Monday, 15 December 2014

Return to the Rising Sun

15th Dec.  I can’t remember the last time I was at the Rising Sun Country Park, although I seem to remember at that time it was far warmer than it was today. 

I have to admit temperatures had picked up a bit from those over the weekend when I almost froze to the platform of North Shields Metro Station following a visit to The Keel Row Bookshop for a search through some old Natural History books.  If you’re a bibliophile the shop is well worth a look. 

Between cups of coffee, some very nice soup for lunch, passing over an Underthehood 2015 calendar and discussions about purchasing yet more books (this time nothing to do with natural history), I did manage a walk.  Bird life was pretty sparse but a large flock of Goldfinch (I couldn’t be sure that there weren’t other species in the flock) and some Jays showed very nicely as we walked down to the pond, passing the Stan the red stag along the way.

The pond held forty plus Gadwall and numbers of Shoveller amongst other waterfowl and gulls.  There was no sign of the Bittern whilst we watched which had been recorded yesterday.  A pair of Kestrel called as they mobbed something in the hedge on the opposite side of the pond.  A regular at Swallow Pond told us that there was a Harris Hawk there, and sure enough it did show very briefly, but it wasn’t until someone walked across the field carrying what looked like horse tackle that it flushed and flew off.  Dukes Pond held a few Mallard and an assortment of hybrids which were disappointed to find we hadn’t come to feed them!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Brass Monkeys...Where are they all?

11th Dec.  I ventured up to Cresswell today with Sam and Lee.  Not a single brass monkey to be found and rumour has it that for some reason or other, they were all at home wrapped in blankets.  I have to say that despite being dressed and padded out like a Christmas parcel, I wished on occasions that I had also stayed at home!  The wind made the already low temperatures feel bitterly cold although thankfully the sky was clear and the sun shone.  An ominous layer of cloud slowly approached from the west and seemed to be biding it’s time before dropping its contents over South East Northumberland.  What had I been saying recently about really enjoying winter birding?  I really do of course.

Things started well with a Common Buzzard hovering in the wind as we joined the A19 at Killingworth.  Whilst the Common Buzzard is now seen by many as just that, common, I have to say they still excite me.  Fields nearby held a large concentration of Lapwings.

A short stop at Castle Island allowed us to taste the air.  There was little about although three Goldeneye flew up river.  The drive to Creswell has us passing Pink-footed and Greylag Geese near Woodhorn.

 The sea watch from Cresswell was cut short.  It was pointless trying to fight the wind and cold.  There seemed to be plenty of gulls on the sea, but little else apart from the odd Eider Duck.  Even the waders proved to be scarce although flocks of Golden Plover were seen flying north.  We made for the pond and found Tree Sparrows at the feeders.

Before entering the hide a skein of maybe 100/125 Pink-footed Geese flew north directly overhead.  A smaller skein of 7/8 were seen from the hide flying west.  The wind had cleared the pond of most of its birds but later we watched a flock of 500+ whistling Wigeon on the water.  I thought I had found Scaup but as the bird moved towards us it proved to be Tufted Duck.  There were a few Goldeneye about.  We picked up a well camouflaged Common Snipe in the reeds directly in front of the hide.  On taking a better look we found another two very well hidden birds.

One of the Common Snipe decides to show itself in the sun but another to the left remains hidden.
There was very little at Druridge Pools (although I did catch sight of a Grey Partridge crossing the road as we approached), so we headed for East Chevington.  As we turned right at Red Row both Lee and Sam got their eye on a male Bullfinch in the hedge.  Some how I managed to miss it.  Fearing that we would soon chill out looking over North Pool we entered the metal box.  Now, it would be unfair to expect hides to be homely, inviting, quiet and relaxing (we have some awful hides in Northumberland) and so it proves with this metal box.  As Sam suggested acoustics bear some resemblance to the Albert Hall.  I’ve been reading a little about torture treatment of alleged terrorists.  Perhaps sticking them in this box and playing recordings at full volume of X Factor vocalists would be a time saver.

