Friday, March 15, 2019

Busy busy...

The lack of posts on here recently is due to this. Its amazing how long it takes to prepare a new talk, having to hunt through hundreds of images, process them, decide which to use, do a running order, make it flow etc etc.

I'll be back to normal after the 23rd!


Friday, March 01, 2019

End of Winter Figures.

As the month of February draws to a close, its time to check the patch listing stats.

February is always the worst month for birding on my bit of coastline. I have mainly cleaned up on all wintering visitors and resdents by the end of January and spend February adding a few that were overlooked, and hoping for spring.

This month fitted the stereotype perfectly. The month came in like a lion and went out like a lamb, a phrase supposed to be associated with March but global warming has moved everything else forward  so why not the prose? A covering of snow and temps down to -7 during the first weekend added a quick flurry to the list with Fieldfare, Redwing, Water rail, Willow Tit, Peregrine, Meadow Pipit and Collared Dove. More Crossbills, Barn Owls and Pink footed Geese added to the interest.

From then on it was all down hill. On 10th a singing Siskin was species 97 then in the warm, spring like days of week three, Coot  98 and Whooper Swan 99 arrived on the 25th.

This 99 species gives me 49% of my all time patch total score.

What will be species 100 be in March I wonder? Lesser black backed Gull or Redpoll is likely to be followed by Chiffchaff later in the month. Maybe the sea will be the key to some extra additions with birds like grebes and divers or white winged gulls shuffling around from other sites. Or maybe the small pond will pull in a Pochard (unlikely!) or a Wigeon?

Who knows? It will take the second week of April to arrive before the ticking can begin in earnest...

Compare this result against my blogging colleague Steve Gale here...

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Peggy Sitting.

A day off work to look after Peggy as our dog walker is on an away day. A few wanders out didnt turn up much on the patch. Nothing at all really. 50 Fumars were on the cliffs, 13 Oystercatchers in the fields, and thats about it.

This afternoon we were in Village Wood and I was eye level with some cracked bark on an Ash sapling, a sympton of ash die back disease.

As I watched, a fly about house fly sized, crept out of the crack. Wondering, I broke off a small bit of bark no bigger than a 50p piece and was surprised to see a tiny spider behind it. It looked like a brown crab spider but it fell off into the vegetaion before I could see it.

I came back a while later, armed with the camera to see if there was any more. I was pleased to find, on the next sapling, a Walnut Orbweb Spider! Quite a size, like a Garden Spider, but much flatter, crab like. It spooked me a bit as it reminded me of a louse or a flat fly. It was very difficult to get it to open up and spent its time tightly furled. Anyway, I took some pics and released it on its way. A new species for me. Maybe my 'crab spider' was an immature one of these?


Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunny Patching

What a difference a week can make.

Since last Sunday's post, I have twisted my back dragging a dumpy bag of logs and have been in pain all week, I have had a bit of a thing on one of our local What'sApp bird groups, that has resulted in me bowing out ( it was just getting a bit too fussy for me, so no hard feelings to anyone reading this) and I have had a right old debate on Twitter about a certain gull north of the border and whether it is right to add it to a life list. (No, of course it isnt!).

Social Media and me definately have a love/hate relationship. Sometimes I cant stand it and think 'thats it, I'm packing it all in' then, there are good days with some interesting snippets of info that could not be found elsewhere. Its these things that are educational, funny and interesting that keep me on it.

With that put behind me it was a relief to get out on the patch again. Saturday was very windy and just a bit uncomfortable, but today has been a glorious sunny, cold, calm one.

Nothing of note was seen on Saturday really though I did take a photo of a House Spider, Tegenaria sp, in our boiler shed. I am faffing around with flash, trying to get it to help me take some sharp record shots when there is not enough ambient light. Its all in the 'diffusion' of light so as the image doesnt come out too harsh with dark shadows. My home made diffuser, constructed out of a plastic chinese takeaway carton, some tin foil and a piece of kitchen roll fitted on the front of a 30 yr old flash gun seems to be working. Here is the image below -

Today, John couldnt get out until later on, so it was back onto the patch first thing.

On a morning like today's I feel so lucky to live in a spot like this. No inland urban reservoir for me. The views are lovely.

