Saturday, 28 February 2009

Oh Deer, Bad Hare Day

I peered bleary eyed out the bedroom blinds to a grey morning that was less than inspiring. After tiptoeing about trying not to wake any kids I snuck out just before seven.
In two minds, should I head to Newbiggin and look on the sea or try my luck inland at Beacon Hill for Jay and Green Woodpecker. I decided to go inland, my anonymous comment about Beacon Hill's demise giving me cause for thought.
First decent bird was a Barn Owl hunting the rough edge of Longhirst Golf Course. No pictures today as I decided not to bother with a camera due to the poor light and likely drizzle.
I stopped on the way up the long hill to Beacon Hill Wood, more to stop scaring the Roe Deer that couldn't find a gap and was charging up the road ahead of me. I had a quick look along some of the tree lines for Little Owl but just ended up bothering the local Great Tit who scolded me.
I parked a little past the wood and again looked along the northern edge for anything moving in the field or the fence line, a Song Thrush and a Robin were singing in unison as I walked back down to the wood.
Beacon Hill Wood is a small wood 500m x 100m with a single track road running through it. One side is dominated by Oak & Beech the other a mix of Alder, Birch, Oak and more scrubby. In Spring it has the full range of woodland species including Pied Flycatcher & Wood Warbler, because it is small it's also not too difficult to work.
I wandered along the fairly quiet road and to be honest there was little in the way of avian activity, a burst of drumming from a nearby Great Spotted Woodpecker an occasional Tit or Chaffinch. At the far end I walked along the North West edge looking for Woodcock but another Song Thrush and a Skylark singing in the next field were all I could muster. Another three Roe Deer bolted for safety at the sight of me.
Walking back through the south side was not much better, I picked up two calling GSW and a single Treecreeper but not much else. I wondered whether the harder winter had driven birds to lower altitude and they were just not back yet. One or two large Beech have come down in the wind and are in the process of being cut up, hopefully the owners will leave some of the fallen branches to rot.
After leaving I did a circle around North then West then South toward Stanton, two Red-legged Patridge in with the sheep were probably releases, bonny though.
A quick detour down the large hill toWhinney Hill where there's a small fishing lake and some mixed woodland produced a single Tree Sparrow and four more Roe Deer that I watched grazing for a few minutes before they were spooked by the sound of a shotgun.On the road out another attempted suicide this time a Hare.
Back down the hill past Stanton Hall, I stopped to check the river at Wood House for Kingfisher & Grey Wagtail but again drew a blank other than a male Bullfinch in the nearby hedge.
A mixed couple of hours with little that I went looking for but the Roe Deer offered better views than they often do as the ones at Whinney Hill were less skittish probably because I remained unseen.
Tonight delivering to Acklington I ended my birding day as it had started with a male Barn Owl at Morwick Mill.

Friday, 27 February 2009


Back to Boulmer today for some more dodgyscopingtm efforts (pics will follow tonight) only had an hour after making deliveries before staff finished for the day and I needed to be back at work. The tide was well out (excuse 1) so everything was spread out and the beach was littered with bait diggers, probably 10-12 so birds were moving about (excuse 2).
I was following a group of Sanderling about who quite happy with my static presence were coming close enough to be recognised in a picture until a couple of walkers zoomed past and put them up.
To be honest my dodgyscope attempts are a little hampered by the 'first generation' equipment I'm using. The scope a Leica APO Televid with a 20-60x zoom is fine although the 32x wide angle would probably be better, Leica have stopped making it and I keep getting outbid on Ebay as i'm too tight to pay over the odds. The camera and attachment are where the problems lie. A Leica Digilux 1 is beautiful to look at with it's retro styling but try attaching it with Leica's rudimentary ring attachment and it's all a little unstable and top heavy. This results in lots of vignetting and instability when attempting to focus. Combine it with the lack of remote release and inevitably by the time I have found the subject of my next photo and shot it's generally undergone a full moult and is about 1000miles further North.
Once my business is sold I intend to invest a small slice of the money in a decent camera say a Canon 40D with a reasonable lens and hopefully start getting some images to be pleased with. Living in an area with such rich and diverse natural surroundings its frustrating not to be able to reflect that accurately in pictures here, yet.
If there's any photographers out there please feel free to offer your wisdom on my potential choice of kit, just click on the 'comments' button, it's really easy.
Oh, nearly forgot I added Purple Sandpiper to the year list today with a few excitable birds charging around mixed in with Sanderling, Turnstone & Dunlin opposite the Lifeboat House. Waders on the tide line kind of remind me of children in the playground rushing from one place to the next, constantly and energetically on the move, almost falling over each other to find the tastiest morsel amongst the tidal debris.
Enough rambling the weekend beckons...

