Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Lighter Nights...

Its almost two weeks since my last blog post. That's the thing about blogging, as the days lengthen and get warmer there is often more wildlife to look out for. Whilst I have more to write about, I have less time to write it!

Here are a few of the more interesting things that have crossed our paths since the Red backed Shrike graced Boulmer....

Holly Blues continue their fantastic season here at the Howick Obs with daily observations of up to three individuals squabbling over the garden.

In the bottom photo if you click on it you will see the mating pair plus another male in waiting to the right.

A nice walk around Craster with Jane and Peggy on the 11th pruduced views of 6+ Bottle nosed Dolphins and a new plant for me, a small Rustyback Fern on the wall. I had been told of its presence here as it is a scarce plant in the county.

Rustyback Fern Craster

Sunday 14th May, JWR and myself headed up to Alnwick Moors but again the weather, although mild enough, was quite dull so few insects seen. Up to 6 Cuckoos were seen and heard back on territory, a singing and seen Garden Warbler was quite unusual for here and 3 Crossbill flew over. Of the few insects there were a reasonable showing of displaying Green Longhorn Moth  Adela reamurella. At Oxen Woods, Chickweed Wintergreen was in flower not a plant Ive seen much of.

Green Longhorn Moth display in a dancing flight over the gorse.

Chickweed Wintergreen a lovely flower.

A hugely cropped digiscoped Cuckoo for drawing reference!


Cuckoo field sketches.

On Friday at work in our new, very sterile, office I noticed an unusually shaped 'thing' low down on the wall near the back doors. Closer inspection found it to be a spider, and not something I'd seen before. It reminded me of the Garden Centre Spider from a few weeks ago ( still present in our porch). I potted this spider up for a better look. It turns out not only to be new for me, but likely new for Northumberland too, though spiders are very tricky to get onto the record as they always want a specimen or microscope images that I either cant be bother with or am unable to do. see pics below for details.

Spider Episinus angulatus, a scarce species not found in the NE until now.

 This past weekend added a couple of new local patch species with a calling Cuckoo in Howick and a Redpoll N along the coast path.

On Sunday we missed the Spoonbill at Alnmouth but did see a nice male Marsh Harrier near Foxton and, while looking for plants and spiders, I flushed a Long eared Owl from a small hawthorn in the dunes. Luckily John was quick enough to get some great photos. I was too slow off the mark and it was too distant for me.

Above, Long eared Owl, Alnmouth Dunes courtesy of John Rutter.

The dunes at Alnmouth a great for plants and insects, but thats another post in itself, so I'll end with another spider. This one is a one Ive hoped to find here as it occurs commonly in sandy areas. Next time I'll take the macro lens for a better shot. This is Arctosa perita a well camouflaged wold spider..

Arctosa perita a relative of the larger and rarer Grey Wolf spider we found in the river valleys.


Thursday, May 11, 2023

King of the Bank Holiday...

 Did you watch the Coronation on Saturday? I did. Well most of it, anyway. I dont see my self as a Royalist but I do like the basic tradition of it all. I don't agree with all the hangers on and in particular these land grabbing Dukes and that ilk. Come the revolution they'd be first against the wall, but King Charles III and the bairn ( not Harry) are OK by me.

While the ceremonies played out on TV  a Holly Blue was in the garden, the first Orange Tips of the year were in the Village Wood and a Lesser Whitethroat sang by the Village Hall.

Sunday had us down to Boulmer for the first time in a while to look for migrants. The fog was thick and lasted all morning. We covered the whole area and didn't see the sea once. For our trouble we had 8+ Common and 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Fieldfares emerged from the front bushes and immediately vanished into the gloom, 1 Whimbrel flew over, 1 Willow Warbler, a few Chiffchaffs and Sedge Warblers, 3+ Wheatears, 1 Common Sandpiper and a Spotted Flycatcher were the total, the latter looking incongruous catching sand flies in the fog on beach rocks. 

