Friday, 31 December 2010

End of year but back to the future

Well this is it, in a few hours it will be time to start all the lists again, First of the year, last of the year, total for the year etc. It will also be the first time I will concentrate my watching here at home instead of going all over the place. Its kind of scary doing some proper patch watching but so far its been rewarding and I'm optimistic I'll make some good discoveries this year.

The Whooper Swan at the Riverside Park
As I said the other day, the adult Whooper Swan is still on the Wear at the Riverside Park.  It arrived on the 23rd September and I posted some pictures of it with its ring on 25th September. I've just had a reply  on where it was rung.

Many thanks for your email regarding Whooper Swan. It's ringing history is as follows:
26.09.10 - Female Whooper Swan - River Ouse, Cawood, York (SE 574 379)
Best Wishes, Dan

Yorkshire Swan & Wildlife Rescue Hospital 
So there you have it, I photographed the bird and its ring the day before it was put on its leg ... Spooky or what? I've asked Dan to check his date.

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Long tails tough it out

With now only scattered patches of snow still lying around and the temperature a screeching 6C, it's looking a bit better for the the new year. Five Long-tailed Tits visited the bird table at lunchtime, just to confirm I was worried over nothing about them managing to survive the cold weather. The Great spotted Woodpecker paid a visit too but once again decided not to bother to use the feeders whilst I was there watching.

Long-tailed Tit at the feeder
The Tawny Owls are still calling and even now at 21:30hrs there is one hooting away..

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

More thaw

It managed to stay above zero during the night so things are continuing to thaw. I had to pop into the town centre first thing but as I got there a tad too early I wandered down to the riverside until the shops opened.  The river was running high and fast but clear of the ice it had recently. Along the South Burn 2 Dippers had paired up and the male was singing. In fact there was quite a bit of song with a couple of Robin, 4+ Dunnock and a Great Tit also singing this morning. The feeding station was lifting with wildfowl -

The feeding station was lifting with wildfowl.

22 Canada Goose, 139 Mute Swan, 27 Goosander, 498 Mallard, 4 Cormorant, 144 Tufted Duck, 1 Whooper Swan, and a female Mandarin.

 1 of 144 Tufted Duck I counted this morning
Opposite a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a small flock of Long-tailed Tit were in the riverside trees whilst by the play area another flock of Long-tail Tits  and 45 Siskin were feeding in the Alders. No sign of a Kingfisher today however.
A little later I found myself in Chester Moor where there was another Long-tailed Tit flock and with more at the South Burn Wood entrance, it looks like many have come through this cold spell relatively unscathed. Also at Chester Moor were about a dozen mixed Redwing and Fieldfare  in the hedgerow and a good count of 22 House Sparrow.

Chester Moor still has a good population of House Sparrow
A single Grey Heron flew over  and another patch of Alder held 64 Siskin but they were off as soon as I stopped and raised my binoculars.
By the time I got home the temperature was reading 4C and with little patches of green appearing through the thawing snow and ice and several species of bird in song it was almost spring-like!

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Thaw'th Night

The temperature has been (just) above zero for the last 24hrs and a thaw has started, though slowly. But that little rise in temperature has woken up a few things, particularly at night.
The Tawny Owls having been quiet for a while have become very vocal with 3-4 birds calling within hearing distance of the house the last two nights and tonight just before I post this at 18:30 hrs, two are still hooting and a moth was flying around the outside light and when I caught it, it was, not surprising, a Winter Moth. Also last night, a vixen Red Fox screeched on a number of occasions from the Hermitage Woods.
This morning, from his usual song perch in the garden, the resident Dunnock gave a snatch of song, confirming he has managed to get through this latest cold shape successfully.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

Still snow n Waxwings

Its still -2C and the snow is covering everything. A month ago (24th November) I said rather excitedly .... "Its 18:20hrs and the first snow of the winter.".....  Little did I know that there would be snow in the garden every day from then until now.
The birds are struggling with the ground being either so hard or under so much snow that I'm having to top up the bird table in the garden twice a day when I can but the total number of birds has diminished. 17 Wood Pigeon and 2 Collarded Dove are currently dominating the area but rarely more than 1 or 2 are present until late morning, giving the smaller birds such as the Blue Tit, Great Tit and Coal Tit, Robin, Song Thrush and Dunnocks a chance to feed. The Siskin and Blackbird seem to be less bothered about the bully pigeons. A Sparrowhawk has probably noted the birds now and I've seen it several times in the past few days and if it hasn't already, it will soon, start using the garden as one of it's local fly-in takeaways.

