Sunday, 26 April 2015

More Arrivals . . . .

News from today, and Shibdon Pond this morning had a common sandpiper but not much else of interest, though a walk along the boardwalk revealed the scratchetty song of a Sedge Warbler, and Rob (G&B) later had a Reed Warbler as well.

Common Sandpiper at Shibdon Pond

At Far Pasture there's still no sign of any Grasshopper Warblers, but has had a recent influx of Garden Warblers with at least three pairs there this morning, probably more. No sign of the Mandarin which was still there on Saturday for its third day. Clouds of midges formed in the treetops around the car park.

Certainly enough food for insect eating migrants

Not a particularly good day with the camera, the garden warblers joined the blackcaps and whitethroat in this year's most uncooperative birds competition and record shots were iffy to say the least.

Garden Warbler at Far Pasture - best I could get 
At least this smart garden Greenfinch was better behaved.


I'm always fascinated by the way things in the natural world find a way to interact with each other to gain an advantage. Watching a repeat of The Nature of Britain yesterday threw up such a case, in how ants inadvertently aid the dispersal of gorse seeds.

The seeds themselves are of no interest to the ants but they come with a blob of a fatty yellow substance attached which the ants find to be a bit of a delicacy. Foraging ants stumble upon one of these seeds after they have exploded from the pods but the foragers tend to be the older members of the colony and their jaws are no longer sharp enough to cut the blob of fat from the seed, so instead they use it as a handle to carry fat and seed back to the nest, where a younger worker will snip off the yellow substance.

gorse seeds still in the pod
with yellowy attachment
But now the shiny smooth-skinned seed has nothing for the ants to hold on to and is just too big for them to grip in their mandibles, so it has to be left underground in the nest where conditions suit germination better than being left on the surface and will soon sprout away and grow into another gorse a good distance from the parent bush. Clever stuff.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The week so Far . . .


Spent most of the day indoors working on a commission, picked the wrong day by all accounts as I found out later of an apparent Rough-legged Buzzard just up the road off Thornley Lane, hovering above a field with white 'ring-tail' clearly visible.
Bit of a bummer that as no doubt at some stage it could easily have been up soaring with the other buzzards in the area and at half a mile distant picked up from the back garden had I been in raptor-watching mode like most days of late :-/


Took a walk to Far Pasture but turned back as the wood yard gates were open and the two barky dogs were lurking in the compound. My record with barky dogs is not good, so I bottled out of sneaking past them and went to Thornley Woods instead mainly to see if I could locate a Pied Flycatcher.
I took the skyline route and on the way came across a Blackcap singing out in the open. Only trouble was the direction of the sun, which was incredibly strong that day, so what could have been a cracking photo ended up pretty average :

Singing Blackcap in strong sunlight
A search of Thornley and Paddock Hill Woods proved pretty fruitless, the intense heat didn't encourage the birds out in the open, so just common stuff around but I did get a decent pic of a singing chiffchaff :

Singing Chiffchaff in a better position
Also picked the wrong day to go trudging around the patch, the heat was a killer and I was knackered by the time I got home.


Home again, a nice pair of Bullfinches in the garden early doors, the male stayed in the trees at the back of the garden so I couldn't snap him, but his missus came down to feed and was much more obliging.

Mrs Bully
Don't come in that often so nice to see
Token red kite fly-over shot to finish
This one untagged

Thursday (today)

Another scorcher so this time I made it to Far Pasture for a much more leisurely stroll. Plenty birds singing but not much showing, and raptors were few and far between. Star bird was a drake Mandarin.
I was at the entrance to the car park and saw it fly in low from the direction of the river. I went to the hide and was told it flew around twice then landed on the far island and settled down out of sight. One bloke pointed out where it was, but it was well hidden and only the red beak was showing. It didn't move in the next hour except to stretch up once, which I missed.

I also got on talking to a bloke who was quite new to birding and used to work in badger protection, telling me how they used to repair dug out setts and reinforce them with concrete and mesh. But some of the stuff he told me about the sites he had to clear up and how the scum went about 'baiting' was heartbreaking.

Eventually my target species for the day started singing its raspy tune, a Common Whitethroat. It showed well enough as it worked its way along the roadside but was mostly very flighty and against the sun so photos not easy.

Butterflies were out in force too, mainly Small Tortoiseshells, but a few Peacocks, Orange-tips and Green-veined Whites. Also an orange one with black markings, I presumed a fritillary of sorts, certainly wasn't a comma as it had smooth-edged wings. Impossible to photograph as it rarely settled for more than a second as it made its way across the grassy bank behind the fence. By all accounts fritillaries shouldn't be out this soon up north but I'm certainly no butterfly expert so if you know better . . . .

So another interesting little session, and here's the day in pictures :

Another singing Blackcap partly obscured

Ponies at the Gate

There's a Mandarin in this picture, honest.

