Thursday, 28 February 2013

Measuring grass and counting poo

The end of February usually means two days of fieldwork on the coast measuring sward lengths and counting goose poo.  Today was spent in the Budle Bay area.  There were planty of geese to be seen with a flock of 480 light bellied brent geese accompanied by 140 pink footed geese, 14 barnacles and at least one bean goose (Taiga variety).  There were good numbers of teal (120+) on flooded fields as well as shelduck (1) and curlew (90+).  Small numbers of meadow pipits, skylarks and fieldfares were making there way north. There were 8 roe deer, in one herd, on Ross.

Short grass swards and a large amount of goose poo has meant that the pastures have been heavily grazed over the winter period.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Branton Ponds 27th February

The day started very cold at Branton but by lunchtime the sun felt warm on the back,with this in mind we went to check the ponds for Adders. We have seen them as early as 14th February so the 27th wasn't out of the question and we were not disappointed for there on a sunny bank we found not one but two basking in the mid-morning sun,hopefully more will appear over the coming weeks.
Ian and Keith

Adder, Click for a larger image.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Late winter or early spring at Whinney Hill

Today 26th February 2013 was spent surveying Whinney Hill, south west of Longhorsely.  Ancient woodland held ramsons, primroses, and the first evidence of bluebells. A male great spotted woodpecker was in full drumming mode on a dead branch. 

Arable land held small numbers of skylarks (4), 2 pairs of grey partridge, brown hares (3), roe deer (3) and flocks of both yellowhammers (9+) and reed buntings (5).  The first shoots of hare's tail cotton-grass and lesser spearwort were found on a small area of upland bog.  A small pond in an arable field held a good amount of frog spawn. 

The lake held 28 mallard, 9 goosander, 3 mute swan, a pair of gadwall, 1 moorhen and evidence of otterGreat tits were investigating nest-boxes

Snow and raptors

An early morning start to visit moorland in north Northumberland produced the goods.  Highlights were a flock of 32 golden plover, 7 greylag geese and unidentified owl and a 'ringtail' hen harrier.

Later  in the morning a plantation produce a male goshawk and flocks of crossbills (14).  There were very few other birds but close views of 3 roe deer were worth the walk.

Gulls and Serpents 26th February

A trip to the dentists at Cramlington on such a lovely day was put to good use when to carry on with the dental theme,with time to fill and bridges to cross we decided to get our teeth into some Gulls at North Shields Fish Quay,more specifically the widely reported Glaucous Gull seen there over the last few days.We were not disappointed, sitting on the roof of the sheds amongst theGreat Black Backs and the Herring Gulls was the unmistakable pale juvenile Glaucous Gull resplendent with white wing tips.Of further interest was a Cormorant of the "sinensis" race and a number of Turnstones on the roof.
After the busy hustle and bustle of the Fish Quay Branton seemed very quiet but a quick visit to the ponds produced our first Adder of the year,a great end to the day.
Ian and Keith  

Monday, 25 February 2013

Chattering classes...

This entry is an alternative to those where birds are seen and reported.  

Tuesday 19th Feb. started bright and sunny so went to Thrunton Woods, where I have seldom seen anything really exciting but the bad bird watcher is ever hopeful.  The sun disappeared behind a bank of cloud and the woods were silent.  However, a red squirrel rushed across the road to a thick conifer near the car park and a friend did see a stoat in ermine on his way home.

It is the flock of sparrows that seem to live in the thick hedges at the top of Stott Street that bring me joy each time I walk that way, which is daily.  As I approach I can hear them chattering away noisily.  Just what could they be telling each other?  They must then be aware of my steps, who knows, but suddenly all is quiet, not a cheep to be heard until I am well past when they all start up again.  There are four places in Prudhoe street where the sparrows congregate and an approach always has the same results.  I have to admit to teasing them very occasionally by walking past then trying to sneak up on them but I haven't caught them out yet.

Mora J Rolly, Alnwick. 

