I got up nice and early on Sunday morning (7.00 am to be precise) to be greeted by a sight I genuinely wasn't expecting - SNOW!!! Where the hell did that come from? (yes, I know, the sky!). Of course being made of stern stuff there was no way it was going to put me off the days challenge, so I headed off to Trow Quarry to meet up with my team mates. This year the Dream Team had been split up to help another team, so myself and Dougie were joined by a new lad called Bill. Lets just say he was an 'interesting' character! Some less polite would say he was a nutter!!! But anyway, it was now 8.00am and the competition had officially begun. We had a walk around Trow and picked up several of the commoner species, but our main target (Little Owl) was proving to be very elusive. We checked all of the favourite haunts but it was proving to be fruitless. There were no Owls anywhere. This wasn't the start we were hoping for. But, this was the Bird Race. We didn't have time to dwell and sulk, we had other places to go! So off we went, destination Whitburn Steel. But! We had a quick stop off at the famous Marsden car park to tick Med Gull - hopefully. We need'nt have worried. Med Gull in the bag, we continued on to the Steel. Here we boosted our numbers nicely, with plenty of waders and a few species of duck going onto our list. What we didn't do was a sea watch. It was a gamble, a gamble we hoped we wouldn't regret come the end of the day! From here we drove to Marsden Quarry for a second attempt to see a Little Owl. Thankfully, we hit lucky this time around. Westoe Cemetery next, and a visit to the feeder station that Steve had created a couple of months ago. It was alive with activity when we arrived with lots of Tits and Finches, but before long everything scattered as a Sparrowhawk whizzed in but was unsuccessful in its attempts to catch a meal. We had a quick walk around the cemetery itself which was a good move as we picked up our only Redwings of the day, and also had a great bonus with three Waxwings flying overhead. Next stop was Marine Park. This site proved to be quite disappointing, as we only picked up 4 new species. We really wanted Great Spotted Woodpecker but we couldn't find one anywhere. We then walked over and had a look over the pier at Sandhaven. This proved to be a disaster! The weather at this point was horrendous, and there was no sight of our target bird the Purple Sandpiper - in fact there were no birds whatsoever! Feeling a bit sorry for ourselves, we decided to head inland. Our first stop was Boldon Flats. The pond was completely frozen over which was expected but the feeders definitely came up with the goods. Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows were good, but a single Brambling was even better! Pleased with ourselves we were about to head to the car when a Peregrine soared overhead - another excellent bonus bird! Tilesheds produced nothing, not even a Reed Bunting. Jarrow Slake was hit and miss. Some nice birds were seen eg Bullfinch & Shelduck, but some others were badly missed eg Little Grebe & Kingfisher. We did have a nice view of a Fox on the far river bank, amazingly in the exact same place we seen it last year! A quick walk around Jarrow Cemetery got us 2 new birds, Treecreeper & GS Woodpecker (thankfully!). As time (and light) was fading, we had one last stop to make - the Academy Pools. Here we finally picked up Reed Bunting. We also saw a nice flock of Fieldfares in the field, with a single Mistle Thrush for good measure. This proved to be our final bird of the day. As we pulled into the carpark of the Whitburn Lodge the sky was dark and the stars were out. All the teams had gathered and handed in their totals for the day. Our total was a relatively disappointing 67. This got us into 3rd place in the competition. We were 8 behind the winning total of 75. By a cruel twist of fate the winning team was captained by mr Steve Egglestone, the third member of our original Dream Team! Typical. But despite that, once again it had been a superb day - one of my favourite days of the year. And I'd managed to raise £100 for the Conservation Group, a figure I was amazed at. The money will certainly be put to good use. Roll on next year!
FIELDFARE (TOP), LITTLE OWL (MIDDLE) & TREECREEPER (BOTTOM)