Big Garden Birdwatch

by on Feb.01, 2010, under Birdwatching, Surveys

We had a leisurely hour of birdwatching yesterday morning.  With all of the feeders stocked with top class bird food from Poltross, and a bacon and egg butty and a mug of coffee in hand, we settled down into our respective positions on either side of the kitchen.  With commentary on the dismantling of Andy Murray in the background, binoculars were trained on the feeders, the ground, the shrubbery and the Ash tree.  After a slow start, things began to gather pace and we finished with 76 birds of 20 species;

Collared Dove 4

Wood Pigeon 2

Jackdaw 1

Carrion Crow 1

House Sparrow 1

Starling 7

Blue Tit 2

Great Tit 3

Coal Tit 7

Willow Tit 2

Long-tailed Tit 3

Chaffinch 14

Greenfinch 5

Goldfinch 2

Bullfinch 4

Goldcrest 1

Robin 6

Dunnock 2

Blackbird 5

Redwing 4

There were a few absentees as well, all seen regularly in the days leading up to the Big Garden Birdwatch;


Great Spotted Woodpecker



Maybe 25 species in 1hr is a target to aim for in our garden next year.

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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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A bit of this…

by on Jan.25, 2010, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Surveys

The last few days have been fairly quiet, although quite varied.  On Thursday I was at the North Northumberland Tourism Association AGM at Paxton House.  On arrival the car park was close to full, with just a couple of spaces not occupied.  I reversed my Mondeo into one of them, thinking that the snow sounded very crunchy, and went into the meeting.  For me the highlight of the event was a talk by Laurie Campbell, covering things that he’s photographed in and around North Northumberland.  Returning to my car and the inevitable…it wouldn’t move anywhere with the wheels spinning on the snow.  Luckily Chris Calvert from Bamburgh Castle was leaving at the same time and, along with Verity from the Grace Darling Museum, he helped to push the car clear of the snow.  I wouldn’t have had that problem in the Landrover…

On Friday I chaired a committee meeting of the Southeast Northumberland Tourism Association.  As a new project, all of the committee are putting in a lot of effort and our AGM will be in February, the website should be up and running soon and we’re designing a leaflet to highlight the tourist attractions in our area.

On Sunday we carried out our WeBS count (a week late but the Birdwatching Northumberland Press Trip coincided with the scheduled count date).  Northeasterly winds at the start of the month have deposited huge volumes of sand a long way up the beach (and along the footpath in Cresswell village) almost to the height of the dunes in some places.  The highlight was a loose group of divers on the sea, 15 Red-throated, 2 Great Northern and 1 Black-throated.  As we approached the Chibburn mouth, the end of our survey section, Sarah commented on the sheer walls of sand next to the Chibburn as it wound it’s way down the beach.  Not surprisingly, Sarah took the sensible approach and walked well away from the edge…at least I earned some brownie points by removing Sarah’s ‘scope and tripod from my shoulder and throwing it clear as the sand gave way beneath my feet.

Now I’ve got a day in the office and it’s gloomy and overcast.  Two Jays and a Great Spotted Woodpecker are in the apple tree and Siskins have started visiting the feeders (after merely flirting with the boundary of our garden earlier in the winter).  Lesser Redpolls are still around the edge of Choppington Woods.  Can we set a new high total for our garden when it’s the Big Garden Birdwatch next weekend?

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Another waiting room

by on Dec.20, 2009, under Birdwatching, Family and friends, Surveys

With a busy schedule over the Christmas and New Year period, this weekend is our chance to visit friends and family in Derbyshire and East Yorkshire.

