Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Owls About That..

 The Northumbrian coast has thrown up a real smorgasbord of avian delights over the past few days with common and scarce birds a like putting on a fabulous show at a host of localities. A distinct theme appears to have developed over the past couple of nights with owls the undisputed flavor of the week. Like other birders I am accustomed to fleeting glimpses of owls and like most people I am usually content with these brief but enjoyable encounters. The last few days however have seen a chance to this with a number of up close and personal encounters with a host of usually timid species. First up a superb Long-Eared Owl at Widdrington Moor a few nights past. The bird in question (shown in the photos below) was first spotted perched on a fence post as we drove along Eshott Road. Having sighted the statuesque figure we opted to slowly reverse back, half expecting the owl to take flight as soon as it caught sight of us. Much to my surprise, what happened next was quite the opposite. The bird just sat there gazing idly at us, even setting about preening as we stood, jaws on the floor not 3m in front of it. This is the first time I have managed to photograph a "LEO" and I am extremely happy with the results! Elsewhere on the owl front a Short-Eared Owl was seen above the road at Stobswood, drifting higher in an attempt to shake off its escort of Carrion Crows. Likewise Barn Owls were seen at three separate locations including Stobswood, Druridge Pools and Cresswell Pond with the former putting on a delightful show by the roadside leading up to my village.

Long-Eared Owl - Widdrington Station
And look to the left please..

Elsewhere in the local area the birding has been equally enthralling with a evening stint at East Chevington coming up trumps with a Grasshopper Warbler perched rather conspicuously in the open. A first for me believe it or not! Gropper aside Chev held a good selection of other summer visitors with 3 Sedge Warbler rasping away from the reed bed and both Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff in full song. A few Swallows hawked over the south pool though these quickly dispersed when the resident male Marsh Harrier put in an appearance, looking rather dapper in the fading evening sun. The female bird also put on a brief show though for once she proved far less obliging than her companion.  Continuing around the site the characteristic call of Whimbrel was heard and before long 4 birds flew in over the south pool, another sure sign of the changing seasons. Completing the haul at Chevington 4 Ringed Plover were picked up at the Burnmouth, ogling NWTs new "tern enclosure" from afar whilst the north pool held the usual cast of wetland species with 2 Great Crested Grebes looking especially appealing. All in all, a very productive trip though things were soon to get even better.
Reed Bunting - East Chevington
Doing very well in the county of late..
Moving up the coast to Cresswell Pond I immediately caught sight of a Little Egret in flight across the lagoon. Always a good sign! A scan of the muddy area to the north of the site turned up 5 marvelously monochrome Avocets and a very impressive Wagtail flock! Hanging back I began to pick through the flock noting 8 Yellow Wagtail, 6 Pied Wagtail and 1 White Wagtail. In an effort to capture this impressive spectacle I took a few very poor photos before one of the resident Barn Owls drew my attention and I set off towards the hide. It was only upon reaching the hide and looking back through the abhorrent blurs that were my photos that I noticed that one of the "Yellow Wagtails" had a grey head! Not a dark slate coloured or blue head like some of the continental subspecies I have seen but a very pale, grey and white head. Anyways, to cut a long story short this revelation sent me scurrying back to the opposing end of the lake where I managed a extremely brief view of the bird as it took flight following the arrival of a very inconveniently timed Kestrel.  Having sought the opinions of numerous people and done a fair bit of reading online I am 90% sure that it was in fact a Channel Wagtail that I was looking at though without better views/photos I cannot be sure. The one time I uncover something remotely rare and impressive and it is entirely by accident! Typical! Attempting to mitigate my loses a more in depth scan of the pond itself revealed only the usual assortment of Redshank, Teal, Curlew, Lapwing, Gadwall and Oystercatcher whilst the hedgerow leading to the hide was as ever teeming with Tree Sparrows

