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Preview: Killy Birder

Killy Birder

With a patch and a passion for nature.

Updated: 2018-01-15T10:10:01.145-08:00


Sunday Birding...Adding to the Year List


14th Jan.  I don’t suppose many birders are drawn to a Morrisons carpark of an early Sunday morning to do some birdwatching.  It was purely coincidental that I was.  As Sam purchased his breakfast at Greggs, I watched an almost empty carpark, as Rooks searched for left overs.  I guess much of it litter left by humans.  The lines of empty parking bays assisted me in gauging the space that each Rookseemed to take for a feeding territory.  Given more time I felt that this would make a good study, not that Morrisons carpark is ever empty for long during daylight hours, so the researcher would need to choose timings well!  We soon left the Rooks to their business, as we headed for Northumberland Park.  I’ve just completed my first read of 2018, begun in 2017, The Raven by Derek Ratcliffe.  There is a short chapter about intelligence in Ravens and I wondered to myself where Rooks would fall in the intelligence stakes amongst corvidae.  I very much like Derek Ratcliffe’s writings and hope to get around reading his work on the Peregrine this year.We found no sign of the Firecrest as we stood in the cold, although admittedly we didn’t stand around too long.  Time wasn’t wasted however as we heard our first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker of the year and we were soon watching it drumming enthusiastically.  Stock Doves and other parkland species were seen, but overall it was a very quiet morning in the park.Our next stop was to be Prestwick Carr with a view to getting the Great Grey Shrike onto the year list.  We were diverted somewhat when we passed s temporary flash, on the northern boundary of our own patch as it happens.  We wanted to check out the geese more closely.  It turned out that whilst most of the geese were Greylag among them were twenty-two Pink footed Geeseand a flock of Lapwing.   The stop off and short walk across the fields had been worthwhile, although we didn’t search anymore of the area, preferring to leave that until another day. Prestwick Carr was soon reached and parking spaces were again in mind.  On this occasion we couldn’t find one.  After some frustrations, which I won’t go into, we did manage to park up.  Sam asked the question ‘isn’t birding meant to be relaxing?’ having spent a few minutes that very much weren’t.  Never mind we did have good scope sightings of the Great Grey Shrike adding to our sightings of the last few years of what we assume is the same bird returning year after year.  I’ve seen that Great Grey Shrikes will continue to return to a good winter territory once found and will defend it much like a breeding territory, and whilst I see their average lifespan is 3-5 years there has been incidences of them living up to 12 years.  Common Buzzards and Kestrels were seen as we watched the Great Grey Shrike.  Later we walked a section of the ‘bumpy road’ and added Willow Tit to my year list.  The feeders were being visited by a number of species as they usually are at this time of year.  We eventually left and made off for Gosforth Park N R.We added Nuthatchand Sparrowhawk to the year list whilst watching at the feeding station before setting off for the circular walk around the reserve.  We found the kill of a Sparrowhawk, a Woodpigeon, so likely a female Sparrowhawk.  Sam checked out the mud for signs of animal tracks and found the tacks of both Roe Deer and Badger and a small area where a Badger had been feeding.  Our walk was generally very quiet and peaceful, as whilst numbers visiting the reserve of late have grown, we never see too many folk walking the tracks far from the hides.  I did on this occasion bump into someone I’d worked with over 20 years ago and I’m surprise she recognised me as by now I was wrapped up to keep myself warm.  I have to say the NHSN is flying high these days, and last Friday’s presentation by the ‘Seal Man’ attracted an audience of what seemed to be over 200 indivi[...]

