Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Once was a time when every late Summer through Autumn we would look forward to regular bouts of hypothermia, sat glued to a spot staring out east. In recent years it seems that these opportunities are becoming ever more infrequent, so, it was a pleasure to get out this weekend, on the deckchair, eye screwed into the scope to look for seabirds.

In Northumberland we are spoiled really.

In Suffolk last week I looked out to the sea from Minsmere and all I could see was a sepia looking, wet patch, practically devoid of bird life. If I looked out just down our road, in any month during a flat westerly there would certainly be more birds than down there.

Recent posts on social media, show birders enthusing over '500 Gannets! a record!' or 'Arctic Skua 2, and a Kittiwake, a good patch day'. Up here we don't have time to count Gannets, Kittiwakes or Fulmars. They are present most of the time, like Black headed Gulls. I am not trying to be smug here, not at all, this is just how it is. Its horses for courses really, its just that our county is a great sea watching area, maybe not up with the likes of Cornwall, but over a full year, not far away. We may not do spring, but seawatching, when weather allows, makes up for it I think.

So, on Saturday morning, I took up position at Craster soon after 6.30am and waited. The wind was a moderate NW4, maybe not the best for us where a straight Northerly or North easterly is best, but at least the thick cloud cover prevented the glare from a rising sun.

First bird past was a nice Sooty Shearwater, quite close in too, always a good sign, closely followed by a juvenile skua that looked suspiciously small. As it came closer it was joined by an Arctic Skua and showed an excellent size comparison - a juv Long tailed Skua!

From then on things were steady as she goes with a nicely building list with nothing earth shattering happening until at 7.20 - Great Shearwater! Only my second county record, it came through at close range, indeed the closest bird of the day, so all features could be seen. Superb. At 8.10am it wwas time for home as we had other commitments...

  On Sunday,John and myself headed up to Beadnell where the point should get us closer views of the sea bird passage. We camped out from 07.15 until 11.45 and had a grand morning, with nice birds, but unfortunately, no cigar...

Later in the afternoon, reports were still coming through of good numbers passing with some better species too, so I though I'd give it an hour back at Craster...it paid off with a juv Sabine's Gull N, albeit, a bit distant but ok...

The lack of detail is deliberate in my notes as this was the view I had. My first patch Sabine's too, so seven and a half hours staring across the waves was really worthwhile. Lets hope there are more northerlies in the near future!

For a further impression of my view, see Jonathan's blog in the side bar, he has some video of what may have been the same bird, though a few were reported during the day.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Last week we were off down to Suffolk on holiday. We stayed in a nice bungalow in Westleton, our seventh visit here, though not to the same house. In this village we have stayed in 5 different properties over the years but we like the area, being quite central for some nice places around about.

Most years we try one week in the north of Scotland and another in the south. Being from Northumberland, a colder, quite dry, county, it makes a change to sample some of the milder climate the south has to offer. On this occasion, however, it did not want to play ball. The week was mixed with some nice fine autumnal spells and some odd heavy rain storms. Luckily we didnt get caught out in one.

On the wildlife front, there is always something of interest for me so far from home, things that might be commonplace to naturalists who live south of the Humber, but do not or very rarely occur in Northumberland. This visit was no exception.

I didn't really put myself out to go seeking out new things, but just kept an open mind to see what would turn up... 

Above - Our digs for the week...
Unfortunately, this happened on several occasions.

Above - When the sun came out though, it was very nice, these pics are the hamlet of Shingle Street.
Blood Vein. A common species over much of England, but I've never seen one at home.

The Dusky Thorn was one I hoped to get in the trap down here. On our first night, the first moth to arrive was this. 

Hornet. What a fantastic beast. I have seen them at Westleton before but have never got close enough for a photo, so one in the moth trap was very welcome.
The Vestal. A scarce migrant moth, rare at home and new for me. This one was caught during the day as it fluttered across the lawn.
Even pest non native species are welcomed in our garden...Rosemary Beetle. New to me.
Brown Argus was a lifer for me having only seen Northern Brown Argus before.

Even the storms were good to see. Very dramatic. 
Sizewell to Minsmere, lovely despite the Nuclear Powerstation!


Sea Holly 
Parasol Mushroom. Not new and found regularly at home, but I liked this location...

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sugar table...

In less than optimum conditions my tray of mashed fruit and beer attracted a star turn the other night - a Red Underwing. Only my second after one in 2009, this may be the furthest North Red Underwing in the UK! Note my comment about this species in the previous post, now, where is that Old Lady?

Taking a photo in near black darkness is tricky, so I lit the moth with my headlamp and manually focussed on it with the on camera flash set. I took half a dozen shots and one came out sharp...

Still on the moth theme, decent records continue to arrive this week to more conventional means with 2 Butterbur in the same trap and my first Scarce Bordered Straw, a nice fresh darker specimen....

Scarce Bordered Straw

Butterbur is annual here, but usually only one at a time. This is my first multiple occurrence in the trap. Here with two Rosy Rustics for size comparison.

Grey-Chi seem to be getting scarcer year on year...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Hubble Bubble...

"Eye of newt, and toe of frog,

Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and howlet's wing,--
For a charm of powerful trouble,
Like a hell-broth boil and bubble."

