Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Northumberland Coast...

On Monday 25th I headed over the east coast for a days birding with Guy. The winds were still strong and from the east. I had not covered the east side too much with just a few visits with my friend Gary a few years back so looking forward to working some new grounds. We had heard reports of large number of Auks blown inland with the majority not surviving so there was disturbing scenes throughout the day.

Our first site was the freshwater body of Cresswell ponds where we got a pair of Long-tailed Duck and a few Gadwell. We checked Druridge Bay where we seen our first Auk casualties with 2 Puffins, a Razorbill and 2 Guillemots in a small area.  


Puffin on Druridge Bay...

Dead Gannet on Newbiggin...

Razorbill...

We headed north to Amble to check the harbour and surrounding area for species brought in with the wind. Just Eiders seen as we didn't hang about at the pier as it was very exposed and brutal!  
We had lunch in the tern hide at Hauxley as we watched Wigeon numbers build up. A single Little Grebe and a pair of Gadwell. Greylag and Canada Geese overhead.


Drake Gadwell...

We moved onto Newbiggin-by-the-sea which provided some good activity with two adult Med Gulls showing and a few exhausted Puffins in the bay. Sanderling, Dunlin, Ringed Plover, Turnstones and Redshank on the exposed shoreline. Oystercatchers and Eider using the wave breaker to good effect. A dead Gannet and Razorbill also seen as we moved on south.


Med Gull in Big Seas...

Med Gull sat with a Black-head

Eiders sheltering behind wave breakers...

Eiders and Oystercatchers taking refuge...

Oyks...

I read on my phone about Snowbunting been seen at Blyth but could not get a pinpoint location so we carried on south to St Marys. 5 Common Scoter and Eiders close in. Purple Sandpipers and Turnstone showing well for the camera. At least 4 Little Gulls seen as I enjoyed my best views of the bird. Seeing them next to Black backs really does do their name justice. 


Little Gull at St Marys...

Beautiful underwings...
Purple Sandpipers...


St Marys...




A good finish to the day and a very enjoyable time on the east coast battling some brutal conditions to see some lovely locations and great birds.


Saturday, 23 March 2013

Kitty the Toon

Article from Focusing on Wildlife ... http://focusingonwildlife.com/news/kitty-the-toon/

A Brand new series of children's books will be released in the UK in the coming years to help inspire the next generation about British wildlife. The first book is a story about Kittiwakes in the North-East of England which have colonised the city of Newcastle during the breeding season and have become the first inland colony in the world.

Fantastic illustrations by Barry Robson...   


Adult Kittiwakes flying over the Tyne Bridge

Newcastle is famous for its passion for football and the story is very clever with a newly fledged Kittiwake called 'Kitty' in traditional striped juvenile plumage who uses the black and white surroundings of the football supporters as a defensive/survival technique to avoid predation from another iconic bird of the north-east: the Red Kite. 
   


Newly fledged Kitty with football fans watching 

There is a lot of information provided about the breeding cycle of a Kittiwake and also of local landmarks of the great city. People of all ages can enjoy and learn from it. The author John Miles wants to improve awareness in the city so that the natives understand and appreciate this unique spectacle they have got. He also wants to create a legacy for people to point out the birds in the future and say "Look there's Kitty!"      



Kitty at the pitch-side

Forthcoming titles include:

"Screamer the Swift"
"Horus the Peregrine"
"Mavis the Song Thrush"
"Tony the Tawny Owl"

"Kitty the Toon" can be purchased here: 


http://www.amazon.co.uk/Kitty-Toon-Worlds-Inland-Colony/dp/1904078532/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1363977245&sr=8-1

http://www.waterstones.com/waterstonesweb/products/john+miles/barry+robson/kitty+the+toon/9509942/

http://www.langford-press.co.uk/Kitty%20the%20Toon.htm

Friday, 22 March 2013

Spring into action...

The Gdale uplands are starting to pick up with activity with the call of the Curlew heard on our moors again and a small number of Lapwing seen heading up the valley. Brown Hares are active at dusk and a few Meadow Pipits seen lower down. A number of owl species are beginning to be more active as night time hours decrease and the breeding season looms. 6 Whopper swans were seen above the valley heading north and also 60 plus Fieldfare and 30 odd Redwing. 3 Black Grouse (Grey Hens) flushed by a female Peregrine was another highlight. 

