Monday, 28 September 2015

An Indian in Gosforth Park Nature Reserve

27th Sept.  An Indian summer’s day that is.  In fact the autumn weather could not have been better for the walk led by Sam and me with eight members of the Northumbrian Stone Walling Association.

Sam with the group.
On arrival I noted that it was almost impossible to park and I don’t recall seeing so many cars outside of the reserve before.  Once we got in there it was never the less peaceful and the light provided a very nice atmosphere in places.  I hadn’t been expecting too much in the way of wildlife sightings, but we did find a few Roe Deer and Grey Squirrel among a few decent bird sightings including a Bittern as it lifted and flew a short distance over the reed-bed, Water Rail, Grey Heron, several Common Snipe, Jays, and a Common Buzzard which had drawn to it a flock of corvids.   The likes of Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Shoveller, Mallard and Gadwall were on the water.  The only butterfly species I saw was Speckled Wood and an occasional white species, but there were numerous Common Darter Dragonflies and two or three Hawkers which I think were probably Common.  Biting insects were encouraged by the sun and I have the marks to show for that.

The walk had been organised as an introduction to the area for the group who in the main had not visited before.  I feel in that sense it was a successful day.  The advantage of leading such walks is that you learn a lot yourself.  The day ended with a bite to eat and a cooling drink.  Thanks to all involved and for their good humour.  Thanks also to the NHSN for the permission to allow the group access.

Tuesday, 15 September 2015

British Wildlife Photography Awards

He's done it again.  Samuel Hood has as image highly commended in the BWPAs.  You can take a look at some of the winning images which are on display in London.  Well done Sam!

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Blacktoft Sands Taken by Storm!

12th Sept.  As the RSPB Local Crew advanced down the A1 towards the prize of Blacktoft Sands, the dark leaden clouds gradually dissipated, the heavy rains eased and light spread from the south adding a warming glow.  As a wise sage (me as it happens) once said, there is no such thing as bad weather, only differing lighting conditions.  The crew were there in numbers and the transport almost full and the sun spread over Blacktoft Sands, and I’d half expected Bilbo Baggins to stealthily emerge from the bushes as we marched in and took over the reserve without a contest.  Even the town of Goole had seemed almost deserted as Sam and I discussed English Literature in the shape of An Inspector Calls.  If I ever knew, I hadn’t remembered that the Inspector goes by the name of Goole.  The conversation was of such high standard I reluctantly decided not to ponder too much over whether or not folk from Goole were ever referred to as Goolies.  I can’t help feeling they will be, as some folk have such a childish sense of humour!  Anyway, clearly the locals had heard of the advance and moved out of the area of Blacktoft Sands as there were so few of them about, not even a token resistance could be found.  It does always surprise me as to how few visitors there generally are at this reserve.

I have always liked Blacktoft and the flat, but interesting and atmospheric expanse that surrounds it.  I have found that being tidal the pools on the reserve can vary very much as to what is about and I have been there on an occasion when the whole area had been very dry.  Dryness was not to be a problem today, with much of Ousefleet under water.  Our decision to join the crew today had been a late one, as we balanced the cost of so much travel time against the actual time we would spend at the reserve, and also the fact that the Montague’s Harriers had now left.  As you can see we decided to make the journey.

After checking out the regular Tree Sparrows and a calling Chiffchaff, and as some minds wandered back to a time when Turtle Doves were a regular sight here, Sam and I made towards the Ousefleet end of the reserve calling in at both the hides on the way.  A stop at the hides was a good decision on our part as they hadn’t been taken over yet and were still very quiet, thus allowing us to easily pick up the call of the Cetti’s Warbler which I believe Sam briefly saw.  Other birds seen from the hides here included Little Grebe, Grey Heron. Water Rail, a single Avocet, Ringed Plover,  Lapwing, Dunlin, Spotted Redshanks, Redshank, Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit, Sedge Warbler, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel.  I spotted a Little Egret flying down at the other end of the reserve and disappearing in a channel and there was a sizable flock of Long-tailed Tits flying through the area nearby.  A flock of Golden Plover had been seen earlier.  Waterfowl were abundant, much of which were parties of Teal but a small number of Pintail stood out here.

