Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Couple of Waters

This afternoon saw me head back to St Mary's - cast was similar to yesterday, with the un-photogenic drake garganey still present, the flighty water pipit on the northern part of the wetland and added bonus birds - one showy water rail in the south west corner of the pool and three sandwich tern north. A marsh harrier had flown north earlier in the afternoon.

West Hartford was quiet - thirteen oystercatcher, thirtyish lapwing and teal, two shelduck and the usual array of gulls.

Whoopers drop in

A change of shift pattern this week has seen me complete one nightshift on Monday then back on to days from Wednesday - so a nice bright sunny morning was as good an incentive to set the alarm clock early and make most of the day. I did not have to travel to far this morning - five whooper swan had dropped into Arcot Pond the previous evening - so the pond seemed as good a start as any.

Thankfully the whoopers' were still present - five in all, four adult one immature, loafing with two mute swan and a single canada goose. Pretty much annual on passage in Cramlington, birds used to be more regular when there was a small wintering flock (herd?) near Brenkley. I've even watched feeding birds in fields directly behind my parents house.

Also on the pond were two grey-lag geese, mallard, tufted duck, little grebe and gulls of the common, black-headed, herring and lesser-blacked backed variety. The scrub surrounding the water held reed bunting, yellowhammer, wren, a single chiffchaff and a heart-stopping pheasant that launched itself in the air just as I walked past - eek!

Another chiffie was heard on Crowhall Lane when heading back home for a spot of lunch.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Garganey and Wheatear

A nice bright morning got me out of the house and down to St Mary's for a look at the freshly arrived drake garganey.

St Mary's is proving to be a reliable spot for this enigmatic duck, with sightings on the wetland becoming regular over the past few years.

Today's drake was hanging out with gadwall and teal, but was a little distant for photographs loitering on the west side of the pool and on the island - so today's photograph is from April 2007 (when a pair arrived on the wetland).

Annoyingly I did not take opportunity to take a photograph of the water pipit that dropped into the wetland for a few minutes - it's now transforming into cracking fresh plumage.

In the north bay a bright male northern wheatear was flighty, but was a nice spring compliment to the garganey. A walk through the "gut" revealed little else, with a couple of linnet, reed bunting, goldcrest and dunnock being about the lot.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

The first day of summer...

...and as far as I got was West Hartford. Only one SEO on show tonight, and always in bad light when close enough to photograph. One day... one day...

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Sunshine and ice

After hearing about 5 jack snipe that had been seen at West Hartford earlier in the week I headed out into the marsh with Mark late morning.

No jacks, but several non-jacks lifted, plus 35ish teal and the occasional wren and reed bunting. The main pool held a pair of shelduck and the usual mix of gulls. Three roe deer were feeding in the western section of the field.

Blyth Harbour still held an increasingly bleached single iceland gull - I expect it will move on shortly. Also in the harbour were several eider, five kittiwake, cormorant, herring gull, rock pipit and pied wagtail.

An attempt at purchasing chips was curtailed not once but twice... with chippies at Blyth and Seaton Sluice having queues out onto the street.

Distinctly warm today, the spring migrants should be teaming up the UK now!

Friday, 20 March 2009

Asio 2 Falco 1

Friday afternoon was sunny and mild, in fact, too nice a day not to have another go at photographing the short-eared owls at West Hartford.

I arrived at 15.30 but had to wait just over an hour until the first SEO flew into the area to feed. The hour had passed quickly - at least nine oystercatcher were on the pool, teal numbers had increased to 30+ birds, pheasants were in display and an inquisitive stoat made several visits to the hedge next to where I was standing.

Eventually two birds were on view. Rarely interacting with each other, but often in the same view, photography was as always tricky. SEOs' are very well suited to overgrown fields, their plumage is very much matched. Their tendency to fly low over the ground does not help either, especially as my chosen watch point is somewhat "sunken" in the field.

A few photographs were taken, one of which is presented here. I'll sort the rest over the weekend and see if there are any keepers.

Not long before the sun was setting one of the SEOs' had a surprise attack - from a peregrine! Luckily there was no harm done... It's been a while since I've had peregrine at West Hartford, and in true form the sturdy raptor headed north to perch on the electricity pylons over the River Blyth. A good end to a pleasant afternoon!

2 SEO rtn 2 WH

I had some time to kill between finishing work and heading into Newcastle to see The Enemy at Newcastles' O2 Academy on Thursday, so a quick jaunt round the local area was the perfect excuse to get out of the house (and avoid the dreaded first cut of the lawn).

Briardene car park was the first point of call - no immediate sign of the med gull, followed by a quick look at the wetland at St Mary's - few teal, snipe, mallard and a single mute swan and grey-lag goose were all that were on offer.

Killingworth Lakes' stray barnacle goose appears to have gone, while Arcot Pond held two pair of little grebe, moorhen, pochard, teal, mallard, goldeneye along with singing yellowhammer.

