Birding round Durham & Sunderland 2012

Header image: A local speciality, roosting Jack Snipe: pic S.Evans

BUBO Listing

Friday, 7 February 2014

We are OFFh 2

Rambling continued
Some spots go right off the boil every now & then.
One which has had a spell or two in this category, is the grasslands at Houghton Gate. 
Having said that, its been on fire this winter  
Houghton Gate - Approach the gate & the pool empties
X30 cropped view of waders & fowl 
Here we have a large acreage of permanent grazing with a handful of subsidence ponds which have come about over the last 10 year and up to 1,500 birds have recently been using this area. January 2014 has seen 600+Curlew, 300Greylag, 300Lapwing, 100Wigeon, 60Teal with smaller no's of Pintail, Shoveller, Shelduck, waders being  further represented with Redshank, Snipe, Oystercatcher & the Black tailed Godwit
Sheldrake & Blackwit
With this many birds acting as a lure, it was only a matter before "other stuff" began to get pulled in & i've given it good coverage. 
A pair of Dunlin dropped in on 25th - after New Years bird at Rainton, one of very few January patch records, what would be next... 
Didnt have to wait long as the following day  I “popped in” in passing . 
No sign of the Dunlin, but a pale breasted bird immediately stood out on the bank… All that could be made out through bins was a decent sized wader, but it was directly head-on, only it was roosting with its head tucked into its back. 

The time was 16:40 & there wasn’t a lot of light, but through the scope I was taken aback to see it was BAR TAiLED GODWiT !  
I quickly pinged off a few texts, but it was exactly the wrong time to find a patch mega… Sunday afternoon, 10 mins before dusk , no time for others to connect.

Screen grab

Its cousin was present, so that meant both Black and Bar tailed Godwit together on an inland water in January, unreal.
A few iPhone shots & a video clip, but the light was terrible & dim & the bird not the closest

Consultation with three wise men confirmed the mega title –  fair enough, not the rarest of birds.....
Not only a site first, but a Houghton/Hetton Patch first too ! 40 years of footslogging & countless hours from the like of Messers Wilson, Heron, McClean & Co, at last I’d found something half decent the others could enjoy… 
If only  it would hang on overnight… It would have to !  I couldn’t chalk it off my Footit list otherwise as that afternoon i was in the motor !

So Monday school run came & went, off into a pleasant bright morning, I toyed with the idea of doing a recce in the motor first… but that would have kinda defeated the object. So a stroll down that way in under an hour & you guessed no sign. 
At 10:30 things began to look up as the Black-wit came in with 200 Curlew. The day was springlike sunny & breezy, Buzzards were getting up over the estate & I tried a long shot scoping across into Gatesheads Red Kite country. It took more than three quarters of an hour, but I eventually saw one, distant but distinctive, low over the horizon way over Kimblesworth Grange area, approx 5.5miles away. 
This was another  good addition as despite their closeness I don’t see Red Kite at home on an annual basis. (early Feb & ive scoped 2-3 closer near Ouston/Urpeth)
I filled 2 further hours between here & Lumley Castle, adding various species & finding those 2 nice Green Sands. I’d just spoken to Derek Ch on the phone to say id given up & was gonna head off, so one last scan over the Estate.
“What on earth…!” – a large dark long billed, funny shaped bird with trailing legs… all manner of strange big bird names came to mind, diver, stork, crane etc all raced through my brain, but in a second the penny dropped.... GLOSSY IBIS !

Whoa ! – now that’s  a bonus bird if ever I saw one. I rang DC back from the middle of the A1M bridge – obviously he couldnt hear a thing ! It was coming closer & sure to land on The Gate Pool.  Rushing across the motorway only to see 600 mixed Curlew & Lapwing up in the air – Its looked like this gangly stranger with strange trailing legs had spooked the lot !  Some of the Lapwings got behind it & it circled away gaining height, it slowly drifted away rising over Elba Park & Sedgeletch – I rang Mick, maybe he was outside on a teabreak… it was flying over his workplace ! 
Ibis drifts away as the Lapwings settle
Sadly no one else local got onto it, but it did get picked up coming in over Saltholme 2 hours 20 later.
What a great rarity….perhaps not….
Look at this map of sightings since Oct 2013

Give it a decade & they’ll be all over the shop.

Best bird of my Footit…?  Simple, but The BAR-WIT could have so easily won hands down.
The List was well over the ton, so a couple of coastal trips to finish off with a final tally of 124 on foot from home.

