Monday, May 03, 2021


 Last night from around 8.30pm we were watching 'Call the Midwife' waiting for the finale of that most popular of  TV cop dramas, 'Line of Duty' to come on. As usual we were eating our tea from the knee while glued to the box when Jane said, look the Barn Owl is on next door's roof.  Glancing up from my cheesy potato and vegetable bake, sure enough, our usual dark eyed female Barn Owl was sat peering in our window.

Barn Owl on the greenhouse. Photo is rough as it was taken through the window in near dark conditions. 

After about ten minutes, she up and hovered along the track behind our garden then landed on our greenhouse roof. She seemed to be watching for birds roosting in the conifers next door. I have seen a Barn Owl do this here before, at a late summer Starling roost that moved on 5,000 birds in one visit but to see her sat on the greenhouse was very unusual indeed.

The Owl dotted between three sitting points until it was too dark to see. I hope she found something to eat, as tonight's stormy wet weather is not going to help already hungry vole-starved birds to get by...

As for the Line of Duty ending, I liked it. I still dont think Buckells is the man for the job mind, but that remains to be seen. And the drubbing this last episode is getting on Twitter, I suspect these are from people who came late to the party and expected a bigger, more explosive finish... 


Sunday, May 02, 2021

April Gone.

 Since the excitement of the Red throated Pipit things have taken the predicted down turn. This is mainly due to the relentless cold and poor weather that has hung around since March. In April the winds often take on a northerly view, making finding spring migrants a losing battle in Northumberland, but this April its not just us that has suffered. This April has been the frostiest on record nationally.

We have plants around us with brown and yellow new growth due to the constant cold overnight. Even hardy natives like Dogs Mercury and Stinging Nettle are looking a tad yellow around the gills but here we are in May so hopefully things will improve.

Last Sunday we had a change of scenery visiting some spots very close to where I live, but are scarcely visited, to do the Breeding Waders of Wet Meadows survey near Dunstanburgh Castle. Needless to say we didnt find many. Only two Snipe lifted from a small flooded patch near the castle and that was it.

Of interest last week were 5 daylight hunting Barn Owls again. I have seen 14 day hunting different individuals in that last 7 days. 5 on the moors the week before, this 5, 2 at Low Newton and 2 at home. Barn Owls here are a daily occurrence, an ever presence. This however, is not a good thing. The poor birds are only out during the day, every day, because they are struggling to find enough prey to keep them going overnight. Local ringers who study them have weighed some adults from nest boxes and found them very underweight. At D'burgh, one of the local Raven pair fancied one of the owls for a snack and gave a short flight pursuit, twice knocking the bird into the grass until we intervened. The owl recovered composure for a few minutes then flew off, leaving the Raven to find more suitable food along the shore.

Raven pursuing Barn Owl with intent.

A pair of Gadwall on the small Dunstanburgh wetland were a 5km tick for me, 1 Whimbrel was on the shore and 2 male Greenland Wheatears dashed around the rocks. On the sea off the castle were some close feeding frenzies that included 100+ Razorbills in fine summer plumage.

A feeding frenzy of Kittiwakes, Gulls and Razorbills close in off Dunstanburgh Castle

Greenland Wheatear


Gadwall pair

The past week has been just as quiet only adding Whitethroat to the list on the patch.

Today we headed up to the moors west of Alnwick. 

A walk along a burn lined with ancient twisted Alders and Birch was nice in lovely sunshine. A female Redstart was nest building, a Tree Pipit was song flighting and 3 Cuckoos were calling in the background. A Barn Owl was hunting the moor ( yes, another one).

As the clouds gathered and rain began to spit, another site had a Whimbrel circling low, unusual inland here, a Fieldfare, a male Wheatear but best of all two nice Green Hairstreaks and a male Emperor Moth were good to see again after an absence during last springs lockdown.

One of the Green Haistreaks. The bottom shot looks odd because the butterfly is lying tilted over to catch some of the sun.

Female Redstart nest building in old birch tree,



Sunday, April 25, 2021

Seeing Red...

Act I.

On Friday the weather continued in a similar vein as recently with a high pressure giving a cool, clear and sunny morning at 2 degrees first thing.

The first dog walk of the day resulted in a new one for the year list as a Sedge Warbler sang from blackthorn on the coast path.

I was working at the computer in the bedroom when a WhatsApp from Gary Woodburn came through telling of a Red throated Pipit he had just found at Newton Pool.

Now, Red throated Pipit is possibly my commonest full lifer outstanding from my list. Other birds I have seen abroad but I cant think of anything on the British List more regular that I have not seen anywhere, so my ears perked up at this message.

In Northumberland there has not been a properly twitchable one for about 30 years so I wasn't holding out much hope for this early bird. I fully expected it to have flown off high, North, calling within 10 minutes, so a direct message to Gary asking for a Sit Rep ( Line of Duty there) was quickly dispatched. Surprisingly the reply was positive though mixed. The bird was still present on Embleton Golf Course but the greens were filling up rapidly with Pringle sweaters. Would they scupper my chances?

As the bird was only 5 miles from home, I quickly clocked off work and headed off up the road. I arrived after a road block stoppage, to find only 4 birders present and the bird not seen for 20 minutes having last been watched about 300 yards away on the other side of the course. 

