Thursday, 23 October 2014

A Rarity at Holywell

23rd Oct.  Circumstances of late have meant that I have made few visits to Holywell or any other of my usual haunts for sometime.  So don’t get excited, as the rarity I refer to is myself.  I understand that a rarity in the shape of a Red Squirrel has been seen in the dene recently.  Apparently the first one in twenty years.  I hope to get the blog back into shape in the future and to get myself out onto patch (I can’t remember the last time I did a full circle of the patch and got out onto the wagon-ways).  Difficult times can be made a little easier if you know you have friends around and I was out with the best of mine today.

I was feeling warm as Sam and I approached Holywell Pond and flocks of Greylag Geese flew across and landed in the fields to the south of the pond.  They were accompanied here by a large flock of Canada Geese.

The pond itself held numbers of Wigeon numbering around sixty birds.   Also seen here were Little Grebes, Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Tufted Duck and a single female Goldeneye.  Sam’s keen eye picked up a Common Snipe well hidden at the edge of the reed-bed.  A Grey Heron stood sentinel like on the island.  Lapwings were on the mud and also in flight over the pond.  The fields around the area held numbers of Meadow Pipits which I think were probably on the move.  We’d picked the first one up on the wires in the village.

By the time we’d crossed the fields and entered the dene I was feeling even warmer as the mottled sunlight shone on the burn through autumnal trees.  This really is a pleasant area at this time of year.  I t was unusually quiet for such a fine day and even the Dipper was relaxed.  The highlight of the day was watching this Dipper, its shape reflected in the burn whilst it stood motionless amongst colourful fallen leaves on the rocks.  It would have made a stunning photographic image, but to have got this would have at least meant disturbance and our priority is to watch and grab the images with the camera only when appropriate.  Unusually, so relaxed was this bird that we saw no dipping at all.  Sam did pick up calling and therefore there was likely to be another bird nearby.  The scene was added to as a Grey Wagtail flew up from the burn and a Speckled Wood Butterfly flew across in front of us.  Well, you don’t always need photographic images to paint a scene as words can do so too.  Stock Doves were about the area.

By the time we reached Seaton Sluice I wasn’t just warm, I was dripping in perspiration.  We cooled off over cans of coke and a fish and chip lunch.



From the headland we saw Red-throated Diver, Common Scoter and Eider Ducks.  Oystercatchers and Turnstones were on the few remaining rocks left uncovered by the high tide.  We walked on until we reached St Mary’s Island and ended the day lying on the beach.  No, I hadn’t finally give into the heat as in fact I was a lot cooler by now, although the sun still shone when not covered by ominous leaden grey cloud.  We were photographing waders.  For once we had South Bay to ourselves as we braved the high tide and timed our move to avoid getting the feet wet at the bottom of the steps.  There had been numbers of Rock Pipits around today and a few Pied Wagtails.  Waders seen had been Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew.

We left for home relaxed and dreaming of far away places.

Monday, 6 October 2014

Quiet Day Ends With New Garden Tick

5th Oct.  I took the opportunity to get down to St Mary’s and Seaton Sluice with Sam today so as to enjoy a day of sun before the weather takes its forecast downturn.  It was a rare outing for me at the present time.  At the start of our walk we noticed that some sea defence walling (I think) is being placed in South Bay. 

We soon picked up at distance a number of offshore Little Gulls and a Mediterranean Gull was seen amongst the Black Headed Gulls on the rocks.  The tide was reaching its highest point bringing in with it a number of Sandwich Terns and the odd Common Tern.  Sea passage was sparse.  We did have Red-throated Diver, Wigeon and Common Scoter along with Puffin, Guillemot, Razorbill, Gannet and Eider Ducks.  The wetland area was silent.

The walk to Seaton Sluice brought us little in the way of passerines although numbers of Rock Pipits were seen and wader numbers were high.  The Golden Plovers looked at their best as the flock was in the air and occasionally lit by the sunlight.  Other waders seen were Oystercatcher, Lapwing of which I had seen numbers in the fields as we approached the coast, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew.  A number of Grey Seals showed their heads today.

