Sunday, 31 October 2010

No lie in for me

I was reminded that I was wishing my life away wishing it was March, so quite rightly, I was up at first light. So no lie in just because the clocks went back and I was up on the fell well before most of the dog walkers who were having that extra hour in bed.

I hadn't been out long went I picked up a large bird of prey coming from the south. It was certainly a buzzard, but the closer it got the better views were and showed it to be an immature Common Buzzard and not that hoped for Rough-leg. Never mind a nice start. 3 Siskin and 8 Skylark flew over and I thought I might have to go straight home to change my underwear when I nearly stood on a female Pheasant that got up from under my feet and flew off calling very loudly. When I say nearly, I do mean that, I'm sure my foot actually brushed the bird. Checking the eastern pools for Jack Snipe without any joy I headed over towards the next couple of pools which are at the Scrogs by Nettlesworth Hill.

Not the South Downs but looking towards Nettlesworth Hill
No name for these that I'm aware of  (please tell me to contrary)  but these pools are either side of the Black Burn by the little footbridge. Anyhow, this area was lifting with birds. 47 Redwing, 7 Fieldfare, 8 Skylark and 18 Meadow Pipit flew over, as well as 21 Lesser Redpoll and 3 Siskin. 2 Goldcrest, 7 House Sparrow and  a Willow Tit were in the Gorse, which still had a few flowers. By the main pool which I have walked around very many times in the past without anything of note, I thought to myself  there wasn't enough vegetation for Jack Snipe.  Then, on the burn side of the pool,  up went a Jack Snipe and headed towards Sacriston. This is not the first time I've flushed one just after thinking, or even announcing, that the area I'm at isn't right for Jack Snipe. Will I ever learn? In the wet field, some Dung Round head Fungi (Panaeolus semiovatus) and several Field Mushroom were showing.

Dung Round head Fungi (Panaeolus semiovatus) 

Every few minutes there was a squark of a Jay and about 5 birds were at this end of the Felledge Wood. Frustratingly, a group of 3 birds flying past reminded me of Waxwing. I didn't know if I should to use my binoculars or try and get a photo. Bad choice, they were over before I could get a decent picture so I'm no wiser. Had a feeling they were Waxwing but certainly not countable.  There are lots in and around Northumberland and hundreds in Cumbria currently, but where are all the Durham Waxwings? There's hardly been a sniff. If or when they come in, the berry trees around the Whitehills pub, Warkworth Drive and the cricket ground are almost certain to produce a few.

 Beany Lane towards Chester Moor usually holds a small flock of Golden Plover. I saw a couple earlier in the autumn but no sign today. The RSPCA Cattery here has a little wood just behind and is probably the best place in the Waldridge area for Nuthatch. I was at least 100 metres away when, as usual,  I heard one calling and within ten minutes saw 2 individuals. I do get them very occasionally in the garden  and they are quite regular around Waldridge Hall farm, but this is the place for them. Stand by the cattery and you are almost certain to hear the ringing 'tuit, tuit, tuit-tuit'  call, even if you don't see them. In the adjacent field a small flock of 7 Chaffinch also has a female Brambling feeding there. 5 Yellowhammer and 4 more Skylark were also in the field. 

The South Burn Woods were almost unrecognisable from last week as there as been so much leaf fall. All of the small paths in the wood were now under a layer of Silver & Downy Birch and Alder leaf and a good 80-90% of the leaves have now fallen.  There is much more Fly Agaric fungi and a species I still need to identify. Two more Jay were here together, 9 Siskin, 3 Bullfinch, with another Willow Tit and a Tree-creeper. I went down to the stream to try and get a better view when a familiar call and flash of blue showed a Kingfisher flying by. A campion still in flower by the road, even though looks quite white in the photo, looked more pinkish in real life and is in fact a hybrid between Red Campion and White Campion aptly named Pink Campion (Silene x hampeana).  A fine finish to the morning and so glad I went out and that I've got all this winter to enjoy the nature of Waldridge.
Pink Campion

Saturday, 30 October 2010

5 days of dark

First posting since last Sunday, mainly because it was dark when I left for work and dark when I came back.  With only 4 moths of four species in the trap this morning, which is considerably better than the none and one on the previous two attempts, I'm already wishing it was March. The fours singletons overnight were Angle Shades, Grey Pine Carpet, Light Brown Apple Moth and a Blair's Shoulder-knot. 

