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!


Sunday, 12 October 2014

Sun, Sea & Suspicious Holiday Makers

Suspicious being the perfect word because when your chilling out poolside with a pair of binocs it  doesn't look good no matter how you try and dress it up.
"Erm I'm a bird watcher...."(whack!) 
You always get the feeling that fellow sun seekers think your quite simply perving on the nearest Czech or Cypriot hotty, and for the majority of the time that was not the case...
....What? Don't judge me, you can't tell me you've never took a cheeky glance whilst hiding behind those shady sunglasses. How dare you....

Ermm where were we ....oh yeah Cyprus, that little island in the Med, well it was home to myself and the boss(the other half) for the past two weeks.
We were in Cyprus because one of my best mates was getting married over there, and we doubled this up as as both a chance to celebrate the wedding with friends and as a holiday as a couple. This in turn resulted in a holiday which was not birding focused, I digress much drinking and sunbathing ensued. I did however, indulge when I could. Taking myself off on little walks around the local area or just keeping a watchful eye around the pool and beach, Binocs at the ready should I need to take visual aim. 

Home for the 2 weeks was the Cyprotel Maris near Paphos 
The poolside and around the hotel complex was home to handful of regular species of bird. A handful of Collared Dove zipped backwards and forwards, stopping now and again to drink the pool water. Multiple small flocks of House Sparrow were an ever present sight, due to the major decline of these in England, there cheeps and chirps were a joy to hear. Long gone are the days I hear them on mass in local hedgerows. A real shame.  Feral Pigeon adorned the rooftops of the hotel and a lone Kestrel would do the rounds and zip through daily, generally at the same time. The hotel and Cyprus in general was abundant with many a murder of Hooded Crow, a lifer bird for me, believe it or not.
Now despite them being pretty much a Carrion Crow with a grey feathered Gilet on, I was rather excited at their presence.

Hooded Crow
We did have a couple species of reptilian keeping us company, the Sling Tailed Agama being the more predominant. Though it goes by several names including; Slagama, Star Lizard, Hardim, Stellion & Painted Dragon.
I prefer Sling Tailed Agama, makes it sound more prehistoric.

Sling Tailed Agama

Keeping a watchful eye
After a few days we transitioned from lounging around the pool to lounging around the beach and sea, a stones throw from the pool.....equally as lazy really, blast my fit and active intentions! I will defend myself however, I did hit the hotel gym on numerous occasions.
So we spent time relaxing under the burning sun on the beach and it was at this moment the game changed For it was in a small man made bay by the beach that the kingfisher was king. Day in day out he spent hours in this small bay fishing, surrounded by holiday makers. A brilliant view, at one point I took a swim into the water of the bay and got with 6 feet of him. He just stared back, not phased at all. Amazing!

'Kingy Bay'

A five minute walk South West took you to a small headland of rock, scrub and rocky shore. There were 4 Crested Lark feeding and singing here, as well as a lone Wheatear.  I stumbled upon an Ocellated Skink whilst lifting a piece of tattered carpet, a near threatened species.

Crested Lark

Northern Wheatear
This pretty much sums up the extent of my wildlife and bird watching in Cyprus, lets not forget I was on holiday after all. ;)
Keep an eye on the blog, the Facebook, Twitter and Instagram page over the coming weeks and months for more regular updates about what I've been up to in the North East......