Sam and I spent a bit of time at Seaton Sluice where the bird of the day was a migrating Wheatear which showed at length on the edge of the cliff until it decided chase of the Robin which had appeared to fly in off the sea.  We spent sometime watching and listening to displaying Eider Ducks.  I’m thinking that we’ll both be interested in the new Poyser monograph from Chris Waltho and John Coulson concerning the Common Eider Duck.

As the air began to warm up later in the day we decided to walk back to St Mary’s Island.  The occasional butterfly was noted.  It had been a quiet day but an enjoyable and relaxing one with good chat and bumping into fellow birdwatchers.  I heard about the places available on a trip to Shetland going at I think £650 per head, targeting I seem to remember a Siberian Rubythroat!  We decided to give that a miss and continue to watch the Eider Ducks instead.

When I returned home Sam’s mother pointed to something on my roof.  Oh no, I thought, the damn slates are coming off (there’s been a problem with the roof).  I needn’t have worried as in fact it was a Grey Wagtail.  We all had a good sighting.  Whilst this species is quite often seen near the lake and very occasionally in the parkland near the village, it was a new garden tick for me and a nice way to end the day.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

All Weather Birders Seek Migrants

20th Sept.  It was a dismal start to the day as Sam and I met Tom at Tynemouth for what was a reunion of the all weather birders.  Drizzle and mist and not much sign of birdlife to begin with, although Tom had seen the Red-breasted Flycatcher early morning.  We talked of sightings found in warmer climes as we had all been on birding trips on the continent since all three of us had met up.  Conditions seemed good for the possibility of finding some migrant birds today.  We heard Blackcap as we arrived.

As the drizzle drizzled we stood around patiently awaiting a fleeting glimpse of the Red-breasted Flycatcher.  Our wait was in vain and in fact little stirred amongst the trees and bushes.  Never really reaching a point of what you would call heavy rain, the drizzle did eventually drizzle away to almost nothing and it did brighten slightly.  At this point our patience began to be rewarded with some decent sightings including an early Brambling which give us two or three good sightings.  I reckoned this was an early and very new arrival and having checked dates in Birds in Northumbria, I note that in 2010 the first record was 20th September, 2011 was 13th September and 2012 was 21st September.  All is relative of course, as these dates simply record those records made known.  My thought is that most folk don’t send in records and of course many birds will be missed anyway.  Anyhow, I’m happy that our record is an early one of one of my favourite ‘wintering’ birds.  I’ll be surprised if there have been many, if any Bramblings seen in Northumberland this autumn before this one!

Other significant sightings amongst the commoner woodland species were two Yellow-browed Warblers, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff, with the latter bird calling on a number of occasions.  Goldcrest and a large party of Long-tailed Tits were amongst other birds seen before we moved from the area of the Priory Car-park.

We walked down to the pier and enjoyed a short sea watch.  Both Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone were seen on the rocks below us.  A small flock of Brent Geese were seen flying south and at least three Great Skuas, Arctic Skua and Red-breasted Merganser were also seen.  A Kestrel flew below the priory.  After a short return to look again for the Red-breasted Flycatcher we left for the warmth of the fish and chip restraunt at Seaton Sluice where a good lunch was enjoyed.  The drizzle was no longer.

Another quick sea-watch, this time from Seaton Sluice brought us four Velvet Scoters together quite close in on the sea and Common Scoter.  The Velvet Scoters showed really well and along with the Brambling were probably my birds of the day.  Two Manx Shearwaters flew north and were again seen very well quite close into land.  Arctic Terns were seen here and in other areas along the coast.  Red-throated Diver showed well and there was good numbers of Guillemot and Eider on the sea.

