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.


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! 


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