Wednesday, 5 May 2010

By God It Was Cold Up There

John picked me up at 0430 and off we went to Allen Banks, we arrived at 0530 and just at the entrance to the Car Park our first tick of the day, a Tawny Owl alit on the brance right next to the entrance, a quick grope on the back seat for the camera and John saying where is it, where is it, then by the time I scrabbled round got the camera  was trying to get focus on the bird only 15ft away our "furtive" movements and the rocking car was probably the cause of it flying off, never mind it was a good omen for the day (BTW John said he still didnt catch a glimpse of it).  Plenty of song in the Car Park (we were the only ones there) and whilst getting ready a nice Mistle Thrush which was pecking away on the ground flew up high and gave us a good song rendition for 10mins.  Off we went and a couple of hundred yards in the first bird of interest was a Grey Wagtail which was on the other side of the river, a few minutes later a Kestrel soared overhead.  Onto the first bend in the river and a couple of Goosander were up and away as we rounded it followed a few seconds later by a Grey Heron.  The path then heads up so you are about 15m above the river bank and then when we got to the top the most suprising sound of the day was hear, a Bittern booming, no obvious reeds in site but then again that low sound can apparently travel for quite a distance.  We carried on towards the Wooden Bridge and just before we got there a Tawny Owl came silently out of the trees and flew past us, I shouted and turned expecting John to be following its flight noticed that he was looking the opposite way again (yet again he missed it).  Scampeted up a little climb to the top of the gorge to find out what this bird was calling and when we eventually got to the top it was a bloody great tit a lovely looking Great Tit singing in one of its differing calls.  On the way down I spotted the following plastic box tied to a branch and we couldnt figure out what it was used for, any ideas?
Up onto the bridge and from the top of it I could see several piles of rocks precariously placed around the river bed, it must be some sort of recent thing that people do or maybe Im just out of touch with the current "trends".  Once again anyone any ideas ??
Across the bridge and as usual John was the first to spot a Dipper which shot down the river and came down in the river bed a hundred or so yards away.   Into an open area for about 600m with a couple of buildings where there was quite a lot of flight activity (Swallows mainly) but our attention was drawn to a bird flying like a dart which landed on the edge of the woods and it turned out to be Johns first Grey Partridge of the year.  Also got a couple of shots of the Swallows flying around or having a NAAFI break on the barbed wire or nearby roof:
This was the first time I had really used the camera for birds as I had only taken a few scenery shots so far.  We could have stayed in this area for ages having spotted Grey Wagtail, Dipper, Pied Wagtail, Goldfinch and other LBBs, possible Grouse but we were not positive as only John could see some things from up in the clouds whereas I was only parallel with some of the tops of the undulations so the shouts of over there, cant you see it, r u blind did not assist by visual observation skills at all.  We had been going for over 2and half hours so decided to turn round as the parking meters came into force at 10 and I had forgotten my National Trust Badges and John had forgotten his Disability Sticker (yes you can get them for low IQs).  Started back and immediately we were delayed for 15mins watching a Dipper at work:
After this I am sure I spotted a female Pied Flycatcher and although we both saw it briefly we were not 100% positive so it didnt go down onto the Day List (for the first time ever I had been writing down everything in my brand new £2, genuine imitation leather bound notebook).  Heading back we also heard loads of Chiff Chaffs, Willow Warblers but once again not listed as even together our acoustic skills are not exactly reknowned and by the time we get to the level of ISD I will be at least 104, we did however claim 1 bird for the day on sound only and that was the Bittern as who could ever miss that.  Towards the end of our trek back we did eventually see another Female Pied Flycatcher, this time definitely as after the last one I had consulted my IPOD, checked the pics and listened several times to the song (a good year tick, actually a lifer).   Back to the car and off we went for a drive to Alston stopping at several places along the road where the bird we saw most of was the Lapwing, they were all over the place. (Lots of Crows and Jackdaws as well obviously).  Arriving at Alston we stopped for a break and watched Thomas the Tank Engine doing its thing with the Fat Lithe Young Controller directing it:
We also spotted several Golden Plover as we drove from Alston in the direction of Whittle Dene and also a couple of Skylark, lots of Gulls and the scenery was absolutely magnificent even if there were a couple of horrendous hailstorms and a bit of snow still, which added to the scenic value, on the hills.  Eventually we got to Wittle Dene where we picked up a couple of Common Terns and a Grey Heron competing with the local fishing match:

No guessing on who would be the winner in this competition.   In the hide it was blowing a gale so the windows (dirty bits of plastic) were kept shut, when we arrived there were a couple of bikers in there sheltering from the weather who told us they had seen a bird that looked like a canary but we had just missed it.  We watched a few Swift on the reservoir along with a couple of Great Crested Grebe and all of a sudden in front of us was the "Canary", John spotted it first so I took a quick pic through the dirty bits of plastic then it flew off before John could get a pic, so the following is the only pic of the Yellow Wagtail Canary we got:
We then shot off to our last port of call, Prestwick Carrs, where I saw our 3rd Tawny Owl of the Day (unbelievable that 3 weeks ago I had never seen one knowingly).  Also on show was a Willow Warbler which was about the only thing around, it was deathly quiet there apart from the chatter of the congregating Birders (6 at one stage). 
Well that was the end of the day and having the book and listing the birds did add something to the day and made us a bit competitive which added that "edge".  It also highlighted a couple of things
1.  We saw 55 species (Biitern we heard only)
2.  Never saw a Coot or a Moorhen all day (unbelievable)
3.  Didnt see a Tree Sparrow or a Yellowhammer until we got to Prestwick Carrs.
4.  John manages to spot all the Dippers first
5.  I spot all Thrushes first
Thanks also to John for another Fun Filled Day (even though he calls me "visually impaired" because I am "vertically challenged")
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