Thursday, 30 July 2009

Not exactly an invasion

but yes we have a wader. Yesterday evening a single Dunlin fed at the flash in the horse field alongside numerous Pied Wagtail, Meadow Pipit and Starling who eventually started bathing and sent the visitor flying away eastward. An inland breeding bird returning to the coast perhaps?
94 Dunlin
Yesterday morning saw two young Buzzards soaring over the wood begging from an adult flying nearby. As I watched over the next ten minutes 8 Snipe circled overhead, 3 Kestrel hunted nearby and 31 Mistle Thrush in groups of 3-11 flew northeast, presumably to feed in the cut grass fields near Banks Pond. The majority were likely disturbed from the roost at the west end of the wood by the Buzzards but some of the birds were seen returning toward Ponteland in the evening.
Out this morning out to check for more waders but just the fourteen Greylag Geese flew in from the east to feed in the large grass field and a young Fox was slinking along behind Mayfair cottage being dive bombed by Swallows .

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

A good view

Up above Allendale the other day, on the back road between the town and Sinderhope had some excellent views of the East Allen valley along with this poser who was much more relaxed now breeding is done.
Went out early this morning to try and re-locate a Quail calling in a field of barley at Bellasis Bridge. No calls heard but plenty of noise from a family of Buzzards begging in the plantation to the west against a background of Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Swallow calls. After walking up to the copse and finding a couple of Bullfinch met ADMc on one of his bike rides who had just heard a Quail in a field of barley nearer to Stannington. Perhaps Quail like barley?

As we chatted about birds and the likleyhood of Kingfisher being present, the very same called and flew under the bridge upstream toward where they were still working on the electricity pylons. Two tractors moved up the lane and ADMc's keen eye spotted a Green Sandpiper flushed from the fields which flew toward us, then off west. A splendid start to the day but it doesn't encourage you to return to work!
Having endured the pains of labour and crossed another task off the list was returning home and had an early evening walk down the Carr. I flushed a bird from Holmes muck heap which vanished over the hedge but as I rounded the end of the copse a Kestrel was hovering nearby and I assumed it was the bird that had been hanging round that area for a few days. Two Buzzards squabbled over some food near the woods and after chatting to some youngsters about the number of Kestrels, returned back down the bumpy road. As I passed the muck heap a bird flushed and flew at hedge height down the lane, in a figure of eight round a bush then returned toward me as a couple of Mistle Thrushes were startled up onto the wires from the field. The bird returned past me at head height thirty or so feet away and I got the bins on it....brownish back, squat head, long tail, barred chest, flat regular wing beats ....that's no Kestrel's a juvvy Cuckoo! and so.....

93. Cuckoo
A canny day all said and done and the list goes on

Sunday, 26 July 2009

In the air

As I stepped out yesterday morning there seemed to be an air of change in the breeze. The sort of feeling normally reserved for late August / September not July. Anyway, nice day so off on a count which turned up a very respectable 52 species without a positive Sedge Warbler sighting. This is good for summer as 50+ counts normally occur in the last two weeks of April and during autumn passage so the casual water, despite not being visible, is having some effect. Numbers were generally low particularly the warblers but Wrens, Swallows, House Martins and Pied Wagtails were abundant. A singing Blackcap remains in the copse on the bad bend, a Grasshopper Warbler near Banks Pond and 14 Greylag Geese were in the flooded fields near Mayfair Cottage. My first male Migrant Hawker of the year flew up and down the road near the pine copse and a single Hare bounded out of vision when spotted.

A change from last week was the number of Reed Buntings singing. There was a singing bird every hundred yards or so last Sunday yet this week it took me two hours to find one! A well established territory near Holmes’ muckheap he sings with two standard notes and a final whistle which is most distinctive.

Over the woods there was a very verbal Buzzard and possibly hundreds of Swifts in aerial display. Speaking of which…..the Reed Arrows turned up prompt at 19.00 on Friday and with yesterday being good weather performed their special landing. A great benefit of living next to the airport are these impromptu displays no doubt egged on by the air traffic controllers. It was a high speed run in from the east in arrow formation with a steep climb into diamond nine and breaking descent splitting either side of the runway to circuit pattern and alternate landing. These are the only airplanes that actually circuit between Prestwick Road and the strip and it’s exciting to see the tight turns they accomplish heading toward your front room!