Once we reached Ousefleet we were soon watching wildfowl in their hundreds (perhaps thousands).  There were large flocks of Teal here along with Wigeon, Shoveller, Mallard, Gadwall and Pintail.  This area can often be very quiet and lacking in water but this wasn’t a problem today.  We spent a good bit of time here before returning to the hides where on this occasion we found a female Garganey, not easily picked out from all of the surrounding Teal.  Numerous Common Hawker Dragonflies were active in this area throughout the day as were Speckled Wood Butterflies.

I was beginning to doubt that we were ever going to sea Marsh Harriers until someone mentioned that they were being watched at the other end of the reserve to which we were nor heading.  I was feeling extremely hot as the grey clouds returned from the west and thunder was heard.  Thankfully we were comfortable sat in the hide when the storm hit us as lightening flashed overhead.  We were able to find our first very distant Marsh Harriers before the torrential rain came.  We counted twelve Little Egrets and thirteen Spotted Redshank from this particular hide.

Spotted Redshank.  Courtesy of Samuel Hood.
Then the storm was at its height and I’m pleased I was under cover as the rain was really torrential.  Most of the waterfowl and waders took to flight during the worst of the weather.  I have to say however that the storm was an enjoyable experience giving some wonderful lighting conditions especially as it petered out and in the immediate aftermath.  Enjoyable too was the cooler air conditions.  It was in the aftermath of the storm that the Spotted Redshanks, Black-tailed Godwits, and Little Egrets looked at their best and the white supercilium on the Spotted Redshanks almost appeared to shine like lights when the emerging sunlight hit them.  I have to say however none were close to matching the beautifully plumaged juvenile Spotted Redshank that we had found in August at Holywell.  Everyone benefitted form being able to compare Common and Spotted Redshanks and Ruff too.

Someone thought they saw an Otter in the corner of the pool and all eyes focused attention to that area.  I have to say I’m not convinced that there was an Otter there at all, but if it was a mistake it was one easily made such were the conditions and the look of some of the waterfowl low on the water.  I made my own error when I had everyone watching for a distant Hobby flying towards us which miraculously changed into a Kestrel!  Thankfully I hadn’t been the only one fooled by the distant bird.  Hobby had been seen but not by any of the crew as far as I’m aware.  The error just goes to show how easily the mind is swayed when you know something is about.

A couple of Marsh Harriers gave a better and closer sighting and then we had three Marsh Harriers fly in front of us and across the reed bed giving even better sightings.  A Common Buzzard flew over next and even closer than the harriers and a sizable flock of Goldfinch flew nearby.

The storm meant that we spent the time in the one hide and we didn’t get to visit two others.  I doubt if we would have seen anything new, but I do feel we could have done with another half or even full hour at the reserve.  Still, it had been a very pleasant visit to a very good reserve.  The crew had never had anything other than peaceful intentions and so left for home smiling and contented.

My only gripe of the day (and having not had one for a while, one is due) is that on several occasions I was informed by polite individuals trying to be helpful just what birds could be seen from the various hides often before I had got within yards of entering.  I think this is a particular problem in reserves.  If I wanted to know I would ask.  In fact like most birders (I assume most) I like to enter the hide and find the birds myself.  That’s why I go out to watch birds.  Why people feel a need to inform you every single bird, I do not understand.  It gets a wee bit tiresome.  A different matter of course if you are asking.  Just a thought.  Having said that, I admit I was grateful for the mention of the female Garganey as I may well have missed that one.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Sea-watch Moods and a Good Year for the Roseates

As you turn to walk away
As the door behind you closes
The only thing I have to say
It's been a good year for the roseates
Slightly altered Elvis Costello lyrics.

 9th Sept.  I don’t put that much time into sea-watching as will be reflected by this blog, but I do admire those who do, I mean those who really do put in the hours.  It can be dare I say it a bit boring on quiet days but there are no doubt great rewards to be had in finding your own interesting sea birds.  I use the term interesting rather than rare deliberately.  I’ve never been one for chasing rarities be it on land or sea.

