Thursday, 24 July 2014

Waders, Seals and Cetaceans



23rd June.  In my view there is never a time of year that is poor for bird watching and anyone would be foolish to write off July.  Of course there is also the wider nature interest to keep an eye open for and this evening proved my point.

We began in South Bay at St Mary’s Island which provided a small flock of about fifty Golden Plover in various stages of plumage change, a handful of Knot only slowly changing from summer plumage, Dunlin and Turnstone still in full summer plumage, along with Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew and Lapwing.  A broken up raft of Common Scoter drifted southwards on the sea and Eider Ducks in changing plumage were there in small numbers.  Gannets, auks and gulls were around in numbers, but we saw no sign of skuas or shearwaters.

Our eye was drawn to the Grey Seals laid out on the Island and we decided to have a walk across the causeway for a closer look.  Not to close as the many signs warn the public.  Sam informed me that someone had allowed or been unable to prevent their dog chasing after the seals recently.  No shock there then, at least in the case of the couldn’t give a damn ‘my Rover comes first’ minority of dog owners.  We had good sightings of four Grey Seals with more in the water just off the island and perhaps one or two more hidden behind the rocks.

As Sam and I overlooked the sea I got my eye on the dorsal fins of cetaceans which at this point were quite close into shore.  We reckon on a minimum of five or six which included Harbour Porpoise (we think) and certainly White-beaked Dolphins where were breaching fully out of the water at times.  They were swimming in circles and seemed to have perhaps found a shoal of fish and a good feeding area, which was further underlined when the Gannets began to dive and feed in the same area.  We watched these cetaceans at some length as they gradually moved further out to sea.  A young lad joined us to help out with identification and it was good to see him enjoying the use of the scope, although sadly he never did get as good a sighting as we had initially when the dolphins were breaching.  More sightings were made on our way to Seaton Sluice and this occasion I’m positive that the sighting was of Harbour Porpoise, further out to sea than our initial sighting had been.  Our walk to Seaton Sluice (Common Whitethroats and Reed Buntings seen on the way) proved to take us much longer than planned as we watched the cetaceans and got into conversation with a number of interesting and interested people along the way.  This all made for a good evening.  I think the young lad we initially spoke with was only just getting into bird watching, so we were able to offer some advice about places to visit.  We enjoyed our fish and chips before heading off to Holywell.

We walked to Holywell Pond again in the main taking the open paths across the farmland where Yellowhammers, Linnets and Whitethroat were found.  The flash towards the obelisk looked perfect for waders, but was in fact completely bird-less when we passed.  Our watching however attracted a local and his son.  Apparently he had been involved in birding when younger and is keen to get started again.  Perhaps the flash was not good encouragement this evening although I think the guy was fully aware of that can be attracted to the area.

The pond was once again quiet with only Lapwing and gulls attracted to the muddy area.  A flock of Redshank once again looked as though they were going to land but again decided to move on.  Growing numbers of Lapwing and Curlew were feeding in the fields to the south.  After watching the Grey Herons we too decided to move on and make for home.

Whilst standing quietly in Holywell Village we heard the unmistakeable call of a Greenshank that flew over our heads, although we were unable to locate it in flight.  A good ending, to a rewarding evening.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Balmy Druridge Bay Evening



20th June.  When Lee called to ask about a visit to Cresswell and Druridge Pools this evening I didn’t take much persuasion.  A call to Sam and all was arranged.  By the time 6:30pm came around we were on our way and wondering if it was going to rain.  The cloud dispersed leaving a fine warm and sunny summer evening in front of us.  Lee had been up to Druridge Pools a few days previous and had found it more than interesting, but we decided to stop at Creswell pond on the way, and as it happens that was just as well.

Spoonbill.  As with all the images here, strictly record images.


 We passed the usual Tree Sparrows along the path to the pond and I got my eye on two Spoonbills before entering the hide.  We watched the Spoonbills at distance before they flew down close to the mud area right of the hide giving great sightings in the bright clear sunlight.  It wasn’t just Spoonbills that caught the eye, as there were four Little Egrets present on or near the mud bank and of course the Avocets with three young.  The youngsters now a good size, but the parent birds were still being protective of their territory.  Ringed Plovers were on the mud bank and at least one Little Ringed Plover was amongst them with young.  Common Snipe showed themselves well on occasions as did the Dunlin which flew in to join them and there were also at least two Common Sandpipers present, but there was no sign of the Green Sandpipers which had been reported.  Both Reed Warblers and Sedge Warbler were showing well in the reeds close to the hide and on one occasion whilst I watched the Spoonbills a Yellow Wagtail flew behind them into the reeds.  This was the only Yellow Wagtail that I saw this evening, amongst the many Pied Wagtails.  It felt rather like ‘continental birding’ in the sunshine and warmth and Sam commented that it was like being back on the Little Hortobagy.  Well, perhaps not quite, but I knew what he meant.