Birds and Brass Monkeys on Northumberland Coast


8th Jan.  I ate my cornflakes whilst temperatures remained at -5C outside and I thought to myself ‘it’ll warm up a bit before we leave for the coast’.  The temperature did rise ever so slightly, but I’m pleased we took so many layers of clothing when we headed north to Fenham Flats, having first ensured that the garden birds were fed.  I should have guessed we were going to face low temperatures when we stepped from the car, having passed the sign which had warned ‘brass monkeys enter this area at their own risk’.  So hard was the frost in places that areas to the sides of the AI looked as though they were scenes from a Christmas card.  Common Buzzard, Kestrel and a large flock of Lapwingswere seen before we turned off onto icy side roads and headed to the hide at Fenham Flats.The hide at Fenham Flats offered some protection from the biting cold and offered a splendid view of a tranquil area where skies were blue, and the windless atmosphere was very much in contrast to our visit to Lindisfarne two days before.  It was only a pity that Lindisfarne Castle remains under scaffold, as it and the reflection on the water below would have offered a near perfect photographic opportunity.  Once again we had good sightings of many Brent Geese, some close by the hide and others far more distant as were many of the waders.  Flocks of Dunlin were amongst waders that showed well and flew across our field of view.  We looked for Little Stint but were unable to find one.  Shelduck were here in large numbers as were Grey Plover.  We chatted to a young lady who was on holiday and traveling up the coast towards St Abbs.  She appeared to be a keen photographer and could not have picked a better day and had chosen well to view the area from this point.After spending some time at Fenham Flats we made off to Budle Bay, but not before finding Redwingand Song Thrush in the hedge.  Stonechat was seen but for the life of me I don’t remember where.  This time we had a little better luck with some birds being a bit closer to shore although many were not and despite our best efforts we were unable to locate the Spotted Redshank although Redshank were numerous along with Curlews and Bar Tailed Godwits.  Shelduckwere again there in numbers and the field held a large flock of Greylag Geese with a few Canada Geese and Brent Geese among the flock.  A skein of Pink footed Geeseflew overhead.After a break for lunch we returned to Stagg Rock where today the sea was much calmer and there was just enough wind to make for a biting cold atmosphere.  I don’t remember feeling so cold for a long time.  We took shelter behind a wall and that seemed to fend off the worst of the cold.  It wasn’t long before we had sighting of rafts of Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Long tailed Duck, numbers of Red Throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver, Shag and Eider Duck.  These birds were quite close to shore so were seen very well.     Purple Sandpipers were also seen north of the Stagg.With the days being still short we next made off to East Chevington and after checking out North Pool amongst other birds we found another Long-Tailed Duck, Red breasted Merganser, Little Grebes and Goldeneyes.  Instead of walking to the mouth of the burn we decided to get down to Druridge Pools before the light disappeared.    I had thought it couldn’t get any colder, but it did.  We looked from the budge screen to find the ponds frozen solid and only one solitary bird present, which was a Shelduck that finally gave up and flew off.  We too gave up at this point and made for home after a last quick stop at Cresswell Pond were a large flock of Lapwing had gathered in the centre of the frozen pond.As we headed for home threatening cloud began to approach from the south.  In the west the sky reddened, and the sun formed a huge red ball of flame as it reached the horizon.  A bitterly cold but very [...]

