Sunday, 28 February 2010

Ducks in the distance

After the dreach start to the weekend got out at Saturday lunchtime to find a flock of 81 Wigeon on Prestwick Carr along with a handful of Mallard and Teal. The Lapwings and Golden Plover were in close attendance but everything was at a distance. One drake Wigeon remained this morning calling for its chums who must have moved off overnight, I suspect to the Horton Grange flash which has begun to reform.
I decided to head off for more duck soup with the GWT at Druridge calling in at Banks Pond on the way to find two pairs of Tufties (No.67 for 2010) and a pair of Mute Swans.
After wading in to the Budge hide I was guided to a sleeping Green winged Teal by AA and some other birders and waited to get a better view. If you look very closely you can just see the vertical white flash.

Half an hour later and still the bird slept but I returned the the favour locating the bird for Paddy and an enthusiastic couple undaunted by the craptastic view. About ten minutes after they left the bird finally awoke, came out of the grass, pirouetted twice proving its identity beyond doubt then headed back in to cover. Oh well such is birding.
After fish and chips at Amble called in at East Chevington in the hope of Bittern, Hen Harrier but views over the south pool were bleak. Then over the reeds two white ghosts appeared and started hunting into the wind. I was expecting Short eareds but these were definitely Barn Owls so headed off to try and get a pic or two. Walking up the path toward the reed bed one of the birds appeared from the dunes clutching prey and headed off to eat its prize. I stayed on the path not wishing to disturb their hunting given the continued harsh conditions and was rewarded when one bird hunted up toward me and I got a snap or two but there was a squall coming in off the sea and the light was going fast so that was it.

This morning still dull but a Little Grebe (No68 for 2010) and two pairs of Canada Geese were on Banks Pond indicating a return to their breeding site and even a Skylark was singing. Let's hope that spring will hurry along too!

Thursday, 25 February 2010

A close shave

Was heading into Ponteland last night for a bottle of brain relaxant when I noticed a flock of 750-1000 Starlings flying in the other direction so I turned the car around and started to follow them. Over the last ten years this daily local migration has been common sight in winter months with birds from roosts at Brunswick and West Denton heading out to feed near Stamfordham and returning each night. I suspected this was the West Denton crowd so headed back toward town. As I approached the airport roundabout a passenger plane took off causing the Starling flock to bunch tight and swirl just 100m short of the end of the runway. If they had been a little earlier it could have been a huge bird strike which doesn't bear thinking about, either for birds or passengers.
I eventually caught them up half way between the airport and the A1 roundabout where they were flying in an extended formation about 1/4 mile wide. Headed off through Westerhope to an estate just west of Jolleyes store where the birds had congregated last year and there they, and many more were, flying in four to six groups of 500 to 1500 birds probably totalling 3000 plus birds. The flocks occasionally combined but they ever grouped and swirled so much as just circled for half an hour before birds started to peel off and plummet into various clumps of conifer trees in private gardens. A great sight although the locals weren't too impressed as every time they passed overhead it rained guano!
These are photographs of a congregation at Whittle Dene I photographed in 2001. This event was quite spectacular and by griding up the photographs for counting I estimated 100,000 birds. Never easy to get an accurate figure as the Brunswick roost proved. The top photograph taken in the grey last night contains 500 birds although you wouldn't think it. Maybe if we get some decent weather the birds will oblige with a display although the flock will break up for breeding soon.

Sunday, 21 February 2010


Last Friday brought up number 66 on this years Prestwick Carr list with an overflying Peregrine sending the Lapwing / Plover flock into a frenzy but the bird made no attempt to hunt. As the light faded 80 or so Greylags flew in from the north in their typical noisy, untidy formation. They landed in the horse field next to the golf course and normally I would just record them in the notebook and head off home but they were so closer to the road than usual and with all the Whitefronts and Bean Geese in the county I felt it my duty to have a closer look. Got the scope on them and started counting till I got to a Canada head a stopped to check. I've seen a couple of these crosses up at Hauxley and maybe this was one of them on a day trip. Pity it doesn't count as one for the list but nice to have the visit.
On the way home a Barn owl flew alongside the car possibly using it to flush prey before at the field end it crossed over the road eight foot above and I realised I was driving into a mini coming in the other direction. Fortunately (although he had little choice) he had pulled over.

Out first thing on Saturday in crisp cold weather after yet another overnight snow fall. Very quiet with few birds in the hedgerows but a group of four Heron were still at roost. For years I thought these were solitary birds and when feeding they are but I remember the first time I saw a roost near the standing stone at Delaval with eleven birds all lined up together gaining shelter from a hedge. Communal roost are quite common on the Carr in flood conditions but the location varies considerably. Shortly these birds will be back at the nearby Heronry preparing nest for the new season.

Three Dunlin were with the Lapwing flock the second time this year these birds, normally passage visitors, have shown up and nice to see. I wonder when the ubiquitous Redshank will do the same.

Like ipin I counted no Wrens in the first two hours so with the golf course closed I ventured into the middle to investigate the stands of pines. A Wren was singing and three Goldcrests (No.67) moved through the canopy with a couple of Long tailed tits so some birds have made it through to carry on the line. A flash on the ground just in front of me was followed by some tut tutting from above and a Red Squirrel scolded me for disturbing his foraging. Couple of shots and I let the little chap to has business.

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Wax at Ash

Managed to arrange a meeting at Ashington for Wednesday lunchtime which was over quite quickly allowing me to squander the rest of the working day watching and attempting to photograph the 30+ Waxwings near the cemetery.

Variable light conditions and not the best choice of tree for those wanting to avoid neck ache but some wonderful views if not quite achieving the quality of image I would like. Tried to tempt the birds onto the ground with some apple but despite showing some signs of interest a tree in the estate to the west (aptly all the streets are named after birds) was their favoured snack bar and the flock moved between the two locations throughout the afternoon.

