Saturday 29 May 2010

What a difference a week makes!

Today, I spent the morning ringing down at Mickley at David Leat's Constent Effort Site, which is in a large area of hawthorn scrub. It's a canny little patch and we caught 40 birds, including 4 yellowhammers, which were a 'ringing tick' for me, they are really nice birds in the hand!

We also caught a couple of groppers, a great-spotted woodpecker, 2 bullfinches, whitethroats and lots of common breeders.

It started to rain as we were packing up and it never really let up, I called briefly at Druridge on my way home. It was pretty dismal,  raining, cold and windy - like a February day - what a change from last Saturday!

The meadow pipit nest I've been watching, which had four eggs last Tuesday and should have been hatched by now was empty, it was in a open position, totally visible from a path, so it has probably been predated by something, a shame, but sometimes birds build nests in the stupidest places.

Two ringed plovers and another unidentified small wader were trying to settle on the Budge fields, but the lapwings wouldn't let them,  as soon as any of them tried to land, the lapwings would dive on them and chase them off. Why do lapwings chase small waders like ringed plovers so vigorously?

The forecast for tomorrow looks shite!

Thursday 27 May 2010

Not quite a silent spring

Not a quite a silent spring, but it has been a bloody quiet one! Typical of the last few years, there has been no falls of spring migrants and very little to get excited about it, and it's nearly getting too late for anything now.

I hoped for a finale, a nice rarity to end the spring when I set out at 5.30 this morning to do another territory mapping visit before work......

It has certainly quietened down a lot, most of the birds are getting on with the business of bringing up young. This male reed bunting was one exception!

singing male reed bunting
I did get a year tick this morning, a grasshopper warbler reeled briefly near the Budge screen....and then promptly shut up!

My lumix camera decided to play up this morning, it decided to move between settings on it's own, like it moved from auto to review and then the auto-focus wouldn't work and the shutter button wouldn't press - off course, all this happened whilst a female marsh harrier was hunting in front of me over the Budge fields.

I am fated with camera's, as soon as I get mine ready for action, whatever I want to photograph disappears. The camera seemed OK later, I managed to get a photo of this lapwing outside the Oddie hide.

A new species for the 'Douglas Island' list - mute swan
mute swans on Douglas Island
Walking back through the dunes, they were quiet too, but this fine display of cowslips made up for the lack of birds....nearly

stubble field
The farmers at High Chibburn Farm have left this stubble field over winter and haven't cultivated it yet, amazingly it has more lapwing pairs than the reserve designed for breeding lowland waders! It just goes to show, all you need is a bit of uncultivated land, free from deep vegetation and within a short distance of water and bingo! Breeding waders. I hear that the Druridge Bay Partnership (aka NWT) have managed to get stage 1 funding for an HLF project that could bring upwards of a million pounds to manage the Bay. Hopefully some of it can go to leaving some stubble fields with marshy corners!

121 grasshopper warbler

Saturday 22 May 2010

First Ringing Session of 2010

Today we did our first proper ringing session of the year at Druridge, it wasn't as productive as we would have hoped.

It was already 12.5 deg C when we arrived at 05.30 am, by the time I left to go to work at 09.40 the car said it was 26.5! Catching was slow, we only managed to catch 7 birds and only one migrant, a willow warbler.

male willow warbler
Best of bird of the day though goes to this chaffinch, he was first ringed back in August 2003 as an adult, that makes him at least eight years old, not bad for a chaffinch! We've re-trapped him four times since he was ringed, he doesn't get very far.

eight+ year old chaffinch - spot the St Marks fly in the top right corner
We also caught a female chaffinch, two blackbird and two robins. After I left to go to work, Janet persevered, but didn't catch any more birds, I think the millions of flies had gotten to her, they were mainly St. Marks Flies and they were EVERYWHERE! Plebs were out in force to, many of them deciding to camp in the dunes, the joys of summer at Druridge!

This evening we met up with John Richardson and his ladder to have another go at getting some more young herons ringed. We managed to get another five out three nests, including one very large youngster who will be fledged within a week.
Two young herons covering my leg in puke
They really are a delight to ring, they stink and then they cough up the contents of their stomachs over you...NICE! This lot produced a stomach-full of minnows and a large eel...

Thursday 20 May 2010

Summer is here

Well, today felt like a proper summers day and that can only mean one thing at Druridge - plebs! I reckon they must hibernate during the winter in Ashington or Newbiggin, emerging in the spring and migrating in knackered old corsas with exhausts as big as the car, to Druridge, to wilfully destruct the place until September when they return to the wintering grounds, favouring the warmth of dodgy boozers that sell cheap ale at 9am.

