Monday, May 23, 2016

Tuesday 10th May...USA Day 2...

This morning, a six hour time difference ( behind) found me wide awake and keen to get up by 4.30am. Problem being, it was still dark. So, a loiter around the tiny Chesterton hotel balcony drinking coffee, was time well spent. As the birds woke and began singing, some showed on trees in the car park and around the adjacent lake, but not before the second Racoon of the trip climbed down a tree, vanished into the woods, returning 20 mins later. I can only assume he was doing, er, the natural thing...
It was cool, overcast and drizzling, but it faired up by day break.

View from the balcony. The snapped off tree is the one with the racoon, the large green tree had House Finches and the confers had an American Robins nest...
Panning right the marsh and pond could be seen.
New species seen - 1 male Northern Cardinal, 1 Northern Flicker a pair of House Finches showed before we even ventured out doors properly. Then on the lake edge around the back of the hotel were 2 Killdeer, 2 Spotted Sandpipers, 1 Pied billed Grebe, an Osprey, 1 male Yellow Warbler, 1 male Yellowthroat, 2 male Baltimore Orioles, 2 Northern Rough winged Swallows, Coopers Hawk, a Northern Waterthrush, 1 Warbling Vireo, 1 Yellow throated Vireo, 2 Black and White Warblers, a Swamp Sparrow, a Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, a Hairy Woodpecker and 6+ Blue Jays.

Northern Cardinal, not only a looker, but a good singer too...
Male Common Yellowthroat, a common bird on this trip. Anywhere with wet ditches, ponds etc.

After breakfast we headed off to our next stop near Toledo, 150 miles away, en route seeing 15 Wild Turkeys inc sev males all puffed out, 1 Red tailed Hawk and 10+ Turkey Vultures.

We headed straight on to our main sought after destination, the one we have read so much about since planning the trip way back in 2014, Magee Marsh and its famous boardwalk. We had three nights booked here to check out the sights and reserves in the area. As this is the annual 'Biggest Week in American Birding' festival the area was very busy indeed with several hundred birds of varying capabilities around. Luckily the places are all big areas, so it is possible to get away from any mobs and do some birding alone.

Magee has to be one of the easiest places to birdwatch. It is all done on either wooden boardwalks or hard surfaces looking into open woodland with a scrub understory for migrant birds arriving.

The team arrive on the Magee boardwalk on a damp cold grey afternoon...
Four hours here produced a great list of birds, particularly those sought after warblers - 15+ Yellow Warblers, 10+ Myrtle Warblers, 2 male Cape May Warblers, sev Black throated Green Warblers, male Chestnut sided Warbler, sev Nashville Warblers, a female Yellowthroat, Northern Parula, a male Blackpoll, American Redstart, 2 Prothonotary Warblers, a male Blackburnian Warbler and 1 Ovenbird. Thats not all, we had many Tree Swallows nesting, Great and Snowy Egrets, 2 Downy Woodpeckers, 4 Warbling Vireos, 3 Gray Catbirds, 2 Northern Cardinals, 3 Ruby crowned Kinglets, 1 Blue Gray Gnatcatcher, 5+ Rose breasted Grosbeaks, 3 White throated Sparrows, 1 male Scarlet Tanager, 6+ Baltimore Orioles, 1 House Wren, 1 Veery, 1 Grey Cheeked Thrush, 1 American Woodcock, 1 Eastern Kingbird and 2 fledgling Great Horned Owls...What an afternoon.

Protonotary Warblers are really this yellow.

Ruby crowned Kinglet, without a ruby crown. 

This Veery shared a small patch of wood floor with a Grey cheeked Thrush, pity it wouldnt sit still for a photo too. 
Ovenbird, skulking.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Monday 9th May...USA Day 1.

Hello all, long time no see.

The lack of blog posts has been down to me being away on holiday for the last couple of weeks, so I am about to start a series of posts from this trip. Each day will be a separate post, then, normal service will be resumed.

