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Preview: Killy Birder

Killy Birder

With a patch and a passion for nature.

Updated: 2017-11-15T14:36:17.149-08:00


Naturalist Notes of Northumberland in November


3rd Nov.  We attended the NHSN talk on Slugs and Snails this evening.  My verdict is, yes you can make a talk on slugs and snails interesting and fun and I think the rest of the audience, which was approaching one hundred, would generally agree the talk was excellent.  I have the book lined up for winter reading.  It’s the New Naturalist Slugs and Snails by Robert Cameron.5th Nov.  Sam and I headed north to Drudge, on what was a very cold, bright autumnal morning, where the highlight on East Chevington North Pool was a Slavonian Grebe.  We walked from the Country Park down to the mouth of the burn at East Chevington, which if nothing else warmed us up.  We spoke to several birders/photographers here including AJ, who had arrived for the showing of the Twite and Shore Lark.  There were now two Shore Lark showing very well in the sun along with a flock of Twite at times showing equally well, the flock numbering around eighty birds.  After returning to the Country Park, instead of heading for Druridge Pools and Cresswell Pond we decided to travel to Mitford with the hope of finding the Hawfinch.  No Hawfinch seen on this attempt, but it was worth going for the autumnal colours.  We also took time to look around the church grounds as Sam has family links to Mitford.  I too have links which are more tenuous and fleeting in the great shape of things.  We made off to Big Waters.TwiteAutumnal ColourThere was no sign of the pair of Red Crested Pochard at Big Waters, but we did see a family of Whooper Swans and were given directions by MF to the field where the Red-breasted Goose was.  I know this bird won’t be listed but I’m guessing it to be as wild as the Red-breasted Goose a few folks made their way over the border to see while ago. :-) Does this bird have a ring on its leg or not?  I’ve read conflicting thoughts.  We did think we could see a yellow ring, but could it have been a trick of the light?  From Big Waters we made for Prestwick Carr.I’m sure someone has stretched the long straight road at Prestwick Carr, or maybe I was just tired!  It was Late afternoon by now and very quiet, although we chatted to two or three birders out to find the Great Grey Shrike.  During our walk we saw both Redpoll and Bullfinch and heard Willow Tit.  Before we reached the turning for the sentry box we looked northward and with my naked eye I picked up a white smudge in the distance. A view through the binoculars suggested Great Grey Shrike and this was confirmed once we got the scope onto it.  Sam and I decided to continue towards the sentry box in the hope of getting a better sighting.  We did get a very good sighting as the shrike perched for a long time in the bush.  The light was fading to an extent, but seemed to offer perfect conditions for watching the shrike.   I guess this is the same bird we watched in January and in previous years. Record Breaker.  Tallest Goat.So, a good day with some good sightings.  We made off as the light dimmed even more and the temperatures seemed to drop considerably.  The red flags were flying, so if the sentry was in his/her box I hope he/she had a flask of tea with him/her. We reached the car and were glad to get into it out of the way of the smell of the usual leaking gas which was especially bad today.  I figured that we had walked quite a few miles today, so the availability of a car hasn’t made us lazy.  I thought of Prestwick Carr at a time when the likes of Thomas Bewick and later Henry Baker Tristram would visit, when the area was far greater and undrained.  I did do a bit of reading about this area prior to leading a walk there a few years ago so know that it has an impressive bird list.9th Nov.  We made north again today, this time in the direction of Lindisfarne.  Again, it was a bright but cold day.  Before reaching Lindisfarne we stopped off at Budle Bay where the highlights were 3 Little Egret, Grey Plover,sever[...]

Ten Thousand Geese...Part Three.


One mighty flat undwarfed by bush and treeSpread its faint shadow of immensityAnd lost itself, which seemed to eke its boundsIn the blue mist the horizon’s edge surrounds.John Clare 173-1864Barnacle Geese at Caerlaverock26th Oct.  This was to be my final full day north of the border, so we were hoping to make the most of it.  I have visited Caerlaverock WWT on many occasions, but surprisingly I’ve never visited Caerlaverock Castle or Caerlaverock NNR.  We intended to put that right today and on our drive to the castle via Dumfries and along by the attractive River Nith as it made it’s a straight course to the Solway, our chat included mention of Edward 1st, the Maxwell family, and the Scottish Covenanters, all having strong connections to Caerlaverock Castle.  For years I’d imagined Caerlaverock Castle to be a small pile of stones, instead of this I found a magnificent ruin, much of the building still standing.  After a very interesting wander around we took the nature trail to the ‘old’ castle foundations.  This older castle was abandoned because of flooding, it once stood close to the shore of the Solway which is now 800 metres away.  Our walk provided a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch.Caerlaverock CastleBarnacle Geese at CaerlaverockBy now there was more sunlight and we made our way to the WWT where after a cup of tea we walked down towards the hide expecting to see a Great White Egret.  Sadly, it had not shown up this morning.  I was happy to make do with the Peregrine Falcon, perched out on the merse, preening at times and looking well fed.  Size told us immediately that it was a female.  A walk back to the centre brought a Red Admiral Butterflysighting and afterwards we listened to the talk as we watched the feeding of the Whooper Swans et al.  Our first Gadwall of the trip was seen.  Pink-footed Geese were seen in flight as were the very flighty Barnacle Geese, initially disturbed by a flyover Common Buzzard.  Canada and Greylag Geese were also seen today.  Flocks of Black-tailed Godwitand Lapwing were also in flight on several occasions.  The Barnacle Geese continued to provide entertainment as they kept lifting, and at one point as we walked to the furthest hide they were right overhead and the sound was amazing, almost like machinery working above such was the din.  We never actually bothered with the furthest hide, but having seen more Black-tailed Godwit , Redshank, Curlew and a Grey Heron catching and attempting to swallow an Eel, and Roe Deer in the distance, we decided to return and climb the Tower Hide.  The usual waterfowl were in the pool below us, predominately Wigeon, as we looked over towards Caresthorn where we had watched the tower from a couple of days before.   We walked to the field where the Barnacle Geese were likely to be in number.  We weren’t disappointed, and more geese flew in whilst we watched on!  Leaving this spot wasn’t easy but we fancied another cup of tea before the centre closed.  No, no, it wasn’t an RSPB Group trip, we just felt really thirsty.  By now the sky was clear and the sun lit the whole area.  I felt a little sorry for the staff in the kitchen who only felt the heat of the ovens, but I suppose there are worse places to work.  Sam purchased a Peter Scott book.  At some point today, not for the first time we had seen numbers of Skylark.  There seemed to be quite a movement of these birds.  Meadow Pipit had also been seen although overall smaller passerines were low in number at the reserve duplicating the position at RSPB Mersehead.  I’m guessing that many more will be seen as winter approaches.Whooper SwanBarnacle Geese at CaerlaverockIt was now time to visit the National Nature Reserve which is just down the road.  We walked down the path which leads through a farm-yard.  The barking dogs were locked up.  It wasn’t long before we were [...]

Ten Thousand Geese...Part Two.


Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,the world offers itself to your imagination,calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —From Wild Geese by Mary OliverOtter Pool at Wood of Cree             25th Oct.  Overnight rain had ceased before dawn and we left early under clearing skies for the long drive to Glen Trool which was to be a stop off prior to a visit to the North Rhinns and Loch Ryan.  I day dreamed of the adventures of Robert the Bruce as we arrived at the road into the glen, only to find the road closed, we surmised because of fallen trees caused by the recent storms.  Undaunted we decided to take the narrow road past nearby Wood of Cree.  Whilst we didn’t walk into the woods we did stop and visit Otter Pool.  There were no Otters, nor was there any other sign of life on the reflective still waters of the pool, but it did offer a rather pleasant autumnal scenic image.  Our visit wasn’t without reward in the form of birds however, as we added Raven, Jay, Nuthatch and Treecreeperto our trip list.  The Raven was heard before being seen very well as it flew past us with the woods as a background and then perching for a time before flying off into the distance.  Sparrowhawk was also seen.  The sun was now breaking through and the air was still, but cold.  The air was anything but still when we arrived at the edge of Loch Ryan as the wind blew off the loch and I was unable to warm up until we found some shelter in one off several stops we made to view the loch between Innermessen and Stranraer.Brent Geese, Loch RyanThe species that really caught the eye were the Brent Geese, first seen only at some distance and the wind wasn’t helping keep the telescope steady.  When we later moved towards Stranraer we came very close to these Brent Geese and could hear their calls very clearly.  This is perhaps as close as I have been to Brent Geese.  We initially counted about ninety birds, but more flew in as we watched and there were still some more distant birds, so well over one hundred.  The closest birds were on the water in front of us and quite close to the road and pathway, so they are clearly used to disturbance, although they were on their guard and ready to move should anyone try to get too close.  We found flocks of Scaup and the likes of, Whooper Swan, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Great Crested Grebe, Shelduck, Wigeon, Tea, Eider, Red-breasted Merganser, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Turnstone,Redshank and Curlew.  We eventually left for the northern tip of the Rhinns and Corsewell Lighthouse, thinking that we had even stronger winds to look forward to at this good sea-watching point.  The remains of Corsewell Castle, a 15thCentury Tower House and in ruins for 400 years, were to the left of us as we approached the point.Brent Geese, Loch Ryan.My initial thoughts were that the northern Rhinns were not as attractive as the southern area that we had visited in early summer, but I had reason to change my mind especially on arriving at Corsewell Lighthouse, which incidentally holds an hotel.  It helped that on arrival we found that the strong wind had lessened to a refreshing breeze and it was, thankfully, much warmer now.  The Mull of Galloway is quite an experience, but Corsewell has an appeal of its own.  It’s not an easy spot to get too and I’m happy to say we had the area to ourselves throughout our time here.  The view is excellent, and we took in Northern Ireland, Kintyre and it’s Mull, Arran, Ailsa Craig and the coast-line of Ayrshire which at times was well lit by sunlight.  A few of these areas brought back happy memories of previous trips to both Sam and me.  There was no lack of sea birds with a steady passage Including Black Guillemot, Guillemot, Razorbill, Kittiwake and other gulls, Gannet, close-up Red-throated Diver in some number and Rock Pipit was seen passing by.  We also watched the [...]

