Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Seeing the old year out

Seeing the old year out
As the weather was dry and mild we decided to go for one last birding walk in 2014, we headed for Ross Back Sands and naturally took the dog with us.
The sea was grey and quite choppy but there were a few birds out there including a total count of 21 Long Tailed Ducks , most of them stunning adult males. Cormorants ,Eiders and Common Scoter flew past but no sign of any Divers. There were 2 Porpoises steadily making their way towards Holy Island and as we took a last look before leaving the beach we noted a group of 6 Slavonian Grebes.
Our day was completed with the briefest sighting of a Fox as it's bushy tail disappeared into the dunes, this certainly livened up the day for our dog.
A fitting end to another great year, lets hope for more of the same in 2015, all the best and a Happy New Year to everyone.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

More Winter Birding...

Saturday 20th December: North-east Coast
With a chill N.N.Westerly blowing today found us at the Long Nanny estuary; as hoped we spotted 30 Twite, a restless party. A single male Merganser was actively diving in the estuary whilst a large group of Herring & Black-headed Gulls bathed. More sedentary, west of the dunes, were 200 Golden Plover, a few Curlew, Redshank & 2 pairs of Stonechats.
At Low Newton scrape a gaggle of 180 Greylags arose ( it, of course, was impossible to distinguish whether these were feral or immigrants).                                                                                                   Low Newton Pool held 7 Gadwall, Teal & Mallard.   

Friday, 19 December 2014

Winter Birding...

Wednesday 17th December 2014: Holy Island.
Observed from the Heugh, in the channel, across to Guile Point and the mainland, a spread of 1000s of Brent Geese (both races); 100s of Eiders, 5 Mergansers, 7 Slavonian Grebes (mostly paired), & a Red-throated Diver (pretending to be a Black-throat with a white patch on its flank).
In addition, 5 Whooper Swans flew over the causeway & 1 Black-tailed Godwit slept by a pool.
Equal to the birds: the scenic view & the panorama of sky & landscape made a memorable visit.

Friday 19th December: Branton Ponds.
A brisk walk around, in a cold breeze blowing from the snowy hills, revealed 15 Goosanders, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted & Goldeneye duck. 4 Cormorants rested on an island. In the trees as many as 60 Goldfinches fed on alder cones & also teasels, whilst a party of Long-tailed tits flitted here & there. A pair of Bullfinches enjoyed guelder-rose berries, and another male Bullfinch was sighted at the opposite end of the reserve.  A family of Mute swans flew in, whilst a second Mute family occupied the neighbouring lake. Other common birds increased our list!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

A Neglected Footpath by the Tweed

It was a fine afternoon on Monday so I set out to to have a walk along the Tweed from Tillmouth Station towards Norham.
The Tweed was running fast past Dreeper Island  and the footpath somewhat precarious involving several unplanned crawls and much undignified and fortunately unobserved, sitting down in mud,as parts of the path had been washed away!
Walking through the lovely beeches,with one  eye open for Brambling, a Jay flew off indignantly, noisily objecting  to my intrusion.A Grey Heron fishing quietly by the bankside followed suit squawking crossly,over the river.Shortly afterwards,three Roe Deer scampered off,whilst a splash from the river gave me a brief glance at an Otter.
After an hour of plodging through mud,tripping over debris and wondering if I would actually survive my 'stroll', I retraced my steps.
A Willow,down by the water was suddenly alive with birds!Blue Tit,Great Tit,Coal Tit,and a large party of beautiful Long Tailed Tits ,noisily going about their business.Deft ,tiny, fast movements in another part of the tree revealed 3 Goldcrest ,the sun just catching their tiny golden heads,whilst a thin call from the more mature trees behind me suggested the presence of a Treecreeper,eventually spotted.Even a Nuthatch called out its indignation at the unwanted intrusion of a mere human into what has suddenly become a tiny unspoiled natural paradise.
Muddied but unbowed, I  negotiated the slippery path back up to civilisation ,more resembling the 'Creature from the Black Lagoon' than the sensible cleanly attired person who had set out two hours earlier!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Fenham le Moor Hide

With a good forecast and a rising tide three of us decided to try our luck at Fenham le Moor hide.
Initial views were of huge numbers of Shelduck,Wigeon and eventually Brents. Out in the bay were the expected Eider but no sight of any Divers or Mergansers,

On the shoreline were the expected waders-Redshank, Dunlin, Ringed Plover,Curlew,Turnstone ,Bar Tailed Godwit ,and a solitary Grey Plover.

The highlight of the day was an unexpected close up fly past of a magnificent male Hen Harrier!

On leaving the hide ,a short walk south along the flats produced 12 Grey Partridge,2 Little Egret,and a Yellowhammer gleaming gold from the top of a bush.Near the Elwick hide large numbers of Pink Feet and Lapwing were feeding in the fields.

As we prepared to leave,the sky was darkening and a rainbow appeared to the North but a  shaft of strong  winter sunshine bathed the seagrass and the Island in a golden glow, reminding us what a beautiful area we live in!

Sunday, 23 November 2014

A late Sibe

A late Sibe
First thing on sunday we headed off to Brierdene in Whitley Bay, a number of birders were already present and soon we picked up the call of our target bird. Flitting constantly looking for food was a tiny Warbler all the way from Siberia, a Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler, a super little bird which showed well to all those present. Our next port of call was Snab Point just north of Newbiggin, where there was very little on the sea but a couple of Black Throated Divers were noted flying south. Next we called in at East Chevington where we soon got onto the female Smew which has been present for a couple of days, also present were 30+ Goldeneye, 4 Red Breasted Merganser, 50+ Greylags which also included 2 Bar-headed Geese, a small group of 13 Whooper Swans flew over and on the lake 2 Otters seemed to be making great inroads into the local Eel population. 

Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Heaven's Gate

The chance of a Rough-legged Buzzard virtually on our doorstep seemed too good an opportunity to miss, but with reports of recent sightings over quite a wide area, where to look? I set off on foot for a nine mile loop taking in the old shepherd's cottage at Broadstruther and Hawsen. Much of the route had little other than the fine dark autumn colours of the moors and the regular calls of the grouse rising up from the heather..... but not even so much as a Common Buzzard in the wide open skies to raise hopes. After a couple of hours walking, I met two birders at the locally named 'Heaven's Gate' who had recently watched the Rough -legged Buzzard hunting from that vantage point, but they reported that it had flown off up over Broadhope after catching a vole (?) and hadn't been seen for twenty minutes or so. With the mist rolling down obscuring the top of Broadhope, I eventually decided to continue along my route....but amazingly, I was only fifty metres or so beyond Heaven's Gate when the bird came gliding down low over the valley with its horizontally- held narrower wings and significantly longer tail. It passed close by at eye level and flew up to disappear over the Hawsen Crags, revealing its white tail with characteristic black terminal band as it did so. What a 'Heavenly' view for all three of us, thumbs raised all round !

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Mixed weather, mixed flock

A morning of thick mist which lingered on in the valley had the Pink-footed Geese calling overhead at Yearle, perhaps struggling with the poor visibility. We headed up the Harthope Valley and amazingly came into some fine sunshine and beautiful autumnal views of the Cheviot hills ...  like a different world within half-a-mile of home!
Just beyond the car parking area near Langleeford we enjoyed coming across a mixed flock of woodland birds in the birch trees- lots of Redpolls, some Siskin, a few Treecreepers working up the trunks, Blue Tits,Coal Tits, a noisy party of Long-tailed Tits, Chaffinch, Bullfinch, Robin and Goldcrest all busily feeding, perhaps as many as 40 birds.
Unfortunately as we left the valley we plunged back into the thick cold mist.... that's November for you.

Sunday, 9 November 2014

If Pigs could Fly.......?

A 'squealing pig' in the reed-bed at Branton East Pond could only mean one thing- a Water Rail-but could we see it as well as hear it? Waiting and watching patiently and silently, we were rewarded after a few minutes with a brief 'couple of seconds' worth as it tiptoed past a little open channel in the reeds. Oh well, better than nothing!
                   However, the best was yet to come. As we headed up the east side of the pond, the Water Rail decided to fly along past us to the next reedy edge, giving us a rare view of the now silent bird in flight-with bill angled down towards the water and legs trailing behind- something we've never seen before.
            We enjoyed the rest of our visit, with plenty of activity on the water from the usual suspects, and even more activity in the Alder Trees from Lesser Redpolls, Siskins, Goldfinches and Goldcrests, where the seed cones were clearly proving irresistible. But the 'flying pig' was the star event............

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Holy Island 1st November

Holy Island 1st November
We decided to pay a visit to Holy Island and weren't disappointed, we were checking out the Sycamores opposite The Lindisfarne Hotel and spotted 3 Blackcaps, as we watched another bird appeared similar in shape but bigger and bulkier, our immediate thought was Barred Warbler and this was confirmed when we saw the obvious barring on the undertail coverts. We observed this bird for about 5 minutes when a second bird appeared, yet again a first winter both of which were constantly harassed by the local Robin and House Sparrows. Keith headed off towards the Heugh where he met Mark Winter who got him onto 2 Black Redstarts and I managed a small number of Goldcrests near the coach park, also present on the Island was a single Mediterranean Gull by the Harbour and a Woodcock along the Straight Lonnen

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Newton Pool and Newton Point

Leaving Lowick in a howling gale the decision was made not to take the scope on the planned day's bird-watching. As usual ,the wrong decision!

First call was Newton Pool where we had the hide to ourselves,and from which we enjoyed great views of Whooper Swans,Teal, Gadwall , Shoveller, Pintail ,Grey Heron plus a couple of dozen Grey Lag Geese.
Heading North along the coastal path we stopped for lunch at Newton Point,sheltering on the rocks from the strong offshore wind.Out to sea,among the gulls,Gannets and Cormorants our attention was drawn to two birds heading in from the sea,one harrying the other.It soon became clear that the gull was a Herring Gull whilst its weary victim ,probably just arriving from Russia ,was a Short Eared Owl which drew perilously close to the swell ,before thankfully landing unsteadily on the rocks on Snook Point which were gradually being covered by the incoming tide..

Continuing North we then stopped at Snook Point,our attention drawn by 300+ Golden Plover,amongst which there were Turnstone,Oyster Catcher and Redshank. Out in the bay were two Red Throated Divers.

Walking a little further North we were relieved  to see when  the Short Eared Owl,looking slightly more perky,having made it to the dunes arose from almost under our feet to head up the coast.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Bittern sweet

Bittern sweet
We had an early morning walk around Branton Ponds today to see if the Slavonian Grebe was still there. Whilst searching the east pond we moved down to an area of Bullrushes, no sign of the grebe but much to our astonishment a Bittern flew up in front of us and proceeded to flap awkwardly around the pond chased by a group of Black Headed Gulls, it eventually flew over trees in the direction of the west pond and was lost from sight. We had no further views but it may have landed in a dense area of reeds at the far end or it may have just kept on going, whatever happened to it this is yet another new bird for the ponds and the second new one in a week.
From the ponds we went on an unusual twitch in the form of a Death's Head Hawkmoth at Howick village hall, provided by Stewart Sexton and much appreciated by the assembled crowd.
This is all just too much to take in,I shall have to go and have a lie down in a darkened room, and as a footnote the Slav was seen again on the east pond later this morning.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Grebe heaven

Grebe heaven
As usual we were out for our early morning dog walk around Branton Ponds, the air was still and clear, the sun had just poked over the horizon and the ponds were alive with autumn birdlife. Teal squabbled near the reedbeds and Wigeon numbers are building each day with their distinctive calls,and 3 Water Rail belted out their pig like squeals from the rushes.
As has been the case all year Little Grebe numbers have risen to almost plague proportions with at least 13 individuals on the ponds at the moment. The Great Crested Grebes are still there but in diminished numbers ( only 4 at the moment) even they will disappear at the first sign of a freeze over, today however they were joined by something much more interesting in the form of a winter plumaged Slavonian Grebe, it's contrasting black and white plumage with stunning white cheeks and straight rather than upturned bill gave us a new bird for the site and one which is remarkable bearing in mind the ponds are at least 12 miles inland.