Real life vermin turning their backs on our wildlife again...
http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2013/03/18/government-misses-chance-to-turn-up-the-heat-on-wildlife-criminals/
 
No point teaching the kids about the 4.5 billion year natural history of earth and that the environment is vital for life on the planet, lets just teach them about business, greed and money instead. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/9937464/Young-primary-school-pupils-will-no-longer-learn-about-caring-for-environment.html

Another day another domestic dog bite, but a made up one off urban fox attack creates call for a cull... http://www.newsandstar.co.uk/news/cumbrian-man-banned-from-keeping-dogs-after-boy-bitten-1.1043300?referrerPath=home 



The famous Gdale Ash at night this time...look out for the andomeda galaxy top left of tree

A clear sky on the Thursday so headed up the valley with Jono And Ash to do some stargazing and a bit of photography. Quiet on the wildlfie front with just Tawny Owls calling. A few shooting stars and enjoyed views of the Andromeda galaxy showing well to the north. 

 
The Cairns at night...stunning sky

On the Saturday I met Danny at Hexham station and it we moved onto spend a half day at the Falconary Days bird of Prey centre in Kielder. It was great to experience some iconic raptor and Owl species close up and do a bit of handling. Thanks very much to Rachel for the opportunity and read her excellent blog here...
http://wildreviews.wordpress.com/

On the way back west Danny and took some back roads covering some upland sites and got rewarded with a Short-eared Owl working the rough grass. Also a brief glimpse of a Tawny Owl moving from one Scots pine to another. Clear skies after dusk and Aurora winds on the way so headed out to try but we were too early for the cme to hit. He got a screeching Barn Owl as a nice back-up. Also roding Woodcock. 

The next day we decided to cover a stretch of the near by River Irthing. Dippers and Grey wag were seen and also a female Sparrowhawk finding height overhead. Some good sites for Little Owls but no birds seen. Curlew and Oystercatchers feeding in the flooded fields. Buzzards pairing up nearby and signs of Otters on the river banking's. A group of 15 Meadow Pipits seen feeding as well. I dropped Danny off at the station as he headed back to Darlo...great to see you again lad...cheers! 


Full frame photo collection from Falconry days...




Look at that stunner...


Common Buzzard calling...


GG Owl...


Male Barn owl...


Tawny...


Female Snowy Owl...



Myself with GG Owl...

Thanks for looking...Trying to make the most out of my beloved Cumbria before another migration north to the isle of Mull for the next 7 months.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

My Cumberland News Article...

I was asked to be interviewed for an article in the Cumberland News after doing one regarding a Cumbrian Aurora display last spring. The focus was on my experiences with wildlife in Cumbria and also with my work up on Mull. From my experiences the majority of people take some interest in the natural world and what a great subject for the Cumberland News.

The first thing that stands out is the irrelevant main headline...'Im not looking for love, nature is everything to me'...wtf. I dont know the reasoning behind the decision by the title editor? Was it because I slagged off the tv show 'The only way is Essex' in the write-up and the editor is a fanatic of the show? Did he dislike birds of prey or wildlife in general? Or maybe he was on a poor run of form on Solitaire or Minesweeper in his office and had the grumpies? Or does he just hate his life?...who knows...he wont read this...and if he does oh well it will help my blog traffic so cheers for that!
I was trying to fob off the question on romance and love because lets be honest no one wants to read about that crap, its everywhere...back fired a bit as it ended up been the main title wahay!
It could of been worse...Just think what would the Daily Mail have said about me!?...probably something to do with a cull...that meteorite not struck yet eh?

Anyway the interview and content itself was done by reporter Roger Lytollis and was a fantastic write-up. A good balance of a bit of everything from Mull, SLS to Cumbria. I wont go through everything just buy the paper its 90p, out all week...or you could just click on the print screen below, download it and zoom in.

Just to correct a couple of things...Snakes in the snow was mentioned and obviously I wasn't looking for them in solid snow but the week before during the high pressure spell. 
Also when I was moaning about people watching TV I didn't mean in general I meant those young personalities which would be watching desperate z-list celebs on one channel when a natural history show could be on the other channel showing killer whales mugging a grey whale.
When it mentioned my friends preferring to do other things (Ibiza) that is not entirely true, a lot of my friends come out with me in the field doing different things from walking, wildlife watching to photography. Some of my friends have visited me on Mull as well. At the end it mentioned Icelands Orca and Killer whales when I said Aurora and Killer whales but I was probably mumbling as usual and it sounded like Orca. 

