Wednesday, 30 December 2015

2015...A Year in the Life (plus awards)

Where have all the Bloggers Gone?  This year seems to have seen several local bloggers disappear, or at least almost disappear.  I think this warrants a song!

Where have all the bloggers gone,
Long time passing,
Where have all the bloggers gone,
Long time ago,
Where have all the bloggers gone,
Enticed by Twitter every one,
When will they ever learn?
When will they ever learn?

  As you see I remain (despite a recent short disappearance) and continue to enjoy the blogs that do appear so hope you keep them coming folks.

The Curate’s Egg.  This year of 2015 has seen me enter my eleventh year of volunteering with the RSPB (an experience analogous to the curate’s egg), although my only input of late has been leading walks. In recent years these have been alongside Samuel Hood and we began 2015 with a well attended New Year Walk at Spindlestone and Budle Bay.  This coming year we begin on patch at Killingworth which is perhaps less picturesque, but equally interesting.  I hope a few attend and catch the area before it is almost completely covered in concrete and brick as per North Tyneside Council plans!  I’ve made some good friends along the way during my volunteering, met a few interesting people and hopefully inspired a few folk to take a keener interest in nature and conservation.  As someone who supports RSPB ideals, I do wish that the organisation would make itself more visible to the public in this area, although I wish to take nothing away from the great work done at places like Coquet Island, Geltsdale and Saltholme etc.

Killy’s Organisation of the Year Award.  This award once again goes to the Natural History Society of Northumbria which does such a great job in involving and informing the public about natural history and conservation.  This is an organisation that I am proud to be a member of.

Short Eared Owls.  I mention Sam above.  Most of my birding adventures include Sam and early in the year a birding highlight was watching three Short Eared Owls at Warkworth.  It was through Short Eared Owls that Sam and I became such good friends and it is a species that is close to top of both our lists of favourite species.  One of my real rewards has been following Sam’s progress and development as a photographer and naturalist and he has done himself proud this year especially, and my own year seems a tad boring in comparison.  Incidentally Sam has won and been highly commended once again in December in the RSPCA Photography Awards and I include an image here from his highly commended portfolio.  I won’t list all the other achievements of this young man’s in 2015, as I’m hoping that Sam will get round to writing up his adventures himself at some point. :-)  We have of course watched the Short Eared Owls more recently at St Mary’s Island, although sadly there have been none on patch this year.
Killy’s Personality of the Year Award goes to none other than… hushed silence…drum roll…….yes… Samuel Hood!

By courtesy of Samuel Hood.
The Patch.  To use a line from Bob Dylan, the patch it is a changing!  This was noticeable when Sam and I made a recce on 29th for our New Year Walk.  The lake has been quiet much of the year, and most unusual was the lack of Pochard recently, a species that we know is facing problems on a wider scale.  Is it the weather, the water and eco-system or down to plain old poor management?  Building work has been completed near my favourite insect area and although not yet encroaching upon that area, works traffic  led to spoiling of the area, and work has begun on a large area planned for housing along the road.  We watched Goosanders and Goldeneye on the lake, found the likes of Treecreeper, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpeckers in their favoured area, and best of all had a great sighting of a Sparrowhawk in display flight in the sun.  Fox and Grey Squirrel were also seen.  Early in the year we spent a few evenings on a newly explored are of the patch where we found a large flock of Golden Plover, and displaying Lapwings with the likes of Grey Partridge and Brown Hares nearby.  The Mute Swan numbers are now right down, but happily a pair produced young for the second year running after no successful breeding on the lake for a few years.  Sadly despite having five Great Crested Grebes on the lake earlier in the year, lots of display and nesting attempts, there was no success in producing young.  That’s the first failure for several years.  Some possible reasons have been mentioned in my blog over the year.  Killy’s Idiot of the Year Award goes jointly to the couple who deliberately spent time ramming the Great Crested Grebe nest with a remote controlled toy boat whilst the adult bird sat on eggs at a late stage of incubation.  When I approached this pair (not children, but a pair of 30+) I was told by them they didn’t realise that there was a bird on a nest.  Polite words fail me!
I was able to add three new species to my patch list this year.  Not uncommon birds by any means, but good sightings all the same.  These were Stonechat, Jay would you believe, and very recently Gadwall.  There are presently two male and a female Gadwall on the lake and we hope that this may herald more Gadwall on the lake over time.  The likes of Shoveller and Oystercatcher are now often seen.  Oh and I mustn’t forget that family of four Whooper Swans seen resting on the lake before we watched them take off and continue their journey.