Single 7-spot Ladybird and Light Brown Apple Moth strayed into the house on Monday/Wedsnesday

The Tawny Owls have started calling again and I have heard them calling from the Paddock or the Hermitage Wood the last few nights. With the wind blowing strongly from the west or south-west all week, the only other bird records of note I have had are a few Siskin overhead, a flock of 20 Curlew heading west and last Tuesday I saw a flock of about 140 Wood Pigeon heading SW.

A single Common Daisy  flowered in the front lawn this morning, a week after the last cut of the year.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Merlin - Year tick

A cold northerly wind this morning so I waited until the afternoon when it had dropped a bit, to take an afternoon stroll. The sunny spells were quite pleasant if you could get some shelter from the wind so I walked through Felledge Wood and across Daisy Hill then back along the road to Waldridge. On the bird front,  2 Willow Tit in the woods and a third in a thick clump of Gorse, a young Stonechat at the latter and small numbers of Lesser Redpoll, Siskin, Yellowhammer, Bullfinch, Fieldfare and Meadow Pipit were about but generally keeping low in the wind.

Meadow Pipit - small numbers throughout the fell

40 Redwing were roosting in a patch of Downy Birch along Waldridge Lane where  the bird of the day, a Merlin, a female by the size of it,  flew over the road  then over the South Burn Woods towards the Hermitage. Excellent -  its many years since I had one here but it looks like it could be a good year with a fair number being reported in the north-east. What I want now is Great-Grey Shrike and Rough-legged Buzzard. The fell is ideal habitat for both of these rare winter visitors. The Merlin, like Friday's Scaup is the first I have seen anywhere this year, so not a bad weekend. It looks like this regular watching is paying off.
Even though its getting very late for flora, there were still quite a number in flower, many,  not surprising being ruderal weeds, ie plant species that are first to colonise disturbed areas. Amongst the plants I saw in flower today were late flowering Heather, Yarrow, Gorse, Ox-eye Daisy, Bramble, Wild Angelica, Meadow & Creeping Buttercups and Autumnal Hawkbit plus Scentless Mayweed, Prickly Sow-thistle, Red & Alsike Clovers, Red & White Dead-nettles and Common Ragwort.  

Wild Angelica at Wanister Bog - still in flower

On the fruit front, due to the late spring and settled weather in mid summer it's an excellent autumn for fruit and berries with the trees and bushes on the fell still laden with things like Elder, Rowan, Bramble, Hawthorn, Rose-hips, etc. The large established Pear tree by the Fell/Daisy Hill boundary fence is absolutely full of fruit and masses have already dropped to the ground. They are a fair size too.

Fruit of the Pear Tree by Daisy Hill

Interestingly though,  the Sessile Oak trees in the South Burn Wood had a mass of acorns earlier, but those on the fell and other woodlands have not done nearly as well. I suspect that many oaks at the former site are in fact hybrids and this may somehow account for it.

Fungi were nearly all gone with the wet and frost of the last week but there is still lots of Birch Polypore on the trees in Felledge Wood

Fungi - Birch Polypore
 and a good quantity of grey lichen on the old oak trees Net-marked Parmelia (Parmelia sulcata).

Lichen - Net-marked Parmelia

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Scaup-ing in the rain

Moth trap empty apart from rainwater and soggy egg-boxes and as I headed down and checked the riverside at Chester-le-Street it was driving rain in the north-west wind. Not very pleasant at all!.
No sign of the Scaup or the Mandarin though the other birds were still present but I sure I just could not see them due to the weather. Rain supposed to stop later so another visit this afternoon by the looks of it.

