Results tagged “Birding” from Journal Live - Blog Central

Alan Tilmouth

Invading Surburbia

By Alan Tilmouth on Feb 20, 10 03:22 PM


Generally when I go birding (and I think most birders are the same) I tend to go to areas where there aren't too many people. So think, woods, nature reserves, coast and moorland. Apart from walkers and dog walkers therefore I tend not to connect with non-birders too much whilst out birding. I still find despite the popularity of birding and birdwatching, the RSPB now has over 1million members, people seem to throw birders odd looks and glances.
However there is one bird that very often turns up far from normal birding haunts during winter. Supermarket car parks and suburban housing estates are often the habitat of choice for the Waxwing. There is good reason why this bird that breeds in boreal forest can often be found in large groups hanging around the local Tesco, berries.
In winter Waxwing switch their diet almost exclusively to berries and are faced with the choice of staying put in their native forests or travelling many miles in what are known as 'irruptive' movements in search of food. Look closely at your nearest Tesco or Sainsbury and you find that of the small number of trees token planted in surrounding car parks the Rowan, one of the Waxwing's favourite food sources is often quite common.
In some years many thousands can arrive from Russia and Scandanavia in the UK in search of food. This year numbers have been very low until the last two weeks when an unusual late winter movement has brought a few hundred over the North Sea, Small flocks of between two and 40 have been seen at various locations around the North East where a few berries or fruit still hang from trees.
The two pictured above were part of a group of 37 frequenting a housing estate in Ashington prompting many local birders to depart their usual haunts for the pavements and streets around Nursery Park hoping to catch a glimpse of these colourful visitors. in turn I noticed that the watchers became the watched as curtains twitched and residents stopped to ask what we were watching and what all the fuss was over.
Once the berries are gone the Waxwing will move on, but hopefully these occasional visits by such beautiful birds might spark an interest for one or two of the non-birding residents.

Alan Tilmouth

Join The Club

By Alan Tilmouth on Nov 27, 09 09:38 PM

If you are new to birding then one of the best ways of getting to know more and meeting other like minded people is joining one of the local bird clubs here in the North East. The region is very well served in this area with four superb clubs covering the from Teeside to the Scottish Border. All of the clubs have regular indoor meetings during the winter months and field trips to destinations near and far. Three of the four publish regular bulletins and annual reports and all have websites with degrees of interactivity ranging from sightings pages, member forums and photographs.
Teesmouth Bird Club is a thriving club which is very active in conservation work in Cleveland and produces the Cleveland Bird Report annually. It has 'exclusive' members access to a number of good bird sites on Teeside. The Durham Bird Club has just opened a luxurious new hide at Castle Lake, Bishop Middleham and also occupies the much used 'observatory' at Whitburn, mainly used to watch seabirds.
Further north the Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club covers the area north of the Tyne including the whole county of Northumberland in it's annual publication Birds in Northumbria. The North Northumberland Bird Club may be the smallest of the four in terms of membership but they celebrate their 25th anniversary this year and are still going strong. Each of the clubs have websites, you can reach by clicking on their name in this post, providing full details of how to join and their activities. If your a birder and not already a member check them out as they are all great places to share sightings and meet new friends as well as engaging in some serious birding.

Alan Tilmouth

The Crown Jewels

By Alan Tilmouth on Oct 24, 09 08:51 AM

Dougie Holden's comparison of finding the Eastern Crowned Warbler being like 'winning the World Cup' is very apt. Most birders will never find a first for Britain in the same vein as most footballers will never win the World Cup. He has literally discovered one of birding's crown jewels. Along with co-finder Derek Bilton, Dougie has written a place for himself in local birding folklore. I spoke to Dougie last night and congratulated him on their find and whilst it was a pleasure to talk to such a genuine guy, the real pleasure was from hearing the sheer utter joy at the stunning find in his voice. It was almost like speaking to a proud new father and as a birder I can empathise with that entirely. It is what drives many birders to get up on damp cold mornings and motivates them to go back to the same place they went to yesterday and the day before, and the day before that, and... The knowledge that through an incredible set of chance events that begin on the other side of the world they could be the first person to set eyes on a new bird, never before identified on British shores.
It can be incredibly frustrating of course, many of the birds we try and see and identify are small, mobile, incredibly well camouflaged and often extremely difficult to tell apart from other similar species.
In fact I've often thought that birding should be a core subject on the National Curriculum as it teaches so many good skills, observation, awareness, attention to detail, patience and acts as a daily memory test.
The Eastern Crowned Warbler has been a classic example, a bird seen and well photographed and initially identified as a Yellow-browed Warbler, in itself a scarce migrant, was re-identified via pictures posted on the Internet as the rarest of the rare in birding terms.
This particular bird could so easily have been overlooked had it not been for the initial enthusiasm and dedication of Dougie & Derek and then the diligence of Mark Newsome Durham Bird Club county recorder who was checking through photographs posted from the Durham area when he came across this one and as Mark said "felt the colour drain from my face."
What should not be overlooked either is the benefit to the local micro economy around South Shields. I predict there could be as many as 2000 visitors all needing food and drink and parking over the weekend as long as the bird remains (and is still present as I write).

Read more about Eastern Crowned Warbler at South Shields here.

Alan Tilmouth

Who Mourns For the Landfill?

By Alan Tilmouth on Sep 14, 09 12:06 PM

Landfill has had it's day. Most of us are recycling more and more, although it seems to have taken the constant barrage of ten years of media focus to get the changes ingrained. Pristinely clean Household Recovery Centres are now the order of the day with a skip for every conceivable type of 'waste' neatly colour coded around the spotless concrete.
It's a good thing right? I keep telling myself this, it's a good thing. Anyone who has lived adjacent to a landfill will testify to the windblown mess for miles downwind of a site despite the best attempts by the operators to prevent it.
The local landfill site near us in Northumberland at Ellington Road just north of Ashington has been covered over this summer. A few fences remain but what was the biggest fast food takeaway for gulls for miles is now sealed into it's methane producing hole for the next thousand years.
And there's the rub, Ellington Road used to be a fantastic place for birders or more specifically 'larophiles' (after the family latin name for gulls laridae) to go during the winter and observe hundreds and sometimes thousands of large gulls gathering to feed, argue, fight and generally hang about. It made for a fantastic spectacle when something spooked them, say a passing Peregrine as they would all rise into the air silently.
Of course gull watchers would be looking for some of the rarer gulls amongst the more familar Herring & Great Black-backed Gulls. The winter months bring a few 'white-winged' gulls from the Arctic such as the Glaucous Gull and the slightly smaller Iceland Gull.
In recent years with DNA analysis techniques many new species have been split creating new opportunities to find and identify hitherto unheard of vagrants such as Caspian Gull.
So whilst I understand and applaud the brave new world of clean and green, I'm now tasked with finding the increasingly rare 'landfill' habitat, if anyone knows of a good one please let me know. Who knows perhaps one day the RSPB will launch a 'save our landfill' campaign, I doubt it somehow.

Alan Tilmouth

By Alan Tilmouth on Aug 18, 09 09:18 PM


August is traditionally a quiet month for woodland birds and if the moorland birds know what's good for them they'll be keeping their heads down too. There is one group of birds however that are very prominent in August and that is our waders. To say our waders is probably a little misleading as many of these birds have bred elsewhere in places ranging from Greenland, Iceland or maybe closer to home in Northern Scotland. Right now most of them are beginning to migrate to their wintering grounds. For some species the journey will end on an estuary or marsh here in the UK for others we're just a stopover point to refuel before completing the next few thousand miles to Africa or further.

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