North Pool held 50+ Goldeneye, Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and co.

We decided to head for home.  The wind had ensured that the birding was not at its best, but we’d still clocked up near enough fifty species.  A flock of Fieldfare flew over the fields as we headed back.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Great Northern

2nd Dec.  The highlight of a trip to the coast today was the Great Northern Diver flying north past Seaton Sluice and showing well.  It landed on the sea south of Blyth Harbour, but by then could hardly be seen at all from Seaton Sluice. Shortly afterwards a Great Northern Diver flew south.  Maybe, or maybe not the same bird.

Several short sea watches throughout our trip brought Sam and I sightings of flocks of Mallard, Wigeon, Teal and Common Scoter, with Red Throated Divers and Eider Ducks making an appearance too.  Sam spotted a single Long-tailed Duck flying north.

Winter had arrived as had a cold northerly wind.  We’ve all had it too easy for too long.  It was good to stand under the sunlight watching the sea and listening to the pounding of the waves.  The gloves were on for the first time this winter.  The Golden Plovers put on the usual show and Oysterctacher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew were all seen in some numbers along with a single Common Snipe which flew along the high tide line in South Bay.  Grey Seals were seen.

Stonechat was once again seen on the approach to Seaton Sluice and a Kestrel hovered above the dunes to the north.

The approach to Holywell Pond was fairly quiet and by now the light was going as we faced a blazing sunset.  I picked out a male Sparrowhawk amongst the flock of Jackdaws and Rooks.  Over the fields and a sizeable flock of Yellowhammers and Linnets had gathered in the hedges.

The pond held numbers of Mallard, Gadwall, Pochard, Teal and a few Greylag Geese and Wigeon along with Little Grebes.  We occasionally heard Pink-footed Geese calling from east of the pond.  It was soon dark and we were off towards home with a day list of fifty five bird species and the sound of Curlews in our ears.

I couldn’t help wonder if the the high number of Pochard at Holywell owed something to the birds from Killy Lake.  On Sunday we found not a single Pochard on the lake.  Most unusual at this time of year.  Mute Swan numbers were down to twenty-five (and of course we know why).  There were only two Goosanders showing, although there has been up to twenty in recent weeks and three Goldeneye.  A pair of Shoveller were showing near the still wired off floating reed-bed and a Great Crested Grebe remains.  Neither Sam nor I can remember seeing one on the lake so late in the year.

Male Shoveller

 One Hundred plus Canada Geese were on both the small and larger lakes.  My guess is they be next for the Nimby’s attention.  I ask myself is the scarcity of birds on Killy Lake at the moment down to the mild weather condition,   Swanbusters, Council action or water conditions.  As Sam suggested the lake is now looking very much like ‘a boating lake!’  Oh well at least we have Killingworth Moor and adjoining land on patch which provides good habitat for birds.  Well, at least we have it until it is put under concrete and housing as per council planning ideas.  Never mind we are still proud owners of a ‘Green Flag.’  I often wonder how!

Just a few lyrics below from Joni Mitchell below for Nimby’s and Councils everywhere (and of course for those who don’t give a damn also).

They took all the trees
And put them in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em
Don't it always seem to go,
That you don't know what you've got
‘Til it's gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

Better news is that I have the Greenfinches back in the garden and on the feeders.  I had just been commenting about the lack of Greenfinches everywhere.  Also recently had a skein of Pink-footed Geese over the garden.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Threave and Mersehead...Dumfries

