Sunday, 30 January 2011

North Northumberland Winter Birding

There's not much better than early morning birding in north Northumberland for a bit of atmosphere. I had arranged another trip out The Farnes with Andrew Douglas at Serenity Tours but as we weren't due to head out until 10:30 so I headed up early and used the time to do some birding around Lindisfarne NNR and Budle Bay.

With the tide just dropping the NNR was full of birds, I'll just concentrate on what was new for the year for me, a covey of 15 or so Grey Partridge fed on saltmarsh above the tideline and my main quarry the Lindisfarne Pale-bellied Brent Geese were present in good numbers with occasional small group flybys providing excellent close views.
I moved south to Budle Bay where five Shoveler were amongst the host of other wildfowl in the bay. I spent much of the time here focussed on Teal searching for something rarer but without success. Seahouses harbour quickly added Rock Pipit to the tally, though the small groups of displaying Common Eider are always attention grabbing if you have a camera. I've played about with the sea tones in the shot below.

Never having 'done' The Farnes in January I didn't expect too much, Guillemot numbers were in the tens of thousand and as ever an awesome spectacle, we managed to find a single Razorbill tucked away on a ledge and two Peregrines perched on man-made structures on different islands. A count of over 50 Purple Sandpipers was half decent.
The constant movement of Guillemots to and from the islands offered the opportunity of flight shots and the combination of the calm seas and the steadiness of Serenity's twin hulls was a great base to shoot from.

The Shags look superb in their full breeding plumage and a few were obviously paired off with a bit of display and one carrying nesting material.

This trip probably provided the best views of the largest number of Grey Seals I've ever had out here with seemingly every patch of ground covered in various shades of seal. The journey back added a small pod of Harbour Porpoise as an extra bonus.

I stopped in at one of the large less watched sandy bays further south as I drove home and picked up four Great Crested Grebe together close in and 11 Red-throated Divers most further out on calm seas.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Wild Goose Chase?

Quiet isn't it? Certainly a lack of passerines around. The past four days have seen me variously year ticking Red-breasted Merganser and Little Grebe whilst feeding the ducks with the kids on Sunday at Druridge Bay Country Park. Monday found me staring at Canada Geese but more on that later, whilst Tuesday added Nuthatch and Long-tailed Tit, the latter bizarrely along the promenade from North Shields Fish Quay at the Black Middens. A drake Goosander on the Wansbeck at Sheepwash bridge continued the momentum today as did three adult Gannets flying north off Newbiggin during an early afternoon seawatch.

Back to the Canada Geese; with Bothal Pond ice-free a portion of the regular Canda Goose flock has returned, perhaps 70-80 individuals. I don't think it is the whole flock by any means as there were more at the new lake at the old Stobswood Opencast as well as a dodgy looking pale hybrid before the snow so part of the flock still seems to be elsewhere. Given that it was either count the Wigeon again or look at the geese, I chose the geese and decided to have a look for anything odd amongst them. Without camera on Monday I came across an individual that had a solid dark throat line separating the two white cheeks which were much narrower than any of the other birds present. Tuesday armed with camera and more time, I found two similar looking individuals, at least one of which was perhaps 10% smaller than most of the canadensis present.

As you can see from the above, this individual is smaller with a different head shape, slightly greyer breast and some contrast between upperparts and flanks (as compared to the other 'normal' individual). The second bird suffering from a pronounced limp causing it to feed at least some of the time on it's belly has a similar cheek patch and greyer tone to the breast.
It also lacks any white between the mantle and black of the lower neck. I don't see any size difference with this one at all.So I started to re-read some of the recent on-line material about 'White-cheeked Geese' and races, and I dug through almost every field guide I have and whilst initially thinking that these might be showing characteristics of one of the interior races came away feeling perplexed that descriptions of many of the various races of Canada Goose are simply poor.
Obviously these are unlikely to be vagrants, I suspect the nearest they have, or will ever get to Canada, will be stepping over an empty bottle of dry gin. Picking a better brain than mine the suggestion came that either the small size and small cheek patch could be age related and these could be young birds, "watch them for two years and if it moults out it it's age related" came the dry reply. The alternative suggestion is that it is polymorphism (don't worry I had to look it up too!). If anyone else wants to chip in with suggestions or comments feel free, if not expect an update in about 1 year, 11 months and 28 days.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Time & Hummers

Time is a birders best friend and his worst enemy. The shift in balance in the time available to me to go birding this week as a result of our twins starting their pre-school nursery has nudged it more towards being a friend than an enemy. Instantly instead of snatching a couple of hours here and there and feeling dissatisfied with the outcome - trying to do too much in too little time and not doing any of it justice - I have instead switched to a more relaxed approach where I can indulge my whims with ample time and not feel that I've used the time badly.

