Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Nippy Northumberland

Making the most of a few days respite from the torturous chasm I call my temporary, totally un-conservation oriented work place I today decided to hoof it up the coast in search of a few wintery delights. Though the rarities eluded me and the reported White-Fronted Geese remained hidden, today provided a refreshing change of pace from the usual pre-Christmas madness and turned up some charismatic creatures to boot. These combined with an ample supply of coffee, jam sandwiches and my new and rather snug purpose bought "Iceland coat" made for a rather pleasant few hours spent roaming the regular haunts with a an additional hour spent poking around the patch upon my return.

One of many frequenting my garden.
The walk down to Druridge today was a rather chilly affair with the coat and gloves purchased for my upcoming trip to Iceland coming in most handy as I plodded along the two mile or so stretch of road prior to my destination. No owls here unfortunately, contrary to recent trends though I rather embarrassingly mistook a Mistle Thursh for a Little Owl perched in one of the many Ash trees lining the road from Widdrington to Druridge. Druridge itself proved relatively quiet with a few Curlew poking around the budge screen and the usual assortment of Chaffinches, Robins and Wrens prowling the shelter belt. I had in fact almost given up hope of finding anything at all entertaining here when the welcome sound of honking geese caught my attention. In the time it had taken me to scour the shrubby areas of the site some c700 Pink-Footed Geese had dropped in the feed in one of the nearby fields. Finally, my chance to turn up a White-Front or even one of these elusive local Bean Geese. Alas this was not to be and the sum of a good half hour spent picking apart the squabbling mass of birds was a lone Barnacle Goose. I did however note just how variable Pink-Feet are in terms of plumage. Pale birds, dark birds, birds with white around the bill.. It's all too much for someone yet to pick out a Bean Goose in the UK..

 Cresswell as ever came up trumps with a decent assortment of colourful quacky things among which Wigeon were the most numerous with some c200 grazing in the adjacent fields. Mallard as ever were also numerous whilst Teal, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye also gave me something to look at in between spells of frantically scanning the petite reed bed in search of a long overdue Bittern. Little else showed at Cresswell, despite a good hour of watching, waiting and anticipating thus I departed the hide in favour of more salty climes. The hedgerow alongside the track did however go some way to compensating my losses with a stonking male Yellowhammer on show alongside a handful of Tree Sparrows and the usual cast of Blackbirds, Goldfinches and tits. Departing the site a male Stonechat showed well on top of a dead Umbrellifa though this was all of note. The rocks around Cresswell Village and Snab Point proved much more uplifting with a host of wondrous waders on show, among these 5 delightful Purple Sandpipers that showed down to within matter of feet. Alongside these a few dozen Turnstone sporting their drab yet delightful winter plumage and a good number of Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher. A short and extremely cold seawatch produced little other than gulls and Eiders thus I quickly chose to head home though not before noting a substantial flock of Golden Plover overhead and a single Rock Pipit picking about the strand line. Not the worst morning, but likewise far from the best!

 Back on the patch front and things have been continuing at a steady and enjoyable pace. The unrivaled highlight of the week the ringtail Hen Harrier which remains in evidence around Widdrington Moor Lake. Such a fantastic bird and far from common in our age of persecution and grouse massacring toffs thus I feel somewhat privileged to have one apparently wintering so close to home. Harrier aside Widdrington Moor has also turned up a host of other raptors with no less than four Kestrel showing well alongside a single Buzzard and the resident Peregrine. Wildfowl numbers seem to have tailed off here somewhat (perhaps due to the predator presence?) though Wigeon are still numerous and a few Goldeneye remain. A drake Pochard here a few nights past was however a pleasant surprise. Away from the lake and the old tip continues to provide a bonanza of common titbits with Bullfinch still numerous and some c25 Lesser Redpoll now in evidence. Jays too continue to show well whilst other goodies include Willow Tit, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Sparrowhawk munching an unlucky Goldfinch. Surely the dying days of December still have the potential to throw up something new and exciting though my hopes now lie firmly with my most striking omission of the year, a Short-Eared Owl.

Show Off.
Purple Sandpiper
Turnstone, Cresswell.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Bespolka Patch Bird Race

A week ago today I took part in a patch bird race organised in tandem between the good folks at the Patchwork Challenge and my fellow whippersnappers at NGB. In aid of the Cameron Bespolka trust, a charity dedicated to helping young birders from less prosperous backgrounds and created in remembrance of Cameron Bespolka this was one event  I really intended to give my all. Despite almost eight hours freezing my mitts off on the patch I only managed 60 species by the time the sun fell, missing a few common blighters such as Linnet, Long-Tailed Tit and Treecreeper that on any other way would have been popping out of my ears and dipping a few "patch specialties" with Willow Tit, Marsh Tit, Yellowhammer and Pochard conspicuous in their absence. Despite this, 60 species is not a bad tally for inland Northumberland in the grips of winter so I'm happy. More so if I managed to encourage one or two people to donate to the trust, those website can be found here:

