Sunday, 30 March 2014

Misty Patch

30th March.  I nipped down to the lake today.  It was late afternoon and the mist still hung around.  I spoke to one of the regulars who has a real interest in the wildlife on and around the lake and it was interesting to note that she shares my negative views as to how the Local Authority are dealing with the floating reed-bed which is no longer of any use as a nesting site! A coots nest was waterlogged along side the wired off floating structure.  I think the term floating structure best describes it.

I’d been alerted by Sam that the Scaup still remains and surely enough it showed really well until deciding to have a nap on the lake and the head disappeared.  There was no sign of the Mandarin Duck reported last week.  Goosander and Goldeneye are still represented.  A pair of Lesser-black Backed Gulls stood out from the crowd as did the Shovellers.  Best of all the Great Crested Grebes rested clearly as a pair now.  Chiffchaffs called in the background and Mistle Thrushes flew in the church grounds as I wandered home.  I was out for less than forty-five minutes.   

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Hulne Park, Alnwick...A Very Pheasant Day

29th March.  Marie, Sam and I carried out a reccy of the planned RSPB walk at Hulne Park pencilled in for 26th April when bird activity will I think have reached a peak.  We followed the red route today so the reccy was pretty easy in terms of direction.  Hopefully members will be attracted by the 4.7 mile walk through mixed habitat, including a very nice stretch along the bank of the River Aln.

Park Entrance
It’s a few years since my first and only previous visit to Hulne Park.  At that time I was able to list Hawfinch on the day list.  Nothing like that today I’m afraid but still a very enjoyable walk in misty conditions.  The cry of ‘and there’s a ‘Pheasant’ was heard on many occasions!

I remember on my previous visit that there were numerous species near the entrance at the lodge, amongst them the Hawfinch.  This area was rather quiet in comparison today.  It wasn’t long before we were listening to Chiffchaffs and eventually managing to catch sight of one high in the trees.  The likes of Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Goldcrest gave good sightings too.

Along by the river we found both Dipper and a pair of Grey Wagtail and having heard Great Spotted Woodpecker early on in the walk we finally sighted one.  Sam spotted a distant Common Buzzard in the trees and it was later seen in closer flight.

It brought joy to my eyes when I had noted that no vehicles, dogs or cyclists are allowed in the park and in fact we were the first of a very few walkers in there today.  At the start of our walk we had only the calls of a Cockerel and Pheasants along with the accompaniment of numerous woodland birds singing to keep us company.  We did find one dog which I assumed was owned by one of the tenants.  The dog was in the process of chewing at a dead rabbit carcass and didn’t have much time to notice us.  We did find a few Rabbits alive and also Roe Deer and a Hare.

In the open Parkland numerous Mistle Thrushes were seen along with Redwing and Fieldfare.  Song Thrushes were heard during the walk and numerous Blackbirds seen.  Jays were heard and a brief, but good sighting of one of them was made.

I began, not for the first time, thinking that I must learn more about tree species and we ended the walk stating ‘and there’s another Pheasant!  I reckon I’ll dream of Pheasants tonight.  I didn’t feel as though I’d walked 4.7 miles but must have.  We’d passed the old Priory and had taken lunch sitting beside the well.  Mute Swans were on the River Aln and distant Greylag Geese could be seen faintly through the mist as they called.

We’d arrived in Alnwick to early to enter the park when it opens at 11.00am, so we called in at Barter Books for cups of coffee and tea.  Why not begin the day in true RSPB fashion we thought, although not having long finished breakfast we couldn’t be tempted by the cakes on offer.  It’s along time since I had visited Barter Books and I was very impressed with this business in part of the old railway station.  We sat by the open coal fires as we enjoyed our drinks.  This is a building and a business that Northumbrians ought to be proud of and if you haven’t visited then I think you ought to.

Sam and I decided that we must visit Hulne Park again soon and complete a different walk and also re-visit Barter Books perhaps with a van to carry our purchases back to Killingworth and full wallets to pay for them!  I understand Sam’s mum and dad are really pleased that Sam has such a good collection of books and are only too pleased to think that many more will be entering their home soon!  Today’s list was thirty-five bird species and a single book.  Both totals will I’m sure be exceeded on our next visit. 

