Monday, February 26, 2024

False Spring.

 Well that made a change. Some very pleasant weather for Saturday and Sunday! 

Saturday was spent cleaning the greenhouse and tidying in the garden a bit. Some molehills were collected to mix with peat free compost to plant seeds in but that was about it really. Heron was added to the garden list as there has been some territorial flighting past with birds grunting at each other on the way.

As it felt quite spring-like, on Sunday we took a short trip to a usual inland patch to look for Goshawks. That particular quest didn't end well and a lot of our forest area has now been clear felled, mainly in the aftermath of Storm Arwen damage a couple of years ago. Still, the place is now a light-filled open space so there might be more plants and insects in the summer plus it has extended the Nightjar habitat by a great deal.

On the way, a short stop to scan a finch flock in a stubble field was a nice surprise. There were 80-100 Bramblings with a few Yellowhammers, Reed Bunting, Chaffinches and Linnets. The air was filled with singing Skylarks, Snipe were tick-tocking and Lapwings were in tumbling display in the next field, but they need to be careful, this is just a temporary 'false' spring that we always get at this time of year. There is a chance we will get some snow yet.

Up in the clearfell it was quiet other than some nice Crossbills singing and showing very well and a Raven carrying nesting material. For me it doesn't matter too much if there isn't much to see up here, it just feels so quiet and remote, and we never bump into anyone so its always a great walk.

We were back at the car for lunchtime. On the way home a short roadside stop found 3 Adders basking. Two were very black looking individuals with a more normal olive toned female. Seeing these is a highlight every spring, long may it continue.

That area on the left was tall pines when we were last here.

At the top of that spindly tree is a singing Crossbill. This is just my phone shot. Compare how much difference a shot through the scope makes. 

This female was further along. We saw around 25 birds in total.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Fulmars Incoming!

 Around about the patch this week.. An odd Snow Bunting or two seems to be hanging on in the Bathing House field with birds heard last weekend and this morning first thing but I couldn't see them in the dawn light. 

The undoubted highlight of the week goes to a Marsh Tit on Valentines Day in the Arboretum. This is my first on site since one visited my bird table in 2018 . This weeks bird was doing a chattery sub song and showed well in some taller Lime Trees beside a birch planting called Red Wells. Just across the track is the wild wood, a wet bit of wood behind the pond that gets no management at all so should be ideal for them.

Last year one or two Marsh Tits were seen all down the Arboretum to the coast by three different good observers but I couldn't find them. Lets hope this might be the start of a re-colonisation here.

Spring gets closer with the first local Toads crossing the road and Coltsfoot in flower.

For the garden year list, a Sparrowhawk was causing much pandemonium in the local Sparrows at the feeders yesterday plu,s in true garden list fashion, I was lying in bed on Sunday morning when an unusual call outside clicked me awake. It was the guck-guck-guck of Fulmars! Peering out of the window three birds were chasing around overhead, close enough to take a phone shot. These are not rare even in a garden context here in early spring but when I am taking special notice this year they do seem an unusual garden bird I suppose.


First light Fulmars from the bedroom window.

 Today's lunchtime walk was along the lane where the 70+ wintering Chaffinches have suddenly gone up to 110+ and in with them 2 Brambling, a male and a female. No good for the garden (yet) but a patch year first so that will do nicely. 

2024 Garden List - 48

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Ultimate in LOCAL ...

I've never done a garden birds year list.  Being so restrictive with limited scope its not something I've really considered before, until now. So, just for a change, 2024 will be my first attempt. I mean. how hard can it be, you just total up what you bump into when hanging out the washing or doing the moth trap or weeding or whatever.

My own rules are - I will count all seen or heard from within my home boundary. We have a good radius view South West around to North for about a kilometre, but North around to South is more obscured at maybe 10 to 50 mtrs or so ( of course on a clear night I can see across several million miles but you know what I mean). At night there is little noise pollution so calls along the coast can be heard if it is still.

