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.