Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Reintroduced White-Tailed Sea Eagle in Northumberland

With only two records in living memory and only three people alive with White-tailed Sea Eagle on their Northumberland List, a twitchable wandering Scottish, Dutch or German bird has been long overdue. With news breaking late afternoon of a bird at Prestwick Carr, everything was dropped, with perhaps 20 other local birders doing exactly the same.
On arrival it had "flown north into the wood harassed by Common Buzzard", by now having switched vehicles I was with ADMc who from 1994-2005 could claim to be the only living person with a county record. After a bit of a slow drive over an increasingly subsiding and currently flooded road we took a call saying it was up in the air, visible from the east end where we had driven from. Several minutes later the beastie was up again mobbed by Common Buzzard over the north end of Prestwick Carr.
I took a gamble and drove around to Berwick Hill, heading down the track adjacent to the nursery the WTE suddenly appeared 30m west of me flying northwest. With six inches of water between me and a gap in the treeline it was time for wet feet. It then flew northwest toward Kirkley Mill Bridge. I drove around to the north of Kirkley Mill Bridge and saw it again very briefly further east possibly toward Blagdon Estate but not again.
With radio tag clearly visble in shots 4,5,& 6 this is presumably a juvenile from the Scottish East Coast Re-introduction Programme.
It may well have been in Northumberland for some days as a report that came to me by email from Paul Shakeshaft on Monday of " an Eagle (sp)" as follows:

"Called in at Linton reserve about 5pm on Sunday...At the West flash, watched through telescope a very large raptor on the ground on north side of flash for about 10 minutes. Feathered legs noticeable. Bill grey and yellow. When it took off, it headed off to the south east. Quite dark underneath. From the undertail (pale patches & dark broad terminal band) and top of rump (white), we thought it was a golden eagle perhaps 5 years old. The top and back of the head were paler than the rest but not the colour an adult bird. No jesses or tags."

Thanks to Steve Whitehouse for the early warning and ADMc.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


Sunday afternoon we took a rare opportunity to get into Cragside free. Cragside for those outside the North East is a National Trust estate south of Rothbury. The former home of wealthy victorian engineer & entrepeneur Lord Armstrong. Whilst Armstrong is famous for his hydro-electric development on the estate and inventions such as the hydraulic accumulator, he was also a keen angler. It is obvious to anyone touring his house and grounds he had an appreciation of nature and there is much of ornithological interest in the house, albeit much of it is dead and mounted after the habits of the age he lived in. The shell collection which I didn't photograph as it was all glass case based was huge. There is no flash photography allowed so many of these shots are ISO1600 in very low (Victorian) light.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Northern Wheatear

On the way back from Harwood I stopped off at Pegswood Moor, a hop skip and a jump from home, three male Northern Wheatear entertained around the boulders and rough grassy slopes. Hope you like them.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Insurance Shrike

After failing to secure a self-found Great Grey Shrike yesterday, I decided to take some insurance this morning and hike into Harwood for the one found by Nigel Foggo on Tuesday. In the same general area as I got some good Crossbill images last year, I knew it was a good 30-40 minutes in and it had been described on Friday as 'elusive'. So another early pre-six am start found me yomping up the forest tracks being serenaded by my first Chiffchaff of 2010 and several pairs of Crossbill as well as the obligatory Siskin and Coal Tit.
Whilst the Crossbill were vocal and plentiful they were never accessible preferring to stay in the highest confiers feeding and calling.

If you were a Sparrowhawk/Goshawk you would just love male Crossbills wouldnt you?

Reaching the area the Shrike was supposed to be in I found a snall tree next to the track, parked myself and started to scan the clearfell. Thirty seconds later, bingo, Great Grey Shrike, I spent an hour at two different vantages, but it wasn't particularly active and never came anywhere near close. I was downwind and it did call a couple of times, 'trrrrrh trrrrh' the occasional tail flicking, but never made any hunting forages or caught anything in the time I was there.

Calling in Image 1, distant in both.

