Sunday, 19 November 2017

A Walk to the Lake

19th November.  It wasn’t as cold as I had expected when I followed the path down to the lake, past trees still holding their autumnal colours, if a little faded now.  The skies were blue, but the sunlight was already weak and low in the sky.  Despite the chill in the air such days are in my opinion far superior to the damp dowdy days we have had during recent summers.

There were approaching 130 Canada Geese in the field by the smaller lake, and more of them on and beside the larger lake, so in total approaching 150 Canada Geese, not far short of the largest number I’ve seen here.  The Canada Geese were joined by 6 Greylag Geese.  Notable birds on the lake included 1 male Shoveler, 2 pairs of Gadwall, 1 pair of Goosander, 1 pair of Goldeneye and a late remaining Great Crested Grebe.  Happily the Great Crested Grebes have had another successful breeding year on the lake as many photographers will be aware.  Most of the gulls were gathered on the still frozen corner of the smaller lake.


On my return most of the Canada Geese were on the water of the smaller lake with the 6 Greylag Geese and most of the ice had disappeared and the gulls had dispersed. 

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Naturalist Notes of Northumberland in November

3rd Nov.  We attended the NHSN talk on Slugs and Snails this evening.  My verdict is, yes you can make a talk on slugs and snails interesting and fun and I think the rest of the audience, which was approaching one hundred, would generally agree the talk was excellent.  I have the book lined up for winter reading.  It’s the New Naturalist Slugs and Snails by Robert Cameron.

5th Nov.  Sam and I headed north to Drudge, on what was a very cold, bright autumnal morning, where the highlight on East Chevington North Pool was a Slavonian Grebe.  We walked from the Country Park down to the mouth of the burn at East Chevington, which if nothing else warmed us up.  We spoke to several birders/photographers here including AJ, who had arrived for the showing of the Twite and Shore Lark.  There were now two Shore Lark showing very well in the sun along with a flock of Twite at times showing equally well, the flock numbering around eighty birds.  After returning to the Country Park, instead of heading for Druridge Pools and Cresswell Pond we decided to travel to Mitford with the hope of finding the Hawfinch.  No Hawfinch seen on this attempt, but it was worth going for the autumnal colours.  We also took time to look around the church grounds as Sam has family links to Mitford.  I too have links which are more tenuous and fleeting in the great shape of things.  We made off to Big Waters.

Twite

Autumnal Colour

There was no sign of the pair of Red Crested Pochard at Big Waters, but we did see a family of Whooper Swans and were given directions by MF to the field where the Red-breasted Goose was.  I know this bird won’t be listed but I’m guessing it to be as wild as the Red-breasted Goose a few folks made their way over the border to see while ago. :-) Does this bird have a ring on its leg or not?  I’ve read conflicting thoughts.  We did think we could see a yellow ring, but could it have been a trick of the light?  From Big Waters we made for Prestwick Carr.

I’m sure someone has stretched the long straight road at Prestwick Carr, or maybe I was just tired!  It was Late afternoon by now and very quiet, although we chatted to two or three birders out to find the Great Grey Shrike.  During our walk we saw both Redpoll and Bullfinch and heard Willow Tit.  Before we reached the turning for the sentry box we looked northward and with my naked eye I picked up a white smudge in the distance. A view through the binoculars suggested Great Grey Shrike and this was confirmed once we got the scope onto it.  Sam and I decided to continue towards the sentry box in the hope of getting a better sighting.  We did get a very good sighting as the shrike perched for a long time in the bush.  The light was fading to an extent, but seemed to offer perfect conditions for watching the shrike.   I guess this is the same bird we watched in January and in previous years.

Record Breaker.  Tallest Goat.

So, a good day with some good sightings.  We made off as the light dimmed even more and the temperatures seemed to drop considerably.  The red flags were flying, so if the sentry was in his/her box I hope he/she had a flask of tea with him/her. We reached the car and were glad to get into it out of the way of the smell of the usual leaking gas which was especially bad today.  I figured that we had walked quite a few miles today, so the availability of a car hasn’t made us lazy.  I thought of Prestwick Carr at a time when the likes of Thomas Bewick and later Henry Baker Tristram would visit, when the area was far greater and undrained.  I did do a bit of reading about this area prior to leading a walk there a few years ago so know that it has an impressive bird list.

9th Nov.  We made north again today, this time in the direction of Lindisfarne.  Again, it was a bright but cold day.  Before reaching Lindisfarne we stopped off at Budle Bay where the highlights were 3 Little Egret, Grey Plover, several Bar-tailed Godwit and large flocks of Shelduck.

Redshank

Morning light

As we approached the causeway at Lindisfarne the sun lit up the water to south of us.  I don’t think I’ve ever been to the island and not had, at least part of the time, spectacular lighting conditions and today was no exception.  We stopped before crossing the causeway to admire the family of Whooper Swans accompanied by one Mute Swan, and to watch at distance the flock of Brent Geese.  It was a good start to our visit on what bird wise turned out to be in general a very quiet day.  We stopped again to explore the Snook and the massive area of the shore now that the tide had ebbed.  This is a wonderful sandy beach and we had it all to ourselves until a couple joined us with their dog.  By now the wind was up and sand blew low over the beach giving a desert like effect.  I almost forgot that we had to walk back and this time face into the wind!  Small pieces of vegetation floated across the area in the wind and looking back at our tracks I found the dunes behind me lit by the sun and a rather odd effect appeared along the sandy beach, where possibly because of blowing sand and other small particles of debris, there was a multitude of colours in areas along the sand.  I couldn’t change lenses on the windswept beach, but in any event these kinds of images invariably don’t reproduce what you see at the time, therefore the view remains, but a very good memory.  We found the historical site which I must learn more about and walked back following tracks in the dunes, not an easy walk.  We’d seen little in the way of birds, but it didn’t matter.  It was atmosphere that mattered, and we did find a lone Ringed Plover, Linnets and Rock Pipits, and the occasional Grey Seal watched from the sea.


