Sunday, 28 June 2009

Pirates, Birds, Botany and Bulls!

Field Cranesbill or possibly the hybrid Purple Cranesbill

Red Campion

Hedge Woundwort

27th June. The morning was damp and chilly so it wasn’t a day for standing at a stall representing the Local Group at Blyth Harbour Day, which is what I did! I didn’t warm up until I went for my fish and chip lunch! Even the arrival of the legend Malcolm McDonald (whose that asking who he is? Malcolm won’t like that!) Didn’t seem to raise the temperature very much and to make matters worse there were few birds to be seen out at sea. I did manage to find a solitary Eider Duck, a Fulmar and a few Cormorants amongst the gulls. Linnets too were much in evidence on the cliff top.

I wanted to time a walk I’m planning to lead at Holywell in October so made that my reason for early departure and I got dropped of in Holywell village so as to do my circular walk which I reckoned will take about 4 hours with lunch stop. I’d left before even seeing Punch and Judy which I had thought had been ruled out as politically in-correct these days. Perhaps no one in Seaton Sluice has realised this as yet. Anyway I had been looking forward to my first ‘that’s the way to do it’ since childhood so was disappointed to have missed it.

Holywell Village is a great place for House Martins and today was no exception. I wouldn’t mind living there to tell the truth as it has such easy access to some good birding areas. The pond was quiet although there was a good number of Grey Herons about today and the most I’ve seen here for sometime. The feeding station was doing no business at all. I found only Little Grebe, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull and Great Black Backed Gull on the water. Sedge Warbler song was heard. Mute Swan and a couple of Lapwing were at the east end of the pond. The grasses on the path along to the old track seemed almost as tall as me and at this point I heard Willow Warbler. Once on the track I found quite a bit of Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica.

Once into the dene the greyness of the sky ensured that it was quite dark in there. Bird life seen was scarce with only the likes of Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Wren, Robin and tits. I came across a poster across the stream which said ‘pieces of eight’. This was one of several strange objects I was to come across. There were numbers of drawings of pirates attached to trees and a pair of I assume pirate wellington boots standing in mid stream, without a pirate in them! I then came across a couple sitting on one of the benches next to a life sized stuffed pirate. They just smiled and said ‘don’t ask’. I couldn’t resist asking if the said stuffed pirate was their son. I thought afterwards they probably thought I was being extremely cheeky! ;-) As I was standing on the stepping stones a living adult pirate came to cross the stream. He was most polite, but in any event I stepped aside immediately as there was no way I was going to block the path of a guy carrying a cutlass on his back! By now I began to come across numerous small pirates with their carers, some of whom were also pirates and I then guessed what was happening. Anyway I was told by a friend of Holywell dene that he had seen a Dipper on the stream that morning. It was the first he had seen in two years and I know I haven’t seen Dipper there for about that length of time. Chiffchaff and Blackcap were singing. Meadow Cranesbill Geranium pratense were numeous at this point. At least I think that is what they were, They were growing on the edges of the woodland and I'm wondering if they are some kind of hybrid, possibly Purple Cranesbill.

I now took the path up to the farmland to do the return route. It certainly puts a very different view upon things. I soon found Pheasant, corvids, Greenfinch and Goldfinch and there was a good deal of Skylark song. Some of the Red Campion Silene dioica here was just coming into flower and I also found Bittersweet (aka Woody Nightshade) Solanum dulcamara. The latter plant was unknown to me until around a year or two ago when I came across it growing at the side of the reserve hide. I stumbled across it really, and had looked at it through my binoculars and thought it to be a really interesting plant. I later learnt that it is related to Deadly Nightshade , but that it lacks this dangerous plants poison. I have now found it a few times in the hedges around this particular area. Flocks of Linnet lifted as I pased.