That red blotch centre picture is its beak
Don't think it would get past a records committee  :-O
Fishing Heron

Wren singing its heart out
Best pic I could get of the first
Common Whitethroat of the year

A blurry flight shot, same bird

Small Tortoiseshell

Green-veined White

 Not long now for the damselflies, can't wait :-)


Sunday, 19 April 2015

Saturday Round-Up . . . and a Mystery Solved

First thing yesterday the Stock Doves were back in the garden which was nice to see, though they hadn't been down long when an over-aggressive Blackbird chased them off and haven't been seen since. (Update: yes they have :-)

One of the two Stock Doves yesterday morning
The same Blackbird tried to see off a Woodpigeon later, but was surprised when the pigeon stood its ground and he just bounced off it. A second attack had the same result, and though the pigeon looked a bit startled at being physically attacked, the blackbird gave up and Woody soon got back to hoovering up the scattered seed.

Later I packed myself off to Far Pasture to see if anything new was in yet, but my first concern was when I discovered not one but two dead badgers in the field opposite the wood yard. That's four in three weeks,  just wtf is going on here?

I was all set to report these as suspicious deaths but got into conversation with a bloke in the hide who told me they are roadkills being put in the field by some photographers trying to entice the red kites down to get better photos (?). Mystery solved, and no suspicious circumstances, but not sure about the ethics on this as it's quite near a well known nest site. 

Three Blackcaps (2m 1f) were flitting about a tree along the path and though distant I did get a clear shot of one.

Blackcap - clear of twigs for once
Still need to get a bit closer though
The Flat Rock bird café was my next stop. The birds are very confiding here and though I was standing only a few feet away they still came down to mop up the scraps that were left.

I was practically standing over this
strikingly marked little Coal Tit

Female Chaffinch - there aren't many birds
I would describe as drab but  . . .

"Drab?  . . . you're no oil painting yourself mate!"

Grumpy Robin

Star of the show though was the Bank Vole, tiny and cute, seems a shame they make up the staple diet of so many predators.

What a cutie

The common warblers were in full song along the road, though the blackcaps still wouldn't show, but I stopped in my tracks when I realised a GS Woodpecker was on the trunk of one of the dead 'kestrel' trees.

Great Spotted Woodpecker
Against a nice blue sky as well 

couldn't believe my luck, stayed perfectly still
as I approached.

Eventually hopped over to another branch
where the red patch told me it was a male

Last snap just before he flew off 

Then a Red Kite appeared between the trees

Back up to the Derwent Walk and another go for the Blackcaps there. I only came across one today but he gave me the usual runaround despite showing well and often. So I took a photo of Gibside Hall across the valley instead.

Gibside Hall on the east side of the valley
A picturesque setting for this local landmark

So nothing new to report but an eventful little session all the same.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Approaching the Half-Century

Nothing to do with cricket, but this pair of Stock Doves in the garden yesterday morning were the 49th species to have set foot in our front or back gardens since I moved here in August 2003.

Stock Doves - cracking birds and very welcome
(Photo taken through kitchen window with Krappy Kodak
as the x-s1 was in the greenhouse)

They've been a long time coming, considering I've recorded them as flyovers regularly from practically day one, so 11 and a half years is a long time to wait for such a fairly common local species, as in that time their cousins the Wood Pigeons and Collared Doves have been frequent visitors.
Here's a complete Voous list of the species which have set foot in the garden since Aug 2003 :

Common Pheasant
Common Gull
Black-headed Gull
Feral Pigeon
Stock Dove
Wood Pigeon
Collared Dove
G S Woodpecker
Pied Wagtail
Northern Wheatear
Song Thrush
Mistle Thrush
Common Whitethroat
Willow Warbler
Long tailed Tit
Coal Tit
Blue Tit
Great Tit
Carrion Crow
House Sparrow
Tree Sparrow
Lesser Redpoll
Mealy Redpoll
Reed Bunting

The 48th visitors (Four Yellowhammers in Jan 2013) were also a long time coming, as they quite regularly fly over and can be seen on farmland through gaps in the houses over the road.

But with over two years between 48 and 49 how long it will take to get number 50 is anybody's guess, or even what species it might be. I'd love it to be a Red Kite, they've been in the neighbours gardens and have flown through ours at below head height on occasions but not yet touched down.

I live in hope :-)   

Friday, 17 April 2015

A Different Type of Rarity

On Tuesday evening I noticed a strange disc-like cloud formation on the east side of the valley. I had a hunch these were the type of clouds which have been mistaken for UFOs in perfectly formed specimens, and aren't seen that often in the UK.

I looked them up in the kids weather encyclopaedia and sure enough Lenticular Clouds, a quite rare occurrence in Britain, needing specific atmospheric conditions more usually found at high altitude mountain ranges.