Cresswell Sunset
Returning to Stobswood I have managed a few more Patchwork Challenge ticks in the last few days taking my species count for this year up to an impressive 108. A very early Yellow Wagtail was enough to set me skipping for the rest of the day though this was soon eclipsed by a single Whimbrel found roosting on the large pool at the West Stobswood. This being an almighty "patch first"! Blackcaps have returned in force to the local area with birds now generously scattered across the length and breadth of the site. Both Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff now number well into the double digits whilst 5 Wheatear and the odd Swallow and House Martin have put in the odd appearance. I am however still waiting for my first returning Whitethroats, Swifts and Garden Warblers, all of which breed in the area and should return before long. Other bits 'n' bobs from around the patch the last few days include 2 pairs of Grey Partridge, 6 Ringed Plover, a very late Pink-Footed Goose and an unusually showy male Sparrowhawk. As I said to begin with I've had a mighty fine time the last couple of days and hope to capitalize on my recent successes by finally catching up with the East Chev Beared Tits at the weekend. Or maybe the Holywell American Wigeon if it chooses to stay. We shall see..

Monday, 20 April 2015

Here, There & Everywhere

This weekend found me heading off down the country in an effort to catch up with the much talked about Lidlington Lady Amherst's Pheasant. To cut a long story short, myself and the 30+ other birders at the site on Saturday failed to see the bird. Upon arrival said bird was extremely vocal and and offered 3 - 4 bouts of frantic calls before drifting off deeper into the woodland never to be seen again. The frustrating bit being that the bird appeared to be calling mere meters from where we stood ogling the mesh fence trying to sneak a peak at this naturalized oriental gem. Much to the annoyance of some I have chosen to tick Lady Amherst Pheasant by call on this occasion, just in case this lone and rather aged male dies before I am next able to visit. I will make an effort to see the bird in the future but given the rather distinct vocal range of the bird in question I am happy to take it on acoustics alone.. For now.

My view for the best part of 5 hours.
Glorified Pheasant aside our five hour stint at the Lidlington proving ground turned up a nice array of common species, many of which were new for the year. Perhaps the best of these was the Cuckoo heard calling in the nearby woodland. A lone Garden Warbler was also new for the year and helped take my mind of the lack of colourful Galliformes. Elsewhere here the woodland held a nice array of warblers with numerous Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap joining the aforementioned Garden Warb. Swallows were very apparent overhead whilst other odds and ends seen here include Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Buzzard, Long-Tailed Tit and two extremely burly Grey Squirrels. Prior to the semi dip at Lidlington we decided to visit Middleton Hall in Warwickshire to catch up with the two Black-Winged Stilts that had flown in overnight. This proved a much more successful venture and before long we were watching the pair of leggy waders mill around on the rather large and impressive RSPB owned scrape. The site also held a nice array of more regular wetland critters with Common Tern a somewhat overdue year tick and no less than 8 Great Crested Grebes noted. Shoveler, Teal and Gadwall were also pretty numerous though a single Avocet and a showy Green Sandpiper proved much more endearing. It pains me a little to know that we apparently walked past a drake Garganey upon exiting the site but hey ho, you can't win them all I guess and the Stilts at least are a welcome addition to my measly British list.

Back in Northumberland, Friday found me paying a much overdue visit to my mother in Bedlington and thus presented a chance to get out and about along the River Blyth. This site never disappoints and though I failed to turn up anything remotely "out of the ordinary" the common beasties on offer kept me more than entertained for the duration of my stay. The highlight here was a couple of summer plumage Black-Tailed Godwits, both of which looked splendid in their rusty seasonal attire. By comparison the numerous Turnstones looked almost bland in their mix of winter/summer plumage. Redshank were as ever the most numerous waders at the site with perhaps 100 noted during my stay. On top of these 40 Curlew and 20 Oystercatcher completed the wader tally whilst wildfowl species noted here include a record count of 40+ Shelduck, 20 Eider, Teal and a scattering of Mallard and Gadwall. A gaggle of Red-Breasted Merganser in the boatyard were as ever nice to see whilst other highlights included both Grey Wagtail and Dipper up River Towards Bedlington, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler singing from every available thicket and a nice male Sparrowhawk riding the thermals over Bedlington station. There you have it, a bit of a mixed bag on offer this week but all in all it has been an enjoyable few days! Despite dipping said long-tailed, noisy Pheasant. 

Wheatear from Stobswood today