Monday, 15 January 2018

Sunday Birding...Adding to the Year List

14th Jan.  I don’t suppose many birders are drawn to a Morrisons carpark of an early Sunday morning to do some birdwatching.  It was purely coincidental that I was.  As Sam purchased his breakfast at Greggs, I watched an almost empty carpark, as Rooks searched for left overs.  I guess much of it litter left by humans.  The lines of empty parking bays assisted me in gauging the space that each Rook seemed to take for a feeding territory.  Given more time I felt that this would make a good study, not that Morrisons carpark is ever empty for long during daylight hours, so the researcher would need to choose timings well!  We soon left the Rooks to their business, as we headed for Northumberland Park.  I’ve just completed my first read of 2018, begun in 2017, The Raven by Derek Ratcliffe.  There is a short chapter about intelligence in Ravens and I wondered to myself where Rooks would fall in the intelligence stakes amongst corvidae.  I very much like Derek Ratcliffe’s writings and hope to get around reading his work on the Peregrine this year.

We found no sign of the Firecrest as we stood in the cold, although admittedly we didn’t stand around too long.  Time wasn’t wasted however as we heard our first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker of the year and we were soon watching it drumming enthusiastically.  Stock Doves and other parkland species were seen, but overall it was a very quiet morning in the park.

Our next stop was to be Prestwick Carr with a view to getting the Great Grey Shrike onto the year list.  We were diverted somewhat when we passed s temporary flash, on the northern boundary of our own patch as it happens.  We wanted to check out the geese more closely.  It turned out that whilst most of the geese were Greylag among them were twenty-two Pink footed Geese and a flock of Lapwing.   The stop off and short walk across the fields had been worthwhile, although we didn’t search anymore of the area, preferring to leave that until another day.

Prestwick Carr was soon reached and parking spaces were again in mind.  On this occasion we couldn’t find one.  After some frustrations, which I won’t go into, we did manage to park up.  Sam asked the question ‘isn’t birding meant to be relaxing?’ having spent a few minutes that very much weren’t.  Never mind we did have good scope sightings of the Great Grey Shrike adding to our sightings of the last few years of what we assume is the same bird returning year after year.  I’ve seen that Great Grey Shrikes will continue to return to a good winter territory once found and will defend it much like a breeding territory, and whilst I see their average lifespan is 3-5 years there has been incidences of them living up to 12 years.  Common Buzzards and Kestrels were seen as we watched the Great Grey Shrike.  Later we walked a section of the ‘bumpy road’ and added Willow Tit to my year list.  The feeders were being visited by a number of species as they usually are at this time of year.  We eventually left and made off for Gosforth Park N R.

We added Nuthatch and Sparrowhawk to the year list whilst watching at the feeding station before setting off for the circular walk around the reserve.  We found the kill of a Sparrowhawk, a Woodpigeon, so likely a female Sparrowhawk.  Sam checked out the mud for signs of animal tracks and found the tacks of both Roe Deer and Badger and a small area where a Badger had been feeding.  Our walk was generally very quiet and peaceful, as whilst numbers visiting the reserve of late have grown, we never see too many folk walking the tracks far from the hides.  I did on this occasion bump into someone I’d worked with over 20 years ago and I’m surprise she recognised me as by now I was wrapped up to keep myself warm.  I have to say the NHSN is flying high these days, and last Friday’s presentation by the ‘Seal Man’ attracted an audience of what seemed to be over 200 individuals including a few youngsters.  There was some excellent underwater footage shown of Grey Seals and auks and good information about White-beaked Dolphins.  The reserve itself is once again threatened by house building nearby, and I must get my letter off to the council.  Many have already sent letters and it is good to see members taking such action.  I’ve been involved in the past with some organisations where action by members seemed to be the last of their concerns!  Anyway, I’d no sooner mentioned Siskins, Sam already had them on his year list, when a small number flew and called overhead, so they are now on my list too.  They appeared in the area where normally seen.  Jay was seen briefly at some point.  Water Rail was heard a couple of times.