One or two of the Siskin were more confiding than the Crossbill, dropping into smaller bare branched deciduous treess occasionally. After I walked out I headed for the Gibbet, the parking layby was full of strange looking blokes sitting in the car, as I passed a pair of Crossbill dropped onto the gibbet, the male drinking (?) from the gibbet stone. It was only after turning did I realise that the strange looking blokes were in fact the full author team of 'Birds New to Britain 1980-2004' I spent a few minutes catching up with TC/AP as a procession of Common Buzzard tried and failed to turn into anything more interesting but after two mornings of almost total solitude a little crack was worth its weight.
Siskin, Harwood Forest, Northumberland

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Black and White

Those colours seem to have dominated my birding for the last two days. Yesterday after work I squeezed in a couple of hours locally with little to show for it. Three Stock Dove amongst 50-60 Woodpigeon at the back of Lynemouth Flash were a Self Found List addition for the year. The flash itself was devoid of life but a scan through the field revealed a flash of white on black with a nominate race monedula or 'Nordic' Jackdaw, distant across the back of the field but showing a very bright collar. This is a big crop (though I should add it was overcast and I'm facing west late afternoon so little light reflection).

I was on the A1 whilst the sun was still little more than a promise in the eastern sky this morning. I had a time limit as J is at the age where school football has kicked in and he had a match at 09:30. Thirty minutes north, my destination Black Lough south west of Alnwick to see if lightening could perhaps strike twice and I could find myself a Great Grey Shrike. The time spent on a fresh March morning last year with the GGS found up there was one of the highlights of the year for me and had me fired up for months afterward. This morning in keeping with my blog title there was little grey just some white on the Black Lough. The last of of some of winter's whiteness had spent the night and their deep calls contrasted sharply with the sharp, clear crispness of the overhead Skylark.

Whooper Swan, Black Lough, Northumberland

Three Common Buzzard surprised me by soaring almost continually for 30-40 minutes, I always believed that they were late risers waiting for the air to warm a little. A Roe Deer fed on the fringes of the lough, steady passage and songflighting Meadow Pipit were obvious all morning. Never confiding and with almost no cover I struggled to get near any for good images. There will be better days when they are settled.

The walk back down was uneventful other than the Whoopers overflying me and heading north at about 07:50. leaving just as the last of winter will in the next few days.

Cheviot, the last of the winter snow.

With an hour left I headed for the coast, first stop the dunes between Hauxley & Amble to look for migrants. Zip, though a few seconds after I crested the top of a dune I noticed all the gulls and waders taking flight, given that I was 250m away I looked for another culprit and sure enough a female Peregrine moved up the beach, perhaps it too noticing the plentiful supply of Pipits. A small group of Dunlin fed at a flash pool along with two Common Ringed Plover.
Next stop Druridge Pools or at least the entrance, a male Black Redstart obliged by still hanging around for its third day. A posse of Northern Wheatear (five) represented my first self found spring migrant.
A last stop at Lynemouth Flash produced several Pied Wagtail and a male White Wagtail to blend my black and white theme into one bird.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

MIght as Well Face it

It was my wife's birthday today, having spent too much money much of yesterday preparing I was all organised if a little sleepy pre-work at 07:15 as the children were duly gathered, candles lit, cards carried and presents opened. Once I may have felt a twinge of guilt at the thought that buzzed like a persistent Willow Tit in my mind "this is enough brownie points to get out birding after work". Not anymore I am guilt-free, it's not my fault see, John Hague has sorted my head out, its all down to the neurochemical dopamine creating the addiction. Now I can relax and just accept what I've always known that I'm a hopeless addict and despite years where I've done without it is never going to go away and I may as well just accept my fate and keep birding. Thanks John.

Frankly I may as well not have bothered this afternoon, should have saved the brownies for another day. With mist rolling in thicker than a Seventies Paul Mcartney accent the scope, tripod and camera were superfluous. I tried Druridge Pool and it was very atmospheric as hundreds of unseen Black-headed Gulls called just out of sight. Further south a dark looking thrush (sp) disappeared along an open fence, melting away into the shrouded distance. It cleared briefly and gave me enough time to splash around Snab Point in a vain search for Wheatear, a single pair of Fulmar huddled the cliff face with not even the obligatory greeting as I appeared.

