Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Harr Harr said the Clown

29th April

Ha! Ha! said the clown
Has the king lost his crown,
Is the night being tight on romance
Ha! Ha! said the clown
Is it bringing you down,
That you've lost your chance
Lyrics by Manfred Mann

With the harr coming off the sea and reaching well inland I wondered if our planned trip to the coast would go ahead today especially when someone who had been down there told me ‘you’ll see nothing down there in the fog’.

Sam and I as all weather birders decided to go anyway on the basis that at least some migrants might be held down by misty conditions, and so it was that just after 4:00pm we set off from the summery and hot shores of the patch and headed to Whitley Bay which could have been another continent such was the change.  Temperatures had plummeted by the time we stepped into the air at Whitley Bay Crematorium grounds, but to a large extent at least the mist had cleared. We found nothing more exciting than Willow Warbler in the grounds along with one or two other expectant birders walking rather aimlessly around.  Sam will get his lifer Wryneck sooner or later so there was no problem.  We’d lost our chance, but nothing brings us down.  The earlier conditions seemed to have kept the crowds away, which was good.  I eventually put on a couple of more layers and we were off.


 We clocked our first Wheatear on the golf course and the next one in South Bay along with Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails.  These were the first of several Wheatears that we saw this evening.  One female Wheatear feeding on the path, but staying within a safe distance in front of us whilst giving a nice sighting, until folk approached from the opposite direction and the bird took off into the fields.  I reminded Sam that Wheatears are definitely in my top ten favourite bird species.  We were able to get close to the feeding Turnstones and Sanderling and I’m happy to say the few folk about respected our space which rarely happens down there when there are more folk about.  The waders were looking good in changing plumage.


 Onwards to the wetland and willows area where we found a number of singing Common Whitethroats, numbers of Goldfinch and the odd Reed Bunting, but little else.  Skylarks were singing continuously over the fields.

We stopped for a 'chat' near the second shooting mound with a fellow birder who was looking for the reported Whinchat.  After he had moved on I caught sight of a bird drop into the bushes on the mound.  We hung around for a while and it paid off as a male Whinchat eventually flew up and perched in front of us giving the sighting of the evening.  I would have called the other birder over, but he had by then disappeared.  We then spent some time with the Fulmars which was another highlight of the evening.  The birds were flying close to the cliff and directly over our heads at times.  We had a chat about seabird colonies and made some tentative plans to visit them.

We searched the area near the harbour at Seaton Sluice and we were rewarded by a brief sighting of Common Redstart before it disappeared into the undergrowth and unlike the Whinchat before it, this bird did not make a re-appearance whilst we watched.  I was also quite surprised to find we still have Purple Sandpiper with us.

It was grand to be out and about as the days lengthen and an enjoyable evening was rounded of with fish (giant ones) and chips whilst we sat under the shelter and chatted.  Yes, the days are longer and it’s such a pleasure to be out and about of an evening.  Ignore what the weather might be like and get out and enjoy!

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Hulne Park...RSPB Walk

26th April.  This time co-leading an RSPB walk with Sam.  We had eleven participants today.  My dream that everyone who books actually turns up has yet to come true!

Hulne Park is a walled Deer Park of approximately 3,500 acres on the outskirts of Alnwick town, and is owned and managed by Northumberland Estates.  Once, this would have been a forested area.  In the eighteenth century the first Duke of Northumberland and landscape architect Capability Brown were responsible for the creation of a park much closer to the one we can see today.  It contains the Northumberland Estates home farm, sawmill and numerous homes as well as well as Hulne Priory and other architecture.  The priory was established by Carmelite friars in the thirteenth century and was the first Carmelite priory to be built in England and incidentally, it was used as the set for the home of Maid Marion in film Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves.  Readers may be more aware of Alnwick Castle being used as the set for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter film series     I was reminded that the present Duke of Northumberland has had to search his attic for good to sell in order to pay for life’s necessities.  Such was my concern over this that I offered to collect cash for the Duke at the end of the walk.  Sadly contributions were not forthcoming, (bang goes my plan for a trip to Cuba), but we did make a small amount for the RSPB coffers.  A small amount, but it all counts in the conservation game.  Some of us had enjoyed a cuppa at Barter Books before joining the other participants.

