Saturday, 27 December 2008

Glaucoides 2 of 2

Driving back home after a successful trip to North Shields I was pleasantly suprised to find that the large pale gull feeding on the roadside at South Beach (Blyth) was another iceland gull!

This is probably the bird that I dipped a week or so back in the harbour, and I assume its the bird that Brian (Northumbrian Birding) had seen a few days ago. Iceland gulls - they're just like buses eh, none for ages, then 2 on the same trip!

I pulled the car over (shunted up onto the verge) and managed to grab a few record shots hand holding the 500mm - blasting the shutter in the short gaps between the bemused cars that were passing. The gull soon lifted and drifted over the houses, presumably to another verge to feed. A great end to a short trip out.

Glaucoides 1 of 2

Headed to North Shields Fish Quay this morning, a trip that started well with ten waxwing at Blyth - feeding on bushes just east of the railway crossing. Pulled the car over and got the camera out... and they'd gone!

My arrival at NSFQ was rewarded with the immature iceland gull flying straight past the car - great!

I spent the next hour or so watching and photographing this delightful gull, with a short break to enjoy some chips courtesy of Mark. At 13:10 it was time to leave, but not until I blasted out a few shots of the gull which had decided to feed on the water opposite where we were standing!

Friday, 26 December 2008

Garden Hawk

Quiet on the birding front today due to preparation for "forthcoming commitments", but this female sparrowhawk made a brief appearance in the garden late afternoon.
For the camera buffs reading this, image was taken at 1/40th second exposure at ISO 500, using the 500mm lens... hand held through double glazing (! - Image stabilisation, it's the future).

Local pager reports today include an iceland gull showing well at North Shields Fish Quay - I'll try and get there tomorrow, a bittern remains at Cresswell, with taiga bean goose and greenland white-fronted goose at Hauxley. So, potentially a a few bits for the 2009 yearlisters to get their teeth (ticks?) into next week.

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Pedal Potter

Another outing on the bike (I'm clearly in holiday mode!). West Hartford was fairly quiet, 48 snipe lifted from the marshy area south of the pool along with one moorhen and a couple of meadow pipits. On the water a single adult great black-backed gull was present (with 2 over, gbbg is actaully quite a good bird at WH, mainly seen through December - January). Two jay were over the back of the pool, towards the wooded valley of the River Blyth. At Crowhall Lane a recently felled area on the roundabout contained six plus great tit, several blue tit, greenfinch, bullfinch and a male siskin. On the Horton Burn a female siskin was at the west end, and near the fire station, a single grey wagtail was on the rather damp flood plain.

Todays image of siskin is another from the archive - this bird was at Big Waters in 2006, another from the 10D days - it was a very nice camera.

Of local interest, waxwing were reported on the pager - apparantly 13 present at the Azure garden centre car park this morning - I'll have to keep an eye out for them...

Monday, 22 December 2008

Hartford Snipe

A quick cycle ride around some of the local hotspots today - first stop was a rather bleak West Hartford. On the main pool were a mix of black-headed, common and herring gull, with three stonechat in the surrounding scrub. For one moment I thought that I heard water rail...

As wellies had been put on I decided to have a tramp into the flooded grass land to the south of the pool (the photo is from this area, looking north, the main pools are just south of the tall trees) - this was rewarded with 2 reed bunting, single meadow pipit, wren, moorhen and at least sixty (60!!) snipe zig zagging away and, more pleasingly, 1 jack snipe (this bird lifted twice). A flock of 15 goldfinch were quartering the fields and to the east of the industrial estate road at least sixty linnet were present.

The Horton Burn supported bullfinch, chaffinch, blue/great/coal and long-tailed tit and a single kingfisher.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Bay Area Birding

Spent an hour or so at Hauxley NR today - located at the top of Druridge Bay - both bean and white-fronted goose had been reported on the 20th. Alas, there was no sign of either - just a large group of grey-lag and a few canada. Red-breasted merganser and goldeneye were about the best I could manage and with rapidly fading light (and a hungary stomach) I headed back home.

One advantage of quiet winter afternoons is the increased time available to browse through some older photographs - so keeping with the theme of the last post, here are a few more from California in May 2006, all were taken using a Canon 10D with a Canon 100-400mm IS lens - from the top down: steller's jay (pacific form - interior west birds have white forehead markings rather than blue, this bird was at Yosemite), western scrub-jay (Golden Gate Park, San Francisco), heermann's gull (a personal favorite!, this bird was at Seaside on Robert's Lake), black phoebe (Golden Gate Park, San Francisco) and finally dark-eyed junco ("oregon" form, this bird was at Presidio, San Francisco).