They are quite like the bowerbirds of Australia that adorn their nests with colourful items they find, the plebs at Druridge scatter cider bottles and empty lager cans around the site in a similar fashion. There's nothing like seeing that first flash of metallic iridescent blue and gold as you spot your first 'Fosters Lager' can of the year, glinting in the sunshine!

Anyhow, I got down to Druridge early, even before the dog walkers this morning, for a couple of hours pleasant birding before work. The highlight of the morning was a wood sandpiper on the Budge fields, a dunlin and couple of redshank were also noteworthy as was the first lapwing chick of the year. The pink-footed goose was still hanging around and there were still on or two wheatears on the dunes.

female whatear
The 'Douglas Island' list leapt to three this morning with these tufted duck and lapwing, unless anyone else knows different?
lapwing and tufties on Douglas Island
I was back down at Druridge late on tonight, stashing the bamboo poles ready for ringing on Saturday, weather permitting, though it does look good!

There was a whooper swan on the Budge fields - odd! Maybe it should hook up with the pink-footed goose and head off north?

tonight there was dead tawny owl on the A1

119 wood sandpiper
120 blackcap

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Not quite A1

Yesterday I was ringing barn owls, today I was picking them up dead offuv the A1. There were two road casualties tonight within two miles of each other south of Alnwick. That makes six since August last year between Felton and Alnwick, quite a high rate methinks!

The second bird, near Deanmoor, was ringed, the only ringed bird I've picked up, it'll be interesting to see where it came from.

Tuesday 18 May 2010

Candle.....burnt at both ends

I've well and truly burnt the candle at both ends today!

I was down at Druridge for 5.40 this morning to do my sixth territory mapping survey and this evening I went out ringing barn owls near Alnwick and did a days a work in between, now it's 11pm and I'm writing this.

It's much quieter now at Druridge, the resident breeders are concentrating on feeding young rather than singing, leaving the singing to the new kids on the block like the sedge warblers and whitethroats. That said, the reed buntings haven't stopped and I counted at least 10 singing males this morning.

Bird of the morning was this male blue-headed wagtail which was singing between the Hamlet and High Chibburn Farm.
blue-headed wagtail...or is it?

But is it a 'blue-headed' wagtail Motacilla flava flava or a 'channel' wagtail M. flava x falvissima? The 'flared' supercillium would suggest the latter, but what would I know - I can't even get a barred warbler accepted by the County Records Committee......

This is more my stamp - much more straight forward

pied wagtail
Not much else of note this morning except to stay it was stunning spring morning, once the sun got up and it warmed up it was very pleasant indeed.

Sunny patch
This evening was spent checking barn owl boxes around the Alnwick area with Phil, no young were big enough to ring yet so we need to go back to them. This 2nd calender year female came out of a box and was ringed. Barn owls are fantastic, looking forward to doing some pullus over the next few weeks.

barn owl - female

Monday 17 May 2010

Head for the hills

I abandoned the coast today and went to that far way place people call 'inland'...all very scary, but I coped, once I got over the nosebleed at Powburn!

I was in the Cheviot Hills proper, doing a couple of tetrads for the BTO atlas in the area of Goldscleugh which is a seldom visited valley below the Cheviot on the Bizzle crag side. It is seldom visited because to get there is a 'right puggyin' in the immortal words of the Boulmer Birder. There are two choices, approach from the College Valley or park in the Harthope and go 'over the top', only the latter was open to me as the College Valley is closed for lambing!

I didn't mind though as the Hawsen Burn is one of my favourite places in the County and I soon saw most of the speciality species including lots of red grouse and whinchats, stonechat,  a dipper and a pair of ring ouzel feeding young.

Once 'over the top' the Goldscleugh Valley spreads out in front of you, the Bizzle, on the eastern flank of The Cheviot still had snow in it, in the valley I was dodging the showers!

Goldscleugh valley

The Goldscleugh Valley has a good range of habitat including heather, white moor, haugh land by the stream, new deciduous woodland, old riparian alder, birch and rowan and some blocks of mono-culture pines.
The haugh land below the farm

I saw most of the birds I expected to see, only one pied flycatcher and no spotted though, a few tree pipits, redstart by farm, redpolls, crossbill, whinchat, wheatears and some noisy common sandpipers displaying on the haugh land. The only raptors were two buzzards.

My pleasant lunch stop was interrupted by this interloper -  a huge winged beast capable of taking a cheese'n'pickle doorstop no problem!

Enormous winged beast

A very enjoyable day!

I called at Druridge on the way back for a bit, now doing on the patch - there was a huge flock of common scoter offuv Cresswell though, I'll defo be going through them if they move north.