Whooper Swans

I was feeling tired before we had even reached the island car-park, but after we had had a hot drink and a bacon sandwich I was back to my normal self and ready to go.  We visited the Priory, something neither of us had done for some years, before setting off past the vicar’s garden and around to the harbour.  It was very, very quiet, in fact as quiet as I’ve ever seen the island.  Passerines were scarce, there was few waders to be seen and there was little on the sea apart from Eider Ducks, Cormorants and the occasional ShagCurlews were few but in the harbour, we found Grey Plover, Redshank, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit.  A rather torpid Red Admiral Butterfly attempted to warm itself near the upturned boats. There were few birders on the island, but the occasional one that we did bump into reported little.

Red Admiral Butterfly

We walked past Gertrude Jekyl’s castle garden, something I don’t remember doing in the past, and onwards towards the sea.  A short sea watch brought only Razorbill and Gannet.  As we walked back towards the village we watched a female Kestrel hunting over the hedges.  It became apparent to us that the Kestrel would wait until we had walked past birds in the hedge which were then disturbed, and the Kestrel would swoop low over the hedge.  This continued until we were at the end of the pathway.  The Starlings and Curlews in the field were certainly disturbed by this.  The seems to have learned this technique to perfection, although we didn’t see it catch anything.

We saw the occasional Fieldfare lift from the hedge trees, but it wasn’t until we reached the coach car-park that we saw numbers of Redwing and a fewer number of Fieldfare.

We were one of the last cars to leave the island but within plenty of time to miss the incoming tide.  There were again very good lighting conditions across the mudflats but again few birds.  We did have very good close ups of sunlit Curlews and Redshanks, but had left the cameras in the boot.  We were luckier that we had the cameras in hand when just before leaving the causeway and heading for home a small skein of Pink-footed Geese flew in our direction.

Pink-footed Geese

There was more to visiting Lindisfarne than birds and Sam and I agreed that we had experienced a good day and it was a shame that we had to leave behind what was going to be a very impressive sunset.

10th Nov.  We end as we begun with attendance at the NHSN for a presentation by photo journalists Ann and Steve Toon whose images where of excellent quality.  Mainly of African wildlife, but not completely so, as there were some from the UK and Thailand.  The talk was slanted towards conservation issues and included such items as the removal of Rhino horn in attempts to prevent poaching, and the vasectomies of Elephants to control numbers, controversial subjects indeed.  Once again there was a large audience present.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Ten Thousand Geese...Part Three.

One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and tree
Spread its faint shadow of immensity
And lost itself, which seemed to eke its bounds
In the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds.
John Clare 173-1864


Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock

26th Oct.  This was to be my final full day north of the border, so we were hoping to make the most of it.  I have visited Caerlaverock WWT on many occasions, but surprisingly I’ve never visited Caerlaverock Castle or Caerlaverock NNR.  We intended to put that right today and on our drive to the castle via Dumfries and along by the attractive River Nith as it made it’s a straight course to the Solway, our chat included mention of Edward 1st, the Maxwell family, and the Scottish Covenanters, all having strong connections to Caerlaverock Castle.  For years I’d imagined Caerlaverock Castle to be a small pile of stones, instead of this I found a magnificent ruin, much of the building still standing.  After a very interesting wander around we took the nature trail to the ‘old’ castle foundations.  This older castle was abandoned because of flooding, it once stood close to the shore of the Solway which is now 800 metres away.  Our walk provided a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch.

Caerlaverock Castle

Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock

By now there was more sunlight and we made our way to the WWT where after a cup of tea we walked down towards the hide expecting to see a Great White Egret.  Sadly, it had not shown up this morning.  I was happy to make do with the Peregrine Falcon, perched out on the merse, preening at times and looking well fed.  Size told us immediately that it was a female.  A walk back to the centre brought a Red Admiral Butterfly sighting and afterwards we listened to the talk as we watched the feeding of the Whooper Swans et al.  Our first Gadwall of the trip was seen.  Pink-footed Geese were seen in flight as were the very flighty Barnacle Geese, initially disturbed by a flyover Common BuzzardCanada and Greylag Geese were also seen today.  Flocks of Black-tailed Godwit and Lapwing were also in flight on several occasions.  The Barnacle Geese continued to provide entertainment as they kept lifting, and at one point as we walked to the furthest hide they were right overhead and the sound was amazing, almost like machinery working above such was the din.  We never actually bothered with the furthest hide, but having seen more Black-tailed Godwit , Redshank, Curlew and a Grey Heron catching and attempting to swallow an Eel, and Roe Deer in the distance, we decided to return and climb the Tower Hide.  The usual waterfowl were in the pool below us, predominately Wigeon, as we looked over towards Caresthorn where we had watched the tower from a couple of days before.   We walked to the field where the Barnacle Geese were likely to be in number.  We weren’t disappointed, and more geese flew in whilst we watched on!  Leaving this spot wasn’t easy but we fancied another cup of tea before the centre closed.  No, no, it wasn’t an RSPB Group trip, we just felt really thirsty.  By now the sky was clear and the sun lit the whole area.  I felt a little sorry for the staff in the kitchen who only felt the heat of the ovens, but I suppose there are worse places to work.  Sam purchased a Peter Scott book.  At some point today, not for the first time we had seen numbers of Skylark.  There seemed to be quite a movement of these birds.  Meadow Pipit had also been seen although overall smaller passerines were low in number at the reserve duplicating the position at RSPB Mersehead.  I’m guessing that many more will be seen as winter approaches.

