Sunday, 31 January 2010

Almost quiet on the West Monky Front

Snow outside, soft, warm bed inside - no competition!

As a result, we decided on a rare trawl around the local patch, following the tracks up to Murton Village and back. The snow blanket made everything look uniform, hiding any humps and hollows that add some variety to this otherwise uniform farmland landscape. 

There was a distinct difference just as soon as we stepped from the suburban birdtopia, where starlings, blue tits and house sparrows filled the air with tweeting and squabbling, into a veritable agricultural desert 

It was almost silent and there were few signs of life except for massing wood pigeons over near Earsdon and a magpie sitting in one of the few hawthorn trees that have been left in situ.

I often find this walk a little uninspiring but today its got me thinking. Some recent work on the culverted letch has left a great opportunity for some screen hedging and as soon as that thought entered my head it was obvious how much could be achieved here just by reinstating the hedgelines, filling in the gaps and giving the vista some character back. Without doubt it would also provide much more scope for birds and other forms of wildlife, especially if there was some rough grass and a little open water. Perfect for an agri-environment scheme to promote biodiversity. Not sure if this would be considered a priority though as it isn't in a key target zone. Even more worrying is the prospect that this area will probably be covered in houses before too long, like most of North Tyneside!!

Apart from a couple of crows and black headed gulls, there was really little about. A skein of 90 pink-footed geese announced their approach as they passed northwards. It always amazes me how these birds form such great formations, changing shapes every few moments almost like iron filings around a magnet. 

At Murton, the hedges around the stables were filled with house sparrows, joined by a couple of blackbirds and blue tits but nothing exceptional. The return leg, across rougher ground, offered the prospects of better fare but this was shaping up to be nothing more than a pipe dream until we approached the old farm building. Suddenly we were met with a beautiful tinkling call as a yellowhammer perched on the tip of a hawthorn tree singing away. It was joined by another and then a third before the two newcomers flew behind the building. Against the snow and in full light from the warm sun, the bird looked magnificent, its markings crisp and sharp. A fourth bird appeared on the top of the building giving me hope that this "patch" might prove worth a regular visit.

We were able to get quite close to one bird which was feeding to the rear of the building. Two large rats were present and it appeared as if the birds were utilising areas where the rats were digging. At times, they were so close that it looked as if the rodent would turn on the bird and that would be one less farmland bird to record. I have no idea if rats would take a bird like that, but cant see any reason why they would not if food was scarce.

Apart from the robin singing in the trees on the final leg of the walk, that was it! It was a great walk because of the snow but  those yellowhammers made it extra special.

Travelling up to Ash with Trish, we saw a short-eared owl on a fencepost at West Hartford and 9 grey partridge in a field near to Sheepwash. I was glad we took the long route!

Friday, 29 January 2010

Whale Meat Again

Its rare to find whales washed up on beaches but there have been two in eight months along the Northumberland Coast.

The minke whale found on Druridge Bay was not that much of a surprise as minke whales are often seen off the coast, sometimes in reasonably sized pods.

However, the Sperm Whale that was beached at Beadnell earlier this week was more of a surprise. Although not unique, they are unusual, being deep water animals more likely to be found in the Atlantic rather than in the relatively shallow waters of the North Sea. As a result, I thought it was a "must" to go and have a look myself, having seen the TV footage.

Arriving at Beadnell, it wasn't hard to find the corpse - just follow your nose - quite literally!!! After a few days ashore, together with some recent dental work from the Natural History Museum, the carcass is "maturing" and a trail of blood and tissue along the beach illustrated the gory mess created to thwart souvenir hunters. 

The smell gets worse as you approach the whale, a kind of smoky fatty smell that stays with you for some time. Certainly, many of the visitors were regretting their curiosity and perhaps the fish and chip suppers may reappear in due course

I was very sad to see such a magnificent animal in such a position. This individual is about 30 foot long and weighs, I am told, over 37 tons and its probably not fully grown. Whilst I would obviously prefer to see any animal in its natural environment, the opportunity to see a Sperm Whale is probably quite remote (although I have had a very close encounter with a Minke). 

As a result I was curious about the animal, fascinated to see the massive upper jaw, with it sharp teeth and serrated palate, the large distinctly notched flukes and the numerous deep gouges along the flanks and heads, perhaps indicitive of underwater struggles at some time during its life! 

For some reason, the penis is lying outside the genital slit - cue jokes about Moby Dick!!

