Monday, 15 April 2013

Arrival in Krakow, Poland.

Arrived in Krakow yesterday (14/04). On the way to Edinburgh airport from Alnwick I saw my first ever Barn Owl caught in the car headlights hovering at the edge of the road.

The weather is Krakow is a welcome change, sunny and warm. On the Sunday after arriving we took a walk around the city centre and Planty Park (a narrow strip of broadleaved parkland that surrounds the entire old town portion of the city. Mostly common woodland birds but did also see plenty of Fieldfare, loads of Jackdaws of the Eastern Race and saw my first Chiffchaff of the year from my bedroom window.

Just a quick update has I have obtained internet access. The course here is very intense and will only really get a chance to do some exploring at the weekend, but I will probably post after I get back due to time contraints.

Year List Additions:
103. Barn Owl (Lifer)

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Northumberland: Holy Island

The weather has improved greatly today, you could even go as far as to say it is mild! It has stayed dry too which is always a bonus but the there is still that cold wind especially at exposed areas like Holy Island.

I left early this morning to reach causeway just after the safe crossing time and I was hoping for some interesting migrants. First of all I checked the garden and scatter scrub cover around the Snook but there really wasn't at all, plenty of Skylark, Meadow Pipit and Reed Buntings in the dunes however.

I then carried on to the main car park and planned to do a circular walk taking in the village, castle area, the straight lonnen and the crooked lonen.

Nothing of note in any of the gardens into the village but things improved on the road leading up to the castle with a single Pale-bellied Brent Goose on the pools North of the wall and my first proper summer migrant of the year in the shape of a male Wheatear. I carried on round past the castle and the lime kilns with nothing unsual noted apart from the amount of dead birds lying around. I counted 3 Guillemot, 1 Cormorant and 2 Black-headed Gulls. Both of the lonnens were really quiet with only 1 Blackbird seen which was pretty disappointing. There was however 4 Magpie which is always a nice bird for me to see as we don't really get them up in the Highlands North of Inverness.

I finished the circular walk with a Kestrel hovering and a handul of Lapwing displaying and that was pretty much it. No pictures today as anything I did see was either too far away or didn't sit still long enough.

Flying to Krakow, Poland early tomorrow morning and I am really hoping that Spring is more successful over there although it is hard to tell as finding any information is proving a bit of challenge! Wish me luck.

Year List Additions:
100. Pale-bellied Brent Goose
101. Wheatear
102. Magpie

Friday, 12 April 2013

Northumberland: Low Newton.

I am down in Northumberland again, based at my dad's just a few miles from Alnwick. On the way down I stopped at Broxden services for something to eat and saw my first Lesser Black-backed Gulls of the year. First port of call when I am down here is Low Newton, there is just something about the place that I like and it's only just around the corner. The weather wasn't looking too great but it was dry in the morning so I decided to give it a go.

On arriving at the car park the first thing I noticed was plenty of Goldfinch as well as the usual wood pigeons and I made my way down into the village and round to Stringer's scrapes first. Plenty of Teal about plus 4 fairly noisy Greylag geese. Wasn't else of note apart from 2 Herring Gull and a nice looking male Shoveler.

It didn't really feel much different from when I was last here back in December, dull, wet and cold and there wasn't much bird activity in the dunes apart from a Robin, a Linnet singing it's heart out, a few Dunnocks and a Meadow Pipit. At Newton pool a few more Greylags, a pair of Goldeneye and also two Moorhen right infront of the hide.

I carried on through the dunes not seeing much before coming down on the beach heading back towards the village. It wasn't until I was almost all the way back to the start of the beach that I started to see some more interesting birds. Quite a few Redshank about and small groups of Eider offshore. A bit further out were 16 Common Scoter and the usual Gulls and Cormorants present. As I was coming to the end of the beach I could see quite a lot of activity in amongst the rocks and seaweed. Firstly there were quite a few Bar-tailed Godwits on the beach but there was quite a bit activity in the seaweed itself and on closer inspection it was a a group of Turnstone. But some of these Turnstone looked a bit different and mixed in amongst them were a handful of Purple Sandpipers.

