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Springwatch – Unspringing my Heron

31 May Heron Silhouette

Received an e-mail from Aunty Beeb this evening asking if it would be OK to show one of my flickr photos on Springwatch Unsprung tonight… who am I to argue?

Assuming no technical hitches with live TV, my photo of a silhouetted heron amongst teal at Druridge pools should be gracing BBC2 and BBC HD tonight (Thurs 31st May) but you can have a sneak preview right here….

Heron Silhouette

Heron Silhouette

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Grand Tour

24 Mar

Took the chance of a day without parental responsibility to take a good drive out, despite the unpromising fog that started the day.

The A697 heading up towards Wooler was buzzard-central with regular birds along the way and up to three at once in places.

My first stop was Happy Valley looking for dipper and I didn’t even have chance to park the car before I had added it to my year list. Two birds were prominent dashing up and down the river and a pair of grey wagtails added a splash of colour.

IMGP1495

From there I cut across to the coast as the fog was burning off and I picked up my second year tick of the day with red-legged partridge in the fields near Doddington. I also managed three mammal species – stoat, weasel and hare all within a few miles.

I arrived at Holy Island with only an hour before the causeway was due to close so I just had a quick drive across the causeway and back in the mist that was still lingering at the coast. A few curlew and gulls were all that I could make out in the murk.

From there down to Budle Bay and a quick scan of the sands – hundreds of gulls – black heads, greater black-backs and herring gulls, plus shelduck and a few redshank.

On down to Stag Rocks hoping for a lingering grebe or diver but the sea was fairly empty – a few eider flew past but only gulls on the sea and no sign of any waders on the rocks which were rapidy disappearing under the incoming tide.

On further down to druridge bay and cresswell was shrouded in mist – I could barely see the pools from the road. Water levels looked very high and no sign of avocets in my brief stop.

I covered a fair few miles today but not a lot to show for it because of the mist. Maybe tomorrow will bring a bit more luck!

Red-necked grebe, white-headed cormorant

18 Feb

Embarked upon my weekly drive up along druridge bay this morning and had a productive couple of hours.

The beach at Cresswell had its usual selection of knot, dunlin, redshank, oystercatchers and purple sandpiper, but no sign of any sanderling or ringed plover today. I timed it right for the tide to push the birds toward me and so spent a pleasant if nippy half hour snapping away.

Knot

Further round the rocks were a couple of cormorants… one acquiring its breeding plumage with a white shaggy head and white patch on his legs.

Whitey

Next on to Druridge pools and the budge screen and there was much more activity on the water than last week. Hundreds of wigeon were now in residence along with the teal, increased numbers of shoveller, and at least one of the drake pintails was still there. No sign of the grey partridges from last week, and the heron count had dropped from double figures to zero. The icy wind that the hide seems to specialise in discouraged me from lingering so I retreated to the car.

From there I pondered calling in at East Chev but decided to go on to Amble instead and then possibly up the coast a bit further.

I thought I’d have a look for YJU7 – my favourite mediterranean gull who spends his winters in Amble and then summers in Hungary, and sure enough a quick scan of the black heads snoozing on the grass by the car park revealed him, his black head coming along nicely.

Bored Gull

The tide was pretty much fully in and nothing much on the beach except for a few rooks arguing over a polythene bag, and the icy blast of the newly arrived weather system had me thinking this would be a real quick circuit of the piers but something caught my attention near the sea wall. At first I thought it was just an immature guillemot and the wind was making it hard to hold my bins still but it looked a bit odd.

Got the camera stabilised on the railings and took a few distant snaps and reviewed them on the screens and it definitely wasn’t a guillemot, but it a combination of the wind and the poor light made it frustratingly hard to pin down. I walked along the wall thinking I’d get a bit closer but I took my eyes off it for a moment and when i looked again it was gone. Looking along the wooden pier back towards the shore I could see it almost at the beach amongs the gulls. I managed to get a better look with the bins but now into the sun and all I could make out was a silhouette. I was pretty sure it was a grebe but not sure what type. Luckily it stayed put close in to the corner of the beach and pier and I managed to get close enough to get some half decent shots which gave me more of a clue.

Grebe

Grebe

Grebe

The poor little blighter was getting a hard time from 5 or 6 black headed gulls that dive bombed it whenever it surfaced with a fish, but it certainly seemed to be having plenty of success fishing.

Returning home I had three separate parties of whooper swans – four at the entrance to Ellington caravan park, five in a field on the southern outskirts of Ashington on the route to Bothal, and a single on Bothal pond itself.

Anyway – back to base and a scan through collins confirmed my suspicion that it was a red-necked grebe (a first for me).

So.. a bit chilly.. but nice to get out and get a new tick!

A few photos from a frosty Druridge Bay

5 Feb

Dunlin in the froth

Sanderling

Stonechat

Shelduck reflections

Reed Bunting

Ringed plover

Purple sandpiper

Owls, Rails and Snipe

14 Jan

A most enjoyable morning in the crisp January sunshine, I ventured out shortly before nine for a quick tour of druridge bay.

My first sighting of any note was a stunning short-eared owl perched on a fencepost at Cresswell – totally unconcerned by my presence I rolled the car to a halt next to the owl and exchanged stares for a few moments before it headed off into the dunes.

