Saturday, 30 November 2013

To Gosforth Park NR with a Bittern Magnet

30th Nov.  I was much in need of a restful few hours so was pleased to take some time out in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve today with my trusted Bittern Magnet, Sam.

We arrived at the reserve to find the reserve under sunshine and with a storm cock singing loudly from the top of the tree.  Thankfully no storm arrived, but it did cloud over and become cold as the day went on.

Our walk around the reserve brought us good sightings of amongst other things Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Roe Deer, a single Grey Squirrel and horses in what I think was the first race at Gosforth Park today.

The pond provided us with sightings of Cormorant, Grey Herons, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveller, Tufted Duck and numbers of whistling Wigeon.  I’m also quite sure we had a female Scaup here today which kept diving near to the reed-bed and tern island.  Sighting of the day however was a very close fly past of the hide by a Bittern.  Well I suppose the Bittern was no more than could be expected when the Bittern Magnet is present.  The Bittern appeared out of no where and was in any event too close to photograph as it went past the hide.

As we headed towards the feeding station Jays were heard. Believe it or not some senseless dog walkers allowed their dogs to run into the reserve.  Four of the damn things.  One of them running into the reed-bed.  The explanation from one senseless owner was that his ‘dogs were running’.  This guy had obviously never heard of the word control.  What chance for giving nature a home when the world is full of thickos?  The feeding station sightings included the usual Great Spotted Woodpecker and today at least three Treecreepers.  Good day with the Bittern Magnet.  Thanks Sam.

Saturday, 23 November 2013

Holywell to St Mary's island Again

23rd Nov.  I never tire of the walk between Holywell Village and St Mary’s Island, although I think maybe this is the first time I have walked it in a while starting at Holywell Village.

I understand that the pond had been covered in geese yesterday, but today it was very quiet during the period Sam and I were in the members hide, with only small numbers of Wigeon and Teal amongst the many Mallards and the odd Tufted Duck.  I can’t help but feel that the area on either side of the hide which was once a very attractive feeding station for numerous birds has never been the same since the surrounding vegetation has been cut back.  Perhaps in the longer term there will be some gain.  It’s always a spot that has appealed to me.

We didn’t spend long in the public hide before making off into the open fields hoping to find geese.  We did have several skeins of Pink-footed Geese in the air.  Although they appeared to be preparing to land we couldn’t find them in the open fields.  Instead we contented ourselves in finding two Grey Partridge and twenty plus Tree Sparrows (a conservative estimate), amongst which we also found Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Siskin and Yellowhammer.

The walk down to the dene was quiet apart from four Skylarks.  We doubled back so as not to miss out the likely area for Dippers and it wasn’t to long before we were watching one of the Dippers in the burn.  Grey Wagtail was also seen well.  I felt that the dene itself was unusually quiet of bird life for the time of year.  Neither of the feeding stations had been topped up, not that this is meant as a complaint, as I know all this is done voluntarily. The feeders at the reserve were almost empty as well.  Woodland birds seen included Great, Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tits.  Although the light was poor it is a nice time of year to be in the dene.

Purely coincidently this favourite of walks includes my favourite fish and chip restraunt.  Before we had lunch we watched the Stonechat and counted numbers of Redshank flying up the burn.

The after lunch sea watch was restricted as we had no telescope with us today, but we still managed good sightings of close in Common Scoters, Red Throated Divers, Goldeneye and Eiders.  Sam found a couple of Long Tailed Ducks.  Waders below included Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Purple Sandpiper, and Redshank.

I thought this young lady looked to be a bit of a swinger!
Our walk along to St Mary’s Island was in ever increasing poor late afternoon light.  Rock Pipit was found and we added Curlew and Lapwings to the list of waders.  We were ready for home by the time we reached the wetland which provided us with the likes of Gadwall and Common Snipe.

A good day had been had.  It’s good to walk!

