Sunday, 27 September 2009

Saltholme and 'Industrial' Birding

Teeside Industry.

Greatham Creek Seals

26th Aug. I was back to Saltholme today, but this time for a meeting. It was tough to sit in a meeting on such a glorious autumn day and nothing was going to stop me from attempting to find that Hooded Merganser today. I have read others views on the origins of this bird and I am quite happy to put it on my UK list and as I have mentioned before I already have it on my life list. Thankfully the conference room looks over the lake and I was able to have good views of the bird even if I did hold up proceedings at one point. Nice view of a Greenshank too although the sun was in the wrong position for any more really worthwhile watching from the conference room and I was urged back to my seat in any event. ;-) Incidentally I was told that Saltholme has had 76,000 customers through the doors since officially opening, 1,500 young people through the classroom (mainly during the summer months and 574 members of the public have been signed up as members of the RSPB. All good stuff.

After the meeting ended most of the afternoon remained so I resisted the urge to look for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and went off to Seal Sands. There are more important things than adding a bird to your list as far as I’m concerned and I had promised a friend an inexperienced birder that I would escort her to Seal Sands. Encouraging someone’s growing interest in birds and keeping a promise is to me far more important tome than seeking the odd rarity, and we had both been to Saltholme last week. Anyway I’m pleased we went off to Seal Sands as it was a wonderful afternoon in the sun. On days like this I find the area quite surreal in that you are birding in such an industrial area that in its own way looks quite wonderful. If I were in the least way artistic, I’d spend some time down there capturing this area in watercolours. It is certainly a lesson to anyone who believes that you need to be in picturesque countryside to enjoy nature (and I think some people do truly believe this). It simply isn’t true and just as well as most of us don’t live in ‘picturesque’ areas. Anyway I took time out from the birding to capture some, not watercolour, but digital images of the industrial area.

The tide was well out and many of the 1.000s of waders were way off across the sands, in the distance. We did have good close up views of dozens of seals, at least the majority being Common Seals. Waders seen were Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Curlew. A female Sparrowhawk put in an appearance directly above my head. There were lots of dragonflies about, in the main Common Darter and Small White and Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies.
I must get back here again soon to explore further.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Hartlepool and Saltholme

19th Sept. Another wonderfully sunny day saw me in Durham with the group. Our first stop was Hartlepool Headland. The position of the sun made sea watching difficult, but to be honest I think whilst conditions were good for us they were never going to bring us many seabirds. I did spot a couple of Seals and I refuse to accept they were flotsam as suggested by one or two who didn’t see them! I also got my eye on a couple of cetaceans which where thought to be Harbour Porpoise. I enjoyed the morning in this interesting area and I would like more time to take an interest in some of the buildings, but the birding was not exciting this morning. Birds seen included Great Crested Grebe, Oystercatcher, Dunlin, and many gulls! Rock Pipits were about and some members found Knot, Turnstone and Greenshank and a Sparrowhawk was seen. We were in no hurry to leave and had lunch on one of the lawns before leaving for Saltholme.

This was my first visit to Saltholme since it officially opened. The last time I was there the centre was a large mound of mud. I remember a discussion on another forum where many local birders expressed concerns as to how much was being spent on the centre at Saltholme. I’ve since heard mutterings of dissatisfaction ranging from levels of water in the ponds to unfinished areas. All I can say is that I feel it has been money well spent on what will prove to be an excellent educational centre. Of course it will be some years until the reserve comes of age, but I was most impressed by the place and the progress so far. Well done the RSPB and all others concerned is all I can say. Money very well spent I think. Having said that, I’m not really one who can really enjoy birding in crowds, so I was glad to get away from the centre and out onto the reserve. Although it was good to note a number of youngsters taking an interest in the dipping ponds and the many dragonflies about. I spotted many Common Darters, Southern Hawker and Common Hawker. Several Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies too.

