Wednesday, 27 January 2010

In the dark

Taking advantage of the days beginning to lengthen I spent an hour on the Carr on Monday evening just soaking up the atmosphere. Earlier in the day Robins, Great Tits, Blue Tits, Dunnocks, and Greenfinch had all been singing with some gusto but as the night drew in the singing had stopped to be replaced by calls from birds going to roost or getting up to feed.
With no action from the Short-eared owls I stood and listened in almost total dark with only the glare of the airport and city beyond I recorded a late Blackbird dashing noisily to roost, a flock of Lapwing invisible in the middle of a flooded field and a Tawny Owl calling from the woods to the north. Crow, Rook and Jackdaw jostled for roost space in the woods as a Heron glided past and a Snipe snatched in the gloom above. The squeak of Mallard wings passed overhead to join the laughing females already on the flood with the bleating Teal and a lone pitchow from a grazing Wigeon briefly pierced the air. The gathering cackling of Greylag geese as the flock approached from the east and then wiffled down onto the water causing a Pheasant to bolt noisly from the roadside as a Robin grabbed a last morsel from the road before diving back into the bushes. That's fourteen species plus a barking fox and grunting deer. Busy place down here in the evening!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Begging for bread

Sitting in the car at Newburn this lunchtime I opened the window to dissipate the smell of curry sauce and instantly attracted a flock of Black headed gulls who had posted a guard on the lifebelt housing for just such an occurrence and now left the river en masse in the hope of a snack. It seems we humans have conditioned birds at locations like this to associate an open car window with food, most likely chips! Pull up in any car park particularly on the coast and the greedy hoards will gather. Quite a boon for photographers but possibly not the best lifestyle choice for a wild bird.

Further along the riverside path a dog walker stopped every fifty yards or so and emptied bags of bread which instantly became a feeding frenzy of gulls. I was reminded of all the careful requests from the media over the cold spell to put out food..... oh but not bread. Will someone tell the birds that bread isn't good for them. There I was two weeks ago at a frozen Newburn feeling sorry for the ducks so I got out the Swan Geese and Duck pellets bought specially for such an occasion and distributed them freely only for two female Mallards to gaze at them disdainfully before trying a couple and deciding these were the brussel sprouts of bird food.
This afternoon some goodly sole at Briar Dene had put down a pile of grain and the Med Gull was seeing off all the Black heads before a Common chappy turned up and usurped the feast.

Then on the way home I called in at Killingworth Lake to witness more bread feeding, this time to Swans Geese and Ducks. The waiters had to be quick on their feet as anybody who is familiar with the Swans here knows that they're not backward at coming forward. Indeed I missed my best shot when one such individual put his head through the car window not appreciating that I had a zoom not macro lens attached!!

Sunday, 24 January 2010

This week I have been mostly

either working or freezing my **** off. Reports of a Bittern and a big grey raptor on the Carr last weekend have seen me out most evenings but to little avail. Not even any owls showing although I found the Little owl again on my count yesterday morning. First count not affected by weather produced 39 species including an early Curlew and five Dunlin with the Lapwing flock on the flood. That makes it 62 species on the Carr list this year after finishing on the straight ton last which was down 12 on 2008. The majority of the missing were waders so with the Carr currently flooded and likely to remain so for some while, the prospect of some long billed visitors is good. Managed to tick Woodcock as have many in the county as a bird flew onto the Carr from the garden centres at Horton Grange.

Garden visitors have included Reed Bunting, Yellowhammer, Moorhen and a Kestrel trying to get at my Sparrow flock which seems remarkably cheery at the moment. More than me anyway as with the work and dull weather photo opportunities have been severely limited. Was delighted to get a county life tick for Bewicks Swan last weekend and checked out the Redhead at Linton Lane NR yesterday so the year list has started well. Spent an hour in the hide at Whittle Dene Friday evening where a new diary has been provided which hopefully will avoid the attentions of the idiots present last year. A male Goldeneye displayed to three female Tufties and ignored two females of his own species feeding near the hide. Eight male Goosander were present but flew off back to the Tyne shortly after I arrived whilst the Coot flock paraded along the embankment. Managed a few peaceful moments between the traffic as the sun set with small groups of Canada and Greylag Geese flying in to roost.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Scratching for food

