Sunday, 17 May 2020

Early Morning Wood

Take me down to the Paradise City
Where the woods are green
And the warblers pretty
Oh lord take me home

Few and far between this Spring, a combination of (sadly) genuine rarity these days and observer/access restrictions my ears pricked up when Gary Smith shared news of a singing male in the Harthope Valley yesterday.
With a free morning and the knowledge from numerous previous visits that early mornings offer a fantastic socially-distanced experience I headed up to arrive just before 06:00.
I stepped out the car to the sound of calling Common Cuckoo and the company of two adult Grey Wagtails. After a short walk I could hear the male Wood Warbler singing from the path-side mixed woodland almost immediately on arriving at the spot it was singing from yesterday. It took me around 30 minutes to actually see it, mostly due to the difficulty of sound location with only one hearing ear and a mid-May leafy canopy. Another 30 minutes watching it's circuit and I finally managed to pick it up with the phone and scope. Spotted Flycatcher and Garden Warbler were noted in the same period and a fly-through Peregrine. 

 
A wander up the valley for the next couple of hours added two more Cuckoos, Green Woodpecker yaffling, several singing Common Redstarts, a pair of Common Snipe, Common Sandpiper, 3 pairs of Stonechat including an odd-looking washed out male high up towards Cheviot, half dozen Lesser Redpolls and a Red Squirrel.


Back down the valley in the morning rain I had my first human contact with someone else out enjoying the morning coming down the valley side in the distance, a signal to head home in time for breakfast.

Wednesday, 13 May 2020

Coconut Scented Heaven

Early morning today the Groundsman from Newbiggin Golf Club was out on the course placing hole flags and markers ready for it re-opening. The approach of his electric buggy scattered the assembled 25 Ringed Plovers and summer-plumaged Dunlin from the greens as he moved north. It's been an idyllic, quiet place to be in recent days with just a handful of people spread across the moor, the stillness broken only by the occasional crack in the blue sky created by Common Whitethroat song and the heavy coconut scent of an as yet un-burned gorse filling the evening air.



The birding has been slow but the ambience, missing in recent years due to the increased footfall, has been worth the short visits. Sea-watching from the more exposed Beacon Point has delivered the first Arctic Terns of the year including one in the high tide roost. Two Little Terns powered north in the strong North headwind and this morning amid the hundreds of auks urgently scampering past a single distant Manx Shearwater and 2 Red-throated Divers. 

Roosting birds have included 2 Barnacle Geese, up to 10 Purple Sandpipers, 5 Bar-tailed Godwits and 100+ Sanderlings. A single, presumed sickly, Golden Plover lingered on the golf course for two days.



Across the pristine greens and heather aside from the Common Whitethroats, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Common Stonechat and Song Thrush were well spread along the Ash Lagoon banks. Inland at Woodhorn I was pleased to (re)find a Nuthatch in the church paddock, presumably the same individual that was seen in January, unsure if others have seen it subsequently. 19 Gadwall and a few lingering Common Pochard were scattered on the reed-fringed Church Pool.


Friday, 1 May 2020

Lazy Days in the Locale

April gone in what seemed a full summer in possibly the strangest of Springs. Despite the restrictions there were good birds to be found and I've been pleasantly surprised by some of this month's birding. Whilst others got to grips with working from home and actually having to find their own birds this month for me has been spent getting reacquainted with local walks that I've neglected in recent years since the kids outgrew them.
Harking back to the last day of March the surprises started with a 10m walk to the end of the footpath that runs north from the front garden. It's uninspiring arable but with a wider vista than the garden so I was hoping for some flight action of some description. Bins lifted to scan and I heard the voice in my head say BOOM! Sat in the back hedge a Hooded Crow a village first as far as I know. It's been a decent year from them in Northumberland with individuals in several locations including Linton and Morpeth locally.


Six days later, with three kids rapidly depleting the contents of the fridge I needed to nip to the local Co-op for some bacon for lunchtime sandwiches. Padding up the footpath 150m from home and I spy a medium-sized raptor heading over the village that was clearly not one of the local Buzzards. As it approached I could see black on the underside of the primaries and was rather pleased to see a smart male Marsh Harrier flap lazily almost overhead 40m up and carry on north passing a few metres away from my front door. Minutes later, clutching my bacon in the 2m-spaced queue I decided to bang it out on Whatsapp to discover that Jonny Farooqui had had the bird 3-4 mins before me crossing over the Wansbeck near Bothal. Another first for me in the village and remarkably this was quickly followed by a second a day later (this time a high female) scoped from the pit top as it soared north over Bothal Pond.