Anyhow, where better to start than at home? Here I could kick off the days race in leisurely style, wielding a cup of coffee and waiting for my first quarry species to inevitably come to me. This proved a successful venture with all the usual garden species dropping in for breakfast. Blue Tits and Great Tits were as usual first to arrive, closely followed by our dreadfully glutinous Coal Tit and of course the ever present House Sparrows. A further few minutes spent lazing in the conservatory (I know, it's a hard life) and Blackbird, Dunnock, Robin and Wren joined the ranks whereas a number of Woodpigeon and Jackdaw took flight overhead and a very confiding Starling dropped in to make use of my generous spread of avian treats. Eleven species from the comfort of my sofa, a productive start to the day but inevitably the time came when it was necessary for me to don my walking boots and brave the cold.. 
Wouldn't look out of place in the tropics!
Starling apparently levitating in the garden..
Plodding through my housing estate on route to the local woods a few more urban species became apparent with plenty of Collared Doves on show and both Magpies and Carrion Crows looking suitably menacing from their preferred perches. Two surprises were had here, the first in the form of three Tree Sparrows that appear to have taken up residence with the local House Spugs. Not an easy bird to locate at Stobswood, despite their abundance in the wider area and thus a good tick so early in the race. More surprising still was the addition of a very late Chiffchaff located by call in my neighbors Laylandie tree. Almost certainly a wintering bird and the first such record at the site! Not bad at all. After a few weird looks from some disconcerted local people I abandoned peering into the garden, leaving the warbler to its business and skulking off into the woods for a few more 'wild' species. This proved fruitful with a number of more elusive species making themselves apparent within minutes of my arrival. Among them Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Bullfinch the stand out birds though Goldcrest and Song Thrush were equally welcome. The lack of Willow Tits here threw me a bit, having seen or heard them on my previous three visits and as such I departed the mature woodland in favourite of the old tip and its bounty of alder cones. The hedges surrounding the tip held the usual array of thrushes, among them a few Mistle Thrush and one or two Redwing alongside yet more Bullfinch and other common critters. A scan through a flock of some c120 Goldfinch proved productive yielding both Siskin and Lesser Redpoll whilst Chaffinch, Jay and yet another wintering Chiffchaff were located nearby. Sadly no Green Woodpeckers this week with both the birds present here over the past fortnight having seemingly departed for more suitable climes but alas, I'll cope.

Always a pleasure.
A trip over to Widdrington Moor Lake failed to turn up the hoped for Rough-Legged Buzzard (although said bird decided to show the very next night) but did come up trumps with a female Hen Harrier hunting the far shore. A fantastic patch record and hopefully a good addition to NGB's combined species list. Two Kestrels also hunted the far shore where as both Rook and Meadow Pipit were noted in the adjacent grassland. Hardly the most thrilling of species and as such I moved on to the lake itself in search of my long awaited Smew or Long-Tailed Duck, both of which failed to materialize. The usual wildfowl species were well represented however with some c100 Wigeon in attendance alongside a similar number of Mallard, 12 Gadwall, 10 Teal and 5 Tufted Duck. More interesting still was the presence of two of each Goldeneye and Goosander, the latter being a full fat patch tick. Both Mute Swan and Canada Goose were also noted here whilst a Buzzard passed overhead and a scan of the modestly sized gull roost turned up a healthy four species. The prize for best bird here however goes to the group of 5 Whooper Swans that dropped in just as I was set to depart the site. Presumably the same family part I've noted at Druridge Pools and other local sites. 45 species and counting and just enough time for a jaunt across the opencast..

The short walk to Stobswood Pools turned up two new species with a single Reed Bunting noted and numerous skeins of Pink-Footed Geese passing overhead though these quickly faded into insignificance when I arrived on the opencast and clapped eyes on a stonking Peregrine contently perched on a nearby fence post. Having missed them at Widdrington Moor (seemingly the best place in the region to view the species of late) this more than compensated the loss of a few common woodland denizens and left me feeling somewhat giddy for the rest of the day. The pools themselves held a nice assortment of wildfowl, including a female Shoveler whereas the few remaining patches of mud held a few Lapwing and Redshank. Both Snipe and Pheasant were inadvertently flushed from the soggy grassland surrounding the site whilst a lone Curlew called nearby and a single Skylark comprised the only passerine species on show though all too soon the sun began to set taking with it my hopes of a grand bird race victory. Heading home I still managed to add a few more species to the days tally with both Cormorant and Grey Heron noted overhead, Coot scoped on the most distant pool and a Pied Wagtail scurrying around my estate. Not a bad haul and a grand day spent birding in honor of a fellow young birder, sadly no longer among us. Hen Harrier, Peregrine, Whooper and Chiff my best offerings when it comes to the joint NGB vs Patchwork challenge league though whoever is victorious this event has surely encouraged a number of people to head out in support of what is undeniably a very good cause. 

This bird is single handedly costing me £10 a week in seed!
One of our most overlooked birds. Just look at it!