As I headed out yesterday morning it was clear bird numbers were well down. In comparison to last week not a single Wren graced the count and only Blackbirds, Jackdaws, Crows and Magpies showed perseverance with the conditions. Half a dozen Pheasant took advantage of hay put out for horses whilst a pair of Bullfinch appear to have found a bush with buds sufficiently advanced for their liking. Earlier in the week a flock of 26 Siskin had passed overhead but only a solitary Goldfinch and a few Chaffinch were in evidence. Hopefully all the kissing birds have moved to woodland or urban patches but you must fear the worst for many. Thankfully, along with a Blue Tit and two Great Tits the Willow Tit seemed to be feeding well.
Deer were feeding on the road up ahead and moved into a small plantation as I passed but the usual panic escape was missing. Proceeding further up the road a call drew my attention and I approached slowly hoping to get a shot of the blighter but just as I drew level the Little Owl flew clasping prey in talons. It landed only a few bushes away but I decided not to pursue it for fear of driving it off it's catch.
Near the golf course I flushed a Kestrel again carrying prey which it took high up into a tree. Below a bush I found the remnants of its kill, probably a Blackbird which seemed large for the size a Kestrel but desperate times lead to desperate measures. Whilst examining the remains I missed the chance of a Barn Owl photo in broad daylight as a bird silently glided up the fifteenth fairway mid morning.
In the afternoon I took a trip up to a barren Whittle Dene. The Sparrow flock at the farm had been joined by Yellowhammers, Pipits and Larks all gleaning what they could from around the farm sheds. Meanwhile on the frozen reservoir a Blackbird feasted on Pheasant road kill.
On the way back after a brief hail storm I called again at Newburn where the river had frozen more solidly and a Kingfisher took advantage of the only patch of clear water near the burn mouth. He drew a crowd of ten or so onlookers but continued to fish oblivious to the cameras, even one with flash!
He dived in three times catching a fish every time but having to fly off into cover to eat as a Black headed Gull instantly appeared to try and steal the prize. Wonderful views in poor light which faded all but the luminous feathers on back and head.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Frozen Tyne

Called in at Newburn on my way home last night to find the Tyne virtually frozen over. Not surprising really as my car registered -11dec.C when I set out Friday morning.

Bird life was still evident but forced into one small unfrozen area where the burn ran into the Tyne. A Heron hunted at the top of the cascade surrounded by mist created as the warmer water tumbled in the cold air. Two Lapwings skulked nearby and a Crow waited for any leftovers. Two Moorhen made their way down onto the ice and explored the edge while a Black headed Gull bathed in the freezing water. A Snipe was flushed from under the footbridge by a dogwalker and an unseen Bullfinch called from the hawthorn as two Mute Swans flew downstream. Nice atmosphere but could hardly hold the camera steady due to the cold.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Drifting by

Called in briefly to Prestwick Carr this afternoon to see the results of last nights snowfall.
Numbers are well down with Wren probably the most numerous bird making use of the vegetation on the ice in the ditches. A couple of Fieldfare and a smattering of Blackbirds worked away below the Hawthorn and drank from some holes the late afternoon sun had created. A Grey Heron flew east and a small party of Woodpigeon returned to roost in the wood and Magpies went about their mischievous business. A Great Spotted Woodpecker, Robin and Dunnock all called but didn't show and as darkness approached the Tit flock moved along the road to their roost site and Starlings, Crow and Jackdaws did likewise.
Beginning to perish I carried on down the road only to find it blocked by one of the horsey set who had even less control of their car and was stuck side on. I turned around and headed back to Dinnington only to see two birds circling about seventy feet up. Familiar with this sight I stopped and watched two then three Short eared owls hunting the fields around Pringles pond. This lasted some fifteen minute around four pm till they went to ground and I slid home.

Easier to do my birdwatching from the kitchen window as the ground around the seed feeder managed to sport ten species in as many seconds. Interesting to see Woody back as he normally disappears back into the flock over winter returning in spring to breed in the laurel bush in the paddock behind my house.
That is clockwise from top Starling, Tree Sparrow, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Great Tit, House Sparrow and Robin plus Blackbird, Collared Dive and Woodpigeon.

Monday, 4 January 2010

New Year weekend

Nice to see Si Bound back up in the grim north for the weekend. Spent Saturday evening searching for the strangely elusive Short eared Owls. You would think they would hunt regularly given the big freeze but after an hour non had been found. Fortunately the Barn Owls were out again from mid afternoon tending to concentrate on the fields just north of Prestwick Road, a pair of Stonechat fed near the flagpost gate and Water Rails were in evidence in the nearby rushes. BG and his good lady arrived just as we decided to return home and that prompted a Short eared Owl to fly low across the road but we couldn't find it again in the gathering gloom. As we peered a large raptor glided in to our left and expeecting a Buzzard the bins were focused to see a bird with a much longer tail and no flapping to the the flight!
In the hope this was a Harrier coming in to roost I was up at first light Sunday with Tawny Owls calling at Carr Grange and a single Barn Owl still hunting at the east end. Spent a good two hours searching but no joy and an average 38 species recorded. Met Si again on the way back who had just managed to photograph a perched Short eared Owl mid morning so his efforts had eventually paid off.

My own photgraphs were limited by the falling snow but with birds close to the house some opportunity for some close ups have presented themselves.