Monday, 29 November 2010

Winter Madness

After the winter walk yesterday we headed into Newcastle for a pint and a spot of Madness. Another great show, packed to the hilt.

Paul Heaton provided support, and he even threw in a couple of Housemartin songs. Nice.

The drive home was uneventful as snow had ceased to fall, a solitary woodcock flew over as we rolled along Fisher Lane at 23.15.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

North Strole

Freezing conditions continue in the north-east of England, and after spending a day indoors yesterday I had to get out. The car is well and truly snowed in, so I set off on foot.

I can be at the Horton Burn is a couple of minutes from the house, so I elected to walk the western stretch on wards to West Hartford then east along the A192 back to the old Cramlington Fire Station and back home along the eastern leg of the Horton Burn.

My first steps along the Horton Burn lifted the first of several snipe - calling as they zig-zagged away over the houses. The only other birds of note on the western leg were a single grey wagtail and drake mallard.

West Hartford looks rather bleak with all the snow - there was no early owl activity, but a kestrel and buzzard featured. A few snipe were lifting occasionally off the marsh and a woodcock was flushed by a dog walker who had ventured across to the plantation adjacent the farm.

Three cormorant flew west up the River Blyth (it's always useful to keep an eye over the river) and an adult greater black backed gull flew east (don't get too man at West Hartford, typically winter only).  There was lots of thrush activity, with blackbird, redwing and song thrush abundant, and only a few fieldfare.

My venture east along the very snowy A192 continued to provide thrush sightings, along a splash of colour with a single jay and three waxwing raiding a hawthorn on the roadside. Over 200 common gull flew north and a few chaffinch were noted towards Bog Houses along with a very dapper male bullfinch (sadly a nominate bird...). 1 Grey Heron flew over and a sparrowhawk was hassled by the starlings.

Back at the Horton Burns' eastern leg the bird activity was more active - plenty of house sparrow in the hawthorns along with chaffinch, great, blue and coal tit, while the burn held a further 7 snipe, a staggering 3 kingfisher (highest count), 3 grey wagtail (making 4 for the burn today), a pair of mallard and a moorhen. Not bad for a grubby stream flowing through a housing estate!

Friday, 26 November 2010

Lights: Interpol @ Newcastle

Interpol: backlit throughout their set at Newcastles' O2 Academy on November 25th. A wonderfully dark evening...

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Woodlark III

Two final images of the woodlark from Saturdays trip to Inner Farne.
The damaged lens is away for repair, so I'll rely on the 100-400mm for any immediate phototographic subjects.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Woodlark, Inner Farne

I was lucky enough to be part of a group of hardy souls to brave the choppy North Sea crossing to Inner Farne on Saturday morning - our quest was a much sort after county species - woodlark.

The day had started grey and wet, so a drive by glance at the female common scoter on Cresswell was suffice before Mark and I pulled in to East Chevington for a pit-stop break. A text arrived from Ian confirming that the boat was still scheduled to sail to Inner Farne, weather permitting at 11.

As with my earlier visit during the week, we had no sight or sound of the cetti's warbler. The slavonian grebe continues on the north pool, so it was still a good start.

Departing East Chevington not long after ten, it was a slow drive to Seahouses for our 11.00 meet.

We met Alan G in the harbour upon arrival and within a few minutes the others arrived - Graeme B, Andy M, Michael C and the trip organiser Ian Fisher.

It was a good, if not a little choppy voyge (see video at foot of this post), and we even managed a little auk as we neared the islands - good start!

It was a very warm welcome by David Steele and his team of wardens as we docked; and within minutes were were being guided to the birds favoured feeding area. A skylark lifted from the grasses and was soon followed by a woodcock. The woodlark had been feeding on the path prior to our arrival, but there was no immediate sign.

We stayed put with DS as a warden skirted the cliff top. Within seconds his hand was raised - the woodlark was feeding on the cliff top near the white buildings. Result! A cracking county tick for all of the group except Ian.

Woodlark are darn tricky to get in Northumberland... in fact, all of the records in the first 10 years of the 2000s' have been on the Farnes - so we were privileged to be granted access so late in the season.

Initial views were reasonable, as the lark fed in grasses between the rocks. As we stood and watched the lark did the most unexpected - continuing to feed it walked right up to us! Ian had to back up as the lark breached the minimum focus distance of his 500mm! (Should we have put a message on the pager asking for the larks to feed from a respectable distance?!)

It was absolutely fantastic to see the species up close ~ although the bird was a little wet, the lark held its' crest erect and even did a bit of sub-song in response to the camera shutters! Check out the hind-claws! Certainley my best views of this species in the UK.

The good birding was not over - another little auk had flew past as we watched and photographed the lark, while fulmar drifted by the cliff top. It's fair to say that we had had our fill of the lark and with news that the boat was returning we headed quite happily back to the landing point. A long-eared owl that had been present in a gully could not be located but a common redpoll lifted - and quite conveniently chose to feed near to the path...

And then there was more - a bit of twist to the tale - or me to be more accurate... I slipped over on the wet rocks and smashed the 500mm onto the ground!!!!