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Winter's Coming to Patch

21st Nov.  I’d been alerted to a growing number of Goosanders and other birds on the lake yesterday so took the chance to walk down to the lake today during what I thought was a gap between the showers.  Unfortunately the gap wasn’t a wide one and the rain began again even before I had arrived at the lakeside and then just got heavier as I wandered around.  I found four Goosanders on the small lake and also a lone female Teal.  Looking across the larger lake I initially wondered if there had been an exodus of birds from this area.  The water was high and I saw little.

It wasn’t long until I began to pick out more Goosanders, which appeared to have formed three separate parties.  The males looking quite stunning even in the rain and dull light.  I reckon there were at least eighteen birds and as they were constantly diving and the groups were split across the lake I may well have missed one or two.  It’s good to see this species back in number because since the first really icy winter of three years ago numbers of wintering birds have been low.  Hopefully there will be no long big freeze this winter and the birds will stay.

The single Great Crested Grebe remains as does a single Little Grebe.  Pochard numbers are beginning to build and I counted at least five Goldeneye.  By now I was pretty wet and watching wasn’t too easy.  I decided to back track rather than walk right around the lake.  I did a rough count of the Canada Geese which now are over the one hundred and thirty mark.  The Greylag Geese remain in the flock.  Other birds included Mute Swan, Mallards, Moorhen and Coot.  I remember Sam telling me that there had been, I think, seven Shoveler on the lake earlier this week, but they seem to have moved on.

I walked towards the village noting that there are still only a few Common Gulls in the area.  Robins were singing heartily now.  Just before I reached the village I walked past a large mixed feeding flock of mainly tits and finches.  I decide to hang around now that the rain had stopped and the birds were noisy and active.  The species most represented was Goldfinch, but there were also good numbers of Chaffinch and Greenfinch.  In the latter case it is the most numerous of this species I’ve seen in a good while.  Other birds seen with the party were Great Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit a lone Siskin, a lone male Bullfinch, maybe at least two Goldcrest and a large number of Blackbirds.  I kept a look out for the local Sparrowhawks, but none appeared.

A late autumnal scene on patch

Then around the's good to see this Morrisons shopper has a wide taste in drinks.  Now where would you like to stuff this lot?  Please send your comments to 'Chavsof'.

The walk through the village and surrounds brought little.  The scene was typical of late autumn and possibly remains rather more colourful than one would expect in late November.  Last nights rain had ensured that areas were quite flooded and we have the muddy pathways back once again.  The only real interest was watching a Magpie which had found a method of balancing on a thin branch and reaching a bird feeder put in the area.

The rain fill heavy grey cloud began to gather overhead again as I made for home.  I could hardly believe it was only 2.30pm such was the darkness.  Just before I arrived home I spotted a Sparrowhawk flying with intent towards the area where all of the passerines had gathered to feed.  I think maybe this Sparrowhawk may have a good dinner!

If Great Crested Grebes spell spring and summer on patch, then Goosanders definitely spell winter!

Invite from Newcastle RSPB Local Group

Newcastle RSPB Local Group have organised a social get together at the Rising Sun Country Park Centre on Saturday 7th December (10.30am-2.30pm).  No charge of course, but hopefully a little cash will be raised by request for a small donation.  The get together will include a digital display of members photographic images and a small display of wildlife prints taken by Samuel Hood (Under the Hood Photography) and myself.  If anyone happens to be at the Rising Sun C P on the day please drop in for a chat.  The centre café is very handy.:-)

On the 4th of January 2014, Samuel and myself will be kicking the year off by leading a walk at Druridge Bay on behalf of the RSPB Local Group.  Hopefully we won’t be walking through ice and blizzards!  Details of the walk can be found here (booking for the walk is essential as places will be limited).