A Day on the East Lothian Coast

Together with three other Bird Club Members,a decision was made to head North of the Border for a change as some research suggested there may be some interesting sightings in the Torness area.

First stop,Thorntonloch ,and a walk along the sunlit beach provided the usual Dunlin, Ringed Plover and Herring,Black Headed and Common Gulls ,both adult and juvenile.Out to sea ,among the heavy swell,Gannets fished.
Next stop was the small woodland near the Visitor's Car Park at Torness where a Booted Warbler had been reported daily.A small group of birders were seen through the trees but the problem was crossing the fence bearing in mind the 21 year old artificial hip of one of our group.After some manhandling some progress was made but the sight of three women apparently trying to bundle a large object somewhat unceremoniously over the perimeter fence must have raised some alarm as a Police car swept in  and stopped to get a closer look!Leaving Colin dangling uncomfortably half over the fence we waved and smiled apologetically at the Police who drove off  realising we were possibly mad but not bad!.
Our efforts and our companion's discomfort were rewarded by superb views of a very active,obliging Booted Warbler which we observed for a good 20 minutes before it flew out of sight in the woodland.A first for us all!
Next stop Skateraw,and a walk around the Power Station and out to the pier.The wind was strong and the sea rough so  there was little to see apart from Eider,Gannet,Cormorant and Pied Wagtail.
A good  day out but made special by the Booted Warbler!
Looking at the day's recorded sightings later it appeared we missed a Siberian Stonechat,which we must have driven past and which was spotted by more experienced birders!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Tuesday 23rd November .Barnacles Galore!

This was my first trip to Holy Island for some weeks,and after the recent East winds and haar ,we felt we may be in for some exciting spots.
The Causeway is currently under repair with considerable delays,so ,when we had finally parked, we headed off towards the Straight Lonnen which was unproductive apart from a pair of Goldcrest.
The Crooked Lonnen was more interesting  with a female Redstart,and a surprisingly large flock of young Reed Buntings.Goldfinches were in evidence everywhere.
Off to the Lough,where we spotted a Wheatear, while on the pond itself were  four pairs of Gadwall and a Little Grebe amongst the Teal ,Moorhen ,Coot and solitary Grey Heron.
Time and tide waits for no man or woman and it seemed we had scarcely arrived before it was time to face an even longer queue through the roadworks back to Beal.
On the causeway we pulled in to have a closer look at three Little Egrets.Spotting our scope,we were approached by a visitor from Birmingham on his first visit to the area.Please could he have a look at the Egrets?No problem!He then asked if I had noticed the hundreds of Oyster Catchers to the North.Turning the scope we found the Oyster Catchers were in fact Barnacle Geese -about three and a half thousand in fact and with them ,a pure white Goose!A Snow Goose!(later confirmed by the Natural England Senior Ranger Andrew Craggs who happened to be passing!)
We had planned to finish the afternoon at the Fenham le Moor hide but Andrew asked if we could stay and note where the Barnacle Geese headed when  the tide came in.
The flock of 3-4 thousand geese who were just off Beal Point were gradually joined by more and more newcomers ,all paddling and swimming  in the incoming tide.Another huge flock arrived and we thought the original number had probably doubled to about 6 or 7 thousand.Periodically they took off and noisily circled before returning to the water.
During this time small groups of Brents headed North flying low above the water  while high above us skeins of Pink Feet flew in.
Finally as the tide rose,so did the Barnacle Geese and the sky above us suddenly darkened as we were treated to a fantastic,noisy,awe inspiring flyover of 7 thousand or so in full voice!An unforgettable few minutes!
After noisily circling a few times they settled in an adjacent stubble field and after another five or so minutes,all was quiet!
What an experience!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Pinkfeet fly over

There's nothing quite so evocative of September as the calls of the geese as they fly in from the North in their thousands. This morning the sky was full of skeins of 'Pinkfeet'- hundreds of birds in long straggling V-formations high in the sky coming in from the coast over Glendale, calling excitedly to each other. There's always a little thrill whenever you re-connect with that magical sound! True, the the swallows are still busy flying around the house feeding up for their long migration south, but the arrival of the geese suggests we're only days away from the departure of the hirundines.
               Earlier in the week, it was the Barnacle Geese which were moving through, briefly stopping over in their thousands near Lindisfarne en route to the Solway.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Holy Island 21st september

Having been on Holy Island 3 times in the last week and being gluttons for punishment we decided to go back again today. The numbers were well down on our last visit, no Red Backed Shrike, Yellow-browed Warblers or Greenish Warbler this time, but we were still treated to an elusive Firecrest in Alders beside the Lough along with a much more obvious Siberian Stonechat on a fence nearby.
The willows at the end of the Straight Lonnen held a Common Redstart and a Lesser Whitethroat, an Arctic Skua menaced Gannets off Emmanuel Head and in the Vicar's garden Spotted Flycatchers were joined by a gorgeous Wood Warbler.
Our day was made complete with a first for our garden in the form of yet another Lesser Whitethroat.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Fenham Flats again

Fenham Flats again
The year moves on and WeBS for September was today, the sky was clear and there was a warmth to the air. As happened last month the first birds picked out were a small group of 3 Little Egrets and as I moved out to the point more birds made their presence known, including a single Greenshank as it "chew,chew,chew'd" overhead. More unusual for the site was a single Green Sandpiper in the dunes, when I reached the point I was greeted with the sight of a huge flock of 770 Oystercatchers on the sand, on the island just offshore were gathered a mixed flock of 354 Bar-tailed Godwits and 222 Redshank along with smaller numbers of Knot,Eiders and yet more Oystercatchers. A noisy interlude was provided by 21 Arctic Terns and a small group of 5 Little Terns. As I headed back I could hear an unmistakable sound which heralds the  autumn as a flock of 340 Pale-bellied Brent Geese landed on the flats, this autumnal feel was reinforced by the sight of 940 Wigeon on the water near Elwick hide, what other time of year could you get Arctic Terns and Brent Geese on the same walk.   

