Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Early Spring Action on Patch

Following what can only be described as a mild winter, the winds and some very cold days of early spring meant that the seasonal change wasn’t that noticeable.  As we headed into March bird life on the lake remained virtually unchanged, although there was noticeable signs of several species perhaps preparing to move on, and certainly some interesting display from several species.  A pair of Great Crested Grebe was on the lake in February, making a return early in the month, but they did disappear again for a short time before making a second return, displaying and beginning nest building activity.  It is normal for nest building by the grebes to begin early on the lake, although many folk are surprised at just how early.   There was soon to be five Great Crested Grebes on the Lake.  Sam and I believe the pair on the small lake to be relative newcomers and the pair on the larger lake to be the regular pair that has produced so many young over recent years.  Then there is a fifth bird which has so far been watched with interest as it is not accepted by either of the two pairs and it has at times been found skulking in the reed-bed.  We have watched the pairs as they challenge this single bird, necks down on the water as they swim unhesitatingly towards it and on occasions lift from the water making small threatening flights   whilst calling.  We don’t know the relationship of these birds, but I suspect the more junior ones may well be off spring of the original pair.  It will be interesting to watch the progress of any nest that is attached to that ‘thing’ that goes by the name of a floating reed-bed.  I still maintain that it is of no use for nesting birds when it is caged off as it is.  The grebes should be OK as they managed last year with the nest by the side of this ‘thing’, however having watched Brown Rats here, I fear for any eggs that may be laid.  The small amount of reed-bed around the lakes does not appear at the moment to be doing well at all and I believe it is in need of some attention.  With a General Election coming up now may be a good time to make some noise about this and the amount of rubbish left around the area, of what is claimed to be a Green Flag site!

Distant image of courtship

Less attractive aspect of patch birding.  Bet the Green Flag inspectors weren't brought to this not so little area!

 Early spring has also seen plenty of action from photographers.  Until a couple of years ago there was only the odd photographer who bothered to photograph the grebes, but now we have growing numbers visit.  To my mind this is no bad thing as the more eyes on the birds the better they are protected.  There have been the very occasional inappropriate actions, but I’m sure the vast majority of sensible folk will soon put straight, those who act out of line.

2nd March.  It was a windy and cold day.  The pair of Great Crested Grebes on the smaller lake was displaying and nest building.  Previous nest building attempts were destroyed by high winds and rough water.  They have since gone on to start several nests, which is not an unusual event in itself.  Sam and I feel that these birds are novices to the process of courtship and nest building.

A pair of Oystercatcher has returned to the area and Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming.

10th March.  There were five Great Crested Grebes present today.  One pair on each lake and another single bird on the larger lake.  It was cool, but sunny and the lighting conditions perfect, showing the smaller lake at its best.  A count showed that there were seventy Mute Swans present.  Two pairs of Shoveller were involved in lengthy spells of circular feeding and some display on the small lake, and the lone female Wigeon remains there too.  The pair of Oystercatchers was present and Goldeneye displayed in groups.  Goosanders are still present in number and a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls flew onto the lake in elegant fashion.  I had seen my first Lesser Black-backed Gull of the year at Big Waters on 8th March.  A gull species that I find very attractive. 


 The Great Crested Grebes on the small lake took part in head shaking display and spent time nest building.  At times typically large reeds were carried to the nest site by one of the pair.  It was difficult to know just how many nests these birds were working on as they disappeared into the reeds at several different points at different times.

The pair of Great Crested Grebes on the larger lake spent most of their time in the middle of the lake and is showing no attempt as yet to nest build.  The fifth grebe was at the top of the lake and this was clearly known by the pair.  The pair eventually swam at speed towards the fifth bird and there was some threatening behaviour and much diving taking place.  The fifth bird always appears to back off very quickly.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker drummed.  Sam has been watching a flock of Redwings near the lake throughout late winter, but as we walked through the trees it seemed that these birds had now moved on.

17th March.  We couldn’t find the pair of Great Crested Grebe on the larger lake today.  We felt if they had moved off the likelihood is that they will return, as is the usual behaviour.

