Sunday, December 10, 2017

Freezing Nutcrackers.

This morning was a proper cold day, the likes of which we have not seen for at least 3 years and possibly a lot longer. It was -6 degrees until 9am, and this morning was no warmer than -1 by lunchtime. At least it was sunny and calm, a grand winters day to be out.

Our first stop was East Chevington where 80% of the north pool was frozen solid. In the open areas, only kept ice free by the wildfowl swimming around were 34 Whooper Swans, 49 Goldeneye, 2 Long tailed Ducks, the Great Northern Diver, 11 Little Grebes and a lot of other assorted commoner wildfowl. Two Water Rails squealed from the reeds closest to us.

Down to the burn mouth where 35 Twite, 8+ Pied Wagtail , 10 Sanderling fed on the beach and a Stonechat was nearby. 4 Bullfinches fed in a lovely frosty, berry laden sea buckthorn.

Sea Buckthorn
Time to get warmed up, so it was off to the Drift Cafe at Cresswell for breakfast.

On the way, a field at Druridge was full of Golden Plover near the road, They looked really smart in the frosted grass but the camera was in the car boot...

As we drove past Cresswell pond, it was frozen solid with all of the wildfowl looking lost standing on the ice. Teal appeared the most abundant with maybe 200+ birds present.

After a grand, full veggie breakfast we headed off to Morpeth for a look at the Hawfinches at Abbey Mill.

We saw one bird as soon as we arrived sitting atop a lone bare tree looking like a giant amongst a flock of about 30 Siskins.



Above - Hawfinches.

For the next hour we were treated to lots of brief views of both male and female birds flying and perched. We must have seen at least half a dozen though only 3 together at once. The metallic 'Chiznk' calls were heard as they took flight over the trees. One female showed very well munching on the hornbeam keys for about 15 minutes.

It is a pleasure to meet up with these birds again after such a long absence. Those of us long enough in the tooth can remember that Hawfinch was an annual delectation at places like Hulne Park, Hexham and Wallington Hall back in the 80s/ early 90s with flocks up to 35 strong at Hulne where I've seen them courtship feeding in yews down to only a few feet. I have been lucky enough to see them at those sites just mentioned but also at Bothal, Sandhoe, Stobswood and Howick over the years. It would be great if that could happen again, they're fantastic birds.


Sunday, December 03, 2017

Jack gets Gold!

This morning I met John at Homebase with a plan to go looking for Crossbills at Thrunton Woods.

With a few Parrot Crossbills further south, you never know. Its donkeys years since I last saw a Parrot Crossbill, but that wasn't about to change today. We managed about 15 Common Crossbill in pairs with singing males on territory and very little else other than wet feet as I'd forgotton my wellies.


Back home, and the sun shobe nicely this afternoon so I thought I'd try a photo of the Coal Tits coming to my feeders. As I loitered, our friendly local racing pigeon ( Pigeon John) was on high alert. All of a sudden he erupted into flight and off and warp speed. Then the village jackdaws were all up, calling so I stepped out and scanned upwards, only to see, a little jack Merlin going like a rocket towards our feeders. His speed flushed everything for a hundred yards into the air.

He locked on to a small passerine from the feeder flock as they took to the air and chased it over the back field. The Merlin was loop the looping over our house so fast I couldn't even find it in my view finder let alone take a picture. As it chased the hapless passerine out over our back field into the open it made a speedy attack only for the prey to side swerve out of the way. Merlin towered high above then dropped like an arrow, just missing again. This happened again and seemed to tire out the target. Then finally Merlin came in at a million miles per hour and grabbed our bird from behind. It was over.

No Christmas meal for this little fellow.

The Merlin glided fast and low towards the fence line and landed to eat his meal.

I scrabbled for the scope and good views were had of the Merlin and one of our Goldfinches on the post. One of our neighbours who is interested in wildlife happened to be passing, so I was pleased to get him a good scope view of the lovely slatey blue Merlin on the post. Soon a Magpie flushed jack another couple of hundred yards up the fence where he totally cleared off his meal then sat scanning around the scene. He was in view for over half an hour. 

What a bird!

The only shot I got, but you can just see the goldfinches face hanging below...

Friday, November 24, 2017

End of season analysis.

End of the moth season that is.

This is the end of the 8th full year trapping in our garden, after some test sessions in autumn 2009.

Located in Northumberland we are in a large county divided roughly in half into two vice counties - VC67 and 68. Our garden is in the most northerly VC in  England, VC68 North Northumberland, only about 30 miles from the Scottish border.

I haven't totalled up the individual moths caught, even though all were submitted to the County Recorder for inclusion in the database but it seems to have been a decent year by species numbers.

The list is as follows -

2017 - 361 including 21 new species.
2016 - 302 including 8 new species ( a litttle less effort last year avoiding Large Yellow Underwings)
2015 - 331 including 12 new species
2014 - 367 including 27 new species
2013 - 363 including 34 new species
2012 - 344 including 46 new species
2011 - 340 including 56 new species
2010 - 332 and 258 new species.

So far the garden total is 549 species (the MapMate list).

It never ceases to amaze me how new species can still occur after this time...

Below are images of this years new additions.

