Sunday, 29 July 2012

Weekend Waders

After finishing work yesterday it was obvious that there were a few passage waders turning up, the red drops of adult Curlew Sandpipers were splashed along the east coast, the remnants of an overnight wader nose-bleed. So I decided to put in a few hours at some local sites yesterday afternoon and again this morning.

Yesterday afternoon the Blyth Estuary flattered to deceive, Redshanks dominated, I counted 113 but there were undoubtedly more in the channels upriver, 15 Dunlins were almost all adults. Three Ringed Plovers were nearby and a single Bar-tailed Godwit on the south shore.

This morning I chose to head north and see if there were any new arrivals at Warkworth Gut. A Wood Sandpiper had been present since Friday and was still lingering this morning in the company of a single Greenshank.

 Greenshank & Wood Sandpiper (distantly)

Three Little Egrets were also around the gut, two loafing together north of the wooden footbridge and a single further downstream midway to the main estuary. Three is a record county count for me and with individuals also around at Castle Island and Bothal Pond (and no doubt several other sites) the post-breeding dispersal numbers are increasing. Like Mediterranean Gulls they have reached a point where in a national context they are pretty much not 'newsworthy' in any English county anymore, though they remain scarce in Scotland.

Phonescoped Little Egrets

On the main estuary again Redshank numbers dominated, I counted 167 this morning. Dunlins were more numerous than on the Blyth (71), mainly adults making pulling anything different out amongst them an easy task, even the small number of ginger juveniles; four Black-tailed Godwits added a dash of colour, 3 adults and a juvenile islandica.
A drive-by at Cresswell Pond added a further 7 Black-tailed Godwits (all islandica I think) , another Greenshank and a single Ruff as well as more Dunlins (no count). Castle Island  my final destination threw another wader species into the morning mix with three Green Sandpipers around the north bay; Castle Island always seems to do well for Green Sandpiper in late summer/early autumn. The water levels are still relatively high so 22 post-breeding Cormorants here the only other note in my notebook this morning.

Thursday, 26 July 2012

A Quickie

With but a few moments to spare ahead of a bird club committee meeting I thought I'd squeeze out a small one. School holidays are obviously dominating the agenda so any birding is avec enfants and therefore limited. A little guiding work at the beginning of the week provided some decent views of Red Kite and a superb perched female Goshawk. 

Locally at least one Little Egret remains on Bothal Pond along with the Great Crested Grebe pair and young. Burning off some of the kids and dog's endless energy supplies this afternoon around the mouth of the Wansbeck at low tide revealed a 100-150 strong mixed Tern/Gull flock that last year produced several Roseates; I need to get down with a scope though as we were viewing from the south side to avoid my companions flushing everything. That's all.

french provided by Stewart.

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Shooting Quarry Species

It may come as a surprise to some that two of our declining wader species continue to be 'available' to shoot as legitimate quarry species in Britain. Both Common Snipe and Golden Plover are thought to have declined over the last 30 years yet both still have a season during which they can be legally shot. A decline in Common Snipe of -62% less birds breeding in wet meadows was recorded between 1982-2002 and the species is now listed as 'Amber' concern and the long term trend is one of 'rapid decline' (source). It is highly likely that when the new Atlas is published further declines will become apparent.

The situation for Golden Plover is less clear currently but again I would suggest it is highly likely that there has been a significant decline in breeding birds in recent decades. As with many waders the annual inward migration from the continent of birds wintering in the UK leads to higher numbers at coastal sites during those periods.
Common Snipe - Long term decline but still shot

So just how low do the breeding populations of these species have to get before we think about affording them the modest protection of not reducing their numbers further by shooting them? Whilst organisations such as GWCT are keen to highlight the 'huge' nature of wintering populations from the continent, they appear not to offer any suggestion as to how an individual shooter may differentiate between a British Snipe and a foreign one before pulling the trigger. You also have to wonder just how many shooters can identify the protected Jack Snipe in flight and avoid pulling the trigger.

Perhaps it's time that the RSPB and Wildlife Trusts jointly began a campaign to have these two species removed from the list of quarry species and afforded full protection whilst they continue to decline as British breeding species. The game industry and the various gamekeepers associations will no doubt claim that very few are shot and that these are likely to be continental birds but is there any real need to be still shooting either of these waders given what we know about their populations? I think not.

