Birding round Durham & Sunderland 2012

Birdwatching in & around Houghton-le-Spring, Sunderland, County Durham.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

White-fronted Goose

This is perhaps the best winter we've had in the County for White-fronts

On the patch most moved on in January, but 1 has lingered at H'ton Gate area.

he tilts his head on the side to have a look up at 3 Buzzards overhead

A drake Gadwall looked a bit out of place here - no emergent vegetation whatsoever - its looking like only the second record.

Bumped into DavidG, & swapped a few bits of info - What you get off a man in the field  bares no resemblance to what he types on the internet.
Having said that, I don't meet many birders when i'm ut as I keep off the beaten track - but the ones I do, don't have much affinity with nor praise for the County Bird Club - which is a crying shame.

Over a Seaton this morning, the only signs of Spring were a White Wagtail & 2 Sand Martins which went through north.
Pairs of Skylarks were prominent, with 18 pr Lapwing - many nest scraping now, a dozen Snipe & I watched a decent flock of 40 Yellowhammer feeding, drinking & bathing.

An easy mornings "drive-by birding session" for a change.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Snow Bunting

winter plumage male Snow Bunting
found 16/03 by GrahamS


Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Proper Jack Snipe images

I have previously blogged about The day Mickys hair fell out !

That day having had the pleasure of the company of one of County Durham's foremost /& respected birdwatchers / fieldworkers, Michael Heron on a 12 hour, 35,000 step half marathon.

THIS post is simply to add a couple of his photographs.

I think you'll appreciate the colour and detail......

Beauty images cheers marra.
You can follow Mick (the man who leaves no bird un-named) on the Twitter  @houghtonbirder

Post Script:
I am hoping given this winters pilot fieldwork, our County Bird Club, DBC can look favourably on the opportunity it has to be the First English bird club to carry out a Countywide survey for this species.
We did it with Long-eared Owls, why not these too....?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Ton Up -Sum Up - Delightful Dozen

I found my first Jack Snipe as a schoolboy & have always had a particular fascination for any of our cryptically camouflaged birds.

An incredibly poor winter for Long-eared Owls saw me switch my main focus from these, turning my attention to concentrate on the Jack Snipe during December 2016 (which coincided with an early pair of MuckMaster Wellies from Santa Claus)

I set out with the notion that we could perhaps find 50 Jack Snipe on our local patch this winter.

Two key sites can hold double figures when the grazing regime produces the right conditions, so I was optimistic for a decent start, but these 2 locations were sadly overgrown this winter......five birds from 2 sites that could hold 20 between them did not bode too well.

Indeed Mr Colin Jack Snipe Wilson reported that it was looking like "a poor year" and they were "bad to get".

So a deliberate process of going over all known haunts began & numbers started to tot up.
Starting on 7th Dec, and taking a week away in Feurteventura at Christmas (1 Common Snipe in a Barranco had me sweating) the running total at Years end was 46 found.
I thought all bases were covered locally & must admit I was drawn like a moth to a flame to other "known" locations, pastures old, on former patches near Durham.
Four birds feeding at a bright orange iron oxide Spring at Sacriston were a memorable one & a spot I had forgotten about for 20 years.

But driving about in the motor doesn't do it for me & surely there were more to find foot-stomping close to home...?
Ordnance Survey maps & Google Earth were scrutinised for any dip or undulation which might have a damp hollow - this paid off at Murton.
A rough looking location if ever I saw one - First ever visit & 4 birds bagged, in fact I managed a MacRab ! 
Now theres not many Birdwatchers I tip my cap to, but I think its only fair to name the treble - Jack Snipe, Snipe & Woodcock all at the same site, after one of the growing band of Wheatley Hillbillies !

Valentines day saw me with 1 on the tip of my boot & a couple of days later on 19th, a 35,000 pace, 12 hour, 13 miler saw Houghtonbirder & I notch up 6 - an Epic day of Jack Snipe Alopecia !

February Half term approached & I took my son Jack out - a photograph of him getting an iPhone full of Jack Snipe 3 feet away, was an easy short cut to the 2 Jacks in 1 picture !
This is one challenge that has yet to fall locally - and I mean local as in local rules, they must be walked up to - no sitting in hides thank you very much.

It was becoming clear that the 100 was a possibility - Colin chipped in with duplicates id already noted & Robbie was getting his eye in both to the South East of me, so I headed north west.