We began the walk with a little general information about the area as we listened to Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff song.  I informed folk that I saw my only Northumberland Hawfinch in this very area some years ago, raising some hopes which I soon dashed!  Sam and I wanted everyone to use their ears as much as their eyes today so we placed some emphasis on listening to bird song and calls.  I personally think if folk in general made use of their ears as much as their mouths the world would be a much better place to live in.  I was very pleased to note that everyone concerned made efforts to listen, although I appreciate that the high pitched tones of the Goldcrest was beyond some.  Sam was leading with the birdsong angle such is his progress in his respect.  He also sported a spanking new RSPB volunteer badge which left me wondering why I haven’t got one!  Note to self…must get badge, as do not wish to be upstaged in future.  (Mind you he has been waiting for this badge for two years).

Bullfinch, Nuthatch and Kestrel were amongst birds seen as we walked through the woods down to the River Aln.  The river itself provided good sightings of two pairs of Dipper, a flotilla of eight Goosanders, at least two pairs of Grey Wagtail and numbers of Mallard.  A Common Whitethroat sang from the opposite river bank.  Moving on we watched a Greylag Goose fly past and two Red-legged Partridge.  Common Buzzards were enjoying thermals in the area and offered good sightings, their mewing calls being clearly heard.  One pair of Dippers gave everyone extended sightings, apparently feeling safe on the opposite bank, and Dipper song could be heard.  A Sparrowhawk flew overhead and a pair of Oystercatchers was in the area.  Lapwing flew nearby and later Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard calling and drumming and the calls of Jay were also heard.

Enjoying the day

Distant Dipper in song
We looked for Spotted Flycatcher below the priory as another walker had thought he had seen one as he passed by.  We found none, but soon had perhaps our sighting of the day in two male Redstarts.  Hirundines had been absent from the walk until we passed by the cattle and caught sight of a small number of Swallows flying low over the field.  Pied Wagtails were seen near the river and across the fields.

Hulne Priory.  Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to visit.
Towards the end of the walk we heard Song Thrush and Mistle Thrush before seeing the latter.  The 4.7 mile walk ended nicely with a Tawny Owl calling from nearby.  In all we had seen and/or heard forty-four bird species in the park and seen two Roe Deer.  We did note that not a single butterfly had been seen.  We’d been caught in a passing shower, but despite gloomy weather predictions earlier in the week the day on the whole had been fine.  All who participated seem to have enjoyed a very good day although I could tell that some were tired.  The walk had taken longer than our reccy of it and it seemed more tiring today, but this I can happily say reflected the amount of time spent watching what we had come to see!  It’s excellent that we have such well managed areas in Northumberland open to the public and I recommend that a visit be made.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Year Ticks on Patch

24th April.  As someone said to me this evening, this is a great time of year to be watching wildlife.

I took the chance this evening to nip down to the lake in the hope of finding House Martins and Common Terns.  In fact one of the first species that caught my eye was a pair of Common Sandpipers.  I’ve recorded this species at the lake over recent years.  It wasn’t long before I was also watching House Martins in some number amongst the Sand Martins and Swallows feeding over the lake.  Next to be found was a couple of Common Terns.  This gave me three year ticks within two or three minutes almost without moving and whilst enjoying a chat to two keen lake watchers who both clearly knew their stuff when it came to the bird life.

Early evening at this time of year, when all of the hustle and bustle has stopped is an excellent time to stand/sit watch and listen.  Amongst numerous birds heard were Blackbird, Song Thrush, Blackcap and Chiffchaff.

 The Scaup remains on the lake and the two paired sets of Great Crested Grebes have now got their nests built.  The original pair is a little ahead of the pair on the smaller lake which was still carrying large reeds to add to the nest.  The second pair to my mind is in a rather more protected position.  I was unable to find the fifth great Crested Grebe which has been seen on the lake in recent days.

As I made for home the temperature began to drop as mist began to thinly veil at least parts of the lake.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Fulmars, Butterflies and Warblers

21st April.  Sam and I took the chance to look at the Fulmars at close range again during another Holywell to St Mary’s Island walk.  The tubenoses weren’t quite as cooperative as they had been last week when I visited alone.  I picked up a couple of Fulmar feathers.

The coast was fairly quiet if you discount the human invasion and man’s best friend, his/her dogs.  We did see my first of the year terns in the form of four Sandwich Terns feeding as they flew north past Seaton Sluice.  There was also a lone Red Throated Diver on the sea.  With an accompaniment of Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and a male Reed Bunting perched on the fence we did hear and see both Common Whitethroat and Grasshopper Warbler near the shooting mounds.  Another Grasshopper Warbler was heard as we passed by the wetland.  I noted few hirundines today, although we did see a few Swallows and Sand Martins.  The tide was well out and waders too were seen in only small numbers.

