Tuesday 24 December 2019

Curiouser and Curiouser

I know that my Blog title isn't good English, but Alice's words from Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass popped into my head when I had a Moorhen and a Shag in the same view through my bins on a dilapidated old wooden jetty in the middle of a river! How often can you say that you have had a Shag and a Moorhen in the same view? More on that later.

At weekend I was back in the northeast doing another of my wintering bird surveys on the Tweed estuary. I thought I wasn't going to get the survey in, because at first light it was foggy, but thankfully this soon lifted to reveal an overcast day with a light southwesterly wind.

It was a morning of quality, well for me anyway, rather than quantity and first up was a Red-throated Diver. It drifted past me on the incoming tide and it was nice to get good views of this cracking little diver, compared to the usual views I get when seawatching at the Obs!

One of the highlights, perhaps one of four highlights of the morning, were two Black-throated Divers in the estuary; a first calendar year bird and an adult. Unfortunately they were always at the opposite end of where I was in terms of my vantage points. I picked the first calendar year bird quite a way upstream from me, and then when I shifted to my second vantage point (VP), the 'Black-throat' was then a long way downstream of me. Frustrating!

The adult appeared just beyond the jetty with the Moorhen and the Shag and then disappeared! I didn't see it again all morning, so sadly no photographs.

The second highlight of the morning came in the form of a cracking Otter. I picked it up as it swam underneath an old pier, and I had brief but pleasing views, and I thought that would be it. However, when I had finished at my first VP and was heading to my second, I saw what looked like a disembodied head swimming along in the river. Scope back down, bins to eyes, and sure enough it was 'the' or another Otter. It slowly made it's way downstream, passing me at a distance, and it was continually diving, and at one stage it surfaced with what I think was a fish. It then carried on until out of sight, and I headed off to my other VP one happy bird surveyor!

I've posted below a series of shots of the Otter as it made its way past me. Unfortunately it was overcast with poor light, so the photos aren't brilliant, but it gives you a flavour of my 'Otterly' fantastic experience!


The third highlight of the morning involved the Moorhen and the Shag that I mentioned at the beginning of my post. Opposite where my second VP is located, stands a dilapidated wooden jetty/pier in the middle of the river. Out of the corner of my eye I caught the movement of a bird flying, and I swung round with my bins to see an awkwardly flying bird with short narrow wings, trailing its legs, that then pulled up and landed on the jetty. For a split second I couldn't compute what it was, and then I realised it was a Moorhen! What an earth was a Moorhen doing on an old jetty in the middle of a river?! It worked it's way along the jetty, looking for food, and when it go to the end of the jetty it stood next to a Shag that was on the jetty. So in one view through my bins, I had a Moorhen and a Shag together, two species that I doubt I will see together like that again. I raised my camera to take a photograph and the Moorhen dropped down to some of the structure underneath. It then worked it's way back to the end that it first landed on, flew back on top of the jetty and repeated the process! After several minutes it flew back to the shore.

Below are a few pictures of the Moorhen on the old jetty.

 Grey Heron; another jetty user

My fourth, and final, highlight of the morning was a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins, or to be precise Common Bottlenose Dolphin Tursiops truncatus. They were some distance from me in the mouth of the river, but I was getting excellent views through my scope. I couldn't really tell how many there were because they kept going left to right and right to left, and all I can say is that the most I saw together was four! So all I can say is that there were at least four, and probably more.

As I said earlier it was a morning for quality and not quantity, so in addition to the above highlights all I can add is seven Shags, two Little Grebes (a bit of a surprise), two male Goldeneyes and two male Goosanders. It was a very enjoyable morning!


I would like to take this opportunity to wish you all Solstice Greetings, and I hope that you enjoy your mid-Winter, or indeed mid-Summer (depending on where in the world you are), festivities, however you celebrate!

The sun has returned and the days are getting longer...yippee!!!

Wednesday 18 December 2019


I think I've probably said before, but there has been a good berry crop this year (and nuts), and the hedgerows are still full of Hawthorn berries, and consequently lots of thrushes. It's quite unusual for us in my neck of the woods to still have numbers of Fieldfares around. Redwings can generally be found all winter, but Fieldfares tend to pass through in late Autumn, then you get them again in late winter/early spring when they are on return passage, and can often be accompanying Starlings.

I think the glut of berries is holding them, and I guess it will be the same for other parts of the country, and it's providing an opportunity to enjoy these stonking thrushes all the more. I was at one of my winter bird survey sites in west Lancashire yesterday, and from my vantage point I recorded 239 Fieldfares and 92 Redwings.



I say recorded, but I really mean that I enjoyed them, I was immersed in them, I was dazzled by them, enthralled by them...and amazed by them. There aren't enough superlatives to describe the many facets of being 'with' thrushes. I say 'being' because they were all around me; whizzing over my head, calling nervously from hedgerows, plucking berries, flying around 'schacking' and 'tseeing' and vigorously probing the sheep pastures for soft-bodies prey items with Starlings.

The thrushes were most certainly the highlight of my afternoon under leaden skies with a cold southwesterly wind. Eventually I had to bring my survey to an earlier end than intended, as a band of rain moved through. I stuck it out until me, my maps and optics were sodden, and retreated to the relative comforts of my car.

A quick scan of my notebook reveals that I also had thirteen Chaffinches, a Skylark, a Jay, a continental male Blackbird, two Buzzards, six Curlews, seven Collared Doves and 136 Pink-footed Geese. But still it was the thrushes!