Lack of photos explained today by weather conditions.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Dry Stone Walling

18th March.  A rather different pursuit today as Sam and I experienced a practical introduction to Dry Stone Walling thanks to members (including my brother) of the Northumbria Dry Stone Walling Association.  We were mindful of course of the habitat that dry stone walls offers to a variety of wildlife.  Good that this craft is still practiced, if only by the few.

The day was not without birds as I saw a Kestrel on the journey to Stocksfield, heard my first Tawny Owl of the year and noted a few small passerines including Meadow Pipit.

I’ll let the images tell the tale.  If you think it looks easy I suggest you give it a try!



And after...with not a hair out of place! :-)

Anyway, only a short blog tonight.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Rats and Robins

15th March.  Starting at the Rising Sun today we found very little in the way of birds although I managed to eventually add Stock Dove to the year list.  Although temperatures were probably not that low for the time of year, after the warm days of late it felt cold in the strong wind.  A walk around the country park didn’t really warm me up, but the soup at the café did.  There had been few people about today.

We’d found Swallow Pond virtually taken over by Black Headed Gulls, although a Little Grebe, Tufted Duck and a pair of Teal made an appearance along with Mute Swans, Moorhens and Coots.  I enjoyed the walk, but don’t recall too much else in the way of birdlife apart from tits, finches and Meadow Pipit.

We eventually made off for Gosforth Park Nature Reserve and it too proved to be very quiet although offering to my mind a more relaxing and pleasant walk and this time in much drier conditions.  Sam pointed out the work he had been involved in along side other volunteers.

It seems the feeding station is now no longer being topped up, but a few birds were still finding enough feed to encourage them to visit.  In the main these were Robins, tits, Dunnocks, Chaffinch and Blackbird.  Well fed Brown Rats were also busy about the area and perhaps because the birdlife was sparse we did take particular attention to them.

Robin eventually finds a hide with a view
I’m always interested in the naming of wildlife and as such Rattus norvegicus (Norway Rat) is quite interesting.  Apparently this species was originally called the Hanover Rat with people wishing to link problems in 18th Century England to the House of Hanover.  No one seems to know for definite why the Brown Rat was named Rattus norvegicus, as it didn’t originate from Norway.  However it was once thought that the Brown Rat had migrated to England from Norwegian ships and it seems to have been a man by the name of John Berkenhout (author of Outlines of the Natural History of Great Britain) who popularised this myth.  In fact when the Brown Rat first appeared in England there were none in Norway.  By the mid 19th Century it was understood that the Brown Rat was not native to Norway and ideas were put forward about it coming from Ireland, Gibraltar or across the English Channel with William the Conqueror.  By the twentieth century it was acknowledged that the Brown Rat originated from Asia, probably China.  The scientific name of Rattus norvegicus is never the less retained.

Is someone gonna give me a leg up?
Now make sure you have my best side

If it's not Robins its damn photographers

That's it I've had enough. I'm going back to the family

As we walked around the reserve Nuthatch was heard and a single Roe Deer was seen.  It seemed to me that the reserve was as quiet as I had ever found it.  The wind having probably being a factor here.  Even the Frogs which had been spawning were not keen to show themselves.  There was very little on the pools although Little Grebes were heard and briefly seen and a Water Rail was also heard.  We had listened for the yaffling of the Green Woodpecker, but heard nothing from it.

A rare appearance today
A quiet day, but a good one!

Friday, 14 March 2014

Sun, Sand, Beer and Birds

13th March.  What a difference a year makes!  Last year the low temperatures of spring ensured that there was no sign of migrants birds returning until well into April.  This year they are flooding in early (well a few Chiffchaff are anyway)   as the sun shines and temperatures rise.  We listened to our first Chiffchaff song for 2014 on the periphery of Holywell Dene, then deep into the dene and also near Holywell Pond.

