Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 They Think it's All Over...It is Now (Almost)



To say that 2014 has for me been a difficult year is perhaps somewhat of an under-statement.  At times it has been stressful and distressing.  I’d first of all like to offer my sincere thanks to those close to me who have helped me through it.  Knowing that I have folk to fall back on has been more important this year than it has ever been and the folk involved know who they are.    Despite the difficulties, the year did provide enjoyable highlights and it is not a year that I would want to have missed.  Commitments meant that patch birding for me was on the whole put on the back burner as I devoted what free time I did have to getting out and about to other places.  Some of the highlights I mention below.

In January Sam and I were invited by Blanaid Denman to visit RSPB Geltsdale.  The focus of the day was to be Hen Harriers and happily we were able to watch two ringtail Hen Harriers that day.  Sam and I were becoming involved in the RSPB Skydancer  Project and we were filmed that day for an RSPB video.  I must find out if the video has been released yet as I’m sure you’ll all want to watch it!  The atmosphere at Geltsdale at this time of year was wonderful and we also managed to have sightings of the likes of Merlin and Black Grouse.  In February the focus was on a Mallard and a Bittern, and yes other locomotives.  That was the day I stood on a Mallard!  That early morning adventure was excellent and provided a great chance for photography as we joined the photographic event before the event opened to the rest of the public at Shildon.  Interesting enough, a blog about that day brought sixteen comments, more than I have ever had when the focus was on birds.  Maybe I need to try train spotting!

Geltsdale
 

My UK highlight of the year was when Sam and I had another very early morning in April when we visited the Upper Pennines with Martin Kitching.  Sam had won  this day out as a prize in the North East Photography competition run by the NHSN and NWT and as in the previous year he invited me along as the second person on the photography day with NEWT.  We experienced a long and exciting day out in the field which began with sightings of Tawny Owl, Woodcock and best of all the Black Grouse lek.  The atmosphere was never beaten throughout the rest of the year.  Other notable highlights were twenty-two Whooper Swans, Rough Legged Buzzard, Red Grouse, Red-legged Partridge, Grey Partridge, Golden Plover, close up Common Snipe and Raven to name a few.

Common Snipe
  
L
Lapwing

Other highlights of the early part of 2014 were the walks Sam and I completed up at Druridge Bay.  Perhaps the best one of them began with us spending time at the start of the walk photographing Snow Buntings.  I can’t miss from my year’s highlights the breeding Great Crested Grebes on Killingworth Lake.  I wasn’t able to spend as much time with them this year as on previous occasions, but they would not have been lonely as it would seem that every camera owner in the North East has now discovered Killingworth Lake and pay a visit when the Great Crested Grebes are nesting!  Some, I’m pleased to say visit at other times and it was only yesterday when I was able to pass some time with Sedgdunum Warbler beside the lake, as John and I remembered our youthful sightings of murmurations of Starlings in Newcastle City centre.  Those were the days when bird crap on buildings was an accepted part of city life.  Now we have the wannabes complaining about a few Kittiwkes!

Move forward a little and I have two great memories of 2014.  The first of these is the trip to Hungary with Sam and Graham.  We started the Hungarian trip with a stay in Budapest which in my opinion is a fantastic city and it provided us with some decent birds, the best one being the Night Heron flying away at night from the Danube River over the brightly lit St Matyas Church.  Then of course there were the odd looks from locals as Sam and I spent so much time photographing Hooded Crows near the Royal Palace.  I have great memories of Budapest and even greater ones of the birding in the Bukk Hills and at the Hortobagy.  We were greeted on arrival by a Goshawk mobbing and Eastern Imperial Eagle and we watched the likes of Hawfinch and Middle Spotted Woodpeckers in the garden!  The greatest highlights were however our day on the Little Hortobagy with the likes of Black Stork, Spoonbills, Common Cranes, Short Toed Eagle and Red Backed Shrikes, and another day when we found a flock of European Bee-Eaters as we searched for butterflies.  Oh yes, the butterflies were wonderful, not least the Swallowtail Butterflies which allowed such good close up photo opportunities.  The trip brought us many a laugh.  Then there was the trip to Berlin and Prague with Sam.  Not a birding trip this time, but a cultural trip.  It wasn’t a trip without birds though and included the likes of Goshawk, Marsh Harrier, Tawny Owl (over the Brandenburg Gate at night), Black Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers.

