Tuesday, 29 December 2009

No sooner said...

than proven wrong. Had a look down Prestwick Carr in excellent light yesterday afternoon and found the Weasel again plus a couple of Water Rail plus BG and some friends looking for owls. Just as the light went at 3.30 one started hunting in the middle area to be shortly joined by three others so they haven't gone although I remain puzzled by their lack of activity in the preceding week. Never mind my garden is heaving with birds looking for food at the moment.

Last weeks peak count was
2 Blue Tit
3 Robin
3 Blackbird
25 House Sparrow
17 Starling
3 Dunnock
9 Chaffinch
4 Great Tit
2 Greenfinch
2 Collared Dove
12 Jackdaw
2 Goldfinch
2 Magpie
5 Tree Sparrow
1 Wren
2 Rook
1 Fieldfare
1 Crow
1 Great Spotted Woodpecker
1 Song Thrush
2 Reed Bunting
1 Pied Wagtail

making 22 species which was supplemented yesterday by a new bird for the garden list.

3 Common Gull arrived on my back roof attracted by some scraps I had put out. Shame the garden is north facing making photography awkward at this time of year with little light, frozen windows and contrast problems from the snow.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Face off

Out early yesterday and again today the silence on the Carr is wonderful with the airport noise reduced, the only sound is the ice under your feet. That is till about nine when engines start, sirens on the A696 wail, the beat box cars of the local horse owners boom down the road and the farmer, in a tractor with a turnover like a tank, trundles a load of hay to the waiting horses. Never mind, live and let live.
Before these interruptions a good hour or so was had observing the flocks of Fieldfare and Redwing feeding and drinking. They are increasingly forced onto the ground as most of the berries have either been eaten or fallen from the hawthorn bushes, the local Herons however seem to have adopted a habit of sitting atop the highest trees! Bird numbers are decreasing as the freeze continues and they move to areas where the minor thaw is evident but one local resident seemed quite content with his / her lot. This Weasel had a burrow under the timbers of a fence with a drinking hole next to a branch poking through the ice and was taking advantage of the fallen berries as Christmas fare. It wasn't particularly concerned as I watched it dashing from place to place for almost ten minutes but always keeping a beady eye in my direction

One downside of the weather is that the Short eared Owls seem to have moved on as I haven't had a sighting for a week now so...... new header reflecting the latest star on a seasonably white Carr.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Frozen Carr

After defrosting the car and delivering it to the garage for the third time in a month I walked back home through the frozen ice sheet that is currently covering the county. At Prestwick two Buzzards squabbled over a perch just yards from the main road before I was offered a lift home which I declined (where are these offers when you really need them?). Was told for the umpteenth time about a large brown bird much bigger than a Buzzard that is in the area. Still a bit sceptical as I can't find it and it only seems to appear to non birders which is funny considering the number of them in the area but the report has come from five different sources.
Anyway down the road the hedges were lifting with Fieldfare, Blackbirds, Redwing plus a few Mistle and Song Thrush. Walking along you push the flock ahead of you, numbers increasing as they go but never letting you closer than thirty feet or so. Eventually if something is coming the other way they get trapped in group before eventually exploding into the air in a chuck, chucking flock and doubling back around you to start feeding again. This means they are very difficult to count but five hundred plus wouldn't be a bad guess. Fortunately the sun has got through to the ditches and there are some patches of open water where they gather to drink.
The open flooded fields are ice bound but squeaking with Meadow Pipits and Pied Wagtails feeding on the frozen ice. A Snipe was flushed and a Water Rail heard before a panic started amongst the Fieldfares. A Sparrowhawk came out of the hedgerow and up the road veering left as it saw me and clutching a small brown bird in its talons, probably a Meadow Pipit.
Other birds were few in number the Tits, Wrens and Robins having probably moved into the gardens of Dinnington. I know my garden is a never ending dash of birds and Sundays Garden Birdwatch count knocked off fifteen species in as many minutes with five Tree Sparrows joining the usual House throng. Robins still rule the roost although one has become three if a bit begrudgingly.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Grey start