As promised dodgyscoped images from today, any comment on the gull?

Thursday, 26 February 2009


Just spent a few minutes checking over what other obvious species I'm missing that I should have seen by now and it's an interesting mix of woodland and seabirds. So I can see a trip up to Beacon Hill for the first group, maybe early Sunday if the weather's fine and Newbiggin should cover the second group.

Woodland Species
Jay, Green Woodpecker, Stock Dove, Tawny & Little Owl.

Puffin, Razorbill, Purple Sandpiper, Glaucous Gull.

Big Tick at Boulmer

I finally got out to stretch my legs on Wednesday afternoon. I headed off to QE2 Country Park at Ashington as it has a few things going for it for me at the moment. First it has a reasonable path all the way round (dog shit not withstanding) wide enough to accommodate a double buggy. Second it is close so no extended car journey with grumpy toddlers and third there is the smidgen of a chance of a good bird.

A brisk NW quickly disappeared as we found the shelter of the ubiquitous pines that flank the path almost the whole way around. Every now and again they open up for 30-40m and allow you to view the lake. At our first stop a Great Crested Grebe that was close to shore strained away and quickly dived surfacing 20m further out. It won't breed here but might pair up and move to a smaller water inland.

Two handfuls of Common Goldeneye, a single male with full harem, were diving in the centre of the lake and a single male Goosander stretched and preened amongst them.

Only a small number, maybe 40-50 Herring Gull with nothing special amongst them bathed at the south side.

We got back to the car park after our 1m circular just in time for the mixed flock of Rooks & Jackdaw to lift from the field opposite and noisily join the Black Headed & Common Gulls, Coot & Moorhen, Mute Swan & Canada Geese feeding and lounging on the grass between lake and car park.
I checked through most of the Jackdaw, found one bird with a white covert feather in each wing and one that was showing a hint of a line but not enough to call it Viking.

500 Pink Footed Geese roosted about 1km west in the same ploughed field as last years Common Cranes.

Arriving back to be greeted by my parents I started dropping the species seen into my Bird Recorder database and lo and behold I'd missed Coot, Moorhen & Canada off my year list, with Great Crested Grebe that brings my county list up a little.
Lighter mornings meant that I dashed out an hour early today and got in a little time at Boulmer beach. The sea was very quiet but finally put my Pipit nightmare to rest when I spotted a Meadow amongst the Rock Pipit & Pied Wagtails feeding on the high tide debris. You watch there'll be flipping hundreds tomorrow...

Wednesday, 25 February 2009


Last couple of days have seen little birding this morning added one new species to my county year list and a new species for my village list. I can detour home from the school run to take in either Highford or Lowford Bridges, I've stopped off here a few times during the winter but the water levels in the Wansbeck have been fairly high. Reading NF at Abbey Meadows last night I thought I'd give it a try this morning. Sure enough just upstream of Highford above the busted weir a Dipper feeding in the shallows.

Didn't have time to hang round with the two little ones in the car waiting for breakfast. Cut back through Fulbeck to check out the lawns of the big houses for Green Woodpecker but dipped on that one. Nearly home and passing the west end of the Pegswood Community Park and a male Stonechat was clearly visible on some tall vegetation, the first Stonechat I've had here since moving here thirteen years ago. It's great to see them doing so well, when I first started birding twenty years ago there were a handful of pairs in Northumberland mostly restricted to dunes at the coast.

Whilst I haven't done much birding, I've never been far from the subject. I spent most of yesterday installing BBi on my external hard drive and much of last night dipping into it. It is an extremely useful tool and reference library and reduces research time dramatically. The sheer volume of information compared to price makes a purchase of this superb work by Birdguides value for money and a great investment for the serious birder. (FB- eternally grateful).

