Wednesday, May 15, 2019

An Upland Walk...Northumberland National Park

Harthope Valley - Carey Burn to Broadstruther Walk.

On Sunday we had a walk half way up the Carey Burn mainly looking at butterflies but also for anything else that attracts attention. This is an area we have visited since the 80s but have never walked further than the Carey Burn itself. We used to see Ring Ouzel and Peregrine here but now they both seem to have gone.

On Tuesday, the weather forecast was so good, I took an impromptu flexi day off work and went feral, heading for the silence of the hills. These are the Cheviots, just south of Wooler in the North of Northumberland and about 20 miles from home. Its a scenic quiet spot and doesnt get the quantity of visitors that go to the Ingram Valley for instance.

Above - The walk starts on a flat sheep walk area on the north bank of the Carey Burn with views into the valley. On Sunday I missed the Red Kite that has been around since early spring, but on Tuesday it gave me a nice fly over along with 6 soaring Buzzards. Red legged Partridges are ever present here and are best ignored!

The south facing slope on the right is clad in Broom and Gorse and was full of Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. A few butterflies were noted with many Orange Tips, 4+ Small Copper and 2 Green Hairstreak.

Green Hairstreak

Small Coppers
Further up the steep scree and crag sided valley, the path gets a bit, disorientated, but is passable with care. Scree seems to have caused it to slide off a bit. Around every corner here are fantasic and new views.

The Carey Burn waterfalls.
This time we saw a pair of Whinchats, Dippers, Red Grouse plus a few interesting invertebrates. 

Mother Shipton moth named after the witches profile in each wing...a rare species in the county.

On the rocks,a small jumping Zebra Spiders, Salticus sp.

An even rarer moth is the Small Purple Barred with two seen, only the second and third records in the county in the last 30 years.

This tiny spiralled Snail under a log needs some research.

Green Tiger Beetles are abundant on the snady paths here.
Beyond the waterfalls, the valley widens a little, with grassy areas and a small shepherds hut. Dippers call and dash along the burn here. Watch out for Adders and Slow Worms. We found a freshly dead slow worm that looked like a bird had killed it, maybe a kestrel?

Bitter Vetch
Beyond the footbridge the walk begins to look different. Gone are the steep scree slopes and now we have open rounded heather clad vistas. In the birches many Redpolls were chasing around, while Whitethroats and Meadow Pipits were everywhere. A Redstart was singing unseen here while a lone Cuckoo called.

This is the halfway point in the walk. Out here the broom holds Mountain Bumblebees, Bombus montana, a scarce species. Skylarks, Pipits and Grouse call everywhere while two or three Ravens added a more menacing air to the scene and a beautifil cock Whinchat just refused to sit for a photo.

A scarce self appearance on the blog, but no one was around so I banaced the camera on a fence post and set the timer... 

Broadstruther cottage, recently renovated. Imagine living here in the winter. A stone sheep stell near the footbridge is a thing from the past.

Broadstruther, a closer view.

The ubiquitous Meadow Pipit. 

Small hill Bown Trout filled the burn, rising for insects on the top with a  splash.
The start of the track back.
From here the hill was quiet other than some heart stopping Grouse leaping into the air only feet away calling go-back go-back....

And finally the view to the car park and the steep decent down some very rough stone covered track way. A fantastic walk of about 4 miles, I'm looking forward to trying it in different seasons...

My car is in the centre of that loop...

Sunday, May 05, 2019

I'm late!

For an April round up that is.
As you may have read here before, Northumberland doesnt do spring like the southern counties. We often just slip from winter into summer...Still this April has been quite good on the patch with some decent birds...
Shelduck came first on 1st April and was species 103. A common and almost daily sighting here in spring with most bird being seen in flight.
104 was the Blackcap bang on cue on 5th...
105 on the same date Wheatear was early here, I dont usually get one til mid month.
Swallow was 106 on 10th...
and Sand Martin nearby was 107...
Willow warbler at 108 are getting later year on year, on 12th...
A nice Yellow Wagtail 109 on the muck heap was on 20th...
Whitethroat 110 was early on 24th often not arriving until May...
Lesser Whitethroat came the next day...111.
Sandwich Tern was added on 27th 112,
While a good day on 28th added Red legged Partridge, Grasshopper Warbler, Ring Ouzel and a full patch tick - Hooded Crow all at Craster taking the total up to 116.

