Saturday, January 28, 2017

MY List.

Bird listing has always been a bit of a debating topic between birders of all generations. Now I see that there are some big changes coming to the British list in 2018 where some species such as Common and Lesser Redpolls ( that I can identify) will be lumped together and others such as Isabelline type Shrikes ( that I can't identify) will be split into separate species.

This kind of reorder happens ever more regularly these days. What ever happened to the good old Professor Voous order? It served us well for many years. This is where the issues begin I think. It is up to scientists and geneticists to decide on what is a species and what isn't and how those species all fit into the grand order of things. That's a good thing, I mean after all, the science has to be there so internationally those decision makers in power will know whats what.

But what about Joe Public? Birders like me who just enjoy our natural world for what it is? I love to watch birds both common and rare for aesthetic reasons as much as anything else. I also like to wonder, whimsically, about where they come from, what they do, how they featured in history etc. I never ever wonder if the DNA sequence of a Merlin is closer to a parrot, than a Buzzard! Currently I have Mealy Redpoll and Hudsonian Whimbrel on my list. Should I suddenly erase these and tear the page from the guide because, in the laboratory they no longer exist?

I think its time to rebel and push Clements, Howard and Moore, Sangster and the rest to one side and have a look at a list that suits my own needs. I can leave the science to the professionals to sort out.

Basically, do I need to worry whether the birds I watch are even different species at all? I like to look for sub species such as Dark bellied Brents, Scandinavian Rock Pipits, Blue headed Wagtails and Northern Bullfinches, but these are deemed untickable by the powers that be. You can argue that we don't need a list at all, but most birders do keep them, and they are a good way to guide our birding plans, other wise we might as well just be out looking at the same Robin everyday rather than revelling in the variety on offer.

What I think I'll do from now is to record all field identifiable forms, in an order that I recognise. If there are any competitions in the offing such as Patch Challenge, Bird Races, County Listing etc, it will be easy just to conform to the standard like everyone else, but in my own world, falcons will be with raptors, divers will come first, there will be no such thing as Lapland Longspurs, and I might even add another Brent Goose to my list...

Pale bellied Brent Goose. The commonest of the Brents in Northumberland. One of only two Brents that I've seen ( Black Brant might appear one day) 
Today this is an Isabelline Shrike. In 2018 I'll have no idea what it is, thanks to science.

Monday, January 23, 2017

2017 opens with a County First.

A few days back, a birder posted a photo of a Black throated Diver on the Blyth Estuary (Northumberland). When I saw the pic, I thought that it looked a bit odd as it didn't show any white thigh patches, but you know what looking at a single photo is like and the observer was knowledgeable so I left it at that.

The following day or two saw other sightings of Black throated Diver on Cresswell Pond and East Chevington North Pool. It seems there had been an influx of them, except there hadn't, only the one bird was involved.

Once on East Chev, the diver remained fixed for a few days, regularly reported as Black throated by good, reliable, birders, until Friday afternoon that is, when Alan Curry, clearly had his suspicions and left his patch at St Mary's Island to have a look for himself.

Cue message on my phone at 4pm Friday, East Chevington North Pool, 1stW PACIFIC DIVER!

I'm sure no one had predicted that one on the Northumberland list. As it was almost dark, anticipation was mounting in the local birding community by those who had not been to the site, would it be there on Saturday?

I met up with John first thing and off we went on a lovely sunny frosty morning to see if it was still around. A small crowd had gathered at dawn and as it grew daylight, our target could be seen fishing, distantly right out in the open, giving decent scope views, but no good for photos. Never mind, it was No 340 on my county list, so photos were not a priority. I did a few quick pencil sketches on site and added a splash of colour as soon as I got home while still fresh in the memory. Brilliant.

East Chevington North Pool, site of Pacific Diver on Saturday morning.

Pacific Diver Gavia pacifica 

Later on, we found that the diver had flown slightly north onto Druridge Bay Country Park and was giving point blank views to all and sundry, with some excellent photos being taken. Unable to get back down on Saturday due to other commitments, we returned on a dull, cold, Sunday morning for a re-match, and hopefully closer views.

Sure enough, after a short drive around via Snab Point and Druridge Pools where we had a few padders - 1000+ Pink footed Geese, Barnacle Goose, Grey Partridge, 3 Stock Doves, a Ruff, and 2 drake Pintail, we were back at DBCP with the diver showing down to 20 or 30 feet at times. Although it was dull, we all took enough photos to make an A List celeb happy, whilst catching up with friends not seen in a while. A few other birds were noted too while we were here, Peregrine, a Water rail flew over the diver's head at one point, 60+ Siskins and a Kingfisher, so an excellent morning was had...

And to think, 10 years ago we hadn't heard of Pacific Diver when the first was found on a pond in Yorkshire. Since then there have only been 6 records up to 2013, almost all down in the far south west. I wonder if they have been overlooked?

