Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Night-time surprise

Kevin Wilmot writes...

A very interesting thing happened at 4.15 this morning.

I was woken by the sound of two seemingly distressed Carrion Crows in the narrow treebelt behind my small suburban garden. It was if they, too, had been suddenly and unexpectedly roused from their slumbers. I didn't have to wait long for the culprit to reveal itself, as seconds later came several 'kewicks' and hoots of one, or possibly more, Tawny Owls.

I can only assume that the owls had inadvertantly come across the roosting crows as they went about their night-time hunt. I wouldn't imagine they would purposely attack the crows as, size for size, crows are somewhat larger. Who knows, but it certainly made for an fascinating 20 minutes or so before all was quiet once again in the slowly gathering light of dawn.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Reader holiday, Oct 12-14, 2007

Northumberland, October 12-14, 2007
For further information or to book on the holiday, contact Nick Mason, Tel: 07857 200 144.

Join us for a brilliant weekend’s birdwatching, loads of fun and superb company amid the spectacular and dramatic landscape of the Northumberland coast. With everything from scarce grebes to waders, seabirds to Twite, our weekend’s exploration of a wide variety coastal habitats promises to be a real treat.
The spectacular and dramatic landscape of the Northumberland coast, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is the venue for this Bird Watching weekend break. In the company of expert guides we will visit the best autumn birdwatching sites where thousands of birds will be using the coast as a staging post during migration or as a winter home.
Our hotel, on the harbour at Seahouses with views of the Farne Islands, is the perfect base for exploration of the coastal habitats which vary from grazing marsh, reedbeds and off-shore islands. The weekend will also provide a taste of the rich history and heritage of this amazing coast.

Friday night
Join the leaders for a pre-dinner welcome presentation at 6.30pm.

We’ll drive south to visit four nature reserves in Druridge Bay – Hauxley, East Chevington, Druridge Pools and Cresswell Pond. The varied habitats include brackish lagoons, freshwater ponds, reedbeds and foreshore. Birds could include vagrant passerines, waders, terns and seabirds. Anything could turn up but likely species are Pink-footed Geese, Whooper Swan, Pintail, Gadwall, Merlin and Twite. The day will end with dinner and a guest presentation about bird conservation on the Northumberland Coast.

Gadwall by Mike Weedon

Heading north we will explore the wild landscape of Holy Island and Lindisfarne NNR, famous for wintering Brent Geese, but expect a ‘cracking’ day with Red-throated Diver, Red-necked Grebe, Long-tailed Duck, Common Scoter, Bar-tailed Godwit, Peregrine and passerines such as Tree Sparrows. The day will end on the foreshore below Bamburgh Castle, looking for Purple Sandpiper, seaducks and divers. Return to holiday at 5pm when holiday ends.

Bar-tailed Godwit by Mike Weedon

Hotel: Bamburgh Castle Hotel situated on the harbour at Seahouses offers excellent food and en suite accommodation – and wonderful sea views.

Leaders: Tom Cadwallender is an ornithologist, BTO representative for Northumberland and the author of Birdwatching on the Northumberland Coast. Nick Mason was RSPB conservation manager for the north of England. He left last year to become proprietor of RealBirder Tours.

Price: £270 per person includes, two-nights’accommodation, all meals, picnics, reception, transport and the service of expert leaders. It does not include insurance, drinks and personal items. Sunday night stopover: dinner, bed and breakfast £70 per person.

Travel: Road: via A1 and B1340. Rail: nearest station is Alnmouth. Transfers may be possible to and from station on Friday and Sunday evening. Please let Nick Mason know if you plan to use the train.

For further information or to book on the holiday, contact Nick Mason, Tel: 07857 200 144.

The Full Monty

Production editor Matt Merritt writes:
Yesterday was one of those days when working for Bird Watching is sheer, unadulterated pleasure (not that every day in the office isn't a delight, of course!). Mike Weedon and myself ventured out into the flatlands of Lincolnshire, to see the Montagu's Harriers that have been breeding on Digby Fen. At times, reading about birds isn't enough and you just have to get out and see what all the fuss is about.
These are the rarest breeding birds of prey in Britain, being summer visitors who generally prefer the warmer parts of Europe. Climate change might alter things, but currently less than a dozen pairs each year nest, usually in southern England and East Anglia. That makes it all the more remarkable that this pair managed to successfully raise four young in the middle of a rain-lashed fenland farmer's field, with the help, of course, of RSPB protection.
We arrived to find the RSPB watchpoint already busy, and we didn't have to wait long to see one of the juveniles, looking for worms in a ploughed field on the far side of the road from the nest. What struck you immediately was how orange the breast was - field guides say rufous, but this positively glowed. As we watched him, too, a male Marsh Harrier swept past, providing a useful size comparison. Ultra-rare themselves 20 or so years ago, they're now making slow but steady progress.
A flypast from a Heron stirred things into life on the far side of the road, near the nest. At least two Montys rose to challenge it, and the Heron responded by sticking its neck out and honking "frank, frank" at them. From then on, we had regular good views of the female Monty and some of the juves (spoilt slightly by the heat haze - never happy, are we?!). And finally, in came the male, passing over the nest site and dropping a small prey item to be caught by a waiting juvenile - however many times you hear this little trick being described, it's hard to believe how casually elegant it all is until you see it. Having made his delivery, the male then darted aerobatically after a Skylark (which got away easily enough), then disappeared.
After the inevitable immense fry-up, we pushed our luck by looking for the Black Kite at Nocton Fen, just down the road. But, no matter how much we willed the resident Buzzards to become longer, slighter and generally more kite-like, we were unsuccessful. You can't have everything, but we did meet a couple of like-minded Bird Watching readers, so hopefully they had better luck once we headed back down the A15.