Sunday, 29 July 2012

Quick update...

Another trip to Newton scrapes on Wednesday evening (25th) didn't produce the Pectoral or Curlew Sandpiper that had been seen the past day or two but there were masses of Dunlin in Summer plumage and a nice group of 9 Black-tailed Godwits which I hadn't managed to see yet this year.

Black-tailed Godwits at Newton scrape.
On Friday (27th) an evening stroll along the coast near Howick produced my first Whimbrel of the Autumn and of the year but no luck with Marsh Tit again in the woods.

A good long Sunday afternoon walk around Hulne Park, Alnwick produced plenty of Swallows, a male Kestrel, Buzzards, Grey Heron, family party of Wrens, Willow Warbler and other common woodland birds but the highlight of the day was 3 Jays which gave good views and are the first I have seen this year.

Year List additions:
123: Black-Tailed Godwit
124: Whimbrel
125: Jay

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Tit search...

On Saturday (21/07) it was another fantastic day weather-wise, you would almost think it was Summer! Oh wait....

Like most men I am desperate for the chance to see a couple of Tits. In this case it's the Marsh and Willow Tit, two species I don't get the chance to see living in the Highlands (althought hopefully will get to see some Finnish Willows when I am over there). A recommendation of a site for Marsh Tit from a very local knowledgable birder was the destination and I was just round the corner down in Howick.

I parked at the crossroads near Seahouses farm and headed down the coastal path first. Plenty of Goldfinches, Linnets and singing Yellowhammer and plenty of Terns hunting over the water and young Eiders loafing about. Further out was also a large group of Gannets dive bombing into the sea.

Fly-by Sandwich Tern

Yellowhamer singing it's heart out.
As I moved along the path there were loads of Butterflies about including Common Blue, Meadow Brown, Ringlet and Small Tortoiseshell.

Meadow Brown
Worn Ringlet
Common Blue
Meadow Brown
I finally came to the entrance to the woods of Howick Dene where my chance to see Marsh Tit would be. There was a small area of wet woodland along a stretch of maybe 500 metres. I spent almost two hours here searching and stopping and searching and listening. I did see plenty of Tits in the form of Blue, Great and Coal (a couple of these caught me out and I got excited) but no Marsh. There was also Willow Warbler, Blackbird, plenty of Wrens, Woodpigeons and a Buzzard flew over. Nice to see plenty Speckled Wood butterflies too.

I headed back the way I came and I got a nice view of a male Blackcap as he came flying down the path towards me and disappeared into some brambles not far in front of me. Plenty more Terns seen on the way back and a good view of a hovering Kestrel. All in all nice to be out in the good weather and it was an enjoyable walk so can't complain.

Newton Pool...

It was a really nice evening on Friday (22nd) so I decided to head up to Low Newton for a walk. I have been to Low Newton once before but this I wanted to check out the scrapes that are talked about quite a bit in this blog HERE by a local birder from Beadnell.

I parked at the top of the hill and made my way down to the village square. It was pretty busy with people going for a stroll along the beach and to the local pub. There were plenty of Swallows and House Martins flying around the buildings and a handful of Swifts.

The scrapes are literally the first field behind the village. There were plenty of Black-headed Gulls and Mallard to be seen and a large group of Starlings flying around before they roosted in the reed bed adjacent to the scrapes. It was nice to stand and watched them for a few minutes.

There were also plenty of Linnets about with a few males singing from the fence posts and Reed Buntings darted about overhead. There wasn't much happening on the scrape so I carried on around the corner to Newton Pool and the hide there spotted a couple of juvenile Goldfinches on the way. Again plenty of Mallard but not a lot else unfortunately. I spent an hour or so in the hide but it was fairly unproductive.

Views of the scrapes.
I was starting to lose light now so I headed back but there were still plenty of Meadow Brown butterflies in the long grass to be seen.

As I made it back to the scrapes I had once last check all the way around when I noticed three ducks at the back of the water up-ending and feeding. I could tell straight away they were Shoveler a bird I hadn't seen this year or since I was last down in Northumberland in October 2011.

Distant poor quality shot in low light.

A check of my list year shows that Shoveler puts me up to 122 which equals last years total already. I then compared species seen with last year and I have not seen 21 species this year that I did last year which means I have seen 21 new birds this year. Some that I am missing I definately will not see but some I should really have seen already including Jay, Puffin, Snipe, Woodcock, Golden plover and Artic tern amongst others. I probably have seen Arctics down here but not close enough to confidently ID. In theory I only have a month or so to improve by British year list because the rest of the year will be spent in Finland. But to be honest they are only lists which don't mean much and I still just enjoy going out and seeing what turns up.