A bloke entered the hide and I asked if he was able to identify the Little Ringed Plovers.  I heard him ask ‘how’s Brian’ and after a few seconds I realised that I was sitting next to Sedgedunum Birder.  Sorry I didn’t recognise you immediately John.  I think it must be because you look younger every time I see you. :-)  It must be all of the early morning air having such a good effect.

A Ruff was found on the west side of the pond and gave a decent scope sighting whilst Shelduck was also on the mud bank.  Sam pointed out two female Goldeneye at the north end of the pond which weren’t easy to distinguish in the bright sunlight.  After spending some good quality time in the hide we headed for the north end of the pond hoping to pick up more Yellow Wagtails.  We found only numbers of Pied Wagtail.  Arctic Tern was also seen here and Sam took the opportunity of getting a better image of the Spoonbills and an image of numbers of Dunlin north of the causeway.  The Dunlin weren’t disturbed at all until the cattle decided to walk down towards us and see what was going on.

Avocet


Little Egret
 
So off we went to Druridge Pools.  Before walking down to the hides we took a look over the sea.  By now the warmth of the day was fading a little and mist was gathering in patches on the land causing a very nice atmosphere about the place.  As we set off to walk through the dunes, Lee pointed out a Barn Owl flying north through the dunes towards us.  Unfortunately it was mobbed by crows and flew off in the direction of the pools.  A juvenile Stonechat was found in the dunes (same area where breeding took place in 2013) along with Meadow Pipit.

The sea was calm but pretty unrewarding in terms of sightings, although to be fair we didn’t give much time to a sea watch as by now we were losing the light.  We did pick up the rafts of Common Scoter, the odd Gannet, Guillemot and many terns and gulls.  We spoke to someone later who had been sea watching and he confirmed all had been quiet.  Most of the excitement was at Cresswell Pond tonight, but the pools did throw up another lone Little Egret and a party of seven Common Sandpipers!  A pair of Great Crested Grebes has left it very late to begin building a floating nest structure and mating. 

Sun goes down at Druridge

 Sam had gone of in search of the Barn Owl and when we rejoined him he had found it and it was perched on one of the buildings in the dunes for a short time before flying off northwards.  Soon afterwards a Barn Owl approached us from the south and flew along the tree line so we are confident that we saw a pair hunting tonight.

As we drove home we found a Kestrel.  It had been one of those special summer evenings in the Druridge Bay area and we left well pleased with our tally of fifty-six species picked out in such a short space of time.  We had watched from Druridge Pools as a fiery sun went down   Thanks to Lee for the thought about going up there and the driving.  I’m certain this evening will appear in my year end highlights.

Friday, 18 July 2014

A Seawatch Cut Short



17th June.  Sam and I arrived at Seaton Sluice to be told that there was little passing by on or over the sea, but we were put onto four Whimbrel on the rocks below.  It was worth going down to Seaton Sluice for these birds alone.  They showed nicely until the incoming tide washed them off the rocks. The unmistakeable calls filled the air as the birds flew off.  We decided to hang around for a little longer during which we saw large numbers of Gannets, Sandwich Terns, an odd Arctic Tern, Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot, Eider, Kittiwakes and Fulmars.  It was quite hazy out at sea, so we had no definite identification of the flock of waders we saw at great distance.  We decided that it seemed unlikely that we were going to see much else, so we had our tea and walked up to Holywell.

Burnet Moths doing what Burnet Moths do.

Soldier Beetles doing what Soldier Beetles do.

At the beginning of the walk we found two sandpipers flying up the burn from Seaton Sluice.  No definite identification was made as the sun was in our eyes, but we think they may well have been Green Sandpipers.  Small Tortoiseshell and Meadow Brown Butterflies were in flight.

Cinnabar Moth caterpillar (I think) with empty skin underneath

We didn’t walk through much of the dene, preferring to follow the tracks across the farmland on such a wonderful evening.  It was a typical Holywell summer evening.  The only birds noted were I seem to remember Common Whitethroat, Skylark, Goldfinch, Linnet and numbers of singing Yellowhammers.





