Wednesday, 31 December 2014


Yesterday was a fitting end to what has been another very good birding year. Trips to Estonia and Mull and some very good lifers and county ticks (Ferruginous Duck, Little Bittern, Caspian Gull, Collard Pratincole and many more) have been the highlights as was the trip to birdfair and being part of the winning 2014 Northumberland Winter Bird Race team.

Yesterday I had a trip out with Cain, Gary, Ewan, Andrew and Rachel to Leighton Moss. On the way we stopped at Sizeurgh Castle in the southern Cumbria. Loads of Chaffinch, Gold and Greenfinch, Nuthatch and Bullfinch were briefly joined by one Hawfinch in the car park but the presence of a cat was making everything flighty. More worrying was the presence of a Grey Squirrel!

We arrived at a cold and icy Leighton Moss and walked along the reed bed surrounded path to the lower hide. Bearded Tit and Water Rail called tantalisingly out of view close by in the reeds on the way. A pair of Marsh Tit were working there way through the trees and the worlds most tame Robins and Pheasants ate dog biscuits from our hands!
From the Lower hide we had great views of a male Peregrine resting in a dead tree before flying around a bit. From the main hide at least 2 Marsh Harriers were in view but unfortunately no Bitterns showed.

We spent the last hour or two of light in the Eric Morcambe hide. Around 4 Little Egrets were on the marsh including two fighting birds whose awful vocals could be heard across the marsh. A Marsh Harrier was quartering the area; a Sparrowhawk sat patiently on a fence post and a Peregrine also hunted. This alerted the attention of a flock of Lapwing that took to the sky to avoid an attack. They looked amazing silhouetted against the setting sun.
 Our last treat of the day was a Kingfisher that flew past the hide and settled on a post outside the hide. It then began to hunt on the unfrozen water before attempting to smash through the ice.

Thanks to everyone for another amazing birding year, hopefully I’ll see you all soon.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Garden Tick!

Yes Tree Sparrow joined Golden Plover and Grasshopper as the third garden tick of 2014. Grasshopper Warbler sounds like a strange one but a reeling bird behind the Brockwell Centre in the summer was still audible from my drive.

A combination of work and illness over the last week has meant that I havent been back to see the popular Shrike at WH. This morning though I woke up to the sound of Tree Sparrows close by and when I looked outside and saw 2 males and a female on  the nearly empty feeders on the fence. They were very flighty so I never got a proper count but hopefully like the shrike they will hang around for the winter. Also a Chiffchaff that was present yesterday was still around this morning.

Monday, 15 December 2014

I've seen the butcher (bird)

Yesterday I was out for a few hours in the morning with SH. First stop was Holywell Pond which held a group of 18 Pochard and a ringed Med Gull was amongst the BH Gulls from the public hide. Arcot was quiet so Steve dropped me off at WH.  A LBB Gull on the main pool and a Stonechat on the reed tops on the Snipe field were the highlights until I noticed something on the row of dead trees running between the pools. It turned out to be Cramlingtons second and West Hartfords first Great Grey Shrike. This long overdue patch prediction soon moved further along the dead trees and later showed much more distantly in the tops of some bushes nearer the river.  

Monday, 8 December 2014

Cold Start

After an uneventful WEBS count we checked the river in front of the rowing club but there was no sign of the long staying Blue-winged Teal. Newbiggin was checked next mainly the Church Point area. Amongst the large gathering of Golden Plover on the rocks were a few Knot and Sanderling and a Grey Plover. On the cliff bank under the caravan park was a Black Redstart which showed well on the boulders. Also a few winter plumage Med Gulls were flying over the car park.

Amongst the Eiders and GBB Gulls in Blyth harbour was a first winter Glaucous Gull but not much else. I have seen and heard a few flocks of Golden Plover and Pink Footed Geese go over Cramlington in the last few days also.

Thursday, 27 November 2014

This week

On Monday I had the chance to go down to Teesside with LiverBirder for the Isabelline Wheatear- lifer, at Seaton Snook. It didnt take long or much effort to locate the bird which was really well camouflaged against the debris the tide had left behind.When it chased flies across the beach it moved with surprising speed as it also did when the local Pied Wagtails took an interest in it.

Today myself and Cain were supposed to go up to Harthope but decided against it after checking the weather. With conditions equally miserable locally we opted for Gosforth Park which at least has one hide to take cover in. Nuthatch, Jay and GS Woodpecker were all active in the woods as we passed through and 3 Roe Deer spotted us in the distance. Whilst watching the deer a Grey Squirrel jumped through the leaf litter. A large group of geese were in the field SW of the reserve next to the ever expanding pond. Amongst the 100+ Canadas and 20 or so Greylags were 2 European White-fronted Geese. Also a Canada/Greylag hybrid was present. From the hide a few Goldeneye and a pair of Shoveler were visible on the larger body of water and a few groups of Redpoll and Siskin flew over.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Good Starts

I got a text from Gary at CLV sports centre on Saturday morning saying that he had just seen a Black Redstart around the car park. This was the first BR record for Cramlington and I was soon there with Liverbirder. We had a few brief sightings of this very flighty bird around the sports centre and the tennis courts before it flew into scrub at the back of the field along with a female Blackcap. I had brief views in a similar area on Monday too.