If BBi wasn't enough I signed up yesterday to help 'Beta' test a new US based service called Chirptracker which is a next generation Twitter for birds combining several available applications including satellite mapping technology into one. I have only had a few minutes and posted three sightings but they are looking for more people to give it a go in the UK so if you fancy joining me check it out here. It's obvious that loads of their functionality isn't available yet but it's nice to be in on something from the start and hopefully help turn it into something that will benefit the whole birding community. Look out for further updates as I get to grips with all this ticknology.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Frogs Porn

These pair behaving like debauched celebrities fresh from the Oscars were found by my six year old on the back lawn. A quick check of the pond and we have 30-40 more, an orgy of frogs. Explaining later that the male clung on to the female till she laid eggs and then fertilised them my son said he had thought it was a baby frog getting a piggy back.

Obviously these aren't birds but I havent seen any birds today. This is my pitch at broadening the blog, a little bit of macro (yes I know the buzzwords even if I still think they are something complicated in Excel) if that's the correct

usage. There that's given all the moth people a laugh.

Oh and if you got here because you googled Frogs and Porn you really need to get a life.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

I could Murder a Mipit.

As the title suggests I am getting somewhat frustrated at the lack of Meadow Pipit in 2009. Maybe the 'save our songbirds' people have got it right, maybe all the Mipits have been eaten by Sparrowhawks. I haven't bothered with a link they're not worth it.

This weekend's birding has consisted of snatched half hours, the first last night when I was persuaded to leave the house with the children so wife could hoover in advance of last night's visitors. Gleefully I threw camera,scope and bins in the car and shot off to QE2 expecting to catch the great gull flock as it made it's way back to sea. As we sped along toward Ashington two Common Buzzard soared together near Bothal. Arrived at QE2 to realise I had forgotten it was Saturday and therefore no working tip = no gulls. I contented myself taking crap pictures of Moorhen & Coot and a pair of Tufted Duck loafing on the water.

This morning I slipped out of the house thirty minutes early and took a slightly different route to work via Longhirst Flash, Northumberland's Great White Egret hotspot. It's had at least two I think I'm right in saying including one that I had found at Castle Island that moved there briefly later that day and with a report of one flying north at Teeside at 4.25pm last night it was just possible a third could be on the cards.

However the only white at the Flash was that of a single Shelduck preening at the south end.

With the sun out in force this morning I had thought that a bit of 'viz mig' (visible migration) was on the cards and Meadow Pipit was the target it had avoided me long enough this year.

I came up to the Aln Estuary and had a wander along the west side, I quickly realised that with the wind coming from the North West I was likely to be disappointed as these conditions aren't ideal. Three Skylark calling and flying north briefly lifted my hopes and a couple of little brown jobs on nearby wires were thoroughly grilled but I couldn't turn Linnets into Pipits for the life of me. There's good numbers of Common Curlew around the estuary at the moment, I counted 197 in fields at Foxton on Friday for example and a good proportion of these were around on the Estuary this morning.Most will be moving off onto higher ground in the coming weeks.

A single calling Yellowhammer was the only other small bird around, once again I had to content myself with views of Common Buzzard with one soaring over Boulmer Radar and another to the west of Lesbury.

Another detour home tonight via Cresswell, where shock, horror, disbelief the hide was empty. I hung around for twenty minutes to see if I could blag a Bittern but like many before me it was not to be. Amusing that the only notable bird was, yup you guessed it a Common Buzzard that flushed the roosting Golden plover & Lapwing. Meadow Pipit remains for another day.

We're all Guilty!

This story from Chicago was just too good to not to share. The image is of one of many fly posters that have begun to appear there in what has to be an extremely elaborate wind up?
I say elaborate because the observant amongst you will have noted they also have a website
If you choose to visit the site make sure you visit the comments, they range from support through condemnation to others convinced the whole thing is a student hoax. Funniest comment however has to go to Roger Wilfred Bush III who says "A close friend, in whom I confided my fetish several years ago, alerted me to this site. I have been a closet bird-porn-addict for years. In fact, I’ve raised the ante to PELAGIC bird porn, a unique type of bird porn where you go out on boats with other birders and watch everything unfold right in front of you, unobstructed by trees, buildings or vegetation. I feel so much better now that I know there are others who suffer from my affliction and aren’t afraid to come out of the closet."
If the website isn't enough judging by some of the comments (assuming they aren't all faked) they hired a plane to drag a fly past banner promoting the website along a popular New Jersey beach.
Only in America....

