Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Two in 45

The number of species I managed to spy in the available time between leaving home and collecting the kids, after a conscientious couple of hours catching up on a few odd jobs. A year-tick Little Owl at a new site for me near Hebron was just reward for several hours searching seemingly suitable tree lines recently. Looping back towards school, a short stop on a bridge over the Wansbeck to look for Grey Wags produced a Kingfisher that looped around under the bridge, resplendent in the spring-like sunshine mid-afternoon.

Monday, 27 February 2012


Apparently we 'need' a new kitchen. I should explain. We had a leak, one that went unnoticed for some time until it spilled out from the dark depths of the under sink cupboard and began to seep through the cracks of the badly laid laminate floor. These things have a habit of turning nasty and this is no exception. We foolishly decided to purchase a new sink, apparently one that matched the hob was critically important all of a sudden, instead of just replacing the leaking waste pipes. Plumber arranged, cupboard cleared only to discover that current sink was glued in place in rather a permanent fashion and refused to part company with the 14 year old, now obsolete and unobtainable anywhere work surface. Dire cost consequences.

So this morning found me heading for Ikea to collect a kitchen catalogue. Not wishing to pass up an opportunity and with plenty of time to wander I pushed a little further south to Derwent Park, just to the south of Rowlands Gill. A small children's play park, devoid of life on a Monday morning ensured my two could tear about and make as much noise as they liked whilst I set-up nearby and scanned the tree-lines.

The main attraction down that neck of the woods is the Red Kite activity, they didn't disappoint though this morning's action was x rated as a courting couple of milvus were wasting no time (Green 76 and untagged male) and not worried about public sensibilities, getting it on for the world to see just south of the Toddler Park.I think we had 4 in the air at one point though there were possibly different individuals further south appearing periodically so conceivably up to seven in the area. Three Grey Wagtails flew north, a year tick, whilst a Great Spotted Woodpecker put in a brief appearance.

 "Dirty, Dirty Birds" (per Toby Collett who wasn't rubbing his hands on his knees a la Vic Reeves)

Post-coital chit-chat courtesy of a disgracefully ancient Iphone

After Ikea and a quick Pizza Hut lunch we headed west to an area high above the Tyne Valley just before the Northumberland/Durham recording border starts to twist south bearing away from the Tyne. A bit grey and a few spots of drizzle so not the best day for soaring raptors, however, we managed 2 more Red Kites both inside the Durham boundary sadly, a single Buzzard and a Sparrowhawk on the right side of the Tyne. Two more Buzzards soared above a small wood south of Darras Hall as we sped home.

Sunday, 26 February 2012

Caspian At Straws

Work until mid-afternoon today, though I had managed three Common Buzzards in the process by early afternoon, two soaring over Ulgham and a third much closer to home between uz and Longhirst. An uneventful day until the phone rang and I heard the boss's voice whisper "Caspian Gull" down the phone. A quick mental somersault left me thinking "I haven't put any Caspian Gull's out today so I can't have got anything wrong".
Turns out she was on a busman's holiday in Barnes and the office teaboy had turned up trumps with a 1st-winter cachinnans - I'm sure they only rang to grip me off!
A bird in the oven and the veg on the hob I headed out for a quick wander of some of the local hedgerows to look for Little Owls. I've had some success over the years we've lived here and had birds on several occasions. They should be just starting to find their voices around now and the wind had dropped a little, so I was quite hopeful. An hour later and despite trudging 2-3 miles of hedgerow I returned noctua-less, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, a single male Yellowhammer and a couple of Great Tits were my only points for effort.

