Friday, 30 October 2009

Pec-king Sab-lime Mate

Saturn must have moved out of my zone today as everything went to plan. After much internal debate about choice of location this morning I decided to head back to North Shields after yesterday's dip and have another go at the Sabine's Gull.

A minor detour via the 'Beehive Flash' to check on the off chance that yesterday's reported Pec Sandpiper was still lingering proved the right choice. After searching through all the birds on the flash, two Mutes Swan and four Mallard, I narrowed the Pec down to the only wader present. Pec Sand was one of the first rare birds I ever saw, twenty years on and they don't even qualify for rare these days, scarce is about the mark. My first one was in the summer of '88 not far away at Swallow Pond. A bit distant across the flash so this is a record shot.

I pushed on to North Shields, as I passed the ice house things began to look promising I could see lenses and a dark figure came into view hovering near the edge of the dock. As I parked the dark figure, poised like the slightly wider round the waist 21st century equivalent of an Ojibwe native spear fishing, morphed into Ian Fisher aiming just over the dock side. Then rising on the updraft the juvenile Sabine's Gull drifted up into view, a mesmeric vision of dark grey, shining white and inky black. For the next few minutes this gull of headland, spray and swell, this denizen of the open ocean gently ghosted along the air currents almost within touching distance of the quayside. The pungent smell of the nearby fish quay invoking the chum of the pelagics of bygone years that have provided the best opportunity to get close to one of the most charismatic larids that graces our oceans. Even old eyes that have seen Sabine's a hundred times like Andy Mclevy seemed on the verge of an epiphany as the graceful elegance of this bird provided views that revealed the unrelenting beauty in it's fullness. My only disappointment is that my lack of experience behind the camera doesn't do anywhere near justice to this bird.

Then whilst no one was looking, it slipped away unnoticed, something it's done quite a bit during its short stay. Hopefully this bird will stay and delight more observers over the weekend.

I noticed Ian Fisher, out of the corner of my eye, slipping away silently like the Clint Eastwood character from A Fistful of Dollars, perhaps like everyone else he knew that nothing any of us said could add to a near perfect gull.
ADMC and I dropped back in for another peck at the Pec on the way back north and bumped into Alan Curry. Apparently that Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat last week at St Mary's had halitosis or some derivative, at least I think that's what he meant by halimodendri. Must have got bloody close, some fieldcraft.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Nothing quite went as planned today. A morning without the kids saw me head down to the Tyne to see if I could get a shot at the juvenile Sabine's Gull that has been hanging a round. Despite it being seen before and after I left it was conspicuous by its absence whilst I was there. It probably got spooked by the 15 Carrion Crow that were hanging round the Middens waiting to mug the rich Tynemouth joggers.

I worked my way back along the coast via a few stops, checked the sycamores behind the Sea life centre for Yellow-browed Warbler (none) and Whitley Bay Cemetery for migrants (five Blackbird). the morning was pleasant enough, windless and noticeable that autumn is on time this year up here, no repeat of the last couple of years when we have had leaf filled trees long into November. I would estimate that 60-70% of leaf fall has happened.
No sooner do we have dark nights and some folk begin to think of spring. two pairs of courting Common Eider on a sunny Blyth Estuary were displaying vigorously, the males all puffed up and calling their deep 'oohs' audible from the dock.

High tide by the time I got to Newbiggin so the beach was almost deserted, a couple of Med Gull (one adult and one 1st-winter) loitered but even they looked bored so I moved on.

A couple more Med Gull at Woodhorn and a few Yellowhammer, this male Chaffinch the only real poser.

Running out of time I skirted through QEII CP hoping for something stray on the lake but a couple of immature/female Common Goldeneye and two posing Great Cormorant were all I could muster.

Half a mile from home and I couldn't resist the sight of this male Pheasant against the bright green kale(?) in the field.

Fantastic Plastic

School holidays mean an extra child in the mix and the need to find days out to try and add a little structure to the chaos that whirls around us when all three are together. Earlier in the week we headed off to the Wildfowl & Wetlands Centre at Washington. The kids get to run around and have their fingers snapped at and I can practice on the plastic with the camera so everyones a winner. The entry prices aren't too bad and at least you know some of your coin is heading in the right direction. We had a car boot picnic to keep the cost down. In years gone by Flamingoes were the main attraction but they've had their beaks firmly bent and been dislodged to the back of beyond with four Common Crane now the headline act. My youngest is coming on, asked to spot the odd geese out amongst the flock of tame Barnacle he picked out the two impostors, asked what they were, suggesting he look at the feet and back he comes with Pink-footed Goose, now how many seven year olds have ever heard of PFG? The slow brain washing is obviously working.

Bronze-winged Duck, Adult.

Wood Duck, Male.

