Tuesday, 28 April 2009

In, Off and Away

Right after that little diversion better get back to some birds I've actually seen in the flesh. Well with the weather taking a nose dive the kids and I have been a little housebound. It is't cold so I've kept the back windows open and had the occasional wander in the garden between showers. A Lesser Whitethroat was singing Sunday evening and on and off Monday in one of the Blackthorn pockets north of the garden. I haven't seen it since it would have been too difficult getting both kids over the barbed wire fence. I did spend five minutes playing another singing male back at it to see if I could bring it into the garden but it's not something I feel comfortable doing for any length of time. The male Blackcap or another just like it (they all look the same to me) has been singing outside and inside the garden from our Apple Tree. Two Long-tailed Tits put in a brief appearance today looking a little bedraggled in the rain.
Stir crazy I shot out tonight after watching the North Easterly all day. An hour seawatching at Newbiggin produced a couple of year ticks in the form of 20+ Common & Arctic Tern moving north. Gannet movement was steady with 179 North in the hour. Best identified birds of the night were tight group of six Manx Shearwater moving North close in. A joy to watch as they rolled and tumbled over each other sometimes three high. I'm beating The Farnes 7-2 on Manxies so far this year although I expect they'll not be getting worried about the competition.
Just before leaving I had one of those moments birders dread. I got onto a small bird, a passerine coming in off the sea, I lost it under the grassy edge where land ends and turns into rock. In heavy rain I got out and started walking along the grassy edge, up it went and landed briefly before taking off toward the churchyard. It was a Bunting a bit of dark around the ear coverts, a few streaks on the mantle and it was gone, I must have been a strange sight trying not to look conspicuous in the pissing rain as I peered under caravans. I left before the Police arrived.
So if someone finds a good bunting anywhere within 5m of Newbiggin tomorrow I'm having it.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Channel Wagtail - Further Comments.

Just thought I'd add some extra links for anyone interested in seeing other comparison and discussion on this hybrid wagtail.



Also after some digging and a helpful email from Ian Fisher it appears that 'Channel' Wagtail has been recorded at least twice before in 2006/2007. The 2006 bird at Cresswell Pond on 27th April pictured in BiN 2006 and on Richard Dunn's website and the 2007 bird at Monks House Pool in May.
Ian commented "I think most 'Blue-headed' Wagtails seen in Northumberland are of this type. I have rarely seen a proper Blue-headed i.e. like the one in Newton Stringers blog at Newton in the county, most appear to have the 'powder' blue head etc of the 'Channel' Wag type."

Reviewing images on Birdguides many of the birds seen on the East Coast do indeed appear to show paler blue crown and nape, although not all show the extensive white chin & throat of the Cresswell bird. Ian also noted that "the amount of white on the throat of all these pale headed birds is not too brilliant for what I would call 'pure' flava either"
A couple of links to birdguides images that are useful on this point

White throat & Chin
Pale Blue but lacking extensive White Throat

'Channel' Wagtail at Cresswell Pond

Looking at pictures on ST and Northumbrian Birding earlier today of the two 'Blue Headed' Wagtail at Cresswell Pond. One of them has an obviously paler head and at first I began to wonder about the Eastern race beema I even rang ADMC to get him to take a look at the pics.
A bit of digging tonight and I think it more likely that it is an example of what has become known as 'Channel Wagtail' the best description of which that I've found is as follows:

"Nominate Blue-headed Wagtail and Yellow Wagtail form a narrow hybrid zone in northern France. Birds from this zone vary in appearance, but one type, which resembles nominate Blue-headed Wagtail (except that the blue tones to the head are paler and more mauve and the white the head is more extensive, particularly on the throat, ear-coverts, and supercilium) is colloquially referred to as Channel Wagtail"

I'm not sure whether this hybrid has been recorded in Northumberland before will need to do some further digging. I have attached a video from Surfbirds of a similar bird from April 2008 considered to be of this type for contrast.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Flying Alligators!

The American FAA's recently released database of wildlife 'strikes' with aircraft makes interesting reading. The level of species detail is remarkable considering the likely remains (or non remains) of some of the smaller species involved. Go to Florida though and ask yourself how can there be 14 yes one four air strikes including American Alligator? And Armadillo? When was the last time you encountered a flying Alligator?Check it out here.

New Birds, Old Ground.

Determined to get in a couple of clear hours birding with no interruptions the alarm was set for 05:20am this morning. I'd like to claim I leapt from my bed filled with energy but truth be told I sort of groaned out about fifteen minutes after the alarm.

A very fine Spring morning held huge promise and I decided that I'd re-visit a couple of my past 'patches' and see what I could rustle up in the way of migrants.

First stop was Castle Island, now a LNR on the River Wansbeck that I first birded from 1988-1991 and had some excellent birds there, Alpine Swift, Terek Sandpiper, Great White Egret amongst them. Parked up near the cemetery I was amazed at how much the scrub has grown on the walk down, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler & Blackcap all sang nearby.

