Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Snow, Roe, Birds and Bees...

 Snowing today. The first of the winter. Last night there was a lot of sleet and hail leaving about 1 cm of wet snow over our cars this morning but now, there is some proper large flakes falling. It doesn't seem cold enough for it to lie properly just yet.  

Peggy's lunchtime walk today was a slushy wet affair brightened up by the presence of 3 Waxwings in the usual pink rowan tree along the roadside. When silent these birds can be surprisingly hard to detect and these three were hunkered down out of the snow in the tree. I was just taking a few photos when a female Sparrowhawk came out of nowhere, flushing the birds out of sight. Luckily for them, none were taken. Its good to get some Waxwings without a togger in sight! Apart from me that is...

Yesterday, as I walked down the pond field track, a very late ( for Northumberland) Buff tailed Bumble bee flew past and dropped into the pond edge reeds. It seemed ok, but I hope it manages to find a spot to hibernate in.

A very late Buff tailed Bumblebee on the wing.

Roe Doe watching from the wet wood.

Waxwings still around the patch.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Wax - wings and caps

 Its not been a bad week for the naturalist around here, really. 

The weather has been variable, though quite moderate. 

Mid week a dog walk through the Village Wood had that soft cool, earthy, early winter smell to it.  In the diluted sunshine, a pile of oak logs left after Storm Arwen attracted attention. It was covered in a colourful array of small fungi, including one new to me, Purple Jellydisc as well as Hairy Curtain Crust, Sulphur Tuft and one that remains to be identified. It may need further scrutiny this week.

In that evening a couple of late Pipistrelles (?), well, bats, were still hawking under the street lights.

Log Pile

Hairy Curtain Crust

Purple Jellydisc

I think the fungi at the top may be Sulphur Tuft?

Keeping to a fungi theme, I was surprised when Debra Burley found some Pink Ballerina Waxcaps in Alnwick Cemetary. Ive looked in many good waxcap grasslands in North Northumberland without success so I gave it a twitch on my way to work.
After some directional confusion, there were 10 small stout pink Waxcaps around an area of gravestones...Excellent.

Pink Ballerina Waxcaps

 By Friday, the wind had swung to the North and then some, On Google Earth the northerly could be followed right up to the North Pole. The 'socials' were filed with commentary about masses of Little Auks, it could be the best showing for years, White Winged Gulls, Brunnichs etc. I jested that we might even get a Spectacled Eider off it, such was its reach, but, I sort of knew that we had been here before. Many times.
 On my blog in Nov 2021, before Storm Arwen, I posted a very similar weather map and pondered just the same. Whilst the record breaking gales blew an unprecedented number of Brunnichs Guillemots southward, the rest was pretty much standard. This time, I was more tempered and considered that most Little Auks would be further west by now so although a good northerly will always give us a few birds, the chances of a classic were slim.

Early Saturday morning found me traipsing along to my nearest seawatching spot for a couple of hours. Yes, there wasn't a great deal moving, but there was just enough to fill the time. From 8am - 10am I had

Great Northern Diver 5 N
Diver sp 1 N
Red throated Diver 7
Goldeneye 2m 1f N and 1f S
Teal 2 S
Common Scoter 16
Purple Sandpiper 2
Eider 7 S
Great crested Grebe 1 S the rarest bird of the day.
Fulmar 6 N
Gannet 7 N
Litttle Auk 1 N at last, and new for the year. Dan and Mark watching from 300 mtrs south of me managed 74 Little Auks. They must have been too distant for my eyes is I'll I can suggest. 
Brent Geese 2 N
Pink footed Geese 500 S

This brings us to Sunday morning.

JWR came to pick me up to do a recce for next weeks Alnwick Wildlife Group guided walk from Embleton to Low Newton along the coast. Before we left, I had a quick task to collect some greenery for Jane's Christmas wreath making session. While getting some bits of Ivy at the Lane End, the distinctive trembling calls of Waxwings filled the air. Soon we located 26 of them perched on top of a tall Ash tree opposite a large ornamental pink Rowan tree. This tee is still laden with pinkish white berries that are always last to go, usually eaten by Bullfinches and Mistle Thrushes. As we watched down they came periodically, like locusts, to systematically clear the tree. The resident Mistler was having none of it and did his best to keep the viking raid at bay but he was fighting a losing battle. 