Mandarin, Male.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Big Picture

The tenth 'The State of the UK's Birds' has been published today, read the full report and an accurate summary of it without any ghastly headlines here. It is the big picture when it comes to our birdlife and draws from many of the other surveys and work completed on the UK's birds annually and is published by the RSPB for a coalition of conservation organisations, including the RSPB, the British Trust for Ornithology, The Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust, The Countryside Council for Wales, Natural England, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Joint Nature Conservation Committee. Fairly authoritative and comprehensive then.
It contains a fair amount of good news, particularly regarding some of our rarer species such as Bittern, Osprey, Corncrake & Stone Curlew where there has been significant targeted intervention by conservation organisations over the last decade. Those involved will no doubt be happy that their efforts are delivering tangible results and rightly so.
Sadly the bigger picture continues to be a different story, farmland bird populations have reached an all time low, many woodland species continue to decline and some serious declines in certain seabird species are reported.
Take a step back and I believe what it highlights is that as a nation we are not doing enough, government and the interests of big business (wealth creation for the few) continue to ride roughshod over environmental concerns. Our conservation organisations are working with too few resources across too many areas.
The story on Farmland birds is all too familiar, despite agri-environment schemes our farmland birds continue to decline. Whilst the individual reasons for each species decline are complex and I don't profess to any sort of detailed understanding, what does appear to lie at the root of much of it is profit. The desire to make more money, greater efficiency whether that be in getting the maximum yield out of the land through better harvesting, invert eradication, planting times that suit yield rather than wildlife etc dominate. Its hard to blame individual farmers, they are trying to make a living, faced with feeding their kids and paying the bills most of us would want to maximise our returns too. I have little sympathy for the big farm businesses however whose motive is to deliver greater dividends and 'value' to shareholders and city investors. How often have the farming related media called for 'farmers to be trusted to do the right thing?' They won't because the desire for short term profit will always take precedence, driven by the accountants and city gurus.
It's hard to see in such a media dominated society, when a couple of teenagers winning a TV phone vote can be considered a 'crisis' yet the plight of our birds will not even make the lunchtime news bulletins on TV how it can change.
It would appear from this report that the recognition that for many of our migratory birds the pressures they face in less affluent parts of the world can be even greater, whether this is the large scale trapping of birds for food that is now happening due to climate induced drought or massive land reclamation projects removing wintering habitat.
A number of the changes are perhaps understandable and 'readjustments', species such as Tree Pipit benefiting from post war large scale foresty planting that created massive areas of temporarily suitable habitat or Herring Gull populations enlarged by abundant food supply via our Mclandfill destinations for them.
So where do we go from here? We need to keep trying to drive the message home to government via effective campaigns and political lobbying, targeted, specific cross organisational campaigns utilising modern technology such as email can play a part in sending strong messages to key decision makers. Participation in the volunteer programmes such as WeBS and BTO Atlas work underpin the production of reports like this. Building on media interest created by one off events such as the ECW can also play a part. Ten years from now it would be great to see Grey Partridge, Corn Bunting and House Sparrow all well into recovery, one thing is for sure, it's up to us.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

Back to Black

Having taken a pill after Friday's excitement this morning was a back to basics job. A wander up to East Chevington to check if yesterday's Black Redstart was still about delivered another county year tick. Lovely birds Black Red's although I found this one a little flighty compared to some I've seen, not sure if the belting westerly had anything to do with it. Watching it for a while it landed several times clinging to a vertical concrete surface in order presumably to catch an unseen (by my eyes) invert.

Black Redstart, East Chevington
A Short-eared Owl was well harassed by a small pod of mixed corvid till it dropped into the long grass on the south side of the road. Six Whooper Swan flying south were my first of the Autumn.
Further south four Twite were in with Linnets behind the dunes at Bells Farm and that was my morning, oh apart from the odd gull queue.
Common Gull, QEII CP

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Seize The Day

The unprecedented news coverage afforded the Eastern Crowned Warbler should be welcomed by birders and birding businesses, organisations and clubs up and down the country. Yes certain tabloids have displayed complete and utter ignorance and an amazing ability to get even the basics wrong and the local BBC radio station journalist sent from Radio Newcastle needs a lobotomy but.... it has thrust birding into the mainstream media in a way that has never been seen before. Media attention of this nature creates an opportunity, whether it be for the RSPB to enthuse children, local Bird Clubs to attract new members or wily business operators to piggy back on the news and the name to attract customers.
I've long believed that bird identification should be on the National Curriculum, it teaches observations skills, patience, regularly tests memory and recall as well as countless opportunities to 'engage with science'. How often have you heard or read older birders wondering where the next generation of birders or atlas workers etc is coming from? Surely it's capitalizing on events like this that could provide the spark that fuels a new wave of British birders, not that there aren't some already. So I'd say to all the movers and shakers in birding, get your thinking caps on, how do we use this for best effect, for birds, birding and birders new and old? How do we build on the momentum that has been started?

