Saturday, April 21, 2018

Into the light.

After one of the worst late winters of my lifetime, it is so good to get rid of it and into some sunshine. As a consequence, birds seem to have taken a back seat and the moths have taken over.

Red Chestnut

Early Grey

Small Quaker

Clouded Drab

Agonopterix alstromeriana

Diurnea fagella

Early Tooth striped

Shoulder Stripe

Pale Pinion

Early Thorn

Acleris literana

Water Carpet

Xenolechia aethiops
I have saved the small black obscurity until last for a reason. Just because it looks like a fly, doesnt mean its boring. I struggled to identify this from our Northumberland Moths website, then Alan Fairclough came up with the solution. A new species for me and the garden so I was pleased, then our moth recorder, Tom Tams sent me this link that shows how rare this species really is. This one is only the 6th found in the UK since 1999! Oddly enough I get a few heather feeders in the garden despite the nearest moor being 10 miles to the west.

My patch, where the house has become the 'obs' has been interesting bird wise too with migrant warblers moving through the garden on a daily basis. A Lesser Whitethroat was very early for here on 14th showing down to 4 feet while the camera was in the house, 3 Blackcaps arrived together to fight over an apple, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs can be heards singing daily and yesterday a Grasshopper Warbler was in full 'reel' behind our shed for 10 minutes. After that it wasnt seen or heard again, a migrant continuing his journey...

One of 2 male Blackcaps and a female.

Imm Smooth Newt visiting the moth trap the other night.
And finally, we have adopted 5 Hedgehogs for release in the garden from a rescue scheme. They didnt hang around either, open the boxes and they were off...

I must do more blog updates now the nights are lighter to get out and actually see stuff...

Sunday, April 01, 2018

A day of two parts...

Part 1...

The only bit of the April issue of British Birds I have read so far is the paper on the carbon footprint of birders. It goes on to say that twitching and foreign holidays are not good for the planet, but the recent upsurge in Local Patch birding is the best way forward in terms of helping with global warming, pollution and use of resources etc.

I light of this I changed my early plans to visit Holy Island again ( a 60 mile round trip in a diesel car) and stayed at my newly shrunk local patch. When I did the Patchwork Challenge I made the boundaries fit the 3 sq km criteria that can be seen in the map in the side bar on the right.
In reality, most of that is visited very infrequently, so I have cropped the area down to under 1 sq km -

You can see this is a very small area with only a few fields a short stretch of rocky coast and a bit of parkland with a small pond. This is a real patch to me, one that I walk around daily with the dog and a good percentage can even be seen from home.

Now, some might wonder about this, but having a patch is not just about accumulating as much of the British List as possible by stretching boundaries into every conceivable habitat just so you can get a Nuthatch or see a Gannet 5 miles away from a high point inland. For me, it is very simple in that no matter the area, its about seeing what occurs there by regular observation. Whether it is a car park or the Serengetti, just see what you can get. One man's Pied Wagtail is another man's Siberian Thrush. Certainly in a patch context anyway, and this doesnt stop you venturing away to see good birds elsewhere, it just means you will learn your patch wildlife very well indeed.

So, back to today. My target, after the easterlies and rain yesterday, was Black Redstart.

Northumberland is sinking under the weight of the bloody things, so I scoured my perfect Black Red habitat along the coastal cliffs and found.... None.  I found, 3 pairs of displaying Rock Pipits, 2 singing Reed Buntings and 2 migrant Goldcrests, and that was about it. Nothing earth shattering there, but breeding Rock Pipits are good, Reed Bunts are scarce on patch and Goldcrests migrating are a pleasure to see, and thats what local patch birding should be about.

Two Goldcrests were on a barbed wire fence with not a pine in sight...

Singing male Reed Bunting.

Part 2...

Having donned a hair shirt this morning and put in the time where no one else would, it was time for some excitement and fossil fuel usage ( sorry).

20 miles away, Gary Storey had found a male White spotted Bluethroat on the beach at Newbiggin (oh why couldn't it be me!) so I decided to give it a look. I have only seen one White spot in the county before and this bird has some history for me, having read, with awe, about the one Ennion found near Beadnell in the 50's, so the adrenaline was pumping. We used to get regular Red spotted Bluethroats when the wind turned East in May, but not for many years now. The Reds have a narrow window of occurrence from about 12th - 20th May usually so any Bluethroat in April will be a White spot.

I arrived at 2.30pm with the tide well up the beach pushing birders closer to the bird's favoured spot in turn making it quite flighty. It finally moved north a bit where the wider beach gave more breathing space, and some decent views were had, a stunning little chat, you can never get enough of these...

With snow forecast for tomorrow, I am glad to have seen some sunshine and good birds this weekend... Happy Easter!

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Holy Land.

Today I joined Alan Tilmouth as his guiding assistant at Holy Island to show some visitors to the Pilgrimage to the Islands Festival some birds.

The weather was diabolical and not conducive to trailing non birders around east coast headlands looking for migrants, so we adopted the stand and wait approach. Before heading off towards the location, we met up at the Crossman Hall. As I stood at the door, a quiet call caught my attention and a bird dropped into a small tree across the road. I gazed bemused at a wet silhouette before lifting the bins, to see a Hawfinch! At that point if flew up and east, then doubled back to drop somewhere in the village near the school. Alan didnt even get on to it as he was doing the meet and greet bit!

