Friday, 31 December 2010


So then, its New Years Eve, and we bid farewell to 2010. Its been a terrific year for wildlife. I saw a total of 228 different species of birds, a record total for me, my previous best being 223. I saw 8 birds for the first time in the UK ; PTARMIGAN, CAPERCAILLIE, CRESTED TIT, BLACK THROATED THRUSH, LESSER YELLOWLEGS, SPOTTED CRAKE, SHARP TAILED SANDPIPER & SQUACCO HERON. I had 3 new species of mammal; HARBOUR PORPOISE, MOUNTAIN HARE & a MOLE! 4 new dragonflies; 4-SPOTTED CHASER, EMPEROR DRAGONFLY, BLACK TAILED SKIMMER & COMMON HAWKER. And a single new butterfly; SMALL PEARL BORDERED FRITILLARY. With two fantastic holidays abroad this past year I've also had the chance to see lots of new things away from home, whether it was in the forests of Jamaica or the desert of Egypt. Both holidays were superb.

So, what of 2011? I absolutely love seeing something new, no matter what it is. I particularly want to see more butterflies, and with a little help from Deggsy I hope to get the chance to do just that. Bird-wise, I've currently seen 293 species in the UK. I must admit, I wouldnt mind getting to the 300 milestone if I can. Its not hugely important but its not something I would turn down! But I have set myself 2 definate tasks for 2011. The first is to try and see 250 species of bird in the UK. With trips to Norfolk & Mull, I reckon I've got a fighting chance. The other challenge, and the one I'm most excited about, is to see as many species of bird as possible in the City of Sunderland. Its not something I've tried before so I'm quite looking forward to it. And it all starts tomorrow!!!


Friday, 17 December 2010

Sunday, 12 December 2010


I was talking to Steve last night, and he was telling me that after his fall on the ice the other day he hasnt been very mobile as it was very painful to move around. So, I offered to take him through to Gateshead as there are a number of hides that we could sit in and we wouldnt have to do much walking. It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that I hadnt seen any Red Kites yet this year! Honest!!! So, the first place we went to was Barlow to see if we could see any, erm, Red Kites. It was his idea!!!!! Annoyingly, and quite surprisingly for this place, we didnt see a single one! We did though get a nice flock of around 20 Brambling fly over us. Next, we went to Far Pastures. Or at least we ATTEMPTED to. The approach road was still incredibly icy, and having spun a couple of times we decided we wouldnt risk going any further so we gave it a miss and went instead to Thornley Wood. Thankfully, we had no trouble getting there. It was very nice to bump into Derek B again, although hardly surprising as he practically lives in that hide! The birds were very active around the feeders today, with highlights being Yellowhammers, Nuthatch, Jays, Bullfinches, and a handful of Stock Doves. There were also lots and lots of the commoner birds such as Robins, Dunnocks, Tits, Chaffinches, Blackbirds etc etc. At one point a Sparrowhawk glided through, putting everything in panic mode. But best of all a single RED KITE put in an appearance, soaring gently quite low down giving excellent views. On the way home we had a quick look at Shibdon pond where the only bird of note was a Water Rail briefly, and then we had a look at Lamesley where there were NO birds of note! Still, an enjoyable couple of hours in an area I very rarely go to.
RED KITE - one of my favourite birds of prey.


So, everytime I go away on holiday people usually say something like 'ooh I bet the birds over there are really colourful!'. Well, some of them are, yes. But then again, so are some of ours....... BULLFINCH


The humble ROBIN

All of these birds were seen within the space of 30 minutes at a feeder station in a typical english woodland. Our birds are as colourful as anywhere else!

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Planet Earth - Hoppipolla song by Sigur Ros

This is a great video to one of the most beautiful pieces of music I've heard in a long time. The music and the images go perfectly together. The band are called SIGUR ROS. And I love them to death.

