Tag: Choppington Woods

Deskbound

by on Jan.29, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, North Sea, Northumberland, Surveys

Not something I particularly enjoy but I’m currently trying to juggle at least four separate projects ahead of the ‘busy season’ starting in February.  That means a lot of time in the office and birdwatching limited to our garden and the edge of Choppington Woods.  After a couple of months of the Chaffinch flock containing almost exclusively male birds (the species scientific name Fringilla coelebs means ‘Bachelor Finch’ – a reference to the habit of male and female birds wintering separately in parts of it’s range).  now though, the girls are back.  The party’s over, boys.

This morning has seen the Press Release about an exciting offshore survey project that NEWT is a partner in.  Working with Natural England and Marinelife, with additional support  from the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club, we’re furthering the existing knowledge of seabird and cetacean distribution in the North Sea.

As I look out of the window this morning there’s a howling northerly and it’s snowing.  Back to the wintry weather 🙂 and a weekend of birdwatching, photography and filming wildlife ahead for all three NEWT guides.

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Layer upon layer of food glorious food

by on Jan.12, 2010, under Choppington Woods

No, not a post about the culinary delight I conjoured up yesterday for Sarah (butternut squash stuffed with bacon, blue cheese, garlic, creme fraiche and honey) although that was a bit of a milestone in my domestication 😉

No, it’s a post about an unexpected bounty that our garden birds are reaping currently.  I usually try to fill all of our bird feeders just as it’s getting dark, that way the birds don’t get disturbed (not that it seems to bother some of them – Coal Tits will often just move to slightly higher branches in the apple tree, Robins seem to have no problem sitting just a few feet away).  Inevitably some seed gets spilled.  There’s also a reasonable amount of seed on the ground because the Coal Tits will sit on the feeders and discard anything they don’t fancy at the time.  With several days of snowfall over the last few weeks this was creating something that I hadn’t realised; layers of food sandwiched between each successive snowfall.  Now that the thaw is well under way, although there is still plenty of snow down here on the low ground, these layers of chilled bird seed are being exposed.  30 Chaffinches have been under the tree for most of today, and 8 Greenfinches have been around as well.   After a complete absence of sightings in recent weeks, a Great Spotted Woodpecker has returned to the garden.  At least one Brambling is still making sporadic appearances and the Blue, Coal and Great Tits are almost too numerous to count.  As we’re feeding in parts of Choppington Woods, and some of our neighbours have well-stocked bird feeders we might expect numbers to decrease but we’ve got more birds now than in the depths of the snow and ice last week.  Time to refill the feeders and dream of a rare thrush, bunting or accentor 🙂

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Breaking the ice

by on Jan.11, 2010, under Choppington Woods, Photography

With Sarah back at work, we finally had some time to go out together on Saturday morning.  Watching a procession of cars skidding and sliding along the road outside our house, we decided to leave the Landy on the drive and go for a walk around Choppington Woods.  First though, there was an icicle that had been developing steadily over the last two weeks and should have made a good image.  Unfortunately it was above our bedroom window so required an uncomfortable, and potentially risky, manouvre.

Rack of icicles above our window

Rack of icicles above our window

The start of the interesting icicle can be seen along the branch on the right of the image.  In total it was over 2 feet long, and dangling above Sarah’s car…

Apparently, in some countries it's illegal to let icicles develop on your property

Apparently, in some countries it's illegal to let icicles develop on your property

The first golden light of the day began to selectively illuminate some of the trees around our garden, so I took a quick shot before we went to see if we could find the same light in the woods.

Our patio, golden light and eleven bird feeders

Our patio, golden light and eleven bird feeders

Sarah has, for some time now, been the guinea-pig for the ‘how to take your camera off auto’ approach that we’re employing on our beginners photography courses this year.  It’s a good job we’re both so relaxed about things, as a teacher-student relationship between husband and wife has so many potential pitfalls 🙂

We found that golden light that we were searching for and, as photographically beautiful light often does, it offered just a few seconds of opportunity.

A fleeting chance

A fleeting chance

As we continued our walk, finding tracks of Red Fox, Roe Deer and Otter, Sarah decided to turn her hand to portraiture.  Now, I’m much happier behind the lens (and I’ve photographed quite a few weddings, and more baby portraits than I care to remember) but this wasn’t too bad an experience.

As happy as a Polar Bear in snow...

As happy as a Polar Bear in snow...

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Snowbound

by on Jan.07, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods

OK, not quite, but since December 31st we’ve had about a foot of snow in total.  I cancelled our Otter Safari on Tuesday for safety reasons.  That decision proved to be the right one as we had heavy snowfall on Tuesday afternoon, making the roads even more hazardous than they already were.  I drove to Wallsend to collect Sarah from work, and the 13 miles took 80 minutes – and that was mainly on 3 of Northumberland’s major roads (A1068, A19 and A1058).  Cars were sliding from one lane to the next and I’m amazed that I didn’t witness any collisions.  We’ve been using the Landrover for the last couple of weeks so when Sarah wanted her car to drive to work yesterday we had to dig it out of the snow.  I can’t recall having to do that in the 17 years that we’ve lived up here.

