Wednesday, 31 March 2010

A white tale

I was out at Ovingham hoping to get some shots of the Tyne in spate when a friend, Kevin Lee (who runs Stone Cottage Bed & Breakfast at Prestwick Road Ends if you need a room) gave me a call to say he was watching a large raptor, possibly an eagle on the Carr. We had spoken earlier about rare birds turning up but I was thinking more on the lines of Garganey or a nice wader but this was just too much. I would have given skant regard to 90% of people who told me of such but I know he spends most of his spare time in the north of Scotland and knows an eagle when he sees one so........breakneck speed back to the Carr phoning Graeme B on the way (hands free of course) to see if there he had heard any reports.

We both turned up on the Carr together to be met by a pair of Buzzards and our hearts sank but he was optimistic for a Sea Eagle and after about ten minutes of scanning the area Graemes colleague directed us to a bird flying just above hedge line 100 meters east of Mayfair Cottage. It was massive so we dashed back to the car and drove further down the road. I got out and located the bird on a bush and took the record shots above just in case. Turned out it was the best I was to get. We carefully walked down the bumpy road till there was a gap in the trees and there it was definitely a White tailed Eagle. Graeme got his scope on the bird whilst I tried and failed to get better shots due to focusing through the branches. The view through the scope was spectacular. A massive bird, brown with white streaking, a big pale beak, huge yellow talons and it was ringed silver over red on the left leg to boot.

As I retreated to find a better camera angle the bird took off heading west then back east behind the wood mobbed by Buzzards. The word had been put out and the next half hour was spent trying to re-locate the bird as cars arrived at each end of the bumpy road. STH and Crammy birder turned up and eventually the number of eyes and sharing info by mobile phone pinpointed the bird at the back of the wood only for it to fly the moment we got to the vantage point. Eventually though, the bird gave an excellent flying display over the woods accompanied by two cautious Buzzards. A fantastic sight to see such a huge bird and a lifer, new addition to the Prestwick Carr list and number 72 for the 2010 list. Ticks all over the place!!

I see no ships!

But I do see plenty of water. Prestwick Carr is again inundated and Mayfair Cottage is once again in danger of being cut off.

Was out first thing this morning and the flood was taking a hold although the ditches were still flowing however by lunchtime the flow was only obvious in a backward direction i.e. out of the ditch and over the roads onto the central basin of land. The poor Meadow Pipit in the header pic was doing a passable imitation of a Tree Pipit singing from tree top to tree top as there was nowhere to land in that area.

I understand the Environment Agency may be actually diverting water onto the Carr in order to alleviate the pressure on Ponteland. Not too bad for the wildlife but I bet the farmers aren't too keen and neither are their stock. The goats are on an island.......

and the highland cattle have no field left to graze. The youngster looks pretty fed up by the situation.

Perhaps they should try grazing nearer Dinnington where some 'indoor gardener' has been disposing of their plants.

I've found all sorts dumped down this road over the years, normally builders rubble or house clearances, bits of Ponteland Golf course, jewelry and even a nurses uniform but now the place is truly going to pot!

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Garden growth

Work and weather contrive to keep me at home and I look in trepidation at the greenery in the garden beginning to flourish in the wet weather. I'm no gardener but at least it will keep the birds happy and there's currently plenty of action. This morning ten Goldfinch graced the niger feeder whilst four Greenfinch preferred the sunflower hearts. I'm still getting regular visits by up to four male Reed Bunting with the occasional female also present.

At least a pair of Tree Sparrows visit daily and this morning a male joined in with the constant chirp ping of the House Sparrow flock which is occasionally interrupted by a mad mating frenzy. Better than the interruption last night from a male Sparrowhawk who seems to regard my garden as McDonalds. At least four of the available ten House Sparrow boxes appear occupied whilst my Blue Tit is defending the garden from all comers having chosen the east facing box this year. A pair of Dunnocks are building in the rear conifer hedge accompanied by much wing flicking when a third bird appears. I'm pretty sure the female Blackbird is on eggs as she only appears first and last thing watched by the male as she feeds with the Robin below the fat balls.

