Friday, 15 April 2016

Catching up again.

Goodness me! It’s nearly three months since my last post!

A quick catch up starts with the garden. No sign of Siskins before the end of February, when a pair started to visit every day. Then, after a couple of weeks, we had only a male visiting; not a very strikingly marked bird, so I guess he may be in his first year. 

Over this last week we have had up to six Siskins. They have been displaying over the garden and the males have been trying to outdo one another in the singing and calling stakes. Lovely lively song, interspersed with a twanging zing (or should that be ting?). As has happened everywhere, Greenfinch numbers have crashed with only singles visiting occasionally.

Blackbirds hung around in number until the end of March, which gave much cause for scrapping between males. We now seem to be down to the local pair, who guard their feeding ground with a fair degree of ferocity.

My first summer migrants were picked up around Druridge a month ago: Sand Martins and Chiffchaffs. Two weeks ago I saw my first Wheatear near Lynemouth and on the same day Swallows were hawking over Druridge Pools. On that same day I visited East Chevington and had good views of two male Mergansers displaying for all they were worth to a single female who seemed totally unimpressed.

Today there are still three Whoopers in a field just north west of Cresswell Pond and amongst a flock of about twenty Turnstones, I also picked up three Purple Sandpipers at Snab Point, remarkably my first for this year. A single Sandwich Tern was hunting the bay.

This morning I viewed Cresswell Pond from the roadside near the north pool and could see eight Avocets. There seems to be a larger than usual number of Linnets around at the moment, they have probably benefited from the mild winter.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Out and about again.

Over the last two months we have been somewhat busy working around the installation of a new kitchen and have had little time excursions to the coast.

Last Wednesday my beloved and I had a post Drift Café lunch walk along the beach at Cresswell. There were around 600 Pink Feet in the field next to the café. Some birders had reported seeing Bean, White Fronted and Barnacle Geese with these birds, but we detected none. The beach was quiet for birds; quite a few people enjoying the reasonable weather.

I spent most of Saturday visiting both Cresswell Pond and Druridge Pools. Lots of birds at Cresswell, including the long staying Dowitcher, a Ruff, a Knot and two Barwits. Blackwits had been seen, but they evaded me.

Several of the folks that I met in the hide reported a movement of Pink Feet from the north and off the sea earlier in the day. A large flock two fields inland from the pond held at least 2000 birds. Again, I had a close look at the Pink Feet in the field near The Drift Café, but could see none of the reported White Fronts or Bean Geese.

From the Budge screen I looked in vain for the Water Pipit. There were a lot of Widgeons and Teals along with a splendid single Pintail. Shovellers were very actively chasing each other, but no signs yet of their wonderful nodding gudunk gudunk display. At both Cresswell and Druridge there were large numbers of Lapwings, which were regularly spooked by nothing at all and the sky was alive with their calls throughout the day.

From the centre hide I had good views of a female/juvenile Marsh Harrier that flew from south to north. I had a missing primary and another birder that I met had seen the same bird on previous occasions at both Druridge and Chevington.

On the main pool at Druridge it was good to see three pairs of Pochards along with at least twenty Tufties. There was one drake Merganser with two ducks at one end of the pond and at the other end a duck with two drakes.

I watched a Little Grebe that fed very close to the hide. It was catching Sticklebacks. One particularly large fish was not dispatched by the vigorous head shaking before being swallowed, so it stuck in the Grebe’s throat. The Grebe shook its head even more vigorously and ejected the fish, then caught it again, this time making sure it was fully stunned before being swallowed. It was catching at least three fish a minute.

Today I arrived at Cresswell around midday. No sign of any Pink Feet. The only sighting throughout the afternoon was a distant flock beyond Widdrington. I didn’t visit Cresswell Pond, but spent time in the windy Budge Screen. Still no luck with the Water Pipit. Still loads of ducks and Lapwings. This time a pair of Pintails were busily upending. A mystery raptor sat in one of the pines west of Budge Field. I suspect it was the female Merlin that has been around for a while; visibility by then was poor.
I saw two pairs of Stonechats at Druridge. One by the road east of the main pond and the other by the gate in the south west corner of Budge Field.

The feeders at Druridge are very active, with lots of Goldfinches joining the Tree Sparrows. A quick drive by of Widdrington Moor Lake provided a dozen Siskins in the roadside trees. Lots of gulls on the lake – Black Headed, Herring and a few Common, with two immature Great Black Backs. A large flock of Coots grazed on the far bank.

