Tuesday, 29 December 2009

No sooner said...

than proven wrong. Had a look down Prestwick Carr in excellent light yesterday afternoon and found the Weasel again plus a couple of Water Rail plus BG and some friends looking for owls. Just as the light went at 3.30 one started hunting in the middle area to be shortly joined by three others so they haven't gone although I remain puzzled by their lack of activity in the preceding week. Never mind my garden is heaving with birds looking for food at the moment.

Last weeks peak count was
2 Blue Tit
3 Robin
3 Blackbird
25 House Sparrow
17 Starling
3 Dunnock
9 Chaffinch
4 Great Tit
2 Greenfinch
2 Collared Dove
12 Jackdaw
2 Goldfinch
2 Magpie
5 Tree Sparrow
1 Wren
2 Rook
1 Fieldfare
1 Crow
1 Great Spotted Woodpecker
1 Song Thrush
2 Reed Bunting
1 Pied Wagtail

making 22 species which was supplemented yesterday by a new bird for the garden list.

3 Common Gull arrived on my back roof attracted by some scraps I had put out. Shame the garden is north facing making photography awkward at this time of year with little light, frozen windows and contrast problems from the snow.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Face off

Out early yesterday and again today the silence on the Carr is wonderful with the airport noise reduced, the only sound is the ice under your feet. That is till about nine when engines start, sirens on the A696 wail, the beat box cars of the local horse owners boom down the road and the farmer, in a tractor with a turnover like a tank, trundles a load of hay to the waiting horses. Never mind, live and let live.
Before these interruptions a good hour or so was had observing the flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing feeding and drinking. They are increasingly forced onto the ground as most of the berries have either been eaten or fallen from the hawthorn bushes, the local Herons however seem to have adopted a habit of sitting atop the highest trees! Bird numbers are decreasing as the freeze continues and they move to areas where the minor thaw is evident but one local resident seemed quite content with his / her lot. This Weasel had a burrow under the timbers of a fence with a drinking hole next to a branch poking through the ice and was taking advantage of the fallen berries as Christmas fare. It wasn't particularly concerned as I watched it dashing from place to place for almost ten minutes but always keeping a beady eye in my direction

One downside of the weather is that the Short eared Owls seem to have moved on as I haven't had a sighting for a week now so...... new header reflecting the latest star on a seasonably white Carr.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Frozen Carr

After defrosting the car and delivering it to the garage for the third time in a month I walked back home through the frozen ice sheet that is currently covering the county. At Prestwick two Buzzards squabbled over a perch just yards from the main road before I was offered a lift home which I declined (where are these offers when you really need them?). Was told for the umpteenth time about a large brown bird much bigger than a Buzzard that is in the area. Still a bit sceptical as I can't find it and it only seems to appear to non birders which is funny considering the number of them in the area but the report has come from five different sources.
Anyway down the road the hedges were lifting with Fieldfare, Blackbirds, Redwing plus a few Mistle and Song Thrush. Walking along you push the flock ahead of you, numbers increasing as they go but never letting you closer than thirty feet or so. Eventually if something is coming the other way they get trapped in group before eventually exploding into the air in a chuck, chucking flock and doubling back around you to start feeding again. This means they are very difficult to count but five hundred plus wouldn't be a bad guess. Fortunately the sun has got through to the ditches and there are some patches of open water where they gather to drink.
The open flooded fields are ice bound but squeaking with Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails feeding on the frozen ice. A Snipe was flushed and a Water Rail heard before a panic started amongst the Fieldfares. A Sparrowhawk came out of the hedgerow and up the road veering left as it saw me and clutching a small brown bird in its talons, probably a Meadow Pipit.
Other birds were few in number the Tits, Wrens and Robins having probably moved into the gardens of Dinnington. I know my garden is a never ending dash of birds and Sundays Garden Birdwatch count knocked off fifteen species in as many minutes with five Tree Sparrows joining the usual House throng. Robins still rule the roost although one has become three if a bit begrudgingly.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Grey start