Quite a few waders were just about visible with 35+ Turnstone, 50+ Sanderling, 10+ Dunlin, 40+ Ringed Plover fed well up the beach.

Apologies for the Spotted Fly image, its about 5000 ISO!

Back home, in the evening we were just about to head out to the Village Hall coronation 'do' when Dan found a cracking adult male Red backed Shrike in the fog on Seaton Point ( in the Fieldfare bushes no less). It had just arrived. Usually they are day migrants so I pencilled in a morning appointment with the Butcher bird...

Bank Holiday Monday...
Solid lash all day. Brilliant. At least visibility was better but the whole thing was a right off really.
Still, I popped down to see the Shrike and got a soaking for it. When I arrived, a Togger was right up into the bush, forcing the shrike to sit out in an oilseed rape field. Luckily him and his two buddies soon left. They probably heard me bleating on about bloody toggers no wonder the bird was out in the field!

Even in the rain, the Red backed Shrike was still a stunner. An oft used misinterpretation, but in this case the combo of pale rose cream breast, lavender grey hood and fox red back and wings offset with highlights of black bandit mask and black and white tail was the definition of the word. Wow. Its years since I've seen a male RBS, most of our birds being autumn juveniles.

 While watching it, Dan called that he had the Garganey tracking up the coast from Whitley Bay. A site mega but I only had my bins so couldn't tell it from its three Common Scoter fellow travellers.

Male Red backed Shrike, Boulmer.

I took Tuesday as a holiday. An offer to go out drawing with excellent artist,   Paul Henery was not to be sniffed at. I could learn a lot from him. The sun was shining and warm when we met up at Boulmer to revisit the shrike in better light. What a treat, if it was a stunner yesterday, today it looked and performed even better. It came quite close to us along the fence line where it caught beetles and St Mark's Flies. When resting it would have a bit of a sing, a chattery Sedgie type of song that sounded quite pleasant.  

A few digi scoped phone shots, with haze, but what a bird... 

From Boulmer we went to East Chevington via a short lunch stop at Warkworth to check the Beal Bank flash. Its almost dry and the only thing of note was a lone Avocet sweeping through the mud.

Chev was typically full of interest and not all good! We were busy sketching a male Marsh Harrier that was sat in a hawthorn when a chap came around the corner. He was quite hurried and said....
no lie... 'Is the Skah-oop still showing?' Paul and myself paused for a second wondering what on earth he was on about when it dawned on me. I replied 'Sorry mate, I've no idea if there is a Scaup here, I've not really looked yet'. Skah-oop? or maybe Ska-oup but either way it was a double barrelled single syllable name that's for sure! Certainly a new one on me.

A quick scan revealed the said drake Scah-oop ( just to clarify if any none birders are reading, its pronounced 'Scorp'  not even Skowp let alone Ska-oop). If you are the person in question, apologies but come on...

From the south end viewing spot were a pair of Marsh Harrier, a drake Scaup with a drake Pochard and a few Tufted Ducks, 2 imm drake Goldeneye still, a singing Cetti's Warbler and plenty of Reed Warblers singing too.

All too soon it was 4pm and time for home. A grand day out.

Paul getting some lines down...

Top - Tuesdays sketch and bottom the bird on Monday in rain. 

A short clip of the King of the Bank Holiday....

Monday, May 01, 2023

Northumberland scores the big one!

 At a risk of slipping into full blown twitching vernacular, but, some birds deserve it!

This morning, Gary Woodburn was on patch counting an arrival of Hooded Crows. He had passed the Low Newton scrapes in one direction and was on his way back up on the return walk when he struck not only Patch Gold, but also County, UK and Western Palearctic Gold too with the most preposterous of  MEGAs. Britain's first GREY-HEADED LAPWING non the less.

Grey-headed Lapwing, Low Newton, Northumberland.

