Life in the Year of NZ26

Discovering that I lived in the bottom corner of a 10km square inspired a birding goal for 2015.  I introduced it to the world and @joe_Dobinson joined the challenge.


It started properly on 3rd January and nearly gave up -noise and dog poo being a bigger problem than I thought, but I got a kingfisher in my first 50 and I was away. I introduced the tetrads as though they had personalities; which of course they do staring with B.  A yellow-legged gull was added to the list and then taken away again.  I noticed that the tetrads that had the most House Sparrows also had the most Collared Doves.  I discovered there is a great bit of the square that feels like countryside as I introduced R & W and the worlds largest Magpie nest.  And by the end of the month I had surprising been to all 25 tetrads (the only month I managed this).


I now had a Where to Watch Birds in NZ26 and my first twitch –Goosander and in the same week a Goshawk.  As well as a Polish ringed Black-headed Gull.  A Marsh Tit was a highlight as it crossed the boundary and I had my only meeting with Joe in his ‘office’ as Swallow Pond was out of the square.  The first skylark reminded me that seeing common birds was a pleasure, but Jack Snipe was a treat as I hit 80.


Kittiwakes returned in this month.  But I have heard NZ26 is more than them, but was surprised to find a Woodcock.  This was exciting but some of it was just about numbers.  A new introduction to X and Y, with an explanation about birding.  Dramatically, Lesser Black-backed Gulls filled both the skies and the tetrads.  Before the month end even ‘real’ birders were tweeting about Chiffchaffs as I reflected on the journey they took to get here and brighten our spring time.


A Meadow Pipit in Blakelaw put the phrase ‘common’ in perspective when it turned up on a field which no longer exists.  So it is a real privilege to be woken to bird song and a chance to understand under-rated birds –Dunnock and Willow Warbler.  But some organisations do not care about that even when there are observations to say otherwise.  It was this month that the ‘warbler challenge‘ -a warbler in each tetrad before the first Swallow arrived. chopping trees


First to 100 species was a great feeling, but by World Robber Fly Day I was on 103. Which came before the only real twitch of NZ26 with Eider found by Ros Ahmed were a Gateshead tick for some. On the downside we elected a Conservative Government, who is not keen on wildlife just before the Swifts arrived. Alongside of probably the only Blakelaw Meadow Pipit my other claim to fame was definitely seeing all the birds of one species that were inside NZ26 –Tufted Duck (29).  Ragwort week came and went in a celebration of the glories of degeneration as I pontificated about the wildlife I was seeing.  And then Starlings fledged in smaller numbers than they did when I was a boy. IMG_0125


Much of the month was spent in Central Spain which was amazing and a good time to be in Europe as Birdlife International campaigned to keep the wildlife laws we have.  Even the small things matter.  But as we were away that was the size of this months total.


This month I opened and closed an NZ26 reptile list but it was still prettier than the 1st summer Med Gull.  It was also the month that a Grayling was photographed in Dunston.  Searching for waders dominated as any and all low tide opportunities were taken.  This meant seeing young Kittiwakes as they left the nest in all the Tyne tetrads.  And by month end I was now starting to draw up a list of birds seen by others in the square that I had missed. grayling


Generally quite of bird song this was a time when young Wrens began to practice their jumble of notes.  Surprisingly I was the only person reporting on the Hen Harrier watch point opening on Town Moor, but it was my most read post of the year.  Anything can turn up as a Goosander flying over our garden proved, not a rarity but a true surprise in a tetrad where I did not even get a Mallard.  Two opportunities to share the birds of NZ26 felt good.  Before a diversion into a book review of Inglorious by Mark Avery.  Finally, more shorebirds were drawing me towards Curlew as a bird that would feature in 2016.