Heath Fritillary (Hungary)

Black Stork (Hungary)
The trip to Berlin had me searching out Berlin-The Downfall by Antony Beevor.  What a great read.  I was so impressed I went on to read Antony Beevor’s Stalingrad, The Spanish Civil War, The Battle for Crete and D Day.  So not a lot of time for natural history reading at that point.  Oh well, no one wants to be a one trick pony do they?

Brandenburg Gate

Back home of course Sam and I found the first ever Black-Winged Pratincole at Holywell Dene.  Yes please note…6th July!  OK, we said initially that it was a Collared Pratincole, but come on!    So no one can take that one away from us.  It was a lifer (I’ve seen dozens of Collared Partincole :-))  My only other lifer this year was the Stilt Sandpiper at Cresswell Pond.  On another occasion I spent one of those wonderful evenings at Cresswell Pond and watched the likes of five Little Egrets, Three Spoonbills, Avocets, Little Ringed Plover, Yellow Wagtail and the Barn Owls further up the road at opposite Druridge Pools.  We were there until after the wonderful sunset.

Of course there was the annual evening trip to Slaley, this time with Marie, Tony and Sam.  It took us some time to pick up the sounds of Nightjars, but we did and we also had good sightings.

There were two memorable RSPB group trips this year.  One to Bishop Middleham and the old quarry and another to Threave and Mersehead.  Both led by Sam and I, suggesting that is why they were memorable! :-)  The day at Bishop Middleham was very hot and we had sightings of the Northen Brown Argus and many other butterflies and of course the Dark Red Helleborines.  The day at Threave and Mersehead was rather cooler but very rewarding with sightings including Whooper Swans, White-fronted Geese, male and female Hen Harrier, Pintails in great number and of course the Barnacle Geese.  It was a first time sighting of Hen Harrier for some participants and that is what I think RSPB groups should be all about i.e education and raising awareness about nature and conservation.   It was the first time I had explored Threave and hope it will be the first of many visits.
 
Dark Red Helleborine (Bishop Middleham)
 
So despite my traumatic year I’ve found I’ve managed to pack in quite a bit.  I’ll enter 2015 with no less passion for nature and no less determination to keep away from most of the technology that has crept into bird and nature watching.  Sorry it’s just not for me (except the bins, scope and camera gear that is).  I must belong to a different era.  Just let me do my own thing with good mates and let me read good books and I’ll be happy.  I have a pile of books ready to read in 2015 and I’m presently stuck into the New Naturalist Owls by Mike Toms.

No New Year resolutions for me.  Well none that I’m going to share.  I do hope to get round to buying new camera gear, but I said that last year I’m sure!

All the best to all for 2015.  Have a safe and healthy 2015 and keep reading me blog!

Monday, 29 December 2014

From Iceland to Holywell Pond



29th Dec.  I arrived at North Shields Fish Quay on a frosty and crisp morning only to find that it didn’t feel as cold as I thought it would.  Perhaps lack of wind, a bright blinding sun shining from a blue sky and my numerous layers of clothing all had some impact upon me feeling not too cold!  I met up with Tom and it wasn’t long before we were watching the Iceland Gull.  Unfortunately its appearance in the harbour part of the quay was limited to one or two fly pasts and the rest of the time it spent in amongst the flocks of assorted gulls on the riverside. Tempted no doubt, by the fish remains that were being dumped into the river.  Cormorants and Eider Ducks were nearby.  In any event, it was a nice sighting to begin the day.

