Sunday, 21 August 2011


Up nice and early at 4.45am for a mornings Ringing session at Whitburn Coastal Park. While we were waiting for John to arrive and open the gate, Phil spotted a young Fox in the allotment field opposite the Park. A very nice start to the day! Ringing was much better today than the last couple of weeks. Fifteen individual birds of nine different species, including a new Ringing tick for me, an adult Garden Warbler. Andy had another go with a Wren, and this time he managed to get a Ring on before it escaped his grip! Bless him. Around 7.30am John got a phone call from Davey Gilmour who was over in Trow Quarry. He had found a very good bird, a Woodchat Shrike (above). So myself and Phil headed over and joined him. As we were pretty much the first people on site we had superb views of the bird perched out in the open and then hopping from shrub to shrub. I then put the message out to everyone and headed back to the Ringing hut. I later found out that as more people turned up the bird became more and more elusive. It was lucky I got there early!
Nick arrived just before 9.00am to check the moth trap and he sprung a surprise on me by asking me to identify all the moths! As I didnt have my book with me I have to admit I struggled to start with but a good few pointers from Nick helped me no ends. As I'm still very new to moths this kind of help is invaluable. In the end there were 17 different species including 2 new ones for me, Mouse Moth and Antler Moth (above).
After a couple of hours break to attend a christening, I headed off to Saltholme to try to catch up with another rare bird that had arrived recently, a White Winged Black Tern (above). I've seen them in Cyprus before but never in the UK so was really looking forward to seeing it. On arrival I checked at the reception and thankfully was told that the bird was still around so off I headed to the Allotment Pool. As I approached I spotted a familiar face, Derek Charlton, so went and joined him. The target bird was very easy to spot as it was flying around right in front of us. It was a gorgeous bird in almost full summer plumage which made things even better. But then we got an added bonus! Another rare bird, a Blue Winged Teal, had been in the area for a week or so but was apparently extremely elusive so I didnt really think I'd get the chance to see it. But as we scanned the reeds on the far side low and behold we found the Teal. Excellent! At first it was sleeping just in front of the reeds but then it was spooked by first a Coot and then a pair of Gadwall forcing it out in the open for a few minutes before heading deep into the reedbed. This was turning out to be a very good day!
On the walk back to the car I walked across a meadow kicking up a few species of Butterfly and also two new Dragonflies for the year, a Ruddy Darter and an Emperor Dragonfly (above). I went home very happy.

Saturday, 20 August 2011


John was down Rutland today for the Bird Fayre so there was no Ringing this morning. Instead I had a lovely couple of hours with Maria in Durham City Centre. But then on the way back I called into Seaton Pond to catch up with the Red Necked Grebe that had been there for the last couple of days. Its the first one I've seen in summer plumage and I have to say it was a little stunner!

Sunday, 14 August 2011


A couple of weeks ago Derek Lawrence asked if we could have a Storm Petrel Ringing session open to the members of the Durham Bird Club, and it was agreed to take place last night. Myself, John, Walter and Phil arrived just after 9.00pm to put the nets up and get everything ready, and just after 9.30pm the first people started to arrive. It was a lovely warm evening and there was very little wind but unfortunately there was a very bright full moon so the night didnt really get very dark - not great for trapping Petrels. The crowd waited patiently and were in good humour but secretly those of us Ringing were slightly panicking. As the hours ticked by not a single trace of a Petrel was seen, and although it is absolutely not our fault we still cant help but feel responsible when the birds dont show up! Silly really but you cant help it. And so, as the time approached midnight the first person said they were heading home. They were quickly followed by another. And another. In all, seven people had decided to call it a night, so Phil headed off to open the gates for them to leave. But then, literally as the last car lights faded into the distance, John spotted something in the nets. It was only a flipping Storm Petrel!!! As John got the bird out of the net somebody immediately rang one of the guys who was leaving to let them know we had one. Within seconds the four cars were bombing back towards us doing wheelspins and everything! It was hilarious!!! John Ringed the bird and then gathered the assembled crowd so they could all get extremely close views of a bird that is usually only seen as a distant dot on the sea. It was also a great opportunity for people to take photos and video footage. And so once everybody was satisfied the bird was released and happily went on its way. The Ringing lads breathed a huge sigh of relief, as everybody had finally had views of what they came for. Unfortunately it was the only bird that was caught on the night, but it didnt really matter as everyone still went home happy.

Sunday, 7 August 2011


Lets not beat around the bush here, this mornings Bird Ringing was absolutely cack. A grand total of two birds were trapped in the nets, a Blackcap and a Wren that Andy somehow managed to lose in the hut! Shortly after 7.00am myself, John and Andy were enjoying tea and biscuits in the hut while Phil had wandered outside and was idly watching the sea. Not long after, Phil shouted us out as he'd spotted something swimming very close in to the shore. The three of us quickly joined him and quickly spotted what he had found, a superb pod of Dolphins! On close inspection we could see that they were Bottle Nosed Dolphins, a species I'd not seen before. This was excellent. The biggest count we managed was five individuals but we were certain there were more. The Dolphins had been displaying for well over 20 minutes when John got a phone call from Paul Hindness who was in the Obs. He was watching another sea mammal to the extreme south of where we were. We all turned around and started to scan. Again it didnt take long before Andy cried 'got it'! He told us the area to look and sure enough we were all watching a superb Humpback Whale breaching and spraying. You could see the spray with the naked eye but it was much better through the bins and scopes! We were all extremely pleased with ourselves and settled back in the hut when Paul rang again. The guys in the Obs had spotted something else. Incredibly they had found a third creature, a fantastic Minke Whale feeding directly out in front of us. So, again, we rushed out and began to scan. And again, it didnt take us long to locate our target. The Whale breached the surface, probably with a mouthful of Mackerel, then disappeared out of sight. Wow. It was quite an awesome sight. We watched it for around fifteen minutes before heading once again to the comfort of the hut. What an incredible morning. Three brand new and exciting creatures in the space of an hour! This is as good as it gets.

Humpback Whale (top), Minke Whale (middle) & Bottle Nosed Dolphin (bottom)

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Yesterday evening, I was just starting to get myself ready for a night of Storm Petrel Ringing when I got a phone call from Steve. One of my absolute bogey birds, a Bonapartes Gull, had been found in a ploughed field near Whitburn Coastal Park. Damn! I have always struggled to see this bird, and was trying my hardest not to build my hopes up as I got in the car and set off. Sure enough, as I pulled up at said field I was informed by both Steve and Peter Hogg that the bird had flew off just 10 minutes before I arrived. Like myself they had also both arrived too late. This was entirely typical of my experiences with this species. After hanging around for around 20 minutes in the hope the bird might return, Steve decided he would head home. But just at that moment Hoggies phone went off. The bird had been re-found at Whitburn Steel. I cant put into words how quickly the three of us jumped into our cars and sped off! It literally took minutes for us to get to the Steel and thankfully Chris Bell was still there watching the bird. And there it was, on the sea right in front of us. AT LAST!!!! We all couldnt believe how close in it was. We enjoyed a fair few minutes observing the gull before we started phoning around and getting the news out. That done we could concentrate fully on watching the bird. Steve managed to get a couple of thousand photos off, including the two seen here and eventually everyone went home happy. Well, except myself, John and Walter. We headed further up the coast to set the nets up for a night of Petrel catching (we were also joined by Phil). Unfortunately the weather wasnt great and we packed up a little early as the Storm Petrels were just bouncing off the nets.