Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Sunny Patch

A colourful sight.

The Red Admiral was too flighty to photograph!

Parent and youngster doing well, and the Amphibious Bistort beginning to flower.

31st May. Conscious of having neglected the patch recently I took a walk down to the lake this afternoon. Despite the sun I saw no butterflies on the outward walk. I hadn’t checked on the Great Crested Grebes since having found one of the three youngsters lagging in size behind its siblings. I wasn’t surprised to find only two of the three young still surviving. One was resting with one of the adult birds in amongst the now flowering Amphibious Bistort which will soon be carpeting the smaller lake in red. The other youngster was constantly calling and being fed as it followed its parent around the lake. As I watched the grebes a Common Tern flew overhead and both Swallows and Swifts were in the air. Swifts still out numbering the few Swallows that are in the area. There were at least five Lesser Black Backed Gulls with Black Headed and Herring Gulls on the roof of the sports centre. Coots and Mallard were followed by young. The Mallard chicks appeared as if they were only a few days old.

I returned via the sports fields. Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler sang as I watched a male Common Whitethroat. It kept disappearing into what seemed the nesting area, but showed well each time it reappeared. Part of the horse field was taped off and a mass of colour from buttercups and red clover. I eventually found a butterfly. It was a Small White. Then as I walked through the trees the sun shone through the wings of a Red Admiral Butterfly which was found in typical habitat. It was impossible to catch an image, as it was so flighty. It quickly disappeared into partially sunlit area. I think I caught the calling of a Great Spotted Woodpecker as I walked home.

Two thirds of the way through my Poyser edition of The Dippers and expect to finish it this week. The Dipper is one of my favourite birds, but I’m not that impressed by the book. It seems to lack the depth of other Poyser books that I’ve read and I think in this case it is grossly over priced. Anyway I hope to be watching the real thing soon and hope that this time it will be without disturbance!

Thursday, 19 May 2011

RSPB Saltholme

Industry and nature can live side by side!

Ruff. Not a good photo, but an excellent sighting.

18th May. The all weather birders were up and off to Saltholme before the dawn chorus had started to fade. Initially travelling through heavy rain on on the back seat of the hottest bus in town. We spotted Kittiwake as we crossed the Tyne. By the time we approaching the ‘|Boro’ all was dry and a wind was steadily picking up. Having changed buses we got off a stop early so as to approach the reserve on foot. We found that the pools that had been so productive for us last year around the same time were this year nothing more than bone dry ground. We did have many sightings of Sedge Warbler and a good view across the reserve from the road. Sparrowhawk was picked up by Tom and seen out of the corner of my eye. Kestrel gave betters views. We soon had a pair of Garganey in our sites and we heard, and possibly briefly saw a Reed Warbler as we approached the entrance of RSPB Saltholme. We soon found Black-tailed Godwit and Knot from the Teesmouth Bird Club hide. Other waders seen as the day progressed were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover (no sign of the Little Ringed Plover), Lapwing, Redshank and Ruff. The Ruff was a beauty in almost full summer plumage. It was seen right out side of the hide! A single Barnacle Goose had been seen. Other geese today included a single Egyptian Goose showing well, Greylag and Canada Geese.

Swifts were numerous and with us all day. There were far fewer Swallows and Sand Martins. As we walked around the reserve it was quickly becoming clear to us just how quickly things were advancing and how well the reserve is settling down. Birds of the day was most definitely the Yellow Wagtails. We are still pondering over whether or not we saw the blue headed wagtail. Whitethroats, Reed Buntings, Meadow Pipits, and Goldfinches were seen and Blackcap heard. Listening for and to the birds was not easy owing to the strengthening wind but at least the sun came out.

Shelduck, Mallard, Gadwall, Shoveller, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck and of course the pair of Garganey were all seen. Someone had estimated that there were 150 Common Terns. I would have said that there were more. They were continually bringing in their fish catches. As we watched them Tom noticed a very large egg next to one of the Black-headed Gulls. We wondered if it had rolled from the nesting Canada Goose which was close by. Lesser Black Backed Gulls were about.

We stopped for a short spell in the reserve café. Our original intention was to try and get along to Seal Sands and Greatham Creek. Not easy without a car (if you value your life) although the staff had been happy enough to summon us a taxi. Instead we decided to spend more time around the reserve. Some of the rare waders had moved on and the dry conditions were not in any case good for waders. However there was plenty to fill in our day and we didn’t leave until teatime. Another look at the Yellow Wagtails and the Ruff was most welcome.