The Jackdaws continue building in my front conifer tree, the ground and my car below strewn with sticks and horse dung. Another pair is as usual in residence in the chimney pot with Starlings in the eaves at two locations. Pairs of Great Tits briefly visit on their regular routine whist Chaffinch numbers are rarely below five. A single Coal Tit visits the nuts occasionally and last week also saw a pair of Siskin and a male Bullfinch all of which managed to avoid the camera due to poor light conditions. Woody and his mate are in the laurel tree in the back paddock whilst a pair of Collared Doves prospect the busy front conifers. Magpies show the black and white every so often when there's some scraps about but my Pied Wagtail appears to have abandoned the rear flat roof now the weather has warmed up. Did I say warm.........well comparatively.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

You leave the patch for five minutes and.....

three Whooper Swans drop in. Not yet on the 2010 list and uncommon at Prestwick Carr in the latter part of the year so may have missed out. Not only that..Bill thought he had a Long eared Owl mobbing the Barn Owl last night minutes after I had headed off in the other direction to get a better camera angle. Bugger! I shall console myself with the memories of the Black Redstart at Druridge which is where I was when the Whoopers were about. A record shot to remind me but if you want real photos of this lovely bird try Birding Sometimes or another bird at Newton Stringer.

Reasonable count on Saturday of 44 types including a flock of 55 Fieldfare and six Buzzard over the wood . Even managed to get five in the same frame. I think they must have been watching the Red Kites over the valley.

Then yesterday afternoon headed off on one of my favourite roads between the A68 at Colt Crag and A696 at Kirkwhelpington picking up my target species for the trip, four Wheatear and some very confiding Skylarks of which I took lots of pics which were all rubbish due to either the birds moving or the wind, which I seem to have been bemoaning all weekend, in fact, ever since I couldn't get steady scope on the Black Redstart.

Friday, 26 March 2010

What you lookin at?

A misty Thursday evening didn't look very promising but standing chatting to Bill heard a snatch of Chiffchaffing to make No70 on the list and while trying to line up a singing Skylark with the half moon, a Sand Martin flycatched through the frame making No71 on the Prestwick Carr 2010 list.

The goats weren't particularly impressed but things were looking up in all senses. AF then phoned me saying the Barn Owls were flying behind his mums house so off Bill and I traipsed to Prestwick. We soon picked up an owl which flew along the road toward us before veering of into the field past me and then crossed back between Bill and I.

I don't really think he needed those excellent Zeiss bins but he sure got a great view!

The bird continued to fly up and down the road for the next half hour, occasionally perching on the fence behind the hedge but was clearly aware of our presence and never gave such a generous show again. We did see it catch vole which it tried to eat but was pushed of the perch by this wretched Crow.

Great night and some Barn Owl pellets to boot.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Roadside views

Prestwicks pair of Barn Owls have been out hunting most evenings this week around 5.45pm preferring the fields alongside the Dinnington to Prestwick Road and some motorists may have sen them as they perch occasionally on the roadside fences. Hopefully the birds are fully traffic aware and seem unconcerned by the passing vehicles.

Despite the closeness, photo opportunities have been limited due to the overcast weather and abysmal light conditions but I did manage these poor shots on Tuesday as one of the birds caught prey and flew off to consume the same.

Unfortunately all the action shots are blurred even at 1600+ISO. Wednesday -Thursday night has been pretty grim so if the weather clears it's likely the birds will be out early again this evening.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Under construction

Yesterdays sortie down Prestwick Carr way the all the birds were singing in the brief early morning sun particularly Dunnocks. I also found four Long tailed Tit territories with birds obviously building.

One was in the Plantation adjacent the still closed Prestwick Carr Road, but along with the Willow Tit pair present close by, was too hard to locate in the mangrove swamp that currently exists. Another was in dense brambles, a repeat location from last year and another in a gorse bush. I've given up hunting gorse bushes for nests as they are always too well hidden. There was one bush just about a meter round which was used three years in a row and each year after breeding I would lie under the bush looking upwards and still couldn't locate the nest. The only way to find them though is to find them early and in one area two birds were constantly busy allowing me to track down the nest to a Hawthorn bush where the base was firmly established.

Hopefully in a few weeks the female will be doing her duty and the Hawthorn will have sprouted to conceal one of the construction wonders of the bird world. Success rate over the last five years has been about 70% with predation of poorly concealed nests the most likely failure. I will keep a watch from now on and report progress.

Elsewhere numbers were moderate with forty three species for the morning and no migrants as yet. The Rookery at the Vicarage is in full swing.

the Buzzards are a courting
and the Jackdaws are nesting in the tree on my drive with the usual consequences.

