Sunday, 31 January 2010

Douglas Island

Working from home and alone most of the time I miss out on the 'What did you do this weekend?' conversations that echo around workplaces up and down the country on a Monday morning. It's a shame as its not often you get to reply 'Oh, you know the usual, stuff with the kids, housework, oh and nearly forgot I helped build an island.'
The chance meeting last week with ex-NWT legend Ian Douglas resulted in an invitation to join a celebrity island building team on Saturday morning at Druridge Pool. The last island had lasted the best part of 25 years but has now seen better days, half of it ripped from it's moorings and washed up on the south shore.
So after 6cm of overnight snow I slid to a halt on the Druridge road a little before Alex Lister of NWT arrived to cast an eye over the plans and ages before the 'celebs' turned up.

Alex Lister (left) and Ian Douglas discuss Island Plans
Once again dressed for the catwalk rather than the boardwalk 'lucky' Andy slid in around 09:30 having jammed a ringtail Hen Harrier over the Drift Inn at Cresswell. Work began apace as we moved the island 'kit' to the south bay ready for construction. The main body of the island was created using polystryene boards generously donated by local company Smith & Blakey.

Island Taking Shape

Inclined Edges for Easier Duck Access
Celeb number two in the form of 'Bono' Fisher soon joined us after an interesting journey in the snow and straight to work, you just can't knock that Irish work ethic can you.

'Bono' Fisher - Even Better Than the Real Thing

After a little delay over the anchors, involving some blocked up breeze blocks and a slippy baffle bank the team cracked on. The red carpet laid out for the celebs came in handy as a wick and the first sods were laid

With the 'seaward' side sodded up it was time to launch and check the floatability before we got too heavy so on came the waders, the only ones we saw all morning, a little heave ho and she floats.

The Celebs Working Up How to Recover the Champagne Post-Launch
With a very brisk Northwesterly we decided not to risk a full launch into position as we would have had to paddle against the wind. So the island will have to wait a few days for better weather conditions before being sited.
Islands should have names, so I'd quite like to see the planner, coordinator and designer honoured in future bulletins and bird reports, so when you report the next Glossy Ibis/Roseate Tern/Buff-breasted Sandpiper et al from the island make sure you get the name right 'Douglas Island' has a certain ring to it.

Friday, 29 January 2010

Morning Mince Trip

With snow showers forecast at the coast and petrol prices going through the roof I didn't stray too far this morning. We needed some mince for tonight's Spag Bol so I combined that with a trip to Wallington Hall as there is a Farm Shop in the car park. As has been the case all month since the cold spell, some passerines are hard to come by I couldn't find any Treecreeper or Wren at all nor did I have a single Dunnock up there today. The small feeding station had food but apart from single visits by Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker and the odd Brambling it wasn't too exciting. Sadly at this time of year even when the sun does shine it is so low in the sky that it struggles to penetrate the surrounding woodland, not so good for the camera. A group of Siskin as I walked back to the East Garden brought the year list to 100. A Common Buzzard soaring to the south attracted a huge corvid following many of whom were not thrilled at sharing their airspace.

Coal Tit, Wallington Hall
Some tree fungi added a little interest, I think the main pale brown one here is Velvet Shank Flammulina velutipes and the other might be Jelly Ear Auricularia auricula but feel free to offer alternatives if you think differently as my fungus knowledge needs a little work.

Just as I crossed the road I caught sight of a single Red Squirrel that dropped from the moss covered wall and scampered off ahead of me. A quiet return later produced better views and better light. Charismatic as ever, I think it's the 'Vulcan' ears that get me every time.

Red Squirrel, Wallington Hall

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Eagle or Owl - What's the Difference?

