Durham Bird Club's Castle Lake Nature Reserve

Saturday, 31 December 2011

2011 - A Birding Year To Remember

Well that's another year gone but what a great one it was for birds around Bishop Middleham, by my reckoning at least 151 different species were recorded of which I managed to connect with 136. There were also some very important breeding records.
I hope, in future blog posts, to expand in detail on some of the more memorable birds that have graced the area in 2011.
As a taster here's a list of just some of those birds that have grabbed my attention during the last 12 months.

Whooper Swan, Bewick's Swan, White-fronted Goose, Bean Goose, Pink-footed Goose, Barnacle Goose, Pintail, Garganey, Scaup, Goosander, Ruddy Duck, Quail, Black-necked Grebe, Gannet, Bittern, Little Egret, Spoonbill, Osprey, Red Kite, Marsh Harrier, Hen Harrier, Rough-legged Buzzard, Hobby, Peregrine, Water Rail, Little Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Knot, Curlew Sandpiper, Temminck's Stint, Wood Sandpiper, Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Woodcock, Ruff, Pectoral Sandpiper, Mediterranean Gull, Common Tern, Arctic Tern, Black Tern, Cuckoo, Long-eared Owl, Short-eared Owl, Little Owl, Kingfisher, Green Woodpecker, Yellow Wagtail, Blue-headed Wagtail, Redstart, Wheatear, Whinchat, Grasshopper Warbler, Spotted Flycatcher, Great Grey Shrike, Brambling, Crossbill and Corn Bunting.

Phew! What a great list and after careful consideration my bird of the year for 2011 was the Rough-legged Buzzard, a species I might have to wait years before I see one again.

Many thanks to everyone who's read the blog during the year and I especially want to say thank you to all the birders who have contributed to it.
All The Best For 2012.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

Bits 'n Pieces

A few observations from todays long walk around the patch.

Shelduck  Two pair already back on Castle Lake (wasn't expecting them until early February)

Pintail   A pair on Castle Lake

Roe Deer  Single at Low Hardwick this morning (pictured below)

Geese sp   44 went over high north-west late morning

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Masters Of All They Surveyed

Castle Lake still 95% frozen this afternoon but a thaw is forecast in the next few days. Birds on the only ice-free area included 112 Wigeon, 2 Gadwall, 45 Mallard, 31 Teal, 3 Tufted Duck and 5 Coot.
Various numbers of gulls coming and going with around 100 Common Gull present as the light started to fade.
Others on the periphery were Grey Heron, Kestrel, 7 Curlew and 3 Redshank.
Mid-afternoon produced 2 Short-eared Owl hunting around the lake including one again coming very close to the hide.

Birding for me has always been a relaxing and therapeutic experience and watching these charismatic birds go about their business just enhances those feelings. At least four more were becoming active over Low Hardwick by the time dusk was setting in.

Monday, 12 December 2011

More Of The Same Please

Couldn't resist another attempt at photographing the long staying immature Hen Harrier and the superb Short-eared Owl's this afternoon, results were pretty mixed as usual.
Hen Harrier hunting near Alan's Pool.

Over at Low Hardwick the Short-eared Owl's were once again very obliging, shame the light wasn't.

The only thing missing is the moon in the background.

The Tundra Bean Goose was still present alongside 2 European White-fronted Geese and 60 Greylag Geese though they were all a bit too far away for a picture.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Speed King

Witnessed not one but two awesome displays from the Castle Lake hide this afternoon.
Firstly a Short-eared Owl hunted the rough grass below and to the right of the hide, occasionally dropping down to the ground though it didn't appear to catch anything.

On the second of its two trips across the lake the SEO put up the 600 strong Golden Plover flock and a male Peregrine was quick to take advantage catching one in-flight but then dropped its prey into the water. After a short break to assess the situation (pictured below) it eventually successfully retrieved its prey with a display of brute force and flew off to the south carrying its booty.

Other birds of note on this visit were a Little Egret (very rare at this time of year) and the wintering Green Sandpiper. Over at Low Hardwick were the immature Hen Harrier and 5 Short-eared Owl.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Sunday 4th December 2011

Sightings today with thanks to John Olley and Alan Jones.

Castle Lake;
1000 Golden Plover and 1000 Lapwing. 12 Curlew, 8 Redshank, Little Egret, 200 Wigeon, 250 Teal, 6 Shoveler, 3 Great Black Back Gulls, 3 Grey Heron, 2 Kestrel and male Sparrowhawk.

Low Hardwick;
Hen Harrier, 9 Short Eared Owls, Buzzard, 4 Kestrel, 2 Sparrowhawk, 30 Stock Dove and 400 Starling.