Ten Thousand Geese...Part One.


He hears the wild geese gabble oer his headAnd pleasd wi fancys in his musings bredHe marks the figurd forms in which they flyeAnd pausing follows wi a wandering eyeLikening their curious march in curves or rowsTo every letter which his memory knows John Clare 1793-186423rd Oct.  Having crossed the border and reached the Scottish Solway coast by early evening, Sam and I decided that a stop was in order to take a look for bird life.  Our focus over the next few days in Dumfries and Galloway was to be birds and other wildlife, with a little culture and history thrown in.  As we approached the shore of the Solway we found large numbers of Redwing lifting from the soaked and berry laden hedges.  The sky and waters of the Solway were still leaden grey, but the heavy rain had stopped and as the Redwings took a break from their feast, in the fields close by us, they showed every marking very clearly in what was a post storm vivid light.  We managed to catch sight of several other species either on the water or in the near vicinity of it and these included Grey Heron, Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Goosander, Red breasted Merganser, Kestrel, Common Buzzard, Oystercatcher, Lapwing and Curlew. This was enough to whet the appetite before making off for our destination and a very good dinner at one of the local pubs.  We went to sleep to the sound of heavy rain fall.24th Oct.  We awoke to the sound of heavy rain fall, but happily it was forecast to cease later in the morning.  The rain had eased slightly as we set off and stopped by the time we had reached Caresthorn, on the Solway estuary.  I noticed the Solway waters had  formed a very dark grey line along the horizon, although closer by lighter shades of grey reflected the fact that the cloud did give hints of breaking up, but at this point in time no blue sky was visible.  We soon brightened up with an excellent sighting of Slavonian Grebe and the calls from a number of skeins of Pink-footed Geese which flew overhead.  Great Crested Grebe was also seen.  The hedge between us and the village was attracting larger numbers of Greenfinch than I have seen for a long time.  At this point another birder approached us, he having just found a Redstart which we never did see.  This guy was significant, as he was the only birder we bumped into during our few days of birding, except for those we encountered in reserves.  As Sam said, this whole area is very under watched and reported.  Everywhere I looked across the estuary there was large numbers of Oystercatchers.Sign at CaresthornBy now we were confident enough to set off on a walk along the shore, which was a new area for me,  without taking waterproof trousers.  The tide being low, we were treated to some good sightings including Little Egret, Grey Heron, Mute Swan, many Shelduck, Mallard, Shoveler, Pintail, Wigeon, Teal and Red breasted Merganser.  Waders were soon heard and seen and as well as the many Oystercatchers we located Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew, the latter birds call being heard.  There was no shortage of other passerines, Linnets being one.  There had been many more Redwings.  Having taken in the sights and sounds during what had been a rewarding visit, we made off towards Southerness, just a little further along the Solway.  I especially wanted to photograph the lighthouse which stands on the shore there.We were soon standing looking out over the Solway again and standing next to what is the second oldest lighthouse in Scotland, modernised at some point by the famous Stevenson’s.  I carefully took up positions on the slippery rocky shore too get the images I wanted.  I felt, on what was still a grey storm threatening morning, that this spot with its unusually designed lighthouse, gave off a rather sombre Dickensian atmosphere and David Copperfield would not have looked out of [...]

Birds Brighten Dull Druridge Day


19th Oct.  We left Killingworth behind under grey skies and an invasion of Redwings and we were soon under even greyer skies at Druridge and this time the sky above us was full of Redwings coming in from the North Sea in great numbers.  Flock after flock was seen and heard as we spent time at the north end of East Chevingtons North Pool.  The sky did on occasions lighten but the sun never ever really made it through.Sam and I initially made for the hide at Druridge Country Park that overlooks North Pool.  I remember not too long ago that the feeding station here attracted good numbers of species.  It has perhaps met its demise as I saw nothing there today although on the walk to get there we did have good sightings of Bullfinch and Goldcrest and a good chat to a couple about Dumfries and Galloway, and dogs.  I think areas can be over managed at times, but this can’t be said of the area around the hide and the view over the pool is not good because of growth in front of it.  I’m pleased to say it didn’t spoil our sightings, especially of the Marsh Harrier and Great White Egret.  Water Rail was heard from here as was Kingfisher and I had an extremely brief sighting of the latter bird as it flew along the line where the reeds meet the pool.  Most of waterfowl was in the centre of the pool.  We walked down to the hide between the dunes and pool which offered a rather better view.  Birds included Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Shoveler in numbers, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck.  A second Marsh Harrier was seen to the north of us and it dropped into the reed-bed and out of the way of the chasing corvids.  It didn’t lift again whilst we were there, ending hopes of a good close up photograph.Mist over the sea meant it wasn’t a day for sea-watching but we did find large numbers of Common Scoter and a couple of Gannet.  If there was anything unusual among the Common Scoter we didn’t find it.  Stonechats were seen in the dunes.We later walked to the mouth of the burn and were told we told what species we had just missed!  Never mind we did have a good close sighting of two Twite.  Ringed Plover were gathering in numbers close to the tide line and other waders seen here were Oystercatcher, Knot, Sanderling, Turnstone and Redshank.We next took a break at the café south of Cresswell Pond.  I can recommend the omelettes.  As usual the place was packed.Druridge Pools were next.  I’d been reading JFs blog and seen that there had been some really good sightings here lately.  Well, it was the quietest I’ve seen the place for a long time so it seemed everything had moved on!  We did have the likes of Common Snipe, Black Tailed Godwit and Ruff.  When we decided to move to the other hides we were stopped by a motorist to be told that a Bee-Eater had just a few minutes before flown south over the pools.  We must have just missed it!  To compensate for our ill luck, we bumped into some old friends that we hadn’t seen for some time and had a good chat.  They were on the lookout for the Bee-Eater too.  Having visited the other hides and decided to move on Sam picked up the call of a Bee-Eater and we found that it was almost above our heads.  We had quite a good sighting of it.  It was a Northumberland first for both Sam and me.  Would I have swopped this sighting for repeating the experiences of sightings we have had in Europe whilst standing under blue skies and a hot sun………. well, in short yes, but there is nothing like a new bird in your county I told myself.  We joined a number of other birders waiting for a further sighting of the Bee-Eater, but it wasn’t to be whilst we were there, but we did hear its call as it flew in the area of the pools.  Definitely bird of the day.We set off for Cresswell Pond and found Little Egret in the area.  As we appro[...]