My top site of the year came on 26th Feb with 16 birds noted - a green, gold & tan backed beauty watched me with its locust-like eyes ! All was going well, 75 birds at 21 locations, I took advise & celebrated with a Mars Bar. (a real one not an Aldi copy).

Following day I had to do a Taxi run out of County - but by now I was waking up & seeing 2 Gold Stripes ! 
Cargo dropped off - I was on an adrenaline rush to find more - it was Swallow Pond at Wallsend that gave up 5 birds.
These of course are NOT included in the total, as they fall outside the recording area of Durham Bird Club.... a week later & I quickly found 3 at Haswell before the return trip to Tyneside to collect Jack Snipe Juniors mam.
Now up to 95 birds found - soon it would be over.

Working on Sat 4th, I pondered all day were to go to crack the Hundred.
I  knew a few spots nr Birtley, so there I went.
A glorious Sunny Sunday with singing Chiffchaff no less - THIS would be the day.
But no, very hit & miss, just short....! 8 bird found, but to add insult to injury the figures didn't add up - i'd duplicated 2 & missed 1 off, so back down one to 97.....

The 6th, I had to be home for 3 so postponed work & KNEW where I could get a hatfull.
I hadn't covered much south of Durham & certainly nothing to the South West - so pointed the van to Bishop Auckland. What a feck on driving through that way, so bloody busy. After 20 mins driving I was clamming to stretch my legs (HOW do people manage to drive about so much - its torture !)
A huge acreage of rushy pasture lay infront - it was mind boggling which way to go.
Pot luck yielded number #98 - 1 right underfoot, as masses of Snipe rose. Unbelievably, It was another 3 hours 20 mins of walking perfect habo before I saw any more...

The following pics were taken as soon as #99 rose.
I stopped dead.
I NEEDED Number 100 to be on the ground
I looked around & clocked him with the naked eye - this is the view from the finding position !

Number 100 Head On !  Get in, You little Beauty !

 Talk about needle in a Haystack - this is where #99, 100 & 101 were hiding -  Bulrush (Typha) Swamp
Where #100 was hiding

 Looking down at him, bird is right of Centre - the double gold back stripes are visible here.

 Side on, with bird facing Right.
The golden stripes turn into blades of dry grass

The Orange water (Iron Oxide) from old Coal Pit workings underground is aesthetically unpleasant to the human eye, but doesn't put them off 1 bit & birds regularly feed in areas like this.

Head on view
Just moving half an inch results in the bird being lost from view.
Even at close quarters its best to get a reference point - bulrush head, particular bent stem etc - your eyes can play tricks & lose the bird.
This is good policy when trying for 'digi-binned' images & the bird is difficult to see on the phone screen.

View with bird facing Left.
It looked like he was feeding in a bit of a walkway - way too wide for Water Rail / Moorhen, but there were several Pheasants in here too - perhaps it was there path ? Or perhaps Mr Charlie Fox ?
I'll come back to this in a future post.

very well used Pheasant roost deep in Typha bed

Same position at x8 mag, bird left facing

A step to the right allowed a clearer view

Got back to the van with 12 Jacks & a minimum of 161 Commons.
Now this was classic large scale habo, the Best pool held 6Jacks & 41Common - these sorts of numbers were common place years ago on relatively modest pools & marshes....

The water moved ever so slightly as he breathed - his bill submerged

So at 7th March, exactly 3 months to the day, my tally stands at 110 Jack Snipe found in VC66 Co.Durham.
I never though this would be possible, but even more pleased to have discovered 67 on our local patch birdwatching areas.

I'm Pleased that's over.
My Wellies have been breached on 3 occasions & panic from sink holes & negotiating very bad ground has taken years off me.
From now on i'll be the guy in clean clothes with binoculars casually slung over my shoulder.....
or maybe not....

In all seriousness, i hope my experiences can encourage the Durham Bird Club to get the projects & surveys going again.
I'm obviously at the extreme of the spectrum - but I feel Club Birdwatchers aren't being catered for as well as they might. Imho, People have been suckered in to the "popular culture" of "Birding" with very little affinity to needs of the bird, its habits & habitats - and many are certainly missing out.

It would be great to roll this out next Winter as a County wide Survey - not just to find out how many Jacks we have, but to get Birdwatchers out into the field looking for birds, document their habitats, engage with them & give them the same sort of memorable experiences that so many had while undertaking the successful Long-eared Owl Survey.

Thank you for reading
& many thanks for all the comments, reactions on the Twitter Steve on Twitter 


Monday, 6 March 2017

Spring Up

A quick drive 10km up the road and a pleasant day Bird Watching in Gateshead / Beamish areas.