Friday, 23 October 2009

Candy Floss & Phylloscopus

Pre-dawn Friday minutes after the ECW was re-found.

I think like many North East birders I'm high on both today. After a dawn assault with Andy Mclevy and a few others to get to grips with what has to be one of the most sublimely beautiful phylloscopus I've been grafting away all day to try and do justice to a great bird and a great story, you can read the results here.
If your travelling up tomorrow, stand back, tick the bird and go buy some candy floss so you can sit on the beach and reflect on just how magnificent Eastern Crowned Warbler and South Shields Candy floss really is.

Edit: Nearly forgot the prize if there had been one for managing to get to the blog with an obscure search would have been 'yellow crested durham warbler' sounds like a yank.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Twice Barred

A rare full work day today with Birdguides, unfortunately I'm barred from mentioning any of it. However the good thing about working with other birders is that there are endless opportunities to get distracted. Why else would you hold a meeting on Holy Island in October?
I hadn't even fully crossed the causeway before a Short-eared Owl, one of at least three present on Holy Island today presented itself for a photo opportunity. So filling my boots whilst unwittingly blocking both sides of the road nearly saw me late for the start. I think I'd have been excused my lateness as this particular magnificent creature was as obliging as your going to get for three to four minutes. the light wasn't great which gave me a few headaches but one or two have turned out OK I think.

Short-eared Owl, Holy Island
News of a Pallas's Warbler at the Snook nearly stopped the meeting dead but everyone did the right thing and carried on. Some of us (John Cromie, Andy Hirst & I) satisfied ourselves with a lunchtime amble onto the Straight & Crooked Lonnens that produced distant views of Barred Warbler or at least that's what the one birder with a scope said it was as I neglected to take a scope and through bins it could have been a grey budgie next to the big garden.
We caught up with what looked like the Siberian Chiffchaff on the Straight Lonnen although it would have been nice to hear it call.
Two or three times during the course of the afternoon session all discussion was abandoned as a phyllosc worked it's way though the back garden shrubbery.
Common Buzzard and Jay at West Cawledge on the A1 kept me entertained on the way home.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Scarce In The Rain

Not sure what possessed me to head out into the dreadful weather today, perhaps it was the knowledge that I'll be unable to take advantage of any falls tomorrow as I'm working. Or maybe it was the knowledge that, putting the Glossy Ibis, to one side I have had a poor autumn, missing birds by a few minutes, others turning up at the wrong time, it has been a very frustrating time.

I headed out onto the football pitch at Newbiggin then through a couple of ditches and to the Ash Lagoon Banks. the rain was getting heavier and nothing was showing, four Redwing and a Blackbird came shooting out of the gloom and went to ground. I decided to move back to the Mound for a little shelter, halfway back along the muddy path I slipped and tumbled into the muddy reeds. Hurt pride, muddy clothes, I nearly gave up but then thought 'what the hell it can't get any worse.'

A few minutes later after literally stumbling across a small tit flock (four Blue, one Great, one Chaffinch, one Blackcap) I suddenly caught sight of a crest. With Goldcrest at a premium I knew straight away this had as much chance of being a Firecrest as it did Goldcrest. Sure enough after a couple of minutes it revealed itself as my second self found Newbiggin Firecrest this one a male. All the birds seemed to be sticking to the more sheltered north edge of the Mound today out of the SE wind. Poor light, lots of rain doesn't make for good pictures so these aren't the best of a mobile crest.

Firecrest, male, Newbiggin Mound
I pushed on after a while and as the rain had eased a little I headed back out around the golf course, a snipe (sp) flushed up silently but went high and far inland. Moments later a Woodcock lifted from rough grass. Fifty yards further, from another patch of rough, I flushed a bird I believe to have been a Richard's Pipit which called twice with its distinctive slightly metallic House Sparrow 'schreep' and moved up beyond Beacon Point onto the baffle banks. despite searching I was unable to relocate it. Apart from call and an impression of a large pipit I got nothing else, another one that won't get past the records committees.
Gutted I began to pick my way back along the weedy path between the golf course and the beach. Just south of Beacon Point I put up a bunting which dropped onto the bank side. A look over the top revealed a Lapland Bunting. Trying to get close enough for pictures I flushed it and it hopped back onto the path where I was able to get a couple of record shots in the steady rain.

Lapland Bunting, Newbiggin
So finally a little quality this autumn, there is sure to be more found in the next 24 hours particularly if the rain stops and the small stuff becomes a bit more active.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Wave Of Crests?

Up and down the land at the moment the talk is of the almost complete absence of Goldcrest this Autumn. Personally I have seen one migrant, anyone else improve on that? So is it weather conditions and are we about to get a 'wave of crests' in the next 48 hours as classic fall conditions hit the East Coast? Or is there another explanation, behavioural change? population decimation in Scandinavia? Anyone have any better theories or even answers?