Lazy Sunday Afternoons


Lazy Sunday afternoonI've got no mind to worryClose my eyes and drift a-Close my mind and drift awayClose my eyes and drift awaySmall Faces17thSept.  I no longer get involved with leading walks now unless I’m asked as I’ve found that this way there’s almost a guarantee that at least you have interested folk along.  Today I was out walking with wallers, yes that right, members of the Drystone Wallers Association.  They had been keen to see parts of the Druridge Bay area and so we visited Hauxley to see the new centre there, East Chevington where we missed the Marsh Harriers by seconds and Cresswell Pond.  It was a perfect day for walking although we didn’t in fact walk that far and it was useful to have cafes at the start and finish.  It began to rain as we ended the walk so that ensured that the café near to Cresswell Pond was doing a roaring trade.I think folk were quite impressed by the NWT centre at Hauxley and it was certainly busy today with various things organised.  I didn’t see too much in the way of birds from the centre although what we did see included a few Gadwall, Wigeon and Teal and wader flocks of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Dunlin and Curlew and one Black tailed Godwit which I could have sworn was a Greenshank until the volunteer got her scope onto it (it was a long way off and I didn’t have my scope.  There was of course a large number of Tree Sparrows at the feeding station, lots of Coal Tits and some large Brown Rats for those who wanted some mammal interest.  As I mentioned we just missed the Marsh Harriers at East Chevington and they didn’t show again whilst we were there, but there was enough birds to keep us interested and I think everyone enjoyed a walk along to the mouth of the burn where there was a large flock of Goldfinch feeding.  I couldn’t make any other species out within the flock.Red Admiral ButterflyBird of the day appeared at Cresswell Pond in the shape of Little Stint which was within a flock of about thirty Dunlin.  Other sightings here included Kestrel (one of three seen today), Great Crested Grebe and 3 Little Egrets.  Common Buzzard had been seen on our journey north.  As interesting as the birds was the fact that I found out that Ray one of the participants had been responsible for re-building a large section of the drystone wall that leads from the car parking area up to the entrance to the pond, as well as having re-built other sections of wall in the area.  Those who know the area will realise that the wall I mention is much lower than the road.  I’d never given any thought to the fact that of course the road has been heightened over time and was once much lower.  It had been a nice way to pass a few hours with interesting and interested people who I shall meet again in October as Sam and I are presenting our Great Crested Grebe talk to the group.  This will be I think the fifth time we have presented this particular talk.Peacock Butterfly23rdSept.  As I’ve said before, 2017 has been a lousy year for Butterflies in my opinion.  The only time I have seen any number of them was when I visited Sweden.  I’ve spoken to folk in other areas who confirm that it is not just my own judgement about it being a poor year.  I was pleased to day to note five of six Red Admirals in the garden and more in the hedge that runs along the back.  Also present were two Speckled Wood and a Peacock Butterfly.  Speckled Wood Butterfly are now the most regular butterfly seen in my garden.  More surprising this past week has been visits by at least three, possibly more, Small or Large Skipper Butterflies.  They were very active and would never settle so I was uncertain which species it was although if I had to put cash on it I’d go for the small species.  My books tell me that this species ought not to be around after early [...]

Postcard From Sweden. Part Three...Heading South.


  Day six was to see us heading back south, and although a long drive it wasn’t without some very interesting stops along the way.  Early in the day we had good sightings of more Velvet and Common Scoter along with Blackand Red Throated Diver.  I remember that these diver sightings had been particularly atmospheric.  We also visited Rogen Nature Reserve where Siberian Tits have been recorded, but not by us on this occasion although birds seen did include Yellow Wagtail.  Female Capercaillie was also seen again.We were to have lunch at a mountainous reserve at Nipfjallet and happily we were able to drive to the top of the mountain.  There was talk of magic roads and trolls, but our minds were set on birds and the walk across the high tundra where to the south stood the conical shaped mountain, Stadjan.  This massive wilderness nature reserve straddles the Swedish/Norwegian border.  Higher ground still held snow although much of it had recently melted.  Having split up and walked the tundra a pair of nesting Dotterelwere found along with Golden Plover.  Eventually a pair of Rock Ptarmigan were also found and these provided good photo opportunities.Rock PtarmiganWell it had to rain sometime and day seven was the time it did, but there were still birds to be found and the rain wasn’t going to stop us.  Our first stop brought us a Corncrake calling from just below us, Sam was the only one to catch a glimpse of it in the tall grasses below the viewing platform, only feet away from us.  We saw our first Mute Swan of the trip and I remember Greenshank and Hen Harrier being seen again today.  We stopped off in Tallberg village for what I understand was a ‘traditional waffle’.  I thought this was a nice gesture until I found I had to pay for it!  Too sweet for my taste.  We watched Eagle Owls at a local mine, two juveniles and an adult bird.  Black Redstart was also seen here.  I believe this now large hole in the ground is Falun Copper Mine, opened one thousand years ago and closed in 1992.  Considering the size of the area, The Eagle Owls were in our sights quite quickly.By lunch-time the rain began to ease and we were on the lookout for Ortolan Bunting on the edge of an airfield.  It wasn’t long before we heard the singing of the Ortolan Bunting and we were able to get close-up sightings of this species as it sang in the tree over our heads.  Not a species easily found these days so it was good to get it on the trip list.  It was a productive stop as we also had three Red Back Shrikeand Whinchat close by us and Hobby and Merlin too.Sam with Mount Stadjan in background.Watching DotterelBy evening the rain had stopped altogether and after dinner we met up with local guide Zombor, who I seem to remember was Hungarian by birth.  It proved to be a productive and fun evening.  First of all we had a pair of Montagu’s Harrier.  The male bird showing briefly and the female giving a much longer sighting as it perched on a post in the field.  Seemingly this species is doing quite well in Sweden.  A more distant White-tailed Eagle was seen on top of the distant treeline.   Roe Deer were seen and brought a very good joke from Zombor which I’m afraid I feel unable to repeat on my family friendly blog.  Another mammal was added to the trip list in the form of Hedgehog.  This Hedgehogwas on someone’s land and outside of their house but that didn’t stop one of our intrepid group seeking a close-up photograph, nor another member of the group joining in, who on returning to the vehicle seemed put out by the fact that the lady of the house had come out and seemed unimpressed by it all.  I can only assume that[...]

Postcard from Sweden. Part Two...Uplands.


Day three in Sweden was to see us taking quite a long drive further north onto higher ground and the southern part of Lapland.  I must say that I am never too sure where Lapland begins, as different maps I have looked at suggest different borders.  The area we were to enter was spectacular but to me it did not have the feel of the Lapland we had explored in Finland and Norway in 2016, but the area was no poorer for that.  Although a long drive, we had several stops and an interesting visit to Fulufjallet National Park and an unexpected guided tour by a local gentleman of the old Church at Sarna built in 1684.  I must check to see if Linnaeus visited this church on his Lapland tour.  I have a book by Wilfred Blunt (brother of spy Anthony Blunt) concerning the life of Linnaeus which was certainly worth reading, but I can’t recall if this church was mentioned.  Interestingly it did suggest that Linnaeus made exaggerated claims about part of the area of Lapland that he said that he had covered.  The book suggests that it had been impossible in the time limits.  Anyway, whilst my focus was of course on birds and wildlife I do think attention needs to be given to other aspects of areas visited, as that is what travel is all about.Early on our trip north we had nice sightings of Black Throated and Red Throated Divers, Red Breasted Mergansers and Velvet Scoters.  Waders seen during the day included Lapwing, Common Snipe, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper and Common Sandpiperand we had a very good sighting of Dipperon one of the rivers.NjupeskarOur stop at Fulufjallet National Park used up a few hours and I do remember that it had a very interesting visitor centre showing individual species within their habitat.  This was very nicely set out.  The information leaflet on the birds was not quite so well done and had a picture of a Dipper which looked more like a Razorbill.  Oh well I’ve seen worse in some bird guide books.  The national park includes the tallest waterfall in Sweden, Njupeskar.  We walked a couple of Kilometres through an area of bog and Scots Pine and Spruce Taiga Forest to a good viewing point where we had a distant sighting of Gyr Falcon on the nest.  Some walked to higher snow-covered ground and had a much better view of the Gyr Falcon and found Ring Ouzel.  I didn’t climb higher, but eventually walked back down towards the visitor centre and found a Siberian Jay and listened to bubbling Black Grouse.  I was later told that Black Grouse are now rare in this area.  Brambling was also found.Whooper SwanLater on, the journey we stopped for a good sighting of female Capercaillie and at some point, watched Willow Grouse.  We eventually arrived at our hotel at Funasdalen where we were to spend the next three nights and which was as far north as we were going.  The room was very cold as was the air outside, but after a very nice dinner the heating had gone on and things warmed up no end.  I really enjoyed the stay here and there was a real homely welcome to the place.  We weren’t done yet and after dinner we left to view a Great Snipe Lek or at least that was the intention.  Unfortunately the weather had closed in, it was now damp, cold and windy on the high ground.  I confess I wasn’t unhappy that things were called off and we returned to the hotel and called it a day.  The Great Snipe weren’t going anywhere. Day four had arrived and we were to head off for a walk on the high tundra plateau of Flatruet.  Our outward journey was to prove rewarding with Sam finding us from the van a stunningly marked Icterine Warbler.  A pair of Whooper Swan was also found with snow and ice in the background and a bright sun overhead.  Even more exciting was the finding of a Golden Eagle e[...]

Postcard from Sweden. Part One...Not Just Owls.