The sea at Snab Point was very quiet. The tide was well in and I am still missing Purple Sandpipers this winter. 

Monday, 30 November 2015

A catch-up from last week.

A quick catch up from last Wednesday. I decided to get up fairly early and get to the coast just as the light was getting good enough to sea-watch.

I arrived at Snab Point at around 7:45. It was overcast and the light very flat. There was little or no wind, the sea was calm and the tide low. I spent about an hour scanning the sea. Very few birds were in evidence, but I did see around a dozen Red Throated Divers.

A trip up the coast followed, where I spied two large flocks of Pinkfeet heading inland towards the lake west of Widdrington. They eventually landed somewhere in the land between West Chevington and Broomhill. There must have been more than a thousand.

Having failed to find the feeding Pinkfeet, I went to Druridge Pools. As I got out of the car, I was greeted by a female Merlin hurtling south along the dunes. She veered towards the trees alongside the Budge Field and spooked a flock of finches, before disappearing from view. A short while later I noted a flock of Starlings and Lapwings rise rapidly from the fields towards Cresswell Pond and I guessed that Mrs Merlin had passed by.

From the Budge Hide there were good views of a large Lapwing flock. I stopped counting at six hundred. A Little Egret dropped in from the east and promptly disappeared in the long grass.
The middle hide afforded good views of a flock of one hundred and nineteen Curlews feeding alongside Lapwings, Widgeons, a small flock of Redshanks and a single Ruff.

The main pool held a good mixture of ducks. Mallards, Widgeons, Gadwalls, Tufties, Teals, Goldeneyes, Shovellers and a single drake Pochard. Two Little Grebes fed on small fish very close to the hide. In the distance near East Chevington reserve, I could see a female Marsh Harrier quartering the ground, with angry Crows in pursuit.

I paid a second visit to Snab Point, where the tide had receded. Apart from Eider Ducks and one or two Red Throated Divers, the sea close in was quiet. Towards the horizon, a large flock of gulls followed a fishing smack. As I looked through my scope, an out of focus black and burnt orange object blocked my view. A male Stonechat sat on a plant no more than five metres away. It was joined by its mate and they foraged for a few minutes before flying out of view.

I then drove north to check again for geese and to look over the still very full Cresswell Pond. A flock of over five hundred Pinkfeet settled two fields west of the pond. I didn’t bother to visit the Cresswell hide.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Long Billed Dowitcher at Cresswell Pond

Yesterday I decided to see if the Long Billed Dowitcher was still at Cresswell Pond.

I arrived at around 9:30 to news that the Dowitcher was still present, but that I’d just missed a Black Tern and a Little Gull.

Cresswell Pond is very full at present, with no exposed mud other than around the perimeter, so any waders present were confined to the west and north shores. For the two and a half hours that I stayed at Cresswell the Dowitcher was feeding alongside Teals and Widgeons on the north of the pond. It remained within a ten metre strip, alternating between feeding, grooming and disappearing behind a duck.

Having read that field separation of Long and Short Billed Dowitchers is, at best, a job for experts who have a good close view, I hoped that, at least, I would get a good enough view for it to be identifiable as a Dowitcher.  Happily, with the help of a view through a better scope than mine, I was satisfied that I would be able to identify a Dowitcher if lucky enough to see one again.

The Dowitcher is physically like a Common Snipe, but the patterning is more like a Godwit. Whereas a Snipe tends to walk and stand with bent legs, the Dowitcher always had straight legs, making it look much longer legged than a Snipe. The size is a giveaway in comparison to a Godwit. The most distinctive characteristic was its feeding action, which is described by the Handbook as being like the needle of a sewing machine. It feeds with a horizontal stance, beak held close to the ground and uses a short rapid stabbing motion. I didn’t see it probing as would most other long billed waders.

The gait of the Dowitcher was slow and short stepped. It did’t move far from the spot whilst feeding. Very different from the other long beaked, long legged birds likely to be seen in Northumberland. Redshanks and Spotshanks stride purposefully and Greenshanks have that long, swaggering gait. Godwits also tend to quite active whilst feeding.

Several people came to the hide and went away happy to have seen this rare visitor.

Although the Dowitcher was a new bird for me, it was a species that I have seen on several occasions over the years that stole the show. Flocks of Starlings and Lapwings suddenly took flight from the fields to the north of Cresswell Pond. The Starlings formed two tight flying balls and I knew we had a raptor in the vicinity. Suddenly a Merlin attached one of the balls. It caught nothing and then flew over the dunes, before settling within view on a fencepost in the dunes. After a short rest it flew across the pond quite close to the hide. Certainly a female bird judging by her size, but I don’t know sufficient about plumage to say whether adult or juvenile.

