Saturday, November 09, 2019

Its not all birds...

This year the blog has had less posts than normal and most of those are birding related, so its time to diversify.

I have been moth trapping here now for just over 10 years, in all seasons and weathers. The main thing that I always find amazing is that even after this length of time, new species still arrive. And not just obscure dissected micros either, full on furry bodied, proper, macro moths. How can you trap for 10 years and never see a species only for one to turn up out of the blue? Even more interesting is when more than one individual is caught!

Now that November is upon us, it is unlikely that any further new additions will be made this year, though a Sprawler wouldn't go amiss. Here are the new garden additions for 2019.

35.032 Pexicopia malvella  Hollyhock Seed Moth 

One taken on the 9th August was not only a garden addition but a first for Northumberland too!

35.129 Caryocolum viscariella

One on 16th August was the 5th county record and the first since 2015.

37.108 Colephora salicorniae

 It was a surprise to find this large plain Coleophora in the trap on 2nd August when its nearest saltmarsh habitat is 4+ miles away. The first adult taken in the county, but the 2nd record due to several larval cases being found on one occasion in 2014.

49.195 Bactra furfurana

One on 29th June was the 15th county record.

49.298 Notocelia trimaculana 

A more expected addition with 185 county records of this hawthorn feeder. 2 caught.

49.359 Grapholita janthinana

With 38 records in the county, this one may be scarce but was likely to arrive at some stage. Mine came on 16th July.

62.005 Achroia grisella Lesser Wax Moth

Only 19 county records of this one that was never even on my radar. One on 22nd July.

70.211 Macaria notata Peacock Moth

The first new 'macro' moth in the list was on the 27th July. It was the 2nd for Northumberland after Martin Kitching caught one in Choppington 25 miles further south in 2017.

72.013 Euproctis similis Yellow-tail

A moth from further south really with 66 individuals in Northumberland. This one was a favourite a real litlle cracker! 27th July and 28th July. Two different individuals.

72.042 Atolmis rubricollis Red-necked Footman

Now a common species in our upland pine plantations with 3900 individuals recorded this is the first I have had on the coast since seeing one arrive over the sea in 2007 at Boulmer!  10th July 2019. It flew off before I could get a photo. Here is the 2007 individual...

72.063 Lygephila pastinum Blackneck.

A great year for these in the county. Of the 15 individuals in the county, 11 were this year. Mine was the first for VC68 and the furthest north to date. 22nd July.

73.222 Apterogenum ypsillon Dingy Shears.

One I should have had before now, but two different ones on consecutive nights was nice. With 140 individuals in the county only 5 are from the north VC68. 27th and 28th July. Both certainly different as the first was still in the fridge when I caught the second!

73.331 Diarsia dahlii Barred Chestnut

Another common species but more so further inland. I was pleased with this one on the 29th August.

These 14 new ones for 2019 take the garden list up to 603 including aggs etc. All of these above have been accepted by Tom Tams county recorder and where required gen dets were carried out by him.

The trap has hardly been out in November but if we get a mild spell I'll have a go over the winter...

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

First storm of winter or last one of autumn?

The view from my Craster seawatch spot.
The North East wind last night was a roaring animal, bending trees and stripping them clean of foliage. By the time I took Peggy for her first walk this morning, the rain had stopped and the wind, whilst still strong, had dropped slightly. The sea was enormous and roaring as the rollers smashed into the rocky shore. Balls of ivory foam were blowing along the coast road and over the fields.

This was too harsh for a Cullernose seawatch so I headed down to Craster where the view point is lower but has a bit of a wind break.

I watched from 09.15 - 10.30am. The passage was unremarkable, being so late in the season, but there was enough to keep the interest going. The list went like this with all birds going North unless otherwise stated.

Wigeon 8 N 9 S
Common Scoter 207
Velvet Scoter 1 fem
Long tailed Duck 3
Goldeneye 20
Red breasted Merganser 2
Goosander 1 adult drake 1
Red throated Diver 1 N 1 S
Great Northern Diver 1
Little Auk 3

All against a light movement of Gannets, Kittiwakes and larger Auks.

A female Velver Scoter moves N.
From here I decided to check the Craster Heughs for migrants before home for lunch.

First bird, not a migrant, but a bit of a patch mega these days was a Marsh Tit [161], calling and showing well, but I couldn't get a photo, it was too quick for me. This site is a Willow Tit hotspot with up to 6 birds present recently so where this lone Marsh has appeared from is anyones guess. A totally unexpected year list addition.