For the last day and a bit I’ve had a throat infection so I’ve stayed in the house.  That hasn’t been a huge burden though as it’s allowed me to spend a lot of time watching (and filming) the birds around our feeding station.  For as long as I can remember, birdwatching has been something that’s always been an option when I’m unwell.  The Brambling that Sarah found on Sunday is still around, Long-tailed Tits are visiting much more frequently than they ever have before, the Blackbird count has risen to 9, at least 5 Robins are trying to hold dominion over the patio and flocks of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll are patrolling the edge of Choppington Woods and the bottom of our allotment.  Yesterday even a Goldcrest joined the chirping masses around the apple tree.  With niger seed, peanuts, fat balls, mixed seed and windfall apples our garden is like an all-you-can-eat buffet.  The one notable absentee from our usual list of visitors is Great Spotted Woodpecker, although we did see one in the woods on New Year’s Day.  Has one of our neighbours set up a more attractive feeding station?  We’d better raise our game, just in case.

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Snowy Sunday

by on Jan.04, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Photography

Yesterday we took advantage of the bright sunny weather to visit Druridge Bay and check out a couple of sites in preparation for an otter/badger Safari on Tuesday.  We had been out on Saturday with the same intention, but the 35mph+ northeasterly winds, and treacherous road conditions led to an early return home…

As we drove past Cresswell, Sarah spotted a family of Whooper Swans in a roadside field.  As they seemed fairly settled, Sarah decided to capture an image of them in the snow.  Luckliy we did this there and then, as there was no sign of them when we passed by there an hour later.

Whooper Swans near Bell's Farm

Whooper Swans near Bell's Farm

Checking all of the unfrozen water that we could find in southeast Northumberland did eventually produce a brief sighting of an Otter.

Druridge Pools was remarkably photogenic; a handy dog-walker added to the photo opportunities and Teasels are really attractive covered in snow or frost.  There was a noticeable movement of Skylarks along the coast as well; 200+ as we walked from the Oddie Hide back to the car.

Druridge in the snow

Druridge in the snow

More attractive than when they're in flower?

More attractive than when they're in flower?

Once we were back at home, Sarah was watching the comings and goings at the feeding station when she called through to the living room “Brambling!”.  I ran to the window just in time to see it fly over our neighbour’s garden and out of sight.  I set the camera up ready and eventually it appeared at the end of our garden with a flock of Chaffinches.  Then it vanished again…and appeared in our neighbour’s garden.  Another disappearing act and, after what seemed like an eternity, it flew in from the churchyard on the opposite side of our house.  That wasn’t the end of the story though, as it hid in the thickest tangles of our apple tree for over an hour before offering up a reasonable shot.

A cracking winter garden visitor

A cracking winter garden visitor

Now I’m back at the desk in my office, collating survey data, preparing newsletters and catching up on e-mails…but I can still see the birds at our feeding station, and a rather optimistic Sparrowhawk displaying over Choppington Woods.  A New Year but some old friends; Birdwatching, Northumberland and a dSLR.

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All is quiet

by on Jan.01, 2010, under Choppington Woods, Photography

The world around us was cloaked in white as we walked home from The Swan early this morning.  A Tawny Owl was calling from the woods, but there was little other sound – muffled as it was by the snow.  By the time we woke up, there was a lot more snow than there had been when we finally fell into bed.  To shake off the lingering after-effects of Old Year’s Night we decided to take a walk around Choppington Woods, wrapped up warm and armed with a camera.  Photography, rather than birdwatching was our main aim, and that was fortunate as there were a lot more birds in our garden than we encountered on the walk; Great, Blue, Coal and Willow Tits, Greenfinch, Chaffinch and Bullfinch, Robin, Wren, Dunnock and Blackbird were around the feeders and, bird of the day, a Common Buzzard flying north over our allotment.  Snow can make a relatively mundane landscape into a photogenic delight, but exposure calculations can be tricky and we spent a lot of time checking compositions and looking for obvious ‘lead-in’ lines.  As we made our way back towards home 350 Pink-footed Geese flew south overhead.  Moving ahead of more wintry weather maybe?

The view from our patio 01/01/2010

The view from our patio 01/01/2010

Willowburn Pasture and a frozen flood

Willowburn Pasture and a frozen flood

Following in a Moorhen's footsteps

Following in a Moorhen's footsteps

Choppington Woods pond from the new boardwalk

Choppington Woods pond from the new boardwalk

Sarah scanning the trees

Sarah scanning the trees

Footpath and fence along the Willow Water

Footpath and fence along the Willow Water

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Skating on thin ice

by on Dec.28, 2009, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Family and friends

After seeing my photos appearing in Martin’s blog posts for the last couple of days, I thought I’d turn my hand to writing today’s blog.

I started the day by taking my father-in-law for a birdwatching walk around Choppington Woods although, with everything frozen solid, there were very few birds to be seen.  We did find a couple of distant Roe Deer but, on the whole, the walk consisted of a consistent attempt to not fall on the ice.  With the partial thaw and heavy rain of yesterday, followed by another hard freeze overnight, all of the footpaths were covered with a treacherous layer of transparent ice.  A couple we passed were complaining about their new walking boots not being any help to remaining upright.