In between the excitement of the new bird and the Merlin, we had a flypast of 30 Whooper Swans. There were several juvenile birds. A large flock of finches appeared twice near the farm, but were too far away to identify. One of those present in the hide picked out Goldfinches, but judging by size, I suspect that there may have been a Twite or few.

A Water Rail entertained its audience by running in and out of the reeds in front of the hide. As the tide came in, around 50 Redshanks landed on the west side of the pond. I saw no other waders.

I went up to East Chevington at midday. I was surprised to see a Dragonfly hawking along the hedge. A female Marsh Harrier was quartering the rough grassland next to the north lake. At both Cresswell and Chevington there were good numbers of Goldeneyes and Little Grebes. Conversely, I only saw one pair of Gadwalls and a smattering of Tufties.

On my return down the coast, a flock of around 120 Pinkfeet flew south to the second field west of Cresswell Pond. By this time, a large number (probably around 500) Widgeons had settled on the pond. The sea at Snab Point was very quiet, with a few gulls and Eiders.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Cresswell Kingfisher

Today it was sunny, but windy and cold along the coast between Cresswell and East Chevington. The beach at Cresswell was busier with dogs and walkers than birds.

The track to the hides at Druridge Pools was very quiet; in fact I saw only one tweet, a Dunnock. The Budge Field was initially devoid of visible ducks, until a female Sprawk unsettled a few Teals. A small group of Canada Geese, a Heron and a few gulls were the only other birds in evidence. A single large Hawker Dragonfly was active in spite of the strong wind.

The view from the Oddie Hide was more interesting. Mallards, Teals, Tufties, Gadwalls, Little Grebes, Mute Swans and a single Goldeneye. A Redshank was busily catching small fish in front of the hide. On my return to the car I saw several butterflies, only one close enough to be sure it was a Speckled Wood. A female Kestrel hunted around the top of the track.

Near the entrance to the pools a charm of Goldfinches mixed with Tree Sparrows, but remained largely in the cover of the dense shrubbery.

Having seen small three geese flocks join and fly north, I headed to East Chevington to see if I could find them grazing, but no joy.

I finished the day at Cresswell Pond, where I saw a Kingfisher, only my second sighting for this site. It landed on the fence between the main pool and the north extension, dived twice and then disappeared whilst I was not looking.

There were 72 Curlews and 83 Lapwings along with Redshanks and Dunlins. A Water Rail put on a brief show, preening at the edge of the reeds. There was a flock of Widgeons that I didn’t count and a smattering of the usual duck species.

Three guys in the hide were bemoaning the absence of Snipe. Guess what seven of landed seconds after they left? Just as I was leaving a small group of Pink Feet headed south west.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

White Tailed Eagle and Bee Eaters

We spent the last two weeks of July based at Poolewe in North West Scotland. My main hope was to see a White Tailed Eagle, which had eluded me on our last three trips to Scotland.

The timing of the holiday was not ideal for seeing passerines, we have an opportunity, now we have both retired, to plan an earlier foray next year. The woods and moors were very quiet.

Loch Maree is well known as a nesting site for White Tailed Eagles, but a trip to the Beinne Eighe visitors’ centre revealed that there has been no record of Eagles visiting the nest site this year. We were told that Gruinard Island is regularly visited by White Tails, where they catch rabbits.

We had two sessions watching Gruinard from one of the many vantage points available. We were successful on the second visit. A juvenile bird, very dark and with a tatty tail that had a few missing feathers and showed a few white patches on the feathers that remained. It flew from the north, circled the island and then flew steadily south until it dipped out of view about two miles away.

References in books and on the net to ‘a flying garage door’ are very apt. The head and neck are pronounced and the large bill very obvious. The steady shallow effortless flight reminded me a bit of a Manta Ray. We had just the one sighting, but it put on a good show.

Other raptors were in short supply, although we didn’t get out and about most days until noon, so probably missed a lot of the action. The weather was very changeable and quite cool, with only two days of continuous sunshine. Our raptor sightings amounted to good views of Red Kites near Inverness, en route to our destination, inevitable regular views of Buzzards and a single Kestrel.

Loch Ewe is large sea loch that has one significant island, Isle Ewe. Gruinard Bay, with Gruinard Island and the promontory, which separates it from Loch Ewe, together with the points north and south where both bodies of water meet the sea, provide a variety of habitats and vantage points. We saw flocks of Twites and Linnets beyond Mellon Charles, but otherwise ‘tweets’ were mainly seen in ones and twos.