Edit 21/10. I contacted Julian Bell over in SW Norway and asked him about Goldcrest numbers over there at the moment. Julian replied

"They've been scarce up to about 10 days ago. Although not large numbers they are now more or less eveywhere."


When we bought our house 12 or so years ago part of the attraction was that it was on the northern boundary of the village and it was unlikely that there would be further development in that direction. There is a public footpath runs from the end of our front garden for 25m to a stile that crosses fields to the next village 1m away.
The developers plans were for a small grassy area immediately north of our front garden that was designated as 'playspace'. After a couple of years some of the neighbours got a little parochial and decided that they didn't want the occasional teenager on a 50cc sewing machine bombing along behind the house, nor did they want the dog walkers or somewhere for the local kids to gather of a summer night and share a can of LCL Pils. As a result the 'playspace' was fenced and hedged and abandoned.
Between my lawn and the abandoned space is a 3m shelter belt mainly Cotoneaster, rose, bramble and a little self seeded Elderberry and Buddliea. I've kind of had my eye on this space for a year or two as it's developed into a nice rough little clearing surrounded by hedge on three sides and willows on the fourth. Not much reason for anyone to go there apart from the occasional teenage explorer. This year the hedges held Lesser Whitethroat which sang for a couple of weeks and possibly may have bred, Willow Warbler which almost certainly bred, Blackcap, Common chiffchaff, Garden Warbler. Our first ever pair of House Sparrow bred in a corner overhang overlooking the little clearing, they and their offspring are using the cotoneaster hedge to roost and call from regularly.
So with a little spare time at the beginning of this week I decided to start on my plan to try and create my own little feeding station.

The Breakthrough
So I took the hedge trimmer and cut a 3ft wide path through the hedge at the NW corner of my property and gazed upon the vista beyond from the point at which I intend to create a hide of sorts.

It won't happen overnight but I think it offers some good opportunities to bring in a few birds and try to photograph them in a reasonably natural setting.

Monday, 19 October 2009

Wildlife Crime

An extremely interesting and balanced article on Wildlife Crime on the Birdguides webzine today, read it here. Makes for depressing reading but demonstrates that Wildlife Crime comes in many forms and from many places.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Silent Sunday

The blog has been a little short of colour the last few days as time has passed me by and I havn't managed to process any of the images I've been taken. So here is a window on my world this week.

Common Chiffchaff, Holy Island


Tame Starling, Chare Ends, Holy Island

Did He See Us?

Purple Sandpiper, Stag Rocks

One From Bottom Tank

Woodhorn, One of My Favourite Places in Autumn

Robin, Newbiggin, a visitor judging by the greyish appearance.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

It's Birding Jim But Not As We Know It.

Anybody can be good in the country. There are no temptations there.
Oscar Wilde obviously hadn't visited Saltholme when he said this had he. A day out with the family and a long overdue visit to the RSPB's 'flagship' reserve in the North East was the order of the day. I've always found Teeside a strange place to go birding, there is something odd about birding with the set from Bladerunner or Terminator as the backdrop. The seemingly opposing forces of big industry and nature competing and coexisting in the same space. However it gets good birds and with the weight and experience of the RSPB at Saltholme the habitat should just get better and better as they get to grips with it.
As a destination for the family it was good, the outdoor play park kept the kids amused for a while as did the range of squeaking toys in the shop. Squeezing five around a small table in the first floor cafe was a little like one of the games on the Krypton Factor but we managed. The kids duly obliged showing off their birding credentials pointing at anything that flew past the huge window. Mrs T checked in for a sprinkling of retail therapy with the shop smellies and Joel suddenly got interested in trees at a cost of 7.99.
I glanced at the large white headed gulls bathing in the early afternoon sun as I poured a second cup of tea and picked at the extensive salad that came with my spicy beanburger. A few fired off shots of Black-tailed Godwit on the imaginatively named 'Bottom Tank' but truth be told I felt a little uncomfortable, something just didn't feel right and I couldn't quite put my finger on it at first. The staff were friendly and the facilities first rate but it was too sanitized, it felt like I could have been in an aquarium or a modern museum, it didn't feel like birding.
There was no hardship, I wasn't hungry, had it been raining I could have stayed dry, I couldn't feel the wind in my face (now I've turned into Denis Hopper) I somehow felt too connected to everything that I, I think we, as birders try to escape, retail, sales pitches, mall food, commercialisation etc.
Oh it's tempting, dining well to look up for the rare wader from the balcony cafe, not getting one's arse nettled when nature calls, all so easy but it didn't satisfy me in the way I get satisfaction from say pitching up on a layby and checking out a flooded field on a windy day or eating a pasty on a rain soaked headland in a northerly.
I understand that the RSPB needs places like this where the two worlds of birders/non birders collide in order to raise money and connect with the great British public.Maybe it's the first sign that I'm getting old but I found the sight of two unshaven scruffy birders with mud on their boots wearing four layers under the battered green weathered waterproof sat, scopes across the table, drinking latte, a little too incongruous, in fact just plain wrong.