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Another Non Birding Day

I stepped out the door Friday morning to the stunning revelation that the Pegswood Song Thrush population had doubled overnight, to two singing males. Funny it often seems to happen when a 'block' is removed, you know birds suddenly come along in numbers suddenly after what seems forever waiting. I've been tripping over Song Thrush all day with the regular singing bird that I have on my 'Birds Heard Whilst Having a Dump' list singing again and another atop pines at Little Mill. It'll be Meadow Pipit next as they seem to be hiding from me completely at the moment. I'll get one before the end of Feb and they'll call off the attempt to stay silent and suddenly there will be Mipits calling everywhere, ten a penny.
I had a senior moment night, rushing to come home I left my laptop at work which resulted in an extra hour in the car as I went back for it, I could have waited till tomorrow but I had no intention of letting it go astray. I took my son with me for company and decided to take the West Chevington road on the way home to look for Long Eared Owl.
Not a sniff of LEO but we did have two post hopping Barn Owl within 300m of each other, presumably a pair.
The only other notable bird of the day was a Common Buzzard on the way to Craster about 1m east of Lee Moor Farm. I spent twenty minutes between Alnwick & Denwick checking around some of the big beeches for Hawinch but again drew a blank.
However my 'Birder' list added a big tick tonight when I found Boulmer Birder and Bunty not far from their regular patch. This particular birder was very confiding and good conversation resulted in me being late for tea.
Nearly forgot to mention the Grey Heron atop the tall pines opposite the old workshops at Ashington this morning. Are they breeding there?

Friday, 20 February 2009

Jack & The Mean Hawk.

I was lucky enough to have one of those 'nature in the raw' moments this morning. On my way from the wholesaler to work I cut through Bothal village intent on a quick check for the Green Winged Teal, which incidentally I did but couldn't locate probably more as a consequence of only having bins than the bird not being around.
Anyway just as I was coming into Bothal I noticed a right kerfuffle on the grassy edge of the road a little way ahead. My first thoughts were that it looked like a domestic chicken having an epileptic fit but I quickly realised there were two birds. A female Sparrowhawk and a Jackdaw. By the time I pulled up alongside the Sparrowhawk had downed the Jackdaw, obviously not a Viking this one, which was lying 'panting' heavily, head down and looking pretty terminal. The Sparrowhawk lay wings half opened in a classic prey covering position also slightly short of breath after her exertion.
The car stopped I felt like leaping out to crouch and do an 'Attenborough', you know "the female will hold onto the Jackdaw with her sharp talons and slowly squeeze the life..." but alas no cameras on board today not even a mobile phone so I had to let it pass.
No doubt there's many that would have shifted the Sparrowhawk on, not me, I have little sentimentality about these things, all part of the natural process as far as I'm concerned.
I nearly started this post with the words 'Once Upon a Time' but I wouldn't want to encourage a reputation for fairy stories now would I?
By the way if anyone has BBi and fancies looking up an article/study by Owen in BB26 (1932)regarding British Prey Items in Sparrowhawk just to confirm that Jackdaw is listed please feel free to do so and leave a comment as Jackdaw is not mentioned in BWP, although Jay is.

Edit 24/2 Have now had the opportunity to check BBi and Jackdaw whilst not mentioned in Owen (1932) was noted in a subsequent note in 2002 by G & A Paterson. It would appear not to be a common type of prey.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

One more for the list...

It's only taken 59 days this year to see a Song Thrush. I heard one singing briefly yesterday in the woodland out the front of the house and this morning as I was taking out some dirty nappies to the bin there was one calling from the willow at the bottom of the back garden.
I managed to digiscope what was probably the same bird a couple of hours later with my antique Leica Digilux 1 and Leica APO Televid combination.

Sad state of affairs really they should be more common than this.

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Random Birds & Thoughts No1

My six year old caught up with his first Barn Owl on Sunday as we saw the female up at Hipsburn first quartering and then conveniently post hopping just 30m away. Hopefully it will register an interest.

Further birding lesson ensued when we nearly connected with a Common Buzzard crossing the A1 low at Stannington this afternoon. We were mid spelling test so Buzzard became the next word to spell.

Toon birders might want to keep an eye out in Brunswick as we saw what i'm pretty certain was one of those Viking Jackdaws on grass just opposite the east entrance to Brunswick Ind est. the collar line stood out a mile unlike any of the other dozen individuals there. Had disappeared when we came back.

Is the Bothal Green winged Teal likely to be the regular Woodhorn bird?

