Friday, 31 July 2009

The Starling Series Episode 3.

After the tide had pushed the waders up onto the breakwater and it was obvious if I tried to go closer I was going to push them elsewhere so I headed back to the car. Plenty gulls and Starlings still foraging in the car park and almost under the rear wheel of the car this.

I had a momentary double take realising quickly that despite the time of year and location it wasn't Rose-coloured Starling but a leucistic Common Starling. I'd often wondered about the accuracy and correct use of the terms 'leucistic' and 'partial albinism', a quick google and the Cornell Lab have it all sorted.

This is the 'museum shot' (above) how it would have looked had I been a Victorian collector. And one with a normal Starling for comparison.

Finally, this bird was such a poseur and very confiding walking around to within a few feet. It's an adult and not one of this year's young. There was a second adult nearby with a single white tail feather, I wonder if they are related, perhaps siblings? travelling in a family group that has amalgamated with other family groups. Anyone else seen this individual around?

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NEWT/NTBC Pelagic (31 July)

Last night's weather conditions were an improvement on last week with only the occasional patch of light rain in a brisk southerly breeze. Later as coud cover came over from the west the light deteriorated rapidly making both viewing and photographing conditions poor.

The first noticeable difference was the increase in adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, last week we had one in attendance, this week several (5+) kept us company most of the night, occasionally coming close enough to pose.
Lesser Black-backed Gull, adult.
The other major difference tonight was in Manx Shearwater numbers with some 60-70 seen over the night including a couple of big groups 15-20 that moved across the wake. None came in to the boat, which MK and I agreed was typical at least in the North Sea of this species. Most were some distance out so beyond the reach of my lens. The two images below are the best of the evening for me, identifiable but not as good as I would have liked.

Manx Shearwater.

With the absence of cetaceans continuing there's not much else to tell. This very dark juvenile Lesser Black-backed Gull stirred things up once or twice. At a distance it looked almost black and even the boat captain called it as a 'Skua' at one point albeit with the naked eye. In poor light at a distance it followed us for a good while shiftinga round in the melee of gulls behind the boat, popping up here and there dark enough to make you mentally jump and then realise it was the gull again.
Lesser Black-backed Gull.
So it's on to next week and now two boats with the demand high, there would appear to be a big Durham contingent next week including Ross Ahmed so no shortage of experience, it might even prompt a blog post from him?

Camera Practice 2

The tide was coming in and I could hear the odd Redshank and Curlew calling on the other side of the Newbiggin breakwater so I walked around the rocks and found a small mixed flock of waders. The one Curlew present immediately departed calling, almost as soon as I arrived so I settled down to wait a while before creeping closer. The remaining Redshank & Turnstone settled down, as you can see by the third image some of the Redshank simply went back to sleep.

Common Redshank, Newbiggin.
Several Turnstone retained the vestiges of summer plumage, again they were quite confiding with one appearing from a narrow gully in the rocks to check out the idiot lieing on the seaweed just ahead of the oncoming tide.

Turnstone, Newbiggin.

Thursday, 30 July 2009

Camera Practice 1

If your not into Gulls, just switch off now because this post is all Gull. With childcare in place as usual on a Thursday morning I was up early and down to Newbiggin to have a bit of camera practice. The light wasn't great a bit patchy but it was a pleasant enough morning and I had the beach to myself. As I arrived a line of Black headed Gull waited patiently in the car park, at the end was my first Med Gull of the day an adult starting to get a little patchy around the head.

Med Gull, adult.

Down on the beach another small flock of Black-headed Gull were roosting on the tideline debris. Another quick scan pulled out another Med Gull but this time a juvenile. I was keen to see if it was one of the first Northumberland bred birds but alas no ring and I know all three juveniles fledged from Coquet Island this year were ringed.

Med Gull, juvenile.

It woke up after a while and had a bit wander about the tide line. Later in the day I was getting some text messages from AP and I had told him about this bird and he sent a message back saying it was coming down to bread.