22nd Nov.  As we crossed the border and entered Dumfries we struggled to see through the downpours of rain.  Having listened to the weather forecast the previous evening I kept faith that it was correct and that we would have sunshine later in the day.  Sam and I were leading an RSPB group trip to National Trust of Scotland Threave and RSPB Mersehead.  In truth Sam who volunteers as a ranger at Threave had done all the preparation and led the day, so I was able to relax and enjoy my first ever visit to the reserve.  Our first stop was at Gretna where we had a Sparrowhawk fly overhead.  Numbers of Common Buzzard were seen on the journey and I understand that one or two members claim a sighting of Rough Legged Buzzard about twenty miles away from Threave.  Some Pink –footed Geese were also seen.
It was dry, but still rather dull as he arrived at Threave (having seen our first Red Kite of the day) where we were given a very interesting introductory talk by Karl Munday, Senior Ranger.  This area of farmland and marshes beside the River Dee is well-known for its wildfowl. In autumn and winter large flocks of Greylag and Pink-footed Geese, with some White-fronted Geese and Whooper Swans, feed on the fields.  We were especially keen to try and find the White-fronted Geese having missed these when leading a trip to Loch Ken last year.  Sam took the lead and guided the group to the appropriate areas.  I guess my role on the day was to ensure members were back onto the coach in time, as I’m pretty good at that.  As Sam said, I was there to lend some muscle!  We did have a lot to get in on the extended day.  I’m pleased to say everyone respected our timings and I’m also pleased to say that the clouds soon dissipated, allowing sunshine to appear on what was a very mild day.  The atmosphere in this area of Scotland is usually wonderful and quite dramatic, especially in winter, and today was no exception.

A hide with a view...Threave.
We were soon counting Roe Deer which were about the reserve, and although initially the area seemed very quiet, we were also ticking off bird species.  The wooded area provided us with the likes of tit species, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Treecreeper and finches including Lesser Redpoll.  There were numbers of Fieldfare around and a few Redwing too.  In the distant fields flocks of Pink-footed Geese could be seen and the odd Raven made an appearance.  I do fear that one or two members were attempting to make every black coloured bird into a Raven!  Red Kites were seen in the distance.

Roe Deer
There were large flocks of Teal on the pond and a particular drake Pintail stood out.  We were beginning to think we were going to miss the White-fronted Geese again, and then a  skein of what we initially thought were one hundred plus Pink-footed Geese flew over.  In fact they were the White-fronted Geese.  I think everyone had the opportunity to have a good sighting.  A small skein of Greylag Geese made an appearance too.  At least three or four small flocks of Whooper Swan put in an appearance with an atmospheric sky as background.  So I’m pleased to say our visit to Threave proved to be very successful.  As we made back towards the coach a Kestrel hovered nearby and everyone was taking an interest in the Osprey nest.  Sam and I have offered to lead a trip to the area again in early summer so that we can take in the Ospreys.

White-fronted Geese.  Image courtesy of Samuel Hood

Whooper Swans

We stopped at the more commercial part of Threave to allow for use of the facilities and for members to visit briefly visit the café.  I tactfully spoke on the coach as Sam went off so as to be first in the queue for our pot of tea.  Indeed he need not have bothered hurrying, as very few made for the food and drink.  Now that has to be a first.  I feel quite ashamed that Sam and I really enjoyed our visit to the café.  At least one member told me that he had seen Jay, Nuthatch and Red Squirrel during the short stop.

It was soon time to leave Threave and see more red Kites along the way.  I’m hoping to be back soon. ;-)  We then headed for RSPB Mersehead.  It was an extremely pleasant drive part of which is along the Solway coastline.  We’d planned things so that we would be here at sunset and hopefully see the Barnacle Geese flocks fly out to roost for the night.

On our approach to the reserve I noted that the usual flocks of Barnacle Geese weren’t near to the drive up.  I need not have been concerned as we soon found the flocks of geese further along into the reserve.  It was 2.00pm now and the light and atmosphere as excellent.  I was pleased to be staying a little later than we would normally do, if for no other reason than the late afternoon atmosphere on what is one of my favourite reserves.