So can you tell the difference between a White-tailed Sea Eagle and an Eagle Owl? The answer at the moment for me has a £sign in front of it. Let me explain.
On the one hand we have the White-tailed Sea Eagle, prospective candidate for an English re-introduction, championed by Natural England and the RSPB. Some evidence albeit a little rough around the edges that they used to breed in the proposed re-introduction areas when Norfolk was a big flat mist filled bog populated by the occasional wild pig. As we know it hasn't changed much so the 'Beg Bits' will feel right at home. Maybe they will, maybe they won't, I've already nailed my colours to a mast as I think that unfortunately the human influence will be too great. It would be far more likely to be successful in Northumberland or Cumbria, assuming they keep off the grouse moors of course.
So whilst I support a re-introduction, I'm inclined to feel other issues such as publicity and grants and tourism are clouding the judgement of the organisations involved a little and if they get it wrong they could end up feeling as isolated as a pig in a big flat mist filled bog.
On t'other hand we have the Eagle Owl, the Steve Mcqueen of the falconry world, alternatively,surreptitiously re-introduced by fed up falconers or game estates hoping they'll see off the Hen Harrier and all the other nasty raptors before making a New Year's resolution to eat only Rabbit thereafter (the latter of course is just a silly conspiracy theory which has about as much truth about it as anti-shooting activists poisoning birds of prey near game estates to discredit them).
Eagle Owls used to breed in the UK, fossil evidence proves it as recently as 9000 years ago. Now they could have lasted a lot longer and we just haven't found the fossils yet and it is possible that one or two are even, hush, genuine migrants. Owls have been known to get here on the odd occasion either under their own steam or as passengers under someone else's.
You would perhaps think that this unofficial re-introduction whilst not entirely ethical is a low priority then as there aren't that many and they have been here before.
So do we really need a Fera Risk Assessment into the impact? Concerns are being raised not only about the Risk Assessment but also about the way the communication has been handled and the way some of the wording is framed.
The current declared conclusion of the risk assessment is as follows:

The Risk Assessment area already has an established (though small)
population of Eurasian Eagle Owls, first noted breeding in 1984. The growth
of this population has been slow, but with a long-lived species like this the
establishment phase may be slow initially but then speed up. The potential
impact of an increased population on native raptor and owl species, plus a
number of other important species, is thought to be significant.
Containment/control is an option and is likely to be most effective if carried
out during the early part of the establishment phase. However, there is an
element of public support for the species and its status as a native/non-native
has yet to be completely resolved despite the BOU classifying this species as
non-native (Dudley et al. 2006).

It can be found here. Comments can be sent to the closing date is 06 Feb 2010.

As I said at the start I'm struggling to see the difference here except that Eagle Owls, being nocturnal aren't too tourist friendly and the reintroduction however it occurred doesn't appear to have benefited any particular group, organisation or company. I really can't see any difference between a Sea Eagle that might take a Bittern or a Common Crane and an Eagle Owl that might take a Tawny Owl or Goshawk, other than the lack of £signs,can you?
Having said all of that it would only take the BOU to take a look at it's classification and the problem would be resolved, anyone know Steve Dudley?

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Ground Up Grass Roots Conservation

I've blogged about it before but when a good idea gets floated I want to shout and shout about it until you get it. Now 10000birds might be upmarket compared to most of the UK blogs and it might be two thirds American and that might cause some of you here in the UK to think that it isnt relevant.
Wrong. The 10000birds Conservation Club was the best conservation idea of the whole of 2009 and so far this year whilst I'm pleased to see a campaign to save the humble bumblebee on Facebook I still think that this Conservation Club idea as ground up, grass roots conservation can have a direct and significant impact on critically endanged species such as the Sharpe's Longclaw.
Joining is a pittance and you get the chance, many times over to recover your money with free to enter competitions, so now you've paid your Christmas credit card bills dip into the vast reserves that most of you have and join.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Luck Rubs Off

Moments after seeing 'lucky' Andy steaming toward Whorral Bank on his bike whilst on the school run, a year tick Little Grebe popped up out of the Wansbeck, maybe there is something in that nickname after all.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Just Pictures

I take lots of pictures and if I posted them all here it would get a little repetitive but I wanted a place where I could post them so they are accessible so Alan Tilmouth Wildlife & Nature Photography does just that. It is still a work in progress but as there are 21 bird species, several butterflies and a mammal I thought it worth sharing.
Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou needs not start awa sae hasty
Wi' bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering pattle!
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union
An' justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor earth-born companion
An' fellow mortal!
-Robert Burns 1785
Every age has those that care.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Winter of Discontent

Our wretched species is so made that those who walk on the well-trodden path always throw stones at those who are showing a new road." - Voltaire

Despite the drizzle I managed a couple of hours this morning, several year ticks with Red-throated Diver, Guillemot, Common Scoter & Shag added to the self-found list. Seeking shelter I nipped up to the Budge screen where a pristine male Pintail and a single Black-tailed Godwit were snatched from self found by the enthusiasm of Ian Douglas telling me what he'd found. Can't blame Ian, he was being sociable and helpful but an appeal if you see me don't tell me what you've seen unless a) I'm about to leave and miss it or b) it's too good to keep your gob shut.
An unusually dapper looking ADMc was kerb crawling at Bell's Farm picking up passerines, next time I'll get a picture of his Ralph Lauren Windcheater, maybe I'm missing something, are Surfbirds running a 'Best Dressed Birder List'?

