Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Surprise Find on the Carr

27th Jan.  Mild temperatures almost had me removing layers before I left for Prestwick Carr today.  Once out on the Carr with Sam I was pleased that I’d left them on, the cold breeze and the darkening cloud perhaps foretelling of the storms to come.

As we walked down from the White Swan, House Sparrow song filled the air and on turning towards the Carr a Sparrowhawk flew overhead.  A sizable flock of Common Gulls were in the field to the south.  Once onto the bumpy road we found a sizable flock of Long-tailed Tits moving along the hedge and we were also soon listening to one of our target birds Willow Tit.  The feeders placed along the hedge line were encouraging tits and finches to show themselves and we were surprised at the number of Willow Tits we saw.  We stopped for lunch at the viewing platform and watched them at length.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker had lifted from the feeders earlier as we passed and Mistle Thrush was heard.  A flock of Fieldfare were seen on the ground to the south.

The red flags were up today so we didn’t get past the sentry box.  Some may be dreaming of the red flag flying over the UK again come May 2015!  This road was extremely quiet.  On our return we turned right at the crossroad and watched the Lapwing and Golden Plover flocks before retracing our steps along the bumpy road.  We picked up the call of Redwings and a flock of around forty were seen in flight over the fields.

A Grey Heron flew over the bumpy road prior to us taking a break to look northwards.  In the far distance a Common Buzzard was seen in flight and in the same direction of sight but far closer we watched a pair of Stonechats displaying.  As we watched a large corvid flew in and landed on a bush some distance away.  Sam and I both immediately thought Raven?  We watched this bird for some minutes as it perched in the bush and in certain lighting conditions there was a very pronounced blue sheen to the feathering and the bill looked large and rounded.  The bird eventually flew off slowly over the woodland and by the length of its wings, large hand, deliberate slow wing beats and flight and sheer size (buzzard size), we were left in no doubt that this was a Raven.  There was no call.  Neither of us had been aware of reports of Raven in the area and thought this would be an unusual sighting.  This was confirmed when we met Peter and discussed matters with him.

One thing I’d noticed when Raven was in flight that it appeared to be lightly coloured on the under-wing.  Maybe a trick of the light in what was by then darkening light occasionally brightening as the sun broke through dark grey cloud, or maybe just worn plumage having this effect.  Whatever, I think I may have this down as my/our sighting of January!

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Patch Chat

24th Jan.  It was a bitterly cold wind that blew on the open ground today as Sam and I walked for over four hours on patch.  The good chat, often about the patch, and occasional sheltered areas kept us warm.  We’d begun the walk with a sighting of Goldcrest seen in a familiar spot, but it became very quiet after that.  The flocks of passerines seen in the area last year seemed but a dream.  Even the flocks of Wood Pigeon were missing.  We were kept interested by the occasional sighting of an in flight Grey Heron, a single Reed Bunting, a single Mistle Thrush, Blackbirds Robins, a Dunnock and the corvids and gulls.  One sighting that warmed us more than anything was two Roe Deer running off alongside a ditch.  Neither of us has seen Roe Deer on patch before although we were aware that they do occasionally appear.  The Roe Deer took care to keep their distance after running off, but remained by the ditch watching us from afar.  A single Meadow Pipit was seen briefly.

We headed for another area of the patch, not watched on a regular basis by either of us, although Sam does know it rather better than I do.  We had tits, including Coal Tit, as company along the route.  This area too initially seemed very quiet and we didn’t find our target species.  Things did begin to pick up however and our first ever patch Stonechat was found.  We’ll be keeping an eye on this area later in the year for a possible breeding pair of Stonechat, as the area does indeed seem ideal.  Other birds recorded included Mute Swan, Kestrel, Fieldfares and a flock of forty plus Redwing.

No, it's not just a very average image of a Stonechat, it's a very average image of our first patch Stonechat!

 Not too many species about as we walked some miles in an area I understand included the highest natural area in North Tyneside.  It certainly does give good views and is a watershed area in that in one direction water drains off towards the Tyne and in another towards the River Blyth.  I think we agreed that we must give it more attention in future.  A great walk and a great ‘chat’.  We’d have put in the effort for the Stonechat and/or Roe Deer alone. 