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Dumfries & Red Kites with a Scottish Accent

16th Nov.  I was tucked up in bed this morning when I was suddenly woken by the doorbell.  For a few seconds I wondered why the postman was disturbing my peace so early in the day.  Looking at my clock and realising it was after 7:00am I suddenly remembered that I had told Sam that we ought to be off to Newcastle early in the morning as we were co leading an RSPB trip to Dumfries and I felt we ought to be there before others arrived.  My mobile rang and sure enough it was Sam at my door!  Fortunately I had prepared my gear the evening before, so hopefully I wasn’t too long getting ready.  I grabbed a banana and placed it in my pocket (for breakfast) as I left the house and was almost fully awake as we arrived in Newcastle for the off.  Everyone was on the coach, so we left pretty quickly without ceremony.  I’m still not sure what happened to the alarm clock!  Maybe it is cream crackered, or maybe that is just me.

We were heading initially for Loch Ken, Dumfries and hoping to find Greenland White Fronted Geese in great surroundings.  The morning was quite grey, but dry and pleasant enough. After a few problems with road works and diversions we were all soon watching Red Kites, Common Buzzards and a skein of Pink-footed Geese as we approached the car park at Loch Ken.  The late autumn fall meant that leaves of varying colours remained on the trees and the smell of pine at times filled the air as did the calls of the Red Kites.  The latter sound as I told others, being like my attempts at whistling.  I’ve never been able to whistle.  I can’t whistle, but I can appreciate wonderful habitat and Dumfries still has plenty of that.  Sadly I have to say that North Tyneside Council seems intent on destroying what green habitat we have left in our home area (see latest planning proposals), but my comments about that will be left to another post.

There was limited time at our disposal so the focus was at first on finding Greenland White Fronted Geese.  Unfortunately we failed in the attempt to do so.  Either these birds had moved to another area, possibly Threave as Sam suggested, or they were well hidden.  This is the first time in four attempts that I have failed to see these birds in the area.  The group had to content themselves with the large flocks of Greylag and Canada Geese, along with large numbers of Wigeon, smaller numbers of Teal and the odd Goldeneye.  A small flock of Whooper Swans added to the cast.  It looked like a family or two.

Sam and I along with others decided to leave the viewing platform and take the path into the wooded area.  Birds seen or heard included Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Jay and a good number of Fieldfare were showing well, with the odd Redwing in amongst them.  Parties of Linnet were from time to time flying over the open areas as were Goldfinches.  The most numerous birds in the hedges and trees appeared to be Chaffinches, with only the odd Greenfinch showing.  Most of the time we had Red Kites and on occasion Common Buzzards showing.  A Kestrel hovered in front of us and on the return walk a Sparrowhawk was seen.  A flock of over one hundred Lapwings flew around the area and at times when flying above a Red Kite individual birds would drop from the flock so as to mob the raptor.  I understand some members of our group had found Red Squirrel.  Sam and I returned to the viewing platform hoping that we might find the White Fronted Geese before we left, but again we were not in luck.  We returned to the coach with the sound of gun shot from the shooting party echoing around the area.

Time had been limited at Loch Ken as we were aiming to be at the Red Kite feeding station at Bellymach Farm well before the feeding actually began and I’m pleased we managed the timings very well.  A few members had not been to the Loch Ken area and most had not visited Bellymach Farm.  In fact this was my first visit to Bellmach.  Sam and I are very much aware of the pros and cons of such feeding stations for the Red Kites.  I’m pleased to say that this brought some questions from one or two members and I was pleased to be able to express my views.   Over the centuries before health and hygiene took over our lives there would have been areas where waste products would have been left and this would have attracted large concentrations of Red Kites and other scavengers.  I would simply ask the question, are the feeding stations any different?  I also feel very strongly that anything that captures the public interest and manages to excite them about raptors and wildlife in general has to have many good points, and Bellmach Farm certainly does this.  I was pleased to hear the points raised however as these trips should not be simply a ‘coach trip out for the day’ but they should focus the minds of participants on  wildlife and conservation matters and that was what Sam and I had tried to achieve today.

On arriving I counted at least sixty/seventy Red Kites already circling the area, with one or two perched in the trees.  They were soon joined by a number of other kites and we estimated at least one hundred Red Kites were flying around us.  I have certainly not been surrounded by so many Red Kites before and found it a really great experience and I had the feeling that most of our members felt likewise.