Friday, 19 December 2008

California Dreaming

It's cold and dull in the north-east of England - time to reminisce to sunnier days... I spent a very pleasant two weeks in California during May 2006. The brandt's cormorant was photographed at Monterey - I love the blue on the throat patch! This bird was one of many nesting on the harbour walls near Tinnery Row. Could not spend too much time there though - they're very smelly!!

The acorn woodpecker was at Yosemite and was very abundant throughout the trip. In Carmel most of the telegraph poles were riddled with stored acorns.

Two hummingbird species were photographed in San Francisco - allen's and anna's. The anna's hummer was photographed at Crissy Field - a wonderful reserve founded upon an old airfield site that was flooded to create a small wetland. Ah, sunshine...

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Snow & Bitter(n)

Spent a couple of hours in the Cresswell area on this dull and cloudy afternoon. The drive from home to the pond was good - I managed to bump into the snow goose (not literally) just north of Linton - now associating with a couple of thousand pink-footed geese. A bit too distant for photographs, so I headed on.
At Cresswell it didn't take too long for a bittern to show, albeit briefly, in the north reeds. Frustrated at last weeks efforts I decided to walk along the road and chance a flight shot. The stonechat above was photographed by the pond outlet. A little over an hour later the bittern did fly - but frustratingly for me, across the pool to the reeds to the west of the hide. Further to the frustration, I could not get the camera to lock focus on the bird... many expletives followed! Meanwhile the pink-footed geese flew over - a great spectacle, enhanced by the presence of the snow goose - picked out as they landed in fields west of Bells' Pond.
Thinking it was all over, I headed back the car. A chance look up and across the pool found me scrambling to put the tripod down and get the camera switched on - the bittern had took flight again... and was heading straight for me! Indeed, the bittern flew straight past and dumped itself into the reeds to the east of the hide. Great viewing despite the very poor light.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

Snow but no ice...

A quick trip to Blyth was 50% successful - I could not locate the immature iceland gull that has been frequenting the south harbour, but two snow bunting were readily available - feeding on the small sand dunes just over the wall. Although flighty, the snow bunting provided some delightful photographic oportunities in nice light. Upon arival home the iceland gull was reported again on the pager - so maybe I'll try again...

Saturday, 6 December 2008

Two bitterns and two owls

It was a lovely bright winter day today so I embarked on a trip up to Cresswell after lunch. 1 waxwing over the road at Ellington was a good start but I didn't manage to locate the snow goose south of Druridge (I drove past the area 10 minutes after it had been reported with pink-footed geese).

Pretty much the first bird seen at Cresswell Pond was a bittern! Feeding along the edge of the reeds at the north-eastern edge of the water - too distant for photographs but very good prolonged views. Water rail were squealing frequently and there were healthy numbers of lapwing, golden plover, teal and wigeon. The Druridge pink-feet did a fly-over after a micro-lite had disturbed them, but still no sign of the snow goose.

As the afternoon progressed and the light faded a single barn owl was out hunting over the dunes - Cresswell has a good track record for this species and they're always nice to watch. A quick qlance across to the south east corner of the pool revealed a second bittern - standing out on the reed edge! A quick jump up to the camera provided 4 record shots to be taken, none of which are much good as I'd taken the convertor off earlier and the light was fading rapidly (excuses, excuses) ... oh, and the buff brown toned plumage blends in quite well with phragmites reedbed!!

Heading back to the car I recieved a text from Steve Holliday - he was watching a short-eared owl at West Hartford, and more grippingly for WH regulars - water rail. SH had also had iceland gull and snow bunting at Blyth - so my plans for tomorrow are developing nicely.

After packing up the camera/tripod I decided to drive up to the northern car park to have another quick look at the barn owl - which flew less than 10m past the car - brilliant! With the success of the afternoon in mind I decided to pop into West Hartford, arriving at 16:15 in virtual darkness but just in time to catch glimpse of the SEO - only the second this autumn/winter so far - no sight or sound of the water rail but hopefully it will stick for the winter.