Lenticular Clouds high over the East of the Derwent Valley

Quite a spectacle 

It's all a bit technical for me but here's a layman's explanation hacked together from the internet :

Lenticular clouds, technically known as altocumulus standing lenticularis, are stationary lens-shaped clouds that form at high altitudes, normally aligned at right-angles to the wind direction.
Where stable moist air flows over a mountain or a range of mountains, a series of large-scale standing waves may form on the downwind side. If the temperature at the crest of the wave drops to the dew point, moisture in the air may condense to form lenticular clouds
Under certain conditions, long strings of lenticular clouds can form, creating a formation known as a wave cloud. As the moist air moves back down into the trough of the wave, the cloud may evaporate back into vapour. So lenticular can appear and disappear relatively quickly.

Indeed just a few minutes after I took those photographs the formations changed completely so unfortunately the kids didn't get the chance to see them. And here are some examples of how spectacular they can be :

Nature at it's breathtaking best.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Sunny Morning in the Valley

Quite a bit to get through today, so here goes :

Another early morning visit to Far Pasture, this time to see if any Common Whitethroat or Grasshopper Warblers had arrived, both of which were present by this time last year.

Not much singing at all when I arrived (sometimes you can be out TOO early) though a lovely calm and sunny morning so I took a look on the pond where a host of residents are now on site, though I was surprised to see a couple of Snipe close-in, as I thought they would be off to the moors by now for the breeding season.

Snipe, hadn't seen any for a while here . .

. . . then two come along at once.
A bit later and a bit of Goose-stepping

Canada Geese adding to the early morning atmospherics

then some proper Goose-stepping from one pond to the next

Passing close in I notice the subtle difference in the white cheek markings,
might aid identification of individuals.
(or maybe not)

Heron looking around to see if anyone is watching . . .

. . . then a quick sniff of the armpits.

Back outside again, and a Red Fox ran across my path, but then saw me and scarpered, all too brief but still brilliant to see. By now the warblers were in good voice, but no whitethroats or groppers I'm afraid.

Blackcaps though were all over the place, I counted four pairs (seen) and another 3 singing, but trying to get one on camera is proving a bit difficult. These were the best shots I could get.

Damn those pesky twigs !!

Second time unlucky
Willow Tits were much more obliging today, one in particular sat preening right in front of me, too good an opportunity to miss.

Preen 'til I'm clean

Seen me but not that bothered

Strikes a fine pose

Quick impression of a 20th century fascist dictator
(must be all that goose-stepping) 

Back to the preening

And a fine shot to finish

Hirundines were absent first thing but numbers grew as time went on, sand martins especially, and just a few each of house martin and swallow.

Better light for bird on wire photos today, but angles not good.

 Willow/chaffs were out in force too, this one nest building by the wood yard.

Primary projection says chiffchaff but I've never seen one
with legs as pale as this before. 
I walked back along the Derwent Walk to check by the old railway station, which has always been good for Blackcaps as well. I wasn't disappointed, three singing in the area and one sat on an outstretched branch to deliver his song. At last, the chance I've been waiting for!

I got him in focus but as always happens, a small twig was spoiling the shot, so I took two steps back for a clearer view, got him in the viewfinder, but before I could press the shutter my battery symbol (which had been on two bars for a while) suddenly flashed red and the camera just shut down without so much as an excuse me.
Couldn't believe it. I put in the spare battery as quickly as I could but too late, he wasn't going to wait around for me, and that was the last I saw of any Blackcap this morning.
It's becoming personal now, and I'm determined to have a clear shot of a Blackcap on this blog otherwise I'll throw my camera in the nearest pond this year, never mind drop it accidentally }:-(

Back home still fuming, I surveyed the panorama from the kitchen window as I drank my much needed cuppa. A red kite was soaring with another stocky-looking raptor over towards the valley, which I presumed to be a buzzard, but was delighted to find it was a Peregrine when I got my bins on them, great stuff, first garden peregrine for about three years. They parted before I could even think about getting the camera out of my bag, and the falcon headed down the valley towards the Tyne.

I spent most of the rest of the day painting in the greenhouse but always had bins and camera at the ready, and one eye on the skies. Plenty more raptor activity, and got a few improved snaps of flyover kites. I'm getting there :-)

The Old . . . .
WT6, one of the originals and now in his
eleventh  year.  

The New . . .
WT H8, one of last year's babies and a regular
garden flyover 
I note the birds sporting last years orange wing tags have the numbers printed also on the underside of the tags now, something I suggested last year after complaining it was nigh on impossible to identify kites unless they were perched, which was frustrating because of the number of flyovers I see locally and would love to be able to record individuals rather than just tag colour.
Not saying it was down to me though . . .

Another kite swooping past the trees

And finally a strikingly marked but otherwise
shit photo of a buzzard.

Phew! That took some getting through. Loving the x-s1 but now it's possible to get half decent birdy photos I can't stop snapping, loving the challenge. Bring on some more . . . . .