Sunday, 5 December 2010


Had a visit to the infamous 'freezer hide' at Rainton Meadows today to hopefully get a look at the current star attractions - a pair of Bitterns. I've only ever seen one before, up at Cresswell last year, and it wasnt the best of views so I was hoping for a lot better today. When I arrived at the hide I was quite surprised that there was only one person there (Shaggy/Glen), seeing as Bitterns are extremely scarce in our area! Thankfully Glen was already on one of the Bitterns and he quickly put me onto it (cheers mate!). It wasnt out in the open but it was quite easily seen in amongst the thin area of reeds it was foraging in. Then after about twenty minutes RokerMartin arrived, but just as he was setting himself up the bird went further into the reeds and out of view. To be honest he neednt have worried because a further ten minutes later the bird came out right into the open and onto the frozen pond, giving outstanding views. We were all very happy. But, it was about to get even better! From out of nowhere, the first Bittern was joined by a second bird. And unbelievably they were both out on the frozen pond giving simply stunning views. This isnt meant to happen!!! These are one of the most shy and skulking species of bird and yet here was two of them practically waving at us and jockeying for our attention! It just doesnt get any better than this.


The Coastal Conservation Group have an extremely healthy, productive and more importantly friendly relationship with the National Trust, and in particular Mick Simpson. We have a lot of things in common and our group can learn a lot from the Trust, and they have been extremely helpful and welcoming since our inception just over 6 months ago. AND LONG MAY THIS CONTINUE!!! And so in the spirit of friendship, the members of the Group were treated to an excellent presentation and tour of the iconic Souter Lighthouse. It was conducted by Nick Dolan whose passion and enthusiasm was extremely infectious, and more importantly he made the evening interesting! After a brief history of the National Trust, he moved onto the Lighthouse itself. It was designed by a guy called James Douglass and opened in 1871. It was the first lighthouse anywhere in the world to use electricity, and at the time was a modern marvel! Its powerful light could be seen for upto 26 miles. Interestingly, although its called Souter Lighthouse its not actually at Souter Point, its at Lizard Point. It was originally to be placed at Souter Point but it was decided that Lizard Point would give better visibility. BUT, they didnt call it Lizard Lighthouse because there was already a lighthouse called that at Cornwall and they didnt want people to be confused! Apparently the lighthouse used to be painted black and white, but now it is painted a far superior red and white. Although it was decomissioned in 1988, the lighthouse is still in full working order. Wow, I'm amazed at how much info I've remembered!!! Anyway, the tour included a look at the engines and mechanics and all the stuff that keeps the lighthouse working, which I know absolutely nothing about but I smiled my way through it! More excitingly though we got to go to the top of the lighthouse which is a lot higher than you might think (76 feet I think?). The views were fabulous, and were further enhanced by the gorgeous deep snow, giving it a beautiful picture-postcard feel. It was a really good night, and we as a group were extremely grateful to Nick for making it a pleasant and enjoyable experience.



Sunday, 28 November 2010


Well, I just couldnt resist playing out in the snow today! Despite the near Arctic conditions me and my brother Wayne had a brilliant day exploring Hawthorn Dene. As you can imagine we pretty much had the whole place to ourselves, I mean, what idiot would be out on a day like this!!! We had so much fun today, I was pretending to be Bear Grylls while Wayne was on the look out for bears and wolves. We did see loads of Deer tracks, which is after all the prey of the wolf, but no actual Deers themselves. (We have seen Roe Deer in these woods a few times). The only mammals seen today were a couple of Grey Squirrels. The main wildlife was of course birds. They were very active today, obviously on the look out for as much food as they could find. Hawthorn is one of the best places to see Marsh Tits in our county, and 2 or 3 were seen in a mixed Tit flock, along with a couple of Nuthatches and a pair of Bullfinches. The common woodland birds such as Robins, Dunnocks and Wrens etc were out in force, and in big numbers. There were also lots of Thrushes seen, mainly Blackbirds, but there were a couple of Song Thrushes and also quite a lot of Redwings. What I was surprised at was the number of Treecreepers seen, there were loads of them! I've never seen as many in a day before. But on the other side, we only seen 1 Great Spotted Woodpecker, which is unusual. ONE DAY, I'M GOING TO FIND THAT YETI.