We walked to St Mary’s Island checking out the mounds on the way.  These were silent.  Numbers of Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Goldfinch were seen along the walk as was a lone Lapwing.  Golden Plovers were on the rocks north of the island.  Sam had a decent sighting of a female Wheatear which I only caught as a flashing flypast out the corner of my eye. 

The mounds, willows and wetland proved to be almost devoid of birds, although Tom heard a Yellow-browed Warbler at the back of the wetland and Sam and I watched as a small flock of Wigeon flew onto the pool.  In comparison Priors Park area at Tynemouth was buzzing!  We headed towards the crematorium grounds passing a lone Sanderling, Oystercatchers and Curlews along the way.  Arctic Skuas had been seen over the sea again.  Our second Kestrel of the day hovered over the fields as at last the sun began to break through.  The crematorium grounds were silent.

It had been an excellent day with some interesting birds seen amongst a day list of about sixty species, the occasional Grey Seal showing and two or three Speckled Wood Butterflies braving the dampness.  By evening time the skies were blue and clear and there was a nice view over North Tyneside to the sea, but our all weather birding  day had ended before that transpired.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014


13th Sept.  The RSPB Local Group trip to Holy Island usually takes place in October, but for organisational reasons we were up there in September this year.  I favour change, as otherwise you simply get stuck in a rut and at least we were able to walk around in sunshine.  Unfortunately the sunshine meant crowds, although I noted that few left the path between car-parks and the castle.  The rest of the island remained relatively peaceful.  Not many folk seem to have a passion for exploration and I think in this case lose out on some of the more attractive areas of the island.  Their loss is of course to the gain of those of us who take the time to be a little more adventurous (it tends to be the same where ever you go).  It had been quite misty on arrival, but the sun was soon out and temperatures jumped, although with a heat haze around all day it wasn’t a good day for photography.  Neither was it a good day for sightings of migrant birds.

Even on a busy day it is still possible to find peace on the island
Common Buzzard was seen perched just before joining the causeway.   Roe Deer were seen in the fields and later on the island. The area around the causeway didn’t hold the waders that we normally see except for a few Curlew.  I mentioned during the day that perhaps the group ought to explore the Snook at some point as this is always missed on trips.  Again a change would be good.

Sam and I headed for a quiet spot just north of St Cuthbert’s Island so that we could look for waders in relative peace and quiet.  We were soon joined by two or three other keen birders in the group.  It was certainly atmospheric with the calls of waders and Grey Seals in the misty atmosphere.  Hundreds of Brent Geese were picked up, but at some distance and I found later in the day that many members had not seen them at all.  A small number of the geese showed a little better on a rather closer sandbank.  Golden Plovers were around in large numbers and I seem to remember that we counted twenty plus Grey Plovers out in the bay, most still in summer plumage.  Nearby there were hundreds of Bar-tailed Godwit.  I picked up an occasional Knot, but when Sam walked across to St Cuthbert’s Island he found a large flock of them.  Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Redshank were also around in numbers and I’m thinking that there may have been several other species of wader but they were impossible to pick up in difficult light.  Eider Ducks and Cormorants were all we saw on this water from this point.  Thrushes picked up around where we stood were limited to Blackbird and Song Thrush, although we did hear from another birder that he has seen at least three Redwing during the morning.  I understand that the Black Redstart was showing along the beach.

When we caught up to a few other members near St Cuthbert’s Island we were put onto a Pied Flycatcher showing very well in the Vicar’s Garden.  The harbour held little more than Redshank, Dunlin, Rock Pipit and Pied Wagtail.

After dumping the cumbersome telescope back on the coach and having had some lunch sat in the harbour we took to the lonnen.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker call was picked up.  The hedges were in the main devoid of birds but we did have a very good sighting overhead of a female Sparrowhawk and two or three Kestrels.  Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Linnet and Mute Swan were flying in the area.

Instead of following the pathway to the hide and small pond we continued through the dunes into the sandy bay which I think is perhaps one of the most attractive parts of the island.  Gannets were passing by in large numbers and a large flock of Ringed Plovers were near the tide- line.  Sanderlings and Turnstones were also seen.  Pied Wagtails, a flock of Linnets and Rock Pipits were passed as we walked along the shore.  A small flock of Wigeon were seen flying along the coast. 