Shorebirds had dominated the summer and continued to do so into World Shorebirds Day.  Amazingly Chiffchaff made it onto the 25 tetrad list -the magic of Blakelaw.  A second book review –Tales from Concrete Jungles reaffirmed an urban year was an OK thing to do.  But by mid month it was clear that any summer species I missed in all tetrads were just that –missed.  And by the equinox in a search for ‘Curlews‘ I found a new favorite band. IMG_0173


The mud continued to attract me and new species to my NZ26 list this month.  And whilst I did not get Yellow-browed Warbler, Goldcrests poured in.  However, to me it is the importance of having more people interested in wildlife around them that has become really important. IMG_0039


The pull of next year was felt as I wandered the farmland part of tetrad A.  I started to reflect on my achievements and things I saw as important as I prepare for next year; replacing MorethanKittiwakes with Curlews’ Feathers. IMG_0226


Whilst I thought this was to be a leisurely reflection on 2015.  The Vermont Hotel had other ideas and whilst Morethankittiwakes is suggested as the blog there have to be Kittiwakes there for this to be relevant and quite a bit of time was spent drumming up support to sign the petition and at 960 objections :3 lets hope Newcastle City Council see sense.  So the rest of the months blogs were generally retrospective views of where I had been and what I had seen.

Down the long Hedge,

where migrants settle

farmland decays into reeds.

Victorian ideals,

Give way to heights.

Taking away places for nature

from our industrial past;

ruined by dogs.

Dry land

caught by the river

And the countryside can be found again.

Then via best places and best birds the year concluded with final scores and everything can return to normal again.



December Scores

Finally, the last month score.  With the dark wet and windy days, oh did I remember to add wet the month was destined to be quite a short one.  Only one new bird was added to the total to make 135 for the year in the 10km square.  That bird was Waxwing, first seen on the Coast Road I could not get there.  The lure of a Surf Scoter was too much.  But luckily 5 flew in front of the car  three days later in Gateshead on a dark morning. Luckily they were found the next day outside the Post Office in Team Valley.  Even though there were some in Jarrow these birds (as they should) attracted a good set of admirers.

And the birds seen in NZ26 by others:

Little Egret; Osprey x2; Marsh Harrier x2; Green Sandpiper; Wood Sandpiper Bar-tailed Godwit; Sandwich Tern x2; Long-eared Owl; Short-eared Owl; Barn Owl; Cuckoo; Yellow-browed Warbler; Brambling.

So I finished on 123, eleven more than my first prediction and 4 short of the score of @joe_dobinson.  There is still a lot out there in NZ26 and the GW Teal and Mealy Redpoll I had on my list of likely birds were not found.

Thanks have to go to those during the year who shared their birds @RossAhmed, @gatesheadandbey @RevdDavidA and my fellow NZ26ers @lophophanes and @joe_dobinson

So if I dont do all the tetrads and can still fit in enough time on my patch will NZ26 feature in my birding in 2016, we’ll have to see.


Picture by @leeharris71

Final Scores

Total in year 135 across all observers.
My total 123, (original prediction 112)
If this was Patchwork Challenge 132 points.

Two campaigns.

Walker Park to stop the bushes being cut down in the spring

Kittiwakes to remain on Tyne Bridge.  960 objections awaiting Newcastle City Council


Bird track records

Total 6479 submissions

Completed lists 259

Number of hours spent gathering data. Probably just as well I don’t know.

Most tetrad visits 27 (f)

highest monthly total 1232 (April)
lowest monthly total 172 (June)

Tetrad with most records 811 (f)
Tetrad with least records 84 (i)

Highest species total in a month 83 (April)
Lowest species total in a month 58 (December)

Highest single species tetrad visit 44 in p (May)

20 species were seen in all tetrads.

Species with the most records Woodpigeon (251 records) followed by Magpie (250) and Blue Tit (249).

year months

Tetrad League table.


League table of tetrads

Records 10km square (a bottom left z top right)


Species 10km square (a bottom left z top right)
Who won the three horse race.
@joe_dobinson 127
@lophophanes 126
@dunnock67 123.