Orange Tip Butterfly at Holywell.
Butterflies.  I’ve watched butterflies locally and a few other areas including Smardale and the Bishop Middleham Old Quarry.  The most frequent butterfly seen on patch, including my garden is undoubtedly the Speckled Wood which wasn’t to be seen at all in the area only a matter of a few years ago.  I’ve again had Holy Blue Butterflies appearing in the garden and I believe that they are laying eggs on the Holly Trees here.  The most significant find by Sam and I were both Holy Blue and White-letter Hairstreak in Holywell Dene.  We believe that Holy Blue would be uncommon here and we know of no one who has seen White-letter Hairstreak.  These were of course reported to the relevant agency, but unfortunately no response was made to our request for information!

Holy Blue in the garden

 Raven and chuff(ed).  Sam and I were very, very chuffed to record a Raven at Prestwick Carr on 27th January.

Migrant Waders.  Holywell Pond and surrounds certainly delivered the migrant waders this year and I’m pleased that Sam and I were first to find at least some of them.  We acquired quite a list over a period of a few days in August.  These included Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper (at least a dozen on the fence at one point), Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Ruff and Pectoral Sandpiper along with other more common waders.  Soon over, but a feast indeed and one of the years highlights.  That close up Green Sandpiper with Water Rail on a quiet sunny and warm evening was one of the best sightings of the year.  I was accompanied by Sam and Tom on that occasion.

You’ve Been Framed…Bird of the Year.  Always a difficult one and it might change tomorrow, but I’m going for the Lapland Bunting seen on the path at St Mary’s Island and mark my word it has been framed!  Bird of the year, perhaps because it give me and Sam so much opportunity to study it and it is certainly the best sighting I’ve had of Lapland Bunting and for Sam it was a lifer.  Afterwards I saw a wonderful painting of this bird by City Birding on his blog and Dick very kindly come to arrangement which allowed me to have it.  It looks excellent framed Dick and it will soon be on Sam’s wall (if it isn’t already).  Many thanks Dick and you have Killy’s 2015 Award for Kindness.

Mammal of the Year.  Think it has to go to the adult with calf Minke Whales seen at Druridge Bay by Sam and me.  We have it on good authority that to see a Minke with calf off the coast of Northumberland is very uncommon.  Sadly I missed several things this year due to illness and one of the best of Martin Kitching’s Whale Watching trips was amongst them.  Happily Sam was able to go and provide details of what I had missed and I know Martin will remind me too every time he bumps into me! :-)

RSPB Walk of the Year.  As I mentioned above, Sam and I lead walks.  The best one without doubt this year was at one of my favourite areas of Northumberland, Harthope Valley.  The fact that only one other person joined us perhaps says a lot, but in fact led us to having a very special day.  We had sightings of all the birds we would have expected including Ring Ouzel, Cuckoo, Green Woodpecker, Whinchat, Dipper, Red Grouse etc etc and an unexpected sighting later in the day on our return of Hen Harrier.  The latter sightings whereabouts was reported to the RSPB only.