The pair of Great Crested Grebe on the smaller lake were displaying at length.  This is some of the best display behaviour from Great Crested Grebes that I have witnessed.  It wasn’t long before we realised that the lone fifth Grebe was skulking in the reeds at the corner of the lake.  Is this a male bird waiting its chance to mate with the female of one of the pairs?  If it is, it doesn’t seem to stand much chance of this occurring.  Once it showed on open water it is soon chased off by the pair which displayed in its presence.  Nest building clearly going on, but no sign of a completed nest structure as yet.

The fifth and lone grebe staying hidden in the reeds.
The two pairs of Shoveller were present and the Goldeneye continue to display.  The female Wigeon and Goosanders remain.  A Reed Bunting was spotted in the reeds.  There is a lone Little Grebe on the larger lake and Brown Rat/s in the floating ‘thing’.

The lone female Wigeon
21st March.  Still no sound of Chiffchaff where they usually first appear on patch.  They would usually be here by 19th/20th March.  Only in that recent very bitterly cold spring did they arrive much later.   The area was very quiet, but I did pick up the mewing calls of Common Buzzard and spotted it as it flew north-east.  There is an area here where this species could nest so I will keep a look out.  I also found a Great Spotted Woodpecker behaving as if it was near a nest site.  Another spot to keep an eye on.

22nd March.  At last the sound of Chiffchaff on patch, but only very briefly.  Sam and I had searched the area I had checked out yesterday.  It remained unusually quiet, but we did have a male Sparrowhawk fly over and disturb the few passerines that were about in the tops of the trees.  The Sparrowhawk appeared to fail in any attempt to catch prey on this occasion.

We found that one of the Great Crested Grebes had returned to the large lake.  The pair remains on the smaller lake along with the interloper, the fifth grebe.  The single Little Grebe remains on the large lake.  The Shovellers were again occupied in circular feeding and the Oystercatchers are present.

24th March.  Sam and I took the chance this evening to try and watch the owl species we know is on patch.  We were once more unsuccessful, but never the less ended up having a great couple of hours on patch.  Probably my best evening of the year so far.  Initially we passed the area where the Collared Doves seem to roost and where there were numbers of Greenfinch and Goldfinch.  As the light began to fade a little the sky reddened to the west of us, whilst behind us and to the east the sky remained blue in patches.  It looked as though heavy rain might be building up in the west.  Sam got his eye on what we thought was a flock of Golden Plover to the north and then I saw even further into the distance a skein of geese flying eastwards, although we were unable to identify them down to species such was the distance.  At least one pair of Kestrel was hunting in the area and Skylarks sang.

We decided to check out a possible flash that Sam had found on a map.  I’m pleased we did as we began to hear the calls of Lapwing and were soon watching numbers of them displaying over the fields.  It wasn’t long before a flock of Golden Plover were flying in the area (probably the ones seen earlier in the distance).  The Golden Plover called as they flew to and fro above us for sometime, before eventually setting on the field.  We estimated a flock of at least two hundred and fifty birds and thought they may well be ready to leave the coastal area.  Many of them were in almost full summer plumage.  The patch is a regular stopping of point for these birds, but this is the first time we had watched them in this particular area.

Eventually we slowly walked back towards home with the song of Yellowhammer becoming clearer as we walked.  Pied Wagtails landed in the fields and a flock of fifty to sixty Linnets lifted, flew around the area and then settled back down on the ground.  I was stood behind a tree admiring the bark at close range when we heard calling from Grey Partridges.  Sam got his eye on one of them first.  They were calling across the fields.  As we watched and listened a Brown Hare ran across in front of us and was soon joined by another.  When close together one stood on its hind limbs and we thought we were going to be treated to a boxing match, but that wasn’t to be as I think the Hares were simply watching over the area.  Perhaps watching us, watching them.  So as the light faded we wandered off thinking how wonderful it is to have such wildlife on our doorsteps.  Great couple of hours.  Temperatures by now had plummeted and it felt as cold as any winter evening.

