Wednesday, August 21, 2019


August can be a good month in Northumberland, and especially in a local patch context where its not just rare birds that get the pulse going. At this time there is a post breeding dispersal of commoner species that might not occur on a given patch or in a bit of habitat.  So, get out there as often as possible and watch the daily changing tide of birds as they head out to pastures new...

On 24th July, a hint of autumn was already happening. A Grey Plover flew S over our house calling strongly, a garden first. Nearby were an adult and a 2nd summer Mediterranean Gull but, on the patch the best bird was commoner than both of these, a Dunlin [135] flew over calling twice in the darkness. My fully rocky coast doesnt get mud puddlers like this so fly by's are the best I can hope for...

On 28th July warblers were on the move with Whitethroats, Blackcaps, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs all showing in tall hogweed and bushes on the coast. The now famous influx of Painted Lady butterflies had begun when we had 70 in and around our garden alone.

On 1st August a short seawatch from Cullernose Point had an adult Little Gull and more expected at this time, 1 ad and 1 juv Roseate Tern [136]. These are rare birds on most patches and well sought after but in Northumberland they are found all along the coast in August as the young fledge and roam widely.

With perfect timing, a Hobby [137] flashed past our garden on 4th only a day later than the 2018 sighting. Still rare in Northumberland but sightings are increasing...

A few days later on 8th, a blue, male, Merlin [138] flew over the village mobbed by swallows. In contrast to the previous raptor, Merlin sightings on the coast are decreasing. 20 years ago they were a day bird anywhere on the coast from late July to December, but now I only get one or two sightings per year.

Most days at the beginning of August had showers or even heavy downpours, but even this failed to ground any scarce migrants.

A party of 4 juv Knot [139] on 17th were my first here since 2011, and only my second record ever. This is the value of patch birding as Knot is not scarce along the muddier reaches of the Northumberland coast and even on the rocky skeers, the fingers that jut out into the sea. Unfortunately here, our rocks are more 'bunched up' so most waders give them a miss.

And finally, last night a nice walk down the Teepee track to Howick Burn mouth turned up 5 Wheatears and a juv Whinchat [140], both good sightings here.

First thing in the mornings now, hirundines are moving south in tight flocks and Golden Plovers gather on the shore...It'll soon be real autumn. Lets hope the weather changes from this bland southerly pattern...

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Patch List Catch up...

I haven't done a patch birding update since May, so here goes so far...

After the excitement of Baikal Teal and Baillons Crake in the county, it was back to patch watching in earnest. We always start the year full of vim and vigour but this often deteriorates as the summer arrivals peter out. On a North east coastal patch however, as mid summer beds in, things are only just starting to warm up. We are full of hopes and aspirations of what the return migrations season will be like. Willw e get any fall conditions? Will there be any rare birds? Will the sea watching be classic year? Or, will it all just be a damp squib...that remains to be seen, but a few decent species have been added to the local list since spring...

126. Quail. On 9th June as I stepped out onto our drive, the distinctive 'Whit, whit whit' call sounded only 30 yards into the field but could easily have been in the next field such is the skill in voice throwing that these birds exhibit. It remained until 22nd June when we came back from our Suffolk holiday.

127. In the quiet doldrums of mid summer living near the coast can have its advantages...see here for details on what happened next.

128. On the same crazy seawatch Arctic Tern was added...

129...and Common Sandpipers had already began moving to the coast on 2nd July after breeding.

130. Arctic Skua. After packing up on another seawatch on 7th July a dark phase adult came so close it was almost touchable just over our heads and away north.

131. Later in the afternoon on 7th July, I walked down to the coast patch just to scan for terns and waders and was pleased to see two birds not far out moving north. As I locked on to them one was a Whimbrel and the other, scarcer here, a Bar-tailed Godwit....

132 / 133. The sea is the way to lift the flagging list from now onwards and the hour spent on the 14th July was no different with Little Gull and Common Tern added. The Little Gulls were two birds, one a lovely sooty underwinged adult and a more typical first summer.

