Sunday, 8 March 2015

WEBS and others

Ten or so Tree Sparrows are still visiting my garden and last Saturday a Peregrine swooped through West Hartford during a short visit. This morning I did the WEBS count at Castle Island with SH, DM and IFo. Not much at Castle Island, Hauxley or East Chevington with the highlights being 50+ Whooper Swans on the north pool at chev and a single Greenland White-fronted Goose at Hauxley.
At Widdrington Moor Lake we caught up with the earlier reported Bewick's Swan which was swimming with 60 Whoopers at the western end of the water. A stunning drake Mandarin was 400m up river from the Stakeford road Bridge on the river Wansbeck. At first it was sleeping but when the local Mallards were feeding on bred it flew across the river to join them. Also, on the River Blyth at Hartford Bridge there were a pair of Dipper on our way back.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Shore-t Story

Yesterday I headed south for the morning with SH and DM. Hartlepool headland was our first stop in search of a bird that has eluded me for far too long and on far too many occasions, Shore Lark.
When we arrived at the area of wasteland north of the Spion Kop cemetery where the Lark has been frequenting, it was a bleak prospect. It was misty and eerily quiet and after searching the cemetery, we tackled the wasteland. The section south of the cemetery had more plant life and ground cover amongst the strips of concrete so made it harder to scan. 50+ Oystercatcher, Turnstone and a mixture of gulls bathed in the shallow pools and a Common Snipe and bizarrely four Grey Partridge flushed, how they are surviving there I have no idea. Whilst walking through, a Weasel ran past a meter or so in front of me, stopped, stood on its hind legs and stared at me before running back into the undergrowth.
Lastly we walked across the fly-tipped area between the two mounds. Once we reached the second mound a lark sp. lifted and flew back towards the cemetery. Eventually relocated on the beach by Steve it flew up the bankside and landed back in the first area of wastlend we had checked. Near the pools where the Oystercatchers were I spotted it running along a raised area of earth. It was indeed my bogey bird the Shore Lark-lifer. At times it was so well camouflaged only its yellow and black mask got us back onto it. We watched at close range as it fed on the earth and ran across the concrete. It was still there showing well when we left for the harbour.

At Hartlepool Fish Quay we were very kindly invited to the end of the pontoon by the local fishermen to view the Black Guillemot which was swimming and diving just off the end of the pontoon. Excellent views of what can be a tricky bird form what I've heard.  Down on Saltholme we spent a few hours but didn't see too much. The GW Teal didn't show but a pair of Pintail and a few Little Egrets were good. 42 Barnacle Geese fed close to the fence on the track to the main hide and on the water in front of the visitor centre a Great Crested Grebe slept. From the feeding station in front of the hide were a flock of Tree Sparrows and a Fox which ate apples not bothered at all by the people only a windows width away. Whilst watching the Seals at Seal Sands a Peregrine flew overhead and spooked all the waders in the vicinity.

Ward Jackson Park was our last stop and as soon as we got out of the car we could hear the cry of a Ring-necked Parakeet. Now sunnier and in a town park filled with Parakeets it was hard to believe this was the same town as the misty headland we had visited in the morning. A few pairs of Parakeets including some birds in nest hole in trees showed well as they flew about calling like mad. Also a drake Goosander was on the duck pond but unfortunately a Grey Squirrel was also in the park.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

WH Dusk

I spent a productive hour at dusk at West Hartford last night. The amazing sunset was a good enough view in its own rite but the birds present were pretty good. The Great Grey Shrike was active around the row of dead trees behind the main pool and on the tops of the long grass as was a male Stonechat.
A flock of 30+ Meadow Pipit was probably the biggest flock I've ever seen at Wh. They flew around before settling down to feed in the marshy field before roosting in the reed bed. From the reed bed I could hear a pair of Water Rail squealing away and soon another third bird joined in from nearer the flooded channel nearer the fire station along with a Moorhen.
Eventually a Barn Owl appeared and flew around the brick building  for a while and as I was leaving a female Goosander flew south over the fire station. On my way to WH a Mallard flew over my street, a bird I still haven't seen from the house. I couldn't see any Little Egrets on the stretch of the Horton Burn I walked but a Grey Heron standing amongst the trees in Northburn Park was a strange sight.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Long time some birding

Although it seems like I haven't done much birding since the start of the year, what I have done has been pretty action packed including the 2015 Northumberland Bird Race. Disappointingly we finished third but it was still a canny day. Highlights for me were an urban Little Owl in the centre of Shiremoor, the WH Great Grey Shrike hovering, Black-necked Grebe in Seahouses harbour, a brief Hen Harrier, a moonlit Long eared Owl and a flock of Whooper swans and six Little Egrets flying together over Fenham Flats.