27th March.  Briefly passing the lake I noticed that the pair of Great Crested Grebes had reunited on the large lake, so we have five Great Crested Grebes again.

Friday, 27 March 2015

Junior Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year

I can announce to readers of my blog (please imagine drum roll and cheers in the background) that Samuel Hood, who you may note occasionally features in my blog, has become Junior Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year.

Samuel on a high.

Over recent years I have watched this genuine guy develop into not only an excellent photographer, a passionate and knowledgeable naturalist and also of course a very special friend of mine.  Samuel is a great role model for any aspiring young (and not so young) photographers.  I’m of the opinion that his fine results come from a deep passion and knowledge of his subject, good field-craft skills and loads of patience.  These are characteristics of the better wildlife/nature photographers.  I reckon we can count on hearing lots more of Samuel Hood in the years to come.



Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Simonside Hills

‘In a document dated to 1279 Simonside was called Simundessete. By 1580 the name had become Simontside. The name may be a corruption of Sigemund's seat or Sigemund's settlement. Sigemund or Sigmund is the name of an old Germanic hero from the Volsunga Saga and the Nibelungenlied who is mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon poem Bewoulf. WW Tomlinson, in his Comprehensive Guide to Northumberland (1916), stated that "Simon of mythology was, it seems, a domestic brewer to King Arthur, identical with the German Sigmund, and very fond of killing dragons".  This points to the possibility that the Simon of Simonside Hill is the Sigemund mentioned in Beowulf and subsequently Norse and Teutonic myths.’

Above taken from a piece on Wikipedia

View from the Simonside ridge.

25th Mar.  Despite the slight diversion Carmel, Sam and I had a great walk in the Simonside Hills today during which we took in the Simonside ridge walk.  I was puffing a little as soon as we left the Forestry Commision car-park and joined a slow ascent and the puffing increased dramatically as I scrambled, for want of a better word, up the climb onto the ridge.  As Sam politely reminded me ‘You're getting older you know’.  I’ve been a little poorly this week so that is my excuse and I reckon with a bit more excercise I’d be able to cope with this walk rather better.  I did have a heavy bag on my back too, but enough of the excuses!

Red Grouse where it looks best.

As we approached the area we found the likes of Common Buzzards and Stock Doves, and a Roe Deer scampering along the road seemingly unable to get over the fences back to safety.  Once parked up we watched a lone female Crossbill feeding high up in the trees, otherwise it was Great, Coal, Blue Tits and Chaffinches.

On the ridge
On the way down
The walk was a recce for an RSPB walk in May.  In light of the difficulties we are reconsidering the route we take.  We don’t wish to be loosing anyone.  Birdlife was limited, but the walk offers so much in atmosphere and views across Northumberland including the Cheviots and coastline, the limited ornithological interest didn’t concern us and in any event by the time of the official walk we think there will be more about.  We did have Red Grouse for company on almost the entire walk, Kestrel, more Common Buzzards, two (possibly three) pair of Stonechat and Meadow Pipits.  I believe Sam heard Raven.  The calling of those Red Grouse was coming from all directions and we had some very good sightings of these birds in the rugged conditions.  When occasionally the Red Grouse calls stopped the silence up there in a windless atmosphere was something to behold.

Red Grouse on alert
Red Grouse heads off.

A walk that is well worth the effort and those views are stunning.  I’m feeling great…….up to now!

Monday, 16 March 2015

Fulmarus glacialis

15th Mar.  Our walk from St Mary’s Island to Holywell today was interrupted as Sam and I spent time watching and photographing the Fulmars.  How long we spent here I do not know, as time seemed to become suspended as we entered the world of these wonderful seabirds which seemed to take as much interest in our presence as we did theirs.  The fact that the coastal path was well trodden by folk yesterday was forgotten as we were cut off from humankind and their dogs and focussed entirely on the Fulmars and their environment.  We agreed later, as barely a word passed between us at the time that this is what bird watching is all about.  We watched intently as perhaps a half a dozen birds periodically flew away from the cliff side before returning and flying at speed along the cliff side.  A single bird landed and was then joined by another and we watched as they communicated and edged along the piece of cliff which jutted out towards the sea and the drop to the rocks below.  Any problems were totally forgotten as my mind focussed on the subject in hand.  The camera didn’t focus quite so quickly on too many occasions and the only frustrations I felt during this period were with regard the equipment I use.  I must get this sorted out and spend some money, even if it does bring on a temperature!

