Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Gargan-tuan Twitch

Any twitch is a big one for me as I don't do much twitching (mainly as I don't drive and gave up long ago relying on public transport after one too many day-long disappointments), but when news came through of a couple of drake Garganey at Shibdon Pond on Monday morning (via Rob on Twitter), it didn't seem right to not have a 'gander'.
Lovely ducks the Garganey, the last one sighted in Gateshead being 2012, which I didn't get to see, and my memory fails me regarding the last time I did see one, though I know I've had one at Shibdon before (or was it Far Pasture?) but we're talking a decade ago at least.

I digress, the point is, now I can walk to Shibdon this was too good an opportunity to miss, but as I had tasks to perform I decided to get them out of the way first then make the trek to the pond, as past experience of these ducks means I could expect them to be dozing for long periods before one bothered to show itself, so was unsure how long it would take to get decent views and a half decent record shot for the blog.

Shibdon Pond, a panoramic view from the hide

Consequently it was around 11.30am when I entered the hide, just one other birder (unknown) in attendance. I wanted to find them meself so didn't enquire as to their whereabouts (if indeed they were still present) but a quick sweep of the pond revealed the tell-tale white eye-stripe of a (very) distant Garganey, and the second was quickly located (as I thought it may be) tucked asleep front of the main island.
For the next half hour or so this was as good as it got, the sleeping duck seemed to tuck further and further into the island, and the dabbling duck ended tight against the far reeds, the dullness of the day not offering great views or photo opportunities.

That's a Garganey tucked in just left of the sleeping Shoveler, great view.

And that's about as close as the other one came before retreating to the reeds art the back 

There wasn't actually a great deal of other interest on the pond. Only three species of gull present, a few Shoveler are always nice to see, and the only waders were a pair of Oystercatcher which at least flew in from the far raft and entertained me close in with their carrot-beaks and noisy calls.

Pair of Oyks on the far raft

at least came closer but still very dull for photos
The huge beak on the well-named Shoveler

But while I was watching these the sleeping Garganey must have awoken, as next time I scoured the island he was nowhere to be seen, then I spotted him further up nearer the duck feeding area, dabbling in open water.
I made haste, packed away, closed the windows, locked the door and yomped further along the shore, where this dandy of a duck was showing beautifully and close enough for half-decent record shots. The sun even shone for a little while, enabling me to see him in all his glory, great binocular views, a fine fellow indeed.

even out in the open it was tricky to get a shot with his head out of the water

plenty of arse shots to be had too

patience rewarded, look at the size of that head-stripe

slightly better in the sunshine for showing his plumage but the gusty wind didn't help matters either

At least on this one you can see those long back feathers, the photos really don't do him justice. 

That was good enough for me, it was almost 12.30pm now, and I couldn't hang around too long as I still needed to get things done at home. Nevertheless a successful twitch, and you won't hear me say that too often ;-)
Artist's impression
(biro and coloured pencil)

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Latest from the Garden

Plenty of action in the garden and beyond over the last few weeks. As I said last time at least 3 Brambling still coming to the feeders, daily for over a month now. The GS pecker is seen a couple of times a week, nuthatches every other day on average, with a steady flow of all the common tits and finches ensuring I have to fill the feeders up every other day now.
Outside the garden, raptor activity has been increasing, on suitable days buzzards and kites are passing almost every time I look out the window, and just a couple of days ago one red kite passed by my window just about 10 feet away, breathtaking sight.

A sparrowhawk pair have been much more noticeable, the male once seen perched on the back fence, wasn't too bothered about being dive-bombed by a crow but took umbrage when a bus drove past a few feet away, so new to the garden lately have been sparrowhawk and siskin, new to the house list more recently are LBB Gull and Pheasant .

Anyway here's a photographic record of some highlights from the last few weeks :

Birds coming to the feeders often end up having a drink from the water gathered in the conservatory guttering, Ideal for me as it's just outside the studio window, so makes for some decent close-ups (if I can catch the flighty buggers).

