Saturday, 29 December 2012

Murder mystery

Out briefly yesterday afternoon but wind and rain had put paid to any decent birding. Walking along the bumpy road I found evidence of a earlier killing and being so white was in fear that something had got a Barn Owl, a species I haven't seen on the patch since February 2010. Closer inspection indicated the feathers were mainly breast and down being fine mottled grey gaining brown and amber bands as they got larger.
These continued down the edge of the road for some fifty yards getting bigger as they went before ending next to a hole on the fence line.
Ah Monsieur le little grey cells must spring into action. The victim was clearly taken unawares and shaken to near death but carried or dragged along the road edge before the whole corpse was taken off for Christmas lunch hence the lack of flight feathers on the roadside. The pale mottled down merging into brown may suggest Partridge being a festive favourite but I suspect the killer was struggling with something larger and a Pheasant is more likely. The murderer, he must be Reynard the fox who has left his mark at the site of the kill and may have taken the victim as an offering to his lady who he will currently be courting.

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Cut off

The disadvantage of having an ISP through my business is that they choose to do vital maintenance during public holidays so between visits to the folks and shops, I've had little opportunity to drivel on. What's worse I've hardly taken a handful of photographs since the middle of the month and long for a day when the light level gets above gloom.
Now for a rant. Over the last few weeks my printer has been showing signs of age. Well it's two for pitys sake and also the second I've had in the last five years when I switched to A3 printing following the shock of a year when my print costs exceeded £1500 for large format stuff. As an Architect it gets fairly heavy use but you would expect machines from reputable makers like Epson to last a bit longer. I know that the problem is only the print head but they won't let their dealers repair them! You have to send them back to the factory. They arrange all the delivery etc costing a splendid £158 before any repairs or exceptionals. This printer cost about £300 which wasn't the cheapest but had good ink performance and costs. When I say good I mean better than attrocious and in researching what to buy over the years various nasties other than the extortionate rip off cost of ink have come to light. Such as
the cartridges supplied with new machines are specials and only partially full
every time you switch the machine on it charges all the ink jets so you use colour ink even if you do very little colour printing
cleaning the ink jet head is done by blowing a significant amount of ink through the thing using more ink and likley to cause a further blockage
So I approached the shops with the trepidation of a further sting on the bank balance and was pleasantly amazed. On offer A3 printer smaller, faster, neater than my current and with cheaper ink all for £139. How can they make them for that! The ink alone (assuming the cartridges are full) should cost £72.50. Apparently its reduced from £260 as Canon have brought out a new model which the assistant said is almost identical. Unable to resist such an offer I have switched makes and was pleased to see it has a detachable print head but in two years time or less I will no doubt be cursing Canon rather than Epson. What annoys me the most though is the staggering waste for such a trivial and repairable fault.
Oh yes, birding wise I went to Whittle Dene after Staples but the hide was somewhat inaccessible although there wasn't much around to see anyway. Anybody fancy a picnic in a wet suit?

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Still waiting

Saturday dawned with the thought 'aw crap, I'm still here'. What's worse it's chucking it down and no hope of getting out. I reflected on Fridays promised doom and how so many people seemed to want to spend their last mortal moments in a supermarket.
Sunday promised better things with sunshine forecast but I must have missed the bit about a howling gale. This is now the second time I've written this, the first being curtailed by the usual power cut. Dinnington! may as well be the back of beyond cut off from the world cut off by power failures, flooding and roadworks although I notice they have cleared most away for the Christmas break however they have also given up all pretence of trying to deal with the water run off from fields. Looking back through my photo's from this year the Carr has been flooded since the last week in April with major top ups in June, September and December. Only one other keen birder out this morning, somewhat of a contrast to last year!

Thursday, 20 December 2012

The end of the world is nigh

So put your head between your legs and kiss your **** goodbye although to be honest I doubt they'll have got the date correct.
The current speculation is that tomorrow is the end of the world as fortold by the Mayan calendar which gives 21.12.12 as the end of the 5th sun. This unfortunately assumes we knew when the first sun was born and have counted accurately ever since. Given that the calendar has developed from before Egypt through the Romans to the current day with Popes moving days and Roman Emperors adding days having originally fouled up by not starting at zero (see this link for a summary) then the chances of anything happening tomorrow seems slight and most commentators speculate that the meaning of 'end' has been misinterpreted.
Given that though, the first four Mayan suns representing fire, air, water and earth (as in most civilizations) generally concluded in flood and fire so I look out of the window at the pouring rain and wonder. Oh bugger it, at least I won't have to buy any presents!

