Thursday, 16 January 2020

January the New June

Having put it in a few days birding, it's mild but windy up here in the unfrozen North. Recent years have seen an increase in the number of species one might see on a day out, Little Egret, Common Crane and Green Sandpiper for example all occurring with increased frequency in the winter months. The latter now recorded in several areas each winter in Northumberland though less than 10 individuals probably involved. The one pictured below was on a tiny stream in a regular wintering location today. They'll be ten-a-penny from late June on return migration but finding one in mid-winter always makes for a good end to the day.

Saturday, 11 January 2020

Saturday Birding

Back when I was a callow youth with a nine to five Saturday was THE day for birding after a week's toil. Gradually as the kids came along the hell of soft play took over, followed by football and gymnastics. Throw in the last decade of irregular working where every day can be a work day and Saturday birding was relegated to a memory.

The weather looked pap for today but I figured a day without kids, dog, work or any responsibility I owed myself one. Rather than work hard for probably little reward I opted to sweep up some of the local talent on offer this January.

The Fish Quay was choppy and quiet but there was a decent collection of gulls worth scanning off the Low Lights car park and sure enough one of the recent Iceland Gulls was hanging out with young Herring Gulls.


Later despite the windy conditions the Seaton Point Water Pipit showed exceptionally well proving the exception to the suggestion they are flightier than Rock Pipits.


Next up a bit further north was the female-type Black Redstart wintering at Boulmer, though in reality it's currently at Longhoughton Steel, anyway wasn't too difficult and skipped about the rocks whilst I worked through the waders and gulls on the off-chance of a bonus. Not to be.


Monday, 16 December 2019

Banishing the Post-election Blues

Without taking the next two weeks too much for granted I appear to have made it through 2019 as have those closest to me. Signed off as healthy some months after my minor heart attack, I've spent a fair bit of time reflecting on how lucky I am really, particularly in comparison to so many others.

The Election results sent me, like many, into a dark place, I won't dwell in negativity but I expect that the next five years are going to be even harder than the last three for a fair few folk. It's hard to know how to respond to that as someone who voted Remain and believes that on balance the EU had more positives than negatives but I'm working through that, listening and reading to the ideas of others.

One thing that's clear to me after 2019 though is that helping others and being part of a community, particularly one that has shared interests and values is important. Birding can be a bit disparate at times, all walks of life, all political views but it's been good to see many others sharing similiar feelings elsewhere in recent days.

I was really pleased to be able to help a fellow birder in recent months raise £100k for his wife's life-saving surgery. It's been great to see Liv set on the road to a better quality of life and with Gary now back in the North East I was happy to get a call early Sunday asking if I fancied the putative Eastern Yellow Wagtail (now confirmed from images and sound recordings) that had been unexpectedly found by Paul Cassells the previous day at Prestwick Carr.

So in bright winter sunshine we rocked up neither of us having done much birding recently and trudged a few hundred metres beyond Mayfair House to find it showing ridiculously well down to 2-3m and feeding happily on blood-worms and several locals enjoying it's presence.

As ever one of the most enjoyable aspects of any decent bird is bumping into birders that you've not seen for some time. A good reminder of shared interest, a smattering of laughter and good humour irrespective of politics. Shaking out the cobwebs and feeling the cold on your skin under a northern sky with a decent bird behaving itself was the nature gods smiling and providing an early Christmas present.

Monday, 2 December 2019

Plus ca Change

It's been three and a half years since my last blog post, I can hear Sinead O Connor in my head when I read that back. Much has changed for me in that time but I long ago realised that that was the one thing you could rely on, life rolling on and changing stuff.

I had settled into occasionally dropping the occasional sightings onto my Facebook page over that period but I've fallen out of love with Mr Zuckerberg's creation a little right now. It appears to me that they don't have the best interests of everyone at heart, some of the issues surrounding the sale of data and their ethics regarding political advertising have left a very sour taste in my mouth so I'm back here. How frequently and for how long, who knows, who cares?

There was a bit of noise on Whatsapp (another change) about Ring-necked Parakeets the other night and some interesting observations about the continued growth of the species here in Northumberland with reports of up to 20 individuals in the Newcastle area, regular flight paths over certain areas and the use of parks and gardens in the Wallsend/Walker area. This kind of coincided with me noticing that several of the people with better populated Northumberland lists on Bubo had the species included and that for comparison reasons I probably ought to stop avoiding them and take a look at least once.

So Friday in uncharacteristic sunshine I toddled along to Richardson Dees Park in Wallsend,had a walk around kicking a few Grey Squirrels off the path as I went and sure enough about half way around the perimeter bumped into four lurid green parakeets. I took some pictures, noted the incongruous nature of some of the surroundings, as I loitered with camera at the bus stop outside the Comrades Club and left with bird no #320 for Northumberland.

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

The Last Eagle

It started with a question, 'has anyone seen the eagle?' followed by the long-expecetd news that England's last remaining resident Golden Eagle at Haweswater has not been seen so far this Spring during weekend searches.