Whooper Swan


Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock

It was now time to visit the National Nature Reserve which is just down the road.  We walked down the path which leads through a farm-yard.  The barking dogs were locked up.  It wasn’t long before we were into one of my favourite habitats, reed-bed, which seemed to stretch for miles.  We passed Redwings and another single Fieldfare which were in the hedges.  Stonechat was also seen.  Three Common Snipe flew over-head and Water Rail was heard.  A Marsh Harrier flew high along the coast as it was chased by corvids.  We wondered whether this was the harrier from Mersehead or possibly another.  There had been no harriers reported at the WWT.  The silence was broken only by the call of birds, Curlews especially.  It was all quite a haunting experience and I could barely believe we had this whole area to ourselves at the best time of day.  We looked across reed-bed and merse towards the Cumbrian coast.  The sky was now cloud free and the sun was dropping down towards 570m high Crifell and causing a lemon glow in the early evening sky.  A narrow silvery line ran straight below Crifell, and I took this to be the River Nith entering the Solway and reflecting the faltering light.  We watched as the sun faded to a dot and quickly disappeared behind Crifell.  The atmosphere provided everything I like about such occasions.  I could tell that the weather was going to be good the following day.  Sadly, I was leaving soon but not before more birding in the morning.  It was almost time to make our return and prepare for dinner i.e. change my shoes.  This had been a perfect way to spend my last evening.

Caerlaverock NNR

Caerlaverock NNR

Caerlaverock NNR

Dinner was another good one and I watched the Plough in the sky when we headed back to base.  That wasn’t the pub, it’s was the constellation.   On return we stood outside and looked at the stars in the very clear sky, but not for too long as it was almost freezing!  We heard a Tawny Owl calling again tonight, and a Fox also.  I thought it would be cold in the morning and it certainly was.

27th Oct.  We waited until 9.00am and for the temperature to rise to 4C before leaving for Threave.  It was bright and sunny as expected and we had hopes of finding White-fronted Geese.  Unfortunately the White-fronted Geese were not to be found this morning, but we enjoyed our walk around the reserve anyway and after the few days birding that we had experienced there could be no complaints.  Over two hundred Pink-footed Geese did provide a spectacular fly past.

Pink-footed Geese at Threave

We looked over toward the island on the River Dee and of course had a fine view of Threave Castle and the nest of the Ospreys which hopefully will now be enjoying the African Sun.  It just seemed like yesterday when I had been watching the Osprey family at the nest and Black 80 fishing at Loch Ken.

Threave Castle and Reserve

The reserve looked at its best today and there were to be some new birds for the trip list.  We saw Goldcrest and heard both Willow Tit and Redpoll.  The Red Kites have moved to their winter roosts and I thought I was going to be unlucky with that one, but no, a Red Kite flew across in front of one of the hides, its flight following the course of the river.
So, we eventually made off for Dumfries where we had lunch before Sam dropped me off to catch the train for Newcastle.  Unfortunately, Sam was working the following day.  I arrived back in Newcastle at 5.00pm to face the traffic jams, but more than happy with a trip bird list of ninety-six species and some great memories of birding experiences.  My thanks go to my guide, and more importantly, special friend Sam.

I had the idea for the title of these reports from Dumfries having noticed one of Sam’s books entitled A Thousand Geese.  It was written by Peter Scott and James Fisher and published in 1953.  It’s certainly thanks to Peter Scott and conservationists like him, of which I’m sure there have been many, that we can celebrate the success of species like Barnacle Geese.  Thankfully there are successes to celebrate amongst the doom and gloom that we continually hear about concerning wildlife.  Let’s remain positive!  My title could as easily have been, Twenty-five Thousand Geese, as Sam and I think that is at least nearer to the total number of geese we saw over the few days of the trip.  The quotes from the poetry of John Clare came to me as an idea having been directed towards Clare’s work by friends Hilary and Kelsey and having just read a biography of Clare by Jonathan Bate.  Clare had a difficult life and ended it in an institution, or as they called it in his day ‘a mad house’.  John Clare cared deeply for the natural world and had a wonderful eye for nature, and I can but wonder what he would have made of our adventures with the geese. 

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Ten Thousand Geese...Part Two.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
From Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

Otter Pool at Wood of Cree

             25th Oct.  Overnight rain had ceased before dawn and we left early under clearing skies for the long drive to Glen Trool which was to be a stop off prior to a visit to the North Rhinns and Loch Ryan.  I day dreamed of the adventures of Robert the Bruce as we arrived at the road into the glen, only to find the road closed, we surmised because of fallen trees caused by the recent storms.  Undaunted we decided to take the narrow road past nearby Wood of Cree.  Whilst we didn’t walk into the woods we did stop and visit Otter Pool.  There were no Otters, nor was there any other sign of life on the reflective still waters of the pool, but it did offer a rather pleasant autumnal scenic image.  Our visit wasn’t without reward in the form of birds however, as we added Raven, Jay, Nuthatch and Treecreeper to our trip list.  The Raven was heard before being seen very well as it flew past us with the woods as a background and then perching for a time before flying off into the distance.  Sparrowhawk was also seen.  The sun was now breaking through and the air was still, but cold.  The air was anything but still when we arrived at the edge of Loch Ryan as the wind blew off the loch and I was unable to warm up until we found some shelter in one off several stops we made to view the loch between Innermessen and Stranraer.

Brent Geese, Loch Ryan

The species that really caught the eye were the Brent Geese, first seen only at some distance and the wind wasn’t helping keep the telescope steady.  When we later moved towards Stranraer we came very close to these Brent Geese and could hear their calls very clearly.  This is perhaps as close as I have been to Brent Geese.  We initially counted about ninety birds, but more flew in as we watched and there were still some more distant birds, so well over one hundred.  The closest birds were on the water in front of us and quite close to the road and pathway, so they are clearly used to disturbance, although they were on their guard and ready to move should anyone try to get too close.  We found flocks of Scaup and the likes of, Whooper Swan, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Great Crested Grebe, Shelduck, Wigeon, Tea, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew.  We eventually left for the northern tip of the Rhinns and Corsewell Lighthouse, thinking that we had even stronger winds to look forward to at this good sea-watching point.  The remains of Corsewell Castle, a 15th Century Tower House and in ruins for 400 years, were to the left of us as we approached the point.


