The last couple of weeks have been extremely quiet bird-wise and Ringing-wise, so myself and John have taken the opportunity to do some extensive land management on the main Ringing mound. This involves doing a lot of cutting back and thinning out of the existing foliage, enabling new growth to come through and also giving us the opportunity to plant a few new willows and other species when we get them. Given the size of the mound, its absolutely impossible to do the whole thing in one go so each year we do different sections in cycles. This winter we are working on the section closest to the entrance, and from the outside it looks like we've totally decimated the place, but come the spring it will all start to thicken out as the new growth emerges and in a couple of months it'll look great.
A couple of weeks ago we did get the chance to do an hour or so Ringing in Hoggy's garden, and although it was extremely quiet we did catch a very unusual Blackbird that had a partially white head!
And last weekend I managed to finally catch up with one of my favourite british birds, the Kingfisher, in Roker Park. I can't believe its taken me until december to see one of these birds, but I suppose thats the price of taking up Ringing!
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the North East Wildlife Recording Annual Conference at the Hancock Museum in Newcastle with Dougie, Dave and Mick. It's the first time I've attended this event and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the whole day. It was a lot more informal and fun than I was expecting, which was a bit of a relief, as there's nothing worse than a boring stuffy serious bit of tedium to spoil your day!!! Thankfully it was nothing like that. The talks and subject matter were very diverse but very interesting, and included Moth species in industrial Teesside, conserving the regions population of Red Squirrels and the study of Adders in County Durham. But my absolute favourite talk was on Large House Spiders in the North East! It was a genuinely fascinating topic and something I could have listened to for hours. Aside from the talks it was lovely to see some familiar faces, such as Martin Kitching, Tom Tams and Clare Rawcliffe. We even had an hour or so to explore the museum itself after the event had finished. Having never been here before it was a delight to walk around, seeing some of the fabulous exhibitions. The only regret was we didnt have time to stay longer!
Its official!!! After a year and a half of almost non-stop training and studying, I am delighted to have received my brand new Ringing license! I am now free to Ring whenever and wherever I want on my own without anybody having to 'hold my hand' as it were. I am absolutely chuffed to bits to have reached this level, and in a relatively short space of time, but there is absolutely no doubt I've put the hard work and effort in to get to this point. I just want to say a big thank you to John, Andy and Adrian for all of their help, it is much appreciated. Now, as John said the other day, this is where the fun REALLY begins!
As the Ringing Hut is closed down for the winter, we begin to look elsewhere for opportunities to Ring until we return in the spring. Some of the best places are at feeder stations, as a regular supply of food ensures a regular supply of birds! So for the last two weekends we've been visiting the garden of one of our good friends, Peter Hogg. He very kindly allows us to put a net up and use his garden as a temporary Ringing Station while he sits and watches from the comfort of his favourite armchair. He gets good numbers of the commoner garden birds, as well as the odd unexpected goodie, and it makes for a pleasant couple of hours. Today seen me Ring my 700th bird, a lovely little Blue Tit taking the honours. I'm pretty sure it won't be the last Blue Tit I Ring!
On wednesday morning a Bee-Eater was briefly seen in amongst a flock of Starlings on a housing estate in Sunderland. Not something you hear every day! Despite extensive searches not much of the bird was reported after that day. However, I was at home this afternoon when I got a phone call from John saying 'you better get down here, this bird is showing brilliantly!'. He certainly wasn't wrong! As I pulled up in the car I could see the bird sat right out in the open on a television aerial, seemingly oblivious to the other birders who were already there watching it. I joined Steve who was busy taking some photos and we watched the bird feeding and then moving from house to house as it was being harassed by a local Blackbird. It was a stunning bird, its beautiful colours looking oddly out of place in the middle of a british housing estate! Its the first time I've seen this species in the UK as I wasnt birding at the time of the Bishop Middleham pair, and am delighted I caught up with this bird.
Myself and John returned to the Scillies again earlier this month but this time it was for a full week. Unfortunately it rained pretty much every day but there was no way we were going to let that spoil our week! We had planned to Ring in the mornings and go birdwatching on the afternoons but a couple of mornings were a complete washout so we didnt Ring as much as we'd liked. The highlight was my second ever Yellow Browed Warbler (above), and I did get a new Ringing tick in Meadow Pipit but it was otherwise quite disappointing. General birdwatching was a lot better, with 3 lifers (Blackpoll Warbler, Syke's Warbler & Rose Coloured Starling) and 3 UK ticks (Solitary Sandpiper, Red Rumped Swallow & Red Throated Pipit). It was a hugely enjoyable week and I cant wait to go back next year.