Durham Brown Argus
 
The pond was quiet and on this occasion no rarity flew over.  On such a nice evening though, we weren’t going to rush away so we watched the Grey Herons and other birds on the water which included Little Grebes, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Pochard.  Before we reached the pond we had found Curlew and Lapwings in the field to the south.  There was no way of knowing in the bright sunlit area if some of these birds were Whimbrel.  Eventually a few Lapwings flew onto the narrow mud strip at the pond and a small flock of Redshank looked as though they were about to drop in before flying off.  Swifts, Sand Martins and Swallows fed over the water.



Great early morning light showing Small Tortoiseshells at their best.

 So a fairly quiet evening, but with Whimbrel new for the year list I’m not complaining and it was a great evening to be out.



More Small Tortoiseshells.  Often best just to forget composition and sharpness and just think light and colour.
 
I’ve added a few photos from our trip to Bishop Middleham Old Quarry and from my garden watch this morning when there seemed to be up to ten Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies on the Buddleia which has grown magnificently this year.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Bishop Middleham



12th June.  A bird, an insect and a plant where our three main targets on the RSPB Local Group trip to Bishop Middleham.  Fortunately for the eighteen keen participants the sun was shining.  Sam and I were leading the trip.

We found two Green Sandpipers on the mud before they took to flight, calling. Then we walked along the path towards Castle Lake.  Our target bird was first heard and then seen very well.  This was of course the Corn Bunting, a bird that one or two in the group had not seen before which clearly underlines the decline of this species.  Further along the way very nice sightings were had of Little Egret, Sedge Warbler and a pair of Grey Wagtails.  The Lake itself had thrown up nothing unusual, but we had found the likes of Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Mallard, Oystercatcher and Lapwing. 


Butterflies and odonata were seen along the way and Blackcaps were heard singing.


 It had been a tiring walk in the sun and once we had completed the circle most participants retreated to the pub.  Our next call was to be the old magnesian limestone quarry, one of my favourite locations in Durham.  A few weeks ago I had walked in the quarry and found little.  Today was to be different.   The Dark Red Helleborines were soon attracting attention (another target for the day) and I also got my eye on CommonTwayblade, but the latter was well past its best.  Fragrant Orchids were around in some number.   I have to say there was nothing like the amount of botanical interest that I have found in the quarry during July in past visits, but we did have some nice Common Centaury, Milkwort and Thyme and there was certainly enough to keep folk interested and cameras busy for the two plus hours we spent here.  Sam watched a Peregrine Falcon dive behind the cliff of the quarry as birds scattered. 



Our third target was of course the Durham Argus Butterfly.  I was confident of finding these on such a good day, although this confidence soon began to dwindle away after a search brought nothing.  We found plenty of Common Blues and then eventually did find the Durham Argus and in some numbers.

Dark Red Helleborine

So it proved to be a very good day.  Eighteen participants felt a good number to lead and whilst this is far down on the numbers that used to attend these trips, all I can say is that just so long as everyone is along for the correct reasons, i.e. and interest in nature, then leading the trips can be very rewarding.

Common Centaury

 The day showed that we can still manage a good numbers of bird species finds whilst focusing on the wider habitat and other wildlife.  The bird list came to fifty plus and butterflies seen were Large White, Small White, Green Veined White, Small Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Common Blue, Durham Argus, Speckled Wood, Ringlet, Meadow Brown and Small Heath.

Fragrant Orchid species


Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Hammers, Jars and Trousers Found



8th June.  As the cloud gathered at tea-time I had another last look for the lost over-trousers before heading to Slaley Forest via Corbridge.  I can announce they have been found in a zipped side pocket inside my travel bag.  I don’t know for the life of me who put them there!  Anyway thankfully the find has saved me a few quid.  In the event they weren’t used last night, but as I walked along the bank of the Tyne at Corbridge it certainly looked as though they were going to be required as thunderous cloud moved over us.  Marie, Sam and I had met up with Tony in the car-park for an evening walk prior to moving onto Slaley Forest for a search for Nightjars.  This area of river bank is one of the best areas I know in Northumberland for Yellowhammers.  They were about in numbers again this evening.  One particularly stunning bird called from the top of a bush as it was joined by a youngster and a warbler.  We’d previously listened to Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff calls.  Grey and Pied Wagtails were on or near the pebbled areas.  Rain fell in surrounding areas as the dark clouds passed over us.  By now they were moving south.  There was a chill already in the air whilst we had our tea on the old stones from the old Roman bridge.