Now who is that?
The pond held the likes of Little Grebe, Shoveller, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and Moorhen.  The best sighting here was without doubt another Pied Flycatcher which showed well, at times in decent light.  Grey Herons and Lapwings had been seen in this area as we walked along the lonnen.

I felt that the light was at its best when it came to the time to leave the island although it was still rather hazy.  We left with a couple of members claiming the sighting of what appears to have been a large raptor.  This gained the interest of others as they backed away from boarding the coach to take a last look, but nothing was seen.

We made our customary short stop at Budle Bay.  It was fairly quiet and lacked the numbers of geese and ducks often seen here a little later in the year.  However I did manage to add Little Egret (now seeming to be a fixture here), Shelduck and Greenshank to the day list.

There were a number of folk asleep on the way home.  I’d enjoyed my day on the island in the sun, although feeling cream crackerd.

Unfortunately my present situation has allowed little time to look on patch.  However I did note last week that at least one of this years Great Crested Grebe young was showing well and still swimming along side one of the adult birds.  One surprise has been the number of Speckled Wood Butterflies seen in Killingworth during the recent hot spell.  I’ve had numbers in the garden often engaged in the spiral dancing up into the higher elevation of the hedge and tree, which appears to be males in territorial disputes.  I’ve had this species visit the garden regularly in recent years, but never in such numbers and it is of course only in recent years that Speckled Wood Butterflies inhabited this area at all.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Postcard from Berlin and Prague...Part Two

A view of Prague from the castle area.  Charles Bridge can be seen. 

16th-22nd Aug.  …and so we were up bright and early and at Hauptbahnhof (railway station) well before our train to Prague was due to leave.  Hauptbahnhof is quite a sight, with several floors and a shopping/eating centre giving it more of the appearance of a major airport.  It was opened for use at the 2006 football World Cup.  The train ran on time, but getting onto it was a bit of a rugby scrum and I had to ask folk to move from our seats.  It was a four and a half hour journey to Prague stopping at Dresden and passing some very nice scenery near the border and along the River Elbe.  It wasn’t long out of Berlin when we spotted a Marsh Harrier and later whilst I was dozing Sam found a Common Buzzard.  Sam later reflected that of course we probably travelled on the line that would have taken Czech Jews to what would so often be their final destination!  We arrived at our very nice hotel in the old town and we were soon out taking in the city sites.  Our first major port of call was the famous square in the old town where we looked at amongst many other things the Astronomical Clock.  We were to pass the clock on several occasions.  A Kestrel flew overhead and perched on top of the high buildings.  We eventually counted five Kestrels here.

An early morning view of part of the old town square, here amongst other things the famous astronomical clock attracts the crowds.

The astronomical clock.   I'm still trying to work it all out so may stick to my wrist watch for the time being..

Prague is a compact and beautiful city, but its compactness makes for crowding.  Imagine St Marks Square in Venice and you get the picture of parts of Prague.  Perhaps it was in part the crowded feel that ensured that my expectation that Prague would be the high spot of this trip proved to be wrong.  My feeling is that I would return to Berlin if given the opportunity, as there is so much to see, but as far as Prague is concerned then I feel ‘I’ve been there and done that now’, so would not expect to return.  Certainly Sam and I both felt unless you’re intending making tours outside of the city two, days is enough to ensure you get to see the main areas of the city.  Don’t get me wrong though, it is a beautiful place with lots of history.  I felt that the place had a feel of the Italian about it, but perhaps that is because in the main we dined at Italian restraunts.

Crossing a quiet Charles Bridge and heading for the castle area.  St Vitus Cathedral can be seen in the castle area to the right.

We watched the changing of the guard as we had done earlier this year in Budapest.  My guide book suggests that the guards look 'camp'.  I wasn't going to be the one to tell that to this bloke!

