Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Post-Christmas Meal(ies)

I left without breakfast this morning, it won't have done any harm as I've crammed the entire contents of a Thai Tiger Prawn trawler into the space left between the 'million mince pie challenge' that I embarked on around Christmas Eve. Maybe I'll start eating again in March or April.
I had considered going down to Rainton today to cou over some redpolls with Newton Stringer but the other side effect of Christmas is having to spend far too much time with other people, so I craved a morning of silence, or at least not having to make conversation with anyone.
Like a small child at Christmas I'm clinging to the belief that there is at least one visitor from the Arctic with a bit of a red cap somewhere out in Northumberland so I stumbled back onto Nigel's patch this morning to search for the finch flock that had lots of Mealy Redpoll in pre-christmas.
The flock is still there, and the Alder seed is now falling so the redpolls are often feeding on the ground. I believe if anything the flock is bigger, still mainly Goldfinch and Siskin, but now with a few Chaffinch and at least two Brambling thrown into the mix.
Mealy Redpoll numbers are into double figures but counting them is challenging, full credit to the boys that are pinning the Arctics down at Rainton over a bigger area. Common Buzzard and Woodcock also noted today as well as two Sparrowhawk engaged in what seemed to be co-operative hunting.

Mealy Redpolls.

I drove home via Druridge, the Chibburn Little Owl was quite confiding today. There was little of note in the fields as far as I could tell, though after spending three hours with the polls I didn't make too much effort.
A quick stop at QE2 which is crammed with Wigeon and Coot as well as a decent number of Black-headed Gull and Common Gull. One 'interesting' 2nd-winter individual of the latter species on the ice shelf showing a hooded appearance stretching well down around the upper breast as well as a very neat rounded head, though there was nothing else about it that would suggest anything other than canus.


Sunday, 19 December 2010

More Redpolls ( A Little Further Away)

"as soon as I reached the forest I was surrounded by birds. A huge flock of about 350 Common Redpolls  was around and with them were 3 Pine Grosbeaks and 7 Hawfinches."

Oh, how I wish they were my words, that home from an exciting day in the field after making an incredible discovery in some far flung frozen corner of Northumberland I was here to reveal the magnificence of my Grosbeak -finding skills. 
Sadly with Christmas within touching distance and snow everywhere (again) I've been housebound whilst the wife shopped. So the quote above is from a blog post by Andreas Buckheim about his birding day in Bogd Kan Uul which for all those south of Watford is a little East of Northumberland.
I can dream..
Anyway on a slightly more serious note if you do click the link take a good hard squint at the first male Common Redpoll, whilst out there it can't really be anything else, had I seen that bird yesterday it would not have been a Common Redpoll - buff wingbar, brown tones in the ear coverts lack of any white in the super - it's a classic example of why some of them are just confusing or why you simply can't do some of them from a single image, though the next two make up for it as do the Grosbeak pics.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Mealy Miny Mo

Nigel Foggo found seven Mealy Redpoll (and a Northern Bullfinch) at Old Widdrington Tip yesterday morning and Stewart kindly alerted me to them. I had an hour to spare in the afternoon so I nipped up for a quick look. A 200 strong mixed flock that I estimated as 50% Goldfinch 30% Siskin and 20% Redpoll was active feeding on Alder. The light wasn't too good so the images are record shots and a bit of a jigsaw when it comes to ID but I had 3-4 clear Mealy Redpoll. A second visit this morning and Mike Hodgson had counted 10 by mid-morning, ADMc and I later had a minimum of seven, though there were almost certainly more.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Big Bad Hairy Redpoll?

