Saturday, 23 March 2013


Thursday, car-less in the sunshine, I took to two wheels and made for Newbiggin, as much to see if I could make it there and back as much as anything else.  A replacement car whilst ordered is six weeks away, the way things are going it should get delivered in time for the first Wheatear arrivals.

The trilling of 30-odd Waxwings caused a stop as I passed the Arch building at Ashington, they quickly dropped into low cotoneasters bordering the car park to feed for a few minutes before lifting back into pathside trees.

As I cycled back from a quiet Woodhorn Flash I spotted another familiar figure on a bike and so we headed into Newbiggin together. A short tour of various playing fields and the beach-front yielded a decent March count of Mediterranean Gulls with 15 in total. Adults, most well into summer plumage, numbered 11 with two each for 2nd-winter and 1st-winter age. A look back to BiN 2011 shows the March peak was 12, pending late records only 6 were noted in March 2012.

The ride up to Beacon Point provided little beyond the usual waders with a couple of Bar-tailed Godwits and Grey Plovers still around as well as 3 Purple Sandpipers. It looks like the heavy seas and strong easterlies are taking their toll on many seabirds as we also found two freshly dead adult Gannets. (see photos below). They have another week at least to face too, not good.

By the time I got home I'd covered 15 miles! I'm just begnning to recover some feeling in my gluteus maximus today.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Last Snow of Winter?

After shunting the car in the snow on Monday and now anticipating the insurance excess I stayed fairly close to home today. Winter snow squalls came and went from the north, some of them intense, in fact during a couple of hours this morning there was the unholy trinity of rain, hail and snow.

The breaks in the weather gave me a chance to take some photographs, the two adult Whooper Swans that are lingering at QEII Country Park combined with a warm car were hard to resist after I came off Newbiggin Moor feeling like someone was holding a Zippo to my ears.

The side image and the first one below were digiscoped with the Meopta S2/Meopix/Iphone combination and have been cropped and sharpened slightly. I was quite pleased with the results on these.
The remaining shots were from the DSLR for comparison.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Wetlands Under Pressure

The past three centuries have seen devastating losses of wetlands in England: fens have been drained, grazing marshes ploughed or converted to intensive agriculture, reedbeds polluted, rivers straightened and their flood plains isolated from their former flooding regime, and lowland bogs have been extensively mined for their peat. - Environment Agency.

The reason that the Environment Agency embarked on a 50 year project to 'restore England's damaged wetlands'. A worthy project on a grand scale and one that should have positive impacts for many species and should be applauded and supported.
Unfortunately we seem, at least locally, to be facing a new wave of land drainage threatening many smaller wetland sites in Northumberland. In recent weeks work designed to drain ponds and wetlands established over the last few decades has begun at three different sites, Backworth Pond, Beehive Flash and Lynemouth Flash.

These sites have a rich recent history of transient visiting birds from Red-necked Phalarope and Pectoral Sandpiper to the more mundane and humble Pied Wagtail. Each site and many more like them acting as the avian equivalent of a fly-through KFC. Individually perhaps of little importance but collectively small wetland sites such as these provide valuable oasis in our increasingly mono-crop desert-like farmland environment.

Last year as we all know was particularly wet, traditionally wet areas were even wetter than normal; the road at Bothal Pond for example is still partially under water as I write. Faced with more and more land under water and at also (at least for some) significant rent increases it's hardly surprising that land tenants wish to squeeze everything they can from the acreage they have. In at least two of the local examples (Backworth and Lynemouth) bringing the land back into a grazeable state for horses and thereby generating the maximum income from it has been cited as the reason. It is also notable that two of the sites mentioned are on land owned by Northumberland Estates the land owner cited in the linked article.
 Drainage work at Lynemouth Flash

Intervention at Backworth by North Tyneside Council and Northumberland Wildlife Trust, prompted by members of Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club have at least temporarily brought a halt to drainage plans on a legal basis. As I understand it a dialogue is ongoing on the future of the site that may hopefully resolve its long term future. The local authorites and NWT/NTBC are also working behind the scenes on the other two sites to try and find solutions that balance the need for tenants to have land in use with the wildlife value these sites provide.

At the root of this is money, commercial land owners (not tenants), who seek to derive ever-increasing profits from their assets and seem to have little sympathy for the consequences. I'm not sure I can end this positively, too often we appear to be powerless, forced to stand by and watch the death by a thousand cuts of the natural world. It may be that the only long-term solution to maintaining valuable wildlife sites is to acquire them and bring them into sympathetic ownership but this will require us all to collectively put our money where are mouths are so to speak.

Reading one of Mark Avery's recent blogs I was struck by one of the comments "it is time we started paying land managers for what we really need – and surely that means accepting the floodwaters so many have suffered with as a legitimate land use – and getting paid for it; and, in the same way taking the money to NOT pollute our drinking water – and that extends to wildlife and open access countryside"

Friday, 1 March 2013

Meopta S2 Iphone-scoping

The good people at Marchwood have loaned me one of the new Meopta S2 scopes to play around with for a while. I'll write a review in due course but I've been out and about locally trying a little Iphone-scoping this week. Given that all these were taken handheld (just Iphone camera eye to scope eyepiece) without the Meopix adaptor I have been pleased with the results, though I think the addition of the Meopix will take things to a different level in terms of stability and provide the ability to follow moving birds rather than wait for static images as I have been doing this week. 
Using the camera on an Iphone is never going to match a DSLR or even a full digiscoping set-up with camera but the trade off, if you're just looking for 'record shots' for a blog or even personal consumption, is it's much cheaper and there is a great deal less equipment (and therefore weight) to lug about in the field.
To be honest the image on the S2 is nice and bright even at 60x and the limiting factor in quality is the no of megapixels on the Iphone camera and they are only ever going one way as upgrades come out.