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull

Iceland Gull (this one courtesy of Tom Middleton)
 
We walked to the mouth of the Tyne passing little on the way until we reached the Black Middens.  The tide was fairly high.  At this point we counted Purple Sandpipers well into double figures, around thirty Ringed Plovers along with the Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Dunlin and Redshank.  It’s been a while since I completed this walk which offers such good views up the river.

 
Not much birdlife was found at Priors Park apart from the likes of tits, Chaffinches, Mistle Thrushes and Sparrowhawk which flew into the top of the trees and took some finding again.  As Tom said maybe its presence accounted for the lack of other bird life.  Our next stop was Seaton Sluice for some lunch.  A cup of tea warmed me nicely before our walk through the dene to Holywell Pond.

It was surprisingly free of folk in the dene for such a pleasant day. Calling Redshank were numerous at the start of the walk and we did find numbers of woodland birds including a party of at least five Bullfinches and four Goldcrests.  Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard, and at least three Nuthatches and two Grey Wagtail were seen.  Tit parties were at the feeders along with Dunnocks and Robins.

By the time we reached Holywell Pond the temperature was just beginning to drop.  The pond area was notable by what was not there rather than what we saw.  We found no Wigeon, Teal or Goldeneye at all and there was no sign of any geese in the area, not even an odd Canada Goose, although I admit we didn’t do a complete search of the fields.  Tree Sparrows were seen at the feeding station, two Kestrels were in the area and Mute Swan, Grey Heron, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and a single Little Grebe were seen at the pond.

Not that many birds at the pond so I began to take an interest in the Rat.

 After we had watched a rather shy Brown Rat and a limping Mallard drake outside of the members hide, and having received a txt from Sam informing me of a nice sighting in Killingworth we made for home as the air began to bite.  The Iceland Gull had been the only one sighted by me this year.  It had been good to be out in the fresh air and shake off the lethargy of Christmas.  On the way home Tom got his eye on five geese (species) in a field, the only ones seen all day!

Monday, 15 December 2014

Return to the Rising Sun



15th Dec.  I can’t remember the last time I was at the Rising Sun Country Park, although I seem to remember at that time it was far warmer than it was today. 

I have to admit temperatures had picked up a bit from those over the weekend when I almost froze to the platform of North Shields Metro Station following a visit to The Keel Row Bookshop for a search through some old Natural History books.  If you’re a bibliophile the shop is well worth a look. 

Between cups of coffee, some very nice soup for lunch, passing over an Underthehood 2015 calendar and discussions about purchasing yet more books (this time nothing to do with natural history), I did manage a walk.  Bird life was pretty sparse but a large flock of Goldfinch (I couldn’t be sure that there weren’t other species in the flock) and some Jays showed very nicely as we walked down to the pond, passing the Stan the red stag along the way.

The pond held forty plus Gadwall and numbers of Shoveller amongst other waterfowl and gulls.  There was no sign of the Bittern whilst we watched which had been recorded yesterday.  A pair of Kestrel called as they mobbed something in the hedge on the opposite side of the pond.  A regular at Swallow Pond told us that there was a Harris Hawk there, and sure enough it did show very briefly, but it wasn’t until someone walked across the field carrying what looked like horse tackle that it flushed and flew off.  Dukes Pond held a few Mallard and an assortment of hybrids which were disappointed to find we hadn’t come to feed them!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Brass Monkeys...Where are they all?



11th Dec.  I ventured up to Cresswell today with Sam and Lee.  Not a single brass monkey to be found and rumour has it that for some reason or other, they were all at home wrapped in blankets.  I have to say that despite being dressed and padded out like a Christmas parcel, I wished on occasions that I had also stayed at home!  The wind made the already low temperatures feel bitterly cold although thankfully the sky was clear and the sun shone.  An ominous layer of cloud slowly approached from the west and seemed to be biding it’s time before dropping its contents over South East Northumberland.  What had I been saying recently about really enjoying winter birding?  I really do of course.

Things started well with a Common Buzzard hovering in the wind as we joined the A19 at Killingworth.  Whilst the Common Buzzard is now seen by many as just that, common, I have to say they still excite me.  Fields nearby held a large concentration of Lapwings.

