Sunday, 30 January 2011

Dead Fell Walking

Still a bit cold with it being just above zero as I left for a walk this morning. All the standing water was frozen and there wasn't even that much bird song. It didn't take me long to work out it was going to be a poor morning. In South Burn Woods, I was standing quietly listening for whatever when a large branch crashed down off a large Crack Willow after it snapped off. It was then I noticed how many trees had come down or had pieces broken off since the big freeze. The weight of the snow and freezing temperatures have certainly taken their toll. It will be interesting to seen how many are dead when spring arrives.

One of a number of snow damaged trees in South Burn Woods
Apart from a few Siskin there was very little about, so I headed off. I spotted a few winter-fruiting fungi that were on show, Variable-coloured Bracket Fungi, Birch Polypore and Velvet Shank (Flammulina velutipes)

Velvet-shanks in Fell-edge Wood

and masses of  lichens forming a 'mini-forest', most being Oakmoss - Evernia prunastri.

 Part of the Lichen Forest in South Burn Wood, with a close up of Oakmoss below

On the fell, things were just as quiet, all the pools were frozen and birds were few and far between. In fact it was dead. At one point walking over the Daisy Hill reclaimed area, the only birds I saw were three Carrion Crows in a mile and a half stretch. On the rest apart from a few Redwing and a fly over Great Spotted Woodpecker, there was nothing else of note seen at all. I walked on, past the patch of planted Juniper which are coming on very well and unaffected by the weather, then headed back along Waldridge Road. Carrying on the dead day, a small Red Fox was lying dead by the side of the road, having been hit by a passing car a day or two ago by the looks of it. On the homeward stretch earlier than I thought, but the large patch of Gorse near the village had most of the bushes with a few flowers on reminding me it will not be too long before spring.

One for Sorrow
 This Magpie was one of the few birds seen today

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Ee bah gum - Where's me swans

Things are still somewhat quiet on the nature front hence a week of no posts.  I am still even waiting for my first moth to turn up in the trap.  I did find the nest site of the local Mistle Thrush the other day, with both birds nest building in the fork of an Ash tree and a pair of Collared Dove will probably be not far behind them as their displaying and singing is at it's peak now.
I had a very quick look at the Riverside Park  the other day. The male Scaup and the female Mandarin are both still present even though the majority of the Tufted Ducks and Goosanders have now left. I was looking specifically for the Mandarin as earlier in the day I saw a female again on Mowbray Park Lake in Sunderland (much easier to find by the way) as I had wondered if it was the same bird commuting but it appears there are 2 females in the area. The Whooper Swan that moved off a couple of weeks ago, you may recall, was rung in North Yorkshire which I discovered when I made a note of the ring number. When I was making inquiries I was asked to make a note of  any Mute Swan rings I saw, which I subsequently did. An email back during the week informed me that all of these birds were also rung in North Yorkshire either at the same or in the general area of where the Whooper was rung. I had wrongly assumed they had been rung locally if not at the park itself,  but it would appear that the Whooper had followed these Mutes north. As the Whooper took off with 20 Mute Swans and went to Brasside it could be that these 20+ birds all came from Yorkshire together. Interestingly, I saw the other day that two of the North Yorkshire rung Mutes are still present in the park. There was a large increase in the swan numbers at the riverside this winter, so I wonder just how many of these are in fact Yorkshire birds?

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Shopping for songbirds

I could say all is quiet but the amount of bird song at dawn at the moment disputes that. This morning for example, at 06:15hrs and despite it being only just above freezing and a heavy frost, Waldridge's garden birds were singing their hearts out. From the garden I could hear 4 Blackbirds, 3 Robins, 2 Wrens, 1 Dunnock, 1 Great Tit, 1 Collared Dove and a drumming Great spotted Woodpecker as well as surprisingly 3 different Song Thrushes. The latter just goes to show how many birds live locally as I really thought there was only the one pair of the latter within earshot of the garden. A Jay also flew over, which I only see now and then but I had another fly over Sunderland city centre yesterday,  so I wonder if some are on the move at the moment?
Also yesterday, walking through Chester-le-Street, I took a shortcut through the St. Cuthberts Walk Shopping Centre before the shops were open. I have seen the odd Feral Pigeon and House Sparrow inside (ie indoors) but today there was a Blackbird and 2 Pied Wagtail hopping about. The doors were wedged open which is presumably how they got in but as there was no sign today I hope they managed to get out alright.
Later, my first moth of the year, not in the trap, that's been empty on the few non-freezing nights I've had it out, but sitting on a shady wall during the middle of the day. It was a male Pale Brindled Beauty. The males of this species fly from January to March looking for females, which are quite different being completely wingless and can be found on tree trunks. This thing of flightless females is called being apterous, a feature which is often found in moths which emerge in the winter months. I didn't have my camera with me, nor my phone, but (sadly?) usually have some plastic pot or similar on my person, so I potted it up and brought it indoors to photograph later.

