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A birding blog, with sounds and film

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High Speed Birds

To say it's windy is an understatement, I'm here at Wheldrake in the Derwent Valley, Its my local patch really and it really is a wonderful birding paradise. There are 1000s of birds all hunkered down for the day because they already know what we are just finding out. The winds are really strong, a flock of goldfinch have just passed me at little above head height doing at least 600mph Clarkson would be proud and Hammond would have crashed.

There are very few birds in the air as when they attempt to rise, the are carried off at high speed turning into missiles in an instant. The sun is shining in a very dramatic way, low fluffy bits of cloud and blue sky poking through to make this beautiful scene. Some birds, very powerful flyers are in the air, playing and frolicking with the wind, these are of course gulls.

South Gare, a birding trip.

I have been up to South Gare many times in the last year. It's a fabulous place for Short Eared Owls, Twite, Snow Buntings, Lapland Buntings and many passing pelagic birds reported each year. This trip was to hopefully see the Great Northern Diver reported just offshore on the north side to the east of the small harbour. It was a very cold day, very cold indeed and there was quite a lot of birders out all looking for the same bird.

After a few minutes we spotted the diver about 50 meters off the pebble beach and as you can see below I got a few reasonable shots. The camera was struggling to keep focus because the sea was a little choppy also quite windy so it was difficult holding the camera still. The diver is a beautiful bird and it was doing what it's supposed to do, dive. The bird spent most of the time under the water hunting for small crabs and it was very successful.
A Video log showing the wider area of South Gare.
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Great Northern Diver
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Above, Guillemot. Not great pictures as they were too far out.
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Common Eider.
About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things.
Steve Farley.
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The fantastic new walkways and viewing screens on the Tyneside Nature reserve, you can't ignore them as they change everything. They give great views of the all new flooded Cowpen Marsh. 1000s of Golden Plover, 2000 Lapwings and the none flying seals are all visible from the screens and a real resource for wheelchair users with parking interconnected with the paths at the new Seal Sands car park. This entire area from the Saltholme reserve all the way up to Seal Sands, Greatham Creek and beyond has been turned over to wildlife and I have to say the balance between visitor and wildlife is very well done. I could easily write about this area for days, but the only real way to appreciate this area is to go and enjoy.

We were driving to
Seaton Common a few miles past, this is where the Short Eared Owls have been seen and I have seen them many times. This time we saw at least three but in reality four, we had seen them from the car and as we parked up they started flying back and forth across the tiny road, a superb sight.
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How many birds did you see in 2018? I wanted to see 200 different species and only managed 192, a poor effort then! Well I don't think so, after all I do work five long days a week, I can't ignore my family at the weekend, I need a pass out to go birding! All excuses? No not really, I'm a keen birder, I like photography and I love the outdoors all the things I need to fit into modern life.

#Mybirding200 is an initiative from that wonderful magazine Bird Watching. They bring us Go Birding site reports and other wonderful bird related things, other magazines are available like Birdwatch and bring us Bird Guides . The initiative started a few years ago and when I first read about it I thought "easy" Oooo yea, how hard can that be.I know, I'll set myself a personal challenge of 250 ha ha ha "in my own back garden" hah hah hah.

Yea I hear you say, this guy is an utter Ass and you'd be right because I have never achieved it to this day. Not once and the closest I've come is the 2018 record of 192. But there's a BUT, I think I have seen 200 and perhaps even more, the big problem is I have run out of talent. Yea, talent, I can't identify all the birds I see, not because I'm thick but because I'm …Well you make your own mind up.

As the years go by my identification skills grow but it grows slowly, reading books, Apps, and listening in hides. The listening in hides is by far the greatest resource, your'e there and you can see the hard to identify bird, well if someone is helpful enough to point it out to you. There it is, they shout, spinning in the water, pecking frantically a bit like a lunatic at an Iron Maiden concert "It's a Grey Phalarope". Oh yea, and you never forget it, you will always remember what a Grey Phalarope looks like… Right?

You will because you know roughly what it looks like, and definitely what it behaves like and what time of year it may turn up. Put all you have gleaned from others together and you have it. Birding is brilliant.
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Red Necked Grebe Castle Howard

But our scopes, binoculars and cameras have American Wigeon and Green Winged Teal avoidance systems built in, so we managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
Steve Farley

Myself and Phil Smithson set off quite early to get to Castle Howard and start a full day of birding. Our intention was to see the Red Necked Grebe then move back to the Derwent Valley area starting at North Duffield Carrs. We saw the Grebe and Goldeneye, Goosander plus many other birds and then moved on to North Duffield.