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Ruff time on the A1

News of a  Pectoral Sandpiper at Charlton Mires tempted me away from more pressing work in the garden for an afternoon. There were a dozen Ruff probing the mud, outnumbered by forty to fifty Lapwings. A couple of Snipe, a Little Ringed Plover and of course excellent views of the 'star of the show' completed the wader roll-call. 
The seasonal pool is viewable from the side of the A1 just south of Brownieside close to the dog kennels. It's not the most peaceful place to bird.... but well worth a visit while these seasonal visitors are there.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Fenham Flats

Fenham Flats
Today was my monthly trip to Fenham Flats to do a WeBS count. The day started well with a flock of 7 Little Egrets just east of Elwick hide, the weather seemed to be holding as I headed in the direction of Guile Point, by the time I got there the sun was out and I spent well over an hour counting birds, the highlight being 17 Little Terns secreted amongst the larger group of 43 Arctic Terns and 3 Common Terns. Numbers of waders really have increased since my visit last month and included 172 Bar-tailed Godwits, 30 Ringed Plover, 96 Curlew and smaller numbers of Grey Plover, Sanderling, Knot and Redshank. No sign of any early Geese but a Peregrine was seen hunting over the dunes.  

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Garden list addition

Garden list addition
After a lovely day at Greenleighton Quarry looking at Flowers and Butterflies it was back to the garden for something new. As we stood watching young Chiffchaffs and Blue Tits our attention was drawn to a small red tailed bird on the window ledge only a couple of feet away, it was a female Redstart, soon she was joined by a second female. What happened next was unusual ,in that they both then proceeded to feed a speckled looking juvenile Redstart which had appeared on the gravel. Over the last few days we have seen glimpses of a Redstart in the garden but never more than one, so this behaviour was a real bonus. 

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Norfolk or Northumberland?

Spoonbills, Avocets, Black-tailed Godwits, Marsh Harriers, Reed Warblers......... you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Norfolk rather than the south-east of Northumberland.... but the climate-assisted northward drift of these species in recent years is making such a list more likely and more accessible. Yesterday, we enjoyed good sightings of all of these birds,seeing the four spoonbills currently at Druridge Pools from the Budge Hide, whilst at least eight Avocets and over fifty Black-tailed Godwits were close to the hide at Cresswell, along with the brief appearance of a couple of Reed Warblers. Equally enchanting were the Little Gulls also present just in front of the hide, mainly immature first summer birds but at least a couple of more mature birds in smart summer plumage with jet black heads and a pinkish tinge to the breast. We counted fifteen, but there have been daily variations of up to 23 birds reported from a couple of days back.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Nocturnal activities

The weather was mild, dry and just a light breeze so we set off for Holburn Moss. The midges were few and far between as we settled down next to the shelter of the trees with good views across the Moss, after a short wait we could hear a Green Woodpecker yaffling behind us and the constant screeching of Gulls on the wetter area. As the midges began to build we finally heard the noise we had been waiting for, a far carrying, churring, as a Nightjar sang in the gloom. Soon a second bird joined in from nearer the middle of the Moss and there perched on a bare branch was the source of these evocative sounds, after a few minutes it decided to fly and it's long narrow wings and distinctive flight gave us our last images of the evening, it was 11.00 pm and we then headed home for a further 2 hours moth trapping. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

A trip down south

A trip down south
As it was the last day of our holidays we decided on a trip to Wykeham  Forest near Scarborough, we arrived at 10.15 about 15 minutes later than we had hoped due to traffic, note the time it is important.
On reaching the raptor watch point we were soon viewing a low flying Honey Buzzard, this was soon followed by several Goshawks some of them at quite close range as they circled ,swooped and dived at great speed , territory marking with their white lower tail coverts spread. The morning raced by with Common Buzzards putting in an appearance along with more views of Goshawk, meanwhile Tree Pipits sang from the surrounding branches.
After a brief lunch break we walked along the road into the forest in the direction of the tree nursery and were soon hearing the soft purring calls of Turtle Dove, a species which is under real threat but seems to be fairly reliable at Wykeham.
Back to the view point but very little to see, the clear sunny morning turning into a sultry, hazy afternoon,but a Green Woodpecker was heard from the valley below.
Finally why was it important to remember our arrival time?, well at 10.03 , 11 minutes before we got there some lucky observers were treated to a fly over White Tailed Eagle, isn't traffic annoying!  

Friday, 9 May 2014

Lesser Yellowlegs at Beadnell. From the beach car park go through the Caravan park to the end, continue quarter mile and it is with a Ruff on the flooded field to the right,

Monday, 5 May 2014

Holystone Woods 5th may

Holystone Woods 5th may
Wood Warbler
Bank holiday Monday and we decided to get as far away from the coast as possible so we headed to Holystone Woods. When we arrived the air was alive with bird song; we could hear Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Redstart. The ground was carpeted with Violets and Primroses but as we reached the oak woodland we could hear the distinctive call of Wood Warbler and soon we were in the middle of his territory, as he sang every part of his body shook. Moving on we left the oak woods and headed for more open Birch woodland where Tree Pipits called from the tree tops and parachuted from the sky. A few more species were added including Great Spotted Woodpecker, Cuckoo and Jay but nothing could eclipse the sheer magic of the little sprite of the woods.

Harthope Valley in Spring - the place to be!

For anyone in the Wooler area a visit to the Harthope Valley will not disappoint. Today, a chorus of Warblers (Willow, Chiffchaff & Blackcap), Robins, Wrens & Yellow Hammers held forth. Other migrants included Redstart, Whinchat, Sandpiper, and the 3 Hirondines species (Sand Martin, Swallow & House Martin) & Cuckoo were all evident. Whilst nesting waders, Oystercatchers & Curlews had established their territories. Residents included Pied Wagtail & Kestrel, and the early breeding Dipper was seen feeding its well grown juvenile.
I'm sure we would have found other species had time allowed!

Thursday, 1 May 2014

More in the pipeline ?

More in the pipeline ?
While we were on our early morning dog walk around the west pond at Branton, the air was thick with Sand Martins as they skimmed the surface, a group of male Tufted Ducks squabbled and pairs of Shelduck flew around protecting their territory from intruders. As we walked along the pipeline Blackcaps and Garden Warblers piped out their similar calls and Whitethroats sang from the bushes.
We were about half way along when a ghostly shape came out of the mist in the shape of a Barn Owl hunting for its breakfast, or optimistically a nest full of youngsters. We watched for a few minutes before it glided off towards the east pond. At this point we happened to look up and there above us heading east was a single Common Tern- a great sight so far inland and a first for the site. After a spring Arctic Tern last year what will be next, we can only hope.