Sunday, 21 November 2010


A couple of weeks ago the Group made the decision to replace the old wooden sluice gate at Boldon Flats, as it had become rotten and damaged over the years. Because of this it was decided to try a new metal gate, so Dougie kindly knocked one up in his spare time and he, Steve and John Brown put it in last week. Unfortunately, it seems the power and strength of the water was a touch underestimated and the metal gate had slightly buckled under the weight and pressure of the water. This meant that a lot more water was flowing out than should be, and the Group had to work fast to stem it. Because its late in the season and the water level is so high there's no chance we could take the gate out to repair the damage and strengthen the gate, all we could do for the time being was 'plug up' the gaps and strengthen & support the gate either side with sandbags. So we used some of the Groups funds to buy a load of sand and spent an hour or so putting it in place and shoring things up. It seems to have worked perfectly! We hung around for a while afterwards just to make sure it didnt fall apart or anything but it seemed to be perfectly fine. Hopefully it'll do the job over the winter until we can get in and properly repair the gate itself.

BOLDON FLATS REPAIRS (in pictures) 20-11-10

Hmmm, that water shouldnt be coming out that quickly!!!
Pondering on what the hell we're going to do.

See, sometimes I do get my hands dirty!

After our hard work!

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Saturday, 13 November 2010


Myself, Dougie and Steve started the day with a meeting with Mick from the National Trust to go over a few plans for future Coastal Group projects. For obvious reasons I cant go into details but needless to say its extremely exciting times ahead for the Group! Now, how to get those vitals funds.........!
After the meeting was finished we decided to head north to Morpeth to see if we could find the SQUACCO HERON that had been there for the last few days. We parked just opposite the river Wansbeck and walked for about ten minutes along the riverbank towards a small group of birders. We were told the bird was on the near bank just below us but was deep in the foliage. Within seconds I noticed some movement and put everybody on it, and before long the bird came out into the open. Its fantastic when that happens!!! As the bird was just yards away we enjoyed exceptional views for about half an hour before it flew over to the far bank. I was particularly pleased as this was the first Squacco I'd seen in this country, having previously seen them in Cyprus, Mallorca and Gambia. While watching the Heron on the far bank a superb flash of blue whizzed past - easily identified as a Kingfisher. After Dougie and Steve had had their photographic fill we decided to move on.
Having somehow missed out on all of the recent big arrival of WAXWINGS, we headed to Ashington to see if we could catch up with them. Once again we hit lucky! We had literally arrived in the area when I saw a small flock in a tree outside the police station. We quickly parked up and went over to get a closer look. There were 9 birds in total, not a big flock but nice to see regardless.
On the way back home we popped into Cresswell Pond for half an hour. A couple of Whooper Swans were on the far side, a small flock of Pink Footed Geese flew overhead and a female Long Tailed Duck on the pond provided Steve with a year tick. An excellent day out!


Sunday, 7 November 2010


I spent a pleasant couple of hours with the Coastal Group this morning planting 400 trees & shrubs on the Leas. Some were planted to extend the hedge thats currently there and the rest were placed on and around the mound. We were extremely lucky with the weather, it had rained overnight making the ground very soft and easy to dig but it actually stayed dry the whole time we were there. In fact it was a glorious autumn morning. Its surprising how quickly it took us to plant what we had. 400 sounds quite a lot of plants, but it only took 10 of us just under two hours to do the business. Its hoped that about two thirds of the plants will survive. The plants chosen are tried and tested in this kind of environment and the team are optimistic that a good number will take and flourish. As I am totally clueless when it comes to plants I am happy to take there word for it!!! In the years to come its hoped that these plants will be used by a good number of passing migrants (lets face it, The Leas does pretty well for this already!), and also it is hoped that species like Linnets and Finches may even nest. In the coming months we're hoping to plant more saplings in Trow Quarry.