134. The most difficult of the breeding terns here, 4 Little Terns flew south just offshore this afternoon as I walked Peggy...

So, 9 year ticks and one a lifer who says mid summer is quiet for birding! With real autumn just around the corner, I am sure there is time to slot in a few more missing common species...a Dunlin or Sanderling wouldnt go amiss...

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Giant Patch Tick!

What a bizarre evening that was.

I was driving home from work when I had a phone call from Gary Woodburn who said the incomprehensible news that Mark Newsome has just had a Giant Petrel fly north at Whitburn.

A what? Giant Petrel? Are they not the things that kill penguins on Blue Planet? In the North Sea?

It was a dark phased bird with a massive white bill.

Giant Petrel has two species, they are Southern and Northern and are incridibly difficult to identify let alone on a fly past at a kilometre range...

Gary was going to wait for news from seawatchers further south and then head to Newton Point. I had already considered a seawatch, as the high pressure out in the Atlantic looked good for a movement of shearwaters and there are a few terns I still haven't had on the patch year list so this news prompted me even more. Gardening would have to wait...

Straight home, changed, snacks and tea packed and out to Cullernose Point by 6.55pm. I was perched halfway down the cliff on a lovely summer evening. The sea was alive with auks, buzzing back and forth in small flocks, razorbills, guiilemots and many puffins. To a back drop of calling kittiwakes on the cliff, whats not to like.

Snacks eaten, tea drunk, and the first 50 Manx Shearwaters were logged. I was studying a winter plumaged diver on the sea that was very Black throated like but just too ar to confirm, when I was joined by Mark Eaton to look seaward. Seeing anyone here is unusual so company and in particular another set of birding eyes was welcome.

The diver was analysed,and I still think Black throated, complete with 'cobra-like' nape shape but its not inked into the notebook.

We commented on how good the visibilty was, Highish up with a flattish sea we could pick out puffins atalmost 2 kms, and at 1 km an 8 inch bird was easily identified, so a 3 foot long, black albatross should be no trouble to connect with, if only...

News came through that a good candidate was seen very distantly at the horizon from St Mary's Island. Ho hum, it was a nice night.

Then a slow motion, quiet, tenseness came as I scanned south from a distant oil tanker when all of a sudden, a huge, black apparition loomed up from the waves and I called to Mark ' There's your Petrel!' scarcely believeing my own words. A short 10 second panic ensued while I stammered out directions, but luckily the oil tanker came in handy as a marker and seen at three quarter distance Mark was on the bird.

The GIANT PETREL, flapped on elastic wing beats, giving the impression of one of those big Fruit Bats or Flying Foxes rather than a bird. It soared and glided seemed too heavy to shear in the calm conditions. This continued for 10 minutes and once it switchbacked south briefly before getting back on track North. We watched as it passed Gannets, Manxies and flocks of auks looking like nothing I've ever seen. The wing tips seemed a bit rounded or ragged maybe giving an 'eagley' look at times, then on down glides it vanished into wave troughs before towering back above the horizon line. it lookd darker than a Sooty Shear but it was the size and jizz that were unmistakeable.

What a bird. It slowly vanished from view. Word was put out by Mark as I had no signal at all and the enormity of the sighting sank in. I was trembling a little bit...

That was certainly some start to the seawatching season...

Oh and even though it cant be identified to a species, I'm having it on my lists!


Tuesday, June 25, 2019

What a week!

I'm going back a few weeks now to Monday 3rd June....I should have one of those wavy 70's special effects...

Sitting at work just having my lunch in front of a computer, I glanced at What'sApp on my phone. A message had just appeared - 'BAIKAL TEAL, East Chevington North Pool now'. This was not wholly unexpected as this bird has travelled around eastern England for a few weeks now, but yesterday it had gone past us and into Scotland. We thought we had missed out on its north bound itinerary. However, Scotland wasnt to its taste, and it was now loafing on the bankside here at East Chev.