It could have been a lot worse - the lens has "survived" optically, but the tripod mounting has been obliterated ~ a costly repair will no doubt ensue. So glad it was after the lark!!! Pictures of the damage will appear on the blog soon.

To end, here's a short clip of the boat crossing out of Seahouses ~ "choppy"!

Thanks to Ian and David/Warden Team for organising the boat, landing and bird - a fantastic morning!

Friday, 19 November 2010

The best thing on daytime TV...

are waxwings! Move over Jeremy Kyle...

We have approximately 60 around the house at the minute - trilling calls fill the air as this very mobile group alternate between berry raids and fly-catching over the houses. The birds above and below were taken from BSHQ back bedroom with the 100-400mm. Always a delight, brightening up a rather dull day (as dull as it can be when you're on holiday, so it's not that bad!).

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

No more hero(n)s' anymore...

A sad day but the natural world can be cruel...


22 waxwing just gone over the garden.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Chevies Cetti

No sight or sound this afternoon during a pleasant sunny hour at East Chevington... will need to try again.

A single slavonian grebe was noted on the north pool, while 1 barn owl hunted the south pool at dusk

Northumberland is having a great November - birds on offer today have included the long-staying squacco heron, a dodgy ross's goose, waxwing a-plenty, the cetti's warbler at East Chevington, 2 common crane south over Newbiggin and (too far for me to get on a winter afternoon) a cracking male desert wheatear at Seahouses!

...I need more daylight after work!!!

Monday, 15 November 2010

Monday's Blue

A combination of blue sky and waxwings on Horton Drive, Cramlington gave me an excuse to get out of the house this afternoon. A minimum of 32 were present, but again, were rather unco-operative for the camera as they remained high up in the trees along the burn. Some waxwing were fly-catching while a few were feeding on a berry laden bush ~ the only problem was that it was within the depths of a clump of willows, so the birds remained largely obscured.

Dusk was spent at a cold West Hartford, where two barn owl hunted as darkness fell. Prior to their appearance common buzzard, kestrel and sparrowhawk were all noted.

News that the cetti's warbler was singing at East Chevington this afternoon is tempting, maybe I'll get there on the next sunny day and give it a go.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Reduced Weekend

Overtime on Friday night resulted in my weekend starting at 06:00 on Saturday morning. The drive home in the dark was lightened somewhat by a barn owl near the Seaton Burn roundabout - perched on top of a road sign.

After some catch-up sleep and bad bass playing I headed to West Hartford at dusk - owl activity was not as good as late, and it took till almost dark for a single barn owl to be picked up on the far fence line.

Sunday was a lethargic day - a mixed-up body clock got me out of bed for 04:45... so all the ironing was done by 07:00. After a bit of exercise in the morning (with approx 10 waxwings en-route)  I headed north to Alnwick to try and see the obliging great-white egret that had been frequenting the river below the castle.

There had already been negative news late morning, so it was with no real great surprise that the trip was unsuccessful - I should have been there earlier -  see the great account and pictures on Stewarts blog. A single grey heron was as close as it got, but the view of the castle was worth the trip, along with a good chat with Richard and John.

The journey home was just ahead of the blackening clouds, so with haste I took another quick look at the squacco heron in Morpeth. What a fantastic bird this is - and it is still drawing an admirer or two... even a couple of old stinking drunks stopped to have a look between pubs!

Took a few images, none of which really did the job ~ with an ISO rating of 800 I was shooting with an exposure of 1/40th... it was rather dark! I like the colours on the one below;

West Hartford was a convenient stop-off at dusk. A single barn owl perched on the fence line near the farm was picked up immediately, while the only other birds around were one kestrel and a carrion crow!

Darkness arrives earlier and earlier - it's a week f early shift ahead, so hopefully I'll squeeze a bit of birding inbetween home time & teatime...


On a literary note I've started reading the very excellent book by Chris Gooddie ~ "The Jewel Hunter": a quest to see all of the worlds pitta species in a single year (and I was pleased with three in a morning last year!). Three chapters in and I'm hooked!

Friday, 12 November 2010

BO.BO.BO / Squacco Lift Off

In the slumber between waking and heading to work for an overtime nightshift I've managed to fit in a dusk visit to West Hartford today.

It was moderately successful, with the trip highlight being immediately apparent; three barn owl, all conveniently positioned along one fence line as I arrived (my highest count of this species to date). As with previous encounters, the camera-less visits seem to be more proficient with barn owl, as one bird hunting owl hovered not more than 15 feet away...

Other than the barn owl there was no sign of any "shorties", but a single buzzard drifted along the River Blyth and birds heading to roost included jackdaw, wood pigeon, goldcrest, blackbird and redwing.


Prior to the dusk visit to West Hartford I spent a short while working on another squacco heron image. The picture took a bit of effort to reduce burn out of the whites in the wings and the head was over-exposed too. However, it will suffice for the moment, and at least it illustrates the dramatic appearance shifting character of this small heron - while on the ground it looks like a small buffy heron... in flight egret-like!