I spent most of Friday afternoon filling all of our bird and squirrel feeders.  The Jays were around again, screaming at me from the Ash tree at the bottom of the garden.  The Coal Tits were rather bolder, perching just above my head and settling into ‘angry little bird’ mode.  After all the feeders were replenished, it seems I need to pay a visit to my good friend Martin over in Haltwhistle to re-stock our extension with sacks of bird food 🙂

We drove down to Derbyshire in the snow on Friday evening.  The roads were fine, but the carpark at Wetherby Services was a proper nightmare.  A delicious casserole and a glass of wine awaited us at the end of the journey.  Saturday dawned clear, bright and snowy and we spent the day visiting friends.  Saturday evening’s entertainment was a meal in Derby with Sarah’s parents and her youngest sister and other half, followed by a theatre visit to see The Snow Queen. Or so we thought…

As we walked from the car park towards the restaurant, the pavements were glistening with ice.  Which is when Sarah’s mum went base over apex and heard her leg break. 🙁 We had an ‘interesting’ 5 hours in the  Royal Derby Hospital, followed by a takeaway pizza.  The best laid plans…

Now we’re on our way back north, and conditions look perfect for carrying out our next two offshore surveys on Tuesday and Wednesday.  Best wrap up warm.

Get well soon mum.  And enjoy putting your feet up over Christmas 🙂

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by on Dec.16, 2009, under North Sea, Northumberland, Photography, Surveys

Weather forecasts are a bit of an obsession with most birdwatchers.  This winter I’ve got it even worse than usual because I’m co-ordinating a series of offshore surveys.  Finding 10 days with ‘suitable’ conditions before the end of January is going to depend on checking the forecasts for 5-7 days ahead…and trusting those forecasts.  Currently I check four different websites each morning, and if all four are predicting the same weather then I tend towards believing them…as long as they agree with the forecast on the BBC news…and on Radio 5 Live as well.  Would you be surprised to learn that a consistent forecast is a rare occurence?  So, I may have my survey team somewhere out on the North Sea next Tuesday and Wednesday…or I might be sitting at home and enjoying some proper wintry weather.

One consistent forecast is that we’re going to get snow tomorrow.  Preparations here have included filling all of our bird feeders and the squirrel feeder.  I’ve scheduled a few hours of photography into my diary as well, to try and take advantage of the conditions.  Scotland Gate looks at it’s best in the snow.  Concentrating on getting the best images that I can, of the birds that visit our garden, will be an interesting exercise as I’ve got a new camera to play with.  Boys and their toys 🙂

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The overlap

by on Mar.16, 2009, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Kielder, Northumberland, Surveys

On Saturday we ventured into Kielder Forest, checking out some new sites for our forthcoming safari on March 24th. The weather was changeable, but we still found our first Sand Martin of the year, as well as Goosander, Mandarin, Merlin, Buzzard, Kestrel, Sparrowhawk and plenty of Redwing and Fieldfare.

Yesterday was WeBScount day, so we walked along the beach from Cresswell to East Chevington. It was so warm that hats and gloves weren’t required (for the first time in a long time). The beach was beautiful and clean and the weather was glorious; fluffy clouds against a deep blue sky above Druridge Bay. There were still plenty of birds as well, including a flock of 52 Sanderling charging up and down the edge of the surf like clockwork toys and 120 Wigeon resting on the sea. It won’t be too long before these winter visitors are on their way again but, for a few weeks now we’ll have the early summer visitors and the lingering wintering birds at the same time.

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More BTO Atlas work

by on Feb.21, 2009, under Birdwatching, Harwood, Kielder, Northumberland, Surveys

We went up into Harwood today, to undertake our late-winter visit to two of the tetrads we’re surveying for Bird Atlas 2007-2011. The weather was fine, with big fluffy clouds against a beautiful blue sky, and quite warm; at least it was quite warm while we were out of the wind… The winter is a great time for a walk in the forests of Northumberland, although the density of birds is somewhat limited. A pair of Mistle Thrushes caught our attention and, as we scanned the area for more birds, a pair of Stock Doves were up and displaying, a single Skylark flew overhead and a Buzzard soared above the trees. With a strong breeze and excellent visibility we expected to find more raptors, and two Kestrels hovering over an area of clearfell were a good addition to the list. Inland winter birding is often characterised by periods of nothing, interspersed with sudden concentrations of birds, and today was no different; after a long time with nothing to add to the list we came across a field that held 50 Fieldfares, 12 Redwings, 6 Mistle Thrushes, half a dozen each of Chaffinches and Goldfinches and a single Song Thrush. A pair of Stonechats ‘chacked’ angrily at us and flicked their tails as we had the temerity to cross their clearfell territory. The best was yet to come though; as we walked along the forest rides a Great Spotted Woodpecker flushed from close by and we rounded the edge of a plantation…and our ears were assailed by the maniacal screaming of a male Goshawk who had been sunning himself near the top of a spruce tree and didn’t take too kindly to being disturbed. His escape route was across a clearfell so we enjoyed the best views we’ve ever had of this phantom of the forest. When our Kielder trips begin on March 24th, this will be one of our target species; powerful, secretive but always impressive.