Whether this individual is a stranding or a washed up corpse is uncertain. Its certainly provoked a lot of interest and with discussions underway about marine conservation zones, perhaps this was a timely occurrence? I would add that the dolphin found on Druridge Bay beach the same day, which would normally have been quite exciting, has almost been forgotten about. What it does show though, is that a wide range of cetaceans ARE found of the Northumberland Coast, we just don't notice them as often as we should.

Whilst there, I noted 2 bar-tailed godwit, 17 sanderling, a few redshank, 13 oystercatcher and 8 eider duck. A single wren shrieked from the dunes.

Driving home as night fell, I couldn't shake the images and that awful smell stayed with me for the entire trip, picking up 77 mute swans at QE2 lake on the way as the light disappeared. It was only when I got home that I realised my shoes were caked in Beadnell sand, complete with whale goo and that awful stench!

As a footnote, did this Sperm Whale have a taste for seal pups? Might that explain the headless seal pup corpses being washed up on the coast in recent weeks?

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Border Reiving

Busy day making a foray over the border to St. Boswells to finalise a longterm aerial photography study which will prove to be immensely useful. Using these images, a consultancy company has produced a vegetation map (on a GIS), which although not perfect, is very close to providing detailed vegetation information for the entire Tweed catchment. Doing that by foot would have required an army of trained surveyors and a budget similar to that required for the purchase of one whole trident missile!!!

I love the trip up over Carter Bar, the views over the hills and the journey into the hinterland between our two nations. Plus its a chance to get some Red Kola and a bridie.

No piper at Carter Bar today which encouraged me to have a quick stop to capture the magnificent views over the Cheviots and to have a little peep at Whitelee as well. There is still snow about up here and more forecast for the next few days. Birdlife on the journey had mainly been crows and pigeons, but a flock of fieldfare (50+) crossed the border in the opposite direction to me just as I got out of the car. Further on I surprised a buzzard feeding on roadkill, something I have not seen myself before.

Post meeting, another buzzard along the road to Kelso and a couple of cormorants robbing the riparian owners of a few fish were the highlights of an otherwise relatively sparse birding drive. But it was a lovely day for a trip along the Tweed and around the Cheviots.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Murder at the Moor

Last night I witnessed a murder.

In fact, I am hoping to see it again tonight on my way home.

As I passed Gosforth Park and approached West Moor, the sky filled with dark shapes moving slowly towards the roundabout and surrounding fields. At first I thought they were starlings but as I got closer I saw they were crows, hundreds of them funnelling onto the roundabout and filling the fields, trees and hedges, totally oblivious to the passing rush hour traffic.

They have been massing for a couple of days now, and I'm wondering if there's going to be a crows' court.

A 'murder' of crows is based on the persistent but fallacious folk tale that crows form tribunals to judge and punish the bad behaviour of a member of the flock. If the verdict goes against the defendant, that bird is killed (murdered) by the flock.

The basis in fact is probably that occasionally crows will kill a dying crow who doesn't belong in their territory or much more commonly feed on carcasses of dead crows. Also, both crows and ravens are associated with battlefields, medieval hospitals, execution sites and cemeteries (because they scavenged on human remains). Perhaps with such a large gathering they simply fall out with each other and a squabble turns into something more serious (bit like the Bigg Market then!).

Whatever the reason, this is a wildlife spectacular and one I feel privileged to observe, especially so close to the urban centre of Newcastle.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Boulmer Bound

After looking forward to the weekend since 8am on Monday, the rain on Saturday was a bit disheartening, threatening to limit any potential excursions. Washing the car usually leads to the gods rewarding me with a deluge but after weeks of travelling through blizzards and clarts, the trusty old volvo really needed a clean, not least to remind me of its original colour!

On this occasion, this proved to be good fortune, as the sun emerged from its hiding place before the suds had bubbled, inviting a trip out. Scooping up the bairn and wor'lass, we headed up the coast in such a hurry we forgot to eat. Coming to the rescue, the Amble chippy! On the way for the comestibles, just past Hauxley, a field full of 8o+ Curlew hove into view with a handful of Oystercatchers furrowing into the abundant mole hills around the dunes. The chippy also gave a chance for a quick scan of the harbour where we noted 32 cormorants "sunning" themselves on the sandbank, with a couple of grey seals in the harbour. The usual eiders were lurking awaiting a few chips, which gave the chance for my first new factoid of the day - apparently these birds are also known as Cuddly Ducks, because they make pillows and duvets from their feathers. Now I always thought they were known as Cuddy's Ducks, something to do with St. Cuthbert (Cuddy) but this news makes much more sense to me so has been added to the birding glossary for all of time.

