Saturday, 25 February 2017

Post 459 - A Happy Half Term Bunting Hunting :-)

Quite a way to start the day - a wonderful
view of Waxwings
Hey everyone, post 459 today and a little run down of what has been a great half term. It's always interesting to see how the weather turns out this half term. Sometimes I've been able to go sledging. Sometimes I've been able to go paddling in the sea at Whitby in t-shirt and shorts. It can be very varied but I particularly remember that about this time of year as it was my birthday this week. It was a relatively big birthday too as I'm now a teenager!

Well it's always nice to have time to spend going for walks and exploring. I managed to fit in quite a bit already this week and I've still got another day tomorrow to see what else I can see. So where have I been this week?
Russian White Fronted Geese peeking out of a ditch.

As you may have seen I did a little post about my first trip out to to Upper Teesdale on the first day of the holidays.

After that we stayed with the area north of me as there were some reports of birds that I hoped to see. On Monday we headed to RSPB Saltholme. There were quite a few reports of things I haven't seen including a Long Eared Owl,  Russian White Fronted Geese and some other things we hoped to pick up on the coast on the way home.

A wonderful view of a gorgeous bird - Snow Bunting!
 Arriving in the car park at RSPB Saltholme the day got off to a promising start. As soon as I got out of the car I caught sight of 5 Waxwings. The light was great as well so I got a few nice photos of them (for a change!). Going into the reserve we heard that the Long Eared Owl had been driven from its usual roost further into the scrub probably as lots of people were very pleased to see it and photograph it. Still Dad and I had a great walk and saw lots of great birds including Pintails. Teal, Wigeon, Curlews, Lapwings, Reed Buntings and more Shovelors and Shelducks than I've ever seen in one place before.

A Rock Pippet at Skinningrove
On the way back we looked along the road for another bird we knew was hanging around. When we saw a few Greylags we pulled over and had a look around. It was the right decision as we soon picked out the heads at least of a few of the Russian White Fronted Geese that had been reported. Not the best views I've had of a goose but still nice to see.

Another stop off point on the way home was to Redcar where we knew there were reports of Snow Buntings. After parking up and having a short walk towards where we'd spotted someone with a telescope we soon saw them. What a lovely bird! One of the prettiest little birds I've seen for a while. They were very happy flitting about, perching on the posts of the groynes and generally hunting for things to eat and posing for photos.

And an Eastern Black Redstart!
Well after that we headed home only to find out if we'd checked our phones that we could have walked a bit further up the beach and seen a Lapland Bunting too! Never mind, that's for another day.

A colour ringed Herring Gull
After some successful bunting hunting we decided to head out on Thursday, in spite of storm Doris, to see if we could see a few birds that were hanging around York. The first was the Pine Bunting. It was quite easy to find the site where it had been seen. It was quite easy to see the flock of Yellow Hammers it was hanging around with and thanks to someone close by doing a bit of drilling now and again it was quite easy to see the Pine Bunting as I had a good few chances to see the flock moving backwards and forwards to the scrub. Sadly all my photos were too blurry to make anything out due to the wind and rain :-(

Next up was the Great Grey Shrike that was on the other side of York. Well, sadly I am going to have to find one another day as it was seemingly taking shelter as I had a good look with no luck.

A very accommodating Turnstone
Friday saw us return to the coast, really just as the weather was much brighter and also as it was still a bit stormy and it's a fantastic coast to see when the waters quite rough. Our first stop was Skinningrove to see the Eastern Black Redstart. It's been there all winter but last time I went to see it the weather was terrible, but it was New Years Eve. So it was nice to see it in better light at least and I managed to get some nice photos. Hoping around the rocks too were Rock Pippets as well as a few Robins and a Wren. The cliffs had more birds along it than last time I visited too and Fulmars are starting to fill up all the nooks and crannies.

