Sunday, October 15, 2017

Rainbow Rising....

Today, we had a plan.

I was to meet John at Alnmouth, we would have a look down to East Chevington for the Cetti's Warbler then a run on up to Budle Bay for wild Canada Geese.

That started to change when I had a call from John as I left the house at 6.40am saying that he had a puncture, could I pick him up. That was the easy bit done, so should we head 10 miles south or 15 miles north? The Cetti's won, being a county tick for us both, so we arrived on site just at sun up.

We were soon in the right spot awaiting a machine gun blast of Cetti's wake up call, but all was quiet. Two cream crowned Marsh Harriers, 9 Pintail, 57 Tufted Ducks, 15 Little Grebes with loads of assorted commoner wildfowl kept us occupied, while over head there was a light trickle of visible migration with a few Redpolls, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits etc heading south overhead.

Half an hour later, Dave Elliott appeared from the small steel hide in the corner and indicated that our bird was vocal, even though we couldn't hear it over the breeze. We nimbly (?) clambered over two fences and a ditch to get to the spot but the reeds were silent. Apart from John and myself, Alan and Andy were with Dave hoping to get a view of the Cetti's. I would be pleased to hear it. Then very faintly I heard a distant rattle. No one else moved. I must have imagined it. Another few minutes passed and again there it was, this time Dave and John heard it but it was very faint. After a while it came a bit closer and we could all pick it out doing its choppy song deep in the phragmites.

Now, this steel hide is, lets be honest, bloody awful. Every movement by its tenants sounded like a drum solo, and it did its best to shield us from all outside sounds, so off we popped outside to see if that was better. Dave left us to continue his search elsewhere but we lingered on hoping for a view.

After a while we were joined by top father and son team, Tariq and Jonathan Farooqi, Bob Biggs, Chris Barlow and Gary Wren, all hoping to add this skulking warbler to the county list.

A few more larks and pipits headed south followed by a low fly past from a Grey Plover, lit beautifully in the morning sun, then, at 9.25am, things took a very surreal turn.

I heard from above and behind us a loud 'blloop' or 'blleep' call. A single note. Down in the subconscious, it made me freeze and every thing seemed to stop until the Farooqi's said 'Bee-eater!'

I looked up and there straight above was a lone Bee-eater! I could not believe my eyes. We are in Northumberland in October with a Shorelark 300 yards away and I am watching the slim, spiked form of a Bee-eater! Then, Farooqi Jnr called 'there's two!' and sure enough, a few yards behind the first was its travelling companion.

A panic ensued to ensure all present were on these fast moving small birds in a featureless sky and luckily all present indicated success. The birds continued north to Druridge Bay Country park giving glimpses of blue, turquoise and orange from a generally silhouetted small dot in the sky.

John kept them in his scope for a full 10 minutes until they just vanished into the distance over Hauxley.

I am not ashamed to say, the air was punched! Bee-eater is much sought after in the  county with no real twitchable birds ever, so to jam in on these two was amazing!

After the adrenalin pumping excitement, the Cetti's was all but forgotten, a nice juv Black Tern flew in briefly and then south and I didn't even care about not getting on to the Bittern that flew up briefly near us. No, the morning was a good one, and I am sure the tale will be regaled well into the future. We didn't make it up north for the geese either.

For the few birders at the other hide who missed them we were genuinely gutted, but now the day is done, I am just sitting here basking in my first Northumberland Bee-eaters!    Things don't get much better...

Notes not done in the field, but back home this evening. I have tried to show them as we saw them with a lot of shadow and hints of colour.  It is difficult to get teh colour down as we had it showing snippets of jewellry! 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017


Its a while since I have posted any moths on here, so this is a photo blog of some recent ones...

The Olive. A rare garden record, my third.

Top - Dark Marbled Carpet, bottom - Common Marbled Carpet showing clinching underwing of DMC compared to the obvious CMC.

Rush Veneer a scarce migrant here.

Another scarce migrant, Rusty Dot Pearl.

Sallow, I like this one on Fox and Cubs.

This drab creature is a first for Northumberland, a Leek Moth. Always good to get a county first.

Only my second ever Red Underwing avoiding the trap altogether. Bait especially laid out for this and Old Lady. The latter still not on the Howick list.

Scarce Bordered Straw, a garden first of this rare migrant up here.