Late afternoon and I'm back, the odd heavy shower but it's dry in between and sure enough everything is present. The pair of Mandarin are again on the far bank, the male up on the riverbank as usual, the female swimming around in that little sheltered bay opposite the feeding area.

Mandarin drake

The Pink-footed Goose was also on the riverbank opposite and the Whooper Swan was swimming with the Mute Swans. I'm still waiting the result of where this bird was rung from the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust but they did tell me it could be a while.

Pink-footed Goose

Mute and Whooper Swan
The bird I came down to see was the Scaup of course and it performed quite well. Often will the Mallard and would come closer to shore when they did but always at the back of the pack. It looked a little smaller last night in the dark, than today and allowed good enough views to rule out its rare relation, the North American Lesser Scaup.  The high crown and rounded neck, the amount of black on the bill and the bird stretched it wings several times and showed the long white wing stripe extending nearly to the tip of the wings.  These all point to this being a Scaup (or Greater Scaup) than its American cousin.

Immature male Scaup

Immature male Scaup showing the broad bill and the black on the tip
extending beyond the nail.

Tufted Duck on the river for comparison
A Kingfisher flew by several times as I watched the birds but never perched up. Probably because of the rain, the stretch of water downstream from the weir must have had a considerable amount of fish as seven Goosander and three Cormorant were feeding there, and frequently coming up with a catch.  
Amongst the few other things seen were a small party of tits that flew across the river to where I was and contained Blue Tit, Coal Tit, Great Tit and Long-tailed Tit.

Friday, 22 October 2010

69 Swans a swimming ... and a Scaup

Nothing in the moth trap overnight which wasn't too surprising and I'm expecting the same again tonight. An early riser Red Admiral was on the Sedum 'Autumn Joy' in the garden this morning, I suppose it may have even roosted on it.

News yesterday of an immature Scaup on the river at the Riverside Park got being down there after work but the light was fading fast. Still managed to see the bird but it was in the middle of the river and I only had my little binoculars with me. Looks like another visit tomorrow. The Whooper Swan and Pink-footed Goose were both still present and the pair of Mandarin were probably on  the far bank but the visibility was too bad to confirm. I counted the waterfowl as I walked along from the feeding area to the the Cong Burn outlet. 298 Mallard (failed to get 300), 7 Tufted Duck, 11 Goosander, 69 Mute Swan (as well as the Whooper and Pink-foot), 11 Moorhen, 1 Cormorant and 2 Grey Heron. The pre-roost gull flock consisted of 148 Black-headed Gull, 3 Herring Gull and a Common Gull. No Dipper could be seen in the murk but a dazzling azure blue flash of a Kingfisher bombing downstream was easily seen. Finally 4 Siskin flew over to roost in trees on the golf course.

Hopefully some pictures tomorrow but rain forecast.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


The wind has swung round to a cold northerly blow so I spent an hour and a bit this morning looking out for a bit of VisMig. VisMig is the birders name for visible migration where you find a vantage point and watch the skies for birds flying over on their migration. You count the number and species that pass over. I found my nice little spot complete with bench and spent a pleasurable 80 minutes looking upwards at first light.

548 birds of 23 species counted, the totals were as follows.
Mallard - 2
Lapwing - 106
Golden Plover - 9
Curlew - 14
Herring Gull - 18
Black-headed Gull - 32
Great-black Backed Gull - 6
Common Gull - 4
Wood Pigeon - 118
Fieldfare - 5
Redwing - 27
Blackbird - 7
Song Thrush - 1
Mistle Thrush - 3
Skylark - 3
Pied Wagtail - 7
Grey Wagtail - 2
Chaffinch - 12
Siskin - 25
Lesser Redpoll - 18
Greenfinch - 6
Linnet - 43
Common Starling - 80

VIzMig view point

A very nice morning, though it ended with me finding a dead Grey Squirrel which looked as if it had been hit by a car,  on Waldridge Lane.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

One Oak trees worth of acorns gone underground this month

The first frost overnight. For various reasons I had put the moth trap out again  but deep down I knew it would be a waste of time, which it was - zero moths of zero species. The cold did not put off the local Tawny Owls that were very vocal last night, and the one that came and perched on next door's roof to call,  woke us up several times during the night.