I downed tools [keyboard] and headed off up the road for this genuinely wild, long distance vagrant, ***it has been to Spurn, so it must count*** arguably one of the finest looking of all the wildfowl. As its name suggests it should be breeding now somewhere east of the Siberian Yenisey on tundra pools, not hanging around the ex Northumberland coal field.

A few birders were already watching the bird when I arrived, and what a little stunner it was too, with the green and yellow harlequin face pattern of an adult drake. Although it was quite distant, good scope views could be had on the bank and out on open water. At the time of writing, it has moved down to Druridge Pools where it looks set to put the summer in.

Although some people are concerned that it is a species widely kept in captivity and it may have just hopped a fence, it was unringed and certainly behaved like a wild bird, being very uneasy and flighty even at range. Numbers have increased from a few hundred thousand birds in the 2000s up to a million birds now wintering in South Korea so why wouldnt it be the real deal?

We will have to wait until the powers that be decide on that one, but I've already added it to my list.
More importantly, it is in 345th position on my Northumberland List and is a great bump start to a slow year, arriving in the county with a few other good birds such as Broad billed Sandpiper, Red necked Phalarope and American Wigeon.

Northumberland's first Baikal Teal, East Chevington.
In June it pays northern birders not to rest on their laurels, and sure enough only two days later a visiting birder looking at a Garganey on Monks House Pool turned up Northumberlands second ever BAILLON'S CRAKE after one in 1942.

This small roadside pool,a  former local patch for the master, Eric Ennion, is a proper mass of thick impenetrable juncus, so I didnt hold out much hope of having a repeat performance of the 1989 Sunderland bird. I hung back awaiting news. I just sat down to my tea, when the message came, the bird was out scratching around the mud, in the open!

As with the Teal, the pause button was pressed, tea put in the oven, Springwatch recorded, and off I went, all of 15 miles north of home. I skidded to vehicle abandonment and jumped out. 20 birders were just gazing around as they do. 'Has it gone? I asked Ian Fisher. 'Its just gone behind those rushes a few minutes ago' was the response. Thats that then I thought and got the scope out as a token gesture. After 10 mins, Tariq Farooqi gave the call, 'There it is!' resulting an a 30 second panic until I could locate the tiny hunched scrap of feathers picking around in a tunnel of rush. Eventually it emerged into the open and had a bath and a preen for 10 minutes before skippng off out of sight where it was never seen again....  wow, what a bird. Not a full lifer, but one I never thought I'd see again, let alone in the home county.

These tiny marsh creepers are quite scarce and difficult to see anywhere in Europe even though they are widespread breeders. It is believed that some may breed in the UK after a survey found several calling birds on marshes in Wales, but in this kind of habitat, we could never be sure.

The county tick [346] was tinged with some ( very little) remorse that many of the top Northumberland Birders couldnt make it up north from Newcastle etc. A bitter sweet experience for sure...

Northumberland's second Baillon's Crake, Monk's House Pool.



Sunday, June 02, 2019


There goes spring...

For us in Northumberland it was quite dry but usually cold too. A few new birds were added to the patch list, but they were mostly expected summer visitors.

117 - Mandarin, a drake flushed from the pond in grim weather as I led a dawn chorus walk on the 4th.
118 / 119 - On the same afternoon a seawatch added Bonxie and Manx Shearwater to the list.
120 - was a singing Sedge Warbler on the 5th while the species continued to arrive in the afternoon with...
121 - Puffin, 5 N past our coast path,
122 - 23 Whimbrel and a
123 - Great Northern Diver also added to a reasonable spring seawatch.
124 - was a typically late Swift. They dont breed on patch so can be erratic in the spring.
125 -  House Martin was finally added on 16th when 3 birds flew S over the village.

So ending the month with 125 equalling 62.18% of the patch total overall.

