Tuesday, 18 April 2017


It was a case of third time lucky for me yesterday at Shibdon Pond. Having been doing Easter stuff with the family I arrived home to find a missed call from Prof. Pochard himself (by a good few hours), a sure indication that something good had been found locally.

A scour of my twitter timeline revealed nothing, but Birdguides had notification of a Scaup at Shibdon Pond from late morning. Excellent! A bird I'd yet to see in Gateshead, and indeed my only previous record was from Aberlady Bay on a Durham Bird Club trip c2001.
I'd already dipped Common Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit in the last few days here so didn't want to dip this one.

I trekked down as the rain started, a bit of a set-to with a local youth on the way hardly knocked me out of my yomping stride and I arrived in the hide just after 5.30pm and just before the heavens opened.

My first scan revealed not much at all, but soon spotted the returning Godwit distant in the right-hand corner, good start.
No sign of the Scaup anywhere though, so I had a search of the hawking hirundines for something different as Rob entered the scene, and promptly found the Scaup straight away where I swear it hadn't been just a minute earlier :-/
Excellent, up to then I didn't know if I was looking for a drake or a duck, but this was a handsome drake, though not showing too well in the downpour.
Meanwhile Rob also found my first 2017 House Martin among the plethora of hirundines zipping around the pond.
The rain eventually eased and the waking drake Scaup became a bit more active further along the pond, so we walked along and got some decent shots of him (in my case half decent).

Drake Scaup (left) dozing in the pouring rain. I thought for a while this was going to be
the best shot I would get. 

But the rain eased and he showed well 

What a handsome chap

and again

And not forgetting the Black-tailed Godwit, though hardly the best view I've had of the species.

A lift home and that was that, the Scaup, Godwit and House Martins all nicely bagged.
Shibdon Pond has brought in some nice birds lately, and though I've missed out on a few short stayers, George has been keeping me up to speed with all the comings and goings. Here's the last few weeks as seen through his camera lens :

The long staying Garganey were a treat, sadly departed now (no not dead, just flown)

Mandarin appeared on the morning of the 5th, but was gone by the time I turned up
in the evening. 

Gadwall on the 8th, another one-day only bird 

Common Sandpiper on the 15th, gone by the 16th.

And a better shot of the Black-tailed Godwit, last 2 days on and off
(all images courtesy of George Simpson)

Good work from George, and time for a few more goodies yet we hope, with spring migration yet to peak. Shibdon Pond fast becoming my new  local patch :-)

Monday, 10 April 2017

Win some, Lose some . . .

Sunday, forecast to be a scorcher (for this time of year) so a long overdue return to Burdon Moor was planned, hopefully for a Wheatear or two (five were there Saturday evening), a male Stonechat in his spring attire and a few basking lizards being the other targets.

My hour long trek was uneventful for the most part, but the final leg of the journey (parallel to the Tanfield Railway line) produced my first singing Willow Warbler of the year and a couple of Red-legged Partridges (another year first) out in the open in an adjacent short-cropped field.

Red-legged Partridges, well away from cover for a change.

This Chiffchaff was singing close by, I couldn't even see the Willow Warbler to photograph

At Burdon Moor my initial scans produced only Meadow Pipits and Skylarks (the air was filled with the songs of both already) but half-way up the loop my sweep across the field was halted by the sight of a Stoat standing momentarily statue-like in the open pasture, then zig-zagging towards the tall grass tufts as a number of Reed Buntings flitted around it, repeatedly swooping over its head and alighting on tall stems, high enough to keep clear of the confused Stoat as it repeatedly changed target, darting this way and that but eventually disappearing into the rougher part of the field as I belatedly got my camera out (I should have known better to have my camera at the ready as soon as I got on site).
The buntings soon dispersed as the Stoat gave up its pursuit but I kept scanning in hope of another view, which unfortunately was not forthcoming.

But as I scanned, my attention was grabbed by a repeated 'chek-chek' sound coming from the sky to the left of me, so looked up to see the distinct but not oft-seen silhouette of what had to be a Ring Ouzel flying in quite low overhead, with bins the diagnostic white crescent was clearly visible as it passed by, so distinctive it had to be a male; I followed it in the hope he would land but his low, slow flight was maintained as he eventually disappeared over the horizon. I did try for a photo but going away from me now his silhouette was so small I couldn't focus on it with the X-S1 (not its greatest forte) so missed another opportunity.

But Wow! What a start, I'd only been on site around 5 minutes, I wondered what else was going to turn up.
Unfortunately not much as far as my targets were concerned. A good search of the area found no Wheatear, no Stonechat, and the usual lizard basking area was still in shade so no luck there either.
A nice Brown Hare sighting was a bit of a consolation, but into the sun and slow with the camera meant no shot of that either.
Despite the lack of migrants on the ground, the next hour or so was still pleasant, with red kite and kestrel, another 2 partridges, another two Willow Warblers (this time photographed) a noisy and mobile flock of 50 or so Linnet, and a 'murmuration' of around 1000 Golden Plover in the distance. Other than that, the sight and sound of  numerous Meadow Pipits and Skylarks was a joy.