I arrived at the Island and viewed from high on the bank. The island has been hit hard or at least the vegetation has, presumably by last September's floods. What used to be a very grassy island with a mix of short turf and long grass is almost bare mud. Three Canada Geese were sitting on nests that look very exposed as a result. A single Common Snipe was the only bird of note.

I headed off to Newbiggin and on the spur of the moment pulled off North Seaton roundabout onto the new 'Ashwood Business Park'. This occupies former farmland that used to be a regular site for a large flock of Lapwing & Golden Plover during the winter months.

I drove down the new roads and empty open rough grass to the south end and spotted a Northern Wheatear, and another, and another till there were four, two male and two female.

This site looks promising for Larks & Pipits only 700m from the sea.

I pushed on to Newbiggin Golf Course and after a calling Meadow Pipit the first bird was another Northern Wheatear.This was promising, a male Common Stonechat clung to the top of Gorse a few metres further and another bird with a supercilium flew up onto the Ash Lagoon bank. Scope out I just caught the streaked back of a female Whinchat before it flew up and over the top.

Further along the Ash Lagoon banks in the scrubby areas a Willow Warbler fed rapidly suggesting fresh arrival. A small bramble held a reeling Grasshopper Warbler unlike yesterday's this one was loud and out there giving excellent views. A while later as I came back 150m further out from the bank I could still hear it and see it with bins at the top of the bramble.

I hugged the perimeter fence North and then turned in after the Gorse and came back around past the patch that once contained a Spring Bird Race Bluethroat. Sadly today that was not the case.

Looking toward the sea and into the sun I could see several small birds feeding on the outbound fairway. Scoping over I found a couple of Linnets, two Pied Wagtail and a single female Yellow Wagtail, my second year tick of the morning.

As I crossed the centre ditch that runs East to West across the Golf Course and can act as funnel for migrants with it's rough edges I spotted another Wheatear on the south side.

I sat and within a few minutes counted ten Northern Wheatear on that quiet slightly rougher patch of old moor away from the fairway.

They were my last noteworthy birds on the Golf Course. I drove inland back to Woodhorn Church, another site with a tremendous track record, although mainly for The Professor.

Iberian Chiffchaff, Black-faced Bunting, Bonelli's Warbler all in a small bit of sycamore and hawthorn scrub either side of a railway line and a mixed hedge running away south. It's a hotspot.

I was looking for slightly less auspicious visitors this morning as it can be good for Lesser Whitethroat in Spring too. A couple of Goldfinch tinkled at me from across the road as I arrived and a Blackcap sang from one of the tall Sycamores. I kept hearing some subdued churring and a Common Whitethroat soon popped up to briefly spark into song. I wasn't convinced though. I hung around the recently planted roadside looking a little out of place until another scrubby, scratchy voice, that of my first Sedge Warbler of the year eventually gave way to some short song. A bit of a crouch and stealth and I soon had it in sight as it flicked from branch to branch low in the decorative shrubbery.
The journey home provided an unexpected birder with ADMC on bike near Longhirst Flash. Thirty minutes of chinwag later and now late for work I headed home content with three year ticks and the knowledge that at least one of my old patches can still deliver.

Image Credits
Northern Wheatear Paul Roberts
Whinchat & Sedge Warbler Sergey Yelisleev
Yellow Wagtail Valter Jacinto

Saturday, 25 April 2009

"What You See Is What You Get"

I forgot to mention that I picked up two House Martin on Wednesday from the kitchen, six days earlier than last year. Back at work since Thursday so unsure if they have hung around or others have joined them.

Today I got up to Alnmouth fifteen minutes early so I decided to have a quick walk along the bottom of 'Bracken Hill' or the edge of Alnmouth Common. Lots of scrub Hawthorn & Bramble just 50yards from the beach. It was lifting with warblers this morning, four species in fifteen minutes, Common Chiffchaff singing from some of the taller trees, Willow Warblers on every bush. I caught a brief snatch of a reeling Grasshopper Warbler but frustratingly it stopped after two seconds. I moved on a little and heard a churr from a bramble ahead, looked up and Willow Warbler. Scanning toward the sea, there it was again, I turned back, waited, again Willow Warbler, then as if taunting me 'Whatyouseeis whatyouget' from within the bush the Common Whitethroat I'd thought was there all along decided to let loose with it's scratchy song. I always think Whitethroat song fits that little phrase WYSIWYG, and makes it memorable.

I hung around and eventually it zipped up looking fresh as a daisy and shot off further along the hillside singing as it went. The Grasshopper Warbler had started reeling again although I didn't have time to locate it as it had moved a little uphill to a larger area of brambles.
Grasshopper Warbler courtesy & copyright Mark Mowbray
Common Whitethroat courtesy & copyright Pedro Henriques

Thursday, 23 April 2009

No Bird Day

It was little known that not only was he a closet Catholic but a twitcher too... the proof
Blair & Jack Thompson on a birding trip in Druridge Bay

Jack: I think it's a dark phase Arctic Tone.