I began down at the Rumbling Kern. Here is a good stand and watch spot, in a way, its my own East Bank / Patch / Narrow Neck . Its a good open vista looking at the sea, the rocky shore and is backed by some degraded scrub. In the past, it has held Red backed Shrike and Olive backed Pipit in season and it could always produce again. Today I was hoping for lesser fry such as Bar tailed Godwit or Lesser black backed Gull but there was little moving. On the calm water was a single Red throated Diver, 10 Goldeneye, 1 Shag, 1 Cormorant, 10+ Eider and a Porpoise was hunting below.  The rocks held 6+ Turnstone and a Purple Sandpiper with 108+ Curlew in the field behind. On my way back up, the old muck heap by the layby had one each of Grey Wagtail, Pied Wagtail and Meadow Pipit.

The Rumbling Kern view point. No freshwater here, but it still hold some variety.

The track to the right of the first shot viewing south. Some scrub that holds a few migrants in season.

The view north over the bathing house towards Dunstanburgh Castle.

Behind the watchpoint is Seahouses farm. It has an old barn dump and some straggly gorse and dog rose. Stright in off the north sea, whats not to like.
John turned out to join me at about 9.30am so we had a walk through the Howick Estate just a few hundred metres inland from the coast.

Crossbills were very active with at least 7+ birds calling and flying around, but there could be double this. I hope they are nesting nearby? A singing male Siskin was my only new list addition of the weekend. In February and March up here patch listing is a case of diminshing returns, with this little songster lifting me to 97 sp. Also in here were 6+ Bullfinch, 3+ Jay, 4+ Nuthatch, 12 Tufted Duck, 3 Teal, 3 Mallard, 1+ Buzzard and a fly over Brambling.

3 Roe Deer added to the interest as did the first Hoverfly of 2019, an Eristalis tenax female.

Above - The Muck Heap Grey Wagtail.

Song Thrush.
Eristalis tenax, a female, according to Hoverflies UK.
At dusk, a trip to the bottle bank at Craster found two seperate Barn Owls, 1 near the Arnold Reserve and 1 near the Cottage Inn. Still a lot of sparrows were at our feeders with 38 Tree and 30 House Sparrows making good inroads into the feed left for them.

I am off work on Wednesday, dog sitting so, weather permitting I'll get out again to break up the working week...

A 300mm shot of Dunstanburgh Castle and Cullernose Point taken from Rumbling Kern... 

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Cold Weather List.

At this time there is nothing like a short sharp spell of cold weather to give the Local Patch list and the patch lister a good shake up.

This weekend has been cold, often below freezing and snowy, more so inland. This has the effect of moving some birds around the countryside as they look for some frost and snow free grass nearer the coast.

On Saturday I was hoping to add the two winter thrushes to the list. On the north east coast they have moved off to the south and west by now so without an arctic blast can be tricky.
In the morning there was no sign but mid afternoon saw the expected arrival of 40 Redwing and 15 Fieldfares into the village. As a bonus, a Water Rail gave its demented mammalian squeal from the ditch running alongside our lane. I stood a while but viewing is difficult. A nice count of 41+ Tree Sparrows were at the garden feeders.

This morning the weather was clear and fine but very cold. The remaining snow was frozen onto dry surfaces. Thesed are the nicest of winter days.

We began at Craster with the intention of relocating the Firecrest but we didnt have any luck. I will keep at it because I think it is a wintering bird so hopefully wont have gone too far. As we looked a Peregrine flew steadily North along the heughs and the village was ringing with Willow Tit calls. At least 5 birds were calling, one of these also went into song for a while.

Tree Sparrows at the garden feeders.

Barn Owl

Kestrel new out of roost with the bully boys waiting.

Song Thrush. A few around today.

A few Goldcrests but no Firecrest.

Great to find so many Willow Tits here including this one singing.
A Barn Owl hunted the paddock and field edges in bright sunshine flushing maybe 15 Meadow Pipits.  The second patch Ringed Plover of the year was in the harbour. This is a good show for this less than annual species here. 8+ Crossbills flew high west, their calls echoing around the rocky cliff faces. Finally 2 Collared Doves were singing from telephone poles in the estate.

We then moved back along to Howick to check some stubble fields for buntings. There were plenty of birds but no scarcer species. There were 20+ Meadow Pipits, 27+ Skylarks, 15+ Linnets, 2 Stock Dove, 200 Golden Plover, 166+ Curlew and 44+ Redwing. 5 Yellowhammers and a Reed Bunting were in the farm yard.