No stoat, but that's where it was, one of the reed bunts can be seen still hanging around middle of pic

One of 50 or so Linnets, love their noisy commotion in flight

Despite the omnipresence of the meadow pipits, this was the best shot I could get, but loved watching
their curious parachute flights, wonder how it developed. 

'Golden Plover, 1000s of 'em' as Michael Caine might have said

A portion of the estimated 1000+  plovers

At last, a Willow Warbler showed to finish the day nicely
Butterflies were very noticeable too, mainly small Torts, but a couple of small Whites and a Peacock were the other species I could identify, so when I finally decided to leave with the prospect of another hours trek in soaring temperatures, I felt the journey had been worthwhile.
Just goes to show, what you lose on the wheatears, stonechats and lizards, you gain on the stoats, hares and ring ouzels.        

Footnote : A dead Badger beside the bus stop as I crossed the main road was the third I've seen this year. The first two were roadkills for sure, but the position of this one smacked of the result of the darker side of human nature, like it had been held by the front and back legs and dumped by the side of the path. Hope I'm wrong but nowt surprises me these days :-( 

Monday, 3 April 2017

Catching Up Slowly

Big news of the week for me was a report of a blue damselfly at Far Pasture on Friday (Mar 31st) Most likely a 'rogue' Azure, whereby the larvae is already at maximum size so ready to emerge, and most likely did so during the hot day and nights earlier in the week, it certainly doesn't signal the start of the dragonfly season, which won't start in earnest for another 5 weeks around these parts by my reckoning.
I checked it out on Sunday anyway, in decent sunshine at FP but nothing to report, I'm afraid a lone damsel wouldn't survive long among the hordes of insect-eating birds arriving there now. Still a very good early record, probably the earliest of the year in the country for that particular species (though definite ID was not made), an excellent find by Michael Eccles et al.

Which brings me on to vertebrate news. A slow week for spring migrants but yesterday's trip to Far Pasture gave excellent views of 3 singing Blackcaps, though getting a photograph wasn't easy.

Blackcap - One of 3 singing males at Far Pasture yesterday

Numerous Chiffchaffs in the area, 4 common buzzards and 2 very showy red kites, and back on the derwent walk I checked out the trackside ditch which is popular with frogs, and found one miserable-looking critter waiting for his mates to arrive :

Grumpy Frog with nee mates

Earlier at Shibdon Pond I got my first Sand Martin of the year (courtesy of Rob S), the 2 drake Garganey were still present, but the only other birds of note were the pair of Oystercatchers showing nicely front of hide :

A pair of Oyks 

In the garden it looks like I've seen the last of the Bramblings for the season, after a few blank days  the original pair returned to say farewell, but last seen on Thursday 30th. But as the winter migrants depart, the spring migrants arrive, with a foraging Chiffchaff making the house list on Friday.
Bird numbers in general are down as the arrival of spring offers more natural food, the feeders lately having to be stocked up every four days instead of two. Still getting the same species in but numbers of gold, green and chaffinches are well down on this time a fortnight ago. The Bullfinch pair are still regular though which is nice to see, and the nuthatches still make the occasional visit :

Brambling - Feeding up before heading home

Great to see the Bullfinch pair every day though

Blue tits too - this one visiting the conservatory roof water trough 

Heron activity has been good, with the occasional grey coming right over the house on their way to whatever feeding grounds from Axwell Park :

Unmistakeable silhouette as this Grey Heron flies low over the house 
At night a bat sp. was seen April 1st making a couple of laps over the garden but not identifiable from the brief views, looked bigger than the usual Pipistrelle but even that isn't certain. Hopefully the excitement might crank up a bit over the coming week :-/   

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Freaky Friday

Friday 24th, early afternoon, sun shining after an awful week of wind and rain (or worse) so I had a trek down to Shibdon Pond to see if there was any sign of migration. The journey there was notable only for three singing chiffchaffs in the same territories as had been last Sunday when I first noted them, so no additions during the aforementioned shitty week, and my first butterflies of the year, a small Tort in next-doors front, and a larger unidentified lowie along the Fellside path.

At Shibdon I was greeted with the news that the 2 drake Garganey were about somewhere but throughout the time I was there, despite the better atmospheric conditions than had been last weekend, the views weren't good as they clung to the far shore, never once venturing close enough for even one of my world famous 'dodgy record shots'.

Disappointing overall again, a kestrel being harried by a couple of crows the only bit of excitement, and just one oystercatcher making a late entrance (the only wader on view).

The undoubted highlight was a 'queer 'un'. Shibdon is famed for its queer looking ducks, some of which could easily have been put together by Baron von Frankenstein himself, but todays specimen was some sort of half gull-half curlew monstrosity, the like of which I've never seen before. I'll let the pictures do the talking :

What the hell? Is that a beak or a cutlass?

A wanabee curlew

The 'weapon' in close-up

Even the magpie had to come for a closer look

Change of tack, a Lesser-black backed Gull showing off it's lovely yellow legs 

And the Shibdon terrapin, a red-eared slider I believe, survives another winter.

Don't know how long its been there but I first encountered it about five years ago.

Today was like a summers day, butterflies, bees, ants and a host of other insects on show, and news the first damselflies are out . . . in Cornwall :-/
Never mind, with better weather forecast over the coming days I should think migration will be well under way by this time next week.   

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