Birding round Durham & Sunderland 2012

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

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Half Snipe / Partridge attack

Had an enjoyable couple of hours in the Finchale / Brasside area with DK on Friday.

A nice selection of species and increasing signs of current change of season
The sound and variety of bird song made for a pleasant day.

A tactical approach up to the edge of a small spring-fed marsh enabled us to locate one of our target species on the ground, allowing a good opportunity to study this amazing little bird.


The Jack Snipe Lymnocryptes minimus is the worlds smallest snipe, with an extensive breeding range covering northern parts of Russia and Scandinavia - they arrive to escape the northern winter and are with us from the third week in September right through into May.

Generally considered "a winter visitor", they are more often than not forgotton about by birders by mid March, when the new and 'interesting' wave of Summer visitors pour in.

Personally there are only 2 months in which i havnt seen Jack Snipe, June and July.
The latest date i have for a local Jack is May 17th, the earliest returning Autumn bird being on 20th August.

The easiest way to see Jack Snipe is to watch them flying in or out to feed at dusk - calm clear nights are best, at this time ive seen individuals in pursuit of one another, even flying through trees.

More often than not, the first we know about a Jack is when it flushes without warning unseen underfoot or from only a few feet away, arcing round to reland after a short distance.

We had a close range view, but could only manage to see the bird well from one angle.
While studying it, we noted the positioning of the birds eye and realised it could see behind it,  including us no doubt ! ( just like a Woodcock - it seems obvious now !) but first time id seen this in the field.
I was also amazed at the bristle like "eye-lashes", no doubt to protect it while dropping into cover... cant say that ive noticed this on Common Snipe, but it was somewhat reminiscent of last years close up Nightjar. (pic on LHS margin)


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During the day, a handful of Mipits and alba wagtails starting to move back
LBBGulls and Little Grebes more obvious - the latter catching Stickleback after Stickleback, Great Crested Grebe and Shoveller were also recent springtime additions to the local lists

A Short-eared Owl graced the 5 owl site at Brasside Stores, Barn Owl boxes were as yet unoccupied, but checks of Tawny 'n' Long-eared pairs paid of positively, though Little Owl evaded detection !

On the river Dippers sang 'n' bobbed with Goosanders hauled out 'n' loafing, with Lapwing, Curlew 'n' Oystercatcher all back on territory.

Spring is certainly springing - just like the feeding Half Snipe.

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Heres a couple of pics from a ramble in the sleet this morning, when we came across a Sparrowhawk on top of a hen Partridge.





On picking it up it felt like its heart was gonna burst out of it breast, within seconds it calmed down, and seemed fine despite losing some feathering from its back and flanks.
Jack had the honour of letting her go... what strong little legs ! 

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