The lighting conditions in general were not good for photography but I was reasonably happy with a few of my images.  The great benefit was just being amongst the birds and also watching the surrounding area as the light from a weak sun occasionally lit small areas on the hills, of what as a whole is a very picturesque place.

I’d like to think that no one was disappointed.  Hawkshead Photography was visiting with a group at the same time as our selves and I spoke with an old friend of mine J who I hadn’t seen for years.  J is very much involved with the Red Kites in our own area.     Sam and I also spoke at length to Callum who was representing the RSPB.  It was good to be able to talk about the needs of the Red Kites and about the problems that they have faced since re-introduction.  Callum was extremely positive about moving forward with regard to raptors in general and seemed to feel that the initial evidence is suggesting that the issue of vicarious liability is having a positive effect in parts of Scotland.  Let us hope that this will one day soon play a positive role in the rest of the UK!  I gained the impression that there are ongoing and amicable discussions amongst various groups and organisations.

Incidentally, 2013 is the 10th Anniversary of the Red Kite Trail in Dumfries and also the tenth anniversary of the first chick Red Kite being produced following the reintroduction programme which has been such a great success in the area, although as Callum informed me they did have there initial share of poisoned birds in the area. 

It was soon time to leave as darkness wasn’t far away, so I knocked back my Cappuccino.  Sam and I had really enjoyed our day and it had been good to visit an area that appeals greatly to both of us and have some interesting discussions along the way.  Our thanks go to everyone we had contact with on the day.  I’m sure we’ll be back to Dumfries soon.  The Red Kites and Whooper Swans were of course our star birds of the day.

By way of preparation for the day I’d re-read ‘The Red Kite’ by Ian Carter.  This book was published in 2001 so does not cover the re-introduction of Red Kites in either Tyneside or Dumfries.  It does discuss the introductions in southern England and northern Scotland and is a very informative read.  It’s a book that can be easily read in two or three days.  I often find books concerning ornithology/birds/nature are either aimed at the complete novice and therefore assuming the reader knows very little, or they are dry and scientific and therefore damned hard to sit down and read.  This book is published by Arlequin Press and I find in the main that their books meet an ideal compromise and are aimed at the likes of me.  I’ve now started to re-read ‘The Barn Owl’ Colin Shawyer which is from the same series of books.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Raptor Persecution...same old, same old...

13th Nov.  I came in last night from an RSPB presentation concerning the Skydancer Project.  I sat down to have my supper and watch the TV and what should be the first item I see on the local news, but more information on the high levels of raptor persecution in Northumberland, North Yorkshire and Cumbria.  I know this is stale news to anyone with a real interest in the natural world, as was the showing of the hooligan gamekeeper and his clubbing to death of Common Buzzards, although I noticed that on TV they were careful just how much of that incident was shown.  As we know this guy wasn’t sent down.  I’ve been doing quite a bit of reading concerning raptor persecution and some of that reading included some points taken from recent Parliamentary Committee discussions (at least it’s being discussed in Parliament!) where it was pointed out on several occasions that laws already exist to protect raptors.  Whilst no one can dispute this, it would seem that having laws set in place are only the first stage in protection of wildlife.  Being in a position to enforce these laws and then the handing out appropriate sentencing is quite another matter!

Whilst I’ll be the first to admit that as a long standing member of the RSPB, I do get frustrated at the organisation at times for what I perceive to be a lack of appropriate action in certain areas, I have to say that this frustration is minimal in comparison to what I perceive to be lack of understanding and action from a vast number of members of the RSPB.  I asked myself last night ‘how can anyone who is a member of the RSPB not fully understand what the Skydancer Project is all about’.  For goodness sake it is written about in the RSPB magazine often enough and mailings have been sent out to members.  Still, clearly some members don’t have an understanding, so what chance do we have of getting things across to the general public I wonder?  I do want to say that I was impressed by the actions taken by The Skydancer Project (I’m perfectly aware that some people aren’t.  That’s their prerogative of course).  In this respect Samuel Hood and I have offered our services as volunteers with the project depending upon suitable practical roles being available.