Killingworth Lake is a soul destroying location. Except for that one bungalow with decking, the person living there has obviously set out to create one of those North American lakeside apartments and I guess apart from the grey concrete visible in almost every direction they have achieved their dreams.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Go West Young (Single) Man

Reading Mark Reeder's latest post on his fabulous birding & pie blog reminded me that I had meant to perform a public service for the single male UK birder, of which there appear to be many. Mark postulates that 'by May Spurn will be awash with scantily glad bikini toting tottie' alas this is unlikely to happen.
Birding in the UK is almost exclusively a male preserve. There are one or two female birders, but you can pretty much count them on one hand. Why?
It's probably the fault of all us blokes, especially the single ones who, often socially inept may have inadvertently repelled the early outriders of female birding.
There's no reason for birding to be exclusively male. Yes it would mean cleaning up some of the less hygienic hide habits but hey we could all do with less bogey collections on the ledges and farting in enclosed spaces is only funny once, just. It's probably got worse in the last twenty years with the introduction of all the techy stuff, cameras, digiscoping, etc. All this electronic equipment just creates another barrier as we demonstrate the depth of our knowledge about the birds whilst waving our big lens about.
However all the gentlemen out there who crave some female company in their old age, all is not lost. All you need is your visa. Go West as my title suggests to the land of the free. The US is awash with girly birders and remember they love the English accent. So go on get out from the Cresswell hide, feel the sun on your face and book those two weeks in Texas. To help with the introductions I've compiled a top five US Girly Birders.

1. Lisa, professional ornithlogist loves flycatchers, swimming in lakes and eating chocolate.
2.Kallen, just turned 40 and rediscovering nature, she's a banker, double bonus!
3.Laura, a birding teacher no less.
4.Susie, ok Susie seems to surf more than she birds but hey she lives in California!
5.Claudia, ah, not west but east Claudia is in Sweden, she seems to have a male accomplice but those Swedes are always into groups.

There you go Public Service Broadcasting!

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Barney Mcgrew

Despite the temptation to go an look at other peoples birds I stayed true to the principals of self found birding this morning. Actually that's bollocks as I was at Bothal Pond at the crack of sparrows checking out the male Green winged Teal. Don't look there's no photos although it was there showing well, but there's only so long a cream stripe can hold your attention in my view. A Northern Shoveler was as much of a county year tick as the GWT.
Where can I lose myself from the crowd I thought, ah Harwood, lets go and watch Goshawks displaying, Crossbills living up to their name and perhaps even a Great Grey Shrike. Look I'm nothing if not optimistic. It would have been rude not to call in at Bolam on the way past and say hallo to Mrs Barney Mcgrew.

Found by AG yesterday, she was sitting out on the ice this morning surrounded by Common Teal. These record shots were grabbed with a Sony Handycam through the scope without any clamps, commando photography a la Boulmer Birder.
So to Harwood the real birding, I scoped from the Gibbet for Grouse or something trying to catch Grouse, I drew a blank. Lot of snow still on the surrounding moor.
I trudged along snow filled tracks, silent except for the crunch beneath my feet. There were birds, most of them were Chaffinch, although I did have a Wren calling. Had I the time I would tell you the altitude like an old school proper birder.
I went to Harwood Village, perhaps the Crossbill would be closer here. More Chaffinch.
I came home, parked at Pegswood Community Park a location left almost as desolate as the one i had just visited but this time by Banks Mining.
Another tick, the fourth of the day were two Skylark, flirting like they were teenagers with no concern who saw or heard the commotion, it nearly felt like Sp... nearly used the SP word.
Two and a half hours, four new for the year and damp feet, home for some cuthbert, dibble, grub.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Birdguides Guiding or Following?

Shuffled over to Birdguides this afternoon after reading about their enhanced comments on webzine articles and lo and behold what do I find a Poll. Comments, Polls, anyone would think that they were looking over their shoulders at all this blogging and adapting their business to ensure they stay competitive.
That's exactly what they should be doing of course. They are the number one destination on the web for birders and there's only one place to go after your number one, yep back down to number two.
I for one don't expect to see that happening any time soon as they are displaying excellent responses to changes in the on line market with the Birdguides blog and as I've said above comments on webzine articles and now polls. Will be interesting to see how they respond to Twitter once they cotton on to it.