The heat haze was building and the golfers were buzzing here and there when miles away a small bird in short grass looked different. At 50x zoom in the Swaro, it looked 'warmer' than the other pipits dotted around. We sat in expectation waiting for the golfers to flush the flock when one of two things would happen. They would fly closer and land, or they would do a bunk altogether. Unbelievably the first option won, with the 6+ Meadow Pipits, 1 Yellow Wagtail and 2 Yellowhammers plus the 'bird' all lifted and flew at least 50% closer onto the nearer fairway. We soon picked it out, still very distant but now confirmed as my lifer Red throated Pipit!

This was the pattern for the next hour but generally the bird stayed a bit too far to be called a good observation. Tickable views but hardly satisfying.

Above, Top, the Golf Club house where I parked.Bottom the view just off the golf course to Dunstanburgh Castle.

Thats it above the gorse...

Act 2.

 Saturday was another glorious cold morning. I was up at 5.50am to collect my Bucket Moth Trap from out Village Wood. When I got back, Gary rang me in error from his coat pocket. From the garbled voices I knew he was back on the golf course. Maybe the bird was still there? All of a sudden Gary messaged me saying if I wanted a second view the Pipit was showing very well on the green with no golfers yet.

This was too good a chance to miss, so off I went for a look. On arrival from the south end this time, our rusty faced Anthus was back in the same place as yesterday, out on the edge of science, miles off!

Ah well, I'll give it a chance , at least I had already seen it.

As we waited a Barn Owl, one of two here, winged along the far edge of the course lifting the small birds and they flew, again half way out. Today the haze was much less so even this was a good view in the scope, When the first round of Arnold Palmers arrived they helped coax the bird even closer now on the nearest fairway giving nice views. All of a sudden they lifted again and landed right out from us on the nearest green! We manged a few shots here, but missed a great opportunity when the Pipit landed only 12 feet from Gary. As we fumbled in panic, the bird lifted again and headed North towards the main pool ending our audience for the morning.

Still it was a much better performance than on Friday and some record shots were a bonus.

Red throated Pipit UK List 421 , Northumberland List 354 .


Above -  Red throated Pipit, Embleton Golf Course 24/04/21

Tuesday, April 20, 2021



A corner of the garden...

Just a few invertebrates from the weekend....all from the garden except the fly at the bottom that was on Alnwick Moor on Sunday.

Red Mason Bee Osmia bicornis

One of the Cuckoo Bees either Bombus bohemicus or Bumbus vestalis ?

Buffish Mining Bee Andrea nigroaenea 

A male Tawny Mining Bee, the jazzy orange females wouldnt sit still.

Tachina ursina Fly.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ouzels and a start...

 First bird this morning as I looked out of the kitchen window was the Brambling that had decided not to cross the North Sea just yet. After a brief show on Friday evening, Saturday evening and today it has been much more forthcoming spending the time chasing Chaffies from the bird table in between resting up and singing his Greenfinch like wheeze above the feeders.

For the first time this year, John and me headed inland all of 5 miles or so to Alnwick Moors. Thin cloud cover meant the day was still very cold though the frosts of recent days did not materialise this morning.

Before 9.30 we had seen 5 daylight hunting Barn Owls including two together at one site. 

We stopped at two random non birded spots for a look as we usually do and were pleased with a nice male Redstart in full song and a hatful of Willow Warblers with an odd Blackcap for good measure. One of the Barn Owls floated around serenaded by the Redstart overhead.

Male Redstart in song.

Our next stop was generally to look for insects but it was a bit cool so we had a yomp around not seeing much, until John gave a whistle and waved me up the hill. He had found a nice flock of 6 Ring Ouzels along a dry stone wall. There were 5 males and one female all seen together as they flew off high west only to circle around and drop back in to the same spot. All the while calling like a squeaky rubber ball. One male was partially leucistic, being dotted with white spots. We stalked for a photograph but they remained distant so here are some record shots.

Also here were 20+ Redpolls, 23 Fieldfare and 2 Stonechat.

When migrant birds are coming and going from all parts, its good to be out. 

5 of the 6 Ring Ouzels, we didnt see where No6 sloped off to...


Friday, April 16, 2021

Broken record.

 Its cold again. Frosty this morning at 0 degrees. Still no Willow Warblers etc etc.

Last night around 6pm a nice male Brambling dropped into our feeders for 10 minutes. Its not around today so I assume it could be in Norway by now, where it might be warmer than here.

Brambling at our feeders

Up near the main hall car park, the 3 mtr patch of lungwort is the place to be for insects. 12+ Hairy Footed Flower Bees but only 2 females were great to watch as they scrapped and chased through the dead stems, Garden Bumblebee, Common Carder Bee, Red tailed Bumblebee and 4 Dark edged Bee fly were all filling up at the nectar station.

Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum

Male Hairy footed Flower Bees

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Still cold...

 The week progresses but its still bloody freezing. Every morning when I get up the place is white with frost, today -2 degrees again. The sun is beautiful though, bright and crystal clear but there is little warmth. I am sick of feeling 'tight' with cold when I go out, roll on a day when its a straight 12 degrees with no reduction for wind chill.

Little has changed on the bird front around the village. There are still no Willow Warblers but with 400 arriving at Portland yesterday they are surely on their way.  There are more Blackcaps now with 4 or 5 singing locally but the Swallows have gone and who can blame them.

Out in the village wood on Peggy's walk at lunchtime, the blossomed sallow, mentioned last time, is still attracting a few hardy insects with 2 Comma, a Peacock and a Small Tortoiseshell in the vicinity. 

Yesterday was my first visit to the barbers since mid December, so maybe that is how I am feeling the cold...

Dark edged Bee Fly