I have Hooded Merganser on my life list, but I was still eager to find the one at Saltholme. Unfortunately it eluded me. Apparently it was on the pond near the centre in the morning, re-appeared whilst I was out on the reserve and then disappeared before I returned. I did have good sightings of Little Egret (3), Greenshank and Ruff. I reckon there has been many more Greenshank around in recent weeks than is usual in this area. Other waders seen were Golden Plover (numbers), Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Snipe. Waterfowl included Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveller, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard and Tufted Duck. I heard mutterings about Scaup and Garganey, but I saw no sign of either. I did find a pair of Stonechat.
Our thirty-seven members on the fieldtrip seemed to go home happy with the daily tally of 62 bird species. There seemed to be at least two other RSPB groups visiting today, but the size of the reserve meant we didn’t really notice. I’m back there next weekend for a meeting so will take another look for the Hooded Merganser. My only complaint was the cafĂ© shuts so early, as I was gasping for a cuppa by the end of the day and couldn’t get one!

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Waders, a Painted Lady and a Naked Man!

Seaton Sluice
St Mary's Island

17th Sept. A busy time birding has left little time to write up the blog hence this is rather late. Today I was keeping a long held engagement with some friends in the group. We were to visit St Mary’s Island and Cresswell. After some dismal days, today (Thur) was bright and still, with sun and clear skies so the stock of winter clothing I took with me was not required. The change in weather meant many of the seabirds reported in previous days were not about, but there was still plenty to satisfy us and I was pleased to be out on such a day.

St Mary’s Island was accessible when we arrived, although the tide was on the way in which meant with time it brought us some good sightings of waders, which were really the target birds for the day. These included Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew. As we watched a small flock of Golden Plover land on the shore one of my female friends noticed that the man we had seen enjoying the sun from the rocky shoreline was now naked! So shocked was she by this finding that she had to take several looks through my telescope on full magnification before she could believe her eyes! I was simply grateful that he did not block the view of the Golden Plover! I reflected upon the fact that I had started the day with my fleece hat on and here he was with nothing on! As there were numerous people around with binoculars and telescopes I kind of wondered whether this gentleman thought he was the star attraction. I have to say he wasn’t, as the Great Northern Diver which appeared off shore was the star for me. There were numbers of Gannet diving into the sea and also quits large numbers of Guillemot in small rafts. The heat haze made it difficult to focus on anything which was far out at sea, but I did spot a skua species which may or may not have been an Arctic Skua, so I didn’t list it. The only terns I saw were a few Common Terns. A Great Crested Grebe was spotted on the sea as were Eider Duck and Fulmar. I didn’t bother with the wetland area although did notice my only Greenfinch of the day in that direction. Six Pink-Footed Geese flew overhead.

We stopped at Seaton Sluice for lunch and from the headland found three Common Scoter and more waders on the rocky shore.

The tide was almost as high as it gets when we arrived at Cresswell so after a very short look over the sea we made for the pond. There was a large coach parked there so I initially thought that there would be little chance of getting comfortably into the hide. The coach blocked the access road, but fortunately the large group were in fact leaving as we arrived. It looked like it was some kind of college fieldtrip. Everyone on the coach seemed to find something very amusing. I hope it wasn’t my hat!

From the hide we were pointed in the right direction of both Reed and Sedge Warbler which I was quite surprised to find at this time. We managed to add Knot, Greenshank and numbers of Snipe to the wader list but not the hoped for Curlew Sandpiper or Ruff. It was good to see the water levels were about right and that the mud bank was attracting numbers of waders. Birds on the water included a good number of Canada Geese, Shelduck, Mallard, Shoveller, Wigeon, Teal and Tufted Duck.

As we made off for East Chevington I was mindful that numbers of Swallow and House Martin were now well down from my recent visit. I still managed to find a Painted Lady Butterfly and on the pathway from the hide I think I caught sight very briefly of a Marsh Tit, but I couldn’t be certain. I hadn’t been to East Chevington for sometime and I noticed that the road to the ponds and dunes is in a shocking state of repair with great potholes everywhere.

