Saturday, 26 November 2011

Bean Too Quick Off The Mark!

Set out north on Thursday with Tony Bowman, back over from D&G visiting kin-folk in the bayou. We headed out specifically to look for Bean Geese and we weren't disappointed. We stopped just over the railway line at Little Mill to pick the bones out of a finch flock and spotted four grey geese in the distance two or three fields over to the north. Scopes up and bang, four 'bean geese'. Remarkably when we drove around and repositioned ourselves a little over 100m away they had flown off and been replaced by four Pink-footed Geese in the exact same part of the field. One can only assume the feeding must have been particularly good at that spot!

A few fields west and we picked out a small huddle of grey geese this time perhaps 20-25 strong again at perhaps only 150m distance. Staying low out the car we managed both not to spook them and to get some half-decent views of at least two Bean Geese. The next half hour was spent debating the racial ID of one of these; whilst one was clearly a nailed on 'Tundra' the other showed a bill pattern with more extensive orange running back along the upper mandible. The lie of the land ensured no views of the legs or the tail pattern so head and bill shape, bill pattern and general head/neck colouration were all we had to go on. We did have 12 European White-fronted Geese and a few Greylags for company and comparison. Having done a little more reading tonight I'm back to thinking this was a male and female Tundra though as the bill shape and head profile still seem to fit that race better to my mind.

Next stop Boulmer which was tame in a Grey Plover/Bar-tailed Godwit kind of way.

We broke for lunch at East Chevington, where there appeared to be a significant reduction in numbers from recent days, though nine Pintail were as always nice to see. A search for the Green-winged Teal on the south pool proved fruitless, though this was basically because it was on the north pool, something we discovered just as we were about to tuck into a welsh scone. Back up the path and we were able to deliver it (the teal rather than the scone) to a lady with one of those Zeiss Photoscopes (first one I've seen being used in anger outside of the birdfair) as a lifer. I had a quick glance through the scope and tbh if I had a spare 2.5k....

A short wait at Cresswell provided further views of the Greater Stickleback Ripper as it appeared  from the reeds in a passable Mr-Benn emerging from his shop impression and devoured several of said fishies very rapidly. Didn't look too keen on swallowing though but then I couldn't really say how difficult it is to swallow sticklebacks can you?

The other highlight of the day was picking up two Hen Harriers hunting the same area, a male and a ringtail, that afforded excellent views for a few minutes before departing in opposite directions to each other.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Eastern Black Redstart

The kids safely in school I sped off north yesterday with ADMc to join the small gathering of birders on the shoreline below The Heugh at Holy Island. Mingling with the various retired, unemployed and skivers we exchanged pleasantries about how wonderful a morning it was and how we missed the nine to five.

An object of beauty quivered it's orange-red tail as it danced across the sunlit rocks, the Eastern Black Redstart may have prompted complicated discussions on its taxonomy and split potential under one or other of the various 'species concepts' but I heard little of that from the assembled voyeurs. 'Smart' 'Gorgeous' Nice' 'Sweet' were the superlatives tripping from lips old and older still, as the boy behaved impeccably. A nearby male Black Redstart the perfect foil.

My images are poor in comparison to those with more reach but I was happy enough just to soak this one up ( can't wait to see what Stewart makes of it!). At one point as early arrivals chatted and dispersed I wandered around the south west tip of The Heugh and for a few minutes had it all to myself as it played hide and seek behind the seaweed and pebble strewn beach.

Eastern Black Redstart

We broke the journey back with some fine Tundra Bean Geese in Budle Bay, at least three amongst the flock of Pink-footed Geese; Andy picked out a Greenshank too. Further down the coast we picked up the huge geese flock that had been found a couple of days in stubble around Dunstan Hill; again at least three Tundra Beans, 2 Ross's Geese a large number of European White-fronted Geese and several tens of Barnacle Geese amongst hundreds of Pink-feet made for an appetising lunch stop.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Still Slavering On

I took the twins twitching on Monday, I wonder if there are many four year olds that can claim Greater Yellowlegs, White-throated Robin and Desert Wheatear on their life-list. They hung around taking pictures of other twitchers with their Vtech cameras, catching a few bemused glances.

As we drove out I caught sight of a single goose with a big white blaze on the forehead and one of the current serious influx of European White-fronted Geese was in de bag. Drinking from a puddle it took my paparazzi efforts in it's stride, bloody unflappable these Russians.

Afterwards we stopped off as promised at Druridge Bay CP to feed the ducks and whilst the kids amused themselves I had a quick scan of the lake and bugger me if there's not a Slavonian Grebe not 30m off the jetty.
We finished off with a quick look at East Chev's drake Green-winged Teal.

Yesterday we were back at Hauxley this time having a quick look at the Tundra Bean Goose with White-fronts and Greylags in fields north of Low Hauxley. Whilst watching it we also jammed in on eight Snow Buntings flying around the south end of the field.
On the way home I took a quick look at the Canada Goose flock at Ulgham/East Stobswood to see if anything had been pulled in and sure enough seven European White-fronted Geese and a good 150 Pink-feet along with various dodgy incarnations including 3 Bar-headed Geese and at least one Greylag x Canada hybrid.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Is November The New October?

Large parts of last month felt like a bit of a damp squib which is disappointing as October really shouldn't feel like that. The last few days have been providing ample compensation with a raft of decent birds although without a raft of decent images to highlight them.

Wednesday afternoon saw me scratching around the seaweed at Beacon Point trying in vain to find a pipit amongst the eight Rock Pipits that might vaguely resemble something of greater interest. A single Grey Plover amongst the Goldies stood out.