So this morning where I might have felt some pressure to get to Harwood and follow up on 'Lucky' Andy's Great Grey Shrike instead I headed else where to some large areas of similar habitat I'd noticed during the summer to check whether they too might hold wintering GGS.
With the upland areas even more devoid of passerines than the coast I had little variety, the 'glip' of Common Crossbills was never too far away, though all were either in high conifers or flyovers. I came across several singing males today, all out of camera reach, in fact the female below was the only real opportunity to get any sort of image. Roving parties of Coal Tit were also obvious; the occasional sentinel -like Kestrel hunched and stationery. Several Common Buzzards including a couple that gave the impression of being paired off.

Sat on a high vantage with the road a distant mile back I was a little surprised to hear the an electronic double click for all the world like an audible car alarm being armed. Of course the culprit, or culprits in this case quickly revealed themselves as two Humvees of the corvid world soaring into view and proceeding to entertain me for the next ten minutes with some acrobatic display work involving rolls, flips a little precision landing and finally a stiff-winged flypast salute of my vantage.

Thursday, 20 January 2011


With the twins starting nursery this week, I've taken the opportunities created to start getting out and looking at some of the areas I planned to guide in with my new guiding service Bird North East. Fairly quiet on the bird front, though my first birdsong of the year was a singing Marsh Tit and I did manage to drop back into the Hawfinch site on the way back to school in the afternoon and pick up two birds coming in from the east but flight views only. Interesting that these birds are also attracting the odd Durham birder to venture north with young twitcher Andrew Kinghorn plus one burning up his university grant to get to grips with the big finches.
Once rather nice find whilst out and about was three Otters cavorting along one of the rivers. My first sighting this year of this particular mammal.

This morning saw me at the coast and the first Fulmars of the year were picked out around the outfall pipe of Spital Burn, though no sign of the adult Iceland Gull that was reported here last week. Over 200 Wigeon back at an ice-free Bothal Pond finished the morning nicely with the sun highlighting the differences between the grey and rufous females quite nicely.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

The Tape Lure

After seeing Laura Kammermeier's efforts on Xtranormal and the rather funny take on parts of the Slaty-backed Gull Birdforum thread I thought I'd try my hand. So here's a little short on one of my pet hates, all characters are fictional and any resemblance to anyone in real life is simply by accident.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Haw, Haw, Haw.

Sometimes kids can look at you and you just know their thinking "Stop talking shit dad" . There comes that point in all kids lives when they stop believing in fairy tales; the Tooth fairy and Santa Claus go the same way as innocence is lost. Sometimes it's hard for kids to sort through what their elders tell them and pick out the truths.

I kind of got the impression the kids thought it was one of my tall stories last night when I mentioned that not one but two near mythical Northumberland birds had been seen about 3.5 miles away as the crow flies. I overheard some conversation later

Child 1: "Yeah right if he thinks we're gonna fall for that old chestnut he's thicker than we thought"

Child 2: "Dead right, Haw haw haw, silly old twat"

Child 1: " Just how old does he think we are, everybody knows you have to be a jammy git like that, what's his name? Boombox Birder to get a sniff of Hawfinch these days."

Hawfinch has become a tough bird to see in Northumberland over the last 20 years, never easy any remnant population seems to have almost fallen away completely, with Birds in Northumbria 2009 showing just two records in the whole year and the year before not that much better with just six records.