Friday, 16 October 2009

Conservation Conversation

Spent the morning discussing community engagement, social networking media, conservation projects, breeding Oystercatcher,new wetlands and the Hancock Musuem with Steve Lowe Head of Conservation at Northumberland Wildlife Trust. They have some interesting plans and are certainly not standing still. In common with many other conservation organisations they are just beginning to get to grips with how the net can help them and seem to have a positive approach toward it.
I drove through to Gosforth via Prestwick Carr on the off chance of a Short-eared Owl, a beautiful autumn morning but sadly no Asio activity, a hedge hopping Jay at Saltwick the only bird of note.
Dropped in at a possible distributor for the Bird North East Calendar on the way home and whilst it appears to be too late for 2010 I got some useful information for future years and picked up a couple of books that might help with another small project I'm thinking about.
Now putting the finishing touches to an article about the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme which will be completed early next week.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Blue Tale

Setting off pre-dawn for Holy Island on a morning much more reminiscent of December than October I had high hopes. Sure there wasn't much in the way of easterlies but a 1st-winter red-breasted Flycatcher yesterday was proof, if any were needed that good birds don't always need good conditions.

With light just breaking at 7.15 I had bagged the free parking space by the footpath before the car park and I was beginning an hour long neck straining session in the sycamores and assorted garden shrubbery between the car park and hotel. One or two of the gardens need a little work to improve the viewing conditions for the visiting birder.

An hour later and four-five Brambling along with small groups of over flying thrushes another birder appeared and provided my only tick of the day in the form of Durham birder Ross Ahmed. Staying over in Berwick whilst engaged on some survey work he had taken the morning off for a little birding.

Separately and together over the next couple of hours we covered the Snook and the Straight Lonnen, behind the school and the Vicar's Garden. Yesterday's supporting cast of Common Chiffchaff, Blackcap and the odd Goldcrest were joined by a few tens of grounded thrushes. Mainly Blackbirds with a sprinkling of Fieldfare, Redwing and Song Thrush amongst them.

Ross casually dropped the bombshell that a Red-flanked Bluetail had been trapped minutes earlier at Whitburn and was to be released imminently, "Surely there should be something here" I thought. Turns out there was, a Barred Warbler on the Straight Lonnen by 1.00pm, fresh in late morning or missed? The Whitburn vacuum also managed to suck in a Red-breasted Flycatcher and news of a Tawny Blyth's Pipit on North Gare later managed to complete a cracking Durham hat trick.
A drake Scaup on the sea at Stag Rocks along with four Purple Sandpiper nearby was scant consolation.

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Whose Bridge?

An initial glance through the very full Autumn 2009 Lek from Durham Bird Club today and I was enjoying Mark Newsome's article detailing the 'History of Breeding Kittiwakes in Durham' which provides a good insight into how the species has spread in recent times as well as the peaks and troughs of breeding numbers. My attention was caught however by the inclusion of a section on the 'Tyne Bridge Gateshead-Newcastle' in which Mark refers to the 'south side of the bridge' and produces some figures for breeding pairs.
Obviously this is either a blatant attempt by Newsome et al to make some claim over an extra 17% of the bridge or simply an error. Whilst the bridge does indeed span the Tyne and join the two notional birding areas of 'Durham' and 'Northumberland' the bridge itself has never been split in equal proportions. Historically the bridge across the Tyne has only ever been one third funded by those on the south side, even as far back as 1772 when the previous bridge was built the Bishop of Durham contributed a maximum of one third of the building costs. In addition at that time an act was passed that stated "to enable the Lord Bishop of Durham, and his successors, to raise a competent sum of money, to be applied for the repairing, improving, or rebuilding such part of Tyne Bridge as belongs to the see of Durham."

I'm sure now that it has been pointed out Mark will be publishing a full retraction and apology removing any claim to more than one third of the bridge and it's breeding Kittiwakes.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009


Interesting numbers appearing on Twitter from Bedfordshire this morning, 21000+ in two hours. They certainly seem to have slipped over the East Coast unnoticed.

Saturday, 10 October 2009

Radde Typical

I could witter on for a while on a variety of subjects to cover up the total lack of birds at Newbiggin today. A male Blackcap was the highlight of my passerines despite the presence from early of messrs Mcelwee and Steele their usually all conquering rarity attracting pheromones pulled in nothing more than a Ring Ouzel.
The sea wasn't much better with a couple of Great Skua & Arctic Skua, small numbers of Red-throated Diver and single Scaup and Velvet Scoter.
Iain deserves his catch so I'll shut up and have an early night.

Obviously what I should have done was used this which would have confirmed I had no chance of finding anything rarer than a Brambling anywhere in the UK today.

