Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Better than White's Thrush?

Sitting at work two weeks ago watching the development of the twitch to Shetland for the UK's first Siberian Accentor, little did I know that before the month is out it would not only be on my list, it would have been seen in Northumberland too!

When one turned up at Easington, East Yorkshire, we just had to go. Due to commitments, John and myself were typical late to the ball, but a good day out on Sunday allowed us great views of the second British Siberian Accentor. Since its arrival, others have graced Saltburn, Sunderland and Holy Island ( I dipped that one this mornings) making the UK total now up to 5 birds.

Its great to be a part of this very strange and rare influx into western Europe. I wonder how it will all pan out...Maybe I'll catch up with a Northumberland bird eventually?

Until then, here is the one for Easington on Sunday...

The twitch has abated somewhat from hundreds on Saturday.

The skip of dreams. Home to siberian megas.

Monday, October 17, 2016


As birders we are very lucky, in European terms, to live in the UK. Being at the westernmost edge of the continent, stuck out like a giant headland into the Atlantic, we are set to get birds from all points on the globe. This Autumn certainly has done its best to prove the point. Firstly a brace of small American Waders, followed by an Eastern European/ African traveller then Nanook of the North, so whats missing?

Its Autumn, we live on the East coast, so what else could that mean but...Sibes!

From early October a massive high pressure settled over northern Scandinavia, flanked on its southern edge by several low pressures off the Atlantic, forming an corridor of Easterly winds stretching way back towards Lake Baikal in Siberia.

Soon, they came, wind blown waifs such as Yellow-browed Warblers (only the one in our garden this year) and Red breasted Flycatchers and Little Buntings. I have been unlucky with the latter two this year due mainly to being stuck in an office all week, but on the 5th all of that would change.

I just arrived at work and logged on, when a message came through saying 'WHITE'S THRUSH in willows at the end of the straight lonnen NOW!'

If I had been standing, my legs would have given way. One of the most wanted Siberian vagrants, not on Shetland or Scilly but right here in Northumberland what should I do....

Normally I would have downed tools and legged it, but due to prior appointments this was a non starter, so after a fraught, stressed day, at 3 o'clock I finally left work and raced off up the A1 to Holy Island. No need to panic, the White's Thrush was just about hanted to one willow, and while I was there it only hopped about 2 feet. What an absolute stunning bird it was too. Cuckoo sized, golden buff and white with random black crescents scattered all over the upper and undersides.

Nothing could beat this, ever? To be continued...

White's Thrush, with my phone through another birders scope.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Tick Two...

We that's a turn up for the books, two new British birds in a year.

After last week's Thrush Nightingale, news of a mythical mega broke on Sunday evening when a Brunnich's Guillemot was found loafing around Anstruther Harbour in Fife. I have seen this species previously on a visit to Iceland, but to see one in the UK is very tricky indeed. Many British records are of birds either dead or on the furthest outposts of the land such as Shetland or Dorset or wherever, way too far for me to visit in a day.

Superficially similar to our own Common Guillemot or Razorbill, this auk hails from the far north, mainly above the arctic circle, only venturing south to winter in the very north Atlantic off Iceland, Greenland and Norway.

Today's bird, found by the great rarity finder, Ken Shaw I believe, has caused some controversy on social media with some naysayers mooting the possibility that it could be a hybrid between a Common x Brunnich's Guillemot, all because of a few white feathers around the cheeks. Personally it looks fine for Brunnich's to me, sporting a very thick, stocky bill, complete with white stripe along the upper gape, a lumpy headed appearance and clean white flanks. This bird is in very heavy moult into winter plumage with virtually no primaries left in the wings and looking quite tattered, so a few mangy stray white feathers are distinctly possible. After all, coming from a population of millions, not every single bird can conform to the generic field guide description.

So, today Alan Tilmouth collected Andy McLevy and myself to drive the 150 miles into Scotland to pay our respects. The bird was seen immediately but lead us a right merry dance, spending more time under water than on the top and swimming seemingly impossible distances before resurfacing in a completely unexpected location. Often it would pop up only yards away, only to vanish just as quickly. Strong winds and a heavy sea made photography very difficult ( that's my excuse anyway) but I managed a few.

This was just about the only noteworthy bird seen all day, but it was well worth the jaunt north. Great crack, a great place and a great bird made for a very enjoyable days leave from work.


Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sprosser or Tosser?

Or Thrush Nightingale to be more accurate. Since childhood I always wanted to see the bird sometimes called a Sprosser and wondered why it was called that? A quick google search threw me into The Leicester Llama blog where Andy McKay says it is just the German name for Thrush Nightingale and we should all have body parts removed if we dare use this word in an elitist type of way. So Sprosser, you are now known by your Sunday best again-  Thrush Nightingale.

This morning a message came out saying that Steve Rippon had found a Sprosser Thrush Nightingale on the beach near Emmanuel Head, Holy Island. At first I thought, no chance, by the time I get there it will have been booted to the Snook and back and wont be seen again. Then a message came out with those teasing words 'showing well'. That was enough, into the car and off.