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Branton Ponds 23rd February

A cold grey day at Branton but at least not the 3ins of snow seen in Newcastle.The west pond at Branton was quiet but the east pond held good numbers of duck including 5 Goldeneye,1 Gadwall(an unusual bird for Branton),20+Teal and 50+Wigeon.As usual the Kingfishers were much in evidence,one(male) gave excellent views in one of the small bays and a second bird was heard calling at the east end of the pond. The walk was rounded off when a strident nasal call betrayed the presence of a very smart looking Willow Tit.
Ian and Keith 

Thursday, 21 February 2013

Barn Owl

Lovely Barn Owl hunting hedgerows and rough fields just east of Christon Bank this morning. Perched up on this fence post and gave good views and allowed me to take these pictures. A nice bird, it seemed large in size and very dark across the back. Grey mantle and nape with tiny white spots and a nice chestnut coloring to the wings.
Nice to see in the daylight.


Raptors and geese to the fore - 19th February

A monitoring trip to Budle Bay and Fenham Flats produced a range of interesting species.  The goose flock on Ross held barnacle (250+), greylag (130+), light bellied brent (120+) and pink-footed geese (40+).  There were also 40+ teal in flooded fields on Ross.  A female hen harrier floated north.

1000 light bellied brents were feedding on temporary pasture at Smeafield. 

A male peregrine killed a redshank just to the south of the Lindisfarne causeway.

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Spring Sunday at Branton

Wildfowl were fewer on number but none the less enjoyable for it. All in finest breeding plumage and Goldeneye males displaying is a treat no matter how many times you observe it. All the duck were looking wonderful, Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Wigeon, Goosander and a single male Pochard.

 A single Kingfisher came charging across the pond as we approached the first screen, calling loudly, a second bird could also heard.

 All around the ponds, particularly Branton, birds could be heard in full song, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Reed Bunting and Mistle Thrush. A distant Great Spotted Woodpecker could be heard drumming. A pair of Siskin were feeding on one of the paths near the car park, they were quite approachable too, the male was gorgeous, green, lemon and black.

A Peregrine flew in from inland and perched on one of the pylons for a few minutes. It seemed to sun itself and survey the area before flying off lazily back up the valley.

Branton Ponds 19th February

Almost 95% ice cover gave the ideal opportunity for counting some of the water birds on the ponds.
The small areas of open water held the following-Mallard(48),Teal(45),Shelduck(5),Wigeon(56),Tufted Duck(37),Goldeneye(11),Goosander(3),Mute Swan(2).Coot(19),Moorhen(3),Snipe(4),Oystercatcher(24),Cormorant(3),Common Gull(5),Black Headed Gull(81).
Also of note 6 Redwing and a Stoat in full ermine with a pure white coat and only the black on the tip of it's tail showing,this is the only one we have seen this winter,has anyone else seen many?

Monday, 18 February 2013

Out with the old...

Blackcaps nest...
Walking down the Howick lane this morning I passed this little nest only inches from the roadside. I wondered how I have missed this all winter. In the summer it will have been hidden in nettles and hawthorn about 2 feet from the ground. To put a name to the builder isnt straight forward but mainly a process of elimination. The nest site is suitable for a few skulking birds but Dunnock builds a more substantial affair with a lot of moss built in. Whitethroat is nigh on identical, but this nest is on woodland edge overhung by trees, not the open aspect favoured by the Whitethroat. That leaves Blackcap or Garden Warbler. Now I didnt see a Garden Warbler here at all in 2012, but at least 3 pairs of Blackcaps were along this very lane, hence my conclusion...Unless you know different? Please let me know what you think.

And to bring in the new, were these Herons starting their nesting season off with some unholy row at dusk in the tall pines behind the pond...the screeching and bill clapping and squawking was enough to wake the dead! Click on the image for a bigger view.


Bittern-sweet Cresswell 18th February

Half term and a few spare hours in the morning for some unfinished business,a second visit to Cresswell Pond in two days to try and see the Bittern we missed by five minutes on Sunday.
Two hours and lots of birds later including Long Tailed Duck, Scaup and Goldeneye I decided
it was time to head off elsewhere,time for one last scan with the scope,there in the reeds something small ,black and shiny stood out from the background,this soon turned into an eye,then a long sharp
bill and finally the superb cryptic colouring of a Bittern.
It began to preen and I thought it can't get better than this but it did,slowly it came out into full view and proceeded to skulk back and forwards in the open for about ten minutes in the sunshine,it doesn't really get much better.  