I surprised Sam with my knowledge of the scientific name for Northern Fulmar, or at least a version of what sounded similar anyway.  As per Wickipedia…..’Fulmarus glacialis can be broken down to the Old Norse word full meaning "foul" and mar meaning "gull". "Foul-gull" is in reference to its stomach oil and also its superficial similarity to seagulls. Finally, glacialis is Latin for "glacial" because of its extreme northern range. Thankfully we had no problems from stomach oil today as we posed no threat to the birds!

Too soon we were back into the human and canine world.

We’d begun our walk at St Mary’s Island and on approach had watched a Kestrel in flight west of the wetland.  I asked myself ‘Do the Council actually have the money to carry out the grand ideas they propose for a visitor centre (or is it a café?) at the car park?’  Perhaps if they do they will consider the wildlife when carrying this out.  I’ve watched all sorts of goings on down there over the years including boy racers with too much money and too little sense, dog walkers who think it a good idea to watch their pets run through the flocks of waders in winter and a particular lady who thought it a good idea to throw stones at the waders as we tried to photograph them.  I guess we ought to be grateful she didn’t throw them at us!  Maybe a visitor centre/café won’t be any worse.

The fields held Skylark and Meadow Pipit and North Bay held numerous Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits.  Waders seen were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and eventually small flocks of Golden Plover.  Short sea watches brought little, but we did eventually find Fulmars of course, Red-throated Diver (my first of the year), Gannet, Cormorant, gulls including Kittiwake, Guillemot, a pair of Mallard, a Pair of Common Scoter and Eider Ducks. 

I’d eaten and had Sunday dinner to look forward to, so I tried to blank out the smell of chips as we passed through Seaton Sluice.  Not very successfully I fear as by the end of the walk I really did fancy a plate of fish and chips.

Once into the dene we stood and took in the action and sounds at the first rookery we came too before moving on and finding a pair of Bullfinches, Wren and Long-tailed Tits at the dipping pond.  The male Bullfinch was looking resplendent and its redness brought to mind the colour of Carmine Bee-eaters.  Further into the dene we watched woodland birds including Nuthatch.  I was feeling the heat by now.  It became really very warm in the dene although once out onto the open fields the cool breeze soon had me fastening up the coat again.  The area was very quiet.

The pond too was quiet, but did provide the sound of Little Grebe and Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Mallard, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot.  There was some interesting behaviour from the Mute Swans.  What we think were last years young were flying in the area and each time they appeared to come into land on the pond they were chased off by the adult cob seemingly wanting them out of the adult pairs territory.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen in flight.  On the edge of the pond a single feeding Curlew saw off a small flock of four of five Curlews which flew in as we watched.  The flock left and the lone bird then continued to feed.  The haunting call of Curlew could be heard as we prepared to leave.  Temperatures were dropping.  It had been a day for Fulmarus glacialis.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015


‘We cut over the fields………straight as the crow flies’
Charles Dickens, Oliver Twist,1838.