Adrian had yet another superb week last week Ringing some absolute beauties while I was stuck at work (not that I'm bitter or anything!). This Pallas' Warbler (above) probably wins the award for cutest rarity but the award for actual rarest bird goes to this superb DUSKY WARBLER (below) trapped and Ringed on the Tuesday.
Other birds to add to the exceptional highlights were a Red Breasted Flycatcher, a Barred Warbler and a Ring Ouzel.
Despite missing out on all the goodies I got myself two more Ringing ticks, a Fieldfare and a Brambling. Mind you, they feel really boring in comparison!
Last Wednesday was a day that will live long in the memory of a number of local birders, and even more so for my Trainer Adrian. After a couple of weeks of disappointing westerly winds, there seemed to finally be a change of direction and the winds were starting to come from the east. Add to this a fair bit of rain and it could mean only one thing, the promise of lots of birds. Sure enough the reports started to come in from the north east coasts, with Yellow Browed Warblers, Red Breasted Flycatchers and Common Rosefinch all being seen within striking distance of our Ringing Mound at the Coastal Park. The promise of netting a goodie was too much of a temptation for Adrian to turn down so he decided to take the wednesday off from work to go Ringing. Unfortunately myself, John and Andy were all at work so he would be Ringing on his own but Dougie had also taken the day off so was there to give Adrian a hand. As expected the Mound was full of birds on the morning, including a large influx of various Thrushes, but alas nothing particularly special. But then as lunchtime approached, everything changed. While he was on the phone to his girlfriend Lisa he saw a bird go into one of the only nets visible from the Ringing Hut. He and Dougie started to make their way towards the net, and as they got closer Adrians first impression was that it was a Reed Warbler. They got a little bit closer and he could see it was in fact a Grasshopper Warbler. Nice! But hang on......... They finally got to the net and Adrian had the chance to see the bird fully and thats when it suddenly hit him, this was no ordinary Gropper. ''Bloody Hell Dougie, its a PG Tips!!!''. With that he practically threw his phone on the ground and pounced on the bird in the net. He carefully extracted it, bagged it then rushed back to the Hut and closed the door behind him. He took the bird out the bag and checked it fully. Yep, there was absolutely no doubt about it, he had a stunning PALLAS'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER. This was incredible. This is an extremely rare species, especially on the mainland, yet here was one in Adrians hand. Dougie immediately rang me and also put the word out to the local birders and by the time I got there (it only took me 10mins!) there was already a huge crowd. I went into the Hut and Adrian showed me the bird and pointed out all the key I.D. features before taking it out for people to see and take a few pictures. He then took it to a different area and released the bird away from the gathering of birders. Everybody, including myself, was delighted to see the bird so close up as it rarely shows well in the field. Those lucky enough to see it went home extremely happy. But nowhere near as happy as Adrian!
Thanks to Steve, Keith and Dougie for the various pictures.
On the 15th of this month (I know, I haven't updated for a while - again!!!) I had one of those rare days where I had nothing on so I went out and actually looked at wildlife! I was joined by Sir Dougie of Trow, who's days out are probably rarer than mine these days, and we enjoyed a relaxing couple of hours just exploring the local hotspots. We started the day at Marsden Old Quarry, which was very quiet but the resident Little Owl was in its usual place. A quick look in the Coastal Park was followed by a look on Jackies Beach. Best we could come up with here were a big flock of Curlew in the field next to the Obs and the huge flock of Golden Plover regularly taking to the air. There was very little in the Doctors Garden so we very quickly headed to the Academy Pools. This was to be the highlight of the day! It started with a very surprising Marsh Tit flying past us on the path approaching the Pools. This is an extremely scarce bird for South Tyneside (according to the locals - I wouldnt have a clue!) and something I was lucky to see. On reaching the Pools we noticed that there were a load of Hirundines flying around overhead which is always a fantastic sight. Then we noticed a load of Dragonflies buzzing around, which probably explained why so many Swallows etc were in the area! As we were approaching the Pools we saw two local lads, Dave Foster and Dave Gilmour standing with their binoculars at the ready. As we got closer we heard what they were there for - the unmistakeable sound of a Cetti's Warbler! These birds are very very rare in County Durham so the opportunity to see one was not to be passed up. The next 30 minutes had us staring into an area of reedbed that we KNEW the bird was in but was agonisingly only giving us the briefest of glimpses as it skulked in the undergrowth. But then finally, FINALLY, the bird came out into the open, hopped along a few reeds, then flew past us and away to another part of the pool. For Cetti's Warblers this was probably as good as can be expected, and needless to say it was a nice little County tick. As if to emphasise how lucky we were, the bird has not been reported since that day!