A Northumberland twitch - a mega too.
Pacific Diver showing faint throat strap and dark thigh area.

Note smallish bill and pale greyish fluffy nape and crown.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Third time lucky...

This morning, the weather forecast was quite uninspiring with rain predicted for most of the day, however, as with most things weather related, the day didn't turn out as reported. It started off dark and overcast but ended up quite bright and fair, and we scarcely saw a drop all morning.

I met with John and headed off to East Chevington again for the third time since Christmas, hoping, again, to catch up with the wintering Shorelark flock, present here since November. Today was to be third time lucky as the birds, all 7 of them, were feeding on a tiny ribbon of strand tidemak as soon as we peered onto the beach. A few dog toting dudes did their very best to chase the birds off, but they were keen to get back and we finally got some great views. One bird in particular was a stunner, a full, horny male, with jet black face and breast markings on a primrose yellow background, while one was a drab female. The other 5 were more intermediate in colour and condition , but all were very nice, charismatic birds.

While John took a few photos, a nice flock of 42 Twite dropped in to feed near the larks.

From here we had a brief stop at Amble Harbour where the local Mediterranean Gull was sat on its rock on the little shore, then we headed off up to Boulmer. The tide was miles out here, but there were a lot of birds, distantly to scan through. There were 35 Bar tailed Godwits, 3 Grey Plover and the juv Glaucous Gull down on the waters edge. Off we set, resulting in John getting some decent shots ( check his blog out here).

As it started out dull, I didnt bring my camera but managed a few shaky seconds of video with my phone hand held on to my scope. Not bad?

Friday, January 13, 2017


What a week I've just put in. Last Friday, I came home from work not feeling too well, typical, I thought, ready for the weekend.

When I got up on Saturday, I had an awful chest cold that has laid me up ever since. I have been mostly stuck indoors with no interest or ability even, in going out due to aches and pains, a horrendous hacking cough and generally the mother of all colds. Since 2004 ( possibly as early as 2002) I have only had a single day off work due to sickness. This week, I took a day leave on Monday to see if that would be enough, but it wasn't so the rest has been sick. Almost unheard of for me, but there is no way I could have dealt with customers at work like this, let alone passing the germs to the whole company.

Wednesday was a low point but the Dr gave me some antibiotics for a chest infection, and this morning, while still gagging when I cough, I feel much better. So much so, I have even been out in the car to the post office, and on the way back, thought I would have a look, from the warmth of the vehicle, at the beach at Boulmer. I'm pleased I did, as the large juvenile Glaucous Gull that has been around a few days now was showing well on the shore.

A short venture forth for some photos, then back to the car incase it mistook me for a dying seal, and now I'm back home again. I hope this thing clears up once and for all...

Monday, January 02, 2017

Hello 2017.

First post of the New Year.

Last year at this time, the weather was dreadful until about the 8th, with wind and rain on a daily basis. This year cold breezy sunshine has been the order of the day since Christmas so long may it continue.

This morning John picked me up and we were at Low Newton for 8am, to add to the year list. As I have already mentioned, this isn't an all out go-for-everything list, it's more of a chance to add variety not only of birds but of locations too, with visits to sites not usually seen by us in a long while, but before all of that, we decided to stick to somewhere we do come to on occasion.

The view south from Low Newton beach towards Dunstanburgh Castle. There aren't many better views than this in England...
 The pool and scrapes were a bit disconcerting as there were 4 men shooting just behind the nature reserve, taking pot shots at geese far to high to drop. Some of these poor birds will get pricked by shot and die slowly of lead poisoning I'm sure. One Greylag on the pond didn't look to clever to start with, with some primaries sticking out at a jaunty angle...

Velvet Scoter, female.
Highlight on the wetlands were 13 Whooper Swans and a Shoveler with a good number of Wigeon. A Water Rail squealed in the phragmites.

A walk along the shore added Purple Sandpiper with commoner waders, Rock Pipits and Stonechats before a tea stop back at the car. From here we headed out to the point to check Football Hole, a small sea cove that is good for seafowl.

Today it was excellent with a cracking female Velvet Scoter showing well in bright sunshine, having a hint of Harlequin about it with the bright white ear spot. It made me wish I'd brought the camera, but I hadn't so the notebook came out. I felt I had to take something of it home with me. Also in the hole were 10 Long tailed Ducks, all female types, 13 Goldeneye, 4 Common Scoter, 2 Red throated Diver and a Guillemot. Offshore, a few birds passed including Gannets, Kittiwakes and another 4+ Red throated Divers.

On our way back, a seed crop next to the point had a nice flock of 25+ Skylarks and a few Yellowhammers and Reed Buntings.

Only one day of holiday left before work on Wednesday...