Tuesday, 17 March 2015

Magnificent Mediterraneans In Newbiggin

Last Friday after my usual half past noon finish from work I headed northward up the coast to the seaside town of Newbiggin-By-The-Sea. I met up with Stewart Sexton, whom I had previously only had twitter correspondence with and he had promised me Mediterranean Gulls / Larus melanocephalus!
Now I had seen these gulls before but my views were always pretty rubbish and brief at best and I wanted an opportunity to get decent views of these birds, hopefully in summer plumage!
I'll be the first one to say that I'm not exactly a gull fanatic but Med Gulls are pretty darn special and why they congregate in Newbiggin is a mystery to me.
As soon as I arrived Stew had me locked onto two adults in breeding plumage! Beautiful birds, to me they resemble a much more appealing Black-Headed Gull, and unlike the black heads the Med Gull actually has a black head when in breeding plumage.
Unfortunately the weather was grim at best, not fantastic when photographing a bird that is predominantly grey and white.
In total we had five birds, the two breeding plumaged adults, two first winter birds and a second winter individual.
Great birds, great conversation and nice to put a name to yet another Twitter face.
Check out Stews blog and follow him on Twitter @Stewchat

First Winter Med's

Second Winter Med Gull

Breeding Plumage Adult Med's

Nature North East / The Northern Owl Project

Monday, 9 March 2015

Killy Lake Courtship

Sunday was a relatively gloomy and overcast day, despite the weather I took a free afternoon as an opportunity to give Killingworth Lake a visit.  Ten minutes of driving later and I reached my destination.
The lake was relatively busy with dog walkers, adults and children milling around the lakes edge, I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything else, it was the weekend after all.

As usual the water was alive with the regular cast of waterbirds; Coot, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Mallard, Canada Geese and Mute Swan, all of which seemed to flock towards the nearest bread dispenser.
The open water contained a large flock of Pochard (20+) and a large flock of Goldeneye (25+), whilst a solitary female Goosander bobbed along in the distance towards the road. The smaller roadside pond contained a few stand out birds in the form of a Shoveler pair, a Lesser Black-Backed Gull and dozen or so Goosander.
I headed back towards the larger lake and positioned myself on one of the small southern jetty's, lying down and positioning my camera out towards the expanse of water. It wasn't long before an absolute corker of a drake Pochard began drifting towards me, preening and napping as it approached. 
A stunning drake Pochard, just look at that deep red demon eye.

I came to the lake with the intent to observe and hopefully photograph some of the finer species Killy Lake had to offer and was more than happy with my close encounter of the Pochard kind however, at the top of my list was the stunning Great Crested Grebe.
I was in luck there was a total of three Grebes, one pair on the larger water body and a single Grebe on the smaller roadside pond near the school.
The pair on the lake were in full courtship mode, performing the enchanting penguin dance, my first time seeing this I'm ashamed to say and it was fascinating to watch these two birds perform this stunning ritual. I'm looking forward to making repeat visits to the lake and watching how the pair progress throughout the breeding season.

Nature North East / The Northern Owl Project

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Monday 2nd March - Photo Blog

On Monday 2nd March I took a trip up the Northumbrian coast to Warkworth, it was a ridiculously quiet day with not much showing at all. How odd, the North-East coast is after all a mecca for birdlife!!
I went out with a few target species in mind;

  • Amble Mediterranean Gull: No sign
  • Coastal Short-Eared Owls: No sign
  • Druridge Little Owl: No sign on the past three attempts

So instead of rabbiting on about nothing massively exciting I'll simply let the photo's do the talking for me. 
Nature North East / The Northern Owl Project

Amble Harbour looking inland towards Warkworth, the castle & beyond. 
Whooper Swan quartet & a gaggle of Greylag Geese, Warkworth Lane.
The petite Wigeon, 3 drakes and a female at Queen Elizabeth II Country Park, Ashington.
Incoming! A pair of Shelduck about to make a splash at Druridge Pools, on the the budge field.
Grey Partridge lurking in a field near Druridge Pools.
The aptly named Turnstone.
A Black-Headed Gull, beginning to look pretty darn dapper!
A stunning drake Goldeneye on the river Coquet at Warkworth.
Female Stonechat, Warkworth Gut.
Very distant Brown Hare bounding through rough grassland after being disturbed by a dog. Dog walkers annoy me something rotten sometimes!
An ever observant Rook.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

Once ..Twice ..Three Times A Shortie!!

Friday afternoon found me once again westward bound, an early afternoon finish at work provided a chance for me to head to a local Short-Eared Owl stonghold. It was a gamble, the wind was blowing a gale and it seemed all birds had gone to ground upon arrival.
A medium sized conifer had a Kestrel taking cover and all local song birds seemed to lurk within any available scrub or bushy area, only seeming to come out once the savage wind had dyed down, if only for a moment or two.

A Robin lurked in scrub to my right and at times was down to a couple feet in proximity, whether in the bush or on what looked like its favoured stone on the ground. I presume it favoured said stone due to the excessive droppings and its habit of hopping over to it and perching on it.

