Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Testing times

Having to work three out of the four days over Easter did not impress me greatly and the limited opportunities to whip the camera out had varied results. Some birds just love to show and others just don't. The male Sparrowhawk just thinks it owns my garden but I must clean the kitchen windows to get a clearer image.

The Redstarts at Prestwick Carr continue to eveade the camera although he's singing regularly and she I presume is on the nest. I did however find four just south of Milbourne church on Sunday but they stayed mobile and between the light and me so silhouttes were the order of the day.

Then chasing Crammy birders Wryneck at West Hartford found a Grasshopper Warbler territory where the bird almost showed. Better than any of the Prestwick Carr individuals which always stay low in the grass habitat.

Also at West Hartford I flushed the Green Sandpiper before I got a shot but a pair of Wheatear showed well although always kept their distance.

Last night a Marsh Harrier was around Prestwick Carr which I missed by two minutes making it the third I have not seen this year and compounded by the Osprey I missed on 2nd April. It's nice Bill keeps me up to date with what hasn't been added to my list which bumped up to No 87 with House Martin.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Not the best nest.....

but my front garden Collared Doves have fledged two from a most unsuitable location. As I returned home Saturday morning I noticed a pile of guano building up under the front conifer tree. On investigation I found two young on the crappiest nest (in every sense of the word) just at arms reach above me.

Why the bird would put such a flimsy construction so near to a busy road and barely clear of people walking along the path is beyond me. I'm amazed it withstood the gales at the beginning of this month. 2.2m (that's 7ft) off the ground it is 150mm (6") in diameter and probably has less than 50 sticks in it. I've promised to send it to Mike Hansell at the University of Glasgow but am wondering how to get it out in one piece.

Truth be told I should have spotted it earlier as the two adult birds have been hanging around the gate post of the drive for weeks often not even flying off as I drive the car in! I knew there was a nest somewhere in the tree but I hadn't considered looking up at that particular location.

These shots were taken early morning on 8th March as the birds 'got jiggy with it'

Clearly it was a successful mating and as I pulled out of the drive later on Saturday I noticed one of the young on the ground oblivious to the passing traffic. Fearing it would be a short existence for the young bird I shooed it down the drive but now fear doing the squishing myself as I pull in.
Anyway, the nest is empty and the youngsters are hidden somewhere about the place. Meanwhile the back garden pair await the emergence of their young which judging by the birds position on the nest, are beginning to get their feathers but I've yet to catch the parent feeding them.

Meanwhile last night on Prestwick Carr No86 Lesser Whitethroat was singing its way along the bumpy road.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

New species

On a splendid day yesterday I wondered whether I could claim a new species for the Carr. A Moustached Finch was picking its way around the gate of one of the horse paddocks. Of course it flew off to a nest located nearby and returned moments later to reveal its true identity as a female Chaffinch. Never mind, in the bright sunshine the place was heaving with life singing warblers being the major feature.

The Sedgies (No 85 on the PC list) had arrived overnight and although skulking were singing loudly as were Whitethroat, Willow and Grasshopper Warblers. The tallies for my 2km walk were 6 Sedge Warbler, 15 Whitethroat, 33 Willow Warbler and 9 Grasshopper Warbler of which I actually managed to see two but the photos were less than successful.

Another photographic failure were the Golden Plover many of the flock of 150 resplendent in breeding plummage. I waited at a gate for twenty minutes as the flock slowly made its way toward me. Armed only with my 50 -250 zoom I took a number of shots but the birds never came close enough for a result eventually being spooked by a couple of Crows and returning to the middle of the field where three Hares were basking in the sun. I did however manage a close fly by of an Oystercatcher which has a nest site somewhere in the same field.

Male Pheasants called out their territories and made a colourful sight as one cautiously crossed the bumpy road which was busy with cyclists of all shapes and creeds.

Linnets and Yellowhammers were also very vocal the former keeping a healthy distance from this frustrated photographer although the latter were far more generous. The total for the walk was 47 species.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Out and about

A series of meetings as people try to unburden work onto me prior to the vacation means I've been travelling around locally. A stop at Killingworth Lake for a respite saw the young Whooper with a nice turn of colour on the beak.

A pair of Coot frantically fed eight young which were kept contained in the artificial floating reed bed.

At Hamsterley Red Kites were using the thermals of a warm day to best advantage and were visiting private gardens presumably as they were being fed.