All of a sudden a Sparrowhawk dashed through panicking everything and the Waxwings headed off south to safety.

The start of our walk, Dunstan Steads / Embleton Golf Course with Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance.

Long tailed Duck. I wont even try to age or sex it.

We moved on to Embleton where the car was left at Dunstan Steads. This is only about 5 miles from home so still pretty local.
Our walk was quite pleasant witha few bits and pieces to make it worthwhile. 
7 Purple Sandpipers, on the shore and 19 Greenfinches looked fabulous feeding along the strand line,. At Newton Scrapes, 13 Whooper Swans, plenty of usual wildfowl and a nice Long tailed Duck showed well as Water Rails screamed in the background.

We got back home at 12, so I took Peggy for a walk to see if the Waxwings had returned. I was pleased now to find the numbers had gone up to 40+. I couldn't get an accurate number as they flew off during my best count but I know there were somewhere between 43 - 45 birds.

So, another grand early winters day out. I wonder when our roll will end?

Waxwings. The shot above has 31 of the 40 odd birds in it.

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Winter Birding

 Its about the time of year to start having a think about plans for the coming one, 2024. 

So far I have no fixed ideas, as is usual, so I read as much as possible from books, blogs, social media etc to try and get some juices flowing.  It can be difficult in early winter, in the aftermath of our busiest season to get fired up.

Yesterday Andy Mould, a good Northumberland birder and stalwart of Holy Island birding, posted a short tweet ( I am as likely to change that to X as I am to change the name of a Ross's Gull) about his year of garden birds. This had me thinking, whilst a lot of time is spent birding from my garden, I never really summarise it or keep a real eye on what has occurred over the year.  With the garden being my Local Patch epicentre, thats one thought for next year.

Another strand I've pondered, is how to change from as many written notes to more sketches and illustrations that I enjoy doing. This always leads me to a dead end as its just not possible to cover a days birding, fully, in sketch form. without missing loads of stuff.

More to think about in coming weeks.

The last 10 days have been spent locally as usual.

Last Friday a nice bit of birding fortune came my way. Late morning, standing at the office printer, in a daze, I glanced out of the first floor windows, to see a lovely sunny early winters day. Just the type of day, you could imagine a flock of Waxwings catching the sun on top of some trees maybe. So, I sauntered the 20 or so feet from the printer to the window and gazed across the car par towards the main A189 dual carriageway. Surely not? There was a single bird sat right at the top of a roadside Ash, It is too far for details it looked like a medium sized dumpy blob. Then more appeared as if from nowhere, 9 in total all on top of highest twigs nicely spaced. Too neat for Starlings. Then the clincher. Two began flycatching like oversized Spotted Flycatchers climbing high to snatch an unseen insect and gliding back, bee-eater fashion to their perch. A flock of Waxwings! Well predicted by me!

To be fair, I have seen them in this exact spot some years ago so it is favoured, but there were a genuine surprise. I decided to check them with my scope that was in the boot of the car, but as I glanced back from my desk they had all gone and did not return. I'm not having much luck nailing these fluffy buggers down...

This brings me to Sunday. We tend to expect very quiet days in winter but if you are lucky a nice little list of birds can be found.

JWR and I met up at Boulmer main car park at 7.45am. From here we decided to wander north around Longhoughton Steel and back and maybe have a sit and wait at the north end, which we did.

Out to sea 3 duck Goldeneye flew S , 6 Red throated Divers loafed and fished, as did 25 or so Gannets, En route to the Steel we had 4 Purple Sandpipers on the rocks. 3 Shelduck flew S and 1 ad and 1 fw Little Gull flew N. 

A nice start.

We loitered around the Longhoughton Steel bench for a while. Here, a nice Woodcock arrived in-off, landed briefly then continued west. On the sea towards Howick were 5 Goldeneye inc 2 males, and a nice drake Long tailed Duck with last weeks female. Common Scoter females had increased by one to 8 birds. Over head a light movement of Pinkfeet with 80 and 62 birds south.

Ive not had a Wigeon on my patch list this year so 40 on the shore here can just about be scoped from the south end of the homestead. One to bear in mind. 

