Thursday, 14 January 2016

2015: Highlights

I realised a few days ago my last blog post was way back in July 2014! Two weeks into 2016 I thought I better do a bit of an update! I've been busy so I have really overlooked my blog for the last year and a bit. I've always really enjoyed writing it but other things seem to have taken precedence recently! So this blog post is going to be a bit longer than the usual to make up for the inactivity.

In fact since my last blog quite a bit has changed! For one I've left sixth form and I am now at college studying Countryside Management. Since that last blog I have also been fortunate to win a few photography competitions (Which I will mention in more detail a little later on) and I have also had some great opportunities to get out birding, volunteering and photographing wildlife in some stunningly beautiful places (and quite a few not so beautifully stunning places too, although the birding/wildlife was good!).

So instead of trying to recap everything I've decided to try and post a little about just some of my highlights from this year.

Photography Awards
I will start off with a brief overview of a few successes for me this year, if you know me you will also know I don't particularly like bragging about winning anything but just in case anyone wants to know I've been lucky enough to not only be placed in several photography competitions but also to win several awards/categories too.

In February I found out that I had won the Scottish Junior Nature Photographer of the Year 2014 Award with this Image (below) of a Swallow feeding one of its young. Taken at NTS Threave Nature Reserve in September 2014 one evening before heading out to assist with the Whiskered Bat Radio Tracking project on Estate.

SNPA Overall Winner (Junior Nature photographer of the year 2014) 

SNPA Short-listed Entry - Roe Buck, NTS Threave, Dumfries & Galloway

SNPA Short-listed Entry -
Red Grouse, Lammermuir Hills

At the start of July I found out (Whilst Puffin Netting on the Isle of May!) that I had won the Wildlife in Action Category of the North East Wildlife Photography Awards with an Image of a Great Crested Grebe shaking right after preening. Four more of my Images were short-listed in various categories too. Really not a competition I was expecting to get anywhere in considering it was my first competition outside the "Junior/U18" categories! Unfortunately I couldn't attend the awards held at the Hancock Museum with George McGavin presenting.  As I said, I was to busy being bitten and scratched by disgruntled Puffins (All for science though!) to be at the awards! I was disappointed that I had missed the awards though!

Great Crested Grebe - Wildlife in Action category winner

In September I was in London for the British Wildlife Photography Awards held at the Mall Galleries. One of my images, taken back in February at Caerlaverock WWT of a Water Rail received a Highly Commended place in the 12-18 category with the image featuring in the newest BWPA Portfolio Yearbook (Available in all good bookshops!).

"Rail reflection" - BWPA Highly Commended

And finally the most recent bit of news.
I was back down in London on December 19th. This time at the Tower of London for the RSPCA Young Photographer of the Year Awards, one of my portfolio's featuring Great Crested Grebes was entered in the portfolio section and I also had an entry in the newly created Farm Animals section featuring 3 Highland Cows.
I was lucky enough to win the Farm Animals category and came runner-up in the portfolio category with prizes being given out by Chris Packham. (You will find my Portfolio of Grebe pictures in the Grebe section below).

Highland Cattle - RSPCA Young Photographer
Awards, Farm animals category winner

Local highlights
On patch

As always I've tried to watch Killingworth and particularly the Lake as much as possible.  Another good year on patch with the highlights being Scaup early in the year, Shoveler as mentioned above and more recently 4 Whooper Swan on the lake this Autumn and just a couple of weeks a new patch tick in the form of a single female Gadwall which within just a couple of days was joined by 2 drake Gadwall.

Drake Shoveler - Killingworth Lake

Drake Shoveler - Killingworth Lake

Drake Shoveler - Killingworth Lake

Female Goosander - Killingworth Lake

Female Goosander - Killingworth Lake

Female Wigeon - Killingworth Lake

Drake Pochard - Killingworth Lake

Away from the lake watching Yellowhammer as they darted back to their nests on one of the wagonways, Tree Sparrows with young on another wagonway and watching Sparrowhawk displaying high above the town centre in the spring were highlights, as was encountering a fantastic male Peregrine unsuccessfully trying to hunt Stock Dove just a few days ago whilst walking one of the wagonways.  

