Wednesday, 30 November 2011

One, Two, Three, Alan, can I borrow your clicker?

We left Caerlaverock and headed for Gretna to try and watch the amazing "murmurations" that take place there.  My beloved and I had caught view of one when passing Gretna services 2 years ago and the short view we got far outdid most of the pictures I had seen but could not stop on a dual carriageway. When John A suggested going I, tied in with a trip to see the Barnies I was up for it.  So we both researched where to go and I had printed off maps, stuck post its on, plotted my Sat Nav and everything was in the hands of  Navigator John when we left Caerlaverock.  There actually was only one problem when we guided ourselves beautifully into the correct spot with at least 8 other cars with people out watching, the problem was that the bloody Starlings hadnt been reading the same thing on the Internet that we had and were at least a copse too far for any decent photography so we basically watched from the second we had arrived as the Starlings had just started to appear for the next 25 minutes.  There were several flocks coming in and some of them converged forming a massive flock although some seemed to just drift around with the odd Billy No Mates standing out as it flew in late and looked for a flock to join.  It was spectacular and the various people that were there said we were directly over the spot where they had been showing for the last few nights but it was purely pot luck as sometimes they stayed for a few days but did tend to move a copse or two in any direction.

As you can see from below I did take a few pics but it was very dark so I have had to overexpose a fair bit in post photo production (a technical term used by me and experts alike, which means moving a couple of sliders left and right until it looks better) and as Alan F would say "it will sharpen up in photoshop", unfortunately I dont own Photoshop.  Whilst we were up watching the Barnies at Caerlaverock someone showed us a picture he purported to have taken of the roost last year which looked more like a chaffinch than some of my early pictures and when John and I walked away John said he was waiting for me to add on to my compliment of "Great Pic" "did it take long to do in Photoshop?" 

All I can say is go and see it if you havent already been, if you have go again, cos I certainly will


John A and I set off for Caerlaverock at 5.30 on Sunday morning we intended to stop at Macedees for a Latte near Denton only to find it covered in scafolding (sob sob).  We then had a nice drive apart from a bit of a strong wind arriving at 07.15 but had already seen quite a few Barnacles moving around as we approached the place.  A quick walk down to the Observatory watching a marvellous sunrise as we proceeded along the Lonnen.

One of the two aims of the day was to see the Barnacles and by god did we see them, there was thousands and how anyone manages to count them amazes me as some of them are very mobile whilst some feed for quite a while in one place whereas the mobile ones seem to skitter around from one field to another in large groups ranging from 10 to a couple of hundred.

We attended the 11am feed of the Swans although only 2 Whoopers and about 30 Mutes appeared along with quite a mixture of ducks, the highlight of which was this marvellously patterned female Pintail

The "Commentator/Feeder" told us that there were 400 Whoopers just a couple of fields over but hadn't came to the feed in any great numbers (which I had seen on previous visits) due to the availability of food in the fields due to the "un-normal" weather we have seen recently.  We did see a huge flock (in the hundreds) from one of the hides later on in the day.  There was 250-300 assorted birds on the pond including about 20 Greylags which arrived just on time for the start of the feed but took no part (no White Fronted unfortunately as it seems like they are all over in Northumberland)

We went to the Teal Hide and just got settled in and chatting to a couple who were staying in the cottage on the reserve for a couple of days (they were from Long Horsley) when a Sparrowhawk flew past carrying what looked like a mammal in its grip (do they catch mammals ?).  From the hide we saw Several Shoveller, Tons of Teal, Waddles of Wigeon, Many Mutes, Many Mallard, a Gorgeous Godwit, Gaggles of Gadwalls, Bountiful Barnacle then another Sparrowhawk came over and the birds came off the water and the scrapes in sections which no camera could capture  although Barnies and Mutes just looked on with an air of indolence.

A wander round the reserve visiting the tucked away spots produced Siskin, Lesser Redpoll, a couple of Linnet (although one of the wardens said there was a flock of over 100)goldfinch, a couple of Treecreepers, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wrens and the various Tits and Finches in quite large numbers. 

We then left at 14.30 for our 2nd aim of the day (can anyone guess)

Monday, 28 November 2011

Patch Tick 111

Saturday and a slow drive to Big Waters.  Once again a few Red Wing and Field Fare around but most things keeping their heads down in the bloody awful wind.  Went straight to the first hide and most things were huddled round the island and against the reeds but not for long when the Otter disturbed them and off they went so off I went up to the main hide.  Only Charlie there this morning and after a brief chat I looked around and everything had left and gone back to around the island.  A bunch of geese approached, only 12 of them, from the North but didnt take a lot of notice as I thought they would do a once around then land on the pond but they just didnt look right so got the bins on them and saw they were all Canadas with 1 different one, I thought it was a White Fronted Goose but they dropped into the field behind the Dogwood and even though I kept looking I never got view of them again.  The Otter came out again and for some reason every bird from the area of the Island to the 1st Hide came barrelling over to the area of the main hide and at the same time a Sparrowhawk came thundering through carrying something.  Eventually everything settled down.