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Big Garden Birdwatch

by on Jan.24, 2009, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Surveys

This weekend is the RSPB Big Garden Birdwatch. The easiest, most comfortable bird survey you are ever likely to be involved in. Our routine is always to fill all of our feeders the evening before then, after an extra hour in bed, make bacon or egg sandwiches for breakfast and settle down at the patio window for an hour watching the feeding station and all of the trees and bushes around the garden. As we started the count a flock of 12 Long-tailed Tits descended on the peanut cage. Not a bird we get on this survey every year, so a good start. Blue, Great and Coal Tits arrived and our next task was to try and count the maximum number of each species present at one time; not the easiest thing to do when they grab a seed from the feeder and hide amongst the branches to eat it. Greenfinch and Goldfinch have been very scarce in the garden this winter (worryingly, a number of our clients are reporting a similar situation from around the country) but both did eventually appear. Willow Tit is a bird that will not appear on many garden lists so we were pleased when one joined the masses. Sadly we didn’t find a Song Thrush, and it now seems to be completely absent from our garden. Having suffered a national decline of 63% over the last 30 years, the Big Garden Birdwatch is an important tool in monitoring the fortunes of this species, famous for the ‘thrush’s anvil’ on which it breaks open snail shells. With just two minutes of the survey remaining, bird number 63 (and species number 16) put an end to any further additions to the list; a female Sparrowhawk scythed through the feeding station and everything scattered. It really is easy to participate in this survey. Click the link above and, if you don’t manage to count your garden birds tomorrow, there’s always next year.

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“Have you seen…”

by on Nov.20, 2008, under Birdwatching, Harwood, Northumberland, Surveys

…a big, black, hairy bull? He’s got a ring through his nose” Not exactly the words you want to hear from a farmer on a quad bike, when you’re in the middle of nowhere doing some more tetrads for the BTO Atlas. No, we hadn’t seen him, and weren’t entirely reassured by the farmer’s assertion that the bull was very placid. So, we headed on into the forest anyway. No sign of any bulls, friendly, angry or otherwise, and no sign of any birds. The howling, icy-cold gale was probably encouraging them to keep themselves tucked away in the densest areas of vegetation. Eventually we did find a tit and ‘crest flock. Plenty of Long-tailed Tits, those entertaining balls of pink, black and white fluff, Goldcrests, Coal Tits and the regular churring of Wrens (now there’s a species with ‘angry little bird’ syndrome) along our route. Then, nearing the end of our eight mile walk, there he was; contentedly munching the pathside vegetation, and clearly very placid.

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Wild Goose chase

by on Nov.01, 2008, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Northumberland, Surveys

For several years now we’ve been involved in the Icelandic-breeding Goose Census, and our survey work has enabled us to enjoy some spectacular flocks of birds departing their overnight roosts as daylight breaks, not only the geese but there’s also a roost of several thousand starlings at East Chevington, the site we count. Barn Owls are a regular feature of our early morning visits there as well. However, 2007 produced fewer geese than we expected and last month’s count revealed the presence of very few Greylag Geese and no Pink-footed Geese at all. We know they are around in southeast Northumberland – after all, we see birds regularly and it isn’t unusual to hear them calling in flight over our house at night. This month’s count was scheduled for this weekend so we headed out at 05:30 this morning, and headed for separate sites. Very few again at East Chev, but Sarah saw several flocks flying in over QEII Country Park. We haven’t found the roost site yet, but eventually no less than 1700 Pink-feet were gathered in one field…only 10mins from our house! Some map-work has revealed the possible roost sites so we’ll be out early again tomorrow. Maybe the census will have to change the site that is required to be counted in southeast Northumberland, although East Chev still holds some birds so we may have to carry out our own co-ordinated count at multiple sites to determine the exact number wintering in our area.

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