As we walked along the Hawthorn lined footpath in the fading afternoon sun I could still hear the odd snigger from the kids, I saw the looks they gave each other earlier in the day when 'Lucky' Uncle Andy talked about a flock of 44, 'back in the days...'
After a half hour with two foraging Jays they were restless, calling to go back to the car, chiding me for leading them on a wild goose chase. Suddenly a shadow was cast over the land, we all looked up as a finch the size of a fist, circled overhead, wing tips like an eagle the sound of its wing beats echoing across the low fields. They cowered, open mouthed at the sheer size of the bill 'big enough to break a man's arm' and then finally they laughed, long and loud, as they realised that they had clawed back another tick on Dad. Hawfinch a year tick for me, a dragon slain for a three year old.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

A rather casual and leisurely stroll around some of the local haunts this morning produced some typical winter fare. A single Barnacle Goose with Mute Swans north of QE2 where two were reported yesterday. Small numbers of Teal, Wigeon, Pochard, Tufted Duck and Gadwall back on one or two local ponds. A single notable Shelduck at Castle Island, notable because when I was 'doing' Castle Island religiously as a patch 88-91 January was the only month of the year in which I didn't record Shelduck.
After chewing the cud with an endless stream of birders at Woodhorn (three) I headed off with a couple to look for the reported Greenland White-fronted Geese. As had been suggested they were in the grass fields with 68 Pink-footed Geese opposite the old windmill. Four adults, the smart thinking this morning from those with good knowledge of these things (not me) was that these are probably last year's 1st-winter's returning and may again linger until mid-April, so plenty of time to catch up with them.
High tide at Newbiggin was a wader-fest with 11 species in a short stretch including 2 Purple Sandpipers, 13 Grey Plovers and 3 Bar-tailed Godwit. Guillemots were prominent offshore and a very quick glance on the south beach produced 3 Med Gulls. 
A colour-ringed Whooper Swan at Linton roundabout close enough to the road to read the ring (Yellow S55 if you must know) was my final sighting of the morning.

Edit: As Frankie Laine used to sing "like a streak of lightning streaking cross the sky, like the swiftest arrow whizzin from the bow" no sooner have I posted and an answer arrives. Many thanks to Mike Hodgson for taking the time to drop me a mail with the details for S55. A female ringed at Flukie Fishing Lodge on the River Tay on 29 January 2010, she has been present at Linton since 18th December 2010 and Mike believes it's the first time she has been seen away from Tayside (in the UK).

Friday, 14 January 2011

Anyone want Six Numbers?

The Birds – Will 2011 bring another first for Britain? What surprises might be in-store? Slaty-backed Gull on an East Coast Tip or an inland reservoir roost? Perhaps Willet somewhere in the south-west? Maybe another ship-born yank sparrow, Lincoln’s anyone? Or will we caught entirely by surprise by another Pacific alcid possibly taking advantage of an ice free north west passage, Horned Puffin off Hengistbury might take someone by surprise.

That's a passage from a blog post I added to The Crow Council site on New Years Eve. Today this so if you're a seawatcher at Hengistbury I'd consider reading up on Pacific alcids whilst the nights are still dark.

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Bird Deaths

I've been working so only garden birding between Waxwing reports for two days, though my eight year old gripped me this morning with our 2nd garden record of Jay, two as it happens. They prompted a full family twitch, a rare event.
My Inbox has been dominated by stories of mysterious bird deaths across the globe, obviously having an inquisitive nature I've read around a little looking for possible answers. One blogger in Florida (remind me never ever to holiday there) has the answer, I'm not linking to the blog in case they track me down but here is perhaps the best explanation for the mysterious bird deaths I've read all weekend quoted from that blog.

I do not believe these many strange and tragic animal deaths are a 'God thing' as some imply. Yes, He is allowing it to occur but the workers of Satan are behind it in my opinion. There exists weapon technology that most of the public is unaware which uses directed energy, scalar science, HAARP in Alaska and even chemtrails to harm and kill. It's no secret that one of the goals of the occultic illuminati is to wipe out the majority of the earth's population by whatever means and manage the rest with mind control. Fear is the main tool of Satan to manipulate the masses and these kind of events are being used to create panic in some and push the pre-trib rapture folks into a lather.