The North Pond held large numbers of Greylag Geese which took off and then settled on a few occasions, and a few Canada Geese. We saw our first Little Grebe, Grey Herons and Gadwall of the day here. Three Sandwich Terns were also seen. The other waterfowl were the same species as seen at Cresswell and there were large numbers of gulls, many of them Greater Black Backed and Cormorants. A Kestrel was seen hunting and at some point a Mistle Thrush flew overhead.
The day had been a wonderful sunny and autumnal so we ended it with a walk down to the dunes with the sound of the sea in our ears. Bloody Cranesbill Geranium sanguineum. the county flower of Northumberland, and Sea Campion Silene uniflora were both found, but sadly I had left my camera in my coat pocket and that was in the car. On my return I caught site of a Brown Hare and large flock of Goldfinch. I was pleased with the 61 species seen today which had included few passerines. I left for home remembering that I need to be careful where I point the telescope when next visiting St Mary’s Island!

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

My Kingdom for a Horse!

14th Sept. Another bus ride, but this time a short one to Backworth. A walk around to the flash area took in a short walk along the wagon way next to the rail tracks. With the sound of the dogs’ choir howling in unison in the kennels, I found only Robins. It felt quite spooky walking under the rail line with the sound of the ‘Hounds of the Baskerville’ in the background, and I can tell you I won’t be going there alone in the dark!

The flash appeared to be dry although the field was waterlogged almost up to the road. The area seemed dead of any life apart from a lone Curlew as it called on take off and the odd wader, Redshank I think, that lifted. I suspected that there were numerous birds hidden in the grass and sedges but nothing else appeared. Otherwise it was Wood Pigeons and more Wood Pigeons with the Magpies! Plenty of horses though. We walked along another wagon way towards Earsdon and in fact almost reached Earsdon before turning around and coming back via the roadway. There was little to be seen from the wagon way although where the new track has been built up (a cycle track I assume) we found a flock of Linnets that must have been approaching one hundred. I couldn’t see any other species amongst them, but they were restless and not easily watched. There were more horses, and in the field with them were half a dozen Pied Wagtails and three Meadow Pipits.

We stopped for a drink along the road way and watched Swallows and House Martins and many more horses! One of the highlights of the day was further along the road watching a dual between a Jackdaw and a Kestrel. The Kestrel had landed in the field having been mobbed by corvids. This one Jackdaw was determined to have another go and landed next to the Kestrel and appeared to just stare it out. As the Kestrel flew so did the Jackdaw and for a couple of minutes they flew together and manoeuvred in the air like fighter planes, their wings almost flattening out against one another’s. The Jackdaw matching the Kestrel for manoeuvrability (thank goodness for spell check!). It was quite a sight and I reckon would have been marked nine out of ten for technical merit on TV. Then it was back to deadness apart from more horses. Back in Killy we visited the lake and found the Great Crested Grebe and a single Ruddy Duck amongst the usual Mute Swans, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Coot and Moorhen. It had been a cold dismal and damp day so far, so a warm meal at Morrison’s was a joy, apart from the chips which were so disgusting I had to leave them on the plate and the peas which were cold. Actually, now I think about it. It’s not a bit of wonder I was hungry by supper time. Afterwards we set off along the wagon way towards Holystone and The Rising Sun Country Park. Again there were few birds about. As I pointed out areas of interest to my friend I’m sure he was wondering if in fact I do ever see anything along this wagon way. A flyover by Mistle Thrush was about the as hot as it got. We did see many more horse though and one in the stables appeared to be a thorough-bred race horse.

I was flagging as we reached the Rising Sun. It has to be said there wasn’t too much life there either although I found Shoveller, Little Grebe, Herring Gull and Lesser Black Backed Gull on Swallow Pond. We’d actually came here for a walk with Friends of The Rising Sun which was to be led by ex-miners and filmed for historical purposes. We found we had to get ourselves to the organic farm for the start. Well to cut along story short lots of ‘friends’, the cameraman and a couple of guys in suits turned up. In fact it seemed everyone turned up except the ex-miners who were to lead the walk! Apparently one had gone on holiday and another had realised it was his wedding anniversary and taken his wife out for a meal! The leader of the ‘friends’ decided to make the most of it and take the group around. We initially visited the ‘powder house’ although it seems no one is absolutely sure if this was or wasn’t the place used to store explosive used in the pits. It could have been a well built coalhouse for all I know. Although I find this area historically very interesting, at this point my friend and I decided to leave this particular walk and return along the wagon ways to Killy and take a look for owls. So as we passed the stable we said goodbye to more horses. I feel the area off the wagon way is an ideal site for Barn Owl. However like the ex-miners, no owls of any description showed up! We did pass more stables again near Holystone and by now the horses were nodding off and I don’t mind admitting I was too. We had to make do with Wrens instead of owls.