A short stop at Castle Island allowed us to taste the air.  There was little about although three Goldeneye flew up river.  The drive to Creswell has us passing Pink-footed and Greylag Geese near Woodhorn.

 The sea watch from Cresswell was cut short.  It was pointless trying to fight the wind and cold.  There seemed to be plenty of gulls on the sea, but little else apart from the odd Eider Duck.  Even the waders proved to be scarce although flocks of Golden Plover were seen flying north.  We made for the pond and found Tree Sparrows at the feeders.

Before entering the hide a skein of maybe 100/125 Pink-footed Geese flew north directly overhead.  A smaller skein of 7/8 were seen from the hide flying west.  The wind had cleared the pond of most of its birds but later we watched a flock of 500+ whistling Wigeon on the water.  I thought I had found Scaup but as the bird moved towards us it proved to be Tufted Duck.  There were a few Goldeneye about.  We picked up a well camouflaged Common Snipe in the reeds directly in front of the hide.  On taking a better look we found another two very well hidden birds.

One of the Common Snipe decides to show itself in the sun but another to the left remains hidden.
 
There was very little at Druridge Pools (although I did catch sight of a Grey Partridge crossing the road as we approached), so we headed for East Chevington.  As we turned right at Red Row both Lee and Sam got their eye on a male Bullfinch in the hedge.  Some how I managed to miss it.  Fearing that we would soon chill out looking over North Pool we entered the metal box.  Now, it would be unfair to expect hides to be homely, inviting, quiet and relaxing (we have some awful hides in Northumberland) and so it proves with this metal box.  As Sam suggested acoustics bear some resemblance to the Albert Hall.  I’ve been reading a little about torture treatment of alleged terrorists.  Perhaps sticking them in this box and playing recordings at full volume of X Factor vocalists would be a time saver.

North Pool held 50+ Goldeneye, Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and co.

We decided to head for home.  The wind had ensured that the birding was not at its best, but we’d still clocked up near enough fifty species.  A flock of Fieldfare flew over the fields as we headed back.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Great Northern



2nd Dec.  The highlight of a trip to the coast today was the Great Northern Diver flying north past Seaton Sluice and showing well.  It landed on the sea south of Blyth Harbour, but by then could hardly be seen at all from Seaton Sluice. Shortly afterwards a Great Northern Diver flew south.  Maybe, or maybe not the same bird.

Several short sea watches throughout our trip brought Sam and I sightings of flocks of Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Common Scoter, with Red Throated Divers and Eider Ducks making an appearance too.  Sam spotted a single Long-tailed Duck flying north.

Winter had arrived as had a cold northerly wind.  We’ve all had it too easy for too long.  It was good to stand under the sunlight watching the sea and listening to the pounding of the waves.  The gloves were on for the first time this winter.  The Golden Plovers put on the usual show and Oysterctacher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew were all seen in some numbers along with a single Common Snipe which flew along the high tide line in South Bay.  Grey Seals were seen.

Stonechat was once again seen on the approach to Seaton Sluice and a Kestrel hovered above the dunes to the north.

Stonechat
 
The approach to Holywell Pond was fairly quiet and by now the light was going as we faced a blazing sunset.  I picked out a male Sparrowhawk amongst the flock of Jackdaws and Rooks.  Over the fields and a sizeable flock of Yellowhammers and Linnets had gathered in the hedges.

The pond held numbers of Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Teal and a few Greylag Geese and Wigeon along with Little Grebes.  We occasionally heard Pink-footed Geese calling from east of the pond.  It was soon dark and we were off towards home with a day list of fifty five bird species and the sound of Curlews in our ears.

I couldn’t help wonder if the the high number of Pochard at Holywell owed something to the birds from Killy Lake.  On Sunday we found not a single Pochard on the lake.  Most unusual at this time of year.  Mute Swan numbers were down to twenty-five (and of course we know why).  There were only two Goosanders showing, although there has been up to twenty in recent weeks and three Goldeneye.  A pair of Shoveller were showing near the still wired off floating reed-bed and a Great Crested Grebe remains.  Neither Sam nor I can remember seeing one on the lake so late in the year.