Tony: Makes a change from vultures Jack, it's all we get on the Westminster Patch.

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Call Of The Med.

Not sure if it's because I feel left out as every bird blogger I know seems to be in foreign climes watching something exciting and new, even the young uns. I thought I needed cheering up, a little sunshine, some azure blue sky, an iridescent diamond sea to paddle in with rolled up trousers whilst feeling the soft warmth from the sand beneath as it gently exfoliates my ageing feet.
So on the spur of the moment we dropped everything this morning and went. Travelling light with no optics just the all important buckets and spades we hit Costa del Newbiggin. I left the birds behind, no pressure, sure I glanced at the gathering of gulls on the rocks and absentmindedly started working through them but I quickly dragged myself back to the children and sandcastles. Yes, I noticed the single passerine moving along above the line of the rocky sea defence but I resisted the temptation to go searching for it.
I closed my eyes to listen to the sound of summer as a Sandwich Tern called 'Keerick' somewhere out above the glistening calm bay. After an hour we retired to the park just off the beach and got into a rhythm on the swings, first one then the other with me stood between them left arm push, right arm push, my movements similar to those early morning Tai Chi exercises you see in parks and other public places in China and Hong Kong.
Then a soft, nasal 'Kee-ah ahhh ahhh' call from over my left shoulder (the good ear). Despite never having heard this species call before I knew instantly it was Mediterranean Gull. I have heard an (accurate) impression of this call from Jimmy Steele on more than one occasion and I'm guessing that this must have sunk into the subconscious. I turned and sure enough two adult summer Med Gull floating around and dropping to some spilled food nearby. Probably the same two that I tried to video a while back. In addition there was a 2nd calendar year bird still present also. They called again several times as they moved around in the air and my son even had a go at mimicking them with a little vocal prompting. They must be almost ready to leave to breed but where?

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Kites & The City.

With the news about the Red Kites at Stocksfield adding to what is likely to be the best year for the last couple of hundred for breeding of this species in Northumberland and the increasing number of individual sightings around the county at sites such as Prestwick Carr, Bothal Pond etc I've been wondering about how they'll expand.
Will their range expansion follow that of Common Buzzard by (first) pushing West then North and finally into Central Northumberland with the coastal belt and the South East colonised last or will the Kites historical and geographical tendency to have a greater association with man result in a different spread?
The proximity of this latest publicised nest to a farm and busy tearoom might suggest that we may well see a different pattern of spread from this particular raptor.
Will the City of Newcastle prove a barrier to the Kites? It may not be as much of a problem as it first seems. Gigrin Farm the Welsh farm converted into a Kite 'feeding station' that regularly attracts three figure numbers of Kites is only 1/2 mile from the nearest town.
Amusingly in the Chilterns one of the earlier and successful release sites people are now feeding Red Kite from their garden and some of the local conservation bodies have had to put out a Guideline leaflet surrounding this activity.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Home Alone

That's what it feels like this lunchtime, what with this one and this one having a swell time over there and this one going the other way. These two are just back. And as for him and him god only knows where they've buggered off to.

Victorian Attitude.

I have come to the conclusion that the Victorian ways of dealing with children such as being seen and not heard, sending them to public school as soon as they came out of nappies or putting them up (or down?) chimneys was one of the key fundamentals behind their success as Naturalists.

Imagine how little we would know these days if Darwin had had to take his kids with him every time he went on a trip. Any attempted collections would have been pulled, twisted, broken, cracked, thrown, trod on or put down the toilet. My daughter found a Woodpigeon eggshell on the lawn this morning, obviously deposited away from the nest by one of the adults, before I had chance to examine it it became a jigsaw.

We went for a morning constitutional in Scotch Gill Woods in the glorious sunshine. Lots of Butterflies but wrapped in two sets of reins with one child hanging onto a leg and the other convinced they could walk on water as they tried to catch Mallard in the river, capturing any images was nigh on impossible. We saw a couple of Orange-Tip and I managed to get one shot of a female (?). Taken one handed with one child underarm and a a second running downhill toward the river.

Blackcaps have made a prominent arrival over the weekend, many singing on Sunday morning and there were two to three singing in a 300m stretch of woodland today. A pair of Treecreeper, calling Nuthatch and a brief Great Spotted Woodpecker were as much as I could manage unable to stray from the path and take my eye of my own fledglings for more than a few seconds and even having to pack the bins away on the return leg to shoulder mount the whingeing twins.

Two Common Sandpiper yesterday morning at QE2 were a year tick and unusual for me to get in lowland habitat in Spring, normally I've had to go upland at this time of year to see them.
So this is me with pipe in hand back at the desk of my study, children asleep in the chimney recording my findings in the same tradition as those Victorians who discovered so much of what we take for granted.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Hot on the Heels...

