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 :-)

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

More Brambling than Rambling

I was delighted on the 14th when I spotted an unmistakeable dark finch with an orange breast in the tree next to the garden feeders; a handsome male Brambling :-O
He's one of the most striking examples of the species I've seen, and with him a female, and shortly afterwards another not so striking male.
In the sunshine the next day they looked even better, and now having been coming to the garden for a week, I've noted six individuals (told by their head markings) though have only had five together at any one time. Of the six there appears to be only one female going by fieldguide descriptions, I'm taking that any black marking around the eyes and beak denotes a male, the females having totally grey sides to the face. If anyone knows different, kindly put me right.

No mistaking this fella, a cracking male Brambling

A superbly marked individual, now known as 'Brambo'

The female he was with proved more difficult to photograph, three days before I could get anything
worth posting. 

And unfortunately on this photo she looks to have a severe case of piles.

A second male came on the scene shortly afterwards

Eyeing up the feeder but not yet ready to take the plunge

Another male the following day, head markings clearly differ from the previous two

Birds visiting the feeders have a habit of coming to the guttering on the conservatory roof for a drink, and yesterday for the first time a Brambling did so, offering my first close-up opportunity taken through my studio/office window :

My first close-up; one of the males, beautifully marked birds

The beak resembles the tip of a banana

And I love the scaling effect caused by the pale edges of the feathers, though by summer
the males will be all black, love to see that.

Just another shot of a cracking bird, why not?

Female Chaffinch also on the roof, strikingly similar but also strikingly different
from the Brambling

Also for the first time yesterday one of the birds 'Brambo' (he of the dark hood) actually perched on one of the feeders to eat, unusual as to date none of them had worked out the concept and were happy to eat spillage on the ground (or tray) from the other birds. Though maybe this is out of necessity as the local allotment pigeons have found our feeding station and up to nine of them have been seen hoovering up the seed and sunflower hearts from under the feeder pole. Opportunist thieves.

So most of the excitement round here is still centred on the garden, though I have been out now on a couple of walks, but more of that next time . . . .


Wednesday, 8 February 2017

New to the Garden Today . . . .

No wanderings today, but what a day in the garden. Up to now things have been pretty slow on the new garden list with the flypasts being of more interest, though to be fair it's only 3 weeks since I put the seed feeders out, and the peanuts just this week, so visitor numbers had been increasing slowly but surely. The common tit species have been the most numerous, finches thin on the ground. But my star garden birds up to now have been a pair of nuthatches seen regularly each day, lovely birds, though my favourites have to be a pair of long-tailed tits, they epitomise cuteness.

All hell let loose this morning though, the finches finally arrived in numbers, with 10-12 chaffinches beating the previous high of 3, and first time visitors in the shape of 5 Greenfinches and 7 Goldfinches (max) changing the whole atmosphere around the feeders with their noisy squabbling and in-fighting, an unpleasant change from the more civilized 'after you Claude' feeding etiquette of the tits.
Indeed the tits transferred their attention to the peanut feeder, leaving the two sunflower heart containers to the feisty finches.
But what was that Brown Job on the feeder, a robin? no, I couldn't believe my bins, a female Blackcap wow! wasn't expecting that.
I went for the camera but too late, she was off as the chaffinches poured in again. Bugger.

I looked out as often as I could after that, quite easy as my work station window overlooks the feeders, and again had a wow! moment as a Great-spotted Woodpecker bounded along the back fence and onto the peanuts, a cracking male, up to now I'd just had a couple of flyovers of this species.

And thus it continued, the new visitors mixing with the old, the woodpecker seen on three occasions, the Blackcap on four, eventually staying in one place long enough for a photo, albeit not a very good one, but you should have seen those I rejected :-O.

The high level of activity continued long into the afternoon, and just when I though things couldn't get any better, I spied a female Brambling in the tree next to the feeders :-O
Wow! moment number three.
I tried to focus in on her with the camera as she hopped about, but typically she was obscured by branches when she did come to a halt, then disappeared. As did everything. Whether a Sparrowhawk had gone over I don't know but the hive of activity had suddenly become a scene of desolation as I looked up from my viewfinder, everything had gone, even the woodpigeons.

