Tag: Smew

Northumberland Winter Bird Race 2013

by on Jan.09, 2013, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast

After a relaxing break over Christmas and New Year, last Saturday was one of the most eagerly anticipated events of the year; the Northumberland Winter Bird Race.

A simple set of rules; start any time you like after midnight, teams of four (or three…or five…), three members of the team must positively identify a species for it to be counted, get to the Three Horse Shoes between 17:00-17:30 and be ready to declare your team total at 18:00.

The starting point for our, vaguely planned, itinerary for the day was to be the NEWT office at 06:00.  As Sarah opened the door at 05:45, when our other team members (NTBC Field Trips officer Trevor, and local legend the Liverbirder) arrived, bird #1 was added to the list as a vocal Tawny Owlsang his haunting melody from the churchyard opposite our house.  #2 Barn Owl (the first of at least five found around dawn and dusk)joined the list as we headed north in Gordon’s car for our first ‘only one chance’ species…Red Grouse duly obliged and we’d made a flying start.  Down on the coast a stunning sunrise also brought Little Egret for the list, as well as occasional good-natured banter with two other teams that had started in the north (including ‘The Tiddlers’) and three more hours in North Northumberland, coupled with Gordon’s local knowledge of Cramlington, which brought us a Kingfisher that we pointed out to several curious dog walkers, saw us reach #85 by midday.  The afternoon proved much more testing, and some excellent birds including Smew, Slavonian Grebe, Mediterranean Gull and a fly-by Bittern, took us to a total of 105 by the time we’d eventually given up on trying to tick Goldfinch on call in the dark 🙂

Four of the other five teams were already at the Three Horse Shoes by the time we arrived.  Species missed were being compared and there was a general feeling that it had been a difficult day.  We were only one species short of our best winter bird race total (achieved the last time that we didn’t have an itinerary planned to the nth degree…) but were expecting to be somewhere round 5th out of 6 (historically we’ve been a much stronger Spring bird race team).  With other teams declaring totals of 98, 101, 103, 104 and 108, we’d exceeded all expectations and finished 2nd, with 105 species out of a cumulative total across all 6 teams of 129 🙂 To put the day in context, the highest total for Northumberland in a Winter Bird Race is 126 for a single team…

Looking forward to early January 2014 already!

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Sing when you’re winning

by on Mar.26, 2012, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland

My own highlight of many trips involves those ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ moments, and they come in many guises…

A Chiffchaff was singing as I collected Alec and Margaret from Waren Mill and we headed south down the coast toward Druridge Bay with a day of birdwatching ahead of us.  In quite stunning weather we enjoyed fields of Curlew, rafts of Puffins on the sea, and clouds of them swirling over Coquet Island, Fulmars shearing along the cliff-tops, plenty of wildfowl, including a red-head Smew – thanks Gill 🙂 – and Bean, Canada, White-fronted, Greylag and Pink-footed Geese and 2 Short-eared Owls. It’s always a pleasure to take out clients who really appreciate Northumberland, and even more so when it’s their first visit to our beautiful county and they’ve already vowed to return regularly.

One of those special moments was provided by a bird once described by a good birding friend as “Annoying.  They never stop singing, they’re really, really annoying”.  The object of his ire?  None other than the humble Skylark.  I have to say that I don’t find them annoying at all.  I’ve hidden in rocky crags, monitoring Hen Harrier nest sites, with Skylarks singing directly overhead, I’ve walked around Holy Island in the summer with several birds singing from so high that they were just dots in the sky and I’ve marvelled at their song as it carries on the breeze.  One thing we saw on Thursday was the thing that Chris found particularly annoying; as we drove from Cresswell towards Druridge Pools, we stopped to check the roadside fields  and several Skylarks were singing nearby.  Suddenly, one of the birds was zig-zagging as it tried to avoid the unwelcome attention of a Merlin.  As the falcon chased close on it’s tail, the Skylark continued singing.  It might seem a strange thing to do, but it has been shown that Merlins chase non-singing, or poorly singing, Skylarks for longer periods than they chase Skylarks that sing well and they’re more likely to catch non-singing Skylarks.  As the birds rose higher and out of sight, we didn’t see the outcome of the chase, but the experience of watching a small bird filled with bravado as a predator closes in on it was one of those moments…

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