Heres a selected Houghton Gate List Jan 2014.
4/1 Greenland White-fronted Geese x2 (PHi)
8/1 Black tailed Godwit / Shoveller
16/1 Shelduck / Pintail
18/1 Oystercatcher
25/1 Dunlin x2
26/1 Bar tailed Godwit
27/1 Red Kite / Glossy Ibis

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

We're OFFh, No cars needed

Had a good go at the Footit List during January.
The idea being to see as many bird species as possible on foot from home. OFFH, something we've been doing locally for.... decades.
(Think I'll best do this over 2 blog entries)

Lapwings arriving to roost at Chilton Moor
Last year i saw 111 including a single trip to the coast, which added 10 species.
So a realistic target this year would be aim for an inland 100, with as many as possible on usual local-patch stomping grounds  & then head off with perhaps 20 others to be added with coastal visits.

A good start on New Years day in the company of MH saw a solid 70 in the bag - The highlight being 2 Mealy Redpoll perched at close range. The Seventy giving a real insight into the wealth of birds to be found locally.

No two years are the same, and the rapidly changing climate & unpredictable seasons are certainly making our hobby interesting.... if somewhat worrying...  This mild winter has had its pros & cons. On the plus side our first overwintering Black tailed Godwit - a species which has become more familiar over recent years, but overwintering inland in NE.England is ridiculous.
Black wit overwintering at H'Gate pool.
A decent autumn showing converting into a final trio which made it to the years end & this one staying with us into 2014.  A single yes, but by no means alone! its finding company & security in a three figure flock of Curlew which has peaked at over a whopping 630 birds, with frequent trips off down to Chartershaugh.
On the other hand, 2 hard cold winters out of the last 4 have changed the habits of overwintering Chiffchaffs, with none being noted on the patch - c/p 5 or 6 birds at Sedgeletch alone when the Siberian was there.  The result, an easy one missing from the OFFH list. Mild conditions have meant far fewer winter thrushes & finches, eg Fieldfare & Siskin pretty thin on the ground, Water Rail, Snipe & both asio Owls in far fewer no's than usual.
Our local patch holds several special species over winter, Green Sandpipers giving a good showing with perhaps 4 or 5 this year in the Houghton to Chester area.  The unlikely looking modern sewage works at Ch-le-St holding is regular winter bird, while close by these 2 were found on floodwater near Lumley Castle:-

Water Rail have a scattered breeding population here, with several sites producing sightings; eg Joes Pond/Rainton complex, Sedgeletch, Seaton Pond, but as usual The Bogs has been the place for them.
Rail head
Locally we have a number of keen owlers & some owls for them to go at. But, the halcyon days of ALL 5 in 37 minutes now seem a lifetime away. Short-eared hasnt showed up yet... amazing when i think that some years i've counted up to 24 at roost ! Barnies are back down the slippery slope after a rapid recovery & now take a bit of work. The Big Luggs are hiding out there but a disastrous season in 2013 has knocked them back & currently "bad to get" . 

A couple of Greenland White-fronted Geese initially picked up by Man with Stick CW at Leamside were only the second patch record, but they quickly headed north into GyetsHeed, luckily i managed to re-find them down in the R.Wear valley at Chartershaugh Flashes, plus a swimming Pheasant ! both site firsts.
Greenland White-fronted Goose
Great Crested Pheasant
Charterhaugh Flashes
Hope this gives a flavour of some of the birds about.
Part 2 to follow....

Monday, 6 January 2014

Seventy on foot NYD 2014

A full day round the patch in the company of MickH netted us 70 species OFFH (on foot from home)

We got off to a good start with a Little Owl mobbed by Blue & Great Tits on the main road between Houghton & Fencehouses.

Heading downstream, morning birding conditions were good, calm & dry.  Whilst former new years guarentees,Water Rail & Kingfisher eluded us, our first bonus was soon picked out by MH on call as a Green Sand zipped high upstream, a great bird to see on NYDay.

All the thrushes & most of the finches came along no problem, as did Dipper, Kestrel & Grey Wagtail.  On the other hand Long tailed Tits had all evaporated, as had Sparrowhawk & Partridge.

Further interest was added with a flock of @40 redpoll which landed close by including 2 fine Mealies sat up nicely.  A quick stop at the petrol garage for chocolate & pop & off again.

Midday now & we added Coal Tits & Goldcrest with another Little Owl, surprisingly well  inside a conifer shelter-belt. Onto Elba Park for well over an hour, a thorough search for Jack / Snipe drew a blank but a Water Rail skipped out in front & a 60 flock of Mipits was another addition.

