Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Still high pressure resulting in some seabird movement off shore. Bright and sunny.

A short seawatch from Boulmer this evening was well worth it when a Balearic Shearwater wavered its way north with two of its Manx relatives for comparison. As these seabirds are impossible for me to photograph, some rough field notes give you an idea what I'm talking about.
These birds are internationally endangered, the whole world population numbering only a few thousand birds all breeding in the mediterranean, as the name implies. They are quite unusual in that they first migrate north to British coasts before moving back south into the Atlantic.

Sooty Shearwater 2, 1N and 1, unusually, 1 lingering around the feeding frenzies quite close in.
Manx Shearwtaer 12+N
Whimbrel 1
Golden Plover 200
Goosander 7

125. Balearic Shearwater.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Above - Top, Green Sandpipers, Bottom, Whinchat.

Today was sunny with a cool NW breeze off a high pressure in the atlantic.

Two visits to Boulmer seawatching today 06.00 - 06.30 and again 17.00 - 18.00.

Sooty Shearwater 8 N ( they always fly north...proper seawatching now...)the first of the year.
Manx Shearwater 15 N including a party of 7 that stopped off to feed close inshore.
Arctic Skua 1 pale phase N 2 dark phase S
Teal 2 N
Good numbers of Terns, Gannets, Kittiwakes and Auks.

Also around 2 Yellow Wagtails, 2 Stonechats, 1 Grey Partridge. The Sparrowhawk pair have successfully reared a brood for the second year, with 3 or 4 flying young begging for food.

River Aln, checked at Foxton Bends, the new flood workings at Alnmouth and the waterworks.

Green Sandpiper 2 on river flats. Quite unusual here unlike the more regular Common Sandpipers of which there were 13+ and 3 Greenshanks. A juvenile Little Ringed Plover was on the new saltmarsh scrape.

After this I had a check around by the water works where one or two migrants were attracted to the insects around the filter beds - 1 Whinchat, 2 Whitethroats, 2 Willow Warblers and 20+ Sand Martins. A couple of Snipe, 15 Goldfinches, 7 Mistle Thrush and a Stock Dove were in the damp field nearby.

Above - Rock Village Pond, Tufted Duck with her ducklings and an illuminous Moorhen.

The village of Rock is about 4 miles up the road from home. It is very scenic and has a large village pond that attracts a few birds to breed. The surrounding farmland is managed organically so there are often good numbers of the common species plus the odd unusual thing like quail or spotted flycatcher, though I didn't see any this morning. Still it was a nice quiet way to spend half an hour.
There were 3 pairs of Moorhen, a Tufted Duck with 3 ducklings, Little Grebe and Grey Wagtail and a Chiffchaff had fledged young in the bushes over hanging the water.

124. Sooty Shearwater.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Flexi leave...

Top - Boulmer Village
Centre - Jane and Bunty, The Coach Inn, Lesbury.
Bottom - Small Tortoiseshell

Today was a random day off work just to use up some excess hours and, for a nice change, the weather was warm and sunny with a moderate westerly breeze.

After a walk along the beach at Boulmer with Bunty we had our lunch at the Coach Inn in Lesbury. If anyone is visiting this part of the world, the Coach has under gone a change of management recently and is now a very pleasant place to eat.

During our stroll, of note, a female Peregrine scythed past the rock edges before gliding sedately over head and on inland at Seaton Point, 1 Yellow Wagtail was with Pieds on the tideline and 8 Swifts moved steadily south.

Beats work anyday...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Dead Calm.

A very pleasant evening for a stroll along the shore with Jane and Bunts. At this time of evening the holiday makers have retired to their cottages and all is quiet. The fishing boats in Boulmer haven, calm at high tide, make a picturesque scene. Double click for a bigger image.

27 Dunlin were on the shore, 25 Linnets and a couple of Tree Sparrows were on the runways and a Sparrowhawk flashed through. A Hare was grazing in the newly mown 'set-a-side' field.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Chunky Monkey...

Above - Little Owl. Looks like a Toby Jug....

The weather this morning was the usual. Rain. I left the house at 0720 and was back home at 0830. An hour sat in the car gazing seaward through dismal drizzle at Boulmer had -

Roseate Tern 2
Arctic Skua 1+
Common Scoter 43 N
Bar tailed Godwit 1 N
Dunlin 39

This afternoon the sun got out and it was quite warm, so I thought that the Longhoughton Little Owls would be out sunning themselves after the recent damp spell. This one in the picture was quite obliging and even let two kids with dogs walk right under him without flying off.
I suppose the rain is a mixed blessing for these chaps. There'll be an abundance of worms to feed on but they dont like a soaking. One of my favourites.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Raining most of the day with odd fair spells, N3.

