Durham Bird Club's Castle Lake Nature Reserve

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

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Anymore Wheatear?

Spent another couple of hours at Castle Lake this morning with the following of note;

2 Grey Partridge, 5 Cormorant, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Kestrel, 400 Golden Plover, 600 Lapwing, 1 Ruff, 14 Snipe, 10 Curlew, 2 Redshank, 1 Green Sandpiper, 1 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, 5 Stock Dove and 1 Wheatear.
Rubbish picture of this morning's Wheatear, wouldn't have thought there's many more to come now.

Overflying birds including 10+ Skylark over south, 3 Fieldfare over south, 25 Redwing over south-east and best of the lot a single Brambling over west.

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Welcome Back To The Winter Birds

Definately a case of out with the old and in with the new today at Castle Lake as some species put in their first appearance since last winter.
The most noticeable was a major passage of Fieldfare and Redwing with at least 600 of the former and 200 of the latter passing over in four hours this morning. Most carried on heading south or south-west although some did land including these next to the sewage works.

5 Whooper Swan were in until 10:25 when they departed into the murky weather conditions heading north.

Couldn't get all of them in the same shot.

others present included 50 Wigeon, 14 Shoveler, 70 Teal, 5 Goldeneye (1male4female), 8+ Little Grebe, 4 Cormorant, 3 Little Egret, 3 Grey Heron, 2 Kestrel, male Peregrine, 600 Golden Plover, 800 Lapwing, 2 Ruff, 1 Dunlin, 18+ Snipe, 2 Redshank, 4 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull and the only reminder of summer a Chiffchaff along Foumarts Lane.

The only male in the group of Goldeneye. Five is the most I've seen here this year.

Some of the Shoveler shoveling.

Monday, 10 October 2011


A single Pink-footed Goose arrived on Castle Lake early afternoon in company with 27 Greylag Geese.

Others of interest included 3 Barnacle Geese still present, 4 Grey Heron, juvenile Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 215 Golden Plover, 2 Ruff, 5 Dunlin, 5 Snipe, 1 Redshank, 3 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 adult Great Black-backed Gull and 3 Wheatear in the ploughed field behind the hide.

Still only the one Redshank present at the moment.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Great Black-backed

Sightings from Sunday 9th October at Castle Lake courtesy of John Olley and myself.

3 Barnacle Geese, 25 Wigeon, 1 Little Egret, 4 Cormorant, 4 Common Buzzard, 5 Kestrel, 2 Sparrowhawk, 200 Golden Plover, 500 Lapwing, 2 Ruff, 3 Dunlin, 35 Curlew, 1 Redshank, an extremely late Sand Martin flew through @09:00 and 1 Mistle Thrush.

Some of today's Wigeon.

Gull's of interest included those pictured below;

An adult Great Black-backed Gull next to one of three adult Lesser Black-backed Gull.

Three pictures of a Larus argentatus a.k.a. 'Scandinavian' Herring Gull.

Great Black-backed Gull is not a bird I've seen much of at Castle Lake in the last few years and today's individual was actually a year tick.

Saturday, 8 October 2011

Barnacle Geese

The 3 Barnacle Geese were still present at Castle Lake this afternoon.

Other highlights included 46 Golden Plover, 3 Ruff, 7 Dunlin, 12 Snipe, 1 Redshank, 2 adult Lesser Black-backed Gull, 2 Swallow overflew and 11 Redwing were my first of the autumn.


Friday, 7 October 2011

Friday 7th October 2011

A few sightings at Castle Lake today with thanks to Joe Hughes and John Olley.

4 Ruff, 1 Redshank, 4 Wheatear, and 3 Barnacle Geese (2 adult,1 juvenile).

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Gannet Photo's

I'm extremely grateful to Tony Eadsforth for these pictures of the juvenile Gannet on Castle Lake last Sunday.
Given how rare these birds are on inland waters I think it could beat the Bittern as my bird of the year.

A brilliant addition to the birds of Bishop Middleham list.

Monday, 3 October 2011

Gull's Galore

I rarely enjoy birding in windy conditions, many small birds just seem to vanish, but with a little perseverance, determination and a slice of lady luck the effort can be worthwhile. So it was with these thoughts in mind I set off for another patch bash this afternoon.
On arrival at Castle Lake I noticed the field directly behind the hide was in the process of being ploughed so I decided to leave a visit to the hide until last and headed off towards Island Farm, a small number of House Martin and Swallow flew past Alan's Pool, then as I ambled past the reeds here wandering if the Bittern was in there hiding a Hobby whizzed past flying away from Fishburn Lake, definately my latest ever. A covey of 12 Grey Partridge were flushed before I reached the last stile.
3 Little Egret were on Fishburn Lake though one soon decided to leave and battle the headwind, keeping the remaining pair company were a single Grey Heron, the Mute Swan pair with their four cygnets and small numbers of Moorhen, Mallard, Gadwall and Teal plus a single Little Grebe. A party of Long-tailed Tit with at least one Willow Tit were nearby.
Moving on towards Low Hardwick the wind didn't seem to be bothering four Kestrel and a Common Buzzard but pretty much everything else had gone into hiding. As I approached the small bridge over the River Skerne near the old sluice gate a Chiffchaff, Goldcrest and Treecreeper were sharing the same tree.
Three Wheatear were in Castle Lake's south-west corner with a fourth enjoying the newly ploughed field behind the hide. With Mr plough's work complete the gulls were also taking full advantage with many moving between here and the lake.
After an hour or so in the hide I came away with the following totals;
31 Wigeon, 5+ Ruff, 2 Dunlin, 400 Black-headed Gull, 50 Common Gull, 15 Herring Gull, 15 Lesser Black-backed Gull (including 10 adults together), 5 Swallow and most of the regular common stuff.

Not a single Med Gull in sight :(

Sunday, 2 October 2011

Gannet, Inland Durham!

Inland sightings of Gannet in County Durham are incredibley rare (though coincidently two were seen recently near Houghton-le-Spring) so imagine my surprise and delight when shortly after arriving at Castle Lake this morning a juvenile should appear circling over the lake before heading off in an easterly direction with two Grey Heron in close pursuit.
At the time I was stood on the hill at the north end scoping the waters edge trying to count the Ruff when I noticed most of the birds had gone up, not an unusual occurance of course, but when I got my bins on the reason a Gannet was the last thing I was expecting.
I hadn't noticed where it had actually came from but on reaching the hide I was greeted by another early riser Tony Eadsforth who not only informed me the bird had been sat on the water but he had some photo's of it as well.
I unfortunately only managed to get a very poor photo as I only came armed with my digiscoping camera which doesn't focus on what it considers is a tiny speck....

...zoomed in you get this...
Might be able to post one of Tony's photo's soon.

After that everything else seemed a bit of an anti-climax though there was still a decent selection on offer including 23 Wigeon, 6 Cormorant, 2 Little Egret, 100 Golden Plover, 11 Ruff and 2 Dunlin.
Some of the hundred GP's.

Bishop Middleham Yearlist Update;
123. Spotted Redshank
124. Lesser Whitethroat (Patch tick #141)
125. Curlew Sandpiper
126. Arctic Tern (Patch tick #142)
127. Black Tern (Patch tick #143)
128. Bittern (Patch tick #144)
129. Gannet (Patch tick #145)