Monday, 24 February 2014

Unwelcome Visitor

24th Feb.  As I was sat at my computer yesterday evening a slight movement from behind the curtain caught my eye.  It was an unwelcome visitor in the form of Vespula vulgaris, or as I chose to name it Jasper.  I understand Jasper is a colloquial name for the Common Wasp in parts of England and it seems an appropriate one.  The light was poor, but I managed to capture some not so good images of Jasper with the macro lens.  Had the light been better I may have done Jasper more justice.  Now I’m very fond of wildlife, but Common Wasps are not on my list of likes.  I did feel it was most unusual to find one in February and it wasn’t stirring very much so I suspect the warmth of late had it creeping from some hideout.  I couldn’t help wonder if Jasper had been eyeing me up from some dark crevice over the past weeks.

I wasn't going to be easily fooled by Jasper into thinking the only intention was to work on the curtain material!
Now my patch visits have been few and far between in recent weeks, not by choice but by necessity.  I managed a walk down to the lake and village today and found right away a more welcome visitor if the form of the already reported Great Crested Grebe who for the time being remains alone.

Looking for a mate perhaps.
A walk around the lake brought me sightings of twenty plus Goldeneye, now seemingly gathering close together and maybe preparing for movement, a small number of Goosander, numbers of Canada Geese, including the Canada/Barnacle cross, a pair of Greylag Geese, numbers of Tufted Duck and Pochard.  I hadn’t seen a Sparrowhawk this year, but happily put that right when I found one flying north of the lake.  The pair of Oystercatchers were active.  It’s not often I have the likes of Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier and Merlin on my year list before Sparrowhawk.  I was pleased that my first one of the year was again found on patch.  I couldn't find the Scaup today.

A Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard and soon sighted in the top of the trees in the church grounds.  A flock of Goldfinch were active in this area also, whilst a Wren called and Robin sang.

Excuse me while I check behind the curtains!

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Druridge...Back on Trek with Wildlife.

21st Feb.  The cold air of a south-westerly wind and sprinkling of rain hit me as soon as I stepped out at Cresswell today.  Again we were to see some fine habitat in many moods.  Sam and I hadn’t discussed exactly where the day would take us, but we intuitively knew that we shared the same plan.  A plan that as it happens changed as the day progressed.  Our first action was to look over the Carrs and sea.  I seem to remember that Kestrel was already on the list and we were to see at least five or six of them today.

The Carrs provided Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew.  There was no real sea passage of birds, but we did find Shag, Cormorants in breeding plumage, Red Throated Diver, Common Scoter, Goldeneye, Eider Duck, a pair of Red-breasted Mergansers and Guillemot.  The male merganser putting on a really good courtship display.  The female merganser was harassed by gulls.

We decided to walk along the road towards Cresswell Pond with the probable intention of later making a return along the beach.  The walk warmed us up a bit and the shower was minimal.  Birdlife was sparse, but we did have a sizable skein of Pink-footed Geese flying north.  A flock of Linnet was picked up over and on the field.

Tree Sparrow calling
The path to the hide provided good sightings of the Tree Sparrows along with House Sparrows, Goldfinch, Robin, Dunnock and the seemingly resident Song Thrush.  The pond itself was in the main taken up with large flocks of Wigeon and Teal, although Mallard, Gadwall, Tufted Duck and Little Grebes were amongst other species seen.  One or two Common Snipe were seen on the fringes of the reed-bed and when we moved to the north end of the pond two Common Snipe were flushed.  The best sighting we had at the pond was that of an Otter which showed distantly but well for approximately an hour as it dived and fed on Eels and what looked like a Flounder.  It was certainly feeding well.  We later watched it swim towards the reed-bed and eventually disappear.  It had always been too distant for photographs.  The sandbank held only Wigeon, Teal and the odd Lapwing.

Changing moods...the rainbow led us to some special sightings
We eventually made off towards Druridge Pools, hoping to find Twite on the way.  The large flock of birds we did find flying in the wind near Bell’s pond were Goldfinch and Chaffinch.  A smaller number of passerines were seen near to the cattle, but I wasn’t confident that they were Twite, so we have to admit failure on that score.  We found a flock of one hundred plus Pink-footed Geese in the fields to the west of the dunes.  One of the geese was alone in the adjoining field.  We weren’t able to scan the flock before they took off and flew south towards the Cresswell Pond.  It became apparent that the lone bird was injured in some way as whilst it attempted to take of with the flock it landed and remained alone.  Two Grey Partridges called and flew off from an area very close by and they had clearly been there all of the time that we had stood in the area.  More rain came down for a few minutes and eventually a deeply toned rainbow arched over the land and sea.  I wasn’t expecting a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow but commented to Sam that there might be some decent birds to be found.  As it happens there was!