Finally a get well message for the Boulmer Birder who has been having a hard time lately, I just wanted to let him know that he is a drama queen and a big girl's blouse I hope he recovers real soon and we all know how difficult it is getting back to full health once your well into middle age.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Turnstones Eat People Too

For those without the excellent product that is BBi (which I thoroughly recommend to all those that can switch on a computer and like to spend their time researching ornithlogical minutae) I thought I'd re-publish this extract prompted by the Turnstone/Human corpse mention that brought one or two verbal comments whilst talking to people over the last 24 hours.

Turnstones feeding on human corpse.—On 2nd February 1966, whilst walking along a beach in south-west Anglesey, I saw five Turn­stones Arenaria interpret and a Carrion Crow Corpus corone feeding on what I at first took to be a pig washed up by the tide and partly covered by wind-blown sand. When I reached the object, however, I dis­covered that it was a human corpse which had been in the water for some considerable length of time. The birds had been feeding on the facial muscles and the neck. I should perhaps add that I actually saw the Turnstones tearing off small shreds of flesh after the Carrion Crow had removed some bigger pieces; there was therefore no doubt that they were feeding on the corpse itself and not on sandhoppers or other invertebrates attracted to this food source. A. J. MERCER
[In recent years we have published records of Turnstones feeding on animal remains, ranging from the carcases of birds and a Wolf Cams lupus in arctic Canada (Brit. Birds, 5 5: 241-243) to those of a sheep and a probable cat in Britain (Brit. Birds, 58: 438; 59: 39). The above rather gruesome account seems to be the ultimate in necrophagous behaviour, however, and we think that it is now sufficiently established that Turnstones will probably turn to any animal carrion when the opportunity occurs.—EDS.]

Friday, 22 January 2010

Finishing work at the very reasonable hour of 3.30pm in late January, as the afternoons are perceptibly becoming a little longer, offers the prospect of one hour of light with which to play.
A brief visit to nearby Linton Pond then, added Common Shelduck to this year's list and some better views with the scope of the 1st-winter/female Smew which despite fewer wildfowl generally tonight is still around albeit a little elusive at times. Many birds are yet to return after the hard weather with a complete absence of Moorhen noticeable and only a handful of Coot.
A single dapper drake Shoveler deserved some company.

Rare Red Herring

With the weather at least looking dry I decided on an early start and something rare to start the day. With that in mind a quick two hours door to door and as the gloomy greyness that passed for a dawn today clung on for all it was worth I stepped out of the car in the tiny North Yorkshire village.
This unassuming backwater had been the scene of an alleged frenzied attack on an innocent garden at the weekend by one of the Daleks (short, fat and big lens). Just ignore that last sentence if you haven't been following the latest birder/photographer in bad behaviour episode.

Today all was calm and well behaved, Lancs photographer Gary Jenkins had the prime position and the Black-throated Thrush behaved impeccably for an hour acting like it owned the place and 'doing grievous' to a couple of local Blackbirds. The light was dreadful in fact I was at 1/50-1/80 shutter speed range to even get a recognisable record shot.

Black-throated Thrush, female,
Newholm, North Yorkshire
A Willow Tit put in a brief appearance in a nearby garden for a year tick but unfortunately the aforementioned eagle eyed GJ called it first and cheated me out of a self found year tick.
I came back via Sleddale on the North York Moors and whilst I had a few confiding Red Grouse I failed to see any raptors more exciting than a Kestrel. Two Green Woodpecker on a wall adjacent to a large area of heather moor appeared slightly out of place.

