Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Back In A Flash

No sooner have we had Spring and some of the buggers are starting the return journey. It's clear from today's Bird North East update that return wader passage is already well underway. An early-ish visit to Longhirst Flash this morning turned up single Wood Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper & Greenshank. They may have been there for a few days as ADMc had also had the same line up two days ago. I could only see the Greenshank reported on Birdguides yesterday but it's easy to miss the sandpipers as the Wood Sand seems to get in amongst the reeds out of view and whilst I was there the Green Sand disappeared into a mud lined tractor rut. Grey Heron and Northern Shoveler were also present at this small mining subsidence pond that seems to punch above its size when it comes to pulling in the birds.

Longhirst Flash (looking East toward sea fret)
With little time left I headed back to Woodhorn Pond to have another go at some Damselflies. I entertained myself with some low flying Common Swift and this is about the best I could manage. They were coming in to drink at the pond but could I hell get a decent shot at them, they always seemed to drop in from a point I wasn't covering. Does that look like a brood patch to anyone?

Common Swift, Woodhorn Pond.
Some slightly better images of Common Blue Damselfly today as there was probably half a dozen about. Also had more time to catch the Emerald Damselflies with 3-4 flying although not landing for long.

Common Blue Damselfly, Woodhorn.

Emerald Damselfly, Woodhorn.
One from the house last night as my run of never before seen Moth species carries on unabated. There are so many new species turning up I'm beginning to wonder if someone's releasing them near the garden trying to catch me out. I think this one is Magpie Moth although the markings must vary from moth to moth in this species as I couldn't find an exact match. Pretty little thing though.

Edit: Thanks to Dean at Mostly Macro for correcting the name which is Small Magpie.

Monday, 29 June 2009

Fret Turns Into (Nightin)Gale.

Had decided to head off to Newbiggin Beach with the kids this morning before bumping into ADMc on his daily bike round at Bothal. Impatient children brought an interesting conversation to an end too quickly. As we neared Newbiggin it was obvious that there was a sea fret and any thoughts I'd had about playing about with the camera were superfluous. A few terns fed on the high tide quite close to shore but as you can see the poor conditions resulted in poor image quality.
Sandwich Tern, Newbiggin.
Common Tern, Newbiggin.

One of the topics of conversation was the Nightingale at Howlett Hall. Amused by my encounter with the bullock, ADMc asked if I'd been back. I said not, mainly because I hadn't had time available at what I'd considered to be the right times of day. He commented that it had still been singing mid day, contrary to my thoughts. With this in mind I took my chances as soon as my wife came home from hospital today and headed back for another go. I arrived to find three birders, all local but none I knew. When I asked if it had been showing the immortal words "It was singing about four minutes ago......" I contented myself whilst waiting watching Common Redstarts flicking from side to side across the track, Garden Warbler too. Common Whitethroat and Yellowhammer the other avian residents. The Nightingale sparked up briefly for about 30 seconds at 12:04 but failed to sustain it's efforts. It wasn't till 14:00 that it started singing again from a lone Hawthorn, despite my best efforts it remained hidden from view, it's unmistakable song sporadically belting out loud & clear. A selection of other images taken whilst I was waiting amid clouds of pollen.

Silver Y

Meadow Brown.

Chimney Sweeper.

Garden Warbler, male.

Mystery Moth Monday.

OK before we start let me tell you what this isn't. This isn't a competition, there are no prizes. This is not an ego trip where I display my new suddenly acquired Moth ID skills discussing the finer points of leg colour and the shaggy bit on the nape (Do Moths have napes?).
This is sheer, nay pure, almost the essence of laziness where I, man with blog, get you knowledgeable Moth Men & Women to save me hours of clicking on photographs of each one of the many thousands of moth species living here on our doorsteps, often in our homes by identifying these no doubt common as muck, ten a penny Moths. Let me give you a little background as I know this can often provide a crucial clue in clinching the right ID, at least it can with birds so please tell me it is the same with lepiwotsit.
Moths 1 and 2 were pictured on various items of garden furniture, we live in lowland Northumberland about 100m above sea level, my garden has above average levels of weeds.
Moth 3 entered my property through an air vent uninvited. Moth 4 was found in rough grassland with poor soil and a few wildflowers. No moths were injured in the process of putting this post together. Please note that should any of these Moths turn out to be a First for the Western Palearctic this post will be removed in it's entirety and all rewards claimed by and paid to the author. Now that we're clear on the ground rules, enlighten me please.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Bird Clubs