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Scratch then patch

After the moderate success of the Morpeth squacco heron I headed back home to get ready for an earlier than usual start for nightshift - all good intentions and plans were cast aside when news filtered through that my recently neglected patch, West Hartford, was on good form.

So I gave in to temptation and put work-morals aside and headed back out for a dusk visit.

Sure enough West Hartford was on good form (it's all or nothing here).

Two barn owl hunted the western fields - one bird is quite noticeably darker backed than the other.

I've not seen many barn owl here in winter months, so I'm hopeful yesterdays sighting is a good sign for the dark cold days ahead. With any luck the weather will be kind to the species - many fatalities were suffered during the last winter.

In addition to the two barn owl, the more expected owl species soon arrived - a single short-eared. My first of the winter and always a favorite to watch. Cracking stuff to see them all hunting at the same time. Over the back a single buzzard was seen, and with kestrel too it was a good end to the day!

Today I've been a little more lethargic - the only notable species has been waxwing ~ 60ish flew over the garden mid afternoon

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Squacco Heron, Morpeth

A hectic afternoon inbetween waking for nightshift and getting ready for nightshift!

The squacco heron is back at Morpeth and at times is showing very nicely on the river bank... Light is tricky - all or nothing with low sun and lots of shade. Cracking bird mind!

My return home was timed to enable food and water before work, but a phone call put an end to that ~ more on that tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

From the archive: November 2004

The 8th November 2004 was more successful squacco heron-wise than 8th November 2010... This immature had been present at East Chevington since October and was nearing the end of its' prolonged stay. Initially the bird had been difficult to observe, feeding on the fringes of the south pool. Later in its stay it favoured the extreme southern ditches, and with patience would feed next to the path.

This photograph was taken late afternoon using a Canon 10D and 100-400mm IS lens. It was one of only a few sharp images taken in the session, as low exposures dominated. At the time I was very pleased with this encounter, however less than a year later Mark and I were treated to a mad squacco in Devon (en-route to Scilly), a bird that chose to feed on a concrete lined fish pond in Newton Abbott, feet away from observers!

No positive news on the Morpeth bird so far today in cold wet winter weather - I guess it could still be around...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Dip, drip, drip

Headed north for the short journey to Morpeth this morning. Eight waxwing over the A192 as I approached Plessey were a good starter, and as I arrived in Morpeth another...

A few were amassed on the footbridge just east of the town centre ~ the squacco heron had last been seen not ten minutes earlier, albeit in flight being harassed by gulls.

The next hour - not a sniff, other than from me as another cold descends. It also started to rain and hail quite heavily, weather ideal for squacco heron.

One kingfisher was poor compensation and a quick check of other River Wansbeck vantage points throughout Morpeth were squacco-less. I'll try again during the week, a local stated that the heron had been present at least a week already...

No point heading to the coast for cetti's... the weather had closed in. I'll wait for a suitably sunny and still day.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Unlucky for some

13 waxwing on the Horton Burn today.

Still very flighty and tending to stick to the taller willows that line parts of the burn.

The grab-shot above was on Horton Drive as a few decended briefly to feed late morning. I'm keeping my fingers crossed that I'll get a better set of images once I find a favoured feeding area.

Friday, 5 November 2010

And there's more!

It was an early start for me today - the 08.00 appointment for cavity wall insulation arrived at 07.00, so it was with mild satisfaction that the noisy drilling of the workmen drowned out the screams and yells of the neighbours kids as they got ready for school.

Cavity walls insulated by 08.30, a grocery trip completed by 09.00 and ironing done by 10.00.

With a pager report of waxwing still present in the vicinity of BSHQ I set about getting ready to have a look around - no need, as 44 arrived in the same tree as yesterday just after 10.15. It's a pity that the light is so grey and dull at present - waxwing really need good sunshine for them to boast their fabulous plumage - today they look very washed out.

This group are very mobile - after spending 5 minutes in the tree (see token "through the window" shot above), the flock headed back to where they had come from - somewhere to the north-west of the Northburn/Hartford estate. I drove around all of the past favoured spots and could not locate them again.
Maybe its best to wait for them to come to me?

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Through the looking glass

It's a damp grey morning in the north-east of England, so I opted to catch up on the latest blog offerings rather than head out.

A good decision, as 22 waxwing flew over the garden (and continue to do so now, magic!). A grab shot above... hand held, through the rain splattered landing window.

As I write this the camera is set up, ready and waiting on a berry bush in the garden. Fingers crossed...

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Postcard from Carlisle

Manic Street Preachers have been a favorite band of mine for a long time now ~ it was back in 1994 when I first saw them live (in London, touring for the Holy Bible).

Last night saw me at Carlisle Sands Centre, for what turned out to be the last gig of the current tour leg. The show was originally planned for October but was rescheduled.

Anyhoo - MSP are a pleasure to watch, and we made sure we were in front of Nicky Wire; tall, lanky and a bit of a mover on bass. Great stuff.

Set list and poor mobile video below

La Tristesse Durera:

You Stole The Sun From My Heart (acoustic):

Design For Life: