lunch and take in the view of Wall town Crags, as they were at times covered in mist then at other times clear.  I was beginning to think that we were going to have no luck with Ravens.

We ended the walk checking out an area of botanical interest.  Well, when I say of botanical interest, this I think will come later in the year although the signs were already showing as new vegetation was coming through.  I found a single daisy just beginning to flower.  We also found a small area rich in fossils and spent a bit of time looking at this.

Just before we left the area I heard the high pitched call of a Goldcrest.  We then saw it fly over in front of us and watched as it moved through the vegetation.  As Sam and I stood and chatted we both picked up an unmistakeable call.  We both looked up to find four calling Ravens flying southwards.  A great way to end the walk and along with Woodcock, new year ticks for both of us.  Unfortunately my brother was engaged in other business and missed them, but the couple sitting in the car nearby us seemed interested to note them!  I began to realise just how damp I had become.  I hadn’t really noticed during the walk.  There was no wind at all, so the cold wasn’t really felt until we stood around.  My feet began to get steadily colder now not helped by the dampness in my boots.

We decided to check out a few places on the journey home which meant a few short diversions through what I feel is some of the wildest country in Northumberland.  Snow still remained in parts and you could tell that the drifts had been very deep and still were quite deep in places.  During the day my brother pointed out the growing use of gates rather than stiles in the area for easy access for all.  His view is that Hadrian had the wall built to keep people out rather than to make for easy access.  He is a bit biased on this point. :-)  We found one gate had been built oddly enough with a large wooden post carrying wires above.  This was right in the centre of the gate opening.  We stopped at Cawfields Quarry.  I don’t remember ever having been here before, but Sam remembered having seen photographs.  There were no birds on the deep water pool here, but there were some excellent reflections so Sam and I had not taken the camera gear in vain.  We hadn’t used it during the walk because of the dampness and mist.  I learnt that this pool is favoured by practising divers such is the depth and that they have much to examine underwater as it is also a favoured pool to dispose of vehicles!  It was at this point my brother showed me a large photograph of a group in the Hexham Courant.  It had been taken at night and who should be there but our friend Holywell Birding.  Gazing at the stars I believe.

Cawfields Quarry Reflections
Next we took a look at the access routes to Greenlee Lough which included a stop at Steel Rigg in rather different conditions than Sam, Malcolm and I had experienced when there last year on one of the few very hot days we had in 2012.  Greenlee Lough is on my list of possible future walks.

Grindon Lough was our next stop.  Sam found a Weasel in the dry stone wall here and we had found a Badger set earlier in the day.  I counted at least two hundred Canada Geese on the water and they were eventually joined by sixteen Pink-footed Geese.  Other birds seen were numbers of Mallard, Wigeon, a few Teal, Pochard, several Goldeneye and Moorhens.  It was a nice way to end our adventure although not quite the last stop as we pulled in for refreshment at Hexham before making for home.  It had been an all round interesting and rewarding day and Sam and I began to have some ideas of a photography nature as well as wildlife and walks.  It had been really good to have my brother with us, not least because he had the transport, but more so because of the different routes of interest he shared with us as a non birder.  I was really tired when I got home.

10th Feb.  No birding today as I really must try and get some notes put together for a presentation Sam and I are to give for the first time concerning the pair of breeding Great Crested Grebes on Killingworth Lake.  It’s to be given for the RSPB LG on Tuesday 12th March and then probably repeated for the WWT at a later date.  We also have some work to do concerning a walk we are to lead in the area of Spindlestone on Sat 25th May.  This will have a limit set on numbers participating.  I reckon this could be a really good walk so anyone interested in joining us should make contact as soon as possible as places are already being taken up.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

St Mary's Island to Holywell

Feb 2nd.  It was good to begin February’s birding with a walk from St Mary’s Island to Holywell.  It was the first time in 2013 that Sam and I have attempted the full walk.  I was surprised to find the pavements in Killingworth as slippery as an ice rink as we left for the coast.  There was no such problem on arrival with the salty air ensuring that there was no ice, although the wind was icy cold.  The tide was well out and we soon found that conditions were good for wader watching.  Well, they would have been had it not been for one particular ignorant clown.  This elderly ‘one man’ (and his dogs) clearly thinks it a good idea to relax by the cliff whilst his two dogs are left to exercise chasing the waders along the coast line and into the sea for at least twenty minutes.  I had him down as possibly my ‘ignoramus’ of the year until I met another dog owner in the dene later in the day who’s stupidity even left the first guy standing.  More of him anon.

Sam and I gave up for a time on wader watching and found a nice little area providing great views of numbers of Rock Pipits, Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and a stunning and confiding Grey Wagtail.  The latter being my first of the year.  The cameras were kept busy.  We were eventually able to watch the waders without to much disturbance.  Waders seen in this one area were Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit.  A Red-throated Diver was seen flying south.

Grey Wagtail

Meadow Pipit

Pied Wagtail

Such was the time we spent with the pipits, wagtails and waders we thought we ought to get a move on towards Seaton Sluice because another first for the year was to be fish and chips.  Regular readers may have noticed I’m cutting down on these!  The wetland was in any case very quiet when we passed providing little other than Teal.  We did have a nice sighting of a hovering Kestrel along the cliff edge.  After having to queue to get into the fish and chip café (perhaps I’m giving them to much good publicity) and enjoying the mega small fish we headed for the dene.




There’s a good bit of wind and rain damage in the dene and one more large tree has fallen across the burn, significantly changing the view down the burn and taken with it a large area of the bank and pathway.  We found exactly to the minute when this tree had fallen as it is recorded in the hide at the pond by someone who witnessed the event.  Bird life was sparse apart from near the small feeding stations where we found the usual woodland birds including pairs of calling Nuthatch.  At one point  as Sam and I stood by the burn quietly chatting, ignoramus number two came along with his dog and decided to throw a large and heavy piece of log at the burn which just happened to be in our direction.  He seemed to think it quite a joke that it narrowly missed taking one of our heads off!  I think he knew from my response that I didn’t get the joke!  Anyway ‘Mr’ you’re now in pole position for ignoramus of the year and you’ll take some beating I reckon! 


A change of scene

Holywell Pond and surrounds were quiet too.  We found no sign of the White-fronted Goose although it may well have been in the skeins of Greylag Geese and Pink-footed Geese that flew overhead on several occasions.  A couple of Canada Geese were on the pond and eventually two male and a female Gadwall came out of the reeds and stayed on the water for a short time before flying off west.  The two males were stunning in the late afternoon light.  Grey Heron, Teal, Mallard and Tufted Duck were also seen.  The Mute Swans were right outside of the hide as is often the case.  Birds at the feeding station included numbers of Tree Sparrow.  At least one Jay was seen in the area and others heard from the other side of the pond.

A good day as always and it ended with skeins of Pink-footed Geese flying over Holywell Village.  We’d chatted to some very nice people along the way which makes the odd rotten apple insignificant.