Tuesday, 31 December 2013

2013 in Review: Seabirds, Scotland, Killingworth and the odd Swan

2013 in review has been a very busy year for myself, I have had the opportunity to get involved with several different projects and have had many good days based around Wildlife, Birding and Photography.

'Places of the year' 
Killingworth is one of my places of the year for Wildlife and Photography due to the fact its my Patch and its the place I can most readily access (I'll come onto the patch in the next section).
Other places that have stood out, Spindlestone in North Northumberland having spent a few days in the area over the course of the year and from spending some time there in the past, it can be an excellent area for wildlife but its also a generally nice place to walk around.
Kippford/Rockcliffe in Dumfries & Galloway, I have spent a good bit of time in the area this year and find it very rewarding and excellent for Wildlife and Photography, its like my Scottish "Patch"!
NTS Threave again in Dumfries & Galloway, a fantastic reserve at any time of the year especially at the peak of Summer and the Autumn as the migrants flock in, the reserve has provided me with my best ever sightings of Osprey including Juvenile birds fishing only 300 feet away, White-fronted geese not to mention Red Kite, Hen Harrier, Pink-footed Geese and Kingfisher.
Local reserves that have been Brilliant this year are Gosforth Park with great Kingfisher and Bittern sightings and Holywell Pond with a wide variety of birds including Marsh Harrier, Great White Egret, Greenshank and Green Sandpiper.
Obviously there are many other places which have been brilliant this year but these are the ones that stood out for me and have held some of the best sightings of the year too.
Rough Island from the "Moat of Mark" - Rockcliffe

Killingworth Lake sunset



"Patch" moments of the year
My favourite area for birding and photography has to be Killingworth lake, spending some time in the area during this year has produced several notable moments.
At the start of the year in January I found a Whooper Swan on the large lake whilst co-leading an RSPB Walk, Whooper's being my favourite species of bird it was quite a find for me, I'm not quite sure if many other people would get quite as excited by finding a Whooper Swan as I did that day!

Whooper Swan in snow - Killingworth Lake

Mute Swan sunrise - Killingworth lake


Another notable moment from earlier this year was the small flock of Waxwings Brian (Killy Birder) and I found flying into the trees near the small lake.
The two  top Mammalian moments from the patch have to watching a Weasel bounding through the snow in a small wooded area near the Lake and having a brief sighting of a melnistic Fox walking through the snow over Killingworth Moor.
Several patch ticks were also had in the form of a pair of Shelduck briefly dropping in onto the Small lake for about 5 Minutes, a Yellow Wagtail making a brief appearance on the paving slabs around the lake, another patch tick was the appearance of a Common Hawker dragonfly!
The most rewarding time spent around the Lakes however was the time spent watching the Great Crested Grebes nesting, watching them all the way through from arriving, courtship, nest building, egg laying, incubation and fledging it was as usual very much a privilege to watch these birds at such close quarters and it was also pleasing to see more people including people in general walking past the nest taking the time to stop and watch the birds, I spoke to several people who were passing by who were very interested in what they were and how long they had been there. Hopefully another year of successful breeding next year will provide people with similar views!

Great Crested Grebe - Killingworth Lake


"The Patch"






Wildlife Moments of the year
I couldn't describe every great wildlife moment of this year, I think it would take quite a while! but those that do stick out in my mind include the evening I spent with Brian (Killy Birder) in Slaley forest looking and listening for Nightjars, it was the first time I had seen or heard them and I still maintain that any books that describe the birds call really doesn't come close to doing the bird justice, I am certainly looking forward to a return trip next year! 
Other moments that stick out in my mind are my encounters with Hen Harriers, my first was whilst volunteering at NTS Threave on the 'Osprey Platform' when a brown bird cruised effortlessly beneath the Osprey nest, with the pair of Ospreys above being rather unhappy about the intruder circling above trying to make an attack, I initially thought it was a Kestrel before I got my Binoculars 'on it' and myself and Tom, the Threave Osprey ranger both called out "Hen Harrier!" which was odd because I had just before that remarked about how I had never seen one. The other Hen Harrier encounter was that in North Northumberland in October where a Male was watched at length by myself and Brian hunting over fields and Marsh. Being such a stunning bird in every sense from being an accomplished hunter to have such an amazing courtship display and plummage it is such a shame that they have failed to breed in England this year. Having got my copy of "The Life of Ospreys" by Roy Dennis through the post this morning It did give me a little bit of confidence in the Fact that if Ospreys for one, Red Kites and White-tailed eagles can be brought back from the brink or even past the brink then in the future could the Hen Harrier be viewed in the same light?Time will only tell and hopefully there will be successful breeding pairs in England in 2014. 
Other highlights included watching the Ospreys at Threave, the pair of Great Crested Grebes, the Golden Eagle I saw circling just south of Gretna whilst driving back from Scotland which was also a highlight for my younger brother whose sole birding ambition of the year was to see a Golden Eagle and also my Mams dodgy driving whilst trying to look at both the road and the Eagle above!, The Great White Egret at Holywell pond, the Kingfisher in Gosforth park and some great sightings of Bitterns, Long-Tailed Ducks, Otters, an excellent number of trips to the Farne Islands 5+ trips!, Bempton cliffs and many more!