Around lunchtime 3 Skylark flew west over the house as did 7 Redwing. At least three Jay were in South Burn Woods, on their acorn scavenger hunt they do at this time of year. I stood and watched one of them burying an acorn in some soft earth, banging it into the ground quite heavily with its bill.  I remember reading somewhere that a Jay can  carry nine acorns  in its crop and one in its beak and as it stores the ones it cannot eat, it can bury 3,000 in a month. A fully mature oak tree like the ones around here can produce up to 9,000 acorns so these 3 Jays will bury a whole trees worth of acorns this month. Also a small party or tribe of 8 Long-tailed Tit, 3 Bullfinch and 5 Siskin were feeding in the woods.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Chester riverside duck zoo

A quiet night last night on the moth front with only 4 moths of 4 species present this morning. Two of the moths were micro moths - the almost ubiquitous Light Brown Apple Moth and a migrant, the Diamond-back Moth. This latter moth is tiny but originates from Europe, particularly the Mediterranean and can arrive at the coast in its thousands, with a number drifting inland.  The other two were a Red-line Quaker and a Spruce Carpet.  3 of the large Caddis Fly Phryganea grandis were also present.
Several groups of Redwing continued to head west as did a single Sparrowhawk, today but generally it was rather quiet. Usually by now there is a decent sized Golden Plover flock in the fields by Beaney Lane or in the fields opposite, on the other side of the A167, but there was only 5 birds there today, together with 34 Lapwing.
The Wear at Chester-le-Street Riverside Park is currently doing a good job of imitating the duck zoo at Washington as today it held the Whooper Swan a I saw the other week , together with a Pink-footed Goose and a male Mandarin as well as Mute Swan, Mallard, Tufted Duck and 3 Goosander. The Mandarin was in the water  under the overhang on the far bank and looking rather inconspicuous considering its gaudy colouration . 2 Dipper were seen several times downstream past the the sewage works where a Kingfisher darted off it fishing post towards the A1 bridge before I was aware it was there.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

3 November, 1 December

Quite overcast last night with a little drizzle but I put the moth trap out. 11 moths of probably 8 species was better than I expected and produced a new one for the year. The catch included 3 November Moth species which I am going to keep and examine over the weekend but suspect are one November Moth and two Autumnal Moths. A single December Moth was the first since ....  well actually,  last December!, A Chestnut was the first I've seen since March and my second Rusty Dot Pearl of  the year plus  2 Silver Y were migrants.  2 Red-line Quakers and a Spruce Carpet made up the rest of the catch.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Two Swallows equals a smile on my face

A short walk on the fell revealed a few birds with little groups of Redwings and Blackbirds scattered throughout and one and twos flying over every few minutes. Several Siskin, Bullfinch and 10 Lesser Redpoll were also about and there was a marked increase in the Chaffinch numbers. The number of additional birds probably means they have been joined by some from the Continental. Two birds coming towards me from the north turned out to be 2 juvenile Swallows. What was nice was that for some reason when they got closer, they headed for me and and started to circle and call over my head for several minutes before heading off to the south-west towards Africa. I know its daft, but that put a big smile on my face as I headed back home.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Goose City - there's more

Another Goose species today when seven Canada Geese flew over heading east first thing this morning. A few more Redwing headed west at the same time. There's been several Pied Wagtail flying over the past few days, but these were heading towards the town centre. The roost and pre-roost of this species on the former Co-op building and the sewage works is beginning to build up. I counted 46 in the supermarket car-park as I walked through it a little later. It will get to several hundred at least by mid winter.

