Sunday, January 19, 2020

Walk - Detchant Woods to Holburn Moss circular.

Map of Walk. Stars are - Top right -  Car Park on verge, Bottom edge - St Cuthberts Cave stop and Greensheen Hill Trig Point stop.
Today dawned frosty clear and clam, an ideal morning for a wander in the North Northumberland hills.

As you would imagine for the time of year things were quiet but we did see one or two bits of interest and of course the views are always superb. We had fresh air, excercise, natural history, ancient history and some sunshine. Just the job.

Park at NU 0823 3730 Walk Distance - 11.37km / 7.06 miles Going - Good paths with some low hills.

Of note we saw Treecreeper, a few Goldcrests, several finch flocks of up to 200 birds each containing Goldfinch, Linnet, Siskin and Redpoll, a Goshawk was calling strongly in the forest but quietened on our approach and remained unseen, Crossbill 12+. On the ponds were 100+ Teal, 10+ Wigeon, 20+ Mallard, 1 Tufted Duck. 1 Raven sat on the trig point before we got up there, 12+ Red legs flushed from St Cuthberts Cave and a Jay was calling in the woods. 2 Buzzards flew around calling.

In the 7 miles walk we only passed one group of three people with two dogs who chatted and were soon on their way.

The beginning is through mixed woodland.

John or maybe Freddie Kruger....

Dow Crag Lough

Dow Crag Lough facing East towards Holy Island, Lindisfarne.

St Cuthberts Cave

Above -  Old graffiti.

Above - Hibernating Bat poss Natterers?

Above - St Cuthberts Cave

View East from Trig Point at Greensheen Hill taking in Lindisfarne, The Farnes, Bamburgh Castle and Budle Bay.

From the same spot as above, the view West takes in the Cheviot Hills.

Holburn Moss had a decent number of wildfowl on it.

Track down.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Y2K Bug....

Remember 20 years ago when planes would fall from the sky, famine and disease would ravish the land and we would all die because a glitch in the worlds computers would kick in at midnight on 01/01/2000.

Well, here we are in 2020 without hover cars or tin foil catsuits and I am facing a similar dread.

My Windows 7 operating system is now no more. Defunct. Obsolete. I am open to all kinds of malware, and Russian hackers are queueing up to have a bit of me.

One day I will get a nice shiny new Windows 2010 PC, but until I have £800 spare, I'll just have to sit here on death row awaiting my fate...

This might be the last post...

Monday, January 06, 2020

Holy Diver and the Rorschach test.

The farthest north reaches of Northumberland have some great under watched areas for wildlife and none more so than the mighty River Tweed and the Berwick beaches to the south of its estuary.

This morning we began with a scan offshore at Cheswick for the now annual Black Scoter. From our vantage we could not find any scoter let alone an American one, so we quickly scanned north and in the distance was a veritable oil slick of birds, way too far off to identify. There was nothing for it, we needed to change vantage points. A drive up the road soon found us on a high point at Cocklawburn Beach where the raft of scoter were feeding not too far out.

There were masses of them, I didn't count, but well over a thousand I'd say. It wasn't possible to get a full, uninterrupted, scan of them all without 40% diving then resurfacing on the other side of the birds on the top, a bit like a split shuffle of a deck of cards.

It was just a case of carefully checking through the birds that remained on show. Alas, no Black Scoter was to be found. Where is he? In the constantly shape shifting 'Rorschach' patches of birds, who could say. 80% of them seemed to be females or immature drakes so I think we would have seen him if he had been there. I managed to pick out  15 Red throated Divers, 1 female Velvet Scoter, 1 each of Guillemot and Razorbill, dozens of Shags, a pair of Goldeneye and best of all, a lovely Black throated Diver complete with its S shaped swans neck and cobra-like, dove-grey, hood . Shame it didn't stay on view very long before submarine-ing it with the duck.

Black throated Diver with Common Scoter

Further up the coast in the Tweed Estuary, the sun was shining, lighting up 102 Mallard, 29 Goldeneye, 2 Red throated Divers, 2 Little Grebe and 1 drake Goosander. A party of 14 Grey Herons roosted on a mid river island along side good numbers of Canada Geese and Lapwings.

Back on the home turf in the afternoon, Treecreeper, Chiffchaff, and Tufted Duck were added to the year list.

A trip down to Amble at dusk visiting family, I was surprised to see a single Pipistrelle sized Bat fly steadily over the cemetery until lost to view.

The Tweed Estuary, Berwick upon Tweed.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

2020 vision.

