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.
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.

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.


 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.


 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.