Friday, 13 February 2009

US Hudson Air Crash

Not only was the initial ID correct, they are now trying to work out whether the Canadians were permanent 'illegal' immigrants or just transitory visitors on their way home. Looking forward to the article about the forensic science involved in April's Birder's World and they make a good point, do birds strike planes or is it the other way around?
Oh and 'Make your own Bird Strike Collecting Kit' straight out of Blue Peter.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

When All the Starlings were Rosy.

I suffer from short term nostalgia syndrome. It's common amongst birders and has many forms. I want to go back to a time when birding was simple, when I could pick up a pair of binoculars and a notebook, wander out my front door and walk through fields filled with singing Corn Bunting. I want to sit by a bubbling stream and listen to the languid tones of the Willow Warbler repeatedly reminding me it's summer as a Kingfisher flashes by leaving an electric blue wake in the mind's eye. I yearn for those days when rare birds were plentiful and seemed to come tumbling one after another, when we would be watching a Woodchat Shrike on an East Coast headland as a Honey Buzzard drifted into the field of view. Walk a few yards and we would fall over a Black Eared Wheatear, standing proud on the rocks, never once looking lost.
Of course those days didn't quite happen like that. Corn Buntings were never that common in my lifetime and after a time the good days filled with rare birds seem to blur together creating an almost perfect remembered halcyon period when all the birding was good.
Perhaps it's that I struggle with the technical requirements supposedly needed to be a 'birder'. A scope and a Manfrotto were enough to give shoulders an ache by the end of the day but now you can't be seen without a camera, a mount, a phone, a pager.... the list seems to get greater. I wonder sometimes if I don't spend as much time fiddling about with the equipment as I do actually looking at the birds. The equipment brings with it stresses, I started birding because it was relaxing and pleasant, not to be permanently in angst about the vignetting on my digiscope setting.
I was recounting to someone a few days ago how I first met another well known local birder. I'd found a Little Bunting, actually that doesn't do it justice, how's this, I FOUND A LITTLE BUNTING! That feels more like how I felt that October morning. My first self found BB rarity.
What's funny now is I didn't even have a mobile phone, I actually ran the kilometre back to where I could see the hunched figure of another birder seawatching and virtually dragged him back to the bunting. It just wouldn't happen now, would it?
I find my mind grouping these days together and creating this mythical Albion of birding, when everything was Rosy (even the Starlings). The mind can play tricks after a while, even in the short, short term. The Boulmer Birder website and Stewart's field notes prompted this post, he's right that more of us should leave the second hand camera and phone shop at home some days and just head out with a pencil (from Ikea of course) and a notebook, preferably Moleskin and just scribble a few notes. Conversely the posting of several different pages of Stewart's notes compounded my nostalgia for the days when Short-toed Lark's fed and Red-rumped Swallows hawked overhead with a Fin Whale appearing in the distance offshore prompting the Little Shearwater to flutter up and move north, that is the way it happened isn't it?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Think, Write, Yawn.

I've spent the last couple of days thinking, particularly about Bird North East and where I want to go with it. The traffic has gone up significantly this month and a couple of posts on Birdforum about the Twitter feed has produced some good results. It's not all down to that mind, I noticed that i'm getting plenty visitors from Tesside after someone kindly posted a link on the Teesmouth Bird Club Forum. Others have made links to Gulls on Film like Stithians Birding and Old Grouse, and i'm waiting for the surge from the piece in BB (many thanks AP).

With three blogs inevitably people find one and then eventually find the others too. I'm hoping that with GOF that birders all over the world will find it a useful resource site. BNE is not what business people call 'scaleable' as its focus is regional and therefore will be forever niche.

I guess it's also about expectation and motivation. I'm not expecting to make my fortune, I'd like to cover the costs and get something back for the time and effort but that will take time and be for another day. my motivation is to stay involved, too often in the past I've drifted in and out the local birding scene, working on BNE is keeping me involved and strangely getting me back out in the field, which may seem a little odd given the amount of time spent writing and updating it.

Fuck, this is a birding blog, I better mention some birds. Lets see what can we slip in, how about White-tailed Sea Eagle, with one of the (presumed) Scottish West coast birds wandering down to Cumbria today, obviously looking for the Northumberland Re-introductions for a little cross fertilisation, what better timing could this have had?
I dotted back down the coast from Alnmouth earlier, trying to pick up Little Owl at a couple of known sites without much luck. I did see one of the Amble Med Gulls and took a quick peek at the Druridge Twite flock again. Slid past Cresswell, to be honest the hide is occupied almost on a permanent basis, i'm beginning to think that maybe its not Birders but squatters. Three Whooper Swan were in fields to the North with a bunch of Canadians.
All a bit boring really if you've come here to read about exciting adventures with birds... one could almost....yawn.