Sunday 16 May 2010

WeBS count produces second egret species

Today was WeBS count day and one of the first birds to be counted was a little egret, unlikely as it sounds, this was the second egret species of the year after March's great white.

The weather was mixture of sun and showers, feeling very wintery at times, the wind didn't know what it wanted to do, changing direction at least three times in two hours.

The first mallard duckings were on the Budge fields, a brood of three and a brood of seven and the first lapwing chicks, which were only a day or two old, were out. We might try and ring them on Wednesday night.

The weather was wintery at times and so was the birding.... a drake wigeon dropped in and there was a pink-footed goose on the Budge fields too.

I'm off to the Cheviot's tomorrow to a couple of atlas tetrads.

117 little egret
118 swift

Saturday 15 May 2010


This afternoon, a crack team of heron ringers assembled at Druridge. Well, to be honest, the only 'crack' member of the team was John Richardson, the rest of us had never ringed herons before and were following John's lead (Me, Janet and David Leat)

The heronry at Druridge is in a pine shelterbelt, I had already checked it out and found 10 apparently occupied nests. Now it was time to see if we could ring any of them.

Being the smallest, I was elected/bullied into being the climber, this is me all kitted and ready to go, the shades aren't a fashion accessory, they were to protect my eyes from herons bills......honestly!

Kitted up and ready to go - bird bags, dodgy shades and harness

Unfortunately we were about two weeks too late and many of the birds were too big to ring or too big to get through the foliage. We did manage ring four, two from two nests. They are fantastic birds with a sharp yellow 'beady' eye looking at you from the nest. I always think they look quite pre-historic, like pterodactyls.

Me, up the tree

We might get back next week, with a ladder, to ring the one's we couldn't reach. Next year though, we need to be there a couple of weeks earlier.

Tuesday 11 May 2010


Look at this photo, it's mid May, a lovely, sunny, spring evening at Druridge Pools....

Don't be deceived, it was like bloody winter at Druridge tonight! The cold NE wind has swung around into the SE but it hasn't got any warmer, if anything it is colder! There was even a bit of snow/hale/sleet stuff at my office in Alnwick this afternoon.

Despite the cold, it was quite pleasant at Druridge this evening, around the Budge screen there were a handful of passerines feeding and singing including my first whitethroat of the year and this male reed bunting, this species seems to have fared well, despite the prolonged winter.

Reed Bunting
Birds on the Budge fields were going about their business, displaying, incubating and chicks to report yet.

A very quick look offshore brought a flurry of year ticks, common tern, arctic skua - harassing arctic terns and my first puffin of the year...and only the one. Has anyone else noticed a shortage of puffins this year?

Plant of the day is jack-by-the-hedge or garlic mustard, a true wayside plant and a good edible one too, nice in a cheese and ham sandwich.

This moth, a streamer, was one of only two in the trap on Sunday morning - a stunner though.

Streamer moth
112 common whitethroat
113 common tern
114 arctic skua
115 arctic tern
116 puffin

Monday 10 May 2010

Spring Cleaned the Blog

I've given the blog a bit of a new look for the spring, hope you all like it.

It's been freezing cold today, just like a January day at times and the northerly is set to continue through to the weekend.

Hopefully I'll get down to Druridge tomorrow

Sunday 9 May 2010

Another busy week

Yet another busy week, 5 am is becoming the norm......

This week I've been out ringing tawny owls, on Saturday morning I did the fifth CBC survey at Druridge, to be honest it was too windy, a strong force 5-6 NE wind, so a lot of singing birds will have gone unheard...

Easy to find though were nesting greylags

greylag goose nest with two eggs

and there were lots of these
male chaffinch at High Chibburn Farm

and these were in flower

Cuckoo flower or ladies smock

There wasn't much else of note.

Today I went to Gosforth Park, ringing with the NHS ringing group. It's good at Gosforth and I am learning lots about ageing and sexing birds, we caught c50 birds including two groppers.

The moth trap in the garden has been quiet, we did catch a streamer last night which is a stunning moth, hopefully there will be piccies tomorrow.

Also at home, the swifts have arrived back in the street, as I was seiving my compost this evening three of them went screeeeeeeming down the street - summer is defo here.. oh, maybe not..... it's forecast for frost tomorrow night!

Monday 3 May 2010

Back to Druridge....for only 20 minutes

After a gruelling few days of travelling to Cornwall and London I managed to get back to Druridge tonight, only for 20 minutes. Just long enough to ring a brood of two stonechat young in the dunes. There had been three eggs, so one of the young must've died.

Ugly little blighter....

I had a quick look on the Budge fields, a drake pintail stood out and the swallows are back at the hamlet now.