We stopped at the small hide were two Bitterns had recently been seen by photographers, although they did not reappear for us.  We may have heard one call quietly from the reeds, but can’t be certain.  I think the hide had acted like a freezer and we were both feeling very chilled as we moved on so decided to call it a day at this point.  I’d added ten species to the year list today and enjoyed doing so, although unusually found my self dreaming of a warm sun on the way home.  I’m more than happy with my year list so far, and it is only mid-January so some quite easy to find species can wait.  I enjoyed a hot chocolate and a hot bath, taken separately on my return home.  Today is very much a rest day.    

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Birds and Brass Monkeys on Northumberland Coast

8th Jan.  I ate my cornflakes whilst temperatures remained at -5C outside and I thought to myself ‘it’ll warm up a bit before we leave for the coast’.  The temperature did rise ever so slightly, but I’m pleased we took so many layers of clothing when we headed north to Fenham Flats, having first ensured that the garden birds were fed.  I should have guessed we were going to face low temperatures when we stepped from the car, having passed the sign which had warned ‘brass monkeys enter this area at their own risk’.  So hard was the frost in places that areas to the sides of the AI looked as though they were scenes from a Christmas card.  Common Buzzard, Kestrel and a large flock of Lapwings were seen before we turned off onto icy side roads and headed to the hide at Fenham Flats.


The hide at Fenham Flats offered some protection from the biting cold and offered a splendid view of a tranquil area where skies were blue, and the windless atmosphere was very much in contrast to our visit to Lindisfarne two days before.  It was only a pity that Lindisfarne Castle remains under scaffold, as it and the reflection on the water below would have offered a near perfect photographic opportunity.  Once again we had good sightings of many Brent Geese, some close by the hide and others far more distant as were many of the waders.  Flocks of Dunlin were amongst waders that showed well and flew across our field of view.  We looked for Little Stint but were unable to find one.  Shelduck were here in large numbers as were Grey Plover.  We chatted to a young lady who was on holiday and traveling up the coast towards St Abbs.  She appeared to be a keen photographer and could not have picked a better day and had chosen well to view the area from this point.

After spending some time at Fenham Flats we made off to Budle Bay, but not before finding Redwing and Song Thrush in the hedge.  Stonechat was seen but for the life of me I don’t remember where.  This time we had a little better luck with some birds being a bit closer to shore although many were not and despite our best efforts we were unable to locate the Spotted Redshank although Redshank were numerous along with Curlews and Bar Tailed GodwitsShelduck were again there in numbers and the field held a large flock of Greylag Geese with a few Canada Geese and Brent Geese among the flock.  A skein of Pink footed Geese flew overhead.

After a break for lunch we returned to Stagg Rock where today the sea was much calmer and there was just enough wind to make for a biting cold atmosphere.  I don’t remember feeling so cold for a long time.  We took shelter behind a wall and that seemed to fend off the worst of the cold.  It wasn’t long before we had sighting of rafts of Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Long tailed Duck, numbers of Red Throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver, Shag and Eider Duck.  These birds were quite close to shore so were seen very well.     Purple Sandpipers were also seen north of the Stagg.


With the days being still short we next made off to East Chevington and after checking out North Pool amongst other birds we found another Long-Tailed Duck, Red breasted Merganser, Little Grebes and Goldeneyes.  Instead of walking to the mouth of the burn we decided to get down to Druridge Pools before the light disappeared.    I had thought it couldn’t get any colder, but it did.  We looked from the budge screen to find the ponds frozen solid and only one solitary bird present, which was a Shelduck that finally gave up and flew off.  We too gave up at this point and made for home after a last quick stop at Cresswell Pond were a large flock of Lapwing had gathered in the centre of the frozen pond.


As we headed for home threatening cloud began to approach from the south.  In the west the sky reddened, and the sun formed a huge red ball of flame as it reached the horizon.  A bitterly cold but very rewarding day.  Give me a cold bright winter’s day over a damp squib of a summer’s day anytime!