The region has four, of which I'm now a member of two. I peruse the on-line sightings and published newsletter of the third. At the present time almost all my birding is in Northumberland as I'm restricted by kids and such. It is interesting to compare though how the Bird Clubs are approaching the 21st century. I'll admit my bias when it comes to the topic of blogs and how the bird clubs handle them. Bird North East now has links on Teesmouth Bird Club & Durham Bird Club's respective websites which in my mind kind of leaves NTBC and their recent statement about the non inclusion of blog links on their website a little out of touch.
As I understand the committee's argument they won't add blog links because the content is outside of their control and may in some instances be offensive to some members. Yet the website has links to other websites over whose content the committee has no control. If I find something offensive then I can decide not to go back and it's parents who are responsible for ensuring that the on-line content children engage with is acceptable to them rather than Bird Club committees.
None of the three Bird Clubs have a blog, which is a shame, such a flexible easy to use publishing and communication tool can be a huge asset to any organisation. If nothing else they can act as a dynamic way of reaching existing and potential members. It is notable that many organisations who have far more complex and detailed websites have also launched blogs (e.g.Birdguides), recognising that they offer something different and can access potential users that they might never find using conventional means. The other social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Chirptracker (when launched in the UK) all have their place and uses too. Two of the three, NTBC again being the exception have forums on their websites for members to exchange opinion online. It is interesting also to note that Durham & Teesmouth seem to be taking a different path when it comes to land & property ownership and site development for example Castle Lake and the proposed Hartlepool seawatching hide. Have they got it right? Is the NTBC more traditional, some might say less risky approach, the best long term way or are they been left behind in the blaze of change sweeping the region?

More Moth

Struggling to catch up with putting ID's to various moths. The house and inviting open windows seem to have suddenly become a huge moth magnet over the past week or am I just noticing more. The ID on this one a Common Swift made easy by Stewart getting there a few days before me. The rest are coming in a special Mystery Moth Monday post tomorrow.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

Ton And A Half.

With some time available this afternoon I nipped over to Cresswell to put the Spoonbill onto the county year list and bring up the ton and a half. Lethargic, sleepy, inactive, it must have had a rough Friday night, I had to zoom up to 60x to check it was alive and not somebodies idea of a joke. The only other birder in the hide, Joe Haslam who provided another tick for another list, assured me it had been active not long before I arrived. The repetitive 'TweepTweep Tweep Tsissi' of the male Reed Bunting below carried on unabated in front of the hide all the while.

Reed Bunting, male, Cresswell Pond.
A Greenshank on the sand bar was the exact opposite of the big white job, feeding with zeal. Still short on lens length, the crop below is purely for record and as good as I can achieve at that distance. Two Common Sandpiper on the west point added to the wader-fest.

Common Greenshank, Cresswell Pond.

After faffing around a little with camera settings at Snab Point and getting wet feet chasing after butterflies (Ringlet & Painted Lady) I headed to Newbiggin for a half hour glance at the sea. Two Manx Shearwater north and a drop in flock of 35 Common Scoter the highlights here. Using the smaller of the two lens I tried a little handheld dodgyscoping again more just to see what sort of quality (or not) could be achieved at a distance of c100m.

Common Scoter, Newbiggin.

Last port of call was Woodhorn Pond, bird life here was limited to breeders with my first Tufted Duck brood of the year noted. It was nice to get my second Stonecrop of the week, growing on the tarmac of the old road, this one is English Stonecrop and is probably an escape this far north.

English Stonecrop, Woodhorn Pond.

Compensation for the lack of bird life was a large number of Damselflies on the wing. Now BC (before camera) I may not have noticed these. Like my Moths I have had to identify them post event but again the Internet comes up trumps and The British Dragonfly Society (link in the side bar) has a good ID guide that even a novice like me can follow. I managed three species of Damselfly on the wing Emerald, Blue-Tailed & Common Blue although my one image of the latter species is out of focus so not worth posting. Just about to leave and JGS arrived closely followed by Stephen Sheppard(second birder tick of the day) to set the nerves jangling as JGS has the uncanny knack of finding good birds five minutes after I've gone home, Ive lost count of the number of times it's happened.