I’m busy reading the New Naturalist Bird Populations/ Ian Newton and came across the following statistics.  An estimated 12.6 million households in Britain provide supplementary  food, for birds, 7.4 million of which use seed-holding feeders.  A typical feeder holds 350g of seed, so if each was filled only once, they would hold a total of 2,590tonnes.  If each bird took 5g of food per day, this amount would be equivalent to 518,000,000 ‘bird days’, or enough to feed about 2,830,000 birds every day for six months’.

It’s good to feed!

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Slipping, Sliding and Dipping in Holywell

Slippin' and a-slidin', peepin' and a-hidin'
Been told a long time ago
Slippin' and a-slidin', peepin' and a-hidin'
Been told a long time ago
I've been told, baby, you've been bold
I won't be your fool no more

Lyrics by Little Richard et al and recorded by the likes of Buddy Holly and John Lennon to name but two.

20th Jan.  I came slipping and sliding down the path today as I set off for the dentists chair once again.  Having almost landed on my back I then found the roads in North Tyneside almost grid-locked on the journey to North Shields.  I also listened to someone telling me that there were ‘too many Red Kites released in Gateshead as they are now killing all of the small birds’.  I corrected that mis-information very quickly, but have doubt as to my explanation to the contrary being seriously listened too.  I find that once this sort of myth gets into someone’s head it is difficult to remove.  Rather similar to the ‘Sparrowhawks are eating all of our songbirds’ myth.  Sadly members of the public can be easily taken in.  The stress of the dentists chair came almost as light relief before I set off for Holywell Pond in order to de-stress.  I slipped and slid through Holywell village to the peace of the members hide.  A high percentage of the pond was frozen and there was little about.  Having had a friendly chat with the volunteers, I took it as a sign to leave when the chainsaw was delivered.  Another tree had bitten the dust nearby the hide and was to be sawn up.  Good to see all the feeders topped up and a few tits and a Reed Bunting visiting.  The pair of Mute Swans fed on scattered seed in front of the hide.  I’m told the male bird has been around for a number of years and now has a new mate.  It’s not known if the male is still fertile.  I wondered if the new female might be a bird from Killy Lake.  As I left the chainsaw began its work.  The feeding station at the gate wasn’t attracting too much at this point, but I found Tree Sparrows moving along the hedge in that direction.

A frozen Holywell Pond
A short stop at the public hide brought me my first Grey Heron of the year along with a lone Greylag Goose, Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Coot, Moorhen, a lone Lapwing,  a party of Curlew and parties of gulls made up of Black Headed, Common (in some number), Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls.  As I moved off I took the opportunity to photograph the very friendly Robin as I’d been asked by a non birder this morning ‘where have all the Robins gone’.  I can only think that guy hadn’t been looking very intently as Robins are very active at the moment with pairings and territorial disputes.

For the guy who asked where all the Robins had gone!
Instead of walking down the avenue to the dene I walked across the open fields finding Mistle Thrush, and as there wasn’t much wind the air didn’t feel too cold.  I was hoping for geese sightings and although none were found on the ground several skeins, the largest being slightly over one hundred, were seen in flight.  Both Pink-footed (another first for the year and Greylag Geese were seen overhead.  One skein did rise from far off fields towards the coastline before settling again.  I also watched flocks of what I think must have been Golden Plovers flying over the coastline in the distance  The flashes were silent and the rougher ground appeared to hold little more than corvids.  I eventually followed the path towards the dene and found numbers of Linnet, Reed Bunting and a few Yellowhammer flying about the hedges and field.  I haven’t seen either Grey or Red-legged Partridge in these fields during recent visits.

