Sunday, 31 January 2016

January Begins and Ends With Smew

31st.  As I waved goodbye to 2015 little did I imagine that within hours I’d be sharing my time with a redhead Smew (patch tick) on New Years Day.  Even less did I imagine that I would be watching it still on patch on the last day of January?  Having deserted us for a few days it returned and clearly knows where it is well off as far as feeding goes and it’s certainly been an attraction for the bird watching fraternity and photographers.  There must be lots of images out there now, but I make no apology for adding a few more.  The Smew has been my top bird for the month, and it has been an excellent month with some great local birding.


 The light was fading as Sam and I checked the lake out today.  The Smew showed extremely well although the light at times was not all that it could have been, and at times swam with fellow saw-bills, the Goosanders.  It was also good to see the return of a male Gadwall (you may remember a patch tick for me in December), and we are hoping that this species will now be a regular at the lake.  Also present were Scaup (I’ll not entertain any suggestion that the bird we were watching isn’t a Scaup), Goldeneye in number and Pochard, the subtle markings of the female Pochard being much underestimated in terms of beauty in my opinion, along with Tufted Duck et al.  Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard in the woodland as we walked towards the flock of Canada Geese settled around the pathway.  The return walk following the pathway through the woodland showed just how much damage the recent winds had caused.  I’m not sure if the wind is to be blamed for the state of the floating reed-bed, which if it moves any further may end up on the roadway!  I don’t think anyone can blame the Mute Swans or other birds for the state of this floating eyesore on this occasion but that doesn’t rule out some trying to!  We ended our day with the Smew.


 Our day had begun with a visit to the Rising Sun Country Park, which I understand is to be featured on Countryfile on Sunday 7th February.  (I’ll look forward to seeing some familiar faces).  Our visit began with us picking up the call of Water Rail.  The Red Deer stag appeared content in the field when we passed by on arrival.

We were unable to locate any Pintail on a still flooded Swallow Pond.  There were numbers of Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and the odd Shoveler present.  Please note that I have now bowed to authority and have begun to spell Shoveler with one L only, although I confess that I still believe it ought to have two!  A look (a very quick look) through the gulls brought nothing unusual to our attention.

Goosander with Smew
Of the thrushes, Redwing were the most abundant with maybe sixty plus in one field and more seen as we walked around the park.  Blackbird numbers were high today and Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare were all seen in smaller numbers.  Bullfinches were showing very well during our walk and other bird seen included Grey Heron, Greylag Goose, Canada Geese, Pheasant, Lapwing, Stock Dove, Goldcrest, tits and finches.  A healthy looking Fox showed briefly.

I’d enjoyed the walk in the fresh cold air and warmed up quickly with a bowl of soup in the restraunt before we left for our own patch.

Goosander with Smew
Hopefully the rest of the year will continue to provide as much interest as January has, with Druridge Bay on the agenda for February.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Temperature Rising

Well, my temperature is rising, got my feet on the floor
Crazy people rocking 'cause they want to some more
Let me in baby, I don't know what you got
But you better take it easy 'cause this place is hot
Spencer Davis Group

24th Jan.  This month is flying by!  It wasn’t so much the excitement of birds sightings that brought on the perspiration today, no it was the rising temperatures, although I have to say that out on the open fields at Holywell, that cooling breeze still had me reaching for the hat, so thoughts of the Mediterranean soon vanished.  Thoughts weren’t the only thing to have vanished today, as a thorough search suggested that the geese had ‘Bean and gone,’ the Bean Goose probably to Big Waters I heard, and White-fronted Geese to where ever.  We did have a skein of silent Pink-footed Geese overhead and flocks of calling Greylag.  Canada Geese were seen at the pond.  We initially thought that the Mandarin Drake had left the pond too, but our third visit to public hide in the afternoon gave us a good sighting of it as it preened itself on the water.

Some thought was given to the hybrid duck on the water which we finally agreed was more than likely a Pochard/Tufted Duck cross.  We initially had quite a lot of time to consider this one as there wasn’t very much else about.

