Thursday, December 06, 2018

Small shrike...

While we were watching the Bonaparte's Gull on Sunday, new came through of a non -grey shrike at Newbiggin down on the beach behind Church Point caravan site ( exactly the same spot as the White spotted Bluethroat in the spring).

Tongues wagged metaphorically over the social media hoping against hope that at this very late time of year it might be a Brown Shrike. Alas, it was not to be, the finder Alan Priest, had it nailed with photos as a juvenile Red-backed Shrike. Stand down, panic over. Still, an amazing record, the latest ever in the county though I do remember one in December at Hunstanton some years ago.

Monday morning at work, I happened to have an appointment at Newbiggin ( well I would wouldnt I) so dropped in for 10 minutes to see the bird. I havent seen a Red backed Shrike for ages, so it was areall pleasure to watch this little chunky predator fly catching from weeds on the land slipped eroded parts just behind the beach.

They are much smaller that you you remember and this one was hunched up with wings drooped looking very sorry for itself. Food at this time is very hard to come by for a bird like this so the local Robin had better watch out.

As the sun shone, the shrike looked golden and blended perfectly with the golden leaves of reedmace and willowherb. Lets hope its soon back on the proper route south before winter really kicks in... 

Dire phone scoped image...

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Boney's and the rest....

The original forecast for today was for drizzle throughout, so it was pleasing to find the morning had dawned dull and quiet but fair.

I met with John at the usual Homebase rendezvous in Alnwick to drive up to Bamburgh in the hope that the Bonaparte's Gull found earlier in the week would still be around. At this quiet, dark time of year it seemed the best option, and little did we know how good it would be.

A few miles up the A1 John ordered a sharp right turn for a very brief detour to a concrete culvert ( a road really) under the main road to look for hibernating moths. It proved a good call with a single Herald roosting high on the roof right in the middle of the tunnel at its darkes spot.

Back on to the trunk road North and we were soon at the very scenic tourist village of Bamburgh. At all times, Bamburgh is still besieged by hordes more modern than the original vikings, so it was good to get there early doors before most were out.

At first there were very few gulls to be seen on the shore but as the tide began to rise a few started to drop in. Eventually when we had added 120+ Purple Sandpipers and 130+ Shag to the notebook, our American target arrived with about 20 black headed gulls. Its a while since Ive seen a Bonaparte's Gull so it was good to get this lovely, dove grey and white adult in winter plumage. These are the Nearctic version of our common Black headed gull but seem so much daintier despite looking very similar.

Stag Rocks and lighthouse.

Bonaparte's Gull with Black headed Gulls

After giving it a good look at, we moved a few hundred yards up to the golf club entrance for a cuppa. While drinking tea we could view the flat calm water for seafowl in relative comfort.
Things didnt look promising with only a few Common Scoter and Eiders dotted around, then a winter plumaged Puffin was a bit unusual at this time, diving at mid range.

It was about now that John glimpsed a diver in front of the lighthouse and said 'Get a look at this'. As I looked in his scope I saw a split second before it submerged. It wasn't a red throated thats all I could see.

After a long time, when it seemed to have succumbed to the depths, it emerged several hundred yards further offshore, for a minute then down again. This time I commented that it was a large diver and the head posture was up tilted like a White billed, but it had gone.

Another five minutes passed when it resurfaced, again too far out to tell. We grilled it and it stood up, flapped then dived. The bill seemed a bit scruffy and the nape looked very dark so we left it as a Great Northern. Then the phone rang.

Jonathan Farooqi and his dad were at the lighthouse, maybe 2 or 300 yards closer to the bird. They were sure it was White billed Diver but it remained distant even for them. We hastily downed the tea dregs and walked down the slope to join them.

No sooner had we arrived, Jonathan offered me a look in his scope. There, a lot closer and heading our way was a big hefty White billed Diver! Get in!

Not a bad day, twitching a Bonaparte's Gull then dipping in on a big banana bill, cant be bad.

White billed Diver, adult winter.
As the diver swam much closer we could see all of the required features well, the long ivory coloured bill tilted up from horizontal and even the white spotting on the mantle and coverts. To put the icing on the cake, after half an hour it was joined by a Great Northern Diver in the same scope view for an ideal comparison. The WBD surfaced with some sizeable flatfish to eat then resumed its diving. I'm sure these have evolved from fish, spending as much time below the surface as on it....

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Work Birds

At work on Wednesday morning I had a meeting to attend at Ashington Police Station at 10am. I arrived at about 9.45am. As a left the car and strolled up the path to the station door I looked at the few rowan treet here and pondered that they have been a good attraction for Waxwings in previous years but today there were no berries at all and even the leaves were gone leaving only a tracery of bare twigs against a grey sky.