As I headed down into the dene a Sparrowhawk disturbed the Jackdaws and Rooks causing some noise and commotion before flying over the trees and out of sight.  The water in the burn was a grey brown muddy colour and deeper and running faster that I have seen since last winter.  The paths were in parts still icy and in other sections muddy so progress was at times slow which of course isn’t a bad thing when the focus is on birds.  The area was quiet apart from rushing water and so there was plenty of scope for picking up bird calls.  I found my first Bullfinches of the year by initially picking up some calling.  When I reached the dipping pond I found it frozen and there was no luck in finding the Kingfisher.  I did find more male Bullfinches and this time watched one or two at length as they perched openly on top of the trees.  I picked up weak short snippets of song from at least one of them, although the bird never appeared to get fully into song.  The brilliant colours of the male birds are a contrast to the rather weak and what I think is a rather mournful sounding song.  Moorhens were active at their usual space at the side of the burn.

As I headed further back into the dene (that’s correct, all my time was to be spent at Holywell today and the fish and chips at Seaton Sluice will have to wait) three Mallard allowed themselves to be washed down in the fast flowing burn and nearby I picked up the calls of Goldcrest.  It’s nice to know that my hearing still works at that high pitch.  I soon had my eye on two Goldcrest.

Further along the pathway the small feeding stations had both been topped up and were attracting Great Spotted Woodpecker of which I saw at least three today, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock, Robin, Blackbird, Chaffinch and Nuthatch, the latter bird being another first for the year.


 I stopped at the point where I often watch Dippers.  The area was silent and broke my walk to have a bite to eat.  I had just finished my banana and was thinking of moving off when I heard loud calling from Dippers.  I turned just in time to watch a second Dipper join the first one which had already dropped onto the other side of the narrow burn.  Straight away I was listening to Dipper song.  In stark contrast to the earlier snippets of Bullfinch song, this Dipper song was full, rounded and loud.  I watched the pair for a good few minutes before they lifted and disappeared up the burn as quickly as they had appeared.  Hopefully they will produce young again this year.


Someone was telling me that they had watched Dippers at I think was Far Pastures and they thought it unusual to see a Dipper feeding in a still water pond.  I didn’t think that was so unusual as there are plenty of Dippers on the river in that area but what I though was unusual behaviour was I was told that the Dipper was watched diving from the air into the water to apparently feed.  I’m pretty sure that I haven’t seen that behaviour before myself.  I asked if anyone had taken a photograph, but it seems not.

Dene in winter.  A walk I never tire of.
 I made back Holywell Pond.  By now the sun was bright but low in the sky.  The pond had a different feel about it than it did in the morning, although it was I the main still frozen and there were even less birds about.  Seven Curlews moved around the field to the south and the Tree Sparrows were now visiting the feeding station.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew from garden feeders as I approached and the few Starlings that were about on roof tops were beginning to make their multitude of calls.  The NWT volunteers still seemed to be working nearby.   Although especially icy in the early morning it had been a perfect day for some winter watching, with Dipper being without doubt the bird of the day, although it was also good to have seen so many Reed Buntings today.

Friday, 9 January 2015

Gulls before the Storm

8th Jan.  It’s been a good start to a new year and yesterday saw Sam and me down at North Shields, literally bright and not too early.  We managed to pick up Iceland Gull very quickly as we approached the Fish Quay and chatted to another birder from south of the Tyne.  I suggested we walk underneath the shed roofs and into the harbour.  Glaucous Gull was found on the roof of the sheds.  The light gradually improved and we had some decent sightings as one or two other birders arrived.  Eiders swam in the harbour.  It had been good to get both gulls on the year list and both had been lifers for Sam.  Neither of us are what you would call ‘gull’ men but watching them at the Fish Quay, in my opinion certainly beats keeping watch over rubbish tips, although I guess it depends upon taste.

Iceland Gull

 As we walked towards Tynemouth we watched Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin and Redshank.  Sam had his first mammal of the year in Brown Rat.  We picked up Fulmar, Kestrel, Rock Pipit, Pied Wagtail and a pair of Grey Wagtail at the foot of the cliff underneath the priory before we decided to take a walk along the pier.  I couldn’t remember any previous walks along the pier if I’m honest.  Having checked this out I’m told I was taken along to the lighthouse in a carry-cot when I was three weeks old!  I don’t remember this.  Neither do I remember any previous walks along there, but surely as a ‘true Geordie’ I must have been along.  It was quite a bracing walk, especially on the return with the wind in our faces.  The views are excellent and I can only remember taking them in from boats before.  Listening to the wind as I type I can only say I’m grateful not to be along there now!