It's only three weeks until Snipe can be shot and a further three after that before Golden Plovers are vulnerable to the same treatment. The evocative Spring sounds of Snipe and Golden Plover are increasingly absent and continuing to shoot them does nothing to benefit or restore the populations and really should be consigned to the history books in my view. So how about it RSPB, a bit more emphasis on 'protection'?

Friday, 20 July 2012

Friday on the Flats

Lindisfarne in the early morning can be such a serene and peaceful place, most of the tourist traffic seems to start around 09:30 and for the first couple of hours on a weekday outside of school holidays you can almost have the place to yourself. This morning was no exception.

With a loose plan to focus on passage waders, initially from the causeway on a falling tide, I was greeted by a typically stunning vista as I squelched around the seaweed on the causeway pull-in.

It's still early in return passage, so waders were scarce on the ground with Curlews and Oystercatchers in the main. Around 50 Bar-tailed Godwits some still in spanking summer plumage were visible but apart from a single winter-plumaged Knot little else.
On the island side of the causeway I was met by a hunting Short-eared Owl and at Chare Ends perhaps the biggest flock of House Sparrows I've seen in many a year with well over 100 present around the car park and adjacent fields.
Four Dunlin were in the harbour. I spent a while looking through the 2-300 strong flock of moulting Common Eiders over on Guile Point for something more unusual; 14 Goosanders drifted past and lots of Little Terns fished out over the water. 

 Early morning Shortie

I headed further north and spent some time on the south side of the Tweed Estuary at Spittal mainly looking at gulls; my first fledged juvenile Herring Gulls of the year here and a good size flock of Kittiwakes roosting on the sands.
Further south I stopped at Budle Bay and Monk's House Pool though both were quiet. Stringer's Scrapes whilst looking splendid produced no waders, three juvenile Yellow Wagtails the only notable sighting. In fact I had to wait until I reached the Coquet before I found any 'passage waders' with 3 Common Sandpipers, 2 Black-tailed Godwits and a summer-plumaged Knot amongst some 120 Common Redshanks on the rising tide.

So little of note but some good exercise for the dog/leg.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Unexpected Winger

With a hint of a breeze from the north this morning was another lazy one parked in the chair gazing out to sea. A smart drake Velvet Scoter would normally have been the highlight of the morning amongst, what was frankly, a slightly disappointing return of 33 Manx Shearwaters, 4 first-summer Little Gulls, a pale adult Arctic Skua and a Whimbrel. However late morning  scan number 100 (or so) drifted across the twin-hulled fishing boat numbered EF-22, it had been picking up pots or nets just offshore for a while and had a handful of  Great Black-backed's in attendance. I got my eye on a gull as it dropped into the side of the boat and noted an apparent lack of black on the wingtips. Frankly this happens regularly and I'm well used to the second look that makes a lie of the first one when it becomes obvious that due to brevity/light/angle/distance said gull really does have black wingtips and is 'just a Herring Gull' after all.

A couple of minutes wait as the boat drifted, the gulls on the blind side where presumably there was by-catch going back in and then my 'white-winged gull' took off and bugger me it was a white-winged gull. Ten minutes later and several views in flight and on the sea with GBB's for company and it was apparent that it was an adult (or near-adult) Glaucous Gull - in July! Not what I expected to be adding to the notebook when I headed out and one of those sightings that on paper if I'm honest I'd no doubt be raising an eyebrow at if I hadn't seen it myself.

Later I took the dog up to the pools behind Hemscott Hill to look for passage waders, no joy with waders but the main pool had two dip-feeding first-summer Little Gulls and the muddy cow field nearby held four juvenile Yellow Wagtails presumably local breeders rather than passage birds.

The new lake at Steadsburn (no official name yet) now visible after the roadside baffle bank has been removed, looks like it could be an interesting body of water for some species. Typically large gulls have taken to roosting on the bare earth surrounding the site quickly so a count of 233 Herring Gulls there today whilst looking for this year's YLG was notable. A juvenile Great Crested Grebe was on the lake for its second day.

Monday, 16 July 2012


Saturday I spilled out after work to have a quick wander to Beacon Point. Not wishing to do the full distance due to the war wound I parked on the Moor Estate not far from the typically idiosyncratic Newbiggin Jubilee decorations involving a yellow hover mower wedged in a hedge.