Monday, 14 April 2014

Upper Teesdale 14th April

Upper Teesdale 14th April
The promise of fine clear weather saw us heading off to Langdon Beck at 5.00 am, when we arrived there the light was perfect and the Black Grouse were lecking. There seemed to be Blackcock everywhere but what was also encouraging was the large number of Greyhens. we continued watching for some time before heading off towards Cow Green Reservoir and yet more Black Grouse on the way, our final total being 28 males and 14 females.
Around the reservoir itself were many Red Grouse, all paired up,the calls of many upland waders rang through the early morning air, including Golden Plover, Curlew, Common Snipe and Lapwing whilst overhead flew a single Peregrine.
They say the early bird catches the worm and that was certainly the case today as a few birders arrived as we were leaving by which point the Blackcocks had dispersed and were much harder to spot.  

Thursday, 10 April 2014

'Twixt Till and Tweed

Having spent the last week housebound incubating a vicious virus,I decided a breath of fresh air would lift the spirits!How right I was!
Parking at Tillmouth Bridge,I was immediately serenaded by the loud insistent call of Nuthatch,and simultaneously, my first Blackcap of the Spring!Chiffchaff called incessantly as we walked down to the river where Gooseanders were evident in good numbers. Blackcaps, male and female,flitted above us as did Blue Tit and Great Tit,accompanied by the noisy calls of Wren from the denser undergrowth.A Song Thrush sang from the Scottish side of the river.
 Down at the former fishing shiel the ghillies were cutting the grass and strimming in preparation for a busy week ahead.As always they were a great source of information on the local flora and fauna!They pointed out where the Barn Owl nested,where one could normally spot the Kingfisher and confirmed that Ospreys had already been seen heading up the Tweed. Little Egrets are now a regular sight,and Peregrine too - but not today.We bemoaned with them the gradual erosion  into the Tweed of the steep sandy bank where Sand Martins have nested since time immemorial.No,they hadn't seen any yet this Spring.
We reluctantly took our leave of the ghillies ,and walked upstream to the eroded bankside. An excited twittering caught our attention and there they were!Back again!Two dozen or more Sand Martins swooping effortlessly over the pebbly island where noisy Oystercatchers and Pied Wagtails were also spotted.Let's hope they nest successfully this year with no losses.
Onwards  past the next fishing beat, and Mute Swans could be seen where the Tweed meets the Till.Usually a great spot for Sedge Warblers,we were disappointed today.My next wish was the song of the Willow Warbler and no sooner said than there it was!The slightly sad song so welcome and so resonant of Spring!
Heading back to Tillmouth Bridge along the Till we noted Butterbur pushing up through the grass and on the bankside, Primroses,Wild Garlic and the first Bluebells.A flowering Cherry was magnificent as were the sightings of Tortoiseshell Butterfly.
Walking quietly,we were treated to the sight of a pair of Roe Deer completely unaware of our presence.An unusual call  from the river and there was an Otter,which,having surfaced, dived in alarm at spotting us!
Driving home ,I spotted Buzzard and Kestrel and another first for me this Spring-a single Swallow!

Monday, 7 April 2014

Ring Ouzels Return

The warmer south-westerly winds of the weekend must have encouraged the Ring Ouzels to return to their summer grounds in the Cheviots; it was wonderful to see a couple of male birds back in the Harthope Valley late this afternoon! However it was the song of the Mistle Thrush rather than the Ouzels which was ringing loudly from the rocky slopes , mingling with the evocative calls of the Curlews overhead. Also seen- a pair of Stonechats and a couple of Grey Wagtails.

Garden Visitors

Seasonal comings and goings over the weekend include a Male Blackcap on the fat-balls this cold wet morning-presumably the same Spring migrant who was singing so sweetly yesterday from our Hazel Tree . Another 'new' visitor for us this year on the seed-feeder yesterday was a Lesser Redpoll, no doubt mixing in with the recent big influx of Siskins over the 'hungry gap' at the end of Winter. As if to highlight the comings and goings of the visitors, a dozen Redwings landed this morning on the big Beech Tree straddling the rear boundary.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Arrivals and Departures

Having recently flown back home from warmer climes, we were keen to check out the 'Arrivals and Departure' board at nearby Branton Ponds for ourselves. Over on the East Pond there's barely room to take off from the little island where the smartly garbed black-headed gulls are gathering to breed. What a cacophony of sound they make!
 Further round it was good to hear the chiffchaffs  still announcing their recent arrival, and the Great-crested Grebes were indulging in a little courtship display over on the West Pond. However, the Whooper Swans (mentioned below on 11th March) appear as if they have yet to depart to Iceland; or is Branton used as a staging post for successive herds of swans to overnight? Whatever- they looked splendid in the morning sunlight.............

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Springtime at Branton

What a superb few days weather, a real feeling of spring in the air and at the ponds the birds are answering the call, this morning we heard the distinctive call of Chiffchaff and discovered not one but two of these harbingers of spring. On the water the Coots were fighting for supremacy as were a noisy group of Shelduck, a quieter note was struck by Teal and Wigeon, not yet ready to depart. On the island Black Headed Gulls are staking their claims to territories along with Oystercatchers and the first Redshank of the year for the site, however as if to remind us that we are not totally out of winter's clutches 19 Whooper Swans overnighted on the west pond last Friday on their way back north,lets hope they have a safe journey, a successful breeding season and honour us with their presence next winter.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Riverside Wander

Today's bright sunshine found us at Paxton House for a change of habitat.Having parked ,a quick visit to the hide in the woods gave us a hurried visit from a Greater Spotted Woodpecker,a Goldfinch and a plethora of Blue,Coal and Great Tits.No Red Squirrels unfortunately,which haven't been seen there for some time.The loud, clear calls of Nuthatch  were a reminder that Spring is indeed on the way.
Down to the Tweed  next,which was flowing a little more calmly than of late,and where 2 pairs of  Goldeneye were feeding as were several pairs of Gooseanders .Oystercatchers were noisily announcing their presence downstream.
Once across the Chain Bridge,we headed for West Ord, passing 6 Moorhen on a small island.A little further we spotted a single Snipe,Jay,Yellowhammer, Goldcrest and heard a Tawny Owl calling from across the river.Three Mute Swans feeding in an adjacent field were accompanied by a Grey Heron.About to turn back at West Ord, we spotted a very white bird flying upstream,then landing on the Scottish side-a Little Egret!
Back to the Paxton woods we added Greenfinch ,Bullfinch and Long Tailed Tit to our final total of 33 sightings.