Lindisfarne...Birds, Turneresque Skies and Rough Seas


6th Jan.  I know it’s just another date on the calendar, but birding during the first few days of a New Year always feels exciting and a challenge which brings rewards, so on waking I wasn’t going to be put off by the sound of wind and sleet upon the window.  Yes, tomorrow was to be a nicer day, but I was eager to get out so when Sam arrived we were soon on our way north to Lindisfarne, almost running over some dare devil Pheasants along the route and finding our first flock of Lapwing of the year.On arrival and stepping out onto the causeway it was immediately clear we needed several layers of clothing to protect us from the cold winds which were worth braving in order to breath in that fresh air, take in the almost silent surroundings and the Turneresque skies that were for ever changing as the sun rose whilst occasionally showing through forever moving cloud patterns that were pouring rain in areas not far from us, but thankfully not onto us.  Between the land and cloud formations to the south of us was a bright yellow strip of sunlight.  We soon had our eye on a close by Little Egret feeding just off the causeway as we picked up the sound of Curlews, Oystercatchers and in Sam’s case Fieldfare.There were very few cars in pot-holed car park when we arrived.  Message to authorities, I agree that folk should be charged to park, but don’t you think you ought to use the cash taken to provide a car-park that is fit for purpose?  We walked down to and through the village barely seeing a soul but being serenaded by large numbers of House Sparrows.  We were soon watching one Slavonian Grebe, then two, then four as they swam as a group although constantly diving.  This was to be one of our sightings of the day s they did show very well.  As we took the path towards the harbour numbers of Oystercatcher, Bar-tailed Godwit, Curlew, Redshank, Dunlin and Grey Plover were noted, as were Red breasted Mergansers, Red throated Divers and 2 Great Northern Divers.  Shags passed as we watched the divers and the occasional Grey Seal showed its head above water.  This reminded me that the NHSN has a talk this Friday evening concerning Grey Seals which is to be given by a speaker with diving experience along with years of research concerning Grey Seals.  During our walk the Golden Plover flocks put on a good flying display as they flew lit by a now bright and occasionally warm sun (warm if you were sheltered from the wind).  We had a quiet laugh to ourselves when someone told their family that they were Swallows.  Well we all make mistakes!   By now a few more folk were on the island, but it never at any point become busy and most of the time we had areas to ourselves.  We were also blessed with another rainbow, this one across the island.  A Rock Pipit was added to our list.The harbour held a few waders including Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Bar tailed Godwit.  We checked out the pool and found the likes of Shoveler, Teal and Lapwing.  By now we had seen a small number of Brent Geese in flight and thought larger numbers would be in the fields taking shelter, so we made off past Gertrude Jekyll’s garden.  Sea watching didn’t appeal for long, with the sea being so rough, although Sam did pick up Long tailed Duck and Eiderswere easily seen.  All the time the sky continued to put on a good display of cloud formation and we noted that it appeared to be either rain, snow or sleet out over patches of the sea and also inland just a little south from where we were.  Happily, we went all day without getting wet.  We heard that there were White Billed Divers coming north but we had no intention of hanging around on the off chance we might see them.At some point Sam had a laugh when I told him I wasn’t interested in lists and then I got excited when I added Turnstone to my year list.  Excited, as they had been difficult to find.  We did find a[...]

2018...New Year's Day Traditional Walk on Patch.


1st Jan.  I awoke early today and heard the wheezing calls of Collared Doves, no doubt feasting on the seeds I provide.  Looking out of the window before breakfast my first three sightings for 2018 were Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon and Starling.  Well, not the most exciting of birds to begin the year with, but others would soon arrive, and I’m pleased to say that despite the ‘killer’ domestic cats which prowl the area the House Sparrows returned in number last year, and were soon feeding today.I’ve been completing a walk on patch for so many years now I think it can be termed a tradition.  I find this more rewarding personally, than shooting off all over the place or to a nature reserve, to begin the year with a long list of perhaps rarer birds.  It’s certainly more relaxing and each year tends to throw up something interesting.  It’s all a matter of taste and choice of course.  Today I felt I needed to do the patch justice as I’m only too aware that it has been neglected by me of late.  By the time Sam arrive I was eager to get started.  We thought the lake would be a good starting point.Hoping the pot of gold contains some rarities for the patch during 2018.The lake has been very quiet in recent months and even the Great Crested Grebe seems to have chosen the past few days to leave the area.  It was such a calm, mild and sunny day with blue skies a lack of large numbers of species wasn’t going to matter too much.  Before we came close to the lake Brown Rat had become our first mammal of the year, as it had last year.  Amongst the regular waterfowl we found several Goosander, Goldeneye and Pochard.  The family of Greylag Geese remain with the Canada Geese.  Best sight of all was a skein of Pink-footed Geese numbering about 120 and heard before seen, which flew high over the lake.  It seemed that in the west some areas may have been experiencing a shower, as the colours of a rainbow deepened in hue as we walked around the lake.  I’m hoping that may be a positive sign and I’d be pleased if any pot of gold includes an occasional rarity on patch this year.The lake area is always the busiest area on the walk, in terms of people, although I saw no birders this year apart from ourselves.  We soon headed east and to more peaceful sites.  We found Jay, only the third time I have ever seen this species on patch, all seen in the past couple of years.  It seemed possible that this one was caching food.  As we passed a hedge of bright red berries I suggested that these same berries didn’t seem to appeal to birds, at which point we found several Blackbirds feasting on them and a little later our one and only Redwingof the day flew from the hedge and perched in the tree opposite us.  A little later Grey Squirrel became our second mammal of the year.  Yes, I know they aren’t popular!  Stock Dove was seen in the same area, a regular haunt for this species.    A little further on and we came across our first Bullfinch of the day.  We found pairs of Bullfinch in four separate locations on our walk.  As we were standing on the edge of woodland a Woodcockwas disturbed and lifted into the air causing some noise.   It wasn’t long before a Grey Heron rose from a pool which is hidden by trees.We continued our walk eastwards and out onto the most open area of the patch.  It appeared to be deserted of life, but it was worth exploring anyway and perhaps because of the disastrous to the environment plans to cover this area in housing, roads schools etc, it is perhaps best we take the opportunity whilst it still exists.  This is always the coldest area of the patch and even on this mild day I felt the need to put my hat on.  It was soon taken off again as I became over heated.  By the time we had completed a circular walk of this part of the patch, the tracks must be over a mile[...]