10 Best Birds

1. Goshawk February flying over Bill Quay was at the time felt to be the bird to beat and so it proved.
2. Jack Snipe February in a drainage ditch at Watergate Park was unexpected.
3. Redstart April. Female in a hedge in tetrad f. They are great birds made more special with it being my 100th species.
4. Eider April. This proved to be the only real twitch in NZ26 as many people needed this for their Gateshead list as they moved up stream from Hebburn to Bill Quay. Found by Ros Ahmed these four were great on a warm sunny Saturday morning by the river.
5. Woodcock singles March (Balliol Business Park, tetrad U) and November (White Hills , tetrad Q). Both were unexpected but great as I did not manage to get any roding birds in Spring. Though this against a reducing national population is not a surprise.
6. Marsh Tit March. A bird with a mixed tit flock at Watergate Park eventually entered the NZ26 square and may well be the first for Gateshead in three years.
7. Stonechat March. One found wintering at Gosforth Flash by Joe Dobinson was a welcome addition to the list as they are entertaining and a species that was unexpected.
8. Whinchat September. A very tame bird on Town Moor in a week when numbers were being seen on the coast and on ‘my’ old patch. Apart from two Meadow Pipits this was the only bird in this expanse of grassland.
9. Black-headed Gull January. Leazes Park Lake held a colour ringed bird from Poland when I ‘twitched’ the reported Goosander. Knowing migration happens is different to saying for definite where a bird has come from and how old it is.
10. Yellowhammer November. Only after months of tramping mainly urban pavements was it drawn to my attention by Jonny Atkinson that farmland birds are important to me. One flying over hedges in tetrad while I watched Tree Sparrows made me appreciate, more than anything else, what I would miss if these birds disappeared.



Top 10 Birding Spots

Top Ten Highlights –places I will now return to bird.
1. Bill Quay. And along to Hebburn Riverside Park. When the tides out it smells of the sea.
2. Walkergate Park and the neighbouring fields, but only early morning.
3. The mud of the Tyne, especially on an incoming tide.
4. Walker Riverside Park. More difficult to get to than Bill Quay but offers a good experience each time.
5. Northern edge of NZ26 with its fields ponds and reedbeds some of which were out of bounds in this 10km year.
6. Swallow Pond Pit heap, but next time I will also look at the pond too.
7. Walker Park, especialy early spring mornings.
8. Tyne Bridges and other places Kittiwakes nest.
9. Leazes Park Lake (winter) and Exhibition Park Lake.
10. Gosforth Flash, but some days it is just a long walk avoiding dog poo.


and countryside can be found again.

W -Bill Quay
Last, but by no means least is this tetrad. Only 58 species but the area from the first visit was a true find. In January I was following the Tyne from the Baltic East. Tetrad R after the short bit of Saltmeadows Road brought you back to the river and it felt like proper birding. Then I got to the start of W and there are some small woods between Bill Quay farm and the river that feel like you are in the Countryside. My first NZ26 Stock Dove cemented this feel and I have enjoyed going there ever since.

The tetrad is impossible to do all in one go as half lies across the river, but Walker Riverside Park is also a find and is under watched –for lots of reasons.
There are still some gaps which I should be able to fill from the habitats available, but it is a good week when I can get into this tetrad. One exceptional sighting stands out. Walking along the East edge towards Hebburn the air was full of herring Gulls of various ages shrieking alarm calls and very edgy. Looking up 10 metres or so gave great views of the cause of their concern. Circling slowly and drifting west to east as though it had just come across from Walker was a Goshawk: absolutely exceptional.


caught by the river

B. Metro Centre G. Dunston/Elswick L. Tyne Bridges R. Gateshead Stadium

I have never really paid any attention to birding on the Tyne until this year. In 2015 I have been to search for birds several times per week. I love the ebb and flow of the tides, I love the mud it exposes and the waders that turn up. It has generated excitement of Mediterranean Gull, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and Whimbrel. It has also generated spectacular numbers of Lapwing. It has also generated frustration in the number of daily visits it took to get Ringed Plover-aren’t they small? It also gave elements of insight as I watched one Curlew for nearly an hour and opportunities to talk to non-birders about birds.

Away from the Tyne the River Derwent produced Dipper and Kingfisher as well as close up views of herons fishing; one even caught a flat fish beneath the weir. It really is that tidal.

It contains Benwell nature park which looks like the tree museum that Joni Mitchell sung about. The rough ground west of Costco was good for warblers, but has not yet turned up the rarity the effort anticipated. This stretch of tetrads is also the best ones in which to see Peregrines. And all of them have produced Kittiwakes, but there is more to NZ26 than them.

79; 69; 32; 42 species respectively.


River Derwent just up stream of the Wear on a cold september morning.


Looking South across the Tyne to Dunston.  With a scope it is easier to see the waders on the South side mud.  But from here the waders are used to people and give great views.


Looking East down the Tyne into L.  Curlews and Teal give great views.


R just west from where I had a real melt down offering to throw a woman her dog and her husband into the river if she did not get it under control and stop it biting my mates trouser leg.  Surprisingly this worked, it went on the lead.