Back at home, lunch was home-made vegetable soup, baked ham and a selection of cheeses.  Just the thing in this weather.  Martin had spent the whole morning in bed with a sore throat, ear-ache and a splitting headache; probably the outcome of having a puncture on the Landrover late last night and being outside in the bitter cold…without a hat or gloves!  I have to wonder sometimes…

He did perk up a bit once lunch was ready though, and then spent most of the afternoon processing and backing-up the images from the last few days.  Tomorrow the plan (weather permitting) is to try and photograph Kingfishers, and to get closer shots of Roe Deer. Good job we’ve got two cameras 🙂

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Winter walks

by on Dec.26, 2009, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Druridge Bay, Family and friends, Northumberland

There’s little that’s better than going for a walk with snow on the ground.  On Christmas Day I took dad for a walk around Choppington Woods, mainly so we weren’t under Sarah’s feet 😉  Today all three of us walked along the River Blyth and through the dunes in Druridge Bay.  The traditional boxing Day pheasant shoots in the woodland of Druridge Bay provided an ‘interesting’ aural backdrop.  I’ve had some fascinating conversations about hunting recently, with wildlife photographers and with friends who have hunted for several years.  What some people may find surprising is that two apparently disparate groups have much in common; not least a love and appreciation of the countryside.    Wildlife- and birdwatching with a camera may have a very different outcome (certainly for the wildlife) from hunting, with the only thing getting fired being a camera shutter, and the only things getting shot being images of wildlife, but there’s a lot we can learn as photographers and wildlife watchers, from the techniques employed by hunters.  Wildlife crime may still be a major issue in many areas, but that’s a topic for another blog on another day.

With NEWT events on Holy Island, in the Harthope Valley and around Lee Moor Farm before the end of the year, and places to go and things to photograph on our days ‘off’ in-between, we’re looking forward to the last five days of 2009.  Here are a few images from today:

It may be a cliche...

It may be a cliche...

Captured in the split-second before it noticed me

Captured in the split-second before it noticed me

Northumberland's iconic mammal

Northumberland's iconic mammal

Dashing through the snow

Dashing through the snow

Roe doe and Roe buck

Roe doe and Roe buck

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Not quite what I had in mind

by on Dec.17, 2009, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland

The hoped-for wintry weather did make an appearance this morning.  As I sat in a school governor’s meeting, reviewing all of the school’s policy documents (you have no idea…), a series of snow showers passed over – each one depositing a thin white layer on the ground outside.  Almost as soon as it had settled it thawed, so the picturesque landscape didn’t materialise.  Back at home just after lunchtime and the sky was getting darker.  As the birds attempted to consume eight feeders worth of food in a day (they fell just short) they were joined by two birds that often pause briefly in our garden, as they work their way along the edge of Choppington Woods, but rarely stay.  That all changed today though as two Jays decided to assault the feeders and then start tucking into the windfall apples that are still lying beneath the tree.  They were joined by a couple of stunning male Bullfinches as well.  Sadly, photography wasn’t an option.  Partly because it was incredibly dark for early afternoon, but also because having hailstones the size of garden peas bouncing off your head isn’t much fun 🙁

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The little fir tree

by on Dec.14, 2009, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland

As Chair of Governors at our local First School, I had an invitation to attend the Christmas production this afternoon.  It was a heartwarming tale of a little fir tree who was teased for being so small but eventually found his place as a Christmas tree in a children’s hospital.  The characters included several fir trees, angels, snowflakes, raindrops, sunbeams, doctors, nurses, foxes, owls, rabbits and a woodcutter…as well as kings, shepherds, Mary and Joseph.

Which brings us nicely to the little fir tree on our patio.  I haven’t had as much time to work on my bonsai display as I would have liked this year (one of the perils of running your own business…) so most of the trees have developed dense, lush foliage.  I have been regularly trimming any over long shoots so they’re all still quite compact.  The display sits midway between six feeders in the apple tree and two feeders on the garden wall, so it’s a regular perch for many of the birds that are visiting.  As the weather has turned towards wintry, the number of birds in the garden has increased to the point where it’s almost impossible to watch everything that’s going on.  Sarah was at home this morning and we spent a little while just watching the comings and goings.  The highlight was two Willow Tits together but there were 15+ Coal Tits, 5 or 6 Bullfinches, 10 Chaffinches, 4 House Sparrows, 4 Greenfinches, a couple of Goldfinches and little groups of Blue and Great Tits.  Birdwatching begins at home…and once we get some cold, frosty or snowy weather, my bonsai display should produce some excellent photo opportunities as well.

A cold, wet mid-December night might not seem that promising in terms of wildlife but we had something new for the garden about an hour ago when a Winter Moth Operophtera brumata landed on the outside of the kitchen window.  Our little southeast Northumberland garden now has records of about 250 different species of moth.  It helps that there’s a 76ha woodland behind us though.

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