After finally seeing the distant Crane at Eschott thanks to a gathering of Northumbrias keenest birders, I returned yesterday evening to spend an excellent half hour with another gathering watching two Barn Owls hunting the Carr. Nice way to end a full birding day.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Weekend quips

Ugh... should have stuck to Oysters

Ooohh I know.... she's such a diva

What's that you say duck?

Are you sitting on the fence too Owld mate?
Alternative / better captions welcome

Monday, 15 March 2010

Proof of the pudding

Well, most likely it's the main course.......... in fact it's the only course as Prestwick Carrs Short eared Owls appear to have been mainly eating voles. No great suprise in that but the quantity is pretty impressive. Of the four pellets I have collected the first was not typical for the species being thin and strangulated so contained just a single jaw bone. The second however was very typical being large and about two centimeters in diameter, compacted with bones showing and in two lengths of five and four centimeters.

This pellet contained the remains of four animals, indicated by a skull and pair of jawbones with a fair size difference between them ( I don't pretend to know much about mammal skeletons so if I've mis-identified any please let me know).

The third and fourth both contained the remains of three animals although the third had an extra jawbone from a fourth victim. This seems to indicate an abundance of food so it's hardly surprising the owls are persisting with the flooded conditions. When I had the opportunity to carry out this sort of study previously, in 2000 - 2002, most pellets contained at most two animals. I will try to get some more so I can send the results to David Glue at the BTO who keeps records of this sort of thing and must have thought I'd given up the ghost in the intervening eight years. It's a shame I couldn't find any in the snow as it would have been interesting to see if their diet changed. In my previous study when the owls hit hard times Beetles, Pied Wagtail and Starling were amongst the prey.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Kicking off

As I tended the garden feeders early yesterday the first sound I heard was the plaintive call of a Curlew as it drifted in to land in the field behind my house. The flock has built to forty or so and its always nice to see them return, feeding together for a couple of weeks before splitting up and becoming much harder to find when they start breeding. My House Sparrow flock was having a 'chirp in' as I left with Collared Dove and Starling accompaniment. Down Prestwick Carr road which is shut to traffic meant Skylark, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Blue Tit and Robin made for a tuneful backing track. A Blackbird flew low across the road reminding me of the loss of two females this week, who under the persistence of courtship did likewise only to be hit by the ever increasing traffic. At the corner a Song Thrush could be heard atop a tree at Curlew Cottage and two nearby Great Tits competed for the prize in monotony.

Down the bumpy road one then two then three male Reed Buntings gave their three note song only to be drowned out by the arrival of a pair of noisy Canada Geese who joined two Mute Swans on Pringles pond. In the distance I saw my first Lapwing display of the season followed shortly afterward by the descending tchee,tchee,tchee of a Meadow Pipit fluttering to ground. Magpie and Crow argued the toss over some morsel flushing a pair of Mallard from the ditch. Nearing the goats the half song of Yellowhammer became prominent backed by the chacking flock of Jackdaws with loud solo by Wren.

At the crossroads now and headed up the range track a short way because the army were again shooting as they have most days recently. The shrieking Black headed gulls shattered the calm displayed by a pair if Shelduck on the flood and a dozen or so Common Gulls bathed. Four Golden Plover called as they passed overhead as did eighty seven Fieldfare heading north and a Mistle Thrush rattled his call as a handful of Redwing landed in his favoured bush. The rich chewit calls of numerous Pied Wagtails in the nearby fields which were flushed by an overflying Grey Heron. Nearing Prestwick Mill singing Greenfinch became evident and a Coal Tit further north as I flushed a Moorhen by stepping onto the bridge. On toward the golf course the Eland rookery was audible with odd bird wheeling in the air and singing Goldfinch nearby with the phut phut of a pair of Long tailed tit emanating from a gorse bush where they appear to be nesting.
The return home was pleasant picking up a distant Kestrel, calling Buzzard, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Pheasant from the woods with overflying Linnet as I collected some Short eared Owl pellets at the side of a fence line where they had perched last week. The bleating of Teal was heard on a hidden flash in the middle of the field and as I turned for home the chur, chur of a Willow Tit capped off a two hour sojourn. That's forty six or so types and here's looking forward to that first Willow Warbler.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Up North