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Back to Northumberland...

I am now down in Dunstan near the Northumberland coast just North of Alnwick as I am staying with my Dad for a few weeks. To say it was a challenge to get down here is an understatement but that is another (long) story that includes one failed journey and two breakdowns.

I arrived late Friday night and have been enjoying the nice weather this weekend, let's hope it lasts. On Saturday (14th) I took walk down to Craster harbour. In terms of birdwatching it's not terribly exciting or productive but it has a really nice feel to it and I always make sure I take a walk down. There were plenty of birds about though including a big group of Starlings, House Sparrows, Jackdaws and Rooks all with young and feeding on the shoreline. A single Rock Pipit was also hopping about. I decided to head South from here towards Cullernose Point which I hadn't visited before but read about it's seabird colonies consisting of primarly Kittiwakes, a species I hadn't seen yet this year. Not far from the harbour were plenty of Black-headed Gulls roosting on the shore with a single juvenile tern (I will leave it as tern because I am not even going to attempt to ID juv. Common / Arctic terns) making a lot of noise. Out on the rocky outcrops were plenty of Cormorants, Great Black-backed, Herring and Lesser Black-backed gulls and plenty of Terns fishing in the surrounding water. From here I headed South along the coastal footpath as the sun came out. The path runs past some grasslands that were full of bees and butterflies with plenty of Swallows and House Martin overhead. Beside the path were plenty of Harebell in flower also.

A worn Common Blue (Polyommatus icarus)
Another Common Blue
A worn Ringlet (Aphantopus hyperantus)
Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia)
There were also plenty of Silver Y moths flying about in the grasses a species I hadn't seen before.

Silver Y (Autographa gamma) - note the distinctive white marks on the wings which give it it's name.
View of grassland with Craster in the distance and Dunstanburgh Castle in the far distance.

I carried on along the path and came to Cullernose point, a stunning view from the top of the cliff and the strong smell associated with any seabird colony hit me. There were Kittiwakes everywhere with plenty of juveniles perched on nests and some flying around. Out in the bay was a stunning adult Razorbill and two Grey Seals.

Cullernose Point seabird colony

Kittiwakes with juveniles on nests
After some time spent watching the birds flying around and coming and going I moved on further. There were still plenty of Whitethroats singing and managed to spot 3 different birds. There were also plenty of Small Tortoiseshells flying about and Goldfinch in the Hawthorns. Further round though were more cliffs with more Kittiwakes but also Fulmars. The Fulmars were flying so close the path at the top of the cliff I could have reached out and grabbed them in flight! Superb views of several different birds I just wish my camera skills could have done them justice (lots of over exposed / blurry shots).


Looking back towards Cullernose Point
Small Tortoiseshell
After the Fulmar show I made my way back the way I came. A very enjoyable afternoon and another species for the year list!

Today (15th) I headed down towards Craster but turned off before the village towards The Heughs and Scroghill Hill. The public footpath takes you through some rough grazing fields adjacent to a rocky outcrop with impenetrable Gorse and Hawthorn. From almost every obvious perch that I passed there were Yellowhammers and Linnet singing their hearts out. Didn't manage to get any decent photos as it was quite windy. A Magpie flew over which I always enjoy seeing as it is a rare bird back home in the Highlands. A Kestrel was also hunting over the nearby fields. The footpath lies west of the path from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle and eventually joins up with it near the castle. A single juvenile Eider was in the bay and plenty of Rooks in in between all the grazing sheep. I made my way around the bottom of the castle through the wetland spotting Moorhen and Grey Heron on the way. On the main pool beside the castle were a few Mallard and a handful of Kittiwake. I walked right around to the back of the castle hill where the sheer cliffs hold another seabird colony. This time there were hundreds of Kittiwakes, loads of Fulmars and plent of Shag to be seen. A scan of the cliffs resulting in a single adult Razorbill with another out in the shallow bay on the water. I sat and spent some time watching and listening to the racket of so many birds. A family group of Pied Wagtails were feeding on the rocky shore. Just as I was about to leave a group of 5 Common Guillemots turned up and joined the Razorbill out on the water. No pictures unfortunately as everything was so far away. I headed back along a similar route to the one I came with more Yellowhammers and Linnets singing and plenty of Swallows flying low over the fields. Again another enjoyable afternoon, let's hope this nice weather continues.