Harthope Valley
It’s a Good Read.  I’ve gotten through much reading this year, but three books in particular spring to mind.  The content of Common Ground by Rob Cowen reminded me very much of my experiences on my own patch, its history, future, problems and wildlife.  The Invention of Nature, the biography of Alexander Humboldt by Andrea Wulf was a good read, but if you’re after lots of details and the excitement of his travels you’re far better I think reading Humboldt’s own works.  The Biography very much focuses on his influence upon others such as Charles Darwin, and how these individuals took forward ideas based on Humboldt’s thinking.  My read of the year was the Poyser Bird Observatories of Britain and Ireland and this wins Killy’s Book of the Year Award.  I’d often thought this book from the title sounded boring, but having read it found I was wrong.  It deals with details of all of the current recognised observatories, history, birds and other wildlife, personalities etc.  I came across mention of a few people I knew.  An excellent read and each observatoryis given individual attention from different authors. So a wide range of styles.
Other Good Experiences.  Guess I could go on at length here but I don’t want you yawning your way into 2016 so I’ll keep it short.  Some things that spring to mind are the trips to Bass Rock (NHSN) and Northern Pennines (NEWT).  The former offering Gannets, other seabirds and Velvet Scoters at Aberlady, and the latter including the Black Grouse Lek plus lots of other great birds.  I have to say that this year I have never felt as cold as when I stepped out of the car and spent a few minutes in the cold air of the uplands.  I’m feeling cold now thinking of it!  Druridge Bay has certainly delivered this year too.  Great sighting of an unexpected Osprey at East Chevington to add to the one over the sea at Seaton Sluice.  Then there was the annual pilgrimage to Slaley for the Nightjars and on and on.

Bass Rock
Best Christmas Present Ever.  Keith Brockie print of the Isle of May given to me by Sam.

Killy’s 2015 Award for Loyal Follower.  Sedgedunum Warbler has followed me for years so…………oh damn I’ve run out of awards.  Sorry John maybe next year!  Pity as they were good ones this year too.

All the Best to everyone for 2016 and may you keep your heads above water and not suffer from wind!

Wednesday, 23 December 2015

A Christmas Appeal from Santa Claus

Santa Claus has asked if I would place a message on my blog as a matter of urgency.  He tells me that in all his many Christmas’s he has never known it be so warm in December and this has meant that he is now having a crisis concerning clothing for himself and his many little helpers during there round of deliveries.  Santa feels they will all over heat never get the work done if they dress as they have in the past and therefore they have an urgent need for tee shirts and wellies (wellies for the many flooded areas they have to visit).  Now this is where your help is required.  Do you have any unwanted tee shirts (good condition only) that you could send to Santa?  Now Santa requires an extra large tee shirt as he has eaten so many mince pies and drank so much over the years (he guessing some readers will have similar problems), although his little helpers are in fact little so would require tee shirts and wellies in small sizes.  Santa’s wellies would need to be size 14.5.  Santa sends his thanks in anticipation and asks that you simply send to Mr S Claus, Santa’s Grotto, Lapland or simply stick ‘em up your chimney.  Any cash donations would be gratefully received too.

I’m wondering if the number of climate change doubters has fallen in recent times or if there are still many with their heads in the sand or under water.  Interestingly I’m reading The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf with outlines the adventures of Alexander Von Humboldt.  It seems that Humboldt forecast man made climate change as early as 1800!  I’ve only ever been vaguely aware of Humboldt so I’m enjoying reading about a man who inspired not only Charles Darwin (who had a set of Humboldt’s books on his shelves on The Beagle), but someone as well known as Simon Bolivar.  Humboldt has more things named after him than any other person.  I will have the book finished before 2016 and be ready to start a new year of reading.

I decided to have a short break from blogging, but in any event circumstances meant I had little choice really.  My outings have been restricted to a trip to Druridge some weeks ago with Sam and Lee where I failed narrowly to catch sight of the Long Billed Dowitcher, but nevertheless enjoyed the skeins of Pink-footed Geese which put a fine show on during the time we were there.  Red-throated Divers into double figures showed well, with some of them very close to shore and we found at least three pairs of Stonechat.  So warm was it that we had a butterfly over the dunes, probably a Small Tortoiseshell.

A female Gadwall appeared on the lake on the 17th and was first seen by Sam.  This gave us both our first Gadwall on patch.  Today it has been joined by two males.  A significant sighting.  Incidentally, it is not known where the term Gadwall is derived from and its meaning is unknown.

The garden has brought me sightings of a Great Spotted Woodpecker, the first one seen by me there for some years, a fleeting visit from the Sparrowhawk yesterday and growing numbers of Greenfinch and thankfully a few House Sparrows have returned to feed but sadly no longer roost at the bottom of the garden and who can blame them with those damn prowling ‘moggies’ about!

Merry Christmas to all.