Of yesterday's Bonxies a single Manx Shearwater the best a one hour sea watch from Boulmer Steel could produce today. Eight Common Scoter South were the only other record of note.
Strangest bird of the day was a Chiffchaff scratching around amongst weeds in a Boulmer cottage garden, presumably freshly arrived.

image courtesy & copyright Lawrie Phipps

Chance Encounters

After all that's what birding is all about. I forgot to mention I dropped in to East Chevington last night on the off chance of a Marsh Harrier. Loads of Hirundines, all Swallow and Sand Martin though, couldn't find a House Martin amongst about 1-120 on the North Pool.
I did pick up a couple of additions to the Homo Sapiens List, first was Alan Thompson although his Black Lab got there before him. He unnerved me when he said 'you've got one of them blogs',
'oh dear what have I said' was the immediate thought. It's a strange feeling meeting people who know all about your birding and other snippets from your life despite them being strangers to you. I hope I've got Alan Thompsons eyesight when I reach his age, I had been watching a Common Buzzard about 1m South and he almost immediately picked up a second with the naked eye.
I didn't catch the name of my second encounter, so he is currently listed as Birder (Sp), any help on ID gratefully received. He had a Scottish accent from Felton, very pleased with three Brambling in his garden feeding station over the last couple of days and so he should be they are good tick for any garden.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Oh I Do Like To Be Beside the Seaside.

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside,I do like to be beside the sea,I do like to stroll along the prom, prom, prom,Where the brassbands playTiddley-om-pom-pom!

It's little known that the author of this popular Music Hall song John A Glover-Kind was a birder. Not only that but he wrote the lyrics during a marathon seawatching session one Spring day on the West Coast. Playing around with the words he simply couldn't get a suitable rhyme for the word prom until he caught site of two large adult Skuas and in his excitement shouted out "Pom, Pom" to alert his fellow seawatchers.
Friday normally means Craster and Kippers, a quiet morning gave me the opportunity to park up for 45 minutes and have a seawatch. I wasn't expecting much but there was good numbers of Gannets and Fulmars and within five minutes two single Great Skua or Bonxies came powering through. Bonxies just demand respect, no matter what the weather they don't seem to break sweat. They can be flying into a force nine gale and still move in a straight line not deviating from their chosen route and making it look easy. None of that virtually upside down ducking and diving Fulmar crap for Bonxies, just get where their going in as direct a manner as possible.

Six Red-Throated Diver and single Sandwich Tern and Common Scoter provided a supporting cast along with steady north passage of Gannet, Fulmar, Kittiwake & Guillemot.

I tried again tonight off Foxton/Boulmer just after six and again picked up a Bonxie about 1 mile out, this time diving and chasing a Herring Gull Larus argenteus before picking up a steady low line that saw it come in to within 50m offshore before disappearing around the point. Looking dark brown with big white wing flashes on the primaries it briefly moved through a patch of sunlight and changed colour to a paler 'ginger biscuit' look.

Pumped now so I might do an early morning at Newbiggin tomorrow to see if I can pick up some other stuff, it's like nicotine this seawatching keeps dragging you back into it's grasp.
image courtesy 7 copyright Petur Gauti

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Cramming It In.

Cramlington has always struck me as a characterless town, typical unfortunately of 'New Towns' that were developed post WW2. Think Milton Keynes or nearer to home Killingworth. To be fair Cramlington is bordered by some excellent habitat such as Arcot Pond and the River Blyth and it's woodland ribbon just 1m to the North.
The town had a couple of stalwart 'founding fathers' as far as birds are concerned with Lyndsey Mcdougall and Steve Holliday. I think I'm correct that LMc is the only Cramlington birder with Terek Sandpiper ticked on his patch after the wintering Blyth bird began to wander in the company of Redshank before leaving in the early nineties. SH even managed to self publish a book many years back but looked away from his home patch for inspiration (Blyth's Birds).
Neither is getting any younger so it is good to see a new group of birders coming through. One of the best local photographers John Malloy currently counts Cramlington as his home patch. I've not met John but then that's hardly surprising as he seems to spend most of his time in exotic locations, check out his blog here to see for yourself. Another new and younger birder is 'Crammy Birder' who has been extolling the virtues of West Hartford pond for many months over at his cryptically titled Crammy Birder blog.
Between them with their daily tales of tame Short-eared Owl appearing Mr Benn-like and floating close enough to touch they forced me into a mini twitch last night. I re-routed back from my parents via West Hartford and wandered onto the edge of the soon to be fenced 'Business Park'. Someone needs to have a word with Cramlington's dog owners and perhaps explain that they seem to be taking the 'Business' bit out of context.
I was surprised to find the pond close by and not the one I thought I knew, which is further back. With low water levels and exposed mud it looks good for passage waders. I didn't have to wait long before a Short-eared Owl put in an appearance. It stayed at a respectable distance and wouldn't come to bread so you have to assume it's real.
I can see me going back to West Hartford when it turns up something big this year which it may well do. The law of unavoidable consequence means that it's most likely when a certain talented snapper is being dazzled by Drongos.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

The Day After

As I always work Bank Holidays today was kind of my Easter Monday. I may have missed the best of the weather, it was decidedly grey and misty when we set off for Ingram and a little on the chilly side when we arrived but having a Bank Holiday one day late has its compensations.