And a few more!
From Skinningrove to Whitby is a lovely coastal route with some fantastic views. The sea was still quite wild even after Doris had done her worst and the waves were crashing in and spraying the road. Whitby was our dinner stop for Fish and Chips, which were fantastic as usual. A little walk around the pier was well worth it too. Apart from many Black-headed Gulls, Herring Gulls and Cormorants I came across a flock of very accommodating Turnstones. I love watching these birds patrolling the tideline, exploring all the stones and debris for food. As the tide was in though and as there was nowhere to go they decided to sit up on the pier wall and scavenge crumbs dropped by all the visitors, great for me as I had my camera.

So, it's been a great half term so far and I've still another day to go. Not sure where I'll go tomorrow but hopefully I'll find something else interesting!

Hope you enjoyed,


Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Post 458 - Nature-filled, Picturesque North Pennines AONB

If you look closely there are lots of Black Grouse
in the green field
Hey everyone, post 458 today and a little write up of a great day I had on Saturday. It was the first day of the holidays so our family decided it would be nice to have a bit of a trip out. It only takes us about an hour to get there but it's a fabulous journey.

Here's one up close
It's always a great drive to Teesdale, we have a route that is along lots of lovely country roads where we pass lots of farmland and woods. As we wind our way up into upper Teesdale you start to get into the moors, you're so high up that you can see over all the valley and see the river meandering along the valley floor between the hills, sometimes snow covered, and other times just lush green mats draped over the hilly landscape. It's a lovely dramatic landscape.

We decided to head up past where we normally start our day and go to a site that we were told about. In one of those lovely but spooky co-incidences on that Friday, Chris the Director the North Pennines AONB followed me on twitter (@NorthPennChief). He gave us a few ideas of things to look out for, thanks Chris.

Low Force - without canoes!
On the way up to Bowlees, we saw huge flocks of waders, mostly lapwings and golden plover, but we also saw a very large amount of crows. We passed thorough Bowlees and headed further up the dale and we went for our lunch. We went to a place called Langdon Beck, which I thought was quite authentic, as it was a lovely place, friendly people and log fires in each room, so going into this place out of the cold and wind was a really nice feeling.

Amazing lichens
A great thing we didn't expect to see was a fabulous geology room, where there was a load of rocks and minerals which were fascinating to look at. They had examples of crystals, minerals and ores that you can find in the North Pennines. There were lots of types of Flurospar, some haematite and lots more besides. The whole area is designated a European Geopark. I think I'll be back on the look out for some of the lovely crystals I saw!

After we left there, we decided to go to a spot Chris @NorthPennChief  told us about, and look for some Black Grouse, which we succeeded in very quickly! After about 2 minutes of heading towards Bowlees, I looked at a field and immediately saw 32 of them! I'm hoping to see them when they lek so it's nice to find good sites for them.
Moss covered trees

After this we headed back and had a really nice walk around Bowlees and down by the Tees. Around the visitor centre were usual garden birds such as Chaffinches, Coal tits, etc, but a first for the year was a nice group of Siskins chattering high up in a tree. The woods around Bowlees are lovely. It's higher up than we are at home so there's not much green or flowers around yet but with the lovely clean fresh air there are huge amounts of lichen and moss!

And more lichen!
Carrying on our walk we went across a suspension bridge held about 40ft over a river, which was a little scary. We ended at Low Force, which was an amazing sight as ever, but didn`t go quite to plan from a nature hunting point of view because there was a group of people cliff jumping into it! ;) Very brave  - and not something I`ll be trying anytime soon!

And a Dipper!
One of the reasons we went, was to look for Dippers, but we didn't see any due to the cliff jumpers and loads of people in canoes. But, on the way back to the car, while on the bridge between the visitor centre and the car park, (exactly where we saw the Crossbills last year!) we looked down... and Mum saw one! We didn't get many pictures though, but we were to fascinated by this little fella! Stay tuned for a blog post on this.

Spotting a Peregrine and a Buzzard on the way home, it was a lovely day, as it always is when we go up to Teesdale, but the Dipper was definitely the icing on the cake!