At Boulmer this morning a nice adult Little Gull still in breeding plumage flew off the shore, right overhead and off inland!

Seawatch this evening 5.45pm - 7.00pm

Quiet. Only things of note were -

Common Scoter 17 N
Velvet Scoter 1 N male
Arctic Tern 50 N

Friday 20th July 2007

Seawatching 5.45pm - 7pm. Boulmer north seat. Mod NE4, overcast with some sun.

Sandwich Tern 37 N
Arctic Tern 72 N
Common Tern 17 N
Roseate Tern 8 N
Gannet 150 N
Kittiwake 191 N
Manx Shearwater 9 N
Bonxie 1 N
Puffin 32 N
Razorbill 18 N
Guillemot 6 N
Fulmar 5 N
Whimbrel 1 S
Wigeon 2 N the first of the autumn and very early?

On shore, 54 Redshank, 9 Dunlin, 1 Golden Plover, 11 Turnstone, 105 Oystercatcher, 50 Lapwing and 2 juv Yellow Wagtails.

I luv seawatching, me!

The breezy nor'easter could mean only one thing at this time of year. SEAWATCHING.

Although a little early, late July is traditionally the start of the season when Northumberland birders point their scopes seaward hoping for a good movement of ocean wanderers and the chance that something special comes within sight of land.

For those who are wondering what I'm on about, seawatching is not the scanning of the sea for divers and ducks etc. Its watching for the birds either migrating south over the sea or, more usually, reorientating back north after being displaced by an unusual weather pattern. For us up here we want good fresh winds from anywhere between north west and north east, preferably coming off a fast moving low pressure in the north atlantic, though often the light north breeze from a large high pressure system will result in large numbers of birds moving.

Seawatching is either loved or hated by birders. Its not something to dabble at. You can tell the people who are not used to it as they turn up at a headland, Newbiggin maybe, set up their scopes and tripods and STAND, peering into the wind. They won't be there long thats a fact. The winds that make the best conditions can be invariably cold, even in late summer, and after and hour or so can chill you to the bone. Remember, you are waiting for birds to come to you too. This means, time spent equals birds seen. Ten minutes standing in tee shirt and shorts will not get the good birds. Get kitted out like its winter. Find a sheltered spot and sit, hunkered down out of the wind, for a good period of time in order to get the best from it. On quiet days an hour will do, but on the best days eight hours sitting still counting and getting eye strain is not uncommon.

Me, I'm in the love it camp. From now until November any good weather ( for us that is, not for most people) will see me huddled over a cold telescope, folded into my deckchair until the evening light fades, then climbing back into the car shivering from the inside out. Lets hope that this year turns up the goods...Boulmer desperately needs Sabines Gull, Leaches Petrel, Great Shearwater etc etc.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

No visit to Boulmer tonight just a jaunt around Longhoughton on foot with Jane and Bunts. We were pleased to find a pair of Little Owls on territory where we haven't seen them previously. I suspect they will be either the Boulmer birds from last year or their progeny. I'll try and get a photo one of these coming evenings. Other than that, Blackcap singing in the churchyard while quite a few House Martins hawked over the fields and a hunting Sparrowhawk were the only things of note.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

On my way to work this morning this fantastic view inspired me to get a snap. Poppies and Ox-eye Daisies looking towards Hipsburn. Its worth double clicking to see the bigger picture. Its like one of those Tunnicliffe scenes from those old Ladybird books 'What to look for in Summer.' Tremendous.

Above - Cormorant, Eider, Common and Sandwich Terns and Arctic Tern.

Boulmer was relatively quiet last night after work. One or two waders arriving with 1 Knot, 1 Bar tailed Godwit ( both in summer plumage), 7 Whimbrel, 150 Golden Plover, 7 Dunlin, 2 Turnstone, 9 Redshank and a massive 344 Curlew at their high tide roost. 16 Goosanders now in the moulting flock and 2 Little Terns at Seaton Point. 5 Grey Partridges in the hayfield.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Newton Stringer

No thats not a derogatory remark, but an intro to my new link. Its good to see that Gary has set up a blog and website to cover the patch 'next door' to mine...check it out. More birders should do this in the county, it would be a great resource to visiting and local birders alike!