My all time garden list stands at  143 with Common Sandpiper missing although I think I have heard one? and Hawfinch that I saw once from the back hedge across the field that had I been on our drive I could have seen it. But I wasn't.

Last year I had Quail, Siberian Stonechat and Firecrest as highlights but some years there aren't any.

Grey Partridges in the back field over our wall.

My 2024 list so far stands at 46 sp. - 

  1. Grey Partridge 8 lekking in the back field on 08/02/24
  2. Pheasant
  3. Pink footed Goose regular parties going to and fro over the house.
  4. Greylag a few back and forward as with Pinks.
  5. Feral Pigeon Yes I am counting it. They're more wild here than the Pheasants.
  6. Woodpigeon
  7. Collared Dove
  8. Golden Plover heard several nights calling as they head into field to feed.
  9. Snipe 1 heard 'scraping' close behind our garden last night.
  10. Woodcock 1 at dusk on 15/01/24 flew along just outside our drive.
  11. Curlew flying over to coast and back on feeding missions.
  12. Redshank 1 a rare bird for the garden flew in to the flooded corner of the back field early Jan I forgot to note it down.
  13. Black headed Gull
  14. Common Gull
  15. Herring Gull
  16. Great black backed Gull, gulls are daily flying from the sea inland. 
  17. Buzzard 
  18. Tawny Owl very active since new year calling in and just outside our garden.
  19. Great spotted Woodpecker male and female regular on our feeders.
  20. Kestrel one flushed our feeders during Big Garden Birdwatch in January.
  21. Magpie
  22. Rook
  23. Jackdaw
  24. Carrion Crow
  25. Coal Tit
  26. Blue Tit
  27. Great Tit
  28. Skylark small numbers over now starting to sing.
  29. Long tailed Tit 6 regularly on our feeders.
  30. Goldcrest 1 wintering around our feeders picking bits of dropped fatball scraps.
  31. Wren Resident in the garden.
  32. Starling daily, small roost in next doors conifers maybe 100 birds.
  33. Blackbird resident.
  34. Fieldfare a few seen, 1 in off overhead last week, one this morning with Starlings.
  35. Song Thrush singing every morning now.
  36. Redwing few seen as with Fieldfare
  37. Mistle Thrush one in song behind garden.
  38. Robin Resident
  39. House Sparrow Resident
  40. Tree Sparrow up to 30 winter in the garden. Several pairs breed.
  41. Dunnock Resident has bred.
  42. Grey Wagtail 1 has been on house rooves seen from the garden.
  43. Pied Wagtail as above.
  44. Chaffinch Resident
  45. Goldfinch Resident has bred
  46. Siskin a few over none at feeders yet.

This is the Back Field boundary. It is the view west from our house, you can see it is uninterrupted for some way.  

This is the view towards our house from the North facing SSE. You can see how close the sea is, but we can't see it from home!

The above few shots taken during lockdown 2020.



Wednesday, February 07, 2024

This is the Smews...

What is it with Smews? Or Smew?

Over the years Ive seen plenty of them, harking back 30 years we would get up to 9 on Druridge Bay Country Park that sometimes included one or two males as well as the commoner red headed females. In recent years, as most of my birding time is not near large bodies of fresh water, they have become decidedly scarce for me. I cant even remember the last male I've seen but it might have been the one a lot of years ago on the River Coquet above the Warkworth Wier one fine New Years Day.

This year there seems to be more Smew around so I thought I might try and see a drake if one was available near by.

Getting back to my question, what is it with Smews? They are certainly proving elusive for me this year. When we were in Fife a couple of weeks ago, a drake was wintering on a reservoir not far from us, but not on the day we went. Back home, a redhead has been showing quite well on the QE2 Lake near Ashington. I drive past the car park every day I am in the office, technically I might have been able to see the bird from the car as I went past but didnt, so last week I called in on two mornings.  Not a sniff, so when a drake was reported as showing well at East Chevington the other day, it was an offer I couldn't refuse, after all this is a big water body that holds a lot of wildfowl, why would it move on?