Emerald Damselfly, female, Woodhorn Pond.

Blue-Tailed Damselfly, male, Woodhorn Pond.

Epic Life & Death Struggle, Woodhorn Pond.

Thursday, 25 June 2009

Nightingale - A Load of Bull.

When your a Dad sometimes you just have to do the right thing for your kids. Today I just knew that despite the cooler, cloudier conditions reducing the chances I just had to give my kids the opportunity to hear a Nightingale singing in their home county. Few and far between who knows when they might get a chance to add another to their county list. I would hate the thought that at some point later in life perhaps when I'm gone that they were reminiscing and chatting about their childhood, and it went something like this:

Kid 1: "Dad was great, he took us all over to get an early start on our County Lists."

Kid 2: "Yeah, I suppose but there was that time when we could have had Nightingale, ten minutes drive from the house and he hoovered instead."

Kid 1: " Oh I forgot about that, took fifteen years waiting for the next twitchable one."

Kid 2: " Yup, selfish bastard."

So we threw Kid 3 out at the school gate and after a quick stop to rescue a suicidal juvenile Carrion Crow at the bottom of ADMC's street that was trying to cross the road ten yards from a zebra crossing, we headed out along the winding country lanes toward Bolam.

Directions hastily scribbled on a post note in the early hours of the morning we had a little confusion at Meldon as we did a loop over the old railway line searching for 'THE LANE'. A quick head scratch and reappraisal got us to the right place a few hundred yards further just in time to see the back of two country fatigue clad figures with bins heading down the lane. I suspect that it was AG/ADMC but didn't get particularly clear views.

With twins loaded in the buggy we headed out through the chained gate making sure to close it securely behind us. A short hedge opened out into a field full of Sheep and a bullock close to the path. Of course the appearance of me, gleaming white t-shirt and twins in buggy as wide as a Ford Ka was enough to make said bullock do a double take. I could see as slow thinking large animal processed the sight in front of him, the seconds ticked as I slowly walked on till we were almost level. Now whether all the recent bad publicity, Blunkett and Co has gone down like a ton of Cowshit in the bull bovine world I don't know but a snort and I just knew he was thinking "Hang on I might fail to notice two 'miles of cycling' slim, green clad, elderly chaps, slipping past quietly but your trying to take a bloody tank past with two squirming pink and red clad things wriggling and shrieking, no way Jose."

Lumbering toward us I was faced with the age old question fight or flight? On my own I could have leaped a hedge or run sideways along the nearest slope but with two kids and my own private taxi, there was nothing for it but to retreat. I turned to go and started walking slowly back the way we'd came. This was bullock's cue to realise he had the upper hand and start turning on the 'Spanish Style' and trotting our way. Suddenly it dawned on me that with bullock a mere 20ft behind I had the chain and gate to negotiate I needed to put some distance between us. I bolted for the gate, Bullock realised he was in danger of missing out on this once in a lifetime event and started running after me. I did the only thing left in my armoury, I reached the gate turned and roared my best 'Dad doing a Lion' impression which thankfully was enough to stop him in his tracks for long enough to get the gate open and my oblivious children (finger pointing "Moooo") through to safety.

I hung around for a while hoping he'd go but i figured he had the better chance of out waiting me and we were possibly far more interesting to him than he was to us. It was a stand off.

Stand Off.

We left Nightingale-less, Bolam offered a sanctuary from bolshy bovines and a singing Garden Warbler was our sloppy seconds. To add insult to injury as we headed back to the car park a party of three birders were trying to tease directions from one of the local elderly walkers. I did my bit, led them back, warned them about the dangers and even handed over my handwritten, post-it-noted directions and wished them well. We never looked back.

Margaret Moth.

The process of putting names to things still puzzles me. I'm just not sure why we do what we do. Why is there this inherent need, that burns hot, to know what something is? After all the name is just something someone else has given the creature in hand, we could just as easily give it our own. Take the moth below I could have just called it Margaret, it looks a bit tatty, past it's best and in need of hospitalisation, wouldn't that have done? No, sadly not it seems I have to spend hours (no kidding) trying to match it with a picture on a website no doubt put together by someone else with a similar affliction. There's no punchline here, I can't tell you why the fact that this is a Poplar Hawk Moth makes me any happier than if it was a Margaret, but it does. It brings a sense of deep satisfaction that along with a few others I can now look at this and say Poplar Hawk Moth. One more time then...