Saturday, 25 February 2012


Two hours at Stag Rocks this morning failed to deliver a Black Guillemot but there was plenty to keep the brain occupied. Eight Slavonian Grebes including a party of five that sailed around the rocks and along the beach no more than 30m out were smart as were at least as many Long-tailed Ducks, particularly the males. All the auks appeared to be Razorbills.
Ten Pale-bellied Brent Geese trundled north as did 2 Canada Geese but the major movement of the morning was of Skylarks with 94 counted over two hours moving north/north-west. 244 Herring Gulls loafed in the fields behind the dunes.
Caught up with the wintering Greenshank in Budle Bay and took the time to count the Shelduck with 124 present. An adult Lesser Black-backed Gull bathed with a small flock of predominantly adult Herring Gulls, one of which had a dark eye.
Further north at Loanend I happened upon a big bunting flock, whilst out searching for buntings; mainly Yellowhammers (c.150), I also counted 22 Tree Sparrow and a small number of Reed Buntings.

Wednesday I found a couple of Red-legged Partridge near Tritlington whilst out looking for things other than Red-legged Partridge. Also noted three Ringed Plovers 'inland' at Stobswood, along with 4 Oystercatchers, my first of either species away from the coast this year.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Valentine's Gull

Most Lesser Black-backed Gulls reported from Northumberland in February are adults, generally there are at most a couple of handfuls of wintering birds in the county with the possibility of some northbound returning individuals towards the end of the month. We don't get to see too many in February and few are in immature plumages.
I came across this individual on Valentine's Day, a 1st-winter (2CY) that was sat tight on the ground for a long period before it showed a little better; to be honest first impressions on the ground had me thinking dark argentatus Herring Gull. Most 1st-winter LBBG don't appear as dark as this individual this late in the winter ( or at least those that I've seen in Spain and in literature/images don't) but after some head-scratching I think this is probably a better fit for Lesser Black-backed Gull than the alternatives. The greater coverts don't appear typical for most LBBG but other features seem to fit, black tail band, white rump and undertail coverts with large sparse dark spots; blackish-centred mainly plain tertials with thin off white edges; quite a few dark retained juvenile scapulars and the patterns on the moulted upper scapulars appear dark and more in line with LBBG; dark head, mask and acquiring a '1st-summer' pale base to the bill.
The droopy wing relaxed stance would also seem to fit with LBBG. Any comments welcome.

Saturday, 11 February 2012


An hour long early morning sea-watch produced almost nothing of note and whilst the 'blue' in the title could refer to any number of appendages afterwards I'd rather add it to Fulmar to get the only vaguely interesting individual of the session. 10 other bog standard Fulmars moved south as did an adult Mediterranean Gull.

The Wansbeck was mostly frozen and most of the wildfowl have departed pastures better apart from a handful of Goldeneye and a single Red-breasted Merganser.

Bothal Pond too was pretty iced up, though at least here I had the good fortune to stumble on a female  Scaup that is fairly fresh in, excuse the image quality, it was some distance across the pond.

Friday, 10 February 2012

A Date for Valentine?

Let's face it over half of you are single, at least a third are ugly, another third bearded and if you don't feel you fit any of those labels then you're the weirdo loner that everyone keeps warning me about. So how do you intend spending Valentine's night? Squirming because you didn't get the lady in your life a cheap card (or maybe because it was too cheap)? Instead why not check out some Birding TV. We don't get much so the Aerial Assassins programme scheduled on National Geographic Wild, presented by James Currie from Birding Adventures TV might be worth a look. On at 21:00 it's focussing on Harris Hawks in the Sonoran desert.

Edit: Apparently just heard that Nat Geo Wild have re-scheduled this to March so I'd spend a bit more time choosing the card this year.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

West of Morpeth

Yesterday afternoon I filled the two hours 'nursery slot' with a drive out west of Morpeth. Not a huge amount to show for the effort, a few calling Crossbills in suitable breeding habitat, 3-4 Common Buzzards, Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a confiding Red Squirrel.

Today a few glances in the garden and environs produced 2 Jays, 4 Siskins, several Bullfinches including a probable 'tooting' male 'Northern in the hedge, Lesser Redpoll, Tree Sparrow and a Grey Heron visiting neighbour's garden ponds looking for fish. Have some winter Hornbeam from yesterday.