Hopeful of some Roseate Terns I was to be disappointed, 20-30 Common & Arctic Terns slouching on the rocks but no Roseates. There was a little wader activity with up to 4 Whimbrels, 22 Sanderlings, 50-60 Golden Plovers back and a handful of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers.

Tonight I noticed someone else had had the same idea and had been more successful with a single Roseate Tern, so after tea I took the dog for a constitutional and headed back. Tern numbers had increased dramatically tonight with perhaps 100+ present. Luckily despite the early morning report the single adult Roseate Tern was still hanging around rocks just south of the outfall pipe. Five Mediterranean Gulls were also grouped around some of the rock pools with lots of Black-headed and Herring Gulls.

A mill-pond sea produced another intermediate Arctic Skua in the bay harrying terns whilst further out a couple of White-beaked Dolphins were feeding and showing well about 1km offshore. At one stage, milling around a huge gull feeding frenzy, the prominent, tall dorsal fin of what was probably a male was easily picked out with the naked eye. Through bins the white sides of the body visible above the water line it was so calm.

Sad news tonight that a great name from my teenage years has passed away after losing the fight against pancreatic cancer; few of my peers will not be familiar with Jon Lord, more than just a keyboard player and co-creator of so many great songs.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Dog Days

Crutch-less and birding again the leg seems to be healing well, I've put in a few hours here and there over recent days between work and the kids, enough to note the pendulum swinging towards Autumn. A new larger seawatching chair to accommodate both the dog and I was a bargain £8.99 in the almost ever-present sales we have these days.

From the ample space of said chair I had my first Sooty Shearwaters on Thursday with two feeding well offshore with some Manxies and Kittiwakes. An intermediate adult Arctic Skua was the first skua of the year as I had a totally blank spring on the skua-front.

This morning six Manx Shearwaters flew north along with 2 summer-plumaged Red-throated Divers and 67 Common Scoters split across two flocks. A dozen Med Gulls loafed in the south bay in front of the Bank Top Clurb.

Wader passage has begun to pick up too with a Green Sandpiper at Castle Island amongst three Common Sandpipers and a Greenshank on the flooded corner of the horse paddocks behind Bothal Pond. A nice Pectoral Sandpiper found by Dave Elliot at Cresswell Pond did the decent thing on Friday and hung around until I finished work and hobbled down to view through someone else's scope. A male Marsh Harrier loitered around whilst there.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Birding Parkour

Birding, most genteel and non-physical of hobbies, it's hardly going to be an Olympic sport any time soon is it? So this afternoon I tried a little experiment which turned out pretty much as I should have predicted had I given it more than a moment's thought.

For anyone unfamiliar with Parkour check out the explanation here or for a more graphic explanation skip straight to this. Back in the day I used to be quite good at this sort thing, of course way back then it was an urban phenomenon referred to as 'legging it' rather than the fancy name it has now been given.

So faced with a few inches of water and some boot-sucking mud at Druridge Pools this afternoon, I limbered up and took a quick run at the baffle bank with scope, tripod and dog tucked under arm. Not wishing to overdo things I stuck to the basics and did a straightforward  leap back to the boardwalk. At this point I believe I was shot by an unknown assailant as I tumbled head first across the boardwalk spilling the dog and tripod before plunging head first into the water-filled ditch at the other side.

Somehow I not only managed to rip my calf muscle in half (the crutches arrive tomorrow) I also managed to snap the head on the Manfrotto in half. On the plus side the dog survived and the old couple who had waited to see how I got on turned back avoiding any injuries to themselves in the process. It took me 30 minutes to hop the 150m back to the car, it will take me a good while to pay the credit card bill for the replacement tripod though hopefully my damaged ego may not take quite as long to repair.

Anyone any tripod recommendations feel free, sarcasm on the other hand will be consigned to the bin....

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

The Numbers Game

The astute amongst you will have noticed the apparent mathematical problems that appeared to be aired by the BBC and Alex Hogg Chairman of the Scottish Gamekeepers Association during Countryfile on Sunday. Tom Heap (the presenter) stating that AH was about to release 700 poults and AH just minutes later claiming he loses 1000 Pheasant poults per year to Buzzard predation. Enough people noticed and started asking the question that SGA have today issued a statement clarifying why the numbers didn't add up. see here.