Having been to Finland and Norway in 2016, Sweden was soon to appear on the growing list of places to visit. What follows is the first instalment of highlights of the trip which took place at the end of May 2017.Our journey began with a car journey to Edinburgh, a flight to Stanstead, an excellent dinner followed by a warm summer evening birding in Essex (I can recommend the woods near the Stanstead hotels if you’re willing to initially tackle the unpaved roads to get there), followed by an overnight stopover and then our flight to Vasteras, Sweden where the birding began in earnest.  We were led by Tom Mabbet and Swede, Daniel Green.  We were soon into the Svartadalen/Black River Valley area north of Vasteras and Stockholm.  White Wagtail was my first sighting of the trip and as we drove away from the airport we were soon counting NordicJackdaws, Fieldfare and Redwing on the grass verges.  The wide open fields were a very different habitat than our UK enclosed and over populated system.  We made a stop for a cup of tea and watched a feeding station.  Woodland/garden birds seen included Great Spotted Woodpecker and Tree Sparrowbut our attention was taken mainly with three Hawfinches which at times showed well together.   It wasn’t long before the call of Wryneck was heard and we eventually had a good sighting of it.  I was already beginning to think that this was to be a good trip.After settling in and having dinner we were soon off to the forest on the lookout for Great Grey Owl which we saw quite quickly, but only briefly and at distance as it flew over the forest glade. We had a walk in this area hoping for a closer sighting but it never came although we did have three Woodcock and a Green Sandpiper fly over, and a singing Garden Warbler, Cuckoo calling, Pied Flycatchers and Tree Pipits.  A family of Wild Boar were seen in the distance and the adults were certainly the largest Wild Boar that I have ever seen, not that I have seen that many.  We moved on to a lesser known site for Great Grey Owl and immediately on arrival we spotted one hunting over the glade only a few metres from us.  The next forty-five minutes were taken up watching and photographing this bird.   It’s surprising how this species tolerates humans so easily.  After last year’s sighting of a Great Grey Owlon the nest, it was my hope we would find at least one of this species in flight but I hadn’t expected one on our first evening.  I do have to say though, whilst an excellent sighting it didn’t quite match the magic of the bird on the nest in the Finnish Forest which had involved a rather difficult but atmospheric walk last year.   As the light began to fade we left for our hotel and a sound sleep ready for an early start the following morning.Great Grey OwlGreat Grey OwlOur second day in Sweden and again in the area of the Black River Valley was to again focus on owls, but not just owls.  I believe the intention today was to initially look for Pygmy Owl but we were rather diverted when Daniel saw movement in a dead tree.  It turned out that it held three young Ural Owls.  On occasions all three could be seen from various parts of the dead tree stump.  If there was a fourth bird we didn’t see it.  The adult bird watched us from a more distant tree.  Ural Owls are of course notorious for being protective of their young and we didn’t get to close to this nesting site and later today we will see why that was a wise decision!  A Red Backed Shrike was also seen in the area.Ural OwlUral Owl Chicks.  Two can be seen here, the second only just.We eventually did get around to finding our Pygmy Owl and what a sighting that was.  We had a sighting of this bird in flight, calling and perched.  [...]

A Coastal Trip


16thAug.  Sam and I headed north today and our first stop wasn’t for birds, but for books.  We called into Barter Books at Alnwick, not only a bookshop but a bit of history.  Northumberland is blessed to have a bookshop such as this.  The only other one I know that comes close is Michael Moon’s Antiquarian Bookshop in Cumbria.  Anyway, Barter Books was heaving with folk today and it was difficult to move without bumping into someone.  We headed initially for the Natural History section, or I should say sections.  There were numbers of New Naturalist and Poyser additions we were keen on but just like our local football club we shopped in the bargain basement today and I purchased a nice copy of Derek Ratcliffe’s Bird Life of Mountain and Upland before we moved onto Budle Bay.One I took earlier as they would say on Blue Peter.The tide was high and just on the turn when we arrived at the bay and all I could pick out that were in anyway close to us were flocks of Redshankof which there were many.  It was a bright sunny morning, bit of a rarity in its self this summer, although there was still that hint of a cold wind.   We stuck around for over an hour and watched the tide quickly ebb.  It wasn’t long before we were able to count at least six Little Egrets feeding and found a couple of Knot and Curlews.  Eider and Shelduck began to appear and we got talking to a guy visiting the area from Somerset and the conversation of course turned to birds and good birding sites in our respective home areas.  As we were talking a flock of birds feeding at the waterline was disturbed and we quickly saw why, as a Peregrine Falcon was flying over a remaining Redshank.  The Peregrinemade several dives at the Redshankin an attempt to make it lift, but to no avail.  I had no sooner said, ‘the Redshank should be fine if it stays put in the water’ when the Peregrineswooped down again and lifted the Redshankand flew off with it alive and possibly kicking.  The Peregrineseemed to be heading inland but then turned, perhaps put off by us watchers, and flew out into the bay.  Several birds nearby had just kept on feeding throughout.  White species of Butterfly were numerous and we picked up Wall Brown Butterflies too.We eventually made off south along the coast and stopped at Monk’s House Pool.  There were good numbers of Lapwing here but little else although we saw four waders lift which were probably Dunlin.  I did recently get hold of a signed copy of The House on the Shore by Eric Ennion, again purchased from Barter Books.  It appears to have been signed at Monk’s House in 1960 and owned by a gentleman who lived in Seahouses.  I found it very much a book of its time, the 1950s, and I enjoyed reading about Monk’s House Observatory, although I must say whilst I recognise the high quality of E Es artwork I didn’t rate the written text too highly, but that is just my opinion.Seahouses was heaving with tourists as were the fish and chip cafes so we had our lunch at a pub in Newton.  It advertises itself as a ‘Gastro’ pub and so we had Gastro Burgers before visiting Warkworth Castle.  I’ve not been to the castle for many a year.  It was a bit difficult to imagine Robert The Bruce involved in his siege of the castle or Edward 1 paying an overnight visit, as today the castle grounds were more like a theme park or adventure playground.  We decided to visit again when things are quieter.  As Sam said on occasions throughout the day, ‘who is it that says Northumberland is quiet?’  Never mind it’ll soon be winter.Later, we paid our first visit to the NWT Hauxley Wildlife Discovery Centre.  The car-park here was almost full and the centre quite[...]

Dumfries and Galloway Adventures. Part Two


I’m presently reading Galloway and the Borders by Derek Ratcliffe, and number 101 of Collin’s New Naturalist Series.  It’s relevant to this trip of course and it ought to be remembered that without the likes of DR we may not have been in a position to watch Peregrine Falcons at Threave, or anywhere else in the UK for that matter.  It was DRs work in the 1960s that led to the findings of the link between pesticides and eggshell thinning in raptors.  This problem had led to a rapid decline in many raptor species.  DR was brought up in Carlisle and as a young man ventured over the border into Dumfriesshire and Galloway where he took a keen interest especially in the Peregrine Falcons and Ravens of the uplands.  Years later monographs for Poyser followed, concerning the Peregrine Falcon and Raven.  DR lived to see many changes in the area, not all for the better, afforestation being one concern.  The present plans by the Forestry Commission to extend the planting of none native trees in the area by a substantial amount would not have gone down well with DR.  Derek died in Newcastle upon Tyne in 2005 just after completing his book Galloway and the Borders.  I believe at the time he had been on his way to Lapland, an area he loved, and I would recommend his book Lapland (Poyser) to anyone interested in that area.  Thanks Derek Ratcliffe.18thJuly.  We set off this morning for Castramon Woods, one of the largest semi natural broad leaved woodlands in the area.  The oak trees were once used for charcoal and bobbins.  As my journey had been delayed by several weeks we were aware that our target species would not be easily found and so it proved.  Sam did catch sight very briefly of a Wood Warbler, but we were unable to find Pied Flycatcher, Redstart or Tree Pipit.  Some Woodland species were seen and included Nuthatch, Treecreeper, Goldcrest and Great Spotted Woodpecker.  In any event the walk through the woods was a delight with the sunlight giving backlighting to the leaves and having a stunning effect in places.  It was midmorning and already very hot.  It would be difficult to be greatly disappointed in such wonderful surrounds, but what little disappointment we did feel was very quickly dissipated at our next stop.We stopped at a Bridge over the River Fleet in expectation that we might find Dipper.  We never did find that species, but we did find Golden Ringed Dragonflies, long on my wish for list of species to see.  Once picked out from the bridge we managed to find a path down to the river bank and we settled here to watch.  It wasn’t easy to judge how many Golden Ringed Dragonflies there were but we reckoned at least three or four, which included both male and female.  This was to be nature watching at its best as we watched males patrolling, perching, courtship, male and female in tandem and flying high and possibly into the trees to continue mating and females ovipositing.  Whilst not the largest Dragonfly species in the UK, it is the longest and perhaps the most beautiful.  Unfortunately perching always took place on the other side of theriver so photographs weren’t possible, but this was all about watching anyway and there was also a pair of Grey Wagtails to keep an eye on.  All the time the sun blazed down and we were fortunate to have tree cover and shade to drop into.  The river reflected a multitude of green, umber and red hues and as we watched a Kingfisher flew along the river below and only a few feet away from us, lit perfectly by the sun and showing the blueness of plumage at its best.   I’m not sure if it was heat, hunger or thirst that finally dragged us away, but we did eventually move on.[...]

Dumfries and Galloway Adventures. Part One.