Today we began a bit late under what can only be described as grey, but calm conditions as we looked out from Seaton Sluice headland.  The interesting birds seen today included a constant passing north and south of hundreds of Common Scoter (how many we counted more than once is unknown), several flocks of Wigeon and Teal with small numbers occasionally mixing with e the Common Scoter, a lone Goosander, several Red-throated Divers, two Great Skua, four Arctic Skua, a single Roseate Tern in amongst Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns, Shag, decreasing numbers of Fulmar and Kittiwake, Gannets, Guillemots, gulls, Eiders and a lone Mallard.

Behind us a female Sparrowhawk added some interest as it disturbed the flock of Starlings before focusing its attention unsuccessfully upon a small bird.  As the day proceeded it brightened fractionally, but temperatures dropped or was it the fact that the fish and chip restaurant had been so warm? 

10th September.  We were back at the headland and this time somewhat earlier and in much brighter conditions and despite the cold air a Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly flew over the area. It was a very different mood from yesterday as reflected sunlight made viewing difficult, although to be honest there was very little to see on or over the flat calm sea.  Sam and I are never without something to chat about to fill in the time and our friend Donna was on the headland once again.

Among our sightings were Red-throated Divers, a smaller number of Common Scoter, but still a few flocks of them, one of which included a Velvet Scoter.  After a while and having decided that things were not going to pick we decided to walk to St Mary’s Island.  Passing the willows we found saw little and heard only the calling of Willow Warbler/Chiffchaff.  The Redstart that had been reported to us by a passerby was not found.  We crossed to the island and it was very noticeable that despite the wonderful morning there were very few folk about.  Grey Seals were seen.

Having decided to make for home we checked out the rocks in South Bay and as the tide was now coming in we hung around hoping that more birds would appear.  That was a wise decision as Sam’s keen ear soon picked up the call of Roseate Tern and we found an adult and juvenile bird among the now increasing number of Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns.  We were able to point the Roseate Terns out to a number of interested folk.  It has of course been a good year in terms of the number of pairs of Roseate Terns on Coquet Island.  The most for forty years I believe, although probably largely due to the poor weather productivity was not high.  It’s been a good year too for me as far as Roseate Tern sightings are concerned.

We continued to chat to passersby as the Golden Plovers flew onto the rocks and in doing so putting on a fine display.  When the Sea King Helicopter flew overhead all of the birds lifted and left the area silent.  Among them was a Kingfisher that had been pointed out to us as it perched on the rocks.  We’d watched it for sometime.

Holly Blue Butterfly

 We left with me dressed for the cold early morning start as folk were now appearing dressed in tee-shirts!  The temperature had shot up.  A great morning was topped off for me when I arrived home and found Holly Blue Butterfly once again in the garden.  A representative of the second brood of the year.

Thursday, 3 September 2015

September Sea Watch

3rd Sept.  The weather forecast looked unpromising, or promising depending upon your point of view, so we were down at Seaton Sluice quite early this morning.  There was no room at the inn as others had beaten us down there, but unlike the New Testament tale, we were invited in, but decided to brave the dampness, wind and cold outside as in truth being outside does give a much wider vision across the sea.  Our morning on the headland at Seaton Sluice and later on St Mary’s Island didn’t bring us anything as exciting as Beluga Whales, oh if only, but did bring us some decent sightings of birds.  Incidentally you can now buy a hot drink in the islands shop, pay £1.30 for a cardboard cup and a teabag and be told that you can get your hot water around the corner.  I wonder what the profit is on each cup sold?  A nice little earner there I suspect, not that the money was pouring in today as there was so few folk braving the weather.

Signifigant sightings for us were Brent Geese (pb 15), Manx Shearwater (5), Great Skua (1), Arctic Skua (dark and light phase 8), Goldeneye (6), Whimbrel (2), Ruff (2) along with significant numbers of Fulmar, Gannet, Great Black-back Gull, Common Gull and Kittiwake.  There were small numbers of Sandwich Terns and the odd Guillemot and Puffin.  We found our first Purple Sandpipers (2) of the autumn, which were very nicely marked and other waders seen were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Knot and Curlew.

So all in all, worth getting out of bed early!