Out at first light looking for Geese I arrived at the floodwater on the west end of Prestwick Carr and stood at the field gate peering into the gloom for the flock that was roosting regularly here. It being grey and dark the camera stayed in its case and of course old sods law sprang into action. A Barn Owl approached flying below hedge height to my right before perching on a post just fifteen feet in front of me! It gave me an disdainful look then flew on toward Prestwick to be followed moments later by its mate at similar close range. What a wonderful but frustrating start to the day. The Greylag flock was found and after a few efforts I arrived at the sum of 93 birds before at 8.40 they flew off in a scruffy noisy v to the east. Still kicking myself about the owl and bemoaning the grey weather I headed home as some rays of hope peaked through the cloud. By 11.00 it was sunny so I decided to try for a Christmas card shot and headed up the road to Bolam Lake.
Parking badly to provide a good shot of the feeding platforms in the car park, I wound down the window and was greeted immediately by a hopeful Robin. Following a minor disruption from more noisy humans (what is it about Bolam that attracts these people?) I baited the area with some fatty snacks and waited for the locals who were calling all around to gather. First was Coal Tit chased instantly by Robin, then Blue Tits then Blackbird and poor Robin could not cope with the competition. Great Tit, Chaffinch and Dunnock followed before two greedy Nuthatches took over the show.

Didn't really get the shot I was looking for but was calmed by being so close to these lovely little birds. Even the Dunnock had a bit of a glow.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

In the air tonight

As I headed off to pick the car up from the garage which just happens to involve walking along the Carr to Prestwick I noticed 70 or so Fieldfare flying fast and low along the hedgeline in a state of panic. A hundred yards further on two Crows were mobbing a bird far away on a fence line. Almost dark and with little hope I took this shot and sure enough a Peregrine is just visible perched on the fence before it flew off east.
Further down the road Bill told me tales of three Short eared Owls hunting in the afternoon sunlight and I remembered three birds circling high in the gloom the evening before.
I approached the half way point of my walk and four Herons glided in to their communal roost site recently established in the flood water just south of the road. I turned the corner on the final leg of my journey and a small flock of Golden Plover drifted overhead with Lapwings just below them calling and ready to drop in for the night.
An unseen Snipe called above me as the distant sound of geese calling grew closer and closer and strained to see anything in the gloom. Eventually ninety one Greylag passed over and circled a few times to lose height and land in the middle of the flooded field but now way too dark for the camera to focus I carried on to be met by three highland cattle coming the other way! Eventually the farmers wife hove into view having retrieved her errant beast before they got to the main road. Never a dull moment despite the gloom.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Winter colour

After the rain cleared and the sun came out around 10.00am on Saturday morning headed out to make best of the light and ended up at 5.00pm in the dark having had an enjoyable day. 43 species found including a wintering Chiffchaff near the golf course and 73 Pink footed Geese over north. Many of my shots today seemed to end up as silhouettes against the sky which I shall combine in a later post but after a miserable Sunday I have had without the benefit of electric power (you wouldn't think Dinnington was so remote as to have three power cuts in the last two days would you) I need some colour.

The yellowhammer flock at the goats is building as are the Lapwing and Golden Plover flocks on the floodwater. They were very restless as were the Fieldfare who at this time of year are a difficult photo opportunity as their safe distance is about thirty feet and you just end up pushing them along the hedgerow until they fly off. You can try waiting at the field edge for them to come close but that's a better ploy next year when they are far less cautious but unfortunately, not quite so colourful.
Not quite so colourful were the three juvenile Mute Swans on the flash water who I had seen being chased by adults earlier perhaps now on their own for the first time. They were clearly familiar with humans, probably Killingworth birds as they came straight over expecting to be fed.
Signs of the ugly duckling changing to a beauty beginning to appear.

The day ended in now traditional fashion waiting for the owl display and last night I was not alone. Crammy birder, STH and MSH along with Bill, J & K plus 1 photographers and two couples filled the gate near the goats and we were not disappointed as up to four birds flew, one landing on prey about fifty yards away. Looking around warily to protect its catch the bird could clearly be seen tearing pieces off and eating. I thought owls ate their prey whole but maybe the crowd made the bird refine its table manners.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Hot foot