Sunday, 8 February 2009


I need to have a few words with myself. Out before eight this morning to Newbiggin just in case that Kumlien's was parading itself blatantly off Church Point I suddenly clocked the temp on the car, -3C, brass. Thirty minutes seawatching and looking forlornly at the couple of dozen Herring Gull loafing around the bay was enough. Not a sniff, although had I done my research I would have saved myself a journey as it appears it flew into roost on the Ash Lagoons late afternoon yesterday and it was SMc who had it initially (flying over Woodhorn) before refinding it with JGS.
Two year ticks in the form of Fulmar and Guillemot, and two Red-throated Diver were the bare facts of my seawatch. Four adult Med Gull chased waves on the Newbiggin beach, another flock of gulls were at the southern end of the bay but by that time I was losing the will.
More gulls at QE2 and Linton Roundabout were duly sifted with nothing remotely of interest.
A short detour via Ulgham Lane produced five Tree Sparrow to maintain my list momentum and I managed to add Nigel Foggo to my birders seen in 2009 list which is shorter than my species list (it is possible to have less, honest guv).
I suppose as I managed to speak to SMc later in the morning I can include him too on a 'heard but not seen basis'?

Saturday, 7 February 2009

It's All White, Kumliens Coming Back.

Thought I might try and get some video footage this morning of the Hipsburn Barn Owl, didn't reckon with the weather though. Pulled into the entrance to the cricket club adjacent to the marshy area the birds(s) have been quartering when I've seen them just as the snow started.
I say birds because whilst I've only seen one there's an guy in the village who works in Environmental Survey who was in describing two owls, one whiter than the other. This figures as males are normally whiter around the facial disc than females.
Sat for about ten minutes and I was beginning to think that any sensible Owl would be tucked up inside by now as the snow was pitching around. Out the corner of my eye I spyed some movement through the snow and sure enough with a few languid beats a female Barn Owl came into viewed and dropped onto a post inconveniently behind a Hawthorn.
I did manage some video but due to a combination of my poor technique, the snow and fences/hedges it's just not worth posting.
I spent much of today posting individual sightings on Twitter. I have to say this is going well with a handful of early adopters already. The one disappointing thing that I learned today is that currently you cant receive Tweets by text in the UK. Tweets, this is a product just crying out to be used by Birders isn't it with names like that.
I get home tonight to be gripped with a Birdguides report of Kumliens Gull at Newbiggin. My money's on JGS or ADMc but I'm still waiting to find out who's responsible.

Friday, 6 February 2009


Trapped at work. Last two days have involved little in the way of sightings, after Wednesday's frenzy on the Bay. Barn Owl hunting in daylight at Hipsburn, moments after spotting a Common Buzzard in a tree just off the A1068 whilst late for opening yesterday morning was the highlight of my day.

A single Fieldfare found my garden apples within an hour this morning and was defending them against the Blackbirds with vigour as I left home.

Stole a big idea today, check it out here.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

North and an Iceland Finish

Look I tried not to go birding today, I offered my sixteen month old twins the opportunity of going to an indoor 'adventure' centre. I told them they could play with the plastic toys and eat the plastic food. I tried to make it sound as attractive as I could.
They weren't having any of it. Insisted I took them birding and tried to add a few more species to their paltry county year list. When it's your kids you know sometimes you just have to tough it out and do what they want to do. So reluctantly we headed off for a little jaunt....
First stop the Church Pool at Woodhorn to tick that mega rare Greylag Goose seven of which were feeding in the adjacent field, I looked hard for anything that would enable me to claim a subspecies you know Finnish or Tundra/Taiga anything that sounds vaguely north of the Arctic circle or that it used to be part of the USSR will do won't it?
So we moved on north, up the coast to the birder's mecca, Cresswell Pond. We picked up three Linnet with a group of Pied Wagtail with the horses opposite Lynemouth Bay. We arrived to find that all the parking was taken, had I stumbled upon a pilgrimage day or a DBC club trip? I drove slowly along the road, the hide looked packed, the pond looked empty. It appears Cresswell has become the birders equivalent of a bus stop (if we all stand here long enough one will turn up). Even the north car park had someone with a big lens staring forlornly into the dunes.
Taking it slowly after Bell's Farm I quickly located the Twite flock, at least a hundred strong. I managed to get decent views from the car, without scaring the cows. At least four Mistle Thrush fed nearby and three Grey Partidge were very close to the road foraging almost between cows hooves. The Twite flock whilst mobile later moved into the trees of the small plantation at the entrance road to Druridge allowing a reasonable count and view, perhaps if this is regular pre-roost behaviour as it was late in the afternoon, this might offer the paparazzi a good photo opportunity.
We stopped for another chocolate break in one of the small car parks north of Snab Point and took on board two bonus county year ticks with a single Red-throated Diver and a southward bound Shag.
Last stop the flash pool just off the A1068 on the Linton road. 150-200 Herring Gull bathed and hung about. A ten minute wade through the birds found a first year Iceland Gull amongst the frequent rotation as birds came, bathed and left for nearby Ellington Tip on a frequent basis.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