From here was stood on the shore near the Vicars Garden, in the shelter of an old building seeing 3 Slavonian Grebes, inc 1 summer plumaged bird, 2 Red breasted Mergansers, 2 Long tailed Duck, 10 Bar tailed Godwits, 2 Grey Plover. A few migrants dropped out of the murk, 2 Song Thrushes a few Blackbirds and a Goldcrest.

After leaving the island, I called in the Low Newton Scrapes that has played host to a Grey Phalarope for the last 4 days. Today it was looking settled, feeding on the water, head into the wind bobbing up and down. These little wisps of feather winter out in the Atlantic and are as tough as old boots. We get a few in Northumberland but not often on freshwater so it was a pleasure to see this one before it continues northwards...

Thursday, March 29, 2018


Recently we have a had a few spring like days with nice sunny weather, though temperatures still seem a bit below average. the moth trap is not doing well, with some blatant misses up to now including the usually common Red Chestnut and Early Grey. I hope they get a move on....

Over the past week a few birds are on the move with groups of Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Pink footed Geese and Whooper Swans all going north over the garden. A party of 10+ Blackbirds towered high to the east at dusk one evening, only to drop back down into cover, as if testing the weather to see if it was good enough to head home to Scandinavia.

The first Chiffchaffs are finally singing in our village now , but only two birds. After this next cool spell numbers should increase.

One morning 4 Buzzards soared together high over the garden, calling steadily until one pair escorted the others off their territory.

Barn Owls have been very much in evidence with almost daily sightings all over the place as have Brown Hares, doing their mad march boxing.

Last Sunday our first Hedgehog of 2018 was out in the garden. Unfortunately it needed assistance from Northumbria Hedgehog Rescue due to 3 large ticks on its head. Other than that, a few days in rehab should see it ok and back into the wild. We asked them to let us know when it is ready and we will collect it to return back home.

A few willows now ready to feed Bumblers and early Butterflies.

Common Quaker


Oak Beauty 

This young male Sparrowhawk spent some time below our feeders yesterday in the rain.

Common or Field Speedwell?


Sunday, March 18, 2018


Just when we thought winter had gone out with a bang, it seems to be one of those prog rocking winters with an ending that goes on way beyond the allotted time span.

Yesterday and Today have been about as far from spring as you are likely to get in mid March with 50mph winds, freezing temps and a steady stream of snow blizzards.

Still, I popped out this morning checking the coast at Boulmer and Craster but there werent too many birds about.

At Boulmer, the mere has flooded half the field. A nice Lesser black backed Gull was the only spring arrival here amongst 80+ Curlew, 20+ Golden Plover, 38 Bar tailed Godwits and a Peregrine fly by.

Up at Craster, many hundred of gulls feeding in the frothing surf still failed to turn up any thing out of the ordinary though there were 500+ Black headeds, 50+ Herring, 50+ Common, 6+ Great black backed Gulls and a Kittiwake. A few Gannets ploughed into the wind, moving south, my first of the year.

We found our third dead, emaciated, Song Thrush in the village this morning. Three in about 2 weeks. This one had nothing left on its bones, just a wisp of skin and feather. The sooner 'the beast' is forced back east, the better.

The Swallows will be back in 4 weeks...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Begone Beast!

The snowy images below are making me feel cold and are not in keeping with spring, so hopefully this post will shove them down to the bottom a bit.

Since it became a little milder last Friday I have had the moth trap on each night in an attempt to get the garden species list up after weeks of cold weather. Here are some of the moths so far...


Dark Chestnut
Hebrew Character


Pine Beauty
Early Moth

March Moth
I have had 9 sp in total but didnt photograph Pale Brindled Beauty or Agonopterix heracliana / ciliella. It great to get the light back on...

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Days 4 and 5. Coming to a close.

Whilst this weather event is quite significant and may be the worst snow we've seen for 8 years, lets not forget, it is still spring. Daylight is about 3 hours longer than at the turn of the year and as a consequence of this increased lighting, birds are still coming into breeding fettle. Today, some birds were singing over snow drifts, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock and my first Blackbird of the year. It is this that reassures me that try as it may, this wintry spell will be short lived. Roll on the first bumblebee...

The last two days have seen a light thaw giving us access to roads so we can get shopping for supplies. For the wildlife this cant come quick enough. Many thrushes of 5 species are still coming to the garden for food and down on the coast path, good numbers of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Snipe and Fieldfare search for unfrozen ground.

Yesterday I took a walk along the coast to Howick Burn mouth. The sea was a turmoil, raging away, flinging spray and spume up into the woods and fields. A large flock of gulls feeding in the close breakers held 300+ Black headeds, 100+ Common and some Herring and Great black backed while interest came with an adult winter Mediterranean Gull and a first summer Kittiwake, my first of the year.

A walk through Howick Hall Arboretum flushed 9 Woodcock and later on a further 6 were seen at dusk flighting down to the sea shore to feed, including a flock of 4 together.

This evening a Barn Owl was hunting in daylight over the back field behind our house. It looked very white uplit by the snow. I would imagine it has gone hungry recently as the rodents are safely tucked away under 6 inches of snow. I hope some of the hungry chilled birds are not being wasted....
The burn mouth at a raging high tide. I had to wade waist deep through sea foam...
The Arboretum

A partially frozen Pond and Pond Field.

The newly ploughed coast road. Freedom.
Fieldfare and blackbird looking for bits under my car.

This bedraggled Mistle Thrush was new in today, only briefly.

This harsh spell takes its toll...a weak Song Thrush found outside, died soon after.

All looking for softer ground.

Golden Plover.