Memories of 2017.


Well, as yet nothing has arrived on the mat to suggest I have been named in the New Years honours list.  It could be an oversight, a loss in the post or some other technical hitch, so I haven’t given up hope just yet.  In any event I’m over joyed to note that Richard Starkey, better known to legions of admirers as Ringo, has been awarded a Knighthood.  Nothing less would have been enough to pay tribute to his classic musical renditions, such as the great Yellow Submarine, sung by us all when we take a bath I’m sure, and his equally great acting skills, surely warranting an Oscar, in the brilliant film of the twentieth century, A Hard Day’s Night.  Yes, these were gifts to humanity that should forever be treasured.Shoveler on Killy Lake (Jan)Mute Swan on Killy Lake (Jan)Now then, time restraints have prevented me from completing the end of year blog that I had planned, so I have decided to include a few images that bring back very good memories to me of time spent during 2017 and I’ll also add a few short comments.Long stay LBB Gull at North Shields Fish Quay (Jan) whilst watching Iceland and Glaucous GullsWagtail at Druridge (Feb) whilst watching Shore Larks and TwiteFerruginous Duck on Killy Lake (Mar)Little Owl at Druridge (Jul)Out for lunch with a friend (early summer)I have begun with some images of local sightings, a couple that show Killingworth Lake can look good when caught in perfect light.  Sightings in Northumberland this year have also included species such as Pacific Diver (a lifer), a pity it came to a sad end, Bee Eater, White winged Black Tern, and of course the Hawfinches.  I have a keen interest in the history of ornithology and had looked forward to attending a talk at the NHSN concerning Northumbria born Canon Henry Baker Tristram.  Unfortunately, the talk was cancelled but I more than made up for this by reading the book by WG Hale called Sacred Ibis which coverers the life, travels and collecting of the Canon.  A great read especially for local birders.  I have on occasions heard the term hard core birder/s used, on occasions by some who think they show toughness.  I personally think it a rather silly term, but I think if anyone thinks of themselves as a hard-core birder, then they need to read this book and other like it to find out what tough birding really was in the past!Ural Owl, Sweden (Jun)Dotterel, Sweden (Jun)Slavonian Grebes, Sweden (Jun)Siberian Jay, Sweden (Jun)A Room With a View, Sweden (Jun)Sam, Sweden (Jun)Over the years I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to travel a fair bit, in recent years along with Sam, and the past couple of years have seen us in Finland, Norway and Sweden.  This year was the turn of Sweden and some great adventures and many laughs were had along the way.  I think if I had to choose one area outside of the UK to concentrate my birding and travel on I would pick Scandinavia as it offers so much without the need for tiresome long-haul travel.  I’ve included a selection of images from the many taken.  An account of the trip is to be found in my blog, so I won’t start to recount details again.Common Blue Butterfy at Mull of Galloway (Jul)Evening at Threave Castle (Jul)Osprey at Loch Ken (Jul)Barnacle Geese, Dumfries (Oct)Solway Sunset, Dumfries (Oct)Closer to home, but across the border in Dumfries and Galloway, provided me with some of my best moments of the year.  Sam kindly invited me to stay as he has been working in that area.  I was up there in early summer and early autumn and on both occasions had some great days of watching wildlife, whilst also learning a great deal more about the history and culture of the area.  Difficult to say what the highlights were as there where many, but watching Golden Ringed Dragonflies on a red-hot day in July, an Osprey close by   catching a fish at Loch Ken, Peregrine Falcons and Ospreys seen and heard [...]