Monday, 17 December 2012

Eye on the gold

What turned out to be frustrating weekend started with such hope as 123 on the Prestwick Carr 2012 list being Green Sandpiper was feeding in the flooded horse fields with a dozen Lapwing. The water levels have been topped up again but the dank weather has seen little else of interest and certainly made photography that much more challenging.
After that it was hunt the Bearded Tit at East Chevington and hunt the Bittern at East Chevington then Cresswell where the only joy was was the male Long tailed Duck and hunting Barn Owl. Sunday was a pretty average Webs count then off to Whittle Dene.
Finally some sunshine illuminated six male Goldeneye trying to catch the attention of four females. Nice to see these winter ducks back on our waters.

Friday, 14 December 2012

Blue light

Working away this morning I was stirred by the dee dah of emergency vehicles on the road outside my house. Not unusual here being next to the airport and the police doing training runs up and down the road, alarms are a regular occurence. However as I stood at the back window talking on the phone there in the distance was a collection of blue lights on the Horton Grange Road. For the second time this week the back road was blocked due to an acccident.
I've lost count of the number of accidents on this road over the years but they seem to be getting more frequent. It's not like it should be surprise as the road bends all over the place, has poor visibility, poor surfacing and this morning was obviously icy.
Anyway some poor soul was carted away in a blood waggon and the upturned remains were in Dougies field (he'll be livid if they have to go in to recover it). I was impressed that despite being upturned the vehicles lights were still working. Looked like a sporty Peugot but I'm no expert especially when they're upside down and crumpled.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Little big one

As life would have it work took me north today only half a mile from Bothal Pond where I had struggled with the light on Saturday. Today....beautiful sharp, clear light and where was the diver? About as far away as it could get. As Simon P and I sorted through the Canada Geese a Wren chastised us from nearby in the hedgerow.
These pictures were taken Saturday on the Carr where no less than four of the little mites were having a bit of a battle. Lots of threatening calls, glaring and staring round corners but fortunately no feathers flew.
In my half century and a bit of existence I've noticed that attitude often comes in small packages in both the bird and human world.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Grainy Northern Diver

Saturday dawned and after a goose count on the Carr I re-charged batteries and headed up to Bothal Pond to catch up with the Great Northern Diver. Stopped off just west of the pond as Stef M and another chap were set up wth camera and scope looking at the Canada Geese flock. I joined them and they guided me to the four or was it more, Todds species. Quite different when you get the salient features but they seem to disappear into the flock with ease. The light was good and I thought I spotted the diver near the road so drove through the flood to observe. No diver to be seen therefore off for a bite and quick look at Cresswell where the wind was bleak so headed home stopping once again at Bothal.

This time the bird was showing well and got reasonably close but the light had gone so I ended up with shots that look like black and white even though they were shot in full colour......honest. That's one serious beak its got though.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Carry on Crow

Returning from a walk along the pier at Tynemouth the other day I came across this Crow devouring a Feral Pigeon on the roof of the sailing club building.
It noticed me watching
and proceeded to do a little jig before continuing with its meal
I wonder what got the Pigeon in the first place, Peregrine most like although I've never seen one there before and not a likely spot for it to take a kill but anybody familiar with the quays at Tynemouth and Blyth will know how many pigeons are available though.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

A woody a day

is always nice to see and at the moment I'm getting daily visits with Sunday seeing a record three as a pair and this male squabbled over the nuts. In fact with the turn in the weather the garden is lifting with the regular species of Jackdaw, House Sparrow, Starling, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Blackbird, Collared Dove, Robin, Dunnock, Woodpigeon and Magpie being joined by regular visits from Coal Tit, Tree Sparrow, Wren and less frequently Reed Bunting, Bullfinch, Pied Wagtail, Rook and the inevitable Sparrowhawk.
No thrushes yet though and the dream of a Waxwing looks to be fading.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Nice Willows

An amazingly restrained title considering what I could have said but I'm not one to pander for hits although am intrigued by what titles attract. For instance 'Cheating' got an increased number of viewings from Columbia, United States and Canada. I doubt they got what they wanted.
Things like putting Hattie Jacques name in the title worked well and SEO meaning Short eared-Owl but also search engine optimisation was an accidental bonus but I'm puzzled why 'Post after post' attracted over 1500 hits from Ukraine. I can only suspect it accidentally got caught up in european football..................of course Goal post! Duh!
Anyway I love my tits and the Carr is always a good place for a view but even Big Waters now has them although they have to put leg irons on them and keep them caged!