Back at home the view from our kitchen and bathroom windows into the back field gave 4 Fieldfares, a Redwing, 2 Golden Plover, 1 Lapwing, 1 Curlew and 6 Black headed Gulls in a place usually devoid of bird life.

So thats another 7 species added to the list. With common wintering species now drying up, maybe the next few weekends will give something with a bit of zest?


Friday, February 01, 2019


The month starts cold and snowy. Not too much snow for us on the coast but a full covering only a couple of miles inland. It might shuffle some birds down to our green fields.

In winter most of my bloggage is bird orientated but last year I was given a copy of the field guide 'Britain's Spiders' so after joining Spiders UK on Facebook in 2019 I am going to try and get a few arachnid records submitted. Since 2002 - 2015 there were only 36 spider records submitted for the whole of Northumberland - VC's 67 and 68. Very common species such as Garden Orb Weaver and House Spider are missing from many 10 km squares, so it gives me an excuse to hunt dusty house corners on grim winter days to see what is lurking.

My main discovery so far is that we need a new hoover !

Any way last night our porch held three, wait for it, Missing-sector Orb Weavers Zygiella x-notata  and last week I found a Mouse Spider Scotopaeus blackwalli  and a False Widow Steatoda bipunctata.

I wasn't bitten and my life was not endangered. There was no need to knock up a blue and red spandex outfit to start fighting crime, no, just a few tiny spidery things waiting out the cold...

Mouse Spider

Rabbit-hutch Spider

Missing-sector Orb Weaver. 

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Month 1. Done.

Late in 2018 my online compadre, Steve Gale of North Downs... fame threw down a gauntlet to compare our patch year lists for 2019. With the first 4.5 weeks over how has it gone...

The month has been largely mild and dry with the last few days bucking the trend with temps down to -7 degrees. Dark mornings and evenings linked to a five day working week curtail the birding a bit ( a lot) but at the start of each year there is a lot to cram in so things turned out quite well. My personal patch highlights, of which every single grubbed out species is self found, as no other birder lifts a glass here are -

Gadwall 1 male, not annual here on our tiny pond.
Velvet Scoter, 1 female, these are annual but usualy in September - November .
Goosander 1redhead on the bog garden pond. Again not annual.
Red necked Grebe 1 a true patch mega with only one previous record in Aug 2010.
Ringed Plover 1 another scarce bird with only 4 other records, thanks to my 99% rocky shoreline.
Grey Plover 1 scarce but annual if I stick at it.
Purple Sandpiper 4 my commonest calidrid, just to rub it in.
Woodcock 1 in the village wood, annual but erratic.
Barn Owl
Firecrest 1 male, only my second record here after 2 together in 2010. A real surprise. Bird of the year so far.
Raven 1 annual here but not at all easy on the Northumberland coast.
Tree Sparrow. A garden flock of 30+ daily.
Brambling. Only 1 flyover.
Crossbill 20+ a good number for January.

Biggest ommissions are Collared Dove,Meadow Pipit, Redwing, Fieldfare, Siskin and Redpoll. Things to find in February...

EDIT - I forgot to add my total! January ended on a respectable patch total of 89 species about 44% of my personal patch total of 201.

With the wind blowing from the far north this weekend, lets hope February can kick off with a Little Auk or White winged Gull maybe... ( more likely the Collared Dove...)

Monday, January 21, 2019

Patch on Fire!

A flexi day off work that coincides with a clear fine frosty day can only be a good thing.

Peggy's walk this morning was down to the Pond Field via the Village Wood. On of the first birds of the day was a Woodcock that lifted from path side vegetation. Soon after that 5 Crossbills flew around some tall scots pines then away over the pond. The pond itself has 75% frozen though not heavily so. The open water held the usual 10 Tufted Duck and 3 Teal plus the male Gadwall was still around. 2 Stock Doves were displaying from tall beech trees.

We returned home and I dropped Peggy off in the house and popped down to Craster to check the northernmost end of the patch, hoping for Willow Tit and Collared Dove. Both of these remained elusive but its something to watch out for during the February doldrums. It was here that my best surprise of the month appeared.