Real migrants were noticeable by their absence, but a few Blackbirds high in a hawthorn over the path were scrutinised. Then I saw that in the middle of them was a lone Waxwing! This will likely be the bird Ben had in the village on Sunday, but as it is a first for 2019 I was well pleased to get it. This makes Waxwing being added to every one of my patch year lists since I moved here in 2009 and this week is a prime time to get one.

Also here 500+ Pink footed Geese flew around to the west.

Above -  Waxwing, an adult male too. It never moved from this spot where every angle was obscured by twigs.
After lunch at home, I thought I had better just pop back out for an hour to Cullernose as the wind had dropped further and it had brightened up a bit.

From 1.10 - 2.10pm I had a nice selection even though most seabird passage had dried up.

Little Auk 6
Pomarine Skua 1 juv very close in, great views.
Common Scoter 7
Dark bellied Brent Geese 6
Long tailed Duck 6
Snow Bunting 1 imm male N then seemed to drop down onto the coast path further north, a good claw back after my off-patch birds on Sunday. [162]
Raven 1 over head.

So, not a bad day in the field really with 3 patch year ticks. At this late date, I'm sure my listing additions will be coming to a close...
Edit -I have just realised I am on 162, equalling my best year ever, 2010. Can it be, dare I say it... beaten?
Edit 2 - I have just updated my spreadsheet and it puts me on 163! After going through it species by species, I am confused... It looks like the record has been broken!!

The view south from Cullernose Point, the Howick Bathing House can be seen then Longhoughton Steel behind that.

Cullernose, the great whin sill cliff.

Goldeneyes and a Red breasted Merganser.

Monday, November 04, 2019


We are getting a lot of 'seawatching weather' recently. Some years we hardly get a day with a northerly. However, not all northerlies produce the goods and its a learning curve of experience to pick out good from bad.

I knew today would be a bad one. The wind was NE and gusty, and to the uninitiated seemed good, but, if you drill down a bit, it was coming off a low in the North Sea, not one that had tracked across the top of Scotland hence there was no pre-north westerly ( are you with me) to blow birds into the upper North Sea and then down further south so they can re-track North.

I know that sounds a bit garbled but I hope you get the gist.

We were on Cullernose from 07.30 until 0855.

It was slow.

Still, we managed 8 Little Auks, all nice and close, some landing in front of us, 1 Common Scoter, 2 Long tailed Duck, 1 Velvet Scoter, 2 Red throated Diver, 2 Goldeneye, 5 Fulmar inc a likely Blue phase going S but only see from its arse end as it disappeared, and 5 Eiders.  Gannets and Auks go without saying.

From here we headed along to Craster for some shelter and maybe some passerine action. We had the shelter.

There had been a reasonable fall of thrushes with 30+ Blackbirds, 8+ Redwing, 4+ Song Thrush, 3+ Fieldfare but no small stuff, not even a Chiff or Blackcap to be had.

Best of the walk were 3 Snow Buntings N, just about 300 mtrs out of patch boundary ( they flew from the patch but I was neither in it or saw them in it so they don't count. 6 Willow Tits are good by anyones standards these days and 7 Grey Partridge, 1 Treecreeper and 4+ Goldcrest added interest.

Time for home I stopped at Johns car back at Cullernose. A short scan of the flooded newly sown field had an adult and a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull, then just before leaving the mega arrived! A Little Egret [160]no less flew low over the fields and off north! Thats patching for you, only my 4th sighting here in 10 years and one I didnt have any hope of adding to the 2019 year list...

Off work on Tuesday and the weather forecast looks dog rough.... wave watching likley...

Thursday, October 31, 2019

All at sea...

Seawatching, Cullernose Point, Northumberland
On Tuesday we were lucky enough to have another glitch in the weather making the charts look particularly conducive to some patch seawatching again. This month has produced some decent spells of weather for being perched on a cliff top looking east.

The morning was cool with a moderate NE to E 4. There were some cloudy spells and a few light showers just enough to irritate.

I was on my directors chair at Cullernose for 0815 and set up, in position by five minutes later. The sea looked good with decent visibility and no glare on the water that can be a pain for any east coast, first light, seawatching aficionado.

Birds were constantly on show as they dashed past in a northerly direction. The movement was mainly wildfowl but there were plenty of Gannets, Kittiwakes in tight bands and larger Auks. The notebook page soon began to fill up.

It was at about 0845 that I had a real premonition. I was comfortable in my seat. The rain had passed, the sky was grey as was the water but it had begun to brighten up. I began a pan with the scope. Seawatching for those who don't know consists of a pattern of scans with the telescope or bins sometimes when the glass is pointed around the North East line then is slowly moved south into the on coming birds until you get as far south as possible. This is then repeated for the duration.