When we had started out there was a nice atmosphere at Holywell Pond, but no new species of note.  We searched the area for Common Whitethroat, but found none.  Again Linnets, Goldfinch and Reed Buntings were about the area.  Both Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler had been heard, and continued to be heard as we walked through the dene.

Holywell Dene


Busy Bee 

White Deadnettle

Wood Anemone

There was no show from the Dippers, but we did see Grey Wagtail and numerous Blackcaps, the latter species seeming to have paired up now and so being less frantic and therefore not showing so often.  Both Nuthatch and Treecreeper showed well.  A pair of Mallard were on the burn, Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard and tit species seen were Great, Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tit.  There was much song and activity from Wrens.  Plants and insects were also grabbing the attention and both Sam and I saw our first Speckled Wood Butterfly of the season, along with Small White, Small Tortoiseshell and Peacock Butterflies.  The sun made for high temperatures in the dene, but there was a noticeable drop in temperature nearer the sea.

Small Tortoiseshell courtship

Ladybird (six spot)
Rare to have four good weather days over an Easter Holiday, so I’m pleased I was out to enjoy a couple of them.  The rain has held off until today and is pouring down as I type which ought to guarantee that Mr and Ms UK put their clothes back on, and in many cases that can only be a good thing. 

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Prestwick to Patch and Urban Grebes

19th April.  Despite the brightness the air was chilled as I set off for Prestwick Carr this morning although it didn’t take long for the sun to offer some warmth.  I didn’t fancy facing the crowds at the coast today, so thought the Carr offered a far better option.  The song of Willow Warblers greeted me as I approached the bumpy road and all along that road and up past the sentry box Willow Warblers were around in large numbers.

One of many Willow Warblers
Common Buzzards also entertained form the outset of the walk and mewing could be heard at times.  The only other species of note on the outward walk along the bumpy road were Reed Bunting, Skylark and Meadow Pipit.  I did find my first Peacock Butterfly of the day and once the sun had warmed the air more Peacock, Small Tortoiseshell and Small White Butterflies were found

Prestwick Peacock

 I bumped into PF as I headed towards the sentry box.  He told me that he hadn’t heard the Redstart today which was a disappointment as I’d hoped to find it, but he had heard two reeling Grasshopper Warblers.  Two Grey Partridges had preceded PF down the path and they turned into the fields before reaching me.  A few Curlews were about and at some point I heard Redshank calling.  I kept my ears alert for the sound of reeling, but never did hear any from this path.  By now the Common Buzzards were showing well.

I spent quite some time in the area that holds the Redstart, but neither saw nor heard any.  It did give me time to take in other species which were about which included Canada Geese, Mallard, Moorhen, Swallow,  Kestrel, Wren, Robin, Blackbird, Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Dunnock, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch and Goldfinch, and of course gulls, pigeons and corvids.  I found a Brown Hare and hoped that it was going to continue to run towards me giving a good opportunity for an image, but no such luck as it turned off the pathway.

On my return sat on the viewing platform to enjoy my lunch and wondered if anyone ever uses it.  I had only the overhead Common Buzzards for company.  As I continued my return walk I took a leaf out of Sam’s book and lay on the ground to photograph Red Deadnettle.  As I got up I was approached by a couple on bicycles that had I think speeded up their peddling in order to quickly reach me so as to give first aid.  I assured them I wasn’t quite in need of that!  I think they may have been a bit disappointed.

Red Dead-nettle.  If I hadn't stood up I think I may have received the kiss of life!
I stopped further along the road and as I looked north and watched a Grey Heron fly towards me reeling came from the sedges near to where I was standing.  I briefly caught sight of my first of the year Grasshopper Warbler.  I spotted a shape in the distance and when I put my bins to it I saw it was a Roe Deer, most of its body hidden.

After a good few hours on the Carr I returned to patch and took a walk around the lake.  Bit too much of a holiday atmosphere for my liking and the model boats were out in force.  I did find that the long staying Scaup was still about before getting my eye on the two Great Crested Grebes swimming together.  I was surprised to see both together as I thought by now they would have nested.  By the time I was down to the floating ‘thing’ I found the grebes at a nesting platform.  KH was there sat in his chair with an 800mm lens.  I think he’d been there most of the day and must have thought I was very lucky indeed to have arrived seconds before the birds mated on the nesting platform.  K informed me that another pair of Great Crested Grebes was on the smaller lake.  When I took a look over there I times it perfectly to find them displaying in the centre of the lake.  This ended my jaunt in the sun on a high.