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Going Grey

Out this evening looking for waders but no joy. A brief tantalising sound bite of Yellow Wagtail but couldn't find the bird so I suspect more hope than reality. Then turning saw a flash of wing in the long grass. There, 11 or so Greylag Geese were having a bath and a preen although barely visible due to the length of the grass. With only the head to view I've always been intrigued as to how the wrinkled neck would feel. It doesn't look like feather but more like Matt Groenings representation of the skin of an old man. Anybody who has had the benefit of touching a Greylays neck may wish to enlighten me on the same!

Monday, 20 July 2009

Yaba daba do

it's number ninety two on the Prestwick Carr list and the first time in twenty years I've seen one on my patch. Dinnington, Woolsington, Havannah, Ponteland, Bellasis, in fact all around but never until yesterday have I seen a Nuthatch on the patch!
There I was, standing watching Swifts feeding and listening to a Buzzard mewing as it circled over the wood when a motion to my left caused me to glance that way and there, flying bullet straight parallel to the bumpy road was the little beauty. Passed me just twenty feet away, the orange lower and grey upper clearly visible as it headed for the pine copse. A lovely sight and satisfying tick. Let's hope for more.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Bellasis Bridge

the site of Banded Demoiselles just weeks ago was totally under water yesterday. The river was using both the 12.6m span and the 5.6m span which it rarely does, and consequently is over 20m wide and probably about 5m deep. Descibed as an attractive hogback bridge in Pevsner, it is noted locally as a good shortcut and lethal for the unwary or daredevil among us. The view above shows the triangular pedestrian refuge and, in the distance a blue Corsa abandoned either because they hit the water too fast or have detached the engine from the drive shaft by speeding over the bridge!

Having said that they were probably not expecting the river to be running in front of the bridge!!and to have diverted about 100m to the south around one of Blagdons fields in which a flock of Rooks, Jackdaws, Crows, two Oystercatcher and assorted gulls were feeding.

Meanwhile at Prestwick Carr, all the ditches are full and the gulls have turned up here too. The usual spots are flooded although the long grass means the majority are not visible. I wait with hope for the arrival of some waders as the water becomes more saline.

Play at the golf course was impossible as the 15th tee became an island allowing 30+ Pied Wagatils to feed on the adjacent greens and Swallows / Martins hunting below the trees. At least the weather kept the dogwalkers and cyclists at home so allowing uninterupted views of greyness!

Friday, 17 July 2009

Ahhh summer

and the deluge has begun. Just like last year when it seemed to rain solidly till the end of August and Prestwick Carr looked like this.

and as a result I added Pectoral Sandpiper and Little Stint to my patch list which along with appearances of Greenshank, Wood Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Ruff, Grey Plover and Redshank made last autumns passage an exciting time. I still have dreams of April 2005 though when 80 almost summer plummage Black Tailed Godwit turned up as top photo and would appreciate a repeat.

Looking forward to getting out first thing tomorrow weather permitting.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Up early

to catch up on the overwhelming workload but after reading Ipins blog everything seemed a bit pointless and total depression had set in. Off out then at 6.30am to see what was around. Two Lesser black backed gulls swapped perch on the telegraph pole over the road as House Sparrow and Starling flushed from my conifer trees. Greenfinch sang loudly on the telegraph wires at the corner, a Collared Dove eyed me warily and Swallows chattered as they perched on the gutters of a barn. Nearing the bumpy road a Grasshoppper Warbler reeled close by, just 100m from my back garden and a Blackcap sang in the plantation. Alarm calls from Blackbird and Robin alerted me to birds with young families and over the next hundred meters I found noisy groups of young Willow Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Wren, Great Tit and Magpie. Looking out north over the rough grass a Kestrel flushed twenty or so Meadow Pipit and a Skylark passed over giving brief snatches of song. Male Reed Buntings gave their three note rendition from atop the stems of grass and two young Stonechat flicked past them from parents who had this year had evaded my best efforts to find their nest location. Whitethroat chattered away in the bushes whilst a pair of male Pheasant argued and lonely Grey Partridge called from dense undergrowth. The wing beats of three Mallard squeaked close overhead before splashing as they landed on the hidden pond whilst Wood Pigeon flushed from the woodland to the north. A Dunnock sang beautifully as I neared a flock of Jackdaw squabbling over spilt goat feed and a pair Goldfinch tinkled in the bushes close by whilst male House Sparrows chirped as they watched over a second brood in the eaves of Mayfair Cottage. A pair of Crows searched the fields for morsels and a flock of Rooks headed off to their communal gathering near the golf course. As a family party of Linnets passed noisily overhead and another two Grasshopper Warbler reeled I caught sight of a Tawny Owl flying down the lane which, as it saw me, banked into the nearby bushes causing alarm calls from Chaffinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker. As I searched for the bird a Curlew called from grassland near the ranges and the rich note of Bullfinches was heard from the bushes nearby where a Blue Tit also fed.
Returning on my route two Pied Wagtails headed off south and a Yellowhammer gave truncated bursts of song. The sky was now filling with the Swifts as they arrived from I know not where and a Coal Tit family called from the tops of a stand of pines. As I neared Banks Pond House Martins swooped low to feed burbling when they got too close to each other and Mistle Thrushes rattled from a nearby field of freshly cut grass. A pair of Coots fed their solitary young as did a single Little Grebe with a sole survivor of it’s second brood. A Moorhen dashed for cover as a Buzzard circled over Fox Covert Plantation and the Canada Geese family craned their necks to see what was happening.
Back home to find three Tree Sparrow amongst the throng at my feeders so I guess the world carries on and now unfortunately, so must I.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