16th-20thJuly.  Unavoidable incidents made for a delay to my trip over the border, but all good things are worth waiting for and my few days of birding and culture were eventually done under clear skies and sunshine.  By, did it get hot at times.16thJuly.  The train from Newcastle to Carlisle went at a snail’s pace because of rail works, but I needn’t have worried about catching the onward train to Dumfries as it wasn’t operating at all.  I was assured of good sightings of Common Buzzard as I sat back on the replacement bus service which included a tour around Annan, a rather nice town I thought as I breathed in diesel fumes.  I met up with Sam on arrival and we made for Kippford situated on the Urr Estuary where I was to stay for the next few days.   A hearty meal at one of the local pubs overlooking the bay was enjoyed before we set off for the evening.  It was my first visit to this village, but hopefully not my last.  Red Squirrel had already been added to the list as we saw one leaving a local garden. Lighthouse at Mull Of GallowayDespite the clock ticking it was a warm evening with good light so we had plenty of time left for exploration and began at Orchardton Tower, a well preserved 15thcentury circular tower house.  Having climbed to the top and taken a good look around we headed off towards Balcary Bay and Cliffs.  This proved to be an excellent walk in another area new to me.  I spotted numbers of houses that I coveted. There were great views from the cliffs across the Solway and Irish Sea to the fells of Lakeland, St Bee’s Head and the Isle of Man.  I even found my cousin’s old cottage on the cliff edge near St Bees Head.  Had it not been for heat haze I’m sure we could have picked out individual folk over a distance of about 20 miles away.  On the climb up the cliff path we found some interesting plant life including Common Rock Rose, Wild Thyme and Devil’s Bit Scabious.  Bird species of the day was a pair of nesting Black Guillemot in a recess on the cliff side.  Other birds seen included Rock Pipit, Kittiwake, Fulmar, Cormorant, Guillemot, Sandwich Tern and Kestrel.  Whilst the Black Guillemots were the bird of the day, the sighting of the day had to be the large flock of Common Scoter in the Solway.  There seemed to be no end to the extent of the flock and we were looking at a number in four figures rather than three.  I’ve no doubt this is the highest number of this species I’ve ever personally recorded and it was quite a sight.  As the light began to fade a little it was time to make our way back down the narrow cliff footpath and head back to Kippford.  It had been a great beginning to the trip.Harebells at Mull of Galloway17thJuly.  We were up and ready to leave quite early and we were under clear blue skies and already warm as we made off towards The Mull of Galloway.  A Red Kite was seen early on our journey.     Our first cultural stop along the way was made at Cairn Holy Chambered Cairns, which are very interesting Neolithic burial cairns.  We spent some time here examining the site and taking in the view over Wigtown Bay.  There was a gent there taking measurements and notes and when he gave me a riddle to solve concerning the solstice etc and I began to think I’d dropped into a remake of the ’Hobbit’.  Being no Billbo Baggins I left the talking to Sam.  We then made off towards Wigtown in search of books.  Wigtown was designated Scotland’s National Book Town in 1998.  In one of the bookshops (there didn’t seem to be that many) Sam got his eye on a book about the ‘Longest Day’ on the top shelf of the Wo[...]

Good Re-Tern


Yes, I’ve returned.  I never meant to be away but Lazarus AKA as my PC had used up his/its nine lives and refused to rise as I was about to prepare my report of 2016, hence I’ve been without internet access since last December and managed to survive.  I’ve not been inactive however and quite recently returned from a tour of Sweden.  More of that in the future once I have come to grips with my new system and its use of images.  My break from the keyboard has allowed much catch up on reading, which is no bad thing, and one of my latest reads was a birthday present, The Return of the Osprey by Philip Brown and George Waterston (a man largely responsible for the success of the Osprey project at the time) with some of the photographs provided by Eric Hosking.  Issued in 1962, good grief some of you weren’t born then and the Beatles Love Me Do was scrapping into the charts, it gives an interesting account of the return of the Osprey to Loch Garten.  Also addressed is the return of the Avocet and Black-tailed Godwit.  An interesting comment at the end of the book is made as to the very unlikely return to the UK of the White -tailed Sea Eagle.  If they only knew!  Now, onto some highlights of a trip down the coastline made by Sam and I last week.5th July.  For various reasons, we knocked on the head the idea of a trip to the Farne Islands and decided to work down the coast from Budle Bay.  It turned out to be a rewarding 10-hour stint of birding.  The tide was on the turn, the previous days of rain had ceased and the light was good as we arrived at Budle Bay.  The star bird here was a Spotted Redshank.  A stunning bird when in summer plumage and it showed well, often among numerous Redshanks.  It took us a while to be certain that we were also watching a Whimbrel as it was feeding at some distance, but eventually we confirmed the species as it approached closer to us.  The now customary Little Egret was also nice to see.  Kestrel and Common Buzzard were seen and I mustn't forget the drake Scaup showing well..  We spent a good bit of time in the bay before making off towards Seahouses for lunch.  We stopped at Monkhouse pool and found both Arctic and Common Ternsand a nicely plumaged Black-tailed Godwit.  I decided that I must get hold of a copy of the book about Monkhouse Bird Observatory.We watched the crowded boats and the queues of people at Seahouses and expressed pleasure that we weren’t among them as we tucked into our fish and chips.  Bird of the day was to come at Low Newton scrape in the form of White-winged Black Tern.  We watched this bird for about twenty minutes before it flew off in the direction of the sea, sadly for a few folk who arrived to see it.  This is truly a top bird and I shall continue to call it White-winged Black Ternas I believe that describes the bird well.  Although later in the day I caused some amusement when tiredness was creeping in as I called it Black-winged White Tern.  I must have been so busy concentrating on the tern that I missed the Peregrine Falconbriefly seen by Sam.  Next stop was to be Long Nanny for Little Tern.We walked from the carpark to the bridge and then doubled back.  Just as well because this give us our best sighting of Little Ternhovering in an angel like flight over the burn.  It also allowed me to pick out the White-winged Black Tern on the sands amongst Arctic Terns and gulls.  It hadn’t been visible from the watch point so was missed by the rangers there.  I believe the bird is known to roost here.  We met up with a friend of Sam’s who is working here.  Sandwich Tern was[...]

Winter, Walking and Watching


17th Dec.  I remember a time when I walked, often long distances, admired the scenery, but if I’m honest didn’t take in too much of my surroundings.  Watching (and listening) is paramount now and has been for some years and for me there is no better time to do this than on clear winter days such as today has been.  The walking element is still important to me, but is far more focused on the natural world around me these days.To the hide.   Today’s walk began at Holywell Village and of course led to the area of the pond.  Temperatures had dropped considerably from yesterday’s mildness and the light was sharp and clear in the late morning sunlight.  The tree lined pathway to the hide was far busier than usual with small passerines including Tree Sparrow.  The reason why became clear when we met trust volunteers in the hide who had just topped up the feeders.  We saw the first of a number of Reed Buntings outside of the hide and the family of Mute Swanswere beneath the windows.  The coldness of the hide overcame any temptation to settle too long here and we made for the public hide having heard the call of Water Rail and overhead the call of Fieldfare.  The pond was relatively quiet and only three Wigeon appeared to remain, and no Teal were seen today.  Gulls, Black Headed, Common, Herring and Greater Black Backed, flocked on the surface of the water along with wildfowl which included Greylag Goose, Tufted Duck,Goldeneye, Mallard and Gadwall.  A solitary Grey Heron stood on the island.  Pink-footed Geese   All was silent apart from the distant call of a Curlew as we headed out into the open fields.  Two skeins of geese then flew overhead, the first may have been Greylag, the second definitely thirty-five Pink-footed Geese, their calls clearly heard.  Then Sam picked up the call of Grey Partridge which we failed to sight as we scanned the ploughed field.  A Kestrelhovered and a Sparrowhawk flew northwards from the dene.  I had just been joking about my failure to sight a single Yellowhammer in the UK throughout 2016, at least in part as my outings have been hampered at times, when a Yellowhammer flew across the field and into the hedge.  It was a relief to get this on my list and it was followed by at least two more in quick succession.  It’s good sometimes to have to wait for such sightings of common birds then you don’t take them for granted, of course the Yellowhammeris far less common now than it once was.  Such was my pleasure in watching this species today I’ve included a few lines form a John Clare poem.  Perhaps it is a bit unseasonal as the poem is about nesting Yellowhammers.  John Clare certainly used his eyes and ears when watching the natural world around him and cared about it deeply and I have my friends Hilary and Kelsey to thank for introducing me to his poems. Five eggs, pen-scribbled o'er with ink their shellsResembling writing scrawls which fancy readsAs nature's poesy and pastoral spells—They are the yellowhammer's and she dwellsMost poet-like where brooks and flowery weedsAs sweet as Castaly to fancy seemsAnd that old molehill like as Parnass' hillOn which her partner haply sits and dreamsO'er all her joys of song—so leave it stillA happy home of sunshine, flowers and streams.The pathway to the dene differed greatly from the solidly frozen walkway we had followed on our previous visit and it was deep mud and waterlogged in places.  We were soon watching more passerines in the hedge including Chaffinches and Reed Buntings.  The sun shone dazzlingly through the now leafless trees and made our sighting of the flock o[...]