It seemed that Great Crested Grebes were everywhere and we did eventually pick up two Little Grebes.

We actually ended the day with a day list of sixty bird species. Most of which were seen on or in the vicinity of the reserve. Both of us recorded more year ticks. In my case these were Reed Warbler and Yellow Wagtail.

As we waited to return to the Middlesbourgh we spoke to a lady who had visited the reserve to seek inspiration for her poetry. She told us that because of glaucoma her sight was very poor. Despite this the birds appear to have inspired her. How could they not. It was time to leave the industrial belt of Teeside behind. A really inspiring area in itself. Sadly there seems to have been an incident earlier in the day with an explosion and at least one body being found in suspicious circumstances, and others being taken to hospital for treatment. Helicopters seemed to circle the area from our arrival until our departure.

Another great day. Both all weather birders enjoyed a bit of shut eye on the way back to Newcastle on another hot bus.:-)

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Temminck.....What's in a Name?

Temminck, Coenraad Jacob (1778-1858)

C.J.Temminck was born in Amsterdam and at the age of seventeen became an auctioneer with the Dutch East India Company with whom his father was the treasurer. Temminck therefore had no early scientific training. His father had assisted Francois Levaillant, the French explorer of southern Africa, in the production of Histoire naturelle des oiseax d’Afrique, and he had acquired a number of Levaillant’s specimens. As a young man Temminck was able to study these specimens, and others belonging to collector friends of his father, and in his own work met with seafarers from around the world who later proved to be good contacts with regard to his own collecting. When the East India Company dissolved in 1800, Temminck decided to devote himself to natural history and his home in Amsterdam became filled with various specimens. He became a skilled taxidermist of birds and even more so, fishes.

After a number of publications including Histoire naturelle generale des Pigeons at des Gallina-cees, Temminck became a leading Dutch ornithologist. He was honoured with the Order of Union by King Louis, the brother of Napoleon, who had been created ruler of Holland after its French occupation.

Prior to taking up the directorship of the Leyden National Museum of Natural History, Temminck had been Director of the Academy of Science and Arts at Harrlem. Temminck remained director at Leyden for almost forty years and under his directorship the museum rapidly grew in importance. This was a result not only of the quality and number of specimens and the system of arrangement, but also because of the quality of Temminck’s influential publications.

Temminck’s friend, a Dr J. P. A. Leisler named a small wader after him. This was Tringa temminckii (now Caladris temminckii) or Temminck’s Stint. The breeding and parental care of this bird is interesting…….. ‘Temminck's Stints have an intriguing breeding and parental care system in which males and female parents incubate separate clutches, typically in different locations. Males establish small territories and mate with a female who lays a first clutch of eggs. She then moves to a second territory and mate, and lays a second clutch that she incubates herself. Concurrently, her first male may mate with an incoming second female, who lays her second clutch on his territory. The male thereafter incubates his first mate's first clutch alone.’

Another Western Palearctic bird named after Temminck is the Temminck’s Horned Lark. There are many more birds, mammals and fishes from around the world named after Coenradd Jacob Temminck


I became interested in the naming of birds several years ago when I used to visit the BBC Bird Forum. The forum became defunct several years ago and in hindsight I’d have to say it was very poorly moderated during the time I was involved. I knew far less about birds and many other things when I joined it (I’d have probably thought Caladris a pop group then). Some may think that I haven’t advanced that far:-) What I did find inspiring was the knowledge of an experienced birder on there by the name of Bill Moss. I’ve never met, nor will I ever meet Bill, but he used to organise quizzes on occasion and always included a question concerning the naming of birds. I learnt a lot through the quizzes and I learnt a lot from some of Bill’s posts. I seemed to remember that Bill himself was introduced as a boy to the joys of natural history by his uncle. I know Bill doesn’t get far now because of age and infirmity and he certainly won’t read this, but I thank him none the less for putting me on a pathway that I probably would not have followed without his direction.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

All Weather Birders Meet Temminck's and Reynard

Another 'room with a view'

Wall Brown Butterfly

We seemed to have missed most of the showers.

14th May. Yes, the all weather birders are back on the trail with waterproofs packed, although as it happened we didn’t require them for more than a few minutes. Although whilst not needed to keep the rain out, they did help to ward of the mornings chill wind. Please don’t blame us for the sudden drop in temperature today. The walk began at Whitley Bay Cemetery and ended at Holywell Village.