My soaring (by my standards) 2016 list still does not include Yellowhammer.  Many of the hedges across the open fields at Holywell have recently been cut (or better to say chopped) and this has left them very open, so this very likely accounts for few birds to be found there.  Last year I didn’t hear or see Song Thrush until 1st February and it appears that Yellowhammer is this year’s bogey.  Incidentally a Song Thrush has been feeding in and singing close by my garden almost each day this month.  We did come across the small flock of Skylarks again today.

On our return to the pond we had lunch prior to our planned walk to Backworth.  The walk never occurred as we received a text from CS who we had spoken to earlier, informing us of the whereabouts of a Brambling.  We decided to head for the dene area in the hope of finding it.  We got muddy boots again, but no Brambling, although our change of plan did bring us some nice sightings of woodland birds including Nuthatches, Treecreepers and parties of tit including Long-tailed Tits in some number.  Two Stock Doves fed in the field to the north.  On leaving the dene the light through the Beech trees was wonderful, and the light remained good as we paid our final visit to the pond.  It was now that we found that the Mandarin Drake was showing well and that a Shoveler had now joined the Mallards, Gadwall, Wigeon and Goldeneye (a pair mating).  Common Snipe was seen in the distance on East Pool.  A Kestrel, probably the same one that had been seen perched on the fence earlier in the day, was flying over the hedge line.  We were also able to add Lesser Black-backed Gull to the year list.

So, a much milder day, although fairly quiet as bird sightings go, although still bring us almost fifty bird sightings during our visit.  Large flocks of Lapwing and Wood Pigeon flew overhead as we prepared to leave for home.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Bean a Grey Day

21st Jan.  The walk from Holywell village towards the pond, as we spotted a single Curlew by a frozen pool, more than hinted that today was going to be bitterly cold, and so it proved.  Our primary target was Bean Goose, and as soon as I saw the flock of geese in West Field my confidence grew that we were going to find it.  It took, but a few seconds to have the Bean Goose (rossicus) in the scope, its bill pattern showing well along with white base.  Two European White-fronted Geese (possibly we had seen these same two at Backworth earlier in the month) also stood out from the small mixed flock which also included Greylag and Canada Geese.  We took time to enjoy a good sighting, probably the best sighting I’ve had of a Bean Goose apart from the two I had found on patch in recent years.  A good way to start the day’s walk.  Tree Sparrows were feeding nearby at the feeding station and more were found outside of the hide.  The Lapwing flock was large and restless.

Bean Goose if you look closely!
The pond was frozen solid.  It wasn’t long before I pulled up my collar hoping to keep some of the cold air out, although not with much success.  It wasn’t really a day for sitting around in hides.  Sadly we had just missed the Otter out on the ice.  Great Spotted Woodpecker had been seen before we entered the hide.

Most life was down by the public hide including the posing and flashy Mandarin Drake, seen in much better light today that last week when our attention had been taken by the Slavonian Grebe  which was no longer present. The accompanying party included Mallard, Gadwall, Wigeon, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye (which climbed onto the ice) and Grey Herons.

Mandarin Drake (what else)
As we headed across open fields towards the dene and coast both Kestrel and Sparrowhawk were seen well, a small number of Skylarks lifted and flew off.  A few Pink-footed Geese (just into double figures), well spotted by Sam initially, added to our list of grey geese seen today and to add a further touch of grey to the day we found a small covey of Grey Partridges.  At some point we recorded Fieldfares.

Instead of descending into the dene we walked along the pathway between dene and farmland until we passed the farm buildings and reached the burn.  Heading down towards Seaton Sluice we added Grey Wagtail too our list before sighting a Little Egret flying up the burn from the coast and landing at a distance from us, but a distance that still allowed a good sighting.  This bird seemed to be gradually making its way up the burn as it chased from its path a Carrion Crow.  Although this is the first Little Egret we have seen in this particular area, it seems to me to be an ideal area for this species and I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of these birds in the area in future.

Little Egret

 Such was the cold as we arrived at Seaton Sluice, there was only one place to be, and it wasn’t the cliff edge, and so we adjourned to the fish and chip restraunt to warm up and have lunch.  We aren’t turning soft though and we were soon out there overlooking the sea.  There wasn’t a great deal to see in truth, but at least I have finally added Red-throated Diver to my year list and there was a large passage of Guillemots and a few Razorbills.