3 more fungi from Saturday

Birch Polypore
Variable-coloured Bracket Fungi
Parasol Mushroom (Macrolepiota procera

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Fell Fungi Foray

Found quite a few fungi yesterday and took some notes and pictures. I find many of them quite tricky so had to pop back again today to check out a few that I couldn't identify.

There were still Redwings flying over with several small flocks heading west. The woods still held 30+ Lesser Redpoll, 8 Siskin and 2 Brambling plus a handful of Goldcrest and a single Grey Lag Goose flew over. A Chiffchaff was seen a few hundred metres way from yesterday's bird on the fell. This bird showed a slight wingbar and was a touch on the grey side but did not call and I suspect it was not a British bird but from somewhere to the north and east.


I managed to name 13 species of fungi yesterday but failed on 3 others but I'm happy enough to get this many identified.  Three reddish ones I found were.

Orange Birch Bolete 
Fly Agaric
Crimson Waxcap

I'll post a few more next time.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Migration, migration, migration.

The weather conditions were and continue to be excellent for migration and immigration, with a number of scarce and rare birds turning up at the coast. There seemed to be a constant stream of Redwings calling and heading west after dark over the house last night. The moth trap was out as usual on Friday night and though (in fact because) it was misty and damp,  it was quite muggy with the temperature up on the past few days. This morning the contents consisted of 38 moths of 16 species.  The best was a Red Underwing amongst the sames species I have caught over the past week or so, plus single Satellite, Snout, Angle Shades, the micro moth Acleris sparsana and a Canary-shouldered Thorn.

Red Underwing

A walk over the fell at lunchtime was also very productive with some obvious bird migration going on. Several small groups of Redwing, together with 3 Skylark, 2 Brambling and 5 Siskin were seen heading west/south-west. There were more Redwing in the trees in both South Burn wood and on the fell. Goldcrest numbers were substantially hit last winter and have been rather scarce since. However today, they appeared to be in every hedgerow and groups of trees. I saw well over 30.  It was certainly a day for finches, as  group of 4 Crossbill also flew over as I walked around and I counted 51 Lesser Redpoll feeding in the birches by Brass Castle Pond, with 6 Bullfinch and another 8 Siskin seen on the fell.

The Highland Cattle introduced a couple of weeks ago at Wanister Bog have trampled and reduced a small area of the rough grass but still have a bit to go.

Highland Cattle at Wanister Bog
A House Sparrow was in a small bit of scrub in the middle of fell took a while to see well and looked a bit lonely. A single Chiffchaff called and was seen with a Willow Tit in the next tree. Back through South Burn Woods, as well as Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Sparrowhawk,  2 more Willow Tit were in the woods and a late Southern Hawker was patrolling the main path before landing in a tall Gorse bush.

Just before the exit, what I initially thought was a Speckled Wood butterfly before realising was a moth was watched for some time through my binoculars before it landed. It turned out to be a male Vapourer Moth, a rather late one as it happens.

Finally, 4 Curlew flew over before I got home.  I saw and photographed quite a few fungi today which I need to check on their identity but that's for another day.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Insects, Rockroses & Titmice

Not much in the trap overnight with 9 moths of 5 species, those being Blair's Shoulder-knot (4), Setaceous Hebrew Character (2), Spruce Carpet (1), Red-green Carpet (1) and Yellow-line Quaker (1). I thought it might be a little better but the 7C temperature seemed cooler with the northerly wind. Also in the trap were two specimens of Britain's largest Caddis Fly (Phryganea grandis).