When the first message arrived in our WhatsApp group, time seemed to pause briefly. I could almost hear the rest of the Northumberland WhatsApp Group members thinking, 'A what?' 

This is not a species we have ever seen on the bird info services or in our magazines, so whilst I had heard of them, I had no idea of the range or likelihood of vagrancy so did a quick bit of Googling.

The oracle 'Wiki' gave me  - 

'The grey-headed lapwing (Vanellus cinereus) is a lapwing species which breeds in northeast China and Japan. The mainland population winters in northern Southeast Asia from northeastern India to Cambodia. The Japanese population winters, at least partially, in southern HonshÅ«.

This species has occurred as a vagrant in Russia, the PhilippinesIndonesiaNew South WalesAustralia and Sri Lanka.[1]'

Then, in a more European context, birds were seen in Turkey in 2018, Norway and Sweden in 2019 and it has been mooted a potential vagrant to the UK.

Dutch Birding magazine reported, when discussing the 2019 bird, that there were none or very few  birds in captivity to make escape potential an issue.

As is the way on Bank Holidays, there are always family commitments to fulfill so it wasn't until mid afternoon before I could dash the six miles from home where I was relieved to find the bird quite comfortable, feeding and wandering around the meadow as if it had been born there. Good scope views were had but it was always a bit distant for my photography.

Grey headed Lapwing all the way from  the Orient arrives at Low Newton, Northumberland.

It appeared as if the whole of the UK birding community was descending on Low Newton and as time went on those from further ranges began to arrive. Somerset, Wales, Norfolk, Herts, Staffs, Scotland etc all converged in this small village for a view of this Eastern Peewit, hopefully a British 'First'.

I manged a few in the field scribbles to get some shapes and feeling down, so will colour them up and elaborate them soon. In the meantime, here's a little shaky video...


Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Spring. Its all a myth....

Its easy to get disillusioned with a local patch when you see reports going    on all around you of spring migrants teaming through. From our place, I see tales of waders, passerines and raptors popping up in all manner of parks, reservoirs and suchlike so when I step out into a stiff icy cold Northerly with no birds I am reminded that 'spring' on the          Northumberland coast is almost a myth. Its like those Christmas Cards of  Dickensian scenes when we look out on Christmas day to 10 degrees and    rain...

 But, there are some things that the weather cant hold up forever. Birds   that  winter in Africa and breed in the northern hemisphere will eventually battle through regardless, its just that Northumberland is one of the final places to see any.

On Sunday we headed out hoping that today would see some arrivals, and for once we were lucky. 

The route was from Cullernose Point to Craster in the hope of a Ring Ouzel or at least a Wheatear.

The view south along the coast from Cullernose.

As it happens, the first of 5 new patch birds for the year came before I had left the car park. A Willow Tit buzzed briefly from the blackthorn scrub then promptly vanished.

We moved one vehicle along to Craster then the other back to Cullernose for the walk north. At Craster a pair of House Martins were new and were looking a potential breeding site in the waterworks. 

In these cliff hugging gorse bushes, above, is a short but sheltered farm access track that sometimes holds a few new arrivals. As we ventured in, a small bird flicked up off the grass -  a belter of a male Redstart! This is spring tame fare along the south coast but here it was my first spring Redstart in 14 years. Result. Further along a pair of Wheatears bobbed around on a pile of sand in the field, patch tick 4 in the first half an hour. Nearby a female Shelduck emerged from an open hay barn to meet her mate. No doubt she will have a nest behind the bales.


The rest of the way to Craster held no more surprises, but the cover held good numebrs of Chiffchaffs, a few Willow Warblers and Blackcaps . The scrub here looks excellent and rarely sees a birder, including me, so I must make more of an effort.

This is the view just to the left of the top image. Dunstan to the left and Craster Heughs to the top right.

We walked around by the harbour and up into the Heughs where a rattling Lesser Whitethroat was the final addition to the year list. Roe Deer flushed and a Sparrowhawk flew overhead. All along, there was asteady but light northerly passage of mostly Swallows with an odd Sand Martin with them. 

