Tag: Brambling

Familiarity breeds content

by on Feb.23, 2011, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

During the winter, when I’m busy with admin and business development, I do most of my birdwatching close to home.  Studying Jackdaw and Starling roosts involves a short walk, but with a constant level of activity around the feeding station (conveniently placed to be visible from the office window) I can enjoy the hobby that has been with me since early childhood throughout most of the day.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had my camera and tripod set up in the kitchen.  Any newcomers to bird photography could do worse than concentrate on the birds in their own garden.  I blogged about our feeding station recently, but I make no apologies for adding a few more images to the blog now 🙂

Brambling, bird photography, Northumberland

Brambling

Goldfinch, bird photography, Northumberland

Goldfinch

 One species I finally managed to get some good images of is a bird that captivated me when I first saw a flock of them, nearly 40 years ago, in my neighbour’s Pear tree.  With their almost non-stop movement, persistent vocalisations and, let’s face it, looks that are so cute it should be illegal Long-tailed Tits are enchanting.  In previous years they’ve been infrequent visitors to our garden but this winter they are here pretty much all day every day.  A lot of our clients have made similar observations and wondered why this change of behaviour has happened.  Long-tailed Titsare insectivorous and it seems that likely that the hard winter weather, coming so early in the winter has had a devastating impact on their natural food source and made them increasingly reliant on artificially provided food.

Long-tailed Tit, bird photography, Northumberland

Long-tailed Tit

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Feeding time

by on Feb.10, 2011, under Birdwatching, Choppington Woods, Northumberland, Photography

I’ve never been good at sitting in the office and concentrating on one task for any length of time.  Having an office window that looks out over the 76ha of mixed woodland of Choppington Woods LNR is a real blessing, allowing me to mix work and birdwatching.  When I need to stretch my legs, a quick trip downstairs lets me open the patio door and turns the kitchen into a very comfortable and convenient bird photography hide.

Our garden is currently hosting at least 8 Bramblings, along with Greenfinches, Goldfinches, Chaffinches, Bullfinches, Blue, Great, Coal and Long-tailed Tits, occasional visits from Siskin, Redpoll and Treecreeper and regular fly-throughs by our local Sparrowhawks.

It’s a wonder I ever get any work done 🙂

European Goldfinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Goldfinch

Chaffinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Chaffinch

Bullfinch, bird photography, wildlife photography

Bullfinch

Brambling, bird photography, wildlife photography

Brambling

Brambling, bird photography, wildlife photography

Brambling

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Early morning – Choppington Woods

by on Feb.08, 2011, under Choppington Woods

Early morning, and the ground underfoot varies from frozen crunchy to treacherously boggy.  The sky overhead is a deep blue, the first rays of sunlight yet to bathe the fields, hedgerows and woodland in that magical golden glow. Clattering wings herald the departure of nearly 1000 Woodpigeons from their overnight roost, and a Blackbird rustles through the vegetation in the hedge bottom.  A menacing shape carves through the air just above the treetops; the menacing flap-flap-glide of our local male Sparrowhawk, beating the bounds of his territory in search of the wintering flocks of Siskins, Redpolls, Crossbills, Chaffinches and Bramblings.  The pungent scent of a Red Fox marks an area that I’ll want to stake out with my camera on another day, and as I head back towards home a Roe Deer springs across the path just a few metres ahead of me and disappears into the plantation just behind our house.  An excellent way to prepare for the day ahead 🙂

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Birds in the mist

by on Oct.09, 2010, under Birdwatching, Druridge Bay, Family and friends, Northumberland, Northumberland Coast, Surveys

With a good breeze coming from the east and misty drizzle on the coast, conditions have been looking good for a fall of migrants since yesterday morning.  Some of the most exciting birdwatching available on the Northumberland coast happens in conditions like these…

As we left the house last night to walk down to The Swan, Redwings could be heard overhead and the distinctive call of a Yellow-browed Warbler gave us a heard-only garden tick.