Brent Geese, Loch Ryan.

My initial thoughts were that the northern Rhinns were not as attractive as the southern area that we had visited in early summer, but I had reason to change my mind especially on arriving at Corsewell Lighthouse, which incidentally holds an hotel.  It helped that on arrival we found that the strong wind had lessened to a refreshing breeze and it was, thankfully, much warmer now.  The Mull of Galloway is quite an experience, but Corsewell has an appeal of its own.  It’s not an easy spot to get too and I’m happy to say we had the area to ourselves throughout our time here.  The view is excellent, and we took in Northern Ireland, Kintyre and it’s Mull, Arran, Ailsa Craig and the coast-line of Ayrshire which at times was well lit by sunlight.  A few of these areas brought back happy memories of previous trips to both Sam and me.  There was no lack of sea birds with a steady passage Including Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and other gulls, Gannet, close-up Red-throated Diver in some number and Rock Pipit was seen passing by.  We also watched the ferries passing between Belfast and Stranraer which came and left on a regular basis.  It wasn’t easy to pull ourselves away from this wonderful seascape, but we had another stop to make for more watching of Loch Ryan, this time from ‘The Wig’, and time was precious.

Corsewell Lighthouse

There’s a pleasant circular walk at The Wig which takes you past the shore of Loch Ryan, so close you are warned of waves caused by the ferries, although I didn’t see any sign of them whilst there.  Nearby there the area of an RAF Airbase which was used during the war and where the great comedian Tony Hancock was based during war service (who can forget his classic line in the Blood Donor…A pint? That’s very nearly an armful!)  Parts of the runway can still be seen.  Loch Ryan was strategically very important during the Second World War.

Ayrshire coast in distance from Corsewell 

Our walk brought sightings of numerous passerines, Siskin was heard, and Redwings again seen along with a single Fieldfare.  This time even greater numbers of Scaup were seen, some rafts of them very close to us and we’d seen hundreds before we left.  Sam picked up our second Slavonian Grebe of the trip and there were numerous Red-throated Divers, Shags, and Red-breasted MergansersGoosander was also seen.  I think we would agree that our sighting of the day was in the form of Great Northern Diver (the Brent Geese not far behind) , six of them in a group and although some distance away, not too far to recognise that five of them retained most of their summer plumage.  The plumage of the sixth bird was more diffuse and may well have been a juvenile bird.  At one point the six divers formed a tight line and even the passing ferry didn’t seem to disturb them.  An excellent sighting indeed.  Two Common Seals appeared to inspect us from just off shore.  It was now time to retrace our steps to the car and return south, or more precisely east, to our accommodation and prepare for another hearty meal.  Light had gone by the time of our arrival back at base.  Sam heard Tawny Owl calling tonight.  I was so cream crackered tonight I didn’t care if the rain had returned or not.  It had been another great day’s birding with sixty-nine species seen.  Still more to come.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Ten Thousand Geese...Part One.

He hears the wild geese gabble oer his head
And pleasd wi fancys in his musings bred
He marks the figurd forms in which they flye
And pausing follows wi a wandering eye
Likening their curious march in curves or rows
To every letter which his memory knows
John Clare 1793-1864


23rd Oct.  Having crossed the border and reached the Scottish Solway coast by early evening, Sam and I decided that a stop was in order to take a look for bird life.  Our focus over the next few days in Dumfries and Galloway was to be birds and other wildlife, with a little culture and history thrown in.  As we approached the shore of the Solway we found large numbers of Redwing lifting from the soaked and berry laden hedges.  The sky and waters of the Solway were still leaden grey, but the heavy rain had stopped and as the Redwings took a break from their feast, in the fields close by us, they showed every marking very clearly in what was a post storm vivid light.  We managed to catch sight of several other species either on the water or in the near vicinity of it and these included Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Goosander, Red breasted Merganser, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Curlew. This was enough to whet the appetite before making off for our destination and a very good dinner at one of the local pubs.  We went to sleep to the sound of heavy rain fall.

24th Oct.  We awoke to the sound of heavy rain fall, but happily it was forecast to cease later in the morning.  The rain had eased slightly as we set off and stopped by the time we had reached Caresthorn, on the Solway estuary.  I noticed the Solway waters had  formed a very dark grey line along the horizon, although closer by lighter shades of grey reflected the fact that the cloud did give hints of breaking up, but at this point in time no blue sky was visible.  We soon brightened up with an excellent sighting of Slavonian Grebe and the calls from a number of skeins of Pink-footed Geese which flew overhead.  Great Crested Grebe was also seen.  The hedge between us and the village was attracting larger numbers of Greenfinch than I have seen for a long time.  At this point another birder approached us, he having just found a Redstart which we never did see.  This guy was significant, as he was the only birder we bumped into during our few days of birding, except for those we encountered in reserves.  As Sam said, this whole area is very under watched and reported.  Everywhere I looked across the estuary there was large numbers of Oystercatchers.

Sign at Caresthorn

By now we were confident enough to set off on a walk along the shore, which was a new area for me,  without taking waterproof trousers.  The tide being low, we were treated to some good sightings including Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, many Shelduck, Mallard, Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal and Red breasted Merganser.  Waders were soon heard and seen and as well as the many Oystercatchers we located Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew, the latter birds call being heard.  There was no shortage of other passerines, Linnets being one.  There had been many more Redwings.  Having taken in the sights and sounds during what had been a rewarding visit, we made off towards Southerness, just a little further along the Solway.  I especially wanted to photograph the lighthouse which stands on the shore there.


We were soon standing looking out over the Solway again and standing next to what is the second oldest lighthouse in Scotland, modernised at some point by the famous Stevenson’s.  I carefully took up positions on the slippery rocky shore too get the images I wanted.  I felt, on what was still a grey storm threatening morning, that this spot with its unusually designed lighthouse, gave off a rather sombre Dickensian atmosphere and David Copperfield would not have looked out of place.



