Sunday, 14 February 2016

All Weather Birders with Short Ears

Dramatic Skies

14th Dec.  Sam and I travelled to St Mary’s Island this morning under blue sky and sunshine, but even then ominous leaden skies over Blyth Valley and further north promised that a change in the weather wasn’t too make us wait for long, and so it proved.  A Fox was seen moving along the Beehive road.  As we walked towards St Mary’s Island any initial warmth that we felt rapidly disappeared in the cold air and we soon had snow blowing into our faces.  It got so bad we disappeared behind the brick wall of the public conveniences for a time, as we continued to watch the dramatically changing skies, the small flock of Common Snipe that flew in the area, and a quickly disappearing Sparrowhawk which put them to the air again.  Small flocks of waders moved along the coastline, including Oystercatchers, Golden Plover, calling Curlew, Sanderling and Turnstone.  Numbers of Redshank had been seen as we had made our approach, whilst Pied Wagtails and Rock Pipits called.  It was the type of weather when you come across only the keen folk and as one of them mentioned, the weather was rough but the scene was dramatic.

Grey Skies

Sam facing the storm.
The snow storm eventually passed us by and sun and clearer skies returned, allowing us an easy walk across to the island where we were unable to find much bird life.  We did catch sight of a diver flying north and our brief view suggested that it was too large to be a Red Throated Diver, but I’m afraid it’ll just have to go on the list as diver species as it remained unconfirmed.  Kittiwake, Guillemot, Razorbill and Eider were seen and as we walked back across to the wetland area Ringed Plover was seen on the shoreline.

We soon had our sighting of the day in the form of at least two Short-eared Owls, initially flying close to us near the wetland.  We watched them at length.  We’d initially half hoped that one would be a Long-eared Owl, but that was not to be.  It was good too that other passers by were taking an interest, well at least some where, others passed by as the owls flew close to them and they appeared not to notice.  So once again although a fairly quiet day we had the company of Short-eared Owls.  It’s good that these birds have hung about the area.  We’d found these birds way back at the start of winter when at least one Short-eared Owl had flown in off the sea and over the Brier Dene.  We also had the company of a Cormorant with the whitest head I have ever seen on this species.  Could it have been sinensis sub species?  Maybe.

Short-eared Owl

We walked from here towards Seaton Sluice and onwards to Holywell Pond.  It continued to remain quiet, especially the hedges.  Another Red Throated Diver was seen from the headland at Seaton Sluice, this time flying south.  Much of the area of the dene offered little in the way of birds, but we did see a Dipper flying up the burn and the area of the feeding stations offered sightings of Great, Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tit, Nuthatch, Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker et al.

Holywell pond held Mute Swan, Greylag and Canada Geese, Mallard, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye.  The public hide was like a freezer with an icy cold wind blowing in off the water so we soon moved to the more hospitable members hide.  We checked the pond for Smew which had been reported the previous two days but we had no success.  Grey Herons were active in the area.  By now the light was wonderful across the back of the pond and we saw a Roe Deer in the woodland here.

Better |Light at the end of the day.
As we made off a male Sparrowhawk made a swoop towards the feeding station and flew through one of the viewing gaps.  Clearly a bird that knows its patch very well!  It flew out the other side and doubled back towards the gardens, its attack having failed to find a target


  1. Nice pics. Looks like it was a productive days birding, despite the storm.

  2. The coast is an excellent place to be during storms. Just as Turner (the artist). It can be extremely dramatic. Also less folk about which is a good thing. Not an especially good day on the birding front, but the SEOs were wonderful.

    1. Yeah the photos of the Short-eared Owls suggest a very good day, as far as they were concerned. I can imagine storms on the coast being exciting and yes it's an added bonus to not have many folk about when your birding.