And to think I thought Lee Evans was to blame, after all he's responsible for everything else that goes wrong in birding isn't he? So now if we meet and I look at you a little funny, don't worry I'm just trying to work out if you're one of the occultic illuminati.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Short Interlude

One of my favourite US birders and bloggers Laura Kammermeier has posted a great little animated video of the meeting between new birder and old birder (at least that's my take on the characters) but it does seem to crystallise some of the debates that whirl around birding and it's amusing. Check it out here.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Coues' Arctic Redpoll

To be honest I hadn't planned to go birding this afternoon as we were meant to be visiting friends in Gosforth but one of them went down with something and the wives and kids headed off to one of the indoor playspaces for a catch-up and a gossip so I decided to get back up to Widdrington to check on the Mealy Redpolls.
Without snow cover they're harder work, the number of birds this afternoon was much reduced and counting was pretty difficult as they were landing in tree tops and dropping straight into Alder about 5m into the scrub.
I resorted to taking some 'group shots' as they landed hoping to count the Mealies at home and get a better idea of how many there were. Another birder appeared whilst I was trying to get photos and turned out to be Dave Britton from Teeside looking for Arctic Rolls, with the light beginning to drop I headed off home.
Imagine my surprise then when I started looking at the group shots and found this staring back at me.

My gut reaction was this was the palest bird I've seen this winter and had to be Coues' Arctic Redpoll a quick circulation for a few other eyes to sense check it (thanks you know who you are) and it seems Northumberland has its first (mainland twitchable)Arctic Roll since 1996. Not a bad way to start the year.
If you're visiting try and park sensibly as over the past few weeks I've been there the farmer has been up and down the lane with a tractor and it is the main access to many fields. Also take note of the risk of gas explosion and leave the fags in the car.
I must offer apologies to Dave Britton, if I'd known what I had in my camera... and thanks to Nigel for finding the Mealies in the first place.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

New Year - New Bow String

In just a couple of weeks the twins will embark on their first trip to Nursery and will be safely ensconced within thereafter for two and a half days per week. So with a little extra time I've decided to add an extra string to my bow to try and cover the extra VAT, fuel costs and coming soon interest rate rises that the Bank of England seem eager to remind us are just around the corner.
Some of you may remember the name, but it has a new look and a new purpose, so welcome back Bird North East.

Birds In Northumbria 2009

Birds in Northumbria 2009 is the county bird report for Northumberland published by Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club. Each year it contains a full systematic list of all species recorded in the year. It also includes regular features such as earliest arrivals and latest departures for migrants, a ringing report, photo gallery as well as a selection of interesting and topical papers. Birds in Northumbria 2009 features an original art cover featuring the breeding Ospreys by Mike Henry and papers detailing the breeding ocurrences of Ospreys, Marsh Harriers and Mediterranean Gulls in the county. NTBC members receive Birds in Northumbria as part of their membership but non-members can purchase the report for £10 + £1.50 postage & packing from Trevor Blake, 6 Glenside, Ellington, Northumberland, NE61 5LS; please make cheques payable to Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