With the next Ice Age mere days away if the BBC weather forecast is to believed I was determined to get out and do some 'thaw birding' despite the nasty coast hugging grey showers and the general reluctance of the kids to set foot outside after a bad experience on the beach last week.
They had been so reluctant that I was mildly surprised when I offered up my suggested destination and target that they seemed quite enthusiastic. They were asking lots of questions in the car:

Kids: Where do they live Dad?
Dad: In trees and woods.
Kids: Don't they live in caves?
Dad: Not that I'm aware of...
Kids: Will there be any goats Dad?
Dad: (thinking) Have I missed a Birding World article on the the interdependency of Mealy Redpolls and Goats?
Dad: Er, no I don't think so?

It was an understandable mistake and there was no deliberate attempt to mislead, sadly as far as the kids were concerned the only big, hairy, ugly TROLL when we arrived at Druridge Bay Country Park was me.

 That was kind of the way it stayed too, with wave after wave of driving rain we had little opportunity to find any Redpolls and contented ourselves with disgorging the contents of our scraps bag to the obvious pleasure of the gathered gulls and ducks.
Some scoping from the car picked up two Common Buzzard over the north edge as well as several argentatus Herring Gull on the still half-iced lake. A first calendar year bird still appearing to be in complete juvenile plumage has to be argentatus and the suggested origins of these individuals is Northern Russia.
We left as the rain picked up pace. A slow drive back via some coastal field and pools produced little. At another frozen lake (QE2) another pre-christmas crowd of gulls and ducks, the only glimmer of anything worth mentioning was the single 'Pink' Gull that stood out from all around in almost Jordan-esque fashion.

Sunday, 12 December 2010


Back at the end of November I took a call whilst working from an observer out in the field in Cumbria wanting to report some Brambling. The observer in question had a decent flock for the UK at Talkin Tarn of c.2000 individuals. I was impressed. I saw this video tonight on Birdforum and was even more impressed. This is a wintering flock in the Basque country in Northern Spain about a week ago.

The estimate for this flock is c.1million individuals, some sight.

Thursday, 9 December 2010

It's a Mega -pode.

Latest bit of work published today in the birdguides webzine, you can read here. Hopefully highlights more of the conservation work being undertaken by the Newcastle based World Pheasant Association.
One additional interesting nugget is that I believe the survey team are in discussion with the European Space agency to produce geo-thermal maps of the area, hopefully identifying additional suitable nesting areas.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Tripped Pipit

"One Rock Pipit stood out as being another excellent example of identifiable littoralis or Scandinavian Rock Pipit though a different individual to the pale legged bird of a last week. Extensive yellow on the bill,  very pale underparts with little streaking, seemingly white edges to outer tail feathers but indistinct supercilium and subtle smudging on the flanks ruling out Water Pipit." I wrote a few days ago.

My 'extreme littoralis' has morphed into Newbiggin's first Water Pipit and the bird is still present today. Thanks largely to the sharp eyes of ex-county recorder Ian Fisher, a cold vigil by another ex-county recorder Mike Hodgson this morning and some oiling the discussion wheels by Stef Mcelwee and Jane Turner along the way.
Ian highlighted the rump colour on this individual and flagged up a number of other characteristics that whilst they can be present on both littoralis and spinoletta in combination point towards this being the latter.
In addition Mike saw the tail pattern on the bird today, something that eluded me on Friday and is happy that this is similar to the other wintering Water Pipits that have occurred in Northumberland albeit a very dull individual.

I headed along the beach to join Mike this morning though failed to see the bird as it was absenting itself for lengthy periods though the tide was low and Mike had noted it flying out onto the rocks at Beacon Point on at least one occasion.

I've learned a fair bit over the last 24 hours, not least that I really need to invest in the Pipits & Wagtails guide, my initial reaction on first sight was "ooh that could be a Water Pipit" I then talked myself out of it largely based on the lack of a bright super behind the eye and the poorly marked nature of the covert tips as well as what looked like coalescing flank streaks (albeit faint ones) and breast streaking that looked smudged rather than classic Water Pipit to my eyes. Images taken in warm light highlighting the brown tone, or so I thought. Well, worth checking the bird out though.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

BASC Calls For Voluntary Restraint on Shooting

We have all seen the impact the snow and freezing conditions have particularly on waders and water birds both last winter and in this current spell. For many the thought of many of these species having to cope with the possibility of increased disturbance from shooting in the middle of this is abhorrent. There is a system in place that allows for the issue of a call for 'voluntary restraint' after a fixed period of temperatures reaching certain criteria. That call was issued in England today by The British Association of Shooting & Conservation (BASC).