It certainly felt like a Spring morning, clear bright sunny, with a Chiffchaff singing away.

Mixed fortunes with the Jack Snipe hunt -

A prospective search of a disused industrial site yielded 4 birds, but a former tip site which regularly produced 3 or 4 was empty.

From an elevated position I could see a new water body in the middle distance - closer inspection revealed a subsiding cereal field.

The wet half has been taken out of production - some new habitat in the making.
Sedges were beginning to take hold & deer slots were visible in the soft mud. 
Nature is so quick to reclaim its own back from us.

A public footpath sign pointed the way, though it was hard going as the furrows had been left to grass over producing literally hundreds of tiny little puddles away from the main body of water.

20 odd Snipe came up, but no Jacks despite a thorough search - utterly frustrating as there will certainly have been birds here. Well worth another look....

Another spot I remember finding birds with ease was along a boggy stream to the rear of a well known pub.

Some years ago, the Council, In their infinite wisdom planted phragmites, fenced off a good section & removed livestock... the result is very depressing.
Why are conservationists obsessed with replacing natural habitats with ranks of phragmites ?

& dug out the natural marsh & meandering stream to replace it with a steep sided deep 'duck pond'.

Lots of birds, Partridge, Jack & Common Snipe, Heron frogspawn etc on the original grazed side -

very little of anything within the choked reeds & deep duck pond.
Chalk & Cheese - the grazed marsh RHS - as the whole of this site once was - full of life,

Yet another well meaning mess up

Anyway, took a wrong lane & ended up at a gorgeous Burdon Plain - again another location ive never seen in daylight !

Between here & Pockerley / Beamish 12:00-15:00 saw 2 Red Kite, 30 GoldPlover  GreenWood  14 Teal Tawny Owl vocal, GSW drumming, 3Jacks, Nuthatch singing, 2 WillowTit in song, 2pr GreyPart, 2 Roe doe, 3 Hare.

An Old Burr Oak Ravensworth

Hidden pond nr Beamish, Teal, Snipe, Heron, Buzzard & Yaffle calling here.

The Jackometer was rising & I reckoned I was on 98.

Down the road was Tanfield Lea Marsh - somewhere else id never visited in daylight... (pattern emerging here)

What an amazing place !

Its like Stanleys version of RSPB Leighton Moss. Brilliant looking site.

Straight away a Roe doe watched browsing in the wood edge, 1 + 3h Water Rail, 11CSnipe the water looked high & I couldn't see any sign of Jacks, 2pr Teal, Willow Tit in song, Sparrowhawk.

This is somewhere I will be returning too.

A tot up at home - i'd added 2 in error but forgot another , so -Ouch, I got home with 1 less than I thought.

Jumping in the van & travelling 20 mins feels like going on a birdwatching holiday !

Thursday, 2 March 2017

Jack Sniping continued..

Staying close to home, I tried a couple of rough rushy fields which ive never previously visited.
Initially I wasn't expecting much as a Harris Hawk caused a nuisance overhead.
Thankfully it moved off  & I hit on with 4 Jack Snipe, 6 Commons & a pair of Woodcock sitting together out of the wind under bramble & thorn scrub.

This puts my winter total up to 92 birds found, all bar 5 in County Durham.
Hopefully get the ton-up before the Spring migrants arrive.....

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Langdon Beck - Way Out West

Too far for me & Mr Wilson to walk out West for these....

 Ten Blackcocks -
63 male Black Grouse seen in Upper Teesdale mid afternoon - all feeding away from Lekking grounds.

 Ten Greyhens

 Beautiful greyhen - 28 seen today in upper Teesdale - a new one for me was hearing 2 calling in flight

 and you thought Jack Snipe could hide - these things vanish behind next to nothing.

 Sadly a dead male- nowhere near road, perhaps natural dead, although in open position, had been partially scavenged....

ALL sorts of people go up for these birds - not all of them will have the birds welfare in mind.

My advise to "Birders" and fellow Birdwatchers is DONT visit Lekking birds - Theres No need, you can see them well enough simply driving around mid afternoon.

STAY in your vehicles. (there are mantraps & pitfall traps set out for the unwary..)

If you are unsure - google for the Code of Conduct for watching Black Grouse.

If you're on TWITTER follow Black Grouse Man  (half man half grouse)

Durham Bird Club
- some of their members really are Birdwatchers ! 💃

We saw another 16 or so up Rookhope, so a 100+ Black Grouse day !