Fast forward a half hour drive followed by a half hour yomp over rabbit pot holed dunes and we meet a well ordered team watching from a nice distance along the strand line with no bird to be seen. 'You should have been here earlier...' etc 'it hasn't been seen for a while but is still in that cover over there' were the comments on offer. A tense wait followed but sure enough our target popped out, furtively at first, then by deploying some Navahoe-esque field craft we all got great views of the Sprosser Thrush Nightingale as it ran mouse like over some stones to begin feeding out on the dry seaweed. In some ways its movements recalled a Gropper Grasshopper Warbler  as it lay flat and ran like a rodent between the stones and weeds. We all took lots of photo's in the open of a bird more used to sitting in a dark forest in Fenno-Scandia Scandinavia than out on a sun drenched Northumberland beach.

This is a full lifer for me, never having seen the species in the UK or abroad so it was great to finally catch up with it. Nice for the county list too, my first since last September's Red footed Falcon!

British List - 406 Northumberland - 336

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Crappy Moth Photographs.

Now that many more people are becoming interested in moths and moth trapping, the internet and social media is saturated with images of the lovely insects being caught. Quite rightly, people who have never seen a Peppered Moth would be well pleased to find one in their trap in the morning, and are keen to capture it for posterity and to confirm their identifications with other like minded observers.

But is it too easy? The reason I ponder this is that there seems to be little care taken over these images of stunning lepidoptera. I mean, when would someone catch a Red Admiral, put it in a plastic pot then take its photo above last nights edition of the Evening Chronicle? Never. It would look awful, seeing a beautiful butterfly against a scruffy bit of plastic wouldn't it, so why would a moth be any different? I even see photos of clearly dead and knackered specimens that have been just left through neglect. Even common things with legs in the air, there's just no need.

Now, I'm not preaching here( maybe I am a bit) because I too am guilty of this. We all are to some degree. Scroll through these pages and you will find moths on old egg boxes and through dirty old pots, and I suppose this will happen for those species that are rare or locally scarce needing a record shot before they fly off. But why on earth would you take a photo of a Buff Arches or Poplar Hawk-moth on an egg tray? You cant get them to fly if you try so why not just take a few minutes to make them look as nice as any butterfly by positioning them carefully on a nice background.

Here are some examples of crappery that I have used in the past -

Both of these are common enough here, so I could have done better than this surely.

If you catch moths why not try this - look for any nice fresh specimen in your trap, something that may catch you eye. If the weather is nice with some good light, use a small stick or something ( I use coffee stirrers, like thin lolly sticks) to gentle slide under the moth, and lift it somewhere that will show it off to its very best. This can just be a large flat leaf or a bit of twig, what ever, experiment with different things. Some will work, others may not, but its worth a try.

Then, take a good few photos, after all, they cost nothing now, from differing angles and sides until you get something that looks nice. After all we are catching wild life here, so we should treat them with some respect...

So, I will say that from now on, I will only post crappy egg box shots or pot shots on here of a species that  a) It is likely to fly off  or b) I've not seen before or is new for the garden and is likely to fly off! Otherwise I will be trying to get something decent of it.

You don't need expensive camera gear, even a phone will do if you just take a little more care.

This is what I am trying for now -

Shoulder striped Wainscot from the summer.

Above - An autumn selection box of Pink barred Sallow, Frosted Orange, Brown spot Pinion, Black Rustic and Bulrush Wainscot.
Next time I post a micro in a hairy scruffy dull plastic pot, feel free to chastise me. We should really try harder!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Curlew Sandpiper

This has been a good autumn so far for Curlew Sandpipers in Northumberland. Down on the shore at Boulmer there are still 4 juvs with 300 Dunlin, 36 Ringed Plover and a few Turnstone feeding on a mound of rotting seaweed. The birds change over on a daily basis so it is worth keeping an eye on such a concentration because they may just carry something even rarer. Close scrutiny today, however, didn't reveal anything else.

Juv Curlew Sandpipers can be tricky to find in a large flock of Dunlin.

But here we can see the taller, paler bird. 

Here is a good comparison.

Feeding on seaweed maggots.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016


As I drove home from work I passed Warkworth and saw that the increasing tide was already a shade too high for birding, so I popped home then headed down the road to Boulmer. Its a while since 'Boulmer Birder' has actually been on site due to some nasty environmental changes there, but it is still a good site for waders so I gave it an hour this evening.

Down behind the Fishing Boat Inn were 100+ Dunlin, 20+ Ringed Plover, 2 Common Sandpipers, 2 nice Little Stints and 3 Curlew Sandpipers ( 2 juvs and 1 adult).

Three Yellow Wagtails flew from the rotting seaweed pile. I then had a walk along to Seaton Point where more Dunlin, Redshank and Oystercatcher were up the tide line with 35 Turnstones and a Whimbrel. By now the light was going so it was time to head home for tea...

Two out of three Curlew Sandpipers with Dunlin.

A duo of Little Stints.