Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Tempered Expectation & Two Pairs of Socks

Two key things needed for a late November sea-watch. With the wind having a northerly element and yesterday's deluge just a distant flood in the field, a sea-watch was the chosen start to my birding this morning. I figured a Little Auk might be on the cards though this turned out not to be the case (though I see others further north had more joy).

As expected there wasn't a great deal on offer, apart from a single Puffin all the auks were Guillemots. The highlight of my hour was a single Manx Shearwater that moved north close inshore; I need to check but I suspect it's my latest ever. Seven Gannets also moved north along with a hodge-podge of wildfowl, mainly Common Scoters (c.200), two Shelducks, 3 Goldeneyes and a handful of Teal lent a little variety.

Later this morning I took the dog for a little wander locally around Bothal Church and Mill, all the expected local birds put in an appearance including Jay, Nuthatch and Great Spotted Woodpecker,though a local Grey Heron perched above the in spate Wansbeck looked rather forlorn.

This afternoon was taken up with shopping for the wife's Christmas present, a 1200mm steel replacement radiator. Wrapping paper cost a fortune as it needed two rolls. Can't wait to see her face...

Saturday, 24 November 2012

More Pics of Putative Todd's

After going back mid-week I managed some more Iphone-scoped shots of four individuals on the Church Pool. As I understand from the off-line discussion much better images have been achieved by several observers, some of which have been uploaded to Birdguides (Thanks Cain) and can be seen here, here and here

From the images below I've now got the impression of at least two fairly long-billed individuals but I don't see these individuals as 'thin-necked' (as per Batty & Lowe 2011 Birding World) though I don;t know how accurate this description was and whether it was based on field observation of just one or two individual vagrants? If anything I'd suggest (posture notwithstanding) that one or two of the 'Woodhorn' party possibly look thicker-necked than some of the nearby canadensis.

Friday, 23 November 2012

Caspian Gull - 1st-Winter, Seaton Common, Cleveland

found by fundamentalist, student cum-twitcher Andrew

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Tats Not Mich

I was itching after a 1st-winter michahellis for a while yesterday after finding a 'candidate' gull loafing on the Tyne amongst several hundred large gulls. Much of the plumage looked good, black bill with a hint of a pale tip, white-headed with a dark mask behind the eye and a whitish snout, overall appearance was four-colour toned, scapulars were solid with  only narrowish pale edgings, black primaries and a neat black tail-band with largely un-marked undertail coverts, just a few dark spots; upper tail too relatively clean.

On the negative side the bill looked thinner and weaker than 'classic' and the head-shape wasn't too good and if it was a mich it was a small-ish one. In comparison to all other 1st-winter 'Herring Gulls' present (probably c.120) this was a much cleaner, whiter individual that stood out. More homework this morning though, provided a better visual match both in terms of structure and plumage amongst Hans Larsson's 1st-winter argentatus from Sweden. albeit they were taken a month further on in the calendar year.

Apart from an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull the only other interest was another argentatus this time doing it's best 3rd-winter pseudo-smiths impression. (see final image)

 Lying argentatus

Review: Meopix Iphone Adaptor

A long-time fan of Apple's Iphone as one of the best examples of how technology can co-exist with and compliment birding activities I read about the US launch of an Iphone to Scope adaptor from an optics manufacturer, Meopta, that side of the pond many months ago. I was keen as mustard to get my hands on one and see what it could do, so keen I contacted them via their website to find out what was happening about getting the product into the UK and was subsequently put in touch with Marchwood who are Meopta's UK distributors.

This led to a meeting with Marchwood's Charlotte Lancashire and a promise that when they were available here they would offer one up for review, a promise they duly delivered on a week or so ago. I know from early discussions however that the Meopix was designed with Meopta's scopes in mind and the fit of the eyepiece cover was 42mm and wasn't going to fit my old Leica APO Televid. The good news though was that it would slide over one of the eyecups of my near-ancient 8x42BA's giving me the opportunity to try a little Iphone-binning something I've never managed before.

Meopix Iscoping Adaptor

The Meopix Iscoping Adaptor (MIA) couldn't be simpler, an Iphone shaped slot that the phone slides into (after case removal) and a 42mm eyecup cover that slides over the eyecup of your scope (or binoculars). The MIA is thoughtfully designed so you can still access all the key functions on the Iphone whilst in the holster, so you can take calls, send texts, review news apps, etc, zero loss of phone functionalty in fact.