On the first we spent the morning out and got excellent views of both Iceland Gull and Glacous Gull at North Shields Fish Quay.A trip out one morning with SH provided excellent views of Tundra Bean Geese at Warkworth Lane the same place where some very obliging Greenland White Fronted Geese had been on the bird race.
The highlights of a few trips to WH have been an undisturbed Great Grey Shrike showing along the hedgerow where it was originally before being the focus of what seemed like every photographer in the north east. Also a Fox skulking through the long grass with a dead Teal in its jaws was pretty amazing to witness. Thinking about it I have seen a few Foxes already this year at both WH and in Blyth and one which crossed the length of Budle Bay at low tide on the bird race before sitting down on the sand!

Another personal highlight has been seeing at least one Little Egret nearly every morning on the way to work on the Horton Burn. Even in the early morning darkness they stick out, one morning two birds were joined by a third which dropped down from a willow tree where it looked like it had been roosting!

Wednesday, 31 December 2014


Yesterday was a fitting end to what has been another very good birding year. Trips to Estonia and Mull and some very good lifers and county ticks (Ferruginous Duck, Little Bittern, Caspian Gull, Collard Pratincole and many more) have been the highlights as was the trip to birdfair and being part of the winning 2014 Northumberland Winter Bird Race team.

Yesterday I had a trip out with Cain, Gary, Ewan, Andrew and Rachel to Leighton Moss. On the way we stopped at Sizeurgh Castle in the southern Cumbria. Loads of Chaffinch, Gold and Greenfinch, Nuthatch and Bullfinch were briefly joined by one Hawfinch in the car park but the presence of a cat was making everything flighty. More worrying was the presence of a Grey Squirrel!

We arrived at a cold and icy Leighton Moss and walked along the reed bed surrounded path to the lower hide. Bearded Tit and Water Rail called tantalisingly out of view close by in the reeds on the way. A pair of Marsh Tit were working there way through the trees and the worlds most tame Robins and Pheasants ate dog biscuits from our hands!
From the Lower hide we had great views of a male Peregrine resting in a dead tree before flying around a bit. From the main hide at least 2 Marsh Harriers were in view but unfortunately no Bitterns showed.

We spent the last hour or two of light in the Eric Morcambe hide. Around 4 Little Egrets were on the marsh including two fighting birds whose awful vocals could be heard across the marsh. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the area; a Sparrowhawk sat patiently on a fence post and a Peregrine also hunted. This alerted the attention of a flock of Lapwing that took to the sky to avoid an attack. They looked amazing silhouetted against the setting sun.
 Our last treat of the day was a Kingfisher that flew past the hide and settled on a post outside the hide. It then began to hunt on the unfrozen water before attempting to smash through the ice.

Thanks to everyone for another amazing birding year, hopefully I’ll see you all soon.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Garden Tick!

Yes Tree Sparrow joined Golden Plover and Grasshopper as the third garden tick of 2014. Grasshopper Warbler sounds like a strange one but a reeling bird behind the Brockwell Centre in the summer was still audible from my drive.

A combination of work and illness over the last week has meant that I havent been back to see the popular Shrike at WH. This morning though I woke up to the sound of Tree Sparrows close by and when I looked outside and saw 2 males and a female on  the nearly empty feeders on the fence. They were very flighty so I never got a proper count but hopefully like the shrike they will hang around for the winter. Also a Chiffchaff that was present yesterday was still around this morning.

Monday, 15 December 2014

I've seen the butcher (bird)

Yesterday I was out for a few hours in the morning with SH. First stop was Holywell Pond which held a group of 18 Pochard and a ringed Med Gull was amongst the BH Gulls from the public hide. Arcot was quiet so Steve dropped me off at WH.  A LBB Gull on the main pool and a Stonechat on the reed tops on the Snipe field were the highlights until I noticed something on the row of dead trees running between the pools. It turned out to be Cramlingtons second and West Hartfords first Great Grey Shrike. This long overdue patch prediction soon moved further along the dead trees and later showed much more distantly in the tops of some bushes nearer the river.