4 Black tailed Godwits N here was a nice record for our wetland impoverished bit of rocky coast.

The wander back to the car park was uneventful but another sit and watch tea from the car boot gave us some more to look at. 73+ Dunlin, 18+ Ringed Plover, 16+ Bar tailed Godwits, 50+ Lapwings, 4+ Grey Plover and 19 Sanderlings were all regulars but still nice nonetheless.

As we were about to head home, John picked out a little Merlin sitting on the rocks offshore. It sat a while before doing a drag start across the haven towards our waders. Here, it was unlucky when it missed a Dunlin when the bird dropped, in defence, into the shallow water to hide. The Merlin gave up on that and headed, low, back over the bay to the rocks. As it arrived, it flushed the Lapwings and a few more Dunlin high and away, but one Dunlin was a bit slower and remained seated. The Merlin by now was just about a metre over its head and on its way past when it caught sight of the dozing calidrid.

In one move, the Merlin stalled, back pedalled and stuck out a leg, grabbing the wader from its slumber and into the air. They came to rest a short distance away on the weed covered rocks where the falcon administered the last rites before eating every morsel in front of us. Gruesome. but still amazing! 

Above - Merlin and top, same bird eating a Dunlin. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Its almost over...

November. The trees are almost leafless now, the nights are dark and the area has a quiet wintry feel to it. Still, the past two weeks locally have been quite good really. There have been no rarities but a few birds have been moving through that should cheer up the most brow beaten of local patch watchers

The month opened with a dozen Bramblings under Beech trees along our lane and there were still two Pipistrelles out feeding at dusk.

On the 4th the incongruous sighting of 3 Coal Tits leaving village gardens at dawn and flying off high into the sky and out of sight was a thought provoker while a flock of 6 deep calling Redpolls flying south over head were likely Mealies.  21 Whooper Swans flew low S over our village in the afternoon, adding to the melancholy feel with their soft trumpeting calls.

We had a short visit  of 3 miles along to Boulmer on Guy Fawkes  where we had some nice viz migging and seawatching with 2 Snow Buntings S, 1 Twite S, 800 Pinkfeet S, 12 Puple Sandpipers, 27+ Bar tailed Godwits, 60+ Knot, 8 Red throated Divers N and 3 S, 1 Great Northern Diver N, 1 ad Little Gull N and a drake Pintail dropped in to the shore Wigeon flock.

The next morning at home viz mig had picked up with 44 Siskin, 11 Redpoll, 1 Twite, 2 Crossbill and 10 Whooper Swans all S. These were just the appetiser as an hour later 2ad and a juv Russian White fronted Goose flew low over our garden nicely lit by the morning sunshine. Only my 2nd record here after a few in the good year for them of 2010. In addition were 750 Pinkfeet S over head too.

Another 2 Mealy Redpoll called loudly overhead on the 7th.

A few local patch walks from home this weekend in quite nice weather, Pre Storm Debi, had 9 Crossbills, 4 Blackcaps, 1 Chiffchaff, 21 Whooper Swans, 300 Pink feet, 1 drake Goosander S, 1 f Long tailed Duck with 4 Goldeneye and 7 Common Scoter at the burn mouth and, saving best til last, 3 Waxwings, 1 with 20 Redwings behind the Cricket Hut then 2 in the Village Hall car park all too briefly before flying off SW. These are my 5th of autumn but all have been in a hurry to move on. Do they know something we dont?

Is it time to start Christmas Shopping I wonder?

Monday, October 30, 2023

A Storm is a Threatenin'

 For a nice change, the wind for the last couple of weeks has been usually from the eastern half, with quite a bit of rain too, so we have had a few interesting things to see on patch. Nothing to set the grapevines alight but enough to keep me occupied.

Before I get on the that we had a short fine interlude on the 14th where we had a good influx of butterflies into the village. The short Ivy hedge near the village hall had 105+ Red Admirals one lunchtime with 3 Comma and a Painted Lady. Each time a car passed they would lift up like the autumn leaves in a wind. In the village wood some Striated Earthstars were a new fungi for me.

Striated Earthstar like a little spaceship.

The very next day, it was cold, down to 2 degrees with a mod NW4 blowing so we spent the morning seawatching. The sun was bright so we were often blinded but a change of angle helped a bit.

