Saturday, 27 February 2016

Two Bitterns together at Gossy Park.

On Wednesday 17 th of February i was privileged to have two Bitterns emerge from the reeds one after another and sit within 3-4 metres of each other !! I'll include the images at the end of the post in the sequence of....the two birds both in view together, the left hand bird in isolation cropped and the poses it makes while the other bird was beside it and finally the right hand bird alone after the first bird had lifted and flown into another area of reeds. You'll see in the last couple of images the second bird flying to join the other bird in the same area of reeds but it dropped a few metres short of the first one.
It was grey, overcast and raining that day so i had the hide to myself (light not good enough for the usual photographers) and quite often the type of days i call into Gosforth Park knowing i'll almost be guaranteed a seat. That's my excuses for average images out the way.
As i mentioned the two birds appeared quickly one after the other in the reeds to the right hand side of the Pearce hide and held station for 5 - 8 minutes (you loose track of time somewhat in some situations) The bird on the left ( Leftie) was moving its head around quite a bit but the bird on the right (Rightie) always remained crouched while they were close together. Eventually Leftie lifted and flew to the area of reeds immediately to their right but disappeared from sight.I hadn't noticed at the time but when i saw close ups of Rightie just after Leftie had lifted i noticed that its head/neck feathers were raised ! After a couple of minutes having moved from the crouched position Rightie flew into the same area of reeds but not as far as Leftie. Initially Rightie was out of sight but eventually i could see the back of its head and it must have been perched quite high in those reeds on the opposite side to me. I didn't have Rightie in view all the time and at one time Leftie appeared about half way back in the base of the same reed bed area moving slowly at water level as if hunting. I was unable to get any images and eventually Leftie emerged on the right hand corner of that patch of reeds and walked/ swam back to the area i had seen them originally. Leftie disappeared straight into the reeds and out of sight. Due to the movement of the phragmites i kept losing view of Rightie but the bird was always in the same place all this time and for another twenty minutes or so later before i finally lost sight of the bird.
James Littlewood at the Natural History Society saw an image of the two birds that i posted on Twitter and asked me to e mail any images i had of the two birds so they could have a closer look possibly to sex the birds. Interesting stuff and when i hear anything i will update on here.
Here are the images with noise and cropping they are not the best but might provide some answers.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Things are drying up.

Just the one Bittern at Gosforth Park in the 90 minutes i was there. I've fallen on hard times !!
Noticeable movement of birds around the reed beds today.
A quick visit to Killingworth Lakes on the way brought me 2 Great Crested Grebes, the redhead Smew was still on the smaller lake. I also had a Scaup, half a dozen Goosanders, 14 Goldeneye and it was nice to first hear then see the 2, what i presume is, the returning Oystercatchers.

Still awful light this afternoon.

Wednesday, 17 February 2016

When the luck is with you.

Grab it while you can.
A quick post showing the two Bitterns i had appear as i sat out of the rain in the Pearce hide this afternoon. I have to thank the miserable weather for this encounter as i only went up to Gosforth at  2 p.m. to get out of the house for a couple of hours.