Don't get seawatching confused with looking at the sea. Its not that. You can stand on a sand dune or pier with scope at full height just looking around the waves for birds on the water. Things such as seaduck, divers and grebes are located like this all year round.

No, seawatching is the long game. You are waiting for birds to come to you that were not there when you arrived. They were miles away, in flight. To do this you must be sat down in relative comfort for at least an hour, often much longer. I can remember being sat at Newbiggin, in August, back in the day with more clothes on than I could carry. Sitting still for hours in a northerly, even in summer, is a chilling affair. Three hours had flown past and some birders would arrive. They would be wearing trainers, shorts and a T shirt. Scopes at full height. In our books would be 100 Sooty Shearwaters, a few Poms or a Long tailed Skua maybe. glancing at the new company we just knew they would be there no more than 20 minutes and away because it was getting chilly. No birds seen.

Anyway, I digress, at 0845, during a slow pan south, the waves looked a lovely smooth grey colour and I thought, if I keep my observations to a reasonable range, this looks ideal to pick out a petrel passing. Petrels are rare birds here and it is a red letter day if you strike lucky. Leach's Petrel in particular is always my elusive goal. I'd only seen two in the last 30 years, and only one in Northumberland despite countless hours looking.

My scope was coming around to a SE direction when it appeared. A tiny flicker of black above the wave then nothing. Had I really seen something? Or was it an eye floater? Oh no, I paused and out it came, a delightfullly graceful LEACH'S PETREL!

It hung, momentarily, on horizontal wings, did a few flickering wing beats like a little tern, flipped sideways, sheared around flapped again, dancing over the waves. Occasionally I could glimpse a white rump, not as extensive as British Storm Petrel and overall the bird appeared sooty black. As the hazy sun popped out the upperwing seemed more grey with dark primaries, then in dull light it looked all black again. As it came to its closest, it was powered past by a Guillemot, and a few Gannets. It couldnt care less, and continued on its path north, watched all the way until at the last minute it dipped into a wave trough and I couldnt see it again.

Well, what a great little bird.  A real ocean wanderer and a first for me on the patch. It is the second record here after Ben Steele had one last autumn.

After this excitement I relaxed into more standard fare, the full list below...

All birds moving North.

Brent Geese, some pale, some dark. 66
Shelduck 3
Wigeon 319
Teal 18
Pintail 2 New for the year.
Mallard 1
Goldeneye 21
Scaup 3
Common Scoter 292
Velvet Scoter 6
Eider 8
Long tailed Duck 8
Red breasted Merganser 3
Red throated Diver 20
Red necked Grebe 2
Leach's Petrel 1
Pomarine Skua 1juv
Little Auk 44
Puffin 3

Common Scoter with a drake Scaup.
At 11.20, 3 hrs after starting, passage rapidly died off with only an odd auk passing.

This has me on 159 species or 78.71% of the full total.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Seawatching. In context.

As I indicated in my previous post I was keen to get out on Sunday morning as the weather looked good for some sea passage. Through the night the wind rattled the windows and the rain hammered down.

I met John just along the road at Cullernose but the storm was too great for watching this spot. At Cullernose you sit on an exposed cliff top with no shelter at all. In this north westerly gale and driving rain it would be impossible, so it was a move along the coast, all of 1 mile, to Craster village where there is some shelter behind a stone wall over hanging with garden shrubs. Even better, John had brought his large Fishing brolly purchased just for this type of occasion. What a life saver it was too, we were both tucked out of the rain, on deckchairs with a good view of the sea.

There were not as many birds as I would have expected in these conditions. Still, we watched from 07.45 until 12.00. In this filth what else could we have done?

So, what did we see?

Auks. Lots of auks. We have been Seawatching in Northumberland for the last 30 years so we dont record every bird passing. It would be just too much. Auks, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Shags are routinely ignored as we look for more tasty targets. Maybe thats harsh, not ignored but not counted.

There were thousands of auks heading north with fewer, but still a good number, of Gannets moving with them, the sea a constantly changing vista of bird movement. In with them were...

Whooper Swan 41 S
Wigeon 34 N there hasn't been a good movement of ducks yet this autumn.
Teal 17 N
Mallard 4 N
Goldeneye 17 N
Long tailed Duck 6 N inc some nice drakes very close in.
Common Scoter 7 N
Velvet Scoter 4 N
Red breasted Merganser 3 N
Red throated Diver 12 N plus a few on the sea, but too rough to get a count.
Ringed Plover  2 N
Sanderling 1 N checked for Grey Phalarope, but this is still a scarce bird on my patch with its all rocky shores. Not seen since 2015 [156]
Purple Sandpiper 4 N
Bonxie 1 S very close in milling around.