Sunday WEBS count at Castle Island had a few highlights including two Kingfishers chasing each other along the shore. I could hear them long before I saw them and at one point they flew just over my head! Also a Little Egret flew east down the river which was our first on a WEBS count After the count we went to the rowing club past Stakeford Bridge were the Blue-winged Teal was showing well on the near shore, happily feeding despite the rowers on the river. 

With reports of no further sign of the Siberian Stonechat at the Spittal area of Newbiggin we decided to check the dunes along the Wansbeck Estuary in case it was there. Similar to last week Goldcrest were all along the tracks and five Little Egret were scattered along the river. Whilst watching one close in on the north shore we spotted something moving fast through the low tide. It was an Otter carrying a flatfish in it mouth. As it pulled itself up onto the rocks beneath us it was joined by another two, slightly smaller Otters (presumably a family group.) The two smaller ones wrestled with the fish before the all disappeared back into the water. Other than in Scotland I have never had such good views of Otter, truly amazing to watch.

There was no sign of the Siberian Stonechat just  a pair of  European Stonechat. More winter thrushes were in the bushes along the bank as was a male Blackcap. Our last stop was North Blyth. As we drove along the main factory access road Steve spotted a female Snow Bunting on the fence. We stopped and drove back and it was still there at touching distance on the fence. I really didn't look well.  Of the three Black Redstart reported in the area we saw two being chased by Robins on the rocks below the car park.

Sunday, 2 November 2014

Warm Autumn

I was out for a few hours with SH this morning. We went to the scrub and bushes bordering the north side of the River Wansbeck between North Seaton and and south Newbiggin.
Bullfinch were everywhere, Redwing, Song Thrush and Skylark flew over in small numbers and so did a few Redpoll. A small group of Mallard on the river were joined by two Dark-bellied Brent Geese between the river mouth and the road bridge. 20+ Carrion Crow and eight Magpie were feeding on the large amounts of Sea Buckthorn that cover the banksides and 60+ Pink Footed Geese flew south over.
In the bushes surrounding the old car park were a few Goldcrest, two Reed Bunting and a stunning male Brambling which showed well before flying deeper into cover.

The area of dunes around the caravan site looks good for migrants but today we only found a male Stonechat. On our way back the three Little Egrets that had been on the river had now increased to five and they were roosting in the trees on the opposite side of the river with a few Grey Herons. By the time we left seven were in the trees! Also a Kingfisher flew up river near the Egrets.

Thursday, 30 October 2014

Out at last

I was out with LMcD yesterday morning for the first time in a while. The day got off to a good start with a GS Woodpecker in my garden. On our way up to Druridge Bay we spotted some geese in the fields south of the Linton roundabout. 200+ Pink Footed Geese were accompanied by 100+ Canada Geese in the fields. Pink feet were flying over everywhere in skeins all morning but not many landed.

At Widdrington Moor Lake the Slavonian Grebe was showing well in the shallow west end near the bank but not much else was around. On the north pool at East Chevington there were two female Pintail and a few Mergansers and at least four Stonechat between the hide and the road.

Stopping at the metal gate at Hemscotthill Links we could hear then saw seven Snow Bunting flying together over the dunes. A mixed flock of 200+ birds contained mostly Goldfinch but did have a few Linnet and Twite amongst it. Also seven Grey Partridge were in the field next to the inlet.

Despite it being late October, Arcot Pond is at the lowest water level I have ever seen it. The legs of the gulls standing in the middle of the pond can be seen! Two Terrapins were on a fallen log in the SW corner and a drake Shoveler was amongst the Teal. Also in the SW corner was a single winter plumage Black-tailed Godwit.

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Petrel Patience

With conditions looking good for a seawatch I headed to Church Point, Newbiggin with GB last sunday. Early on we heard that a Fea's Petrel- Lifer, was being tracked up the coast in yorkshire so with nothing else planned we diceded to stick it out all day on the off chance that the Petrel made its way further north.

The first out was hard work due to the sun but a steady stream of Gannets and a few Manx Shearwater was a good sign.  Wildfowl were present all day mainly small groups of Wigeon heading north but a few Brent Geese, Common Scoter, Goosander, Red Breasted Merganser and a Velvet Scoter were also noted. I heard but never saw Pink Footed Geese and a Tree Sparrow came in off the sea. 

Now used to seeing Med Gulls at Newbiggin it still looked strange seeing them on the sea, some were quite a way out to. 20+ Sooty Shearwaters passed during our time watching the sea including some very close birds. As more time passed and more reports of the petrel surfaced, more birders appeared. Somebody picked out a Sabine's Gull amongst a feeding flock of Kittiwakes. It stayed for around half an hour before heading north. 

By the time the Fea's had reached Whitburn the sun had vanished and fog had set in. The tension was unbearable by the end as it headed past St.Marys but we all managed to get onto it as it appeared from the fog. What a bird! My best ever seawatch and best ever sea bird, a day that will stay long in my memory. 

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Good enough for me

After failing to locate the Blue-winged Teal- lifer, at Castle Island during our WEBS count on Sunday morning I went back on Monday afternoon.

A large gathering of Ruff were on the mud under Stakeford Bridge on both days accompanied by 2 late Common Sandpiper on Sunday and a Spotted Redshank on Monday. Two Greenshank and another Common Sandpiper were further up river past Castle Island on Sunday and were replaced by three Little Egret on Monday. I saw a Little Egret in the same place on both days, on the Sleekburn at low tide.