Red Grouse, male
Sleddale, North Yorkshire

Halfway back an email came through from Birdguides that the Water Pipit was 'showing well' at St Mary's Island, with an hour spare I changed route back through the Tyne Tunnel and nipped down to see if I could get a picture, you guessed it, not a sniff.
However whilst wandering around the large rafts of washed up seaweed I did come across several Turnstone feeding on what I think are the Ray's Bream that Tim Sexton has mentioned on his blog. I have read in the murky past of Turnstone feeding on human corpses and they certainly appeared to be relishing the fish, repeatedly coming back to tuck in even though I was crouched only 5metres away. It made for an interesting end to the day.

Turnstone feeding on Ray's Bream

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Hybrid Resource

We've all come across them, hybrids showing characteristics of two distinct species. Ducks & Geese seem to hybridise at will but there are many other species out there that can and do hybridise and are just hanging around to catch us out.
For those with an interest or researching a particular hybrid pairing there is an excellent resource available that has just been updated in Serge Dumont's website Bird Hybrids. It has records relating to 3143 unique bird hybrids and the references to the papers and literature thereof.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

A Collective Sigh Of Relief

Almost audible as it burst forth vetting the frustration of hundreds of birders up and down the land who in a combination of WeBS counts and patch birding and minor twitching finally got themselves out and birding this morning everywhere.
The result a busy day at work for me, nothing devastating found, although a belated report of another Black-throated Thrush from Somerset on 8th was interesting. A couple of Bonaparte's Gull and two well-watched Gyrfalcon the pick of the national scene. Locally find of the day goes to SS with his Shorelark pair up at Longhoughton Steel, depending on the weather they could prompt a trip to the beach for the kids tomorrow, apparently there are lots of Cows which will keep them amused for a while. Two Bewick's Swan a mile north of my parents house will be the alternative in poorer weather.
After a couple of Bird Aid grain collections later in the day J and I sneaked off to Linton where in dieing light we added the redhead Smew to this year's list, although sadly not self-found. Two Woodcock low over our heads in the gloom as we plodged back out along sodden paths were a bonus.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Review:Birds of Britain & Ireland App for Iphone

Many years ago birders used to carry Field Guides, in the field hence the name. These days few do, although most have a Collins perhaps tucked away in the car in case of an emergency.

Reliance on memory and familiarity is fine but if you're starting out or have only been birding for a couple of years and yet to achieve the dizzy heights of being able to nail a Blyth's Reed Warbler at fifty paces with one eye closed finding a new bird can often be frustrating. Cases of misidentifcation and ones that got away are all too common in the early days for most birders (or at least the ones without an ego too big to admit to getting anything wrong).

So what if you carry a Field Guide on your phone, sounds good? What if you could throw in a huge quantity of superb portrait images for many of the species, sounding better? Add to that some distribution maps and the songs and calls for 271 British & Irish species and the definitive text accounts from the Concise edition of Birds of the Western Palearctic and it starts sounding just a little bit better than good doesn't it?

That's what the team at Birdguides have delivered with their latest Iphone Application the Birds of Britain & Ireland available from the Iphone App Store now for £14.99. No, that's not a misprint before you reach for the comment button, £15 quid gets you more information at the swipe of a screen than you could possibly carry around in your rucksack.

Browsable in A-Z listing or by family group, searchable by first three letters of species name, access to the species accounts is fast and easy. Double click on a plate or picture and you can increase the size and zoom in on that bill or tail pattern with ease. Moving between plates and texts is simply a matter of a few side swipes with the finger.
Now if I'm honest I was never a huge fan of the plates in BWP but just as on the Birdguides flagship product BWPi the ability to zoom enhances their use and improves the usability. As you would expect the image quality on the portraits is often outstanding (although as a laridophile the lack of any Caspian Gull images is disappointing, although I'm sure this will be rectified at some point).

Of course many long in the tooth birders will be waiting for the next 150 species, the rare and increasingly scarce, which is sure to follow before too long, but if you are amongst them don't dismiss this product as unnecessary. With the Iphone in your pocket and armed with Concise BWP all those tricky post-birding pub discussions about the difference between Taiga and Tundra or the Western Palearctic distribution of Red-breasted Flycatcher can be sorted in an instant.
If you haven't got an Iphone this might just be the start of a long line of apps that makes it the phone of choice for Birders and finally consigns the pager to the annals of history. If you have got one get this app, you won't be disappointed, the value for money delivered here is extraordinary.
All the reviews on the app store so far (five) have delivered five stars, they're not wrong.