Sunday, 17 February 2013

At last, some moths...

Howick Moth Trap.

A mild start to the night was promising despite the temperature dropping to 2 degrees by morning. Still this is my first proper catch of 2013, and not a bad one at that for the time of year...
1926 Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria) 5
1932 Spring Usher (Agriopis leucophaearia) 1 NFY
2258 Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii) 1
2259 Dark Chestnut (Conistra ligula) 2 NFY

9 moths of 4 sp
A worn example of the Spring Usher.
A difficult species pair, the top one is the Chestnut, the bottom two are Dark Chestnut.
The two Chestnut species are quite tricky to tell apart. If you look at the image, the Chestnut has rounder wing tips and is generally slightly lighter rusty coloured while the Dark Chestnut has a pointed wing tip making the trailing edge much more square ended. They are usually more reddish brown too and often shiny in appearance.

Ducks on the Coquet

A steady walk from Lesbury to Warkworth ,with my wife, along the beach in spring type sunshine, was to experience the magic of the Northumberland coast.
Warkworth itself bustled with families enjoying the riverside walk.
Most public interest was concentrated on feeding the Mute swans and a collection of some rather dodgy ducks with lunch leftovers.
Meanwhile, unnoticed and unrecognised a little way from the hub hub was a pair of Red breasted Mergansers quietly diving to feed with a natural athleticism and synchronicity.
I was able to share my own enjoyment of their prowess with a couple of interested parents and their children who queued up with wide eyed enthusiasm to look at the RBMs through my scope. Birders of the future? Let's hope so!

Branton and Boulmer

I wak around Branton Ponds in the morning saw many of the waterfowl in display mode.  Parties of goldeneye (12) and wigeon (21) were vocally calling and throwing back their heads.  One pair of wigeon was seen to mate.  Other waterfowl included 8 goosander and a male pochard.  There were good numbers of lapwing (31) and small numbers of curlew (14) and snipe (3).  Other species of interest included bullfinch (4), lesser redpoll (2) and good numbers of long-tailed, great, blue and coal tits.  One or two hawthorn bushes were coming into leaf. 

The afternoon was spent on the beach at Boulmer.  Good numbers of waders were on the rocks and beach - curlew, grey plover (3), dunlin (24), sanderling (23), turnstone, bar-tailed godwit (12) and purple sandpiper (1).  There was a small party of brent which included 21 light-bellied and 7 dark-bellied brent geese.  The strand-line held good numbers of rock pipits (7).

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Down South 16th February

When I say down South I mean south of the River Coquet,our first port of call was East Chevington where a female Smew was eventually found sitting on a rock on the main island,we also noted a
couple of Great Crested Grebes still in non breeding plumage ,the most obvious birds on the lake
were the 37 Goldeneye their breeding calls echoing around the pond,on our way back to the car a
single Short Eared Owl floated past.Our adventure continued via Cresswell Pond which held a
female Scaup and nearby were 60 Twite,our last port of call was Weldon Bridge where a Marsh Tit
was found.  
Ian and Keith

Friday, 15 February 2013

Larch shoots and Owls

The other day I reported young flowering shoots of Hare's-tail Cotton Grass as my first real sign of spring.  Today I found my second.  There's a small group of young Larch trees down the track from our house that tend to come into leaf much earlier than all the rest.  For the first time this year I spotted the very first young shoots emerging.

Later in the morning Jane and I went up to Goswick.  The dunes were full of Skylarks rehearsing their song and squabbling over territories.  But the best spot was of two Short-eared Owls which got up, one after the other, from a small hummock in the dunes only about ten yards from us.

The sun is shining - happy days!