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Bean A Long Time Coming

Birdguides yesterday reported a Tundra Bean Goose at Low Hardwick so I ventured down this afternoon as I still needed Bean Goose for my BM list having missed the last one (a Taiga) last year.
On arrival most of the Geese were on the pond located on the southern part of the A1 flashes and difficult to see but fortunately after a short while they all gradually flew into a nearby field allowing much better views and after a few sweeps through the Greylag flock the TBG gave itself up alongside 2 White-fronted Geese.
Tundra Bean Goose on the left.
Also at Low Hardwick were a Common Buzzard, 2 Kestrel and a staggering c1000 Golden Plover.

Birds of note on Castle Lake included 7 Redshank, a Green Sandpiper and this drake Goosander.

BM Year Tick #136 Tundra Bean Goose (BM Patch Tick #149)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Tuesday 22nd November 2011

Sightings today with thanks to John Olley.

Castle Lake;
38 Snipe, 700 Golden Plover, 900 Lapwing, 250 Teal, 100 Wigeon, 4 Redshank, 2 Whooper Swans flew off south, 2 Scaup, Pintail.

Low Hardwick;
4 Short Eared Owls and Buzzard.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Owl Parliament

Castle Lake late morning/early afternoon produced 2 Whooper Swan, female Pintail, 2 female Scaup, and a Green Sandpiper with the 13 White-fronted Geese still on the A1 flashes.

Today's Whooper's and Pintail.

Over at Low Hardwick I was treated to a fabulous display from at least 5 Short-eared Owl.

There was also some discord between a SEO and a Kestrel (below) as well as with each other.
A fantastic privilege to witness these magnificent birds.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Pale Face

Finally added Short-eared Owl to my BM list today and in some style with six together over Low Hardwick this afternoon. One even ventured up to Castle Lake and hunted (and caught prey) around the south-east corner, allowing Tony and myself superb views from the opposite bank.
Earlier in the day Joe had a fantastic eight SEO.
Short-eared Owl has been a bit of a bogey bird for me since I started birding with very few sightings anywhere so today provided by far my best ever views.
Also over Low Hardwick was the long-staying immature Hen Harrier, whilst the 13 Eurasian White-fronted Geese where still on the A1 flashes.

Year tick #135 Short-eared Owl  (Patch tick #148)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Some You Win...

...and some you lose. You would have though that sitting in a hide overlooking a lake is the ideal place for a birder to be, but not this morning when BC entered the hide and asked if I'd seen the two Bewick's Swan that went over (behind the hide) five minutes earlier. Doh!!
Nevermind there's always a next time, isn't there? Still a good selection on offer around Castle Lake today including the following;
5 Pink-footed Geese went over south with about 50 Greylag's mid-morning, 13 Eurasion White-fronted Geese still on the A1 Flashes (two much improved on yesterday pictures);

Goldeneye, female Goosander, 11 Grey Partridge (3 pictured below);

Common Buzzard, ringtail/immature Hen Harrier still hunting over Low Hardwick, 300 Golden Plover, Dunlin and Green Sandpiper,

Sunday, 13 November 2011

Lucky 13

Down to Castle Lake at first light this morning (not that there was much light at all today) hoping to see if any interesting geese were about but after an hour in the hide only 25 Canada's and a single Greylag were seen.
Highlight was this female Scaup.

Walked down to the A1 flashes and thankfully 13 of the original 16 Eurasian White-fronted Geese were still present, my first at Bishop Middleham.

A combination of distance and the shocking light meant even a record picture was difficult.

Yearlist update;
#133 Rough-legged Buzzard (Patch tick #146)
#134 White-fronted Geese (Patch tick #147)

Friday, 11 November 2011

Friday 11th November 2011

Birdguides reporting 16 White-fronted Geese on Castle Lake this afternoon.

Monday, 7 November 2011

Monday 7th November 2011

Sightings in the Castle Lake and Low Hardwick area today courtesy of Dave Makinson, Mark Tyreman, Colin Walker and myself.

50 Wigeon, 5 Shoveler, f Goldeneye, 11 Grey Partridge, Common Buzzard, Hen Harrier again over Low Hardwick briefly in the morning then for ten minutes in the afternoon, 2 Peregrine over together, 100 Golden Plover over, 2 Dunlin, 7 Snipe, 4 Redshank, Green Sandpiper, GBb Gull, GS Woodpecker, Skylark over, 3 Meadow Pipit over, 45 Fieldfare, 7 Mistle Thrush, 20 Redwing, 3 Willow Tit.
Todays Dunlin in very poor light mid-afternoon.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Sunday 6th November 2011

Sightings today from John Olley and myself.