Rain and shine over Druridge Pools
We made off towards Druridge Pools, looking out for Stonechats along the way.  The pools provided us with two male and a female Pintail, a species we had been disappointed not to see on Cresswell pond.  Shoveller and many more Wigeon and Teal were amongst waterfowl fond here.  A Common Buzzard flew over trees to the west.

We chatted to another birder who reminded us that there were some decent birds to be seen on North Pool at East Chevington.  Not having transport we had intended to return to Cresswell to be picked up.  The draw of the birds at East Chevington made us change our minds (fortunately) and we decided to carry on walking to East Chevington and change the pick up point.

As we began our walk a pair of Stonechats held us up as Sam was determined to try and photograph them.  That proved difficult!  We had at least found our first Stonechats of the year.  At times now the light was excellent before more could came over and changed the atmosphere completely.  A pair of Kestrels was watched as we joined the cycle path as were more Goldfinch and numbers of Reed Bunting.  A Marsh Harrier was picked up over the reed-beds.  Song from a Skylark helped us along our way.

No way was this Stonechat going to pose for a close up!
We kept up a good pace and were soon at East Chevington North Pool.  By now the grey clouds were looking rather threatening and I was pleased that a hide was available, despite the fact that it is such a horrendous metal box hide!  We preferred to stay outside in the main, although a sit down inside and a chat with a visitor from Kent was eventually welcomed.

There were certainly lots of Goldeneye on the pool, but the Black-throated Diver had departed and I also thought we were going to be unlucky with the grebes.  We did eventually pick up the two Slavonian Grebes and the Red-necked Grebe at the north end of the pool.  The latter was a lifer for Sam.  A Great Crested Grebe also eventually appeared from around the corner of the pool, thus giving us four grebe species today.  Long-tailed Ducks also remain on the pool.  Another Kestrel hovered over the north east corner of the pond. 

A sunlit North Pool 

We eventually decided it was best to make our way towards Red Row for our pick up, but not before taking some images of the now sunlit area.  The atmosphere was wonderful and I reflected upon the day and the species (sixty-nine bird species) we had seen which had included seven new species of bird for my year list not to mention the Otter sighting.  I was surprised that we had not seen a Grey Heron and it was on the tip of my tongue to mention this to Sam.  It seemed such an obvious point to make I just kept quiet.  Within three of four minutes we came across a Grey Heron in the fields as we walked along the pot holed road towards Red Row.  Incidentally that road never seems so long when you come by car, but having walked from Creswell Pond carrying all of our gear including the telescope, it began to seem very long indeed.  We took a break to photograph the silhouettes of Greylag Geese against the sunlit sky.

Greylag silhouette
It had been a very special day providing some really great birding, a great walk out and some interesting chat between ourselves (of course) and with some very nice folk along the way.  Top moments were the Otter sighting, the grebes (especially having sightings of four species) and the sighting of the Marsh Harrier.  We decided that it is a must to do this walk again in spring.  At times it felt like spring today, despite the cold wind.  We never did get to do the walk along the beach, but you can’t have everything.  My advice is ditch the car and walk, you’ll see far more.  Mind you it’s helpful when you have someone kind enough to drop you of and pick you up so I offer our thanks for that.  A top day all round.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Stood on a Mallard whilst next to a Bittern!

18th Feb.  Up with the larks and soon listening to bird song (a Song Thrush has been singing outside of my home in the dark of night this week), I departed Killingworth early this morning and along with Sam and my brother Peter we headed for Durham.  We reached Shildon just before 8.00am on what I guess you could call a twitch of sorts.  After all we were after looking at rarities.  Our morning was to be spent at The National Railway Museum at Shildon and I think that some might argue that there is little difference whether you are twitching birds or twitching trains!  I was trying to remember when the last time was that I was up and out so early on anything but a bird watch.

A Bittern, Union of South Africa and Sir Nigel Gresley begins the day
I’ve never been to The National Railway Museum at Shildon and as far as I remember I’ve never been to Shildon!  We went today to see the The Great Goodbye.  On 3rd July 1938, the A4 Class Pacific locomotive Mallard raced down Stoke Bank at 126mph to set a new steam locomotive world speed record. That record still stands.