Thursday, 29 November 2012


There was a nice moon last night and alongside was Jupiter shining bright. I took the shot but the brightness of the moon meant Jupiter was just a faint smudge on the photograph so I have cheated and enhanced the planet with a few pixels of brightness. This is pretty typical of my recent attempts and I seem to be going through a duff photogh phase. Either that or dropping the camera the other day really did have some effect!
I was at Cresswell yesterday and although the Jack Snipe had disappeared and the Long tailed Ducks (there's now two) were far distant I was pleased when a family group of six Whoopers came in from the sea to be followed by 26 more. They stayed about half an hour coming close to the hide but all the shots were 50 shades of grey with a hint of yellow. They flew off leaving five Red breasted Mergansers and many hundreds of Wigeon to patrol the pond. Thousands of Pink footed geese were in the fields to the north with Barn Owl and Short eared owl hunting the dunes near where I had been parked just an hour ago ...drat.
The Barn Owl causes worry as it hunts the roadside where fortunately most vehicles were maintaining a reasonable speed due to the flooding. (An aside after recent events. Do todays drivers trully not realise that car engines do not run when immersed in water? They should have had my old Cortina whose ignition light glowed when even close to a puddle!)
Anyway it got me to thinking about Barn owl road kills. I am fortunate to have the NTBC records at hand and so far this year there have been ten reported Barn Owl road fatalities in Northumberland which seemed high so I checked back. In 2011 there were just four but in 2010 there were nine so perhaps this rate of attrition is normal. I would put the reduced number in 2011 due to the lack of birds after the harsh winter. Of these 23 deaths the A1 accounted for almost half with eleven. A good reason not to build trunk routes next to coastal margins or just inevitable due to volume of traffic.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

While the owls away the voles will play

Saturday dawned cold and frosty with not much action on the birding front it being noticable on the walk down to the Carr that many birds were moving towards the relative warmth of the village and gardens. As such I spent the fist half hour trying to create an Andy Goldsworthy shot.
Near the mid point of my walk this vole gambled up the road toward me. It must have poor eyesight as it got to ten feet away before it realised I was there and scampered off into the undergroth. Guess I must have been upwind. The deer got a whiff though but remained unspooked by my presence.
After and hour or so I realised that the count wasn't going to pass forty species and that gulls were totally absent. Normally on my walk down there is a constant stream of Black headed gulls and smaller numbers of Common and a few larger gulls, all heading inland. Yesterday none, presumably due to the frost but it was clear, sunny and pleasant so why? This begs the question I have often pondered as how birds seem to know that conditions are or are not ideal in places far from their roost. Surely some first winters would turn up as they wouldn't know any better or do they follow the adults or do I just under estimate the extent of their inbred natural instincts. After all, why would any bird suddenly fly off over the sea in a particular direction without any knowledge there was something better over the horizon?
Out and back I pushed the remaining flock of Redpoll up and down the road but they never let you get closer than about twenty feet. A couple of light ones in amongst them but getting a good view for positive ID of mealys is a task. This one looked a bit strange and the shot seems to indicate a yellow poll but maybe just a trick of the light.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Birch lovers

This landed on STH when we were talking the other week. A little searching suggests its a Birch Shieldbug. Not something I've seen before but another for the PC list,
Of course its hardly suprising as the wood on the Carr is mainly Silver Birch but most are of poor quality and many dead or dying.
Which means there are plenty of Birch bracket fungi about.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Not on my patch

After a pleasant but uneventful count on Saturday morning I headed up the coast calling in at East Chevington on the off chance of a Bittern or two. Fat chance, but the time was well spent watching a Short eared Owl hunt in circuits around the north pool. It eventually dropped down from view into a grass field and I headed back up the path from the hide to the road. On passing the top gate there was the owl twenty yards down the fence line basking in the autumn sun. It needed to as the wind was perishing.
I was joined by two others, both battling with camera equipment but the bird was quite unconcerned at our presence and had the good nature to wait till all problems were resolved and shots taken before flying off south.
Then on to Cresswell where the Jack Snipe bobbed up and down as did Sam, John and John. As we all watched a Barn Owl hunted the dunes before losing its first prey to a Kestrel, up to 200 Curlew came in to roost on the pond and a thousand or so Starlings did the same in the adjacent reed bed. Videos will no doubt be published.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Oh go on then

