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.

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