Sea Life Surveys got good publicity from it as well as the paper is sold all week and all around the region. The whole article was good for my profile thanks Roger and well done on a great Piece.   

 

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Knobble the Minke Whale

The whale watch operator Sea Life Surveys based on Mull has been covering areas of Hebridean waters since 1982 with the main focus being minke whales which arrive in the summer season to take advantage of the abundant food supplies. Part of Sea Life Surveys' work, along with taking groups out to experience the fantastic marine life, is research and photo identification work of minke whales by taking pictures of their back and dorsal fins which tend to have unique shapes, markings and nicks. This can help build a picture of individual behaviour and movements of the very much under-researched northern minke whale.

In 2002 a whale, encountered and photographed, was easy to distinguish because of its triangular shaped fin with a 'knobble' on top. There was only going to be one name for this newly-identified whale.
For the next eleven years" Knobble" would be recorded every season, apart from 2005, and generally seen in the same traditional feeding grounds. This was evidence of the whales being site-faithful every year after a potential migration of thousands of miles." Knobble" was a very sociable/inquisitive whale as cetaceans can be in general. He/she would quite often approach the Sea Life Surveys' vessel, giving everyone on board a great view.
In the 2013 season with Sea Life Surveys, Knobble was encountered 12 times from May to August and the most frequently sighted whale again. We got to the stage where his/her name would be mentioned constantly, even more so than orcas. Myself and fellow guides Ruth and Rabs got so aware of Knobble's dorsal fin shape that when he/she surfaced close enough, we could recognise it with the naked eye and immediately shout..."Knobble!"

The story of Knobble was further enhanced when he/she made the national papers about a return to local waters for an 11th year. A good write up was published in the Scotsman, Daily Record and the Press & Journal.


From my experience there is a lack of awareness that great whales are consistently seen in British waters and I think the story of Knobble can help promote this as well as be used as an example of the research undertaken. Its also a great inspirational story for children to capture their imaginations and bring out their wild sides to spark a lifetimes love of nature. You never know we might see a Knobble children's book in the future, based on true events!

Migration is one of the big fascinations with the natural world and know one knows the movements of British Minke whales in the winter months. Some could stay in waters nearby, others could head south to warmer waters or maybe north in range of whaling vessels in Icelandic / Norwegian seas. What we do know is that the same whales arrive back at their preferred feeding grounds as just is the case with many migratory species around the planet. It creates huge reward and fascination when a ringed / tagged Swallow arrives back to your garden from Africa to the same nest site as the previous year but when you can identify a nine/ten metre illusive wild whale doing this it is pretty special...or should I say Special K...nature at its best!

Monday, 18 March 2013

March / Snow Photography...

Great news regarding research on British basking sharks movements as the tagging program is to be extended for this year as well with Sea Life Surveys involved. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-highlands-islands-21768556

One of my best mates Gary has just created his facebook photography page and the lad has to be one of the top young naturalists around and has taught me so much in general and almost everything I know about photography, his page is sure to have some stunning captures on starting with his one of Comet PanSTARRS showing this month. http://www.facebook.com/pages/Gary-Storey-Photography/349454528498225

Here is my Focusing on Wildlife author page where you can read all my past articles. A few fresh ones in the making that will be live in the coming weeks. http://focusingonwildlife.com/news/author/EwMilo_GWW02/

Mothers day on the 10th so where better than a trip north over the border to D&G with Parents and dogs. The destination was Threave and the surrounding area. we started with the Red Kites as it was around feeding time for them and enjoyed some great views and it was great to see large numbers there watching the birds again. That was more rewarding than seeing the birds them selves that day.
We moved onto Threave it self to check the gardens first and then have a walk around the river Dee. A count of 12 Roe Deer in the fields with just one buck included. The surrounding area was as stunning as ever with the beautiful stretch of river and the castle as well. Duck on the river included Teal, Mallard, Goosander, Goldeneye and also a couple of Little Grebes. Over a hundred Lapwings and a few thousand Pinkies seen and another couple of distant Red Kites. No sign of Blue Winged Teal. 