The air chilled us even more and we decided that as we’d had some good sightings that we’d now call it a day, but as the tide was now ebbing we checked out the going numbers of waders on the rocks below.  We found numbers of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper and Knot.  It proved to be a nice ending to our walk which had brought us yet another very good and rewarding day in the first month of the year, and there’s plenty of time left in January.  We have been no further than Seaton Sluice, Holywell, the Carr and Gosforth park outside of North Tyneside and the lists are coming along famously.  A hot shower was on my mind as we journeyed home as the light seemed to foretell a descent into even poorer weather.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Walking Northwards

18th Jan.  I decided to brave the cold again and take a walk northwards, thus covering an area that is perhaps the least visited part of the patch by me.

Initially walking through the estates I found large numbers of finches, tits and House Sparrows.  I don’t recall seeing so many Chaffinches in the area before, and Greenfinch was represented too.  Greenfinches continue to visit my garden in good numbers.  Probably garden feeding was attracting the birds and once I was out onto the open farmland there was quite a difference.  The hedgerows were virtually silent and the open fields too were free of much life.

I was initially accompanied only by corvids, gulls and pigeons.  Eventually I found at least three Wrens, a lone Dunnock, and six Pheasants.  Two Brown Hares were seen, keeping their distance from the pathways.  As I passed by the site of tall trees I found in them a flock of twenty plus Fieldfare which took off and called as I walked underneath them.

Any blue sky was now being quickly covered by grey cloud approaching from north, east and west and by the time I’d reached the frozen flashes and the area that I had hoped to see Yellowhammers (but didn’t) I could feel the odd spot of rain on my hands and face.  I didn’t feel like being caught out here in heavy rainfall, so I began to head back.  A handful of Golden Plover flew overhead. 

The return walk brought me a single Reed Bunting which flew off the open field into the hedge that lined the pathway, and an excellent sighting of the Fieldfares now on the ground.  These really are wonderfully marked thrushes.

By now most of the frozen pathways are clearing, but the frozen flashes are testimony to the still low temperatures, so my over heating can only be accounted for by the power walking, the layers of clothing and perhaps the heat emanating from the sweet smelling silage that I passed along the way.  I’d enjoyed the walk, the open spaces, the changing sky and the solitude.  The only words spoken in two hours were ‘you alright’ and ‘hi’ to the infrequent passers by.  Thirty to forty Starlings greeted me with their calling as I approached home and I was under lighter skies again.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Smew Begins Day and Ice Brings it to an End

16th. I had been informed by Sam yesterday that he had re-found the redhead Smew on its return to patch so dressed in multi-layers I braved the icy paths down to the lake and met up with Sam before a trip to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve.

Icy Patch

 It took me a few minutes to find the Smew, but find it I did and it gave a good sighting if you avoided facing directly into the sun on this bright crisp and icy cold morning.  If anything it was a better sighting than in the poor light of New Years Day, but unfortunately it wasn’t good light for photography at that time of day, such was the direction of the sunlight.  Good to talk to a couple of old friends, and especially good to see BR making it down to the lake.

Smew. (bad light)  
There were a couple of contenders for being Scaup.  Sam and I are confident that one of them actually was a Scaup.  Sedgedunum Warbler had found three Wigeon on the larger lake before we had arrived and we soon had those in view along with the likes of Goldeneye and Goosander.  Sam had managed to take some excellent images of Goosander yesterday.  I’d been occupied with more mundane tasks such as shopping!

It wasn’t too long before we were off to Gosforth Park.  No longer flooded, but very icy and/or muddy in places, and much of the pond under ice.  Some of the pathways are closed because of ongoing work, which ought to be noted if you’re a member and planning a visit.  Apparently the Smew had been here yesterday but had naturally been drawn to the delights of Killingworth Lake.  There’s certainly plenty of fish for it there.  I’d been so careful on the ice I perhaps overlooked the other obstacles and caught my foot in the vegetation and fell flat on my face.  There wasn’t too much blood and I survived to continue the day, perhaps protected by all my many layers of clothing.  The feeding station was unusually quiet for such a cold day, although we heard Great Spotted Woodpecker.  The rest of the reserve that we were able to visit was equally quiet.  The pond held Wigeon, Teal, Mallard and Shoveller.  I added Common Snipe to the year list and a little later Jay also, when it flew over the pond.