All Weather Birders Return to Holywell


It's a long time since we completed the walk from Holywell to St Mary’s Island, so to keep our reputation as all weather birders Sam and I decided to ‘walk the walk’ today.  Temperatures down to zero weren’t going to keep us at home.  As we headed for Holywell I noted a long band of heavy cloud along the coastline, otherwise conditions were perfect for a winter walk, bright crisp and perfect light.A frozen pond at HolywellWe arrived at Holywell Pond’s members hide to find that the shutters were frozen, swollen and impossible to open, although with effort we managed to prise the centre shutter open.  We need not have bothered as there was little to see apart from an almost deserted, but picturesque frozen pond.  The ice was reflecting steel like hues.  The feeding station at the entrance was attracting numbers of Tree Sparrow and Chaffinch and a few other garden species.  Unsurprisingly we found the public hide empty, although because there was little wind it didn’t feel as cold as I have known it to be at times.  A small break in the ice had attracted Mallards, two Tufted Duck and gulls, but nothing else.  We did hang around long enough to have a very good sighting of a male Sparrowhawkwhich initially flew into the reed-bed before taking off again and flying up the pond and over the ducks and gulls before finally perching in a tree at the other end of the pond.  It was no doubt finding prey difficult to come by, just as we were finding sightings difficult to come by.We eventually headed off towards the open fields finding very little in this deserted area.  We did find two Golden Ploverattempting to feed in the field to the right of us and a loan Grey Heron standing by the hedge in the distance obviously it too was finding conditions hard.  We’d seen two Pink-footed Geese fly over on our arrival but found no more in the fields.  Greylag Geese were heard in the distance towards the coast, but they weren’t seen.  We were enjoying the walk and by now could even feel a little warmth from the sun.  Out in these open fields is usually the coldest part of this walk but as there was barely a breath of wind it felt almost mild today!  The ground however was solid and almost give a feeling of walking on pavement.  Just before we reached the dene we heard and then saw a pair of Grey Wagtailsfeeding on the frozen mud area.  One of the pair was seen really well and its plumage showed brilliantly in the clear bright light.  Our first of three, possibly four, Kestrels seen today had been noted as we walked down to the dene edge. The walk through the dene was unusually quiet for the time of year although feeding stations along the way were attracting numbers of Great, Coal and Blue Tits and a few other of the woodland birds including Nuthatch which were quite vocal at times.  Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen along the way as was a Common Buzzard which lifted from the floor of the woodland and flew off over the burn.  One of the birds of the day was the Bullfinch we found.  It looked in perfect condition and again the light appeared to show this bird off perfectly.  A very under-rated species in my opinion and just like the Grey Wagtail having a stunning plumage.  Long-tailed Tits were heard.We put on a bit of a spurt as we neared the end of the dene to ensure we arrived for fish and chips on time.  It was obvious from the number of Redshankwe passed that the tide was high.  We hadn’t been to Seaton Sluice for our meal for ages and this was even noted by a member of staff!  The quality of the food here has happily remained high.The tide was very high today, so we made off towards St Mary’s Island right away without looking from the headland.  The line of cloud seen on our departure this morning appeared to have moved eastward so wasn’t threatening.[...]