Big Waters Birder

What a glorious warm and sunny day. Just right for standing at Big Waters NR for 5 solid hours this morning staring at the lake with no sign of the Caspian Tern. Still, there was some comraderie between the few of us who gave it our best shot and the morning was quite enjoyable non the less.

A few things were seen during our vigil - 1+ Kingfisher, 7 Siskins, 2 Redpolls, 2 Buzzards, 2 Common Sandpipers, a couple of Common Terns, Chiffchaff and Sedge Warbler but best of all was a lifer...Emperor Dragonfly! A male cruised past us and began hunting the edge of the reeds for a while showing reasonably well, though it didn't land. It large size, bright green thorax and blue abdomen curled under for a time in flight were very distictive. A great record up here.

Better luck next time ...

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Phew that was a bit spooky all brought on by that Lesser Whitethroat!

Today the weather has been wrm and humid. Mostly overcast with sunny spells and odd spots of rain. Wind W5.

At Boulmer today - Swifts on the move back south with 26 through in 30 minutes, 124+ Puffins were close in on the sea as were a scattering of Razorbills but only 2 Guillemots. A pale phase Arctic Skua hunted over the rocks very close in affording excellent views probably attracted by the large concentration of terns offshore ( unfortunately there was nothing as good as the Caspian Tern that has been to a few sites in SE Northumberland today). 100+ Arctic Terns, 100+ Sandwich Terns sev Common Terns and 2 adult Little Terns were on the beach. Also 1 Whimbrel, 3 Dunlin, 5 Goosander, 150 Golden Plover and a Manx Shearwater flew N.

A bit sinister...

On our way back through the rural Northumberland countryside west of Morpeth, returning from the Otterburn Fair we pass this scene. Winter's Gibbet. It can be seen on the moor top for miles around and is there as a memorial to a gruesome murder that took place not far from this site. The tale is as follows, and may I warn you, its not for the faint hearted...

Elsdon is a small village about 12 miles west of Rothbury.

On August 10th 1792 William Winter and Jane & Eleanor Clark were executed at the Westgate, Newcastle for the murder of Margaret Crozier, an old woman at Raw Pele, a tower two miles north of Elsdon. Margaret Crozier died of a fracture to the left temple and strangulation although it is often stated that her throat was cut.

It is interesting to note that the executioner was also a villain. William Gardner had been sentenced to death for the crime of sheep stealing in Northumberland and agreed to be the executioner of Winter and the Clarke sisters. For this service he was reprieved and his sentence reduced to transportation to New South Wales for seven years.

Following the execution, the bodies were disposed of in different ways: the females dispatched to the surgeon's hall for dissection whilst the body of William Winter was hung in chains on Whiskershiels Common, a few miles south of Elsdon.

The body remained on the gibbet as a sight for the passing curious until the clothes rotted. Eventually the body was cut down, the bones scattered, and the skull sent to Mr Darnell of Newcastle.

In time the original gibbet decayed, partly due to natural processes and partly due to the quaint country practice of rubbing pieces on the gums to cure toothache.

Around 1867 Sir Walter Travelyan of Wallington ordered a replica, complete with wooden body, to be erected on his land. In time the wooden body disappeared following its use for target practice, till only the head remained, giving rise to the 20th century custom of hanging a fibre glass head on the replica gibbet.

Today the gibbet stands proudly high on the lonely hills above Elsdon.

The head was frequently stolen and as frequently replaced. In 1998 the complete gibbet disappeared!

But who was Winter?

William Winter seems to have sprung from Gypsy stock and was the end of a long line of criminals. For the last 18 years of his life he had been at liberty for only 6 months. A truly hardened criminal! In 1784 he had been convicted of stealing an ass and sent to the hulks on the Thames for seven years.Upon his release in 1791 he made his way back to the North of England where he seems to have taken up his old life style once more. But his liberty was not to last and he was apprehended following the murder of Margaret Crozier.

Margaret Crozier was murdered on 29th August 1791. When William was discharged from the hulks on 14th August 1791, he found that his father and brother had been hanged on 6th August 1788. The father of the Clark girls, Walter Clark was hanged with Margaret Dunn on 14th August 1793. The crime was burglary. The Winters, John & Robert, father & son, were executed for breaking & entering. A harsh sentence in a harsh day! All were classified as hardened criminals.