Ducking and Diving

Ducking and Diving
An early start saw us at Long Nanny, there was very little in terms of small birds except 6 Snow Buntings on the beach, meanwhile offshore lingered 300+ Wigeon and a single Red Throated Diver, whilst scanning the Gull flock on the beach we picked out a single adult Mediterranean Gull.
Our next port of call was Stag Rocks, yet again this winter we were not disappointed, Birds offshore included a single Red Necked Grebe giving great views, also 11 Red Throated Divers, 4 Slavonian Grebes, 4 Long Tailed Ducks, 6 Red Breasted Mergansers and at least 500 Common Scoter.  

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Spring is icumen in...

The young lambs may be in the field in front of the house, wearing their plastic 'raincoats' to guard against the rain and cold winds, and the winter thrushes are still feeding on the rough pasture, but the waders are surely responding to the lengthening days, impatient to get back to the hills and the river valleys. A few days ago, thirty six Oystercatchers were gathered by the flood-waters at Yearle Mill, and today a flock of sixteen Lapwings were winging over the sheep field.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Snook, Holy Island

Seen today at approximately 1 pm, a handsome Male Hen Harrier on the Snook at NU 093 438.
Also seen-18 Snow Buntings in the same area but on the high tide line.

Signs of spring ?

Signs of spring ?
There was a real springlike feel to the air today as I walked around Branton Ponds, this was reinforced by my very first sighting of the day, a very pale looking Adder stretched out on a south facing bank sunning itself, not the earliest I have seen one( about 15 years ago on the 14th) but still surely a sign of things to come. Another interesting sight was a single Lesser Black Backed Gull in amongst a large flock of Black Headed Gulls and Common Gulls, again quite early for the site. There were also plenty of other things about including a single Willow Tit with a small noisy flock of Long Tailed Tits, several Yellowhammers and suddenly lots of paired up Reed Buntings. Another sign of better days is the increased numbers of Song Thrushes singing in the trees, birds which seem to have been totally absent for the past few months, all we need now is a few lambs in the fields and the transformation will be complete.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Fenham Flats 16th February

Apart from a stiff breeze the conditions were perfect for my monthly WeBS count. As I set off from Elwick Hide I could see large numbers of birds on the mud flats including a rather large Peregrine which everything was giving a wide berth. As I headed towards Guile Point the numbers started to add up-650 Pale Bellied Brent Geese, 360 Curlew, 150 Oystercatcher, 409 Bar Tailed Godwit, 46 Grey Plover, 15 Sanderling, 950 Knot, 220 Dunlin and 88 Shelduck. On reaching the point I noted a single Red-throated Diver and 5 Long Tailed Ducks; as I headed back around the point a 1st winter Merlin flew up clutching what looked like a Rock Pipit. It landed about 30 yards away and proceeded to pluck its prey eventually moving off into the dunes. On reaching the area known as the Wideopens I noticed a Snow Bunting on the track only 5 yards in front of me; once I had started to scan it I noticed there were 2 others which then suddenly turned into a flock of 25 which I watched for some time. The day was rounded off with a very clean looking Slavonian Grebe in front of the Hide at Elwick.   

Friday, 14 February 2014

An Unusual Winter Visitor!

A chilly quick walk along the dunes and sands between Cocklawburn and Cheswick ,produced a handsome male Stonechat,5 male Red Breasted Mergansers,4 Common Scoter,5 Sanderling,20 Purple Sandpipers,4 Turnstones and one adult Homo Sapiens Nudus.The latter (male) was in full moult but despite this and despite the cold , seemed to be full of the joys of Spring.
I understand this specimen is an occasional visitor to this part of the beach in the warmer months,but rarely observed in the winter.Lucky me to have spotted it.
The sighting was reported to Northumbria Police.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Bittern on Tweed

Good views of a Bittern this morning as it flew upstream near West Ord and landed in a small area of reeds near Coroner's Meadow (NT960519). It enlivened a morning with limited sightings.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Alnmouth and Warkworth Bay

Whilst the Bay does not  have the numbers and variety of birds that are found further north, regular birding there brings its rewards. Over the last few years the number of purple sandpipers has steadily increased and today there were 21 scurrying along the tideline on Birling Carr. Alongside them were 10 knot, 6 turnstone and 3 redashank. Meanwhile 9 grey plover maintained their motionless pose along with 6 ringed plover hiding in the weathered limestone.
Out to sea were 17 red-throated divers, 5 guillemot, 2 great crested grebe, 2 male common scoter, 2 shag and a red breasted merganser. Past these birds the fishing boats were returning to Amble harbour, accompanied by circling gulls.

Friday, 7 February 2014

Ross Links ,Back Sands and Ross Point

Another beautiful Spring day which could not be wasted!Across the links on the way to the shore 4 Skylarks were soaring and singing.
Sightings on the seaward side included Common Scoter,Red Breasted Merganser,and a flock of Brent Geese flying towards Budle Bay,as well as the expected Oyster Catchers,Redshanks etc.
The highlight was however,on Ross Back sands, hunting low over the Eel Grass,a male Hen Harrier,which I watched for about 20 minutes before it flew towards Fenham Flats.

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Berwick area

Dog walk along Cocklawburn beach on Tuesday morning. Counted 34 Red-throated Diver - in groups of 4 or 5 for the most part. A record for me.

Mistle Thrush in car park of Asda at Tweedmouth - singing sweetly.