The scores on the doors are.... 116 species = 56.58% of the total patch score.

Yellow Wagtail with a Pied on the muck heap.

Friday, April 19, 2019

At last!

... spring has sprung!

But, lets pause. On the TV weather forecast I am seeing those inland people with temps up to 22+ degrees. Within sight of the Northumberland coast, here, we did have 12 degrees but the wind was still sharp. The key was to get into a sheltered spot.

During the day, I hung around the garden and through our village wood to the pond field. This was my first butterfly day of the year with 7 Peacocks, 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 1 female Orange Tip, 1 Small White and best of all, 3 Holly Blues in the garden. Last year i had my first confirmed Holly Blue in August here but it was too quick to photograph but thes eones, 2 males and a female, were a bit more cooperative...

Its great at this time of year to see more biodiversity on the local patch...

Holly Blue

Holly Blue

Holly Blue

Dark edged Bee-fly

Kidney spot Ladybird

Mute Swan, cob.

Female Orange Tip

Our garden this morning

Primrose bank near the pond field


Germander  Slender Speedwell ( see comments)

Common Violet

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Continental Stonechat? Maybe?

Tonight I had a walk down to the Howick Burn moth and back by the shore with the intent of looking for a Black Redstart on patch. A couple have been seen in the county today and these east winds might have brought some more.

As I walked from Seahouses Farm, south along the old 'tee-pee track', I flushed an odd looking Stonechat. It was a very brightly marked male, and quite unlike the few local birds we have here. It behaved differently too, being very flighty indeed, not allowing me anywhere near it whereas the local birds feed as close as garden Robins on most days.

Our locals, Saxicola torquata hibernans, are very brownish bodied with the chestnut breast reaching all the way down to the lower belly and up to the flanks. This bird showed characteristics similar to the Continental Stonechat Saxicola torquata rubicola . This form is not officially recognised on the British list, not becasue it doesnt occur here, in fact it is believed to have bred in the UK on more than one occasion, but because many authorities dont recognise them as seperate forms at all. Only the most distinctive specimens seem to stand out.  Compare my bird to these on Birding Frontiers...

Today's bird showed the following 'pro' rubicola features -

Broad extensive white collar patches, making the black head seem almost capped in appearance.
Very black upperparts.
Orange breast restricted to the upper centre, with the flanks and lower belly being white.
Upper tail coverts were white.
The white inner greater coverts were clean and extensive in flight.

Unfortunately the bird kept low so I didnt see the underwing at all.

Although there is no way to be sure, I do think this bird is at least a migrant and not a local breeder. We never get them looking like this as early as this. Its behaviour too was more migrant like, being very flighty and dashing off long distances.

Its not going to get the twitchers going but it brightened my evening, and was quite thought provoking.

I didnt find any Black Redstarts....

Possible Continental Stonechat S t rubicola. Typical view this evening. Note capped appearance, restricted orange in breast with white flanks. 

Two truly awful flight shots but if you squint you can see white upper tail covs that were more obvious in life.

A crop of the fist shot. Compare with a local male Stonechat St hibernans, below. See the brownish less advanced look, more extensive orange chestnut below covering all underparts except the undertail coverts. Easier to approach too.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Cold Spell

Usually when we want easterly winds we cant get one! Now, when a southerly might actually be of some help ( unlike in September) its easterlies all the way and rather cold with it.

Today we went inland a short way up onto the Alnwick Moors as the coast seemed very quiet and the wind was irritating, but up on the moor it was still hand numbingly cold.

The weather veered from hail to sunshine but it was too cold for much wildlife activity. All morning we saw just a couple of bumblebees with no other inverts whatsoever. Even the Adders remained under cover.

Still, we walked up the the highest point, seeing a pair of Ravens, 15 Golden Plover with 1 Lapwing but the highlight was a close fly by from a pair of Sparrowhawks, the male had his undertail fluffed out in display. He then returned to chase off a second male who was hoping to get in on the act. Lovely.

Apart from being accompained by Meadow Pipits and Skylarks that was just about all the noteworthy activity for the day.

At least the cloud and sun made for some nice dramatic scenery...