The original pair of Great Crested Grebes

The floating thing remains closed to nesting birds.  I know a number of folk share my opinion of the Council’s action on this matter and hope they all share their views with the said Council otherwise our views will simply be ignored.  

The second pair of Great Crested Grebes end their display.


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Peacocks, Popeye and Characters

15th April.  I began my walk from Brier Dene today, thinking that my bag seemed ever so light and that this reflected my growing fitness following long walks.  I strode out feeling pleased with myself.  Sadly I was to be disappointed later, but more of that anon. Little more than Linnets and Greenfinches as I joined the coastline, although as I approached St Mary’s Island a single Pied (White) Wagtail was near the foot of the cliff along with a Rock Pipit as a small group of film makers seemed busy in the area.  The sunlight was almost blinding at times and the skies without cloud, although the air was still chilled.  Oystercatchers, Sanderling, Turnstones, Dunlin and Curlew fed as the tide receded.  I once again caught sight of a face I knew looking at me, but I couldn’t place it.  It wasn’t until sometime later I remembered who it was!

I found little around the area of the island although did sight two Gannets.  The wetland was also quiet the best sightings being Reed Buntings.  Canada Geese flew past as I began the walk towards Seaton Sluice.  I soon began to catch sight of flighty Peacock Butterflies and by the time I had completed my walk I had seen well over twenty of them (I stopped counting at twenty),  numerous Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies and a few white species which I’m sure at least one was a Green Veined White.  All were very flighty and difficult to photograph.  It wasn’t yet lunch time but I felt peckish so sat down on one of the seats to demolish my packet of crisps.  I was joined by a dog which seemed determined to join me on the seat.  Along came the owner who informed me that, ‘I won’t allow the dogs to sit on this seat,’ and ‘have you seen the state of it, it’s filthy’?  Apparently the bloke’s dogs are used to the better seats near the shooting mound.  I carried on eating my crisps and made do with the filthy seat which was good enough for me, if not the dogs!  I noted the increasing numbers of Swallows and Sand Martins, but saw no House Martins.

Peacocks were proving difficult!
I spent some time close by the Fulmar nesting sight and managed to capture a few images of these extraordinary seabirds.  Skylarks and Meadow Pipits sang and displayed, but there wasn’t much else to hold the attention apart from the area itself which looked grand in the clear sunlight.  I usually walk towards Seaton Sluice watching dark cloud approach from the north so today was a nice exception and the coolness made for perfect temperatures to walk in.


There wasn’t too much around the area of Seaton Sluice, but I did find a Purple Sandpiper in the harbour, and I came across another character I knew.  This time it was Popeye who seemed to be enjoying his spinach.  These models are popping up all over Seaton Sluice and include a model Puffin, Shell Girl on swing, a Bat and a cane Deer etc etc etc as well as the collection outside of the pub.  I think a local guy on the island makes them (but don’t quote me on that).

Popeye eats his spinach

I made off towards the dene and was soon listening to now growing numbers of Chiffchaff.  At some point I found a plant in flower that looked as if it was Spring Squill.  I reached into my bag to grab the macro lens.  It wasn’t there.  I’d left it at home!  That explains why my bag felt light then.  Disappointingly I have to accept that the light bag had nothing to do with my exercise and growing fitness.  Today’s sunshine had made a great difference to the flowers of plants photographed a couple of days earlier but sadly without my macro I’m unable to show you.

One taken earlier...a Stitchwort 

By now Peacock Butterflies were lifting up everywhere and there was growing numbers of Tortoiseshell Butterflies.  I eventually managed to capture half decent images of both.  The level of birdsong in the dene was higher than ever today and the Blackcaps were also showing well again.  On this occasion I watched a male Blackcap collecting nesting material.

Peacock Butterfly cooperating

As I finally sat down to eat my sandwich I watched a young lad with his father/elder walk over the fallen trees to the other side of the burn.  They have better balance than I have is all I can say.  Perhaps not as much sense as me though, as the youngster almost fell from a height into the burn when a branch snapped and dropped him onto the bank of the burn.  A potentially nasty accident was avoided by sheer good luck.  The elder bloke marked the occasion with a photograph before walking off.  It was at this point the Dipper flew down the burn and shortly afterwards back up again.  Great, Coal, Blue and Long Tailed Tits were all seen along with other woodland birds and a Stock Dove showed near what I think is a nest site.