A walk around the fell produced a lot of snow but little in the way of wildlife, but despite all this nature carries on. I have seen 3 species of plant, all trees as it happens, in flower, during the week. There were Betula pendula (Silver Birch), Corylus avellana (Hazel) and Populus tremula (Aspen).
There was still 1-2 Willow Tit, 4 Bullfinch and a Nuthatch in South Burn woods. The Fell itself had a few more Bullfinch and a scattering of five species of thrush , ie Blackbird, Redwing, Song Thrush, Mistle Thrush and Fieldfare. However the best birds were 3 Waxwing that flew over heading towards Sacriston so I hope hope these hang around until the new year. I could not find any Long-tailed Tit or Lesser Redpoll today, the latter I was hoping to track down both to photograph and check them,  as there has been a few Mealy and Arctic Redpolls around the last few days.

Monday, 20 December 2010

I've been sussed

Its still rather cold, with -7C overnight,  but rather strangely,  only a dusting of snow compared with many parts of the NE and the rest of the UK. It makes a nice change to listen to other people complaining about the deep snow and we hardly have any. That is apart from the snow-hills on the street corners left by the snowplough ten days ago and showing no sign of melting.

Yet another Woodcock flew over this morning as did a Grey Wagtail and despite the cold night,  the local Tawny Owls were very vocal. The first time I've heard them for a few weeks.

Even though the feeders in the garden are small,  for some reason they seem to attract more than their fair share of large birds. I put food out and melt the ice in the water feeder before first light every morning. The resident Robin roosts in the far corner of the garden but 'tic's as soon as I get near the feeders, alerting me to its presence. It's getting tamer by the day and was on top of the post holding the feeders as I put the food out this morning and was feeding as soon as I turned my back despite it still being dark. But other birds are being to suss out my routine. The Wood Pigeons have been somewhat displaced by two rather aggressive Jackdaws and there were 8 Blackbirds and 2 Song Thrush  feeding there before I left for work this morning. The small birds have to use the hanging feeders as the table and the ground under it is Big Boy territory.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Dormant Nature

With the cold spell back, together with it dark before and after work, this has been a very quiet week. The temperatures have dropped to -5C but seems much colder due to the windchill. The bird table has had the usual visitors with up to 5 Siskins in and out briefly and a noticeable rise in the number of two common birds that have become scarcer recently throughout the UK. These being Song Thrush and House Sparrow, with 3 of each visiting today.
Though Monday was cold it was slightly less so and 3 Winter Moth were flitting around the outside light in the late evening. This is one of those moths where the female of this species is virtually wingless and cannot fly, though the males can fly strongly.
But that was it as far as it goes this week, Nature seems to be having a bit of a kip in the cold.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

The Wood Pigeon gang

Most of the snow has gone and with it the activity at the bird table, bar my permanent gang of Wood Pigeons. The flock of 20+ Siskin is still buzzing around together with the odd one or two that seen to fly over every few minutes. Other fly overs today include a Grey Wagtail, 5 Redwing, 2 Blackbirds and a Sparrowhawk.