Our next stop was Prestwick Carr.  I hadn’t (perhaps foolishly) expected conditions to be quite so bad, but it proved impossible (at least it would have been dangerous) to advance very far along the bumpy road.  Sheet ice here was lethal and where the ice had broken up was fairly deep water with in places ice underneath it.  A recipe for disaster, but we did very carefully plodge through the water as it reached almost half way up the Wellington Boots.  I refrained from taking a photo of Sam in the water, remembering my fall earlier.  I didn’t want my day to end with me and camera equipment flat out in icy water.   Surprisingly I wasn’t feeling too cold.  We’d seen a couple of Kestrels on arrival and Common Buzzard was heard before being seen perched (another new one for the year for me).  Again things were very quiet as far as bird life was concerned, but we did have decent sightings of two hunting and calling Short-eared Owls which alone made the trip up there worthwhile.  After a bite to eat we decided that it would be wise to make an exit and return home so the day was cut rather short.  The Willow Tits can wait another opportunity.  As we made off we watched as fifteen plus Pied Wagtails wandered across the frozen flash to the right of us.  We checked for Grey Wagtail but found none.  Unsurprisingly there were few folk about, but we did see three or four.

Not the worst part of the walk.
On arrival back on patch we both got an eye on a Grey Wagtail as it flew across near my home so with that one added to the year list I’m giving Sam a good run for his money, not that we ever take numbers seriously!

So I was home in time to listen to the match.  Two good performances in a week.  Can I be dreaming, and it is really the height of summer?

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Muddy Waters

Oh, so cold up north that the birds can't hardly fly
So cold up north that the birds can't hardly fly
I'm going back south
And let this winter pass on by
And let this winter pass on by
And let this winter pass on by
Let this winter pass on by, yeah
Lyrics by Muddy Waters
10th Jan.  Well the Met Office almost got things right, but mixed the days up so Sam and I were soaked again as we walked from St Mary’s Island to Seaton Sluice in the wind and rain.  The dry weather forecast actually came the following day when it had been forecast to be heavy rain!  It was good to see clear blue skies.

On the 10th we had started our walk at Brier Dene where there was a complete lack of birds showing apart from a few tits and Goldfinches.  At least the walk South Bay brought us sightings of several Rock Pipits and a single Purple Sandpiper amongst the flocks of waders.  These were both new to the year list as was Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew.  Our lists are coming along fine considering as yet we have barely been out of North Tyneside, apart from reaching Holywell and Seaton Sluice.  We are still in laid back mode but may progress further north to Druridge Bay next week.

A pair of Stonechat were the highlight as we walked to Seaton Sluice and I kept an eye open for early prospecting Fulmars, but saw none, although I know a couple have been seen in the area.

We were cold, damp and muddy and saw little action on or over the sea.  A few auks were seen as were three Common Scoter and the Eiders.  The tide was high ensuring that there was no Knot to be seen on the rocks.  It wasn’t too long before we were making for home.  Walking in places had been quite difficult because of mud and water.  Think I’m gonna be forced to clean my gear!

You may want to keep and eye open for Sam’s annual blog.  Yes it’s COMING SOON @ Sam 

Saturday, 9 January 2016

All Weather Birders Rewarded with Slavonian Grebe

9th Jan.  Sam had been out yesterday and found some decent birds whilst getting soaked to the skin.  We went out today with me hoping for some of the former and as little as possible of the latter.

We began at Backworth and soon had the Green-winged Teal in our sights as we stood surrounded by flooded ground.  The type of day that could produce something special I thought.  Our plan was to walk to Holywell and so we set off under a dark misty sky which was threatening rain.  The threat soon became reality as we listened to calling Linnets.  I’m told skin is water-proof and it seemed that this was going to be tested today, as my coat seems to have lost its powers to keep the rain out.