Pale Brindled Beauty - my first moth of the year

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Where are my boundaries?

The local Tawny Owls were getting rather excited last night with 3 birds hooting and or 'kvicking' for hours despite the strong wind. I suspect some territorial dispute between the pair and a new male on the scene was taking place.
  The last of the snow has gone and the temperature is in double figures here, the first time since November. 11.6C to be exact, now my Christmas present is working fully. So you would think its would be good to get out ......wrong, a very blowy NW wind and driving rain would only make an idiot go out first thing this morning, so out I went. Venturing a little further afield for a change,  outside my Waldridge 'patch' area and into Gateshead but it wasn't too long before I was home again. Back in Waldridge the wind had dropped and there was quite a bit of bird song with 5+ Robin, 2 Blackbird and 3 Wrens singing. A Great Spotted Woodpecker called in the paddock, which reminds me, I had a Green Woodpecker yesterday, flying over the A167 by Plawsworth. A lone Grey Lag Goose flew over the house calling heading west  Interestingly, I twice saw a single Grey Lag earlier at  Birtley reedbed pools doing a similar thing. It could well have been the same bird.
The garden feeders have been nothing like as busy recently and with a maximum of only 8 Wood Pigeon, its rather civilised out there. The pair of Chaffinch have settled down and are almost always present whenever I look out. 
One of the resident Chaffinches
Also in the garden, a look around found me a weed, Hairy Bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta) my first of the year as was some Downy Birch (Betula pubescens) which had just come into flower and I saw earlier just around the corner.
Earlier this afternoon  2 Linnet also flew over the house calling, this latter species is new for my 2011 Waldridge patch. I was asked the other day where my Waldridge boundaries are. Basically what I'm calling my patch is anywhere within the old Chester-le-Street town boundary but as long as I walked there from the house. This type of patch area is becoming more popular with birders and often called OFFH  not One Floor from Heaven (a Norwegian dance party) but On Foot From House. So there you have it, my OFFH list for 2011 currently stands at 77 birds, 2 mammals and 5 flowering plants

Friday, 14 January 2011

Two year ticks

With the temperature getting milder, it nearly reached double figures today, things have been rather quiet. Today I did get a local year tick however when a Lesser Black-backed Gull flew over this morning.  Apart from that,  not very much but there has been a noticeable increase in Waxwing records in the NE the past week so I'm hopeful some will turn up in the next few days. I have also noticed an increase in the number of Common Gulls both around the fell, and later today at the Riverside Park.

No sign of the Whooper Swan down there, as that has now moved off to Brasside Pond in Durham apparently, with a group of 30 Mute Swans, now the waters have thawed. The Scaup, 9 Goosanders and the female Mandarin were still present amongst the mass of Mallards but a lot of the Tufted Ducks have also disappeared, presumably to stiller waters. A nice mixed flock of Redwing with a few Fieldfare and Blackbirds were on the grass near the feeding station.  Wandering down river, past the sewage works to the A1 but no sign of any Dippers. I could blame this on the water levels still being very high but on the bend past the sewage works there is a little island in the river, and there perched up was, not only was a Kingfisher but also rather more unexpectedly a Green Sandpiper. As this stretch to Chester New Bridge gets rather less disturbed I carried on hoping for the elusive Mealy Redpoll in a Lesser flock. A mixed group of 40 Siskin & Goldfinch unfortunately did not hold any, nor was there any Hawfinch in that corner of Lambton. Still I'll not give up. With the gull and sandpiper, that brings me to 76 bird species for the year in the Waldridge area..

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Deer me, rare finch failure

The snow from the other day has virtually gone and I thought I would go looking for rare finches today. Two species to be precise, Mealy Redpoll and Hawfinch. It would appear that most Redpoll flocks in the north-east are now turning up Mealies and there have been Hawfinch sightings at 2 spots in the Wear valley this week so I thought I'd have a try.
A Goldcrest in the hedge by the house was a good start. I quickly found what appears to be the only Lesser Redpoll flock in the Waldridge Fell area but it only contained 12 birds and certainly no Mealies. There were other finches around, a large flock of Chaffinch, good numbers of Bullfinch and 2, possibly 3 finch flocks, each holding 40-50 Siskin. As for Hawfinch, this has become a really rare bird now, not that it was ever common. I have seen this species twice in the past around here. Once a brief view of 2 birds in the woods at Lumley Castle, and secondly, much better views of a singleton at the Pelton end of the Cong Burn. So that's what I did next.