Sunday, 5 February 2012


Whilst most of the ponds and lakes had a good covering of ice this morning the alleged snow fall made little impression. After an absence of a couple of weeks, the lure of my most regular circuit proved irresistible. Following the line where sand met snow a few icy crystals I spied a Grey Heron feeding on the rocks, tidal pool Dunlin and two Grey Plover returning from a golf trip all were 'new for the year' on this patch.

The icy conditions appear to have moved on many of the beach's usual inhabitants and one each of Pied Wagtail and Rock Pipit were all that remained. Up on the grassy tops three Snow Buntings crept between the thin brown grass heads deftly picking seeds.

Elewhere single Whooper Swans were at QEII Country Park and Bothal Pond, the latter site also holding a Dunlin. A walk along a field-side ditch with running water produced a Brown Rat and Jack Shit rather than the hoped for Jack Snipe.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Bit of Bird Biz

One of the highlights of the last couple of years has been meeting some great people that manage to combine business and birding. Roll the two together and thrown in a bit of social media and a hot drink and I can be 'engaged' for hours.

Friday was no exception as I met with Charlotte Lancashire from British optics brand Forest Optics to discuss some of the products in their new range that I'm going to be reviewing for Bird Watching magazine. The icing on the cake was stepping from the car. glancing up and adding county year tick number 130 in the form of a Treecreeper inching its way upside down along one of the exposed branches overhead.

Later in gratefully received winter sunshine I spent an hour at Mitford Castle using one of the ED scopes to do some treetop scanning from a high vantage. A couple of displaying Buzzards to the north and the smooth glide of a female Sparrowhawk along with two noisy Nuthatches were my reward.

A circular journey back via Shilvington and Tranwell produced another Buzzard and a welcome Willow Tit in typical habitat that even did the decent thing and called, once, (though there was never really any doubt)

Friday, 3 February 2012

Hot & Cold

I'm torn between blogging some more pictures of the 34c October vistas and birds from Southern Portugal and keeping on top of the winter birding here at home. So as time for blogging seems to be getting squeezed ever tighter, I thought I might mix it up a little and mash two posts into one.

In fact once I started thinking about it there were so many common elements that I wondered why I hadn't thought of it before. Two villages, both picture postcard perfect, two rivers and two monasteries, oh and some half decent birds too.

Mertola in Alentejo, an early morning stroll much like he one I took south of Alnmouth on Thursday might produce Blue Rock Thrush, Southern Grey Shrike, Lesser Kestrels from the boxes visible in the white building with the arches, Black Redstarts, Sardinian Warblers, Cetti's Warblers and maybe the odd Stonechat. 

Thursday ADMc and I at least managed the Stonechats with a pair behind the dunes on the south side of the Aln, the temperature was a whole 30c lower and the birds had a distinctly British winter flavour. Two Velvet Scoters picked out by Andy as they powered north and 3 Great Crested Grebes were the highlights whilst 10-15 Red-throated Divers  were spread over 2 miles.

As we walked south through stubble, eight Whooper Swans in nearby rape were the best we muster, though later a track across the saltmarsh under the shadow of the former church produced a female Pintail. In contrast the ploughed fields pictured above are the haunt of another grazing giant, that fantastic beast that is the Great Bustard. 
One of these bursting from the stubble yesterday would have livened up proceedings a little. Further south we caught up with the wintering Spotted Redshank as it burst from underneath the new footbridge at Warkworth Gut shouting the odds at our presence before dropping 30m downstream to offer great views.
Here we managed five Stonechats, two pairs and a seemingly solitary male as we trekked south along the path behind the dunes. Five Snow Buntings quickly became eight and were happy to feed a couple of metres away on the high tide debris. At the breakwater a single 1st-winter Little Gull added to the day's birds new for the year. The estuary teemed with Dunlin, with smaller numbers of commoner waders. On another day the sound of Skylarks would unquestionably have tumbled down from above. On another walk, a few months ago another lark sang from nearby posts. I'll let you sort out which one.