Atlantic Puffin - Staple Island


Razorbills - Inner Farne

Arctic Tern -Inner Farne

Badger - Gosforth Park

Kingfisher - Gosforth Park


Barnacle Geese - Mersehead

Whooper Swan -Caerlaverock


Dunlin - St.Mary's Island

Common Seal - St.Mary's Island

Great Spotted Woodpecker - Gosforth Park

Bamburgh Castle

Non- Wildife Moments of the year
My year wasn't just limited to Birding and Wildlife Photography, one of my best moments of the year came when I was given the chance to look inside the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight's Avro Lancaster Bomber, very much a highlight, its something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember, I really couldn't believe how small the inside of the Aircraft was, it was easy to see how frightening it would be for the crews flying in, one of them being my Great Grandad who flew Lancaster and Mosquito's in Canada during the Second World War, getting shot at with Anti-Aircraft guns would be simply terrifying as there is very little protection against shrapnel inside, even more sobering was the fact that there some of the Crew would at the time be not much older than myself, I still can't really understand how that must have felt. 
In general the weekend I spent covering the Sunderland Airshow traffic at Newcastle Airport was excellent defiantly one of the my highlights of the year.

Red Arrows

Red Arrows

P-51D Mustang

Chrysler Wimbledon with Avro Lancaster 

Inside the Lancaster


Just to round off I would just like to say thanks for reading this long blog post which is trying to fill in a little bit for the amount I have missed in recent months, I would also just like to say thank you to Brian (Killy Birder) for All the wildlife moments from this year simply for the fact I wouldn't be nearly as interested in it if you hadn't helped me along the way and of course for the many birding days out so far, so thanks again!



I will finish with my own personal quote of the year which came whilst myself and Brian were 
sea watching at Seaton Sluice earlier this year when I turned to him and said 
"Brian I've just thought I haven't seen any Great Auks this year" 
You never know there's always a chance next year!

Monday, 2 December 2013

A Kingfisher, A few Swans and a few more Swans

I can't believe I haven't 'blogged' since September, since then I have been out trying to fit in as much Photography and Birding as I could between School work and Homework!
I will start off with an image of a Kingfisher, if you read Brian (Killy Birder's) Blog you may recall some Images of Kingfishers a little while ago. After coming back from Dumfries in September I decided to try and put in some hours in the hide in Gosforth park to try and get some Photographs of Kingfishers. As it turned out it took just over 40 Hours (Non-consecutively I must add!)  before I saw the electric blue and turquoise of a Kingfisher appear in front of the hide, well over 20 minutes were spent admiring and photographing the Male that begun fishing in front of the hide, it was well worth the wait as it was without a doubt my best ever sighting of a Kingfisher.

Kingfisher

After successfully managing to photograph a Kingfisher, I spent a few early mornings around Killingworth lake,  I always find it a very different place early in the Morning with less people, less noise and less traffic it makes the area feel a lot more 'wild'. The lake has been productive recently with Goldeneye's and Gooseanders numbering around 19-20 being present a few weeks ago as the winter began to draw closer, A single Great-Crested Grebe still remains on the lake after a successful summer, with 6 young raised successfully.

Swan Sunrise


Feral Goose


Mute Swan


Tufted Ducks




At the start of October I was again away from Home, this time on a Geography field trip to Cumbria.
A walk through Kendal on the first day provided some excellent views of a Dipper about 15 feet away, before I had time to reach for my camera it was away. At the time we were being taught about flood control measures that were in place on the river, I must admit I was paying more attention to the Dipper, so hopefully no question will come up on the exam about that particular part of the river! If it does I can at least draw the Exam board a good picture of a Dipper! 