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Lindisfarne...Birds, Turneresque Skies and Rough Seas

6th Jan.  I know it’s just another date on the calendar, but birding during the first few days of a New Year always feels exciting and a challenge which brings rewards, so on waking I wasn’t going to be put off by the sound of wind and sleet upon the window.  Yes, tomorrow was to be a nicer day, but I was eager to get out so when Sam arrived we were soon on our way north to Lindisfarne, almost running over some dare devil Pheasants along the route and finding our first flock of Lapwing of the year.


On arrival and stepping out onto the causeway it was immediately clear we needed several layers of clothing to protect us from the cold winds which were worth braving in order to breath in that fresh air, take in the almost silent surroundings and the Turneresque skies that were for ever changing as the sun rose whilst occasionally showing through forever moving cloud patterns that were pouring rain in areas not far from us, but thankfully not onto us.  Between the land and cloud formations to the south of us was a bright yellow strip of sunlight.  We soon had our eye on a close by Little Egret feeding just off the causeway as we picked up the sound of Curlews, Oystercatchers and in Sam’s case Fieldfare.


There were very few cars in pot-holed car park when we arrived.  Message to authorities, I agree that folk should be charged to park, but don’t you think you ought to use the cash taken to provide a car-park that is fit for purpose?  We walked down to and through the village barely seeing a soul but being serenaded by large numbers of House Sparrows.  We were soon watching one Slavonian Grebe, then two, then four as they swam as a group although constantly diving.  This was to be one of our sightings of the day s they did show very well.  As we took the path towards the harbour numbers of Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin and Grey Plover were noted, as were Red breasted Mergansers, Red throated Divers and 2 Great Northern Divers.  Shags passed as we watched the divers and the occasional Grey Seal showed its head above water.  This reminded me that the NHSN has a talk this Friday evening concerning Grey Seals which is to be given by a speaker with diving experience along with years of research concerning Grey Seals.  During our walk the Golden Plover flocks put on a good flying display as they flew lit by a now bright and occasionally warm sun (warm if you were sheltered from the wind).  We had a quiet laugh to ourselves when someone told their family that they were Swallows.  Well we all make mistakes!   By now a few more folk were on the island, but it never at any point become busy and most of the time we had areas to ourselves.  We were also blessed with another rainbow, this one across the island.  A Rock Pipit was added to our list.


The harbour held a few waders including Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Bar tailed Godwit.  We checked out the pool and found the likes of Shoveler, Teal and Lapwing.  By now we had seen a small number of Brent Geese in flight and thought larger numbers would be in the fields taking shelter, so we made off past Gertrude Jekyll’s garden.  Sea watching didn’t appeal for long, with the sea being so rough, although Sam did pick up Long tailed Duck and Eiders were easily seen.  All the time the sky continued to put on a good display of cloud formation and we noted that it appeared to be either rain, snow or sleet out over patches of the sea and also inland just a little south from where we were.  Happily, we went all day without getting wet.  We heard that there were White Billed Divers coming north but we had no intention of hanging around on the off chance we might see them.



At some point Sam had a laugh when I told him I wasn’t interested in lists and then I got excited when I added Turnstone to my year list.  Excited, as they had been difficult to find.  We did find a flock of about 200 Brent Geese in the fields and watched as others flew in to join them, some flying along the tide line which gave a very good and wild like view as the waves met the rocky shoreline.  A small number of Brent Geese were also found among the rocks.  On our return walk we came across a flock of Fieldfare and some Long -tailed Tits.

More than satisfied with our shortened visit to Lindisfarne we made off to Buddle Bay, but not before a last watch of the sky and the Little Egret which was now only feet from the car) where we found the birds were well along way out in the estuary.  Shelduck and Oystercatchers could be easily made out, but we decided not to hang around and return at a later date.  The quick move on maybe partially explained by our hunger and the imagined aroma of fish and chips blown in the air from Seahouses which was to be our next stop before returning to Stag Rock.  There was little on Monk House pond as we passed by, but we did add Wigeon to our list.  Lunch enjoyed, we headed off to Bamburgh.
By now conditions were deplorable, high rough seas and strong winds.  We found nothing but the odd Eider Duck and Oystercatchers.  Even the Purple Sandpipers were no where to be seen.  We’ll make another return in better conditions.

