Squirrels, snow - and Chiffchaffs

Posted on 18 March 2018, 19:43

The aspiration: to assume that the warnings of heavy snow for my part of the world today would come to nowt, head off to Pow Hill Country Park and make full use of the lovely reflected light from the dusting of snow we would surely get, to shoot the Red squirrels for which the place is known.

The reality: three foot deep drifts. So no Squirrels…

Thankfully, my photographic partner in crime Mark and I are sensible enough these days not to take stupid risks, so – having got as far as the car park of the Manor House Inn at Carterway Heads – we bravely decided to bottle it and head back to base in Blyth, hopefully dropping in somewhere on the way back.

Like Throckley Woods in Gateshead, which has a very good (locked, these days) hide.

I didn’t have a key…

But by a complete fluke, we’d arrived in the car park just before 10 am, when the café was due to open. But it wouldn’t be opening, would it?

It would! So we were able to buy a key.

Five minutes later, we were lined up and ready to shoot, and although nothing particularly unusual rocked up, I was able to fill up on Nuthatches, Great spotted woodpeckers (including my first adult male in front of a camera) and other woodland usual suspects, many of which were too close to get into the frame, even at “only” 500mm.

Here are a few examples:


Nuthatch, Throckley Woods


Nuthatch, Throckley Woods


Snowy Magpie, Throckley Woods


Great spotted woodpecker (male), Throckley Woods

(There were also Robins, tits, Blackbirds, Wood pigeons, Dunnocks, Pheasants, Mallards and finches, but nothing I’m inclined to post up – all very worthy, but nothing special).

And God! It was cold! Mark didn’t have his gloves with him, and his hands (thanks to a circulation problem) soon started causing him grief; and my toes were up to much the same thing, for much the same reason. So after about an hour, we’d had enough, and headed back to the car for a warm-up.

The key for the hide also provides access to hides at, among other places, Clara Vale Country Park.

Never been, always wanted to – and Mark had seen some tempting Kingfisher pics from the place, so he was keen too.

The key didn’t open the door to the wetland hide. So no Kingfishers…

Loads of Redwing and Fieldfare on the cricket field next to the reserve, looking great in the snow, but they weren’t at all obliging.

But… It’s the nature of this bird photography lark (pun intended) that you should expect the unexpected, and so it was with this visit.

We saw a tiny scrap of a bird working the margins of the little pond at the top of the reserve. Then another.

Chiffchaffs. Nothing too surprising about that – it’s getting to the time of year when they should be drifting in (my gut feeling is that these aren’t overwintering birds) – but these were early for the north east. And in snow.

That’s something I’ve never seen, in nearly 50 years of interest in birds.

Hopefully the weather will warm up quickly enough that they survive, and in the meantime, a few pictures:


Chiffchaff, Clara Vale


Chiffchaff, Clara Vale


Chiffchaff, Clara Vale

Chiffchaff, Clara Vale


Chiffchaff, Clara Vale

My favourite pic of the day?

Probably this Dunnock – I just like these little guys:


Dunnock, Clara Vale

All with the Canon 7D Mk II and 500mm f/4 Mk II, handheld – at 500mm for the Throckley images (apart from the first Nutchatch – 700mm); 700mm (with a 1.4x extender) at Clara Vale.



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