Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Asio Otus, the Long Eared Ghost

Early this morning (30/12/2014) I took a trip to the site of a reported Long-Eared Owl ( Asio Otus) roost in County Durham. I was up at half five and still shattered from climbing the Cheviot yesterday (blog coming soon) but I was excited to check out this tip off so I made haste.
Once on site and after about ten minutes of walking about the locale I noticed a Long-Ear roosting in relatively open scrub, they're such beautiful birds and seeing a Long-Eared Owl during daylight is an uncommon sight, generally you really HAVE to search for them, especially at this time of year. Though there was apparently more Long-Ears and apparently Short-Ears in the vicinity this would turn out to be the only Owl I would see here.
I had a look around the site for any more birds roosting (Just incase) and then tried a local Little Owl haunt, though none were showing and if they were I couldn't see them.
The second site did contain Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Woodcock, Yellowhammer and flocks of very flighty Redwing.

Friday, 26 December 2014

...Twit Twheeeere??

 "And yesterday the bird of night did sit/ Even at noon-day upon the market-place/ Hooting and shrieking." - Shakespeare,  Julius Caesar (Act 1 Scene 3)

Last Monday night (22nd December 2014) I received a wee bit of information on the birding grapevine. I heard a Tawny Owl had been roosting in an urban area south of the Tyne and that it was literally yards away from the footpath, undeterred by pedestrians, cyclists, children, dogs and runners alike.

The following day I woke with a spring in my step, and after a half decent cup of mocha, headed south to my destination! My journey only lasted about half an hour but it felt a lot longer. I always get a sense of doubt when I go looking for an Owl, you never know if it will be there or not. The worst bit is that sometimes an Owl is their but you can't see it, a few tell tale signs can make the job a little easier however.

This time I spotted the Owl straight away, there it was! A Tawny Owl roosting on full public display about 15ft from the path...AMAZING!!!

I proceeded to take a few cheeky photographs, unfortunately the weather wasn't brilliant.........Infact it was terrible!! The rain just kept coming down, the camera kept steaming up and at one point I had to retreat to the car to let it dry enough to take half decent pictures.

It was a privilege to see a Tawny Owl at close quarters and I did manage to get a few photographs through the grim weather and poor lighting.

What an experience.
Remember to report your North East Owl sightings (Northumberland, County Durham, Tyne & Wear) to The North East Owl Project, either by sending a private message to the Nature North East Facebook page or e-mailing me directly at david.dinsley@live.co.uk.

Enjoy more pictures of the Tawny Owl below!
Thanks for reading. :)


Friday, 12 December 2014

The Northern Owl Project

Aims; To promote the population of native Owl species breeding in the North East of England, through surveying and Owl box installations.

As regular readers to this blog and people who know me personally will know, I have an affinity for Owls. I'm a wildlife enthusiast through and through but there's something so intriguing and enchanting about these large eyed, silent hunters. Unfortunately species such as the Barn Owl are in rapid decline, this is due to both natural and man made reasons, habitat loss and bad winters have reduced numbers significantly. Though 2014 numbers are better than the past few previous years.

My main target for this project is to build and install multiple boxes(Tawny, Barn and Little Owl ) and Baskets(Long Eared Owls) and place these throughout the region, in particular around my local area and patches. Due to Short Eared Owls nesting on the ground, creating a nesting area for these won't really be possible.
I have already constructed the first Tawny Owl box (Left) and the first Little Owl box (below).

I'm hoping to get in touch with land owners and schools, as well  as local ringers and try to work out a system where they can help with ringing if nest boxes become established and used for breeding.

YOU can get involved too!! This is where I need your help, if you have spotted any Owls across the North East (Northumberland, County Durham, Tyne & Wear) or know of any areas of breeding owls, just inbox the Nature North East Facebook page  and I can collate the data and create a map of the areas.
This way I can identify the whereabouts of species and see which are doing better then others, and pin point the locations that are lacking Owl activity........and from there, work out why?