Groups of Teal were scattered across the river and after scanning them all with no luck I got a text from Birding Sometimes saying it was coming down river towards the rowing club. As I looked across I could see it swimming near to the bank albeit distantly. By the time I got around to the other side of the river I saw it fly off back to where I had been. At least I was able to appreciate its name as it flew low over the river.

To my untrained eye I see nothing wrong with it and would like to hear an explanation as to why it is being touted as a hybrid. I'll leave that one to the experts.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Little Redwood

After news of the Woodchat Shrike at Prestwick Carr broke on monday, myself and Cain went straight up for it. He got good views as it hunted its way along the hedgerow west of the viewing platform. It was nice to see a Woodchat Shrike in good plumage compared to the last one I saw a few years ago in Hartlepool.

We were also out for a few hours yesterday afternoon starting at Cresswell Pond. A Little Egret was fishing,  Little Ringed Plover on the mud north of the causeway and a Little Stint followed a flighty flock of Dunlin around the north end of the pond.
Druridge Pools was quiet, the highlight was a Weasel that ran in front of us as we drove along the road. Again quiet on the bird front at Hauxley but busy on the mammal front with a Stoat running around the main car park and surprisingly a Red Squirrel sitting feeding on a nut feeder in the car park.

Sunday, 31 August 2014


Had my first trip to West Hartford in a while tonight and was very pleasantly surprised. The sound of Swallows filled the air as I approached the site and as I got nearer to the pools I could hear more and more gathering over ever expanding reed bed. As the sun faded more came until around 2500-3000 birds were swarming the sky. They spiraled downwards and went to roost in the reeds in small groups until they all went down on mass and the "running water" sound could be heard. Truly an amazing spectacle and probably one of the best sightings on my own patch.

Plenty of bats including a Noctule were over swooping over the pools where a Greenshank and 2 Ruff were also present. As I was leaving I saw a Fox scurry accross the road near the entrance in the glow of the street light.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Done more than I can remember

Completely forgot to mention in my last post that I spend a week on Mull last month with Ciara L, Andrew D and Ewan M. Anyway a good week was had by all. Eagles and butterflies were the main highlights along with some good walks.

Last tuesday I headed up to Amble with Graeme B in search of the Caspian Gull. To our surprise instead of having to scan through the gull flock at the harbour we pulled up and saw Jack B and co staring at the chippy roof. It was there and stayed there for the next hour and a bit only moving occasionally to scrap for chips with the other gulls. In flight its wing moult could be seen.

On saturday I traveling down south with Cain, Heather D and Ciara L to Bird Fair. It was the first time any of us had been and we enjoyed some good talks and visited some good stalls. Camping overnight meant that we had plenty of time to do some birding from the multiple hides on site. Distant views of Ospreys were had from the visitor centre and a stack of waders including Little Ringed Plover, Green Sandpiper and Black Tailed Godwit occupied the mud. From one of the hides as it was getting dark we had brief views of a Badger and three cubs that ran through the long grass under the hide! Also a Long Eared Owl began hunting around the hide and flew straight past along with many bats.

Just remembered that I went to the Hen Harrier Day as well which was good despite the rain!

Wednesday, 30 July 2014


My 300 bird species in Britain finally arrived on Monay afternoon in the from of the Collard Pratincole at Castle Island. A great bird to mark this birding landmark and fittingly at a location where I have spent many hours helping do webs counts.

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Wet but worth it

I was out in the rain this morning with SH and DM for WEBS. Castle Island was alive with wildfowl families of various ages but little else was on offer.
Despite the persisting rain we headed north to Druridge Pools. From the Budge Hide only a single Little Egret flew past. Cresswell Pond held one feeding Spoonbill but we did go into the hide.
Before headign back to Cramlington we called in at Newbiggin to count the returning Med Gulls. As we watched a smart adult med on the beach Dee noticed a Dolphin in the bay. Over the next ten minutes we spotted a total of 9 White-Beaked Dolphins and a single Harbour Porpoise very close in just off the Couple statue in the south bay. The Dolphins swam around and breached a few times giving me my best ever cetacean views in Northumberland. They were still there as we left and looked as settled as cetaceans can, well worth a look if in the area.

Friday, 4 July 2014

Return of a ghost

Despite West Hartford looking better than ever it still cannot pull in any waders just gulls. After checking the main pool I went to the smaller one last night where a Moorhen flew from the long grass dividing the two. As I looked up at the Moorhen something else caught my eye. A Barn Owl lifted from the grass NW of the pools and began quartering the field for the next 20 minutes up until 21:50. This is the first sighting at West Hartford for almost three year and only the second confirmed in Cramlington since then!