A walk up the Avenue brought little, although I did watch a Common Buzzard fly in the area of the obelisk.  Linnets and Goldfinch were again in the area of the gorse.  Gadwall flew overhead and seemed to join the Greylag and Canada Geese in the fields east of Holywell Pond.

I must have walked up this avenue a few times now!
The pond was generally quite again but perhaps if the rain keeps off some waders may be attracted to the muddy area in front of the public hide.  Today there was just one Lapwing there.  The pond held the same species as on my previous visit although on this occasion I sighted a Grey Heron almost hidden in the reeds at the north east end of the pond.  I eventually heard Chiffchaff in North Wood, but no Willow Warbler on this occasion.

Walking towards the members hide I bumped into friends who were involved in a butterfly survey.  They told me ‘we can’t really identify the butterflies’.  I thought to myself that their results may be a little dodgy.:-)  I bumped into SP in the hide.  There wasn’t anything new to be noted from here although Reed Buntings fed outside of the hide.

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Holywell to Seaton Sluice

12th April.  I think the highlight of my walk today was watching for thirty minutes the antics of three Blackcaps, of which two were male and the other a sought after female.  They were in a small area of Holywell Dene which I know is a regular nesting area for Blackcap.  The birds seemed in a frenzy of activity, the males disputing territorial rights and the female joining in their to and fro flights around the small area.  It could have been a scene from the Big Market on a Saturday night had it not been that these songsters knew how to sing.   The males were singing loudly and almost continuously each time they perched in the bushes, each male seeming to try to out sing the other bird.  During my watch I couldn’t quite make my mind up if it was the male or female of this species that looks most attractive.  I found three more pairs of Blackcap in the dene today with song coming from all of the males.  Their behaviour reflected growing action from birds in general in the dene.  On entering the dene I had found a Dipper almost right away and watched it as a Song Thrush belted out its song above my head with backing vocals from numbers of Blackbirds and Chiffchaffs.  I feel it a shame that part of the dene’s undergrowth has been wrecked over time by it being used as a cycle track.  A great Spotted Woodpecker was heard drumming and a Grey Wagtail showing really well on the burn.  The only visitors to the almost empty feeding stations were tits which included several Coal Tits.

My walk had begun in Holywell Village where I had looked for Swallows.  It wasn’t until I had almost left the village that I found a lone Swallow (my first of the year) settled on an overhead cable.  Another lone Swallow was seen later near to the pond.  The pond itself held several calling Little Grebes, with four of them right outside of the members hide when I arrived.  I soon picked up the calls of Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler in North Wood and spotted a Willow Warbler at the east of the pond when I later walked that way.  This was another first for the year.  Other species on the pond included Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Shelduck (two flying over the pond), Mallard, Gadwall, at least five Shoveller, Teal, Tufted Duck, and Moorhen.   A Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen flying into North Wood and watched briefly as it made its way up a tree.  I chatted with Northumbrian Birder before making off towards the avenue.  Two Lapwings flew overhead and Skylarks sang.  I walked little northwards before turning and heading for the dene.  Numbers of Linnet were around the gorse area with small numbers of Meadow Pipit and Goldfinch.

An uncoiled fern looking rather animal like when seen close up

Bluebell just beginning to open

The delicate Wood Sorrel one of my favourite plants

My progress through the dene was slow because as well as making long stops to watch the Dipper and Blackcaps  I took special note of the botanical interest in the area today.  The grey morning didn’t make for seeing the plants in good light.

Red Campion

Lesser Celandine seen at its most attractive

 By the time I was insight of Seaton Sluice the rain was falling and the mist was thickening over the sea.  I had hope for possibly Wheatear and Sandwich Tern at Seaton Sluice but found neither, although I didn’t hang around too long.  Teal were seen flying over the sea and Eider Ducks were on the water as usual.  Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank and five Purple Sandpipers were on the rocks below.  I left damp, but had enjoyed a good and interesting walk.

Wood Anemone slowly opening

Common Scurrvy Grass.  There's an abundance of this plant as you pass the burn nearing Seaton Sluice.  The rather succulent leaves contain vitamin C and were once used by seamen to ward off the scurrvy.