River Tyne at Corbridge
 
We were at Slaley Forest in plenty of time and took our usual route.  As Tony had never heard or seen Nightjars before we were hoping for a successful evening.  Despite the coolness of the evening there were plenty of midgies and mossies to greet us.  So it was on with the insect repellent.  In my case, lots of it.  I’m pleased to say that it appears to have done the trick and for the second year running I avoided reaction to insect bites on a visit to Slaley Forest.  We picked up plenty of roding Woodcock, but as darkness began to set in there was no sound from Nightjars.  It was a moon-lit night with now completely clear skies so darkness as such never really arrived.  The sky through the tree-line looked quite amazing at times and the silence was wonderful.  Unfortunately as far as Nightjars were concerned it wasn’t silence that we were after.  We began our slow return walk picking up the sounds of Woodcock before they flew over us.  It was Sam who heard the distant Nightjar and I thought I picked up a brief distant churring from the opposite direction, but that may have been wishful thinking on my part.  A Tawny Owl called and one was seen on the way home.

I was beginning to think we were going to be out of luck and after last years really successful visit that would have been a shame, especially for Tony who began to ask if it was possible that we might actually see a Nightjar.  I assured him that it was possible.  It wasn’t long afterwards that we were listening to the mechanical churring sounds of a nearby Nightjar and then it or another Nightjar flew in front and very close to us giving Tony and the rest of us a really good sighting.  Tony saw it fly into a nearby young conifer and I’m positive I saw movement from the tree in the stillness of the evening.   There was nothing like the chorus of Nightjars that we had heard last year, but single birds did continue to churr, call and wing-clap and showed well again on at least two occasions.  The night was a success, I have my trousers and I reckon Yellowhammers are as excitingly coloured as many exotic birds!  It was a chilly night by now with small patches of mist across the road in places.  I was home by 12:30am and dreaming soon afterwards.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Ending the Day with a Self Found Pratincole



6th June.  After being unable to find my over-trousers (are they still in Hungary?) Sam and I left for St Mary’s Island with the intention of walking via Seaton Sluice to Holywell Pond.  With heavy showers forecast I just had to accept that I’d get wet legs.  In the event it was a wonderful day and at times we were under a hot sun.

Initially our most interesting finds were the numbers of Burnet Moths and a couple of Ringlet Butterflies amongst many Meadow Brown Butterflies.  A few Curlew were in the fields behind the now very overgrown wetland area.  Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were heard and Swifts, Sand Martins, Swallows and House Martins were about in numbers.  Sandwich Tern numbers were high, although we did have sighting of at least one Arctic Tern and later further in land Common Terns.  A Puffin flew very close to shore at St Mary’s Island where Common Seals were laid out on the rocks with notices up for public attention asking that everyone keep their distance.  An American tourist admired the bathing Starlings.

Burnet Moth

 I’m pleased to say that we found two families of Stonechats, Common Whitethroat and a very visible and singing Grasshopper Warbler (which we watched at length) holding territory.  This I thought would be our bird of the day, but I was to be proved to be wrong, as you will see later.  We also heard four Reed Buntings singing in a relatively small area.  There was little on a flat and calm sea although we had Fulmar fly by the cliff and several Kittiwakes and Eider Ducks.  Fish and chips were taken in the sun at Seaton Sluice and I really enjoyed the cold can of coke.  The forecast had been for a very heavy shower at this time so wrong again.

A good area for wildlife.  I'd never realised the history behind this house. It was the officers quarters for the defence and gun emplacement during World War One and radar was tested here during World War Two.  The house was designed so as to look like a Georgian Villa.  Changed a bit now of course with at least one tower gone and a additions made.  The large 'garden' area is left for wildlife.  We got speaking to a local gent who told us about the history of the nearby tunnels etc.

A calm sea and perfect lighting conditions.

The dene provided us with several Song Thrushes, a calling Tawny Owl, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff et al.  It’s a while since I’ve been down to the area and I was surprised to find just how overgrown everything had become.  Everything seems to be growing fast, except me!  We talked to a guy in Holywell Dene who works on the tour boats at Mull and to prove what a small world it is he confirmed that he knew Geltsdale Warrior (Ewan).

We made for the pond area listening to Yellowhammers along the way.  On arrival we found the pond fairly quiet, but we remained in the public hide which I find far more productive than the members hide these days (just as well as I’d forgotten the key to the latter).  The odd Oystercatcher flew in and Grey Herons gave nice sightings.  Birds on the water included Little Grebe, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Teal.  We were just commenting on how quiet it was when at 6.50pm I got my eye on a bird flying south towards the woodland on the opposite side of the pond.  It threw me for a few seconds.  I caught some white on it and had to check that I was not getting size and distance wrong.  Sam took a look at it and when I noticed the flight I called pratincole!  The bird flew south over the pond and we dashed out to try for a better sighting.  We caught it flying directly over our heads as it diverted south westwards.  It gave an extremely good if fairly short sighting and I have to say we were convinced by some features that it was a Collared Pratincole.  On reporting this bird we met with some scepticism considering that there is a Black-winged Pratincole in the the North East.  We didn’t much care as which ever species it was a great co-find by Sam and I.  Holywell evenings are rarely boring!  We did spend a bit of time hoping that the bird might drop into the pond area, but it had disappeared.  We went home as the thunder storm approached from the north, well satisfied after the pratincole had provided the icing on the cake of what had been a very good day.  I still haven’t found my over-trousers.