  Wood Pigeons in the garden

Thursday, 9 December 2010

A garden tick

Looked out into the garden first thing this morning and there, just under the patio window, raking amongst the leaves by the step,  was not as expected a Blackbird,  but something much bigger - a Woodcock! A new one for the garden. They are frequently seen flying over the house, roding, at dusk in the spring and the odd bird flies  over in late autumn but this is the first to be actually in the garden.
The front street at Chester-le-Street continues to produce birds too, as this morning, in addition to 2 Grey Wagtail among 30 Pied Wagtail, a flock of 20-odd Canada Geese flew over heading south.  Unfortunately
there was no repeat performance of yesterday's Red Kite.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Crispy Woodcock & Red Kite shadows

There's been very little new snowfall but there is hardly any  difference in the depth and  its still deep and crisp though no longer even. The bird table is still very busy but no new visitors for a day or two. Its been an excellent couple of weeks for seeing Woodcocks and I suspect many will have succumb in this big freeze. I saw another two this morning walking down the road, 1 feeding under a tiny little scrubbery where there was little snow but plenty of leaf litter.
The bird of the day however I saw as I walked down the Front Street in Chester-le-Street town centre. Several Black-headed Gulls were wheeling about and dropping down to the payments to grab the odd discarded chip and bit of pizza but I didn't take much notice until something like a dark shadow caught my eye.  I looked up but there was nothing but the gulls there, until a few moments later a superb Red Kite flew over the shop roofs and circled the street by the library. I was hoping it would also swoop down for something but presumably they were vegetarian pizza pieces as it made no attempt and then sailed off towards the river. I've had a few Red Kite over the fell, including one earlier this year and found a dead one by the A1 slip road not long after they were introduced in Gateshead in 2005 but it would be good that they became more regular here. I think (though haven't checked) that this is one of the Gateshead birds with a combination of pink and orange wing tags but I couldn't see the numbers. It did appear to be an adult bird, though a little ragged, but presumably not the one I saw earlier in the year over the fell which appeared not to have any wing tags.

Sunday, 5 December 2010

No more snow but no flowering plants either

No snow fell for the second day but there's hardly a thaw. However the bird table is quieter than usual today. The group of Siskin flying around still has all 26 members and there is now at least 3 Coal Tit visiting  including a very strongly marked bird.

A nicely marked Coal Tit in the garden

 I am a member of the Wild Flower Society which is I quote 'The only national society created specifically for amateur botanists and wild flower lovers in the UK.  We are a friendly group who like to meet up throughout the summer months to see and photograph British wild plants in their natural habitats. The Society has been running for over a century and proudly boasts a number of very eminent botanists and academics amongst our ranks with at least fourteen members having plants named after them!'. At this time of year, one of the things they, and myself record, are the number of plants still in flower in each of the months of December, January and February - The Winter Months Count. My counts, not surprisingly are rather pathetic compared to the southern counties but this year, fives days in surprise, surprise, the count so far is zero. In fact its been had to see a plant at all in the snow, never mind a flower. I had 4 species by this time last year (Daisy, Gorse, Common Ragwort & Red Clover) and finished the month on 26 species. Far too early to tell but I think this will probably be my lowest count ever by a considerable way even if the snow shifts soon.

Had no time this weekend, due to chores, to go onto the fell proper,  and have I've missed it.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

18 x £2.75 = more bird food

Went out to stock up on more bird food at lunchtime, not much left in the shops and looking at the prices they're put some of it up by 50p, the greedy you-know-whats. There's still up to 18 Wood Pigeons present in the garden. I see you can buy Wood Pigeons online for £2.75 each.  Now 18 x £2.75 = a good few weeks bird food. Back to the internet search engine 'How do you catch Wood Pigeons?'

26 Siskin in and out of the garden but not wanting to stay and a female Brambling landed on the fence, was tempted but flitted off again. A Mallard drake flew over but I'm not sure where he can find any open water around here. Goldfinch up to 5 now and a single Fieldfare flew over.

I saw a (the) Grey Squirrel  at the end of the street again but I still don't think its found the garden. There's no mammal footprints in the garden snow at all, not even a cat, I think its just too deep for them and any small mammals will be far safer under than on top of it.

