Friday, 27 February 2015

Urban to Wild, Little (Egret) to Short (Eared Owl)

26th Feb.  Sam, Lee and I met up this morning and we left Killingworth, which was in a dull and damp mood, with a definite plan of action to explore South East Northumberland beginning with Cramlington.  We found the two Little Egrets on Hartford Burn within seconds of our first stop (almost as quickly as we had found a Redwing fly into the hedge), but weren’t so lucky in attempt to find the Great Grey Shrike at West Hartford.  This area was pretty dead this morning although the calls of Oystercatchers greeted us, as did sightings of Mallard, Teal, a pair of Kestrel and an overhead Meadow Pipit.  By evening time I’d lost count of the number of Kestrels we saw today.  More than twelve I believe.  A few years ago that would not have been unusual, but then we wouldn’t have been watching Little Egrets in urban Cramlington.

Little Egret

 Our next stop was for a little more urban birding, this time on an industrial estate in Morpeth, where we found the two Waxwings fairly quickly.  Having hung around for a while we had good close up sightings as the birds constantly returned to the berries.  The light remained poor throughout so good images weren’t possible, but I’m happy to have seen this species which has been scarce this winter.  I later wondered what percentage of the workers on the trading estate get along with their work without giving these birds a second look.  A high percentage I guess.  An exotic bird which I remember desiring to see after looking through Readers Digest Book of British Birds many moons ago.  It’s interesting to look at this book now and see the many changes in numbers, distribution etc of species.    There was a lot to fit in today so we headed off to the rather wilder area of Cresswell.  Incidentally, another interesting read by JC at NEBirder (can't seem to link) concerning the proposed opencast.

We did take a bit of a detour in search of Ross’s Goose near Stobswood but to be honest we didn’t know where to look so had no success in terms of geese, but we did find two Red-legged Partridge at Maiden Hall Lake.


There were plenty of Tree Sparrows at the feeders as we approached the pond, but generally the area initially looked quiet although we were soon been entertained by the large flock of Pink-footed Geese which initially made itself heard, then flew on several occasions directly over the pond and hide.  The geese were especially restless today with maybe thoughts of more northerly latitudes.  Spectacular moments once again with the geese.  A bitter breeze was entering the hide and it seemed to have cleared most birds from the water, neither were there any waders on the sand bank.  Hundreds of Wigeon edged the pond and maybe around a hundred took to the water and showed well in the sunlight.  Curlews flew past the hide and landed as a group on the west side of the pond whilst on the water we eventually found the likes of Shelduck, Teal, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Little Grebe alongside the whistling Wigeon.  A Kestrel hovered.

Pink-footed Geese from the hide

Next was a quick stop at Druridge Pools where we didn’t spend much time, but added Shoveller to our list and on moving off towards East Chevington we watched as a Kestrel flew across the road in front of us with its prey, a frog.  The Kestrel landed and was joined by its mate before both flew in the direction of the trees with Frog's elasticated legs swinging in the air.  I’d earlier picked up the call of Goldcrest from the viewing platform before we all had a good sighting of it.  Lots of Goldfinches were visiting the recently topped up feeders.  We talked to the chap who tops up the feeders or I ought to say he talked to us!  Friendly bloke, who we bumped into again in the country park.

We stopped at North Pool East Chevington and spent a short time looking for Marsh Harrier which we had seen in the area at an earlier date than this last year.  Nothing was found but Lee was pleased with the Black-necked Grebe which is still around.  Goldeneye seemed to be one of the most numerous birds in the area.  We welcomed the use of the ‘metal box’ hide as it protected us from the heaviest winter squall of the day.  I’m glad I wasn’t outside walking in that!  We viewed North Pool from both north and south as our next stop was Druridge Country Park.  The feeding station was very much quieter than on a previous visit this month by Sam and me.  Today I saw only Robin, Dunnock, Great, Coal and Blue Tit and Reed Bunting.  We thought we have an even better view of the Black-necked Grebe from here but in fact with the sun in our eyes we didn’t see it as well as we had from the south of the pool, and the fact that it was constantly diving didn’t help.  A pair of Red-breasted Mergansers was picked up along with the likes of Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal.  A couple of Canada Geese were on one of the islands and it was I think around this time that we saw a large skein of Greylag Geese.  There were of course more Kestrels.

Our next and final stop was to be at Warkworth gut.  Sam had noted the evening before those Short-eared owls had been seen in the dunes here, so we thought we would try for them.  I’ve only been to this area three times previously and I don’t think Sam and Lee had been before.  It’s a nice spot made even better by this evening’s sunshine.  Eider Duck and Grey Heron were seen as we drove along past the river towards Warkworth.  I remember thinking that it is now many years ago when I was in the castle.

Short-eared Owl
On arrival we found a few blokes with binoculars so I guessed that they were here for the same reason we were.  I guessed correctly.  Short-eared Owls had been showing.  A local told us that a Kingfisher had been seen that morning too.  We initially found the likes of Redshank and more Wigeon, but it wasn’t long before we were watching our first Short-eared Owl of the winter.  We eventually followed the path into the dunes and climbed higher for a better sighting into the dune area.  Two Grey Partridges were flushed.  We bumped into nature-northest who had counted three Short-eared Owls.  It wasn’t long before we were watching a Short-eared Owl, then two were up together with another some distance to the north of us.  What a way to end our days birding.  In the dunes with the sunlight at its best and three Short-eared Owls around us.  As Sam said, top moments of February!   As we were stood there a Brown Hare ran through the dunes only a few feet away from us.

Well all good things come to an end and we did need to get back home so we reluctantly began to make our way back to the car-park.  We of course were all able to watch Kestrel again and this time found two Stonechats.  I was just thinking what a great way to end the day when Sam called ‘Kingfisher’ as it flew from the small pool near the golf course and flew across in front of us, disappearing as quickly as it had appeared.  The atmosphere was forever changing as Sam picked up the call of the Short-eared Owl and we watched Mistle Thrushes on the golf course.

We’d began the day in dull light and dampness in an urban environment (and urban birding can be as good as any, even in poor light), but with some excellent sightings and we’d ended the day by the sea in sunlit dunes with more excellent species.  A day that will go down amongst the best of 2015 I reckon.  I have to say that there is something very special about watching owls in their natural surroundings.  We ended once again with sixty bird species and we hadn’t even attempted to look at the sea or for waders.  The geese were spectacular, the Waxwings were very nice to watch, but I think I have to agree with Sam that the Short-eared Owls can’t be beaten!  Oh, and I forgot to mention the flocks of Whooper Swan and Greylag Geese on the way home.


  1. Wow, what a great variation of birds seen! Nice pics too.

  2. I think the GG Shrike might have moved on Brian. Been to WH twice this week with no views and a couple of local birders hadn't seen it in the last week either.

  3. Yes, I think so too John. Indeed I'm wondering if it may have moved to Prestwick Carr (not far as the shrike flys) as I see there has been a possible sighting there. Glad to see you got your SEO. Great birds and a bit scarce in the area this winter. Cheers.