As we drank tea and ate biscuits at the car, a report came through of a Crane flying N at Tynemouth and Whitley Bay. In the unlikely hope it might track another 30 miles we headed off back to Cullernose to wait it out. As expected, there were no further reports..

At midday, it was time for home, its seems spring has finally sprung after all... 

Eristalis intricaria Hoverfly on Blackthorn.

Razorbills loafing on Cullernose.

Roe Doe


Thursday, April 20, 2023

Catch up...

 A quick catch up of April so far .

Since the last general post a few more migrants have appeared locally. On 6th a very early Willow Warbler sang in our garden at first light but was gone by 7am. There arent many here yet but we did have 5 singing at Brizlee at the weekend.

A pair of Greenfinches at our feeders were the first to do this, this year and Hairy footed Flower Bees were out in good numbers when the sun was shining.

One good (?) bird was seen briefly on the coast path on the 8th. An Egyptian Goose flew north past the Bathing House followed by 11 Whooper Swans. The Goose is only the second record here after one last year. They'll be breeding on the pond soon no doubt. Our first Swallow was over our house on the 8th but they are still not here in any numbers.

On 9th, John and me walked up the Hulne Parks south wall to Brizlee. It was cool and damp with little to show other than 2 Red Grouse, a few Curlew, a singing Willow Tit and best of all a close, but unseen, Green Woodpecker yaffling loudly. 

Willow Tit singing at me.

  Near by 2 Adders were our first of the season.


Over Easter weekend an in house spider hunt revealed not only the Uloborus plumipes already posted, but Pisaura miribalis, Pardosa sp, Woodlouse Spider, Zygiella x-notata and an Oonops in the bathroom.

The local Blackcaps were late to the party on the 14th with 3 singing in our village wood.

When driving back from Alnwick on 15th we were over flown by a Red Kite at Denwick heading south. One day I'll get one on the patch but this was about 4 miles too far west.

Edit - Not sure how I missd this out? But anyway, Sunday 16th saw me and John up at Brizlee again. It was bright and sunny but cold. 5 male Wheatears in 2 places showed well, even in a rain shower, several displaying Redpolls chased and buzzed around the car and a Bilberry Bumblebee was on a sallow beside the road.

Displaying Curlew

Wheatear in the rain.


On the 18th another poor patch year tick materialised on the coast path when we flushed a pair of Red legged Partridges. I didnt see one here last year so they were sort of welcome.

Holly Blue has shown well in the garden this week with 1 on the 15th and 3 on the 20th. Seems like a good start to the year for them...

One worn and one fresh Holly Blue in the garden...

As usual the wind is swinging North for the weekend so it will be baltic while the rest of the country is basking in 18 degrees. 

Dark edged Bee Fly.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Garden Centre Endemic.

 Periodically on here I mention some of my dabbles in Spider hunting. That's maybe too proactive. Mostly the spiders just leap out in front of me for attention so a photo is taken and I try to identify it. Some reckon that there are only about 10 species that can be done from images but whilst there are only a small percentage that can be identified in this way its certainly more than ten. Even with my amateurish attempts I have still managed about 50 on the list. Fair enough, they are 50 of the most distinctive species, but surely I've not mis-id'd 40 of them.

When they first caught my attention a couple of years back I bought the 'Wildguides' Spider book. A few pages were more memorable than others including this one - 

You can see in the observation tips, this unusually shaped arachnid 'appears to be restricted to Hothouses and Garden Centres'. Bizarre that some wildlife can be 'endemic' to Garden Centres I thought.

The Spider Recording Scheme website notes - Not formally included on the British checklist although recorded in England in the early 1990s in three widely separated localities - Liverpool, Southampton and Reading. The species is now extremely common in greenhouses in the Reading area and is increasingly being recorded further afield. The spider has been found in every garden centre searched in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Suffolk, Hertfordshire and Kent and it has recently been found in a Leicester garden centre where it was fairly common within several of their heated glass houses .