We were well satisfied with our bird count today, but more so with the day in general and it was only 6th January so there is no rush and we remain laid back birders!  Our day hadn’t ended however as we headed for Alnwick and more precisely, Barter Books.  A very nice way to end our day.  Oh, and we added two more species outside of the bookshop, Goldcrest and Pied Wagtail.  I’d set a target of 30 species to add to the year list today.  Because of difficulties at both Buddle Bay and Stag Rock because of conditions we thought we had fallen below that target.  On writing up my list I found that I had added 29 species and if taking into account the Long-tailed Duck seen by Sam we were exactly on the 30 targets.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

2018...New Year's Day Traditional Walk on Patch.

1st Jan.  I awoke early today and heard the wheezing calls of Collared Doves, no doubt feasting on the seeds I provide.  Looking out of the window before breakfast my first three sightings for 2018 were Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon and Starling.  Well, not the most exciting of birds to begin the year with, but others would soon arrive, and I’m pleased to say that despite the ‘killer’ domestic cats which prowl the area the House Sparrows returned in number last year, and were soon feeding today.

I’ve been completing a walk on patch for so many years now I think it can be termed a tradition.  I find this more rewarding personally, than shooting off all over the place or to a nature reserve, to begin the year with a long list of perhaps rarer birds.  It’s certainly more relaxing and each year tends to throw up something interesting.  It’s all a matter of taste and choice of course.  Today I felt I needed to do the patch justice as I’m only too aware that it has been neglected by me of late.  By the time Sam arrive I was eager to get started.  We thought the lake would be a good starting point.

Hoping the pot of gold contains some rarities for the patch during 2018.

The lake has been very quiet in recent months and even the Great Crested Grebe seems to have chosen the past few days to leave the area.  It was such a calm, mild and sunny day with blue skies a lack of large numbers of species wasn’t going to matter too much.  Before we came close to the lake Brown Rat had become our first mammal of the year, as it had last year.  Amongst the regular waterfowl we found several Goosander, Goldeneye and Pochard.  The family of Greylag Geese remain with the Canada Geese.  Best sight of all was a skein of Pink-footed Geese numbering about 120 and heard before seen, which flew high over the lake.  It seemed that in the west some areas may have been experiencing a shower, as the colours of a rainbow deepened in hue as we walked around the lake.  I’m hoping that may be a positive sign and I’d be pleased if any pot of gold includes an occasional rarity on patch this year.

The lake area is always the busiest area on the walk, in terms of people, although I saw no birders this year apart from ourselves.  We soon headed east and to more peaceful sites.  We found Jay, only the third time I have ever seen this species on patch, all seen in the past couple of years.  It seemed possible that this one was caching food.  As we passed a hedge of bright red berries I suggested that these same berries didn’t seem to appeal to birds, at which point we found several Blackbirds feasting on them and a little later our one and only Redwing of the day flew from the hedge and perched in the tree opposite us.  A little later Grey Squirrel became our second mammal of the year.  Yes, I know they aren’t popular!  Stock Dove was seen in the same area, a regular haunt for this species.    A little further on and we came across our first Bullfinch of the day.  We found pairs of Bullfinch in four separate locations on our walk.  As we were standing on the edge of woodland a Woodcock was disturbed and lifted into the air causing some noise.   It wasn’t long before a Grey Heron rose from a pool which is hidden by trees.

We continued our walk eastwards and out onto the most open area of the patch.  It appeared to be deserted of life, but it was worth exploring anyway and perhaps because of the disastrous to the environment plans to cover this area in housing, roads schools etc, it is perhaps best we take the opportunity whilst it still exists.  This is always the coldest area of the patch and even on this mild day I felt the need to put my hat on.  It was soon taken off again as I became over heated.  By the time we had completed a circular walk of this part of the patch, the tracks must be over a mile in length we had found very little in the way of birds.  The hedges were cut low and appeared lifeless.   Our time wasn’t wasted however, and a small flock of calling Golden Plover flew around the area, our only Great Black Backed Gulls of the day flew over, a distant skein of Greylag Geese was heard and then seen and just before we were back to the roadway we found two Reed Buntings.  We found the area to have been planted and somewhat tamed.