I'm now bored with this snow

Its been tough this week for me never mind the birds, walking into the town and back at least, every day in deep snow and freezing cold. There is now 20" of snow lying in most places in the garden and the minimum temperatures the last three nights have been -8C, -10C and -11C . That's worse that Iceland - both the country and the food shop.
The bird table has been very busy and I don't want to try and work out how much I've spent on bird food but it's certainly been appreciated.

Totals for the first three days of December have been

    * Wood Pigeon - 12
    * Collared Dove - 1
    * Waxwing  - 60
    * Pied Wagtail - 1
    * Grey Wagtail - 1
    * Wren - 1
    * Blackbird - 7
    * Robin -3 
    * Dunnock - 4
    * Great Tit - 5
    * Blue Tit - 9
    * Coal Tit - 1
    * Chaffinch - 4
    * Goldfinch - 1
    * Siskin - 20
    * Bullfinch - 2
    * House Sparrow -5
    * Common Starling - 25
    * Carrion Crow - 2
    * Magpie - 1

Both the Waxwings and Siskin came into the garden on Wednesday, the former stripping half the Pyracantha berries off by the time I got home again but never returned. I've also had Woodcocks flying over on both Wednesday and Friday.

By lunchtime I've got 17 18 Wood Pigeon eating all the seed. The internet is a wonderful source for information, I've just found Mr's Beaton's recipe for Pigeon Pie.

Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Common Night Gulls

A big improvement in the weather this morning - it isn't snowing - so off I went to work to keep the cogs of Britain turning.

Walking down into town - still no chance of getting the car out - 2 Grey Lag Geese flew over heading south honking away. Before I left the 20 Siskin were still in the trees by the house but no sign of the Waxwing there or along the road at Warkworth Drive this morning.
It took a lot longer to get home this evening. It was dark of course but at one point in the snow and hail  I heard some birds calling overhead and a large flock of Common Gull were flying over, again heading south. I've seen up to about half a dozen at a time this winter, but this flock was made up of at least 45 and should have been roosting somewhere by now. Most unusual.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Still cut off

Its 10:50 and still no way of getting to work. The mobile is working and  another 4x4 managed to make a break for it but its snowing again and there's already 16" of snow on the lawn and patio. But on the bright side, its also sunny and looking out I can see a flock of 60 Waxwing and 20 Siskin in the trees nearby.

Cut off

Failed at an early attempt to get to work. No cars have managed to leave the street apart from a couple of large 4x4s. No buses leaving Chester-le-Street apart from one to Newcastle, trains running a hour late and I can't even get a mobile signal.

Walked down into town and back again due to the above, in deep snow, and thunder and lightning I may add,  and am I cheesed off? - no chance. Whilst pushing the 3rd car out of the snow in Warkworth Drive on the way back, I was rewarded for being such a good samaritan when I looked up and watched a flock of 28 Waxwing land in a Sorbus bush in one of the front gardens. They did this several times but with there being so much snow covering the bush they eventually gave up. Just a few minutes earlier I had 2 Brambling perched up in the roadside trees.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A walk on the white side


and Wood Pigeon scoffing most of the food.
The bird table was quite busy but often the small birds had to wait there their turn due to the large number of plump Wood Pigeons and Blackbirds.
A bit more snow and -10C overnight but a little walk over the Fell was required. 

The horses in the fields certainly needed their coats overnight

South Burn Woods
 A wander along Beaney Lane produced one surprise when a Common Snipe was flushed out from under the hedge, calling as it got up. With the snow I would have expected a Woodcock more than a Snipe.
Hogweed - some of this was still in flower a week ago
Later, walking over the fell it or another Common Snipe flew over, again calling. After getting a newspaper at the garage on the A167, I took the footpath nearby, back  towards the fell and scanning the hedgerow I found a Little Owl perched in an old Ash tree. I didn't approach any closer as it was watching me and would have been away if I did get nearer. Carrying on, not surprising, I saw very little as I plodded through 15" of deep virgin snow.