Initially we had found no White-fronted Geese (Sam had found them yesterday), but keeping an eye on the fields and the flashes we soon spotted a large flock of Greylag Geese in the distance.  Although mist hampered the view we had soon picked out three White-Fronted Geese through the telescope and also one Barnacle Goose.  The rain continued, but at least it wasn’t torrential and a little further along the path we were soon watching a Mediterranean Gull amongst Common and Black-headed Gulls beside another flash.  Three female Bullfinches had led the way.

Such was the chat along the way we seemed to reach Holywell quite quickly, and as we walked along side the mud coloured burn we picked up a number of woodland species including Long-tailed Tits, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  As the rain eased and allowed time for some drying we approached the path which led towards the pond and found our first Kestrel of the year.  After a chat with a good friend of ours we headed for the private hide from which we soon picked up Slavonian Grebe at the east end of the pond.  We were thrown into some confusion when we found that this grebe had been reported as Black-necked Grebe.  After a double take we confirmed our own identification, as it turns out it pays to believe your own eyes.  A Mandarin Drake was also soon in our sights, but even this bird didn’t look quite as flashy as usual under such grey skies, and I’m afraid took a back seat to the Slavonian Grebe today.

At different points during the day we found Song Thrush, Redwing, Fieldfare, Mistle Thrush and Blackbird, the Fieldfares being heard before seen on each occasion we found them.  Reed Bunting was seen from the hide and we watched Tree Sparrows at the feeding station along with a friendly Brown Rat and finches and tits.  We chatted to AS and JD in the public hide as a Short Eared Owl flew slowly past the hide, and as we watched more closely the Slavonian Grebe and other birds such as Grey Heron, Goosander and Goldeneye.  By now the Mandarin Drake was on the island and it had stopped raining.

We decided to walk down to the dene through mud and water.  Along the way we heard Golden Plover and watched three Stock Doves and a covey of ten Grey Partridges.

We walked through the fields and eventually doubled back into the dene where the burn was deep and running at great speed.  I didn’t think there would be much chance of seeing a Dipper today, but I was wrong and we had sight of one flying down the burn before we headed back towards the pond, finding at least two Goldcrest near the pathway.

The pond was fairly quite on our return.  We walked back along to the private hide chatting to friends as we watched a pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers above the feeding station, as likely a place to find them as anywhere.

I took a stop off at the hedge as Sam entered the hide.  Once I caught up and entered the door he was taking photographs and suggested I keep quiet.  The Slavonian Grebe was right outside and so watching and photographing this bird took up most of the rest of our stay.  Neither of us have ever had such a good sighting of Slavonian Grebe.  To top things off a Kingfisher flew past on a couple of occasions, on one such occasion perching on a nearby object.  Well what can one say?  A great way to end a great days birding and I’d really forgotten how damp I was by now!  The Slavonian Grebe was put on edge by the sound of gunshot and then chased off by Mute Swans.

The day could have ended in disaster as I somehow caught my foot in the strap of my camera (don’t ask) and sent it and my new lens crashing to the floor with a very loud bang.  Thankfully it seems intact and there were no tears.  Much to be said for good old Canon equipment.  It won’t leave my neck in future!

We left for home as a large flock of  Lapwing flew overhead.  A quick count shows that we had found sixty-five species on our walk, twenty-seven of them being new to the year list.  Bird of what was a great day was undoubtedly the Slavonian Grebe, although a number of others follow closely behind.

Remember………. it’s good to walk!

Friday, 8 January 2016

All Weather Birders Blown Dry on a Headland

7th Jan.  It’s rarely stopped raining since our dry walk on patch last Saturday, but the weather forecast suggested brightness as the day went on today, so we agreed that a walk from Seaton Sluice to St Mary’s Island would be a good way to spend a few hours.  The weather forecast was wrong and the rain, murkiness, chill and rough sea that greeted us on arrival at Seaton Sluice headland only worsened as the day went on.  We got no further than the headland, but nevertheless made some good sightings as we lived up to our all weather birder titles.  On our journey to the coast sightings included a flock of Lapwing and Great Black-backed Gull near temporary flashes (or perhaps better to say mini lakes, such were the conditions).