Male Shoveller

 One Hundred plus Canada Geese were on both the small and larger lakes.  My guess is they be next for the Nimby’s attention.  I ask myself is the scarcity of birds on Killy Lake at the moment down to the mild weather condition,   Swanbusters, Council action or water conditions.  As Sam suggested the lake is now looking very much like ‘a boating lake!’  Oh well at least we have Killingworth Moor and adjoining land on patch which provides good habitat for birds.  Well, at least we have it until it is put under concrete and housing as per council planning ideas.  Never mind we are still proud owners of a ‘Green Flag.’  I often wonder how!

Just a few lyrics below from Joni Mitchell below for Nimby’s and Councils everywhere (and of course for those who don’t give a damn also).

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Better news is that I have the Greenfinches back in the garden and on the feeders.  I had just been commenting about the lack of Greenfinches everywhere.  Also recently had a skein of Pink-footed Geese over the garden.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Threave and Mersehead...Dumfries



22nd Nov.  As we crossed the border and entered Dumfries we struggled to see through the downpours of rain.  Having listened to the weather forecast the previous evening I kept faith that it was correct and that we would have sunshine later in the day.  Sam and I were leading an RSPB group trip to National Trust of Scotland Threave and RSPB Mersehead.  In truth Sam who volunteers as a ranger at Threave had done all the preparation and led the day, so I was able to relax and enjoy my first ever visit to the reserve.  Our first stop was at Gretna where we had a Sparrowhawk fly overhead.  Numbers of Common Buzzard were seen on the journey and I understand that one or two members claim a sighting of Rough Legged Buzzard about twenty miles away from Threave.  Some Pink –footed Geese were also seen.
 
Threave
 
It was dry, but still rather dull as he arrived at Threave (having seen our first Red Kite of the day) where we were given a very interesting introductory talk by Karl Munday, Senior Ranger.  This area of farmland and marshes beside the River Dee is well-known for its wildfowl. In autumn and winter large flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, with some White-fronted Geese and Whooper Swans, feed on the fields.  We were especially keen to try and find the White-fronted Geese having missed these when leading a trip to Loch Ken last year.  Sam took the lead and guided the group to the appropriate areas.  I guess my role on the day was to ensure members were back onto the coach in time, as I’m pretty good at that.  As Sam said, I was there to lend some muscle!  We did have a lot to get in on the extended day.  I’m pleased to say everyone respected our timings and I’m also pleased to say that the clouds soon dissipated, allowing sunshine to appear on what was a very mild day.  The atmosphere in this area of Scotland is usually wonderful and quite dramatic, especially in winter, and today was no exception.

A hide with a view...Threave.
 
We were soon counting Roe Deer which were about the reserve, and although initially the area seemed very quiet, we were also ticking off bird species.  The wooded area provided us with the likes of tit species, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and finches including Lesser Redpoll.  There were numbers of Fieldfare around and a few Redwing too.  In the distant fields flocks of Pink-footed Geese could be seen and the odd Raven made an appearance.  I do fear that one or two members were attempting to make every black coloured bird into a Raven!  Red Kites were seen in the distance.

Roe Deer
 
There were large flocks of Teal on the pond and a particular drake Pintail stood out.  We were beginning to think we were going to miss the White-fronted Geese again, and then a  skein of what we initially thought were one hundred plus Pink-footed Geese flew over.  In fact they were the White-fronted Geese.  I think everyone had the opportunity to have a good sighting.  A small skein of Greylag Geese made an appearance too.  At least three or four small flocks of Whooper Swan put in an appearance with an atmospheric sky as background.  So I’m pleased to say our visit to Threave proved to be very successful.  As we made back towards the coach a Kestrel hovered nearby and everyone was taking an interest in the Osprey nest.  Sam and I have offered to lead a trip to the area again in early summer so that we can take in the Ospreys.