I was only 30 yards from the car along the road when I saw a Goldcrest flickering around in some gorse next to the path, just over a stone wall. Nice, I thought, it might be worth a photo. As I lifted the camera and pressed the shutter to focus I was aware that there were two birds close together in the bush. Through the view finder the camera clicked into focus on a Firecrest! It flew as I pressed the button, chased off by a beligerent Goldcrest. I soon relocated it a bit further along the path though this time further back on the top of the gorse where viewing was very tricky. I managed a few photos over the next 15 minutes before I lost sight of the bird in the thorny scrub. I stood for quite a while but it didnt show again.

The Firecrest spot beside the road.

Male Firecrest in gorse, Craster
This is only the second time I have had Firecrest on patch since the last ones, 2 together, in 2010 at the end of the long walk.

This little one appeared to be a nice bright male with a bright orangy crown stripe.

As I watched, a Raven cronked low overhead. I decided to move on down to the harbour. Here 4 Purple Sandpipers and 12 Turnstones were the only thing of note.

Three out of four Purple Sandpipers 

Raven overhead, cronking.

Its been a good weekend here with  several good patch ticks -

Velvet Scoter
Barn Owl
Purple Sandpiper

plus Reed Bunting, Snipe, Sparrowhawk and Stock Dove bringing the 2019 Local Patch total to a respectable 82 species. With another weekend left of January and common species such as Redwing, Fieldfare, Collared Dove, Meadow Pipit and Skylark to get, I might reach 90 yet...

Sunday, January 13, 2019

The Darkness

Now that we are back at work after the busy Christmas holidays, local wildlife time is resitricted again due to the length of daylight hours. It is total darkness on the morning terrier perambulation and its even darker when I come in at night! One morning this week I was a little bit later away and caught up with Brambling and Mistle Thrush in the village as patch list additions for 2019.

This weekend has been a mix of dull to bright and calm to breezy but dry throughout. Often mild too. Snowdrops are now bursting out in the village wood and I saw a few Winter Aconites open at Denwick last weekend. Its all moving in the right direction. Looking forward to light nights is a bit like wishing life away, and I dont mind winter if only I had more time at home to enjoy it!

Today I met with John and we stayed quite local visiting the Coquet Estuary, Amble Harbour and Seaton Point, Boulmer. The fist two were very quiet with nothing going into the notebook but, as usual, Boulmer always has something to look at.

As we walked along the shore from Seaton Point, an adult male Peregrine strafed the tideline seeming revelling in the strong wind and headed south to Foxton. We later saw his return sortie across Boulmer Haven lifting all the shorebirds and gulls on his way.

Sheltered on the east facing beach, a lot of weed held half a dozen Rock Pipits of both petrosus and littoralis races, 1 Meadow Pipit and the wintering Water Pipit. A male Stonechat was on the dune edge as we passed.

Both images above viewing south from Seaton Point. The waves being blown backwards in the strong wind!

A distant record of the Water Pipit at Seaton Point.
   As we rounded Seaton Point, numbers of people increased causing some disturbance to the birds. Fortunately the tide was dropping back quickly so the birds will have been able to feed largely out of reach of all but the most determined of anglers on the rock edges.

We had 18+ Bar-tailed Godwit, 13+ Ringed Plover, 80+ Dunlin, 3 Purple Sandpipers and 15 Sanderling clamering for morsels in the waves.

Bar-tailed Godwits on the shore.
  Back home this afternoon I took a walk down to the pond field with Peggy to see if the wind had shuffled some wildfowl onto the water. I didnt have high hopes so left the camera at home. A decision I regretted later when I found a nice drake Gadwall on the pool feeding quite close in without concern. Gadwall is a scarce bird for the patch only being recorded in 6 out of the last 10 years and these are only singles usually in late summer or early autumn.   

I might have a few days off work into February just to tide over until the longer days of March....

Sunday, January 06, 2019

Time Out...

When doing a local patch list its easy to get fixated with it to the exclusion of all else. When time is limited by work or other commitments I think its best to take regular breaks off site just to keep things in perspective. This morning we did just that.

I met up with John at Alnwick and we had a local-ish tour to gather some of the good birds that have been present this week.

First stop, an 8 mile drive north to Newham Hall, to look for the four Taiga Bean Geese. These birds have been around all week but with 1000+ Pinkfeet here too, it didnt look an easy prospect. At first the geese gave us a right run around the narrow lanes peering through gaps in hedges but never quite getting a good view. They all then flew a mile north and mainly out of sight. We followed back to our original stop off point and decided to walk a bye way over the hill for a scan. As we got our gear from the car I noticed something in the field right next to us. Through the bins, they were clearly geese and 4 of them too but surely we couldnt be that lucky?