A short stop at the top of the bank between Alnmouth and Longhoughton gave great views across the recently re-engineered river Aln. Having been allowed to do what it should do and flood into low lying land once the flood banks were removed as part of the 4Shores Project, the river has shaken off its shackles and is once more free and independent. Its great to see it changing  back into something more natural. Today was no exception, it looked fine, although the lack of a scope was a distinct drawback! However, the ether was filled with whistling Wigeon, over 400 clustered around the pools to the east, alongside a couple of Shelduck. After a quick viewing we headed for our main destination, Boulmer, drawn by the prospects of snow bunting or something equally sexy!

Gawd! It was cold though, with a slow but very cold breeze coming off the land. Low tide and immediately in front of the car park we were greeted by a good size group of mixed waders, feeding furiously despite the presence of four bait diggers. Dunlin, redshank and curlew were on the sand with 7 Ringed Plover feeding in the strandline. 10 Bar-tailed Godwit were vigorously piercing the sand after morsels, a nice surprise for me and first of the year. We all remarked on the effort they were putting in, presumably after the same prey that the anglers were seeking, but with much more economy and less impact upon the beach!

Walking up the beach we picked up robin, blackbird and starling, all on the kelp wrecked on the shore before the first of a number of Rock Pipit teased us with very fleeting views as it hid in and out of the scrub. I love these little birds, typical LBJ! Every movement was scrutinised in case of a shorelark or something else but sadly we dipped out totally. To be honest, this made no odds to me as the beauty of wildlife watching is being out in the countryside, especially in company. Watching the numerous oystercatcher, curlew and dunlin, together with the shelduck was delightful. A single fieldfare hopped in and out of view on the sandy cliffs before flying off in the direction of Howick. Before turning back, we had a number of eider offshore and a single scoter dragged itself onto a reef. In amongst the piled up kelp, four turnstones, turning rotted vegetation not stones, seemed happy enough to lurk (almost unseen) within a foot or two of us.

The clouds, gathering thickly, led to heavy rain as we returned to the car, with a large group of 300+ lapwing heading west across the village. The walk had been great, especially as it had been unexpected. Finally, we noted 60 odd swans in a field close to Druridge Country Park, probably Mute but as it was getting murky we pressed on without stopping.

Of course, reading others blogs will always tell you that the choice of site was wrong on any particular day but no destination is ever wrong in Northumberland as far as I am concerned. There is always something wonderful and inspiring to see.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

More flocking finches!!!!

Being lazy this past weekend, the Land of Nod scored over the prospect of trudging out in the rain at least until late Sunday, when we decided to tootle around East Cramlington in case fields were holding any flocks of birds.

They weren't!

It was the slowest birding day I can remember. In an hour and a half, we clocked up a massive 7 species!! If it wasn't for that crow on the overhead wire, I would have had more by gazing nonchalantly out of my window from the comfort of my sofa!

East Cramlington Pond was heavily frozen, although the surrounding areas were flooded, making a circular walk practically impossible. Blackbird, blue tit, robin and wren  showed themselves early on after which all went quiet. Not a dicky bird (literally) in the fields and moving into the surrounding plantation woodlands, only a few wood pigeons added to the mounting excitement. Herring Gulls flying overhead towards the coast boosted the total but that was it until the crow loomed into view at the last minute. Imagine my surprise and frustration to read about the Bewicks at Newsham, only a mile away! No doubt all the other birds had buggered off to take advantage of the grub being distributed as part of Bird Aid!

Unable to get out of the office much over last few days, I have installed some bins on my desk, just in case you understand! They are a pair of Bresser 10x50 from Aldi and are actually pretty decent! Not that there was much to see for a bit, with plenty of hard packed snow making access to the ground very difficult. Once again though, the abundant alder has served to pull in a few birds, mainly blue tits initially but during lunchtimes there have been good size parties of goldfinch (max 36) and greenfinch turning up, filling the air with their wonderful excited chatter as they roamed along the tree lined access road. These birds would brighten up the darkest of days and just now that is entirely suitable as its really miserable.

Travelling across to Weardale for a meeting at the AONB yesterday, I was amazed by just how much snow remains on the higher ground. The Pennines are clinging onto a thick blanket of the white stuff despite the thaw evidenced by the water streaming down the road. It was like white water rafting in a car!! The journey produced five separate sightings of kestrel as well as a glorious buzzard near to the A68. 

