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.