It was with a heavy heart that I broke the news on the BirdGuides twitter account this evening. It may yet prove false but after 12 years soaring the skies above Riggindale alone, if not this Spring it will surely happen before we see out the decade.

The Haweswater Golden Eagles probably provided many thousands of birders they're first experience with an iconic bird, for many it will be the only Golden Eagle encounter they have had in England. We'll wake tomorrow to a country less wild than before, nature one step further from us, one step closer to simply being a shadow of itself.

Like many the Lake District eagles provided some of my formative birdwatching experiences. Trips across at Easter became an annual pilgrimage for several years. Coming from the East Coast the trip would regularly provide the first chance to catch up with spring migrants as we walked around into the steep-sided valley to the cries of Lesser Black-backed Gulls from the island. A Wheatear sat up on a rock, perhaps a Ring Ouzel singing from high above before . Peregrines would always show first, sometimes we'd have to make do with a smudgy shape just visible above the eyrie. One or two trips we hit lucky with an eagle soaring out from the rocky valley sides, mobbed by a Peregrine. It was special, it felt like meeting royalty.

We would head back east refreshed, exhilarated for another year, a fix of pure wildness mainlined. I hope that this loss becomes the spur to take action. I don't know if a reintroduction is possible, I suspect it's doubtful that more than a handful of pairs could exist in an England that increasingly feels like a place hostile to nature but I know that without them we live in a country that's a poorer place.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Everyone Needs A Harlequin In Their Life

This latest offering from the Sexton & Tilmouth stable sees two middle-aged birders make an epic journey across Scotland in search of a rare duck and lost youth. Capturing the zeitgeist of early 2015 their dialogue addresses many of the major issues of our time including where best to acquire Lasagne Pies in the oil capital of Britain, what to do in the event of an IS kidnap whilst birding and how best to age and sex Snow Buntings. This Oscar-nominated account culminates in a few dramatic minutes when the pair stumble (literally) across the mythical Harlequin in the warm afternoon sun and as time seems to stop finally find peace and make some sort of sense of the meaning of life.

The silence of the darkest hour is broken as a car slides into the car park and pulls up slowly aside the only other vehicle present. Two dark figures emerge, one from each car and begin to move objects from one vehicle to another. In a few seconds both drop sack-like into the black vehicle and it leaves, the car park once again still and silent under the neon Homebase sign....

The wind buffets the car as it motors through the imposing structure of the Forth Road bridge and on north to the badlands that lay beyond. Inside the two figures are deep in animated conversation that seems to swerve with the bends in the road, heading one way then back another, ebbing and flowing between shared laughter and angry conviction.

As our two central characters arrive at the 'old toilet block' they begin searching for a toilet only to find they no longer exist. In the background a Dipper sings and the sound of the rapids increases the urgency of the search. The two head off towards the urban jungle that lies upstream, hardened tower blocks gaze down at them unblinking and unmoved. An unshaven ginger-heeded local clutching a can of low quality lager lopes past eying the pair and their array of optical equipment warily.

After trudging through an eerily empty modern housing estate, the occasional window bedecked with the secret society sign of Stella Artois the pair found a break in the security fence that they were looking for and yomped the last few yards to the riverbank. Silently they stood as the young male that plunged through the racing water hauled himself out onto the far shore stretching and flaunting his sleek body at them in the full confidence of his youth before launching into the air and muscling upriver leaving our pair breathless and desiring more.

An hour later we find the duo searching through more Goldeneye than a Boxing Day afternoon on the BBC as a black minibus arrives on the scene and the black-clad occupants jump out, surround and begin interrogating our main characters. Inadvertently our pair had breezed in to a well planned operation called Operation Heatherslea also seeking the exhibitionist young male who had earlier held our pair in thrall.

Despite an extensive search the trail went as cold as a three day old Lasagne pie. As the sun began to drop and the day, like our unlikely heroes began to slowly fade, they summoned their remaining energy and made one last visit to where the boy had so audaciously revealed himself that morning. As they arrived a drake Goosander lounged lazily out beyond the rapids and there like a sleeping baby lay their quarry.

Spurred by their presence the boy slipped into the water, majestically riding the white water towards them as they stood breathless. The young male came close sensing there was no threat, mere metres from their touch he began to move, pushing himself across the copper dappled water again and again the water running down his muscular torso as he flung himself headlong into the torrent. In those few moments of golden light they saw themselves once again, young, free, beautiful (it's fictional license!) and the last 30 years slipped away downstream.

Renewed, rejuvenated the pair slipped away just as the foot soldiers of Operation Heatherslea surrounded the boy and he was lost to view behind a sea of green. Once again feeling good they stopped to help a sick local beggar in the car park and offered a few crumbs to help him make it through the hard winter still to come on the Deen.

An hour later inching through the grey city centre a flash of blue as bright as the tumbling water turned their heads and momentarily their eyes shone again only to realise this time the Adidas emblazoned tracksuit was not a reprise of their earlier quarry.