Saturday, 31 December 2011

Tats All Folks

At least for this year it is, I hope it has been a good one for you, I've certainly enjoyed it. I've got some great memories and enjoyed some fantastic birding; the speeding fines are paid, the damage to my weight from just two twitches with King Chocolate well-established and needing solid action in 2012.

Too many good memories from 2011 to list them all though the Jack Daniels/Sandhill Crane excursion was hard to beat. The most enjoyable birds of the year have been ones I've found, Nightjar in Central Northumberland and juvenile Yellow-legged Gull at Newbiggin, neither particularly rare on a national scale but neither easy to see in Northumberland (at least away from the known breeding sites in the south west in the case of Nightjar).

Next year will bring some big changes, it is the last summer before the twins start school and I hope that with their endurance improving and their shiny new Santa-delivered binoculars that we'll be out and about to make the most of the full days I have left with them. The thought of doing almost all my birding without them is still a little strange as for most of the time they are the only conversation I manage on weekdays. The upside is that beyond September and school the birding opportunities will improve, at least between nine and three so Autumn could be interesting.

With petrol prices and my waist size seemingly linked in a never ending upward spiral I intend to take on a small personal challenge next year, at least once a week I will switch to the bike with the aim of seeing more species than I weigh in pounds by the end of the year, given that I currently weigh in at a figure somewhere in the region of 195 pounds (otherwise known as the Pegswood Gut) if I don't attack the challenge at both ends it could end in spectacular failure. If I can knock off a stone and a half I may just about scrape it.
All that remains is to wish both of you that read and occasionally manage a comment all the very best birding for 2012. Oh and before anyone tells me I've dropped an 'h' in the title have some 'tats'

Friday, 30 December 2011

The other gull of interest was a 2nd-winter that appeared to me to show several Caspian-like features in the field; though far from a clear-cut classic individual the combination of a very white head, dark-looking eye, clean breast and underparts, a high chested look with a mantle that appeared pre-dominantly pale grey with just a few dark centred scaps dotted around along with the apparent gleaming white underwing that was noted whilst wing-stretching marked it out as interesting (if you like that sort of interesting).
On the negative side the head looked a little too large and the bill shorter than classic, it didn't look particularly rangy or long-legged as a result failing to have the jizz that would have had me on the phone (though I may have sounded a bit more bullish after a few drinks last night).
It looked better in the field than it does here, hey-ho, though as in the earlier post I'm happy to make clear that this is another that I'm flagging up as much to get people thinking and looking as anything else. One previous record for Northumberland simply isn't enough.

American Herring Gull/Dark Argentatus?

Four hours gull-watching yesterday at Backworth/Seghill began to produce some interesting individuals. First up is a 1st-winter 'Herring Gull' that bears more than a passing resemblance to 1st-winter American Herring Gull. I watched this individual for some 30+ minutes and made the notes below in the field; all images are once again Iphone-scoped hence the poor quality.
I didn't see this individual in flight nor did I see the underwing so unless it gets re-found and flight views/better images produced putting it in the box of either dark argentatus or smithsonianus with any certainty is difficult but from what I saw I believe it is at least as good a candidate as this though to provide some balance see here and anyone seriously interested in proving/disproving it may find this useful.

Compare the more typical 1st-winter 'Herring Gulls' left and below in the 1st image. Note the bill in the 2nd shot above, the basal half beginning to acquire a pinkish base.

1st-winter, dark almost uniform 'chocolate' brown, lacking  much tonal contrast between upperparts and underparts. Underparts showed some paleness around lower throat/upper breast but otherwise fairly uniform through to vent. Mantle/Scapulars showing some 1st-winter feathers, dark-centred (black) and fairly plain with little in the way of pale edges. Juvenile coverts dark, again showing little by way of paleness or barring. Greater coverts plainish brown based on outers with paler buff edges; inner greater coverts showed some barring.
Tertials dark centred with fairly narrow pale fringes, towards feather tips, the tertial step was obvious.Primaries black with faint pale tips. Tail-band appeared solidly dark and uppertail coverts were heavily barred as were the undertail coverts. Bill parallel edged without strong gonys angle, developing pink-ish base towards basal half. Legs dark pink

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Post-Christmas Desert

I started yesterday with a stroll along the north beach at Newbiggin where the 1st-winter male Desert Wheatear has managed to successfully avoid the attentions of the local Merlin and Peregrine (so far). It is not discerning in who it approaches closely so along with many others I held my breath as it flew towards me, landed 20feet away and then walked up to look at me from closer than I could focus the camera at (so less than 1.8m).