It wasn’t just the migrants out enjoying today’s summer like weather, as Sam and I began our walk from the Brierdene car-park.  We walked along the sandy beach towards St Mary’s Island not finding too many species, but enjoying the morning anyway.  Skylarks sang, Meadow Pipits displayed, Rock Pipits fed amongst the seaweed, and Pied Wagtails were in their usual spot feeding.  A pair of Eider (I’ve been pointed in the direction of a new monograph on the Eider Duck due to be published later this year) was seen on the sea but there were more dogs than waders in this area.


 It wasn’t until we reached the island that the chance could be taken to grab some images of waders which included Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin and Redshank.  Sam lay in the wet sand to catch images of the waders as the tide quickly filled channels as it began to flow in.  I decided on a different stance and of course Sam got the best images.  He also found a photographed a quite large, but dead Squid.  We were a bit concerned that Sam might stink of wet sand and seaweed when we adjourned for our fish and chips but he had dried out by then and in a way where better to smell of the coast than the fish and chip café?

Sam in the seaweed

 Before lunch we took some time to watch and photograph the Fulmars, some of which appeared to be flying out to and returning from a fishing boat.  I’m told that there were a few butterflies about in the fields but we didn’t see any.  We watched a Fox run off into the fields.

The walk through the dene didn’t bring much our way, but we did have the Chiffchaff song and a pair of Grey Wagtails.

We found Greylag Geese and Canada Geese as we approached Holywell Pond but we were unable to find any sign of the White Fronted Goose on this occasion.

The pond held five pairs of Shoveller, a pair of Mute Swans, a pair of Pochard, a pair of Goldeneye, pairs of Gadwall and along with them were numbers of Mallard, Tufted Duck and Moorhens.  Little Grebes called.  We found House and Tree Sparrows near to the feeding station along with tits, Chaffinch (this species had been singing along the lengh of the walk from Seaton Sluice), Dunnock, Robin and I think a single Greenfinch flew off as I approached.   A Great Spotted Woodpecker was in the trees that it seems to call home.

A Birders Beer

 We reached the members hide late afternoon and ideally I would have liked to spend some time in the atmosphere but unfortunately we had commitments in the evening so we decided to head for home.  I’d intended to finish off my remaining bottle of Allendale Beer tonight, but as I’d forgot to chill it I decided to leave it for another evening.  I don’t drink much beer, but when I do I like it chilled!  The box of three beers was a Christmas present from Sam and I can recommend the quality beers.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Druridge Bay...Trek 2...featuring Snow Buntings

8th Feb.  A nice surprise on Friday evening when Sam informed me we had transport the following day to and from Druridge Bay.  Not such a nice surprise after the almost balmy days of late was getting out of the car at East Chevington and facing a very cold wind.  I was never the less looking forward to another good walk in the area and we had been greeted by a Kestrel as we travelled along the roughly filled pot-holed road towards North Pool.  Maybe the work done will save a few tyres for a week or two!

We braved the wind outside the metal box at North Pool and were soon on the Red-necked Grebe and Long-tailed Ducks.  Three Great Crested Grebes, Shelduck, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser were amongst other birds seen here.  Greylag Geese were seen and Pink-footed Geese heard.  We were soon walking southwards towards Chevington Burn and it appeared into the wind.  We were aware that Snow Buntings had been seen in the area.  Numbers of Curlew were in the area as we had started the walk and Goldfinches called as they flew overhead.

Snow Bunting

 Initially the only find of real interest was a pair of Stonechats, although the view northwards across the bay was a grand one.  The tide was out and the wide stretch of sand was virtually devoid of people.  The wind made patterns of the surface sand which was blown low along the beach.  I was grateful for a sheltered spot amongst the dunes to take in the fine view.  Red-throated Diver, Eider Duck and Common Scoter were seen on the sea.  As we moved on and approached the burn two Snow Buntings were found.  This pair, especially the male bird, was beautifully marked.  They were briefly joined by a third Snow Bunting which departed as quickly as it had appeared.  The original pair hung around and weren’t perturbed by our presence.