Sunday, 2 February 2014

Holy Island

With the walking conditions in the hills soggy to say the least,I decided my breath of fresh air this morning was to be coastal.
I parked at the first available pull in on the Snook and followed the North shore  hoping for a glimpse of the Snow Buntings I had last seen there a few weeks ago.I was not disappointed!A flock of 20 were busily foraging on the high tide line,occasionally taking to the air to move to a new feeding place when disturbed.
Assuming that was to be the highlight of the morning,as the only other two birds I had seen were a Reed Bunting and a lone Brent Goose,I decided to head back through the dunes,but first noticed a freshly killed and stripped wader,its breast entirely picked clean and both wings untouched!In the dunes ten minutes later, the likely author of the wader's demise swept past pushed by the wind-Peregrine!
The wind was unpleasantly strong and most self respecting birds were well hunkered down I thought ,but my final thrill was still to come!
The first Short Eared Owl I had seen on the Island this winter!Magic!

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Stag Rocks (yet again)

Stag Rocks (yet again)
After a morning spent doing a bird count within sight of Bamburgh Castle it would have seemed churlish not to have gone to look for the Grey Phalarope yet again!. The conditions looked perfect when we got there, not too much swell, the tide right in and lots of birds feeding close to shore, but no sign of the quarry. This didn't deter us as we were soon having cracking views of 3 Little Gulls feeding very close in, also present were some large flocks of Common Scoter, Eiders, Purple Sandpipers and several Slavonian Grebes out beyond the breakers.At this point Keith noticed a small grey bird in the water 300 yards south of the lighthouse. It could be only one thing, the elusive Grey Phalarope; we spent the next 20 minutes getting excellent views as it moved up and down the tide-line delicately picking food items off the surface. This should have been a great end to a perfect day, however we decided to listen to the Tyne-Wear derby on the way home and the grey clouds descended yet again. 

Friday, 31 January 2014

Love is in the air?

Taking advantage of a brief respite in the appalling weather,I headed up the College Valley for a breath of fresh air.
Despite the fact it was snowing lightly when I parked at Hethpool,the distant song of a Mistle Thrush persuaded me to don waterproofs and head out.
On crossing the bridge over the College Burn towards Hethpool Mill,I was alerted by some persistent twittering and spent the next 15 minutes watching two  Dippers, resplendent in their spring plumage, on a large rock in the stream near the bank.One ,the larger of the two(or so it seemed) was facing the other bird with its chest thrust out and puffed up,its head back, whilst twittering constantly.The other took up a less assertive and more submissive position,twittering constantly and bobbing.This went on for many minutes with the more assertive bird hardly changing position ,whilst its companion ,turned frequently , still bobbing ,before flying off then approaching again immediately scurrying through the water.Eventually one flew downstream followed by the other where the same behaviour was repeated before they went their separate ways one upstream and one downstream.

Courtship or a territorial dispute?Comments welcome please!

Shortly afterwards,a pair of Ravens flew by side by side,in a seemingly established relationship.
Otherwise ,apart from a Jay calling from Harrow Bog,a pair of Mistle Thrushes and a selection of the usual suspects-Wren,Hedge Sparrow,Pheasant etc all was fairly quiet,probably on account of the wintry weather.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Stag Rocks 27th January

Stag Rocks 27th January
We decided to take advantage of a brief settled spell at the start of the day to have yet another look for the Grey Phalarope at Stag Rocks, but as on the previous 4 occasions it did not appear. This didn't spoil our visit as there were many other things to look at including 200+ Common Scoter, several Red-throated Diver,1 Black-throated Diver,4 Slavonian Grebes, 20+ Long Tailed Duck and the most unusual of all, a Kingfisher flying around the rocks beside the lighthouse and feeding in the rockpools.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

An Unexpected Surprise!

Returning home this afternoon after a weekend down South, the boredom of the A1 M just south of Wetherby was spectacularly relieved with the unexpected sighting of three Red Kites,wheeling over the adjacent fields!Seeing them reminded me how much I have missed seeing this beautiful bird since moving back to Northumberland from our previous home in West Yorkshire.
At that time  we were near neighbours of the Harewood Estate where in 1999,a project was commenced to reintroduce Red Kites to the area with the support of the RSPB,The National Trust and Yorkshire Water.
They are now well established in the surrounding area but during our time in Yorkshire  they were regularly seen above our garden and on one occasion I counted 5 sitting in one large tree at the bottom of our garden each wearing a numbered orange tag!The sight of them wheeling over the trees on the Harewood Estate brightened my daily trips to work in Harrogate!
How wonderful if they could be seen so regularly in North Northumberland!

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Birding in Windows of fine Weather

 Fourth week in January 2014:

20th: an atmospheric walk along Ross Back sands brought the sighting of 600 Common Scoter at sea & two groups of 17 & 40 Sanderling - doing what they do - on the tideline!
At Guille Point 120 Oystercatchers rested whilst a minimum of 130 Eiders were involved in courtship displays & multitudes of wader sp. were too far out on Fenham mud flats to be IDd.

21st: West of Cornhill-on-Tweed, south of river Tweed, c100Mute Swans & c120 Whooper Swans grazed on a brassica crop.

22nd: small groups of varyingly 6-18 Sanderling scattered along beaches from Newton Links to Low Newton.  A (first of the year) Skylark singing at Newton Point.  500 Lapwings, & 17 Curlew, just north of Annstead Farm.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Glossy pictures

We decided to have a day in southeast Northumberland and started at East Chevington where the predominant species was Goldeneye closely followed by Tufted Duck. From there we headed to Lynemouth Flash where we were lucky enough to get onto the juvenile Glossy Ibis which has been there for about 5 days, next to Cresswell Pond where there were large numbers of Wigeon and Teal.
Our final port of call was the Budge screen at Druridge Pools, again there were large numbers of commoner ducks which also included some very showy drake Shovelers and Pintail plus a male Green Winged Teal.