One of my first meaningful memories of birds from childhood is that of the rookery at the end of my aunt and uncle’s garden in Cumbria.  It is the sound of the birds calling rather more then the sight of them that stays in my mind.  I was still a schoolboy as the trees were taken down so that a large barn could be erected, which brought about the demise of the rookery.  Now the barn and the farm that it was part off have gone and housing is to be/being built.  It’s perhaps interesting that whilst only a two mile walk across fields to the cliff tops overlooking the Solway would bring me to St Bee’s Head and colonies of seabirds, it is the sounds of the Rooks at the bottom of the garden I remember best of all.  The village has altered greatly since my childhood and where once platforms used to support milk churns early in the morning, and where I used to sit occasionally later in the day, this area became driveways for rather expensively built housing some years ago.  Birdlife has probably changed greatly over the years in a village that once housed five farmsteads and now has none.  Farming then was of course far less intensive than it is now.  Certainly on more recent visits I have noted that it is the Collared Dove that seems to dominate the scene, a bird that would not have been present at all on my very first visits to the area.  Whilst the Collared Dove has made natural headway, most losses including the rookery, were induced by human interference and loss of good habitat.  Although the rookery did not survive it did give me a taste of birdlife and possibly influences my liking of crows and many crow species have adapted well to life amongst us humans. 

Many years later when my cousin moved into her own home on the cliff edge I discovered new birds around her garden including nesting Little Owls in the red sandstone quarry within feet of the fence.  I learnt then that Little Owls were often faithful to a nesting site as they were there for years, and maybe a later generation still are.  They were never unduly concerned about the large wagons that would churn up the narrow road whilst occasionally arriving to collect sandstone slabs, later exported around the world including the United States of America, nor were the birds alarmed unduly by the odd explosion in the quarry.  I also discovered Ravens flew along the cliff edge and passed my cousin’s home, and to this day they probably gave me my closest ever encounters with Ravens.  I’ve had some very good sighting from this area and have watched Kestrels directly below me hovering above sea, Barn Owls at cliff nesting sites and Peregrine Falcons carrying prey back to their nest site, and of course many seabirds, some of which nest at St Bee’s Head RSPB Reserve.  There’s a wonderful small pebble beach here with a sandstone cave, from which you can look up to the bird colonies.  It used to attract the locals during the summer when I was a child and I still have photos of gatherings there.  It isn’t an easy climb down there through a gut in the cliff, so if you visit these days, what ever the time of year, you’re more than likely to be on your own.  How times change. 

So yes, I like corvids and don’t feel that they are a bird to be taken for granted and simply passed by.  I’m not however naïve, so I do understand how troublesome they can be to those who work the land or have livestock.  Having a brother who was a shepherd helps me take a balanced outlook on wildlife and its affects.  It was with great pleasure I received a print in recent days sent to me by friends Hilary and Kelsey.  Kelsey I know is quite an artist and he had painted this Raven at the Great North Museum; Hancock, (still the Hancock Museum too many of us) from a specimen held at the museum.  The print is and was I think meant to be a reminder of the Raven Sam and I found at Prestwick Carr earlier this year.  The Raven which I believe Hilary also saw briefly. It was also perhaps a marker of one or two difficult recent events of a personal nature.

Copies of photos of the bay near St Bee's Head, taken in the 1950s I believe.  Now in my possession, they were taken by a relative (a keen photographer) of my uncle and on the wall of his mother's home during my childhood and until shortly before she died.  The top photo shows that the bay was then frequented by the locals and the boy in the front right of the image is now likely approaching his seventy-fifth plus year if still alive.

When I moved to my present home in the 1970s there was a flourishing rookery within five minutes walk of my house.  I was beginning to take a keener interest then in birds and nature in general and it could be said that the rookery was my first introduction to patch birding, something not taken up seriously until some time later.  Sadly this lateness has meant that I missed some species that once were present in the area including Corn Buntings which Sam reminded me had bred on Killingworth Moor in the 1980s.  Never the less I took interest in the rookery, usually at the beginning of the year when it was at its most active, and I’m again sad to say that now it is now no more than a scattering of  nests and nothing like it once was.  Rooks are still commonly seen on the grass verges near and in my estate, as their bills search for prey, and the sound of their companion Jackdaws is often heard.  I think Jackdaws are very attractive birds and I’ve found the occasional Nordic Jackdaw in the area.  I’m aware of the reluctance by some authorities to accept Nordic Jackdaws and of the reasons for this, but I’m happy I’ve seen them and that is what matters.  I did watch a partially leucistic Rook in this area in more recent years and it became quite clear that it was not accepted by its peers and remained by itself until one day it had simply disappeared.  I learned many years ago that leucism in the primaries and secondaries of these and presumably other birds can be caused by inadequate nutrition when young and that if the bird then goes on to gain an appropriate diet the leucistic plumage will be replaced by normally coloured feathers. 