Snow Bunting

A Grand view from south of Chevington Burn

We hung around with the Snow Buntings too, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed no better birding experience this year than watching Snow Buntings.   A few photographs were taken and so focussed on the birds was I that I had no idea another photographer had appeared behind me on the sands.  Sam asked if I knew of any monographs on Snow Buntings and in the back of my mind I was sure that there was one, but I just couldn’t place it.  On checking I’ve reminded myself it is a monograph written by the Desmond Nethersole-Thompson and I think published way back in 1966.  A bit of a classic I suppose and probably well worth a read if you can put up with out of date statistics.  It has been reprinted in recent years I believe.  I’m quite surprised that there isn’t something more up to date on the Snow Bunting, but perhaps Thompson’s book might take some surpassing.

We eventually managed to pull ourselves away from Chevington Burn, passing BD along the way, and headed northwards passing South and North Pool towards Druridge Bay Park.  I was hoping we would get a better sighting of the Red-necked Grebe and I wasn’t disappointed on that score.  It was Sam’s best ever sighting of this species and he managed a record image of it.  A better sighting too of the three Long-tailed Ducks.  We failed to see a Marsh Harrier on this occasion, but were told that it had arrived back on Tuesday!  We pointed out that we had seen the female bird two weeks ago and that it had been reported before then.  We took our lunch overlooking Lady Burn Lake where Gadwalls were showing very nicely.  I was so relaxed I even smiled at the dog walkers!

The feeding station provided us with very nice sightings of a small flock of Lesser Redpolls, a few Siskin (both species new for the year) and a fleeting view of a Goldcrest as it took to flight.  We then headed for the beach again and walked northwards towards Hauxley.  Waders seen included Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit.


Lesser Redpoll

Once back onto the pathway we found that the fields south of Hauxley contained numbers of Pink-footed Geese.  Greylags were also flying in and the numbers of geese were growing.  The Ponteland hide provided little apart from Wigeon and Grey Heron.  The water on Hauxley reserve remains very high and there were few waders about.  Lapwing was heard, I seem to remember from the Ponteland hide.

Once onto the reserve footpaths we found the light was against us and in any event there seemed to be little on the ponds or edges of the water so we didn’t spend much time looking.  We did spend time in the hide which overlooks the sea and found large numbers of Tree Sparrow.  Other small passerines include a surprisingly large number of Dunnock.  Reed Buntings were present and they had been around in some number throughout the walk.

It was time now to make for home and fortunately we had the offer of transport again.  We chatted for a while as we sat at the reserve picnic tables.  By now it was warm and sunny.  Late afternoon is a wonderfull time of day.  It was unbelievably quiet.  I’d have thought more people would have been out and about on such a fine afternoon.

We passed a flock of Lapwing as we made for home.  Without doubt Snow Bunting was the bird of the day and in fact as far as I’m concerned definitely bird of the year so far.  Mind you it’s only March.  With a day list of sixty species which included two new year ticks it had been another great trekking day!

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Great Crested Grebes...Lake Action.

4th Mar.  I was alerted by Sam that there are now two Great Crested Grebes on the lake and that he had heard calling from the bird first to arrive back.  When I visited later in the day I initially saw only the longer staying bird which remained well away from the edge of the lake and swam down the lake.  I decided just to walk along side and I did eventually find the second Great Crested Grebe in amongst the flock of Pochard.  This bird was snoozing with head hidden.  On coming into closer contact there was much diving by the two grebes, as if to stay out of one another’s way.  Eventually the longer staying bird made some speedy on water threat actions towards the other bird, with neck and head stretched low down onto the water.  Then there was a chase in the air with the second bird diving and retreating.  It would seem to me that this is not the usual pair meeting up again but the regular resident defending his territory as he has done in the past.  Let’s see if the regular female joins him soon.  Or am I wrong and this second bird is she?  I don’t think so, but time will tell.