Med Gull, juvenile.

There were at least two other adults in the same roost as the juvenile, both almost moulted into winter plumage. They are just beautiful, beautiful gulls to photograph and reasonably confiding at Newbiggin, the two adults hardly moved at all whilst I was there. I wonder if the juvenile is their offspring and how far they have moved.

Med Gull adult (number 2)

Med Gull adult (number 3)

Later on when the bin man arrived he decided to feed the gulls, I wonder if this is a regular occurence early morning? It prompted a super tight feeding frenzy with Starlings at the edges and the odd Herring Gull muscling in on the act. If you can view this one larger it's worth it IMO.

I managed to get a couple of flight/open wing shots of both juvenile Black headed Gull and Med Gull so I thought I'd drop them on for anyone interested in seeing them side by side. Look at the colour of the primaries, the white centres on BHG vs the all dark of the Med Gull, the leg and bill colour also one of the key differences.
Black Headed Gull, juvenile.

Med Gull, juvenile.

Med Gull, juvenile.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Love them or hate them sometimes they just bug you. Not the best quality shots I know but nonetheless I'd be interested in comments on this one. Perhaps I should say no more so as not ruin any lingering semblance of credibility but if I dont stick YLG into the post somewhere then I'm going to feel like all the condescending patronising berks who talk down to anyone who can't immediately tell a Blyth's Reed Warbler at a mere glance have won and that would never do. So come on shoot me down.

Anyway I've looked at it and looked at it, it isn't a YLG it's a Lesser Black-backed Gull but which race?

North East Cetaceans

The organiser of last weeks ( and next weeks) pelagic, Martin Kitching a man whom to my eye looks increasingly like Brian Blessed has launched a splendid new blog entitled North East Cetaceans that can be found here. Martin is inviting other bloggers to become authors so that sightings can be posted to the blog as they are made.

Monday, 27 July 2009

High Tide Walk

High tide along the Wansbeck this evening and today's wind dropping a little so I had a quick walk, primarily to look for waders. Less than fruitful on this front with only two Common Sandpiper above the weir. Roosting on the south bank though was a nice year tick in the form of a single Little Egret. it was some 60-70m away so this is a record shot only, I didn't want to disturb it by plodding around closer just to get a better picture.

Little Egret, Wansbeck Estuary.

A good few terns fishing in the shallows of the high tide, pretty much all Common Tern which is typical for the location, as it is much more favoured by Common than any of the tern species.

Common Tern, Adult.

Common Tern, juvenile.

Longing for a North Easterly I hung around the shore looking north to Church Point, fiddling about with the camera trying to get that foaming water look that all the photographers seem to do. Sort of getting close with this one.

Church Point from the South.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

The Wild Places

I was working this afternoon and household chores this morning so nothing new today which gives me the opportunity to share some words that I read about two weeks ago as I came toward the end of a book called 'The Wild Places' by Robert Mcfarlane. This series of quotes refers to our relationship with the world around us and had a resonance for me. I found the book a reasonable read and well written. Anyway excuse the indulgence if your looking for birds.

We are as a species finding it increasingly hard to imagine that we are part of something which is larger than our own capacity. On almost every front we have begun a turning away from a felt relationship with the natural world. In so many ways there has been a prising away of life from place, an abstraction of experience into different kinds of touchlessness. we have in many ways forgotten what the world feels like. And so new maladies of the soul have emerged, unhappinesss which are complicated products of the distance we have set between ourselves and the world. A constant and formidably defining exchange occurs between the physical forms of the world around us and the cast of our inner world of imagination. The feel of a hot dry wind on the face, the smell of distant rain, the touch of a bird's sharp foot on an outstretched palm:such encounters shape our beings and our imaginations in ways which are beyond analysis and beyond doubt. There is something uncomplicatedly true in the sensation of laying hands upon a sun-warmed rock, or watching a dense mutating flock of birds, or seeing snow fall irrefutably upon one's upturned palm.

