Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Foggy over the Durham Dales

Actually it was a really nice day over the dales, but I was over the Dales yesterday hence the title of the blog post. With my final compulsory assignment for the first year of University looming I had planned to spend the day working on it and getting half of it done. But on Tuesday night I had this urge to go and do some filthy county listing, I am passionate about Durham and the birds the county has had and will have in the future. Therefore I decided I would keep a county life list and sometimes a county year list just to see how well I do or don't do. With news of Rough-legged Buzzard coming on my computer and phone from BirdGuides on a fairly regular basis I had to go up and see them, or should I say try and see them.

So this morning I departed to the dales with two mates of mine DerekC and DerekL, as we started off and got into the dales we pretty much immediately had Red Grouse, a nice year tick and an attractive bird. For those of my readers who live dawn' sauth' a rarity. As expected in the Durham dales we saw quite a few, a Snipe flew across the road and provided a reminder it was only the second bird I had seen in Durham this year. Our first real port of call was the Great Grey Shrike that has been seen for a few days at Hamsterly Forest. We arrived at the car park and after a brisk 30 minute walk we were at the area the bird had been seen. DerekC glanced a bird flying across the path in front of us and it then flew into a stand of young pines, "Great Grey Shrike!" myself and DerekC saw it fly past briefly and it soon became clear why when a Forestry Commission jeep pulled around the corner. No doubt the bird has been flushed unintentionally from a roost and is now flying out to a feeding area for the day. Frustratingly it disappeared so we headed further down the path to where it had been reported the previous day. At first nothing and then I picked up a bird sitting on top of a dead tree. Grey, long tailed, "Great Grey Shrike!!!" I said in a panicked voice. The lads all managed to get onto it and we watched it for about 15 minutes, the first time we lost it we relocated it about 100 yards in front of us sitting on top of a tree! It did its typical Shrike behavior going to ground to catch prey and then fly back to a perch to eat it and look for the next meal. Images and video were taken of the bird before leaving. Success, what a superb bird as well. One of my favorites and was great to see one in proper wintering habitat. The walk back was also productive as I had my first ever county Crossbill, it was pretty much a flyover but at least I saw it.

(Great Grey Shrike - © Derek Charlton)

(Great Grey Shrike (taken yesterday) - © Mark Newsome)

(Not the Crossbills I saw sadly! - © Mark Newsome)

Our next port of call was the Rough-legged Buzzards, on arrival nothing for a few minutes and then myself and DerekL spotted a bird down in the valley. The birds nice white backside showed well as well as the paleness of the wings, we watched the bird for about 30 seconds before it disappeared and we didn't see it again, we tried numerous times throughout the day but failed to see any birds again. Frustratingly it was reported 15 minutes after our last attempt at 3.45 sitting on a dry stone wall.

(Rough-legged Buzzard (taken yesterday, probably not the same bird I saw but could be) - © Mark Newsome)

After our success with the Rough-legs we headed out in the general area where we had some cracking views of Golden Plover in a mix of plumages. But the highlight was 7 Black Grouse, all males and one bird nearly in full breeding plumage. Then we tried for the Rough-legs again, this time from a different position. DerekL and myself again picked up a distant bird that came out of the wood clearly not happy with the Buzzards. Far to large for a Sparrowhawk. So "GOSHAWK!" came from and excited DerekL the bird showed well although distant and it then headed back into the cover of the wood. DerekC said he had a possible Peregrine at the other end of the wood when he was trying to pick out our Goshawk. A couple of Common Buzzards showed well in the area but no more sign of any of the elusive Rough-legs. We headed out looking for Raven but failed, so we headed over Newbiggin and on the way back we had a superb displaying male Black Grouse with his hens in attendance. I had never seen a male Black Grouse displaying before so this was a first for me, superb to see!

On the way home we were stuck behind an articulated vehicle, at one point I said "Oh look at that buzzard", it was eye level back onto us. But it wasn't! It was a Raven! Another county tick, what an excellent end to a superb day in the Durham dales.

Loads of ticks; county, and year. I won't bore you with thoose details. If your interested keep an eye on my Bubo list (see right hand side of blog.)

Special thanks to Mark and Derek as usual for allowing me to use their images/videos on my blog.

Until next time, Foghorn out!

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