Monday, 30 March 2015

Today, Yesterday and the day before . . . .

Far Pasture this morning, mainly to see if there was any sign of spring yet. Straight away singing chiffchaffs could be heard, five in all scattered about, but no sign of sand martins or indeed any other of our summer visitors as yet.

Shame the sun was behind this chiffchaff as he landed right in front
of me and stayed a while  

Possibly the same bird, later on the opposite side
of the path. 
The pond was much more lively than has been for a while. A dozen or so Teal, mallards, moorhens and a noisy pair of displaying little grebes. The water level is receding and is very clear, but still no sign of any amphibians in the shallows.

Back in the car park the 'Flat Rock Bird Café' was busy with the lunchtime crowd, and opportunities for a few snaps.

Robin . . .

 . . . dunnock . . .

. . . . and a pair of Nutters
Displaying pairs of Great, Willow and Long tailed tits were along the hedges so certainly a spring feel to the day, and in the air a displaying pair of red kites among the half dozen seen, plus 5 buzzards, a kestrel and a sparrowhawk.

Displaying red kites . . . .

. . . . and a passing buzzard
So the resident birds certainly think its spring, even if the migrants don't.

Some stuff from the garden over the last few days :

Collared Dove, not as regular as they used to be so nice to see one

Greenfinch (male). Not being seen much now though
during the winter were getting half a dozen regularly. Still plenty of
goldfinches though. 

Starling. Another irregular visitor, though probably because I don't often
put grated cheese or raisins out now, which used to have them flocking in.
  And an ID parade of Reed Buntings, I'm sure we've been getting at least 6 different individuals in lately but I've managed to photograph four of them anyway :

Male reed bunt with a streaky bib

This male had more of a full beard

Bog standard female

This female had a very fetching black face
Forecast for the rest of the week is pretty poor as well, methinks we'll wake up one morning and we'll have missed spring altogether :-/  

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Taking Stock . . .

All week the forecast had been saying Wednesday was going to be bright but cool, so this was the day I kept aside for my 'weekly wander' with the intention of visiting our resident Peregrines for a few snaps.
Even the Wednesday morning forecast was saying the same, but in the event they only got it half right, it was certainly cool, but the Sun was nowhere to be seen.

Notmanywords Ron was on the scene when I got there having done exactly the same as me, but as you'll see from his blog, the gloom didn't stop him from getting some cracking photos.

My first bunch (all 48 of them) aren't worth showing, but I wandered off for a while and returned less than an hour later, when there was a slight lift in the gloom, not much but enough light now to make a difference in my photos, making them of record shot standard (if a bird is recognisable it's good enough for me) :

Peregrine - The female of the pair

She waited patiently while hubby was
presumably out hunting.

She certainly had a nice view of the pigeons
circling around.

You could see her eyeing up the menu
from her panoramic viewpoint.

This sparrowhawk was displaying high above
the peregrine site

When I'd got enough shots I meandered away, and got some 200 yards when the Sun actually came out. I stopped in my tracks, wondering whether I should go back to try again, the light got stronger but I looked to the skies and the gap in the clouds was small, I knew the Sun was just teasing, and if I went back would disappear behind the clouds again. So I said 'sod it' and continued walking away. The Sun, realising I wasn't going to be fooled this time, also said 'sod it' and went back behind the clouds anyway. Strange, but it felt like I'd won for once.  

My best photo opportunity then came further along the track with this Stock Dove which stayed on a fence while I approached so got some decent snaps.

Close . . .
. . . closer . . .

... and closer still

Like a lot of birds, the Stock Dove looks very plain from distance, but in close-up I think is a neater bird than the Collared Dove which most people prefer, something about those eyes, the shimmering markings on the side of the neck, and the neat greyscale colouring. A little charmer. 

Saturday, 21 March 2015

A Phenomenal Eclipse Phenomenon

The natural event of the year so far was the solar eclipse on Friday morning. Good timing as I had to go out shortly after the event, and was lucky enough to witness part of it without the aid of special goggles thanks to a thin cloud covering blocking out the strong sunlight about ten minutes either side of the peak-time.

Bright light turned to sudden gloom and I looked out the window
to see a distinct crescent shape in the sky.
Out came the camera and a sequence of opportunist shots ensued.

As the cloud cover began to break I had to put the camera down
before the light got too strong again.

After the eerie half-light in otherwise blue skies
signified the point of maximum coverage, gloom came again
and I managed a brief trio of shots as the moon passed out of the sun.

We were quite fortunate in the northeast, I certainly didn't expect to see any part of the eclipse with the naked eye let alone get photographs, possibly a once-in a lifetime experience (last chance for an old steg like me anyway)

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Farming Outlook . . .