Bar-tailed Godwits + Oystercatchers
Turnstone + Purple Sandpipers - can be easily missed!

Plenty of Jackdaws, some with interesting degrees of a pale collar showing, Rock Pipits and a couple White Wagtails on the strandline but by now it was chucking it down with rain as I headed back to the car. I did plan to visit a couple more places in the afternoon but the weather didn't improve. That's me on 99 for the year now, the delayed Spring not helping things but hopefully back out tomorrow, the weather forecast looks better.

Year List Additions:
96. Lesser Black-backed Gull
97. Shoveler
98. Moorhen
99. Purple Sandpiper

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Grouse & Grebes...

The last week or so has still been fairly cold, with more snow and cold winds it's hard to see Spring really taking off any time soon although there is Spring activity out there that was in evidence today.

For the last couple weeks birding as been quiet due to end of the year coursework and not having a car for almost a month but I had had something arranged for the 10th of April which I didn't mention just incase things didn't work out, so what was it?

Well it was an early start this morning 4:45am because 3 of us were meeting up with Gareth Ventress an Environment Ranger for Forestry Commission Scotland 's North Highland Forest District who had kindly agreed to take us out to lekking sight for Black Grouse. The day before Gareth informed me that the weather forecast wasn't looking good but we would give it a try anyway and I am very glad we did! We all hopped into the FCS vehicle and made our way West through Garve and onto the site's location which I will not reveal for obvious reasons!

It was just getting light as we parked up and it was turning out to be a perfect morning weather wise, frosty, clear and sunny. The site is actually located on private land which was just a short walk through FCS land before it and we made our way to a small ridge to settle down and scan the favoured area. This lekking site is a traditional site and has been used for many years with numbers in double figures and with the weather we were all hopeful of seeing some Black Grouse.

We weren't disappointed! It was my girlfriend that found them first or rather heard them calling and it didn't take us long to locate them on the opposite side of the valley about 200m away. They were visible with binoculars but thankfully Gareth had brought a couple of pretty good scopes that gave us excellent views. When the sun came up from behind us the scene was lit up even more and we counted 11 males lekking and it was just fantastic to watch but we couldn't spot any greyhens. There wasn't as much action as could be but there was a few scuffles and the birds actually got spooked twice by something beyone the ridge but it didn't take long for them to return and whilst we waited for them we enjoy several Meadow Pipits carrying out their parachuting song flights. We were quite far away so photos were difficult but I did manage to get some on my phone through the scope, you can see what it is at least! Video HERE

Black Grouse (Tetrao tetrix)  - 11 males at the lek.

Before we knew it we had been standing there for nearly 2 hours watching the grouse and talking about all things forestry.  Gareth gave us a lift back to Tescos in Dingwall and we thanked him before he headed back to work. As the weather was so nice we decided to do a slightly early WeBS count as we will be out of the country at the weekend.

At Loch Achilty there wasn't much on the water as usual, just 4 Mallard but the loch was extremely still and the view is always nice. Bit more exciting at Kinellan Scrape as 4 Slavonian Grebes were back on territory and paired up making a lot of noise and displaying. There was also a nice flock of Redwings in the adjacent field, can't remember seeing them that late in the year before but just a sign of the recent weather.

Other than that the usual suspects of Mute Swan, Coot, Teal, Wigeon and Mallard were all present. Nothing much of note at Loch Kinellan but there was however a group from the Aigas Field Centre all out with their big expensive lenses who were being led by a certain Mr. Laurie Campbell.

All in all a superb morning at the lek and great to see the Slavonian Grebes back again. I will now go in search for Spring, starting off with a drive to Northumberland where I am spending a couple days and then on to Poland and I will be back in two weeks with it, be patient!

Year List Additions:
94. Black Grouse (Lifer)
95. Slavonian Grebe