Little Owl Box Creation

If you have an old Owl box you want to donate to the cause then feel free, I will be building all of the other boxes from scratch myself. If anybody does want to donate to the cost of materials then by all means do so. I can provide receipts to anyone who would like them.
If you can't afford to donate then by all means just sit back and watch the 'Northern Owl Project' unfold through my blog and Facebook page.

Nature North East

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Hide & Seek

Its been a few weeks since my last blog, it does however seem an appropriate time to return to action and blog yet again!
...So Friday 5th arrived and after only about 5 hours sleep I was up and ready to go because this morning I was after Owls! I had been told of a North East hot spot and after reports of decent numbers earlier in the week I thought I would give it a go.

**I will not be naming the site unfortunately, this is due to the actions of some photographers who have been flushing Owls purposely to take photographs and get 'The Shot'. This was done in a co-ordinated fashion and is plain wrong. Luckily a local birder caught them in the act.
My aim is to photograph wildlife in its habitat with as little disturbance as possible. If that means I don't get 'The Shot', then fair enough that's the chance you take.
Previously Owls have been disturbed to point of not coming back on this site which is a shame and with numbers building back up again, I don't want to be possibly responsible for history repeating. So I'll keep my silence **

So after what felt like a lifetime in the car I arrived, and just as I did so I heard the sound of rain on the windscreen! Nightmare! Owls DO NOT like rain, along with high winds its a weather condition they really can not tolerate. Luckily this was a very brief shower.

After walking about the site for a couple hours with no result besides a few flighty Fieldfare and Redwing, you've gotta love the winter Thrushes, I had seen nothing. I managed to catch up with a local birder and Twitter friend who was on site at the same time, and we set off looking together.

We found a few possible roost sites, all empty but clearly used recently due to droppings and pellets. We literally scoured every Hawthorn bush, hedge line, tree and bushy scrub as we went. Nothing......hmmm, I was nearly 3 hours into searching and still nothing but droppings to go off.

Long Eared Owl Pellet
Then as we scoured along near an old marsh, a Short Eared Owl burst up and out from some gorse scrub. Brilliant!! What a feeling. After hours of searching it's so rewarding to find the quarry you were hunting. 5 Minutes later another lifted and then a third individual just observed us from within the scrub. The Shortie with its big yellow eyes just scowled at us.

We moved on not wanting to stress the Owl out any further. We moved into a nearby plantation said to have good roosting numbers of Long Eared Owl, 6 to be precise. The number often changes though with Owls using a few nearby locales. Unfortunately nothing showed. On our way back a dog walker and his children flushed 2 of the Shorties, including the one which remained perched.
We later caught up with all 3 and had some more great views.

On the way back to the car we had a mooch around another Long Eared Owl roost site again and found only droppings and pellets. Its surprising how well Owls can fly through a dense patch of Hawthorn. The last port of call was a Little Owl hotspot, there is a regular couple of birds seen this area and today we managed to see one of the pair! I was loving this! Little Owl are my favourite birds, they're fantastically entertaining and although they're technically an invasive species brought over as a novelty in the 19th century and later released, they're fantastic!
With cracking views of 2 british owls(1 Little and 2 Short Eared) as well as Willow Tit, Kestrel, Redwing, Fieldfare and a female Sparrowhawk! Friday morning was very well spent!  

Monday, 10 November 2014

Fire & Water

The Charcoal Kilns ablaze 
As part of my training on the WildGrounds project with Durham Wildlife Trust we took part in the creation of Charcoal. Beginning to End, on the 5th, 6th and the 10th November.. Starting with the filling of the Kilns, the lighting and burning of the wood and the bagging of the charcoal.
We did this at Low Barns Nature Reserve, near Bishop Auckland. My first time on this nature reserve and what a brilliant place it is.
There were birds aplenty in the woodland and wetland habitats, with great views of Passerines, Pheasant and Moorhen around the feeding station. As well as Grey Squirrel, everyone has an opinion of that particular yank species. I managed to get a couple of brief glimpses of Sparrowhawk and on the final day a single Snipe flying overhead.
All in all the three days of charcoal production, from start to the final end product, was a great experience, made even better because of the fantastic setting! If you get a chance I highly recommend you visit Low Barnes Nature Reserve.