Yesterday our chosen destination would have been heaving with families, dogs, barbecues et al. Some of the Barbecues remained having died and gone to barbecue heaven, other than the obligatory patch of left litter that was all that remained of the great British Public and their Bank Holiday.

As it was cold most of the small insect feeding birds were around the river (Breamish). You expect to find Dipper (two) and Grey Wagtail (four) and they duly obliged. The hods of Sand Martin were a year tick for me. This probably the first year since 1988 I have seen Swallow before Sand Martin, as I saw two separate individuals yesterday.

Willow Warblers were the other bird in evidence today, singing, flycatching, in Gorse, in Alder, seemingly under every bush. Several Chaffinch tumbled in the air, also flycatching and even a couple of Wrens got in on the act creeping around exposed tree roots in the bank.

With three kids dodgyscoping was always tricky so Grey Wagtails were pretty much all I could manage, thankfully they were reasonably obliging enough even for me.

One or two Common Buzzard floated around the nearby hillside, one attracting the attention of a pair of Herring Gull that got a tad tetchy with it and harassed it across the valley.

My favourite shot of the day, automatic light correction only, I like the way the Grey Wag blends in with the background other than the obscenely lemon breast, belly and undertail.

Sick yet, not many more now.

Hang on, if your thinking ha, he's slipped in a non Grey Wag, your right, well spotted. Apologies for the poor quality of this one but it was taken from the car window with just the camera. First time I've seen a Stonechat feeding in the middle of a river. It was catching insects by a combination of flycatching and dropping down onto low rocks and taking them from the water's edge.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Lost Hour #1 Posts

So that's Easter done, I'm pleased that the Lost Hour Competition has some entries, I'll keep the entry window open until Tuesday so anyone else who wants to add a Lost Hour post just has to email me at birdneast@btinternet.com. After Tuesday drop me a mail with your favourite three(?) and I'll post the results.

1. ST lost his in the Greenhouse

2. Birding About Northumberland lost hers on Newbiggin Beach.

You can find my own Lost Hour here.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

My Lost Hour- Dusk Chorus

Having worked all day and with the family on a day away up at Budle Bay and Bamburgh beach, I took the opportunity to lose an hour or two birding. Fooled by the evening sunshine I headed for Church Point, Newbiggin to have a look on the sea. I shouldn't have bothered a cold Southerly and a handful of Herring Gull were my reward, although a year tick in the form of a single Razorbill was overdue.
I nipped back inland and had a wander around some of the local ponds at Woodhorn and Bothal, the former holding five Northern Shoveler and a single Whooper Swan whilst the latter was very quiet except for a very noisy Tree Sparrow in the roadside trees.
With the sun rapidly dropping I thought I'd drive around Longhirst Flash and Ulgham Lane looking for Long-eared Owl. I have had a pair a few years back around this area that would hunt just before dusk although those individuals may be long gone now. I checked a few of the small plantations from the car without success so I parked under the bridge at Crowden Lane and climbed up onto the old mining road adjacent to the woodland, a good vantage point for the surrounding area.
Still light enough for three Chiffchaff to be singing in a 700m stretch of wood as well as my first singing Willow Warbler of the year. You don't hear much about the 'Dusk Chorus' but it was lively along the woodland edge tonight with Blackbird and three Song Thrush as well as a couple of Robins belting out their song. I came away with the impression that the Song Thrush 'song' was more varied here than the urban fringe Song Thrush I hear at home or work, whether this was because there were several singing together or genuine I'm unsure.
I reached the far end of the wood and set up scope looking along the Western edge. Several Common Pheasant and a Brown Hare fed in the grass adjacent to the wood. A small bird that called 'tack' a couple of times may have been a Blackcap but it only called twice amid thick scrub. Behind me looking North a Barn Owl flew with languid wing beats down a hedgeline some 500m away. Moments later two male Tawny Owl called back and forth just inside the wood.
Crowden is well named as it still holds a nightly corvid roost, Carrion Crows and Jackdaws began to drop in, the Crows paired, the Jackdaws in groups of six-eight. The Jackdaws engaged in some pre-roost aerobatics, small groups mixing together till there were c150 birds, swirling and calling loudly around the nearby fields, this went on for ten-fifteen minutes pre-dusk.
A Woodcock moved East to West with a more rapid direct flight, wings fluttering periodically, it came back on it's roding circuit a few minutes later.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Thick & Fast

I find that often in Spring new birds for the year arrive in spurts, often with a pair of unrelated species arriving together say Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat for example. Earlier in the week it was Garganey and Black-tailed Godwit at Druridge that presented themselves together.