High Borrans Tarn

The end of October saw me visit Lindisfarne, one of my favourite places on the North east coast. 
Crossing the causeway I found myself looking at a lone merlin sitting atop a post. Walking towards St. Cuthberts Island the sound of wildfowl and Waders filled the air, with Brent geese seeming to be all around us. In total over 3000 Brent Geese were seen, a small part of Whooper Swans were also present on the mudflats, A flock of Golden plover filled the air and put on a great show as they wheeled around in the Sky above the flat and seemingly barren Mudflats that lay below. 
A little bit later I was to find myself watching what was to be my first Male Hen Harrier, it was a great privilege to watch as the silver-grey bird skilfully worked the air seemingly 'floating' above the ground with so little effort being made or needed to keep the bird aloft, a truly stunning Bird, a bird truly worth saving,  a bird that really does not only 'deserves' to be here but a bird that 'needs' to be here. It reminded me of the Ring-tail I saw earlier in the year whilst watching an Osprey nest, the 'Harrier' type flight is very hard to top! 

Lindisfarne

On the Sunday after the Lindisfarne trip I was on my way back to Scotland for my final trip of the year to Dumfries & Galloway. Similarly to my previous trip
I spent quite a lot of time volunteering with the National Trust for Scotland at their Threave reserve just outside Castle Douglas.
Threave is a brilliant reserve with Breeding Ospreys during the summer, and Wildfowl all over in the winter there is something to watch at any time of the year, being Scotland's only bat reserve it is also very good for Bats as the name would suggest!
My time was spent helping with interpretation work in the hides around the reserve, talking to visitors about Pink-Footed and White-fronted geese, with thousands of Pink-foots about and a flock of around 200+  White-fronted geese it was not hard to tell people about them! As well as the geese a Large amount of other Wildfowl including Pintail, Wigeon, Teal and around 15-18 Whoopers making themselves visible across the wetlands were also excellent to watch. As well as interpretation work I was also involved in the removal of the Cordgrass 'Spartina' and several other jobs around the estate, If your in the area it is well worth a visit!

NTS Threave Nature reserve

A visit to this area of the world in Autumn is complete without a trip to Caerlaverock or Mersehead, the sights and sounds of Barnacle geese and Whooper Swans have to be one of the Highlights of winter. 
Whooper Swans are by far my favourite species of Bird,  I think I owe this fascination with these birds down to when I begun photography and watching wildlife, watching Mute Swans on Killingworth and then hearing about the 'Wild' swan It was a bird I really wanted to see, finding a single Juvenile bird on Killingworth lake a few years ago in my opinion is what cemented my fascination with these birds! 
Caerlaverock as bustling with wildfowl, 50+ Whoopers were waiting to be fed and a lot of wigeon and tufted duck were also present, I also find it interesting to watch the behaviour of Swans, the greeting display when other Whoopers fly in is always quite fascinating as to is the amount of aggression at times between individuals from the same species or even Whoopers against Mutes. 
Mersehead similarly to Caerlaverock held large amounts of Wildfowl, I estimate that there was around 75-100 Male Pintails alone, watching the geese flying out for the evening roost is another one of winters highlights! 
Thanks for looking and I will try and keep the Blog a little bit more updated in future!