Friday, 5 December 2008

Urban Kingfisher

With a week of nightshift complete and the car stuck in the garage for a service a plod around some of the patch was called for. Starting off in the Bassington Industrial Estate little was seen until I arrived at the old road at Crow Hall Lane, rapidly becoming encroached with bramble and suchlike - first up was Bullfinch, followed by a (more pleasing in this neck of the woods) treecreeper.
Further north at the entrance to West Hartford 6 lesser redpoll were a nice supprise with 3 more bullfinch and a healthy (50ish) mixed flock of fieldfare, redwing, blackbird and lone mistle thrush patrolling the hawthorn hedge leading up to the pool. I didn't flush any snipe sp. in the recently cleared grass area to the west of the road (a new fire station is planned for development in 2009), nor was there any evidence of SEO, so I made tracks to the Horton Burn - tributary to the River Blyth, that convenientley cuts through a housing estate. As with most recent winters, the onset of cold snowy weather has pushed a kingfisher in view of the houses - always nice!
1 bird was seen today, perched near the road bridge at the "existing fire station end" Up to 2 birds have been present in the past, so there is time yet for another. (The photographs in this post were not taken today, they are of a very showy individual that was at Big Waters in 2006 - post would be a bit bland without some images!) 1 grey wagtail was in the vicinity and later in the afternoon a single grey heron was feeding upstream.

Friday, 28 November 2008

Pipit & Plover

Sunny and frosty start to the day, so a quick amble about St Mary's was called for. No sign of the water pipit, just a few rock pipit around the causeway, plus two brent geese and a selection of waders, including some dainty ringed plover. Snow goose has been reported from Holywell Pond this morning, maybe our paths will cross again over this forthcoming weekend.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Snow Goose

Managed to locate the Snow Goose fairly easily this morning - in roadside fields adjacent Crow Hall Farm SW of Old Hartley. Feeding quiet activley with 20 Grey-lags'. Flew north at 11:15, assume back to the Holywell area.

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Water Pipit

Quiet potter on fresh winter morning with newly retired Dad to St Mary's - the single water pipit was commuting (actively, no chance of a photo) between the north beach and promanard area with a couple of rock pipit for company, purple sandpiper on the rocks and the brent goose still lingers.

Fields around Backworth and Holywell were checked for the snow goose but no immediate sign - it had been reported on 24th near Crow Hall Farm, just NE of the Beehive Flash. I suspect there will be a few more (wild?) goose chases' over the next few weeks - ferel or not, I'd still like a stab at better photographs.

Saturday, 22 November 2008

Snow Goose!

A late afternoon visit to West Hartford to check for SEO - sadly absent today despite a light snow cover.

However, a quick scan of the pools revealed a single Snow Goose with nine Grey-Lag Geese. Ok, a presumed escape, but still a nice suprise and "new" bird on the patch. As usual I had chosen to check the fields from the A192 just south of the pools, so after a quick scope of the goose (confirming Snow as opposed to Ross's - long necked, big grinning patch on bill and size approximatley the same as a Pink-footed Goose) I drove to the "business park" entrance, set up the camera and set off for a closer look. Regretfully this area is a popular spot with dog-walkers, and sure enough there was a chap and unleeshed and hyper-active spaniel ahead... despite upping my pace (well, as much as I could with the camera!) the dog got to the pool first and up went the geese (must be wild birds eh!!??) - so apologies for the dismal "record" shots - I promise not to post any more. Three images posted, one is a huge crop to try and give a better view with a single grey-lag. The geese initially headed west, then banked back and headed off south-east into the ever darkening sky. Maybe it will roost at Holywell?

Friday, 21 November 2008

Ear Wax?

Invariably winter creeps in and the hours available go birding mid week reduce to next to nothing. A benefit of shift work is that I'm able to pinch the odd hour in the morning or early afternoon depending on which shift I'm doing - it was early shift this week, so 30 Waxwing that flew over the car while driving home through Bassington Industrial Estate (Cramlington) provided enough motivation to head straight back out with the camera prior to the light diminishing. Alas, the flock appeared to have moved on, although there will undoubtably be plenty of opportunities this winter as good numbers have arrived over the past few weeks. The image above was taken with my old trusty Canon 10D in January 2006 at North Seaton (just south of Ashington, Northumberland).

Another species that keeps me going during the winter is Short-eared Owl, this stock shot was also taken in 2006 on my patch - West Hartford. This site is destined to be a business park so currently consists of rough grassland and a shallow subsidence pool. The area has had quite a good track record with Northumberland scarcities including a single avocet, green-winged teal, marsh harrier and greenland white-fronted goose. Spring and autumn wader passage can be quite good if the water levels are favourable, with green and wood sandpiper being almost annual along with occasional black-tailed godwit, little ringed plover and greenshank. WH is also a reliable SEO wintering site and late afternoon visits are usually productive - in good years 4 birds may be present, and with patience, will be seen quartering the fields.