Back to my own patch caught up with the first Whitethroat of the year thanks to Liverbirder.

and a Pied Wagtail kept a wary eye on me as I passed by.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011


Walking back from the Bank in Ponteland at lunchtime I noted a pair of Dipper flying back and forth with nest material. Picking it off a grass bank and shingle outcrop further upstream they would dunk the material in the water first before flying back to the nest site with it.

The birds were quite intent and oblivious to me standing over them, the noise of passing traffic or a couple sitting on a bench talking and taking little heed of their noisy brats at the waters edge.

Had they not been there and the sun in a different location I would probably still be there now!

Monday, 18 April 2011

Breeding exodus

Until I did Webs counts I never really appreciated the movement of birds away from their established patch to breeding grounds in the spring. My count covers 8km of the River Tyne from Redheugh Bridge to Newburn Bridge and whilst last month I counted over 500 Black headed Gulls this month I managed none. In the seven years since I took over the count this is the second time this has occured with the count date matching the peak movement period. Redshanks generally numbering around one hundred were down to eleven and Teal from last months splendid 430 to one solitary male with a handful of Mallards.

The mud flats were generally lined with juvenile large gulls giving good practice separating Greater, Herring and Lesser Black Backs of all ages. There were a couple of adult Black backs mooching around with adult Herring Gulls at their breeding colony on Rolls Royce Bearings roof and Lesser Black Backs on this and BAE systems roof. Numbers of this species increase year on year and are approaching fifty birds.

Other birds that return to the patch in spring are Oystercatcher with four yesterday and particularly Shelduck which breed succesfully here around the Costco - Scotswood Bridge area. Last month saw 40 birds present although fewer this month presumably indicating females on nests. The Common Terns have yet to arrive and I couldn't find a Common Sandpiper although I'm sure next month both will be present.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Back on patch

Caught up with the Parakeet back making a mess of his favourite window at Prestwick yesterday.

Also yesterday my first Swallow at home and on the Carr so the list bumps up to 83. Last evening Bill reported a passing Marsh Harrier around 3.30 which along with the Osprey he saw on the 2nd means I've dipped on two more beauties! 300+ Golden Plover many in fine plumage are mooching around in the horse fields, 3 Wheatear courtesy of Howdon Blogger, 48 Fieldfare heading east and the Tawny at his usual spot for the fourth day running. If only the flood water had stayed I could have hoped for some waders but I shall have to be satisfied with memories of Cresswell on Saturday.

Now an Avocet on the list even as a fly by would be splendid.

Sunday, 10 April 2011

Spot the difference

A clear night and a sunny Saturday morning brought a number of new arrivals to Prestwick Carr. Down the bumpy road at least six Willow Warblers were singing and there were some vigourous territorial disputes as a result. As I passed the pine copse there was a brief snatch of grasshopper but I waited for ten minutes and it wasn't repeated so headed on up the range track where two Wheatear were in the horse fields along with 20-60 Golden Plover depending on how many were up in the air as the lasses disturbed them whilst retrieving their steeds. 20 Curlew grazed in the far corner and Great Spotted Woodpecker called from the wood. As I passed the sentry box the reeling started again from my right and a definate Grasshopper Warbler had returned to the patch. Further up the bridleway more Willow Warblers sang.

I checked the fallen tree and there, tucked underneath out of the sunshine was the Tawny Owl and above him in the tops of the taller standing trees the male Redstart announced his arrival in song. A Pied Wagtail prospected the ruin for a nest site but sadly I had to leave without persuing the Redstart for a pic as the sentry had arrived and shooting was about to start. I headed along to the golf Course flushing a Moorhen out from beneath the bridge at Prestwick Mill as I scanned the sky for Swallows without success. In the birch copse near the course a Chiffchaff gave its song in between boughts of flycatching fom the tree tops. Good job these birds sing because I can't tell them apart very successfully!

Then back home with the list having progressed to 81 and straight into the car for a trip to Cresswell and having picked up four of the Avocets the bonus was two White Wagtail, two Yellow Wagtail and a pair of Pintail. I met Graeme and Les who advised the American Wigeon had just returned to the pond so we headed for the hide but were told be a kindly chap that the bird had been disturbed and flown out to sea. So..............we did a bit of seawatching without success other than normal Wigeon and a couple of Red throated Divers along with a pair of northward bound Swallows. I returned to the hide and lo the American invader had returned so and there it was in the middle of the pond. After telling the chaps I spent an hour waiting for it to come closer but to no avail so the craptastic record shot above is all I got. Never mind a good day all in all.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The all seeing eye

No I haven't joined the Masons but my Collared Doves have nested in the conifer outside my window again this time higher up so the bird watches me as I work on my drawing board below. The black dot marks the spot which is 3ft higher than last years nest and not quite as exposed but not as stable.