White-fronted Geese.  Image courtesy of Samuel Hood

Whooper Swans

We stopped at the more commercial part of Threave to allow for use of the facilities and for members to visit briefly visit the café.  I tactfully spoke on the coach as Sam went off so as to be first in the queue for our pot of tea.  Indeed he need not have bothered hurrying, as very few made for the food and drink.  Now that has to be a first.  I feel quite ashamed that Sam and I really enjoyed our visit to the café.  At least one member told me that he had seen Jay, Nuthatch and Red Squirrel during the short stop.

It was soon time to leave Threave and see more red Kites along the way.  I’m hoping to be back soon. ;-)  We then headed for RSPB Mersehead.  It was an extremely pleasant drive part of which is along the Solway coastline.  We’d planned things so that we would be here at sunset and hopefully see the Barnacle Geese flocks fly out to roost for the night.

Mersehead
 
On our approach to the reserve I noted that the usual flocks of Barnacle Geese weren’t near to the drive up.  I need not have been concerned as we soon found the flocks of geese further along into the reserve.  It was 2.00pm now and the light and atmosphere as excellent.  I was pleased to be staying a little later than we would normally do, if for no other reason than the late afternoon atmosphere on what is one of my favourite reserves.

We visited the hides first and found large numbers of Pintail (perhaps one hundred plus) and Shoveller.  Other birds on the pools included Mallard, Shelduck, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe.  More Common Buzzards were seen and also one of our birds of the day, a male Hen Harrier.  It flew in harrier fashion across the reed-beds before flying along the tree-line.  We learnt later that some other members had also seen a ringtail and Peregrine Falcon in the same area.

As the afternoon went on there was plenty of time to enjoy the atmospheric sights and sounds of the area.  The light was forever changing and small skeins of Barnacle Geese were flying in from feeding areas to join the larger concentrations of thousands on the reserve.

Mersehead

 We walked down to the shoreline in the hope that we would be well positioned for when the Barnacle Geese lifted.  By now the grey watery clouds were beginning to return and what I thought was just sea spray in the air began to turn to rainfall as we looked out across the Solway.  The rain never did get particularly heavy and it was still amazingly mild for the time of year.  The rainfall was never the less enough to send some members making for the coach.  We waited a while longer with the some of the more rain tolerant, but the geese seemed settled and never did lift while we were there.  The sun set was barely seen on the horizon over the sea as just a touch of redness disappeared completely.  We eventually retraced our steps to the coach as we listed to the calls of the Barnacle Geese, Curlews and Rooks.

Sam in action chatting about the Barnacle Geese that never did lift.  I think everyone was just pleased to see thousands of geese and this couple had their first ever sighting of Hen Harrier.
 
Thankfully there was no panic when we found the reserve centre was closed so access to toilets was impossible.  I had taken the right decision and visited a tree beforehand.  Others would have to wait until we got to Gretna.  Low and behold they were closed to.  Brampton seemed a long way for some!  Never mind we found some that were open.

It had been an excellent day.  May I thank Karl Munday who had met us at Threave and Sam who had put so much work into the day to ensure that it was a success.  Certainly one of the best group trips I have been on over the years.  The group bird list was in the high seventies.  Sam and I were unable to decide upon bird of the day so have Whooper Swan, Greenland White-fronted Goose and Hen Harrier in equal first position.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

South East Northumberland



20th Nov.  Lee and I began a few hours birding today at Castle Island.  It was far quieter than the last time I had visited but we did count fifteen plus Goldeneye amongst the waterfowl present.  The day was brightening and warming nicely.

Next stop was to look over the rocks and sea just before reaching Cresswell Village.  A small flock of Common Scoter flew north before landing on the sea and drifting southwards.  Two or three Red-throated Divers were seen along with Guillemot, Razorbill and Eiders.  Waders on the rocks below were Oystercatcher, Knot, Purple Sandpiper, lots of Dunlin and Redshank.  I’d kept a look out for Little Auk without success.