All above board then and just one of those things that occasionally happens with TV..... until I started thinking about the new numbers, 3800 poults, 1000 lost to Buzzards that's a whopping 26%! More than one in four pheasant poults predated by Buzzards. These must be uber-efficient hunters these pesky Buzzards.

That hunting efficiency is even more impressive when you realise poults generally stay in pens between three and six weeks before dispersing (source). So being generous and allowing the full six weeks these Scottish Buzzards are taking a whopping 150 Pheasant poults per week on the Chairman's Estate. I'm beginning to wonder how these birds manage to take off given the amount of Pheasant it is being claimed they consume.

Now it may well be that we will see a further statement from SGA clarifying that these losses are across the whole year and not just whilst the Pheasant poults are in pens. Again maybe the victim of needing to provide a quick answer to a difficult question in front of the cameras you might think. If that is the case I have some questions for Alex Hogg and SGA, I'd like to post those questions on their Facebook page but as I highlighted several days ago I appear to have been blocked from commenting there for some reason.

1. How does Alex Hogg arrive at his estimate of the number of Pheasant losses to Buzzards? What evidence is this based on? With this almost constant predation has he managed to film or record a single poult being taken by a Buzzard?

2.  If this '1000' are not all been taken as poults from pens where does this leave his 'livestock' argument aired on the show? If I understand the legal definitions correctly Pheasants are not livestock once released and if SGA want to argue they continue to be livestock then I think that opens a whole can of worms.

The bottom line here is that if the Chairman of the SGA had evidence to prove his plucked from the air numbers it would have been made public long before now in fact he/they would have been waving it in front of any and every DEFRA Minister that they could find. He has no evidence as his made up losses are just that, made up. He and many others that populate the higher echelons of the game industry are so locked into the 200 year old mythology that they need to manage the hooky beaks that being faced with daily views of Buzzards wandering their estates has them grasping for excuses to have away with them, after all that's what their fathers and grandfathers did and they did all right. A great example of that old saying 'you can't teach an old Hogg new tricks'.


On another note it was interesting to note the siting of the release pen, a fairly dense coniferous woodland with almost zero shrub cover, in fact ground cover seemed to be limited to some ferns and bracken. Hardly following best practice "As ground-dwelling birds, they require shelter and protection from predators. This is provided by patches of thick cover from ground level to head height and a few larger shrubs or low trees for roosting at night. Evergreens such as holly, yew and conifers make good roost trees and are often planted for this reason. However, low shrubs comprise the key component of the habitat" (source) and perhaps not compatible with the 'we've tried everything' excuses trotted out whilst the dangling CD was flashed across the screen.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Why No Fish?

Remember the post about Cormorants and Goosanders a few days back after a call from several different organisations for both species to be added to the General Licence that would allow them to be shot at will? Interesting that part of that press release from The Angling Trust partly justified their call for Cormorant controls by saying:

" Currently, 60% of rivers in this country are failing the EU Water Framework Directive's requirement to reach good ecological status by 2015, largely because fish stocks are so low."

Also interesting that the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust signed up to that press release given that on their website they have a page entitled Why is our freshwater so polluted? announcing a £1m research project that they are heavily involved in. The answer they give:

"The extent of freshwater pollution is shocking.  Niney-five per cent of lowland freshwater rivers, streams and ponds are degraded by diffuse pollution from farmland and run-off from roads, towns and sewage works.  Worryingly, three quarters of rivers in England and Wales fail to meet even minimum legal standards set for a healthy river by the Water Framework Directive."


" Dr Jeremy Biggs, Director of Pond Conservation said, “Not a single study has yet shown catchment scale improvements to freshwater biodiversity resulting from the many million pounds spent annually on mitigation measures.  We urgently need to get evidence of what works and what doesn’t so agri-environment money is spent wisely and not literally poured down the drain."

So you make up your mind, cormorants to blame? Perhaps not eh.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Coming or Going?

A smart female Red-necked Phalarope on Backworth Flash late afternoon/early evening; always out of reach for my lens but afforded good views both on the ground and in flight. Is it coming or going though? Guess we might never know...