Where had all the waders gone, I thought. Yes I realise it’s May, but I’ve never known the area be so clear of waders even at this time of year. The Peregrine Falcon that Tom got his eye on can only explain a partial heads down. We watched the Peregrine Falcon swoop down over the shoreline and then until it seemed to disappear over the sea. Our initial approach had brought sightings of Reed Bunting and a busy Sand Martin colony. Swifts and Swallows were flying overhead and later in the walk, nearer Seaton Sluice we found numbers of House Martins. The wetland area gave us the likes of Greylag Goose and our first of the day sightings of a Fox. Sedge Warblers were heard and soon seen well, as were the first of many Whitethroats today. A Meadow Pipit with a freshly caught dragonfly perched for some minutes not far from the viewing blinds. Despite the wind, Skylarks could be clearly heard and some were spotted. Chiffchaff song was with us throughout the walk.

As we walked towards Seaton Sluice a Wheatear was found in the fields. Linnets and Goldfinch were around too. There were still few waders about although early on Tom got his eye on a small flock of Ringed Plover in flight and eventually we did find a number of Oystercatchers and a single Turnstone. A visit was made to the watch tower as at least it kept us out of the wind. It wasn’t going to be a good sea watching day but we did find Guillemots, Puffin and numbers of Kittiwake. Of course there were the usual flocks of Eider Duck. A single Shelduck was seen in flight. Two Seals were seen briefly. Numbers of Sandwich and Common Terns

Although nearing noon the cloud mass began to build up, it was broken cloud and it didn’t appear to be bringing too much in the way of rain. We did meet with a couple of showers in the dene but they were brief and of little concern to all weather birders. It was in the dene area that we sighted our second Fox of the day. Whilst we stopped for lunch we watched it in a friendly tussle with yet another Fox, this one being the third sighting of the day. Butterflies were beginning to appear in some numbers. Orange Tip being well represented. A Red Admiral (my first of the year) didn’t hang around long enough for a photo, but I had better luck with the Wall Browns. Small White, Large White and Green Veined White were also seen. We caught a brief sighting of an overhead Great Spotted Woodpecker.

The dene brought the usual chorus of song at this time of year and this included Blackcap, Whitethroat, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. Near the Avenue we had a brief sighting of Garden Warbler. Without doubt the stars birds seen in the dene were the pair of Dipper. The first one spotted as it seemed to chase a Blackbird from where it was feeding. As we watched the second of the pair of Dipper from a safe distance ‘One man and his dogs and wife’ approached. One man’ looked at us and clearly saw that we were watching wildlife, but this seemed to make him even more determined that his dogs would have a bath right in the area that we were watching. I knew by his body language and side ways looks at us that he had deliberately done this without the least bit of consideration. I don’t use bad language in my blog as a matter of course, and I don’t intend to now. You can make your own up. However what I will say was this guy was an ignorant pillock. The type that gets dog owners a bad name. I feel sorry for his dogs. Pleased to say that everyone else we passed to day were friendly and considerate. There always has to be one! Anyway, this is the first time that Tom and I have found Dipper in this area for over twelve months, so great to see them doing well. My next ornithological read is to be the Poyser Monograph, The Dippers. It was delivered only this week as it happens.

‘One man’ was soon forgotten however once we were on The Avenue. As I said, the initial sighting was of a Garden Warbler. As we wandered along we found the Avenue to be a filled with bird song. Whitethroats were once again numerous and several were seen in display flight. Other birds seen/heard included Grey Partridge, Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, Blackcap, Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Yellowhammer. I can’t ever remember finding The Avenue quite so lively. A short downpour of rain and hail didn’t take our mind of the birds, but I think perhaps concentrated it even more.

We walked on towards East Pool where we found the likes of Lapwing, Little Grebe, Shelduck and Canada Geese. Tom got his eye on two small wading birds. We got only a very brief sighting initially, but found them again later and found them to be Temminck’s Stint. Thanks go to the guy we bumped into and who had found them again near the pool, which despite a lack of rain is still holding a good deal of water. Tom informed Birdguides. This was a lifer for me and an unexpected find. It seems amazing that I did not see a single Redshank on the walk (this has got to be a first on this walk) yet did find two Temminck’s Stints. Anyway I feel a ‘What’s in a Name’ post coming soon.:-)

I suppose some might think that it would be downhill now, finishing our day off at the hides at Holywell Pond where there wasn’t that much about. But that’s not the case. It was a nice peaceful way to bring another all weather birder adventure to a close and in fact we did add the likes of Gadwall and Greenfinch to the day list. There were several Little Grebes on the pond and one pair had young. Other birds included Mute Swan, Mallard, Pochard, Moorhen and Coot. Two Grey Herons were quite active too. I seem to remember a pair of Canada Geese having seven goslings with them.