What will June bring? To be honest I think I'll be lucky to add anything but there are possibilities. In May I missed two species. Jane had Cuckoo calling 3 times when I was away to work and another local had 3 Little Egrets roosting in our small heronry on one evening. Despite trying, both remained elusive for me. These two plus four tern species out there to get, I might just need a slice of luck...

I wonder how Steve in Surrey is coming along....

An unsuccessful morning looking fo Bluethroats but a lovely Bullfinch in the fog made up for it...a little. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

An Upland Walk...Northumberland National Park

Harthope Valley - Carey Burn to Broadstruther Walk.

On Sunday we had a walk half way up the Carey Burn mainly looking at butterflies but also for anything else that attracts attention. This is an area we have visited since the 80s but have never walked further than the Carey Burn itself. We used to see Ring Ouzel and Peregrine here but now they both seem to have gone.

On Tuesday, the weather forecast was so good, I took an impromptu flexi day off work and went feral, heading for the silence of the hills. These are the Cheviots, just south of Wooler in the North of Northumberland and about 20 miles from home. Its a scenic quiet spot and doesnt get the quantity of visitors that go to the Ingram Valley for instance.

Above - The walk starts on a flat sheep walk area on the north bank of the Carey Burn with views into the valley. On Sunday I missed the Red Kite that has been around since early spring, but on Tuesday it gave me a nice fly over along with 6 soaring Buzzards. Red legged Partridges are ever present here and are best ignored!

The south facing slope on the right is clad in Broom and Gorse and was full of Whitethroats, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs. A few butterflies were noted with many Orange Tips, 4+ Small Copper and 2 Green Hairstreak.

Green Hairstreak

Small Coppers
Further up the steep scree and crag sided valley, the path gets a bit, disorientated, but is passable with care. Scree seems to have caused it to slide off a bit. Around every corner here are fantasic and new views.

The Carey Burn waterfalls.
This time we saw a pair of Whinchats, Dippers, Red Grouse plus a few interesting invertebrates. 

Mother Shipton moth named after the witches profile in each wing...a rare species in the county.

On the rocks,a small jumping Zebra Spiders, Salticus sp.

An even rarer moth is the Small Purple Barred with two seen, only the second and third records in the county in the last 30 years.

This tiny spiralled Snail under a log needs some research.

Green Tiger Beetles are abundant on the snady paths here.
Beyond the waterfalls, the valley widens a little, with grassy areas and a small shepherds hut. Dippers call and dash along the burn here. Watch out for Adders and Slow Worms. We found a freshly dead slow worm that looked like a bird had killed it, maybe a kestrel?

Bitter Vetch
Beyond the footbridge the walk begins to look different. Gone are the steep scree slopes and now we have open rounded heather clad vistas. In the birches many Redpolls were chasing around, while Whitethroats and Meadow Pipits were everywhere. A Redstart was singing unseen here while a lone Cuckoo called.

This is the halfway point in the walk. Out here the broom holds Mountain Bumblebees, Bombus montana, a scarce species. Skylarks, Pipits and Grouse call everywhere while two or three Ravens added a more menacing air to the scene and a beautifil cock Whinchat just refused to sit for a photo.

A scarce self appearance on the blog, but no one was around so I banaced the camera on a fence post and set the timer... 

Broadstruther cottage, recently renovated. Imagine living here in the winter. A stone sheep stell near the footbridge is a thing from the past.

Broadstruther, a closer view.

The ubiquitous Meadow Pipit. 

Small hill Bown Trout filled the burn, rising for insects on the top with a  splash.
The start of the track back.
From here the hill was quiet other than some heart stopping Grouse leaping into the air only feet away calling go-back go-back....

And finally the view to the car park and the steep decent down some very rough stone covered track way. A fantastic walk of about 4 miles, I'm looking forward to trying it in different seasons...

My car is in the centre of that loop...

Sunday, May 05, 2019

I'm late!

