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.

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Time to put the bird table back up

Moth trap out overnight but only a couple of moths present, 2 Light Brown Apple Moth and an Angle Shades. Nine Siskin flew over calling as I was examining it and a Great-spotted Woodpecker called in the half-light in the paddock.

Time to put the feeders and bird table up again as there were already a few tits in the garden and a single Long-tailed Tit arrived in the plum tree just after I went back indoors.
Checked many of the suitable berry trees for Waxwing on my way to work but still no joy. Still I reckon its just a matter of time.