Welsh Wandering

18 May

Day 1 of a 4 day trip to North Wales – mostly taken up with driving and sheltering from the rain in my chosen base – Caernarfon.

Managed a quick trip up to South Stack RSPB in light drizzle for a brief stretch of the legs and managed a much more succesfull chough-hunt than my last visit where we gave up only to have 13 of the acrobats screaming an chattering over the car just after setting off.

This time around it was only 5 mins before one and then a second flew past me on the path to the RSPB tower. At the cafe and RSPB admission office another two rooted around in the short grass of a paddock adjoining the car park. Also in the gorse plentiful stonechats and wheatears were most unconcerned by my presence, and on the cliffs a good number of guillemots and razorbills were in residence. Plenty of gulls and a handful of gannets offshore with swifts and martins patrolling the cliff tops.

Driving back South via Trearrdur and several more choughs were foraging alongside jackdaws and carrion crows amongst the grazing sheep.

Hoping for better weather tomorrow so I can get the camera out.


Avocet City

29 Apr

Grey and murky this morning as is the norm at the moment, but I did finally manage to add avocet to my year list after missing out at Greatham Creek earlier in the spring and on several short stops at Cresswell.

Today hit lucky with four at Cresswell on the North side of the causeway, busily sweeping around in the shallows.

I then managed to add to that with a single bird at the Beehive flash (or at least what I assume is the beehive flash – a largeish pool right by the roadside just by the Beehive pub!).

Wandering around Dumfries and Galloway

7 Apr

Just back from a cracking week in Dumfries and Galloway, based at a converted mill at Auldgirth just north of Dumfries. With the bedrooms at treetop level and a balcony overlooking a rushing stream fifty feet below I figured it would be a good spot for wildlife watching in comfort and I wasn’t wrong – within 30 mins of getting up on Sunday morning I had a dipper in the stream below and a raven cronking as it flew overhead escorted out of the local airspace by two irate rooks.

Threave Castle gave me my first red kites of the year, circling low over the fields and moments later a pair of ravens flew past. Lots of vociferous reed buntings were chasing around and through the hedges along the river banks. Talking to the wardens there we were the first visitors of the year to the castle (it only opened that morning) but we were 30 mins too late to see an Osprey checking out last year’s nest and an otter in the river.

With the late March heatwave I figured we were probably a week or two too late for much at Caerlaverock WWT but there were still 4,000 barnacle geese in the fields and around 1,000 pink foots. Only 6 whooper swans were lingering and there was not much by the way of ducks, although a green-winged teal provided a life tick perched on a bank amongst 30 or so common teal and a few wigeon.

We paid a visit to Bellymack Farm near Lauristown for Red Kite feeding time – I used to travel past Harewood House near Leeds every day for work and was quite used to seeing up to 5 or 6 kites at a time, but 40 together swooping on the meat thrown out in the fields was something else (although the peak of over 120 birds must have been fantastic to see). Kites started to appear as we first arrived 30 mins before the feeding started and slowly built up – at one point a tree just 100 yards from the hide had 12 birds perched waiting for the festivities.

My final bird-related excursion was to Ken Dee Marshes RSPB reserve on an overcast and drizzly friday morning. No sign of the flock of greenland white-fronts which I think had departed a couple of weeks earlier leaving just a handful of greylags. From the hides over the marshes and pools hundreds of black headed gulls were screaming and wheeling creating one heck of a din but precious little else was around – I was pleased to pick up a couple of snipe – bogey species for me that I never manage to spot for myself except on this occasion where one kindly waded across a pool in plain view before utilising its invisibility spell when settling in to a tussock of grass. I knew exactly where it was but could I see it? Not a chance. Eventually it twitched and I was back on to it for a better look.

Lots of woodland birds around though – blue, great and coal tits (no sign of the willow tits that live in the reserve) plus nuthatch, treecreeper and wren, and great spotted woodpeckers drumming all around and flitting from tree to tree.

All in all a nice trip – would have been better a month earlier for birds, but as birding wasn’t the aim of the trip the weather may have been a bit less to the liking of the family (although it did snow for a while!)


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.


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-throated Diver

11 Mar

Red-throated Diver

Red-throated Diver

A break from the routine – Saltholme and the moors

10 Mar

For a change this morning I headed back to my native Teesside for a trip to Saltholme and a change of scenery.

It was disappointingly quiet on the bird front, given that some interesting birds like Glossy Ibis have been around recently, but there were a few year ticks to provide a bit of variety.

I got down to the area an hour before the RSPB reserve was open so opted for a walk along Greatham Creek to see if the recently arrived avocets were around. No sign on the saline lagoon but a single little egret was skulking around the edges. Walking along the creek and the tide was receding revealing plenty of mud but not a lot of activity other than a couple of redshank and a purple sandpiper. On the next pool along there was a bit more activity – a dozen more redshank were rooting around accompanied by three black-tailed godwit, making a change from the bar-tails that are more prevalent closer to home. A handful of shelduck stood around half-dozing on the mud but keeping a wary eye on what was going on.

On to the RSPB reserve and a quick walk around the various hides came up with… not much! The wildlife watchpoint just held a handful of coot, moorhen, mallard and tufties with goldfinch and greenfinch at the feeding station. Black-headed gulls are starting to make themselves at home on the shingle islands that will also hold tern colonies in a few weeks, and plenty of greylags and canada geese (including a leucistic canada goose looking huge compared to her mate – a prime example of how white birds seem larger than dark ones) are sharing the grasslands with curlews that will be heading for the moors soon. A lone great crested grebe drifted about the lake asleep and refusing to acknowledge the sunshine and the visitors peering through their binos and scopes

And on that note I decided it was time for me to head to the moors – I upped sticks and headed off to see my parents near Danby on the North York Moors. I was half hoping to have the chance to get shots of the hares boxing but I was out of luck, and after a light lunch I headed to Danby beacon where red grouse were in plentiful supply and particularly unfussed by human presence, sitting happily by the side of the road as I drove past. A few curlew and lapwing were around but nothing to what there will be in a month or so.

So…not a huge number of birds, but a pleasant enough day and nice for a change of scenery.

I’ll be back up at druridge bay tomorrow!



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.


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.


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.




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!