On a positive note my first Northumberland roundup for Bird Watching's UK Bird Sightings and the small county focus they asked me to do was published this week, including a list of recommended sites. I know one blogger who will be over the moon and looking to thank me for all the summer company he might get after I included Cullernose Point in my top five, no thanks necessary though!

That's it for today, my fix done some hours ago and now this short post, the birder's equivalent of methadone just tiding me over, keeping me mellow till the next big hit. I'll leave you with some words of wisdom for those of you still struggling to come to terms with the identification of Caspian Gulls your addiction.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Budget for Birding?

With the budget flushed out in the open and getting more exposure than an Acro on Fair Isle how does it stack up for birders? As ever there seems to be good news and bad news, winners and losers. So here is one view of how it might pan out.

Twitching - another nail in the coffin with the 3% increase in Fuel Duty only re-phased rather than eliminated, surely won't be too long before national twitches are the preserve of the rich and the scruffy unemployed, too clever by half student  younger birders will be priced out of anywhere that involves more than a blagged car share from the one mate whose dad bought him a car or a bike.

Survey Monkeys - the big winners in the latest budget, with the announcement that a Green bank with £2bn of funding for renewable energy projects is to be established the gravy train goes on. All that funding should result in further proliferataion of wind farms both on and offshore and the resulting boom in Environmental Impact Assessments, saving several regional birdlines and at least one well known website from extinction.

South Coast Counties - local patch workers will be rubbing their hands in glee as the triple whammy of fuel tax, cider tax and the Cornish suppression legacy have a serious impact on the number of birders willing to bother heading for the 'new Med'. As Little Egret begin to reach plague proportions who would bet against the Scillies becoming the new Malta in a bid to attract rich fee paying hunters to the almost deserted and over priced B&B's?

Lariphiles - will be wringing their hands in despair as the continued increase in landfill tax continues to ensure that good gull sites get scarcer and scarcer. The first decade of the 21st century will be retrospectively viewed as a golden age of gull ID as even Iceland & Glaucous struggle to make it into annual double figures. Blatant attempts to string talk up the credentials of retarded Common Gulls will drive gull watchers underground rather than risk the derision of other birders.

London Bird Club - undergoes a huge expansion due to the addition of 15,000 ex civil servants who are now unemployed and having a mid-life crisis embarking on new careers as freelance writers. By 2015 they are officially recognised as the third party in Britsh Politics and David Lindo is tipped to be the first black London Mayor after current mayor Boris Johnson meets with an unfortunate accident whilst visiting the Tower 42 Vis mig demo.

Sin Taxes - are extended to anyone with membership of the UK400 Club, although an innovative credit scheme is put in place so that anyone offering room and board to twitchers has an offset against the List Tax. However taxes on those over 450 will be increased on the basis that anyone who has a big list is either loaded or has been fiddling the system in some way in order find the time and money to get a list that big.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Al Pines for Swift Double

Tuesday mornings involve little more than an indoor play centre, quite nice as indoor play centres go and they have an internet connection that allows me to work a little whilst the kids give off more energy than a corona from a power cable. Towards the end of this morning's session the phone moved in my pocket and let off a noise. It makes lots of different noises and I'm still learning to identify them and tell the difference between a Facebook message and a text or an appointment alarm and an email. After fumbling about there was a text on screen, that hit me in the pit of my stomach, "Two Alpine Swifts over the Aln Estuary....." that would be the Aln estuary that was 100m from my old business, the one that I spent six days a week at for the best part of six years until it was sold in June 2009.
Paul Massey who is on a bit of a run this year after also finding the Druridge Green-winged Teal was at the other end of the phone watching them as they drifted north over Hipsburn. Twenty minutes later with kids now suitably sedated in the back of the car and a speechless ADMc in the passenger seat after a Lance Armstrong-like effort to rendezvous at my house from Ashington we were off.
And I'm afraid that's it, not a sniff of a scythed wing and the only white belly was peeping out from under my t-shirt as it flapped in the breeze. Not surprising as they are the epitomy of that over-used birder speak 'mobile'. Nine Common Buzzard across the Alnwick/Longhoughton skyline and the odd Sparrowhawk were dismissed lightly. Further pressure was added to the double grip later as Nigel F repeated his Great Grey Shrike find of last year in Harwood, I sulked the afternoon away with the phone out of view and on charge, better days are ahead.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Early Bird Catching Worms

