Thursday, January 31, 2019

Month 1. Done.

Late in 2018 my online compadre, Steve Gale of North Downs... fame threw down a gauntlet to compare our patch year lists for 2019. With the first 4.5 weeks over how has it gone...

The month has been largely mild and dry with the last few days bucking the trend with temps down to -7 degrees. Dark mornings and evenings linked to a five day working week curtail the birding a bit ( a lot) but at the start of each year there is a lot to cram in so things turned out quite well. My personal patch highlights, of which every single grubbed out species is self found, as no other birder lifts a glass here are -

Gadwall 1 male, not annual here on our tiny pond.
Velvet Scoter, 1 female, these are annual but usualy in September - November .
Goosander 1redhead on the bog garden pond. Again not annual.
Red necked Grebe 1 a true patch mega with only one previous record in Aug 2010.
Ringed Plover 1 another scarce bird with only 4 other records, thanks to my 99% rocky shoreline.
Grey Plover 1 scarce but annual if I stick at it.
Purple Sandpiper 4 my commonest calidrid, just to rub it in.
Woodcock 1 in the village wood, annual but erratic.
Barn Owl
Firecrest 1 male, only my second record here after 2 together in 2010. A real surprise. Bird of the year so far.
Raven 1 annual here but not at all easy on the Northumberland coast.
Tree Sparrow. A garden flock of 30+ daily.
Brambling. Only 1 flyover.
Crossbill 20+ a good number for January.

Biggest ommissions are Collared Dove,Meadow Pipit, Redwing, Fieldfare, Siskin and Redpoll. Things to find in February...

EDIT - I forgot to add my total! January ended on a respectable patch total of 89 species about 44% of my personal patch total of 201.

With the wind blowing from the far north this weekend, lets hope February can kick off with a Little Auk or White winged Gull maybe... ( more likely the Collared Dove...)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Patch on Fire!

A flexi day off work that coincides with a clear fine frosty day can only be a good thing.

Peggy's walk this morning was down to the Pond Field via the Village Wood. On of the first birds of the day was a Woodcock that lifted from path side vegetation. Soon after that 5 Crossbills flew around some tall scots pines then away over the pond. The pond itself has 75% frozen though not heavily so. The open water held the usual 10 Tufted Duck and 3 Teal plus the male Gadwall was still around. 2 Stock Doves were displaying from tall beech trees.

We returned home and I dropped Peggy off in the house and popped down to Craster to check the northernmost end of the patch, hoping for Willow Tit and Collared Dove. Both of these remained elusive but its something to watch out for during the February doldrums. It was here that my best surprise of the month appeared.

I was only 30 yards from the car along the road when I saw a Goldcrest flickering around in some gorse next to the path, just over a stone wall. Nice, I thought, it might be worth a photo. As I lifted the camera and pressed the shutter to focus I was aware that there were two birds close together in the bush. Through the view finder the camera clicked into focus on a Firecrest! It flew as I pressed the button, chased off by a beligerent Goldcrest. I soon relocated it a bit further along the path though this time further back on the top of the gorse where viewing was very tricky. I managed a few photos over the next 15 minutes before I lost sight of the bird in the thorny scrub. I stood for quite a while but it didnt show again.

The Firecrest spot beside the road.

Male Firecrest in gorse, Craster
This is only the second time I have had Firecrest on patch since the last ones, 2 together, in 2010 at the end of the long walk.

This little one appeared to be a nice bright male with a bright orangy crown stripe.

As I watched, a Raven cronked low overhead. I decided to move on down to the harbour. Here 4 Purple Sandpipers and 12 Turnstones were the only thing of note.

Three out of four Purple Sandpipers 

Raven overhead, cronking.

Its been a good weekend here with  several good patch ticks -

Velvet Scoter
Barn Owl
Purple Sandpiper

plus Reed Bunting, Snipe, Sparrowhawk and Stock Dove bringing the 2019 Local Patch total to a respectable 82 species. With another weekend left of January and common species such as Redwing, Fieldfare, Collared Dove, Meadow Pipit and Skylark to get, I might reach 90 yet...

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...