A pleasant day made a welcome change so I decided to hike around the local farmland to see what was occurring, hoping for some good raptor action as well as looking for your typical farmland birds and hoping to photograph yellowhammers, as their yellow plumage on a backdrop of blue sky should make a canny photo.

Early doors my 'lack of match practise' was apparent as my fieldcraft skills were negligible as a lack of focus and generally not looking before treading resulted in numerous flushes, from yellowhammer to jackdaws, reed bunts to magpies and even a red kite from a pylon (which would have made a cracking photo).
I sorted myself out and started scanning ahead more. At the lower levels more tits and dunnocks than anything else, and the only yellowhammers were one flushed and one overhead.

A lone mature oak was dotted with nestable holes so I stood a while and watched as first a blue tit then a great tit investigated, and then a treecreeper arrived on the scene and disappeared into one of the holes. A bit of a surprise that one.

As I climbed further up the valley, I looked back to see the far side of the valley was still shrouded in mist, but silhouetted were two red kites, two buzzards and a displaying pair of sparrowhawks, though all fairly distant.

Red Kite in the morning mist
I followed the public footpath along a hedge and through a copse, and was pleased to hear a couple of skylarks singing, a grey partridge flew along the far hedge, and numerous yellowhammers and reed buntings fed in the fields and perched among the thickets.

Plenty of reed bunts around
In the copse of trees were goldcrests, long-tailed tits, coal tits, a willow tit and chaffinches. I secured my target yellowhammer though couldn't get the shot I wanted of a singer against the blue skies.

Plenty of L T tits around as well

Target secured, a yellowhammer facing the wrong way

Linnets sprang up from a partly ploughed field where more yellowhammers fed also, and a few meadow pipits sprang up from the next field into a line of trees where goldfinches and goldcrests were calling.
Sad though, I remember just a few years ago a small part of this field was set aside and had breeding lapwings, now it's all cultivated and I didn't see one even flying overhead.

The colour contrast I was looking for, but couldn't get close enough
along the field edges. 
And that's the closest I could get to a mipit as well
I decided to head over to Low Thornley, though not before I heard and spied a small band of tree sparrows by the kennels, never seen them here before, but that's one species making a comeback in the borough.
An obliging robin was my next subject, then heading off the road and onto the red kite trail I was greeted by the sound of a singing chiffchaff, first of the year, but only set eyes on him when he flew off.

Robin mid-song

Only place in the valley I've had little owl, sadly the owl box
on the tree disappeared a few years back.
Distant displaying buzzards (just love their skydancing) and a passing red kite were the only raptors around, a very disappointing count considering the conditions, then at Low Thornley a lot of common stuff before this Comma flitted into view and just about settled for a photo, though it wouldn't let me get too close to test the macro so this is a fairly distant crop.

Comma - first identified butterfly of the year
 Then more tree sparrows, a regular sighting here and this time within snapping distance.

Decent numbers of Tree Sparrows in the area now
hope they continue to thrive. 
When I reached the stables I noticed scaffolding up around the house and was disappointed to see they'd been cementing in the gaps in the eaves where the tree sparrows have  nested in past years, so I can only hope they find suitable accommodation this year or that could be the end of them here.

Still with a bit of time to spare I decided to walk down to Far Pasture in hope of getting a sand martin, no such luck, all quiet here but another chiffchaff was singing along the access road on the way out. Couldn't be arsed to get my camera out again to snap him, but happy enough with the day's sightings. 

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Mind your Bs and Qs

Needed to go to B&Q today so took the opportunity to make a first visit of 2015 to Shibdon Pond. As usual here the expectation was far in excess of reality, a host of gulls but nothing out of the ordinary, a dozen or so redshank and a couple of oiks were the sum total of waders, and the ducks were practically non-existent bar a couple of shelduck and a few teal.

It was bright, but the hide was still freezing, I took some shots of the assembled throng but not many worthy of showing :

Redshank showed well

Then there were three

LBB Gull almost landed on top of another

But didn't

Herring Gull got me a bit excited as it seemed to have
yellow legs as it thrashed about in the water.

But at rest it looked an ordinary herring gull

A pair of mute swans came in from the right

and veered round to pass again from the left

And an assortment of BH Gulls in various stages of attire

Rob (gatesheadandbeyond) came in, fresh from a fruitless search for a reported Rose-coloured Starling at Swalwell, but it was good to catch up as I hadn't seen him in a while.