For an April round up that is.
As you may have read here before, Northumberland doesnt do spring like the southern counties. We often just slip from winter into summer...Still this April has been quite good on the patch with some decent birds...
Shelduck came first on 1st April and was species 103. A common and almost daily sighting here in spring with most bird being seen in flight.
104 was the Blackcap bang on cue on 5th...
105 on the same date Wheatear was early here, I dont usually get one til mid month.
Swallow was 106 on 10th...
and Sand Martin nearby was 107...
Willow warbler at 108 are getting later year on year, on 12th...
A nice Yellow Wagtail 109 on the muck heap was on 20th...
Whitethroat 110 was early on 24th often not arriving until May...
Lesser Whitethroat came the next day...111.
Sandwich Tern was added on 27th 112,
While a good day on 28th added Red legged Partridge, Grasshopper Warbler, Ring Ouzel and a full patch tick - Hooded Crow all at Craster taking the total up to 116.

The scores on the doors are.... 116 species = 56.58% of the total patch score.

Yellow Wagtail with a Pied on the muck heap.

Friday, April 19, 2019

At last!

... spring has sprung!

But, lets pause. On the TV weather forecast I am seeing those inland people with temps up to 22+ degrees. Within sight of the Northumberland coast, here, we did have 12 degrees but the wind was still sharp. The key was to get into a sheltered spot.

During the day, I hung around the garden and through our village wood to the pond field. This was my first butterfly day of the year with 7 Peacocks, 2 Small Tortoiseshells, 1 female Orange Tip, 1 Small White and best of all, 3 Holly Blues in the garden. Last year i had my first confirmed Holly Blue in August here but it was too quick to photograph but thes eones, 2 males and a female, were a bit more cooperative...

Its great at this time of year to see more biodiversity on the local patch...

Holly Blue

Holly Blue

Holly Blue

Dark edged Bee-fly

Kidney spot Ladybird

Mute Swan, cob.

Female Orange Tip

Our garden this morning

Primrose bank near the pond field


Germander  Slender Speedwell ( see comments)

Common Violet

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Continental Stonechat? Maybe?

Tonight I had a walk down to the Howick Burn moth and back by the shore with the intent of looking for a Black Redstart on patch. A couple have been seen in the county today and these east winds might have brought some more.

As I walked from Seahouses Farm, south along the old 'tee-pee track', I flushed an odd looking Stonechat. It was a very brightly marked male, and quite unlike the few local birds we have here. It behaved differently too, being very flighty indeed, not allowing me anywhere near it whereas the local birds feed as close as garden Robins on most days.

Our locals, Saxicola torquata hibernans, are very brownish bodied with the chestnut breast reaching all the way down to the lower belly and up to the flanks. This bird showed characteristics similar to the Continental Stonechat Saxicola torquata rubicola . This form is not officially recognised on the British list, not becasue it doesnt occur here, in fact it is believed to have bred in the UK on more than one occasion, but because many authorities dont recognise them as seperate forms at all. Only the most distinctive specimens seem to stand out.  Compare my bird to these on Birding Frontiers...

Today's bird showed the following 'pro' rubicola features -

Broad extensive white collar patches, making the black head seem almost capped in appearance.
Very black upperparts.
Orange breast restricted to the upper centre, with the flanks and lower belly being white.
Upper tail coverts were white.
The white inner greater coverts were clean and extensive in flight.

Unfortunately the bird kept low so I didnt see the underwing at all.

Although there is no way to be sure, I do think this bird is at least a migrant and not a local breeder. We never get them looking like this as early as this. Its behaviour too was more migrant like, being very flighty and dashing off long distances.

Its not going to get the twitchers going but it brightened my evening, and was quite thought provoking.

I didnt find any Black Redstarts....

Possible Continental Stonechat S t rubicola. Typical view this evening. Note capped appearance, restricted orange in breast with white flanks. 

Two truly awful flight shots but if you squint you can see white upper tail covs that were more obvious in life.

A crop of the fist shot. Compare with a local male Stonechat St hibernans, below. See the brownish less advanced look, more extensive orange chestnut below covering all underparts except the undertail coverts. Easier to approach too.