Saturday, 30 October 2010


Had a bit of a raptor fest this morning! I headed south to Commondale on the Cleveland/North Yorkshire border in the hope of seeing a ROUGH LEGGED BUZZARD. There had been reports of maybe upto four of these stunning birds of prey in the area so my chances looked good. When I arrived, a couple of local birders put me onto a total bonus bird - a Great Grey Shrike! I had no idea it was in the area and it was at times giving great close views. But I had been there literally minutes when the shout came up of 'Buzzard'. We all focused on the bird that had floated over the horizon and immediately knew it was a Rough Leg. Even from a fair distance you could see how pale the bird was, and also the long wings were very noticeable. This was the first one I had seen since the one up Whitley Bay way in 2004 so it was a bit overdue. The individual today was very quickly joined by a clearly annoyed Peregrine. The Falcon buzzed and harassed the Buzzard for the full 15 minutes that it was in the air, and probably followed it even when it went out of our view! Not long after, a second Rough Leg arrived from our right. This lingered around for more than half an hour, giving everybody wonderful views. Other raptors seen were a couple of Common Buzzards and a lone Sparrowhawk, which also faced the wrath of the angry Peregrine!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

SCAUP 24-10-10

Had a lovely hour or so at one of Foghorns local patches this morning, Chester-Le-Street park. As usual the river was full of various wildfowl, mainly Mallards and Mute Swans, but today with a couple of extra bonuses. First off a stunning Whooper Swan in amongst the Mutes, and this was joined by a Pink Footed Goose. Three Goosanders were swimming on the far bank, alongside a couple of feeding Cormorants. Then, in amongst the Mallards an immature Scaup was feeding on the bread from the many locals, my first Scaup of the year. And finally, an absolutely glorious adult male Mandarin Duck. Obviously the origin will always be questioned but frankly I couldnt care less, I'm more than happy to see such a beautiful bird brightening up an otherwise dull, grey, miserable, cold autumn morning.



A few of us from the Conservation Trust spent a couple of hours at Boldon Flats this morning. During the week an area next to the roadside was levelled off with a digger to give people better views of the pond as it had become wildly overrun of late. Unfortunately the digger had dug up a load of glass and enamel and it all had to be cleared before any of the farmers cattle (or any birds for that matter!) damaged themselves. We ended up with 10 buckets full of stuff that was taken away! I must admit it was a hard, back breaking two hours in horrible weather but its a great feeling knowing I've done my little bit to make things better for the local wildlife. I'm extremely proud of being part of this group.

Thursday, 21 October 2010


I havent posted for a couple of weeks, mainly due to my new job taking up a lot of my spare time. But the one day out I did manage, I seen two of the cutest birds you could wish to see - RED BREASTED FLYCATCHER & RED FLANKED BLUETAIL. I defy anyone not to fall in love with these two stunners! The Flycatcher was at Whitburn Coastal Park and the Bluetail at Newbiggin.


Sunday, 3 October 2010

HOLY ISLAND 02-10-10

Had a trip up north with Foghorn today to Holy Island. The main target was Great Grey Shrike which would have been a lifer for Foggy, and the first one I had seen in six years. When we got there though things werent looking promising. It hadnt been seen since early morning, and having searched for more than 2 hours we were losing all hope. In fact the island was pretty much devoid of any birds, the highlights being a Wheatear and a Redstart. But, just as we were about to call it a day a lady waved at us from the dunes area and we wandered over just in time to see the Shrike perched on a fence post. It quickly flew to another post where at stayed long enough for us to get very good views. Needless to say Andrew was ecstatic!