The fog this morning grew thicker towards Ponteland as we visited the High School to review their small wildlife area for a management plan. This is a nice little area of woodland and scrub which held another decent flock of finches and tits, foraging amongst the pines, alder and hawthorns. I saw a pair of bullfinch lats visit, so am keen to see it preserved and used by the school. 

During todays visit, we noted a wonderful hawthorn which is part of the old hedgeline. It is enormous!!!! Surely some grand age, perhaps part of an old boundary marker, maybe for a Parish, as it sits on a bank. This must be worth as a veteran. Next time I'll take a tape!

On returning to the office for some well earned tea, barely visible through the murk, I was greeted once again by those flocking finches, Magic!

Monday, 11 January 2010

Critical Meltdown?

Has the thaw arrived in time for some of our feathered friends and other wildlife (such as mice upon which so many depend)?

Its hard to believe how quickly the deep snow in my garden has disappeared. I'd forgotten that christmas tree was out there to be honest! Of course, its not all over and there is a fair bit of snow in some places. I noticed that alder seed was scattered widely across the car park at work, which must come as a boost for many seed eaters. And to see the beach at Cullercoats coated with snow after just two hours indoors (it was naked beforehand) is a stark reminder that the icy grip has probably just been loosened and not removed. 

Surprisingly though, there has been very little activity in the garden during this hard spell. I guess it must totally depend on where birds go and what they find. I have spent a fortune on many exotic feeders and types of food but find that the left over cheese and bits of turkey skin remain the favourite. Birds don't appear to like cranberry sauce, they appear to hate roulade, rice crackers and doritos. It was worth the experiment although this may also be why I have nowt coming in?

Highlight of the day for me was the magpie that flew backwards and forwards throughout the first staff meeting of the year, providing an alternative view and restocking my reserves of fortitude. This bird must have had a plan, but was acting totally ramdomly, flying between patches of snow.

Interesting afternoon spent in the company of a range of sea users, from anglers and fishermen, to conservationists and researchers. This was the first of a series of meetings to discuss and agree Marine Conservation Zones as part of the recently approved Marine Bill. I am sure this will be a challenge, especially with so many disperate viewpoints to satisfy but its essential that we all find a way to protect the finite marine resource upon which so much hinges - not just food stocks for us and biodiversity, but coastal defence, energy production and of course, carbon capture.

More details available at

Friday, 8 January 2010

SWANN Vista's

Never a dull moment in my job!  Well not quite true as the morning consisted of emails and project planning, budgets and other mundane stuff, although I had a sneaky walk around the park and clocked a few goldfinch, assorted tits and a robin sheltering amongst the frosty branches of the silver birches outside the front door. Rescuing a few old apple cores from the compost bin, I hope I helped a little bit!

Coming to my rescue was an afternoon trip to see Sandra Butler at Shasun in Dudley. Sandra is one of those people you cannot fail to admire, she loves her wildlife so much and has a knack of making sure other people care as much as she does! Over the last few months we have been working to bring in finances to develop a nature reserve wholly contained within the boundaries of this pharmacutical factory, a hidden oasis for wildlife. With three good sized ponds, it already attracts a decent range of birds.

Today it looked just like everywhere else - white! About a foot of snow covered the lagoons but one small area of open water held about 40 mallard, a female pochard and four mute swans, in a really small area. Sandra does a bit of supplementary feeding with donated wheat, which must help in weather such as this.

As the first of the seed was scattered, the swans dragged their bulk slowly from the icy clutches of the frozen waters, looking ungainly and unsurprisingly lethargic. They showed no interest for a bit so we moved away in case they were shy in our company. Just as we did so three of the birds suddenly took to the air in a flurry of snow. Looking spectacular against the clear blue skies, the first two slowly gained height  but the third appeared to be struggling. With a short but loud honk she crashed into deep snow a few feet away and it was clear she had been chasing the other two off!

All we could see was an orange and black beak, a smudge in the otherwise pristine snow.  I thought she was OK but realised she was stuck and unable to stand. Approaching with caution, in case of a mighty peck, I was steeling myself to pick her up and move her to safety. Thankfully, the avian adrenaline kicked in and she struggled more determindly, getting her wings over the show and suddenly gained the strength to move herself quickly over the snow, not quite taking flight but with enough momentum to reach the icy pond and relative safety. Once again it demonstrated just how wildlife is affected by these conditions, making even large birds vulnerable to predators, such as the fox whose footprints were everywhere in the snow.