 So hard to resist
 I'm just a blogging floosy
Follow the crowd, that's what I say

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Buzzed off

I bet you thought you'd seen the last of Bee-eater images now the young bird has hopefully flown to warmer insect laden climes.
Of course, now the bird has gone missing I was called down to Sunderland on business so stopped off to check. Three camouflage clad, bin wearing birders were still there staring forlornly at the aerial where the bird had been. I nipped round the corner to the deli for another two small mince pies at 55p a shot (bargain) and returned where the shift had changed but no Beeter was present.
As I stuffed my face with pie a wasp landed on the windscreen so the nest which had provided good fare for over a week still had some inhabitants which had evaded the bonny predator as it looks like the one above did. (No John, it's not a smut on the sensor!)

Monday, 12 November 2012

Apologies to Wilson

Isn't it amazing that when under domestic and professional stress one's mind can wander and so on Sunday evening I took to investigating why David Maddison would have listed Little Stint rather than any of the commoner sandpipers. The first point established was that Alexander Wilson (1766-1813) could not have been the influence as the Scot had emigrated to America in 1794 and most of his publications were in that country. The first relatively complete list of the Birds of Northumberland was published by Prideaux John Selby (1788-1867) in 1831, a year after Maddisons work was published so no responsibility there but the fact that Selby was natural history artist sent me rumaging for my copy of Thomas Bewicks (1753-1828) 'A history of British Birds' and there in the second book on waterbirds published in 1804 the above plate was located. Given the date and popularity of Bewicks work this would certainly have been available to Maddison and perhaps even encouraged him in his own writings.
I would therefore assume Maddison used Bewicks description to identify the bird although the relative scarcity of the species is confirmed by John Hancock (1808-1890) in his work of 1874 which descibes the bird as a September visitor and that he knew of only a small number of occurences.

Saturday, 10 November 2012


I've been sorting out my Prestwick Carr list with a view to expanding it to flora and fauna not that this is something exceptional as I'm following in the footsteps of a Dinnington school teacher called David Maddison who published such lists in a history of Prestwick Carr he wrote in 1830. I had a moment in town the other day so popped into the library and had a look at the original.
The birds section covers some 79 species of which there are some surprising inclusions and omissions plus a couple of puzzlers caused by the classification he is using which I suspect is Wilsons and known to be a bit dodgy. For example he lists Tringa pusilla, Little Sandpiper but I suspect he is meaning Little Stint although Common Sandpiper would seem to be an omission. Then there is the inclusion of Puffin, a bird known to stay local to it's breeding grounds and unlikely inland (although Little Auk after a wreck may be possible). I'll let him off with Gannet as I myself saw one over the Carr just last year but no gulls?
I do not intend this as a criticism of this splendid work. He adds 5 species to my list which currently stands at 192 compiled from 155 self sightings and records from Northumbrian Birds which summarises both the studies of Bolam and Hancock along with the records of the Northumbrian and Tyneside Bird Club. Next time I'm in town I'll check the lists of Bolam and Hancock for a comparison.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Spitting B's

So I was as I spent Sunday lunchtime under my parents sink battling with the marvels of push fit plumbing and the unblocking of same whilst accidentally loosening the washing machine water supply and having to block that particular source of water. Intentions of a trip to Seaburn went well and trully down the plug hole so a Bulleater is the best I can offer for brightly coloured individuals.
What's worse some B (which I emphasise stands for Birdwatcher) reported Waxwing on my patch at a time when I was present busy counting winter thrushes.........
and ice skating Pied Wagtails. It was that bloke in the red car I know it! Anyway, it was a pleasant fresh mornings walk before the call that sent me into plumbing hell.
Yesterday was also pleasant although an afternoon spent in the hide at Cresswell failed to find any bearded tits other than on my chest but did observe Jack Snipe, White fronted Goose, Long tailed Duck and a Short-eared, Barn Owl, Kestrel battle over the dunes. I failed in my photographers duty to record the event and the shots of the Snipe were pretty dodgy. Could be of a song in there...Stop stop bobbin....don't fret I'm just Pretending.