Sunday, 26 December 2010

Last trek around the patch for 2010...

On a somewhat cold and wintry Boxing Day I ventured out to check the Horton Burn and West Hartford, and as if with recent tradition, took the bike out to propel me along the snowy paths.

In the three and a half hours that I was out, I amassed a reasonable selection of birds including a new one for the north of Cramlington (for me, anyway).

West Hartford was very quiet indeed - the highlight being a flyover cormorant...

It was the Horton Burn were the "action" was. At the west end, six siskin were my first of the year in the area, while bullfinch were reasonably represented with a minimum of three males.

Snipe were also well represented, tho I did fail to count them - many were observed on the stream, and at least one was feeding in a hawthorn lines ditch just to the north of the western footbridge.

Grey wagtail probably numbered 2+, but redshank stole the show - at least eight birds were feeding in the burn today - some close to the footbridges...

Only one kingfisher was noted and a single woodcock was complimented later by a second bird.

At the old fire station the chaffinch flock was complimented by a minimum of four brambling - a new bird for me in this area - great stuff!

To finish off, a great spotted woodpecker was noted, along with another burn-casual ~ reed bunting: one female next to the western road bridge. Happy Days!


Thanks to all who have read this dross during 2010, I hope to get another update squeezed in before year end...

2010 - Review July - December

July 2010 was enlightened with a self-found Cramlington tick - a cracking hobby that ended up spending a week or so touring West Hartford, Arcot and probably Wallsend Swallow Pond. The image above was taken at Arcot, when the hobby spent and hour or so hawking insects over the pool. A cuckoo was also seen during the visit, my first in Cramlington since the early 1990s'!

The first part of August had been spent in Malaysia on a fantastic trip taking in Kuala Lumpur, the Cameron Highlands and Pangkor Laut. Many a good bird was seen, but it was upon my return when the star of August appeared - in the plain, unassuming form of syke's warbler at Hadston!

Another month, another tick - September provided what is probably destined to be my last UK newbie for 2010 ~  a distant sharp-tailed sandpiper in Cleveland. A bit of a quickie this one, with a quick visit prior to a late-shift at work. I managed to miss the good fall of September 2010, so I was lucky to be able to get the most significant bird of the month.

I visited Cleveland again in September to see the obliging woodchat shrike at Hartlepools' Croft Park...

October 2010 was great - with a steady stream of rare's brightening up the north east coast. I make no apology for another slice of the St Mary's red-flanked bluetail - a stunner!

So November came, dark nights descended on the north and birding became limited ~ Waxwing arrived in great numbers and a squacco heron spent it's last days on the unlikely setting of the River Wansbeck in Morpeth town centre. Bird of the month for me was the woodlark on Inner Farne. A tricky bird to catch up with in Northumberland, this was a county tick for most of the hardy souls who made the crossing at the end of November.

December arrived somewhat early this year ~ time flies and birding for me was very limited. The bittern at Cresswell is probably the highlight, tho I suspect there may be some more interesting species for me to see in the last few days...

2010 - Review January - June

2010 has been an awfully quick year - here are a few of my highlights...

Above - African Penguins at Simonstown, South Africa during out New Year holiday to the Western Cape
Below - A UK tick - black-throated thrush, Newholm, North Yorkshire, January

February saw a visit to Cleveland for a very obliging ring-necked duck ~ the best and most close views I've had of the species in the UK. A great bacon sandwich was has had courtesy of CB afterwards!

March saw the arrival of a common crane at Eshott ~  a vocal bird and not popular with the territorial lapwing!

April was a month of wagtails - the possible black-headed at Cresswell was a stunner... even in the rain!

May was a busy month - the first week was spent abroad, with visits to Dubai and Mauritius.

The red-wattled lapwing was in Safa Park, Dubai - a park that had playing fields covered in hoopoe!

Mauritius was limited species-wise, we saw some really great birds ~ echo parakeet, Mauritius olive white-eye, white-tailed tropicbird.... but the enigmatic pink pigeon will never be forgotten...

May also saw the first of 10 planned annual birding weekends with the birders of my youth - Mark, John and Rob. 2010 saw us on Mull and Iona where corncrake was bird of the trip!

May produced another UK tick for me - oriental pratincole at Frampton Marsh. I saw this delightful bird with Phil on a sunny day-trip.

June was quieter than hoped-for, but a singing marsh warbler was nice...

The rest of 2010 will feature in the next post!

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Lunar Eclipse...

An advantage of the last working week of 2010 is that I'm on night shift ~ and today's journey home was underneath the impressive lunar eclipse. Took the opportunity of taking a few photographs prior to my retirement to bed ~ images here are with the 500mm & 1.4 extender, hand held, as the tripod was iced up in the boot of my car.

I'm no expert in this type of thing, but there was some interesting blurb on the BBC website...

"It is the first total lunar eclipse in three years and the first to fall on the Winter Solstice - the shortest day of the year - in nearly 400 years.