It was pitch black by the time we reached the end point and I was cream crackered. I had watched Stephen Fry on TV visiting the Mountain Gorillas in Uganda earlier in the week. A very good programme and I fancy going there. If Stephen Fry with all his extra weight can do the trek to the ‘impenetrable forest’ I’m damn sure I could make it. So I’m putting today down as my first training day. All I need now is a bit more training and some cash! Whilst I dream of Mountain Gorillas and sailing on Lake Victoria I shall content myself with the forty-three species of bird I picked up on my training exercise today, and let’s not forget the horses. I must admit I never knew so many of the equine species where around in North Tyneside. They seem to provide employment for a good number of people, mainly youngsters we found working in the stables and leading the horses. After the miles I walked yesterday I’m wondering if I should purchase a horse. That racehorse I saw would suit me fine. I’m already thinking up some really good ‘horseman like’ blog titles.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly

I have included some of my shots of the Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly. I took the opportunity of capturing almost 50 shots of this butterfly the other day as it became intoxicated on the Ice Plant in the garden. I am not suggesting that these are works of art (remember I only use a compact camera), but I do think some of them catch rather nicely the way the sunlight shines through the wings. It seems to me as if there is a light souch behind the wings at times and the wings are acting as a shade.

Sunday, 13 September 2009



Small Copper

9th Sept. Bit late with this one. I was back on patch for an hour today and found my first confirmed patch Small Copper Butterfly. It had been a wonderfully sunny and at times quite hot day, but by the time I took my walk it was clouding over and becoming much cooler. I stood and looked over the patch of tall grass land which is going back at a tremendous rate now and this lone butterfly caught my eye. It was the Small Copper. It behaved exactly as the book had described flying up to chase what was either another Small Copper or other insect then returning to its perch on the Common Ragwort. In the late afternoon and cooler air it had become very lethargic and it proved easy to photograph. A little worse for wear, but still a beautiful butterfly. I left it to take a walk to the small lake where I found only one of the juvenile Great Crested Grebes and no other members of the family and no Swallows or Martins. One Lesser Black Backed Gull was on the roof of the sports centre along with the Black Headed Gulls.
On my return about 30 minutes later, the Small Copper remained on the same plant, but this time with wings closed giving a good opportunity to take a photograph of the underwing. I felt lazy today so just wandered over the road to the other small rough area where the school had burnt down. I think this at least same of this area will soon disappear under brick and concrete again as the land is up for sale. I found both the fruit of the Tutsan Hypericum androsaemum and Bittersweet Solanum dulcamara which I have been watching develop during the summer. The fruits of the Tutsan are now turning from red to black and some of the leaves have begun to rot/be eaten so I didn’t feel bad about taking some of the leaves to press. I can confirm that they do smell of tobacco and I shall try them out as book marks once pressed. The fruits of the Bittersweet are turning from green to red. It has been interesting to note how these plants have developed over the weeks. The Garden Parsley Petroselinum crispum, where I found the Ladybirds and Ladybird larvae during the summer, has dried up completely. Sadly if the developers move in these plants may not get the chance to return next year.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Killy Birder Takes a Bus.

Deserted Beach
Red Admiral

Cresswell Castle

8th Sept. Having noticed that everyone seems to be taking holidays but me, I decided to give myself a treat and so caught the bus from Killy to Cresswell. The sun was shining and the skies were blue as we trundled through such metropolises as Burradon, Dudley, Cramlington, Bedlington and Ashington and onwards to finally reach our destination. I was biting at the bit to get out into the fresh air and do some birding. As I stepped form the bus I caught site of numbers of butterflies flying over,and settling on, the grass verges. I found them to be Small Tortoiseshell and Painted Ladies. Other butterflies seen today were Small White, Peacock and Red Admiral, several of them appearing to be in pristine condition. The Swallows and House Martins were massing in numbers in preparation for migration. I had noticed numbers of them on the journey too.

