Sunday, 31 October 2010

The first day of winter!

October has been a month of two halves; the first part was hectic with scarce migrants dominating proceedings. The latter was quieter, with overtime at work prevailing.

My last day of October was spent patrolling Ashington and North Seaton for what turned out to be elusive waxwing - not a sniff for me today!

The Cresswell area was rather quiet too - lots of lapwing on the north part of the pond, with a few golden plover, curlew, dunlin in the mix. Wildfowl was limited - c1,000 pink-footed geese flew past in the distant west, while on the pond, wigeon, tufted duck, teal, mallard, goldeneye were noted.

West Hartford looks good for some winter wildfowl, there is a lot of water in the flash - hopefully some duck will arrive soon. The only birds on the flash today were black-headed and common gull. No sign of the hoped for short-eared owl ~ we could do with a good "owl winter" as they have been scarce recently.


November can still be an exciting time for scarcities... it's not over yet... is it?

Thursday, 28 October 2010


A drive through the northern limits of Ashington produced only brief views of waxwing ~ no more than six for me as they flew into the housing estates to the south of Woodhorn motors.

Later pager reports suggest a large re-convene of the group at North Seaton, scene of a pleasant afternoon photographing the species earlier this year - here and here and in 2006, here!.

Wouldn't mind a go with the nice autumn colours on the trees...

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Still here!

It's been a quiet few days for me - with nightshift over I was looking forward to a few days off - the majority of the birding news has been on the north-west coast / islands of Scotland as masses of waxwing arrive. Northumberland is getting a fair few now, and I expect to bump into some very soon.

Mid afternoon reports of great spotted cuckoo at Bellasis Bridge seem a little odd - but who knows? Maybe it'll be a visit tomorrow afternoon?

Birdwise for me the highlight has been a garden second record - but don't get too excited... a pair of chaffinch! The seed trays are being emptied daily by visiting wood pigeon, collared dove, coal tit and a healthy 20+ flock of house sparrow ~ hopefully the chaffinch will stick.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

From the archive: October 2005

I enjoyed five successive trips to the Isles of Scilly in the "mid-naughties", travelling down with Mark from the north-east of England to the extreme south-west each October full of high hopes and expectation... More often than not the journey down was "via"... rather than "direct" ~ Suffolk springs to mind when a lot of folk were getting curious about a curlew at Minsmere!

This blackpoll warbler was a good start to our trip in October 2005 - photographed on the Garrison on St Mary's, this pleasing yankie had been previously been on St Agnes in late September before being relocated conveniently near our island base.

Mark had been visiting the islands since the mid-late 80's and has many a tale of frantic news-breaks when the hoped for mega was found ~ tales of folk running down streets with newly purchased mugs of coffee from a cafe always amuse. My trips there never quite matched the historic arrivals - no mass landings of grey cheeked thrush as in the 80's.

However during the five years we did see some pretty good birds - the cream coloured courser on the right-hand side panel of the blog was taken there - not sure when I'll see another of those in the UK..., the blackpoll above was one of two seen in the 5 year period we visited.

Scilly seems to have decreased in birder attraction in the last few years - soaring prices for accommodation and transport don't help I guess... and there appear to be a few trying pastures new ~ especially the northern isles.

From the archive: October 2004

A week of nights is finally complete, inclusive of the seemingly obligatory overtime shift. So a day recuperating for me...

The pied wheatear at Newbiggin was very nice indeed, County birds often have more meaning than those nationally, however October 2004 was to close with a very nice avian bonus ~ masked shrike at Kilrenny, Fife. Mark and I were joined by Surrey based Chris Collins for the twitch - and positive news as we crossed the Forth road bridge mean't that the final leg of the journey was relaxed.

The shrike had been trapped and ringed the previous day after initially being reported as a woodchat. This bird represented the first British record and ended up staying in the vicinity for a few days.

On the day of our visit views were generally good but not really close enough for the 100-400mm lens in use at the time. I guess this bird was one of those to make me start thinking about one of Canons' bigger prime lenses. The bird was more obliging later in it's stay. So a record shot it is...

Friday, 22 October 2010

From the archive: October 2004

A very wet October 20th 2004 saw a good fall of migrants at Newbiggin late in the afternoon... my notebook reads "loads of brambling, goldcrest, 2+ black redstart, woodcock, chiffchaff, northern wheatear".... and 1 star prize - pied wheatear. I recall having to step over brambling on the track around the church, birds were literally dropping to the first land that they saw, exhausted and wet through.

The pied wheatear was in a damp and sorry state, but fortunately was strong enough to survive, spending a few days on the beach north of the point. A large number of birders paid a visit and the wheatear was very obliging at times!