The longest day we had was a 13 hour day, which was spent actually letting the wood burn in the kilns to create the charcoal. This day was book ended by the calling of Tawny Owls, both in the morning and on the evening. I love Owls, I think anyone who spends an amount of time in my company will realise I have a healthy obsession with our five British species! They fascinate me.
So if anyone reading this rings Owls or knows of any regular Owl hotspots(In the North East of course) I would love to hear from you. ;)

The feeders at Low Barnes provided the best views of Nuthatch I think I've ever had and although very weary, we were occasionally treated to some great views of Jay.
Jay fascinate me, for a Corvid species they're incredibly shy and amazingly coloured. They do however, make an incredible racket. Some fleeting glimpses of a pair of Kingfisher also added a dash of colour to a grey Autumn day.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

...Windy West Hartford

Let me begin by stating that I don't think I've ever been to West Hartford and it has not been windy! The place is a wind tunnel, and I swear it has its own micro climate going on!
Anyway I digress.....
Lets get down to the matter at hand.

So it was a Saturday and after a somewhat sluggish start to the day I set about on what, initially was going to be a quick 20 minute walk. This of course evolved into a 4 hour adventure around familiar and unfamiliar locales.

A Grey Heron taking flight after being spooked by yours truly
I began as usual by searching the area of the wetland for any life, not much about bar a handful of Gulls and a Grey Heron. No sign of any wading birds or even the regular Kestrel. I had however, earlier had a tip off from The Liverbirder that there was a pair of Stonechat hanging around the area.

They weren't were they had been sighted earlier, I did manage to catch up with them on the back field. Brilliant birds and though the female was very photogenic and willing to be snapped, the male was not so obliging.  Great birds to see in Cramlington. 

The Happy Couple

She was ready for her close up
From here my journey led me North where I caught sight of a Buzzard, unfortunately not Rough Legged like some of the local lads have witnessed over the weekend in the county.
From here my path went beyond the beaten one, and for three hours I walked through woodland, pockets of Gorse, fields, ditches & dykes. At one point I followed a Roe Deer hind for about 10 minutes before losing her in the woods.
Although I really enjoyed my time wandering around fresh territory I was a wee bit dismayed at the lack of action going on, then again that's the beauty of wildlife/birdwatching. You never know what is going to turn up.

The journey continues....

Sunday, 19 October 2014

...Wallington to Weardale

The beautiful woodland of Wallington Hall 

Saturday was a busy day for me, I had alot of miles to cover and not a great deal of time to do so. At 5:15pm I was due at St Johns Chapel in weardale (1 hour 1/2 from home in Tynemouth) for the AONB Wild Watch Final Gathering with the Wild Watch Team, Phil Gates (@SeymourDaily) and TV personality and childhood hero Nick Baker (@bugboybaker).

So I was running on limited time and fancied going up to Wallington for a chance to relax and work on my photography skills.
I parked my car on the field, which was doubling up as a car park, I don't have a habit of parking in fields! I then got my gear and headed to the entrance, renewed my National Trust membership and dove straight in.
Wallington was busy.....really busy, but the crowd thinned as I entered the woodland. It looked stunning, all those different shades of autumn being highlighted in the early afternoon sun. Auburn, gold and brown.

Once I reached the hide, I was informed it was more quiet than normal. Though I didn't see any Red Squirrels (grrrr) I did have astonishing views of Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Great Tit, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, Pheasant, a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a Marsh Tit.
Despite spending only about an hour in the hide I loved every moment.
Below are some of my personal favourite photographs which I took. I will be posting a more extensive collection in an album on my facebook page, Nature North East.

...and for those who made it this far, a GIF of the Great Spotted Woodpecker!

Friday, 17 October 2014

...The Turn Of The Tide

St Mary's Lighthouse, the beacon of North Tyneside

Another Friday had come around and after an early finish at work, and a quick cup of coffee at home,  I headed up to St Mary's Lighthouse & Wetland Nature Reserve to test out my new camera equipment and get my nature fix.