With this in mind, it was a species to keep in my back pocket for those often banal visits to the local garden centre where I might find one in among the conservatory cane chairs and padded knee trays. The distribution map shows they have been found either side of us so there was an outside chance.

Then I promptly forgot about it. Until Sunday.

I took Peggy out for her last bedtime stroll around 11.30pm. When we came in I dried her feet and unclipped her harness in the porch. The ceiling is low in here, and I had been followed in by a moth so I scanned around for it possibly settled. There were a couple of resident small spiders ( Zygiella x-notata) around the windows but on the top was a faint web with something stuck in it. I couldn't make it out, but it was tiny and was maybe a bird seed husk blown in or a shed skin of one of the Zygiellas?I gently touched it. 

It moved. 

As I watched it illuminated by head torch its identity soon dawned on me. It was a Garden Centre Spider Uloborus plumipes!

Wow, well I never. The camera and flash were hurriedly sought and images taken. I cant be sure how a hothouse endemic came to live in our bitterly cold porch but suspect last week's visit to Stanton Nurseries for some garden plants might be the source.

Garden Centre Spider Uloborus plumipes  

 It seems that this could be the first for VC68 if not Northumberland so it has been iRecorded. Its amazing how we can travel all over looking for various rarities and a smart, unusual lifer is living at home with us...

The moth took a back seat but after the spider photo shoot was over, a nice Early Thorn was caught on the kitchen wall and released...

Friday, April 07, 2023


This will be a brief post but I didn't want to miss this one out of the blog. 

In recent years, if you are interested in natural history there is no doubt you will have seen some hysterical information regarding the arrival of Asian Hornets into the UK. If you saw some of the tabloid pieces, these killer aliens are just about everywhere taking over and destroying our natural ecosystems, a bit like the invasions of giant killer spiders every autumn.. You would be forgiven for having an image of the old 50s film 'Them!' in mind when seeing such nonsense.

The worst thing about the dodgy publicity is that now, every summer, someone sees and reports an invasion of Asian Hornets into their garden when in reality the insect they have just seen, flattened with the newspaper or drowned in fly killer is a harmless native Wasp or worse, a declining European Hornet. Asian Hornets, despite what the Mirror or Mail would have you believe are still very rare in the UK with only a few sightings per year ( 23 in total since 2016) almost all confined to the south of England..

With this in mind, experience tells me, it pays to treat any wildlife reports from Joe Public with a massive pinch of salt until it has been confirmed by someone reliable.

This brings me to events of last Tuesday. I was at work when Jane rang from her work place to tell me they had captured an Asian Hornet from a box of cauliflowers delivered from France and she had sent me a photo. While there are better insect pics, the specimen on show in an empty clear plastic strawberry container was indeed an Asian Hornet Vespa velutina.

In the last 20 years, numbers of this insect have ballooned on the near continent so it is expected that eventually they will get established in the UK but, hopefully, we can keep them out by being vigilant. After all they originate from the far east and southern Asia and have no place in western Europe where they can have a big effect on the numbers of native bees and other insects.

It seemed like this one in the container was the first for the north of England, so I had to pop along for a look. The invader was now in the chiller to keep it calm while awaiting its fate ( freezer). It was carefully extracted for no more than a minute so I could take a record shot. I was surprised to see not some vile deadly beast but a really smart hymonopteran, Slightly smaller than our native Hornets, but still quite a unit, it adopted a go-faster racing pose and was decked out in mostly black with yellow socks and some orange on the stinging end. Very nice.

After it was frozen the next day a chap drove all the way up from Wakefield to collect the specimen for 'verification'. He said the vegetable company would be contacted and given advice on measures to prevent the importation of non native pest species into the country. 

I confess to feeling a bit sorry for it...

Asian Hornet Vespa velutina