Dark Spectacle, the latest county record by 1 day.

My second Northumberland first, a Feathered Ranunculus. A macro first! Get in....

Everyone's fave, Merveille du Jour.

Dark Chestnut

Red line Quaker.

Sunday, October 08, 2017

Two Barred.

Not Crossbill or Greenish Warbler, no, a tale of two Barred Warblers that's all. Calm down.

On Friday I finally made it along to have a look for the Barred Warbler found by Alan Priest on the Newbiggin Ash Lagoon banks. Earlier, Hector Galley had it right out in the open sunning itself, but by the time I arrived it had gone to ground. I stood for an hour seeing Dunnocks, Robins and Wrens by no lumbering sylvia. I decided to call it a rap, and go back to work when an overly excited Blackbird flushed another bird up into a small whitebeam bush - it was the Barred.

It showed well, albeit quite distantly for a passerine but I did get decent scope views for a few minutes before it dropped back to cover. I'll come back on Sunday with John, I mused....

Today we began with a dawn seawatch from the Church Point at Newbiggin. It was generally quiet but there was a good movement of Barnacle Geese in smallish skeins that ended up with 700 birds into the notebook. A Bonxie, 3 Arctic Skuas and 10 Red throated Divers padded it out a bit, but it was slow so we headed across to check out the Barred again.

It was an ideal flat calm, overcast, quiet morning. Bramblings were arriving overhead and we had some decent viz-migging with 33 Tree Sparrows, 10+ Skylarks, a good number of alba wagtails and several Meadow Pipits but try as we might there was no Barred Warbler. I managed a hopeless glimpse of a birds arse end dropping off a low whitebeam that was likely it, but it didn't resurface.

So it was time for a cuppa and where else was there to go other than to look for another Barred Warbler, this time found by Iain Robson at Druridge.

A sizeable crowd had gathered around a large elder bush and waited. Staying cool, we had tea and biscuits.

Soon the call went up, the bird had been seen. Flasks were stowed and dregs tipped. As we made our way along, the crowd was looking at one side of the bush so we waited at the other end. As soon as we stopped, a lovely ,dove grey, Barred Warbler popped out to snatch some elderberries. Then promptly vanished to be replaced by a Garden Warbler!

Anyway, with a little patience, everyone finally managed good views of the Barred, as it fed on sloes and elderberries with 2+ Garden Warblers. It made those, look like little chiffchaffs such was its bulk.

We waited to get some pictures but the results speak for themselves, and it was all too soon time for home...

Sunday, October 01, 2017

A long tale...

In a solid overcast drizzling dawn, John and myself headed up to Goswick to call in on the juvenile Long-tailed Skua that has frequented the golf course there for the last few days.

At first it wouldn't play ball, or should I say golf, and remained elusive hidden away at the northern most extremity of the fairways. After a little stalking and a lot of a soaking we managed decent views of this usually pelagic pirate.

Clearly we weren't going to do as well as our peers on the photographic front, so we headed back to the car to dry and have refreshments.

Next stop, Budle Bay. From the laybye, viewing here is always a chore with loads of birds around but most of them a long way off. Still we manged a few Grey Plover, 4 Little Egret and a load of Pink footed Geese before we cut or losses and headed around to Stag Rocks for better views of last weeks nemesis the White winged Black Tern.

At Stag, all was quiet so we walked out to Budle Point. Things were much better here with a nice juv Black Tern, a juv Roseate Tern, maybe 20 Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns, an Arctic Skua,  a Kingfisher, 60+ Pale and Dark bellied Brent Geese, 300+ Pink footed Geese and a Red breasted Merganser. Unfortunately despite spending over an hour looking there was no sign of the aforementioned WWBT so we called it a day and headed back to the car.

In the laybye here we bumped into bird artist extraordinaire, Darren Woodhead and his young son scanning the sea.After exchanging pleasantries we were about to leave when the lad shouted and waved. The kid had just found the White winged Black Tern off the lighthouse! Thats what 10 year old eyes can do for you...

After som initially confusing directions we all managed to see the bird well before it danced its way south towards Bamburgh Beach. An educational bird.

Our final stop was to be a quick scan at Monk's House Pool ( of Ennion fame). Here a juv Little Stint and 4 Black tailed Godwits were the highlight.

Not a bad few hours out with 6 species of tern, you could forget it is October already!