The image above was from midday on 22nd October, my second of 4 trips to see the bird. Photography-wise the bird would be a dream for me now with a few more years experience - and better equipment - back in 2004 I had no real understanding of exposure either - so the above images' RAW file is very over exposed... photoshop has provided some much need first aid!

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

From the archive: October 2007

A quiet week for me, with nightshift restricting daylight birding motivation... so here's an image from October 2007 ~ grey phalarope at Cresswell Pond. This photograph was taken on a second early morning visit to the pond when the light was decent.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Barred on Saturday, Sprite on Sunday

A text from IF early morning saw me heading down to St Mary's rather than sit at the computer editing some of yesterdays barred warbler images. The target species this morning was only seen briefly twice during a two hour watch - pallas's warbler still alludes the camera! They're a beautiful species ~ I look forward to the day that I manage an image of a seven-striped-sprite worthy of presentation.

There was a good number of birders out, and the pallas's was enough to lure a certain stringer from northern territories.

Also of note were six tree sparrow over, plus redpoll sp in flight (mealy had been present on Saturday), siskin and a great spotted woodpecker.

Back home for coffee and lunch (I maintain the correct priorities in life), then a spot of photo editing. The barred warbler image above is a rework of an attempt from yesterday - I had not got the colour balance right after incorrectly exposing the shot in bright sunshine. Note the under-tail coverts...

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Barred Warbler, Newbiggin

I spent a very pleasant sunny autumn morning watching and photographing this rather bold immature barred warbler. Having taken temporary residence in a small car park just south of Newbiggin-by-the-sea, this bird gave some incredible (by normally elusive barred warbler standards) views... Barred warblers are the "shrikes" of the warblers - big, clumpy old things, this bird even pushed some blackbirds off its favorite feeding bush!

Feeding in an elder bush the warbler was tricky - however it would break from feeds and occasionally sit out in the open, sunning itself.

I was joined by Stef, Jimmy, Roger and Alan, so some good chat was to be had. Stef and I probably have virtually the same set of images too!

A single redpoll sp. flew over and briefly joined the large greenfinch flock that was in the area, otherwise there was little evidence of any newly arrived passerines.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Blue Sunshine

Life is somewhat complicated at the moment; my mobile phone has ceased to function and I'm on lateshift... and the rares' continue. So rather than progress a mobile phone repair or relax before another shift on the front line I opted to revisit St Mary's.

As anticipated the red-flanked bluetail continues, albeit to a somewhat larger and noisier crowd of observers than Sunday morning.

Why do people feel the urge to rush the bird? This beauty has an established feeding routine and with patience, will stop close by inbetween insect sorties. Rant over.

What a cracker this bird is...

Monday, 11 October 2010

No Parking! ...Shorelark at Tynemouth

Re-visited Tynemouth this morning for another attempt at the shorelark that eluded me yesterday. The bird had become faithful to a small lawn adjacent Oxford Street car park. Quite surreal...!

A quick walk down to the priory provided hearings but not sightings of the dusky warbler... then it was a mad dash back to upload a couple of the shorelark images before work.

Bluetail still being reported at St Mary's, but no time today.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Bird on a wire: Bluetail

I was thoroughly fed up on Saturday evening - having worked an early shift at work disrupted with rarity news at Newbiggin and dipping the dusky warbler at Tynemouth and topping it all - driving past St Mary's oblivious to the presence of a red-flanked bluetail.

So it was clear - set the alarm and get there early on Sunday. Which I did. Though not quite as planned! Alarm was quickly silenced, I got dressed, headed downstairs... only to find it was not yet 5am... doh! I'd left my alarm on for work! So back to bed, with a 7am alarm set.

Up at 7, out by 10 past, parked up at Hartley at half past and at the north of the wetland by quarter to eight. It was very murky, and there were already a few birders searching the area.

I bumped into EB who kindly informed of the birds behavior yesterday, so together we stood and waited... and out of nowhere (actually, the willow on to the left of us.)...

... 08:10 - BINGO! 

Much gesticulation ensued (oo-er), it was clearly a relief for us both!

It was still very dark, but record images were most certainly required - so with and ISO of 1250 (later bumped to 1600) and a measly 1/40th - 1/60th second exposure some satisfactory images were achieved. Image stabilisation saves the day me thinks...

The other birders on site were summoned and over the next hour were were privileged to visits from the bluetail onto the wire fence and fence posts. Have to comment that the behaviour of the gathered was good - everyone got a good view as the bluetail went about its business.

From the font the flanks can be seen really quite nicely!

Later on the bluetail expanded its feeding circuit - heading out into the "gut" - & that (with increasing birder numbers) was my cue to head on - conveniently news had recently arrived advising that there was a chance at finally cracking the Tynemouth dusky warbler.