Part of Chaffinch flock

Walking from the village and then through the woods was  quite difficult as much of the pathways were very slippery with ice or were very slippery with mud, in other words very slippery. It was a tough, unrewarding slog through with very little to be seen. A few small Siskin flocks and a couple of single Lesser Redpolls and not much else. No Hawfinch but I thought I'd give Lumley Castle a go, so I carried on through South Burns and the town and over the river to Lumley Castle. I'd didn't go into the park to look at the waterfowl but did see a Kingfisher as it shot under the bridge as I walked over .... what excellent timing.

Rabbit by the golf course

The woods here were like the Cong Burn, very wet and quiet. A few more Siskin and 2 Great spotted Woodpecker but again no Hawfinch.  As I was rather damp, muddy and hungry I called it a day. By the time I got home it was quite pleasant and sunny so a quick bite and I was back on the fell with my camera.
The large flock of 60 Chaffinch I refound and checked again but still could not find a Brambling in with them. Males were outnumbering the females by 7+ to 1 and were probably continental birds not locals. Another Great spotted Woodpecker was seen and a dozen Redwing flew out of the bushes they seem to have spent all winter in. Pairs of Bullfinches were at many spots and certainly do not seem to have been affected by the cold weather.

Pair of Bullfinch

Wandering around I noticed two white flashes which turned out to be the back ends of two Roe Deer and gave rather good views.  They appear to be more difficult to see these days probably due to all the dogs, as the population generally is increasing well.

One of 2 Roe Deer seen on the fell this afternoon
Could not find any more redpoll flocks though there are very good numbers of Siskin and other finches around and as the sun dropped I headed home again.

The moon was on show all afternoon

Friday, 7 January 2011

Feral Swans and roosting Wrens

Cold, wet, and a bit of snow, not ideal watching weather and to prove it an hours wandering produced very little, in fact nothing that I haven't already already seen this year.
I did get another email regarding the Whooper Swan down at the riverside park. It had been rung on 26th August (not September), this year on the river Ouse at Cawood, York. Not surprisingly with it's tameness and now it's ringing date, this is a feral, not a truly wild bird. There was a similar tame and ringed bird I saw in Gateshead a few years ago. This bird was also a feral Yorkshire bird, this one had been rung at Fountains Abbey near Ripon.
Back in the garden, a pair of Chaffinch have taken up residence and seem to be ever present despite the Robin's attempts to evict them. Whilst watching the antics late this afternoon, two Wren appeared but instead of feeding around the back fence as usual they quietly sneaked into a nest box by the pond. They never came out again so I'm assuming I have a wren roost in the garden. No more appeared, a pity, as roosts like this have had 20 plus birds, three layers deep inside the box.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Failed finch-finding field trip

Still rather cold and now wet too - I shouldn't be such a wimp. Anyway I braved it outdoors and went checking the Redpolls as there must be a Mealy or an Arctic somewhere around here .... surely. Only 12 Lesser Redpolls in South Burn Wood but 3 Willow Tit and a Great spotted Woodpecker were nice. In the past I've had some decent flocks of Redpolls by the Wear near Bog Wood and Holm Hill., so I decided why not and check it out. Access to this area between Chester Moor and the river is rather tricky to say the least and it might be best not to mention how I got there. It was very quiet but I did get a flock of 30 Grey Lag Geese heading east probably back to the Houghton Gate area where they regularly are. No Redpolls at all and apart from a small flock of Redwing it was a birding wasteland. Nevertheless I carried on along the river a little while and I heard and then saw a Dipper bombing downstream. A little while later what was probably a second bird did the same. Quite chuffed with 2 new birds for the year I retraced my tracks and just before I turned back away from the river, the call of a Kingfisher made me turn round and I got the briefest of views before it went around the corner.
I never noticed the Gorse in flower coming down but it was obvious coming back, so unlike all the bushes on the fell which have no sign of any flowers now or within the next couple of weeks. Just as I got back onto the A167 I noticed a large bird of prey which turned out to be the local Common Buzzard which was soaring over Chester Dene and drifted back towards the Cricket ground. Back through the Hermitage woods but it was getting rather late now and apart from a few Coal Tit that was it for the day.
4 new birds today taking my Waldridge List for the year to 73.