Today a busy working day if the weather stayed fair meant I had next to no birding time so my expectations were low, yet I've added two new birds for 2009 to my County Year List. After a seven thirty start I pulled into Bothal Pond for a five minute scan, car laden with provisions with which to stock the shop. I was hoping that I might jam a passing Black-necked Grebe but all the Grebes were Little (four), at the North end though were a pair of Ruddy Duck, the first I've seen this year. I think numbers are lower these days as a result of the ongoing cull. I like Ruddy's, brassy arrogant ducks with the cartoon coloured blue beaks. I remember my excitement almost twenty years ago on finding my first, four males at Arcot Pond early one morning and waking up Graham Bowman & Les Robson at some ungodly hour to get them to 'twitch' them. At that time they had perhaps not bred in Northumberland and were one of the strangest looking ducks I had come across.

The cull has always left me split between head and heart. My head recognises the threat they potentially pose to White-headed Duck but my heart wants them to escape the guns.

Tonight after a long day selling Ice Cream I drove slowly home in the remnants of the Bank Holiday traffic, a high tide pushed up the Coquet and as it had just rained I kept a close eye just in case an early Black Tern had moved into the river as they often do during and following rain.
Mentally noting Black Headed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Black Headed Gull, Black etc until finally two smaller, slimmer, TERNS, and my second tick in my eight minutes birding was Sandwich Tern, about time too, ten days into April.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

The Lost Hour Blogfest Competition #1

Don't forget this weekend is the first ever Lost Hour Blogfest Competition if you feel like taking part.
All you have to do is go and lose an hour on April 11th or 12th, birding or mothing or checking out new equipment or whatever else turns you on in the way of nature. Get home and blog about it on your own blog. Send me a link to the post at birdneast@btinternet.com .I will list all the links on a post as soon after the weekend as I can. Then you can check out everyone else's lost hours and send another email voting for your top three 'Lost Hour Posts'I'll tot up the votes and announce the top three who will all win bird related prizes. Don't get too excited it might be a doodle signed by the world's worst bird artist (me) or a Creme Egg or some other distant obscure item linked to nature. Hopefully more important it will get you some extra exposure and get you checking out some of the other bloggers around and what they have been up to.

Pantomime Birds

Perhaps they only need the briefest of explanations, there the ones that are always behind you or in the opposite direction to the one your looking. There the ones that can remain hidden and unseen until you've walked right past them or stepped on them. Here is my top five personal Panto birds:

1. Honey Buzzard, my first ever sighting came whilst watching a posing (don't they all?) Woodchat Shrike at Scarborough Castle in the early nineties. It was the Shrike that was oblivious to what was behind him as we were all scoping him when the Honey Buzzard came in off in the same scope view.

2. Tawny Owl, as an eager exploring 13 year old I was wandering in Holywell Dene with an accomplice searching for nests. We found what must have been an old Crow's nest at the top of a gnarled Hawthorn. Mid way through climbing the tree a Tawny Owl that must have been roosting part way up flew out missing me by inches and scaring seven colours of crap out of me. No idea how I missed it.

3. Iceland Gull, yesterday's white devil, dancing behind me as I stared at an empty ocean desperate for anything to fly across the stormy vista.

4. Great Skua, seawatch at Church point and eventually I guarantee that whilst your intent on turning that Fulmar on the horizon into a Cory's, a Bonxie will fly over your head. I should count myself lucky I think there's at least one local birder who may have had the same panto with Long-tailed Skua.

5. Pheasant, any birder worth his/her salt will have a had a few Panto moments with Pheasants. Stroll along minding your own business and then suddenly in a rattling ball of hellfire one leaps up from under your big toe and gives your blood pressure an unwelcome lift.

Come on share your Panto Birding moments in the comments.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

'Nordic' Jackdaw.

On my way out for a quick walk with kids around QE2 late afternoon and I came across what I think is probably the same individual that I saw 500m west of here a couple of weeks back. I managed the terrible shot above as I didn't have the full dodgyscoping kit in the car. If you enlarge it you can clearly see some of the characteristics of nominate monedula the pale grey head side and nape, notable pale collar line and slightly paler grey upper breast.
This individual does not appear to be migrating and appears to be paired up with a spermologus as they were feeding alone and flew up into a nearby tree a few moments after I took this shot.
This was at the West end of Ashington outside the Funeral Parlour if anyone else wants to take a look.
Oh and two Great Crested Grebe, 12 Goldeneye at QE2 with 28 Shelduck in Crane Field to NW and a Common Coot doing an aggression display (standing up neck stretched to look very tall)out of water to a Mute Swan was an unusual sight.

How Many Iceland Gulls Have Heard Iberian Chiffchaff Singing?