Whooper Swan



Whooper Swan

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Ospreys on the Dee

A couple of Weeks ago I was on Holiday in the South-west of Scotland, one of my favourite areas of the U.K, with a stunning coastline, hills and an extraordinary amount of wildlife and not only this but one of few places where there are still wild areas to discover.
The main attraction to the area for wildlife is usually in the form of Wintering wildfowl, the area being an internationally important wintering site for a variety of species, but even without these northern visitors summer in Galloway can provide some excellent wildlife viewing, from Roe Deer to Sandpipers and Kites to Kingfishers.
During my time away I visited the Galloway forest park, with Wild Goats and the Red Deer range there was plenty to photograph and observe and a visit to Mersehead also provided me with excellent sightings of young Spotted Flycatchers and a small group of Wood Warblers, the former dropping from branch to branch whilst fly catching. I also managed to find a Green Sandpiper on a small flash by the side of a road not far from Kirkcudbright and a single Great Crested Grebe was also present on another flash not far before that, the flash was far from ideal for the species so in all likelihood it was simply passing through the area.
Whilst away I also became a Volunteer at the National Trust for Scotland's Threave Estate, this was a great opportunity as it gave me chance to watch the estates pair of Ospreys and their young for many hours whilst also talking to visitors about the species and the very birds they were looking at through the scopes  , if your passing the estate it is well worth looking around, it has a large amount of wildlife at any time of year and during the summer there is a relativity good chance you will see at least 1 osprey if not more!
My first day's volunteer gave excellent sightings of the Osprey family with several fish being brought in by the male including a pike and a flounder. a small number of Red Kites flying in the distance and several Buzzards also circled slowly above the fields in the distance, however the highlight for me was my first ever Hen Harrier, a female bird that drifted in typical Harrier fashion past the rather unhappy (to say the least!) Ospreys that looked on from the nest before the Harrier glided slowly towards the tree-line and neatly perching up in a small tree to the left of the nest, its fair to say I was rather happy, the ospreys on the other hand were not quite as impressed! for a good 10 minutes after the Harrier had departed the Ospreys chased and attempted to attack anything near the nest including a pair of rather startled pigeons! During the rest of the week I had some fleeting glimpses of the estates pair of Kingfishers as they skimmed low over the calm water of the River Dee, I wasn't lucky enough to catch up with any Otters though!
On my last day before leaving for home I was sat in one of the reserves hides for a good portion of the day and with a clear view of both the nest and the meander in the river bend it was the perfect spot to look at both the ospreys and anything else that may use the river. It was the ospreys though that put on the best show and to my surprise even began fishing in front of the hide.
One of the Juvenile birds made repeated attempts to fish on the bend in the river without much luck before simply giving up! The speed of an Osprey fishing as it dives towards the water for its target quarry is quite something to look at! although it took me nearly a week of watching to see it happen!
 On leaving the hide with Tom the Osprey Ranger at Threave, we with two other volunteers took a final look at the nest with the 2 Juveniles and both parents for the evening, I have been informed this was the last sighting of the Female as she has now departed for west Africa, she was probably fed up of hearing the young birds screeching at her!
For the moment here are a few pictures from the those two weeks and a few from Killingworth lake taken since I got back, my next post while contain a few more pictures from Sunderland Air show that I have so far not posted anywhere, thanks for looking!

Red Kite

Wild Goat

Wild Goat

Young Red Deer


Doe Red Deer

Osprey Hovering

'Molly'

 When I got back from Dumfries one of the first things I did was to go and look around Killingworth lake and to see how the Grebes were doing, at this point they were still fairly small although it was clear to see a marked difference between the different individuals in size alone, as always they were great to watch and I spent some time sitting watching them on the lake at distance.
I also managed to pick up 3 new patch ticks since I have returned in the form of Common Darter dragonfly, Common Hawker dragonfly and the best of all and the most brief sighting of the three a single Yellow wagtail!
A few early morning's have also provided some great light for photography, more of them in a future blog.

Common Darter

Mute Swan Sunset Killingworth lake

I've also spent quite a bit of time at Gosforth park sitting the hides waiting to see if anything turns up, I must add not my usual approach to getting pictures but it has given me some good but distant sightings of Bittern, Water Rail and a close up sighting of a bird I have actually really struggled to get decent pictures of in the past, the Common Buzzard, it circled the hide for about 10 minutes whilst being pursued by an on coming wave of Swallows that were rather annoyed with the intruder above!
However this wasn't the strangest sighting during my time in the hide as a Daubenton's bat made a brief appearance in the middle of the day skimming low over the water before disappearing over the reed bed.

Common Buzzard

Killingworth lake sunset
Thanks for looking and more pictures to follow soon! 

Monday, 29 July 2013

Take-off

After a busy weekend photographing the arrivals and departures of aircraft at Newcastle Airport bound for the Sunderland airshow and beyond I have begun processing my images, there are quite a few to say the least! for now however here are just a few of the first pictures that I have processed. A full report with more pictures will be up in the next few days, thanks for looking!

Eurofighter Typhoon FGR4


Consolidated PBY-5A Catalina "Miss Pick Up" 


Hawker Hunter "Miss Demeanour"