Waldridge Fell with a bit of snow
One of the  Sessile Oaks  in the hedgerow looking quite majestic today

 A few Siskin and Redwing  flew over but otherwise the only other birds were the same species as have been in the garden this week
Deer  and rabbit tracks

There were lots of tracks in the snow, mainly of Rabbit but also Roe Deer who had obviously been digging about and feeding on brassicas hidden under the snow in one of the arable fields.Despite teh numerous tracks I saw only a few Rabbit and  only 1 Roe Deer, a good way off,  near  Kimblesworth.

This had been dug up and partly eaten by Roe Deer as is evident by the tracks in the snow.

Male Stonechat
Heading towards the woods, as well as the Common Snipe flying over, a male Stonechat was flitting amongst some dead umbellifer stalks.

Hopefully the 3 pair on the fell will survive these next few months, as despite their reputation for suffering in harsh winters, they came through last winter, fine, somehow.

Waldridge Lane and no traffic at all as I walked along it - excellent!
 The woods had a few more birds than the other day, with a few Bullfinch, 20 Lesser Redpoll, and a small number of Blue, Great and Coal Tit but I was glad to get home as trekking through the deep snow is not easy.
My walk home

Friday, 26 November 2010

Snow plus

With the snow its down to watching the birds visiting the garden bird table. I did have a little wander but apart from some snow plus some more snow I saw very little.

South Burn Woods - very pretty but also very quiet

So it was through the house window that the past couple of days  I have seen anything so far. The results have been ok but nothing startling.

Pair of Bullfinch
  • Wood Pigeon - 8
  • Collared Dove - 2
  • Blackbird - 4
  • Song Thrush - 1
  • Redwing - 1
  • Robin - 1
  • Dunnock - 2
  • Great Tit - 2
  • Blue Tit - 4
  • Coal Tit - 1
  • Chaffinch - 2
  • Goldfinch - 3
  • Bullfinch - 2
  • House Sparrow - 8
  • Common Starling - 5

Coal Tit

No Long-tailed Tit or Greenfinch yet nor a repeat of any Siskin. 
2 Grey Wagtails flew over today and a flock of 25 Lesser Redpolls in the trees about 30 metres away.

A Christmas Robin  29 days early

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

And now its snowing!

Its 18:20hrs and the first snow of the winter

Down to 7

It wasn't raining, so off I went with my camera to look for the Waxwings. Found them easily enough flying around at the roundabout  junction of Waldridge Road and Warkworth Drive. There seems to be only seven birds left now. They landed in the trees behind the bus stop and I rattled off a few photos but the light wasn't good and they were at the very tops. Quite a few people stopped and asked what I was doing and seemed quite interested, or bemused (delete as applicable) but they do now have Waxwing on their lists.

Waxwings at the roundabout
As I was already out, I went for a little wander and walked down the bank, left at the doctors surgery and into Cong Burn Woods. Very,  very muddy after all the rain and a bit quiet too.Most of the vegetation is brown now and with little leaf cover remaining, so different from a few months ago. Several species of ferns were still green and I photographed a few including Broad Buckler Fern and Scaly Male Fern.
Scaly male fern growing by the Cong Burn
Five Redwings flew out the tree and 3 Lesser Redpoll flew over but that was it on the bird front.

The underside of Broad Buckler Fern showing the spores
and the same of Scaly Male Fern 

I then checked the nearby Tribley farm ponds.Lots of water in them and three Teal flew off with a pair of Mallard and a Grey Heron. The fields have been sown with winter cereal and more than 220 Curlew were feeding in them, together with 150 Lapwing and 25 Black-headed Gull.

Part of the flock of Lapwings.
 I walked back through the woods and just as I was about to exit I saw this.