It was amazing to watch this silent hunter in the fading light along with a family party of Kestrels. Together they were hammering the WH mammal population.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

A Little Bit

I spent the majority of my day off at Gosforth Park NR yesterday in search of the Little Bittern. As soon as I had entered the reserve both Great Spotted and Green Woodpecker were calling form the same tree.
Unable to get a decent view from the full Pyle hide I wondered around the reserve for a while in the hope that the Bittern could pop up anywhere. It didn't and it was back to the hide where I managed to get a a seat. It had last shown 45 minutes before I arrived and was in the reeds opposite the hide. With my bins trained on that section for 4 and a bit hours eventually it paid off as I got very brief views of the Little Bittern flying through the tress to the right of the hide and out of sight. Although the views were somewhat disappointing I did see a flyby Kingfisher, juvenile Water Rail feeding in the mud to the left of the hide and brief views of a Hobby as it flew off having earlier been perched on a dead tree at the back of the pool. Also an Otter was constantly mobbed by nesting gulls and Terns from the raft as it swam through the water.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Estonia 2014 Part 3

Off on the road again the next day and it was a longer journey NW to Matsalu National Park. Along the coastal area of the reserve between Lihula and Virtsu is another massive tower hide the overlooks part of the extensive coastal bay. On the road to the hide a Hawfinch and a perched Rough-Legged Buzzard were seen from car. Whilst everybody else scanned form the hide I initially stayed on the ground near the harbour office. From here I had excellent views of a Caspian Tern as it flew through. The views from the hide were amazing and provided views of two pairs of Smew, Goosander, Marsh Harrier and a hunting White Tailed Eagle. Ruff, Spotted Redshank and Common Sandpiper occupied the shallow water and Wheatear and Whinchat were also in the vicinity.

Later on in the day we were at another part of the national park, here we visited the Matsalu Natural Science museum which was well worth the visit. From another tower hide, this one a rusty converted telephone mast with the missing roof visible in the undergrowth beneath, a male Hen Harrier was the highlight.  A Thrush Nightingale was singing from the scrub along the river bank too.

On route to our final stop at Haapsalu, we briefly stopped at a village whose name I don’t know. The small pond in the centre of the village held a drake Garganey and a Grey Headed Woodpecker showed from the trees behind the pond. Also on the way we pulled over and marvelled at the site of 140+ male Ruff in full multicoloured plumage together in the same ploughed field. They looked even more spectacular when they flew off and over the car on mass.

Haapsalu which looks like one big impressive film set, boasted another impressive area of reeds and a huge lake complete with a tower hide. A Great Reed Warbler deafened us as we approached the hide and as the sun set a White Tailed Eagle flew low over the lake which flushed at least 30 Grey Heron to the air. A massive number of pairs of Great Crested Grebe were on the lake and some had nests close to the pier. On the section of the lake in front of our hotel for the evening there were three pairs of summer plumage Slavonian Grebe which looked amazing in the late evening sun. Also some summer plumage Little Gulls hawked insects over the lake.

With an early start and early flight back on the Friday we didn’t have time to stop anywhere but did manage to pull over in time to see an Elk standing out of the open on the edge of a forest. Even without antlers it was still a mighty beast despite its dopey appearance. It didn’t stay long before melting back into the forest.

An amazing end to an amazing trip with great company and laughs. Thanks to everybody again, until next time...

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Estonia 2014 Part 2

The next morning the clearing was as empty as when we had arrived but 10 Hooded Crows were attracted to the mess left by the Racoon Dogs. On our way back to the car the sound of Wood Warblers filled the air along with the call of multiple Cuckoos. Cuckoos proved to be very common throughout the trip but typically they were heard more than see. The next leg of our journey had us travelling south to Tartu with a few stops planned of course.

First stop was Alam Pedja which is another boardwalk trail through a giant woodland bog.  From the tower hide overlooking the bog, Tree Pipits descended from the tree tops and another Great Grey Shrike was spotted. Looking towards the famous ‘’Hollywood Hill’’ we could distantly see one then two Lesser Spotted Eagles. Although distant we still saw them perform some aerial acrobatics before disappearing below the tree line.
Another impressive tower hide
As we headed back along the track to the car something large and black flew in front of us before landing on a tree next to its nest hole. It turned out to be the bird of the trip, a Black Woodpecker! As we watched the Jackdaw like woodpecker climb up and around the tree trunk another briefly appeared. Despite having the safety of the nest hole so close the Woodpecker stayed in view for around 15 minutes!
Throughout the week whilst travelling along long stretches of road we saw loads of nesting pairs of White Stork. Many were adding sticks to their impressive ‘nurseries’ and whilst stopping in a supermarket car park we were even treated to views of a pair bill clapping.

No words needed 
Next stop was the underwhelming looking Ilmatsalu Fish Ponds near Tartu, how deceiving looks can be! The surrounding fields over the river were full of constantly flighty White fronted Geese and the reed beds had multiple Marsh Harriers quartering them permanently whilst Honey Buzzards flew above the distant plantation. The paths between ponds were lifting with Blue Headed Yellow Wagtails and as we passed one of the canals a Thrush Nightingale was singing from the scrub on the opposite bank. It was surprisingly obliging hence the photo below.
The biggest pond had a diverse mixture of species including typical winter ducks like Shoveler, Pintail and a Whooper Swan as well as waders including Stunning summer plumage Spotted Redshanks, male Ruff, Black Tailed Godwit and the most Wood Sandpipers I have ever seen. A large gathering of Swallows over one of the smaller pond attracted a Hobby which gave great views as it flew low overhead before diving at the Swallows. It was eventually mobbed by others and flew out of sight. We also had fly over Little and Great White Egrets.

After arriving and finding somewhere to sleep and eat in Tartu we headed out to a Great Snipe Lek site. Unfortunately only one bird was showing and I just missed it as it disappeared back into a gully in the field.

Final instalment arriving soon...

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Estonia 2014 Part 1

From Monday 5th until Friday 9th May I spent an amazing few days in Estonia with Cain, Gary S, Andrew D, Stephen W, Heather D and Ciara L. It was our first birding trip all together outside of Scotland.