The first pre-dawn foray of the Spring this morning hoping to get better views of yesterday's Common Crane saw an 06:00 departure north. Feeding in the stubble field opposite Tilery Wood it was certainly closer than yesterday but never close enough for crippling shots with my 400mm limitation despite an hour crouched underneath the hedge trying to use psychic powers to bring it close. Perhaps some of those with longer reach may have better luck today if it stays unspooked. Numerous Hare and Roe Deer seemingly in every field along with the distant drumming of Great Spotted Woodpecker made for a pleasant ambience.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Crane Your Neck and You Might Just Glimpse It

A late morning text from ADMc saw me dragging my youngsters away from the delights of Mr Tumble under wails of protest and hot-footing it up to the roadside vantage point from where (under an umbrella) he assured me that a Common Crane was lurking a few hundred metres beyond the roll of a stubble field. He had on the basis of a tip off earlier scoped it from a western vantage point so high and far into the south west I nearly stopped off at Hexham for lunch. However not visible from the closer road safely, at least with two two year olds in tow I chuntered around in the torrent and picked out the lanky figure of an adult. Every one of the following shots contains views so crippling you might hurt yourself laughing need to purchase a print, please contact me via email should you wish to do so.

The Carlsberg of Worst Record Shots!

Only a Marginal Improvement!

 So Close you can almost see the nostril hairs.

Snab Scandy

With the first migrants seemingly on the doorstep I was hopeful that today would see some new additions for the year, I did succeed in adding a new bird but not till darkness had almost fallen. Another pond tour this morning brought little of note anywhere, a stiff breeze seemed to be keeping heads down and nothing new could be found at any of the locations visited.
On the way home I stopped at Bothal and scanned through the corvid flocks in the sheep field as I have done regularly this winter predominantly to look for nominate monedula Jackdaw. Once again drew a blank but the leucistic individual below was new perhaps showing that the flock isn't just made up of residents? (If anyone wants to claim this individual for an earlier date please let me know).

Late afternoon after the breeze had dropped I headed back out, news of the first Sand Martins of the year spurring me on. After more blanks at local ponds I ended up at Snab Point with a high tide pushing right up to the banks. Huge banks of seaweed have been pushed up at the southern end of the beach north of the point so I headed along the stones in search of Pipits. A pair of Mallard fed with Black-headed Gulls close in as the waves crashed at the seaweed presumably releasing Inverts into the sea that could be picked at, first time I've seen Mallard feeding this way.
On the East coast with a 25ft cliff between the setting sun and me the light was dismal, I ended up at ISO1600 and 1/80 trying to get anything at all tonight. Five Rock Pipit were present, at least one was littoralis but I have a suspicion that there were more. They were reasonably confiding as I squeezed my way gingerly up onto the seaweed mound, not sure what lay beneath my feet in the way of solidity. At one point I looked down and noticed some sort of bedraggled corpse inches from my feet and the smell was none too pleasant either. All five Pipits took to the air after a while and started heading out to sea before turning back, I thought at that point that they may well depart but perhaps it was just a pre-roost wing stretching exercise.

Scandinavian Rock Pipit A.p. littoralis

Look how strong the supercilum looks from this angle!