And the sequel to this sad tale:

Raw Pele, the scene of the murder was never again lived in, and the tower became part of the farm buildings, although much changed. The chief witness, a boy called Robert Hindmarsh (sometimes known as Robert Hymers) feared gypsy vengeance and moved out of the area; first to Bywell and then to Aberdeen. He eventually returned to his home, only to die in September 1803 at the age of only twenty-two.

Above - This Lesser Whitethroat was a fresh road casualty at Boulmer this morning. It was lying on the road side at the golfcourse bends.It was an adult, possibly a male as there is no sign of a brood patch. Lets hope there are no dependants out there...

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A rarity!

Above - Red necked Footman.Atolmis rubricollis

Although I'm no expert, this is a rare moth up here, more usually found on the south or south west coasts. A forest species, this one came in off the beach at the lifeboat car park, Boulmer and dropped into the dunes at 8pm this evening. I caught it and released it into more suitable habitat at home after taking these photos. I think the first for Northumberland was as recent as 2004!

Sunday, July 08, 2007

At last, a brief, but much welcomed break in the weather. Today was lovely and clear, hot, sunny with a light W3.

Highlights at Boulmer this weekend, apart from the Pyramidal Orchid below, ( click on any image for a better, larger version )were 302 Curlew, 190 Golden Plover, 3 Knot in summer plumage, 2 Bar tailed Godwit in summer plumage and the usual Yellow Wagtail in the wheat field is now accompanied by at least one juvenile. Nice to see them breeding here again when they are in such decline.

As is usual at this time of year, I tend to concentrate on the plants and insects while out birding. On Saturday a short visit to Little Mill pools had Tufted Duck with 7 ducklings, 15+ Swifts, Blue tailed and Common Blue Damselflies, Common Blue and Meadow Brown Butterflies and Great Spearwort and Celery-leaved Crowfoot in flower.

Today, met ADMc and had a wander over to Kimmer Lough, west of Alnwick. Butterflies were obvious with 6+ Large Skippers, 4 Small Heath, 12+ Ringlet and 2 Meadow Browns, 2 Snipe 'tick-tocked' over their territories and a young Roe Deer in very russet summer coat was drinking from the lough. the large beds of Yellow Water Lily looked very scenic here in the dark peaty pool.

On the way back we checked Alnwick Castle Pastures for banded demoiselle without luck, but we did have a Kingfisher flash downstream, whistling loudly. Two broods of Tufted Duck were on the river where Marsh Woundwort was in flower.

In the afternoon, Jane and Bunty came with me to a more reliable site for the Banded Demoiselles, Bellasis Bridge near Blagdon. Here we saw three males flying bat-like over the flooded stream, but only the two females posed for photos.

After a stop at the Blagdon Farm Centre we called at Druridge Bay Country Park and East Chevington Dunes to look for Orchids. At the country park there was a good display of wildflowers in the meadows with swathes of Common Spotted Orchid, Birds foot Trefoil, Wild Carrot and various Vetches but only a single Bee Orchid.These flowers had the associated insects, 8+ Large Skippers,2 Common Blues and 4+ Meadow Browns, a few Cinnabar and Burnet Moths and loads of Common Blue Damselflies. Over in the Chevington Dunes, a few Fragrant Orchids were near some Marsh Helleborines and Common Twayblade. Every summer I wish I knew more about the plants as I learn new each summer but forget the previous one!

The walk back along the beach had a large feeding flock of over a hundred Terns of 3+ species just offshore.

Kimmer Lough

Above - Yellow Water Lillies on Kimmer Lough.

Above - A female Banded Demoiselle holding territory.

Above - Large Skipper on thistle.

Wide open space...

Above - A hot summer Sunday on the Druridge Bay sands. As you can see, the holiday crowds have descended. Well, the car parks were full...

More Local Orchids...

Above - Pyramidal Orchid. A single spike on the grass sward at Longhoughton Steel. The first I've seen here.

Above - Bee Orchid. Druridge Bay Country Park, again I could only find one plant in a sea of Common Spotted Orchids.

Above - Fragrant Orchid. Several in flower in East Chevington Dunes.

Above - Marsh Helleborine. A few near the Fragrant Orchids in East Chevington dunes.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Autumn is on its way..

Yesterday I heard on the radio that scientists have confirmed the inevitable. Summer is over for this year. Apparently our dry spell in April was the summer, now we are in a pseudo - monsoon type season before autumn proper kicks in. With no fine weather forecast for the foreseeable future, this evenings walk confirmed the suspicions. The waders are on their return migration. Hard to believe but its true, failed breeders, unpaired birds and early nesters with broods are winging their way back from the tundra.