Out at first light looking for Geese I arrived at the floodwater on the west end of Prestwick Carr and stood at the field gate peering into the gloom for the flock that was roosting regularly here. It being grey and dark the camera stayed in its case and of course old sods law sprang into action. A Barn Owl approached flying below hedge height to my right before perching on a post just fifteen feet in front of me! It gave me an disdainful look then flew on toward Prestwick to be followed moments later by its mate at similar close range. What a wonderful but frustrating start to the day. The Greylag flock was found and after a few efforts I arrived at the sum of 93 birds before at 8.40 they flew off in a scruffy noisy v to the east. Still kicking myself about the owl and bemoaning the grey weather I headed home as some rays of hope peaked through the cloud. By 11.00 it was sunny so I decided to try for a Christmas card shot and headed up the road to Bolam Lake.
Parking badly to provide a good shot of the feeding platforms in the car park, I wound down the window and was greeted immediately by a hopeful Robin. Following a minor disruption from more noisy humans (what is it about Bolam that attracts these people?) I baited the area with some fatty snacks and waited for the locals who were calling all around to gather. First was Coal Tit chased instantly by Robin, then Blue Tits then Blackbird and poor Robin could not cope with the competition. Great Tit, Chaffinch and Dunnock followed before two greedy Nuthatches took over the show.

Didn't really get the shot I was looking for but was calmed by being so close to these lovely little birds. Even the Dunnock had a bit of a glow.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

In the air tonight

As I headed off to pick the car up from the garage which just happens to involve walking along the Carr to Prestwick I noticed 70 or so Fieldfare flying fast and low along the hedgeline in a state of panic. A hundred yards further on two Crows were mobbing a bird far away on a fence line. Almost dark and with little hope I took this shot and sure enough a Peregrine is just visible perched on the fence before it flew off east.
Further down the road Bill told me tales of three Short eared Owls hunting in the afternoon sunlight and I remembered three birds circling high in the gloom the evening before.
I approached the half way point of my walk and four Herons glided in to their communal roost site recently established in the flood water just south of the road. I turned the corner on the final leg of my journey and a small flock of Golden Plover drifted overhead with Lapwings just below them calling and ready to drop in for the night.
An unseen Snipe called above me as the distant sound of geese calling grew closer and closer and strained to see anything in the gloom. Eventually ninety one Greylag passed over and circled a few times to lose height and land in the middle of the flooded field but now way too dark for the camera to focus I carried on to be met by three highland cattle coming the other way! Eventually the farmers wife hove into view having retrieved her errant beast before they got to the main road. Never a dull moment despite the gloom.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Winter colour

After the rain cleared and the sun came out around 10.00am on Saturday morning headed out to make best of the light and ended up at 5.00pm in the dark having had an enjoyable day. 43 species found including a wintering Chiffchaff near the golf course and 73 Pink footed Geese over north. Many of my shots today seemed to end up as silhouettes against the sky which I shall combine in a later post but after a miserable Sunday I have had without the benefit of electric power (you wouldn't think Dinnington was so remote as to have three power cuts in the last two days would you) I need some colour.

The yellowhammer flock at the goats is building as are the Lapwing and Golden Plover flocks on the floodwater. They were very restless as were the Fieldfare who at this time of year are a difficult photo opportunity as their safe distance is about thirty feet and you just end up pushing them along the hedgerow until they fly off. You can try waiting at the field edge for them to come close but that's a better ploy next year when they are far less cautious but unfortunately, not quite so colourful.
Not quite so colourful were the three juvenile Mute Swans on the flash water who I had seen being chased by adults earlier perhaps now on their own for the first time. They were clearly familiar with humans, probably Killingworth birds as they came straight over expecting to be fed.
Signs of the ugly duckling changing to a beauty beginning to appear.

The day ended in now traditional fashion waiting for the owl display and last night I was not alone. Crammy birder, STH and MSH along with Bill, J & K plus 1 photographers and two couples filled the gate near the goats and we were not disappointed as up to four birds flew, one landing on prey about fifty yards away. Looking around warily to protect its catch the bird could clearly be seen tearing pieces off and eating. I thought owls ate their prey whole but maybe the crowd made the bird refine its table manners.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Hot foot

Pretty cold feet actually as I stood for an age waiting for the Great Northern Diver at Whittle Dene to come close but it was very human aware and kept its distance, even moving away the moment a photographer with a considerably bigger lens than mine, opened the gate to the south bank as it neared that side. Didn't get very good pictures therefore but, like the Sabines Gull, enjoyed seeing a true seabird close up through the scope.
The sun was shining strongly when I arrived having rushed through a meeting and packed all the wrong kit hence the photographic demise. Note to self ............must win the lottery soon and replace all my lenses although to be honest, it doesn't matter what you use you always want to be closer.
Interesting comparison between size of Great Northern Diver and Great Crested Grebe. The bird swam and fished for about an hour before the cold took its toll on me. It could stay underwater for quite some time but I never saw it bring a fish to the surface. Also about Kingfisher, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, a Grey Heron which gave the diver a strange look as it swam by, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Fieldfare and Redwing from which two Mistle Thrush were noisily trying to defend their patch.