Hope you enjoyed,


Sunday, 12 February 2017

Post 457 - Great Garden views of Wonderful Waxwings and a probable Ring Necked Duck!

What are those up there?
Hey everyone today's Post 457 and a bit of a mixed post today. It's been a busy time for us so we haven't been out and about as much of late, which is probably as well as the weather hasn't been great! Well this weekend we've managed to get out for a couple of nice walks. Yesterday, as we were on our way out to go for a walk, Dad spotted some quite big birds in the a tree opposite our garden, we thought we knew what they were but we got some binoculars to check and yes, they turned out to be Waxwings! So that's another bird for our garden list, and probably the rarest so far. It was nice to see them and to get on the garden list as I saw a flock of birds when doing the big garden bird watch that were probably Waxwings but they didn't stop and were too quick and far away to be sure.One day I will see these birds on a sunny day and get some better shots!

Today we went on a short trip to Nosterfield, a Crane had been spotted near my town so we went on a route that took in the fields where it had been seen but, sadly, with no luck. We'd heard reports of a different bird though, which was another lifer. The Ring Necked Duck!

We didn't really go just for this, we stopped by Nosterfield Nature Reserve for a walk and just in case we could see it.  We started off with our usual walk around the reserve and the nearby henge. It's a lovely place. The call of Curlews and Lapwing are the main things I hear at the reserve. We also saw masses of Wigeon and quite a few Osystercatchers. A lovely Grey Heron came in but didn't settle and it was nice to watch it with its big slow wingbeats fly right across our view and off to a neighbouring lake. No Ring Necked Duck though.

The forest floor is coming to life again!
Dogs Mercury almost in flower
After the reserve is a henge we like to walk around as it's covered with trees. It must have been for quite a while as it's got plants like Dogs Mercury growing in it. This is now starting to grow again and have its turn in the sun before the trees get going again, it won't be long before this is flowering. The Snowdrops are out though and it was nice to see them today. The main sounds to hear in the wood were the calls of a Great Spotted Woodpecker and a few Great Tits and Blue Tits.

After we'd done that we got back to the car and drove to Lingham Lake, which is next to the working quarry. We wondered if the Ring Necked Duck would be there. Well it turned up almost immediately! Well, at least we think it was but both it was quite far away and a struggle to see clearly even with binoculars so sorry the photo is pretty ropey.
But the snowdrops are out in force - beautiful flowers!

This bird had no cheek patches, no tuft and the plumage patterns looked quite good for the Ring Necked Duck. Sadly it wasn't close enough to make out its bill, not helped by the fact it was diving of course!  Well only being about 80-90% certain I'm not sure if I can put this on my list but anyway I thought it was worth learning more about these birds so here are some facts:
  • Seeing as these aren't native to the UK, just a rare vagrant, it was hard to find many facts on them, so sorry again if there isn't as many as usual.
  • As I have just said, the Ring Necked Duck is not native to the UK, and is a visitor sometimes seen resting here in England.
  • They breed and usually live in North America, spending the hotter parts of the year in Canada and going South in the Winter months.
  • They are easily confused with the Tufted Duck and Goldeneye, with mostly the same patterns all along its body. 
The best shot I could get with my camera :-(
(but it was a very grey day !)
  • The way to tell the Male apart is to luck at its cheek, it doesn't have a white patch, and it also doesn't have a tuft on its head, and you can easily tell the Female from other birds.
  • They are omnivorous and so will eat Worms, Leeches, Snails and plant matter such as pondweed.
  • They find all this by either diving or dabbling. We found that they preferred to dive making them very hard to spot!
  • When the Female is laying her eggs, she will actually lay one a day until there are about 8 - 10 ready to be incubated.
  • They are then incubated for just less than a month, and the mother will stay with them until they are able to fly.
Half term is coming soon though, I'm looking forward to having a few more days out, I'll be sure to let you know what I see!

Hope you enjoyed,