When we touched down in Tallin on Monday it was snowing but fortunately by the next morning it had melted. In the hotel car park at Rakvere we were greeted by a singing Redstart on our first full day. With the hire van picked up we left for the Lahemaa National Park and it was noticeably wintery still with the numerous arable fields en route full of wintering geese. We stopped near Rakvere to check the geese and ended up scanning hundreds of Eurasian White Fronted Geese, Tundra Bean Geese and Barnacle Geese who were joined by a few small pockets of Pink Footed Geese and Greylag Geese.  The fields also held a few foraging White Storks and Common Cranes.  With visiting at a strange time of the season there was a lot of cross over between departing winter species and arriving summer migrants so seeing storks and cranes amongst groups of geese wasn’t the strangest sight of the trip.

 Once at the vast Lahemaa National Park we explored the Viru Bog Trail following the boardwalk and stopping at its impressive tower platform hide.  Common Cranes were heard calling from the ground but remained elusive whilst Pied Flycatcher were the opposite as they showed well in the woods. The small pools scattered across the bog held Goldeneye and Teal but the best viewing was from the tower hide. In just a few minutes, Goshawk and Montagu’s Harrier were soaring above the tree tops along with a distant Eagle sp. A Great Grey Shrike was perched on top of a pine tree amongst the bog also.
From the woodland trail we were all utterly suckered by the local Chaffinches which not surprisingly sound slightly different to the ones back in England. In fact they sound so different we thought at first we were listening to Parrott Crossbills the call was that different.  Cain and Gary got onto a Grey Headed Woodpecker in the woods whist we all stumbled across a Hen Capercaille which soon flew off.  The roads through the various forests were full of flocks of Chaffinches feeding on grit. Amongst these flocks a few Common Rosefinch were picked out.

View from the tower hide
On our way to our next destination, the Bear Hide, east of Maetaguse, we stopped and explored the dense surrounding forest. Along the forest roads we found a former Beaver Dam that had been destroyed in a small flooded ditch. Further off the beaten track we followed a set of Elk prints which led us into thick forest. We found tantalising fresh evidence of the impressive creature but never really got close to it. A smart singing male Red Breasted Flycatcher and a common Lizard were worth the diversion. Also we saw a few Wood Sandpiper  in the flooded ditches.
 As we drove along the track I spotted something flying across the road and got on it just in time to see that it was a male Golden Oriole, unfortunately nobody else got on it as it flew back further into the forest. A tame Red Throated Pipit feeding along the forest track did make up for the disappointment though. Also another Hen Cappercaille flew from the roadside. 
After getting the key and walking up to the Bear Hide we settled down and began our vigil. On the way through the forest leading to the hide it was eerily quiet with only the cronking of Ravens echoing in the distance. Fresh Lynx claw marks were also noted on a tree trunk. 
We spent the best part of 12 hours in total waiting in the well insulated and sound proof hide for the notoriously shy Bears to appear.  The clearing in front of the hides where bait is usually placed was empty which didn’t help matters. As it gradually grew darker the forest burst into life as Bats swooped through the clearing and then Racoon Dogs and Fox appeared. The cunning Fox stayed behind the felled logs and waited until the less cautious Racoon Dogs ventured into the open before it scampered around. In total we saw around 6-8 Racoon Dogs and watched as they played around and fed in the clearing before intermittently fighting with one another. For a creature with such a bulky stature the Racoon Dogs have a surprisingly camp fighting stance which provided much entertainment. 
Despite an excellent supporting cast the star of the show never made an appearance and even in the pitch black we attempted to take it in turns to stay up and check for the Bears but the lure of the sleeping bags provided in the bunks of the hide proved too much.
To be continued...

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Building up

Arcot Pond on Monday night was alive for the first time in a while. A pair of Great Crested Grebe were on the pond, Grasshopper and Sedge Warbler were reeling away as was a Lesser Whitethroat. Two pair of Common Tern fished above the pond and later another pair passed through at the same time making this my highest total I have seen in Cramlington. At least two Grasshopper Warbler were also rattling behind the Brockwell centre on monday afternoon.

Yesterday I was lucky enough to visit Cain's ''office'' near Kielder. With the sun shinning GS Woodpeckers were drumming away in the woods and  Green Woodpecker was yaffling away. On a short walk by the river we stumbled upon two Song Thrush nest, one with young chicks and another still under construction.
The peaceful woods were momentarily disturbed as two rutting Roe Deer ran through the trees before crashing through the river barking as they went. A Dipper was dipping through the rapids as a Grey Wagtail picked amongst the rocks and a drake Mandarin flew downstream.
The highlight of the day for me though was seeing a Common Lizard (a British lifer) chasing spiders along the grassy bank side.

Later in the afternoon we checked Killingworth Lake where we got excellent views of the Great Crested Grebe pairs. At least eight Common Terns were fishing here and a Speckled Wood butterfly was in a garden near the lake side.
During a quiet trip to West Hartford today I spotted a Speckled Wood flying around the substation. A pair of Gadwall and a Whitethroat were also noted. A few Tree Sparrow flew east calling high up as they passed were my first noted record of seeing them on visible migration through Cramlington.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Back to the future

After a family bereavement and work commitments I am slowly getting back to birding in what spare time I have. I managed to see the Ferruginous Duck at Gosforth Park the other week which was very nice to see.  The patch has been relatively  quiet, I missed the GW Egret at Arcot but I have just been enjoying watching the more expected common migrants preform well and in good numbers early on. Cramlington seems to be carpeted with Ladybirds at the moment, I dont know if anyone has noticed a similar pattern anywhere else?

