Ringed Plover– to round up the small waders we saw in the North East- the Ringed Plover. Present all year round on sandy and shingle coasts, the breeding numbers of these lovely birds are declining- they are now on the Red List. Ringed Plovers breed on shingle, and are therefore very vulnerable to disturbance. Like other Plovers, including the Lapwing, the adults appear injured and trail a wing, flying away from the nest or young to lure predators away. UK numbers are swelled in winter by overwintering birds from Europe. They often feed in mixed flocks- there is one in the flock here, among Dunlin, visible from its darker head and wing-bar. Conditions: A cool, still, dry spell. Temperature: Max 4- Min 1c.
Dunlin- after a few days away without the computer, here’s another wader seen on our trip to the north east, and one that can be seen on most of our coasts, feeding along the receding or incoming tide-line. These Dunlin are in their less colourful winter plumage. Dunlin breed on inland uplands but overwinter in flocks, sometimes numbering thousands. They roost on marshes and fields, feeding on worms, insects and snails both there and along the shore. They have dark, slightly down-curved bills. Their back-markings and pale undersides are worth getting familiar with as they swoop and dive in flight. Conditions: Bright, dry days and frosty nights. Temperature: Max 5- Min 3c.
Sanderlings- After waiting for all the dog-walkers to leave a small, sandy beach in the North East the other day, the beautiful Sanderlings swooped in and started their fast and furious feeding along the sea edge. Sanderlings visit many of our sandy beaches during winter, and are easy to identify in their white and grey winter plumage, with black bill and legs. They are sometimes in mixed flocks with other waders. Sanderlings fly off in spring, to breed in the High Arctic. Conditions: Cold wind and bright sunny day. Temperature: Max 5- Min 3c.
Short Eared Owl- on our last day in North Tyneside we were exceptionally lucky to see a Short Eared Owl, watchful on a fence, in an area of rough grassland. There have been five along that stretch of coast this winter
but sadly, through the wet and rough weather, two were found dead. Short Eared Owls mostly hunt during the night and evening but also during the day. The numbers of these beautiful, big. yellow-eyed owls have declined significantly lately. We had seen one briefly at Druridge Bay earlier in the week but this one was beside a well-used footpath, in full view of many admiring people, as dusk crept in. What a wonderful sight. Conditions: Sunny, with occasional flurries of light snow. Temperature: Max 5- Min 0c.
Eider Ducks in Budle Bay: the UK’s heaviest and fastest-flying duck, this sea duck comes to many Northumbrian and Scottish coasts in February, for breeding. Hunted almost to extinction in the late 19th century, they have built back up but are on the amber list. They feed on crustaceans and molluscs. Their favourite, Mussels, they swallow whole. The strong muscles in their gizzards break the shells down. They are long-lived, the oldest known being 22. Some farmers in Iceland still gather their down from nests for eponymous ‘eider downs’. St Cuthbert, the 7th century monk, protected them by law, on the Farne Islands, one of the earliest known acts of formal conservation. For this
they are known locally as St Cuthbert’s or Cuddy’s Duck. Conditions: The bright, dry spell continues. Temperature: Max 6- Min 3c.
A camouflaged Snipe and a rarity at Druridge Bay Pool-The Snipe was resting down in the reed stalks and, so cryptic is its plumage, that we wouldn’t have seen it if a kind birdwatcher hadn’t pointed it out. We were lucky to watch the Long Billed Dowitcher, which should by rights be at home in Mississippi. Apparently, many twitchers have filled the hide only to look out on an empty pool, while we managed an almost empty hide and a good sighting of the rare Dowitcher ((distant I’m afraid so very fuzzy photos). Conditions: Two gloriously sunny days in the north east. Temperature: Max 5- Min0c.
Stonechats- in the North-East today I was lucky to be watching Rooks, feeding on cow-pats (!) when a pair of Stonechats turned up to enjoy the insects feeding on the ‘pancakes’ (it is Shrove Tuesday!). In the Robin family, but slightly smaller with a comparatively large head, male and female Stonechats differ, as you can see in the photo’s. They largely overwinter in the UK, though they suffer if its very cold. Breeding twice or three times a year, their numbers recover pretty well and this mild winter they are doing well. Conditions: Cold wind and mainly dry. Temperature: Max 5- Min3c.
Our Squirrel-proof feeders succeed, on the whole, as this Grey Squirrel sliding down the pole shows- it was baffled by the large plant tray improvised baffle just above it! The RSPB Squirrel-proof feeder is fine only while the Squirrel sits on it but this one used its body strength to lean over and feed! (Lynn says these are for you, Trisha!). Grey Squirrels don’t only raid the food people put out, they raid the food caches of small mammals, take fruit and nuts before they are ripe, steal eggs and fledglings and ring-bark saplings. When they first came into Sussex when I was young, farmers were paid 6d a tail to cull them. Not very successful, clearly. Conditions: Dry and bright with rain coming in later. Temperature: Max 7- Min 3c.
Like many people, we get both Wood Pigeons and Stock Doves in our Sheffield garden. As they can be hard to tell apart, here are some photos, together with a close up of the beautiful feathers around a Wood Pigeons neck. The Stock Dove is a similar colour but is smaller, and lacks the white neck and wing bars of a Wood Pigeon. Stock Doves nest in rotten tree trunks and will use nest-boxes, while Wood Pigeons make an untidy nest of twigs in tree branches. Conditions: A still, mild, dry and cloudy day following a couple of brighter days. Temperature: Max 10- Min 6c.