3rd Dec.  Anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at this blog will realise I’m not in the habit of making wild dashes to see birds, no matter how rare they may be.  Nevertheless, it surely would have been remiss of me if I had ended 2017 not having seen some local Hawfinches, there being so many of them in the UK at present.  So, it was off to Mitford today with Sam, and this time to the correct site!  The area was so very different from my visit a few weeks ago when autumnal colour was at its peak of brightness.  Today, the duller hues of winter were to be seen but it was quite a lot warmer.Through the binoculars I caught sight of what was a Hawfinch at mid height in the trees to the left but a couple of blokes with telescopes had a look of doubt on there faces.  Anyway, I lost sight of the bird.  After a while Sam got his eye on Hawfinches, three or four, near to where I’d seen one on our arrival.  We had arrived kinda expecting easy and close sightings so had left the telescope in the boot, so Sam went off to fetch it.  We eventually had some very good telescope sightings as the birds fed although at no time did they come down to the Hornbeams directly in front of us which might have allowed photographs, so there are none.  The over all colour of the birds seemed to reflect the hues of winter.   I never had the camera out of the bag all day and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my opinion.  Sometimes best to watch nature and not feel you must capture an image of it.  At least one Hawfinch appeared in the hedge behind us and no one was sure where it, and possibly one or two others, had appeared from. So once again we prove that you don’t have to be an early worm to catch the birds.  This was only my second sighting of Hawfinch in Northumberland, the other sighting being some years ago at the entrance to Hulne Park, which used to be quite a regular spot to find them.There were lots of thrushes in the area today, in the main Redwings, but Mistle Thrushes and Blackbirdstoo, and Siskin were flying over.The Hawfinches seem to have captured the imagination of the locals, quite a few of them out walking dogs.  From our experience I can only say watch where you put your feet!  We give one guy a chance to see a Hawfinch through the telescope and he seemed quite chuffed about his sighting.  We talked about the size of the bill and its strength and I wish I had remembered that according to Collin’s Birdguide it has a force of 50kg.  A lifer for him I reckon.  It’s good to share sightings with interested folk.After a good while with the Hawfinches we left for Druridge and Cresswell, which we found extremely quiet, but we did enjoy watching the growing numbers of Twite at the burn entrance at East Chevington.  They were at their best flying in two or three separate flocks in the sunlight.  There were Sanderling, Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatchers on the shore, but we didn’t find the reported Snow Bunting.  Later, we did watch a pair of Kingfishers at Cresswell Pond.With my mind now on Hawfinch I checked out the Collin’s New Naturalist Monograph written by Guy Mountfort  issued in the 1957.  I saw the price on Amazon and decided I didn’t want it that desperately and that I ought to simply stick with the memories of good sightings of which I have several.  Unfortunately, time dulls the memory and until I looked back on my notes I had clean forgotten that I had sightings of Hawfinch in Poland and Romania.  I do have clear memories of the three Hawfinch seen in Sweden this year as they came down to a feeding station and those seen in Extremadura a few years ago when I clearly remember a walk across a bridge up to an old dilapidated building where we saw several Hawfinch in bushes near to the building.  My best [...]

A Walk to the Lake


19th November.  It wasn’t as cold as I had expected when I followed the path down to the lake, past trees still holding their autumnal colours, if a little faded now.  The skies were blue, but the sunlight was already weak and low in the sky.  Despite the chill in the air such days are in my opinion far superior to the damp dowdy days we have had during recent summers.

There were approaching 130 Canada Geese in the field by the smaller lake, and more of them on and beside the larger lake, so in total approaching 150 Canada Geese, not far short of the largest number I’ve seen here.  The Canada Geese were joined by 6 Greylag Geese.  Notable birds on the lake included 1 male Shoveler, 2 pairs of Gadwall, 1 pair of Goosander, 1 pair of Goldeneye and a late remaining Great Crested Grebe.  Happily the Great Crested Grebes have had another successful breeding year on the lake as many photographers will be aware.  Most of the gulls were gathered on the still frozen corner of the smaller lake.

On my return most of the Canada Geese were on the water of the smaller lake with the 6 Greylag Geese and most of the ice had disappeared and the gulls had dispersed. 

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 a[...]

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 w[...]

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 se[...]

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.&[...]

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 [...]

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 v[...]

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-u[...]

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 [...]

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 Ow[...]

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[...]

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[...]

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.&[...]

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.&nbs[...]

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 [...]

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 Hist[...]

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 thro[...]