On sunday I did the WEBS count at Castle Island with SH. I cant remember the last time it was as exciting. The usual's were on the island and in the water near the bridge but east of the island in the river were a pair of Red Breasted Merganser, 4 Goosander and 1 summer plumage Red Throated Diver. The diver didn't stay long and ended up flying back towards the sea. Also a Lesser Whitethroat was calling from the bushes near the cycle track

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Inland WEBS

With the usual WEBS counter for some of inland sites away, myself, SH, DM and IFo counted them on Sunday.
After a windy and uneventful count at Castle Island we headed inland to Angerton Lake near Hartburn. After avoiding the Red-Legged Partridges in the middle of the road we started the count. Resident species such as Mute Swans and Canada Geese were present along with returning Little Grebe, Oystercatcher and Curlew.

Next count was further inland at Rothley Lakes, a new site for me. Once we had fought our way through the plantation to get to the lakes we ended up counting Canada Geese, Canada Geese and more Canada Geese so it was swiftly onto our final inland site, Rayburn Lake. This was again another new site for me.
As we approached the lake which is rapidly drying up along its shore, probably due to the lack of rain and strong winds like on Sunday, two Whooper Swans flew off leaving only there Mute cousins behind.
Good numbers of Teal and Wigeon along with Lapwing and Curlew were also on the lake.

It still seemed firmly like winter in inland Northumberland which is much different from Cramlington at the moment as I have heard at least three singing Chiffchaff in the same area behind the Brockwell Centre over the last week.

Finishing the counts quicker than we had expected allowed us to time to visit East Chevington and the feeding station in front of the north hide. It didn't take long despite the wind for the Redpoll to appear. At first we could only see Lessers but then two obvious Mealy Redpoll appeared including once stunning Pink bird. Another joined them and two Bank Voles showed well under the feeders as he fed on the spilt seed.
Long Tailed Duck and the Red Necked Grebe were still present on the north pool.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

South West

On Saturday I headed to the South West of the county with LMD. Encouraging numbers of waders were back on territory around Allendale with Golden Plover, Oystercatcher and most impressively hundreds on Lapwing occupying the surrounding fields.

The wind was so strong it made getting out of the car a struggle so we spend most of the time from the roadsides. Plenty of paired up Red Grouse popped up from the heather and a Raven tumbled through the sky from a vantage point. Black Grouse were much harder to come by and we only ended up finding the one bird despite extensive searching.
My only views of Black Grouse prior to this were accross a valley through a scope so standing only feet away from an impressive male was the days highlight for me.

Grindon Lough was our next stop where only Tufted Duck and a few gulls were. No sign of any Geese never mind any White Fronted. Whittle Dene was a bit more active. The 3 long staying Whooper Swans had been joined by a further 20 in the fields west of the reservoirs. A pair of Great Crested Grebe were viewable from the hide as was a single Pink Footed Goose amongst the Greylags. Again no sign of the Bean Geese. Also a very obliging Green Sandpiper was wading its way through the channel that runs behind the reservoirs.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Through the week

On Monday I had my first trip to West Hartford in a while. A pair of Shelduck and a Lesser Black Backed Gull were new on the patch for me for the year, both were amongst the Lapwing, Oystercatchers and BH Gulls on the main pool.
As I was leaving I checked the fields behind the entrance plantation. Almost a year to the day since first seeing them for the first time at WH, I was surprised to hear the chirping of 5 or 6 Tree Sparrow in the hedgerow. As I left I could hear them from the roadside.

Tuesday night at 21:45 I was putting the bins out when I heard a strange high pitched call repeating and coming form behind the Brockwell centre.  After listening for a while I think it might have been a female Tawny Owl but I'm not 100%.

yesterday I went accross to Cumbria with Cain, as we drove just passed Haydon Bridge I spotted an odd looking mammal on the side of the road. We pulled over and checked and found the mangled remains of a Polecat! Its a shame I have never seen one in the wild and really don't know much about them, its a shame this was my first sighting.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014


Last night at 12:30 I could see movement at the bottom of my garden. Expecting the neighbours cat as usual I scanned the garden with a torch and instead caught the eye shine of a Fox!
It looked back at me before turning around and scampered back into the school field. Last February in the heavy snow I saw a Fox run through the field but presumed that it had been forced here because of the snow. It was probably the mildest day of the year yesterday so there no reason for the Fox to have been forced into the garden in an attempt to find food. They have been seen more frequently over the last couple of years around the estate so I wonder if the Fox is a regular and I just happened to have caught up with it now.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Through the week

For the second week in a row I had a garden tick. At 12:15am on Monday a single Golden Plover flew over my house, obviously it was only heard not seen.

On Wednesday I was out with LMD for the first time this year. First stop was a birdless Maiden's Hall Lake. East Chevington north pool was full of Wigeon, Wigeon and more Wigeon. Amongst the Wigeon were a pair of Red Breasted Merganser, 3 Long Tailed Duck, 7 Shoveler, a few Pochard and the Red Necked Grebe.