Having ruled out Triffid, I reckon its  the remains of a fungus, Common Puffball (Lycoperdon perlatum) which has popped open and shed its spores then filled with water and algae has started to grow on it. Very strange.
Anyway up the bank through the village and over the top where I saw a very nice lichen, one of the Reindeer-mosses Cladonia portenosa which was new for me

The Lichen Cladonia portenosa

Back through South Burn Woods, which had a lot more birds than the Cong Burn, in part due to a roaming tit flock,  that included 3 Willow Tit, 2 Tree-creeper and a pair of Bullfinch

One of two Tree-creepers in the Tit flock

A nice finish to a cold winter walk and I only got wet the once.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Down to 14

A quick look this morning and there were still 14 Waxwings opposite where they were yesterday at 08:05hrs. It was dark when I got back,  but tomorrow I should have more time to check up on them.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Wonderful Waldridge Waxwings

Was told last night after dark about a flock of Waxwings just along the road by the roundabout near the Whitehills pub. I did say in an earlier posting that this spot is one of the best at attracting this species and sure enough they were there at first light this morning, feeding on the Sorbus by the roundabout. Unlike the ones last week that were happy to fly about after insects, this flock of about forty birds were stuffing themselves on the berries in the rain. There were about the same number of Starling in the trees together with 4 Blackbirds and a pair of Chaffinch. The Waxwings were still present later in the day and in this weather and with there still being plenty of berries, they should be around for a few more days. Having said that, knowing how quickly they can strip a tree of its fruit perhaps its more wishful thinking.... we'll see.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Mediterranean Gulls in the rain

It has been raining nearly constantly since Wednesday and with the wind from the north-east it wasn't very nice to be out. Did a few errands yesterday but looking for Waxwings along the way as there are still flocks passing through. There were 30 reported at Aldi in the town centre on Friday but they were gone by the time I looked and again no sign yesterday. I did see a very unhappy Common Buzzard perched up in a tree in the rain by the motorway slip road roundabout at the Lambton end. There's plenty of food for it there with dead Pheasants all around that area. A Kestrel was also perched up, looking equally sorry for itself only a few metres away. Also on Friday I was looking for Waxwings as I passed through Great Lumley without any luck but I did get a glimpse of a gull flying around the Co-op there, that may have been a Mediterranean Gull. There was one at this very spot last winter which I saw amongst the Black-headed Gulls on a number of occassions and once at the Riverside Park so I'm certainly going to be keeping an eye out for it again.
To get my eye in I popped up the coast this morning to Newbiggin in Northumberland, as it is the best place by far in the NE to see Mediterranean Gulls. Last winter there were 26+ here. So far the numbers reported this winter are much lower and I've only heard of a maximum of six. Still I saw them straight away, they are that easy, and eventually saw six individuals myself and rattled off quite a few photographs

Here are three of the six Mediterranean Gulls at Newbiggin

With a Black-headed Gull for comparison

They really are great birds.

Back at Waldridge, the bird table in the garden is just starting to attract a variety of birds, though far too many Wood Pigeons for my liking,  but no more Siskins as yet. The Tawny Owls continue to call around midnight despite the weather and the Great spotted Woodpecker continues to come tantalisingly close to the table but not actually on it when I'm watching.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Overnight frosts bring firsts of the winter

Its been quite frosty the last few nights which has killed off quite a few of the later flowering plants both in the garden and in the nearby hedgerows. Compensation was in that it brought the first Siskins of the winter to the bird table yesterday, when 2 were on the nut feeders first thing. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was very vocal nearby but I had to leave before I could see if it too visited the birdtable. Also vocal were the local Tawny Owls with two birds calling frequently now three nights in a row despite how cold and misty it had been.
The temperature last night was a bit higher and with it forecast 5-6C the next couple of nights I might risk putting the moth-trap out one night. What has also tempted me is that I was shown a moth that entered a house down the road and asked what sort it was. In fact it  was a nice Mottled Umber. This species though not uncommon, I don't see many of and it's also one of the species that has a female which is wingless.  The male's flight period is at the back end of the year from October into December and I had not seen one this year. This is a very variable species, the ones I usually get are quite brown and speckled but this one was of the much better banded forms with a yellowish tinge.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Twitching Herons and Leaf-mines

Yesterday, the Waxwings re-appeared again just before dusk when 13 (they must have found a friend) flew back into the Beech trees. I assumed they were going to roost there but just as visibility was so poor as to struggle to watch them,  they flew off into the dark.