We visited the hides first and found large numbers of Pintail (perhaps one hundred plus) and Shoveller.  Other birds on the pools included Mallard, Shelduck, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Little Grebe.  More Common Buzzards were seen and also one of our birds of the day, a male Hen Harrier.  It flew in harrier fashion across the reed-beds before flying along the tree-line.  We learnt later that some other members had also seen a ringtail and Peregrine Falcon in the same area.

As the afternoon went on there was plenty of time to enjoy the atmospheric sights and sounds of the area.  The light was forever changing and small skeins of Barnacle Geese were flying in from feeding areas to join the larger concentrations of thousands on the reserve.


 We walked down to the shoreline in the hope that we would be well positioned for when the Barnacle Geese lifted.  By now the grey watery clouds were beginning to return and what I thought was just sea spray in the air began to turn to rainfall as we looked out across the Solway.  The rain never did get particularly heavy and it was still amazingly mild for the time of year.  The rainfall was never the less enough to send some members making for the coach.  We waited a while longer with the some of the more rain tolerant, but the geese seemed settled and never did lift while we were there.  The sun set was barely seen on the horizon over the sea as just a touch of redness disappeared completely.  We eventually retraced our steps to the coach as we listed to the calls of the Barnacle Geese, Curlews and Rooks.

Sam in action chatting about the Barnacle Geese that never did lift.  I think everyone was just pleased to see thousands of geese and this couple had their first ever sighting of Hen Harrier.
Thankfully there was no panic when we found the reserve centre was closed so access to toilets was impossible.  I had taken the right decision and visited a tree beforehand.  Others would have to wait until we got to Gretna.  Low and behold they were closed to.  Brampton seemed a long way for some!  Never mind we found some that were open.

It had been an excellent day.  May I thank Karl Munday who had met us at Threave and Sam who had put so much work into the day to ensure that it was a success.  Certainly one of the best group trips I have been on over the years.  The group bird list was in the high seventies.  Sam and I were unable to decide upon bird of the day so have Whooper Swan, Greenland White-fronted Goose and Hen Harrier in equal first position.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

South East Northumberland

20th Nov.  Lee and I began a few hours birding today at Castle Island.  It was far quieter than the last time I had visited but we did count fifteen plus Goldeneye amongst the waterfowl present.  The day was brightening and warming nicely.

Next stop was to look over the rocks and sea just before reaching Cresswell Village.  A small flock of Common Scoter flew north before landing on the sea and drifting southwards.  Two or three Red-throated Divers were seen along with Guillemot, Razorbill and Eiders.  Waders on the rocks below were Oystercatcher, Knot, Purple Sandpiper, lots of Dunlin and Redshank.  I’d kept a look out for Little Auk without success.

The feeders along the pathway to Cresswell Pond Hide were attracting many passerines including Tree Sparrow, Chaffinch, Goldfinch, Reed Bunting and tits.  We’d seen a male Stonechat on the wires as we parked up, and more Stonechats were seen feeding in the reed-bed in front of the hide.  A Little Egret was also found in front of the hide as we entered and it fed there for sometime before disappearing behind the reeds to the right then flying northwards to the other end of the pond.  It soon returned and showed well in the sunlight.  A Water Rail crossed the open area in front of the hide giving a short, but good sighting.  Common Snipe flew into the same area and most soon disappeared into the reeds.  I’d estimate that we saw upwards of thirty five fly towards us in two flocks.  One or two remained in view on the edge of the reed-bed. 

Little Egret
There were large flocks of Lapwing at the pond area and one of the flocks constantly lifted and flew over the pond.  There didn’t appear to be any threat from raptors.  A lone Kestrel perched on the wires by the road and on occasions flew north of the pond where it hovered.  The edge of the pond held large concentrations of both Teal and whistling Wigeon.  Little Grebe, Gadwall, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser were amongst other birds on the water.


 We moved north to Druridge Pools.  The pools and surrounding area were quiet.  We were unable to locate any geese in the area.    A small number had been seen as we passed Woodhorn, which I think were Greylag, but could not be certain as we were unable to stop.