As we walked back for a coffee, 10 goldfinch drifted into the tree tops and a blackbird took advantage of the easy meal from the seed bucket. Three robins took refuge in the scrub and blackberry thicket which also housed a few rabbits.

Work to alter pond depths and profiles will start soon and after this pathwork and a boardwalk will be constructed. Additional resources are required to provide a hide, which SWANN are keen to have available for wider use, including school visits. I am sure that the bird list for this site will continue to grow as more attention is focussed upon it and as a sheltered site, the birds and other wildlife will not have the same human interference that other sites may present.

Can't do nowt about the weather though!

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Brass Monkeys

In a journey surely unparallelled since Frodo took THE ring to Mordor, I made the 10 mile journey to Big Waters (in only 2 hours 15 minutes) for a BBC news film piece on birds and the wintery weather. There is a bit of snow on the roads but not really enough to cause the traffic chaos. Obviously though, most drivers are snow-blinded and unable to see things such as red traffic lights, so I suppose I will have to excuse them.

Big Waters looked lovely in the snow but on arrival there was a distinct lack of birds. No open water at all and just a few common gulls sitting on the ice, with the odd crow and rook for company. Stock doves on the wires to the north caught the eye. Tracks across the snow suggested an otter but I wasn't going to risk looking much closer!

A different matter when you get to the feeding station, which was really busy especially with blackbirds, chaffinch and robins. Great stuff and many of those birds will star in the news piece, which is all about giving the "bords" a bit of a hand by feeding them your left over cheese, rotten apples and anything else you couldn't stuff down your face during the festive season (which seems ages ago even though I have only been back at work two days).

We eventually got the filming finished and all the guys in the hide, including Alan J (who I hadn't seen for a bit) may also make a cameo! The atmosphere in there was great and I enjoyed the lively banter, reminding me again why its so good to get out and about. Wish more of my colleagues would do the same!

Highlight was to see up to 16 tree sparrow here, taking advantage of the food. I also spotted reed bunting, yellowhammer, dunnock and wren and this is obviously a boon to moorhen too as there were six as a maximum count. I missed the brambling though! Just as the crew were "shooting" the pond to illustrate the impact of the ice, a small group of 16 greylag arrived plus a pair of mallard, the only wildfowl apart from a single lapwing flyover and four tufted duck that came in, landed and took off straight away!

I couldnt believe it when I had to dig my car out of the light snow in the car park, but it was going nowhere fast. Hope everyone else got away alright!

On the way back I was surprised by an oystercatcher flying low over the car near Weetslade, an absoloutely stunning image against the background whiteness.

Apparently, according to my excited Mum, the film was aired at lunchtime (but is on the Beeb again tonight). I managed to get something in about the need for a wildfowling ban as well! Hope they dont edit that bit out!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Put down the gun (punk)

Watching Aunty Beeb last night, the images of mute swans struggling through ice brought home the realities of life for birds at this time of year (although they also reminded me of Tom’s dip into the icy Hauxley ditch).

Although I love wildlife, I am not generally known for my great sentimentality in regards to wild things as life is “raw in tooth and claw” and things die in harsh weather such as this, etc.

However, there are things that can be done to help reduce the toll and I was really pleased to notice that the canny Scots had gone for a ban on wildfowling for 14 days. This is after all, an additional and unnecessary human impact and we must all be sick of eating bird flesh at this time of year!

Now depending upon your point of view, Northumberland is better positioned to be part of Scotland really so I thought we should follow their example, especially given the number of guns I heard this weekend.

Thus a hasty but targeted email to Natural England asking what there plans are to set a good example to the rest of the UK. I don't personally hold out much hope for this enquiry but lets see what they do. Other birders can find contact details online but I couldn't possibly encourage anyone else to do the same thing!

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Let it snow!!

More snow overnight covering yesterdays melted slush and the garden feeding station is once again active, although nothing spectacular, except the Robin is back.

Much to my surprise, me laddo Tom, asks is we can go birding! Pinching myself to see if I am still asleep and finding I am, I quickly agree, get wrapped up and shoot off to pick up Trish for an unexpected trip to Hauxley. Once I left North Tyneside the roads were S***, especially around New Hartley but were OK with reasonable care. Jesus though - some other drivers make me swear! If they get any closer to my ass I will need lube!

The trip up to Hauxley wasn't too bad to be honest and we passed a field just past the Country Park which was litterally black with geese and swans. Not willing to stop, I left this until later and all the geese had all gone. However, there were 19 mute swans and a handful of curlew left behind. The road to High Hauxley seemed fine and the fields here were also busy, with over 100 Greylag to the right and a nice little group of 14 curlew to the right. As we entered the reserve, some curlew were visible in the the field to the right and it quickly became apparent that there were more than just a few. A quick scan revealed 123 (probably more), impressive total for one location!