White Tailed Sea Eagles in England.

"Among the matters that need to be studied is the effect of disturbance upon outdoor pigs and poultry. We simply do not know how they would react to a huge bird flying above them. This aspect would not appear to have been taken into account originally."

This is the key reason behind the Country Land & Business Association's lobbying of Natural England/RSPB/Anglian Water in order to delay any possible English White Tailed Sea Eagle Reintroduction Project.

Sea eagles will go for anything, and that includes young pigs in the open – and we have many of them in Norfolk – and young lambs. There's an enormous problem in the western islands of Scotland,

Another statement from the same organisation. Now there is a single documented record of White Tailed Sea Eagle taking a four week old pig on the Island of Hoy sometime before 1891.

It's worth noting a few points:

1.Observational evidence shows that White-tailed Sea Eagles are primarily scavengers, preferring to search for animal remains that are already dead, than expend energy finding and killing their own food.

2. Studies in Finland have shown that waterfowl make up 54% of WTSE diet with fish 30% and mammals 5%.

3. In Norway with 2 million sheep and 3000 pairs of breeding WTSE not a single documented record of a live lamb being taken as prey has been recorded.

Just read number three again.

The 'enormous problem' in Scotland, well here there has been some lamb predation on Mull, the worst case numbers in the 'tens'. Total Lamb losses for all reasons equate to c2600 per annum, so predation by WTSE represents 1-2% of total losses at most.Expert opinion and experience from Norway suggests that even the few lambs that have been attributed to sea eagle predation on Mull may have been killed by other predators and subsequently found dead and scavenged by sea eagles.

I highlight this as I firmly believe that Northumberland & The Borders should be considered as an alternative for the English reintroduction programme. There are several reasons for this.

1. Lower Human population & settlements mean less conflict between people and eagles.
2. Proximity to the East & West Scotland breeding populations may speed the 'joining up' of the breeding populations and the subsequent strengthening of the gene pool as a result.
3. Habitat, cliffs in areas such as St Abbs, important winter habitat in the form of seven significant estuarine areas for feeding.
4. An RSPB economic study on Mull showed that the WTSE is worth 1.7m to the Mull economy annually. Our region could benefit from a slice of that pie.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Third Time Lucky

Another necessary trip to Hartley meant that Stumpy and I were near the coast by 9.30am with an hour spare. An excellent opportunity to pick up some of the long staying winter visitors that I keep reporting here, but never seem to actually see.

First up was the St Mary's Water Pipit, could be a bit hitty missy and in a howling Easterly it might have moved for shelter. We arrived and noted Bob Dack looking into the North Bay and the words that often fill birders full of dread, "it was just here a few minutes ago".
A scan of the high tide debris revealed six Rock Pipit, a Pied Wagtail and a Turnstone.Further searching with bins and sure enough the WP appeared a little like Mr Benn used to, except it wasn't wearing a bowler hat.
image courtsey & copyright Sergey Yeliseev

Next up was the near mythical Iceland Gull at Blyth South Harbour. Hopefully it would be third time lucky. The East wind did its best to put us off as we walked but this time sure enough it was swimming around just below the Harbour Master's office as if butter wouldn't melt. An extra year tick in the form of a female Red-Breasted Merganser diving around the pontoon was gratefully received. The small party of Common Eider were a joy as some of the males began to call and display just a few feet away below the jetty.
image courtsey & copyright Omar Runolfsson