We realised from the outset that conditions were not quite right today for a record breaking list of birds. That target of eighty remains illusive, but we did end with a nice round seventy bird species and some very nice sightings of Reynard the Fox. Both Tom and I added to our year lists. In my case it was Peregrine Falcon, Temminck’s Stint, Garden Warbler and Sedge Warbler. Another quality day on a quality walk with a quality mate whose eyes come in very useful at times.

Friday, 13 May 2011

An Hour on Patch

The remains of the ever so sad balding reedbed.

Seems like this post was lost during melt down, so I've replaced it

11th May. It was a nice evening with only small patches of ominous grey cloud building up from the west, so I took a quick stroll to which eventually led me to the lake. It was amazing how verdant everything had become since the rain showers of the past few days and some of the grasses were now almost knee high. Although in the main it was sunshine and blue skies, the pathway behind the village was dark and almost like a tunnel beneath the trees. Bird song was with me every step of the way and I quickly found one of the Blackcaps, not very well hidden in the lower trees. Swifts flew overhead.

Chiffchaff song seemed to overpower the seemingly lesser number of Willow Warblers singing. Whitethroats were heard, but never seen. I listened for Grasshopper Warbler in the area I had found one last year but heard nothing. Blackbird and Wren song was loud and clear. I really enjoy the song from Blackbirds on quiet evenings like this. A couple of groups of youngsters played football on the playing fields, probably not noticing the bird song at all.

Once down to the small lake, seemingly followed by Swifts all the way, I soon got my eye on the Great Crested Grebes. The female bird was with two youngsters. I watched for some time and had to assume that the third youngster had been lost. The male bird flew across the water with a feed and the two young mounted the females back. It was some time before the third youngster appeared, from where I know not. It certainly looked small in comparison to its two siblings, and when they got back into the water that size difference was very apparent. The smallest of the three seemed to keep its distance from the rest of the family during the time I watched. I remembered that male and female adult each tend to show favour to a separate youngster. I wondered if this third youngster was the odd one out and therefore missing out. This didn’t appear to happen to the young birds last year with all seeming to grow at the same rate. It’ll be interesting to note what happens to this smaller bird in the longer term.

I crossed to the larger lake but didn’t walk far from the road. By now there were numbers of Swifts. Some Swifts flying high over the lake, whilst others sheered the surface of the water. I only found three Swallows and there were no martins. I found one of the Greylag Geese, the other probably just hidden from my view, and a Grey Heron stood on the corner of the now sad looking floating reedbed. I saw no sign of the other pair of Great Crested Grebes. Sad though the reedbed is, the Coots seem still to have successfully delivered numerous chicks. They are still sitting on nests on the smaller lake. A parent had brought her little boy down to the lake to feed the birds and Moorhens moved close by

I made off home with Swifts still flying overhead. The bright clear light was as it is when there has been showers or when there is about to be a shower. I heard Goldfinch calling.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

It's Good to Walk!

7th May. I was leading another walk this weekend, this time preceded by a presentation for beginner bird watchers. We had a good attendance which included five really keen questioning youngsters.

I walked to the Rising Sun Country Park and on the way sightings included Common Whitethroat, Bullfinch and once again, Swifts. Swift numbers had grown since yesterday. On the walk up to the centre more Common Whitethroat were found along with Long Tits and Goldfinch. I was hoping the Hobby reported yesterday would turn up, but unfortunately it never made an appearance.

It’s always difficult to judge ones own presentation, but it seemed to go down well enough. Throw in a few exciting facts about birds and nature in general and even the most dis-interested individual has to waken up. I’d timed the walk to take place over lunch time. I hadn’t realised how hungry I’d be, but made do with a bar of chocolate.:-) I’d once again underlined the need to make full use of the ears as well as the eyes. Chiffchaff was heard as soon as we left the building and if nothing else everyone went home at least knowing what a Chiffchaff sounds like. It’s surprising how many people don’t know! Willow Warblers and Whitethroats were soon heard too. Participants soon began to appreciate the song of Wren, Robin, Song Thrush and Blackbird.