Our six year old has a day out with Grandparents today, I dropped him off about eleven this morning. My parents live close to the beach at Blyth so I parked up for ten minutes, this is about as long as I can eke out a packet of chocolate buttons for and therefore use my bins/scope without disturbance.
A howling North Westerly meant two Sanderling and a single Common Gull were the sum total of my 'seawatch'. I turned the car from the small car park and promptly came face to face with a 2nd calendar year Iceland Gull on the grass about 15m away. The only gull there and only the second I'd seen in ten minutes. It had obviously been laughing it's little head off at me staring in the opposite direction. Perfect picture opportunity in good light, no camera. No problem I reached for my phone only to groan as I realised I had switched handsets back to an old Nokia after one of the kids put my other handset down the toilet and the battery ceased to function, so no phone camera.
I fiddled with the phone as I considered Tweeting it or ringing Birdguides, then I wondered about recording it calling, which it wasn't and I'm not quite sure why I expected it to. I thumbed to the sound recorder and opened the window. I pressed record, except I didn't, I pressed play on the only sound recording I have on the phone, one singing Iberian Chiffchaff. The Iceland didn't think much of it and lifted briefly, re landing as I drove away. At least the gull got a tick presumably.

Further Reading
Fieldfare Startled by Albatross.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

More Tit Action

Small children sleeping, six year old fully focused on mammoth Lego project I took the opportunity to try and take some pics of the Bumblebees feeding on a flowering Blackcurrant in the garden. I think I'll stick to frogs. I think we had six individuals from two species floating around the bush but boy are they awkward to try and pin down. I haven't had a chance to fiddle with the pics yet so I'll post anything that looks remotely black and yellow as soon as I have. I think we had one Early Bumblebee and several Buff-tailed Bumblebee today.
Whilst out clarting about with the bees I kept hearing Long-tailed Tits calling from the scrub over the fence and from the Willow beyond the purnd. Later doing dishes I watched a pair moving around from the Willow up the treeline in my garden and feeding on insects (?) from the early Blackberry leaves. They kept zipping back beyond the Willow into the corner of a neighbour's garden that's overgrown. Perhaps they'll nest, maybe I can do daily reports on urban fringe Long-tailed Tits. They are a step up from Blue Tits and Collared Doves.
Oh and in case you think my titles are schoolboy humour, think again, I derive immense pleasure from the thought that some sad git who is trying to find Tits on line gets to read about my 'wildlife'. Think of it as missionary work.

Outcast 2 -Someone Else Loves Me

Ian Fisher emailed me again after my blog post on the Ring-necked x Tufted hybrid and sent the image above which is of a superior quality to my own dodgyscoped shots. He also made the following comments in respect of this particular individual:
"I spent about an hour watching it the other day. It is superficially similar to a RND, but in good light the following points are not good for RND.

1. The green sheen on its head. I have seen this colour on TD, but not usually all the time. I've never seen it on RND.
2. The tuft - totally wrong for RND!
3. Flank colour - probably not dark enough for RND (from memory) and possibly not extensive enough. The Hauxley birds flanks appeared patchy to me, esp. at the rear edge, I think it showed too much white in this area.
4 Bill pattern - the black tip is not extensive enough, it is more wedge shaped (i.e. TD-like) on the Hauxley bird, whereas pics I've seen of RND has a straight rear edge to the black. Similarly the white band next to the tip is not clear-cut enough (and possibly too broad?).
5. Head shape - wrong for RND!"

Monday, 6 April 2009


Probably the best dodgyscoped shots I've managed so far, my gratitude goes out to not only the Woodpigeon but the wardens at Hauxley for agreeing to me tieing it to the top of a tree opposite the hide, I'm sure all the ducks will come back in a day or two.

Sunday, 5 April 2009


Any offers to name this unfortunate specimen that laid down it's life on my stairs the other day feel free. I did make an effort and try to ID it online at UK Moths but I fell asleep after an hour when I was only halfway through one extremely large family of small moths.


I saw a report a couple of days ago on Birdforum of a male Ring-necked Duck at Hauxley. Almost immediately the poster added the suggestion that some thought it was a hybrid. I had emailed Ian Fisher (subsequently responded confirming what I'd concluded this morning) last night to check what he knew about the bird but I decided to pop up for an hour first thing this morning. It is a hybrid Ring-neckedxTufted but an interesting bird to watch nonetheless.

It got me thinking though about the way many birders treat these hybrids. If this had been a 'pure' Ring-necked Duck then there would no doubt have been plenty of footfall to tick it, list it, picture it etc. The minute it has a few stray genes from another species it's perceived value plummets. I find this strange. OK it doesn't jack your list up and it's a bit of a bugger to know what to call it but the reality is that it's probably rarer than a 'pure' Ring-necked Duck and it has bonus features.

Birds like this also have the added interest of trying to work out which features are from which parent, or why the combination can throw up some added anomaly. Take this one, the sheen on the head side is green (click on the dodgyscoped pic above for bigger) more reminiscent of Scaup than Tufted but it has a cracking Tuft hence the suggested Tufted genes. Without those two features and the more rounded head shape rather than the peaked rear crown it seemed all Ring-necked, even had the partial ring on the neck.