The garden never became so busy again as the sun lowered and dullness of mid-afternoon took over, but bet I'll be watching out tomorrow. By all accounts it's going to be a cold and frosty night, (the council gritter sprayed the road long before darkness)  so the garden may well be busy again, and hopefully the Brambling may return for a photo as well as a meal.

Today's list of garden visitors (max number in brackets) :

chaffinch (12)
goldfinch (7) - first time visitors
greenfinch (5) - first time visitors
bullfinch (2) - regular pair
blue tit (4)
great tit (3)
l t tit (2) - regular pair
coal tit - (3)
nuthatch - (2) - regular pair
g s woodpecker - male, first time visitor
robin (2)
dunnock (3)
blackbird (2)
wood pigeon (2)
blackcap - female, first time visitor
brambling - female, first time visitor

What a great day, 17 species, 5 of them new to the garden, record numbers, and the Brambling was landmark species number 20 on the garden list, number 47 overall. And believe it or not I even got some work done :-)

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Down by the Riverside . . .

My Wanderings yesterday started with a 10 minute bus ride to the Metrocentre. Hardly counts as a wandering you might say but the fact is, at the moment I'm totally unfit, I've hardly been 'across the doors' since the dawn of winter, and that short journey for the waxwings of my previous post was the first outing of the year. So not wanting to overdo it I chose to begin this one from a bit closer to the target.

So to the point, my prime target today was a Rock Pipit, not a bird to twitch you might think, but getting one in Gateshead is the equivalent of a mega in other parts. One has been seen off and on around the Kingfisher Court area on the banks of the Tyne since December, so with favourable tide and a bright and mild late winter day I thought why not give it a go, and I also aimed to walk further downstream to see if I could locate a Peregrine which again has been frequenting the usual area on the Tyne on and off over the last couple of weeks at least.

My walk began with the usual optimism, though alarm bells should have kicked in not long after I left the Metrocentre bus station as the initial stage of my journey was nigh on bird-free, the areas of birch wood stretching along the roadside empty of sound or movement. A kestrel made a fleeting visit but was also suitably unimpressed and headed off in a matter of seconds, the route eventually taking me to my first port of call, Timber Beach.

Here a small flock of long-tailed tits were a joy to watch at close quarters, and the 'beach' itself held four species of gull, 100+ Lapwings, 50+ Redshank, a few Teal but nothing much else of note.

To Kingfisher Court, where the rocky, seaweed covered margins below the walls look ideal for my target. I stumbled across this likely-looking area a few years back when I used to check it each week after attending an Early Bird session on Autism in Dunston, which lasted for a couple of months during late winter and I would take the opportunity to walk back along the river to the Metrocentre then. I've checked it many a time since without success but it always looked suitable for a stray Rock Pipit, so the discovery of one late last year by the local Rev. was just a matter of time, but alas, despite a thorough search, no sign of it today.
A handful of Shelduck were new for the year, as was a distant Curlew. Fishing Cormorant also added to the list, with a spectacular flypast white-headed sinensis type a glorious sight.

A pair of Mute Swans swam out of the mouth of the Teams and onto the Tyne, more Cormorant and Curlew along the Staithes, and plenty of gulls to scrutinise. Just common species, only one had me baffled but turned out to be a 3rd year Common Gull.

I walked still further, but despite hanging around for half an hour or so there was no sign of any Peregrine in the vicinity of the bridges, another dip.

some redshanks

some lapwings

some seagulls

some cormorants

a curlew

no peregrine

no birds at all 

Retracing my steps back along the Tyne revealed nothing new, another look for the Pipit drew another blank, and a final scour of the Tyne from Costco added Mallard and Grey Heron to the paltry day list, plus a herd of 'Frankenstein' ducks on day release from Shibdon.

Not a successful day bird-wise then, (in fact a typical Gateshead experience) but enjoyable all the same and I'm glad I made the effort. Plus my leg joints seized up on the bus home from the Metrocentre, doubt I would have made it walking all the way so at least I scored on that part. :-)