Thursday saw me and the weekend's hero head hopefully for Holy Island. Without turning up anything spectacular we had a steady stream of worthy birds including 3 Lapland Buntings, a Short-eared Owl, ringtail Hen Harrier, 3 Blackcaps and a Goldcrest. A short hop around to Goswick added Great Northern Diver, Long-tailed Duck, 3-4 Velvet Scoters and a nice Peregrine on a beach post.
I counted six Common Buzzards between the Lindisfarne garage and Morpeth, how times have changed.

 Friday and I needed to do some Christmas shopping, though I did manage to 'twitch' the Prestwick Carr Great Grey Shrike, another Peregrine and 14 Bullfinch including one large-looking male. A detour back through Whitley Bay resulted in some gull action on the fields behind The Foxhunters where an adult Mediterranean Gull was the only real bit of quality unless you like Herring Gulls (which I do).

Work Saturday was a busy affair, the teeth marks in the desk telling all that needs to be told of the bird of the day. I relaxed at Bothal Pond as the sun went down, oblivious to the second coming further north but charmed by the pair of Goosander showing exceptionally well at the south end.

And so to today, a pre-arranged engagement with 'Urban Birder' David Lindo to explore some of Newcastle's urban edge nature reserves was hijacked by the continued presence of a couple of waders up at Hauxley. We took advantage of the clear roads and not so clear hide to ensure we both had a tick from the morning before feasting on the delights of Prestwick Carr, Killingworth Lake, Big Waters NR, Marden Quarry and Gosforth Park NR. Willow Tits, a Bittern, the pronounced genuine so it must be, Lesser Scaup and some woodland gems such as Nuthatch and Treecreeper kept the conversation flowing.

It will be 'Great' if  David can add some much-needed 'Legs' and national weight to the campaign against housing in the areas surrounding Gosforth Park.
I can't end without offering this, I hope that when I'm as old as the finder of yon yellow-legged beauty I still get as excited and breathless as he was when he rang, because if I do it means I'll still be enjoying finding amazingly good birds as much as he obviously does and that is priceless.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Weekend Highlights

Having flu not being one of them. Despite the lurgy I managed an hour at West Chevington yesterday afternoon; it was all a bit lazy birding from the car across an area of private former opencast but it did have its rewards namely a stunning adult male Hen Harrier reported the previous day that showed quite well. Common Buzzard and Kestrel added to the raptor mix. This Autumn is turning into what must be one of the best for harriers in living memory.
This morning back at Newbiggin for a relatively quiet morning walk around the golf course. Five Snow Buntings north of Beacon Point were the highlight. Trying to turn a couple of male Bullfinch into 'Northerns' on the Ash Lagoon I got a text to say there was a Siberian Chiffchaff on the Mound so I headed back that way.
 Found by Jimmy Steele on Saturday but not calling, the Sibe was performing well today, calling and eventually sitting in the Whitebeam for a little preening session and for the benefit of the camera cosying up with a cousin Common Chiffchaff.

 Sibe left (and out of focus) but you get the jist!

I finished this afternoon with an hour at Prestwick Carr mainly to try and catch up with the latest ringtail HH that has arrived but I had the twins so yomping the whole lane was out of the question and we contented ourselves with some tumbling Short-eared Owls; we saw three but Peter assured us there were 7-8 along the length of the lane.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Northern in November

You have to feel for them, November must just be a rejection pain filled month if you're a Northern   proper Wheatear. You turn up at an appropriate headland expecting to be greeted in a friendly way and instead you get met with disappointment and glances filled with sadness because you're not the delightful deserti or capable of producing the incredulity of isabellina.

They try so hard too, pull themselves up, assuming the position, give it the swagger, but that moment when they know you know, when they see it in your eyes, that rejection must hurt, must cut deep. Perhaps it's no wonder then that in about 150 days when they come back, many of them avoid the same contact, shun the coastal haunts of the migrant hunter and head straight for the upland valleys and lonely rocks.

 Wherever you're heading, whether it's the dry montada in Southern Portugal or beyond the deserts of North Africa don't be too sad. It wasn't you it was me, my expectations were too high, I should have been satisfied with you. I promise by the time you come back in March, I'll still be here, waiting to greet you at the same headland. This time there'll be no tears, no disappointment; there'll be nobody more pleased to see you and welcome you back and dance around the rocks with you again.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Gone Are The Heathen Hordes

Back to school on Monday morning, so the beaches are back to almost people free and you can once again walk along a track without Eddie Kidd's lovechild cutting you up on the inside. A sunny morning Monday provided an opportunity to get my own tearaways out and about.

First stop the big geese flock north of Ulgham where the night before I'd spied at least four 'white' geese from a moving vehicle about 800m across the tundra. Now unlike many of the top birders I struggle a little with identifying birds whilst looking over my shoulder at 50mph without optics so despite the compulsion to report them as Rough-legged Buzzards 'because they had pale rumps' I waited until the following morning. Good job too as the three still loitering were Bar-headed Geese. The kids were so disgusted they refused to leave the car and insisted we sing Lady Gaga songs all the way to the next stop off point. So by the time we reached
an overflowing Cresswell Pond I was on the edge of something, though not sure what. CP held little of note although a flock of c.25 Common Snipe and 180-ish Golden Plovers kept me entertained whilst the kids looked for squashed frogs. Heading south through the village we jammed into a female/1st-winter Black Redstart on the roof of the community hall and watched from the car as it flicked its way across the adjacent roofs.
Black Redstart

Later as the kids enjoyed an empty park at Newbiggin I counted 10 Mediterranean Gulls on the beach, 5 adults, a 2nd-winter and 4 1st-winters.
Returning from a last minute dash for bandages to turn J into a zombie, Bothal Pond held an unusual number of swans. A quick detour and we had our first Whooper Swans of the autumn with 11 adults and 2 juveniles along the south edge in fading evening light (ISO1600!).

Whoopers High on ISO