Northumberland Self-found List 2011

Red-throated Diver Newbiggin 03/01
Great Northern Diver Goswick 10/11
Little Grebe Druridge Bay CP 23/01
Red-necked Grebe Newbiggin 13/02
Great Crested Grebe Birling Carrs 29/01
Black-necked Grebe undisclosed site 08/04
Slavonian Grebe Birling Carrs 10/02
Fulmar Newbiggin 20/01
Sooty Shearwater Newbiggin 24/07
Manx Shearwater Newbiggin 30/05
Balearic Shearwater Newbiggin 20/07
Storm Petrel Newbiggin 24/07
Gannet Newbiggin 26/01
Shag Seahouses 29/01
Cormorant Newbiggin 03/01
Little Egret Fenham Flats 10/06
Grey Heron Castle Island 16/01
Bittern East Chevington 12/07
Spoonbill Cresswell Pond 13/06
Mute Swan QE2 CP 16/01
Whooper Swan 13/03 Cresswell Pond
Pink-footed Goose Hemscott Hill 03/01
Tundra Bean Goose Budle Bay 17/11
Greylag Goose Hemscott Hill 03/01
Canada Goose Bothal Pond 20/01
Barnacle Goose Woodside Reservoir 27/05
Pale-bellied Brent Goose Fenham Flats 29/01
Shelduck Castle Island 16/01
Mandarin Ridley Stokoe 08/04
Wigeon Hemscott Hill 03/01
Gadwall Woodhorn Flash 16/01
Teal Newbiggin 03/01
Mallard Ashington 02/01
Pintail Druridge Pools 27/01
Garganey Lynemouth Flash 08/05
Shoveler Budle Bay 29/01
Pochard Woodhorn Flash 16/01
Tufted Duck Woodhorn Flash 16/01
Eider Newbiggin 03/01
Common Scoter Newbiggin 03/01
Velvet Scoter Druridge Bay 27/01
Long-tailed Duck Stag Rocks 15/04
Goldeneye Castle Island 16/01
Red-breasted Merganser Druridge Bay CP 23/01
Goosander Sheepwash 25/01
Marsh Harrier Warkworth Lane 11/05
Sparrowhawk Pegswood 05/01
Goshawk undisclosed 10/02
Buzzard Old Widdrington Tip 03/01
Osprey near Mitford 08/04
Kestrel Wansbeck Est 05/01
Merlin Farne Islands 16/04
Peregrine Farne Islands 29/01
Red Grouse Carrshields 10/03
Grey Partridge Fenham Flats 29/01
Common Quail Tritlington 30/5
Red-legged Partridge Hemscott Hill 02/04
Pheasant Druridge Pools 27/01
Moorhen Woodhorn Flash 16/01
Coot Woodhorn Flash 16/01
Oystercatcher Newbiggin 03/01
Avocet Cresswell Pond 05/04
Golden Plover Newbiggin 16/01
Grey Plover Newbiggin 16/01
Ringed Plover Newbiggin 03/01
Little Ringed Plover 07/05
Lapwing Gloucester Lodge Farm 05/01
Woodcock Harthope Valley 05/06
Snipe Druridge Pools 01/02
Black-tailed Godwit Cresswell Pond 27/04
Bar-tailed Godwit Newbiggin 16/01
Whimbrel Widdrington 08/05
Curlew Newbiggin 26/01
Spotted Redshank Druridge Pools 11/08
Greenshank Long Nanny Burn 22/04
Redshank Newbiggin 03/01
Common Sandpiper Castle Island 07/05
Turnstone Newbiggin 03/01
Knot Newbiggin 16/01
Sanderling Newbiggin 03/01
Purple Sandpiper Newbiggin 16/01
Dunlin Newbiggin 03/01
Ruff Newbiggin 26/08
Great Skua Newbiggin 27/05
Pomarine Skua Newbiggin 01/09
Arctic Skua Newbiggin 24/07
Common Gull Newbiggin 03/01
Lesser Black-backed Gull Newbiggin 17/03
Great Black-backed Gull Newbiggin 03/01
Iceland Gull Newbiggin 04/02 *re-find after x days
Herring Gull Pegswood 01/01
Yellow-legged Gull Newbiggin 04/08
Black-headed Gull Ashington 02/01
Mediterranean Gull Newbiggin 03/01
Little Gull Newbiggin 19/02
Kittiwake Newbiggin 20/01
Sandwich Tern Newbiggin 26/03
Roseate Tern East Chevington 29/06
Common Tern Druridge Pools 11/05
Arctic Tern East Chevington 13/05
Black Tern Newbiggin 29/07
Little Auk Newbiggin 27/01
Guillemot Newbiggin 27/01
Razorbill Rumbling Churn 17/02
Puffin Newbiggin 20/03