Wheels on Fire...Mallard

In 2013  the 75th anniversary of Mallard's achievement, it is being marked with the Mallard 75 series of commemorative events of which the Great Goodbye is one, including spectacular opportunities to see the world's fastest locomotive united with its five surviving sister locomotives.  The other five Locomotives are Bittern, Union of South Africa, Dominion of Canada (originally named Woodcock), Sir Nigel Gresley and Dwight D, Eisenhower


Stood on a Mallard

Only six of the 35 A4 locomotives built survive in the world.  Dwight D Eisenhower and Dominion of Canada have been temporarily repatriated from their home museums in Canada and the US for the celebrations.

Now you may be wondering why this report is appearing on a wildlife blog.  Well there are strong connections to birds as you will see from the title.  Just in case anyone doubts me, I can assure you that I was stood on a Mallard today (every schoolboy’s dream at one time I’m sure) and I have images to prove it, and it was next to a Bittern.

Where else could Bittern Magnet Sam be other than next to a Bittern
The Sir Nigel Gresley was named after its designer.  Sir  Nigel Gresley (19 June 1876 – 5 April 1941) was one of Britain's most famous steam locomotive designers and responsible for the design of the class A4 Pacifics.  Sir Nigel’s interest in ornithology accounts for many of this class of locomotive being named after birds.  The names included Golden Eagle, Kingfisher, Falcon, Kestrel, Merlin, Sea Eagle, Woodcock, Osprey, Great Snipe, Golden Plover, Sparrowhawk, Bittern, Guillemot, Herring Gull, Wild Swan, Mallard, Pochard, Gadwall, Garganey, Gannet, Capercaillie, Seagull and Peregrine.

Sir Nigel Gresley...wheels on fire

 So today saw us taking a close look at the locomotives.  We were there early, as we weren’t just joining the masses.  Oh no, not us!  We were attending a special event for photographers before the doors were open to the crowds.  I can vouch for the fact that when the masses did join us there were crowds of them and when we left the car parks were ‘chocka’, with a tail back of traffic stretching for about two miles from the event.  Decent photography would have been impossible.  We went home happy having watched as some of the locomotives were put in to position and put into steam whilst only about twenty-five of us were present.  The smell of the steam took me back to my childhood when taken to far off places by my big brother, such  as Newcastle Central Station and Carlisle Station.  It was a real adventure at the time.  It was an excellent adventure today too and the weather was at its best, the bright sunshine at times making for atmospheric, but difficult lighting conditions.  When Peter had booked us onto the event we had been concerned about snow and ice making for a difficult journey.

More wheels on fire 

On the return home two Common Buzzards were sighted over the A69 following our stop for a cuppa and later in the day I saw a Nordic Jackdaw near to the roundabout at  the north end of Billy Mill Lane.  OK, I know there are varying views about what constitutes a Nordic Jackdaw, but it was good enough for me, a mere train spotter for the day!

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Caerlaverock...Come Rain, Come Shine.

15th Feb.  Sam and I left Washington WWT and headed for Caerlaverock WWT with a coach load of friendly and keen folk.  It wasn’t long before the heavy rain was hitting the coach and mist covered some areas of the hills.  Never mind it was forecast to clear in the west as the day went on.  Large flock of Starlings, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and Lapwings added a little interest as we travelled through Northumberland and Cumbria, but it wasn’t until we approached Caerlaverock that the real interest began and we saw large flocks of Oystercatcher, a few Curlews and flocks of Barnacle Geese as we approached the reserve.  The first of the days sightings of Roe Deer were made just before reaching the centre.  It was still raining heavily and conditions were wet and muddy.

We headed for the Tower hide where whilst watching out for the Green Winged Teal we found a number of Brown Hares in the area.  The Green Winged Teal was found amongst numbers of Wigeon and Teal.  Black-tailed Godwits were seen amongst waders in the distance and a flock of Dunlin flew past.

Whooper Swan showing unusual bill pattern.  Sam knows all about the varying bill patterns so you must ask him!
Whooper Swans were the next species of real interest although as with the Barnacle Geese, because of good wet and mild conditions over a wide area providing ideal feeding habitat, numbers were well down on the reserve from last year.  Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Mute Swans and other waterfowl were in this area and sizable flocks of Golden Plover and Lapwing flew overhead.  The rain had been streaming down the windows of the hide until we left when it seemed the weather was on the change.  We watched the flock of what were fifty plus Yellowhammer (I’m told that this time last year there was almost one hundred more of these birds at the same area), and the odd Reed Buntings and Dunnocks.  The Yellowhammers were drawing everyone’s attention and were quite a spectacle as they perched in numbers on the contrasting green and brown hedges or visited the pools on the ground.