Castle Lake;
f Pintail, f Goldeneye, 2 Grey Partridge, 5 Grey Heron, ringtail Hen Harrier again hunting over Low Hardwick, 2 Sparrowhawk, 5+ Kestrel, 3 Snipe, 10 Curlew, 4 Redshank, 2 Green Sandpiper, 3 GBb Gull, Kingfisher on River Stell, 2 Mistle Thrush. 
Short-eared Owl was reported in the area yesterday.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Friday 4th November 2011

Many thanks to John Olley for todays sightings.

Castle Lake and A1 Flashes;
740 Golden Plover, 400 Lapwing, 2 Ruff, Redshank, 10 Curlew, Goldeneye, 6 Shoveler, 2 Sparrowhawk, 4 Kestrel, 500 Common Gull, 400 Black Headed Gulls, 4 Lesser Redpoll and 6 Crossbill over.

Monday, 31 October 2011

Halloween Harrier

The Bishop Middleham and Low Hardwick area is certainly enjoying an excellent few weeks for birds of prey with another ringtail Hen Harrier sighting today, though it looks like the Rough-legged Buzzard may have moved on.

Hen Harrier hunting the Alan's Pool area, before heading over to Low Hardwick.

Flock of about 150 Goldfinch were feeding in set-aside on Island Farm.

One of only two Common Buzzard seen today over Low Hardwick, both birds seen hovering occaisionally, maybe they've learnt it from the Rough-legged.

Low Hardwick also produced a good selection of other stuff including 4 Mute Swan, 8 Wigeon over onto the A1 flashes, 2 Grey Heron, Sparrowhawk, 4 Kestrel, Great Spotted Woodpecker, 80 Fieldfare, 2 Mistle Thrush, 4 Redwing, Goldcrest, Willow Tit, 3 Jay, 12 Bullfinch together and small numbers of Siskin and Lesser Redpoll.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Saturday 29th October 2011

Sightings today at Castle Lake from John Olley and Birdguides.

Green Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, 4 Redshank, Ruff, 2 Little Egret and a ringtail Hen Harrier.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Tuesday 25th October 2011

Managed second helpings of the Rough-legged Buzzard this afternoon, only ten minutes worth but the views of the bird hunting again over Low Hardwick were superb, truly a magnificent sight.
A JCB was operating near the moto-x track but this didn't deter the Rlb, in fact it seemed to benefit from the disturbance created by the digger and picked off some prey very close to it.
Castle Lake held the now usual suspects including the juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper present for its 8th day.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Rough-legged Beauty

Bishop Middleham keeps delivering some great birds, this morning a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard was confirmed over Low Hardwick and may have been the bird I saw last Thursday but naively assumed it was a Common, lesson learnt. Thanks to John Olley for clinching the i.d. and for putting me onto the bird this morning.
It continued to show from the raptor view point or Castle Lake hide as its more commonly known during the afternoon, hunting over the rough ground near the moto-x, frequently hovering, and as is to be expected, mobbed by Crows and occasionally by Common Buzzard.
This is the first ever sighting of Rough-legged Buzzard in the Bishop Middleham area and is an excellent record given the species preference for more upland areas.
I was never going to get a decent photo, if you use your imagination and squint a bit you might be able to make out the white tail with its dark trailing band. Seen here hovering into the moderate south-easterly wind.
Interesting to observe how it would not only hover low down in Kestrel fashion but also at greater heights as well. At one stage it looked like it was leaving the area when it drifted over the A1M west of the hide but twenty minutes later it was back over Low Hardwick.

Other birds at Castle Lake included the juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper, 1 Ruff, 1 Green Sandpiper, 3 Redshank, 3 Dunlin, 117 Common Gull and a Great Crested Grebe.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Another Argentatus Variation

Spotted this argentatus Herring Gull at Castle Lake today;
It ticked most of the boxes for a typical argentatus except the mantle shade was certainly one of the darkest I've seen and the legs which were a very pale pink colour.
Another gull of interest was this adult Mediterranean Gull

The juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper was still present for its fifth day 

Others included 1 Ruff, 1 Green Sandpiper, 3 Snipe, 3 Redshank, 17 Curlew, 1 Little Egret and 2 Common Buzzard.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

66 Species Today

At the start of the week the weather forecasters suggested Thurdsay would be the best day of the week and so it proved. The day dawned sunny but cold with ground frost in a few sheltered spots but at least the winds from the last few days had eased.
Today I started with a quick look in at the Castle Lake hide then walked past the flashes, along the embankment to Alan's Pool, around Low Hardwick to Hardwick Hall CP and back again, then along the bridleway to Fishburn Lake, through Island Farm and finished with another look from the hide, noting 66 species along the way with the following of note;