Associating with Tufted Duck it provided a pleasant morning's viewing and the opportunity to practice this dodgyscoping thing a little more, although I'll save my Woodpigeon portraits for another day.

A singing Chiffchaff was the only other bird of any note here although I see that JM was also at Hauxley today and I managed to miss his dodgy goose whilst he made no mention of my dodgy duck, we'll call it a draw.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Other People's Birds.

At work today so all I can do is read about other people's birds. For anyone that hasn't connected with the I and the Bird carnival check out number 97 here. You might just recognise one of the participants this month, no clues and no names though that would be too obvious and just vulgar self promotion.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Getting to Grips With Tits.

The last twenty four hours I've been getting to grips with a fantastic pair of Tits. It just goes to show age is no barrier when your birding.
We took a family walk in Scotch Gill Woods yesterday late afternoon, the highlight was a singing Marsh Tit that serenaded us from an enormous Beech.
Today I cut short a trip to Newbiggin Golf Course due to the place being awash with golfers wandering all over the place. Anything that might have been around would have been booted left, right and centre so after six singing Skylark and a couple of Mipits and one Small Tortoiseshell on the Mound i moved on.
I left work early due to sea fret and thought I'd give Felton Lane another go for Willow Tit. It was quiet when I arrived, a Coal Tit fed high on one side and a Great Tit seemed to be tracking me on the other. After about ten minutes I caught sight of another paler Tit about twenty feet up in a birch, to be honest at first I wasn't sure, it didn't seem to have much of a pale wing panel, it wasn't calling and I'm not familiar enough with Felton Lane to know if both species occur. Two minutes later though joined by another and with better views I had my first Willow Tits for a long while. Helpfully they started calling with that great triple buzzy call as they crossed the road and moved off. Willow is my favourite tit, probably I think because they are the scarcest up here in Northumberland breeding at only a few scattered sites mainly in the South East of the county.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

On Birding with Children.

I have four, one is grown up, one shows occasional signs of interest, two think anything that moves is called duck and worth chasing.

Keeping Them Quiet
Expect the Unexpected
Not Recomended at Little Tern Colonies.
Tai Chi
Farm Animals
Greenish Wellies


This post is all about the numbers. It's my 100th post on this blog, it's the first of a new month, but it also creates a perfect Pareto ratio between 2008 and 2009 with my posts for this year totalling 80 and last year 20.
I've never analysed my birding records but the Pareto principle is one that I've used a great deal in business and it is surprising how many times it proves correct. I can see many ways in which it applies to birding.
I've no doubt that 80% of what we as birders consider 'good' birds (generally the scarce & rare) occur on only 20% of our birding days. To be a better bird finder we need to understand what it is about those 20% of days or trips that yields the scarcer birds. Destination? Weather? Season? Time of Day? all can have an impact.
Once you have been birding for a while and have grasped the basic ID then Pareto will probably apply again, 80% of your ID problems will come from 20% of species. Analysing your birding in this way should help identify the species that you need to spend more time reading and studying in field guides or BWPi if your lucky enough to have it.
I'm willing to bet that if I'm out for one hundred minutes 'birding' I'll probably only look at birds for 20% of the time, the rest of the time will be spent walking, looking around or searching or moving between birds. Again thinking about birding like this can help, If I derive pleasure from seeing the birds then I need to focus on how I can spend more of the other eighty minutes watching the birds rather than always trying to find the next bird.
Anyway enough numbers, a post lunchtime spare hour today saw me check out a couple of local pools. Woodhorn Flash had nothing out of the ordinary with five Pink Footed Geese the highlight. I drove around to Lynemouth Flash and found myself a seated position on the grassy knoll overlooking the flash and settled down. At first only a Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail were obvious but after a few minutes I located another pipit on the southern edge and was pleased to find yesterday's reported Water Pipit. The number of wagtails increased to three with another Pied and a male White Wagtail, another White had joined three or four Pied by the time I left for Druridge.
A short session at the Budge screen was fairly unproductive other than common birds, a couple of drake Shoveler the pick of the bunch.

On Birds & ID.

Sometimes I can be serious, it comes from watching too many early Star Trek episodes and believing that we should all "boldly go..."

"Nordic " Jackdaw 1
"Nordic" Jackdaw 2
Ring necked x Tufted Hybrid
More RNDxTufted
Red Kite Expansion
'Channel' Wagtail'
More Channel Wagtail
'Celtic' Meadow Pipit (Anthus pratensis whistleri)
Water Pipit
'Scandanavian' Rock Pipit ( Anthus petrosus littoralis)

On Birding

Occasionally I pontificate on the state of the art and the people that engage in it, below a selection of my sharpest insights.

What Is It With Birders?
When All The Starlings Were Rosy.
Go West Young (Single) Man.
Back To The Future
Pantomime Birds