Loch Maree and some of the nearby large lochs are significant breeding sites for Black Throated Divers. We had a good view of a pair on Loch Gairloch. Divers often feed in sea lochs, Red Throated particularly so.

Both Common and a few Artic Terns were very active in Loch Ewe throughout every day of our stay. They were often accompanied by a Grey Seal. In Gruinard Bay there’s a good site for seeing Common Seals hauled upon the rocks.

There were good numbers of Red Breasted Mergansers on Loch Ewe and we had close views of a duckling on Loch Maree, apparently venturing out on its own. It eventually returned to shore and we hoped that it would be reunited with a parent, although none was in evidence.

For the botanically minded, Inverewe Gardens overlook Loch Ewe. Wild flowers were abundant on the moors, with swathes of Bog Asphodel and Cotton Grass. Finding lots of Bog Myrtle was particularly pleasing - the scent is amazing.

A week after our return home we had four nights near Dunbar. Excellent views of Bass Rock. The vast number of Gannets on the rock reminded me of the white cinders on the top of a barbeque, with the large number of birds circling above and around looking like wisps of smoke.

Yesterday we visited the Bee Eaters at Brampton. The quarry owners, local land owner and the RSPB have cooperated to provide excellent views of the remaining pair (plus helper). The number of visits to the nest rose to fifteen and hour during our visit. The RSPB has a blog associated with its web site. 

They will announce when the chicks fledge and anticipate a lot of visitors once this happens. It’s expected that the birds will leave the site about a week or so after the young emerge from the nest.

There is no way of telling how many young are being fed. The expert view is that the quantity of food being taken means more than two young, but there could have been up to ten eggs laid. There are concerns around the close attention being paid to the area around the nest hole by Carrion Crows. 

There are several Sand Martin colonies in the quarry where Carrion Crows are known to predate newly emerged young. There are also Sprawks and Buzzards in close proximity. Foxes have been seen above the nest site, which is very near the top of the sand bank.

On Wednesday we walked near Harbottle and I saw a flock of twenty eight Mistle Thrushes.

So, two new birds on my list in one month. Not often that has happened.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

June Catch Up

On 31st May I retired from work. I took three weeks holiday before my retirement, so I’ve now been a gentleman of leisure for just over six weeks. I’ve avoided the temptation to spend all of my time birdwatching.

On return from a week in Devon I tried for the Pratincole at Bothal, but missed it by a day.

On 11th June we visited the Farne Islands. In spite of having lived in Northumberland for twenty five years, this was only our second visit. It’s a truly magical place. I have never been fully confident in identifying Common and Arctic Terns as they pass by at distance. However, when you can sit within a metre anyone can identify them.

If anyone doubts the need to wear a hat (and a few visitors seemed not to have heard or taken the advice) I had two pecks that would have drawn blood.

In response to apparent sightings on two occasions of Bee Eaters around East Chevington and then Lynemouth, I had a couple of typically unsuccessful twitching trips up the coast.

Seeing at least twenty eight Blackwits at Druridge Pools made up for the missing rarities. I also had good views of several Little Gulls and a Little Egret at Cresswell Pond.

In our garden the feeders have been very busy. We have regular visits from three adult and two juvenile Goldfinches. They often visit together.

When I first started feeding birds regularly, in my parents’ garden fifty years ago, I tended to despise the way in which House Sparrows hogged the feeders and tended to push the Greenfinches and Tits out of the way. Since then Spruggie fortunes have changed dramatically. Today I was delighted to see at least nine Spruggies visiting the feeding station. The visiting group consisted of five young birds, two older than the other three, three adult males and a single adult female. I had eight on the feeder together (two adult males) and all three males together on a few occasions. There seems to be harmony amongst the group.

The harmony shown by both the Goldfinch and Spruggie groups also, very surprisingly, extends to the Blackbirds that are in our garden every day. I am used to having a single pair dominating the garden, but at present we often have more than two adult males, along with two females and two well grown young birds. I’m wondering if the cold weather has reduced feeding options, making birds react less territorially, as they do in the winter.

Last Saturday I had an engagement south of the river, so I spent the morning at RSPB Saltholme. Needless to say, the Squacco Heron had disappeared the previous day and it rained. Nice views of a Greenshank and extended views of a Little Egret fishing busily.

We have booked a two week camping holiday in Scotland, near Inverewe in mid July. A mass migration of White Tailed Eagles is in prospect!