As the auto sliding doors hissed open, I glanced on the opposite side of the path at those bare trees and there above me were 9 fluffed up Waxwings as if on cue! They looked as grey as the sky, sitting hunched and silent looking around. I left the station at 12 to find now 10 birds sat there, but I couldn't see a single berry. There must be some nearby I suppose to keep them sat there for a few hours...

A picture from last year. It was too dark today even if I had taken my gear...

Monday, November 26, 2018

Everything is Rosy after all...

After yesterday's Rose coloured Starling twitch that fizzled out like a catherine wheel on a damp bonfire night, the weather seemed a little bit better this morning so I took my gear with me to work.

I decided to check out Hector's garden before going to the office. On arrival things were pretty similar to yesterday along with the addition of a nice male Brambling with Hector's Greenies. I was about to give up after only five minutes when I looked further along the road from the usual spot and there, on a square mesh fat feeder was the juvenile Rose coloured Starling. Phew. The dip was broken. This was a scruffy looking thing showing a few adult feathers in the median and greater coverts, tertials and inner primaries. Lets hope it stays until spring to show a bit more adult patterning.

I grabbed the camera from the boot and got back in the car to drive it forward a few yards until opposite the bird. Again, concious of pointing a telephoto lens at a bedroom window, I quickly rattled off a few shots before two passers by flushed the bird into some low shrubs in the garden.

This is my fifth Northumberland Rosy Pastor but my first juvenile anywhere. More unbelieveable is that this is the second one I've seen in Ashington this year.

Hector kindly rang me after seeing me parked furtively outside to confirm I had seen the bird. Thanks Hector. Then it was off to work. If only things had gone as smoothly yesterday...

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Hector's House.

Local birder, Hector Galley came up with the goods when he found a juv Rose-coloured Starling on his bird feeders mid week. His garden is only a matter of about 300 mtrs from my work place but I just didnt have time to go, so this morning JWR and myself started off parked furtively outside Hector's house.

I hate these suburban twitches, peering into gardens and the like. I have had a few over the years with Black throated Thrush, Raddes Warbler, Yellow Rumped Warbler, Dark eyed Junco etc but always feel uncomfortable standing with binoclars at the crack of dawn outside someones house. This morn we tried to be discreet. Only the two of us were present and for half an hour we sauntered back and forward making sure we did not make any direct eye contact by peering into residents windows on our quest for a beige coloured starling. No joy. There were lots of birds at the feeders inc 15+ Tree Sparrows, a dozen Greenfinches, 4 Common Starlings but no rare one. As we sat in the car avoiding a short shower 10 mtrs from the garden, Hector posted a Whats App message - 'RCS still in garden at 9.14' I glanced at John and the clock. It was still 9.14 and we were here! We jumped out of the car and began to concentrate for another 30 minutes but we still couldnt find the bird... this is the third RCS dip we've had this year!

As time was pressing we stopped at the nearby QEII Lake for a brew and a scan just in case there might be a Smew when we bumped into Lindsey McDougall who told us that a Great Northern Diver was here yesterday. Sure enough a quick scan found the bird, a juvenile aged by the buff scalloping on the upperparts, about half way out. As it flew a bit closer it seems to be dragging some fishing line off its feet, and it didnt look too well, sitting with eyes closed for long periods. Things dont bode well for this visitor.

And that was about it really, a short stop at Warkworth Wier where again there were no Bewick ( or Whooper) Swans made me the only person in Christenden not to have seen the two birds around here for the last month. I pass the place twice a day!

I might try for the Starling this week from work, but it seems that the Christmas doldrums have already kicked in...meh.

Click on this and you can see something behind the trailing foot. That is weed on fine line.

A big bird, dwarfing a cormorant ( prob female) nearby. You can see compared to the swan, its a big chunk of fowl.

Monday, November 19, 2018


This weekend's update is only a Sunday show. On Saturday I went to Newcastle, to theGreat North Museum Hancock for the ERIC ( Environmental Records Information Centre) North East Wildlife Recording Conference. I took an early train from Alnmouth that got me into town at 08.30am. As the conference didnt start until 09.30am I just had a slow wander up, taking in Waterstones and Fenwicks Window on route. The talks at the conference varied from Elvers in the Tees to Durham Botany Group via Pan Listing and Pine Martens in Northumberland.

The gig was full with maybe 80 guests, and I only knew a couple of them. Makes me wonder where all the people do their wildlife watching?

As John wasn't out on Sunday, I was up and out shortly after first light and continued training for the 2019 Banstead / Howick Patch Challenge. I started off with a very slow seawatch at Cullernose, where I had time to ponder things to do on patch to keep the interest going. I think I might do a BBS style transect count each month next year? Maybe?