Mute Swan The Alan's Pool family have moved to the Moto-x pools but appear to have lost a cygnet with only two seen today. No sign of the Fishburn Lake family.
Wigeon At least 54 on Castle Lake and a very tame pair on Hardwick Hall Lake.
Pochard 2 drakes on Hardwick Hall Lake.
Grey Partridge A covey of 11 at Island Farm.
Little Grebe Strangely the only birds seen were 2 on Alan's Pool.
Cormorant 8 on Castle Lake early morning, my highest count this year.
Little Egret still 2 at Fishburn Lake.
Common Buzzard Numerous sightings throughout the area but the most interesting was one seen from the hide in the direction of Fishburn Lake which had very pale underparts and was hovering and hanging in the air with consummate ease, I passed it off as Common but found out later that a few Rough-legged Buzzards have turned up around the country today so I regret not looking closer at the other features.
Sparrowhawk A female over Low Hardwick and a juvenile at Alan's Pool.
Kestrel Everywhere!
Ruff Reported on Castle Lake but not seen by me.
Pectoral Sandpiper Good views of it feeding, bathing and preening next to the Green Sandpiper at the northern end of Castle Lake, later it flew onto one of the Islands.
Green Sandpiper Seems settled in for the winter, favouring the northern end of Castle Lake.
Great Black-backed Gull An adult on Castle Lake.
Stock Dove 14 in the ploughed field behind the hide.
Green Woodpecker Good views of an adult at Low Hardwick.
Fieldfare Various flocks totalling over 150 heading south-west over Low Hardwick.
Chiffchaff A late individual feeding on its own at Low Hardwick.
Goldcrest 2 seperate sightings at Low Hardwick.
Willow Tit Birds heard at two seperate areas.
Treecreeper 1 with a Coal Tit and a Long-tailed Tit flock at Low Hardwick.
Jay 3 together near the golf course behind Fishburn Lake.
Tree Sparrow mixed flock of c.40 also containing Yellowhammer and Reed Bunting near the moto-x pools.
Goldfinch Flock of c70 in set-aside at Island Farm.

No shows ( for me) today included Canada Goose, Ruff, Wheatear (!) and Mistle Thrush.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

PecSand Still

The juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper was still at Castle Lake this afternoon albeit a little bit further away from the hide than yesterday, fortunately the bulk of the Lapwing flock have been absent for the last two days so it is feeding in relative peace.
Pretty much a similar selection as Tuesday, 1 each of Ruff and Green Sandpiper, Redshank upto 3, a Little Egret flying towards Fishburn Lake, 4 Common Buzzard up together over Low Hardwick with 2 Kestrel and a third nearby and finally yet another in the seemingly endless migration of Wheatear.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Two Cracking Year Ticks!

Didn't feel too optimistic about seeing anything special today, yet more windy weather and on arrival at Castle Lake Northumbria Water were performing some maintainance on the sewage works so things wern't looking good however every cloud has a silver lining and once again perseverance and luck turned the day into one to remember.
Great to catch-up with Joe Hughes again but as we chatted the birds were proving rather hard to get, an hour or so produced 5 Cormorant, 1 Ruff, 1 Snipe, 52 Curlew (the most for quite some time), 2 Redshank and a Green Sandpiper but most of the wildfowl were tucked-up in various corners keeping out of the wind.
We headed off to check the flashes, another 15 Curlew, 2 Kestrel, 1 Buzzard and 20 Fieldfare were noted and then onwards to Alan's Pool.
As soon as we walked into view of the pool we were treated to fabulous views of a female Hen Harrier quartering the eastern edge of the pool and the field just to the east. (I'd earlier mentioned to Joe that it was almost exactly a year ago when I saw a HH in this area). We watched as it caught a small bird in flight then dropped into the long grass presumably it eat its prey. After a twenty minute wait with no further sightings Joe set off home but I stayed and after another wait it showed again but only briefly and I lost it while fumbling with the camera. Unfortunately I didn't manage any pictures.
Other birds in the Alan's Pool area included 3 Gadwall, 1 Grey Heron, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Kestrel and 11 overflying Stock Dove.

I received a text from Joe to say there was a Wheatear behind the hide so with a shower looming on the horizon I decided to head back and take refuge from the weather.
Sure enough the Wheatear duly obliged and I was soon joined in the hide by DBC members Brian Luke and Vic Codling making their first visit to Castle Lake. After some introductions and a brief summary of what was about I pointed out the Redshank and Ruff next to each other on the waters edge, except this Ruff looked smaller than the one I'd seen earlier so a look through the scope revealed it was actually a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper! It's always great to find a bird like this but even better to share it with two birders enjoying good views of their first ever PecSand.

The first Pectoral Sandpiper at Castle Lake since October 2009.

Yearlist Update;
#130 Great Black-backed Gull
#131 Hen Harrier
#132 Pectoral Sandpiper