Yellowhammers and a couple of Reed Buntings visit the mud and puddles.
Reed Bunting


As we walked down the flooded and muddy Robin pathway were not surprised to find confiding Robins which seemed to be in wait for feet to disturb possible food sources in the mud.  Anyway Sam now has some work to do sifting through the Robin images to find a suitable one for his 2015 calendar!

Robin waiting for a feed
The light was now becoming brighter and I was confident that we were going to see Caerlaverock in many of its moods.  It wasn’t too long until the sun shone and the surrounding hills were shown up well with some having a sprinkling of snow which looked frost like.  A Peregrine Falcon was perched out in the Solway some distance away.  It stretched its wings on one occasion, but was obviously well fed as it did little else.  A flock of Knot flew over the Solway in typical fashion.

Caerlaverock moods
As we walked down to the farthest hide we found Little Egret, Grey Heron and the occasional Curlews.  Our time spent in the actual hide was short as there was little to see bird-wise, but it does give a wonderful view across the area.  We left it having added only Shelduck to our growing list.

Grey Heron passes by
As we walked back we took more notice of the flocks of Barnacle Geese and also found more Roe Deer.

We took another look at the Whooper Swans and supporting acts before finishing off in the Folly Hide were waterfowl and waders, including large numbers of Redshank, were seen in numbers, as was a Little Egret again.  A Common Buzzard was perched in the tree in the distance.

Before we headed back to the coach we took a look at the books.  We even purchased one, although we desired many more, but decided that Amazon may be a better option!  The sun was shining brightly as I took off my waterproof trousers and changed my footwear before setting down for the trip back.  The return journey offered much better light.  We took our last look at the Barnacle Geese and noted that the Galloway hills to the north and Cumbrian fells to the south were showing well.  The higher fells were covered in snow.  More Roe Deer and more Common Buzzards were noted.

A man without whom conservation would have been a great deal poorer!
So it had been a day of changing weather and therefore changing moods.  We’d seen forty-six species of bird (six new ones for the year list), along with Brown Hare and Roe Deer.  This is a wonderful part of the UK (and I hope it remains so in more ways than one) which offers great habitat.  I hope that I can get back to the area soon.  Great day.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Hen Harriers Again

Tune in here  for a talk given by Blanaid Denman, Skydancer Engagement Officer.  The talk was given for Cafe Culture, Newcastle.  I understand that there was lots of discussion afterwards, but unfortunately that isn't included on the pod-cast.  Not easy to stand up and give a talk for thirty minutes without notes or props, so well done Blanaid.  Certainly a way to get the message across.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Purple Haze

Purple haze all in my brain
Lately things just don't seem the same
Actin' funny, but I don't know why
'Scuse me while I kiss the sky
Courtesy of Jimi Hendrix

9th Feb.  Sam and I were met by a high tide and a male Bullfinch as we set off from Brierdene today just as the light shower of rain ended.  We found our first of the year Lesser Black Backed Gull amongst a mixed flock of gulls along with a flock of sixty plus Turnstones and a sizable flock of Starlings.  There was little else apart from dogs and more dogs before we approached St Mary’s Island.

The rocks south of the island provided sightings of twelve plus Purple Sandpipers, but few other waders were present until the tide began to lower.  A Rock Pipit called as it flew over our heads.

As the tide receded we found any photography difficult because of the crowded area.  If only we could have people banned from this area!  We retreated to the wetland where we found only a single Robin feeding on piles of apples laid out on the feeders.  I felt sure that this Robin was going to be one of the best fed birds in the UK.  Teal were on the water along with Coots and Sam heard a Skylark.

By the time we returned to the shore there were far more waders to be seen including Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew, along with the Purple Sandpipers and Sam had a bit more of an opportunity for photography, although by now the cool wind was really getting up.  The sun did break through however, just as the forecast I had seen had suggested it would.

We walked to Seaton Sluice stopping in a semi-sheltered spot along the way for lunch during which we spotted the flocks of Golden Plover flying over the fields.  The sea provided little other than gulls, including Kittiwakes, Cormorants, Eider and Common Scoter.  Guillemot and Razorbill were seen later from Seaton Sluice.

More Purple Sandpipers (seven) were seen at Seaton Sluice (possible some of the same ones seen earlier which may have moved with the changing tide) and Knot was also added to the wader list here.  I’d forgotten to add Meadow Pipit seen at Druridge to my year list so the single bird seen today was also a new one for the list.

