Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Darkness

Now that we are back at work after the busy Christmas holidays, local wildlife time is resitricted again due to the length of daylight hours. It is total darkness on the morning terrier perambulation and its even darker when I come in at night! One morning this week I was a little bit later away and caught up with Brambling and Mistle Thrush in the village as patch list additions for 2019.

This weekend has been a mix of dull to bright and calm to breezy but dry throughout. Often mild too. Snowdrops are now bursting out in the village wood and I saw a few Winter Aconites open at Denwick last weekend. Its all moving in the right direction. Looking forward to light nights is a bit like wishing life away, and I dont mind winter if only I had more time at home to enjoy it!

Today I met with John and we stayed quite local visiting the Coquet Estuary, Amble Harbour and Seaton Point, Boulmer. The fist two were very quiet with nothing going into the notebook but, as usual, Boulmer always has something to look at.

As we walked along the shore from Seaton Point, an adult male Peregrine strafed the tideline seeming revelling in the strong wind and headed south to Foxton. We later saw his return sortie across Boulmer Haven lifting all the shorebirds and gulls on his way.

Sheltered on the east facing beach, a lot of weed held half a dozen Rock Pipits of both petrosus and littoralis races, 1 Meadow Pipit and the wintering Water Pipit. A male Stonechat was on the dune edge as we passed.

Both images above viewing south from Seaton Point. The waves being blown backwards in the strong wind!

A distant record of the Water Pipit at Seaton Point.
   As we rounded Seaton Point, numbers of people increased causing some disturbance to the birds. Fortunately the tide was dropping back quickly so the birds will have been able to feed largely out of reach of all but the most determined of anglers on the rock edges.

We had 18+ Bar-tailed Godwit, 13+ Ringed Plover, 80+ Dunlin, 3 Purple Sandpipers and 15 Sanderling clamering for morsels in the waves.

Bar-tailed Godwits on the shore.
  Back home this afternoon I took a walk down to the pond field with Peggy to see if the wind had shuffled some wildfowl onto the water. I didnt have high hopes so left the camera at home. A decision I regretted later when I found a nice drake Gadwall on the pool feeding quite close in without concern. Gadwall is a scarce bird for the patch only being recorded in 6 out of the last 10 years and these are only singles usually in late summer or early autumn.   

I might have a few days off work into February just to tide over until the longer days of March....

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Time Out...

When doing a local patch list its easy to get fixated with it to the exclusion of all else. When time is limited by work or other commitments I think its best to take regular breaks off site just to keep things in perspective. This morning we did just that.

I met up with John at Alnwick and we had a local-ish tour to gather some of the good birds that have been present this week.

First stop, an 8 mile drive north to Newham Hall, to look for the four Taiga Bean Geese. These birds have been around all week but with 1000+ Pinkfeet here too, it didnt look an easy prospect. At first the geese gave us a right run around the narrow lanes peering through gaps in hedges but never quite getting a good view. They all then flew a mile north and mainly out of sight. We followed back to our original stop off point and decided to walk a bye way over the hill for a scan. As we got our gear from the car I noticed something in the field right next to us. Through the bins, they were clearly geese and 4 of them too but surely we couldnt be that lucky?

As it happens we were, and the Taiga Beans were in the bag ( or should that be 'can'). Also in the field were 3 Grey Partridges but no Pink feet at all.

Taiga Bean Geese
These are the first Taiga's I have seen for about 30 years! Every other Bean Goose locally has been of the Tundra race 'rossicus'. A good start...

Next stop, a drive back on ourself to the south where the redhead Smew was found quite easily at Widdrington Moor lake, though remaining quite distant. After a cuppa and a good scrutiny of the lake it was off north again to our final stop, Alnmouth south dunes or Buston Links for the wintering Shorelarks. These too were straight forward once we had negotiated the bumpy road that resembled the dark side of the moon, but today John had the four wheel drive out so it wasnt too bad.

The four Shorelarks showed reasonably well, feeding along the saltmarsh, though never getting too close ( close enough).

We gave them half an hour and that was the morning sorted and what with work looming on Monday the next blog post might not be for a little while...


Saturday, January 05, 2019

Off work til Monday...