Monday, 3 January 2011

A few more for the year

Busy this morning so I had to make do with a quick walk around around this afternoon. The South Burn woods were a little more lively than on New Years day and produced Treecreeper, Greenfinch, Stock Dove,  Reed Bunting and fly over Great Black backed Gull and Woodcock,. I continued walking over the fell flushing a couple of Grey Partridge as I approached Daisy Hill pools and getting both Curlew and Meadow Pipit flying over. 3 Common Snipe were flushed from the Typha (Reedmace) despite the pool being frozen and then a Green Woodpecker called. It was planned I would go back at this point but as I was doing quite well I thought I'd chance my luck and plod on to where I got Jack Snipe and Stonechat at the back end of last year.  A Kestrel was perched up at the south end of the Fell Edge Wood and then the male Stonechat popped up within metres of where he was last year. My luck was in but I still didn't really expect to put the Jack Snipe up again after all this cold and deep snow, of which there were still some sizable patches and anyway it appeared all of the standing water is still frozen. But, most of the time I flush Jack Snipe is when I don't expect it. Though things were going good I really had my doubts as I could see the pool was completely frozen, and then at the stream coming from it which was running in a narrow but fast trickle,  Jack himself!. The Jack Snipe was bouncing up and down as if on a spring,  so I slowly put my bag down, got the zip open, put my hands on my camera and he was off. It went around the corner and more than likely landed but I'm not sure where and could not find him again. I could now go home a happy man.
Cutting across past the stables and onto Beany Lane where the local Nuthatches gave themselves up without too much trouble and where I also got my first Skylark and Mistle Thrush of the year. Heading back towards Chester Moor, a plaintive call made me look up just in time to see a flock of 25 Golden Plover flying over in V formation heading south. My final new bird of the day a Fieldfare in the hedge together with 5 Redwing.
19 new birds today making my Waldridge List 69.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

A Happy 2011

The New Year went off with a bang,  many bangs unfortunately, as it seems someone was selling off cheap fireworks which were going off continuously well after one o'clock. This meant there was no chance I was going to hear Tawny Owl but, one final listen at 01:25hrs, just before I called it a night and there he was, quietly hooting from the South Burn Woods. So the year list was standing at one when I set off to do some birding 6 hours later.

I added another 17 as I slowly walked through Garden Farm Estate, in order, Rook, House Sparrow, Dunnock, Blue Tit, Collared Dove, Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Wren, Redwing, Robin, Common Starling, Magpie, Carrion Crow, Black-headed Gull, Common Gull, Feral Pigeon and Jackdaw.
Along Chester-le-Street main Street and I was still ticking, adding another three, Goldfinch, Herring Gull and Pied Wagtail, bringing the total to 21.

3 Goldfinches just of Chester-le-Street main Street

I followed the South Burn to the river and walked along the riverside path adding Mallard, an immature Grey Heron in the South Burn,

The young Grey Heron on the South Burn
On or by the Wear, 20+ Goosander, Moorhen, Mute Swan, Coot, now 161 Tufted Duck, last year's Scaup, Canada Goose, the Whooper Swan, Grey Wagtail, 5 Cormorant, Chaffinch, 5 Lesser Redpoll, 2 Bullfinch and the female Mandarin. The latter was now upstream, above the weir, in the calmer waters with about 10 Mallard, tucked into the bank and not that easy to see.

Female Mandarin keeping a low profile

I'm not sure how I missed the Scaup the other day, but I'll use the excuse that it must have been with the 20 or so extra Tufted Duck that are also here today. Not bad going, the list was now 37 but no sign of any Dipper or Kingfisher.

The not so elusive Scaup

Continuing on along the river past the cricket ground and through the ridiculously called riverside wildlife area which usually has more dogs that wildlife.This stretch produced 4 Little Grebe,  a Willow Tit by the river, 2 Jays on the opposite bank, several Great Tit, 2 Siskin, a Pheasant, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and 2 Coal Tit. I came out onto the A167, walked along a bit and crossed over and through the Hermitage Woods, then along Waldridge Lane and onto the fell. Adding extra birds was now getting tough but Long-tailed Tit (4 separate  groups), a large female Sparrowhawk, a single Goldcrest, a Song Thrush and finally 8 Yellowhammer were all finally seen giving a total of 50. Not too but quite a few common birds missed or to be got another day.

The origin of the Chinese Goose at the Park is perhaps not China after all!
There's still patches of snow about  including a bit in the garden so it's not surprising that apart from the birds there was little else noted. I did see Phellinus igniarius (Willow Bracket Fungi) on one of the dead Crack Willows by the riverside but the only plants in flower I noted were the same three as last week,  the three trees with their catkins - Silver Birch, Hazel and Alder

The three species of tree in flower - Hazel (left), Silver Birch (middle) and Alder (right)
Alder catkin buds and cones