No sign this morning but those same three trees did hold Blue Tit, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Jackdaw, Chaffinch, Greenfinch  and Goldfinch. 2 groups and a single Curlew, totaling 67 birds flew west as I scanned the area looking for the Waxwings.

The weather forecast was rain, but now later than originally predicted,  so I headed north to Morpeth in Northumberland on a bit of a bird twitch. A Squacco Heron  has been seen for more than a week just outside the town centre and so I headed off with my mate Mike. A few people were already about but no sign of the bird until a couple of dog-walkers announced they had just seen it about half a mile downstream. We walked along the road and the fisherman's path but there was only a Cormorant there,  though we did see a nice Kingfisher on the way along, flying upriver. Looping back to the original spot of the blue footbridge at Low Stanners we came to the conclusion that the bird was gone. It had disappeared for nearly 48 hours a few days ago, maybe this time it was for good. However, after another ten  minutes discussing what we should do, the bird arrived, from the opposite direction, being mobbed by half a dozen Black-headed Gulls and it dropped onto the riverbank. Great views were obtained by all.

The Squacco Heron at Morpeth

We thought our luck was in, so decided to look for another heron at Cresswell, nearby on the coast, as a Bittern is present in the reed-beds there.Too much to ask for, though it had been glimpsed twice earlier in the day. Compensation in the way of a lovely Barn Owl, as it flew past, presumably hunting  in the daylight after the previous few days of strong winds and rain made up for the second heron.

The Barn Owl at Cresswell

It's a while since I saw a Barn Owl at Waldridge, the last I had flew across the paddock where the Waxwings were yesterday. They are still around and not too long ago whilst chatting to two Policeman parked by the Chester Moor roundabout, they told be they had a Barn Owl hunting over the field with the horses in several times as they were having their break.

Continuing on the twitching  theme, sadly according to Mike, I twitched a pupae in a leaf mine of a micro moth - or according to him a brown bit on a leaf,  at Morpeth. Tom Tams, the Northumberland moth recorder was here a few days ago and said 'Yesterday while waiting for the Squacco Heron on the banks of the river Wansbeck at Morpeth , I noticed mines on the Horse Chestnut tree I was standing under. I took a few leaves home to photograph as I knew about a species of micro moth namely Horse Chestnut Leaf Miner Cameraria ohridella', that affects this particular tree. Later in the evening I had the mines confirmed by Robert Edmunds from the British Leafminers. This is the first confirmation of this species in Northumberland .  Now I have been looking for this species throughout Chester-le-Street the past few weeks as this potentially damaging moth has been moving north quite rapidly and there are many Horse Chestnuts around here, but there has been no sign. The first Durham record was also only a few days ago in Durham City (not by me I hasten to add). However I did manage to find 3 mines on a Horse Chestnut tree (the same tree as Toms?) also, while looking waiting for the Squacco Heron. So there you have it I twitched a micro moth leaf mine- this could be a first?

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Waxwings !

Despite checking hundreds of berry trees in the area on the way to work I haven't had a sniff of a Waxwing this week but I still thought I'd have another look after I did a few jobs in the greenhouse today. Most seemed to have passed through the area but you never know how things can pan out.
I casually came back to the house after a knock on the window from my wife which I wrongly assumed meant my cuppa was ready. "What's those birds up in the trees with a crest she inquired?". Immediate panic. I looked round but I knew even before I saw them that they would be what has been an elusive bird for me these past couple of weeks. There sat up in the Beech trees in what was the paddock of Waldridge Hall farm but a group of Waxwings. 12 of the beauts were fly-catching from the tops. I have a fully berry-laden Asian Firethorn (Pyracantha rogersiana) in the garden but these ones seemed to be happily catching insects on the wing in the bright sunshine. Excellent. They spend an hour or so here and then they gradually drifted off. I could still hear them calling which is a soft  ringing trill, "srrrr" so they haven't gone far.

The Waxwings were more interested in catching flies than munching berries today.