At Boulmer tonight, 180+ Curlew, 190 Golden Plover, 20 Redshanks and singles of Turnstone, Dunlin and Bar tailed Godwit were a significant increase after weeks of single figure Oystercatcher counts etc...

The other night a couple or three Ringlet butterflies were on the go at Seaton Point. Its funny how cool rainy weather has little effect on this species even though they seem quite feeble on the wing.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Another day of heavy showers but nicely faired up by evening. Warm and sunny later.

On my way home from work a Barn Owl flew high over the road just south of Hipsburn, clutching prey in its foot.

Walked Bunty around Seaton Point. A fast flying bird mobbed by pipits had my pulse going briefly. Hoping it was a Hobby, I was still pleasantly suprised by an adult Cuckoo going over, only my second here.

Out to sea the feeding bonanza continues as several thousand birds flickered about over the waves just outside the haven. Any landlocked birder using the holiday cottage next to the lifeboat hut could see Roseate, Common, Arctic and Sandwich Terns, Gannets, Puffins, Guillemots, Razorbills and Kittiwakes in their hundreds without leaving the garden! The mass of birds looked like snowflakes as the evening sun illuminated them against the rain clouds off shore.

No waders today, but an Eider had 6 ducklings along the tideline and 1 male and 3 juv Stonechats were feeding near the Seaton Point House.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

This morning was quite bright though cloudy with a light S3 breeze. More rain fell through the night.

I'm often at a loose end at this time of year, the summer doldrums, when local birds are quiet with families or moulting and there is little chance of any returning migrants until at least mid July and the weather puts a block on butterflies and dragonflies...

So, what to do? The usual I suppose and plodded off down to Boulmer. There were 1 pale and 2 dark Arctic Skuas offshore, 105 Kittiwakes, 22 Lesser black backed and 6 Great black backed Gulls on the rocks as were 10+ Sandwich and 3 Arctic Terns. 2 Manx Shearwaters flew S. 81 Curlews were feeding in a cut hay field and the Goosanders an the haven have increased to 7 birds. The only small birds of note were 1 Whitethroat and 2 Sedge Warblers while a House Martin hawked around the village with the resident Swallows.

From here a quick check of the River Aln at Foxton where 1 Common Sandpiper, 50+ Sand Martins, 1+ Whitethroat and 2 singing Lesser Whitethroats were the best on offer.

Suprise of the day was a Badger dead on the roadside between the RAF Air Base and Longhoughton this afternoon.

Met up with JWR at Alnmouth south side to catch up. Little of note here though the flowers in the dunes were quite a spectacle, with swathes of Birds Foot Trefoil, Hawkweeds, Restharrow, Bloody Cranesbill and Thyme.

Sorry about the lack of photos but with this weather I didn't even take the camera out. Maybe next week...

Oh, I forgot about these two on my phone, a Linnet and a Whitethroat...

Friday 29th June 2007

Fine, cool with some spots of rain.

At Boulmer this evening a few waders back on the rocks after an almost total absence for a couple of weeks, 9 Redshank, 1 Dunlin, 5 Ringed Plover. At sea, 1 Arctic Skua ws harassing the terns ofshore and 3 Mute Swans flew S, 3 Goosanders were in the haven and a male Stonechat was still singing near the Navigation Posts.

Thursday 28th June 2007

Heavy rain.

A voice mail on my phone from Jimmy Steele this evening told me that Tim Cleeves had found a potential fuscus Lesser black backed Gull, now known as Baltic Gull, at Cresswell Pond this afternoon. This sent me scurrying down there from Ashington after work, unfortunately there was no sign of the bird or any birders so I must assume it had flown off earlier.

Of note were - 6 Lesser black backs ( graellsii ), 2 Little Gulls, 20+ Sandwich Terns, 15+ Arctic Terns including a couple of first summer birds ( I remember when these were called portlandica phase birds...), a couple of Common Terns, 1 Little Ringed Plover, 1 Golden Plover and 6+ Swifts.

Wednesday 27th June 2007

Rain, sun and a light E breeze...

A half hour seawatch from Boulmer this evening had 1 Bonxie, 1 dark Arctic Skua, 2 Red throated Divers on the sea, 10+ Manx Shearwaters and an immature Little Gull on the beach. No sign of the Storm Petrels seen elsewhere along the coast...