 Monday 9th May 2016.

This morning the not-so magnificent seven comprising ....

Bob Biggs
Richard Dunn
Les Robson
Andy McLevy
John Todd
John Rutter
and me,

....headed off to Newcastle to fly, via London Heathrow, to Chicago for 11 days catching up with the American spring migration across Ohio and Michigan. As this was mine and JWR's first trip across the pond we were looking forward to many new species, not least, those brightly coloured warblers they have across there.

Our journey was quite uneventful as we sailed through customs at both ends without problem. We collected our  hire vehicle, a Ford Transit 12 seater mini-bus, though not before adding a few new birds to the life list. Outside the Budget Auto's office we had 10+ Chimney Swifts, 10+ Common Grackle, 4+ Red-winged Blackbird and 6+ Mourning Doves straight into the notebook.

We had about 70 miles to drive to our digs in Chesterton mainly along huge freeway systems. We were glued to the windows for birds, seeing our first Great Blue Heron, Red tailed Hawks, Caspian Terns, Bald Eagle, Turkey Vultures and American Crows of the trip, all lifers for me other than the tern. We were eager to get out for some proper birding so we finally stopped at Indiana Dunes State Park to fit in a couple of hours, just to kick things off, you understand...

Despite being quite cold and wet after rain, a car park behind the closed centre, was lifting with birds, almost all new species for me and John -
1 Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, 1 Solitary Sandpiper on a tiny puddle, Sora flushed from the path side, 4+ White crowned Sparrow, 1 Savannah Sparrow, 1 Song Sparrow, 1 Downy Woodpecker, 1 Red bellied Woodpecker, 3 Blue Jays ( wow! they're blue, mind), 1 male Indigo Bunting ( even more blue than the Blue Jays), several American Robins and Red winged Blackbirds, 5+ Gray Catbirds and 1 male Eastern Towhee.

Male Downy Woodpecker, like our Lesser spotted, but much commoner...
 We drove a short distance down to the beach over looking Lake Michigan, a vast body of water, like the sea but calmer where we wandered the wooded car park edges and shoreline. Time was pressing but we found our first warblers here - Back and White Warbler, 3+ Palm Warblers, 1 Orange Crowned Warbler, 1 Chestnut sided Warbler, Yellow rumped Warbler all moved through very quickly. Also noted were Eastern Phoebe, 3+ Caspian Terns, 1 Chipping Sparrow and a Raccoon. I  was excited about this and was hoping to get one of these masked critters on the trip, but wasnt too sure how easy they would be. Now we get one on day 1. Excellent.

Black and White Warbler, a very tricky bird to photograph, they never sit still...
We arrived tired, but happy with events, at the Best Western Hotel at Chesterton near by. A glance at a large weedy looking pond immediately outside showed 2 American Coot, 2 Wood Duck, 1 male Canvasback, 1 male Blue winged Teal a Bank Swallow and a male American Kestrel.

All of this on day one... this is going to be a great trip...

Saturday, April 30, 2016


I've been faffing around with some Siskins in the garden today. We don't get too many in the garden here, but today we have at least 5 males and 3 females. As the sun was shining for a change I thought I would give them a look....

Its a pity the females were a bit shy of the camera....


Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Back in the day, when we used to frequent Druridge on a weekly basis, at this time of year the spring would encourage us to go 'inland'. This is not just anywhere away from the coast, it generally means one of about three or four spots - Kielder, Harthope Valley or even Harwood Forest. This week  'inland' meant a drive up to the Harthope, my favourite of the Cheviot valleys stretching from the steep hill called Skirl Naked, up to and beyond Langleeford.

So, no further ado, we took plenty of photos so here is a selection from Sunday morning...

The end of the road. No cars beyond here.

Pied Wagtail
Red legged Partridges were all over.
The burn.
Common Sandpiper

Dipper feeding young at nest under tree root overhang.