Brambling a regular visitor

same bird, different day

and again

great tit
coal tit

Even the local pigeons like a drink, sunnier days make for the best pictures

This pensive greenfinch my favourite so far

Elsewhere in the garden, some decent pics can be had on full zoom if conditions are right

blue tit

one of two jays which came a-visiting

just a record shot (I try to avoid the feeders) of my first
siskin in the garden on the 13th 

Rooks are mysterious birds, nothing out of the ordinary whilst going about their daily business,
but when they just sit there, watching, waiting, staring, and cawing,
they can be a bit sinister.  
In the air the raptors give great entertainment, viewed from the studio window  :
red kite passes a distant copse

red kite as it passes the tree over the road

three common buzzards putting on a display

this one came real close, got it as it banked away 

sparrowhawk pair have become increasingly noticeable
But its not just the birds which provide a spectacle, as my window faces west, the evening sun can give some beautiful atmospherics :


A 'Sun-dog' I believe

Still a few species I need to get decent pictures of, has been a bit dull lately for the most part but I'll keep trying.

Garden list - birds that touch down in the garden - now stands at 23

House list - birds seen from anywhere on the property (mostly the office window) - is now 51

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

The One That Got Away

Working from home is great now as the upstairs 'studio' window overlooks the valley, and the garden is active all day around the feeders.
Today 3 Brambling were the stars, daily now since Feb 14th, and the male GS Woodpecker made his usual dramatic and colourful entrance.
In the air, despite the overcast conditions, raptor activity was good. In one morning flurry a Red Kite was mobbed by the local distinctive Crow with his leucistic wing patches, then one of two buzzards dropped from the sky to dive bomb a Kestrel I hadn't seen in a tree over the road, before that Buzzard itself was driven off by my Crow friend.
A maximum of three Red Kites in the distance, numerous passes by single buzzards and kites, and a hunting female sparrowhawk kept me busy much of the day as I made good use of the binoculars I keep at the side of the desk while I work.

But at approx. 2.30pm (while eating a sandwich) I looked up to see what I presumed was a buzzard  drifting right to left in the middle distance, quite low following the path of the river upstream. I quite lazily put down my sandwich as it moved through my field of vision through the quite large gap between the near trees. I picked up my bins but had to refocus as they were on close mode for watching the garden, and by the time all this was done I had the bird in view for less than 2 seconds before it disappeared through the branches of the left-hand tree . . . but that was time enough to see that my 'buzzard' was not what I thought.
As I focussed on it, it was flapping its wings now (reasonably quickly) and the most obvious feature was a bright white rump, (the bird was below eye level so this was instantly noticeable) and so my interest suddenly shot up the scale as I tried to take in the rest of the features in a split second before it reached the blindspot. Definitely a raptor, certainly brown from above, tail looked distinctly barred, the jizz looked good and with that white rump, this had to be a ringtail Hen Harrier! But it was gone, and try as I might to relocate it through branches I couldn't.

The view from the studio window
1. Where the bird came into view from behind the nearside tree
2. Where it was when I finally got a fix on it with my bins
3. Approximate size of the bird seen with naked eye
The gap between 1 and 2 represents my gross stupidity as I nonchalantly bothered to look at the 'buzzard'

I cursed myself, what a dozy mare, if I'd not dillydallied I would have had a longer view to confirm it, but now it's one of those was it? wasn't it? I'm 99% sure it was, I can't even come up with an alternative, but I'll never know for certain.
But the more I look at pictures like these below, the more I want to claim it :-(

Illustrative photos nicked from the 'net with apologies to the photographers concerned


Sunday, 5 March 2017

A Cup of Tea and a Chat

A sunny Sunday morning, up later than I'd intended but packed a flask with my bins and camera and off I went to find Burdon Moor on foot, armed only with a printed off section of 20-year old OS map, and the knowledge that my navigating skills are not exactly one of my finer points.
My target today was to photograph a Stonechat, a bird I haven't seen in some time. Our few resident Gateshead pairs didn't survive the winter of 2010, up til then Burdon Moor had been a reliable site, but to my knowledge we haven't had a breeding pair since, just passage birds. This winter a couple of pairs had been reported at regular intervals so hopefully they might at last be making a permanent comeback. 
In the event it was a lovely walk, though our local path was a mud-bath to start the journey, and I did get a little lost through Sunniside, but once on the Tanfield Railway Path it was a doddle, and just an hour and ten minutes (including stopping times) so not too bad at all. On the way I discovered a potential dragonfly pond as well, so something to check out at a later date.