Druridge Pools was also quiet with again more Wigeon on offer. 20+ Shoveler and 2 Pintail were also of note. The Twite flock was out of view at Hemscott Hill Links and Cresswell Pond held, yes you guessed it, more Wigeon. The track to the hide was alive with Tree Sparrows mainly because of the new feeders hung in the trees. No sign of any Scaup but a pair of Pintail were showing well on the sand bar and a Water Rail squealed from the reeds in front of the hide.

After failing to locate the Glossy Ibis at Tynemouth of  early Thursday morning, myself and Cain checked Holywell Pond instead. As we walked down to the hide a group on Greylags flew from the pond and landed in the field. As we scanned we spotted the White Fronted Goose amongst the group.
A good number of Gadwall and a few Pochard were on the pond but a rare bird at Holywell was the best find, a Stonechat on the wire fence in the sheep field.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Red necked but no Phalarope

With a few hours spare yesterday afternoon I headed up north with Cain. Grey Phalarope has been a bird that has eluded me for far too long now so with the long staying bird at Stag Rocks being seen again during the week hopes were high.
The tide was getting towards its highest and as a result Common Scoter, Long-tailed Duck along with the Eider were just offshore. As the weather turned from grey and dull to greyer and wet to horizontal sleet the sea got rougher. Gulls were hard to pick out never mind a tiny grey ball of fluff bobbing on the waves so once again I failed to see a Grey Phalarope.

As we scanned from in front of the lighthouse, a Red- necked Grebe was sitting on the water just below the rocks. The only previous one I had seen from here was at least a mile out on a choppy sea amongst a raft of 200+ Scoter a few years ago. We were treated to prolonged views of the Grebe as it floated even closer on the rocks just underneath us not bothered at all as it dived  and caught fish. As it dived its whole body was out of the water and I even watched its shadow move under the water in the shallows.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Am I doing something wrong?

After news broke of the Yellow Rumped Warbler's location in Durham on Sunday morning I was soon there with JM and MA. The bird hadn't been seen for about an hour so like the 50+ people now gathered we wandered around the estate. Since the area it had been favouring was along the back of the estate we could see into peoples gardens and a lot of the gardens had not just feeders but feeding stations.
With rumours that the Warbler had just been photographed in a garden and was now amongst a flock of Goldfinch everybody lined up and scanned the gardens.
As we watched and waited, three Waxwings landed in a nearby tree. To most present this provided a brief distraction from the tense situation but to me this and the next few minutes were the highlight of the trip. With more rumours that it had moved further down once again we decided to stay watching the feeding station and play it cool. So whilst most charged away like a hoard of blood thirsty zombies we watched as the charm of 30+ Goldfinch danced around the feeders along with a single Lesser Redpoll, Willow Tit, Brambling and the Waxwings.
 Once the sighting was confirmed we moved down and got some ok views of the warbler. Highlights were when its Yellow rump was visible and when it ticked like a Robin as it flew along the area of scrub bordering the estate.

Dont get me wrong I like seeing any new bird but I had more enjoyment out of watching the feeding station than actually seeing the Warbler. It happened again today when I stepped onto the drive, I heard the familiar call of a Reed Bunting and look around just in time to see it fly passed from the neighbours fence. This garden first was almost as enjoyable as all of sunday. I'll never be a twitcher.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

2 out of 3

I had three winter targets when I left for West Hartford with Cain this morning. Wandering around the marsh a few Common Snipe lifted but one of my targets Jack Snipe eluded me. Skylarks were singing overhead and Meadow Pipits are starting to arrive back in good numbers, I had 14 on Thursday.

As I approached the south of the pool I heard a Moorhen call from the reed bed and as I turned around a Water Rail (target) flew passed into the reeds. Doing so it spooked a Short Eared Owl (target) which lifted and flew to the west of the pool. Despite the strong winds it managed to perch on a fence post before being bullied away by a Magpie.  Despite a decent amount of Teal being on the pool there was no Green Winged.

We also checked the fields near Seghill for geese but they had moved on. A few Greylags were in the fields at Holywell Pond and a couple of hundred Pink Feet were in the fields at Blyth Links but no Bean or White fronted.

Thursday, 6 February 2014

Local interesting

I was out again at the weekend with Cain. Despite the strong winds we headed to the Beacon Lane-Arcot area. At last the Little Owl was showing itself form the usual tree on the bend along Beacon Lane.

The winds had forced the golfers off the course at Arcot so we had a good wander around there. Going off the beaten track we ended up in a thick area of scrub somewhere on the course. Roe Deer flitted passed and a Woodcock lifted from the damp ground.
Unable to describe where I had seen the Woodcock I went back yesterday with Liver Birder and showed him. No sign of any Woodcock but Roe Deer still present as was the Little Owl along the Lane. Also a Hare ran through the undergrowth, not habitat I'm used to seeing them in.

Friday, 31 January 2014

Dark times

I had a wonder to West Hartford yesterday afternoon. Nothing much at all on show. A flock of Lapwing feeding in the cut fields opposite Bedlington Golf Course and a Pheasant that shot accross were both patch ticks for the competition.
Almost as soon as I had got back I was out again with SH to check for owls. On the bird race my team had two Tawny Owls calling form the woods near Plessey so that is where we checked. From the pull in passed the windmills towards the farm on the banks of the River Blyth we waited until dark for an owl. Eventually one distantly and briefly called nearer the river. Also a bonus Golden Plover flew over calling, another tick for me.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Through the week

A few bits from the last week. Last Saturday I went up to East Chevington with Cain to see the Starling murmuration. A bit more impressive than the one over my house, around three thousand birds were preforming overhead as dusk drew closer.