A question of ID

Wandered up to East Chevington yesterday afternoon in the hope of a decent view of a Roseate Tern in the strong sunshine. As a Heron flew overhead arrived at the hide to find DE, the patch specialist, already in position no doubt preparing for Sundays Webs count. I scanned the pool and identified the usual suspects. Sandwich, Arctic and Common Terns. Greater, Lesser, Black headed and nine Little Gulls which I somehow managed to overlook on first viewing. Plenty of Lapwing, three sleeping Ringed Plover with a Dunlin, a few Redshank. Two Mute Swans with two cygnets, pair of Shelduck with a brood of three, Gadwall with four, a couple of Mallard family groups, twenty or so very eclipse Tufties on the middle island with three Cormorants and in the far distance a family group of Greylag Geese.

AG arrived to be shortly followed by three other birders. Discussion started as to the ID of a small bird on the south shore but it was just a fly catching Pied Wagtail dashing about. The birder to my left, Mick I think, mentioned a Grey Plover on the farthest patch of mud……..hadn’t seen that on my scan so scoped in to find a glorious summer plumage bird. Not having seen a summer plumage Grey before I called it in error as a Golden, this being the default observation for a land lubber like me, and everybody got a good view.

Minutes later the whole flock of Terns and Lapwing rose up, circled with some Oystercatcher then put down again and DE pointed out the arrival of four Bar Tailed Godwit which I had again missed. Nice birds coming out of summer plumage, got some fine views and then relocated the Plover with the Lapwing flock. Whilst watching the Godwits I was aware that DE and AG were becoming more animated about the Plover and some discussion with digiscoping ensued. DE advised me that the bird just wasn’t right and could be a Golden. I felt it looked big but without any other birds to compare offered to go get my field guide. Walking back flicking through the book it occurred they were considering one of the rarer Golden Plovers and when set up again they went through the salient features…smaller slimmer bodied with proportionately larger head, long legged, coarser plumage, tertials longer and buff grey underside not white to the wings. Where is the usual flock of hundreds of Golden plover you usually have to sort through when you need a comparison? I remember the black was very black, the wings very pale especially from the rear where the back stood out as a darker band and appeared to have three concentric rings. We waited for the bird to fly. Two other birders turned up and just as they entered that wretched metal hide, the field guide fell on the ground and AG announced the bird in flight and that the underside wings were grey but on turning…..nothing. None of the other birds had moved but after thorough scanning, the Plover had gone.

We looked and looked, especially when other birders we had alerted turned up but to no avail. I left just after five pm whilst AG and ADMc headed off for the south pool and DE arrived back from a two mile hike round the north!
Checked Druridge Pools and Cresswell in vain hope on the way back but few of anything there when, getting back into my car at Cresswell my text alert went off …’probable Pacific Golden Plover at East Chevington south pool’. They’d found it and, confirmed by later sightings that evening I had a new life tick. As you will also see, I never once raised camera to my eye but then it saves me from saying...'you see that dot there, thats a Pacific Golden Plover you know'

Friday, 10 July 2009

Voted least likely

to succeed, a pair of Blackbirds in my front garden fledged four young yesterday. I already mentioned that the female built the nest largely in one Sunday afternoon (7th June) dicing with death every trip as she repeatedly flew low over the busy main road with a beak full of grass. The nest was on the edge of a Berberis bush two feet from the ground and three feet from my living room window, on a route used by next doors cat and south facing.