I wondered outside when Charlie said someone was on the Boardwalk (always quite a good idea in my opinion as they disturb birds during their walk in (still hoping for a flushed Woodcock)) and sure enough a couple of Redpoll flew to the top of the trees and sat there long enough for the recent arrivals to get a good view also.  I then headed back to the 1st Hide prior to going to Laverock Farm to stock up on birdfeed and bumped into Alan F and after settling in Alan J arrived then a new chap (a possible ID was Bedlingtonwanderer after reading his recent blog but then again my bird ID is not the greatest at the best of times never mind my Blogger ID skills).  Anyway the chap and his son from Blyth who had been at the main hide arrived also and it was like Piccadilly Circus (6 people in the hide at the same time, must ask Alan to check the patch data and see if this is a record).  A Buzzard was on the post on the North side of the pool and a Fox walked along the scrape towards the main hide although looking at the hide we seemed to get the impression that nobody had noticed it.  Then Alan F noticed a speck in the sky coming in fast, Peregrine he shouted and we were all on it within seconds.  It didnt come particularly close but great views for about 45secs or so but no doubt Alan J will tell me it was only 39 !  A new patch record for me and up to 111 for the year

I then had to leave just as things were beginning to warm up to collect Birdseed but forgot to mention those little cuties whose numbers are increasing very slowly, I saw 6 this morning but higher numbers have been seen recently

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

A Pile of Sh**e

Well not exactly a pile but certainly a little plop of poop

The poop is proudly held by Andy, Graeme B's mate at Holy Island on Sunday as when he was watching the Black Redstart it decided to relieve itself and then move on, quick as a flash Andy was up and had scooped it up and proudly displaying it.

Eat your heart out Chris Packham - anyone can get Owl poo, but this......
(ps, its the little white bit on the top)

Meanwhile back at Chez Hall another bad picture of one of the local Sparrowhawks taking a rest
whilst the pantry is restocked.

Monday, 21 November 2011

My Brain Hurts After A Great Day

Sunday morning up and away by 7 and a quick visit to Killingworth Lake.  4 Goosanders on view, 2 Male and 2 Female with one of the Males being a Full adult with gorgeous plumage.  But as usual they are up and away like rockets once you get within 50m of them, unlike the ones we saw earlier in North Wales who came up to you and took bread from hand.  Quite a few Tufted Ducks and at least 118 Mute Swans.  The Mallards seemed to be having a mass migration onto the smaller pool and were crossing the road in small groups of about 6 to 8.  They would wait for a car to pass (quite busy for 7.20 on a Sunday) then would scuttle across then the next lot would wait even if there was no traffic until the next car would appear then away they went as soon as it passed.  I watched this happen at least 8 times then wandered across the road to see where they were going as they would hop across the wall and would dissappear.  There was over a 100 tucked on the little bank leading down to the water.  On to the patch at Big Waters and the Sun assisted by the clouds was giving some awesome views as I wandered round the public end.

By the football pitch car park there was loads of Thrushes around bathing in the light and warmth of the sun and on this tree alone there must have been a mixture of at least 50 Redwings and Fieldfares.

Plenty of them on the Football Pitch also but had to shoot with the Sun in front of me and from inside the car.

One of the bonniest birds around, the Fieldfare, is even more of a stunner in the sun, now if only I could teach my camera to take pictures of what I can see.

I was standing by the gate in the car park finishing off my Maccydees Latte when this Blackbird came and landed on a branch right above my head and just sat there.  I didnt take a pic at first just stood and watched thinking that if I lift my camera it will be away, so finishing my coffee I went and put my cup in the bin and the Blackbird hopped over to the tree next to the bin so with 2 hands free I took a couple of snaps put my camera down and he then flew away.  Now if only the Redwings and Fieldfares had been that accommodating earlier on.

I had a quick visit to the hide and a chat with John B who was occupying his usual corner then headed back to the car to meet Graeme B for a trip up to Holy Island to see a visitor from the East.  I actually bumped into Graeme halfway down the track on his hunkers examining a freshly killed Blackbird with a ring on.  We then left and bumped into Alan J and Ian D on the way out and told them where the dead Blackbird was.  On our return Alan had already sent an email saying

"Yes it was one that I ringed but interestingly it was a while ago.
A 4M Blackbird 24/06/2006. There had been no further retraps."