A great start to the day - my second Northumberland bluetail after the individual on Holy Island in 2008

I'll probably weaken and put another couple of images on the blog later in the week - rarity/migrant/time permitting! Or I might even go back...

Dusky Warbler, Tynemouth

Mid to late morning was spent back at Tynemouth - scene of last weeks yellow-browed warbler and yesterdays dip. Today was much more satisfactory, with the dusky warbler performing throughout, albeit high up the priory bank and in autumnal gloom. A few record images were obtained, but the warbler was typically very tricky, generally pausing behind foliage when not feeding. I was more impressed with the performance of the camera - the heavily cropped images here were taken at ISO1600!

The dusky warbler was calling throughout the visit - helping us to locate the bird on the bank side. Robin, blackbird and redwing were numerous and a redpoll flew over the car park.

News broke of a shorelark while I was there... but we couldn't locate it as it had flown off (later to be discovered a bit further west).

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Blue tales...

Argh!!!!! 2 red-flanked bluetails - both 15 minutes away north / east from BSHQ... 1 PG Tips south of the river, dusky warbler at the mouth of the Tyne (and up at Beadnell too)...

Me? Work AM, Dipping PM.

Waited a while for the Tynemouth dusky warbler but no sight or sound, nor the great grey shrike - lots of robin and blackbird. A phone call to STH confirmed that the Newbiggin bluetail was against the odds, though there was a rumour of another at St Mary's (oh how we giggled... no one knew who was claiming it etc...)

Headed back and opted not to check St Mary's a the tide was in and the red-breasted fly was on the cut off island.


Lesson learned?

Wednesday, 6 October 2010


One more photograph from yesterdays afternoon foray to Hartlepool ~ this time a more "colourful" image of the juvenile woodchat shrike.

During the visit the shrike made several successful insect kills, so food is clearly sustaining this individual - I just wonder how much longer it will reside in this small urban park.

In terms of the photograph, it's a pity that the bird is ringed as the metal band distracts somewhat... however, the colours of the plant are a nice compliment to the shrike.

Shrikes' rock by the way!

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Woodchat: Hartlepool Headland

I finally crumbled today and gave in to the temptation of the juvenile woodchat shrike that has been residing on Hartlepool Headland for the past week or so. It's not a long drive from home (in fact it's nearer to home than Holy Island) but it is out of the county... so the sense of urgency is never as that of a Northumberland bird.

My visit was well timed - the woodchat was easily located in Croft Park - a small green patch on a built up headland (park is located in lower right hand corner of link image). So without further ado I set up the camera and waited.

Sure enough the shrike was as bold as recent correspondence and  internet images had suggested, and it was not long before the bird landed a few feet away and surveyed for prey. My only issue was quickly taking the 1.4 extender off ~ both images here are taken with the 500mm.

It's my second juvenile, but the first that I've managed to photograph well.

A smart bird indeed...

Monday, 4 October 2010

From the archive: October 2006

October 2006 was a good month for orno-rarity, so I'll start with a decent county rare: this first winter isabelline shrike was one of a remarkable two records during the month. Photographed in the dunes adjacent Cresswell Pond on 27th this bird remained until 29th, while earlier in the month another first winter was well inland at a private site near Belsay on 4th. These two birds constituted the second and third county records.

I enjoyed two sessions with the Cresswell bird - light was better on  the 27th but the bird performed closer on the 29th! ...I'd love another go at another Northumberland "isy" as the mark III would be sure to provide better results.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Yellow & Grey Birding

Started the birding day at a wonderfully sunny Tynemouth, where a very active yellow-browed warbler continued to flit about the sycamores' just prior to the pier. Nice birds, ybws', but damn tricky to photograph! This bird was occasionally calling but tended to keep high up the bank. I later received a text from CB (who had been at the pier... he had a ybw in his garden - nice!)

Early afternoon saw me arrive a ridiculously busy Holy Island. Newcastles' Northumberland Street must have been empty today - everyone was here!

A quick trudge across the dunes near Chare Ends (viewed north from the "9" on the map) saw me and a noisy RSPB-type group have views of a single great grey shrike - always a stunner but clearly a very wary bird, keeping to a distance of over 100m. Maybe it was all the unnecessary irrelevant noisy chat from the people there...

The village was very quiet bird-wise; the occasional brambling was seen and heard, while the vicars garden held one pied flycatcher. No sign of TC/MHs spotted flycatcher and I did not make the effort to head to the straight lonnen for their barred warbler as tales of long waits were not in my favour.

The significant highlight of the Holy Island was undoubtedly the delicious bacon buttie from the cafe. Always a winner.

West Hartford pit-stop visit produced c100 lapwing, a few bhg, a single mallard and a buzzard over the River Blyth.

Hopefully get out on Sunday too...