I will be doing some work for my dad starting on Monday but I hope to get out as much as I can. Any birdwatchers that read this are probably aware there has been a sighting of Red-backed Shrike a couple miles down the road from where I am and a Pectoral Sandpiper. Hopefully I will get to go and visit the area soon althought I don't think the Shrike has been reported for a few days but watch this space!

Friday, 6 July 2012

Kinellan and Achilty

Yesterday's (05/07) weather felt like proper summer weather and I just had to get outside. A couple months ago I signed up to be part of the Wetland Bird Survey (WeBS) run by the BTO, RSPB, JNCC and WWT. I have been assigned 3 "starter" sites, 2 at Kinellan at the back of Strathpeffer (the loch and the scrape) and Loch Achilty on the otherside of  Contin. I wasn't able to carry out my surveys on the first date due to illness so I was keen to get it done this month.

I started by heading to Loch Kinellan. I had never actually been there before nevermind surveyed it so it was quite exciting. I heard and read that the loch was well known for it's breeding Slavonian Grebes so I was hopeful of another first. I arrived at the loch at parked besided the "Round House", the weather was scorching. I set off around the loch and straight away I could hear plenty Willow Warblers and House Sparrow and several Swallows and House Martin flying overhead.

I scanned the loch and the birds I could see were Coots and Tufted Ducks (surprisingly my first of the year).  There were plenty of Mallards and a pair of Mute Swan also. Then, right in the middle of the loch a Slavonian Grebe popped up and looked impressive in the sun, a lifer for me. I made my way round to the top of the loch and there was another Slav Grebe a lot closer this time and I managed to get a few record shots.

Slavonian Grebe (Podiceps auritus)
At the top of the loch the road starts to move away from the water and uphill. I could hear a bird calling and it sounded agitated. A small brownish bird flew over the road and landed on one of the thistles in the marshy area. I looked through the bins and had a bit of a mind blank First thought was Wheatear but it wasn't the right habitat at all and I knew it wasn't. Then another bird started calling a lot closer this time. I turned around and a male Whinchat was sitting on a fence post a few metres away. Another lifer for me and within 30mins of me leaving the car. This one was definately unexpected. I was able to get a couple of photos before the bird crossed the road and perched on the marsh. I now realised the first bird had been a female.

Male Whinchat (Saxicola rubetra)

I continued my walk around the loch not seeing anything of significance before sitting down on the otherside to do a proper count of what was on the loch for the webs count.

Loch Kinellan
View of Loch from hill on North Side
I then headed off to the second site at Kinellan scrape. The Kinellan scrape site consists of a large and a small pond surrounded by grassland and small pockets of broadleaves. I parked at the side of the road and walked to the edge of the larger pond first. Plenty of birds on the water including Tufted Duck, Mallards, Coot, Moorhen and a single Wigeon. I made my way around the mown path to the otherside and sat down to do a proper count and saw another 2 Slavonian Grebes. As I made my way around I noticed plenty of Cuckooflower and some impressive looking orchids. I thought they were Northern Marsh Orchids but when I got home and asked some people online they are apparently a hybrid between Northern Marsh Orchid and Common Spotted Orchid.

Northern Marsh hybrid Orchid - Dactylorhiza x venusta

My third and final site was Loch Achilty a couple miles up the road. The loch itself is quite large but is normally fairly quiet. The site lived up to expections as I made several stops around the loch and only counted 3 Mallard in total. On my way back round the loch I decided to stop at Achilty Oakwood. I hadn't been here before but I had heard it can be quite productive.

I parked the car and made my way up the steep track. Near to the start of the walk a bird flew over the path and landed fairly high up in a tree. At first glance I was thinking Song Thrush and had a couple seconds to take a picture before it flew off. Looking at the photo later on I was convinced it was not a Song Thrush and started to think Tree Pipit. I showed the photo to some other people and it was confirmed as a Tree Pipit, another lifer for me and the 3rd of the day!

Tree Pipit (Anthus trivialis)
I made my way further up hearing and seeing Willow Warblers and a family of Wrens. I did see a flower growing in the middle of the old forest road that was new to me. I took a couple pictures and I have been told it is a Heath Fragrant Orchid.

Heath Fragrant Orchid (Gymnadenia borealis)

Nothing much else of note was seen in terms of bird life and I made my way back down to the car. I did spot a butterfly (not seeing many this year at all) and it was a fritillary of some kind. I looked it up when I got home and apparently it is a Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary another new species for me.

Small Pearl-Bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene)
All in all a great day out which meant I got to see quite a few things I hadn't before and also contributed to an important survey, can't complain at that!