The Moon is normally illuminated by the Sun. During a total lunar eclipse, the full Moon passes through the shadow created by the Earth blocking the Sun's light".

I didn't photograph the complete eclipse - I guess it would be a blank black canvas!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Bitter(n)ly Cold

You ain't seen me, right!

I received a phone call from CB early on Saturday afternoon, he had arrived a chilly Cresswell Pond and found that the bittern was squatted low in cut reeds immediately in front of the hide. Too tempting to miss, I headed straight up. To my delight, the bittern had remained put ... and it continued to do so for the next 2 hours!

Amazingly camouflaged in the reeds, the bittern was very tricky to see with the naked eye - the bird was flat to the ground, and only occasionally moved its' head as it looked around.

As the light faded late in the afternoon, the bittern became more active (well, it lifted itself up a bit). High ISO had to be utilised (up to 1600) and exposure was down to 1/40th for the last image taken... Annoyingly the bittern never quite came out of cover, and the majority of images taken include the obligatory "reed in front of beak".

Nonetheless, it was great to be back out with the 500mm ... all images today were without the use of any extender ~ a quick scan through the RAW images seems to suggest that the repair has been successful. Phew!

Six whooper swan came into roost 9on the frozen expanse that is usually the pond), a water rail squealed behind the hide, and as we left, a barn owl was hunting over the dunes. Woodcock were seen in flight over the car on both journey to and from...

Saturday, 18 December 2010


Still here, just not much birding going on ~ work has been busy and free time limited. Off this weekend, and the lens is recently back from costly repair... hope to get out soon to give it a try.

Another spell of arctic weather is upon us - the garden has remained busy with wood pigeon, collared dove and house sparrow predominating. A mistle thrush has taken territory a few gardens down, but has yet to venture into ours.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Freezer Birding...

With the snow level maintained by continued freezing conditions I opted to stay local when birding today - 4 wheels were replaced by two as I headed off on my bike. By the first corner of the journey I had almost slid over on the churned up snow on the housing estate - luckily, the main roads were clear, so it was not much later that I arrived at West Hartford.

Hopes were high for some day flying owls, but there was no sign... nor of much else really - 1 buzzard high over the River Blyth, a solitary kestrel and a few blackbird. One advantage (if there is one) was that the snow was so deep that I didn't need a bike stand:


As WH was quiet I headed east along the A192 to explore the Horton Burn. At the old fire station there was much activity, with a  several "firsts for the burn" -  a good count of 10 grey partridge and a single woodcock (feeding beneath a hawthorn on the burns bank), a single redshank, followed quickly by a lapwing - purple patch!!

The redshank ended up being the first of four - the hard weather has pushed them right in. Two kingfisher zipped up and down the burn, and snipe lifted at every bridge that I stopped on. Moorhen numbered 3, and only 1 pair of mallard were present.

A pair of bullfinch were at the west end of the burn and goldfinch were abundant, blackbird numbers were very impressive too.

BIZARRO: The Wedding Present

There are an increasing number of bands from my high school / university era touring for classic albums,and Saturday night for me was a very enjoyable trip down memory lane with The Wedding Present.

I'd seen the original line up twice previous during the "glory" years ~ Preston Polytechnic in November 1990 and at Newcastle Mayfair in May 1991, so it's been a long time coming!

Worth the wait?

Oh Yes!

So it's a different line up, with only singer David Gedge being the original member, but Bizzaro is a classic album - 21 years on and a few hundred 40somethingers can still manage a mosh as the band cranked out the tracks. When I first saw them in the 1990's they sold a t-shirt with the slogan "all the songs sound the same". In 2010 it's good to see that they've got with the times and produced an updated version "All the songs still sound the same".

 We don't do encours, we're not that sort of band...

Friday, 3 December 2010

From the archive: December 2002

Heres' an old one digitally speaking... rufous turtle dove at Stromness, Orkney in December 2002. Image taken thru' scope with a 3 mega pixel compact... oh the days of digi-scoping!

It was a cold overnight drive to Scrabster, then with a day return ticket, we crossed to Stromness on the ferry. Luckily the target bird was within walking distance of the Orkney ferry terminal.

A great days birding was had, with two life ticks - the rufous turtle dove, and more embarrassingly, rock dove (!)...

Supporting cast included great northern diver, grey phalarope, twite, iceland gull, black guillemot and in the highlands the next day, great grey shrike, crested tit.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

From the archive: December 2004

Sora, Attenborough, Nottinghamshire December 2004

A day-trip that almost did not happen - I slept in, we missed the M18 junction, navigated through a busy Nottingham... and then bird performed impeccably, so we headed off to Titchwell in Norfolk for Coue's arctic redpoll, king eider and black-winged stilt. The joys of December twitches! The obscured image above was taken with the Canon 10D and 100- 400mm.


We are still gripped by winter in the north-east of England, with blizzard conditions making the journey to nightshift ever-so-interesting. Great unseasonal birds continue though - with the hoopoe found in Durham and today, a stone curlew on the Farne Islands!

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!).