Friday, 9 October 2009

It Might Just Be A Bit Good Tomorrow

Belt of rain over the north east coast tonight with a strengthening south east wind. Bit of a funny seawatch tonight with Stef Mcelwee, didn't know what to expect, a few Great Skua (five) moving north and one or two Manx Shearwater (sports GTI) moving extremely rapidly with the tailwind, two Arctic Skua with three Redwing in off being the only other noteworthy avian encounter. We spent most of our time bemoaning the move away from landfill and speculating on the possibility of the RSPB introducing landfill reserves to feed starving gull flocks. So if your reading Mark, we think conserving key feeding habitat for large white headed gulls should be high on your conservation priority.

Sea Eagles - Another View

On Thursday night I drove down to Kingston Park for the AGM of Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club. A new and more convenient location for their indoor meetings. As well as the AGM they had a superb presentation from Terry Pickford about the eight years he spent studying and photographing White-tailed Sea Eagle in Poland between 2002-2009.

As you might imagine there were some superb images and he also has many hours of video footage which sadly we didn't get to see.

He made some interesting comments about the Natural England/RSPB Re-introduction Plans. His belief that the English re-introduction would be better off focused on Northern England albeit in Cumbria rather than Northumberland due to better availability of breeding and feeding habitat would seem logical. As long time readers will be aware I have stated in the past that I think a Northern project would make far more sense as it would be more likely to achieve a joined up population with existing reintroductions in Scotland ensuring good genetic interchange.

Maybe if one of the water companies up here could match the funding apparently available from East Anglia then the blinkers about the project location might come off in the halls of power.

Just A Scratch?

There was some debate at the NTBC meeting about whether the red noted on the Ibis's bill in some pictures was blood or not. I think these two crops settle it. the first taken 08 October the second a couple of days earlier in my view clearly showing a small amount of blood. The second image is copyright Ray Wilby.

Even Glossier (Free Gift Inside)

Being charitable I want everyone to see a bird as good and rare in the county as Glossy Ibis, although there is part of me that is beginning to think "enough." There have been some fantastic images around the various websites and blogs as a result of it standing ten feet in front of the Druridge Hide some fantastic fieldcraft skills from the local photographers. I went along looking for the Buff-breasted Sandpiper and bumped into Ian Fisher who was a relative latecomer to the Glossy Ibis that first Saturday, I helped him out by pointing out the Ibis to him so he was in no doubt. I owe him a small apology as it happens, he said he was gutted happened to mention that he was missing from my Homo Sapiens List. Truth is I have been neglecting this list of late as I've just seen too many birders and it all feels a little Inspector Morse writing down every one's name If I haven't met them before. So if you really want your five minutes of fame your name on the list, don't be shy like Ian and just give me a gentle verbal nudge.
So after what must have been several seconds of painstaking silent approach, using all the available cover combined with years of field experience I finally got my shot. I feel better now.

Glossy Ibis, 1st-winter, Druridge Pool.

Oh, I lied about the free gift, it would have been something useless anyway aren't they always?

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Empty Boots Birding

On any other day in the year, sitting at my desk with a few shots of Med Gull & Greenshank, having seen a Glossy Ibis and managed a couple of hours birding I would be feeling pleased that the day had gone well. Not today.
I spent the morning at Newbiggin trying to capture flight shots of 1st winter Med Gulls as they moved from shore to car park to get feisty over the odd crust tossed by some of the older visitors. A sunny day but the light plagued me a little, white balance, shadows, not easy and with two kids running around demanding constant attention I was never likely to sort it all out and grasp the opportunities.

Med Gull, 1st-winter, Newbiggin

Med Gull, 1st winter Newbiggin

Med Gull, 1st-winter, Newbiggin

Getting home and over lunch picking up news of a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Cresswell and a possible Olive-backed Pipit at Beacon Point, I was grateful it was Wednesday and my parents have the kids from about two forty five for an hour or two. Duly dropped off, I dashed to Cresswell thinking that the Olive-backed Pipit might well turn into a Tree Pipit and after all it was only a 'possible'.
Arriving at the north car park the stocky frame of Tom Tams, local Moth recorder and a birder that tries his hand at photography now and again met me with the news that the BBS had fled the coop and hadn't returned. North. So not wanting to waste any time I span the bottle and thought I'd give Druridge a go.
Diddly squat from the Budge hide and no BBS from the Oddie Hide, I had to content myself with a Glossy Ibis and a couple of Greenshank. Even the GI was keeping its distance and only one of the Greenshank offered any opportunities to crank up the Canon. Feeding on small fish in front of the hide



Not quite gone...