As it fed close to me it spent a great deal of time opening its beak though not to feed, at the closest point I heard it 'croak' a raspy note, I wouldn't describe it as a a call. No doubt New Year's Day will see some heavy footfall.

Three Rock Pipits fed in the same area of the beach. At Church Point 70 Knot were on the rocks along with a single Purple Sandpiper.

Gulls 27th December

Spent some time yesterday near Seghill Landfill after hearing that some of the gulls have been mooching in fields visible from one of the nearby roads. Nothing out of the ordinary but as always the variation amongst the Herring Gulls (argenteus and argentatus) ensured there was plenty to look at. All the images below are iphone-scoped.
Small looking head, high chested and long looking bill (probably accentuated by bill pattern), probably a 2CY argentatus (individual facing right).

White-headed with dark shawl, all dark bill and dark centred tertials, but not cutting the mustard, a Finnish/Baltic individual?

Thursday, 22 December 2011

All I Want For Christmas...

Expectation is in the air, it is the season for it after all. At least two of the kids are getting binoculars from Santa, so listen out for the howls of protest from my small corner of paradise early Christmas morning. Probably in keeping with most veterans of 40+ festive celebrations my own expectations tend to be little greater than hoping we've remembered all the batteries, don't run out of wine and manage to stay awake for The Great Escape.

Last night I got a message from Stef Mcelwee. Friends getting in touch is all part of the season for most people and perhaps along with family the most important part. The message was brief, after all he's a fairly recent 'new dad' and will be dealing with all that goes with the 'first christmas'. I'm not sure what it says about birders (or me) that the message was far from the usual Season's Greetings but rather an excited briefing on the latest news about Northumberland's Landfill sites.

Apparently 2012 will see the closure of Seghill, currently the only operational landfill in the county and a site where the gull action is very difficult to access due to the distance and height of the tip. The potentially thrilling news is that Ellington Road, a mere 2 miles from my current residence, is one of two candidates earmarked to be re-opened to take up the slack. The operators have a licence to operate the site for another 20+ years. The other key thing about Ellington Road is that access and viewing are much easier than Seghill and the proximity of nearby Linton Pond is like a magnet for all those lovely-jubbly gulls to go and bathe and drink. Now where's those party poppers...forget Christmas, roll on Mich-aelmas!

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Desert Before Lunch & Extra Beans

For various reasons I've been nowhere near Newbiggin since a certain wheatear arrived. In fact with the new work regime kicking in combined with the onset of school christmas productions I have done little birding. An early evening meal with John Mcloughin  followed by his insightful talk on Birding Morocco was swiftly followed by another day on the Zinc Works Road this time with great company in the form of Tom Mckinney. The gossip for once outshone the birds as gull numbers were generally low and we failed to string see anything.

So this morning I strolled up to Beacon Point at first light, I say light but reality was it was a tad gloomy, especially for getting any images so high ISO and low quality. Feeding well, probably better than it looks as it is a bit grotty in parts, active and enjoyable though on a fairly mild morning.

On the beach south of the point five rather pucker looking Meadow Pipits had replaced last month's Rock Pipit frenzy with only one of the latter keeping the mipits company. I spent a short while at Church Point, the highlight was a toss up between a hunting Peregrine and a (probable) White-beaked Dolphin, though Ashley Howe's hat ran a close third.
On the road home a false start with eight Pink-footed Geese in fields west of Linton before turning up another two Tundra Bean Geese with 26 Whooper Swans in the large field west of Longhirst Flash and only 2km from home. Such a good year for geese, and with a flock of 158 Tundras still at Loch of Strathbeg yesterday there could be more to come in the next few weeks if they filter south.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Feeding the Ducks

A sunny but cold morning provided some respite from domestic duties. I took the kids to Druridge Bay Country Park to 'feed the ducks' as we have done on a few occasions recently. A little disappointed that  large gull numbers were very low with perhaps a handful of Herring Gulls amongst their smaller cousins.

After a juvenile Mute Swan nipped both sets of fingers on a previous visit the kids were a little warier choosing to distribute their wares from the safety of a picnic bench. They did manage to pull in a more interesting visitor to their free handout in the shape of a female Pintail.

I scoped the east shore from the landing ramp and sure enough the juvenile Greater Yellowlegs was just north of the visitor centre. With no other birders around I thought I'd take the opportunity to grab some images. After driving around to the far end we walked along the bank but the GY had disappeared; whether it had slipped into the nearby phragmites as it was doing at Cresswell or whether one of the dog walkers had got too close and flushed it who knows. So you'll have to make do with more Pintail.