As we made for home the sea looked grey, but the area looked calm.  It hadn’t felt calm as we had stood in the wind and yes today my gloves were put on.  Just seen the forecast and it looks like some cold air and rain/snow is on the way.  Hopefully the worst will be over before next weekend’s outing!   A good purple day today.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Gosforth Park NR, Patch and the Day the Music Died!

 2nd Feb.  With limited time still throughout January I still managed to visit some very special habitat, including the Northumbrian coastal sites of Druridge Bay, Ross Bank Sands and in the uplands Geltsdale.  This brought some good sightings of species, although in my opinion, of equal importance to the species seen is the enjoyment of the habitat visited.  Today was World Wetlands Day so it was appropriate that we visit an area with some wetland and it was off to Gosforth Park Nature Reserve for Sam and me.  I have to admit that until Sam told me I hadn’t been aware of the significance of the day.  Despite the good weather we still had to plodge carefully through mud and water along the pathways.  I can’t say I remember too many dry paths in the reserve over the past couple of years and today water was at one point half way up my wellington boots.  Sadly some of our wetland sites in the UK have taking quite a bashing this winter.

Blue and Coal

 Sam had some new equipment to try out today (I’ll allow myself to be a little envious) so we spent a bit of time in the feeding station hide.  It was fairly quiet as was the rest of the reserve.  We did find the usual woodland birds here which eventually included the Great Spotted Woodpecker and a couple of Nuthatches, but rather unusually for this site no Treecreeper.  Jays were the only birds of any significance that we found on our walk around the reserve, although there were numbers of Redwing and Mistle Thrushes feeding in the fields some distance from the perimeter.  I was unable to definitely make out any Fieldfare.  The pond held about one hundred and forty Wigeon, a few Teal, Gadwall, Shoveller and Tufted Duck.  A Grey Heron flew in the area.  We saw no sign of the Bittern that had been found briefly flying over the reed-bed before our arrival at the pond.



We were winding down at the feeding station again when I received a call from AS informing me that he had been watching a female Scaup on Killingworth Lake.  We made back to patch soon afterwards and had a decent sighting of the Scaup (a patch tick for Sam), although by now it was dozing and the good light of earlier in the day had been lost.  A small number of Goosander remain on the lake, but most appear to have moved on.  Other birds seen included the pair of Little Grebe, Pochard, and Goldeneye.  The flock of Canada Geese have also returned to the area.  I’m thinking it may not be long until we see the return of the Great Crested Grebes.

All in all it had been another enjoyable day, allowing me to add a further four species to the year list.  I’d only felt cold whilst in the hide at the pond and find it surprising that I’ve rarely found the need for gloves so far this winter.

I’m looking forward to the talk on the history of Whaling and its association with the North East.  A presentation at the NHSN, Hancock, 7.00pm Friday 7th Feb.

3rd Feb.  Fifty-five years ago today that Buddy Holly died in a plane crash.  Also killed were Ritchie Valens, J P Richardson and the pilot Roger Peterson.  As Don Mclean said ‘the day the music died’.  The memory and the music live on…….
My introduction to Buddy Holly was as a youngster when my elder brother purchased an EP (extended player, for those too young to remember such archaic vinyl objects).  It was purchased at the Newcastle Quayside Sunday Market (how things have changed on the quayside since then).  It took until some years afterwards for me to appreciate the music, but as my brother owns every LP (long player) that was made by Buddy (many I think produced after his death) I gained a slow, but definite liking for it.  I was at the time more into the British groups dominating the charts, many of whom I came to learn were so influenced by Buddy Holly.  I used to laugh at my brothers taste in music!  It was Sam who reminded me of Buddy Holly’s death all those years ago.  I’m pleased to say that Sam himself has discovered the music of Buddy Holly and I understand his younger brother has a laugh about it.  Such is the lasting quality of the music I reckon the laughs will turn into appreciation too in the future. 

Well, that'll be the day, when you say goodbye
Yes, that'll be the day, when you make me cry
You say you're gonna leave, you know it's a lie
'Cause that'll be the day when I die

Well, you give me all your lovin' and your turtle dovin'
All your hugs and kisses and your money too
Well, you know you love me baby
Until you tell me, maybe
That some day, well I'll be through

Well, that'll be the day, when you say goodbye
Yes, that'll be the day, when you make me cry
You say you're gonna leave, you know it's a lie
'Cause that'll be the day when I die

Courtesy of Buddy Holly.