Our next stop was to be RSPB Mersehead.  We took a single lane, rain laden potholed road to get there.  We were soon to find that skeins of Barnacle Geese were flying along the coast and over our heads.  Sam pulled in to a passing place so we could listen and watch.  Passing cars splashed mud and goodness knows what else onto his recently washed car, but that was the last thing on his mind as we watched wave after wave of yapping Barnacle Geese fly over us.  The skeins were making all kinds of shapes in the sky above.  Just as we thought we had seen them all pass, more skeins would appear with a background of hills behind them.  There were a number of Pink footed Geese amongst them, but predominately the sky was full of Barnacle Geese.  This sight and sound provided my best experience of watching geese and I include the action I had seen on Islay a few years ago.  It can be argued that there are few wild places in the UK, but wild experiences are still available, and this was just that.  In any event I think wildness can often be simply a state of mind.  Thousands of Barnacle Geese landed in the fields between us and the Solway.  Incidentally, these fields are not part of the reserve underling the fact that whilst reserves have an important place in providing refuge for our wildlife, areas off the reserves are just as important   and should be provided.  This does require ongoing discussion, work and at times compromise if wildlife is to have a secure future in our ever increasingly populated island.  We estimated that we had seen at least 5,000 geese at this point.


We did eventually reach Mersehead.  The highlight here was of course more Barnacle Geese which at time were quite active and in the air.  At times we were very close to them as we walked along the pathways and watched the individual sentinel geese watch us intently from the outside of the flocks.
By now the sun had broken through and it was quite warm.  The hills around the reserve showed their autumn colours of fading yellow, brown and umber.  Apart from the geese the reserve was very quiet, the pools especially, with one of them dried out in part.  However, we did add a pair of Whooper Swans and the odd Canada Goose to our morning list, otherwise the waterfowl were in the main Mallard, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Shelduck.  A Marsh Harrier was seen but somewhat briefly and distant and the hedges held many Redwings.  Smaller passerines were fewer in number than is often found here but included House Sparrow, Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Greenfinch and Yellowhammer, most of them at the feeding station.


 We took a walk down to the shore by which time the light was fading and there was rain in the air, so we made back towards the car and before we reached it the rain had come on quite heavily.  Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel had been seen as we made off towards our accommodation.  After another good dinner we once again went to sleep to the sound of heavy rainfall as we thought of our early start and long trip tomorrow.  We believe we had seen 10,000 geese today.  More to come.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Birds Brighten Dull Druridge Day

19th Oct.  We left Killingworth behind under grey skies and an invasion of Redwings and we were soon under even greyer skies at Druridge and this time the sky above us was full of Redwings coming in from the North Sea in great numbers.  Flock after flock was seen and heard as we spent time at the north end of East Chevingtons North Pool.  The sky did on occasions lighten but the sun never ever really made it through.

Sam and I initially made for the hide at Druridge Country Park that overlooks North Pool.  I remember not too long ago that the feeding station here attracted good numbers of species.  It has perhaps met its demise as I saw nothing there today although on the walk to get there we did have good sightings of Bullfinch and Goldcrest and a good chat to a couple about Dumfries and Galloway, and dogs.  I think areas can be over managed at times, but this can’t be said of the area around the hide and the view over the pool is not good because of growth in front of it.  I’m pleased to say it didn’t spoil our sightings, especially of the Marsh Harrier and Great White Egret.  Water Rail was heard from here as was Kingfisher and I had an extremely brief sighting of the latter bird as it flew along the line where the reeds meet the pool.  Most of waterfowl was in the centre of the pool.  We walked down to the hide between the dunes and pool which offered a rather better view.  Birds included Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Shoveler in numbers, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck.  A second Marsh Harrier was seen to the north of us and it dropped into the reed-bed and out of the way of the chasing corvids.  It didn’t lift again whilst we were there, ending hopes of a good close up photograph.

Mist over the sea meant it wasn’t a day for sea-watching but we did find large numbers of Common Scoter and a couple of Gannet.  If there was anything unusual among the Common Scoter we didn’t find it.  Stonechats were seen in the dunes.

We later walked to the mouth of the burn and were told we told what species we had just missed!  Never mind we did have a good close sighting of two TwiteRinged Plover were gathering in numbers close to the tide line and other waders seen here were Oystercatcher, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone and Redshank.

We next took a break at the café south of Cresswell Pond.  I can recommend the omelettes.  As usual the place was packed.


Druridge Pools were next.  I’d been reading JFs blog and seen that there had been some really good sightings here lately.  Well, it was the quietest I’ve seen the place for a long time so it seemed everything had moved on!  We did have the likes of Common Snipe, Black Tailed Godwit and Ruff.  When we decided to move to the other hides we were stopped by a motorist to be told that a Bee-Eater had just a few minutes before flown south over the pools.  We must have just missed it!  To compensate for our ill luck, we bumped into some old friends that we hadn’t seen for some time and had a good chat.  They were on the lookout for the Bee-Eater too.  Having visited the other hides and decided to move on Sam picked up the call of a Bee-Eater and we found that it was almost above our heads.  We had quite a good sighting of it.  It was a Northumberland first for both Sam and me.  Would I have swopped this sighting for repeating the experiences of sightings we have had in Europe whilst standing under blue skies and a hot sun………. well, in short yes, but there is nothing like a new bird in your county I told myself.  We joined a number of other birders waiting for a further sighting of the Bee-Eater, but it wasn’t to be whilst we were there, but we did hear its call as it flew in the area of the pools.  Definitely bird of the day.

