Results tagged “birds” 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

Snow Means Slow Start

By Alan Tilmouth on Jan 17, 10 09:30 PM


17 days into the year and I have barely had time to catch my breath. It has certainly been an interesting start to the year for many of our birds with the cold weather and prolonged snow cover on the ground having a huge impact. Many of our local breeding birds have long since departed south, even those that would normally be sedentary and not move have legged it down to the south coast and maybe even over into France. The result is that many of our woodlands and hedgerows are now very quiet. The remaining birds including many immigrants from Scandanavia have had a tough time, so as you may have read in Saturday's Journal I've been involved in an initiative called 'Bird Aid' bringing together three of the region's Bird Clubs in a supplementary feeding programme for Farmland Birds such as that frozen looking Skylark above.
We've had a great response from volunteers and have secured 3 tonnes of Wheat, some of which is already out feeding large flocks of Yellowhammer and Finches at sites in Northumberland & Durham.
For me personally the snow has led to a large number of unusual species making their home in my back garden for the past few weeks, we've never been busier!
From Fieldfares & Redwing tackling the local Blackbirds over our Apples to big fat Woodpigeon mingling with our very own flock (well ten) of Yellowhammer it has been a great time to watch garden birds. We also have a little flock of Brambling building up, a beautiful finch that is a winter visitor from Europe but I'll tell you more about them in my next post, for now a belated Happy New Year and keep feeding the birds.

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

Time For A Re-think?

By Alan Tilmouth on Oct 7, 09 09:26 AM


Whilst not strictly a news story about birds the implications of a new map that has been created by scientists at University of Durham will have an unquestionable impact on bird habitats in the North East and the way our conservation organisations manage them.
The 'Coastland Map' published in the Journal 'GSA Today', charts the post Ice-Age tilt of the UK and Ireland and current relative sea-level changes. According to the map, the sinking effect in the south could add between 10 and 33 percent to the projected sea-level rises caused by global warming over the next century.
However interesting and potentially policy changing data for the Northumberland & Durham coastlines indicates that our coasts are rising and will continue to rise at a rate of 0.3-0.5mm per year in coming years.
The Durham team, led by Professor Ian Shennan and funded by the Natural Environment Research Council, looked at the relationship of peat, sand and clay sediments that have been uplifted above sea-level or are now submerged below sea level. The team radio-carbon dated samples to see how sediments formed and to calculate changes in sea-levels over thousands of years.
Prof Shennan said: "The rate of uplift north of the River Tyne to Scotland increases because the ice sheets there were thicker and heavier. The action of the Ice Age on our landmass has been like squeezing a sponge which eventually regains its shape. The earth's crust has reacted over thousands of years and is continuing to react.
Now organisations such as Northumberland AONB and Northumberland Wildlife Trust who have managed projects and land on the basis of 'managed or planned managed retreat' in recent years in areas such as the Aln estuary and Druridge Bay may have to re-think their plans. Certainly it will perhaps reduce funding for any such projects as this new research is used to target funding at those areas expected to suffer most from the combined impact of sea level rises and land tilt.

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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