I took a couple of detours on the way to B&Q and back to look for the alleged Rosy, but I couldn't even find a common starling never mind something rarer.
With a walk along the river to Winlaton Mill I hoped to find a grey wagtail and dipper to photograph, and Haghill came up trumps with a cracking male grey wag on the opposite riverbank, and a pair of dippers foraging for nesting material which I watched them taking into their nesthole.
Unfortunately this coincided with a dull cloudy period so I didn't even bother getting the camera out. Nice to see all the same.

Other signs of spring today were my first butterfly while waiting for the bus, I couldn't identify it as it flitted about but it was a dull orange/brown colour and looked worn, possibly a comma.
Two honey bees were seen in a patch of purple flowers (?) and at home a 7-spot ladybird was on the back fence. 
Also seen was our local red kite WT6 with a beak full of nesting materials when he landed on a house roof opposite, so spring is certainly in the air, though you wouldn't think it sitting in Shibdon hide.   

Sunday, 8 March 2015

One To Watch

Found this prog about Dragonflies on YouTube. It lasts around fifty minutes but is a decent effort at explaining the life of the dragonfly and what makes them special, though you will have to forgive the unnecessarily staged death scenes, the sometimes inaccurate narration and at times terrible continuity in film sequences. But you'll find a lot of the filmwork is outstanding and the programme itself starts to draw you in. Worth watching if you're already a dragonfly fan or want to learn a bit more about them.

Sky Hunters, the World of Dragonflies :

Back to today and this morning I visited a dull and dreary Far Pasture. Again the pond was fairly uninteresting but the car park and hedges were brimming with song birds. On the path to the hide I was surrounded by half a dozen lesser redpolls, a couple of male siskins singing their hearts out from the uppermost branches of a tree, pairs of bullfinches and reed buntings and tiny foraging goldcrests, all superb little birds.

Goldfinches, Willow and Long-tailed Tits, and a host of common stuff in the area, overhead 3 red kites and a kestrel pair. Unfortunately too dim for photos (the weather that is, not me . . . but then again)


Wednesday, 4 March 2015

March-ing into Spring

Another bright day and another opportunity to test out the new x-s1, as usual Far Pasture was the venue.
But before that I managed to snap our local red kite, WT6, as he called from the conifers over the road.

Caught in mid-call

The light was excellent but needs to be a lot closer, though I
wouldn't even have attempted a photo with the Panasonic at that range. 

These were taken through double glazing at a fair distance, but he perches up there regularly so I'm just waiting for him to perch down at our end to see what sort of shot I can get.

Not much happening on the pond at Far Pasture, the water level is still rather high, but is also very clear so I was disappointed not to see any amphibians in the shallows. Plenty of action nearby though. A small band of redpoll was nice to see along the access road, a year first (if I were keeping a list), and Goldcrests and colourful Bullfinches fed in the bushes, but all this was before I even got my camera out, and also noticeable were the mass swarms of midges, a definite sign that we're not far off spring, as the first of the insect-eating migrants will no doubt fill their boots when they arrive here shortly.

Along the gated path the oak tree was again alive with wagtails as even more midges swarmed about. I counted at least 20 pied wags in the tree and more still on the pans, where a couple of pairs of grey wags fed also.

Pied Wagtail with a snapped neck

Inspecting the Menu

Back in the car park the small birds were feeding well too, and Roly's pie crust proved popular with the blackbirds.

Who ate all the Pies?

Shot of the Day - Nuthatch

You looking at me ya great tit ?

Song Thrush feeding in the shadows

Further along the road I attempted to snap a Goldcrest, the nightmare bird for previous attempts :

At least you can tell what it is ?
And a pair of Willow Tits posed nicely above my head, but not the greatest of angles :

Tit Willow
So another pleasant session watching the usual crowd and I enjoyed the challenge of getting some photos, though not many keepers from the 40 or so snaps I took. Must say though the more I explore the new x-s1 the more I like it. A bloke with the same camera gave me a few tips on settings last week, and today someone had a Canon SX50 (my original choice), but struggled to get photos of the nuthatch in particular because of the slow focussing, whereas the xs-1 was quick and smooth.
But the real test will come when I get the chance to try out the super-macro, shouldn't be long now.

Footnote:  Having heard about the apparent Barrow's Goldeneye at Far Pasture a few weeks back I'd been mighty pissed off at missing out (being my local patch an' all), but noted in the log it was marked as ' 2 Barrow's Goldeneye? ', the 2 and the ? arousing suspicion.
And now I've seen a photograph of one of the alleged birds, though admittedly it isn't the best and I've never seen a Barrow's Goldeneye meself, but I think if I'd seen this female bird I doubt I would have given it a second look (meaning I reckon it's just a common) . . . . mind I've been wrong before ;-)