The Pit Top has continued to provide opportunities to scan far beyond the village boundaries and continued to provide some decent birding, my first Sand Martin and Common Swifts of 2020 came during watches from here but two birds stand out. The evening of the 6th, two reports of Osprey moving north, one at Big Waters/Blagdon and another at Tynemouth prompted me to hurriedly dash to the Pit Top hoping to connect with one. Just before 19:00 I noticed a bird approaching from the south-east over the west end of Ashington mobbed by corvids and sure enough an Osprey tracked north-west, turning slightly and veering just above tree-top height over Longhirst Flash.

Fast-forward to evening of 16th and around a similar time a little to west over Bothal Pond up pops a Common Crane again attracting attention from local gulls and crows before almost flying over my head on the pit top and off north.


Walks out to to both the east and west were also productive, Bothal Pond is within easy walking distance and one mid-month produced another first for me in the local area an Egyptian Goose loosely hanging out with a couple of Canadas on green grass of the east side.

Out west the horse paddocks beyond Longhirst Golf Course appeared a good bet for Wheatears and Yellow Wagtails etc. A wander over that way produced a distant male Channel Wagtail on 13th and a decent flock of 67 Northern-looking Golden Plovers on 22nd. A single Willow Tit was heard calling the same day in one of the golf course woodlands and a male Lesser Whitethroat sang from bridleway hedges around that time.

All in all a surprisingly satisfying month around the doors. Plenty more to go at with lots of gaps in the species list such as Tawny Owl, Kingfisher, Little Egret and Whitethroat all to go at in the coming days. Apologies for the usual 'birder's photos' most are phone hand held to scope when I can be arsed.



Saturday, 28 March 2020

Lockdown on the Pit Top

Well it's all gone a bit post-apocalyptic hasn't it. In a year where I'd had a vague idea of a county year list for the first time in a decade and had made a half-decent start and then... confined to the garden and walking distance.
Time to make the best of a bad situation and see what's possible at a micro-level locally. Mike Carr made a comment about the potential of the reclaimed pit top here at Pegswood after I posted some sightings from the end of the garden a few days ago. It's not somewhere I'm unaware of and I have put in the occasional half hour from there when I haven't fancied anything further afield. Has to be said I've never really had too much, calling Green Woodpecker nearly two decades ago and never since, a few Common Buzzards and Sparrowhawk but no real passage of note. However it has decent vistas east and west, a view of one corner of Bothal Pond and a couple of seasonal flashes to the East (and realistically unless I put the bike back on the road to do Newbiggin it's about as good as I'm going to get 10 minutes from the door on foot).

So after a quiet start yesterday afternoon for an hour I headed up there this morning for an 07:00-08:00 vigil without any huge expectations. A single Greylag Goose flew over noisily as I reached the top of the short incline and then two Mistle Thrushes lifted from the wood on the north side. Looking east three Mute Swans swept past on the south side heading west, they were followed at intervals by a further seven (3 and 4) moving North over Ashington. Having seen the Scaup at Bothal Pond fairly frequently I knew where it likes to haul out, the short spit on the east side, and this luckily is visible from the pit top, as was the preening Scaup this morning alongside two Tufted Ducks for size comparison.
Things got a bit mad after that, scoping the edges of the seasonal flashes hoping for the Longhirst Green Sandpiper and two Avocets suddenly appear from behind a hedge obscuring part of the flash. I've had them nearby on other flashes previously as they move through to breeding locations but I was well chuffed to see them on my first big lockdown watch!
Avocets at the edge!

Further along the same field a couple of courting Stock Doves were another new addition. In terms of moving birds, a couple of the Common Buzzards this morning were actively moving north and a pair of Grey Wagtails wanged through on the east side as well. All in all with 25 species recorded a satisfying hour and enough to show potential, with decent views over some of the River Wansbeck Osprey shouldn't be out the question or possibly Little Egret. I'm actually looking forward to seeing what I can pull out the bag here over the next couple of weeks.

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.




Image

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.


Image

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.

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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.