Poplar Hawk Moth.

With thanks to NE Moths for help in the wee hours.

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Another Old Haunt.

Another warm morning so I headed back to another old haunt the north bank of the Sleekburn near where I used to live at East Sleekburn. The land is owned by whichever power company owns the old Power Station site and used to be grazed, predominantly by horses this kept the sward short and there was always a profusion of wildflowers and butterflies in Spring/Summer. Sadly since the power station closed the grazing has stopped and the grasses have taken over, only on old tarmac and the pathways do the wildflowers manage to get a showing now in the summer months. Still smaller numbers of butterfly to find though. I managed another three-four Ringlet along the scrubby field edge as I walked down.

Common Whitethroats were numerous with perhaps four-five singing males and at least one family party.

The weeded over tarmac above was covered in Bird's Foot Trefoil and I picked up my first Common Blue of the day. I counted six or seven males in an area 300m x100m as I walked. Superbly powder blue upperwings then it closes it's wings and you get that spectacular underwing patterning that has fantastic detail.

Common Blue, East Sleekburn.

Scarlet Pimpernel & Tall Melilot, East Sleekburn.

There is an interesting variety of wildflowers kicking around the site, none of them particularly rare but fun to identify and practice with the camera on.

Biting Stonecrop, East Sleekburn.

What I was most pleased about was the Moths, again a novice when it comes to Moths and struggling with identification due to sheer volume of species I picked up two new species for me and managed to quickly identify them when I got home. On the downside I've got several more from the last couple of days unidentified so I'm planning a Mystery Moth Monday Post so you can all help me out.

Clouded Border, East Sleekburn.

Yellow Shell, East Sleekburn.

After failing miserably last week to get even a half decent record shot of female Reed Bunting I managed to get this today, as this lady checked me out from a distance. Roll on big lens.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Small Creatures, Little Ticks.

A glorious June day, with the software arriving and two energetic kids I decided that today was not a day to go far so after the school run I headed for Pegswood Moor and the woodland edge of Howburn Woods. I thought I'd focus on plants and insects today as it's a quiet time for birds locally. I'm a complete novice when it comes to these so feel free to challenge the id's if I get it wrong.

First up this on the left, when I took the shot I thought it was a Thistle but I'm now thinking Common Knapweed I could only find the one plant across a 500m stretch of stony, weedy ground.

The next one was fairly easy, even for a plant numpty like me, as it's fairly distinctive Fox and Cubs. again though just this single plant although I didn't look too far in the area around. this one was on an east facing slope about 20m from the woodland edge. It's an introduced species that's gone native over the years. Also known as Orange Hawkweed.

A proper Thistle this time with a few spikes to go with it. I reckon this one could be a Marsh Thistle Cirsium palustre. It seems to fit the bill and it was growing close to a small wet area where water flows out of the wood. Not long after taking the first shot as I was hanging around up turns my second Large Skipper of the week and begins to use said Thistle as a food plant.

Next up a few Butterflies took to the wing. It took a while for any of them to settle and they weren't settling for any length of time. In fact they were very active although staying inside an area of about an acre of weedy meadow and bank.

Meadow Brown, male.

Ringlet, male.

Painted Lady, a tad jet lagged.

Tonight a spare half hour was consumed at the coast with a quick seawatch from Newbiggin. With only a light swell and breeze I wasn't expecting much and with only six Manx Shearwater gently ambling through, I thought I was right. Then two year ticks only minutes apart the first was an adult Little Gull moving north not too far offshore. Further out I picked up a small white bird belting south that as it came closer was unmistakably a Little Tern moving like it's tail was on fire.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Summer Morning Sightings.

This morning I left it a little later, up at six so only had time for somewhere local before the school run. I hadn't been inland for a while so I hopped across to Mitford Castle. Despite the lack of big glass on the camera I spent most of my time playing about with settings and trying to capture the odd bird. As expected in the middle of SUMMER (don't believe these seasonal heretics from Druridge who are attempting to confuse you into thinking it may be Autumn) there wasn't a huge amount visible, three Jay announced their presence in typical fashion, a Green Woodpecker still yaffling briefly. I disturbed a Common Buzzard in the top field with all the white cattle in, moments before noticing that the muscular looking one nearest me was in fact a boy cow and making a hasty departure back to the relative safety of the riverbank. A juvenile Dipper obligingly let me have one shot before leaving and apart from the calling young Blue Tits that were everywhere today that was about it. A Nuthatch amongst the pines in the house next to Highford Bridge proved impossible to get a decent shot of in the darkness amongst foliage.