Heron

I parked up adjacent to the stream that leads out to the beach which was largely frozen and the only brid on view was a solitary redshank poking around the thawed section. On the beach lots of gulls floating around beyond the breakers and a dozen or so sanderling providing some entertainment.

Sanderling

Further along the road at Druridge pools and greeted by a smart looking male Stonechat perched prominently in the sun. at the Budge hide all was quiet with the pond frozen over so no ducks to be seen, however there was a single lonely and fed up looking snipe sat at the edge of the ice. As I headed back toward the car I heard a rustling in the undergrowth in the small stream that runs between the hide and the road – I stopped still for a moment and checked the stream and there was the back end of a water rail scurrying along the ice before disappearing from view into undergrowth.

Onwards again to East Chevington and the sky was full of huge skeins of geese but again the ground was fairly quiet. A pair of pheasants were rooting round in the fields but the hedges were fairly quiet and there was little to be seen on the open water. I stopped briefly at the L-shaped hide on the east shore and immediately had my second short-eared owl of the morning, hunting right in front of the hide.

Shortie

After watching him hunt for a while I decided to proceed on to Druridge Bay Country Park for a circuit of the lake and immediately had a smart pair of red-breasted mergansers preening in the sun.

Mergansers

The usual suspects were around by way of ducks – goldeneye, tufties, gadwall and pochard with the mallards, and snipe skulking at the waters edge, along with my first grey wagtail of the year providing some colour.

Circuit completed and heading back along the path to East chevington a pair of short-eared owls were quartering the fields just behind the assorted watchers scanning the south pool.

I lost my heart to a desert wheatear!

27 Dec

I snuck away from the family this afternoon and sloped off to a secret liaison with a bird… a liason I’d been trying to resist for a while but I gave in.

The bird in question was a little lost – in fact quite a lot lost but seemed to be quite happy with its temporary home of Newbiggin-by-the-Sea which is a little different from north africa at this time of year (I think even Newbiggin’s most ardent supporters would concede that).

I had been for a bit of an exploration of Great Park (long overdue, seeing as I actually work at Great Park) following a tip off from a birdforum member that the pools and scrapes are hosting a little egret and several short eared owls, and had trudged/slid/squelched round with nothing more than a pair of yellowhammer, several blackbirds, a grey wagtail and numerous gulls and corvids. On my return I mulled over whether it was worth making the use of the remaining couple of hours of grey daylight heading up to Newbiggin to see if I could find the desert wheatear thats been in residence for the last couple of weeks. I’m glad I decided it was.

Walking up the beach I could see two groups crouched on the top of the bank peering down at the sand a few feet below so I was pretty sure the bird was in residence. I climbed up on to the path along the edge of the golf course and approached the watching birders and there right enough was the little chap I was looking for – sat happily between the two groups, bobbing away like a pied wagtail and pursuing the copious quantities of insects buzzing around despite it being the depths of December.

He may only be a pocket size passerine, but this bird has oodles of character – bouncing around, fluttering up into the air like a butterfly, chasing along the deck. Full of action but always happy to stop and pose for a photo and often turning round to look and check that the paparazzi are getting his best side.

At one point he was flushed up the beach and having already spend half an hour watching him I was happy to move on and walked up the path towards Beacon Point where I came across two holidaymankers from Derbyshire who just so happened to be volunteers at a nature reserve in Derbyshire who had just chanced upon the birders and the bird and were keen to know a bit more.

“What will happen to him?”, “Where should he be?”, “How did he get here?”  “Will he get back?”, “Does he feel lonely?” came a barrage of questions from one lady… “He’s not a bird psychologist Jane!” was the sharp retort from her friend. All good questions… does he feel lonely? Well he seemed happy enough at that moment – plenty of small flies filling his belly. Will he get back? Probably not… sadly he’s probably destined to a miserable cold and hungry end to his life at some point in the next few weeks. “It makes me very sad” says Jane – I can’t help agree, but at the moment he is putting on a show and making the most of his unexpected vacation about 1,500 miles north of home.

As I wandered back to town I noticed the bird was making its own way in the same direction and so I dropped down onto the beach and waiting for him to approach. Sure enough he hopped his way down, investigating the seaweed and the sand until he got to within 9 or 10 feet. By this point my camera was complaining that my memory card had no more space… frantic deletion of old images ensued as he hopped to a mere 6 feet away. Great… got enough free space… what… battery dead? No problem, switch to my spare battery. The one that’s in the boot of the car. Doh! Managed to coax a couple more efforts out of it, but by this point he was actually too close to focus on, so I just settled for enjoying the kind of closeup naked-eye views normally reserved for chaffinches at picnic tables.

Eventually he got to within two feet before deciding that discretion was the better part of valour and retreated to the far distance (well ten feet anyway).

What a star performer… very sad that our winter will start soon and he will find the northeast coast less to his liking, but that late decision to come and see him was definitely a smart move!

Too close to focus

An empty Cresswell

26 Dec

Had a drive up to Bamburgh for a boxing day drink with a friend from Edinburgh and took the opportunity to drive up via Druridge Bay. Very quiet in the world of birds today – I’ve never seen Cresswell so empty. A female peregrine was the only bird of note – possibly the reason for nothin else being around!

Further north on the road from Seahouses to Bamburgh a handful of whoopers on the pool midway between the towns were the only bright spot visible from a moving vehicle. The strong winds and accompaniment of the wife and daughter prevented any more detailed excursions.