The feeders along the pathway to Cresswell Pond Hide were attracting many passerines including Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting and tits.  We’d seen a male Stonechat on the wires as we parked up, and more Stonechats were seen feeding in the reed-bed in front of the hide.  A Little Egret was also found in front of the hide as we entered and it fed there for sometime before disappearing behind the reeds to the right then flying northwards to the other end of the pond.  It soon returned and showed well in the sunlight.  A Water Rail crossed the open area in front of the hide giving a short, but good sighting.  Common Snipe flew into the same area and most soon disappeared into the reeds.  I’d estimate that we saw upwards of thirty five fly towards us in two flocks.  One or two remained in view on the edge of the reed-bed. 



Little Egret
 
There were large flocks of Lapwing at the pond area and one of the flocks constantly lifted and flew over the pond.  There didn’t appear to be any threat from raptors.  A lone Kestrel perched on the wires by the road and on occasions flew north of the pond where it hovered.  The edge of the pond held large concentrations of both Teal and whistling Wigeon.  Little Grebe, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser were amongst other birds on the water.

Lapwing

 We moved north to Druridge Pools.  The pools and surrounding area were quiet.  We were unable to locate any geese in the area.    A small number had been seen as we passed Woodhorn, which I think were Greylag, but could not be certain as we were unable to stop.

Cresswell Pond

 Maiden Hall was quiet too with the only sighting of geese being Greylag.  Shovellers and Goldeneye were seen on the lake.


Little Egret

Although a bright day, the light was none too good as we arrived at East Chevington.  Again it seemed that the only geese present were Greylag.  There were good numbers of Gadwall on North Pond.  Teal , Wigeon and Goldeneye were again seen in some number.  It was soon time to make for home.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

All Weather Birders up with the Larks



15th Nov.  I was down at St Mary’s Island accompanied by fellow all weather birders Sam and Tom before sunrise.  We were there in the hope of catching a sighting of the Great Reed Warbler that had been reported the day before.  On arrival we were greeted by a fly past of Common Scoters and we soon had a really good sighting of a Sparrowhawk as it flew low over the grassland near the mounds.  We saw no sign of the Great Reed Warbler.  A number of other birders gradually appeared at intervals looking for that same bird.

The sea looked uninviting on what was a grey, rather misty morning.  The temperatures remain surprisingly mild for the time of year.  Two Red-throated Divers and Eider Ducks were seen.  Watching the waders filled quite a bit of time.  The flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover were the most obvious and I’m sure that there larger numbers of Golden Plover than is usual and many were in the air for most of the duration of our stay.  There were at least fifteen Purple Sandpipers on the rocks close to shore.  Other waders seen were Oystercatcher, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew.

One gent suggested that we would soon be on our way to the fish and chip shop at Seaton Sluice.  He was correct and I’m pleased to see that he reads my blog.  He was never the less incorrect about us walking on to Holywell, as although that had been the plan we were diverted by reports of a Pallas’s Warbler near to Whitley Bay Crematorium.  Meanwhile we met with the suggestion from some wag with an accent, lets say of south of Watford type, that we were waiting to photograph a page three girl.  I knew it was mild, but I wouldn’t have thought it that mild.  It did remind me of the time that a model was being photographed at the back of the gent’s toilets at Aberlady.  It was a cold winter’s day and I think photographers and model were using the gents toilet wall as shelter from the cold wind that came off the sea.  I noted that several of the guys in the RSPB group suddenly appeared to have the urge to pass water and visited the toilets several times.  That must have been caused by the cold too!  Stonechat, Reed Bunting, Rock Pipit and Meadow Pipit were some of the birds seen before we tucked into lunch.  Nice sightings of Goldcrests had been had in the willows.

Stonechat courtesy of Tom Middleton
 
Anyway, to cut a long story short we failed to find the Pallas’s Warbler too.  Rather like the economy, we double dipped.  Serves me right for diverting.  Never mind we did have a fly over of two hundred and fifty plus Pink-footed Geese and a female Sparrowhawk to keep us interested, along with numerous tit parties and Tree Sparrows visiting the gardens.  Grey Wagtail and Great Spotted Woodpecker were also seen briefly.