A look at my 2019 blogging activity shows that I posted the least number of times since the blog began 13 years ago. Now that it is at rock bottom, the only way to go in 2020 is onwards and upwards, so before blogging, I'll need some material to blog about... What to do this year, well...

1. The Patch List will be ongoing, not only to keep up with Steve at North Downs and Beyond, but to give some focus locally that can be done whenever I have a minute spare.

2. Its not just about birding here at chez Stewchat, I will be mothing, butterflying, spidering, botanising, fungusing and any other 'ing' that will draw me into the natural world.

3. Try to do some more drawing and notebook stuff in the field. I must push this!

4. Out and About. Nowadays I mainly concentrate on VC68 or North Northumberland, the area between the River Coquet to the south and the River Tweed in the North. There are endless opportunities for new discoveries in the very underwatched area for natural history (other than birding).

5. Farther afield. Mmm, now...I do fancy a trip north for one very special moth but that will be kept in the planning stage for the moment, plus there will be holiday cottages in Suffolk and Scotland hopefully where some unfamiliar faces can be found.

And that is about it really, there is always something of interest to look for. I recently read someone on Twitter say that they had 'lost their birding mojo'. This came from someone who hasn't been birding for very long either so what can you say to that. 

As a good friend once said to me about another, 'Stewart, they aren't birders like us', and I knew exactly what was implied. For some, natural history observation is a hobby to pick up and drop whenever the going gets tough. For others it is a lifelong quest that can never be satiated. The possibilities are infinite in the relatively short span of a human lifespan.

So, in the new decade, get out there and live amongst fellow earth beings, in the sound knowledge that if your day seems quiet or near to boring, then its time you upped your game!

Happy New Decade everyone, I will definitely post more this year!

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Close of play...

Well as 2019 draws to a close, its the time of year when we all summarise what has gone before and generally ponder what the coming year may bring.

This year I focused on my local patch year list, with some invertebrate hunting, mothing and county twitching thrown in to add variety.

The local patch listing did very well indeed, with a decade long record being broken!

In the end of a very memorable year birding within one mile of by home produced 163 species beating my best ever in 2010 by a single species. This total equates to 80.29% of my overall list, for here, of 203 species.

Before I get to the highlights, in true birder fashion, it is what is missed that often becomes the most intriguing. For example, despite living 300 mtrs from the north sea, drift migrants are now rarer than some formerly rare species. There were no Redstart ( last 2017), Garden Warbler ( last 2016) , Pied Fly ( last 2015) or Spotted Fly ( last 2018). Other absentees were -   Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Greenshank, White winged Gulls, Cuckoo, Asio Owls, Tree Pipit and Twite.

Never mind, you can't get them all. I shouldnt complain because many a patch watcher would drool at the birds I did see -

Scaup, the 4th record seawatching.
Mandarin  1 drake on the pond in May, my 2nd record.
Black throated Diver, several.
Great Northern Diver, ditto.
Leach's Petrel 1 on 29th October was only my second ever and first on patch. One of the years best.
Red necked Grebe 3 a great showing, there last record I had here was in 2010 so one on the sea in January and two N on a seawatch in October was excellent.
Little Egret 1 N my 3rd here.
Water Rail always surprising since they occur in wet woodland here.
Bar tailed Godwit a few seen on seawatches, a common wader both north and south of me, but not on my rocky stretch of shore.
Green Sandpiper 2 were the first since 2015.
Pomarine Skua a few, almost annual but always good to get.
Little Gull, several inc 17 N on 21st October was my best showing here.
Sabine's Gull 1 juv N on 1st October  was only my 2nd here after one in 2017.
Mediterranean Gull increasing with up to 4 birds seen together.
Little Tern 2 S in July were my first since 2015.
Roseate Tern, annual here but it would be churlish to leave such a good bird off this list.
[Gull billed Tern 1 S close in along the coast remains very tantalising. I have not added it to these totals.]
Little Auk again, annual in late autumn. Up to 30 seen on several dates.
Ring Ouzel 1 male in April was my first spring bird.
Waxwing 1 in Ocober, again almost annual here in late autumn.
Yellow browed Warbler 5 this year was a record showing. Now commoner than so called common migrants!
Firecrest 1 in January was the years first surprise, only my second record.
Marsh Tit 1 with Willow Tits at Craster in autumn was a nice suprise now that thsi bird is extinct as a breeder since 2010.
Willow Tit up to 6 at a time at Craster.
Hooded Crow 1 in April was a site first for me.
Raven, our rare breeders continue to be seen irregularly through the year.
Snow Bunting, single birds over Cullernose while seawatching.