Gosforth Park Nature Reserve


6th Dec.  We were drawn to park life today despite the cold air and poor light.  The feeding station close to the entrance was surprisingly quiet and according to PD, has been in recent days, the birds clearly finding plenty of natural food.  Both Nuthatch and Treecreeper showed well among some other common woodland birds.  Sam and I had heard that there maybe up to five Bitterns in the reserve at present and it seems even that might be an under estimate, so it seemed more than possible that we might see one today.Treecreeper We eventually left the hide at the feeding station and headed out on our usual circular walk.  The reserve was quiet in terms of both people and birds, and the atmosphere was typical of a winter’s day.  This time last year after heavy rain I seem to remember that the paths were extremely muddy, but today there were relatively dry and covered in fallen leaves.  In the quietness of the still wood I stopped as I heard a breeze drift through the trees.  It was if someone had opened a door and allowed a light draught to enter the woodland.  I turned to look back along the pathway and watched momentarily as leaves fell, from what I believe was an oak tree.   The leaves reflected what little light existed and drifted slowly and erratically down to the ground in the manner that snowflakes fall on a calm windless day.  The silence helped tune me into the habitat around me and it was all quite magical.  Shortly afterwards Roe Deer ran at speed across our path and were lost sight off as quickly as they had appeared in view.  The squawk of invisible Jays broke the silence as did our own speech.  There is still a good amount of leaf still to fall and very noticeable was a hazel tree holding what appeared to be almost new green growth.  I noticed that the ruins of the old boat house are now more clearly seen after work to clear the area.  The fact that this ruin is no where near the edge of the pond now,simply reflects the changing habitat over the years.  When we did look across the pond we found it still frozen in many areas.We were walking anti clockwise so came to the small hide first.  The one and only occupant that we met there and chatted to informed us that at least two Bitterns had been active.  After a short time we had sightings of two, maybe three Bitterns, one of which flew across in front of the hide before dropping into the reed-bed.  Wrens called on either side of us, a Goosander flew around above us apparently trying to find open water on which to land and Sam was sure that he heard Siskins fly over the hide.  Sure enough when we left the hide we found a mixed flock of birds nearby which included a numbers of Siskins, Long tailed Tits and a Goldcrest.  The flash outside of the reserve held Teal, Tufted Duck, Coots and gulls.A short stop in the other larger hide was not rewarded with sightings, although by now the light was rather better and the winter colours of the reed-bed and backing of trees showed more clearly.  We left, completed the circular walk of the reserve and decided to walk back to our own patch where we found two male Goosanders on the lake along with the likes of Gadwall and Shoveler.  It had been an enjoyable refreshing and atmospheric walk and I’m only too pleased that I can complete these walks now as there have been times this year I could not.The Natural History Society talk last Friday had been excellent.  Nick Davies passion came across really well as he talked about the habits of Cuckoo’s and we were managed to get our books signed by him.  If you haven’t [...]

Geordie Shore Lark at Druridge Bay


30th Nov.  Lee, Sam and I were three men on a mission today.  We headed for Druridge Bay with Shore Larks on our mind.  I also reminded my comrades to keep an eye open for the Hen Harrier, not that they needed reminding.  It was only slightly milder than yesterday, but the light was perfect.  A small skein of geese, probably Pink-footed Geese flew over as we journeyed north.No sooner had we parked up at East Chevington and I looked across the open space and immediately called Hen Harrier.  The ringtail initially distant flew directly at us and past us onwards to the dunes.  It was a perfect sighting to begin our day and we had further good sightings of this bird seen in perfect light as we walked to and arrived at Chevington Burn.  Then it wasn’t long before the seven Shore Larksreturned to the area giving a very good showing on the sands.  To the south east large skeins of Pink-footed Geese lifted in the vicinity of one of the wind turbines.  I’m sure these turbines are breeding!  Individually these massive objects have a beauty to behold, with that wonderfully curved design of the blades.  On mass they are a blot on the landscape.  I half expected to see an irate Don Quixote ride by on Rocinante.  A flock of Twite and a flock of Goldfinch flew close by, a Kestrel hovered to the west of us and on the sea Red throated Divers swam, one or two very close to shore.  Guillemot was also seen.  The Kingfisheralso made two or three appearances.  Our walk back to the car brought sightings of Redwing.  North Pool proved to be quiet, Mute Swan, Wigeon, Teal, Gadwall and Little Grebe were among birds seen before we headed for Druridge Pools.Hen HarrierHen Harrier With time limited now our visit to Druridge Pools was fleeting, Common Snipe and Pintail being the highlights.  We actually spent more time in the dunes overlooking the sea and walking a short way along a sun lit beach in order to get close to Red throated Diverswhich were swimming very near the shore.  A Long tailed Duck was also seen.  Our first pair of Stonechats for the day also showed really well in the sunlight.Pink-footed geese   Our next stop was Cresswell Pond where we found a Little Egret at the north end of the pond.  Another Kestrel, this time perched on one of the posts south of the farm.  Once in the hide we found the pond fairly clear of birds although two Red-breastedMergansers and an odd Goldeneye were about.  Large numbers of Wigeon edged the water, a flock of Lapwing joined by a few Golden Plover stood on the mud area and a Common Snipe was seen on the edge of the reed-bed.Druridge BayRed-throated Diver  The day ended quietly as we walked past Tree Sparrows in the hedge, but our mission had been successful and enjoyable and we thought there were many less rewarding ways in which we could have spent the hours.  The sighting of the Hen Harrier would have been my bird of the day had it not been for the appearance of seven Shore Larks.  Winter birding at its best and Druridge Bay seen at its best too.[...]

Rambling with Brambling


29th Nov.  The early morning was bright, clear and frosty, although by the time Sam and I began our walk at Holywell in mid morning, the sun was showing only periodically.  I found the changing light added to the atmosphere of a late autumn day, although as far as I’m concerned we are now into winter and if you had sat with us in the public hide at the pond you would I think, agree.  Before leaving Holywell on our way to Backworth via the dene we were back under clear blue skies and sunshine and this didn’t change until the light began to fade as the afternoon progressed.Gadwall.  One of many. Our journey had included passing numbers of geese in the fields opposite Backworth Flash.  I knew that we could check these out later in the day so wasn’t too concerned at having not identified them.  On arrival we headed for the public hide where we found local birder and photographer JL with whom we always enjoy a good chat.  I didn’t feel as cold at any time during the day as I felt in that hide!  The discomfort was more than made up for by the changing light conditions.  At times it was as if a veil was being lifted and dragged across the area as shifting cloud allowed the sun to light different parts of the landscape before us.  It was a light that with the cold air again suggested winter.  The family of Mute Swans had been the first birds we had seen on our approach and they flew across the fields as we neared the hide.  I noticed the feeding station was not stocked with food, unfortunate in such conditions, and only a couple of Dunnock and the odd tit attempted to seek any remaining feed.  The pond held Mallard, numbers of Gadwall close to the edge, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye.  A few gulls made an appearance and a Grey Heron stood sentinel like close by.  I saw at least one other Grey Heron lift from the reeds before dropping back down and becoming invisible to the eye.  After a while Sam and I moved off to look over the fields and hedges, intending to retrace our steps later.Winter light is by far the best light.   The field were very quiet as were the hedges.  We did see a small skein of Pink footed Geese and a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly by before we headed down the track to the dene.  Skylarkand the odd Redwing were also seen.  As we approached the dene the hedge to our right began to look as though it might prove more fruitful in our search, first of all giving us a sighting of at least three Reed Buntings and then a female Bullfinch.  Then Sam got his eye on a Brambling, then another and another.  Brambling seemed to make up the majority of a mixed flock of passerines including, tits, Chaffinch  Goldfinch and Tee Sparrow, the latter species which we missed but which was seen by another birder we later spoke to..  It was the Brambling that kept us watching at some length.  We estimated that there were approximately twenty Brambling, mostly female.  They seemed to disperse to various areas of the woodland and we only picked up the odd call from them.  Without doubt Brambling was our species of the day.  As I have often commented, it is my favourite of the commoner winter migrants. Our thoughts about retracing our steps were forgotten and we decided to keep to the dene area.  Thankfully the muddy pathway through the gate was frozen hard.  A Treecreeperwas seen and no sooner had a comment been made about poor light, when the sun came out from behind cloud and stayed out for the rest of the walk.  As we walked throu[...]

