Monday, February 08, 2016

Up to the Guts....

A day off today, with a reasonable weather forecast, so we went birding...

With no planning whatsoever John and myself began at Amble Harbour and worked north.

Amble was very quiet indeed with nothing of note. Further along the river, a few ducks were worth a look, 100+ Wigeon, 1pr Gadwall, 4 Red breasted Merganser, 2 Goosander and 2 Goldeneye fed on a low tide, while a Little Egret flew over the point to the Gut  er Old Water.

At this stage we discussed the local site names for our usual birding spots. Traditionally, all bird records from most of the Coquet estuary were labelled Warkworth Gut. This name, however, is just wrong. Warkworth Gut is a small muddy creek running from the south behind Amble Marina and not the channel edged in saltmarsh and reedbed that runs to the north. This place, where most birds are found, is called Old Water. Now there are some tidal pools at the head of Old Water we have imaginatively named 'Old Water Pools'.

Just to confuse matters further, there is a small, difficult to view 'Gut' opposite the weir laybye, that could also be called Warkworth Gut, but it doesnt have a separate name, it is just known as 'the river above the weir'.

There, that's that clarified. Several Guts, but the real one rarely has birds...

Back to the birds. As we were here it would be rude not to call in to see the Coues Arctic Redpoll for the 5th time. Today the bird was running a bit late and left us standing twiddling our thumbs for half an hour before it and it's colleagues flew in to the usual fence line to allow viewing. There was some discussion about the identity of the rest of the flock. These birds get no easier. Most could feasibly be Mealies rather than the assumed Lessers. In fact only 2 birds out of 30 or so were obvious Lessers, one a very red breasted male and another browner bird, both small compared to the rest. There are definitely 3+ Mealies, the rest are just Redpolls....

Coues on its usual post....
 From Birling we headed up to Boulmer via Foxton Bends where 500+ Wigeon were unsuccessfully  scanned for yanks. At Boulmer we walked both north and south along the shore. There were lots of birds to search through, many hundreds of gulls and coastal waders with a few wildfowl too but it was a day of spectacle rather than substance. A Peregrine hunted the rocks and a Twite flew south. On the flash, a few Mallard were joined by a juv Pale bellied Brent Goose. It was the shere number of gulls and waders though that caught our attention the most. As the tide neared the high mark, the waves washed piles of seaweed around exposing tasty morsels for the birds. There were 8+ Purple Sandpipers, 50+ Turnstones, 20+ Bar tailed Godwit, 100+ Dunlin, 40+ Sanderling, 2 Grey Plovers, 200+ Curlew, 50+ Redshank on the shore. It was great to watch them swirl around and return to the beach every so often.

A sample of waders flying around.

Nearby a young Grey Seal watched us pass then went back to sleep.

Not a bad day, certainly better than being office bound that's for sure!

Grey Seal

Sunday, February 07, 2016

An artist on the shore...




Today was a special day for me. I met a lifelong hero of mine. That's not strictly true, as my hero is no longer with us, having passed away in 1981, but today I could definitely feel his presence.

Back in the mid 70's while my school friends were idolising Billy Bremner I spent wet Saturdays visiting Morpeth Library to browse the birds and wildlife books. It was here I found what was to be my favourite book - 'The House on the Shore' by Dr Eric Ennion, a tale of a small bird observatory that was operated on the Northumberland coast opposite the Farne Islands.

Dr Ennion was a GP from Northants, born in 1900. He was always interested in birds and began drawing them from an early age, eventually becoming one of our most influential bird artists.

He and his wife bought Monk's House between Seahouses and Bamburgh to run as a field studies centre for the decade between 1950 - 1960. During this time, Ennion didnt have too much time to draw and paint, but after he left Northumberland and moved to Shalbourne in Wiltshire, he began teaching wildlife and landscape painting, producing a prolific output of work.

Aged about 12, his drawing and writing had a great impact on me. I hung on to every word and gazed longingly at the illustrations. The birds leapt from the page. Ennion had a knack of capturing the real character of a bird, not any bird, but that individual he had in front of him at the time.

So, when I visited Sunderland last autumn to see an exhibition of his work, I was thoroughly gutted when I got there to find access an impossibility due to a damaged door after some rain ingress. Luck was on my side however, as soon after, I heard that the same exhibition would be coming to Berwick in 2016, even closer to home than Sunderland.

The Eric Ennion Exhibition opened at the Granary Gallery in Berwick yesterday and I was raring to get there today, to take in some original works of the great man himself. There were 46 framed pieces on show ( none for sale, you cant get them for love nor money) and at one stage I pondered the likelyhood of me getting away with an art heist. This would be as successful as my trip to Sunderland so made do with some phone shots of the delightful works to bring away with me.