Off we went to Holy Island arriving about 30mins before the water receded enough for us cross although these Brent Geese being unable to read completely ignored the signage.  Whilst we were waiting I did spot an outline looking into the sun and thought thats different, pointed it out to Graeme, who confirmed it was a Pintail and thought "the boy had done well" until Graeme said there were quite a lot round here.

With a couple of nods and winks from a local couple and directions worthy of a Satnav we were viewing our Eastern visitor within 5mins of getting out of the car.  It was certainly a great view as well with the bird doing some great leaps up for a quick snack and whilst everybody seemed to keep their distance and acted very responsibly the bird didnt seem to care and just went where it wanted and was at times within 4-5ft of some of the watchers, especially those that were standing on the top of the steep cliff (a 15ft drop from the path actually). 

We watched it for a good 30mins then headed off to look for its a cousin, a Black Redstart (with no unprounceable words in italics after it). Bumped into quite a few people and stopped to chat (Hi Maria and Dave and Vee and Dan and etc, etc.......) which probably was the reason we didnt find the Black Redstart but a bit of mountain climbing was participated in by myself (although to Graeme it was a bit of a saunter).  Loads more Brent Geese around continually coming in to land just off the beach then buggering off again.  We tried to conjure up some Grebes but only a few Eiders offshore and a couple of seals couldn't be morphed into anything although it did give me time to suck in a bit of Oxygen.

Graeme got a msg on the phone saying that a Black Guillemot had been seen off the shore beside the excavations, so off we went, although I did lighten my pack at the car (Scope and a couple of heavy things) as Graeme said it was a bit of a trek.  Of he went briskly stopping every 3-4 mins putting his bins up and looking around (what a polite chap he is) whilst I caught up.  We eventually reached the top of the Dunes and I was looking around for Livingstone but all I could see was a normal family (couple with 2.4 children and a wee doggie) wandering along the beach (obviously we werent in the back of the beyond).  About half an hours scanning produced a few Common Scoter, several Guillemot (no black), a Red Throated and a Great Northern Diver.  Feeding in the pools on the rock edges was the normal suspects plus a single Grey Plover and 3 Knot.  We then headed back and immediately bumped into 2 Short Eared Owls and watching them whilst we were heading back, they seemed to "bump" into one another with at least one of them calling (which Graeme said was unusual).  They hunted for quite a bit then dissappeared out of sight to the West.  Toward the end of the trek across the dunes another SEO came up from the ground about 20m in front of us and did a few circles then it headed West also.  A slow drive back as the sun faded with me doing most of the talking (trying to clear a bit of space on the old internal hard drive) as once again after a day out with a great guy who imparts knowledge like I exhale CO2 my brain was full to overflowing and didnt have any more space to try and remember birdie stuff. 

Thanks Graeme

Then when I got home my beloved prepared a great bacon and sausage buttie and as I sat down to scoff it she gently pushed the Nikon D70 across the table and said that word that makes Chris Packham rub his legs and makes the pic takers in Big Muddy Hide actually move


Sunday, 20 November 2011

Bewicks at Big Waters

Saturday and off to straight to Big Waters arriving at 07.00 with lots of Whoopers and Mutes being the most obvious thing in the mist as the sun started to rise (well somewhere it was rising cos not much light was filtering through here).  Sat at the picnic table for an hour scanning the pond, brought some Hovis Wholemeal and I was the Mutes best friend whilst I was still chucking it out for them but just like in the real world when you have nothing left everyone buggers off.  I did manage to collect 2 ring numbers I hadnt seen before so will wing them off to the BTO this week for checking.  I have received 2 sighting reports back this week.
Ring Number: W11480 Species of bird: Mute Swan ringed by Coleman & Coleman as age 2nd year, sex Male on 31-Jan-2004 at Killingworth Lake.
Ring Number: ZZ7285 Species of bird: Mute Swan ringed by Coleman & Coleman as age Nestling, sex Male on 18-Aug-2008 at Wallsend, Rising Sun Country Park.
So it looks like these 2 hadn't travelled far but could have been round the world and back again but doubt it very much.  In the bushes next to the picnic table I did spot 5 Goldcrests just sitting there and left them alone for 10mins but when the first walker appeared I decided to try and get a pic but as soon as I moved from my scope they were away.  There was also a small flock of about a dozen or so Long Tailed Tits moving around and the number of Thrushes was much more than usual on top of the trees and scurrying across the grass under the trees.  Up to the 1st Hide for an hour and things were starting to get better. The Swans were now getting more active.

The Cormorants, only 8 which is not as many as usual, doing their flying low and straight across the lake towards the tree then pulling up hard and waiting for another bird to take off  creating a space on one of the more popular perches but this one failed on more than one occassion.

From the main hide 5 Male and 3 Female Gadwalls were easily visible.

These 2 dragged themselves up onto the scrape and canoodled away for more than an hour hardly moving, another 2 new BTO numbers were scoped for checking.