od Ichneumon wasp species

Grey Heron
 
Well today I understand from friends and Birdguide staff that the pratincole was relocated near the pond and its identification confirmed as Black-winged Pratincole.  That’s a lifer for both Sam and I and as for the self found list, as the song says ‘You can’t take that away from us’.  I’ve seen dozens of Collared Pratincoles in Europe.  Not an easy pair of birds to tell apart and we feel in good company in getting it initially wrong and that takes nothing away from such a great self found species.  I’m only pleased we managed to identify it as a pratincole at long distance.  This species does have a very distinctive flight pattern.  I’m pleased to hear Cain caught up with it this morning.  It’s his patch after all.  In my humble opinion no twitching of birds can beat just going out and finding your own birds in a relaxed manner.  There was no one else about when we found the pratincole yesterday evening.  Great stuff.

Just as an aside it is interesting to note that Sam having checked out pratincole sightings at Holywell, found that the previous sighting of Collared Pratincole was 6th July 1966!  The Black-winged Pratincole is of course a first for Holywell Pond.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Back to Earth, Back to Patch and Back to the Farne Islands



After my recent exciting trip to Hungary it didn’t take long to get back into normal routine and I managed a quick look down by the lake.  Whilst the younger pair of Great Crested Grebes failed to produce young that survived more than a few days, the long established pair I believe produced five young, but I’m told that only three survive.  Although when I took a look I could only find two youngsters.  The Mute Swans had until recent days lost all but two of the cygnets.  I understand some have died from natural causes.  A pity as they had reached a decent size.  Both Sedge Warbler and Reed Warbler have been heard from the reed-beds.

26th June.  Today saw me visiting the Farne Islands on a day tour with Marie, Sam and Mark.  This had been arranged for sometime.  Arriving in Seahouse bright and early we found that landing on Staple Island was going to be impossible, so the trip was delayed until 11.30am.  We spent the time in the sun along by Stag Rock.  Very few birds about apart from mergansers, and auks and terns at sea, but an enjoyable walk all the same.

E
Eider chick.  Seahouses harbour.
 
I actually think we got a very decent deal from Billy Shiels as the cost of the trip was reduced to £20, although we still spent a couple of hours on the sea and rounded Staple Island before spending three plus hours on Inner Farne and returning to Seahouses after 5.00pm where of course we had excellent fish and chips.  No, we didn’t see the Bridled Tern on this occasion and neither did we see many twitchers, however Inner Farne held too many folk for my liking and it was perhaps this that made photography far more difficult than last year.  Some of the antics from people near to the Arctic Terns left much to be desired.  OK, I accept youngsters getting excited and its part of the experience for them and I as much as anyone likes to see the general public getting involved with wildlife, but when you see grown men and women waving there arms about and waving sticks and goodness knows what else in the airs whilst running around like frightened rabbits (it was a minority) I do think it a bit OTT.  It isn’t a theme park guys!  They’re terns for goodness sake, not chemical weapons!  It would be easy to stand on chicks if you don’t take care and one bloke who barged through, knocking one of the marker posts over, almost did without realising!   That said we did have a great day and I may well be back before the season is over and it was the small minority who behaved in such a manner.  I spoke to one or two holidaymakers for whom a trip to the Farnes was a first and they seemed to have coped with the Arctic Terns without resorting to silly behaviour.

Shags

The ahhhhhh factor

Arctic Tern
3rd July.  Today saw me at the NWT/NHSN Photography Awards night.  Not to pick a prize up I hasten to add, although on my list of things to do is to at least get an image short listed in the future.  It may mean investing a few quid.  No, no, not in bribes, but for new equipment. :-)  A very nice evening with a few familiar faces being spotted in the audience.  I’m pleased to say that Sam was on the list of judges this year.  The winners in some cases would not have been my choice, but it is simply down to individual taste I guess.  There was some very good quality images produced.  I felt it a pity that shortlisted entries on display had not been printed off onto better quality paper as they were in my opinion not shown off well, but I accept it is likely to be a matter of cost.  A very good evening.

Kittiwake