It was now time to head for home and we followed one of the old wagon-ways rather than enter the housing estates.  I’ had no sooner said that we had surprisingly not seen Coal Tit today when within seconds one appeared amongst a mixed flock of feeding birds.  Not far away we had another one of our four Bullfinch sightings.

I was feeling cream crackered by now and it was somewhat reassuring to hear from Sam that he was tired also.  We had walked several miles, but had by no means covered the entire patch.  I listed the birds later and was surprised to find that on what had seemed a very quiet day we had a list of 45 species of bird.  It had been a wonderful start to a new year (and didn’t the team do well for once?) and I just knew I was going to sleep well (I did).  I don’t make new year resolutions, as I always think they are made just to be broken, but I will try to devote more time to the patch this year.

Sunday, 31 December 2017

Memories of 2017.

Well, as yet nothing has arrived on the mat to suggest I have been named in the New Years honours list.  It could be an oversight, a loss in the post or some other technical hitch, so I haven’t given up hope just yet.  In any event I’m over joyed to note that Richard Starkey, better known to legions of admirers as Ringo, has been awarded a Knighthood.  Nothing less would have been enough to pay tribute to his classic musical renditions, such as the great Yellow Submarine, sung by us all when we take a bath I’m sure, and his equally great acting skills, surely warranting an Oscar, in the brilliant film of the twentieth century, A Hard Day’s Night.  Yes, these were gifts to humanity that should forever be treasured.

Shoveler on Killy Lake (Jan)

Mute Swan on Killy Lake (Jan)

Now then, time restraints have prevented me from completing the end of year blog that I had planned, so I have decided to include a few images that bring back very good memories to me of time spent during 2017 and I’ll also add a few short comments.

Long stay LBB Gull at North Shields Fish Quay (Jan) whilst watching Iceland and Glaucous Gulls

Wagtail at Druridge (Feb) whilst watching Shore Larks and Twite


Ferruginous Duck on Killy Lake (Mar)

Little Owl at Druridge (Jul)

Out for lunch with a friend (early summer)

I have begun with some images of local sightings, a couple that show Killingworth Lake can look good when caught in perfect light.  Sightings in Northumberland this year have also included species such as Pacific Diver (a lifer), a pity it came to a sad end, Bee Eater, White winged Black Tern, and of course the Hawfinches.  I have a keen interest in the history of ornithology and had looked forward to attending a talk at the NHSN concerning Northumbria born Canon Henry Baker Tristram.  Unfortunately, the talk was cancelled but I more than made up for this by reading the book by WG Hale called Sacred Ibis which coverers the life, travels and collecting of the Canon.  A great read especially for local birders.  I have on occasions heard the term hard core birder/s used, on occasions by some who think they show toughness.  I personally think it a rather silly term, but I think if anyone thinks of themselves as a hard-core birder, then they need to read this book and other like it to find out what tough birding really was in the past!


Ural Owl, Sweden (Jun)

Dotterel, Sweden (Jun)

Slavonian Grebes, Sweden (Jun)

Siberian Jay, Sweden (Jun)

A Room With a View, Sweden (Jun)

Sam, Sweden (Jun)

Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to travel a fair bit, in recent years along with Sam, and the past couple of years have seen us in Finland, Norway and Sweden.  This year was the turn of Sweden and some great adventures and many laughs were had along the way.  I think if I had to choose one area outside of the UK to concentrate my birding and travel on I would pick Scandinavia as it offers so much without the need for tiresome long-haul travel.  I’ve included a selection of images from the many taken.  An account of the trip is to be found in my blog, so I won’t start to recount details again.

Common Blue Butterfy at Mull of Galloway (Jul)

Evening at Threave Castle (Jul)

Osprey at Loch Ken (Jul)

Barnacle Geese, Dumfries (Oct)

Solway Sunset, Dumfries (Oct)

Closer to home, but across the border in Dumfries and Galloway, provided me with some of my best moments of the year.  Sam kindly invited me to stay as he has been working in that area.  I was up there in early summer and early autumn and on both occasions had some great days of watching wildlife, whilst also learning a great deal more about the history and culture of the area.  Difficult to say what the highlights were as there where many, but watching Golden Ringed Dragonflies on a red-hot day in July, an Osprey close by   catching a fish at Loch Ken, Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys seen and heard calling at the same time at Threave and of course thousands of geese in the autumn where up there with the best moments.