A walk up to Bells Pond was even less productive. If I say Goldfinch was the highlight you get the picture. Also turns out that a Honey Buzzard slipped through about 45 minutes before I arrived at Cresswell and Alan Jack had the OP which means it was probably more than possible.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Request for Numenius Morphometrics

This request for information went out on the West Pal Birds Yahoo Group today:

Dear Friends,
As you may already know, the last push in the search of the critically endangered Sllender-billed Curlew begin this autumn. In collaboration with SBC Working group www.slenderbilledcu , I am drafting a proposal in order to search the bird markets all around North Africa and Middle East.There will be practical guidelines, with morphometrics of the 3 Curlews, in order to be able to measure and ID the possible Curlews for sale in the markets.I would like to ask your help regarding the morphometrics of each of the 3 species (bill lenght, bill + skull, tarsus, wing lenght, wing formula, etc, etc.) If there is anyone of you in possesion of such kind of informations, please send it to my address, or to Nicola Crockford nicola.crockford@ uk.Another important issue would be to translate this proposal into arabic. Is anyone willing to do this? It will be no more than one page.Thanks for your cooperation,Steve

Red Letter Day

Apologies about all the self promotion but following on from the Iccy article which I should say benefited from some experienced editing over at Birdguides I've also had a picture published on one of my favourite blogs 10000birds. If you don't already have this site bookmarked you should as between the three authors (Mike, Corey & Charlie) and their occasional guests they offer what would unquestionably be a dead cert for the bird blogging oscars if there were such a thing.

Breeding Icterine Warbler

After an excellent Spring for this species, news filtered out of more than one breeding record this year. Read an article just published on the Birdguides Bafta winning webzine written by yours truly for the full story here.

Monday, 5 October 2009

Another One Bites The Surf

I noticed the Fea's Petrel reported sneaking past the seawatching hide at Spurn at 11.35am today on Birdguides. I tried to do some mental calculations but I think one of the kids had filled a nappy and distracted me. I logged on (no pun intended) tonight and selfishly breathed a sigh of relief as no further sightings had appeared.
Moments ago this appeared in my email

Latest sightings from BirdGuides, 5 Oct at 21:0705/10 21:07 NORTHUMBERLAND : Fea's Petrel, Farne Islands [AN]one flew north past the south end of the islands this evening (17:55)

As the children are asleep and I'm at my new desk in the bedroom a pillow was at hand to gently weep into.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Pale Gold

Many of us seek the rare, whether we never leave the patch or never visit the same place twice a year we want to find uncommon, scarce and rare birds. The knowledge that anything can turn up anywhere is partly that which fuels us and gets us out and continually motivated. Rare birds come in many forms, take this morning, I stopped to scan through a small gull flock in one of the coastal fields near Gloucester Lodge Farm. Fond memories of finding and watching my first swallow nest in the mid seventies in the open fronted barn there but I digress. A little further along from the gulls and closer to the roadside was a mixed flock of Northern Lapwing & Golden Plover so as i was leaving I pulled the car over to see if I could take a couple of snaps. Picking my way through them I suddenly noticed an odd pale bird. Swing the camera over and think 'Oh a Grey Plover' and start snapping. Check the first few shots for light on the viewer and zoom in a little and now I'm coming over all sweaty, the bill on this bird is not much different to the Goldies all about and it doesn't seem to have that big goggly eyed look that Greys have. Now at this stage I know I have three other options, Pacific Golden Plover, American Golden Plover or maybe something even rarer.
I have little experience with Pacific & American, one Pacific maybe 19 years ago and never had a Yank and I'm trying to remember the ID criteria, now which one is greyer, which one is longer winged and exactly how many primary tips project how far in which species?

Oh did I mention I've no phone with me so the cavalry aren't arriving anytime soon. I'm so engrossed in this bird for the next 15-20 minutes that I when I eventually look up and see another car ten yards away from me with a BIG lens poking out the window my first thought is 'Where the F.... did he come from?'
So I gently rolled the car forward and leant out a little to try and attract attention. Got him on the bird but all I got was a bit of a blank look, not what I needed. By this time I'd counted the primary tips showing, although the bird looked like it was moulting some tertials but you could write what I know about Pluvialis moult timings and their significance on the back of a postage stamp.

I just couldn't reconcile the features. Lots of primary showing but on a short winged bird, the tips perhaps just reaching the tail and very white about the head and nape. Then I took the shot below and I'm thinking hang on surely this isn't Grey as there's no white rump so maybe...