The last hour of light provided me with a chance to go looking for Owls with some success, a pair of Long-eared Owl in suitable breeding habitat were seen briefly and back in the car after a 1mile circuit in darkness a roadside post topped with Barn Owl provided a good end to a largely underwhelming day.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

The Rough with the Smooth

After receiving some high quality information about a Rough-legged Buzzard watched at a site in the north of the county on Monday, Wednesday saw me set off with ADMc and the twins on the trail. Now normally I wouldn't inflict my kids on other birders as they tend to treat optics with irreverence and after spending an hour in the car they can be a little temperamental. However I thought that it might increase my chances of actually finding the beastie in question as either a) ADMc would get roped into a football match allowing me to bird in peace or b) roles reversed he would track the blighter down whilst I stopped the kids from doing any permanent damage to the local farm animals.
In the event we managed a good haul of Common Buzzard with probably 10-12 over the morning, six in the air a maximum at any one time. We had little else, a Sparrowhawk, small flock of Linnet and the odd Hare.
The twins behaved reasonably well although my heart was beating a little faster when one of them was wandering about watching the 'bordies' with ADMc's Ultravids, "I'm not insured for that" was all I kept thinking.
Whilst I normally bird alone, good company makes for an easy day even when the targets are scarce.

Monday, 15 March 2010

The Big Year

Acording to a random blog that I came across  my sources in Hollywood, birding is about to hit the big time with a big budget Hollywood movie called The Big Year based on the book of the same name by Mark Obmascik. Stars such as Dustin Hoffman, Owen Wilson and Jack Black are apparently being lined up to play the three lead characters during their big year with Ben Stiller involved on the production side. Whilst the surge in interest will no doubt provide a much needed boost to birding and the industry that lies behind it I can't help thinking that with Hollywood involvement its going to be missing an awful lot of accuracy.
It would be great to see a British, gritty northern, low budget version a la The Full Monty to compete with it. Script by Mr White, perhaps a Teeside backdrop, lets face it we have enough comedians around to make it hugely funny and a huge box office smash, at least over here. There would be no need to emply professional actors, get some proper birders involved give them a Vauxhall Corsa and a tent and film the resulting year. Guaranteed Oscar.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

St Mary's Colour Ringed Sanderling

A very fast response from the International Wader Study Group regarding the St Mary's Island colour ringed Sanderling (image below). Seems this individual was ringed in Iceland on 19/05/2009 at Sandgerði, "first beach" where it was subsequently recorded for a further eight days.
It was first reported from St Mary's on my birthday 09/09/2009 and has been seen seven times since all in roughly the same area.

Pipits & Wagtails

A short detour to Prestwick Carr on the way home from a meeting at Close House yesterday produced a large-ish gathering of Pied Wagtail (55), Meadow Pipit (48) and a few Reed Bunting (3-4) on the flooded field west of the entrance road. The Meadow Pipit numbers are the first significant gathering I've seen this Spring and probably an underestimate as there were birds moving north into the next field in small numbers as I counted.
A tight flock of 163 Golden Plover with some individuals coming into summer plumage were constantly vocal nearby and a Stoat was an interested observer a few feet away in the grass.
With an inch of water across much of the field and a larger deeper pool to the south this site is well worth checking for scarcer migrants in the coming weeks.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010


Whilst on the beach the Pipits were often out of reach and with the kids behaving impeccably the thirty strong flock of Sanderling, including a colour ringed bird that I think has been reported on other blogs as been present for some time, provided a sideshow as they rushed into the wet areas left by the waves before being forced back up the beach by the next wave. The kids even stopped for a while and watched them as they were often within 5-10m of where we sat.

Scandinavian Rock Pipit

With the twins in tow and a whole two degrees extra on the thermometer we went to the beach at St Mary's Island this morning, primarily to find and photograph the Water Pipit if it still remained. A car park chat with Tim Dean suggests it may have departed.
We stayed a while and whilst the kids did sand and seaweed I wandered about looking at the Rock Pipits. One and possibly a second are starting to show good signs of Scandinavian Rock Pipit littoralis as a result of the pre-breeding moult. Hugging the steep mud banks most of the time as they were, left me facing into the morning sun, not the best conditions but hey ho.

I think the last three show the slight pinkish wash just starting to show on the throat and breast and the plainner grey colour starting to come through on the crown and ear coverts as well as the thin malar line quite well. Add this to the whitish outer tail feather visible in the first image and it all points to littoralis. As mentioned a few posts back NTBC now have a good paper on Rock/Water/Scandinavian ID for anyone interested.

This may well be a second slightly less advanced littoralis again beginning to look grey around the head and with a decent supercilium, whitish looking outer tail etc.