 Our next stop was Seaton Sluice where a look from the headland provided very little and we were just about to leave for our walk up to Holywell when I got my eye on a lone Little Auk.  Another lifer for Sam.

We only walked part of the dene, missing the Kingfisher which we were assured had just been seen.  A few woodland birds were picked up before we climbed out onto the open fields.  The sun was almost setting and I thought it was a good night for owl sightings, but we didn’t see any.  A flock of Yellowhammers and a Reed Bunting was about as exciting as it got out there.  The cutting wind was by now beginning to pick up a little.  Tree Sparrows were amongst birds seen at the feeding station near Holywell Pond.

The pond itself provided sightings of Cormorant, Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye.  Oh and gulls of course.  Curlews had called and lifted as we approached and we heard both Pheasant and Water Rail.  I had just said, ‘I never seen the Water Rail at Holywell Pond’.  Well, I still haven’t seen it, but at least I’ve heard it now.  Apart from a couple of passing dog walkers we had had the place to ourselves which is often the case and why I like the place so much.

I was beginning to feel rather chilled as we left for home so was pleased we had a lift awaiting us.  I’d added nine new species to the year list on what was a great day, gulls and all, but especially the walk along the pier and the Little Auk.

Now did you know that 3,000,000 tonnes of stone ( magnesian limestone from Trow Quarry was used for the lower course, the facing and the Lighthouses) was used in the construction of North and South Piers.  I’m not sure if that was the original amount of stone used and more was required when North Pier was reconstructed.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Back to Patch Basics

6th Jan.  Another calm and sunny day meant that it was too hard to resist a walk on patch and I decided to take a trip along the wagon-ways as this is an area I’ve much neglected over the past twelve months.

There was nothing uncommon to be found and not that much of the common if I’m honest, but it was good to be out and as I came across perhaps only a handful of my fellow race it was in that manner an almost perfect two hour walk.  The quieter stretches allowing me to get in some power walking!  The walk up the heugh last Saturday had me thinking I’d allowed the fitness to slip.  On reflection I’m thinking what a silent world we would live in if it wasn’t for the alarm calls of Blackbirds, the weak winter song of the Robin, the occasional parties of House Sparrows singing away from the bare hedges, Starlings making a racket, Jackdaw flocks calling as they move from place to place and the lone call of the Carrion Crow.

The most numerous represented passerine was the Goldfinch.  I came across three charms of them.  Wood Pigeons were of course all over the place and there was a number of Collared Doves near the farm.  I’m in no doubt that Collared Dove numbers have dropped in Killingworth in recent years.  It wasn’t until I had reached the path to Holystone just when I thought I was going to find ‘nowt’ that I looked across the field to see a Kestrel perched on a close by mound.  On the other side of me numbers of Mistle Thrushes were feeding in the field along with Magpies.  Now so far this year I have seen many more Mistle Thrushes than I would normally expect to see.  Further along the wagon-way I came across two Redwings as they flew into the trees.  A little further on a sizable mixed flock of Redwing and Fieldfare fed on the ground before flying onto the hedges as I passed by.  I was looking right into the sun when I saw a large bird on the brow of the field ahead and assumed that it could only be a Common Buzzard.  By the time I was through the gate and took another look it was gone.  Either it was a Common Buzzard or perhaps a black bin bag!

It was time to head for home.  By now I had given up hope of adding anything to the year list.  The flash had been almost dry and I had not found anything at all there.  A small bird moved along the top of the hedge and disappeared.  I kept my bins focused on the area that it had dropped and as it reappeared I found that it was a male Reed Bunting and year tick seventy-six.  Once I reached the road I found that the birds flying off the fields onto the wires were in the main Linnets, giving me year tick seventy-seven.  It’s some years now since I found the very large flock of Linnets in this area.  They just haven’t been back in such numbers as far as I know although there where perhaps thirty to forty today.

Dropping in at the big wheel I found nothing much apart from Blackbirds and dog walkers.  It was time to go home!