 First birds of note at Seaton Sluice were three Velvet Scoters showing wonderfully well flying south past and fairly close to the headland.  A single Little Gull appeared close to the headland as it also flew south under the cliff and then we had a Little Auk appearing just as close before it disappeared underwater having been dive bombed by one of the many Great Black-backed Gulls.  As the Little Auk appeared, so too did Gannet and Eider Ducks.

Other birds noted included Red-throated Diver (SH only) Cormorant (hugging the shoreline), Shag (SH only), a single Wigeon flying south, Common Scoters flying north (BM only), Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Dunlin (all in flight close to the headland), Kittiwakes, Guillemots and two Razorbills.

We broke for lunch and on return found the area ever more gloomy and bird passage negligible although as we spoke with another birder out walking his dog another Little Auk flew south and again close to the headland.

As we left after our first sea-watch of 2016, the rain continued to fall, the burn appeared a muddy grey/brown, shipping rolled on the waves, the waves continued to pound the shoreline, the sands and dunes of the beach to the north was shrouded in mist and Blyth was barely visible.  As we approached home the cloud was breaking up somewhat, but rather latter than forecast.  As for the forecast for tomorrow?  Well surprisingly it’s going to rain!

Sunday, 3 January 2016

RSPB Walk on Patch

Once upon a time in the land of misty satin dreams there stood a house
And a man who painted nature scenes
He painted trees
And fields and animals and streams
And he stayed and he didn't hear the falling of the rain
No, he didn't hear the falling of the rain
Billy Joel lyrics

2nd Jan.  Sodden Killingworth was still attracting a number of birders hoping to find the redhead Smew.  I’m afraid this bird had flown, along with the Scaup, Gadwalls and Shoveller.

The rain had fallen heavily early morning, but I’m pleased to say that the Met Office forecast had been correct and whilst the light remained murky the rain had stopped about an hour prior to our walk beginning at 11.00am.  The ten brave souls who had ignored the weather were to be rewarded with a dry period throughout our time out on the patch.  Although they didn’t say so I suspect at least some were there through loyalty, which Sam and I appreciate.  Our patch can’t match the delights of Spindlestone and Budle Bay where we held our 2015 New Year Walk, but it had been requested, so someone else is aware that the area is interesting and worth watching.   Having had our hot drink and mince pie as way of greeting we set off.  As I say, the Smew and some other species we had hoped for (Sam and I having watched them yesterday), were gone, but there was enough to birds on the lake to keep interest going.  Some of these species taken for granted at times I think and anyone who does so, I think needs to remember some of these birds are disappearing.

The rain kept off as we eventually headed for the village area where we found a couple of Fieldfare.  A rather oddly shaped Oak Tree which Sam and I have being taken note of drew the attention and discussion.  Sam I believe is going to seek specialist advice about it and will feed this back to participants in the future.  The female Sparrowhawk made an appearance overhead once again as we watched what was a generally quiet area today.  Participants did enjoy the rather large flock of Long-tailed Tits.

We decided to call off the walk we had planned around the area of Killingworth Moor such was the forecast and rain cloud closing in around us.  As it happens it didn’t rain heavily until much later in the day.  Still, I think everyone was satisfied with the 2.5 hours we were out, it certainly beats sitting at home and we didn’t get wet!  I said farewell to the group as Sam guided them back to the car-park, so I missed the Great Spotted Woodpecker.  The walk list came to thirty-seven species and had included Cormorant, Sparrowhawk, Fieldfare and Coal Tit which had not been seen yesterday.  It had been good to have a non member quite new to birding along today, and who left I think surprised at just what the Killingworth area offers.  Killingworth is not just a Township with a boating lake although, I suspect that even many of the people who live here don’t realise that.

Still no House Sparrow, but I haven’t gone out of my way to find them.  Still in laid back mode.

3rd Jan.  I decided to take the opportunity to watch the garden today and was rewarded with my first House Sparrows of the year at 13:00 precisely.  I’ve never seen the garden so busy for some time.  Birds which made an appearance where (in no particular order) Song Thrush which hung around to give a song, Blackbird, Carrion Crow (unusual for these to land in my small garden), Jackdaw, Magpie, Starling, Wood Pigeon, Collared Dove, Robin, Dunnock, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch (at least 6), Greenfinch (7+), Goldfinch (2), Sparrowhawk (OK it didn’t land, but it was over the garden so I’m counting it) and of course the House Sparrows.  Now I can’t compare this to those who have large gardens, but as mine is about as small as they get I’m pleased with such numbers.  Missing were the Coal Tits and Wren.  Numbers are no doubt related to the non appearance of the killer cats for much of the time.  When they did appear I did also and they left swiftly.