Had a little trip over to the Whitburn Coastal Park this morning to watch John Brown doing some ringing. He had trapped quite a few common birds including Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Wren, Chaffinch etc before bringing in a lovely Barred Warbler. Its amazing to get the opportunity to see so many birds so close up, and I hope to pay John a visit a lot more regularly.

SHORE LARK 28-09-10

Steve alerted me to the presence of one of these gorgeous birds in the Trow area this afternoon. When I arrived Dougie was already there with his camera, hiding behind the Mango Pub waiting for the bird to show well enough for a good picture. We didnt wait long, as the bird came out from the dunes and started to feed along the side of the road. It wasnt particularly shy and we watched it for quite a while before a passing cyclist had it heading back to the beach. This was the first time I'd seen one locally, as I'd only previously seen them in Norfolk and up at Cresswell. Not long after we were joined by Steve and Dave Gilmour, just in time for the Lark to return and start to feed in the car park right in front of us.


Had a nice trip down to Hartlepool today to see the Woodchat Shrike that had arrived yesterday. It was showing very well in the bowling green to the group of birders who had arrived to see it. And also to the curious locals who were interested in what everyone was looking at!


The chance of another brand new bird had me racing down to Teesside as soon as I had finished work. A very rare SHARP TAILED SANDPIPER had turned up at Greatham Creek and I really didnt want to miss it. The problem was, lately it had started to get dark a lot earlier (a sure sign that winters approaching!) and as I was driving down the A19 the sun was already starting to fade. I pulled up at the car park at about 6.45pm and it was indeed getting dark so I practically ran the whole way to where the bird was. En-route a couple of birders reassured me that the bird was still there, but it was walking further away up the creek by the minute. This put an extra bolt in my stride. Thankfully, when I arrived at the group of birders already there, one of them kindly allowed me to see the bird through his scope. I breathed a sigh of relief, then put my scope on it and enjoyed it for about 20 minutes before both the darkness then the bird going out of sight led me to call it a day. This was bird number 292 for the UK, and number 833 for the World.


I was really looking forward to this trip as I'd never done a full days boat trip before. Two years ago I did a 3hour evening trip and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I couldnt wait to try the full day one. I got picked up at the Mill Dam at about 9.20 and soon we were heading out to the open sea. It soon became apparent that this was going to be a ROUGH trip, as the water was exceptionally choppy. Martin (Kitching, the trip organiser) said that it was very unusual for it to be this bad, and a couple of people were really struggling. But over the course of the day it did die down, but also the birds more than made up for it! As expected all the common species were seen well. Gulls included Great Black Back, Lesser Black Back, Herring, Common and Black Headed, and of course Kittiwakes. The only Tern seen was Common Tern. Auks were Razorbill, Guillemot and one or two Puffins. Other species seen were Red Throated Diver, Fulmar, Cormorant, Grey Plover and of course hundreds and hundreds of Gannets! This is one of the specialties of these pelagic trips, seeing these gorgeous birds feeding so close to the boat. All the photographers were getting outstanding pictures. And so to the really special birds. Two or three Manx Shearwaters were seen, but they were fairly distant as they very rarely come close to the boat. Its larger cousin though, Sooty Shearwater, was the exact opposite. We got absolutely unbelievable close views of this species, as they regularly sat just yards away from us and also flew really close. We probably seen close to double figures in all. Topping this, we were lucky to see three species of Skua - Arctic, Great and Pomarine. About four Greats were seen flying strongly past, a single Pom and a couple of Arctics. As I have done hardly any sea watching this year, most of these were nice year ticks for me. The only slight downside (if there was one) was that we didnt see any cetaceans. But that didnt distract from a truly great day.
As a footnote, the picture of the boat underneath the headline is the actual boat I was on, and not just that I am actually standing at the back of the boat in the picture!!! Steve (Seggs) just happened to be in the harbour taking photos of a few birds when he seen the boat coming in, and he knew I was on it so decided to take a quick pic! Talk about good timing!