BASC define voluntary restraint as follows: Voluntary restraint is showing respect for our quarry by not going shooting where birds are struggling under difficult conditions. Unusual movements of birds or birds in poor condition are signs of such difficulties and, regardless of any restraint call, an indication that shooting should be reduced or stopped to enable birds to recover and breed successfully the following spring. Restraint is a decision taken by shooters at a local level according to need.

If temperatures continue until Day 13 (nationally) then a statutory protection order can be issued by government making it illegal to shoot waterfowl and waders. During a statutory suspension, it is illegal to shoot any ducks (including reared mallard), geese, waders (including woodcock and snipe), coots or moorhen.

Whilst the system is far from perfect as a result of being applied nationally it does mean that shooters should now be refraining from shooting activities that cause disturbance to waterfowl and waders. It's worth noting that disturbance won't be restricted to shooters here either so it's well worth practising what we preach so wandering around still wet areas to deliberately flush Woodock and Jack Snipe should be avoided. Having inadvertently flushed one yesterday as well as a few Common Snipe I felt pretty shit, I'll be avoiding the areas they're feeding in going forward.

If you are out birding at the weekend and you come across anyone ignoring the call for voluntary restraint and continuing to shoot wildfowl or waders you can forward the details via the contact form on the BASC website.

Monday, 6 December 2010

Bonus Extra Birding

My long-suffering non-birding wife was ill this morning, or at least in a certain amount of pain. Somehow despite that she charitably suggested I get out of the house and go birding WITHOUT THE KIDS ON A MONDAY MORNING! Or at least I think that's what she said I didn't really hang around long enough to hear the end of the sentence.
First up was a stroll amongst the sea buckthorn along the Wansbeck Estuary to look for Northern Bullfinch, of which there were none. Lots of calling Common Bullfinch maybe 7-8 in total feeding on the abundant orange berries. Sparrowhawk over, Woodcock lifting from the sun drenched north bank where the snow had melted off. Further down the estuary 52 Gadwall was a decent count, six Little Grebe and three Red-breasted Merganser all below the weir as well as 24 Carrion Crow.

As I reached the dunes at the end of the estuary  several Song Thrush enjoying the sea buckthorn and I flushed several Common Snipe and a Jack Snipe inadvertently as I rounded the corner and crossed the stream avoiding the iced over section.
A drive to Snab Point produced more Woodcock including a confiding individual feeding at the entrance to Lynemouth.

Two Lapland Buntings were still with Skylarks in the stubble behind Snab Point (though others had all four later in the day). The drive home produced a Common Buzzard over Ellington and a brief stop to count the remaining 31 Whooper Swan at Linton.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

More Winter Birding

Water is the precious commodity for many birds right now, any patch of flowing water no matter how insignificant seems to have acquired temporary inhabitants. The free flowing stuff just north of Bothal that I first noticed last weekend held Redshank, Lapwing and best of all Grey Wagtail this morning as I passed coast bound.
Almost every field at the coast has its own flock of Pink-footed Geese, had I spent the morning counting I could easily have reached 2000; those that didn't invariably had small coveys of Grey Partidge instead.

 A Snow Bunting in with Skylarks and Twite at Bell's Dunes, more Woodcock and a dead Grey Heron at Woodhorn Flash. A puddle near the Drift Inn held two Snipe and a a steep path at Lyne Sands transformed into a small stream with run off offered alternative feeding for some Dunlin.