I wasn't expecting to find any early migrants (though wouldn't have said no) but despite a quiet start, the birdsong took over as the sun warmed the day, singing skylarks (and plenty of them) were a joy, as was the occasional bubbling curlew, both iconic sounds of the spring. A noisy oystercatcher turned out to be a Song Thrush, as did a yaffling green woodpecker, one of the reasons I don't trust 'heard only' records. In fact it was great to hear so many song thrushes, early signs this year is that they seem to be abundant on this side of the valley.

Calling Lapwings, a hunting kestrel, a flyover cormorant and seven soaring buzzards all added to the sight and sound spectacle as I had a good walk around, then returning to the loop a barrage of dunnock and wren song, and the occasional burst of Reed Bunting, a particular favourite of mine.

A panoramic view of Ravensworth Fell from Burdon Moor
Lapwings and Skylarks filled the air with noise

Looks like a partial formation of lenticular clouds in the distance
(disc shapes in layers)

The 'stone-frog' pond - Black Darters and Common Hawkers late summer 
Indeed it was a reed bunting alighting on a fence close by which caused me to stop and notice my target bird, a fly-catching Stonechat on a more distant post, just when I was thinking I'd dipped again, so celebrated with a cup of tea from my flask.
Chuffed with the sighting I began the quest of getting a photo, but it took a good 20 minutes before it came anywhere near close enough.

Stonechat at last, a female if I'm not mistaken

kept its distance for a long while

About as close as it got

Just the one stonechat spotted but that'll do for me, mission accomplished, love it when a plan comes to fruition.
On the way home a cracking yellowhammer singing its heart out against a cobalt blue backdrop along the railway path made for a lovely photo, though I could have got a lot closer if it hadn't been for a pair of dog wankers allowing their mutt to scare it off before I could close in.

Yellowhammer in mid-song - wonderful sight against the blue sky
A good morning out though. Apart from the Stonechat target I'd set myself, I really wanted to see how long it took to get there so I can visit more regulary in the summer. It's a good site for Broad-bodied Chasers but I've only ever visited for Black Darter in late summer, previously relying on a lift, but as it's always been a good passage site for birds I think I'll be visiting a bit more regularly during the spring as well. Good day :-).  

Thursday, 23 February 2017


At last I've started to get out and about, certainly need to if just for the exercise as my fitness levels are pretty low at the moment.
On Sunday I got my lazy arse out of bed early as I wanted to find out how long it takes to get to Shibdon Pond, a site I very rarely visit except for Migrant Hawker time in early autumn, otherwise I'm usually on the way somewhere else when I pop in.
It was always a bus-ride from my previous residence in Rowlands Gill and it's one of those sites in which the anticipation of a random visit always seems to exceed the reality, so unless I'm going for something specifically, I haven't usually bothered.

The  reedbeds at Shibdon are visible from our upstairs back windows though the pond itself isn't, so I'm a bit disappointed the starling roost didn't materialise this winter, it would have been great watching the murmuration every evening, but there's always next year (fingers crossed).

But back to Sunday, my route took me along the fellside path to Whickham bank where the Waxwings were the other week, down the bank through Swalwell to the old bridge over the river, where a dipper, grey wagtail, pair of little grebes and mute swans entertained me for five minutes, before I carried on along to Shibdon Pond. A total of 25 minutes had elapsed including the stop at the bridge so about a 20 minute walk from home, shorter than I expected, so that's great to know.

Once in the hide though the realisation dawned that as usual there wasn't much of any great interest. Only three species of gull present, and the wader count totalled 2 redshank and 6 lapwing. Despite this I stayed for best part of an hour and things didn't improve much, a scrap between two moorhen being the highlight.

Two of three shovelers on show, all distant

mean looking mallard

a gathering of BH gulls with teal 

The 2 redshank

some herring gulls

just caught the end of the moorhen scrap

mute swan take-off

Eventually I decided to have a look along by the duck feeding area to see if there were any Nordic jackdaws kicking around, but my luck was out here too, as not even a British jackdaw made an appearance.
Off home I went, passing Axwell Park I binned the pond to see four cracking male Goosanders, no females about though. Then walked upriver to cross by the cricket pitch bridge, where an obliging Dipper posed for photos.

Dipper on the Derwent, always a treat to see

A closer view of this penguin-wanabee

A good colony of House Sparrows back up Whickham Bank was nice to see by the old farm buildings, but that was as good as the journey home got.
So only 20 mins away from Shibdon, no excuse not to visit more regularly, roll on spring when it might actually be worth the effort :-)