Common Terns were seen flying over Swallow Pond and on the wooden island. The usual waterfowl was about which included a Goldeneye. The bird that caught the eye of many was a singing Reed Bunting. There still appears to be few Swallows about, but a small number did make an appearance. Swifts eventually appeared as well. I was told a Water Rail had been heard calling near the pond. Little Grebe was eventually found and the Canada Geese with goslings proved popular.

Someone started to talk about the donkey in the field. I thought nothing of it until someone pointed out that it was actually the Red Deer stag. I’ll have to brush up on my mammal identification skills.:-) This stag certainly does seem to have an individual identification problem of its own, as it seems to enjoy settling down with the horses.

We ended up seeing forty-four species of bird (forty-six if I include my individual sightings walking to and from the Rising Sun. I have to put in a good word for the staff at the park who are always very helpful. My only wish is that Swallow Pond could be managed a little better. I know in years gone by that it attracted some really good waders. I guess it isn’t easy managing a park with so many different demands made upon it.

By the end of the walk it was raining so I gave up any thought of taking a diversion to walk past the Little Owl haunt. Listening to and straining to get a sighting of the Common Whitethroats had taken up a bit of time. I’d almost forgotten what rain felt like. I eventually managed to have a bite to eat in the café before walking home. The food there is excellent. The rain has stopped by then, but it remained damp a little misty. Once back on patch I enjoyed a little time winding down and alone listening to the birdsong and the alarm calls of Blackcap.

Always good to be be with people who find the commonest of birds exciting.

Friday, 6 May 2011

Swifts Over Patch

6th May. No birding over past two or three days, but I did find a number of Swifts flying over the patch and Great Lime Road today. These were the first of the year for me and they seemed to be feeding well on the many insects that were about in the thundery warm weather. Another first was Wall Brown Butterfly, the first brood of which begins flight during early May. I didn't have the camera to capture it, but I'm sure it was a female. It flew low over the grass and settled on a couple of occasions, but not for long. Only the odd Swallow about and I feel there are few about up to now. Common Whitethroat also seen in its usual territory. There's certainly plenty of Whitethroat about.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Park Life

3rd May. I’ve just returned from a walk in Richardson Dees Park, Wallsend. It was part of preparations for a talk I’m to give there later this month. It was literally almost like returning to my place of birth, as I entered the world at the Green Maternity Hospital that was nearby.

The park staff were very helpful today. The park itself is to face some major work in the near future as the council have been awarded a large grant for improvement work. Sadly I think this will see the removal of some of the old larger trees. The water courses are to receive some much needed renovation. I don’t know the park at all so I was surprised to find that it covers quite a sizeable area.

One of the first birds I noted was a Common Buzzard flying high over Wallsend. There were naturally parkland birds that one would expect such as Blackbird, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush, Robin, Chaffinch and Goldfinch. The water held a number of Mallard and a couple of Moorhen. One of the staff informed me that a Mallard chick had been ‘stolen’! Great Spotted Woodpecker, Common Whitethroat in display flight and song, and Blackcap were seen and Chiffchaff heard. I understand that Kingfishers visit the park, but usually in winter and the likes of Sparrowhawk and Nuthatch are often seen.

I quite enjoyed the short walk. I hope that the improvements to the park take into account the needs of the wildlife. The guys that work there appear to know what is required to strike a decent balance as to needs. I hope the ‘council’ do too. Anyway I mentioned the terrible state that the floating reed-bed is in at Killingworth and it is going to be mentioned to some one on high. I hope it brings some action in the autumn.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Three Terns and Three Striped Heads.

1st May. I've just returned from a pleasant if some what cool sit by the lake accompanied by an amazing number of insects. I hope that they weren't biting or I'll be like a pizza tomorrow morning!

Three Common Terns fed over the lake as I counted three striped heads on the back of the Great Crested Grebe. One of the striped heads seemed more happy in the water than the other two, but all three got wet eventually. I think the bringing of food by the adult male enticed them into the water. It seems an age ago now that Cain, Tom and I watched the Great Crested Grebes as they sat on newly laid eggs. Thankfully the good weather has perhaps helped them. They were successful in raising youngsters last year too, but I've known years when the nest has been constantly flooded.

Despite all of the insects there was no sign of hirundines.