As with Waxwing, this species is on my "need to get better pictures with latest camera" list...

Saturday, 15 November 2008

H2 oh!

A quick hour (or 4, oops) at St Mary's Wetland produced some pleasing images of the calling Hume's. The bird was feeding activley on insects, some of which can be seen on an image above. Toppled with some good conversation with some of Northumberlands regulars, a most pleasant trip was had.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Hume's Warbler

Originally found on 7th November, this calling Hume's was still present this afternoon, frequenting the bushes at the end of the short access track at the north end of the wetland at St Mary's. Light was not particularly favourable so a high ISO was utilised.

Several very tame goldcrest and robin also added to the mix, along with some enjoyable chat with Lindsay McDougall, fresh back from Mexico.

Is November the "new" October? The last 5 days or so have provided some remarkable birding... granted the species available are typical of the month, but the sheer availability of migrants and scarcities in a condensed period is most satisfying!

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Another Desert Wheatear

After the disappointment of not locating the male desert wheatear on 10th November (and seeing a pager message an hour after I had left informing that the bird was still present) I took the opportunity to have a second attempt today.

A scan of the favoured area was unsuccessful at first, but luckily a shout and wave from Bob Gadjus alerted me to the birds new location just south of Beacon Point. I was greeted with the news that the bird had been showing well on the coastal track... but the bird was currently not on view.

After a couple of tense moments the bird was relocated on the cliff side and provided superb views prior to flying further down the beach. This was my first male and first in Northumberland - so a good result!

Monday, 10 November 2008


Finally caught up with the red-flanked bluetail on Holy Island this afternoon - tides have been awkward the last couple of days so I had to wait until mid afternoon before the causeway to clear. While waiting for the tide I managed not to see the male desert wheatear at Newbiggin... maybe that will stick a bit longer. Bluetail was very active and kept low. These shots were taken on the roadside adjacent the Lindisfarne Hotel.

Desert Wheatear

Conveniently near to the SGS at Saltfleet. Feeding activley in front of a small admiring crowd on 9th November.

Steppe Grey Shrike

1st Winter at Grainthorpe on 9th November. A very showing individual indeed!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Two-barred Crossbill

Early"ish" start today for a wasted journey north to Holy Island with Mark, where yesterdays bluetail had clearly departed. After a whole 5 minutes on site and some wise advice from BB, the car was pointed south for an attempt to see the male two-barred crossbill at Garfit Farm near Stokesley in North Yorkshire.

Dipping was looming after almost three hours wait in the cold damp... until it was located in the tree above the ever-increasing crowd. The fact that it was in the bird was in the tree above the crowd did not really help - it was a pain to pick out... the crowd moved outwards to the farmhouse and most people were able to get satisfactory views. Then the bird pulled a treat - flying down to the feeder in front of the masses, providing rather closer views than expected! Cracking bird. Great performance from the 1DIII too - images above were taken at ISO800 - 1000.

Friday, 7 November 2008

St Mary's Island in the rain

Spent a couple of hours in the drizzle looking for migrants. No sign of any LEO in the "gut" or bushes at the north end of the wetland, but 1 woodcock was compensatory. A few tame goldcrest and robin in the area but not too much else passerine wise. An obliging 1st winter dark bellied brent goose was feeding close to the island causway, a few photographs were taken prior to leaving (just as the sun broke through...).
Arriving home, the mail had arrived and to my delight the Isles of Scilly 2007 review was amongst the bills. The Isles of Scilly Bird Group must be congratulated for another fine report - very much worth the subs alone.
A text from Mark Armstrong was less pleasing - a 1w red-flanked bluetail had just been found on Holy Island (along with Pallas's Warbler) ... and I start work in just over an hour. One to watch.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Dull November Days

Glaucous-winged gull. Another sunshine-less day in the north-east of England - a far cry from the deep blue skies enjoyed in Vancouver in August 2008. Maybe one of these hard guys will brighten up a dull UK winter day over the next few months?

Monday, 3 November 2008

Sand 2 - GSP

Very pleased to (a) catch up with this and, (b) not have to travel to the Ythan Estuary to see it. An accomodating Saturday morning greater sandplover at Dunbar (Lothian) on 20th September.