I found three Whitethroats along by the bridleway and my only butterfly of the sunless day, a Painted Lady. A guy who I think may have been the farmer passed me by with his dogs and didn’t acknowledge my presence. I had found the pirates in the dene a lot friendlier. Even the stuffed one was smiling. Anyway as I got closer to the end of the bridleway I found somewhat to my horror that there were more, what appeared to be, unfriendly creatures in the shape of two ginormous bulls. Having recently read about Alan being chased by a bullock I was on my guard. These weren’t little bullocks though, they were massive bulls and I confirmed this through my bins! I initially thought they must be enclosed in some way, but no, they crossed onto the path in front of me. I beat a hasty retreat! I will do a lot for my passion of birding, but I draw the line at taking on two bulls which looked to me keen for a chase! Fortunately I soon joined another path which took me back to the old track. Whilst this has a funny side I think it also has a far more serious side to it. These were fully grown bulls and there was not a sign anywhere to say that they were there. To my mind they seem to have been put there deliberately to keep people off what is a public right of way and no one will convince me that any bull is a safe bull! There could have been youngsters on that bridleway!
Once back to the pond I found the Canada Geese with young and a flock of Curlew flew over head to end what had been to say the least an interesting and eventful walk. Pirates, Birds, Butterfly, Bulls and Malcolm McDonald all in one day is a bit too much to take.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

The ahhh Factor. Proud Parents!

Red Admiral Butterfly
Sun Shines...Wallet Opens!

Red Admiral Butterfly

Proud Parents!

Tidy Nest!

Mute Swan Cygnets

Mallard Chicks

I had some business to sort in town today and whilst sitting having a cappuccino and ice cream in what seems to have become a real cosmopolitan city, especially when the sun shines, is all very good it doesn’t match up to birding. I was tempted by a couple of books and have them downstairs. I have heard good reports about The Wisdom of Birds/Tim Birkhead and Extreme Birds/Dominic Couzens caught my eye too so I treated myself. I had actually intended to buy a novel ,but that was forgotten once I got to the natural history shelves. I usually get my books much cheaper from the internet these days, but must have caught a touch of the sun today and pulled the wallet out! I had noticed the Great Crested Grebe had left the nest as I past in the bus this morning so I took a walk down to the lake on my return.

I found a rather easy to photograph Red Admiral Butterfly in typical surroundings in a sun lit area between the trees as I passed through the church grounds. It seemed to be attracted to me and was sussing me out as it flew around seeming to inspect me. More likely I suppose, it was attracted to the clay pathway. I watched it at length.

When I reached the lake I found a guy digi- scoping. No one off this site, as I asked! He was photographing the Great Crested Grebes with three youngsters and he explained in great detail that there had been four youngsters, but that one had been taken by the Grey Heron which had stood on the grebes nest the day before. The Grey Heron stood in the reeds as he spoke. Well as it turned out after we both watched for sometime there was not three, not four but five youngsters being fetched food by the male Great Crested Grebe as at times all five youngsters rode on the back of the female. A great sight. I’m afraid my compact digi could not do the scene justice, but this other guy should have some great shots I reckon. As it happens, I don’t think the Grey Heron had taken any chick at all and an assumption was made, although I understand Great Crested Grebes can lay up to six eggs. The moral being, always check things for yourself, as whilst information from others can be a great help, it can also be wrong on occasions! Anyway it will be interesting to see how these youngsters get along. Only one bird survived last year, from what I think was a clutch of three. Happily the weather seems to have been in the birds favour as in previous years I have seen the nest flooded time and time again. I also found one of the Little Grebes on the lake and watched as the Coot tidied her nest whilst the chick looked on. Common Tern, Swallow, House Martin and Swift flew overhead. Numbers of Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies had increased again and I found one newly emerged.

On the larger lake I found the lone female Goosander along with families Mute Swan, Mallard and Coot. I counted the Mute Swans recently and there was not far short of 80 birds and I may have missed a few. As I counted a male flew in and mounted a rather reluctant female and they were still together when I left.
No apologies for photographing the families, as I think even the most earnest birder enjoys the ahhh factor on occasions.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Bassenthwaite Ospreys etc

View From Osprey Viewing
View From Osprey Viewing


Fox-and Cubs

Ladybird on Thistle

20th June. It was a trip to Bassenthwaite, Cumbria with the group today. Having family who live in western Cumbria I have visited the area since a babe in arms and retain many memories of holidays in the rain sodden fells. Today wasn’t going to let me down, so yes it rained, but thankfully only in short bursts. The group was there of course to see the Ospreys and I must say the top viewing point does provide excellent views of these birds and the nest, as well as the surrounding fells. Most members were able to watch the male Osprey return to the nest with a fish and watch the chicks being fed by the female bird as the male perched sentinel like on top of the nearby tree. Then the clouds burst overhead! The Lake District can look good under dark cloud and mist and it did today.

At the lower viewing point we had had excellent views of Jay, Siskin, tits and Red Squirrel. Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk and Kestrel were also seen and one or two of us heard the screeching of Tawny Owl from within the woods. Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Blackcap were about. There was a large flock of Greylag Geese on the lake below us.

I wasn’t expecting a large bird list today and so it proved, and the later visit to the Whinlatter Forest Visitor Centre brought very little in the way of birding interest although did provide good sightings of Siskin at the feeding station. The name of the cafĂ©, i.e. Siskin, gives a clue as to what will be seen! We did have a good forest walk, but the only birds I remember seeing and hearing were Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Wren and Chaffinch. I did find a few Common Spotted Orchids Dactylorhiza fuchsii and a large patch of vividly coloured Fox-and-Cubs Pilosella aurantiaca.

Everyone except me missed the Black Rabbit on the journey, but everyone seemed to have a good day. I think the Ospreys had guaranteed that everyone would be happy.
21st June I have spent the afternoon on the Waggonway. There are still numbers of Painted Lady Butterflies about, although some are very faded now. Other butterflies seen were Small and Large White, Small Tortoiseshell and my first fleeting sighting of Meadow Brown this year. The usual birds were about and I had great views of the Grey Partridges in the open fields. These were really closeby, but seemed to busy keeping an eye on the Magpies to take to much notice of me! I watched for sometime what I initially thought were a pair of Lesser Whitethroat deep in the hedge, but found that they were in fact simply Whitethroat. I managed to photograph a Ladybird on Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre. In stark contrast to the previous day, the sun was out!

Friday, 19 June 2009

Forest and Moor.


18th June. Well the weather looked un-promising, but the rain had kept off, so we decided to set off for Slaley Forest. By the time we were approaching Riding Mill we were under blue skies and in the sun, as the threatening cloud move eastwards. About this stage of the journey 2 Common Buzzards and 2 Kestrels were spotted. There was nothing else of real note seen apart from Swallows, Swifts, Lapwing and a Pied Wagtail. Things were looking promising and as we approached our destination 2 Brown Hares were spotted and the usual numbers of Rabbits of all shapes and sizes. When I stepped out of the car the cold air hit me as did a strong breeze so it was going to be far from ideal conditions to find our target bird, the Nightjar. Never mind, it was a fresh and clear night so I intended to make the best of it.

The Green Woodpeckers weren’t in the area where I have found them in recent years and the initial part of the walk was quite birdless apart from a lone Curlew flying overhead and singing Willow Warbler, Chaffinches and Blackbirds. There were numbers of Black Headed Gulls over the moor land and I mustn’t forget the male Stonechat and Meadow Pipits. At this point as we turned left to walk along the edge of the forest and moor we came across 2 guys on trial bikes, who had been using the tracks as a ‘track’. Wonderful I thought to myself! I give up hope of finding much about whilst these two were here, but thankfully they seemed to get bored quickly and left us in peace. I’ve since added trial bikers to my ever growing list of things I would ban!

Having decided that we were going to have a quite night in more ways than one we retraced our steps and decided to try the area of moor land nearby the quarry that has been quite productive in the past. Initially we found only numbers of Meadow Pipits and then I heard Golden Plover calling and saw a Woodcock lift and fly over the Quarry. The lone Golden Plover was spotted in the heather and soon afterward more were heard calling. As some of them lifted it appeared that they were trying to see off Black Headed Gulls. We reckon we saw 8+ Golden Plover in the area. Soon afterward 2 Red Grouse were found as they lifted.

We eventually decided to head back to the car to warm up and have a coffee before heading back out again. It was around this point a Roe Deer was seen on the track, seemingly not too concerned about our appearance, but keeping a close eye on us all of the same before disappearing into the forest. As we set off again the evening was still clear and quite light. We made for a clearing on the edge of the forest and then decided to walk to the point where I had always been successful in finding Nightjars. Success was not forthcoming on this occasion, but we did hear them churring in the distance despite the wind and we heard and saw a number of Roding Woodcock. It was beginning to turn darker now so we made back to the initial clearing with more Woodcock overhead. Chiffchaff and Song Thrush sang and a Mistle Thrush appeared to be carrying food to young.

We never did see any Nightjars, but on this occasion I’ll settle for hearing them. There were few insects on the wing in the cold breeze so at least I had not been bitten as is usual on such visits. I’ll have to make a return. That is to see the Nightjars, not to be bitten! Before we left we did have a good sighting of a screeching Tawny Owl as it flew across the moor towards the quarry and we found another Roe Deer on the track. Another Tawny Owl called from some way distant.
It was well past 11.00 when we left and the clear sky meant it was still quite light as we drove out of the forest area towards home. I was back just before the clock hit midnight and it didn’t take me long to get off to sleep! It had been a good evening.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Chilly, but Tuneful on the Waggonway!

Coming in!
Seurat's palatte fades!

Going out!

16th June. With the forecast suggesting rain again tomorrow (and it was correct!) I took the chance of a pleasant evening walk through the village and along to the waggonway. There was little of note on the way to the waggonway apart from corvids, pigeons and Blackbirds. I did notice Lesser Black Backed Gulls and Herring Gulls. I’m positive there are more of the former over the patch this year and I’ve recently added it as a garden tick. I’m wondering if numbers have increased at Swallow Pond. Swifts were around in small flocks and despite me reading of this species experiencing problems with nesting sites, I feel numbers locally are up this year, at least I’m certainly noticing more of them.

After a brisk walk I was soon on the waggonway and able to slow the pace and take note of the bird song, which alone, was worth the walk. The first thing I noted however was the cold breeze coming across the open fields. A warm evening was quickly changing into a cool one and I was pleased I’d put the fleece on! Initially Wood Pigeons and Carrion Crows seemed to be the only birds in the top fields, but I soon got my eye on at least 6 Stock Doves. There were at least 2 Brown Hares about sitting motionless in the field whilst Rabbits scurried about in large numbers as always. Two Grey Partridge entered the ploughed field leaving the tall grasses of the neighbouring site. I later heard more Grey Partridge calling from fields further down the waggonway and caught sight of one of them. There was a number of Lapwings in the fields this evening.

Skylark song dominated, and I hadn’t heard quite so much from them since earlier in the year. I managed good sightings of one or two and also picked up the song of a Meadow Pipit as it made its ‘parachute jump’ down to the ground. As I walked further down the waggonway I found Greenfinch, Goldfinch and Linnet and heard Chaffinch, Blackbird, Wren, Dunnock and eventually Yellowhammer. The Yellowhammer flew every time I passed it, but I did eventually have good sightings of at least two male birds. At the same time I heard the reeling of Grasshopper Warbler but the police helicopter joined us at this point and seemed to hang around for sometime drowning out almost everything else. Thankfully it did eventually move on. I traced the Grasshopper Warbler song to the centre of the field, but didn’t have much hope of seeing the bird. I did finally catch sight of it, but only briefly as it went to ground. I guess this is the bird I found in the same area in April. Numbers of Swallows flew low across the fields.