Tomorrow should see the replacement CD with software arriving so hopefully we'll be in glorious technicolour this time tomorrow night..... assuming no further hitches.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Early Exposure.

Trying to fit in a trip out around family and hospital visits, I left the bed at 5.ooam. Not much to show for four hours out,a female Stonechat was confiding on fence posts near Cresswell Pond. I managed to pick up the attentions of the security at Alcan who left me a note threatening to call the Police if I didn't report to the gatehouse (I'd wandered off looking for warblers).

Common Stonechat, female, Cresswell Pond.

I walked into the meadow at Woodhorn Church on the way to Castle Island, but without a decent lens getting close to the Sedge Warbler, Common Whitethroat & Reed Bunting was a challenge. The male Reed Bunting below the best I managed here.

Male Reed Bunting Woodhorn.

Next stop was Spital Burn to the south of Newbiggin but again most of the small birds were out or range although a Song Thrush helpfully posed on a fencepost for a short time giving me probably my best shot of the day.

Song Thrush Spital Burn, Newbiggin.

Speedwell on the Wansbeck Estuary

I didn't find the note till I got to Castle Island, so perhaps I'll take up their invitation another day. Managed to get some shots of a family of Fox at a site along the Wansbeck.
Later my only tick of the day was one for the Homo Sapiens List in the form of an ageing Dee Mckeown. He and fellow birder Steve Holliday didn't see me, they were far too intent on staring into a Hawthorn (knowing my luck it will have been a Marsh Warbler). I wasn't able to stop as I was on a strict timetable.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Hitch 2 - The Curse of Technology.

The saga continues, for anyone coming in to this the second instalment, the paragraph in italics below gives a quick synopsis of what's gone before.

Our hero (that's me) has rode the financial crises and storms to sell his business and give up work (for now). He has taken huge risks by investing in a Canon 40D as he is unproven and unskilled in the world of image making. At the last moment when he is finally looking forward to his Holy Grail the huge corporate monster Barc-le-card deal him a severe blow by refusing his credit. Luckily our wily warrior has a trick or two of his own up his sleeve and just as all seems lost he opens a small wallet that has lain unnoticed except by small micromoths at his side for many years. From the wallet he pulls out the Advanta given to him many moons ago by Knight of the realm Sir Goodwin of Fred. The day is saved the Canon is despatched and all seems well.

Well, it's here, after weeks of trawling the Internet and checking emails for advice I've finally got something big and chunky in my hand and it feels great. Having opted for a two lens package on top of the separately ordered 100-400mm IS Zoom, I have the body and an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6IS and EF-S 55-250mm IS. I'm now on a learning curve that's so steep Eddie the Eagle would get a nosebleed. It's all hooked up and whilst I'm running on fully automatic till I start to learn what it's capable of I'm looking forward to getting out and about and getting some shots. Every silver lining has a cloud however and this is no exception. Every CD in the box works except the one with the bloody EOS Utility software, i.e the bit that moves your images from camera to computer. I discovered this about 9pm last night after all the call centres and support people are long gone to their Friday night watering holes, so now I have to wait till I can get a replacement or Canon tell me the secret on line location from which you can download the file. You can download the updates but unless you have at least one copy of the original it won't work. I've read you can mess about with the registry to fool it but to be honest I'd rather wait.
I nipped out for an hour this morning to QE2 and Linton Pond and put both the 'standard' lens through their paces so I'll add some of those shots to this post when I can. I felt the part at QE2, adopting a 'John Malloy' pose lying prostrate in Goose shit to get my first shots. Nothing really to offer bird wise as it was all ducks, geese and a single Herring Gull. A few wildflowers and a new butterfly for me at Linton in Large Skipper which frankly had I not had the camera I probably wouldn't have noticed. Roll on Monday.

Edit 23 June, Images now added.

Scabby Drake Mallard Test Shot at QEII.

Jackdaw & Rook QEII CP.
Canada Goose, shot from the shit.
Northern Marsh Orchid in a proper setting at Linton Pond.
Large Skipper, Linton Pond.