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lucky Scops Owl.

About 35 years ago, I first read Richard Millington's book 'A Twitcher's Diary'. It was a diary of a twitchers exploits over the year 1980. Until then, rare birds were just a thing of rumour to me, I had never seen one and wouldn't have known where to look.

On reading his book, I wondered how it was possible to see so many exotic species that, to me, were just pictures in a field guide, yet he was seeing them on a daily basis. Of course, now I know how he did it, but not then.

I would pore over his illustrations with envy, birds like Belted Kingfisher, Pied billed Grebe and Ivory Gull were fantastic creatures. Little did I know that all of those and more would be on my British List 35 years later.

However, one illustration stands out. On the cover is a Scops Owl that spent the summer of 1980 in the village of Dummer, Hants, then the first UK twitchable record. Since then, a few have turned up, but all are on either the south coast or the Northern isles way too far for me to access. Today, that was about to change....

Early this morning a young birder called Tom Middleton was birding a small scrub filled gully near the sea at Sunderland called Ryehope Dene. He saw what he thought was a Yellow browed Warbler fly into a large Elder bush and went to investigate. He raised his bins and saw a movement, but not the expected stripy sibe he was looking for, no, one of the branches moved around and turned out to be an owl, a small one at that! Tom could hardly believe it, he had found a tiny Scops Owl all the way from southern and eastern Europe.

News soon filtered out via social media and people were on the move. Luckily, again, the bird was in the open, on show, in a location where people could not get too close to flush it, but it could be seen well from a footpath only a few yards away.

I was in the office at work, on a half day with commitments at home 25 miles in the opposite direction at 1pm. I had no birding gear with me and was dressed in office clothes. Still, where there's a will, there's a way and I reasoned that some kind birder would let me see through his scope. As it happened, there was no need, ADMc came with me and I used his gear.

We arrived at Ryehope at 11.15am and stayed for half an hour before I needed to get away, but what a bird. We had scope filling views as it preened and stared those large pale cats eyes at us, quite unconcerned. It was fantastic and will not be bettered this year that's for sure.

So, if you think about the odds of one bird, landing in one bush where a birder is looking, and then it stays in the open for people to see well, luck was certainly on Tom's side today....and ours!

This little fluff ball makes my British list 411...

Monday, September 25, 2017

Post Holiday ticking...

Its been over a week since our Suffolk hols now, and I have finally got a round to this photo I took of a Willow Emerald Damselfly on my phone. I wish I had taken my camera on this walk now.

This species is a new colonist to England, and doesn't even appear in my dragonfly guides its so new.
In this very poor photo you can still see the pale buff pterostigma in the wing and the long spur mark in the thorax below the humeral stripe. All a bit technical but these features are quite obvious when you have a look. A new species for me...

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Feed the Birds...

Let me take you back to 1974.

Yes, I was birding, well, bird watching, back then at the tender age of 10 years old. My mate Geordie, then aged 60 ( I know, some age difference but with similar interests, I didn't care) used to breed British finches. Siskins, Bullfinches, Redpolls and Greenfinches all had large out door fully planted aviaries made from aluminium greenhouses with the glass removed and wire mesh fitted. One side of the roof and a back wall were covered on the outside with clear corrugated plastic to provide shelter from the elements.

One of my memories of these days was the sweet oily smell of the brown paper bags of John Haith's British Finch seed mix that he used to get delivered, mail order, from Cleethorpes. He would have a mix plus black sunflower, niger and hemp seed all fed in carefully measured quantities to ensure his breeding birds were in the finest fettle for spring. It worked too, the songs of all of these finches echoed around the allotments when we arrived at 6am to start the day. Siskins wheezed and Redpolls chuched to each other from their broom, gorse and larch clad enclosures.

So, imagine my surprise when I got an email from Gemma the Customer Services Manager of Haith's to ask if I would like to try a free sample after she had seen my blog. Er, yes, I would, I like owt for nowt .... So within the week, a parcel arrived with a nice bag of Niger,  a tall niger feeder and a catalogue that that have been put to good use with my goldies. 

It took me right back to the old days when I saw the product. A nice quality seed, with the same logo from back then and, yes, even the brown paper bag was the same...the only difference was that now all my bird interests are wild, just as they should be. Happy Days....Thanks Haiths!

You can see more one their website, click HERE.