Feral Pigeon Gloucester Lodge 05/01
Stock Dove Woodhorn 04/03
Woodpigeon Ashington 02/01
Collared Dove Pegswood 02/01
Cuckoo Harthope 13/05
 Barn Owl Cresswell Pond 01/02
Tawny Owl undisclosed site 20/05
Nightjar Harwood Forest 26/06
Common Swift Castle Island 29/04
Kingfisher Mitford 19/05
Great Spotted Woodpecker Scots Gap 22/01
Green Woodpecker Tutehill Moss 27/02
Skylark Tutehill Moss 10/02
Sand Martin Castle Island 04/04
House Martin Seahouses 15/04
Swallow Pegswood 09/04
Meadow Pipit Newbiggin 03/01
Rock Pipit Seahouses 29/01
Pied Wagtail Newbiggin 03/01
Yellow Wagtail Cresswell Pond 05/04
Grey Wagtail Scotch Gill Woods 14/03
Waxwing Ashington 13/03* extra six birds to reported number
Dipper Ingram Valley 05/06
Wren Woodhorn Flash 28/01
Dunnock Spital Burn 04/02
Robin Pegswood 02/01
Black Redstart Cresswell village 31/10
Redstart Harthope Valley 05/06
Whinchat Harthope 13/05
Stonechat Druridge Pools 16/03
Wheatear Woodhorn Flash 10/04
Ring Ouzel undisclosed 13/05
Blackbird Pegswood 01/01
Fieldfare Whitefield Farm 20/01
Redwing Newbiggin 03/01
Song thrush Pegswood 27/02
Mistle Thrush Newbiggin 03/01
Grasshopper Warbler Newbiggin Ash Lagoons 17/04
Sedge Warbler Fenham Flats 10/06
Reed Warbler East Chevington 27/04
Garden Warbler Newbiggin 26/08
Blackcap Woodhorn Flash 10/04
Common Whitethroat Lough House 25/04
Lesser Whitethroat nr Hebron 25/04
Willow Warbler Newbiggin 06/04
Chiffchaff Pegswood 20/03
Yellow-browed Warbler Newbiggin 07/10
Goldcrest Newbiggin 20/03
Spotted Flycatcher North Middleton 13/05
Pied Flycatcher undisclosed site 20/05
Long-tailed Tit North Shields Fish Quay 25/01
Marsh Tit Borough Woods 19/01
Willow Tit Prestwick Carr 11/11
Coal Tit Borough Woods 19/01
Great Tit Pegswood 20/01
Blue Tit Pegswood 02/01
Nuthatch Pegswood 17/02
Treecreeper Wallington Hall 02/03
Jay Pegswood 09/01
Magpie Whitefield Farm 20/01
Jackdaw Ashington 02/01
Rook Pegswood 02/01
Carrion Crow Pegswood 01/01
Raven undisclosed 22/01
Starling Pegswood 01/01
House Sparrow Pegswood 03/01
Tree Sparrow pegswood 09/01
Chaffinch Pegswood 02/01
Brambling Pegswood 11/01
Greenfinch Pegswood 02/01
Siskin Old Widdrington Tip 03/01
Goldfinch Old Widdrington Tip 03/01
Arctic Redpoll Old Widdrington Tip 03/01
Lesser Redpoll Ashwood Business Park 20/03
Mealy Redpoll Old Widdrington tip 03/01
Twite Hemscott Hill 23/03
Linnet Newbiggin 03/01
Crossbill Harwood 22/01
Bullfinch Pegswood 05/01
Yellowhammer Pegswood 05/01
Reed Bunting Pegswood 26/01
Lapland Bunting Newbiggin 27/10
Snow Bunting Hauxley 15/11

Total 189 Species Last Updated 19 November 2011

Self Found List 2011

03/01 Red-throated Diver; Newbiggin
23/01 Little Grebe; DBCP
29/01 Great Crested Grebe; Birling Carrs
10/02 Slavonian Grebe; Birling Carrs
20/01 Fulmar; Newbiggin
26/01 Gannet; Newbiggin
03/01 Cormorant; Newbiggin
29/01 Shag; Newbiggin
16/01 Grey Heron; Castle Island
16/01 Mute Swan; QE2 Country Park
10/02 Whooper Swan; East Chevington NWT
03/01 Pink-footed Goose; Hemscott Hill
03/01 Greylag Goose; Hemscott Hill
20/01 Canada Goose; Bothal Pond
29/01 Pale-bellied Brent Goose; Lindisfarne NR
16/01 Shelduck; Castle Island
03/01 Wigeon; Hemscott Hill
16/01 Gadwall; Woodhorn Flash
03/01 Teal; Beacon Point, Newbiggin
02/01 Mallard; Ashington
27/01 Pintail; Druridge Pools