One particularly memorable evening back in spring was an evening where several hundred newly arrived Swift descended on Killingworth lake.  Swifts are undeniably amazing but it just gets better when there are so many.  I think I've nearly succeeded in getting a "half-decent" photograph of a Swift in flig... (I suppose it would be in flight considering it’s a Swift!), but still quite a way to go yet for the shot I want (and inevitably still not be happy with!)

Swift - Killingworth Lake

I feel quite privileged to have been able to help out and volunteer out on Coquet Island this year.  I stayed for just under a week in the Spring covering for a residential volunteer and whilst on the Island was lucky enough to find the first Roseate Tern of the season as well as the first Little Tern on Coquet this year, not bad! A pair of Twite also lingered near the jetty providing fantastic views. As well as helping out with the pre-season preparation I was assisting with the censusing of several different species nesting on the Island including Arctic, Sandwich and Common Tern as well as surveying Eider, Black-headed Gull and Large Gull sp.

Fulmar - Coquet Island

Fulmar - Coquet Island

Grey Seal - Coquet Island

Twite - Coquet Island

Twite - Coquet Island

A fantastic Island with a brilliant team doing great work, already looking forward to getting back out next year! Myself and Brian (Killy Birder) have happened upon a few Roseate's whilst Seawatching this year and watching them on Coquet is always a privilege.

Waders (Not for flooding!)

Undoubtedly some my most enjoyable birding this year was spent staring into fields with patches of water in them hoping something might actually be stood there! Brian and me spent a fair few days and evenings down at Holywell with the highlights for me being self-found Pectoral Sandpiper and Spotted Redshank, In fact the same day as finding the Spotted Redshank as it flew in front of the Public Hide at Holywell, Brian and me were lucky enough to record 12 species of wader at Holywell alone, a great day birding and one of my best days of the year!

Juvenile Dunlin

Pectoral Sandpiper (Centre)

Butterflies and Odonata

Without a doubt my Butterfly highlight of the year was myself and Brian finding both Holly Blue and White-letter Hairstreak in Holywell Dene both of which were completely new to me.

Speckled Wood


Northern Brown Argus

Odonata highlights were easily watching and photographing several Golden-ringed Dragonflies on a small forestry track in Dumfries & Galloway back in August.  Photographing Southern Hawker at East Chevington (would have probably been the highlight of that day but an unexpected Osprey a few minutes later topped it slightly!) and finding Keeled Skimmer whilst on the Isle of Arran.


Another trip which was undoubtedly one of my most memorable was a pelagic off the coast starting from Tynemouth heading North with Martin Kitching and North East Wildlife Tours (NEWT) unfortunately although booked onto the trip Brian couldn't make it, so I wont rub it in but here go's...
After brief sightings of both Minke and Harbour Porpoise not long after leaving the Tyne within about 20 minutes the first White-beaked Dolphins of the evening were spotted and soon after they were all around the boat and what ensued was one of the best wildlife experiences I've had so far. (Sorry Brian! Although all I will say is Orca's!)
In all around 25-30 White-beaks were seen around the boat, but watching two of the Dolphins bow-riding upside down between the 2 hulls of the catamaran was quite special!

White-beaked Dolphin

White-beaked Dolphin

Later in the summer whilst Seawatching from the dunes at Druridge Bay we came across a Minke Whale in the bay with a dependant calf right alongside as they surfaced briefly several times before disappearing completely.


As I have, since I started birding and photography, I spent a fair amount of time during the spring and summer watching the Great Crested Grebes on Killingworth lake. This year both pairs were unsuccessful with the pair on the small lake attempting to nest at least 9 times unsuccessfully. I watched one nesting attempt which ran through 24 days of incubation before failing with rising water levels destroying the nest. Anyway here are some pictures... 


Post mating

Nest building

Tending the egg


Birding highlights and Bird of the Year

To many to go into any real detail here, however watching the Female Osprey at Threave touch down on the nest for the first time that season after migrating was pretty special as was the following "Skydance" by the Male. As mentioned above autumn wader passage and self-found Pectrocal Sandpiper, lifers for me this year have included Sooty Shearwater and long awaited Firecrest at St.Mary's Island in October. Watching a pair of Peregrines on their cliffside eryie in Dumfries & Galloway in spring. A great day on Holy Island in October with Brambling, Yellow-browed Warbler, Brent Geese, Slavonian Grebe and excellent views of a Female Merlin taking a meadow pipit. Barred Warbler the same day wasn't too bad either. 