15.084 Phyllonorycter acerifoliella 3rd Northumberland, 1st VC68 
16.008 Yponomeuta sedella 4th Northumberland, 2nd VC68 
16.010 Zelleria hepariella 30th Northumberland, 6th VC68 
16.014 Pseudoswammerdamia combinella 8th Northumberland, 5th VC68
19.011 Acrolepiopsis assectella Leek Moth 1st Northumberland and VC68 record!
35.141 Teleiodes vulgella 27th Northumberland 3rd VC68
37.044 Coleophora discordella 49th Northumberland, 23rd VC68 
45.043 Adaina microdactyla Hemp Agrimony Plume 2 of them, 6th -7th Northumberland and VC68 records.

49.022 Ptycholoma lecheana 11th Northumberland, 2nd VC68

49.087 Acleris literana 36th Northumberland, 5th VC68
49.111 Eupoecilia angustana
49.307 Rhyacionia pinivorana Spotted Shoot Moth 40th Northumberland 4th VC68
70.038 Rhodometra sacraria Vestal 41st Northumberland, 6th VC68
70.150 Eupithecia linariata Toadflax Pug 6th VC68
70.198 Lobophora halterata Seraphim 1st VC68 record
73.036 Acronicta alni Alder Moth  6th VC68 record
73.076 Helicoverpa armigera Scarce Bordered Straw  4th VC68 record.
73.100 Chilodes maritima Silky Wainscot Surprisingly the 22nd Northumberland, 12th VC68 record, nowhere near a reedbed.
73.235 Polymixis lichenea Feathered Ranunculus 1st Northumberland and VC68 record!
73.272 Papestra biren Glaucous Shears

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Especially for Roger...

The other day my friend Roger asked where was the post I had written about my childhood. After some scrolling around here it is.... Click Here

The Little B.......

Despite the seemingly adverse weather conditions for migrants, I have done alright this week and seen a few interesting birds.

On Wednesday, I was amazed to see that a Bee-eater had turned up at Druridge. Likely one of our pair seen on Sunday, so at lunchtime I popped along to get a better view. Unfortunately it had gone north and did not return before I had to get back. Old school Northumberland birders have waited for ever to see Bee-eater in the county, so after 35 years, I thought I finally had a 'blocker' on my list. That lasted three days.... Still, it is good when everyone can catch up with such a precious find.

While scanning for the Bee-eater, a Water Pipit just in front of the Budge Screen made the trip a worthwhile one.

On Thursday there was a short deviation in the long term westerlies we have been suffering with a short SE breeze. Immediately large numbers of thrushes were arriving. At home, Redwings, Blackbirds, Brambling and a nice sat-out Woodcock started proceedings before work. At lunchtime I had a walk along the disused railway lines at Cambois. The highlight here was a male Ring Ouzel, a belated year tick, with 150+ Redwings, 20+ Blckbirds, 50+ Song Thrushes and 6 Bullfinch.

I called in to Druridge again on Friday before work. The Bee-eater was still in residence, this time watched briefly say on a barbed wire fence preening before making off towards Chevington again. A distant Swallow will probably be my last, a Little Egret flew south. I returned at lunchtime but missed the Bee-eater again ( its giving me the run around this bird) where the best on offer was a nice Little Owl perched on a chimney at the farm.

No frame filling insect snapping shots for me, but I'll take it.
     Later on Friday, Gary Woodburn found a Little Bunting on his patch at Low Newton. He sent some tempting photos of this tiny emberiza so Saturday morning found me loitering along the path to Newton Point hoping to catch up with only my second Little Bunt after one on Holy Island in the mid 90s. I have dipped a few since.

At first things didnt look promising with a seemingly birdless tree and too much cover to hide a small brown streaky bird but Gary soon refound it and called us over. What performer too. This lethargic bunting slowly clambered around its chosen sycamore gleaning aphids from the leaves. It often sat motionless for several minutes making it tricky to find but in all, half an hours viewing in good sunshine was enough and the bird just evaporated into cover.

Two close Yellow-browed Warblers together padded things out abit, plus Brambling, Chiffchaff, Blackcap and Mealy Redpoll added to the variety.



Saturday Little Bunting views.
 Sunday dawned in a different fashion with Storm Brian having just passed over through the night leaving us with a gusty NW wind that was quite chilling. Not great prospects for John seeing the Little Bunting. I thought it might still be there, but did not expect to find it in this wind.

Luckily John had other ideas and the first bird he looked at was the bunting. In the early morning light it skulked amongst the same sycamore branched for a few minutes then we lost it. A further two and a half hours passed before it appeared in the open from nowhere. This time it showed even better than yesterday picking tiny aphids off the leaves, and for one great moment it shared a binocular view witha lovely Yellow-browed Warbler! I am tempted to say 'stunning'.

While scanning for the bunting I had a heart stopper when for all of a millisecond, bright grass green apparition with white wing bars appeared in my bins that could only have been a firecrest but its head was obscured by leaves and I did not see it again.  Frustrating.

We ended the morning with a glance at the sea off Football hole where the only birds of note were 3 Red throated Divers and John had a Woodcock in-off.

Not too shabby a week on the westerlies....





Above - Little Bunting. What a great bird.

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

Moths...

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.

Chestnut.
Dark Chestnut

Red line Quaker.