Once a week time is spent trying to find light-bellied brent geese around Lindisfarne.  Today there were no geese at Beal but other birds included a stunning male peregrine perched on a post on the shore.  There were no geese at Fenham, Smeafield, Ross or Easington Demesne.  Finally I found about 90% of the brent that are left on the reserve one grass field next to the shore on Elwick.  There were approximately 1000 brent that were accompanied by 450 pink-footed geese and about 40 barnacle geese.  Surrounding fields held about 650 curlew most of which were feeding in stubbles.  According to the Birds of the Western Palearctic, there no reference of curlews using this habitat but it is a common occurance in and around Lindisfarne.

A large flock (250) greylag were feeding in Lilburn park on the way home.  Hopefully the sun will continue to shine.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Beadnell to Newton 13 Feb

I've no idea really why I spent three hours in yesterday's blizzard walking from Beadnell to Newton and back - but I did.  The tide was well out so there was little visible on the shore and the driving snow didn't help.  Beadnell Bay had a few Bar-tailed Godwit as well as Oystercatchers and a solitary Ringed Plover.

The Long Nanny area failed to produce any coastal passerines, but there was a small group of Dunlin, a couple of Redshank and a solitary Red-breasted Merganser on the burn.  Then further towards Newton a flock of about 35 Golden Plover got up from the field and flew overhead across the dunes.  A solitary Kestrel was also patrolling the dunes.  As we stopped for sandwiches in the lee of a dune at Newton a Carrion Crow was around with an unusual white throat patch.

On the seafront at Beadnell there was a good patch of Winter Heliotrope (Petasites fragrans) in flower.  This is an uncommon species in Northumberland.  N.B. Not my photo!

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

The singing has started

Lighter mornings has meant that the start of the dawn chorus; robins, coal tits, song thrushes and house sparrows all have begun to sing in and around Glanton.

Clam conditions on Saturday produced a good mix of waders and ducks using Fenham Flats.  A small party of ringed plover still can be found close to the hide at Fenham le Moor.  This is unusual as it is normally May when these birds are found on this stretch of mud flat.  The calm conditions produced a count of 25 slavonian grebes, 4 long tailed ducks, a female common scoter and a young female scaupBarnacle geese were present at both Fenham and Ross with reasonable numbers (340) of pink footed geese.  A female peregrine and a little egret were located north of Fenham Hill.

Some of the early perennial plants are starting to throw their first leaves.  The most obvious species is the lesser celandine in permanent pastures.  The lime coloured leathery leaves of the common scurvey-grass is much in evidence in front of the hide at Fenham le Moor.

Away from the coast, the boys and I have had excellent views of barn owls between Chatton and Lilburn and a second bird in the Roseden area on Saturday evening.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Alnmouth 10th Feb

A very cold windy morning the highlight being a pair of Goosander on river past the Duchess Bridge. Six to 10 Common Scoter were bobbing about on the sea and about 70 swans were in a field on the way to Warkworth. Were they Mute or Whooper, too far away to be certain.

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Branton Ponds 6th February

Even though the wind was brisk and cold,Branton Ponds still held a good number of birds ,Wigeon were the most numerous with smaller numbers of Teal and Mallard.Also showing well were 3
male Goldeneye as they displayed to any female bird that was watching,a small group of Goosander numbering 12 birds glided by in a tight huddle. Of interest was the 3 Cormorants on one of the islands,one of the birds showed a white head pattern strongly indicative of the continental race "sinensis ".  

Monday, 4 February 2013

Spring is here (?!)

The bird scene at Titlington Mount is pathetic at the moment, but today out on the moor came what I always regard as the very first early sign of spring - the Hare's-tail Cotton Grass (Eriophorum vaginatum) is just starting to show the first young, grey flowering heads above the tussocks in some patches.

My photo was taken last year at a slightly later stage of development - probably April - so you have to imagine the flower spikes short, smaller and much greyer.

Meanwhile the Snowdrops are developing well in Bolton village and up Titlington Lane.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Alnmouth and Foxton area - a Short Eared Owl has been seen during January hunting  by the side of the village golf course and a Barn Owl on the 24th on the top of the hill. At least 150 Redwings and Fieldfares enjoyed feeding on Foxton golf course in areas not covered by snow. They were joined at least once by a Woodcock.