After Saturdays wash out had a survey to do in North Sunderland on Sunday so after a brief meeting in Cramlington headed up the spine road to Ashington and checked for the White fronts but the Greylag flock was way over the far side. Next stop, Bewicks at Alnmouth again way off in the distance but could positively identify two birds on the edge of the small flock. Next my work completed in quick time before a stop at Monks House Pool and then on to Stag Rocks. Bamburgh was heaving but strangely there was still space in the car park overlooking the rocks. The tide wasn't helpful and a dark smudge about 2/3 of the way to the horizon indicated a sizeable flock of Common Scoter. Got to 77 before the whole flock dived and I had to start again. Final conclusion was 120 or so but no Velvets although five female Long tailed duck and a Guillemot were tagging along. Closer to shore the Eiders were mooching about and I was sure I briefly saw a Slavonian Grebe only for it to dive before I got the scope on it. I waited and waited but it never re-appeared. They've done this to me before here but no matter how hard I looked it was not to be seen again. On shore 22 Purple Sandpiper dodged the breaking waves with half a dozen Turnstone, Redshank and the odd Curlew.

With the tide low decided to keep on north to Lindisfarne for the Little Egret and stopped briefly at Budle Bay where there were plenty of birds, mainly Gulls and a few duck including 90+ Shelduck. Dodging the potholes on the A1, crossed the causeway which was probably in better nick and amazingly there was the bird just yards from the road. The bright sunshine had been replaced by greyness so the shots were a bit flat but lovely to see this charming bird. Spent the next hour in the dunes around the Snook dreaming of Great Grey Shrike and Great Snipe but the only birds I saw were two Skylark and two Crows and two Short eared Owls who teased me with fleeting appearances.

Stopped of on the landward side of the causeway where the Egret was now feeding in its usual spot just south of the road and decided to get that perfect shot of Egret with castle in the background. Unfortunately the bird was not going to play the game and moved away as I approached. Worse still, I realised Colin in full camouflage gear was in amongst the tank traps trying to get some pics so I'd but the kybosh on his efforts too! We waited but the bird just moved around never coming too close so a couple of record shots of it and a pale bellied Brent were had before heading off into the sunset.

Friday, 5 March 2010


A fine Thursday afternoon could not keep me at my work and I headed off to find some Short eared owls and there they were. Two perched on the fence looking into the bright sunshine. The couple watching them from the road said they had been there half an hour and another hour later they were still there. If not for visual aids allowing you to see that they were watching everything going on, you may imagine them to be stuffed.
MH joined me and did a quick sketch whilst describing a third bird he had seen go down on prey earlier. The two birds on the fence were bomb proof even when a Kestrel flew just a couple of feet over both their heads. I tried to get closer up the fence line but could not get a decent support so hand held was the order of the day. I did recover a pellet though so will investigate what they are eating. These two must be well fed to just sit there for two hours. The nearer bird had a very rich plumage and the ear tufts were clearly visible but the farthermost bird had a very muted head colour making it appear smaller, possibly a juvenile.

The nearer bird dropped to the ground, photographers arrived and we all waited till the light faded but the remaining bird steadfastly refused to do anything. It was a nice day so why bother.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Looking up

The last few days fine weather has seen both the wildlife and myself looking up. Last night met a 'flash' of photographers (what is the collective noun for photographers?) looking for two Short eared owls that were seen hunting Wednesday afternoon and I have seen Barn Owl hunting two nights out of three. As we stood there Starlings streamed overhead to their roost sites. I checked the Brunswick roost over the weekend and they were gathered atop one pylon waiting to display briefly before plummeting into the conifers behind the Methodist Church. Those on the sloping arms kept sliding down pushing the bottom one off to re-perch elsewhere.
Also at the weekend managed to catch the Iceland Gull from afar at Blyth South Harbour.

The early part of the week saw the start of the return of coastal birds such as Curlew and Oystercatcher (No 69 for 2010) to the Carr to join the Lapwings and Golden Plover already present. Also passing overhead was possibly Hilary Clinton as most jets don't get a military escort.
Last night was also the first night I have stood out late and listened to extended bird song from Blackbird, Song Thrush, Great Tit and Dunnock. The rookery at Dinnington is also beginning to swing into action. Maybe we'll get some light and I'll get some better pics!!