Whilst the area I walk hadn’t appeared to have changed too much over the past twelve months.  I did come across an odd new tarmac pathway and the odd trampled barb-wire fence.  I also felt the whole are was much ‘greener’ and in some way more tamed that I remember it looking in winter.  It didn’t seem to me that the area where I would expect Short Eared Owls to appear if there are any about, appeared the least enticing for this species at the moment.

Monday, 5 January 2015

Spindlestone and Budle Bay...An RSPB Walk

3rd Jan.  Carmel, Pauline, Sam and I hit the A1, with me having missed the Common Buzzard seen perched as we left Killingworth.  Sleet soon cleared before we even passed Morpeth and by the time we were at our meeting point at Budle Bay the skies were clear and the sun shone.  Our sixteen participants (sadly four had pulled out at a late stage because of illness) enjoyed their mince pies, biscuits and hot drinks whilst checking out the bay for birds, and there was plenty of species to be found.  I’m glad to say I had seen my first House Sparrow and Collared Doves of 2015 during the journey north as well as our first of a number of Kestrels seen today.  I pondered on the best way to greet participants whilst eating a mince pie, drinking coffee and using the telescope.  It wasn’t easy!  Sam was sharing the lead however and had everything in order.

There was good light from the outset so it was easy to pick up bird sightings which in the bay included three Little Egrets, skeins of Brent and Barnacle Geese, a smaller flock of Greylag Geese and Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Mallard, large numbers of Grey Plover, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit and Red-breasted Merganser.  Turnstone were seen at Seahouses as we passed through and Sam reminded me that the Fulmars we watched on the Whinstone at Bamburgh Castle are thought to be the only inland facing colony in the UK.

After short introductory chats from Sam and me we were off in the direction of Spindlestone.  I was surprised at how many of our party had never been to the area of Spindlestone in the past.  We were to have bright sun and blue skies for the duration of the four hour walk.  As we walked through the wooded area and alongside the burn numbers of tit parties were found with Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Treereeper and three or four very obliging Goldcrests.  Surprisingly unlike the last time I had visited the area we saw no Song Thrushes today.  Yellowhammers were less numerous than on a previous visit but were showing well in the sunshine never the less.  Goldfinch (a species of which numbers seems to be going from strength to strength) flocks were large and included a single Siskin.  The small hamlets that we passed held both House and Tree Sparrows in numbers.

Once out in the open we were soon watching flocks of Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Redwing.  Raptors seen were several Common Buzzards, at least two Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and a Peregrine Falcon.  The latter bird disappearing quickly as it flew low over fields seemingly heading towards Budle Bay.  Jays were seen very well.

Someone had caught sight of a Grey Wagtail on the burn which I had missed, but we were soon watching another on a house roof.  Pied Wagtail was also seen as was a Dipper very briefly and none too well as it flew off and away from us along the burn.

The woodland on surrounding the hide was a bit disappointing on this occasion with tits, Chaffinch and Dunnock about the only birds showing until one or two participants saw Nuthatch.  We had our lunch in this area and then decided not to visit the second hide but instead just walk a little further along the road before retracing our steps and walking to the top of Spindlestone Heugh whilst the light was still good.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew towards the narrow layer of woodland at the foot of the heugh.  This is the site of a Mesolithic fort and offers wonderful views across Budle Bay, along the coast and across the immediate area of Northumberland.  Jays were heard squaking in the woodland.  We were joined by three Highland cattle.

As we walked back to Budle Bay Long–tailed Tits were found.  Once back at the bay we found the area and atmosphere changed complete as the tide was high.  Eider Ducks swam nearby and a large Golden Plover flock flew in the distance and was occasionally lit by the sun.  A lone Little Grebe swam and dived and Cormorant was picked up.  Small parties of Wigeon remained on the sea within the bay.

It had been a great walk in perfect winter weather.  A day that underlines why I so much prefer winter bird watching.  A fantastic early January walk during which Sam kept participants informed of some of the history of the area such as Joe Baker Cresswell's involvement during World War Two and the taking of the Enigma machine.  So busy had we been keeping an eye out for the birds it meant that a few tales we were missed out, but there will always be another time.