Anyway cut a long story short by the time I got home and got the snaps on a bigger screen I was more confused than ever. Was I being fooled by a juvenile Grey. It certainly didn't look like either Grey or any American Golden Plover snaps on Birdguides and I had ruled out Pacific after consulting some text. The only other possibility would be some form of leucism, an aberrant European Golden Plover. After a few calls I finally managed to find someone close enough to a computer to help and banged the snaps on email with some thoughts. Sure enough despite me interrupting his Sunday lunch Stef Mcelwee duly replied and confirmed I wasn't taking leave of my senses and it wasn't a Grey but a 'pale' Euro Golden Plover in his opinion.
First time I've ever seen one of these, cracking bird, really got me going for a while, lovely frosted appearance on upperparts and probably a one off rarer than either Pacific or American just not tick ably rare.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Gis A Job

I don't think I've made any secret of it amongst friends. I may have even mentioned it on here I don't remember. After 25 years working for both others and myself I sold my business in the summer and I decided that I would use what little we had scrimped and saved to create what I like to refer to as a 'window of opportunity'. Can I find a way to make a living from Birds, Birding and all or anything that goes with it? So the big plan, the blogs it's all a way of trying to get noticed, to make contacts, to seek out new worlds, to boldly go, ahem, sorry off topic.
So am I making progress I hear you all ask? Well a little. Let me give you a flavour of what I get up to sometimes into the wee hours. This week for example after picking up on a news of breeding Icterine Warblers in Scotland I followed it up and pulled it together as a webzine article hopefully for publication on Birdguides. I've also been busy having discussions with the Slender-billed Curlew Working Group about Social Networking Media and other projects, as a result I'm in the middle of creating a Facebook page for them which will hopefully go live soon.
I had a little note about blogging, ostensibly encouraging non blogging birders to blog, published in the NTBC monthly bulletin. Of course I've done my duty and submitted September's records and a few images to NTBC as well. I'm on the trail of another organisation who need a little help modernising. I also started some investigations about a business service idea that whilst available in the US is not available here, making contact with the US provider and getting some useful information about their business in the process. Oh and then there's you lot, one Google Map, several sightings updates, a calendar image competition and the last known location of an albatross ringer in Oz. Quiet week really.
In amongst all of this I managed nine Med Gull (five adult, 3 2nd Cal, one 1st Cal) today in stubble just west of Woodhorn Flash North Pool and a fleeting, tantalising glimpse of another gull that I need to re-find tomorrow. A Peregrine in the big (crane) stubble field NW of QE2 pushed 35 Skylark south east just by sitting there.

Lead Poison

'Mad' Marchington over at Sporting Shooter is back on the RSPB's case again this time over its legitimate and socially responsible move to use non lead ammunition on it's reserves when controlling predators. I find more often than not if you read what people write or listen to what they say carefully their underlying motives become clear.
James states he is "still unconvinced by the science behind it all, but in the end I don't think it will make the slightest difference." He doesn't actually state which bit of the science he is unconvinced by but just to help everyone get to grips with this let's highlight a couple of bits of the unconvincing science.

1. Lead poisoning is one of the oldest known work and environmental hazards. (source)
2. The modern understanding of the full extent of the hazards and the small amount of lead necessary to produce them is relatively recent; blood lead levels once considered safe are now considered hazardous. (source)
3.No level of lead in the body below which no harm occurs has been discovered. (source)

What our (unbiased of course) sporting editor does say though is that "I've used non-toxic shotgun ammo, and found it either inferior or considerably more expensive or both - but it still works."

Now you just have to wonder if the words 'inferior' and 'expensive' aren't those hidden motive thingys I referred to earlier. God forbid that anyone should attempt to reduce the quality of ammunition (and here I'll admit my ignorance, does this reduced quality make what your shooting at less dead?)or increase the price simply to avoid the by-product of pointless and unnecessary death and suffering of non game birds. Next thing you know they'll (the Antis, I think it's an affectionate term) be complaining about littering with all those non-biodegradable plastic cartridge casings that get left all over the if.

Friday, 2 October 2009

The Needles In The Haystack

Interesting reports of at least a couple of Red-breasted Goose amongst Barnacle Goose flocks in Finland over the last couple of days. Would be nice wouldn't it?

Edit: Scratch any hope, the BBC are forecasting monster westerlies tomorrow gusting up to 70mph.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

Through The Clean Window..

After a short fairly unproductive trip to a migrant less Woodhorn Church this morning (10 Long-tailed Tit, c20 Pink-footed Goose & Grey Heron if you must know) I was drafted in to the big clean up ahead of the weekends birthday teas for the kids.
When we had our conservatory put in, with one eye on my future retirement, I had glass panels in the roof rather than upvc. I wanted to look through and gaze at hirundines in the evening and gulls in the morning etc. Worked well for the first few months till they started getting dirty. Our window cleaner wouldn't touch them "far too dangerous mate" so I ended up with the job of cleaning them and I've settled into a sort of bi-annual routine which means that visibility is about as good as a foggy day in October just before they are due.
Today being a good clear warm day, I decided that as I was about to stand on the top of ladder for several hours I may as well try some vis mig. As it turned out nothing seemed to be moving but I did have in no particular order:

Common Buzzard 1 east
Sparrowhawk 1 east
Kestrel 1 static
Swallow 2 north, although probably only a short way.
Lesser Black-backed Gull 1 adult west
Mouse (sp) investigating the kids wooden playhouse.