What is it that attracts me to his art? Well its the raw clean style really. No faff, no detail, these are not Collins plates or Lewington airbrushed backgrounds, no, this work just beautifully evokes a scene as if you were standing next to the Dr while he painted.

When I came home I thought, I may never paint on white paper again...
 




Friday, February 05, 2016

Late winter specials....

Off on a flexi day today and annual leave on Monday making a nice long weekend. Today, Phil Hanmer came to ours to replace an old owl box in the small wood next to our garden. The old one was dismal and last summer a Barn Owl nest failed in it due lack of protection from the weather so the new one is of much sturdier construction. Lets hope it gets used.

While out for a walk or two around the patch today, the Chiffchaff is still flickering around the Lane ditch while Brambling numbers in the finch flock have increased to 7 birds, 3 males 4 females. There were still 250+ Linnets and 50 Chaffinches with 1 Lesser Redpoll. Buzzard and Stock Dove kept the flock company in the stubble.

Down to the pond, it was quiet. There were no penduline tits in the reedmace ( prompted by one at Saltholme today!) but the Coot is still present ( please park carefully!)

Howick Hall Gardens open to the public tomorrow to see the snowdrops. There seems to be  nice show so far, all we need is some pleasant late winter weather rather than this grime, wind and rain that seems omnipresent....

Brambling. A male, probably adult but a strategically positioned twig stops us seeing an outer greater covert for contrast...



Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Iceland comes to the QEII...



Last year a fw Iceland Gull frequented the duck feeding area at the QEII Lake, Ashington. An unusual spot for a scarce gull, so what's the chances of history repeating? Well here we go, what looks like another first winter Iceland. Or is it? Could this actually be the same individual in retarded first plumage? There does seem to be odd grey feathers in the scapulars and mantle and second winters can have a dark eye too? Personally, I think it looks different to last spring's bird...Regardless its a nice bird and shows very well too. Best just say Iceland Gull 1 imm.


Sunday, January 31, 2016

Redpoll...week 4.

You will all be getting sick of me chuntering on about the Coues's Arctic Redpoll at Birling / Warkworth by now, but today we managed some great views and this time I even had the camera instead of the scope.

I've jumped the gun a bit though so first things first. I met John at Warkworth at 7.30 this morning just as it was getting light. It was nice and calm for a change, overcast and cold. To start things we walked down towards the beach and along to view the salt marsh, to check the local Twite flock for the first time this year. As expected, about 15 Twite showed well, in less than good light, but with them were 2 Redpolls, one a sure fire Mealy, the other more ambiguous. I dont recall ever seeing redpolls in this habitat before...

While here, a Barn Owl hunted the car park banks and a host of waders roosted along the edge, where Bar-tailed Godwit and Little Egret were both new for the year.  

Twite in the gloaming at first light.
From here we walked back up and followed the field north along the golf course to view the redpolls. Today numbers were up to 34 birds and the Arctic was easily picked out as they came in and sat, obligingly, along the fence line.

Coues's Arctic Redpoll showing well, sticking out like a sore thumb. This shot shows its bull-head and necked appearance well.
We stood back from the fence a few yards and the birds came in every so often. Here the Arctic is showing its typical puffed up pose, complete with huge, unstreaked white rump.
In this shot, the Arctic has not had time to fluff up, giving an altogether different appearance. It appears to be a first winter male as there are odd reddish feathers in the upper chest / cheek area. 
 This is my fourth audience with exilipes and he never fails to impress. What a little cracker!
As we watched, John and I met with John Richardson and Sasha Elliott who also got some nice photo's. Pleased to meet you Sasha....

From here, we returned to the car for a refill of tea, pasty and cake ( no....) then off down to the harbour and estuary. Highlights here were a nice male Goosander, 3 Purple Sandpipers and the adult Mediterranean Gull has finally returned, albeit a little bit late....

So, a nice winter morning out with some excellent birds. If only all weekends were like this....

Mediterranean Gull with Black headed Gulls, Little Shore, Amble.
 


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Lovely Aconites....

Every year at this time Denwick Church lights up with the golden glow of winter aconites. For me, these and Snowdrops raise the chequered flag to get ready for spring just a few long weeks away...



No doubt I will add more pics of these beauties as the snowdrops emerge between them. This year there seems to be a lot at Denwick, possibly due to increased light after the removal of a large dying tree last spring. All the trampling hasn't done the flowers any harm.


Monday, January 25, 2016

Time flies...

I've just noticed on my blog hit counter that its just passed the half a million page views mark! I would never have thought that back in July 2006 when I started....

I wonder if it will make the million? Here's hoping....