Yesterday I parked at the south end of Hadston T junction road and walked in to Chev from the North. At the centrally positioned L shaped hide I met Mark Eaton with Sam and Rosie ( golden retrievers). Mark had been here a while and yes you guessed it, the white nun had done a bunk!

I gave it half an hour to scan around. Of note were 2 Otters, 4 Red breasted Mergansers and a dozen or more Goldeneye with a Cetti's Warbler singing in the background.

On my walk back to the car, I did a short detour into DBCP for a scan in case it had flown on to this traditional site for them, but it wasn't there. A few more Red breasted Mergansers, Tufted Ducks and Gadwall were all I could see with a Willow Tit calling away in the car park.

I hear the redhead is still on QE2, so might have a look on my way to work on Friday. See if I can make it 5 unsuccessful attempts in a month... 


Above -Successful Smews from the past...

Sunday, February 04, 2024


This morning we didn't go far. In fact we only went as far as Alnwick and Lesbury, no more than 5 miles from home, where we walked the old railway line hunting for 'brown' tits. That might get a few unwanted hits...

At this spot we are still lucky enough to encounter Marsh and Willow, with Willow being the most common and widespread, probably due to their incessant buzzing calls. Today its more discreet cousin the Marsh Tit was our target.

In one likely spot we heard some faint and distant Marsh Tit like sub sounds but despite taking time for a good look we couldn't pick one out of the masses of Blue Coal and Great Tits all calling together.  While searching we did flush 5 Woodcocks though which are always nice to see.

After a break for tea we headed back to the other end of our walk in the car to wander in from the other side. We ended up in the same spot where again we could hear the faint calls of Marsh Tit somewhere.

I wandered across a small, 'rewilded' field with self set hawthorn, blackthorn and willows growing all over. Then, from a tall Larch plantation came a loud 'pitchoo' call. High up in breezy larch tops we found a pair of Marsh Tits feeding on the seeds of the cones. The male had bursts of singing now, that wasn't occurring earlier.

So our goal was achieved.Supported by the Woodcocks, a lovely singing Dipper, Siskins, Long tailed Tits and Goldcrests, it turned out to be a canny morning...

These 4 images show the same bent tailed male Marsh Tit. Lots of these seem to have a curvature of the rectrices, maybe as a result of a confined hole roost site

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

A poor show...

 After 16 years of Blogging this has been my worst January showing of all. One post. Well, two now.

Why is that? I'm not wholly sure, but this winter weather is a big factor. The constant winds, wet weather and named storms have made for a grim landscape with little to encourage optimism. 

Still, despite the doom and gloom the year moves on gradually. I've heard Skylarks, Great Tit and Redwing in full song, Woodpeckers drumming and today, my first Song Thrush chuntering away from a sheltered thicket. Only Chaffinch to go for the early birds singing. Tawny Owls are particularly vocal around the village on calm nights, when we get one that is. 

One of our neighbour's conifers blew over during storm, er, Isha. They all roll into one these days. The tree lay precariously on our greenhouse but the weight was taken by the stone garden wall so only soft branches lay on the roof causing no damage. It seems to be a lucky greenhouse having survived Arwen and now Isha unblemished. Lets hope the lucky spell continues.

On Saturday we did the RSPB Big Garden Bird watch, seeing 15 species, with highlights being 18 Tree Sparrows, a Great spotted Woodpecker, 6 Long tailed Tits and the Goldcrest that has been at the feeders most days since Christmas feeding on tiny bits dropped from the fat balls on to ivy leaves below.

Long tailed Tit, Robin and a pandemonium of Tree Sparrows during the Big Garden Birdwatch.

My first lifer of the year arrived last week when a Common Flower Bug Anthocoris nemorum crawled over my phone in the living room.