I have found that bird watching can take you along many different routes and I have developed many interests.  Whatever your interest, however far along the route you are and what ever time of life you begun, I hope that you have a very rewarding and interesting 2018.

Best wishes to everyone for the year ahead

Sunday, 17 December 2017

All Weather Birders Return to Holywell


It's a long time since we completed the walk from Holywell to St Mary’s Island, so to keep our reputation as all weather birders Sam and I decided to ‘walk the walk’ today.  Temperatures down to zero weren’t going to keep us at home.  As we headed for Holywell I noted a long band of heavy cloud along the coastline, otherwise conditions were perfect for a winter walk, bright crisp and perfect light.

A frozen pond at Holywell

We arrived at Holywell Pond’s members hide to find that the shutters were frozen, swollen and impossible to open, although with effort we managed to prise the centre shutter open.  We need not have bothered as there was little to see apart from an almost deserted, but picturesque frozen pond.  The ice was reflecting steel like hues.  The feeding station at the entrance was attracting numbers of Tree Sparrow and Chaffinch and a few other garden species.  Unsurprisingly we found the public hide empty, although because there was little wind it didn’t feel as cold as I have known it to be at times.  A small break in the ice had attracted Mallards, two Tufted Duck and gulls, but nothing else.  We did hang around long enough to have a very good sighting of a male Sparrowhawk which initially flew into the reed-bed before taking off again and flying up the pond and over the ducks and gulls before finally perching in a tree at the other end of the pond.  It was no doubt finding prey difficult to come by, just as we were finding sightings difficult to come by.

We eventually headed off towards the open fields finding very little in this deserted area.  We did find two Golden Plover attempting to feed in the field to the right of us and a loan Grey Heron standing by the hedge in the distance obviously it too was finding conditions hard.  We’d seen two Pink-footed Geese fly over on our arrival but found no more in the fields.  Greylag Geese were heard in the distance towards the coast, but they weren’t seen.  We were enjoying the walk and by now could even feel a little warmth from the sun.  Out in these open fields is usually the coldest part of this walk but as there was barely a breath of wind it felt almost mild today!  The ground however was solid and almost give a feeling of walking on pavement.  Just before we reached the dene we heard and then saw a pair of Grey Wagtails feeding on the frozen mud area.  One of the pair was seen really well and its plumage showed brilliantly in the clear bright light.  Our first of three, possibly four, Kestrels seen today had been noted as we walked down to the dene edge.

The walk through the dene was unusually quiet for the time of year although feeding stations along the way were attracting numbers of Great, Coal and Blue Tits and a few other of the woodland birds including Nuthatch which were quite vocal at times.  Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen along the way as was a Common Buzzard which lifted from the floor of the woodland and flew off over the burn.  One of the birds of the day was the Bullfinch we found.  It looked in perfect condition and again the light appeared to show this bird off perfectly.  A very under-rated species in my opinion and just like the Grey Wagtail having a stunning plumage.  Long-tailed Tits were heard.
We put on a bit of a spurt as we neared the end of the dene to ensure we arrived for fish and chips on time.  It was obvious from the number of Redshank we passed that the tide was high.  We hadn’t been to Seaton Sluice for our meal for ages and this was even noted by a member of staff!  The quality of the food here has happily remained high.


The tide was very high today, so we made off towards St Mary’s Island right away without looking from the headland.  The line of cloud seen on our departure this morning appeared to have moved eastward so wasn’t threatening.  We found Kestrel, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Curlew in the fields before reaching the wetland where the only bird of any note was a lone Grey Heron.