Cresswell Pond

 Maiden Hall was quiet too with the only sighting of geese being Greylag.  Shovellers and Goldeneye were seen on the lake.

Little Egret

Although a bright day, the light was none too good as we arrived at East Chevington.  Again it seemed that the only geese present were Greylag.  There were good numbers of Gadwall on North Pond.  Teal , Wigeon and Goldeneye were again seen in some number.  It was soon time to make for home.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

All Weather Birders up with the Larks

15th Nov.  I was down at St Mary’s Island accompanied by fellow all weather birders Sam and Tom before sunrise.  We were there in the hope of catching a sighting of the Great Reed Warbler that had been reported the day before.  On arrival we were greeted by a fly past of Common Scoters and we soon had a really good sighting of a Sparrowhawk as it flew low over the grassland near the mounds.  We saw no sign of the Great Reed Warbler.  A number of other birders gradually appeared at intervals looking for that same bird.

The sea looked uninviting on what was a grey, rather misty morning.  The temperatures remain surprisingly mild for the time of year.  Two Red-throated Divers and Eider Ducks were seen.  Watching the waders filled quite a bit of time.  The flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover were the most obvious and I’m sure that there larger numbers of Golden Plover than is usual and many were in the air for most of the duration of our stay.  There were at least fifteen Purple Sandpipers on the rocks close to shore.  Other waders seen were Oystercatcher, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew.

One gent suggested that we would soon be on our way to the fish and chip shop at Seaton Sluice.  He was correct and I’m pleased to see that he reads my blog.  He was never the less incorrect about us walking on to Holywell, as although that had been the plan we were diverted by reports of a Pallas’s Warbler near to Whitley Bay Crematorium.  Meanwhile we met with the suggestion from some wag with an accent, lets say of south of Watford type, that we were waiting to photograph a page three girl.  I knew it was mild, but I wouldn’t have thought it that mild.  It did remind me of the time that a model was being photographed at the back of the gent’s toilets at Aberlady.  It was a cold winter’s day and I think photographers and model were using the gents toilet wall as shelter from the cold wind that came off the sea.  I noted that several of the guys in the RSPB group suddenly appeared to have the urge to pass water and visited the toilets several times.  That must have been caused by the cold too!  Stonechat, Reed Bunting, Rock Pipit and Meadow Pipit were some of the birds seen before we tucked into lunch.  Nice sightings of Goldcrests had been had in the willows.

Stonechat courtesy of Tom Middleton
Anyway, to cut a long story short we failed to find the Pallas’s Warbler too.  Rather like the economy, we double dipped.  Serves me right for diverting.  Never mind we did have a fly over of two hundred and fifty plus Pink-footed Geese and a female Sparrowhawk to keep us interested, along with numerous tit parties and Tree Sparrows visiting the gardens.  Grey Wagtail and Great Spotted Woodpecker were also seen briefly.

The gloom of early morning never really disappeared, although for a short time the sun did almost break through the clouds.  When Sam and I left for home it looked as though a storm was brewing, such was the leaden feel of the clouds.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Caught up a Ladder!

As readers of this blog know I’m generally averse to twitching.  Never the less I don’t deny that I do occasionally attend the odd one.  Having had a photo passed on from Tom M of me up a ladder at Hartlepool I can hardly deny it.  Just in case your wondering I’m the well dressed (in red)  and handsome one (I wasn’t up against stiff competition as you can see!)  on top of the ladder to the left.

It was in many ways a fun day, as I was with good company, but I have to say the photograph reflects the day very well and I believe underlines everything I don’t like about twitching.  The crowded scene being the primary thing.  I'm not certain that white van near the wall, which had about eight folk standing on its roof at one time, survived the ordeal!

Best part of the day was quietly watching a Red-backed Shrike on the coast after the circus was over.

I haven’t added a ladder to my essential birding gear as yet!