Pretty cold feet actually as I stood for an age waiting for the Great Northern Diver at Whittle Dene to come close but it was very human aware and kept its distance, even moving away the moment a photographer with a considerably bigger lens than mine, opened the gate to the south bank as it neared that side. Didn't get very good pictures therefore but, like the Sabines Gull, enjoyed seeing a true seabird close up through the scope.
The sun was shining strongly when I arrived having rushed through a meeting and packed all the wrong kit hence the photographic demise. Note to self ............must win the lottery soon and replace all my lenses although to be honest, it doesn't matter what you use you always want to be closer.
Interesting comparison between size of Great Northern Diver and Great Crested Grebe. The bird swam and fished for about an hour before the cold took its toll on me. It could stay underwater for quite some time but I never saw it bring a fish to the surface. Also about Kingfisher, Canada Geese, Mute Swans, a Grey Heron which gave the diver a strange look as it swam by, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Fieldfare and Redwing from which two Mistle Thrush were noisily trying to defend their patch.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Brief moments

I knew it was going to be a bad week when my cars power steering failed just as I started the second section of last weeks webs count. As the week wore on even my problems developed problems and with the poor weather, not a photograph was taken. Got out briefly Friday evening and snatched a view of one Short eared Owl seeing off a Buzzard along with a Sparrowhawk gliding up one of the ditches hoping for an easy meal as seventy or so Fieldfare came in to roost and the growing Lapwing flock rose skyward but not a shot was taken in the failing light.
As I woke on Saturday morning I groaned as I realised the place was fogbound and the chance for some birding solace had been removed. Spent the morning tidying the weeks devastation when I realised the cloud had burnt off and the sun was out. Should I work or............ I needed to take some shots and Bolam Lake was on the way to my early afternoon appointment.
Arrived to find a sunlit oasis of calm punctuated by moments of motorbike revings, child screamings, dog barkings, womans chattings and idiots shouting into mobile phones. WHY? Anyway there was plenty of Nuthatch and Woodpecker calling but they were staying well up the trees out of the commotion. Even the Mallards were unusually shy and with two Canada Geese, two Goldeneye and three Tufties all staying well away from the shore I reverted to the easy target to fulfill my desires.
Achieving not remotely spectacular results I headed home and after a fruitless visit to Ponteland Park ended up you know where. Beautiful sunshine but very cold and an ominous haze on the horizon which rolled toward me as I prayed for some early hunting birds but only a pair of Buzzard and a male Stonechat provided any amusement. The fog bank eventually moved over the Carr providing a false sunset before enveloping the full disc of the sun and creating an cold and mysterious light.
No sooner had the fog arrived than it started to disperse and I noticed an Owl mobbing a Kestrel to the west. This was certainly a belligerent bird if it was the same one as the previous evening and I moved down the bumpy road to observe only to find MH set up and sketching a distant Buzzard. He too was after owls and we set off west to get a closer view. The Owl veered off overhead as a photographer warned us of its approach and getting into the open we watched as it hunted over the fields, then joined by another and another till briefly four were in the air. They split and two mobbed the Buzzard whilst the other two vanished into the ether as quickly as they came. MH quickly set up and took advantage of the remaining moments of light as a bird perched some fifty yards away. All to soon however the light faded and the bird moved off and another brief moment of pleasure had been achieved.

Thursday, 19 November 2009

G rain

With the weather the last few days that's all I'm getting in my photography, rain and grain as I never seem to be below 1600 Iso. Would help of course if the Prestwick Carr Owls would fly before 3.00pm but at least they're still there which is remarkable given that the ditches have broken their banks and the land is flooded such that its showing even in the long grass as picture below. Owl pictured badly above is perched in left had bush just below the skyline.
JSB and colleague turned up on Tuesday evening and we managed all four birds in the air together, all hunting / squabbling with themselves and passing Crows / Kestrels.
What a shot it would have been if only there was some light or I had spent a few thousand pounds, which I don't have, on better kit. Never mind, the grain and lack of quality is annoying but the fact I can achieve an image is fine by me just for interests sake when just five or so years ago there would have been little point attempting.
Another fly boy was patrolling the area on Tuesday. I wonder if City Birder can I.D. this as toadstool or mushroom?