A second watch for a short time in the afternoon only had 3 Red breasted Merganser and 1 Bar tailed Godwit N

Only Sanderling was a new addition to the year list.

Today was better. The wind had gone right off leaving a pleasant morning with grey overcast skies giving good light for the morning watch.

Today I watched from Cullernose Point 0820 - 1120.

It was clear that more birds were reorientating North especially wildfowl.

Dark bellied Brent Geese 2 N
Shelduck 6 N
Wigeon 258 N
Teal 37 N
Mallard 16 N
Scaup 1 fem N with Common Scoter. [157]
Goldeneye 5 N
Long tailed Duck 4 N
Common Scoter 142 N
Velvet Scoter 3 N
Eider 5 N passage birds, not our harbour locals, they dont get counted loafing off the rocks.
Red breasted Merganser 6 N
Red throated Diver 9 N 1 S
Black throated Diver 2 N with a single Red throat very close in, for comparison.
Great Northern Diver 2 N
Fulmar 1 N at this quietest time for them.
Manx Shearwater 2 N
Sanderling 1 N with 4 Dunlin, two in 2 days is good.
Purple Sandpiper 2 N 1 on the rocks with 2 Golden Plover.
Dunlin 19 N an excellent count here, best for a long time.
Bar tailed Godwit 2 N
Bonxie 2 N
Kittiwake, good numbers, much more than yesterday.
Little Gull 17 N with adults and first winters seen.
Herring Gull ssp from mid morning many, almost all first winters moved N, not counted.
Auks sp less than yesterday but still a lot N.
Little Auk 8 N max 3 at one time.
Puffin 10 N of the auks identified.

Its in a Local Patch context some of these birds come into their own. For example, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin and Bar tailed Godwit are all more tricky to see here than Velvet Scoter, Little Auk and Purple Sandpiper even though they are very common over most of the Northumberland coast north and south of me.

What was missing? Pintail are often in Wigeon flocks but not today. Grebes, all being very scarce here except Little. Pomarine Skuas. In these conditions I would expect a few at this time of year.

All of these give something to watch out for during the next northerly spell we have. Hopefully before mid November...

Patch list stands at a very respectable for here 157 species...77.72% of my all time total.

Sunday sewatching from under Johns umbrella, Craster.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

A long weekend using up some annual leave. Last night we went to the cinema to see The Joker, a bit of a trek for us with the Odeon being an 80 miles round trip, but it was agreat film and well worth it.. Before I left home though a nice dog walk to the coast path gave some great views of another Yellow browed Warbler flitting around a less foliaged sycamore on the cliff top. My 5th patch YBW this year, and probably my best year for this species locally.

Today has been a bit grim weather wise with rain most of the day and nothing of note seen, however the weather forecast looks promising. Tomorrow the wind is a good blowy 20mph NW erly swinging N and the same on Monday with less strength and no rain.

Should be some sea movement hopefully, watch this space...

NE England, that pink occluded front and isobars show wind from the North Atlantic and arctic circle.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Blog rattling...

Occasionally it takes someone to speak out in order to get the wheels of reaction in motion.

Steve Gale at North Downs & Beyond posted the other day about the slow but steady decline in blogging output. This has prompted several long term writers out there to comment with their own take on things, so I might as well get it out there too.

Some of the bloggers I follow are good writers, being able to post regularly in an interesting, original, way on all matters linked to Natural History. I'm not so good at this, even this post is riding on the shoulders of giants, though I would like to be.

My blog has stood the test of time not because of my gripping content setting the world alight, no, it simply a diary type of thing, showing the stuff outside that I interact with. I can post some photos that I like, or ones that illustrate my sightings and I can show some originality with my notebooks and sketches.

I used to look forward to any comments from people and even an email or two from those interested enough to ask a question but now that mostly comes from other social media platforms.

This is where Blogger differs though. It is a much slower animal than say Facebook or Twitter ( I dont know how Instagram works). It allows reflection and roles out an actual timeline that the others don't. For me it is a source of genuine interest like a magazine or newsletter might be. Its free and you get a new one through your inbox every day to read...

I would never post something as long as this on Facebook. No one would ever read it. There might be no readers on here either but you never know, at least it remains out there, lying on the coffee table so to speak.

From my own selfish point of view, I hope the bloggers I like dont pack it in. If a regular poster misses a fortnight I am worrying about their health! 

So to all bloggers out there, never feel pressured into posting. Just relax and do what you fancy. You do have a fan out here...

[ Note -  maybe try a few lines at least monthly just to let us know you are still alive...]