We quickly saw Peregrine Falcon, Buzzard and Marsh Harrier, 1000s of Wigeon, Teal and a few hundred Pintail but our scopes, binoculars and cameras have American Wigeon and Green Winged Teal avoidance systems built in so we managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
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Red Necked Grebe on Castle Howard main lake.
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Thrybergh Reservoir

Thrybergh Reservoir is one of those places you either are in the know about or not and I definitely was not. That is until I met Ron Marshall, Birdmanron on Flickr, he told me about the Water Rail that are almost tame "take a tin of seed" he said, and don't forget to shake it and they will come. I'm sure its a line from a film, well I thought he was joking but he was not. These incredibly shy and uncooperative birds are as tame as can be, they have got so used to people from nearby feeding them that they come out to the sound of seed in a tin.
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We saw a total of three Water Rail in all and they really were very unafraid of the human presence. However two ladies came along with four dogs, they were screaming at the dogs and the dogs were in and out of the water disturbing everything and any birds within a half mile.
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The reservoir is a great place to bird, however the prolific use by dog walkers can be a real problem. Some, a real minority let their dogs chase the wildfowl and anything else they want sending waves of birds into the air and some even think this is incredibly funny.
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Redwing and Fieldfare were abundant at this site with larger flocks in the trees around the reservoir. Overall though there does not seem to be the same numbers of winter thrushes about this year.
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Souter Lighthouse, Whitburn Coastal Path & St Mary's Island

Myself and Phil Smithson travelled up from my home and parked half a mile south of the Souter Lighthouse on the Whitburn Coastal path nature reserve. This is an area I have never been too and I have no idea why, the area really is prime for birding, small copse near the car park and open scrubland down to the cliffs with beautiful views of sea stacks and sea birds perched upon them. The area is well known for the passing pelagic birds and the many gulls that frequent the stacks and cliffs.

We made are way south on the coastal path to a seawtaching hide and after a while we walked to the back of the hide and around a small nature reserve called Whitburn Point Nature Reserve where there is a few feeding stations and a screen looking out over reedbeds. Reed Bunting, Linnet, sparrow and flocks of Goldfinch were all evident.
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Map showing seawtaching hide and car park, the walk around the nature reserve takes about 45 minutes and can be muddy at times. The views are magnificent from here and although the sea watching hide does not produce the birds seen at Flamborough, or Spurn Point you would still enjoy a day sea watching from here.
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Souter Lighthouse, a great place for seawatching with some shelter from the elements.
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Souter Lighthouse and the scrubland around that has been very productive in the past
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The cliff area with some of the sea stacks full of birds, Fulmar, Gulls, Redshank were all there along with Kittiwake. Many pelagic birds are seen from here throughout the year, this really is a top spot.
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Just a nice scene
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Northern Fulmar
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St Mary's Lighthouse
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St Mary's Lighthouse and causeway, this area produced the Snow Bunting, Pipits and many other sea birds seen on the day. The area can get very busy with tourists and day trippers alike there is a large car park adjacent to the site this has burger vans and an ice cream van attracting the crowds.
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Snow Bunting on the small pieces of grass near the car parks at St Mary's
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Northern Fulmar
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Rock Pipit just near the causeway to the Lighthouse.
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I haven't spent much time around Sprotborough but with the kingfisher and Bittern both showing well I thought I would revisit this much under watched area, well under watched by me anyway. As I approached the viewing screen a chap clearly quite disgruntled said "good luck mate" I asked with what? Sitting down, he replied. There was three people sitting with camera bags and flashes placed on the benches like barriers to others wanting to sit and enjoy the birding. Well I simply asked one of them to remove his bags by saying "can we make room for a little one" and without any fuss or grunts he did, and we had two hours of birding and the occasional friendly chat.
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High above the Heron was this Buzzard, I could hear the haunting calls well before I could see the bird, clear blue sky and clean air transported the sound to my ears with the clarity of a fine British hifI system.
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Just before the screen and standing like a very proud statue was this clearly magnificent and well groomed chap, he looked at me and I him we nodded and he went about his business of looking proud, enough said really.
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There were many many birds behind where we sat at the Kingfisher screen including this very new looking Reed Bunting. Has spring made an appearance in December?
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Long Tailed Tits c20
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Gadwall c8
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Tufted Duck
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A trip to Seaton and the Tyneside Nature Reserve with a sprinkle of Saltholme. 11th Nov 2018

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The Lapwing, Golden Plover and Redshank above were all at Saltholme, Well you need a good breakfast for a day out in the field and Saltholme cafe is such a great spot for eating a full English while watching the birds go by.
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We were looking skywards listening to the deafening sounds of geese flying in from the west. I have to admit I and many others had no idea these geese were in fact Taiga Bean Geese.
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Above. A flock of long showing Twite at South Gare
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The Short Eared Owls above were the reason we travelled north. After filling ourselves in the cafe at Saltholme we headed for Seaton common, yesterday there was a report of five Short Eared Owls showing well here and boy they were not wrong. Seaton common has an access road and scrub land on both sides and a golf course beyond that. The owls were showing on both sides of the road and flying between right and left scrubland.

I started talking to a chap with a Barnsley twang and after a few minutes it felt like I'd known him all my life, Ron Marshall was very knowledgeable and I sapped all I could about the birds before us. Ron does talks on many wildlife and travel subjects to bird clubs and organisations all over the country and after our chats have become very good friends.
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