Meanwhile on the Carr last night the Tawny Owl has returned to his usual roost site just as the branches are coming into bloom. I guess this is a breeding time strategy as I didn't manage to see him once over winter.

Its a good spot though and he was nicely tucked out of the cool wind that was blowing, well camouflaged against the trunk and shortly to be almost invisible as the leaves blossom which along with a shot straight into the setting sun makes the photographers life somewhat difficult. Have to get young Howdon Blogger on the job. That's 77 on the Prestwick Carr 2011 list.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Add expletive here!

Shorelark at Drudidge, six!! Avocets at Cresswell and here I am stuck in front of this wretched computator with the phone demanding my prescence at various locations but non even close to the coast.

Meeting at Medburn this afternoon so may use it to overshoot and see if I can find a Yellow Wag at Whittle Dene. These G C Grebes were doing their stuff on the 2nd but never close enough for good shots.

Sunday, 3 April 2011

A good morning

The early morning sun could not disguise the familiar shape and more critically, sound of the first returning Willow Warbler at Banks Pond this morning. The clear night must have brought good numbers in as there were two more up the range track and a possible that declined to give forth in song on the bumpy road. Three Chiffchafs and a Blackcap also sang in the copse behind my house.

Then more for the Prestwick Carr list with two Tree Sparrows nest prospecting near the ruin behind which 32 Curlew fed but I couldn't find any Fieldfare in this spot which is often best for late birds. A pair of Long tailed Tits continue to build their nest in some brambles as a pair of Great Spotted Woodpecker flew past together and the Curlew were flushed north by an overflying light aircraft.

Then as I watched a lass lead her horses out of a field past a Hare that just sat stock still, a pigeon flushed from in front of her, the delicate size and lack of white wing bars indicating a Stock Dove. Two Lesser black back gulls soared with a Buzzard in the distance and overhead Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Snipe displayed.

Lets hear it for more clear nights, sunny mornings and migrants as the Carr list now numbers 76.

Friday, 1 April 2011

Not a migrant

I'm advised by the Ponteland Historian that the local Ring necked Parakeet has returned to his garden in Prestwick having survived another harsh winter although where it goes over this period is a bit of a mystery.

Seen by the Liverbirder at the Police College early last month I caught up with it on the 21st when I noticed it being mobbed by Jackdaws over Sainsburys in Ponteland ending up in the top of a tree in Bell Villas opposite. This is close to a garden where I know it gets fed daily, normally grapes although recently sultanas have been added to the available fayre which it now prefers throwing the grapes on the ground. I suggested to the lady that she peel the grapes but this was felt to be a a luxury too far!

It certainly knows tha area and has returned to its Prestwick patch on the very week the Horse Chestnut tree has burst its buds. Like the Ponteland Historian I find this amazing. How did it know? Presumably it was doing covert visits to check or is it smell. I've often pondered over how waders know when Prestwick Carr is flooded. Dunlins don't exactly fly over daily the nearest suitable habitat being some five miles distant on the Tyne yet given a reasonable amount of flash water they turn up as do Redshank and Shelduck.

It's also a year since the White tailed Eagle visited the area fortunately arriving the day before April Fools day (although record suggest it was at Linton two days earlier) it headed south over Ponteland on the 1st April crossing the A1 at Leeming Bar on the 4th then east to Flamborough Head where it headed south visiting various reserves in East Yorks over the next four days and dining on Canada Goose at Whitton Sands. Then it headed back to North Yorks on the 8th heading west over Bolton Abbey on the 10th it crossed into Lancashire and briefly visited Leighton Moss before heading north being last seen on the 11th 'interacting' with a Golden Eagle over Haweswater. Shame I can't find out whether it ever returned to its release site in Fife.

Anyway, keep yer eyes peeled for the Parakeet as you go up the bank in Prestwick. The white rendered house near the road on the right and the one with feeders on the left at the top of the incline are the gardens in question but please respect the residents privacy. It's not an Oriental Collared Dove although there are many standard variety in Prestwick so it may be worthwhile checking.