Great trip out...Happy Mothers day to my simply incredible Mam!! 

Plenty of snow / landscape photography further down...click on photo for larger scale

The value attached to birds of prey...


Beautiful...


Kite central!

A rich covering of snow arrived on Gdale as the sun broke through I headed out with my camera as opportunities were endless. After speaking to a local land owner he asked me to photograph his Exmoor Ponies and he would buy some prints off me and as there was four new born foals there as well today would be a good chance to get some shots. Here is a couple below...


Mother and two foals...


A covering of snow made for very photogenic conditions


The Gelt...


Hang fire amphibians! give it a few days...


The famous Gdale Ash...


Do you Cairn where this is??

A nice number of Red Grouse grouping in the snow and 30 odd Redwing overhead. A single Raven heading up the valley as we see there numbers dropping and dropping as the crow traps do their job. A small number of Meadow Pipits in flight and a flock of Bullfinch as well. I steaked it out for Dippers on the river but no sign as I just did some landscapes at dusk when the sun dropped.


High Hynam....Gelt


A tad cold for swimming today!


lovely...

Bring on the wall...

Dusk on the Gelt...

Thanks for looking...remember...http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/46473

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The local stomping grounds...

Have a look at some of the comments on this page...I thought it was a comedy site at first but apparently there actually been serious...Predators are a key sign to an all round healthy ecosystem...simple science...full stop
http://songbirds-slaughter.org.uk/

Vital petition for the good fighting the evil...if it was a film we would probably win but reality is very different...keep on fighting.
http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/46473

Possible Deer cull?...A few hundred years back the British countryside would have had a good balance with the top predators Wolf and Lynx controlling Deer stocks whos grazing pressure has a huge impact on regeneration of wild areas. Humans removed those predators making them extinct in Britain therefore creating unbalance which needs to be counteracted for conservation reasons. 
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-21688447

Staying local last week to cover a few sites as the weather deteriorated with the winds getting up with strong easterly's generating speed hurling through the valley. I found shelter from the wind down at the river Gelt photographing Dippers and observing their general behavior at this time of year. I am keen to build a portfolio of the species this season which I will attempt to continue back up on Mull.

Here is a couple more shots of Garys from the week previous. View his photography page here http://500px.com/GaryStorey



My house under the stars...great photo by Gary Storey
Myself with a shooting star far left and a satellite more central...

A small number of Adders found on the fell side in the early season. A nice close up here but I was using a borrowed 500mm lens so no chance of a strike thankfully. Again a species which I will attempt to concentrate more on as the season unfolds. 



Female Adder showing her stunning markings, eye and arrow shaped head

Grey Wag on the Gelt...

Dipper...


While waiting for Dippers I took a few shots of the fast flowing Gelt in low light...
Did an annual nest box check down in the wood with Dad making sure they were all in a fit state and cleaned out ready for the breeding season. Mainly Tit nests and a couple of Pied-Flys in the boxes we checked. Two Buzzard nests down from falling trees with a couple more looking in good shape. One box had see-come to Woodpecker damage. 

A lot of the boxes had been made by prisoners at the Durham jail and Dad suggested a genius idea to let the prisoners roam the woods to see what good they did by building the boxes...as the striped convicts disappear into the wilderness never to be seen again. If you see a black and white animal in the woods remember it might not be a Badger it could be an escaped prisoner checking on his boxes.

I asked dad if the term doing a bit of bird came from building nest boxes in prison...not a bad shout...anyone know the answer?

We covered about 15-20 boxes before heading for home as we came across a dead Badger which was clean of evidence. We came across a fence and there was a stile about 10 yards away and instead of using it dad decided to use his hammer to dismantle the fence by pulling the post nails out and stepping over it...he failed in his attempt and used the style anyway. A good experience and learned a lot from dad...wildlife related not the other nonsense that he was spouting out! 


Looks like the work of a Woodpecker opening up the entrance hole...



Dead Badger in the wood...clean with no clues to death


Thanks for looking...I will soon be back on Mull working as a guide for Sea Life Surveys doing boat excursions around the rich Hebridean waters...If you want to book a trip or are interested here is the web site http://sealifesurveys.com/

Cheers