Friday, 15 January 2010

More Rambling About Garden Brambling

With much time being taken up by Bird Aid in the last few days time to actually enjoy seeing any birds has been at a premium. I did break from hostilities briefly on Thursday morning to go and look for the reported Bewick's Swan northwest of QE2 Country Park but could only find 52 Whooper Swan that have appeared presumably from Widdrington? A small flock of Pink-footed Goose fed on the south side of the road, again I spent a while working through them looking for any stray Bean's but to no avail. What was noteworthy as I walked to and from a decent view was nothing at all, and by that I mean no common woodland or hedgerow birds such as Dunnock or Wren, not a single 'tseck' to be heard anywhere.
With more going on in the garden I tried out the kids playhouse as a garden hide. After scattering some mixed seed nearby I climbed inside onto the top platform and lay down with the top half of the 'stable door' open. It got me closer to the Brambling which today numbered six and the Bullfinch (still five) but the Yellowhammer wouldn't play ball, although at dusk we had a new garden high of 10!
Brambling, male.

Today a Reed Bunting joined them and our first Sparrowhawk of the year sped through the front garden as I chewed the cud with Tim Sexton and Graeme Stevens who along with Cain Scrimgour provided the muscle and transport for today's grain collection for the Bird Aid project.

Bullfinch, female.

Bullfinch, male.

Race(y) Redwings? Sexy Stonechats

I like an obscure race, they add flavour to many of our common birds, Jackdaws, Meadow Pipits, Bullfinch all can be given a dash of excitement by a few feathers difference. Poking around my reading list tonight I came across these pictures by Barry Stewart that may illustrate the coburni race of Redwing, not one that I had come across before. The bird on the right in his post is certainly distinctive.
I've just approved a superb series of shots of Common Stonechat on Birdguides fishing for beetles from an ice bound pond/lake in Lancashire taken by Brian Rafferty that are worth a glance too, find them here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Andalucia Day 4

Greeted by early morning fog we headed back off into the mountains this time to the area of Sierra Norte. Once we had risen above the fog we began to wind our way through some superb dehesa habitat offering tantalizing glimpses of Little Owl, more Azure-winged Magpie proving very elusive to get a good look at as they flashed away through the Holm Oaks offering only brief glimpses darting between thick leafy branches just out of reach. A large over flying skein of birds prompted an impromptu roadside stop before we determined that they were Cormorant heading east. Further up at our first watch point we were assaulted by the screams of a pair of Jay.
Had we known what awaited us at the ‘Wolf’ watch point we would perhaps not have lingered so long. We could see as we approached numbers of Griffon Vulture in the air but after a steady scan across the Sierra Morena we realized that there were many more on a nearby hillside and a further group soaring to the northwest of us.

Common Stonechat, male

As we waited and watched more and more took to the air and began to come closer to the viewpoint, then a shout to look in the opposite direction as another large raptor soared toward us, then another, not Vultures but Eagles. With all eyes on these two birds they were quickly identified as a juvenile Spanish Imperial Eagle and a Golden Eagle. We watched in amazement as they circled above our heads and over into the melee of Griffon Vulture soaring closer and closer, some of the lower vultures at eye level height out over the dehesa, another superb highlight of the trip. Added spice a few minutes later when a single Black Vulture was picked out amongst the distant group which once located was easily separable from the Griffons by the obvious colour of the feet.

Griffon Vulture

A 'Grey' Fox seen by half the group making its way down one of the steep grassy slopes was an extra bonus for those that saw it.
Our picnic lunch in a tiny picnic area by a small stream that we would never have found without local knowledge gave us a well earned rest although Grey Wagtail and a splendid Hawfinch hidden amongst a tangle of branches were ample reward to those that kept the optics close by.At this point the group split up to wander along some of the wooded pathways. I took the opportunity to walk back up the road a way to try and get some pictures of another family group of Azure-winged Magpie we had flushed as we drove down the hill. Perhaps 5-10 fed amongst dense young trees in a walled area that had once been the garden of a substantial, but now run down, water mill. With patience I was able to take some record shots of this beautiful bird as one or two individuals fed by the roadside and around the tree bases. Here Black Redstart and Stonechat offered further close photo opportunities, with patience and some of the group found Short-toed Treecreeper. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called nearby but was not seen.