The weather broke early afternoon, with rain & blustery wind on the approach to the Oaks of Morton Wood. Hit on lucky straight off with 3GSW & 4Treecreeper from one vantage spot - MH took us to the exact bramble bush for a Woodcock, but STiLL no Long tailed Tit.....

Next stretch over open ground saw us getting wet, with Yellowhammer a new one, as the weather closed in & the meadows at Rainton came into view.  I split to check a flock of passerines & missed the first of Micks Sparrowhawks...
The pools here can be very frustrating -but it seems to have been a quiet day allowing us to add small nos of several wildfowl inc:- Goosander, Wigeon, Teal, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Pink-foot, Greylag & Canada Geese, Mute Swan & Coot !

A Redshank flew in & a handful of feeding Curlew & 4 Jays were further easy additions to the list.
A large mixed flock of gulls drifted across the main pool, & a shrill call at the same time alerted us to a Dunlin flashing through north amongst the gulls. A real unexpected bonus bird.  

The feeding station area produced the recently resident Tree Spugs, Reed Bunt & very early singing WillowTit which took us up to 70.

Had the weather held out we'd have stayed till dark o'clock, but made off hoping for Snipe - i chose the wrong side of the marsh & missed not only any snipe, but another spuggyhawk !

2/1  Couple of hours afternoon:  #77 Linnet, Skylark, Sprawk, Leo, Nuthatch, GreyPart, Tawny.

3/1  Couple of hours morning:   #80 Jack Snipe, Kingfisher, Snipe.(&another GSand)

4/1  Afternoon/early Evening  #83 Barn Owl, Dabchick, Goldeneye. 

These 83 all OFFH.

Sunday afternoon saw a dash in the motor to twitch 2 Greenland White-fronted Geese (#84) - only the 2nd second on our local patch, also there was a Barnacle Goose(#85) & a duck Shoveller (#86)

Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Down the Burn

Dropped the motor in the garage at 9 - it would be ready by 3.
Plenty of time to cover some ground & we headed down the burn to Lumley Castle & to the River.

A Dabchick on the burn was totally unexpected, my first here in 10 years.
Nowadays Dippers are a feature of this stretch, always entertaining. Several zipped past at speed, but we were able to study 3 at our leisure, one in particular was a show off, preening & drying off in front of us at close range.

He (or she) then began to sing.

 Plenty of water at Houghton Gate with 100's of gulls, a dozen Teal, 70 grazing Wigeon, a couple of Snipe & 250+Curlew.
Through the wood, it was generally quiet, though a pathside Hare bolted from under a Holly tree.

Down at the River, Kingfisher, 10Goosander, 70Swan & 60 Tufted added interest.
Nice to bump into DK on the way back.

Monday, 30 December 2013

2014 Foot it

Just signed up to take part in "Foot It

Birding on foot from home during January.

The Weathers not looking the best for the 1st of the New year, although a similarly wet day on 2012 with rain all day, produced 72 species on an 11 hour, 22 mile trek.

I doubt i'll manage anything near that, due in part to this years dusty bin syndrome & being somewhat out of touch....

Baited an area with meal-worms today, so should manage 1 or 2 of these....

 Anything else is a bonus !

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

1st Nest of 2013 - 1st Twitch of 2013

Collared Dove on nest at Colliery Row.
 - must be all the Love songs they hear on the petrol garage forecourt, that gets them in the mood year-round.....

Yesterday we caught up with Waxwings on the scenic route back from school
& another twitch today, 14mile trip taking in Redshank and a fine Long tailed Duck

These images obtained by iPhone hand held to telescope balanced on top of metal 5 bar gate.

The warm midday sun pulled the Buzzards up with a kettle of 8 up over the estate.
Im 99% sure i had LSW calling, but will have to go back & get closer 

Monday, 7 January 2013

Four foot tarts

These 4 added with ease :- Goosander, Shelduck ( drake back on breeding territory ), Whooper Swan & passing Pochard. . Mild & calm - loads of bird song including:- 5 early Willow Tits, first in song included 2cock Linnet, 1 Stock Dove, 1 drumming GSW, also 2 flocks of Redwing & Fieldfare in noisy chorus. . Others over the 13 mile stroll :- 12Dipper, Heron, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail, GSW, Nuthatch, Goldcrest, Sparrowhawk, Kestrel, Jay, Gadwall, Stock Dove, Little Owl x2, Long-eared Owl x1... . Came upon another 1 man bird hide under construction :- . . Dart-board available for use during quiet spells . . I could have continued on along the track... ....but felt two tyred.... #86 on the Foot it List.