Sunday, 30 April 2017


It was a case of being in the right place at the right time today at Burdon Moor as a quite unproductive first hour suddenly came alive with a fall of wheatear. I'd just started my second lap of the loop in an increasingly blustery wind when the day brightened up as I tracked a small white-rumped bird through the air and into the brambles below. Grabbing a record shot I suddenly became aware that there were 7 or 8 of these cracking little summer visitors all around where there had been nothing a minute ago. I filled my boots with a few shots of the closer ones before they took to the air again and headed towards the far fields.

Thinking I might get them again as I made my way around the top of the loop I was a bit disappointed, they were nowhere to be seen. I did relocate one in the helicopter field but even as I watched, it flew up and over the trees out of sight. They had stopped to refuel for no more than a couple of minutes, then continued on to the moors no doubt.
I realised I'd been incredibly fortunate with my timing, they flew in and set down all around me, anywhere else and I would have missed them and been none the wiser. Also as my first of the year (in fact probably my first for about three years) I was well happy with having such close and unobstructed views.

Invasion of the white-arses - one on the post . . .

one in the bush . . .

one on the paddock . .

one in a tree . . .

and one on the fence. Didn't manage to photograph all of them. 

My morning walk had began with the sight of a dead mole along the Fellside Road, upside-down on the footpath I've no idea how it came to be there.
Then fairly uneventful until I reached the Tanfield Railway path, when excellent views of a Common Whitethroat (camera still in bag, as ever) were quickly followed by a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. Now my elderly lug-holes don't pick up this sound unless really close by, this one must have been coming from the brambles down the nearside slopes but despite a lengthy reel I was no nearer pinning it down when it stopped.

On the moor, more whitethroats, numerous willow-chiffs and blackcaps,  a flyover snipe which landed and disappeared into thick cover around one of the ponds, greylag geese, red-legged partridges, bubbling curlew, lapwing, linnets, meadow pipits, skylarks, reed-buntings galore, 5 swallows, a sand martin, and hunting kestrel.
A couple of hares chasing around but my hopes of seeing them box disappeared when they quickly parted company.

Best shot I could get of one of the hares

Highlight of the journey home was a Speckled Wood butterfly, plus a few more swallows hawking low over the fields off Woodhouse Lane. Another canny morning, Wheatear, Gropper and Whitethroat the undoubted highlights.


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 :-/