We set off for Cresswell Pond and found Little Egret in the area.  As we approached we could see the pond was overflowing and there appeared to be few birds about.  To be honest as the light began to fade and the rain continued, yes it was raining by now, the area looked bleak.  We were both of the same mind, ‘let’s give this a miss, head for home and count Bee-Eater as our last bird of the day’.  As we drove down the A19 and the heavens opened we agreed that the correct decision had been taken.  A very good day.     


Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Lazy Sunday Afternoons

Lazy Sunday afternoon
I've got no mind to worry
Close my eyes and drift a-
Close my mind and drift away
Close my eyes and drift away
Small Faces

17th Sept.  I no longer get involved with leading walks now unless I’m asked as I’ve found that this way there’s almost a guarantee that at least you have interested folk along.  Today I was out walking with wallers, yes that right, members of the Drystone Wallers Association.  They had been keen to see parts of the Druridge Bay area and so we visited Hauxley to see the new centre there, East Chevington where we missed the Marsh Harriers by seconds and Cresswell Pond.  It was a perfect day for walking although we didn’t in fact walk that far and it was useful to have cafes at the start and finish.  It began to rain as we ended the walk so that ensured that the café near to Cresswell Pond was doing a roaring trade.



I think folk were quite impressed by the NWT centre at Hauxley and it was certainly busy today with various things organised.  I didn’t see too much in the way of birds from the centre although what we did see included a few Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal and wader flocks of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Dunlin and Curlew and one Black tailed Godwit which I could have sworn was a Greenshank until the volunteer got her scope onto it (it was a long way off and I didn’t have my scope.  There was of course a large number of Tree Sparrows at the feeding station, lots of Coal Tits and some large Brown Rats for those who wanted some mammal interest.  As I mentioned we just missed the Marsh Harriers at East Chevington and they didn’t show again whilst we were there, but there was enough birds to keep us interested and I think everyone enjoyed a walk along to the mouth of the burn where there was a large flock of Goldfinch feeding.  I couldn’t make any other species out within the flock.



Red Admiral Butterfly

Bird of the day appeared at Cresswell Pond in the shape of Little Stint which was within a flock of about thirty Dunlin.  Other sightings here included Kestrel (one of three seen today), Great Crested Grebe and 3 Little Egrets.  Common Buzzard had been seen on our journey north.  As interesting as the birds was the fact that I found out that Ray one of the participants had been responsible for re-building a large section of the drystone wall that leads from the car parking area up to the entrance to the pond, as well as having re-built other sections of wall in the area.  Those who know the area will realise that the wall I mention is much lower than the road.  I’d never given any thought to the fact that of course the road has been heightened over time and was once much lower.  It had been a nice way to pass a few hours with interesting and interested people who I shall meet again in October as Sam and I are presenting our Great Crested Grebe talk to the group.  This will be I think the fifth time we have presented this particular talk.


Peacock Butterfly

23rd Sept.  As I’ve said before, 2017 has been a lousy year for Butterflies in my opinion.  The only time I have seen any number of them was when I visited Sweden.  I’ve spoken to folk in other areas who confirm that it is not just my own judgement about it being a poor year.  I was pleased to day to note five of six Red Admirals in the garden and more in the hedge that runs along the back.  Also present were two Speckled Wood and a Peacock ButterflySpeckled Wood Butterfly are now the most regular butterfly seen in my garden.  More surprising this past week has been visits by at least three, possibly more, Small or Large Skipper Butterflies.  They were very active and would never settle so I was uncertain which species it was although if I had to put cash on it I’d go for the small species.  My books tell me that this species ought not to be around after early August!

Speckled Wood Butterfly

 Another pleasant Sunday only spoilt by a poor performance by the Magpies at Brighton.  Normal service resumed I guess.    

Friday, 1 September 2017

Postcard From Sweden. Part Three...Heading South.

  Day six was to see us heading back south, and although a long drive it wasn’t without some very interesting stops along the way.  Early in the day we had good sightings of more Velvet and Common Scoter along with Black and Red Throated Diver.  I remember that these diver sightings had been particularly atmospheric.  We also visited Rogen Nature Reserve where Siberian Tits have been recorded, but not by us on this occasion although birds seen did include Yellow Wagtail.  Female Capercaillie was also seen again.

We were to have lunch at a mountainous reserve at Nipfjallet and happily we were able to drive to the top of the mountain.  There was talk of magic roads and trolls, but our minds were set on birds and the walk across the high tundra where to the south stood the conical shaped mountain, Stadjan.  This massive wilderness nature reserve straddles the Swedish/Norwegian border.  Higher ground still held snow although much of it had recently melted.  Having split up and walked the tundra a pair of nesting Dotterel were found along with Golden Plover.  Eventually a pair of Rock Ptarmigan were also found and these provided good photo opportunities.

Rock Ptarmigan

Well it had to rain sometime and day seven was the time it did, but there were still birds to be found and the rain wasn’t going to stop us.  Our first stop brought us a Corncrake calling from just below us, Sam was the only one to catch a glimpse of it in the tall grasses below the viewing platform, only feet away from us.  We saw our first Mute Swan of the trip and I remember Greenshank and Hen Harrier being seen again today.  We stopped off in Tallberg village for what I understand was a ‘traditional waffle’.  I thought this was a nice gesture until I found I had to pay for it!  Too sweet for my taste.  We watched Eagle Owls at a local mine, two juveniles and an adult bird.  Black Redstart was also seen here.  I believe this now large hole in the ground is Falun Copper Mine, opened one thousand years ago and closed in 1992.  Considering the size of the area, The Eagle Owls were in our sights quite quickly.

By lunch-time the rain began to ease and we were on the lookout for Ortolan Bunting on the edge of an airfield.  It wasn’t long before we heard the singing of the Ortolan Bunting and we were able to get close-up sightings of this species as it sang in the tree over our heads.  Not a species easily found these days so it was good to get it on the trip list.  It was a productive stop as we also had three Red Back Shrike and Whinchat close by us and Hobby and Merlin too.

Sam with Mount Stadjan in background.