Its amazing how such large numbers of birds can just all of a sudden disappear and then swoop overhead out of nowhere. Before dropping into the reeds on the south pool for the night the Starlings made a strange sound with their wings which I wasn't aware they did before going to roost. Once they had all landed in the reeds a small group of six Starling flew passed including one leucistic bird. Also on the north pool there were plenty of Goldeneye and three Long-tailed Duck.

Whilst on the bus on monday I saw the Little Egret on the Horton Burn and then standing next to the pipe that runs through Shankhouse Bog. Yesterday morning I checked Arcot Pond and the southern stream with SH. Nothing much out of the ordinary but I added a few missing birds to the patch list for 2014.

This morrnig I was back out with Cain this time at Gosforth Park. 100+ Wigeon were on the pools along with a few Shoveler and Gadwall. A Water Rail screeched from the reeds near the boardwalk and we briefly saw a Bittern in flight before it dropped down back into the reeds.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Green Gloss

It didn't look like sunday would be off to a good start as the rain stotted off the car as myself, SH and DM drove up to Castle Island. We decided to work backwards and started at Lynemouth Flash. No sign of the Glossy Ibis reported the day before so we checked the flooded fields between the flash and Cresswell Hall Farm. Just as I was about to get out of the car I spotted it standing in the middle of the field next to a pair of Mallard.  After seeing the 2009 bird I had forgotten how small Glossy Ibis are especially next to Mallard who looked almost half the size. With a break in the rain we stayed and watched for a while as the Ibis fed on worms and let off a strange grunting type call.

Next we checked for the Green-Winged Teal at Druridge Pools. Surprisingly easy to find it was sitting in the long grass with its Eurasian counterparts before flying off nearer the pools. I think this was the first time I have seen a GW Teal head on so that I could see the vertical strip on both sides. At one point the Teal was standing next to a Black Tailed Godwit. A load of Shoveler and a few Pintail were on the pools from the Budge Hide but we had just missed the Little Gull.

Eventually we attempted the WEBS count at Castle Island. Not surprisingly we got wet and didn't see much although an unexpected highlight was a dapper looking drake Scaup swimming downstream with a group of Tufted Duck.  I had pre-arranged commitments for the afternoon so I was dropped off back at Crambodia instead of going to the north of the county with Steve and Dee. Once again Grey Phalarope conspire against me, one day I'll see one.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Like Chuck Norris...

Like Chuck Norris, the Sparrowhawk is a species you dont go looking for because it finds you, well at least thats what another ginger bearded soul tells me. Yesterday there was proof of this when I noticed a huge orange barred male perched in the trees just above the fence line in my garden.
I have noticed white streaking on the back of some Sparrowhawks in the past, not sure if it is an age thing or not but yesterdays bird also had two white patches on the back of its head which gave it a menacing eyes on the back of its head look. As the Starling murmeration gathered over the school field the hawk flew off keeping low to the ground. It felt like an attack on the flock was imminent.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Two Kings

I had a walk along the Horton Burn and around the old fire station fields today. No sign of the Little Egret but a Grey Wagtail and a Kingfisher were next to each other on the stretch of the burn at Northburn Park. A Moorhen was sitting in a tree feeding on berries further along the burn and a roost of 10+ Blackbirds were gathered.
From the last footbridge before the fire station road, one Kingfisher flew west along the burn whilst another flew east and through the tunnel. This is the first time in a while I have seen two Kingfishers on the burn at the same time. No snipe at all on the fields but a pair of Mistle Thrushes chattered overhead.

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Siberia to central Asia

Last weekend myself, Cain, Jack B, Dan McG and Tom M did the Northumberland winter bird race for the second year in a row. Somehow we ended up winning so not too many details on our route. An excellent day with some decent birds seen, one of the best was the Siberian Chiffchaff at the Gut, St.Mary’s. It showed well at the base of the willows as dusk descended. This was the first time I had seen a Siberian Chiffchaff and could notice a few subtle differences, mainly the call.

Continuing the theme of potentially splittable warblers, Cain and I were looking into a Tynemouth garden this morning at the Central Asian Lesser Whitethroat. Again some subtle details were noticeable but I’ll let the experts decided. 

Friday, 10 January 2014

Dog walkers do have their uses

Finding the first Little Egret on the Horton Burn to be exact. After hearing the rumours that one had been seen around new year then seeing one on the River Blyth on the 1st, it wasn't surprising that it returned and is still being seen on and off. Favouring the section of the burn with the widest grassy banks near the park, I had excellent views as it waded through and fished on the burn. Also present were Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, Moorhen, Redshank and Great Black Backed Gull. Not bad for a small concrete covered burn running through a housing estate.

Friday, 3 January 2014


Over the past few weeks I have enjoyed watching the Starling murmuration over my house. This is the first year that this had happened. During the summer the summer Northburn first school decided to cut down most of the trees between the school and the cycle track next to my house. As a result the Starlings have been roosting in the one significant tree left which is partly in my neighbours garden. 

Not as impressive as the murmuration at East Chevington but still managed 100+ birds last night as they swooped over the roofs and school field. It seems that every Starling form the estate gathers before roosting in the tree. Its amazing standing in the garden just listening to the sound of 100+ Starlings in the dark.