Tuesday, 16 February 2016


That's the name of the image you are about to witness. Whether it refers to the subject in front of the camera or the guy behind it, well, that's for you to decide.
I was out with my long standing walking pal Jeff last week and i suggested heading down to Saltholme. We are both struggling to do the walks we used to so the Cheviots are no longer an option, boo hoo. It's a large site at Saltholme so you can do a bit of birding and stretch your legs if you fancy it. Jeffs target is 10,000 steps (on one of those watch thingamajigs which we ended up doing easily. There was however a rather nice a very rare bird for the north east present, two were sighted at one stage, and although i never thought we would see it/ them there was an almost guaranteed Long-eared Owl as well as many other opportunities given a bit of luck. The weather was fine so on arrival we headed straight to the Wildlife Watchpoint hide where the Tit/s had been seen. They had however not been seen the previous day despite a hide full of local birders and because of this the hide was only half full. We spent ten minutes in there mainly enjoying the birds on the feeders while all other eyes were transfixed on the surrounding reed beds of which there is a considerable amount !!.
Off we set on our walk of the site when not 50 metres along the path next to a cow grate a group of 6 or 7 guys were peering into the reeds. " watching that tit are we ?" i jokingly asked. "Yep" came the reply from one guy. "It's there, just to the right of the metal fence". WOW. There it was feeding on a bulrush head. NOW COME THE EXCUSES.
The bird in question was a PENDULINE TIT as first, not surprisingly, for both of us. It showed for around two minutes. I'm a birder who likes to capture  a nice image if i can so when i come across an uncommon or very rare bird my first instincts are to go for my binoculars and enjoy the experience of watching the bird and its characteristics. An absolutely stunning bird which was about 20 / 25 metres distant. The guy next to me had it in his scope and very kindly offered for me to have a look. Breathtaking. So, after what must have been 90 seconds i decided to quickly capture some images then go back to watching the bird. I fired off 3 shots in auto focus mode and realised the camera was struggling to get a fix on the subject. There was "a lot going on" as the bird blended in sooo well and there was many reed stems swaying about even in the light breeze. I switched to manual but only got two shots off before the bird drooped downwards and out of view. There was a sighting very briefly from the hide later in the afternoon i understand. I didn't expect too much from my attempts and i was right not to. The three auto shots barely captured the bird and this was the best of the two i took in manual. At least you can just about make out what it is and i can just about use that brilliant get out phrase, IT'S A RECORD SHOT.

This gives you some idea why the camera struggled in auto focus. Can you see it ? It's there.

The Long-eared Owl was present. Nice views through the scope but too far for an image. A Redhead Smew (i'm desperate to see my first male) was present along with a couple of Whoopers and the usual variety of birds. The sun was generally in the wrong direction for any more images. Three Stock Doves under the feeders were a bonus and my first of the year while i stood waiting for Jeff just before we left.
We called by Greatham Creek for 30 minutes on the way home and had a dozen Common Seals laid up on the mud but again a bit too distant.
FOOTNOTE. According to a warden at Saltholme this is only the third record of Penduline Tits in Cleveland.

Thursday, 4 February 2016

Return of the Odd Couple.

It's been great getting out with my old sparring partner THE Howdon Blogger . It had been months rather than weeks due to his better halves ill health but hopefully it will be more often. The last two Saturday morning we have gone to the Derwent River area, initially to see the Starlings leaving their roost at Shibdon Pond, but also to call at one of our favourite spots on the Derwent where there is a small island where there is shallow fast water around it and a small vertical bank on one side. It's about the best place i know of locally for Dippers but Grey Wagtails, Goosanders & Sand Martins are regulars and while we've been there the last couple of weeks it turns out sightings of Otter have been made, something i didn't know of, but look forward to. The only downside to the Derwent visit is that it is on a very popular dog walking & cycling route and as the morning progresses it gets busy so the earlier we get there the better. Rounding off at Far Pastures where you more often than not see more around the car park than from the hide despite the nice body of water and reed beds that are there but lack the management it once had due to cutbacks.
We were slightly too late on our first visit to Shibdon and although saw the Starlings leave the pond weren't in the position i had hoped for. We did get there early enough last week and it was a fabulous experience that was over all too fast. It did last for 10 / 15 minutes from the Starlings first movements around the reeds to them leaving. I had been told by local "expert" George Simpson (if you search his name of You Tube you will see his morning & evening videos of the past weeks, great footage of the murmurations on numerous occasions) that up to 4 Sparrowhawks could lie in wait and the Starlings know this and moved about the reed beds constantly before departing. I'm not talking hundreds here but thousands of birds moving about the reeds is quite a sight in itself. Two large groups numbering thousands left intially within 30 seconds of each other with 2 Sparrowhawks in the air with them. George, who we spoke to just after, had a Sparrowhawk landing on the boardwalk close by with a squealing Starling in its grip before despatching it then flying off. Other groups of 20, 30 40 ish left over the next ten minutes. We stood wondering which was the best strategy.
Only the one Dipper on the Derwent this week but last Saturday we had four, two of which displayed and called, with a third in close attendance. A fallen tree where the Dippers were is slightly further upstream and away from the noise of the faster water so the sounds they made were the best i had ever heard. Unfortunately the branches of the tree stopped us getting any images of the event. I did however get a pleasing shot of a male Kestrel that landed on the island and ratched around in the undergrowth looking for a bite to eat.
Looking for his bait.