The patch is still blessed with a fly over of mixed flocks of crows just before dusk, especially noticeable in winter as they fly towards their roost site.  The sky often blackens with them as they fly directly over my home.  I’m always reminded of Mark Cocker’s Crow Country tales of the flocks in East Anglia which no doubt put on a significantly better show than our local crows, although the locals behave in a similar manner as to Mark Cockers description, with the birds often collecting at a pre-roost site between West Moor and the old Findus site.  When I was involved with arrangements for the RSPB Local Group I had wanted to organise a stay in Norfolk so we could visit Buckenham Marshes and watch the crow roost, as well as take in everything else the area offers.  I went as far making arrangements with local birders in the area, so as not to cause disturbance and I was very grateful for their advice and help.  I was taken aback when there was little interest for such a stay and winter birding in Norfolk!  On reflection, it was at that point my interest in such groups began to quickly wane.  I take comfort that Mark Cocker, I and most keen birders would be excited by the idea.  Crow Country is well worth a read if there is anyone out there who hasn’t done so already.

To return to the Raven, my first real understanding of just how important crows and Ravens in particular are in culture and mythology was awakened when I visited British Columbia.  This period marked my first trip outside of Europe and also marked the beginning of a new instability around the world as the Twin Towers came down whilst I was watching Orcas, Grizzly Bears and Black Bears from a boat in the waters of the Coastal Mountains.  A stay in British Columbia gave me plenty of opportunity to pick up information as to the importance of Ravens in the culture of the people of the First Nations in North America.  How the Raven was seen as wise, and at times both a trickster and deceitful was talked about often.  I stayed on in Vancouver for a couple of days and visited the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia which contains much First Nation artwork in which the Raven plays a prominent part, not least in totems of which there are many on display.  The museum also contains a giant sculpture by a man of the name of Bill Reid made from a large block yellow cedar wood.  It depicts how the Raven coaxed the first men from a giant clam shell (I need to read up as to how the first women appeared).  It’s a great piece of work and amusing too, with I seem to remember at least one bare backside sticking out of the clam.

Depicting the Raven as wise is indeed no coincidence as corvids in general are in relative terms intelligent birds with a large brain.  Practical experiments have shown this to be the case and at least one species, the New Caledonian Crow, has been seen to use and adapt tools (adapted from vegetation) to catch insects.  This tool making has been seen to be replicated by the birds with wire and hooks in a laboratory setting.  It is rather reminiscent to the manner in which primates have been seen to use tools.

Ravens and crows take quite a role in many cultures around the world, including our own.  The ancient Greeks associated crows with the God Apollo, whose unfaithful mistress, Coronis, is the source of the word corone, Greek for crow and the modern scientific name for the Carrion Crow Corvus corone.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Waters Geese to Carr Owls

8th Mar.  Hoping that the Greenland White-fronted Geese would still be present at Big Waters we made towards that area today and weren’t to be disappointed with the birds showing distantly, but well.  Wandering around the area I found myself exploring parts of Big Waters and the surrounding area that were new to me.  The distinctive calling of Pink-footed Geese were heard as Sam and I walked through the farmland area and we watched as the skein flew towards us and overhead before landing it seemed on the pond.  We’d seen a skein of Greylag Geese as we had journeyed to Big Waters and later found a small number on the pond, where Canada Geese were also present.

Greenland White-fronted Geese.  Given the distance I didn't bother to get the camera out, but Sam did and managed a good record image.
Having noted that warmer temperatures had been forecast for the weekend I was pleased that I had ignored this and wrapped up well as the wind ensured that the air was cold.  The hedges didn’t provide much in the way of birds, but we did find the like of Goldcrest and Redwing.  The feeding station at the hide had good numbers of Tree Sparrow visiting as usual and the Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen as we approached, and later on the feeders.  Other visitors here included Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer.  Water Rail was heard.