Lots of rain forecast for this coming week so I may be watching the garden quite a bit more!

Friday, 1 January 2016

Smew Beauty...2016 Begins on Patch

1st Jan.  As we are leading a walk in Killingworth tomorrow planned to cover several miles, Sam and I decided to confine ourselves to the area around the lake and village today and follow a laid back approach to beginning our 2016 lists.  Whilst down at the lake we began to feel that the area had become the place to be such was the number of birders about (good to see familiar faces and enjoy a chat).  Had everyone learned of the wonderful conservation management that has gone on in Killingworth (that’s a joke by the way) and decided to start there New Year in style.  Nah, it soon became apparent that it was the redhead Smew that was attracting folk.  This is a bird I have never seen on patch and I understand that there has been no sighting of one on the lake for years.  Does anyone know when that was?  Well, what a way to begin the year.  A great sighting of a beautiful bird, and seen in flight too.  When it flew to the far end of the larger lake it give even better sightings to the three of us who bothered to walk down there in fading light.  The lighting conditions were very poor this afternoon and the balmy days that we have enjoyed during December seem to be at an end.  New patch tick for me on day one and a lifer for Sam.

I'm telling you, there was a Smew there!

My day had begun fairly late with some garden watching.  Starling, Collared Dove and Blue Tit being the first three birds seen in 2016.  Numbers of Greenfinch soon arrived at the seed and it has been good to see numbers of this species seeming to increase on patch recently.  Are they recovering from the disease which inflicted them in recent years (I’m not going to try to spell it)?  Not at all surprised to see Starlings as there are still a fair number in Killingworth as anyone who shops at Morrison’s would be able to confirm.  Sadly no House Sparrows seen at all today.  A year list beginning with no House Sparrow on it is sad indeed.

A little later it was down to the lake to meet with Sam.  It seemed that perhaps the dropping temperatures had brought some birds to the lake.  There was certainly more Goosanders about and numbers of Goldeneye may well have increased too.  Gadwall remain and a female Shoveller was picked up.  A Scaup too, a species we added to the list early last year.  Only one Pochard was seen!  Coot numbers are well down and have been for sometime.  The usual wildfowl was present amongst them two Greylag Geese.  A number of Pied Wagtails were heard and seen.

Distant Smew

We wandered through what was in general quiet woodland near the new housing development.  This allowed us to pick up a small flock of Redwing, Mistle Thrush and Song Thrush.  We eventually wandered over to the village area where the church grounds were almost silent, in total contrast to our previous visit.  The rest of the area was especially quiet too, although we did find a flock of Long-tailed Tits, Blue Tit and Great Tit.

Although still fairly early, the cloud build up meant that the light was already dimming, so as we doubled back towards the lake I picked up the telescope from home.  Well yes, we determined to have a good look at this Smew while we had the chance and having watched it at length I have to say it’s the best sighting of a Smew I’ve ever had.

Keeping its distance!
So having said goodbye to Sam I marched off home with telescope and binoculars, well satisfied with the few hours on patch and dreaming of what wonders 2016 has in store.  Just before arriving home as darkness was creeping in I listened to the song from a Song Thrush.  I later found that I had recorded forty species in a rather small area of the patch.  As I say, laid back birding has a lot to recommend it and the many other species will I’m sure oblige as the  year moves on, but in any event it’s quality wot counts and the Smew was definitely a quality sighting.

Happy New Year.

Smew Mergellus albellus

Etymology: albellus diminutive of albus, L. for white, in reference to drake plumage.  Mergellus diminutive of mergus meaning little merganser.  Common name, known since 1668, derives from Smee Duck and refers to kurr-rik or krr-eck call of drake.
(Info taken from B Fs of the W, Ducks, Geese and Swans/Janet Kear)