Blue Tit in the garden

My failed attempts during the week to find them did not produce much else but that I'm sure was a combination of the weather and time. A single Skylark and 3 Redwing was the grand total. The bird table is now up and it didn't take long for the Blue Tits to find it so it shouldn't be too long before the other birds also arrive

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A list of moorland birds I failed to see today

Left home just after it stopped raining and apparently it got out quite nice. The weather forecast was right ...... except I was foolish enough to leave Waldridge and go to Commondale on the North York moors. The promise of bird of prey over the moorland was too much,  so off I went. Seventy-five minutes later I was standing by a deserted moorland road, with several like-minded people in thick mist and low cloud which occasionally lifted slightly to allow it to rain. By lunchtime I was back in the house with a list of birds including Rough-legged Buzzard, Common Buzzard, Peregrine, Raven, Hen Harrier, Merlin, Goshawk, Great Grey Shrike, Snow Bunting and just after we left, Richards Pipit being amongst the ones seen here the past few weeks that I did NOT see today. 

Back home a flock of 55 Curlew flew over Waldridge road, from their roost either at the coast or Washington to feed on the rough grassland, mainly beyond Edmondsley as I left. Passing the riverside a Goosander flew past and 13 Pheasant were in the field next to the sewage works by the A1 roundabout, with several others on the side of the motorway. Presumably these are recently released birds from the Lambton estate and more will be hit by the cars than by shotgun pellets.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Gone a Waxwing-ing

A cold but beautiful sunny day so I'm about to pop out for an hour to try and find some Waxwing. They appear to be arriving on a daily basis now, into Durham, as well as the rest of northern England so surely there's some on some berries in a street near here.
It has been a bit lighter during the week so I've managed to look at the berry trees I pass on my way to work in the morning but no joy yet. Still my luck may still be in having found a migrant Long-eared Owl, in a Common Lime tree at Backhouse Park in Sunderland a couple of days ago. It spent the morning there but the number of small birds it attracted got up to about 50 and 3 Mistle Thrushes certainly let it know it wasn't welcome and it had moved on my 12:15.
Last night was the last night of the year for the garden moth scheme and like the other night I caught nothing. I'll put it out occasionally during the winter to catch a few of the winter species but things will be very quiet now until March.

I checked many of the berry-laden trees between Waldridge and the Riverside for Waxwings but I was out of luck. Pity as it was a lovely day, cold but bright, no wind and no rain, it was really nice to be out. The bird of the day was a Common Buzzard that flew over the cricket ground. Mobbed by a few gulls, this adult bird called several times before it drifted out of sight heading south. Most of the gulls took no notice and were happy to continue to roost on the adjacent playing field. I counted 187 Black-headed Gull and a single first winter Common Gull.

1 of 187 Black-headed Gulls
The river was very high and very fast and this probably accounted for the lack of 'exotic' waterfowl. No Whooper or Pink-footed Goose, no Scaup or Mandarin. In fact only a few Mallard were on the water, the rest were on the far bank or on the golf course together with a few Tufted Duck and Moorhen.

However the river being in spate as it was, is ideal for the Goosanders. 13 of them were just below the weir feeding very successfully. Several visitors to the park were watching as they caught fish being swept downstream. It must have taken quite a bit of energy swimming against the flow to remain in one place under the weir. Every now and then they presumably would stop swimming, let the river take them downstream and then they would fly back again.

 Three young Cormorants were perched up roosting on a large dead branch opposite and had also enjoyed a good fishing session. 

Upstream from the weir the river from there to the bend by the nature reserve was much calmer, but very high up the banks. Some of the riverbank is already looking quite bad with erosion.  The local Kingfisher did it's usual fly past obviously preferring the calmer waters here but it was too high for a Grey Wagtail that was content to feed on the main riverside path. No Dippers here either.

Grey Wagtail
The little nature reserve here had a few birds, 5 Redwing, 4 Siskin, 2 Bullfinch and 6 Long-tailed Tit but no Waxwing. With this I decided I would have to wait another day and headed home.