Reed Bunting
The whistling of Wigeon was constant and numbers of Teal swam close by the hide.  Gadwall were well represented and the odd Goldeneye seen.  I watched two Mute Swans seemingly engaged in fighting at the far end of the pond.  Necks and wings seemed to be entangled and neither bird seemed willing or able to disengage. This battle went on at length until it seemed that injury to one or both of these birds would be inevitable.  Another two Mute Swans close by were agitated by this and would every few minutes almost take to the air before returning to the side of the fighting pair.  My mind was eventually taken by other events and I never did see the birds disengage, but presumably they had, as peace seemed to be restored when we prepared to leave the hide.  Spring is perhaps affecting the hormones!

We had decided to end our day at Prestwick Carr, hoping for sightings of the Short-eared Owls, so that was our next stop.  We were soon watching a pair of Kestrels hunting north of the bumpy road.  It is my imagination or is this road getting bumpier?  We walked the length of the road taking sometime to watch the changing moods in what was now much better light than earlier in the day.  The landscape to the north of the road in particular.  We also spent sometime with the Exmoor Ponies.  Beautiful beasts.  My mind began to wander to the story of Gulliver and the Houyhnhnms, those mild mannered equine creatures who lived alongside the Yahoos, the rather uncouth human type folk.  I’d rather be with the Houyhnhnms and wildlife than our rather too many Yahoo types of today!  On our way back we watched the rather curious goats.  Curlews and Golden Plover called in the background and a single Lapwing flew overhead.

Exmoor Pony

View northwards in changing light

Stopping to watch the birds visiting the feeders at the viewing platform I managed to get some none too good images of Willow Tit and Reed Bunting.  Sam got his eye on a distant hunting Short-eared Owl and we decided to get back along the road while the light was still reasonably good.  We came into contact with several familiar faces as well as the Short-eared Owls which ended our day on a high.  I believe that there are at least five owls present.  We concentrated on watching two hunting north of the road.  The thermometer was saying seven degrees, but my body was saying it couldn’t possibly be that warm!  We had a good day with almost sixty species and a good walk out. 

Willow Tit

Short-eared Owl

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Changing Patch

2nd Mar.  It’s that time of year when there are signs that the patch is about to go through change.  The meteorologists inform me that it is spring!  Well, standing in the bitterly cold wind beside the lake today suggested that winter is still with us.  The birdlife doesn’t seem to be too fooled by the temperatures and there were definite signs of some species gathering prior to movement.  Numbers of Goosander and Goldeneye remain on the lake and I was quite surprised to see so many Pochard today.  On the small lake we have one rather edgy female Wigeon which is a rarity on the lake these days.  Recent incoming birds included a pair of Oystercatchers and two pairs of Great Crested Grebes.  One pair of grebes was well advanced with nest building but seem to have been hampered by the strong winds and the rough water.  In the background Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard drumming.  Numbers of Mute Swan remain high as does the number of Canada Geese.  Hopefully the breeding pair of swans will be successful again this year.  Oh well, the next two or three weeks will no doubt see the return of the Chiffchaff which begins the build up of warblers and then we really can believe spring has arrived.  It was noticeable today that the Shovellers weren’t present.

Wigeon Anas penelope

I was interested to hear from Sam the other day that the scientific species name for Shoveller clypeata means shield or shield carrier, referring of course to the shape of the bill.  It had me checking one or two other scientific names of our waterfowl.  In the case of  Wigeon Anas penelope  it is believed that penelope refers to the wife of Ulysses, and famous for her embroidery, so in the case of the name for the duck it may well refer to the beauty of the drake.  In the case of Goldeneye Bucephala clangula, bucephala means having a head like an ox (or buffalo) and clangula stems from the Latin term clangere meaning to resound, in reference to whistling wings.  Apparently it was John Ray who in 1678 first used the name Goldeneye.  Now in the case of Goosander (Common Merganser in North America) Mergus merganser, mergus is Latin for waterbird and anser of course for goose.