I noticed quite a difference in the fields with the colour of only a few days ago already receding (Mr Seurat’s palate is fading) and there is certainly a very different atmosphere down here in the evening from what there is on a sunny afternoon. Cloud seemed to be coming in from the North Sea although behind me there looked to be a decent sunset forming as the light began to dim a little. As I made the return journey the Grasshopper Warbler was still reeling and I listened to a mixture of this, Skylark, Yellowhammer, Dunnock and Blackbird song along with the occasional call from Grey Partridge. Years ago I used to wonder what on earth people were talking about when they used the phrase a little bit of bread and no cheese to describe Yellowhammer song. It did finally sink in and it is obvious that is what the bird is singing! :-) By now Swifts had joined the Swallows and all were flying just above head height. Just before leaving the waggonway and re-joining the road I found House Sparrows moving along the hedge and a lone Whitethroat. I noticed this evening that there is now much Spear Thistle Cirsium vulgare and Common Knapweed Centauria nigra in flower
I arrived home chilled, but relaxed. I’m hoping for a dry evening soon so as to visit the Nightjar site.

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Patch Walk.

Amphibious Bistort.
In the canopy.

In the canopy.

Coots busy at nest.

Amphibious Bistort covers the lake.

Despite the showers today I couldn’t resist a quick walk down to the lake during one of the sunny and warm spells this afternoon. Passing the Nuthatch nest hole and finding nothing there, I’ve decided that the birds have now flown.

The grass cutters were out, but thankfully they always leave a narrow strip un-cut around the side of the smaller lake which encourages some good growth and which now has numbers of Orchids growing. Northern Marsh Orchid Dactylorhiza purpurella, possibly crossed with something else in some cases is my opinion. The Great Crested Grebe was snoozing on the nest and the other pair on the lager lake appear to be making little progress towards nest building. What I was pleased to see today were two Little Grebes, possibly a pair, which I haven’t seen since one appeared briefly last year. One of the birds remained still amongst the Amphibious Bistort Persicaria amphibia all of the time I was about. I’m wondering if it was simply resting after arrival. Despite the numbers of damselflies about on my recent visit I failed to see one near the lake today, but did catch sigh of what I think was a Common Blue flying over the grassland.

House Martins flew low over the water and occasionally swooped, calling over my head. And a small number of Swifts hunted high above them. As I took some photographs of the bistort, which incidentally before my botanical awakening a couple of years ago, I would have walked past without giving a second look, I noticed the Grey Heron in what appears to have become its favourite spot on the edge of the lake amongst the high grasses. A pair of Coots was busy adding to and tidying their nest.
The thunderous cloud looked very ominous so I decided to cut the walk short and returned via the church grounds where I managed some photographs of the tree canopy. I thought I was being watched by the police as they followed me through the grounds, but there was a friendly hello as they passed me by involved in some community business I think. The Chiffchaffs continued to call. Despite the threatening storm clouds I notice the sun is still shining as I type.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Butterflies On the Waggonway.

Large White Butterfly
Wall Brown Butterfly

Germander Speedwell

Large Skipper

Herb Bennet

Painted Lady Butterfly

View from waggonway (al a Seurat).

Well after an 'event' full weekend and the concerns I had over the possibility of Holywell Birder possibly still hanging upside down from the the Tyne Bridge on Sunday evening, I felt the need to relax today. Thankfully, the event at the Rising Sun Country Park passed of successfully and Holywell Birder, as you may have noted, is not still hanging from the bridge. What a relief! :-)

My relaxation began with putting a few plants into the garden, and whilst doing so a calling Oystercatcher flew overhead. This gave me a garden and a patch tick! I thought it might be my lucky day so I set off along the waggonways. As far as birds were concerned the Oystercatcher was to be the highlight of the day! There just wasn't too much about bird wise. The only warbler song I heard was from a Chiffchaff. Swallows flew and swooped all along the waggonway and judging by the state of some of the butterflies, the Swallows had been chasing them.

Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Linnet and Goldfinch were about in numbers and I caught a quick snatch of Yellowhammer song. A Kestrel flew high in the sky and the usual corvids where around. Oddly enough I don't remember seeing any gulls, although perhaps I was too busy chasing butterflies of which there were many, but more of that anon. By the time I was approaching the Holystone end of the waggonway I had found a solitary Lapwing, although I'm sure that there would be many more hidden in the now long grass. The area is hardly recognisable now as the spot I watched the Short Eared Owls earlier in the year and the flash is absent. A male and female Pheasant flew low over the fields and there were several Stock Doves in the field, there green collars looking wonderful as the sun struck them. The Wood Pigeons lifted as I approached and there was a lone Collared Dove on the wires.