In the days before widely available electricity, those pioneering 19th century moth hunters had to resort to other means at their disposal. Many methods generally involved a lot of knowledge and field craft to find, eggs, larvae or pupae then rearing these through to the adult moth stage.

Catching the imago was quite tricky, by either 'dusking', not the nefarious activity of lurking in suburban car parks, but wandering, net in hand as the light fades to catch moths on the wing or by 'Sugaring'. Dusking was fine but in total darkness, a candle wasn't much use in attracting sought after specimens so bait was used. Things like red wine, beer slops and honey were all used. Moths of certain species naturally feed on nectar, tree sap and aphid honeydew, so this is a natural progression.

There are places in the New Forest where favoured sugaring sites left the patch on a tree for generations of moth collectors to return to, having been impregnated with many years worth of various sweety concoctions.

It is a much less used method nowadays, with the readily available MV light traps and portable generators on hand, but it cant be a bad thing to try some of the old ways. If for nothing else, it will hopefully increase the field knowledge of our familiar insects.

The way to do it is to make up a recipe along the lines of Macbeth's Witches, that will simulate fermenting fruit or sap and painting it in 2" strips on fence posts or trees along a line of about 50 mtrs and checking it regularly to pot up interesting customers. My brew is as follows -

1x Bottle of Brown Ale
1x Tin Golden Syrup or Treacle
1x Bag of Brown Sugar
4x Ripe Pears
1x Over ripe Banana.

All boiled and simmered together then cooled and stored in jars just like Ipin's marmalade until ready for use.

The other day I drained the beery solid mash from the pan and placed it in a plant pot tray in a south facing sunny spot below an old ash tree beside our garden. This pear and banana beer mash is like manna from heaven for the local wasp population, but it also attracted 4 Red Admirals and a Speckled Wood, then once it got dark, my first moth - a Svenssons Copper Underwing. A scarce moth in the garden... Not a lot but you have to start somewhere. My targets are Old Lady ( would be a first for me) and Red Underwing ( my only garden record was in 2009)...

The brew on the boil...

Three Red Admirals getting drunk...

One of the Copper Underwings, Svenssons is the most likely here...

Monday, August 28, 2017

Subbuteo II

On Thursday evening Jane, Bunty and me were walking along the coast road a few hundred metres out of our village when I looked back and saw a small falcon heading towards us. As this bit is often bird free and we were just out with Bunty, I had no binoculars ( school boy error there methinks). Luckily the raptor was flying steadily towards us, quite low, so I prepared myself to get as much on it as I could on a brief fly past. As it came along side, I was over the moon to see not the more likely Merlin, but a fresh juvenile Hobby!

It is early for juvvies but they are on the move soon after fledging sometimes so maybe this one hasn't come too far? They dont breed in Northumberland as far as I am aware? Some years back, on the day the Red necked Stint was at the Wansbeck Estuary, John and myself had a juvenile Hobby at Alnmouth, again flying south, so it can happen.

Our bird passed steadily and on south. It put up a flock of starlings that balled up, when it made a half hearted stoop at them, before continuing on its way. Only my second patch record in 8 years...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017


On Friday ADMc found a Spotted Crake on the Budge Fields at Druridge Pools. This is a big area of tall juncus with muddy patches in the middle, where birds as large as Spotted Redshank can go missing for hours on end, so I didnt bother going. The bird seemed to be typically elusive until Sunday where it began to get a bit more confident and fed out in the open so, as I had a couple of hours free time today, I popped along to try my luck. Lucky I was too, as I had only been in the hide for a couple of minutes when the bird swam out of a thick rush clump and back in. It then appeared on a muddy strip,walked into the water right in the open and began bathing and preening for a while.

Great little podgy creeping birds these, full of character as it sneaked past Snipe and Water Rail, making both look like large birds.

This is the first Spotted Crake Ive seen since the one found here by Steve Taylor in 2002 and is only my 5th ever.

After having my fill, then adding padders to the book such as 3 Ruff, 50 Dunlin, 2 Whimbrel S, Black Tailed Godwit and 1+ Water Rail, it was time to head back to the farm...

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Digger Wasp

At the weekend I found this funny faced chap loitering around our sweet peas. It seemed to have a flight route around the border often returning to this leaf. Unusually for an insect of this type, it had a neck and even looked up at me when i took its photo! The massive eyes gave it a comical expression that I had not seen before.

A short sweep of the internet, found it to be a likely Ectemnius cephalotes, a Digger wasp that nests in dead logs or stumps. I have a pile of such nice habitat only a few feet from this fellows hunting path. It feeds on flies and hoverflies apparently.

A nice, medium sized wasp, a new one on me.

White Rumper

After work this evening I popped down to Druridge Budge Hide to look for the White-rumped Sandpiper that has been kicking around the bay over the last week.

It didnt take too long to relocate it feeding along the muddy edges of the field flashes. A nice cold grey little wader and quite easy to pick from the Dunlin once a clear view could be had. These used to be mega in the county but seem almost annual these days.

Also around the scrapes were 1 Little Stint, 40+ Dunlin, 2 Ruff, 1 Spotted Redshank, 50+ Black-tailed Godwit, 20+ Snipe, 2 Garganey and a male Marsh Harrier .

As the wind got up and the light dropped making the birds on the field into blackish silhouettes, it was time for tea. A good couple of hours out...