Fitted to my 8x42BA's the Iphone's built in camera and video camera could be put to effective use, I quickly found that using my left eye through the bins I could focus on the subject and click the camera 'take' button with my right hand. Hand-held on my bins there was a degree of wobble that made individual images trickier than they would be on a stable tripod-mounted telescope. This wobble as a result of my own movement was less noticeable when I switched to video mode. Again I can see real potential for some decent video on a tripod-mounted scope. 

The images and video below were all taken through my 12 year old binoculars, hand held on the first afternoon out and about with the Meopix. Whilst footage and images like these are never going to match the professionals, for someone wanting to record wildlife cheaply, or have a simple but effective, lightweight solution to grabbing a record image or video without carrying cameras or other equipment this adaptor fits the bill, if it fits your optics.

 Mute Swan (at c.5m distance)
Stonechat (at c.10-12m distance)

Cormorant diving at 20-25m range

The Meoptix Adaptor is also now available with 44mm, 49mm, 55mm, and 55.3mm cups to fit a range of telescopes and binoculars. The RRP is £55.

* Thanks to Charlotte Lancashire at Marchwood for kindly providing a Meopix Iscoping Adaptor to facilitate this review.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Todd's Canada Geese?

A call on Sunday afternoon from two of Newbiggin's longest serving regulars flagged up some interesting looking Canada Geese that had appeared amongst the 400-odd naturalised birds that are frequenting Woodhorn Flashes and adjacent stubble fields. Several features on a small, tight knit group that appeared to be 'hanging together' suggested they may be of a race other than canadensis and the best fit was looking to be interior or Todd's Canada Goose.

I spent some time searching on Monday and having had the opportunity to read what little is available on-line and in lit on the racial identification of Canadas it was possible to pick out two-three individuals that showed some distinct differences to the rest of the flock. This morning a further two hours and four individuals (though others present may offer other estimates?) still present, appearing to be in two 'pairs'.

Subtle differences in plumage, that once appreciated, are nonetheless striking, for anyone wanting to try their hand at picking these individuals out (see below); these I think may be the first of this race recorded in Northumberland if accepted.

- browner, upper breast and neck lacking white collar between black neck and breast/,mantle.
- narrower and less distinct fringes on the scapulars and coverts
- darker flanks with a hint of rustiness
- creamy off-white rather than white cheek patch
- off-white (or stained?) undertail coverts

Compare them with recent Todd's on Islay here and here.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Monday 19/11

A blustery, cold day resulted in little time in the field today. I spent a half hour looking through the Canada Geese at Woodhorn, a single European White-fronted Goose still amongst the sizeable flock in the church pool field. Another half hour vainly looking for the Spittal Little Owl without success, a single Mistle Thrush was the sum total of a chilly walk.
I called into Linton Ponds on the way back, duck numbers remain low with c.30 Tufted Ducks and 3 Pochard the extent of my counting. Just before I left 15 Waxwings flew south over the west end

Saturday, 17 November 2012

More Tales From The Nanny

Wednesday found me stood in the garden drinking tea contemplating all the garden jobs I should have started when I heard a familiar trill - only three this time they flicked around the hedge at the front garden for a few minutes before departing.

I'll leave Thursday for another post as I was out testing the Meopix Iphone Adaptor and I need a full post to review it.

Friday was looking like another fine day though it started badly as a result of Children in Need and Pyjamas but by mid-morning I was back up at the Long Nanny for another yomping session to look for the Bradshaw/Steele juvenile Long-billed Dowitcher. This time it was easy, peezy lemon squeezy, on the southern bend of the burn, hung out chatting with a couple of Common Snipe. Even the dog seemed quite impressed as he sat beside the tripod staring across at the dowitcher for ages.

Other stuff at the Nanny included a Short-eared Owl, a single Snow Bunting and 15-20 Twite.  Post-dowitcher I headed north for a bite to eat in Seahouses then a quick look off Stag Rocks, a dozen or so Long-tailed Ducks were resplendent offshore and a Puffin was, unseasonal.