Northerly Patch


27th Nov.  I decided to put down my copy of Gavin Maxwell’s Ring of Bright Water (I’ve never read this book before, although I remember watching the film as a youngster.  Both the book and the film are very much of their time i.e. 1950s) and head north on patch before the light disappeared this afternoon.  Walking northwards you soon reach the end of the old pathway that runs very pleasantly through the estates.  Hedges and trees hide the sight of housing in some parts.  Once across the busy road you’re onto track-ways through farmland.  This northern part of the patch is on the whole farmland which happily still retains plenty of hedging and is crisscrossed by many tracks and pathways.  It’s an old mining area and it is difficult not to think of miners walking these tracks in days gone by.  Some of them now lie in Killingworth Church grounds.  Thankfully it is now one of the quieter areas of the patch and today I passed only one dog walker, one jogger and one lady leading her pony.  It is usual in this quiet area to at least acknowledge strangers passing by and I am always surprised that the odd person can pass you by without doing this.  It was milder today than of late and looking north over Northumberland, grey cloud seemed to suggest rain although only a small sprinkling appeared in the air whilst I was out walking, the sky eventually clearing to blueness and suggesting possibly a cool night ahead.  In this are you are on high ground and the rain water flows down towards the River Tyne.  The North Sea, only a few miles away can be seen easily on clear days as can the hills of Northumberland.  It’s an enjoyable area to walk in even when there are few birds about which was just as well today.  On my outward journey I saw little other than corvids, pigeons and fields full of Black Headed Gulls which were accompanied by a few Common Gulls.  Blackbirds, Robins, Starlings and the odd Mistle Thrush was the only other birds seen until I reached the northern border of the patch.I could see from a distance that the northerly field was flooded and that this had attracted flocks of birds.  I made up to the last hedge to look to see if these flocks contained waders.  In fact the entire flock of 130+ birds were Lapwings.  Before I reached the hedge Fieldfares began to fly out and into the higher trees.  Eventually I counted about 35 Fieldfares.  I eventually began to retrace my steps and this was when I felt the light spray of rain on my face as I watched the changing wide expanse of sky.I passed the old ruin of the Tower House again and caught sight of a the only raptor of the day, it was what appeared to be a cloth cut out placed in the field by the farmer and it did appear to be effective in keeping the gulls out of that field and in the fields to the south of it.Burradon Tower   The following information appears on the Historic England websiteTower houses are a type of defensible house particularly characteristic of the borderlands of England and Scotland. Virtually every parish had at least one of these buildings. At many sites the tower comprised only one element of a larger house, with at least one wing being attached to it. These wings provided further domestic accommodation, frequently including a large hall. If it was incorporated within a larger domestic residence, the tower itself could retain its defensible qualities and could be shut off from the rest of the house in times of trouble. Tower houses were being constructed and used from at leas[...]

By the Lake


19th Nov.  Bright sunshine but strikingly cold today I met up with Sam down by the lake.  Frost remained in a few areas where the sun had not managed to break through.  The smaller of the lakes held a good number of birds including a pair of Wigeon, two pairs of Shoveler and five Gadwall, three of the latter birds being male.  Perhaps there were three pairs and we missed one of the females.  Whilst I remember the odd Wigeon visiting the lake years ago it is a species that vanished for some years and it is only in recent times that they have made a return.  Gadwall and Shoveler  (I’ve given in and have begun to spell Shoveler with one l) are both quite new species to the lake in recent years.  Other species included Mute Swans, numbers now dramatically reduced by the measures taken to ensure that this occurred, Moorhen, Coot, Mallard and Tufted Duck.The larger lake by contrast to the smaller was very quiet indeed.  A few Mute Swans, one male Goosander, a Great Crested Grebe, a lone Cormorant and a lone Pochard were easily found on a quiet lake surface.  Approximately ninety Canada Geese were in two parties at the far end of the lake and an odd Greylag Goose was amongst them.  Gulls seen were Black Headed, Common and Herring.  A single male Reed Bunting was seen in the trees by the side of the lake and not far from here a Grey Heron moved to and fro along the edge of the water to avoid us.  A return walk through the trees brought little, apart from calling Long-tailed Tits hidden somewhere in the tree tops.I walked across the fields towards the church grounds on my return home and apart from finding Dunnockand hearing a little of the song of Robinthere was little to report, although I did find a couple of apple trees which I must have passed by hundreds of times without realising what they were.  My hour or so on patch had been cold, but enjoyable.  It was the type of day I enjoy and I was warmer by the time I arrived home.  I found it hard to believe that a week has passed by since our visit to Musselburgh and Aberlady and Sam and I have given a talk concerning the islands of Northumbria mid week.  Having put fresh seed out this morning along with some fat from yesterdays chicken and having chased the damn cats the garden was still quite active with birds.  I caught a glimpse of a male Bullfinchlit by the sun, as well as the visiting Song Thrush[...]

Musselburgh, Aberlady and Waxwings


12th Nov.  Sam and I joined the RSPB Group trek to Musselburgh and Aberlady today.  These treks for us are now as rare as a mega rarity on patch, but we had on this occasion been attracted to the possibility of visiting George Waterston House, the SOC centre at Aberlady, where we knew there was an excellent library and a fine collection of used birding books for sale.   We have both read a good deal about George Waterston’s work on the protection of the Osprey in Scotland, his work with the bird observatories on Fair Isle and the Isle of May and his interest in birds during his confinement as a prisoner of war.  Much gratitude is owed to George.  So we left Newcastle’s dampness behind us and ignored the skitty remarks about new members turning up.  We were soon into dryer and clearer weather and a Little Egret, Common Buzzard and Kestrel were possibly the star birds of the outward journey.Waxwings at Aberlady, courtesy of Samuel Hood I’ve been to Musselburgh on a number of occasions now, but can’t remember having been on such a sunny and warm(ish) day, perhaps because I’ve usually been there in winter rather than the back end of autumn.  The timing this year I guess accounted for the lack of birds on the sea.  It was certainly far quieter than any visit I have made in the past.  Although quiet in terms of seabirds, it was far from such in terms of folk, as there was at least another two groups visiting, one of them from Yorkshire and another from Edinburgh led by a friend of Sam’s.  Sam and I tried in vain to avoid the crowds   most of the time, but as it happens enjoyed some good chat along the way.  Some time you just have to surrender and be sociable I suppose.  Soon after our arrival a skein of sixty Pink-footed Geese flew in the distance.Musselburgh As we left the river behind and joined the sea-wall I’m told a Kingfisher flew over my head and yes, I missed it.  Canada Geese had been feeding on the bank of the river.  The tide was high so the usual area I have watched waders was under water.  We did eventually have reasonable to good sightings of Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Long Tailed Duck, Great Crested Grebe, Red Throated Diver, one Guillemot and one Razorbill.  All these species were few in number.  I may have caught sight of a Slavonian Grebe (or Slav Grebe as people kept insisting on calling it) but my bird dived so quickly and disappeared that I won’t be counting it as a definite sighting.  Even the numbers of Eider Duck and Goldeneye were well down from that of previous visits.  I was enjoying the day despite low bird numbers and it helped that I had to loosen clothing because of the warmth.  One of the birds of the day for us were the Twite found by Sam and I near to the pathway.  A local couple asked what we were watching and my reply brought a disinterested response and advice as to where to find Waxwings!  The Twite showed wonderfully well and we were able to put a very pleased Yorkshire Group onto them.  We reckon that initially there were five or six of this species and certainly four perched on the wall together at one point.  We watched them for what seemed like twenty to thirty minutes and they weren’t at all fazed by watchers.  One or two Reed Buntings showed well and Meadow Pipits showed well too, one of the latter species being in pristine condition, and a Skylark sang.  Then it was eventually time to move on.  &nb[...]

Wider Perspective and Oh What a Shower!


Oct.  My recent trip to the coast didn’t coincide with a migratory fall, but it was no less enjoyable despite the soaking I received and I did on this occasion manage to find a Yellow browed Warbler.The rain that was falling as I left home was a predictor of what was to come and the bright sky that greeted me on arrival at St Mary’s Island was simply an interval to make the most of while allowed.  The walk began at the Crematorium grounds, the hedges to the east of there and the area around the old railway bridge, where I found the Yellow-browed Warbler.  There was no sign of Goldcrests, seen in such numbers on my previous visit.  I later spoke to a birder who had counted one Goldcrest at the wetland near St Mary’s Island.  That was one more than I saw today.  Birders were almost as rare!Oh, it'll just be a shower! After the deluge!  Storm now over Blyth   Having watched Stock Doves in the fields, a small flock of Golden Plovers and other waders I prepared for a soaking.  The rain clouds were approaching from the south-east off the sea and any thought of this been a quickly passing shower soon evaporated as the greyness surrounded me.  To cut a long story short, I can report the rain stopped as soon as I entered the fish and chip restraunt at Seaton Sluice.  Pools of water gathered on the floor around me as I placed my order.  The only bright spot between St Marys Island and Seaton Sluice had been the fleeting rainbow which appeared stretching from the island to Blyth, or so it appeared.  It was an ephemeral sighting during which the colour showed only faintly, so faintly I didn’t even bother to reach for the camera.  I did catch some images later however, as by then the skies had brightened.  It’s amazing what a difference this wide angle lens makes to your view of things!The wide angle gives throws a very different perspective onto Seaton Sluice Harbour 7th Nov.  Winter had now replaced autumn and Sam and I were soaked in a blizzard as we approached the headland at Seaton Sluice.  We faced rain, sleet and worst of all wind blown hailstones that felt like someone was firing grit into our faces.  All that for not a lot found during a short sea-watch.  I missed the only Little Auk that passed, although the Kingfisher on the cliff edge made up for that.  Otherwise it was the usual Gannets, auks, Red-throated Divers, Eiders et al.  Visibility varied, very poor at times as rain and mist dropped, then quite good as the cloud lifted and moved on for short periods.Through the dene   After a lunch a walk through a pleasant dene still with a good showing of colour on the trees offered little in the way of birds, although Redwing and Grey Wagtail were amongst birds which were seen.  The burn was running fast and being fed by small tributaries bringing water down from the farmland.  The rain eased for much of the walk, but come back in torrents by the time we were in the public hide at Holywell Pond.  There was a bit of colour here too with a Mandarin Drake showing very nicely in front of the hide near the island and another rainbow appearing as the rain eased.  Perhaps the very same Mandarin that was here last year.  The pond also held Teal, Gadwall, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye, with the likes of Grey Heron and Moorhen also making an appearance.  The rain eventually forced us to the back of the hide in order to avoid a further drenchi[...]