The Caddis Fly (Phryganea grandis)

Two Speckled Wood on the Ivy near the house but it looks like it could be next year before I get this butterfly as a garden 'tick'. All Ladybirds hibernate as adults and when I was collecting some late seed in the garden for a seed exchange,  I found  several Seven-spot  Ladybirds already hibernating in the spent seed pods of one of the Cistus as well as well over a dozen Common Earwig (Forficula auricularia). They were in one of the Gum Rockrose (Cistus ladanifer) which is a very sticky and insects usually avoid it. Presumably because of this and that the seed pods are very hard, they make excellent hiding places for invertebrates. I have noted both Blue Tit and Great Tit searching these plants in the garden during the window but never suspected that they held anything of real interest to them. But in fact a whole paper has been written about them Blue Tits exploiting Gum Cistus capsules as sources of arnthropod food. 

7-spot Ladybird
The winter corvid roost is starting to attract numbers now with 120 Jackdaw and 35 Rook using it this evening.

Monday, 4 October 2010

An October Spring day

A short walk over the fell was more like a spring walk thanks to the sun, which still had a bit of warmth to it, unlike some of the recent autumnal weather we've been having. This was highlighted by a group of 9 late Swallow feeding over Daisy Hill. These birds didn't seem in any hurry and were present all the time I was there. It looks like there were good numbers of Swallows moving through despite the rather late date and it was nice to see so many of these harbingers of Spring so late.
A couple each of both Red Admiral and Small Tortoiseshell and a single Peacock butterfly were also seen thanks to the weather. In the garden 7 Blackbird were in the one and only Holly bush and were rather well behaved with each other and may well have immigrants,  as was a fly-over Siskin.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Goose City

Heavy rain all morning but it was just starting when I left the house at 07:45. To prove that Waldridge is becoming a hot goose spot following the recent fly-overs of both Pink-footed and Barnacle Goose, a flock of 17 Grey Lag Geese did the same. This untidy flock was flying low and also heading west but I suspect that unlike the other two species these don't have a wild pedigree, more likely originating from  one of the feral flocks such as at Lamesley or the Houghton area.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Barnacles and Quakers

I put the trap out again last night as it was garden moth night again and the result was fairly similar to the previous nights but a couple of different species. Both Red-lined Quaker and Yellow-lined Quaker were present, the latter was new for the year and in total there were 29 moths of 11 species plus a large Geometrid moth that flew off from the outside of the trap before I got near it. The one that got away .. I hate it when that happens because I'm not sure what it could have been.

Yellow-line Quaker

Red-line Quaker

There were 4 species of Hoverfly on the Honeysuckle and Japanese Anemone in the garden late morning including 20+ Syrphus ribesii  plus a Common Carder Bee but no butterflies even though there was a Speckled Wood on the Common Ivy flowers just around the corner.

At 12:07 a Skylark flew over SW calling and whilst I watched it, I heard a barking noise in the distance. Grabbing my binoculars I scanned the skies and found a small skein of 30 Barnacle Geese coming towards me and heading due west. There were a lot seen at the coast last weekend and I saw a skien at Sunderland on Thursday, so this is an excellent time to try and snatch a glimpse of them. I checked their course on Google maps and if they continued in a straight line they would head over Consett and the south end of Derwent Reservoir, over the north part of the Lake District hitting the west coast at Silloth, directly opposite Southerness Point on the Solway Firth. Slap in the middle of their wintering ground!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Merveille du Jour

I kept off the fell today as yesterday it was reported "Police searching for a 72-year-old man reported missing from his home in Chester-le-Street have said this evening that a body has been found in woodland in the Waldridge Fell area". Many more dog-walkers than usual and a few more obvious sightseers were already arriving so I kept away.

Put the moth trap out last night and 27 moths of 10 species was the best haul for 3 weeks and including my first Merveille du Jour since 2006, a really fresh one.  

Merveille du Jour

There was also a nice Flounced Chestnut amongst the main occupants which were Red-green Carpet (8), Blair's Shoulder-knot(7),  Red-line Quaker(3) and Spruce Carpet(3).  So overall a rather nice catch.

That bit of sun yesterday must have woken a few things up as there were 5 species of butterfly in the garden yesterday too.