I could hear the House Martins calling to one another joyfully through the open kitchen door as I typed.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

Har-dly Any Found.

I like a contrast, always found myself drawn to the yin & yang symbol, equally happy to be on the sea one day and far inland in cool silent pine forest the next. The uber-observant among you will have noted the plethora of coastal Common Crossbill records in the last week or so. We are in the midst of a mini invasion of the pine cone crunchers. This morning then to contrast with last night's seafest I headed up to Harwood to see if any large groups were around.
I parked near Harwood Head (NY973905) and was pleased to immediately have a small flock of Common Crossbill perhaps 10-12 calling and moving just inside the tall pines. I walked about 1/2 mile in but as is often the case the edges I'd left near the car was lifting with birds enjoying the morning sun but there was little further into the forest. I was getting the occasional glimpse of Crossbill and hearing the odd one calling but not in the numbers I'd hoped for.
Back at Harwood Head there was loads of activity, often overlooked and underrated a few Chaffinch looped around in the pines. This male looks well and has obviously spent the summer weightlifting judging by the pecs on it.

Lots of Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff also flycatching along the woodland edge here. Coal Tits and the occasional Common Redpoll joined in the party.

Common Chiffchaff.
Not to be outdone on the flycatching a couple of juvenile Spotted Flycatcher flicked about the trees and conveniently moved over to a fence on the south side of the road to participate in a flycatching joust with a Pied Wagtail. Despite being only a few weeks old the SF made the wagtail look all wings and no teeth and it did the decent thing and slunk off embarrassed.

Spotted Flycatcher.
(Edit 30/7 via the comments IF has quite correctly pointed out that this is not a juvenile but an adult I've posted pictures of.)
Further east along one of the many rides I stumbled upon a couple of Dark Green Fritillary that after getting down and doing the business in the grass were happy to pose for pictures for the gathered paparazzi. The contrast theme continued when a few yards later I found what I think must be a survivor of this year's first flight of DGF. Within these two pictures then a metaphor for all life, an example of how fragile it is. We arrive bright, shiny and new, we spread our wings and occasionally have vigorous sex if we're lucky. Gradually our brightness fades and we get buffeted by the winds and ragged around the edges then we head back whence we came.

Dark Green Fritillary (post coital)

Dark Green Fritillary (post 40)
Walking the rides today was pleasant, the stillness and quiet (apart from the tinnitus hum in my right ear) only broken by the occasional mewing cry of a Buzzard somewhere in the distance. The moisture of the morning still hung on the tall grass and the dense cloud like spider webs.
Later around the meadow west of Harwood village as I gorged myself on wild raspberries I counted 35 Swallow hawking over the meadow and a Blackcap scolded me for taking it's breakfast.
My final sighting of the morning made no sound, appearing briefly it settled high in an Alder making for a difficult angle to shoot at. My very first Common Hawker didn't give itself up easy and made me work to get any sort of shot at all.

Common Hawker.

NEWT/NTBC Pelagic (24 July)

Last night was the first of the NEWT/NTBC Pelagic trips out of the Tyne. Having not been out on a pelagic since probably 2001 I have treat myself this year and booked on all but one, no doubt that will be the one that gets the Soft-plumaged Petrel as it comes back down the East Coast. A full boat left in good spirits and dry weather, a few faces on board that I knew apart from MK. We soon picked up a few birds, Herring Gull and Kittiwake mainly along with the odd Great-black backed Gull. A single Manx Shearwater and a group of three lifted hopes. We got a decent following after passing a fishing boat but there was nothing unusual amongst them.
Kittiwake.(the one with black legs)
After a little while out someone must have leaked out the news that a celebrity blogger was on board and a quick flyby was organised in tribute.