From 07.15 - 11.30 we had - 

Sooty Shearwater 1, Red throated Diver 4N 6S, Great Northern Diver in summer plumage very close in N, Arctic Skua 1N, Skua sp 2N, Pink footed Geese 90, 30, 70 S, Barnacle Goose 50 N, Purple Sandpiper 2, Shelduck 3 S, Common Scoter 4N, Red breasted Merganser 1N, Long tailed Duck 1male and 1 female N, Sabines Gull 1 juv S, loitering for a short while offshore to dip feed before drifting out of sight, Arctic Tern 1ad 2 juv N and finally 2 Twite S calling.

17th Oct, 4 late Swallows, I'd not seen any for weeks, were in the village at dusk.

On Thursday 19th we were treated to a 3 day Storm Barbet with its ESE8 Gale and heavy rain.

One of the Swallows above was so tired it flew into our shed and settled on the bench just to rest.

A few Redwings and Fieldfares arrived over the garden first thing, with 3 Brambling but it was a cracking male Firecrest that graced our compost heaps for a few minutes that made the day. Still a scarce bird up here, this is a garden first, and it started quite an influx of them all along our coastline. Also around the garden were 3 Blackcap, 3 Goldcrest, 1 Chiffchaff and a Raven overhead. A Woodcock flushed from the village hall pond mid morning.

Rough field notes.....Firecrest in the garden.

On the Friday, Babet was cranking it up with 50 mph E winds causing massive seas and sea foam feet deep across the coast road and paths.

I was at work so popped down to Newbiggin where a lot of birds sheltered in the bay inc - Grey Phalarope 8  ( 6 in one scope view!), this number increased to 12 over the weekend, 60+ Little Gulls, 1 ad Mediterranean Gull, 2 Bonxie and 1 Pomarine Skua, 4 Brents N 3 Shoveler N in an hour. The Little Gulls were knackered being blown around the beach.

Outside Newbiggin Bay.

Exhausted Little Gulls, Newbiggin

Saturday 21st and Babet still raged with ENE gales, rain and huge seas, too rough to watch. At home I short watch from the car only had 5 Little Gulls and 15 Common Scoter N. A few more birds were in the village, with a beautiful tortoiseshell patterned flock of 60+ Bramblings swirling around the back field. Two came to our feeders for a while. 115+ Redwings flew W with 3 Fieldfares and 3 Blackcaps fed on apples in our garden.

When a small 'brown' shrike was reported a couple of miles along the road, at Sugar Sands, I dashed along, but the bird couldnt be relocated. The views had been frustratingly brief of a Red backed type of Shrike. Of note here were 3 Grey Phalaropes, 4 Little Gulls and a few Twite.

Sunday 22nd saw the back of Storm Babet being a fine, calm, cold, frosty morning, a total contrast to the mayhem of the previous few days. Wanting a Phalarope for the patch I wandered along to the Rumbling Kern where 2 Grey Phalaropes fed close in with Black headed Gulls, only my 2nd patch record. An adult Mediterranean Gull, 6 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Red throated Divers were also present.

Howick Haven and Grey Phalaropes

After this I took the short drive to Alnmouth for a walk with John where the highlight here were viz mig Snow Bunting, Crossbill and several Siskins.

Back home for lunch and I was surprised to find a very late Hummingbird Hawk-moth on our second flowering Red Valerian, despite the white frost earlier. Seems an odd combination seeing the hummer, Grey Phals and Snow Bunts on the same day...

Monday, October 23, 2023

 On Saturday 7th October the weather was awful. For most people that is. For the birder, heavy rain for 24 hours with a light ENE wind can only mean one thing - migrants!

I stepped out of the door at 08.30 to the swirling sounds of hundreds upon hundreds of thrushes teaming out of the sky. Most years recently have only seen a small trickle of thrush migrants as early as this with most not coming in until late October or even early November. Especially Fieldfares.

During an hour standing around the village getting soaked, a minimum of 2700 Redwings, 50 Fieldfares and a few Blackbirds and Song Thrushes arrived. The back field behind us was carpeted in birds. 

It was while getting some respite from the rain indoors while scoping the thrush carpet from our kitchen window ( I wish I had taken a blog photo of that), a smaller bird flitted into view, dropping onto the plough between the larger birds. It was very dull and raining leaving the birds more soggy than I was so initially I couldn't work out what the small visitor was. It was sat hunched, facing me, reminding me a bit of a Dester Wheatear but it wasn't quite right.