Still no crowds meant that these musicians could be enjoyed.  Not many places you can go to in Prague without street entertainment, but little as classy as this group.

I got some nice images of each musician.

We were up at 6.00am and after a quick breakfast we were out to see the Charles Bridge (which crosses the Vltava River) before any crowds built up.  We reached the Castle area well before numbers of folk began to arrive and believe me they do arrive in numbers!  The Charles Bridge area becomes a crowded mass of people later in the day.  If you visit Prague one simple piece of advice is get up early and miss the crowds and have a break in the afternoon.  This is what we did and it worked out pretty well.  Birds on or over the Vltava River included Mute Swan (thankfully no Swanbusters about:-) ), Cormorant, Mallard, Tufted Duck and hirundines in number.

St Vitus Cathedral.

There's some fine stained glass in the cathedral.
The images reflect the fact that we visited all of the main areas within Prague.  With CNN continually reporting that a volcano was about to erupt in Iceland and possibly going to bring havoc to airline travel I wondered if we would be forced to revisit over the next week!  Thankfully we got home as expected and I have to say I was impressed by Easy Jet service.

More moving moments going around the Jewish section of Prague.  One of the synagogues has the names inscribed on walls of individual Jews lost in the Holocaust and it is the longest epitaph in the world.  There was also a large collection of  drawings and art which had been done by Jewish children in the Terezin Ghetto.  Getting the children involved with the art work had been an attempt to help them psychologically overcome some of the terrors around them.  The ages of the children were shown, as was the age at which they died usually at the hands of the Nazis.  Few lived past their very early teens and many didn't even reach that age!  Looking at the densely crowded gave-stones in the Jewish cemetery helps one far better understand the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin. I've read a lot recently about the evil behaviour from fanatical Islamists.  It seems to me that all religions/communities have in their number, those capable of evil and we best not forget that! 

Castle area from the funicular railway.  Having taken the funicular railway up to the park area we found several Pied Flycatchers, Willow Warblers and tits including Willow TitsGreat Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch were heard and we think we heard another Goshawk.

Crossing the Vltava with Charles Bridge in the distance.

Yours truly in Wenceslas  Square.  Not a square at all but so much history here occurring even during my lifetime.  You could almost feel those Soviet tanks approaching.

There will be those who remember very well these two guys who set themselves alight in Wenceslas Square and died in protest to Soviet occupation of their country.  This is the spot where it occurred.

Another memorial in the square dedicated to those who suffered and died under soviet occupation.

Our last evening was spent down at the Vltava enjoying the scene.  I can't quite remember if this image was taken before or after a drunken gent collapsed onto the pavement and puked up a couple of feet away from me!  Heavy drinkers in the Czech Republic I believe but you see little of it on the streets.  From the locals anyway!  You do see lots of begging.

Another evening image of the castle area, this time with the Charles Bridge in the foreground.

.............and so our trip was almost over.  It had been a great, interesting and informative week.  We flew back to Edinburgh the next day and enjoyed the landing as we flew over the Firth of Forth and had good sightings of the Forth Bridges.


Monday, 25 August 2014

Postcard from Berlin and Prague...Part One

16th-22nd Aug.  I stress that there is a few decent bird sighting reports in amongst the cultural and touristy bits.  Although not a birding trip you can’t fail to have a few good sightings if you keep your eyes open.  In fact I would suggest that Berlin in particular would make a good focus for urban birding.