Despite the school holidays in the main having ended, Cresswell was still quite busy, although most human life appeared not to be straying to far north of the caravan site and so leaving the rest or the shore line deserted apart from one or two dog walkers, ourselves and the birds. I think we often take our wonderful beaches for granted up here in Northumberland and it wasn’t until I looked at the photograph that I realised how clean (at least on the surface) and deserted the area was! I remember as a child of around 7 or 8 spending a weeks holiday at Cresswell in a small chalet right on the dune edge where one just stepped onto the sandy beech after breakfast. I still have a photo somewhere in the house. It was one of those childhood summers where I have no memory at all of rain, only sunshine as I played on the beach. Cresswell was a very quite fishing village then of course. On the family arriving a fisherman and I think owner of the chalet promised me that he would take me out in his fishing boat that week. I never saw him again so I’m still waiting! That broken promise has for some reason stuck with me and having worked with youngsters, I always had a rule of never making promises to them unless I intended to keep them, or at least explain why a promise might have to be broken. Anyway I know I digress. I remember no birds or other wildlife from that childhood adventurem although as it is likely to have been August I now can’t help wonder what wildlife I may have been around, and would there have been passing migrants. I do remember my times on the beach and the rock pools. I don’t remember the castle though, although from my photograph I see there are handrails on top of it now so I’m wondering if it is open to the public and if it is how you get in? My local walks have given me an ever increasing interest in local history.

Looking over the shore from the cliff edge I could find only Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew. I walked along the beach and soon found large flocks of terns. Now I could either look at these from the shelter of the dunes, which were acting as a suntrap, and have a poor sighting as the tide was very low indeed. Or I could get closer on the beach and face the strengthening wind. When I did the latter and struggled with a rather blown and unsteady tripod, I found the birds were in the main Common Terns with a few Arctic Terns amongst them. I saw no Sandwich Terns. Eventually I did pick out two Black Terns looking very small against the Common Terns. The flocks of tern were very restless and kept taking to flight over the rocky area and then quickly settling again. The flocks looked stunning whilst sun lit in tight flocks in the air. I could have spent the day watching these birds if I’m truthful as I find it appealing to focus the attention on one or two species, but I wanted to also visit the pond. I did come back before leaving Cresswell for the homeward journey and if anything the flocks of tern had grown even larger and were still very restless.

On returning to the beach I also found separate flocks of Knot, Dunlin and Curlew. The Redshank and Oystercatchers were still around of course and calling constantly. Gulls included Black Headed Gull flocks, Common Gull, Great Black Backed Gull and the odd Lesser Black Backed Gull was seen flying over. I saw little on the sea, although I confess I didn’t look too long as the heat haze made for poor sea watching. Cormorants and Eider Duck is all that I recall.
The visit to the pond was disappointing although on the way we were entertained by a dual for territory between a Carrion Crow and Kestrel. I saw few passerines today apart from Goldfinch and Greenfinch. As I was looking at the Tansies Tanacetum vulgare ( apparnently once eaten at Eastertide to clear phlegm and worms brought about by the Lenten fish diet) which always remind me of small suns when at their best, unfortunately they were now well past their best, a couple leaving the hide said there was plenty of action. When I got into the hide I can only assume it was one of those ‘if only I had been here five minutes ago moments’ or my idea of action is at a different level! I did see from the board that there had been Curlew Sandpiper, Ruff and an Otter about earlier in the day. My only reward of any significance was the Greenshank. When the Lapwings lifted I thought we might have a bird of prey, but none was seen. I guess because the tide was out the waders had left to feed elsewhere and things were extremely quite. The odd Curlew remained and other birds included Shelduck and Little Grebe. As I focused on the lone Curlew I was entertained by tales of all the birds that have recently visited the area. I must try and get back up there soon. After so many gloomy wet days it had been a real treat to be out there in the sunshine on one of those days when the coast is at its best. I was relaxed and ready to face the return bus ride. I have Newbiggin marked down for a visit and I’m also wondering if Plessey Woods may prove fruitful