Then from the North West came the sounds of shooting which resulted in a mass exodus of the birds from the Scrape (with the exception of the 2 Mute Swans) and they all flew across to the other hide which had just occuppied by Alan JJ who stayed there for another hour.

Eventually I have managed to get a few more shots of my favourites of the moment, the Whooper Swans and the 2 new arrivals, the Bewick Swans.

Bewick Swans

The difference in size is quite obvious in this picture

Finally an unusual view of the Emirates arrival at a different angle than usual, managing to get quite a bit of Big Waters in.  

Did pop up to Prestwick Carr in the afternoon where some more stunning view of the Great Grey Shrike were had and 8 SEOs in the air at the same time.  No pics were taken as was too busy admiring them through the optics (Bloody Stunning)

Saturday, 19 November 2011

The Beauty of Big Waters

Got away from work a couple of hours early so off to Big Waters.  It was extremely dull
but there was quite a bit of stuff liberally scatter around the pond but unfortunately the birds
I had come to see where just too far away to be photographed but did pose nicely for views
through both bins and scope.  These were the 2 Bewick Swans and the 2 Male Goosander.
Also on the pond were 13 Whooper and 41 Mute Swans, the Mutes being a new record for
Big Waters but Alan J needs a quick check through his copious records to confirm it.  The Otters were
out and about a couple of times although the Ducks seem a bit more tolerant of them and dont
move around like dimented dimenters although the Gulls are forever harassing them ,  Also the
Wigeon numbers are staying around the 140 mark, with the Mallards increasing alsos.  At least
8 Goldeneye were on parade looking extremely smart, 3 Shoveller, one of them being a very
dapper male, 3 Pochard, a couple of Tufted Duck and the normal interspersing of Coots and
Moorhens with the family party of Canada Geese dropping in at the end of the day. 
The gaggle of Greylags arrived at 16.00 as it was getting too dark to count although  Mr Johnstone
did have a go but then it was too dark to read his clicker, although we did make out the
2 Barnacle Geese that normally tag along with them but no White fronted unfortunately.

Anyway a nice afternoon with Alan, whoops forget to mention the copious amounts of Fieldfare
and Redwing that are about and a couple of largish flocks of Lapwing, the bigest being 145. 
Cant do a post without a picture so heres one I took about 15.30 when the sun came out
for a few minutes and made the pond look even more stunning than it usually is.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

And The Award For The .....

The Award for the worst photo of the Greater Yellowlegs and the Grey Phalarope together goes to
Howdon Blogger

But who cares, I got some great views of it and the Grey Phalarope

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Big Water Tick 109

Saturday and off Big Water, the 12 Whoopers were still there although they all gathered together just after 8 and then took off headed east towards the coast.  The familiar trill of the Waxwing drew my attention to 8 of them flying in the direction of Prestwick Carr.  The pond was very busy by 8.30 with 80+Greylags, 28 Mute Swans, a couple of Barnacle Geese, 2 Great Crested and a Little Grebe, 13 Cormorant, 11 Canada Geese, lots of Wigeon and Teal, a few Tufted, Mallards, Coots, a Couple of Water Rail and the whole pot being stirred by an Otter, a Sparrowhawk, a Buzzard and the Police Helicopter. 

About 9.30 I headed up to Prestwick Carr and couldn't have timed it better arriving just in time to see the Great Grey Shrike again putting in a good appearance for about 20 mins with a another couple of its stunning hovering displays.  I returned to Big Waters after a bit of crack with Peter and John and a few others and bumped into Alan J and John D who were just leaving and John had seen 7 White Fronted Geese (Albifrons), 8 Pinkfeet Geese and an adult Otter with 2 cubs.  The only occupant in the hide was Maria so another good chatting session was had which was rudely interrupted by 2 birds coming out of the reeds in front of the hide, looking around then taking to the air, the good news was they were a year tick for me for Big Waters (Goosander) but only got a shot of their backsides as they took off.

Also was glad to see the Whoopers had returned, all 12 of them.

On the way out there was an absolute gorgeous greenfinch which I couldn't resist watching for 10 mins

Friday, 11 November 2011

Great Grey Day

Left work early and popped up to Prestwick Carr and got some great views of the
Great Grey Shrike.
It flitted from bush to bush and hovered quite a bit although it never seemed to dive from the hover to the
ground.  When it did go to ground it just dropped from the bush or post it was on and stayed for between
20-30 Seconds

Had a bit of a chat with Peter and Dick who joined me on the bumpy road just as the Shrike was
chased of by a couple of Magpies.  They had been watching it from the approach road and had
also been having good views.  Plenty of Fieldfare around, a solitary Snipe flew over and apart
from a Kestrel which seemed to be around most of the time I was there it was pretty quiet.