Osprey - NTS Threave

The list could go on quite a bit more but this blog is already very long so my bird of the year has got to be the Lapland Bunting at St.Mary's in October. After a slow start in the Briardene that morning by mid-morning the fall of Goldcrest was a brilliant spectacle, but chancing upon a small group watching the Lapland Bunting, which we were unaware of before getting there, and seeing the bird so well with excellent views, down to about 5 feet at one point later in the day was quite special.

Lapland Bunting

Lapland Bunting


I've missed out quite a few more of my birding highlights this year so here are just a few more Images to give a bit of an impression! 

Pied Flycatcher

Black Grouse

Slightly further afield...

Isle of Arran

I spent two weeks volunteering with the National Trust for Scotland's Arran Ranger Service where I was based (and stayed in) Brodick Castle. A great two weeks with brilliant weather, except for the day I arrived, but that is a blog in itself! Highlights had to be working in Glen Rosa restoring mountain footpaths which also gave me excellent views of Red Deer, Whinchat, Cuckoo, Golden Eagle and best of all a stunning male Hen Harrier quartering the hillside.  I arrived 15 minutes late due to watching the Hen Harrier on the hour long walk to the work site!

Glen Rosa, Isle of Arran

A Ring Ouzel Survey on Goatfell produced no Ring Ouzel, but did produce immature Golden-Eagle and more Four-spotted Chasers than I have ever seen before, on an area of peat bog.
A couple of days spent at Lochranza where Hooded Crows and Red Deer were aplenty as were Small Heath Butterfly. Just a 5 minute walk from the castle I spent several evenings enjoying distant but prolonged views of a family of 3 Otters and several Common Seal. A great two weeks and another place I am looking forward to re-visiting!

View from Goatfell, Isle of Arran

Lochranza, Isle of Arran

Spotted Flycatcher, Brodick Castle

Female Keeled Skimer, Lochranza

Oystercatcher, Brodick Bay

Rock Pipt, Lochranza

Heath-spotted Orchid

Isle of May 

Another Island! I spent a full week on the Isle of May in July with thanks to the Scottish Ornithologists Club (SOC) and Isle of May Bird Observatory (IoMBO) ran "Young Birders Training Course" which involved being introduced to the Observatory and helping out with the work of Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (CEH) and Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) staff including Puffin netting and ringing, Kittiwake catches, pulli ringing and a 24 hour Kittiwake watch plus plenty of chance to go birding, seawatching and to photograph the fantastic array of seabirds.

"The low light" - Isle of May Bird Observatory

Arctic Tern



Not often I will post a picture of myself but here's one taken whilst helping CEH staff with some of the Puffin grovelling, quite a disgruntled Puffinling that one!

Lots of highlights from the May but amongst them have to be the close in Great Skua whilst seawatching (40-50ft away!) causing some disruption amongst the Tern and Gull colonies, Black Guillemot, a very brief sighting of a Minke Whale as well as all the work we helped out with including the Kittiwake catch, Roseate Tern box building (Fairly familiar task for me!) and a talk from Mike Harris which was very informative. So thanks to all those involved from SOC/IoMBO particularly Stuart and Mark. Thanks must also go to the staff from SNH particularly David Steel and the staff of CEH.

The Low Light


Rock Pipt

Puffin with sand-eels (Had to be done!)

Common Guillemot

And to top it off my team won annual Isle of May quiz!

So all in all it’s been a great year and hopefully 2016 will be even better with a few plans already in place. One last thing is my particular thanks must go to Brian (Killy Birder) for all the help and support and encouragement with all things Birding and Wildlife.

If you've managed to get through all of that, well done and thank you for taking the time to look! By now means a comprehensive list of my highlights but its comprehensive enough for now!

I will be posting a few more of my favourite pictures from last year soon... but until then it hasn't been to bad a start to 2016 so far...

Slavonian Grebe, Holywell Pond