I tire on occasions of reading innuendo, mis-information and sniping from both far wings of the conservation/raptor persecution argument.  It hasn’t appeared to get us anywhere over recent decades, nor has it helped the Hen Harrier in particular.  With no successful breeding attempts made by Hen Harriers in 2013 it could be seen as a failure on all counts.  The Skydancer project has just passed the two year mark of a four year operation so the present situation isn’t good.  What impressed me however was the actions being taken to involve all sides of this on going debate in discussion and attempting to involve the general public (of all ages).  To deeply care about any issue you have to have at least some understanding of it.  How many members of the public know what a Hen Harrier is?  How many have seen one?  If they have seen one do they understand the issues surrounding their conservation?  I didn’t need to go along last night to learn that the answer to those questions is ‘not many’.  To my mind the there is a major problem here, in that secrecy often surrounds Hen Harriers and whilst secrecy may be used to protect the birds (I’m not sure myself that secrecy always has such an effect), it also prevents the wider public from becoming aware.  I believe that the great success achieved with the likes of Ospreys and Red Kites was that the public were eventually taken along with the conservation/re-introduction of these species.  As was said last night, saving this species is going to be a long term issue.  Whilst I accept the Hen Harrier raises some different issues, I was pleased to hear last night that there had been plans to involve the public much more had there been successful breeding achieved by this species in 2013.  Some may think me naïve, but I do have faith in the fact that attitudes and minds can change over time.

I’m hoping that some members will have left last night remembering the encouragement I gave to write to Members of Parliament and others.  Sadly I’m not confident that many will bother, but hopefully at least some will.  In the meantime Sam and I will offer our practical support to the Skydancer Project.

Highlight of the presentation was watching the video of the Hen Harrier skydancing and the food passes between the male and female of the pair.  This has to be one of the most exciting of birds to watch in the wild, as are harriers in general.  I can only hope that all who have the privilege to watch and enjoy these birds in the wild will also feel able to take action in support of their protection!

I of course condemn anyone who illegally kills raptors of any species and in so doing removes our natural heritage.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Park to Coast

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.
John McCrae

9th Nov.  Sam and I began our day at the Rising Sun Country Park, remembering what an excellent day with some exciting species we had experienced there in January.  Today was not to be anything like that but quiet days can still be great days and often throw up something unexpected, and in any event concentrates the mind on what is there.  There were very few signs of bird life around the area apart from on the pond, and there it was mainly gulls and Cormorants, Mallards and Tufted Duck, with a couple of Teal making a brief appearance before disappearing behind the reeds.

We did walk quite a bit of the area and as we were commenting on how quiet it was Sam got his eye on a Fox.  I simply caught the movement of the tall grass and bramble as the Fox disappeared out of sight.  Almost at the same time a male Bullfinch perched before us, a small number of Long-tailed Tits flew into the hedge nearby and a flock of Goldfinches flew over the field.  That was about as exciting as it was going to get at the stage of the day although thankfully the sun came out and warmed us up.  We sensed that the Fox was still close by and sure enough we heard it moving through the bramble on a couple of occasions almost as if it was staying near to us knowing full well that it was well hidden from view.

Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard but there was little else to report.  The soup I had for lunch was very nice though.  We later headed for St Mary’s Island and began our walk from Brier Dene.  I was hoping that the Snow Buntings might have returned but no such luck and all we found near the foot of the cliff was a Pied Wagtail.  However we did have our birds of the day at this point with Sam’s eagle like eyes getting on a Woodcock coming in off the sea and me finding the Scaup in North Bay.  Two very nice sightings.  We watched the waders for a while as we chatted to DJ.  Other waders seen today were Ringed Plover,Oystercatcher,  Golden Plover. Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit and Curlew.

We found little on the wetland although another Fox was seen disappearing into the bushes, but were later told by someone who had been working on the sight that he had come across two Jack Snipe and a single Woodcock.  We did find a single Goldeneye in North Bay, diving with two Eider Ducks.  Both Skylark and Meadow Pipit were seen.