The rest of the afternoon was spent in the hide at Fenham-le-Moor wading through Wigeon in the forlon hope of a yank. Good numbers of Grey Plover, a smattering of Pintail and the usual Pale-bellied Brents provided plenty to view. The journey home a rollercoaster of emotion with a flyover Merlin the high point and a road casualty Barn Owl the low.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Beach Outing

The last conversation with my youngest son as he slipped under the duvet last night surrounded "what were we doing after school tomorrow?" "It might be cold and getting dark" I told him, "so probably not much."
Walking up the hill to the car after school, he returned to the subject, badgering me, "Where do you want to go?" I asked expecting any one of several indoor venues that he is familar with only to be surprised by the quick fire response "the beach..." His sister adding enthusiastic approval for the idea.

So we followed the lines of gulls making their daily journey back to the sea to roost and ended this afternoon on the beach as dusk approached, the kids doing the things kids do at the beach (including counting the Redshank roost!) and me picking out an adult Med Gull flying south amongst one of several small flocks of Black-headed Gulls heading that way to wherever they roost. A few minutes later we drove slowly along the coast road peering into the gloom to be rewarded with a 150m fly-along from one of the local Barn Owls much to the obvious delight of both.

I recount this because I'm feeling pleased with myself/them, maybe, just maybe, that connection that seems to be missing for so many is there with these two. That they feel a need to be outdoors, regardless of weather, light and other distractions gives me a real sense that the last five years of dragging them around here, there and everywhere in search of birds hasn't been an entirely selfish exercise and had a point for them as well as me. Time will tell for sure.


Earlier today I had a wander around East Chevington, an obvious increase in wildfowl since I last visited though numbers are still low in comparison to previous years in my opinion. The long-staying Slavonian Grebe was still to be found in the top north-west corner and two female/immature Long-tailed Ducks swam together along the northern edge. Five Whooper Swans flew over south and a further six were on the north pool. 
Elsewhere a further 4 Whoopers could be seen at the old flash at Widdrington Moor and I finally had some flyover Pink-feet at Newbiggin. The big field north of Hemscott Hill held a mix of Lapwing and Golden Plover totalling over 330 between them though they were well spread.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Nanny Pom

With the morning free I decided to head off to the Long Nanny to try and catch up with the Long-tailed Dowitcher found by Colin Bradshaw and Jimmy Steele. Unsurprisingly the short journey up produced some Waxwings with 15 on wires on the east side of the A1 at Alnwick.

A strong westerly to blow me through the dune-flats from the south end with only a Kestrel sticking a head above the parapet. No sign of the dowitcher on first pass I began to look east through gulls on the burn and the beach, a single Grey Plover and five Ringed Plovers also present. A dark bird beside a Black-headed Gull corpse caught my eye on a bend in the burn.Crouched low tearing at the fresh-looking carcass was a skua. A quick bit of repositioning and I was looking at a rather tatty looking Pomarine Skua. Remnants of tail feathers were still noticeable when it stood to gain purchase to rip a morsel of flesh from the carcass but it was in heavy moult and the general appearance of the cap, faded. brownish not full along with some pale mantle streaking and a few black spots on the breast and belly suggested it wasn't a full adult. Further look at the images suggest some light marks to the auxiliaries and after a refresh with Klaus & Hans I'm fairly comfortable with a 3rd-winter tag. They're always far easier to age on a 30second flyby for some reason....

Further searching for the dowitcher produced a blank other than a Curlew count of 160 and 13 Whooper Swans flying over. Before I knew it it was time to head home.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

No Escape II - Patch Strikes Back

Determined to add Waxwing to my paltry patch tally at Newbiggin this year I headed off after the school run. Approaching the west boundary of the patch, the A189 Spine Road there were 15-20 sat in a tree about 50m before the roundabout at Woodhorn. No sooner had I parked on the pool side and they were up and off, they may have grazed the side of the patch airspace as they spilled across the road in an arc before flying south towards North Seaton.

I'd already decided to go ultra-urban and scour the Newbiggin streets so I headed off down the new road that joins the footpath from Woodhorn roundabout and cuts right down to the main street. By the time I reached the main street my thoughts were already contemplating a pasty as a grey shape ghosted into a treetop on the other side of the road just opposite the speed camera. Drawling level two Waxwings could be seen hunched against the brisk wind.

The only resident birder in Newbiggin (sounds like a Simon & Garfunkel song when you put it like that) lives just a few yards away at Bank Top Clurb. I nipped over to let him know but found him absent. Started ringing him as I was walking back out to discover five almost in the Bank Top car park. Luckily AP wasn't too far away and managed to get his 'garden' tick a few minutes later.