On Sunday a few hours inland was less than productive, but a moorland Great black backed Gull, adult, hunting for a carcass to feed on was quite unusual.  

New Year Waxwings remain absent but the Snow Buntings did a lap of the Bathing House field again on Saturday morning, the flock now up to 30+.

Snowdrops, Winter Aconites and Winter Heliotrope are now all in flower, so given a window in the weather, I am looking forward to getting out into the field properly!

Common Flower Bug

A pair of Robins displaying ina roadside wood made a change from them trying to kill each other... 

Monday, January 22, 2024

Happy New Year

 What is going on here? Its been weeks since my last post.

So, what has been happening around about?

Some decisions have been taken with regard to my wildlife agenda this year. Nothing too earth shattering, but its a start. 

To begin with, I'm not doing much of a patch list this time. The beauty of living within a patch is that there will be the usual time spent seeing stuff on a day to day basis but I'm not going all out for it. 

I am hesitant in saying this, as it might not come off, but this year I might go to see a few of the better birds that occur along our coast during migration etc. For example, I used to regularly visit Holy Island for the autumn birding but not so much in recent years. It does get a bit busy with other birders now, but it would still be nice to enjoy those migrant /rarity filled days that occur from time to time, rather than being a patch martyr. After all, time waits for no man so best enjoy our hobby while we can.

My sketching is getting more regular now, so there will be continued self development in this field, I hope, possibly linked to inspiration after more of our county birds are seen, as indicated above. I'd like to get more into a format or style, as I tend to be all over the place drawing in different books, papers etc at the minute. That's my nature though, a bit messy.

As well as the drawing, my notebooks might get a makeover too, by trying to write a little more to describe the scene rather than counts and lists as much. This might be more difficult as I've always had this habit. Its a thought.

Id like to get more blogging done too instead of wasting bloody time on social media!

Part of our village Snow Bunting flock, that I have yet to see this year though they are still around. 

We have been away last week. Having visited all corners of Scotland we thought we would give Fife a go. Its not too far from us for winter driving, and its all new so that's what we did. 

Jane booked a small house in Lower Largo right on the coast road. Some readers might have been or know the place from last years sea duck extravaganza when a Stejnegers Scoter and 4 White winged Scoters were with 1500 other scoter in Largo Bay? I can confirm however that they werent there last week, or if they were they remained too far out to identify.

We enjoyed great weather with clear cold sunny days all week, amazing considering the wet dark days we have been used to recently. The days were mostly filled by walks around small harbour villages, eating chips and generally relaxing.

On the birding front as I've said, not too much was seen. Immediately opposite our cottage scanning the high tide has double figures of Velvet and Common Scoter, up to 11 Slavonian Grebes, plenty of Red breasted Mergansers and Long tailed Ducks, with a few Goldeneye, Red throated and Great Northern Divers.

There was one visit inland to Cameron Reservoir for a wintering drake Smew, as its years since I've seen a male ( that's patch watching for you) but we couldnt find it on the day. There were 70+ Goldeneye (see, Im still counting stuff) a dozen Goosander and a female Scaup. Along the shore woods were good numbers of Crossbills and Siskins with a flack of singing Redwings too.

We came home on Saturday with time to prep for Storm Isha's arrival last night. Not that we did much preparation. The news tells us that Northumberland was up there in the wind tables with 99 mph recorded at Brizlee just west of Alnwick, one of our inland patches about 10 miles from home. Damage around our village seems minimal with a couple of trees down, one conifer lying on our greenhouse without doing any damage,  but all in all it was no storm Arwen thats for sure.

Pittenweem with the Isle of May in the distance.

Gate sculptures by artist Alan Faulds were all over the village. carved for oak and given multiple coats of paint they really brightened the area.

Lower Largo

We stayed in the brown cottage on the left. The viaduct is disused...

Lower Largo



Lower Largo opposite our house.