The weather these holidays has been largely benign with mild to cool days that are overcast and calm. Ideal for birding.

Yesterday we had a few walks around locally with Peggy mainly just for the excercise you understand, not birding... I still managed to add a few to the patch list with a flock of 300 Pink footed Geese N, a pair of Red breasted Mergansers N offshore, 45+ Linnets in a weedy stubble that will get a further look at in coming months, looking ideal for a wayward Lap Bunting and a Grey Wagtail at the Howick Burn mouth. Seen yesterday but properly counted today were 19 Goldeneye at the burn mouth with 17 Eiders.

No new birds today unfortunately but with a good selection of common birds yet to winkle out, it keeps the interest going through the dark days of winter....of note were 70 Curlew along the coast path, 1 Shag and a Guillemot offshore, 14 Fulmars on the cliffs, 30+ Tree Sparrows at our feeders and a Buzzard over the farm.

Now the Christmas decs have been consigned to the loft for another 11 months, I'm looking forward to the day length increasing...

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Happy New Year

Good bye 2018, and welcome 2019. I didnt get around to doing one of those summary of 2018 posts that we all like to do, what with Christmas duties and what not. Last Thursday we went up to Insh on Speyside for the week. My birthday is on New Years Day so it is nice to get away a bit and just relax.

The weather was decidedly un-Speyside like for Hogmanay with temps mainly in the 7 - 11 degrees bracket with no snow at all on the high tops. I have had colder days in June than this. We came hme yesterday and as we left the sun was shining and, at last, there was a -5 degree frost.

Glen Feshie

I'm not sure what has happened to Speyside, but it seems to have turned into a theme park since our last visit ( when the temperature was -17 degrees a whole 28 degrees colder than this time!). We could scarcely go out without being ran over by a family on mountain bikes. And what is it with people who go into the most quiet areas of our counrtyside to behave like a bus trip of Millwall supporters? At one spot near Glen Feshie and extended family ran amok with kids and dads screaming like X Factor rejects, the sound of which reverberated for miles. No wonder there are no capercaillies any more...

I did manage to see a few Crested Tits and Red Squirrels but that was about it really.

So back home yesterday arriving back at 2.30pm to my first patch bird of 2019, and a good one too, a Buzzard sitting at the top of a tall tree right on the patch edge as we arrived by car.

I'm not at work now until Monday so I gave the Howick patch a short sharp thrashing this morning in an attempt to catch up with, the award winning, Mr Gale of Banstead .  I had intended to get out for a couple of hours this afternoon too but the Northumberland Hunt was rampaging around the area like a family in the Cairngorms. Funny isnt it, 30 dogs, half a dozen horses and a quad bike flushing hares and sheep alike, blatantly flouting the law, but we get snidey comments when we walk our dog in a rough field free of livestock? I was suitably boiling.

However, this mornings 3 hours turned out very well. I visited the Rumbling Kern on the coast, the pond field and village wood, all within 1km of our door step seeing some decent birds. These included only my 2nd patch Red necked Grebe after one in 2010, both Ringed and Grey Plover, with the ringed being especially tricky on our all rocky coastline and 30+ Crossbills which are always nice to get, ending the days count on a respectable 61 species.

With a few days to go and a decent weather forecast, I should clear up most wintering species before gainful employment calls me back...

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Small shrike...

While we were watching the Bonaparte's Gull on Sunday, new came through of a non -grey shrike at Newbiggin down on the beach behind Church Point caravan site ( exactly the same spot as the White spotted Bluethroat in the spring).

Tongues wagged metaphorically over the social media hoping against hope that at this very late time of year it might be a Brown Shrike. Alas, it was not to be, the finder Alan Priest, had it nailed with photos as a juvenile Red-backed Shrike. Stand down, panic over. Still, an amazing record, the latest ever in the county though I do remember one in December at Hunstanton some years ago.

Monday morning at work, I happened to have an appointment at Newbiggin ( well I would wouldnt I) so dropped in for 10 minutes to see the bird. I havent seen a Red backed Shrike for ages, so it was areall pleasure to watch this little chunky predator fly catching from weeds on the land slipped eroded parts just behind the beach.