Saturday, 4 December 2010

So Cold My Nose Snapped

The early morning sunshine and the exertion of once again digging through ice to free a car warmed me up on a morning where the ground temperature was showing -7c. I had a small party of Bullfinch a couple of days ago feeding on sea buckthorn along the Spital Burn whilst looking for Jack Snipe, I went back first thing to look for their larger counterpart Northern Bullfinch but without success, Three Song Thrush had joined the buckthorn berry-eaters though.
I moved on to the north bay at Newbiggin thinking that the hard weather will have moved some birds to the coast and there may be some buntings and pipits around on the snow free golf course edge and coast path. If there had been a large movement of Skylark I was too late for it but there were singles and small groups dotted up the coast trying to search out food where they could.
The icy conditions appear to have accelerated the erosion of the bank edge along the beach, soil was still falling away whilst I walked along. This fresh unfrozen soil providing 'grazing areas' for Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits. A single 1st-year male Stonechat also darted along the grassy ledges. One Rock Pipit stood out as being another excellent example of identifiable littoralis or Scandinavian Rock Pipit though a different individual to the pale legged bird of a last week. Extensive yellow on the bill,  very pale underparts with little streaking, seemingly white edges to outer tail feathers but indistinct supercilium and subtle smudging on the flanks ruling out Water Pipit.

I drifted between the beach and the coast path, managing to flush the best bird of the morning up near Beacon Point as a Shorelark shot across in front of me calling and flew off, first to the south before turning back and flying over into the NW corner of the golf course where I eventually lost sight of it amongst the pylons. At Beacon Point two Dark-bellied Brent Geese were on the rocks including a colour ringed individual. A Woodcock was flushed at the north side of the point.
Back on the beach with a helpful incoming tide I took advantage of the good light and parked myself a few feet from the waves as 50-60 common waders fed along the tideline in a mixed flock Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Golden Plover, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwits all mingling together. Patience paid off as some of the smaller waders ventured close as the tide pushed up.

Higher up the beach on the wrack some Turnstone fed on dead crabs, I often find when they have a good food source they are incredibly confiding and will come back to it over and over again.
After sitting on the beach for over an hour I struggled to my feet, my face despite the current beard, feeling like it had been burned away by the sharp cold. A casual and quick rub of the nose produced an incredible 'snap' of the cartilage in the end, no pain but the end of my nose now feels remarkably loose. Another short stop at an unfrozen stream further inland produced Water Rail, four Woodcock and several Common Snipe but no Jack Snipe. I drove towards Cresswell, another Stonechat near Snab Point and a flock of about 100 Pink-footed Geese in the inland stubble. I worked through them looking for Bean Geese unsuccessfully, though a single Snow Bunting made a bit of a racket as it flew around the field margin. What were probably the same two Dark-bellied Brent Geese from Beacon Point were with more Pinkfeet at Cresswell village in the grass field below the tower.

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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

The Crow Council

I've been a little pre-occupied of late with another experimental project. I saw the potential for multi-author birding blogs a couple of years ago, as some will know I tried with a local site in the North East that eventually crashed and burned for a variety of reasons. Having seen 10,000 Birds expand in recent weeks and the launch of Gunnar Engblom's Birding as well as reading some very insightful comments from Laura Kammermeier over in the US, I though I might try again. This time though I wanted to do something a little different, something that would involve authors who like to question, whether that be conventional wisdom, ideas or the occasional mass assumptions that we all make; I wanted birders who share of themselves on-line, go out of there way to create content that I've found informative, interesting, funny, challenging, difficult and inspiring over the past few years and I wanted to produce something that might have a positive contribution to make when it comes to debating birding issues rather than the negativity that surrounds many discussions on topical issues on birding.

Incredibly I found a bunch of birders who were only too keen to jump on board and The Crow Council was born. I'm still a little bemused by the talent that has signed up for this, if you spend much time on the web you'll probably be familiar with almost all of the names. Enjoy reading it as I'm sure it's going to be a fantastic site that will do everything the strapline suggests question, share and inspire. All the crows are looking forward to birders joining the discussions.