On 11th June there were two eggs and four by the 13th. The female then started incubating and whilst not visible when standing nearby, could be seen when I was seated in my car on the drive. The male was largely absent except first thing in the morning when he did a stint and late evening when he would sit on my neighbours porch roof and declare his territory. As I sat in my armchair watching TV I would notice the whole bush shake as the bird left the nest, then appear and fly off for a feed. On 27th June I watched the female carrying food so as she left the nest I did a quick check for Magpies, Crows or Jackdaws and peered in to find four ugly naked chicks. By 4th July feeding had increased with both parents providing full beaks of worms and grubs which, helped by the wet weather were in plentiful supply. The downpours didn’t seem to worry them with the female returning to brood as soon as the rain started.

Having been quiet up to now, the young were now making noise as the parent approached which was very noticeable as I lay in my bed first thing each morning. More than once did I leap out as I heard the local Magpie family, all five of them, arguing in the garden just ten feet from the nest but rather than doing the usual Blackbird alarm panic, the parent preferred to perch in my conifer trees and use a mew call to calm the young. By 7th July the young were now largely fully feathered and on checking two young were in the bowl of the nest whilst two were sitting on the rim. Yesterday as I opened the front door at lunch time both parents rose up from the long grass near the drive (yes my garden is not what you could call manicured more abandoned) and on checking one fledgling peered back. I couldn’t see any birds in the nest but after checking under the car, drove off and left them to it.

Last night the male bird was still returning to the bush with food and the calls of two young secreted below could be heard. By this morning all was quiet, nest clean and empty and squashed rather than cup shaped. A common bird, a normal brood and a good result all viewed without needing to get off my fat butt……..that’s armchair birding for you.
PS just returned from the kitchen whilst waiting for the photos to upload and an adult feeding four juvenile Tree Sparrows on my seed feeder. Cracking!

Tuesday, 7 July 2009

And then there was one

I should know better than to get excited about breeding success until the young have fully fledged. The two pairs of Common Terns I’m watching had produced an excellent three chicks each but the weeks, or some predator or other, have taken their toll. First the smaller chick of the large brood disappeared leaving on 26th June two quite large chicks with flight feathers in good shape and three bundles of fluff for the second brood. Over that weekend one large and one small chick was taken and by the end of the week we were down to one chick from the second brood. I don’t know what is taking them but I think the large chick was much too big for an avian predator so, as has happened at Big Waters, perhaps Otter success has its downside.

Anyway I walked up to the hide last night and was glad to be dive bombed as I passed the nest site indicating that the adult birds still had something to protect. I set the scope up and scanned the raft but couldn’t see anything so assumed chick was hiding under the corner shelters but after ½ an hour no sign. Then I saw an unmoving patch of fluff on the far side of the shingle that had been gathered in the centre of the raft. I feared the youngster had died but the parents were still landing although bringing no food. Then a movement and the fluff bundle raised a head, then a beak appeared and a stubby wing was raised to preen. Having prepared itself the youngster stood up and looked around. Parents paid no notice even when the young leaned toward them waiting for a beak of food. It was late in the day and he/she was growing well so plenty of feeds must have been given already. ‘Ah well’ it appeared to sigh and tried preening beneath its wing again only to nearly fall over. This seemed to I enliven the youngster and it trundled across the raft to peer over the edge at the water. The bird looked as if it was going to jump up onto the edge rail then promptly turned and headed for the middle of the shingle pile. There it stood, looked around, then jumped up flapping its little wings like mad but, getting no lift, landed back squarely on both feet. It paused for a moment, yawned then settled down again to snooze. Meanwhile the parents were in a frenzy as another bird seemed to tease them flying past with a fish in its beak and a pair of Great Crested Grebe were getting amorous in the weed nearby. Let’s hope that the full attention of both adult birds can bring about the desired result.

On the Prestwick Carr front, did a count on Saturday morning which produced some good numbers of young birds particularly Whitethroat and there were more than one hundred Swifts in the air who were joined by a wandering Common Tern who fished in Pringles fishing pond before moving on. This used to be a regular summer occurrence however has declined in recent years possibly due to the breeding demise at Big Waters or the formation of other larger fishing ponds in the area. Anyway the list struggles on…….

91 Common Tern

Thursday, 2 July 2009

Yer didn't see me

This hot weather can make the wildlife a bit dozy allowing some closer shots. I just wish my reactions and focusing skills were quicker. No 9 point auto focus and metering here just one eye with increasingly blurred, I have got two eyes but you know what I mean.

Which begs the great question. Do you keep boths eyes open or close one when looking through a viewfinder or scope. I think the recommendation is to keep both open but my brain has yet to be taught to ignore the unwanted information.

Did you know Picasso could draw portraits upside down with total accuracy. Just had the sort of brain that translated the image to his hands irrespective of convention.