A handful of other common songbirds would take advantage of these pauses in the wind, species such as Blue Tit, Great Tit, Dunnock, Blackbird, Wren and Reed Bunting.
A male Stonechat was briefly visible in a northern field but soon disappeared across the expansive grassland and a stunning Willow Tit would show its face every now and again.

Whilst I waited for a glimpse of a Shortie another birder arrived, on the hunt for the same target. Sam and myself waited for any possible signs, discussing birding and the like, as well as observing 6 Golden Plover flying overhead in two congregations of three. First of the year! Nice!
Suddenly Sam spotted something and we were in business, despite the windy weather a Shortie was up, active and quartering.
My assumption is that the wind had dropped enough to coax it out to hunt, great for us but frustrating for the owl as it seemed multiple attempts at hunting failed.
A second bird appeared and began hunting the fields for a Voley supper, neither birds seemed to interact with each other. They both kept themselves to themselves and hunted as the curtain of darkness rolled in, often perching on fence posts that provided cover from the wind and almost us, as they tended to favour posts in the very distance. Even the binoculars struggled to provide a decent view at times.

We watched the pair hunting and silently flying over the rough grassland as the sunlight dwindled, Sam left but I hung around a few moments longer.
You can read Sams blog here;

I moved my position slightly further east along the track and after a couple of minutes my patience was rewarded. Upon looking up from my camera, a third Shortie had appeared out from within the plantation and landed on a post about thirty feet away, phenomenal! 
Unfortunately with it being dark my camera struggled to grab a decent shot despite the proximity and the shot below is the best I could muster. It hung around for six minutes or so and flew off on the hunt.

Watching Short-Eared Owls actively hunting during the daylight is a birding highlight for me, it never gets boring and is always exhilarating to watch. What an absolute pleasure!

Nature North East / The Northern Owl Project

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

C.S.I: Cramlington & The Brutality Of Nature

Victim: Carrion Crow / Corvus Corone
Scene Of Crime: Arcot Golf Course
Crime: Murder

Personal Account:
...Sometime in late February I stumbled upon something straight out of a horror movie, there were scattered body parts all over the place, piles of feathers strewn across the mossy woodland carpet and an uneasy silence resounding through the wood.
I had walked right upon a murder scene, a crime of nature if you will and at my feet lay the recently devoured corpse of a Carrion Crow / Corvus Corone. This was a fresh kill, the red meat still looking juicy and red raw. 
The Crow had been picked clean, all that remained were its legs and a fully feathered head, eyes n'all. Obviously these were the less tasty parts shall I say. Next to the bird lay two piles of feathers, one containing larger feathers such as the primaries and the other seemed to mostly consist of shorter downy feathers.

On a large branch to the left a pair of wings hung in the breeze. Did these belong to the same bird? Possibly.

Around the area were a scattering of Jay feathers, but no sign of a carcass were present and a large mossy branch had remnants of what appeared to be rodent fur, of which species I couldn't possibly say.

But who commited this crime?

Female Sparrowhawk, Buzzard, Fox.....Something else entirely? Man?.....Perhaps shot and scavenged?

I am fully aware of the activity of all suspects on this patch and the woodland area that held the corpse seemed to be this offenders favoured area.

Photo Evidence: See below (Not for the squeamish) 

In all seriousness finding this Carrion Crow was a pretty amazing and eye opening experience, yes it's just a dead Crow but it's the whole thought process behind the act that intrigues me.
Nature can be brutal, actually no lets be honest, nature is very brutal but I suppose it has to be. It is after all survival of the fittest on this ruthless earth and this Crow just happened to play a part in the success of a predators survival in this ecosystem and its that concept that astounds me.
Whether its Nile Crocodiles predating Wildebeest or Lady birds devouring Aphids, the food chain is pretty darn incredible!

Nature North East / The Northern Owl Project

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Arcot Pond 27th Feb

On Friday morning (27th Feb) I spent about 45 minutes at my local patch before heading off to Gateshead to complete my woodchipper training qualification.
All was quiet, all was still and this seems to be the norm recently at Arcot Pond. The horses were still in the South West field, much to my frustration and the Roe Deer were in their usual hot spot across the pond. Two doe and a buck, sporting velvet antlers! Fantastic.
I look forward to watching them over the coming weeks and months.

As I stood watching the Deer, there was a few duck species milling about the pond with Teal, Mallard, Tufted Duck and Shoveler all dabbling on the waters surface. All of a sudden ducks, gulls and corvids took to the air as Arcot's chief avian predator burst out of the woodland and flew over the pond and headed northwards.

Once the Buzzard had left a stillness returned to the area and I watched as two Oystercatchers flew south and possibly towards Big Waters? The presence of two distant Canada Geese on the pond provided my first geese of the year at Arcot, I wonder if they'll breed again this year?

All in all it was a very quiet forty five minutes on patch but nonetheless enjoyable and as readers to my blog will know, the birding day got vastly better in the afternoon with a Short-Eared Owl bonanza!

Nature North East / The Northern Owl Project