An unusual view of the Reichstag

The Reichstag poignantly reflected in the pool at the memorial for Romany persecuted by the Nazis.  The triangle represents the badge that the Romany were forced to wear in the concentration camps.  The flower is changed daily.  This memorial only opened in recent years.
First sighting of note was as we left Edinburgh Airport and saw what we are sure was a Gyr Falcon.  Are they used here to keep bird species clear of the runway or was it an escaped bird we wondered?  After a very relaxed flight with Easy Jet, Sam and I were soon encamped in our hotel, two minutes walk from Checkpoint Charlie.  We had decided on which sites to focus attention on so had a definite plan of action and were especially interested in the areas most associated with the Second World War and the Cold War.  We had numerous sightings of Hooded Crow throughout our visit with one particular bird being of interest, photographed by Sam on the site of Adolf Hitler’s Bunker.  I couldn’t help wonder if Adolf was still in some way present!  One early morning we had Goshawk calling near the hotel and clearly after the Feral Pigeons.  Not so surprising as Berlin has the forested area of the Grunewald on the edge of the city and I knew that Goshawks also frequent the parks.  We didn’t have time to focus primarily on birds, as this was not the purpose of the trip.  If we had visited more of the parks and woodland then I’m sure a decent list would have accumulated.

The Holocaust Memorial.   I was very taken by the lighting effect.  The memorial as a whole is puzzling.  Perhaps that's the idea.  It's built in a maze style.  It's less puzzling when you learn that the architect based his ideas on the cramped and over filled Jewish cemetery in Prague (which we later visited).  I have mixed feelings about such a memorial being used for child's play and people sitting o the blocks to eat their lunch, but again, maybe that is the point.  The underground museum is certainly top class and very moving indeed.  We were moved at lunchtime too, but this time by wasps!
Berlin is a city still under reconstruction (it focused the mind to remember that some of the really stunning architecture that we saw was partly still in ruins up until the 1980s and that much has changed since the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the Cold War) following the Second World War and collapse of the Berlin Wall and the large number of cranes on the skyline will testify to this.    We visited a number of well known sites and a few lesser known ones making good use of the U and S Bahn system.  I’ll let the images and captions speak for themselves.

A highlight of our visit to Berlin was the evening spent at the Soviet Memorial at Treptower Park.  No one does memorials like the Soviets!  During the battle of Berlin 305,000 Soviet troops became casualties and 5,000 of them are buried in mass graves at this memorial.  The gigantic Soviet soldier carries a child and sword and stands on a crushed Nazi swastika.  This was made from marble from Hitlers Chancellery building which had survived the bombing, but which was torn down by victorious Soviet troops.  What ever one thinks of war and war memorials this one is stunning!

One of several Black Redstarts seen at the memorial.

We beat the crowds and got to the 1936 Olympic Stadium and had it almost to ourselves for a time.  I couldn't help ponder upon what it would have felt like in 1936!  We spent a great morning at what is now home to Hertha Berlin.  Nazi architecture of course and there are many marks from gun shot still to be seen.  As we left we had a short sighting of a male Pied Flycatcher.  Both Black Redstarts and White Wagtails had been seen earlier.

Sam beside a piece of the Berlin Wall at an exhibition near Check Point Charlie

The Dome of the Berliner Dom, both inside and out. The Fernsehturm tower can be seen behind.  A great afternoon was spent exploring the city.

The Brandenburg Gate is undoubtedly best seen at night and it was a great place to spend our last evening.  A Tawny Owl flyover topped things off very well.

So our Berlin visit was almost over and we had a train for Prague to catch in the morning.  More to come.

Sunday, 10 August 2014


I read the news today, oh boy

Lennon/McCartney lyrics

Yeah, my blood's so mad feels like coagulatin'
I'm sitting here just contemplatin'
I can't twist the truth, it knows no regulation.
Handful of senators don't pass legislation
And marches alone can't bring integration
When human respect is disintegratin'
This whole crazy world is just too frustratin'

Barry Maguire lyrics

If blood will flow when flesh and steel are one
Drying in the colour of the evening sun
Tomorrow's rain will wash the stains away
But something in our minds will always stay
Perhaps this final act was meant
To clinch a lifetime's argument
That nothing comes from violence and nothing ever could
For all those born beneath an angry star
Lest we forget how fragile we are

On and on the rain will fall
Like tears from a star like tears from a star
On and on the rain will say
How fragile we are how fragile we are

Sting Lyrics