Black Redstart
Azure-winged Magpie
Our final destination provided perhaps the strangest landscape of the trip in the form of the stone peaks of Cerro del Hierro, an old mineral quarry filled with caves and scrubby growth. Within minutes of arrival a male Blue Rock Thrush, the first of three, was picked out on the edge of one of the pinnacle shaped rocks. Black Redstart were popping up everywhere and apart from the ubiquitous House Sparrow were the commonest bird here. Again the group split and went separate ways, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker was the unexpected result for one party, Crested Lark, Meadow Pipit and some lively Serin were the best I could manage. Despite an absence of Rock Bunting our main target for this site the day ended with a group picture followed by a brief stop for coffee and beer (and Cattle Egret flying to roost) then a super evening meal with our guides and their employer.
What follows is a series of record shots of Spanish Imperial Eagle, too busy watching to get anything better I'm afraid to say.
Spanish Imperial Eagle

Spanish Imperial Eagle

Spanish Imperial Eagle

Published Pictures

One or two of my images from my recent trip to Andalucia were published here a few days ago which I was quite pleased about.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Smell The Roses

With the snow thawing, we're back in a familiar routine the first few days of the week with eldest at school and at least some time each day in the kitchen and in front of the sink. Mine is not the only garden that is revealing a bounty of food for avian visitors that has been locked between layers of snow. How many of you knew Bullfinches like Roses? Allegedly I ate the whole tin myself although as I pointed out we have spent more time indoors lately as a result of the cold. A garden record five Bullfinch today to match the five Yellowhammer we have been entertaining.

I can't not get excited about Brambling though, we have three birds now, two male and a female including a ringed bird. A proper winter visitor and just smart whichever angle they're viewed from, hopefully these three will hang around for a while longer, at least till the light improves so I can get some decent images.

The Self Found 2010 List has stalled slightly with work and routine but a pair of Red-legged Partridge between home and the A1 today were a welcome addition. Talking to ADMc a few days ago and he has decided to "give me some competition" (his words) with his own self found list. Given his track record I'm on a hiding to nothing and already trailing by about 20, however I'll keep you updated as to his progress as well as mine as we go if I can prize the info out of him.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Bird Aid - Feed The Birds

Following the most prolonged period of snow cover lowland England has seen in living memory NTBC are organising a programme of targeted supplementary feeding of farmland birds throughout the county.
With the help of the local RSPB Farmland Bird Initiative Project a large supply of grain has been secured by the club.

Volunteer effort is now required for three key tasks:

1. Grain Collection – The grain is currently bulk stored in Co Durham and needs to be bagged and re-located to dry storage points in Northumberland. We have agreed access for one day on Friday 15th January for a small team of 6-8 volunteers to go and bag the grain and re-locate it. If you are able to offer your services for this task please email Alan Tilmouth at or call him on 01670512013. Also if anyone has access to a pick up truck or van this would be extremely useful.

2. Farmland Bird Location – The plan is to target existing large flocks of farmland birds and gain permission from landowners to seed suitable areas near them until the grain supply is exhausted. It would be extremely useful if anyone spotting any large flock of farmland bunting, finches or larks emails the details to Alan Tilmouth at or call him on 01670512013.

3. Volunteer Feeders – Once we have the food and have identified locations we need volunteers with transport to ‘foster’ a particular site for the next 4-6 weeks – re-seeding the agreed areas 1-2 times per week. If you are able to offer your services for this task please email Alan Tilmouth at or call on 01670 512013.

Whilst the snow is currently thawing there can be no doubt that this period has left many farmland birds in very poor condition, ringing evidence in recent days supports this. Supplementary feeding in the targeted manner planned will hopefully help as many birds as possible recover condition ahead of any further cold snaps and for the breeding season ahead. Discussions are ongoing with Durham Bird Club and NNBC to widen this plan across as much of the North East as possible.

If you can help with this plan in any way please get in touch as soon as possible.

NTBC Committee

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Can It Get Any Worse?

Two days ago the snow was six feet from edge of the bank with a good amount of seaweed debris still exposed as well as a wide sandy margin. Many of the passerines that fed along Newbiggin Beach have departed, notably not a single Rock Pipit present today.

Newbiggin Beach north to Beacon Point
Several Redwing and Song Thrush continue to scrabble around the sandy banks digging under the grass roots where the ground is perhaps less frozen. Two Snow Bunting this morning (JGS/SMc had three in afternoon) and one or two Meadow Pipit left. Sadly a couple of Skylark on the beach, one actually trying to feed along the tide line must have been incredibly desperate.