Grey Wagtail
The Hawsen Burn
Red Grouse
One of three Ring Ouzels
Wren on a post.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Even more Redpoll antics...

Most of Sunday morning was spent walking with Alnwick Wildlife Group as John was busy today. So as not to duplicate things, see AWG blog HERE.

I did manage a stroll around Craster early on, seeing new patch additions - Willow Warbler and Whimbrel, while later back at home in the afternoon another patch tick came to me. As I watched the Goldfinches and Siskins on our niger feeders, they were joined by a large pale Mealy Redpoll. After snatching a couple of record shots from the window, I sneaked out and hid in the outhouse next to the feeders for a better shot. After five minutes he arrived back with the other finches, allowing a closer scrutiny.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A floral interlude...

Field Pansy Viola arvensis
 While wandering the redpoll field at Birling on Sunday I noticed a few tiny flowers emerging. Many were Field Pansy but nearer the car were a few larger specimens. We wondered if they were another species? On checking the guides, I find they are indeed, they are Heartsease or Wild Pansy. Lovely.
Images taken with my phone camera.

Heartsease or Wild Pansy Viola tricolor

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Glorious 10th...

10th April 2016.

In Northumberland, our spring passage starts in earnest today. 'Whats he on about', you ask, there have been spring migrants for the last fortnight or more, with hirundines, wheatears, chiffchaffs and others all along the coast. But all is not as it seems. Those early birds, are just that. Early. The product of southerly airflow well before its time, depositing hungry swallows in an insectless Northumberland, only for them to need to move back south a couple of hundred miles when we get some late frosts.

No, the 10th has some significance, as this is the date when in most years there is a very noticeable arrival of spring migrants. You don't need to scour the local ponds for a one off sand martin or walk five miles of headland for a wheatear, birds like this are much more widespread, and the 10th April 2016 was no exception to the rule.

I was on my way to meet John at Warkworth at 7 o'clock this morning when I noticed a raptor putting up the gulls near Hipsburn. Buzzard I thought, then as I drove the next mile, keeping it in sight, it looked a bit different so I pulled over for a quick look. Marsh Harrier! A male too, slowly moving south. I put my foot down and arrived just before it in the top car park to get it on Johns patch list before it continued on its way. How many birds do we miss like this I wonder....

A quick check of the car park scrub revealed a male Blackcap in song, our first of the year, then down past the Old Water near the estuary we had 4 Black tailed Godwits in summer plumage, 2 Sandwich Terns and half a dozen Sand Martins near the pier. We're on a roll.... Others of note were 60 Knot, a Little Egret and a few Stonechat.

A flat coated retriever rolling on a long dead grey seal provided some value too, much to the concern of the owners...

Unfortunately, none of the summer birds lingered long enough for a photo, but two Twite were more obliging...

Sandwich Tern and mates...

One of the Twite on the washed up flotsam.

A later tea stop, found us up at the Birling Redpoll field. There were no surprises today but still lots of Linnets, a few Redpolls and 25+ Meadow Pipits. Three small groups of Pinkfeet flew N overhead. Back at the car, we heard the unmistakeable 'tew tew tew' of a Greenshank but try as we may we couldnt get on to it. Still, calls count as a tick in the year list.

Back at home, I glanced out of the kitchen window and first bird I see is a year tick. A male Blackcap skulking through the roses. Nearby a Siskin pair were showing well and even singing, but my camera was still in the car. By the time I snipered out and got it, the Blackcap had continued its migration, I did manage a Siskin though.

Later as I cut the grass, 2 Lesser Redpolls joined the Goldfinches and Siskins at the niger seed. I waited in the outhouse and got a nice shot of one of the redpolls, I'm quite happy with this one. Good light and good range make all the difference.

Lesser Redpoll

Male Siskin in song. Looks a bit soft as its taken through the kitchen window...