The gloom of early morning never really disappeared, although for a short time the sun did almost break through the clouds.  When Sam and I left for home it looked as though a storm was brewing, such was the leaden feel of the clouds.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Caught up a Ladder!



As readers of this blog know I’m generally averse to twitching.  Never the less I don’t deny that I do occasionally attend the odd one.  Having had a photo passed on from Tom M of me up a ladder at Hartlepool I can hardly deny it.  Just in case your wondering I’m the well dressed (in red)  and handsome one (I wasn’t up against stiff competition as you can see!)  on top of the ladder to the left.



It was in many ways a fun day, as I was with good company, but I have to say the photograph reflects the day very well and I believe underlines everything I don’t like about twitching.  The crowded scene being the primary thing.  I'm not certain that white van near the wall, which had about eight folk standing on its roof at one time, survived the ordeal!

Best part of the day was quietly watching a Red-backed Shrike on the coast after the circus was over.

I haven’t added a ladder to my essential birding gear as yet!

Monday, 3 November 2014

Winter, Waders and Wildfowl = Wonderful!



Each summer in recent years I’ve spent some splendid evenings as the sun had gone down on a long day on the Northumberland coast and elsewhere.  These hours are indeed amongst some of the best times to be out birding.  Never the less my favourite time for bird-watching and being out there with nature has to be the winter months.  The cold might at times be cursed, but at no other time in my opinion can the light be so good if you hit upon a good day.  Although the day may be short, what better time can there be to spend time out there with wildlife especially the skeins of geese and the flocks of waders?  To feel the wind blown sand like sandpaper on the face and to be showered with windblown sea spray is a top experience. All this and of course generally far fewer folk about which can only be a good thing.  The folk you do come across tend to be the keener sort and not the sunny day birders looking for the next teashop.  So I’m pleased winter is back with us, or at least very nearly back with us.  I have to admit I’ve enjoyed the warm days which are seeing the autumn out, but I have my hat, gloves and extra layers at hand ready for when the temperatures drop.  Even the fish and chips taste better in winter as the steam lifts from the plate and the hands begin to warm!

I completed the Holywell to St Mary’s Island walk on 1st Nov. Pink-footed Geese numbering 150+ landed in fields east of the pond before taking to the air again and flying westwards.  We never did track them down in the fields.  The usual birds were on the pond and two Dunlin fed on the mud amongst the gulls.  The Greylag and Canada Geese remained in the fields to the south of the pond.  Wigeon and Teal were on the pond.


The dene remains autumnal, but was very quiet (if you disregard the dog walkers), although we did find the pair of Grey Wagtails and briefly watched a Sparrowhawk as it attempted to manoeuvre itself from mobbing corvids.  In the same area a flock of Redwing took to the sky before disappearing behind the trees on the skyline.  I’d heard them before sighting them.


There were few passerines along the pathway to St Mary’s Island, but there were plenty of waders.  The Golden Plover were caught nicely in the sunlight as they lifted from the raised rocks north of the island and flocks of Lapwing flew above the fields to the west.  Other waders seen were Oystercatcher, Knot, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit.

A good day with a sniff of winter in the air.

Here I stand
Watching the tide go out
So all alone and blue
Just dreaming dreams of you
I watched your ship
As it sailed out to sea
Taking all my dreams
And taking all of me
The sighing of the waves
The wailing of the wind
The tears in my eyes burn
Pleading, "My love, return"
Why, oh, why must I go on like this?
Shall I just be a lonely stranger on the shore?
Why, oh, why must I go on like this?
Shall I just be a lonely stranger on the shore?
 
Lyrics written by Robert Mellin to Mr Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore.  The music is one of my top ten all time favourites and a copy of the recording was in 1969 taken by the crew of Apollo 10 on their mission to the moon.  The music was written for a television programme that I remember watching as a child in the early 1960s.