Look you can even see the co-pilot (or more likely the trainee pilot) in the cockpit. These digital cameras amaze me. Canon 500D 70-300 zoom lens taken from 2.3km away 60th sec F5.6 & 1600 ISO in bloody awful weather for the record not that anybody would want to repeat it.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

No counts

Out before first light this morning to try and find some geese to count. These nine Greylag above were present near Horton Grange flash on Tuesday but this morning it was a no show. This flash formed after the completion of the opencast and was present for a year until this summer when Banks carried out extensive drainage works. You can see in the background that it's making an effort to reform.
Checked Banks Pond but only the call of a Tawny Owl from the copse at Curlew Cottage, then up to Prestwick Road to get a view of the whole Carr, then to the west end where the water level continues to rise. This is quite normal for the area where there is about a two day lag between the rain and the peak water level as the water backs up the ditches from the restricted outfall to the River Pont. Pied Wagtails were beginning to feed on the horse fields near Mill Farm where the owners attempts to raise the land have also shown little success.
Shame the flood is too late to bring in any waders although a small flock of Lapwing and the occasional Golden Plover overhead is nice but little chance of me adding to my current 100 for the year. Oh memories of Pec Sand, Little Stint, Wood Sand, Ruff and Greenshank from last year. I'd even settle for a Redshank to be honest.
Never mind, back up the bumpy road counting Woodpigeon as they emerged from their roost in the wood. Got up to around 430 before birds started returning and confusing the issue. Gulls started drifting inland as I checked the grassy slope where the geese used to roost. Unfortunately in this area Banks drainage has actually worked and the flash they used at the base of the slope has gone and the Blackpool drain works effectively.
No sign of any early owls but I notice that land where they have hunted for the last month is largely flooded although it still looks like fen grassland. This may explain last evening where from 2.00pm till 4.00 there was not an owl to be seen. Bit of a shame as there were at least ten people waiting for them to appear. I have two theories. Either, they have abandoned the area as the flood set in and have moved elsewhere. If this were the case I would expect to see birds near the Airport, at Havannah, Arcot or north of the wood. The alternative is that as the water rose the voles were disturbed to the higher ground and the owls gorged themselves and hence didn't need to hunt last night. This has occurred before when in a major flood there was evidence that all the small mammals were driven onto the hump back bridge on the bumpy road, it being the only dry ground for 200 m in any direction, and that the Owls and Kestrels made hay. Let's hope this is so.

Final check up the range track where Fieldfare and Redwing were much in evidence along with a Mistle Thrush trying to protect its larder as it did with gusto at the same place last year. End result.............a no count. Well they say its as important as finding birds but not as satisfying.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

What, no pictures!

Turned up on Prestwick Carr in splendid sunshine at 3.00pm yesterday. Unpacked the gear and walked up the bumpy road to join a birder I recognise from many twitches at St Marys Island who was scanning for the owls. As we talked we spotted a bird hunting in the middle of the fields just south of the road, then another then another till three were circling each other and another was perched on a bush nearby. Then as I scanned right another bird was found perched on the fence line quite near us. Bill had reported five yesterday so we watched for ten minutes or so from a distance whilst the ariel dance continued. Then the crows turned up and three blokes, one quite portly in a bright red shirt, walked across the fields and started to herd the cows. Two owls did their usual corvid avoidance strategy and circled up higher and higher whilst the others came down onto the ground one perching on the fence 50 yards away. My fellow birder had run out of time so departed and I realised I had barely taken a photograph of the spectacle. Never mind the two lads usually in the hide at Big Waters were up the road and must have filled their boots. I waited for the perched bird to fly but it stayed perched for almost three quarters of an hour whilst I chatted to others present who had identified a total of six birds at one stage. I presume the new arrivals are continental birds and, given the sighting of five at Seaton, the influx seems to be quite large. The thought of approaching the 2000 record of eleven - fourteen birds would be nice but it beats me how you can count that many with certainty. Five - six is hard enough!!
The bird eventually started hunting again as the freezing mist rose up and as the cold began to grip I decided to depart without waiting for the Barn Owls to show. Couldn't see very far anyway!

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Better than Fireworks

It's nice when life is predicatable with things running smoothly and this week at least, the owls of Prestwick Carr have been keeping a regular timetable. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday Short eared Owls flying at 4.30 followed by Barn Owls at 5.00 with one to four of the former and two of the latter. The only problem is they're waiting till dark which I know may seem an unfair criticism for an owl but perhaps the Short-eareds be made aware that they often fly in daylight. Anyway, despite the lack of good photographs yesterday was spectacular as four SEO's mobbed a Buzzard perched in one of the bushes before disappearing after five or ten minutes as indeed they had done every other night to be replaced by two Barn owls who appear from Prestwick village and after a brief perch in the south east corner hunt their way across the field, over the bumpy track and into the wood. Not long extended views but precious moments (that could be a song!)