Oh Brother...Another Winner!


History has given us Romulus and Remus, Cain and Able, Jacob and Wilhem (the Brothers Grim), Bobby and Jack (Charlton), Don and Phil (Everly), Liam and Noel (Gallagher) and William and Harry (future King and sidekick), but now we have the best of the all, Samuel and Joshua aka Sam and Josh.Overall winning image from Joshua   Sam gets the occasional mention on this blog because of his talents for the likes of birding and photography.  For Josh this is his first appearance of which I can imagine he’ll be very proud, and so he should be as only the crème del la crème get a look in on here.  On this occasion I won’t even charge him for the privilege.The man himself with the winning image   After Sam’s success in the line of photography his brother Josh is now starting to show real promise, so you old(er) guys better get your act together.  Josh has recently visited Marvel Zoo to pick up his awards for winning the native wildlife section of the photography competition and also entering the over all winning image! Joshua with brother Samuel   I’ve included copies of the winning image and an image of the brothers.  Thanks to go to their proud mum who provided the imagesCongratulations Joshua.[...]

Gold Coast


11th Oct.  Sam and I braved the drizzle and visited the coast again today.  We were initially treated to hedges containing gold, and lots of it, at the west end of the crematorium grounds.  It helped take our minds off the drizzling rain that fell intermittently.We later walked down to the wetland area, passing numbers of Curlew which in the dull grey light, were camouflaged so well against the almost colourless and rather barren farmland, that we almost missed them.  Having reached the wetland we were treated once again to sightings of much gold, a lot of which seemingly had just arrived from overseas.  So many pieces of gold, that we were unable to count them to any degree of accuracy.  Even more gold was later found in the mounds as we walked to Seaton Sluice.  There was enough gold found to warrant a smile even from someone of the disposition of Long John Silver, but he wasn’t there of course and neither was there many other folk although we spoke to one or two passing bird watchers and at more length to members of the birding group from the Natural History Society.  The gold I speak of was of course in the form of Goldcrests, there having been a migratory fall of these birds, each adult weighing on average only six and a half grams, or perhaps even less now that they had flown so far.  They were all frantically feeding in order to build up strength again and their high pitched sii sii sii calls could be heard as they communicated their presence.We failed to find any sighting of Yellow Browed Warbler today, although I don’t doubt thy there would have been some present.  I suspect they may have been keeping deep in the vegetation out of the wind and rain.  Five newly arrived Bramblingwere found, initially by call, as they appeared to make there way inland after the sea crossing. More ephemeral magic was provided in the form of a hunting Merlin, initially spotted as it flew low along the hedge line and out into open ground near the willows before quickly disappearing.  A single Fieldfare was seen in flight above the wetland edge before dropping into the hedges.  Our second Great Spotted Woodpecker of the day made a longer appearance as it flew in typical fashion around the area and a pair of Kestrel hovered in the wind above the cliff edge.So if you take away the treasure provided by the Goldcrests, there was no mass migration arrival today, but there was enough to satisfy us for six hours, including waders along the way, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Sanderling Turnstone, Dunlin and Curlew included.Far from an ideal day for photography today, but I'd purchased a new wide angle lens (Sigma 10-20 3.5) so I was damn well going to use it!  Yes, you can expect some wider perspective images in future.I had failed to notice the incoming mist until we came to leave for home at about 4:45pm.  Enough mist and rain coming off the sea to ensure that today’s rain did not come as a surprise.  I went to sleep last night not counting sheep, but counting pieces of gold and believe me earlier in the day I had checked almost each piece of gold out in case there was other treasure amongst it![...]

Golden Season


A week or two ago I paid another visit to St Marys Island, or more precisely the coastline nearby.  The tide prevented crossing to the island itself so instead much of our time was spent watching the waders and chatting to some familiar faces and some faces not known, but no less friendly for that.  One of the strangers was an American lady visiting from Edinburgh with her family.  It reminded me just how much that the American term shorebird is so much more evocative and descriptive than the term wader.  I was also reminded of just how many passing folk have no idea of the species of bird that they are watching, although many were watching quite intently so that is a positive in itself.  Positive too, was the interest shown by so many when given information about the birds, and so many did come and ask.It was the Golden Plovers that really took the eye that day.  Our seasons may be getting more difficult to differentiate but you can be sure it’s autumn when the flock of Golden Plover begin to increase.  I was also mindful whilst watching that this area surrounding St Mary’s Island is an area where I first began to watch birds intently, where perhaps I saw my first Golden Plovers and certainly saw my first Purple Sandpipers and Roseate Terns.  It’s always good to remember that all those who watch birds keenly, began as novices and in that respect all are more likely to show more respect to those wishing to learn.  It’s always good too to remember that your learning never ends.There wasn’t much sea passage on that particular day although we did record flocks of Teal, Wigeon and a number of Red-throated Divers.  Incidentally I prefer the American term loon for divers too.A lone drake Eider  fed close by.[...]

Going Underground...Victoria Tunnel


But I want nothing this society's gotI'm going underground (going underground)Well, let the brass bands play and feet start to poundGoing underground (going underground)Well, let the boys all sing and let the boys all shout for tomorrowLyrics by the JamCluny Building reflected in the Ouseburn, designed by John Dobson.  Now a bar and live music centre, but has served as a flax spinning mill, steam powered flax mill and Scotch whiskey bottling plant.  2nd Oct.  With no thoughts about birds or other wildlife, apart from wondering if we might come across sewer Rats, we headed towards the Ouseburn area of the city.  Now I remember this area very well from my childhood, although at that time my knowledge of it was gained from distant views from the bus (trolley-bus usually), as I travelled over Byker Bridge on the way to the city centre.  At that time the area where the Ouseburn meanders down to join the Tyne looked far from inviting and I never ever felt any urge to explore it.  This was many years before any thought was given to the Metro Bridge apparently kept together with epoxy-resin.   Over the years I’ve very occasionally skirted across the edges of the place without giving it much thought.  Today the area is physically and culturally very different and this was my first time for more extensive exploration, primarily underground in the Victoria Tunnel.  We were joining the guided tour, after an invite from members of the Northumbria Dry-stone Walling Association to join them.  It turned out to be a two hour tour not to be missed.BBridges.  In the foreground the road bridge, behind is the metro bridge and in the distance the railway viaduct.Boat built by children.  Out side of the Seven Stories National Children's Book Centre   I’m not going to give lots of information about the actual tour as that would spoil the experience for any locals or others who get along in the future and of course if you have already been along then you don’t need to be told.  After parking up we met our very knowledgeable and friendly guides at the office where there was a nice selection of books and thankfully a toilet.  The initial part of the tour was above ground checking out some of the historic sites along by the Ouseburn, including the old site of the Maling Pottery factory and the Cluny building.  Then we entered the Victoria Tunnel.Photography wasn't easy down there and this is one that went wrong.  I do think it gives a good impression of the atmosphere however!   The tunnel which runs under the city was opened in 1842 and used then as a wagon-way to bring coal from Spital Tongues Colliery down to the River Tyne and we learned much about the building of the tunnel and its subsequent use as a wagon-way.  As the Second World War approached the tunnel was reopened and used as an air raid shelter, and not an especially comfortable one by the sound of it.  Folk often stayed down there for eight hours sat on wooden platform type seats although the lucky few had wooden bunk beds.  As the book says, better damp than dead.  I tried not to imagine the smell!  In the 1950s there was even talk of possible use as a nuclear bunker, but thankfully that proved unnecessary but it does underline how close we were to nuclear destruction during the Cold War.One of our guides giving ou[...]