I couldn't wait to get snapping with my new Nikon, its worlds away from using my iPhone and telescope to digiscope. It just makes life a lot easier for a wildlife watcher like myself. Never say never mind, there may come a time when I need to digiscope a species that is just too far for the camera. Lets hope not though.. ;)

Whilst the wetland seemed to be quiet with only few Gull species, Mallard, Coot and a lone Mute Swan making up the bird life on the pond, the shoreline was abundant with shore birds; Oystercatcher, Turnestone, Curlew, Redshank and Ringed Plover.
Shore birds can be a royal pain in the rear to ID at times, depending on the species, they are however great entertainment value. They're either sleeping, flying like its going out of fashion or obsessively feeding like birds possessed! It was brilliant being able to get so close to them, that is until a random dog would come charging towards me and drive all the shore into the air. Funny thing is most of the birds would come back to the exact same 30 seconds later.
After a quick scramble up the cliff and through the gut I headed for the north end of the wetland, this when I seen a large female Sparrowhawk swooping down and into the small trees. Unfortunately I wasn't quick enough to photograph it as it first swooped down and after much searching I failed to locate it again. Bit of a bummer! At least I seen though.
As I headed back along the path to the car I bumped into another birder, canny bloke, and he was telling me about a Short Eared Owl that had been seen hunting around the fields between the Wetland and the caravan park a few days ago. I was loving this new information, anyone who knows me will know how passionate I am about Owls. I hung around for a bit keeping an eye across the fields and on a small flock of Goldcrest on the other side of the path. Goldcrest are great little birds, cheeping whilst moving from branch to branch in search of food.
All in all a great couple of hours on a nice chilled night, time to get to know the camera and observe the wildlife of St Mary's ......and as for the Sparrowhawk and Short Eared Owl ......I'll be back! ;)
Redshank at dusk

A 'ringed' Turnstone

Thursday, 16 October 2014

The Cross Gill Gorse Bush Massacre

Thursday, 16th October,  was a dark day from start to finish.  The dark grey cloudy sky unleashed that awful rain that seems to just smother the air and have no direct drops. Causing everything to get damp and stay damp!

I was out on site, working with the Durham Wildlife Trust Reserve Officers and volunteers, we were at Cross Gill, County Durham.  Half of the vol's set to work continuing work on a new fence whilst the other half attempted to light a fire to burn scrub cuttings, and myself having recently passed my chainsaw assessment and gained my license, I was tasked with felling Gorse bushes that lay along a high peninsula of rock. The views from the cliff top were fantastic even in the unruly weather, to be honest the weather played its part in giving the area an eerie but cosy atmosphere.

Whilst working at Cross Gill we had great views of Stonechat's, a Kestrel, Gulls and (although I never saw it) a Green Woodpecker.

A fun few hours work, and fellow birders out there don't worry there is still a huge amount of Gorse for migrants to drop down into! ;)

The pictures of me with the chainsaw were taken from the Durham Wildlife Trust Volunteer website. Check it out and see what work the Trust and the volunteers are up too.

All The Gear ...No Idea

I did it!!
I finally did it!!

Yes ladies and gentlemen, after much humming and harring, I finally got around to treating myself to a Nikon SLR. 
The D3200 to be model specific, which from what I've read, is a great beginners model for new photographers. A high end beginners model at that.
It came with two lenses, a standard 18-55mm lens and a Tamron 70-300mm lens. Which both seem pretty decent for the quite reasonable price tag.

I did enjoy a little play with it, so after work on Wednesday I went for a walk around Tynemouth snapping as I went. Unfortunately it was possibly the worst kind of day for photography....grey, grim, cold and rainy.
Despite me being aware I was shooting in rubbish conditions, it quickly became clear that it's not quite as simple as click and shoot on the old iPhone, I've yet to figure out all the different settings, this camera is going to take some getting used to.
If anyone has any advice they can share I would greatly appreciate it! Shout out to Mr Atkinson for his tips so far! ;) Cheers mate!

Check out John's blog below;

Personally I can't wait to get started on my photography journey! 

I hope your all coming with me mind! 
The wilds of the North East are calling!