It was only when it  flew a short way and began feeding by hopping, and flying from clods of earth that it dawned on me. It was a  Stonechat. A Siberian Stonechat. From inside our kitchen. 

These days I don't keep up as much with the very latest taxonomy but to begin with the bird looked more dark orange that most peachy Sibechats I've seen so wondered about it being Amur or Stejnegers Stonechat? A further 10 minutes watching through the scope, showed that its apparent dark tone was nothing more than the grim light and damp feathering causing it. As the rain eased a bit the bird became more perky and looked paler. It was quite the shape shifter though, changing tone and even pattern according to its angle.

After scribbling some notes I decided to go out to try and photograph it with the camera. My phonescoped shots are dire, as I'm sure you will agree.  

The best plans though don't always work out and as I approached the field a wave of thrushes headed west and there was no futher sign of the chat. It seems it was travelling with them and moved on.

Back home after checking some literature, I don't think I could attempt a specific id on this bird but its going down as Eastern Stonechat and its still a total garden mega so I'm having it.

By lunchtime, most of the thrushes had moved on west leaving the place quiet as if nothing had happened.


Above, Eastern Stonechat, apologies for the photos.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Red breasted Goose etc.

 So, September ended with a big dip. Oh well, its one of those things. How would October fare...

Sunday 1st October was a lovely fine autumn day here. Dawning quite cool but warming up later on.

John and myself took a trip up to Elwick on the Lindisfarne Reserve to look for the Red breasted Goose that has been hanging around with the large geese flocks for a few days.

We wandered up the track knowing from experience that the geese here are usually quite mobile and as we arrived at the end, this was certainly the case. Flock after flock of Barnacle Geese were leaving a distant field to our right and flying across our vision to land, unseen in a field, two to our left. Each flock was scrutinised in nice morning light as they passed, without luck. 

The view we had as geese flocks flew left at the end of this field. Holy Island lies beyond the flats.

We decided to try to get a view of the geese over to the left so we stalked close to the hedge, into a dip, to peer into the next field. The ground was wallpapered in Black and White. A 'magic-eye' illusion of Barnacle Geese greeted us with birds still arriving. The problem was, we were too close. We stopped, scarcely daring to breathe and quietly scanned through. No joy. We waited. In the distance from Holy Island causeway I saw another few hundred geese strung out in the air heading our way. As they whiffled down to the ground we had another scan. There, only about 100 mrs away, right on the front in full sunshine a stunning adult Red breasted Goose, probably the first with good credentials since the 1800s in Northumberland. It had arrived with a small flock of Brents from high to the east originally before moving in with the Barnacle Geese to feed. What a belter, and I had left my camera in the car thinking the geese would be too far off.

As it happened, that was irrelevant. No sooner had we seen the target, a farmer on a quad drove straight into the field putting 3000+ geese to flight right over our heads. The sound was incredible. I've seen lots of goose flocks into many many thousands across the UK but have never experienced such noise from wings and voice only 50 feet above me. It was truly awesome.

As we watched the mass head back to the fields they originally came from, we scanned and scanned but couldn't pick up the Red breast. It was here a twist occurred. As we looked, I noticed an Egret coming off the flats towards us mobbed by crows. I couldn't say I'd seen that before, so I just put the scope on them. The Egret had a bright crocus yellow carrot pushed into its mush - it was a Cattle Egret! This was only my 2nd in the county and my first self found. These may be tame fare on the Avalon Marshes but up here they're still hens teeth.  We watched as the Cattle Egret lowered its undercarriage and glided over a hedge appearing to land unseen. We went to investigate.

From our new vantage point, we never did see the Egret again but we could see the geese. It took about half a dozen scans before the Red breasted Goose was picked out. Now at comfortable distance we could scope it feeding with Barnacles and showing how such a colourful harlequin could be camouflaged in the monochrome sea of wildfowl.

Two great county birds UTB by breakfast, excellent.

A stop at Budle Bay for our tea and snacks had a lot of birds but just the usuals. Highlight was probably 35 Shovelers.

On to Monk's House Pool of Ennion fame where there had been an American Golden Plover. Unfortunately most of the flock had departed leaving only 115 Eurasian Goldies to scan through.

Still not a bad day, RBG is no 363 on my county list and only my 2nd ever. 

Cattle Egret field notes.

Red breasted Goose field Notes

A worked up version of the Red breasted Goose back home.