We stopped briefly at Seahouses on our return journey.  There was little to see apart from the usual Eider Ducks in the harbour which were attracting the attention of stone throwing delinquents as their adult carers looked on.  There was no sign of the Black-necked Grebe.  Temperatures seemed to be dropping suddenly.  The sun set in a darkening sky as we headed south down the A1 and I had to work at keeping my eyes open.  It helped to think of having another sweet mince pie when I reached home!

Sam after a job well done and a great days birding.

 Great birding with sixty-eight species seen, of which 39 were new for the year list, which if my maths are correct takes me to a total of seventy-five so far.

Thanks to all who participated.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

2015...Starting All Over Again (Patch)

And pick yourself up,
Dust yourself off,
Start all over again.

1st Jan.  The local patch is forever changing and sadly as far as wildlife is concerned it is not usually for the better.  The general rule over the years has been less open space, hedges and trees kept neat and trim (in Council terms that often means hacked to bits) and more bricks and mortar.  Again sadly I believe that as local people get on with their busy lives only the minority notice the changes around them, whilst the majority notice only when it suits their own purposes.  I guess if you don’t know what wildlife there is around you or your not interested in knowing, than you don’t miss it when its gone.  One thing that has remained constant is the colony of House Sparrows in the hedge behind my home of many years.  Even that constancy appears to have now been broken.  Over recent days I’ve noticed that they have disappeared.  Have I not been feeding them well enough?  Is it the damn annoying domestic cats?  It’s a bit of a mystery, but they had never been away all of the years I have lived here since the 1970s and probably long before that, so they are quite a miss.  I shall live in hope that they return.

I wasn’t quite up with the larks this morning, but when I did arise I looked out of the window to find little in the way of birdlife in or near the garden.  As the day went on I found the patch was notably short of passerines.  My first three sightings of 2015 were no more interesting than Wood Pigeon, Herring Gull and Black Headed Gull.  I received a txt from Sam and was soon off down to the lake so saw nothing else in the garden today but Blue Tits.

As the weather was looking a bit dodgy we decided to take a relaxed outlook as to our annual 1st January listing.  We spent our time down by the lake and the general area nearby before have a quick look across the fields and behind the village.  Happily the sun was out for a time before the wind got up and grey cloud began to encroach from the west.

Mute Swan numbers remain down at about the thirty mark.  The lake, now no longer in part frozen was never the less quite alive with birds.  Goosanders were around in some number (double figures), Goldeneye numbers had built up a little and there was at least seven Shoveller.  Yesterday when the lake had been frozen Sam had counted twenty-seven Shoveller on the lake.  I think they must have been flying in and out from frozen areas such as the Rising Sun as on the same day when John and I were down there chatting we didn’t see them.  Pochard numbers have also increased and there must be about one hundred and fifty Tufted Ducks.  I won’t list all of the resident birds on the lake but will say that we found a Scaup.  Common Gull numbers seem quite low but there were plenty of Black-headed and Herring Gulls and one or two Great Black-backed Gulls.

The surround tree lined area that we walked through was as quiet as the hedges beside my garden although we did pick up a male Sparrowhawk and eventually heard a Goldcrest calling near to a flock of Long-tailed Tits.

When we crossed the fields we found the church grounds almost devoid of birds and the area behind the village was little better until we eventually found a flock of Greenfinch along with Goldfinches, Chaffinces and tits, including Coal Tit.  Amongst them was a Goldcrest which this time we actually saw.

Having checked my year list I find it is on thirty –five species only.  I shan’t get perturbed by that however.  As Sam and I are leading a walk in Northumberland on Saturday (for which we have had to close the participants list, such is its popularity.  The mince pies are possibly the attraction!) I’m confident that the list will soon be flying upwards.  Interest in the walk shows that there is interest out there so I as always remain positive despite ending New Years Day for the first time I can remember not having seen a House Sparrow!  I look forward to some great bird watching in 2015 and hope you all enjoy your bird and nature watching in the manner that suits you during the next year.  I'll endevour to get back to some basics on patch this year.