On Beacon Point a party of 13 Pale-bellied Brent Goose were on the rocks, 10 more flew north prompting these to join them.

Pale-bellied Brent Goose
Still a good selection common waders including some Knot today along with Dunlin, Sanderling, Turnstone, Lapwing, Redshank, Golden Plover, Ringed Plover. As these tend to feed in the intertidal area they are probably not as affected, perhaps with the exception of Lapwing.

A call mid-afternoon from SMc to say that along with JGS they had found a possible 'Dark-breasted' Barn Owl of the continental race guttata along the Spital Burn. The bird was exhausted and in a bad way. By the time I arrived 15 minutes later at AP's where the bird had been taken they actually thought it was dead. I held the head briefly and it opened its eyes showing some sign of life. I'll be very surprised if it recovers though, as can be seen in this image it is completely exhausted. Not as dark as shown in the field guide JGS rang tonight after further reading and confirmed the general feeling that it is an 'intergrade', although given the location (200m from coast) and current conditions it may well be from the continent. It is certainly darker than any local Barn Owl I have ever seen in Northumberland as well having other features such as grey underwing coverts and a much greater extent of grey on upperparts (we estimated 70% grey, 30% buff).

Barn Owl showing characteristics of continental race guttata

I also paid a brief visit to Cresswell/Lynemouth today. A single Twite was in weeds along the fence opposite Bell's Farm, a few Greylag in the field north of Cresswell. Several Teal were in the small burn south of Cresswell Pond as was a Wigeon and several Common Snipe. In the horse field south of Lynemouth were six Curlew and four Grey Partridge.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Starving Skylark

I chanced upon a flock of 220+ Skylark yesterday morning at the south end of Newbiggin in a snow covered rape field. They were attempting to feed on the few rapeseed leaves still visible above the snow, a conversation with Stewart last night suggested that this is now widespread up here as a result of the snow. The flock yesterday was approachable, individuals taking to the wing only at the last moment and never moving far. What saddened me was that many of them were attempting to feed on the adjacent road, presumably as the snow was less deep and some morsels may have been available on the tarmac.

Not many of the cars slowed down or even paid much attention so that they ended up playing chicken with the cars every few seconds. As I walked back to my car three birds fed on the road nearby and one simply lay down as I approached. Obviously weakened I picked it up and popped it into my glove for warmth but sadly it had died by the time I arrived home, probably from starvation. I went back later with 20kg of food and 'seeded' the field near the flock. I think this morning drove home how perilous a state some of our birds are in right now, so by all means go and watch them, enjoy the garden bonuses etc but stick your hand in your pocket and dump some food out there, not just in the garden but out where farmland birds like Skylark and Yellowhammer need it. If the 20-30,000 birders out there all spend £10 and put out 20kg each that is 600,000 kg of much needed bird food. Go on, get on with it.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

A Dose of Thrush

I can honestly say I never imagined how pleasurable a good dose of Thrush could be until today. The snow, around up here for over a week, is pushing the birds that haven't fled into gardens in search of food and today we had a bumper bonanza of five Thrush species as well as a several other canny visitors. Our usual garden Blackbirds had their beaks well and truly tweaked today as a gang of Fieldfare dropped in and really upset the apple cart.

A Bit of Turf War

Looking at me or chewing a brick?
It is obvious however that the local Greenfinch population has been decimated. The survivor below is the only one we have had in the garden this week. At the beginning of 2009 they were on par with Blackbird for commonest garden bird.

The only bird that managed to best the Fieldfare was this Mistle Thrush, although he/she spent more time fighting, chasing and being generally loud than taking advantage of Asdas finest apples.

Mistle Thrush

Later on a Song Thrush joined the fray, although it was noticeable that this bird seemed to avoid the conflict and frequented parts of the garden that weren't filled with bloshy Fieldfare.
Song Thrush
The Tree Sparrow returned, spent most of day chewing grain and having the occasional skirmish with cousins.
Tree Sparrow
As did the Yellowhammer although he brought a mate to the party as well. Interesting that this bird seems to come into the garden late in the day, after 15:30, maybe it roosts nearby and feeds further away during the main part of the day.