They are much smaller that you you remember and this one was hunched up with wings drooped looking very sorry for itself. Food at this time is very hard to come by for a bird like this so the local Robin had better watch out.

As the sun shone, the shrike looked golden and blended perfectly with the golden leaves of reedmace and willowherb. Lets hope its soon back on the proper route south before winter really kicks in... 

Dire phone scoped image...

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Boney's and the rest....

The original forecast for today was for drizzle throughout, so it was pleasing to find the morning had dawned dull and quiet but fair.

I met with John at the usual Homebase rendezvous in Alnwick to drive up to Bamburgh in the hope that the Bonaparte's Gull found earlier in the week would still be around. At this quiet, dark time of year it seemed the best option, and little did we know how good it would be.

A few miles up the A1 John ordered a sharp right turn for a very brief detour to a concrete culvert ( a road really) under the main road to look for hibernating moths. It proved a good call with a single Herald roosting high on the roof right in the middle of the tunnel at its darkes spot.

Back on to the trunk road North and we were soon at the very scenic tourist village of Bamburgh. At all times, Bamburgh is still besieged by hordes more modern than the original vikings, so it was good to get there early doors before most were out.

At first there were very few gulls to be seen on the shore but as the tide began to rise a few started to drop in. Eventually when we had added 120+ Purple Sandpipers and 130+ Shag to the notebook, our American target arrived with about 20 black headed gulls. Its a while since Ive seen a Bonaparte's Gull so it was good to get this lovely, dove grey and white adult in winter plumage. These are the Nearctic version of our common Black headed gull but seem so much daintier despite looking very similar.

Stag Rocks and lighthouse.

Bonaparte's Gull with Black headed Gulls

After giving it a good look at, we moved a few hundred yards up to the golf club entrance for a cuppa. While drinking tea we could view the flat calm water for seafowl in relative comfort.
Things didnt look promising with only a few Common Scoter and Eiders dotted around, then a winter plumaged Puffin was a bit unusual at this time, diving at mid range.

It was about now that John glimpsed a diver in front of the lighthouse and said 'Get a look at this'. As I looked in his scope I saw a split second before it submerged. It wasn't a red throated thats all I could see.

After a long time, when it seemed to have succumbed to the depths, it emerged several hundred yards further offshore, for a minute then down again. This time I commented that it was a large diver and the head posture was up tilted like a White billed, but it had gone.

Another five minutes passed when it resurfaced, again too far out to tell. We grilled it and it stood up, flapped then dived. The bill seemed a bit scruffy and the nape looked very dark so we left it as a Great Northern. Then the phone rang.

Jonathan Farooqi and his dad were at the lighthouse, maybe 2 or 300 yards closer to the bird. They were sure it was White billed Diver but it remained distant even for them. We hastily downed the tea dregs and walked down the slope to join them.

No sooner had we arrived, Jonathan offered me a look in his scope. There, a lot closer and heading our way was a big hefty White billed Diver! Get in!

Not a bad day, twitching a Bonaparte's Gull then dipping in on a big banana bill, cant be bad.

White billed Diver, adult winter.
As the diver swam much closer we could see all of the required features well, the long ivory coloured bill tilted up from horizontal and even the white spotting on the mantle and coverts. To put the icing on the cake, after half an hour it was joined by a Great Northern Diver in the same scope view for an ideal comparison. The WBD surfaced with some sizeable flatfish to eat then resumed its diving. I'm sure these have evolved from fish, spending as much time below the surface as on it....

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Work Birds

At work on Wednesday morning I had a meeting to attend at Ashington Police Station at 10am. I arrived at about 9.45am. As a left the car and strolled up the path to the station door I looked at the few rowan treet here and pondered that they have been a good attraction for Waxwings in previous years but today there were no berries at all and even the leaves were gone leaving only a tracery of bare twigs against a grey sky.

As the auto sliding doors hissed open, I glanced on the opposite side of the path at those bare trees and there above me were 9 fluffed up Waxwings as if on cue! They looked as grey as the sky, sitting hunched and silent looking around. I left the station at 12 to find now 10 birds sat there, but I couldn't see a single berry. There must be some nearby I suppose to keep them sat there for a few hours...

A picture from last year. It was too dark today even if I had taken my gear...