Butterflies were the stars of the day. There were Small and Large Whites everywhere and I thought that was all I was going to see until I found a Large Skipper which I initially though was a day flying moth. The farther end of the walk brought numerous Painted Lady Butterflies, probably the most I have ever seen at one time, Small Tortoiseshell and several Wall Browns. Best day I can remember having had locally for butterflies for some considerable time. I did manage some not too wonderful photographs of all species.

Part of the walk held some rather nice Germander Speedwell Veronica chamaedrys and Herb Bennet Geum urbanum in the hedges. More and more Hogweed Heracleum sphondylium is now in flower amongst the fading Cow Parsley Anthriscus sylvestris and I also noticed some Ground Elder Aegopodium podagraria. I like to take note of the umbellifers and have been told that they are the LBJs of the botanical world!

Monday, 1 June 2009

Birding in the Sun!

Painted Lady Butterfly
Common Toad

Yellow Flag Iris

Orchid species (Spotted Heath X Northern Marsh??)

Orchid species (Probably Northern Marsh)

1st June. What wonderful weather to begin June with. I took a walk on the patch for a couple of hours today have over the past few days only having had the chance to take a few short birding visits in fits and starts. Last Wed I was in the Rising Sun and found the grebe I had been looking for. Good numbers of Lesser Black Backed Gulls were about and a few Common Terns. I went down to Holywell Pond on the off chance the Spoonbill seen the previous day would still be there, it wasn’t! The only bird of note I found on a very short visit was the regular Great Spotted Woodpecker at the feeding station. After the rain at the Rising Sun the afternoon was sunny and warm. I did get talking to a guy who told me he had photographed Pied Flycatcher in the dene (at the culvert end) very recently! On Thur I had my first Painted Lady Butterfly (on Buddleia) on patch, whilst listening to the Whitethroat singing. On Sat it was back for a short visit to the Rising Sun where the only bird of note was another Great Spotted Woodpecker. The highlight of the visit was a large friendly Common Toad which was happy to have its photograph taken. I found an Orange Tip Butterfly, lots of Orchids which I still need to I D and Ragged Robin Lychnis alpina. The Yellow Flag Irises Iris pseudacorus around Swallow Pond appear to be at there best. Oh yes, and I found my first odonata of the year in a single Blue-tailed Damselfly.

Well, back to my walk today. I initially made for the Nuthatch nest hole and found a bird still visiting. It flew to the nest, but didn’t appear to be carrying food. I walked towards the smaller of the lakes and was surprised to find Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies in such large numbers. It was impossible to estimate numbers, but dozens of them, with many of them in tandem. I watched as they chased insects over the clear water. Lots of small fish and a young Eel were seen.

The female Great Crested Grebe is still on the nest with the male nearby. I later crossed to the larger lake and found another pair of Great Crested Grebe in courtship display as a Grey Heron flew over them. I found only a single Common Tern and a small number of House Martins and Swifts. There were families of Coot and Mute Swans, one Mute Swan with at least 8 cygnets in toe. I had forgotten my camera so was unable to photograph the numerous orchids on the edge of the lake. I’ll have to try and get back tomorrow.

I was looking out for butterflies but was only identifying Large and Small Whites until I eventually came across an Orange Tip Butterfly behind the village. I’ve seen more Orange Tip Butterflies this year I reckon, than I’ve seen in total previously. Perhaps I’m just concentrating more! I found a singing Whitethroat. I walked on further to the east. A couple of darker butterflies flew over the fields, but to fast for me to identify. I really do find butterflies frustratingly difficult to I D at times. By now I was very hot so decided to walk home. Not before hearing then sighting another two Whitethroats. I then picked up a number of Linnets and at least two singing Blackcap one of which began to make that unmistakeable alarm call. I tried for sometime to sight them, but couldn’t. It wasn’t until I walked on and turned back that I sighted one of them.
I’d be grateful if anyone can I D the Orchids