I love the atmosphere of winter days such as we were experiencing so the lack of sightings was of no problem to me.  I was enjoying the open spaces and winter skies and the clear view down to Marsden Rock and Souter Lighthouse.  Just before we made for home we looked across to the lighthouse which was lit by the setting sun and which had drawn quite a few photographers.  This must be one of the most photographed sites in the area and it is such a shame that the view now takes in wind turbines at sea.  I wonder who had the idea to plant them in that position?  The island held Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin and Redshank all standing at the tides edge.


By now it was bitter cold, and I reckon zero degrees at least.  We made for home as the sunset lit up the western horizon as if on fire.  There were patches of black ice on the ground when we arrived back in Killingworth.  A great day had been had as always.


Thursday, 7 December 2017

Hawfinches

3rd Dec.  Anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at this blog will realise I’m not in the habit of making wild dashes to see birds, no matter how rare they may be.  Nevertheless, it surely would have been remiss of me if I had ended 2017 not having seen some local Hawfinches, there being so many of them in the UK at present.  So, it was off to Mitford today with Sam, and this time to the correct site!  The area was so very different from my visit a few weeks ago when autumnal colour was at its peak of brightness.  Today, the duller hues of winter were to be seen but it was quite a lot warmer.

Through the binoculars I caught sight of what was a Hawfinch at mid height in the trees to the left but a couple of blokes with telescopes had a look of doubt on there faces.  Anyway, I lost sight of the bird.  After a while Sam got his eye on Hawfinches, three or four, near to where I’d seen one on our arrival.  We had arrived kinda expecting easy and close sightings so had left the telescope in the boot, so Sam went off to fetch it.  We eventually had some very good telescope sightings as the birds fed although at no time did they come down to the Hornbeams directly in front of us which might have allowed photographs, so there are none.  The over all colour of the birds seemed to reflect the hues of winter.   I never had the camera out of the bag all day and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my opinion.  Sometimes best to watch nature and not feel you must capture an image of it.  At least one Hawfinch appeared in the hedge behind us and no one was sure where it, and possibly one or two others, had appeared from.

So once again we prove that you don’t have to be an early worm to catch the birds.  This was only my second sighting of Hawfinch in Northumberland, the other sighting being some years ago at the entrance to Hulne Park, which used to be quite a regular spot to find them.

There were lots of thrushes in the area today, in the main Redwings, but Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirds too, and Siskin were flying over.

The Hawfinches seem to have captured the imagination of the locals, quite a few of them out walking dogs.  From our experience I can only say watch where you put your feet!  We give one guy a chance to see a Hawfinch through the telescope and he seemed quite chuffed about his sighting.  We talked about the size of the bill and its strength and I wish I had remembered that according to Collin’s Birdguide it has a force of 50kg.  A lifer for him I reckon.  It’s good to share sightings with interested folk.

After a good while with the Hawfinches we left for Druridge and Cresswell, which we found extremely quiet, but we did enjoy watching the growing numbers of Twite at the burn entrance at East Chevington.  They were at their best flying in two or three separate flocks in the sunlight.  There were Sanderling, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatchers on the shore, but we didn’t find the reported Snow Bunting.  Later, we did watch a pair of Kingfishers at Cresswell Pond.

With my mind now on Hawfinch I checked out the Collin’s New Naturalist Monograph written by Guy Mountfort  issued in the 1957.  I saw the price on Amazon and decided I didn’t want it that desperately and that I ought to simply stick with the memories of good sightings of which I have several.  Unfortunately, time dulls the memory and until I looked back on my notes I had clean forgotten that I had sightings of Hawfinch in Poland and Romania.  I do have clear memories of the three Hawfinch seen in Sweden this year as they came down to a feeding station and those seen in Extremadura a few years ago when I clearly remember a walk across a bridge up to an old dilapidated building where we saw several Hawfinch in bushes near to the building.  My best sighting of all however was when Sam and I watched a family of Hawfinches early morning in the garden of our accommodation in Hungary two or three years ago.

The scientific name for Hawfinch is Coccothraustes coccothraustes which is derived from the Greek kokkos meaning seed or kernel, and thrauo which means to break or shatter.  The ornithologist Francis Willughby was first to use the common English name Hawfinch in 1676.  Haw referring to the red berries of Hawthorn.