This morning we had to be out well before dawn to count Pink-footed Geese at East Chevington as part of the Icelandic Goose Census.  The air over the dunes was filled with the calls of Redwings, Song Thrushes, Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Bramblings and Goldcrests.  Eventually, nearly 3000 geese departed their overnight roost and we drove to Cresswell, ready for our second survey of the day.  This time it was our regular WeBS count.  After a brisk walk north along the beach of Druridge Bay we arrived at East Chevington for the second time this morning, where there were flocks of Chaffinches and Goldcrests in the hedgerows and Sarah spotted a ‘ringtail’ harrier, but it quickly passed through.  After taking both cars back home, and deciding how to spend the rest of the weekend (although most of that is predetermined), Sarah’s just gone to do some shopping, and I’ve just had a call about a Red-flanked Bluetail at Newbiggin…decisions, decisions 🙂

Our October tours will concentrate on the coast and birdwatching will feature heavily.  Give us a call on 01670 827465 to find out what’s on offer and what we can do to enhance your Northumberland birdwatching experience.

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The (h)edge of reason

by on Jan.14, 2010, under Birdwatching, Photography, Southeast Northumberland

We’re well into warm(er) weather now, although there was a fresh covering of snow this morning and as Martin sat through a 2hr meeting at Matfen Hall yesterday morning there was steady snowfall throughout.

As well as the flocks of birds that are visiting gardens so that they can find enough food to survive we’ve been finding reasonable flocks of farmland birds.  One flock we’ve been watching has lots of Linnets, Reed Buntings and Yellowhammers and at least 12 Bramblings.  They’ve found a wheat field that hadn’t been harvested so there was a substantial food source above the snowline even at the weekend when there was still a lot of snow on the ground.

Patience was the key to watching them.  Standing motionless meant that they were willing to approach to within the minimum focusing distance of our 500mm lens.  Well worth the discomfort of standing in one place in sub-zero temperatures 🙂

Mixed flock in a hedge, a warming winter birdwatching sight

Mixed flock in a hedge, a warming winter birdwatching sight

Brambling and Reed Buntings

Brambling and Reed Buntings

5 of the Bramblings

5 of the Bramblings

Linnet

Linnet

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Reed Bunting

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer

Yellowhammer

Of course, with so many birds concentrated in one small area it was inevitable that ours weren’t the only eyes watching them.  Through the camera lens there was a rush of wings as everything took off, a blur across the viewfinder and then an opportunity for a morbid portrait.

Who ended up on the menu?

Who ended up on the menu?

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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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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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I prefer snow…

by on Dec.27, 2009, under Birdwatching, Lindisfarne, Northumberland, Photography

We set off for Holy Island this morning with a clear objective in mind for the journey – photograph a Little Owl.  Many years ago one of my fellow photography students produced a series of excellent images of Tawny Owls and explained his technique for finding the birds.  Needless to say, the hard work was done in the dark.  Finding Little Owls in daylight isn’t uncommon although I’ve realised in the last couple of weeks that, especially when all the trees are bare of leaves, it’s easier to find them at night.  We stopped off at one of the sites I’ve been watching regularly and there, in beautiful light for photography, was a Little Owl.  Sarah has been developing (no pun intended) as a photographer, so I manouvered the Landrover into position as she took the shot…with my new D300s.

Who are you looking at?

Who are you looking at?

The highlight of the remainder of the journey north was a large flock of Linnets, with a few Brambling mixed in, swirling backwards and forwards as a male Merlin darted across the field they were in.  A covey of Grey Partridges sat tight just long enough for Sarah to fire the shutter again.

Partridges...nowhere near a Pear tree

Partridges...nowhere near a Pear tree

As we neared Holy Island the rain began, and by the start time for our walk it was icy and heavy.  Not the highlight of the day.

Well, with today’s images processed and added to our ‘Northumberland in the Winter’ presentation we’re on our way out now to entertain a group of holidaymakers who may need cheering up 🙂

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