As it happens we were, and the Taiga Beans were in the bag ( or should that be 'can'). Also in the field were 3 Grey Partridges but no Pink feet at all.

Taiga Bean Geese
These are the first Taiga's I have seen for about 30 years! Every other Bean Goose locally has been of the Tundra race 'rossicus'. A good start...

Next stop, a drive back on ourself to the south where the redhead Smew was found quite easily at Widdrington Moor lake, though remaining quite distant. After a cuppa and a good scrutiny of the lake it was off north again to our final stop, Alnmouth south dunes or Buston Links for the wintering Shorelarks. These too were straight forward once we had negotiated the bumpy road that resembled the dark side of the moon, but today John had the four wheel drive out so it wasnt too bad.

The four Shorelarks showed reasonably well, feeding along the saltmarsh, though never getting too close ( close enough).

We gave them half an hour and that was the morning sorted and what with work looming on Monday the next blog post might not be for a little while...


Saturday, January 05, 2019

Off work til Monday...

The weather these holidays has been largely benign with mild to cool days that are overcast and calm. Ideal for birding.

Yesterday we had a few walks around locally with Peggy mainly just for the excercise you understand, not birding... I still managed to add a few to the patch list with a flock of 300 Pink footed Geese N, a pair of Red breasted Mergansers N offshore, 45+ Linnets in a weedy stubble that will get a further look at in coming months, looking ideal for a wayward Lap Bunting and a Grey Wagtail at the Howick Burn mouth. Seen yesterday but properly counted today were 19 Goldeneye at the burn mouth with 17 Eiders.

No new birds today unfortunately but with a good selection of common birds yet to winkle out, it keeps the interest going through the dark days of winter....of note were 70 Curlew along the coast path, 1 Shag and a Guillemot offshore, 14 Fulmars on the cliffs, 30+ Tree Sparrows at our feeders and a Buzzard over the farm.

Now the Christmas decs have been consigned to the loft for another 11 months, I'm looking forward to the day length increasing...

Thursday, January 03, 2019

Happy New Year

Good bye 2018, and welcome 2019. I didnt get around to doing one of those summary of 2018 posts that we all like to do, what with Christmas duties and what not. Last Thursday we went up to Insh on Speyside for the week. My birthday is on New Years Day so it is nice to get away a bit and just relax.

The weather was decidedly un-Speyside like for Hogmanay with temps mainly in the 7 - 11 degrees bracket with no snow at all on the high tops. I have had colder days in June than this. We came hme yesterday and as we left the sun was shining and, at last, there was a -5 degree frost.

Glen Feshie

I'm not sure what has happened to Speyside, but it seems to have turned into a theme park since our last visit ( when the temperature was -17 degrees a whole 28 degrees colder than this time!). We could scarcely go out without being ran over by a family on mountain bikes. And what is it with people who go into the most quiet areas of our counrtyside to behave like a bus trip of Millwall supporters? At one spot near Glen Feshie and extended family ran amok with kids and dads screaming like X Factor rejects, the sound of which reverberated for miles. No wonder there are no capercaillies any more...

I did manage to see a few Crested Tits and Red Squirrels but that was about it really.

So back home yesterday arriving back at 2.30pm to my first patch bird of 2019, and a good one too, a Buzzard sitting at the top of a tall tree right on the patch edge as we arrived by car.

I'm not at work now until Monday so I gave the Howick patch a short sharp thrashing this morning in an attempt to catch up with, the award winning, Mr Gale of Banstead .  I had intended to get out for a couple of hours this afternoon too but the Northumberland Hunt was rampaging around the area like a family in the Cairngorms. Funny isnt it, 30 dogs, half a dozen horses and a quad bike flushing hares and sheep alike, blatantly flouting the law, but we get snidey comments when we walk our dog in a rough field free of livestock? I was suitably boiling.

However, this mornings 3 hours turned out very well. I visited the Rumbling Kern on the coast, the pond field and village wood, all within 1km of our door step seeing some decent birds. These included only my 2nd patch Red necked Grebe after one in 2010, both Ringed and Grey Plover, with the ringed being especially tricky on our all rocky coastline and 30+ Crossbills which are always nice to get, ending the days count on a respectable 61 species.

With a few days to go and a decent weather forecast, I should clear up most wintering species before gainful employment calls me back...