These five were reasonably confiding, dropping to feed on rose hips and drink from a couple of small puddles. I did get some queer looks hunched against the recycling skips with the big lens. The only other notable bird was a White-fronted Goose on the Church Pool, without the scope and with the dog I couldn't nail it to race but I sent texts to a couple of possibly interested parties and MSH later confirmed it was albifrons and not one of the recent Greenland winterers.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

No Escape From The Bombycilla

This morning it was grey and raining. The fridge held little that was edible. Put the two together and it was necessary to do some food shopping. Afterwards with the rain still tumbling I caught up on the blog, made a few phone calls, fiddled with Twitter and washed dishes. A Wren appeared briefly in the birdbath at the end of the garden just before midday.

I was of course kept up to date with the current explosion of Waxwings from the frequent gentle pings as push notification followed push notification followed push notification on the phone with alarming regularity. An invasion of Waxwings makes for a big increase in workload at this time of year, not least because they insist on turning up in odd locations that aren't 'traditional' birding sites resulting in a new site needing to be created. The mobility of the species adds further complications as they can roam around urban areas seeking out suitable berry trees.
As an aside the just launched feature of including postcodes in some news reports will certainly help some people keen to catch up with Waxwings in urban areas this winter, an excellent additional feature.

Post-lunch I headed out with the dog around the village and had a wander around the allotments down to the Brocks Burn east of the village. A Jay and a bit wet about sums it up. Arriving back home around twenty minutes before the school run I came down the hill to see a myriad of dark shapes lurking in the big swaying  willow at the bottom of the garden accompanied by a soundtrack of trills. Bombycilla on the garden year list no less. A dash upstairs for the record shot and a quick count came to 32. They took off east but didn't look like they were headed far. I ditched the dog and headed around two streets and found them again in a small birch. The two images at the foot of the post are top and bottom half and enlarged I reckon there is forty-nine in that tree.

They hung about until dusk, allowing the kids to get a bit of action, very mobile and hitting the hedges and bushes hard in search of food. I've piled the 'apples on sticks' out so hopefully they might offer some better pictures in the morning.

49 or more?

No Fireworks -5 November

Tempted as I was by the Nanny Dowitcher, I decided to give it a miss as I wasn't in the mood for a crowd this morning. With the kids back at school I needed some space and this morning's combination of frost underfoot and an autumn blue sky put in me mind of some empty beaches.

Last year the dunes and salt marsh on the south side of the Aln turned up trumps for ADMc and I with a Shorelark. There was to be no repeat this morning, Stonechats were ten a penny though. At least three were around Church Hill (the one with the cross) and a further three were around 1.5km further south in bracken behind Birling Carrs.

The beach was pleasantly devoid of people, and offshore there was a not so pleasing lack of activity too, six Red-throated Divers counted between the estuary mouth and Birling Carrs and a couple of Shags were all I could locate on a fairly flat sea. Four Pied Wagtails on the beach and a flushed Meadow Pipit in the dunes before we happened on a sizeable finch flock, mostly Linnets with a few Greenfinches and the odd Reed Bunting for a bit of variation. As I returned north a flock of 220 Pink-feet flew noisily overhead.

Next stop Boulmer and a walk north to Longhoughton Steel. I spent a half hour chasing after a calling pipit on the tide-line that flew ahead of me,  convinced the call was that of Water Pipit. I lost it amongst rocks and despite searching could only find Rock Pipits, at least one of which was one of those pale, less streaked, yellow-billed autumn littoralis that we can't identify. On the north side of the point four Twite were on wires before dropping to feed then flying north towards Sugar Sands.

After a refuelling stop at local moth hotspot Longhoughton Spar we (the dog and I) headed back south. I spent the last hour with the wind farm gull flock again that were close to the road at a small pool at the east end of the main turbine field this afternoon. A 2nd-winter Mediterranean Gull and the Herring Gull pictured below were the only points of interest. The HG appears to me to be a 3rd-winter with retarded (and hence bleached) plumage, the combination of lemon iris, sub-adult-like bill and pale plumage producing a striking look on a bird plumaged thus.. Alternatively it's a pale 2nd-winter with advanced bill and eye, have it whichever way you like really.