During a chat with Simon we watched as a photographer became trapped near St Mary’s Island as the tide came in.  OK, I know you shouldn’t laugh at others misfortunes but I have to say it was quite funny even though potentially serious.  The guys face was a picture when he realised that the seawater had cut off his retreat and it was obvious what he was thinking as he walked back and forward on the rock i.e. ‘what do I do now, people are watching me’.  He finally picked up the tripod and camera and waded through the water, almost slipping on the rock under his feet.  The seawater came over the top of his wellington boots so I guess as he walked of with water lapping over his boots his feet may have been a bit damp and cold!  People so underestimate just how dangerous this area can be when the tide is coming in.  I sometimes wonder if they ever check tide times.

As darkness came in and temperatures plummeted, we headed off for our tea before making for home.  As I said quiet days are just as interesting and enjoyable as any other day.  Oh yes, and I'm glad to inform you that Sam survived a mauling from a juvenile Mute Swan early in the day.  The swan was clearly used to being fed and Sam's inability to provide seed from his pocket led to some definite disgruntlement from this young bird.  I think trousers pockets have survived the mauling and hands have survived some bill biting.  I thought it best to leave the temporary problem and go off and look for a Jack Snipe.  Sam has some good photos of this unruly youngster.   

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Canadian Invasion

What a good year for the roses
Many blooms still linger there
The lawn could stand another mowin
Funny I don't even care
As you turn to walk away
As the door behind you closes
The only thing I have to say
Its been a good year for the roses
Courtesy of Elvis Costello

Highlights for October were definitely watching the male Hen Harrier, and a first Merlin for me on patch.  Oh, and the Subalpine Warbler wasn't bad either.

6th Nov.  I counted 129 Canadian Geese near the smaller lake today with a few more at the western end of the large lake.  One was displaying a look as if it held some Barnacle Goose blood.  There were five Greylag Geese in amongst the flock.  Probably the family that had nested at the lake sometime ago, at a time it was still possible to nest on the floating reed-bed.  OK, so I know Canada Geese are not everyone’s cup of tea and they make a mess etc etc, but to be honest I thought the flock looked rather good in the poor light this afternoon.  As the ‘Swanbusters’ are engaged in discouraging the Mute Swans, I can only wonder if they have noticed the arrival of so many attractive Canada Geese.  I counted only around 60 Mute Swans today, but lots of model boats, so if it’s model boats your into Killingworth Lake is the place to be!  Not so sure that any discouragement of Mute Swans has been a success mind you as Sam reminded me this evening just how up and down numbers go and that many of the swans leave the lake for other areas during the day.

I only had the compact with me today (who called out that they can't tell the difference:-)), but managed to catch this guy standing out from the crowd.
I was surprised to see that we still have a single Great Crested Grebe on the lake.  I’m sure the family had left.  Perhaps this one has made a return.  I think it is one of ‘the family’ as it kept close to the nesting area, although I believe this is a good feeding area too.  I found only one Goldeneye.  I’m sure they were here in large numbers by this time last year.  There are I think six Goosanders.  One of the birds, possibly the long stayer, was flying up and down the larger lake, so I wasn’t sure if it was in the party I later counted or not.  Still only a couple of Pochard.  Where are they all?  One of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers flew across the lake and into the woodland.

The land has been well and truly prepared for the housing estate which is replacing the old British Gas site.  How will this effect the area I wonder especially as I’m sure more houses will be built near by before too long.

A generally quiet walk across the fields and through the church grounds where only a large concentration of Blackbirds and the odd Common Gull was of any interest.  I listened for Redwings without success.  I find some rather attractive fungi before heading for home and thinking that there are still an unusually large amount of leaves on the trees.

I think Mr Costello would have sang 'It's been a good year for the fungi' in 2013!
Added Coot to my garden list today (heard only) when as Sam was leaving this evening he pointed out that we could hear Coots calling on the lake.  I’ve only lived here since the 1970s so have an excuse for not noticing before.:-)