Monday, 20 January 2014

A Walk in the Cheviots

What a relief to have a dry day with a hint of warmth in the sunshine after such a dreich weekend. The Carey Burn circuit beckoned- Yellowhammers brightening the hawthorns on the bank, Robins and Mistle Thrushes singing, Dippers busy on the river. Overhead, a powerfully built raptor flew over in silhouette, then banked down and landed on the crags- joy of joys, it was a Peregrine Falcon. (Once a 'regular' in the valley, it must be a couple of years since I last saw one here.) Up on the moors beyond Hart Heugh, more than a dozen Red Grouse were flying over the heather.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Fenham Flats WeBS count

Fenham Flats WeBS count
In really poor conditions I set out from Elwick Hide, visibility was rubbish and there was a constant battle to keep the optics dry. Nevertheless the birds were still there including 320 Shelduck, 119 Brent Geese of which 4 were Dark Bellied, 380 Eiders, 290 Oystercatchers,1320 Knot and 52 Grey Plover. On reaching Guile Point I could hear this distinctive yodelling call of Long Tailed Ducks as 15 drakes could be seen chasing 2 females on the water, whilst there I also noted 2 Snow Buntings. 

Thursday, 16 January 2014

The Peculiar Case of the Disappearing Chicken Food

Our seven hens have, of late,been on strike due to their moult. Recently, however,we have noticed an increase in their appetite for their evening corn which has regularly disappeared without trace by the following morning.
Assuming they were powering up ready to reward us with an egg bonanza,we have been disappointed as nothing has been forthcoming from that direction.Two evenings ago ,after calling the girls home for their evening corn and then locking up their pen for the night,I was alerted by a sudden excited fluttering and twittering behind me.The true culprits had arrived-a dozen or more Tree Sparrows who immediately joined the hens for their evening meal,thus solving two mysteries ie 1)Who was eating all our corn ?and b)Where do our Tree Sparrows disappear to during the winter?
Returning to the house,a low flying jet thundered overhead ,putting up 1500-2000 Pink Footed Geese which had been feeding two fields away,a sight to gladden the heart (if not for our neighbour in whose field they were feasting.)
A short walk to the village this afternoon without binoculars,turned up two dozen or so Fieldfare feeding in the fields by the roadside,whilst a quiet single call alerted me to a male Bullfinch who kept me company for about fifty yards along the hedgerow.A wheezy call then briefly revealed a Yellowhammer, perhaps returning to its usual Spring haunts.
Perhaps the end of this bizarre winter is in sight?

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Tweeting Tawnys

From dusk (17.30hrs) to dawn ( 07.30hrs)Tawny Owls are expending their energy in declaring and defending their territory whilst seeking a mate.  At least one male, but most likely two, are calling in the Yearle/Middleton Hall area and a female is replying, "I will, come & get me!"

Monday, 13 January 2014

Glendale Gossip

Driving towards Berwick this afternoon just north of Doddington, I noticed a few Pink-footed Geese flying over and whiffling down towards a bare field close to the Fenton Estate. Pulling off the road, I realised that the field was already full of geese- certainly more than 2000 already gathered there - and more and more birds were drifting in as I did a quick 'guesstimate' of numbers, working  the little 'spare' binoculars beyond the limits of my eyes in the fading light. Floating back up over the few hundred yards came the most wonderful sound of 'goose-talk'- not the high pitched panic sounds of the birds taking off- but the gentler yet incessant gossip of thousands of feeding birds. Magic!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

River Breamish 8th January

River Breamish 8th January
As I had a couple of hours to spare and the weather was spring like I decided to check out the riverside beside Hedgeley Lakes. What was obvious immediately was the number of Dippers on territory, singing and chasing each other up and down the river. On reaching the bridge which conveys the quarry haul road over the river I noticed a small dark coloured wader with a large white rump, it landed beyond the bridge and after a certain amount of stealthy movement I managed to get a couple of photos of a very smart looking Green Sandpiper

Monday, 6 January 2014

North Sea local auk movements

Saturday, 4 January 2014 Spittal Beach

Guillemot (with some Razorbills in there): in excess of a 400 birds were estimated to pass in a 15 minute period - the vast majority were flying south but many were swimming on the sea or flying north. By the time I left the beach the passage had dwindled but was still probably something like 15 per minute. I have no idea how many were passing before I reached Spittal.

Possibly result of high seas in the N Atlantic and birds being forced to try their luck in the North Sea. Is there enough food?

Red-throated Diver 6 birds on sea and 2 flying north.
Shag approximately 30 
Gannet 20 flying south (8 adults)

Sunday, 5 January 2014 Cocklawburn

Numbers of passing Guillemot much reduced but still high: about 200 in 30 minute period.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Druridge Bay area 5th January

Druridge Bay area 5th January
As it is back to work tomorrow we decided to have a day down south, in frosty conditions. Our first stop was at Newbiggin where a number of Common Gulls, Black Headed Gulls and Herring Gulls were joined by a couple of Mediterranean Gulls. On the way up the coast we stopped at a flooded field near Woodhorn where amongst a large number of Greylags we picked out 3 White Fronted Geese. Next to Cresswell Pond which appeared very quiet apart from the hundreds of Wigeon feeding in the surrounding fields; this may be because an Otter had been noted over the last couple of days. Of interest were 2 Red Breasted Mergansers and at least a dozen Common Snipe in front of the hide. Our final port of call was at Hauxley where access to the lower hides was made difficult by flooding. The problems caused getting to the first hide were outwayed by the sight of a Slavonian Grebe only 30 metres away accompanied by a very cute Little Grebe.

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Lothian away day

Lothian away day
With a good forecast at least till early afternoon we headed off to John Muir country, our first port of call was Fidra where we also got the star bird of the day in the form of a female King Eider, it was swimming around with Common Eiders, Common Scoters and a few Teal. Next to Ferny Ness which didn't produce any Red Necked Grebe as it usually does but there were at least 6 Red Throated Divers offshore and a couple of Slavonian Grebes. Next to Lidl's at Prestonpans for some unhealthy sausage rolls a bar of chocolate and the hope of a Black Guillemot from the carpark, on this occasion no such luck. Our final port of call on the outward journey was at Musselburgh, no sign of the much talked about Surf Scoter but there were a number of cracking male Velvet Scoters. The trip home took us via Skatteraw where a large mixed flock of Herring and Black Headed Gulls wheeled about and on the shoreline Sanderling, Dunlin, Knot,Turnstone and Redshank fed along the tideline.