Was joined by JM and Frank who put the size of my lens to shame and chatted with some of the locals who said at least two of the birds had been in the locality for some time. Various other birders who I recognise but whose names I don't know, passed by along with DM and his good lady who I meet quite regularly at these minor twitches.

Anyway, a great time was has by all and who cares about work when you can enjoy these colourful visitors to the full.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010


Had a play with my camera on Friday and consequently spent the whole weekend shooting on the wrong settings with variable results. The above Fulmar at Tynemouth was just saved but pics of the four Whitefronts at Woodhorn were not retrievable.
Look at the wax on those Waxwings at Forest Hall but why the soft focus!!
Lapwings flushed by Buzzard at Prestwick Carr

Shite Hawk flown by nugget at West Hartford meant I saw little else. Bird drifted off south over Cramlington with handler in tow so don't know if he managed to retrieve it. Keep your eyes peeled Crammy birders.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Quiet morning

After a horrendous day dashing about yesterday only made tolerable by seeing the four Redheads at Druridge, took a breather this morning and after getting some essential work out of the way headed down to Prestwick Carr to see if the flock of 64 Pinkfoot Geese present on Monday and Tuesday were still about but they had moved on.
Met ADMc and Paddy who was searching for Willow Tit. I had just seen one heading in his direction but the little blighter didn't show further and as we chatted a Buzzard passed overhead for the benefit of a couple from Jarrow not familiar with that species on their patch. Can't get moved for them here! ADMc advised he had found one of the Carr Barn Owls dead and that worse still 12 had been found on the Otterburn ranges. Lets hope for a good breeding season.

Near the ranges here, the fields were full of Lapwing and Golden Plover, their numbers building daily and nearly joined by a passing Cormorant. As I continued on my way the silence in the hedgerows was noticeable only pierced occasionally by singing Tits, calling Yellowhammers and the first notes from Chaffiches heralding better to come.

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Not entirely a wash out

Woke up Saturday to find the gloom had descended so the morning was spent doing Bird Club paperwork which, by the time completed, the skies had cleared and then returned to murk. Went out to see what was about on the Carr but things were fairly quiet and with little hope of owls the time was spent in a mexican standoff with the deer. No way of getting close to them in the open but I've now identified two with antlers.

Bill regaled me of a Shelduck present on the flood Friday as a flock of 24 Teal swooped around startled by a passing Sparrowhawk. Now Shelduck last year evaded my list which was strange given the extent of flooding and I was delighted to find said specimen asleep on Pringles Pond with the pair of Mute Swans that seem to have made it home. Meanwhile the white chested Buzzard taunted me from a distance.
I must smell. Why won't anything come close?

Out today with good intentions of a birding morning via Bywell, Corbridge and Whittle Dene. On the way called in at the far end of the Carr and was delighted to see a flock of 93 Pinkfooted Geese with a couple of Greylag but predictably, on the other side of a foggy field. Oh well off on my trip the least said about which the better. On unpacking the gear at Bywell a strange hissing was heard from the rear nearside tyre and the rest of the morning was spent getting home and repairing same. Anyway, numbers 64 and 65 on the Prestwick Carr list for 2010 is some consolation.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Freezing the Barnacles off!

Barnacle Goose using the only patch of unfrozen water on Tynemouth Boating Lake yesterday afternoon accompanied by two Mute Swans, eight Turnstone and numerous Gulls unfortunately non related to Napoleon.
Don't like the look of this ice much but haven't learnt to stand on one leg!

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Distant view

Sorry for the crap header pic but finally got a shot of the big raptor people have been describing to me. On enlargement the big white chest and possible grey head is a bit off putting but the tatty plumage and method of hunting off a fence can only suggest Buzzard although I stand to be corrected. The size though is very big with body length at least two feet which is right at the top end of Buzzard range. I've left some of the fence straining posts in the shot to get some idea of scale but they must project at least three feet above the grass.
Also last night a nice covey of twelve Grey Partridge napping in front of Ed's caravan.

and the buck deer again escorting three females. If the light improves as it is doing hopefully I'll get some better shots.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Looking up

Spent the weekend birding between meetings with some good results. The Carr on Saturday morning was heaving with Great Tits and a good tribe of eleven Long Tails. Then off the Kirkley where a Barn Owl stared back from its roost mid morning. Lunch at Lintzford with seven Red Kites circling overhead presumably not looking for scraps.

Then to Hexham for the final bit of work. Ah could take in the White fronts at Grindon I thought and there they were with some Bean Goose to boot. Splendid. Arrows mark the spot White fronts to the right Bean to the left but no end of dodgyscoping could get a reasonable result.

Sunday off to Ashington for work early morning and overshot to Cresswell and East Chevington where I dipped out on Bittern and Hen Harrier. So to Blyth to console myself with an easy Iceland Gull although views of the roof topper were poor as I was looking west into the setting sun. Must go in the morning next time if the youngster stays.
Finished off at Prestwick Carr where I watched a Fox for half an hour scenting the largest mole hills it could find later to be joined by what I presume was his mate. Looking up the vapour trails of jets were bright in the setting sun and watched with a little concern as one jet overtook another on exactly the same heading. I've heard of sharing flight spots but that's ridiculous. The planes obviously had a few thousand feet vertical separation but appear similar size!

Finally on the walk back to the car a familiar form lifted over the bumpy road and upon getting to the nearest gate a Short eared Owl drifted past in pretty direct flight not looking like it was hunting or staying. My first for two weeks and typical as I'd announced to at least three visiting birders this weekend that the birds must have flown.