Friday 6 December 2019

Frosty Mornings

Over the past week we've had a number of frosty mornings, which has lead to some glorious weather to be out and about in. I apologise for a lack of Blog postings (again) over the last week - ten days, but I have been a busy, busy boy! It's been outdoors/bird related so I can't complain too much, if at all!

I had my good friend George from Northumberland staying with me for a couple of days last week and on Friday morning we managed to get out for a couple of hours birding on the estuary. And guess what, it was a frosty morning. Walking down to the estuary we had a Kingfisher zip past us along the ditch that runs along the side of the path. After it had streaked past, leaving a smudge of aquamarine etched on our retinas, I thought the ditch isn't particularly great looking, but the Kingfisher knows what it's looking for more than I do.

We had a Fox that looked resplendent in the field to the north of the long hedgerow, with it's rusty coat reflecting the early morning rays of the sun and looking a fiery red, contrasting with the monochrome frost coating the grass with light reflecting crystals. 

Crossing the old railway line a number of Blackbirds and Redwings feasted on Hawthorn berries, and there was some more of that 'red and frost' contrast going on with the Redwings.

Out on the saltmarsh and estuary the usual suspects were there, with several Rock Pipits calling as we walked to the point to have a look through the waders and wildfowl. The bulk of these were Teal, Wigeon, Pink-footed Geese and Redshanks, but a Spotted Redshank out on the mud was a nice addition for the notebook.


The tide was running in, so we headed round to the quay to see if there were any Black-tailed Godwits feeding on the last remaining mud before the tide covered it, and we weren't disappointed as 56 frantically probed the mud, calling contentedly.

Saturday dawned frosty again and Gail and I headed to a site in the Hodder Valley in Bowland, where the landowner, Simon, had set up a feeding station for us. It was in an area of semi-mature woodland, an arboretum in fact planted some 25 years ago. This was our first ringing session there, and a bit of a tester to see if it would be worthwhile. We expected to ring a number of Tit species, and we weren't wrong, but a few other species made us think that it is worth persevering with. We ringed 28 birds as follows:

Great Tit - 3
Blue Tit - 12
Chaffinch - 2
Coal Tit - 7
Goldfinch - 1
Nuthatch - 2
Great Spotted Woodpecker - 1

 Frosty woodland

Coal Tit


There were a number of Siskins criss-crossing the woodland at tree top height, perhaps about 30 or so, and they totally ignored the feeders feeding on Birch and Alder catkins. Other finches in the woodland included two Lesser Redpolls and at least three Chaffinches. A calling Tawny Owl and a handful of Jays, Fieldfares and Redwings also made it into my notebook, but that was it.

Earlier this week, on another frosty morning, I had the first of a series of wintering bird surveys that I have to complete not too far from the historic town of Berwick-upon-Tweed in Northumberland. Whilst I was at my first VP I had the feeling that somebody was watching me, and not from the nearby coastal cottages, but from out on the river, and there was an Atlantic Grey Seal bobbing up and down in the water keeping a careful eye on me.

 Some views of Berwick, above & below

A few Rock Pipits fed along the shore and on the river were Goldeneye, two male Goosanders and a Red-throated Diver that too was keeping an eye on me. In fact in one of the shots below you can see it angling it's head to look at me. A number of waders were feeding out on the mud before the tide ran in and the two most numerous species were 61 Curlews and 99 Redshanks.

 Red-throated Diver

The last of my frosty mornings was mid-week at my winter bird survey in the west of my home county. The major upset for me of the morning was a cold flask of coffee! When I was making my flask at home before setting out, I heated the milk but forgot to boil the kettle! Imagine my disappointment when I poured my first cup!

Thrushes were the order of the morning and I recorded 147 Fieldfares and 41 Redwings heading in all sorts of directions, calling, not calling, dropping into berry laden Hawthorns and just perched up looking stunning in the watery December sunshine.


One of the most enjoyable moments of the morning was the antics of a young male Sparrowhawk. From my vantage point I caught sight of the Sparrowhawk working the hedges immediately north of where I was standing. He flew along the front of the hedge in the field opposite me, just inches from the ground, all the time 'flicking' in and out of the hedge. When he got to the end of that length of hedge, he could either flick over the hedge and carry on, or turn right at the ninety degree junction of hedges. Luckily for me he turned right and carried along this shorter length of hedge doing just the same as before. He was like a shadow flickering amongst the thorny limbs of the Hawthorn, and you were never quite sure whether he was indeed just shadow, or real.

It was then that I realised that when he got to the end of this short length of hedge he would turn right again and come along the hedge that I was standing sort of within, and behind, and he did!

He came along 'my hedge' and flicked through a gap where I was standing. passing me by just a few feet. At this point I came out with a good old Anglo-Saxon expletive in my head! He then shot across a short open area of field and carried on past the pond, and on to haunt some more hedges. Stunning!

After that everything else seemed fairly mundane, just a couple of Jays, a Great Spotted Woodpecker, a Raven, a female Sparrowhawk (perhaps his mother or sister), two Kestrels, three Buzzards, eight Curlews and 24 Collared Doves. Hang on, 24 Collared Doves! On some telegraph lines I could see some pigeons/doves perched up and on jizz I thought they looked remarkably like Collared Doves, so to be certain I trained my telescope on them and indeed they were! This is probably the largest flock of Collared Doves I have had for some time. And when I put my thinking cap on, it dawns on me that over the last few years I am seeing less and less Collared Doves, but nobody seems to talk about it. I suppose birders who are driven by listing just like to get them on their year list in early Jan, and never look at them again for the rest of the year, but that's another story!