 The best sighting though had to be the most outrageous. A juvenile Giant Petrel sp N on 2nd July after being seen at Whitburn by Mark Newsome earlier in the afternoon is truly mind boggling, but see it we did for a whole 10 minutes as it weaved its way north. I wont hold my breath for its acceptance though! What it did for me though was encourage more seawatching from Cullernose Point, mostly without other observers for company and it was so good, I will be giving it even more coverage in 2020!

What did I dip? A bit painful this, but the Sooty Tern circled my seawatch spot while I was at work and I missed Jack Snipe and Long Eared Owl that Ben Steel had in off again while work got in the way.

My Local Patch.

Some notebook highlights from this year, not all on patch, but all in Northumberland.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Extra time Lifer

On Saturday, Paul Cassells found a Yellow Wagtail at Prestwick Carr near Newcastle. In December, this was always going to draw some interest, locally, if nothing else. Sure enough before the day was out several knowledgeable birders had seen, photographed and sound recorded the wagtail and proclaimed it as Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis ( if that is spelled correctly I'll be surprised).

Now, knowing how complex the Yellow Wagtail races are I just milled about on Sunday thinking 'meh' its a Yellow Wagtail. I knew full well that these have recently been split and command specific status, but I just couldn't get motivated for a 70 miles round trip.

This is where things become shameful.

During Sunday I saw that more and more of my birding peers were paying homage to this little grey and white bird as it is new for the county and with only 15 or so UK records everyone I know's list was increasing by 1. Now I am not anywhere near the biggest county lister but the thought of those in the same league, leaving me back at base camp improved the lost motivation.

So, without ado, this morning, before work I began by visiting Prestwick Carr where the Eastern Yellow Wagtail, now with some heavy backing by Magnus Robb of The Sound Approach Team using some technical wizardry, was still puddling around on the flood eating bloodworms at close range.

The bird behaved impeccably being on close show the whole time I was there, even calling a few times and perching on a hedge only 5 feet from birders. So once I get Bubo working again I will add it as Northumberland List 347, life ? not sure, 417? ish.

Forgetting all the listing nonsense, it was a cracking bird and now the id features are being clarified  one to watch out for again in the future...

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A spiders year....

Last Christmas I was given a copy of the new Wildguides book, 'Britains Spiders'. This inspired me to look out for some of these much maligned creatures on my travels.

If you are on Facebook you should check out UK Spiders page. On here are real experts from the UK and abroad who can help with some tricky identifications. On here this year some members have been doing a spider year list, with Graeme Lyons finding 360+ species so far! The vast majority of these can only be identified with a microscope and specialist keys to work out the correct result.
For a novice like me, I am happy to just photograph what i find then see if I can sort it out. If not I try the experts.

Anyway, here are some of the ones that have crossed my path this year...

1. Arctosa cinerea the Grey Wolf Spider.
 When looking through the book one species in particular caught my eye. The Grey Wolf Spider Arctosa cinerea. This is a species of restricted distribution and is found on riverine shingle habitats in Wales, Northern England and Scotland. It was this northern distribution that attracted me as we have loads of good habitat in Northumberland with no one looking. We visited a likely looking site in the Cheviots in June finding 7 individuals without much trouble really. In winter these shingle beds are flooded by several feet of water from the hills, but these mini tarantulas just hide in a burrow under a rock and let the water run across them. A top creature.

A Cucumber Spider on a corncockle flower.
These little pea green spiders are common so I set about searching our garden and soon found this one. A gem of a spider...

Woodlouse Spider Dysdera crocata
The Woodlouse Spider lives around our sheds in the garden. It is an unusual looking spider being reddish with a body like a baked bean. As the name suggests those large jaws hunt and kill woodlice.

Ero furcata
I didnt expect to see this Ero on our shed. It has two pointed humps on its abdomen that are quite distinctive. It creeps around at night hunting other spiders.

Nursery Web Spider Pisaura miribilis
I just love these spiders. They are like 70s sport saloon, a Capri maybe in design and behaviour. With the yellow go-faster stripe down the thorax and its habit of running flat out to get away, its a top one to look out for. A common species but very few records for Northumberland. Ive had a few in the garden all year!

Goblin Spider Oonops species.
These tiny orange spiders can be one of two species both equally as common as the other. I found them in the bathroom, porch and moth trap. A tiny spider that moves in slow motion!

Four spotted Orb Weaver Araneus quadratus
Up here the Four spotted Orb Weaver is a species of the moors where it favours the strong bent stems of rushes for making its web. It is our heaviest spider and one I was pleased to find. About the size of a malteser.

I'll add some more soon.....