I again couldn’t see any sign of the Scaup.  Other waterfowl included Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Greylag Geese, Shoveller, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot.  Some of the Coots having started nesting some time ago.  Unfortunately the caging remains on the floating island and there appears no intention to remove it.  Perhaps a few complaints might make the council think on this one!  I’ll also take note on how long it takes to remove the rusty old cycle left by the lake side.

Anyway whilst the action on the lake was taking place I bumped into Sam who perhaps deserves the title of Killy Birder more than I do of late!  We took a walk around the area to watch other action and found the likes of Great Spotted Woodpecker, Song Thrush and the female Sparrowhawk flying high above the lake once again.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

All White on the Night

Snow Bunting
  2nd Feb.  The spring like weather of February continues into March with the sun providing near white light at Blyth this morning.  Sam and I had begun our day here in the hopes of finding the Snow Buntings.  It wasn’t long until we found a Snow Bunting (its whiteness unmistakeable) flying into the dunes and another two providing a better sighting as we walked in the direction of the harbour.  We weren’t the only ones out looking for them today and we enjoyed a chat with Steve.  I’m pleased that Sam found what for him was a lifer in almost the same spot as I had seen my first Snow Buntings some years before.  After spending a good amount of time with the Snow Buntings we made along the sands on the long trek towards Seaton Sluice finding a Reed Bunting in the dunes and Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover and Sanderling along the way.  The Snow Buntings had flown off towards and then past the harbour pier.

Snow Bunting

Blyth's clear white light

We stopped at Seaton Sluice for a well earned rest and lunch.  Our reward for trekking through difficult sand was to be a flock of twenty Whooper Swans flying in off the sea.  We initially though that they might head for Holywell Pond, but a change of direction saw them fly northwards towards Blyth and then out towards the sea again as if to skirt the town.  The whiteness of the Whooper Swans contrasted so well against the darkening grey cloud that had now appeared.  I also eventually caught up with my first Grey Wagtail of the year in Seaton Sluice Harbour.  Numbers of Purple Sandpipers along with Turnstones and Redshank were on the rocks below the Tower Hide and Kittiwakes and Fulmar put in an appearance.  A Red-throated Diver flew south and a Grey Seal was seen in the sea.

Refreshed we made of towards Holywell Dene where more Grey Wagtails were seen and eventually a Dipper was found as it flew down the Seaton Burn.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen briefly and a Song Thrush was in full song as a Pheasant called.  By now the temperatures appeared to be dropping quite sharply as the cloud darkened and a spray of rain could be felt in the air.  I thought we were going to get wet, but heavy rain didn’t in fact occur.  Believe it or not I haven’t seen a single Rabbit this year.  That was put right today.

Because of the threat of rain we seemed to have stepped out and it wasn’t too long before we reached the area of Holywell Pond and the sound of Greylag Geese.  Lapwings had been heard as we walked up the avenue.  We hoped that sighting of the White Fronted Goose might be made.  As we arrived near to the public hide the Greylag Geese along with Canada Geese were seen in the fields to the south of the pond.  An initial check didn’t find us what we were after so I scanned the flock again and this time found the White Fronted Goose.  At times its head was hidden as it napped and then it would become alert and give a good sighting.  It eventually stood up giving us the best of views.  So the day’s bird watching was coming to a close with more whiteness.  It didn’t end before we had checked the pond and found Shoveller Mallard, Gadwall and Tufted Duck along with Grey Herons which stood on the small islet.  A lone Curlew had been seen in the south fields just as on our previous visit.

We eventually made off towards the village passing the feeding station which was devoid of birds.  A Common Buzzard was sighted as we neared Killingworth on our return journey.

It had been quite along walk today, but a walk well worth undertaking which had provided us with some new year ticks and some excellent birding.  Cream crackered, but all right tonight.   A great day which should end with a song!

Running along the ground singing a song in the morning light
Follow flowery fields as far as out of sight
Turning your head to the clouds and the skies and the trees
'cause you never know what you might see.

Do you believe
The clear white light
Is going to guide us on
The way?
Lyrics courtesy of Lindisfarne