West Hartford, as usual (!) produced the goods in the form of two short-eared owl - remarkably the first birds seen at WH since November 2008. Both birds were hunting in fields to the south and west of the flash and received unwelcome attention from herring gull and carrion crow. STH was texted and duly arrived after the birds had gone to ground. Photographically the birds were tricky - strong late afternoon sunshine and amess up with the equipment in my camera bag - image presented in this post was using a 2.0 extender with the 500mm lens - I'd have preferred to have used the 1.4, which was on the hallway floor at home. Lesson learnt. :-(

Other WH highlights included four each of oystercatcher and shelduck (the latter species used to be quite erratic in Cramlington until recent summers), eight teal, three grey heron, snipe and kestrel. I'll need to don wellies if I'm to stand a chance of jack snipe. Good numbers of gulls were on the pool, consisting of black-headed, common, herring and lesser black backed. Two roe deer were also present, feeding in the reedy area to the south of the pool.

So, a good end to a relatively quick perusal of local sites.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Pigeon Post

Charlie Moores recent account of emerald dove on the 10000 birds website reminded me of my trip to Singapore in 2007. I didn't manage to see emerald dove on my visit, but I did see plenty of these - pink-necked green pigeon. Very common but delightfully pretty. Beats the UK's wood pigeon hands down in my book (two of which are in my garden now, vacuuming all the bird seed off the bird table!)

The Davison and Fook (oo-er!) photographic guide to birds of peninsular Malaysia and Singapore describes PNGP as "chubby" and "enormously common". I like that.

The bird featured here was feeding in our hotel garden one afternoon, in city centre grounds that also attracted blue-crowned hanging parrot, asian koel, common iora and plain-throated sunbirds. Nice.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Quiet on the coast

I finished work promptly today so headed down to the coast for a quick check of St Mary's north beach and Briardene.

As it's been a nice bright afternoon SMI was very busy indeed. A bit too busy actually. The north beach was pretty much devoid of birds - no rock/water pipit on show, a couple of redshank, curlew and turnstone... and a barking dog. Boo. Hopes of a wheatear and sandwich tern disappeared so I headed back to the car via the "gut". On the wetland there were a a few teal, gadwall, mallard along with pairs of mute swan and grey-lag geese. Snipe and redshank quartered the pond edge with a single stonechat in the west field.

A med gull has been regularly reported at nearby Briardene, so I chanced my luck for ten minutes en route home. No sign, just a few BH/H/GBB/CGs and a carrion crow scrounging.

The white stork from yesterday appears to have flown back to its pen, so here's another picture to brighten up what is undeniably a dull post. This blog isn't doing too well for photographs of decent birds of late... what with dodgy ducks and free flying storks...

Late March should provide some better birding - a quick glance back through earlier note books bring back recent memories of Northumberland and Durham records of common crane, penduline tits, and firecrest. So exciting times definitely ahead eh?

Monday, 16 March 2009

White Stork (on the run)

A report of white stork near Longhorsley got me out of the house this afternoon.

White stork is a tricky bird in the north-east, as many birds originate from captivity - especially Harewood House in Yorkshire. The Harewood birds are free flying and have a tendancy to wander in the Spring... Regretably this bird was ringed and will look very familiar to the followers of Boulmer Birder - last years captive ringed white stork that was on the airfield at Bockenfield - a location just east of todays sighting at Burgham Park Golf Course. Must like the area!

According to the very helpful staff at the course, the stork had arrived during the morning on one of the tees adjacent to the A1, and after an offering of bread from a club member (I kid you not!), spent some time on the club house roof.

The stork was still on the club house when I arrived, craning its neck over the roof apex to watch golfers coming and going from the building. Quite a sight!

After a bit of a preen the stork dropped down from the roof into the putting area in the middle of the club car park, much to the delight of the golfers, and me. Many pics were taken, but only a few permitted a "clean" back ground - many had bits of car park or putting flags in the back ground.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

All shrikes are grey*

*not strictly true.

I like shrikes, they're real smashers. So I joined what seemed to be the rest of the Northumberland birding community with a hike up to Black Lough for the great grey shrike that has been frequenting the area for the past few days. Like many Northumberland folk, it was my first visit to this site, and highlighted the vast open space that Northumberland has... how many snowy owl etc go undetected in the UK? Credit to the finder of this bird, I trust it was found by chance as it was miles away! I've seen quite a few ggs over the years, but this is the first one that I've seen hovering - kestrel like, very interesting behaviour.

Before anyone grumbles about getting too close to the bird etc, the image featured with this post is an old photograph of a ggs that was at Arcot Pond in 2005. Much more obliging. Did not even have to hike up a muddy track up a very steep hill to see it...

Chips at Amble were nice, but the visit to Bothal Pond afterwards was void of green-winged teal. Again.

Friday, 6 March 2009

The seldom seen birder

Elbow at O2 Academy, Newcastle 05 March 2009.

Appropriately opened their set with.... "starlings".

I'll be back out birding on 7th...

Birding... sometimes?

Another birdingless week is coming to an end. Highlights? None really. Grey Wag on the Horton Burn yesterday on my way to the papershop. Norfolk plans were abandoned as the sibe thrush cleared off. Maybe it will be a great grey shrike hunt on Saturday?

Distinct Spring feeling to the air this morning, greenfinch are becoming vocal and the starlings have began taking nest material into the neighbours guttering.

Last night found me watching Elbow at the O2 Academy in Newcastle. Wow, what a stunning band, enhanced by some very good banter from frontman Guy Garvey - clearly enjoying the bands success. A dodgy mobile phone pic will surely end up here soon.