Watching Dotterel

By evening the rain had stopped altogether and after dinner we met up with local guide Zombor, who I seem to remember was Hungarian by birth.  It proved to be a productive and fun evening.  First of all we had a pair of Montagu’s Harrier.  The male bird showing briefly and the female giving a much longer sighting as it perched on a post in the field.  Seemingly this species is doing quite well in Sweden.  A more distant White-tailed Eagle was seen on top of the distant treeline.   Roe Deer were seen and brought a very good joke from Zombor which I’m afraid I feel unable to repeat on my family friendly blog.  Another mammal was added to the trip list in the form of Hedgehog.  This Hedgehog was on someone’s land and outside of their house but that didn’t stop one of our intrepid group seeking a close-up photograph, nor another member of the group joining in, who on returning to the vehicle seemed put out by the fact that the lady of the house had come out and seemed unimpressed by it all.  I can only assume that our fellow travellers are quite happy for folk to enter their gardens back home without permission and take photographs!

Zombor took us to look for Long Eared Owls and asked for silence at which point the funniest event of the trip took place.  Our leader had to bite his lip to stop the laughter coming.  but Sam didn’t bother and laughed non- stop to the point I thought he had taken too much coke this evening, that’s coke as in Cola.  Wish I could tell you the funny tale but I’m saving it for if I’m ever invited to provide a sketch for a new series of Only Fools and Horses.  The incident still brings a smile to my face when I think of it.  No, we didn’t find any Long-eared Owls but we did find a singing Thrush Nightingale.  What a sound this species makes.  The atmosphere was helped along by a now very still and warm evening and Grasshopper Warbler reeled from the field behind the hedge as Sam and I left the group and took a walk into the field to listen away from any chatter.  I took one or two mosquito bites for my trouble, but it was worth it and it was our last evening in Sweden.  We did see the Thrush Nightingale but to be honest it wouldn’t have mattered if we hadn’t, the song was enough.   Not as melodic as our own Nightingale but certainly very much louder!  I’d had a beer with my dinner and so found it necessary to take a walk behind a tree where I found a large area of Lilly of the Valley.

We ended the evening with a drive looking at an area where Zombor was aware that Lynx had been recorded that week.  I relaxed and sat back not expecting at all to see Lynx and we didn’t.  However, we did find a Badger.   Perhaps I would not have been quite so relaxed if I had realised how good our chance of seeing Lynx was.  Zombor recorded a sighting of Lynx in this same area only a day or two after our return home! 
  
On day eight there was a morning of birding to take in prior to making for the airport.  The morning was relaxing and productive but we fought the urge to get out of bed too early to seek out a singing Icterine Warbler.  After all we had a long day ahead, but forgetting all of that we visited a nearby lake.  It wasn’t long before we were watching Black Terns, Whimbrel and a Peregrine Falcon being mobbed by Marsh Harriers.  Daniel, Sam and I soon also picked up the song of Great Reed Warbler.

Common Crane

We moved off to visit a wetland site which I believe is quite a new venture.  Before arriving we stopped for a Common Rosefinch found in a garden.  The wetland was quite extensive and provided us with nesting Common Cranes, 40 Little Gulls, Osprey, Great Crested Grebe Red-necked Grebe, Black-necked Grebe, Slavonian Grebe and a far off barely visible Temminck’s Stint.  Then just before we were to leave for the airport I finally had a lifer in the form of Northern Chequered Skipper Butterfly, seen nicely in the sun.

Northern Chequered Skipper

It had been another great trip.  We’d had good leaders and a small group of friendly and fun companions.  Everyone was keen to be involved and there was not a single super ego to deal with.   The bird list for the trip came to 163 which was a record for this particular tour.  Sweden had certainly far surpassed expectations.  We arrived back home around midnight.  

Friday, 25 August 2017

Postcard from Sweden. Part Two...Uplands.

Day three in Sweden was to see us taking quite a long drive further north onto higher ground and the southern part of Lapland.  I must say that I am never too sure where Lapland begins, as different maps I have looked at suggest different borders.  The area we were to enter was spectacular but to me it did not have the feel of the Lapland we had explored in Finland and Norway in 2016, but the area was no poorer for that.  Although a long drive, we had several stops and an interesting visit to Fulufjallet National Park and an unexpected guided tour by a local gentleman of the old Church at Sarna built in 1684.  I must check to see if Linnaeus visited this church on his Lapland tour.  I have a book by Wilfred Blunt (brother of spy Anthony Blunt) concerning the life of Linnaeus which was certainly worth reading, but I can’t recall if this church was mentioned.  Interestingly it did suggest that Linnaeus made exaggerated claims about part of the area of Lapland that he said that he had covered.  The book suggests that it had been impossible in the time limits.  Anyway, whilst my focus was of course on birds and wildlife I do think attention needs to be given to other aspects of areas visited, as that is what travel is all about.

Early on our trip north we had nice sightings of Black Throated and Red Throated Divers, Red Breasted Mergansers and Velvet Scoters.  Waders seen during the day included Lapwing, Common Snipe, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Common Sandpiper and we had a very good sighting of Dipper on one of the rivers.

Njupeskar

Our stop at Fulufjallet National Park used up a few hours and I do remember that it had a very interesting visitor centre showing individual species within their habitat.  This was very nicely set out.  The information leaflet on the birds was not quite so well done and had a picture of a Dipper which looked more like a Razorbill.  Oh well I’ve seen worse in some bird guide books.  The national park includes the tallest waterfall in Sweden, Njupeskar.  We walked a couple of Kilometres through an area of bog and Scots Pine and Spruce Taiga Forest to a good viewing point where we had a distant sighting of Gyr Falcon on the nest.  Some walked to higher snow-covered ground and had a much better view of the Gyr Falcon and found Ring Ouzel.  I didn’t climb higher, but eventually walked back down towards the visitor centre and found a Siberian Jay and listened to bubbling Black Grouse.  I was later told that Black Grouse are now rare in this area.  Brambling was also found.