Tonight I turned up at 3.30 and just as I walked up the bumpy road I spotted two birds in the distance. Typical, SEOs flying early and overcast dull conditions. Perhaps that's why. Anyway persued the pair up and down the road for about half an hour getting some poor shots but some excellent views. At one stage was trying so hard to get the photo that I didn't notice a Deer that had been flushed from the centre of the field and was heading off in the other direction.

Was joined by another birdwatcher then Bill and we all got some great views as up to four birds hunted back and forth in front of us. It was coming up to five pm so Bill and I focused on the south east corner for the arrival of the Barn Owls. The other birdwatcher decided to stay for the event and he was glad he did. The first Barn Owl duly appeared on cue and hunted off to the east then moving over the field towards us it flushed a Short Eared Owl and there was a brief squabble before both birds disappeared. There was some calling and we focused in the almost total dark to see what was happening. Then, fifty yards into the field the Barn Owl appeared flying at rush top height down the fence line towards us. It kept coming, and coming, and coming and then rose up over the gate ten feet in front of us forcing the other two to drop their bins as it banked away left and with a flap was gone. The image of that pure white underside just feet away and the fact that I actually heard some sound as it flapped its wings will remain with me forever. Also that brief moment of fear when it just didn't stop coming and looking directly at us I felt the possibilty of an Eric Hosking type accident (the only way I'll get myself and the great man in the compared in the same sentence). I was transfixed and the camera was switched off so no photo but both eyes still intact!

Friday, 30 October 2009

Sab a tour

Started work early and had my major project for the day delivered by 9.30 so when my text message alerted me of a Pectoral Sandpiper at the Beehive flash, off I went. The bird was easily located on the far side of the flash with MH and Dusty Bins already set up for the shot but the the little wader was staying put and after a few minutes taking in the glories of this birds plumage in good light, I headed off to see what else could be added to the list.

Decided to try again for the Sabines gull at North Shields which I had seen at a distance on Monday but two later attempts had failed as the bird seems to move away from the fish quay after its early morning feed. Started at the fish quay and initially no sign so contented myself with shots of a male Eider in the harbour. As I walked back along the quay a bird caught my eye coming out of the sun about 20m away and flying downstream...bingo.... the clear black primary wing markings stood out splendidly. I waited for the bird to return but no luck so, after checking the ice maker where it had been yesterday, I headed to the foreshore where I was soon joined by one, then another, then a further three birders all on the same quest. Stories of hope and missed opportunities were shared probably made more annoying by me having seen the bird fleetingly earlier.
We were joined by a man from the RNLI Station who was also hoping to see the bird but had been told by a colleague working on the south lighthouse that there were eight Dolphins in the mouth of the Tyne. Bins and scopes were trained and shortly the animals could be seen as the school surfaced between a dredger and the south pier. Nice opportunity so I headed to the headland above the Black Middens for a better view.
The dredger had gone out to sea and presumably the Dolphins with it so headed toward the pier on the off chance and met two birders coming in the opposite direction who had seen the Sabines Gull and said it was now on the rocks below the headland. I re-traced my steps and whist checking the rocks the gull flew around the headland and managed to snap the beauty.

The bird settled on the rocks just 30m from the shore with Black headed gulls and started preening. Settled down to a nice little twitch joined by two from the foreshore, two from the pier, a bloke from Carlisle who I had met twice earlier this week and a good few curious bystanders. With my smaller lens the images were not so good but views through the scope were splendid and eventually it had a quick kip allowing me to get a larger lens but the light was poor and only got a couple of shots before the incoming tide moved it away back upstream to the fish quay. Lunchtime already and felt like I'd done two days work!

Friday, 23 October 2009

Green Cross Stoat

What with cyclists, horse riders, people coming to watch the Short eared owls and trips from the wildlife trust, the bumpy road has got a bit busy recently. The Prestwick Carr Stoats however are all fully versed in the green cross code. Well, all the bits except walking across calmly that is.

As a postscript before the digital police get me, the first three shots are original un-retouched scans of slides and the fourth is from the same series of shots but the background has been altered for dramatic effect.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Stoatally mad

Was up at Boulmer last week doing some seawatching to the North of the village when a commotion of bird alarm calls came from the garden behind me. Looking over the wall a Stoat was standing next to a log pile. Having spied me it dashed back in only to emerge from the top of the pile and give me a stare. Then it proceeded to dash out jump and spin then disappear back into its pile. Did this three or four times till I called over my folks to have a look and of course it didn't show again.