The seawatch was only half an hour from 7.30am on a nice cool, calm morning. The only birds of note were 1 ad Peregrine coming in from its breakfast hunt off shore carrying small prey, possibly a wader, 3 Red throated Divers flew N and 1 S, 23 Eiders N and 1 Purple Sandpiper was on the rocks.

A measly 9 Golden Plovers sat out the tide before flying south.

 From here I had a short walk north along the rocky foreshore hoping for a Desert Wheatear, but saw....nothing.

Next stop was Craster where the wooded and scrubby Heughs were worth a last ditch try for migrants. There were only 43 Blackbirds, 3 Redwing, 4 Goldcrest and 1 Redpoll S. Amongst the locals were 3 Willow Tits, 1 Treecreeper and a male Bullfinch.

Tchay chay chay....
Back in our village a Fieldfare was on the edge of our garden, while earlier a Brambling called over head in the dark with 4 Blackbirds.

A walk with Peggy around the back field and down to the pond had 71 Pink footed Geese S, 5 Fieldfare, 2 Redwing, an amazing count for here of 200 Jackdaws with 150 Rooks, 5+ Yellowhammer, 1 Brambling, 1 Stock Dove, 1 Treecreeper, 2+ Bullfinch, 25+ Goldfinch, 17+ Siskin, 1 Grey Wagtail and 1 Heron. The wildfowl on the pond didnt put up much competition for Fenham Flats with only 8 Teal, 3 Mallard, 2 female Tufted Duck, 1 Little Grebe, 6 Moorhen and 2 Mute Swan. Still, its a change of habitat and my only bit of standing freshwater for any ducks so I'll be happy to monitor them.

Overall the patch had a quiet wintry feel to the day. Some leaves still on the trees with wonderful vivid colours and the pond looking mirror calm and oily black. The usually wet wood remains dry an expected product of this year ... 

Friday, November 16, 2018

2019 challenge..

The Pond ( in the Pond Field)
In previous years my blogging buddy Steve Gale and I have had some casual patch listing challenges. I cant remember the scores ( so that probably means it wasn't too good for me) but we quite enjoyed the comparisons between the inland suburban patch to the south and the rural east coast patch in the north.

Our respective patches are 290 miles apart in a straight line, as the crow flies, and are very different in habitat make up, but this is what makes things interesting.

I have worked out some basic statistics for my Howick Patch -

Total List 205
My Howick List 200

The list can be drilled down to -

Common Species seen in at least 7 of the last 9 years - 128
Irregular seen in 5 or 6 years -  22
Scarce seen in 3 or 4 years- 18
Rare seen only in 1 or 2 years - 37.

Average Year List over 9 years - 143 sp

I will be keeping the boundary as in the image in my side bar on the right, but in reality there are bits of it I never look at. My main watched area is -

The combined area of the patch is exactly 3 sq km, but the small  area watched is just under 1 km. I watch this area more intensively due to dog walks and general speed of access. These spots can all be looked at if I have half an hour to spare, but the whole extended site is easily accessible on foot from home.

I am looking farward to it already....See North Downs and Beyond for Steve's zone....

To give a flavour of the ornithological delights awaiting, I have been off work today and have checked most of the small area above ...

0700, Out with Peggy in the half light of dawn.
Newly arrived on the coast path were 6 Blackbirds, 2 Redwings, 2 Song Thrush, 1 Goldcrest and a Brambling. 60 Pink footed Geese flew S.

0930 - The Rumbling Kern / Bathing House. A stand around for half an hour with the scope had -
Shag 1 colour ringed white letters on green but unable to read it. 6 Purple Sandpiper, 3 Lapwing, 20+ Oystercatcher, 60+ Curlew, 3+ Redshank, 5 Red throated Diver S and 1 on the sea, 1 Rock Pipit, 3 female Velvet Scoter were unexpected and are rarely seen sitting on the sea here, most being fly by on seawatches, Gullemot and Razorbill maybe 10 of each scattered, 2 Stonechat, 1 Goldcrest, 6 Turnstone, 2 Kittiwake S, 1 Common Scoter S, 25 Golden Plover S, 5 Meadow Pipits, 3 Skylarks S and a Harbour Porpoise offshore.

Lunchtime, out with Peggy in the Village Wood and Pond Field.
1 Woodcock flushed, 1 Buzzard, 2+ Brambling, 15+ Chaffinch, 40+ Goldfinch, 6+ Siskin, 25+ Redwing, 4 Fieldfare, 21+ Mallard, 8 Teal, 1 Tufted Duck, 2 Mute Swan, 6 Moorhen and 2 Roe Deer.

And finally at our feeders all day -
33 Tree Sparrow, 9 House Sparrow, 12+ Goldfinch, 4 Coal Tit, 2 Great spotted Woodpecker. 1 female Sparrowhawk.