Red Arrows
Once out and stopped one or two Fulmars circled at first then came in close, expecting to be fed I think.

Northern Fulmar
Northern Fulmar.
It wasn't too long before the first Northern Gannet appeared, the first of several that passed by or came in to feed on Mackerel and popcorn watching the scene on the deck from a few feet above.

Northern Gannet (sub-adult)
The weather took a turn for the worse as the evening progressed, it provided some interesting and photographically challenging light conditions, a couple of rainbows, some lightening flashes and a cracking sunset.

Northern Gannet

Tynemouth does Trinidad & Tobago.

North Northumberland ablaze.

The heavy rain resulted in the best bird of the evening slipping by without anyone including me calling it. I saw it but in the gloom and rain must have thought it was just another Manxie slipping past. Not till I started reviewing the images today did I suddenly realise that we had let the one and only Sooty Shearwater of the night go past without as much as a cheer. Roll on next week and hopefully some improved conditions.

Sooty Shearwater in the rain.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Unseen Pond

Some weeks back I had emailed Stewart, you know this one, about Long-eared Owl sites in a given radius around the area I live. Stewart used to live in the same village as I live now and birded and fished the area extensively in his youth (now long gone).
During this email exchange he made reference to an 'unseen pond' called The Abyssinian near one of the sites I was referring to which intrigued me. Little else was said on the subject. A few days later I was having a similar conversation with one of Northumberlands birding Jedi Masters, think Obi Wan without the beard and with a SE Northumberland accent. I dropped the name into the conversation, "Ahhh The Abyssinian" came the reply then a pause "Aye, its there"
the enigmatic response.
By now my imagination was in overdrive, where exactly was this Brigadoon of water bodies and what would I find there, why was so little being said? I was determined to track down the secret of The Abyssinian. I imagined a paradise, a habitat so rich and diverse, shielded from the human eye, protected by the mist and the lie of the land. If there was dancing and whisky all the better although what the wife would make of me disappearing Rip Van Winkle style I dread to think.
So today I decided to go. I knew there was a footpath running east to west but I wasn't sure if you could also access another west to east around Longhirst Flash so I headed that way first. The water in the flash has shot back up and a few Mallard and Grey Heron were all I could see.
Looking through a gap in the hedge at the small corner pool, the water here was high and visible to the field edge and was that a wader, just there, from the hedge out of reach of the camera, see the unedited image below taken at 400mm from the road.

I crept along the south edge protected from view by the willows, a couple of inches of water underfoot, I crouched in the tall vegetation doing my best 'photographer' impression and slowly moved forward till I thought I was close enough to get a reasonable shot. Cropped and sharpened at least you can see the bird in this one.

It was comfortable enough, preening whilst I was there till suddenly it shot off. I looked up and at treetop height coming from the nearby plantation a Common Buzzard.

Not finding a west to east route I drove around and took the heavily overgrown footpath leading west. About 600m in I hit a small stream and couldn't see where the underused path crossed. Some reed mace the only indicator of it's presence, I looked up and down and ahead, there was no pond to be seen, perhaps there was something of the Brigadoon about this pond after all.
Cresting the gentle roll of the field suddenly ahead in the dip, reeds and the unmistakable figure of a crouched fisherman. His presence ensured that my hoped for avian paradise was devoid of bird life except the occasional Swallow doing their best Dambuster impression.
On the positive side the sunshine and semi protection offered by the lie of the land and the banks cut into the field were enough to produce some dragon & damsel activity with large numbers of Common Blue Damselfly and a couple of Blue-tailed Damselfly eclipsed by the three-four Common Darter that held sway from conveniently located rocks and logs around the northern & western edge.
Common Darter, The Abyssinian.

Common Darter, The Abyssinian.
Finally tonight I solved the mystery of the unusual name. Whilst tracking down the grid reference for the dragonfly record I noticed the name of the house a short distance from where I parked the car, you guessed it 'Abyssinia House'.