Whooper Swan

Later on, the journey we stopped for a good sighting of female Capercaillie and at some point, watched Willow Grouse.  We eventually arrived at our hotel at Funasdalen where we were to spend the next three nights and which was as far north as we were going.  The room was very cold as was the air outside, but after a very nice dinner the heating had gone on and things warmed up no end.  I really enjoyed the stay here and there was a real homely welcome to the place.  We weren’t done yet and after dinner we left to view a Great Snipe Lek or at least that was the intention.  Unfortunately the weather had closed in, it was now damp, cold and windy on the high ground.  I confess I wasn’t unhappy that things were called off and we returned to the hotel and called it a day.  The Great Snipe weren’t going anywhere.

Day four had arrived and we were to head off for a walk on the high tundra plateau of Flatruet.  Our outward journey was to prove rewarding with Sam finding us from the van a stunningly marked Icterine Warbler.  A pair of Whooper Swan was also found with snow and ice in the background and a bright sun overhead.  Even more exciting was the finding of a Golden Eagle eyrie high up on the mountainside.  The female bird was there with young and then the male bird flew in with captured prey.  Exciting minutes and we were to see four Golden Eagles today.

Once at the plateau it was on with gumboots and extra layers for the exhilarating walk which brought us some very good sightings.  Amongst birds seen we can include a long fly past by a male Hen Harrier, a Ruff lek on a high mound as well as individual Ruff on the frozen pools, a pair of Long Tailed Duck, a brief sighting of Red Necked Phalarope, Willow Grouse, a fly over Wood Sandpiper, the call of Whimbrel, Long Tailed Skua on their breeding site and Lapland Bunting.  You can add to this small herds of Reindeer.  As in Finland last year I was reminded that there are no wild Reindeer in Sweden now, but sightings of the feral ones were no less welcome and they did seem to find us interesting too.  The walk was quite tiring and involved the negotiation of some semi frozen streams.  The atmosphere was wonderful and it was true wilderness.

Reindeer

Sam on the tundra

After a late lunch, there was time for a little exploration but you had to be very careful where you put your feet as a few of us found out when we sunk into mud and water under what looked like sold snow.  Perhaps I exaggerate a little and let’s just say we got our feet wet.  On the drive over high ground we found Dotterel and the photographers amongst us had a good opportunity to take some close-up images.  Rough Legged Buzzard and Merlin were also seen.  We had time for a bit of relaxation before dinner.  Although there was plenty of action on this trip we never felt rushed and were always given time to get our thoughts together.  We were to be in action again this evening following dinner as we were this time off to the Great Snipe Lekking site and on this occasion conditions proved to be ideal.

Dotterel

In stark contrast to the previous evening the sun was up, the air calm and relatively mild as we set of in gumboots up the small incline over wet ground to the Great Snipe Lekking ground.  We had been immediately rewarded with the sight of Black Grouse in the trees and then by a wonderfully marked Red Fox which watched us from a distance as it showed so well in perfectly clear light before it suddenly vanished before our eyes, as Foxes are so inclined to do.  Some expressed thoughts of Wolf or Lynx had soon departed, it was a Red Fox.  It didn’t take too long before we reached our positions and we were able to alert the senses to their full extent.  Neither did it take too long before we began to hear the rather strange clicking and popping of the Great Snipe.  Sighting them on the tundra ground was altogether a different matter.  Then gradually one, two, three displaying Great Snipe appeared, running, strutting, challenging, jumping and flashing those white tail feathers.  Great Snipe numbers were soon into double figures.  As we watched surrounded by snow-capped mountains and as the sun lowered in the sky leaving a red glow in its wake, a Cuckoo called from a distance, Black Grouse bubbled and two Common Cranes called as they flew in and landed not far from us.  The air began to cool but I don’t think anyone really noticed, although a few layers were added instinctively.  Minds were firmly set on the lekking display.  Time passed us by quickly as the silence was broken only by the natural sounds around us, and soon midnight was approaching and it was decided that we best make off towards the hotel and our beds.  What better way to end the day than to listen in now fading light, to the singing Bluethroat, the Swedish nightingale of Linnaeus.  Sam and I agreed later that this had been one of our top nature experiences ‘ever'.  Sleep came easily tonight.

Slavonian Grebe (female)

Slavonian Grebe (male)

Slavonian Grebes

It was now day five and before returning to the plateau we took a walk to look for Siberian Jay without success on this occasion, but a Redstart was amongst birds we did see.  Further along our route to the plateau Whooper Swans and at least five Bluethroat were found.  Later the van suffered a puncture and a team effort (that I watched) ensured it was fixed. but not without some struggles.
Later in the morning we arrived at a lake to find nesting Slavonian Grebes.  I’ve never had nor do I think I will ever again have such a good sighting of Slavonian Grebes.  They were sitting on four eggs and performed very well for us.  The images can do the talking.  Some had lunch and some of us didn’t bother but we all took a walk later and found an Osprey on the nest, rather more distant than the Slavonian Grebes.  A Cuckoo was watched as it wandered around the lawns of one of the buildings and we found many Brambling today and Golden Eagle again.  Then it was time to try for Siberian Jay again and we timed it wonderfully and it seemed they had been waiting for us.  I seem to remember watching at least four Siberian Jays at length and again there was good opportunity for the photographers.

Siberian Jay

Siberian Jay

Rather than become repetitive I’ll now jump to our after-dinner drive.  There was a wonderful sunset this evening and we found much of the area flooded from snowmelt.  Sightings included Merlin, Roe Deer, European Elk and Mountain Hares, one of the latter species being especially friendly and providing a photo opportunity.  I heard that a Pine Martin had been seen but we missed that.  It was a good way to end the day and we headed back to our rooms for our final night in the uplands, maybe to dream of the days to come.  Part three to follow.

European Elk