Embarrasingly, my Volvo was unable to negotiate the hill into the reserve - I say that because someone's Nissan Micra had managed!

We spend a bit of time watching the feeders and picked up the usual birds; chaffinch, dunnock, 4 robins, blue, great and coal tits, with a single redwing and fieldfare. A maximium of 6 tree sparrows and a song thrush arrived before we noticed our lower limbs had become lifeless, so strolling onwards we made for the new hide.

Taking a quick detour to view the curlew again, I flushed a woodcock, which gave me quite a shock but was a thrill as I always seem to miss these beauties!

I have to say the new hide is a great addition to the reserve and we were rewarded with good numbers and species including 6 Goldeneye, 2 Pochard, 2 Shelduck, teal, wigeon, mallard and 6 mute swan. The closest island held 20 oystercatcher (later joined by 11 more and a nice group of 63 golden plover). A few snipe were also visible plus a single redshank, making itself known to everybody but not moving much, which is unusual.

Whilst stuffing my face with tea, biscuits and bargains choccies from the Asda sale (yum) I noted a single wader on a snow covered rock in the distance. My first reaction was grey plover. I tried to scope it with my knackered Spacemaster (must get a new one soon - it's embarrasing) and could pick out black legs, pale underside and a dark grey but not uniform body. Unfortunately it had it beak firmly tucked away. Checking out a field guide, Trish reminded me that grey plover have distinctive black armpits. "Chuck out the Arrid Extra Dry and see what happens" I quipped to much amusement just as a crow landed and the bird (plus one other that wasn't visible earlier) took fright and skipped off towards the far side of the pond, totally out of sight! So not a confirmed tick unless anyone else saw these birds at Hauxley today!

Thinking we would get a view if we moved around, we set off down the path. Welly wearers, Tom and myself had no problems, especially with the wetter bits but Trish found parts of the path hard going in walking boots. With the sun dipping and the sky turning pink, our day came to a rapid end when Tom found a ditch and took an early and very cold bath - thus requiring a rapid withdrawal to the safety of a warm fire and cuppa. A bonus kestrel almost made up for the awful road conditions on the return journey, proof indeed of the minus 2 temperature outside (!). Brilliant day for us all with a decent list of 35 species in just a couple of excellent and enjoyable hours.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Hello 2010

Woke to deep snow and a garden full of spuggies and starlings, with Herring Gulls scrapping for the leftover loaf deposited last night as an afterthought. A sparrowhawk went over pursuing a small flock of fieldfare, the first I have seen in Monkseaton.

Eventually, despite my better judgement, Trish and I got moving to check out the office and make our way out for a New Year Gawk. The roads were pretty clear so we decided to drop in at Prestwick Carr in the hope of seeing Short Eared Owls (well it was really late when we got up). The turn into PC was snowy but looked ok so down we went. Mistake!

At least 5 inches of snow along the wibbly wobbly road guaranteed some fun, but the drifts were deceptive and we immediately got stuck, unable to move forward or back. Luckily a carload of folks in a 4x4 came to the rescue and allowed us to get to the birding.

Two kestrels were the first sightings, with a good number of fieldfare still around, scrounging berries from the hedgerows. Large numbers of blue and great tit drifted through the hawthorns and robins seemed to be everywhere. We also noted that wrens were very active all along the lane. Two stonechat caught my eye feeding in a area cleared of snow, a nice find so early on.

The vista was stunning. The Carr looked resplendant in its winter clothing and reminded me of how fantastic this area can be. As the light dimmed towards the end of the day, I spotted an owl in a bush close to the small caravan. I was overjoyed, as Short Eared Owl was the object of the visit, but I was more pleased when this proved to be a Long Eared Owl instead! It sat for nearly an hour in full view, so we were able to return to the car for a scope just to confirm the sighting. Both of us were totally made up to see such a wonderful bird and even better it took to the wing as soon as a crow alighted in the bush. After a few turns around the rushy ground, it moved out of view and we failed to pick it up again.

Although no other owls were seen(we had verbal reports of Barn Owl from a local), this made the trip well worth while. Deciding to leave, the final bonus was a beautiful roe deer trudging nonchalantly through the drifting snow. Despite the growing snow, we both had a lovely glow inside, amply rewarded for the effort.