Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Red backed Shrike

 As mentioned last time,  this has been a good month for Red backed Shrikes in the UK. The Northern Isles have had the lions share with up to 30 odd a day on Fair Isle only with plenty of Icterine and Marsh Warblers too. This makes it all the more frustrating when odd birds appear either side of the patch but despite searching, we've had no luck.

So, not wanting to miss out on at least some of the action, a nice male popped up about 6 miles from home at Football Hole near the Long Nanny at Low Newton, so we called along on Friday night for a look.

It was a pleasant sunny evening and we soon saw the shrike sitting around a hawthorn hedgerow across a field corner. It was always a bit distant for photos but decent views were had as it sallied down into the grass for an unseen prey species. At one stage he even began singing in the lee of a bush while catching the last rays of evening sunshine.

Male Red backed Shrike.


On Sunday some good migrant grounding weather encouraged us to head off to Holy Island where there was bound to be things of interest.

We got an exhausted soaking as we covered the Chare Ends, Excavations, Straight Lonnen and Crooked Lonnen with little to show for it. We had single Lesser Whitethroat, Common Whitethroat and Garden Warbler plus we flushed a 'long headed' warbler that may have been an Icterine or an Acro but it was never seen again. Bird of the moring was a ringtail Harrier hunting in the fog and rain. Better views by other obserevers showed the bird to be a first summer male Hen Harrier.

Later in the afternoon, after we had left, Andy Mould found and photographed a Green Warbler, a county first no less, but despite many searching, the bird was only seen briefly once more and that was the end of that.

On Bank Holiday Monday, Jane and I went back up on to the island to have a picnic over the high tide. Its great being cut off on there, like a proper island. No tourists and just quite big skies.

I didnt really search for passerines, but had 3 Little Stints with 150 Ringed Plovers on the causeway on our way home.




  

Wednesday, May 22, 2024

No Megas Here....

 Do you ever feel things are just passing you by? As if you are an observer looking in through a window rather than being involved. That's what this spring has seemed like to me. On the socials I am seeing posts and images of some amazing birds, not too far away from here, but they may as well be on the moon. They're like a work of fiction.

Things such as flocks of Red backed Shrikes to eye watering American Buntings and even a potential full first for the world! Well that is exaggerating, a first for the Western Palearctic ( if its not just natural variation on a more local European species ). I'm even missing things on my doorstep at places I visit on a regular basis, with Osprey along our coast path yesterday and an Icterine Warbler just along the road last night.

What can I do about it? Bugger all I suppose. Keep away from Social Media might help. Bury my head in the sand? Maybe things will improve this weekend, we'll see.

That's a disappointing look on what I've not seen, now its time for an equally disappointing look at what I have.

A trip up to Holy Island last Wednesday on an impromptu day off was a case of 'look what you could have won', with 1 Spotted Flycatcher and, oh no, that's it. One Spotty Fly. To keep the chin up, Purple Milk Vetch and a nearby Mother Shipton moth were nice re-aquaintances, but Shrikes they are not.

On the way up, in a lovely sunny day, we stopped at Low Newton to see Gary's two Temmincks Stints on the scrapes. Both showed well, being as close as its possible to get on this wetland as they shuffled around the grassy edge with a few Dunlin and Ringed Plover while several Avocets towered over them.

One of the Temminck's Twins.



Purple Milk Vetch

On the way back home I glanced a local flash that has occurred in a field near us over the winter and was pleased to find a pair of Avocets that seemed to be nesting. Its quite an exposed spot but with the support of half a dozen Lapwing pairs breeding too they might keep crows at bay.

Avocet pair with Lapwing chick, centre.

On Saturday, the deluge of Red backed Shrikes arrived seemingly everywhere, so we could have raced up to Holy Island on Sunday for seconds or comb Boulmer for our own.

That's exactly what we did. Foxton Golf Course to Boulmer Village via Seaton Point and back was as profitable as Holy lsand had been last Wednesday. Except without the Spotted Flycatcher.

We had 2 Little and 8 Sandwich Terns fishing the haven plus one each singing Grasshopper Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat.

A stop at the Aln Estuary area had another 2 Little Terns, the local Ruddy Shelduck again, 2 White Wagtails, 2 Goosander and a male Marsh Harrier. There were no migrant waders at all, which is unusual as 3 miles along the road at the Coquet Estuary they reported bigger than usual numbers of Dunlin, Ringed Plovers etc.

And that's about it really...Apology for not searing your eyes with Indigo Bunting or Indian Golden Oriole shots. You probably didn't expect it, did you... 








Monday, May 13, 2024

The Merry Dancers

 Probably my most significant observation since the last entry on here has to the the celestial one. Everyone in the country either saw or slept through the greatest Aurora display for 21 years, where all things scientific combined into a coincidence that may be a once in a lifetime event!

We enjoyed it from 11.30pm until about 1am when it began to fade. One little tale is worth a mention to show some strange reactions from people. Next door but one to us is the old school house now a holiday cottage. This means we have different neighbours most weeks. Some are quite sociable and friendly while others are scarcely noticed. Over the years Ive had some nice encounters with holiday makers checking my moth trap ( with permission of course) and one chap came to the door to ask if he could paint our shed! At first I thought he meant give it a coat of emulsion but as it is stone that seemed very odd. He was an amateur artist who I left to it after I had gone to work. I never did see his results...

Anyway back to Friday night. We were on the drive in awe of the glowing spectacle over head when a face appeared at the open dorma window in the school house roof. In case they wondered what we were up to I said and pointed to the 'Aurora', thinking it might be a nice addition to their holiday. The response? The chap shut the window!

They cant say I didnt try when they saw Breakfast Telly in the morning....

I managed some shots on my phone...

Thats the School House roof to the right, occupants not fussed...

This is facing due North. The Aurora was faint here, it was best high overhead slightly to the South East. 

Along our village road facing Southish.


 

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Time and the White Hare

 Crikey where does the time go?

In late March I mentioned we had lost a close friend in sudden circumstances. What with various investigations taking place, the funeral only took place on Monday so it has been difficult trying to keep business as usual. There is nothing like this kind of shock to the system to get you thinking about mortality and life in general. Its all too easy to complain about trivia when really we should be grateful when we wake up each morning.

Since my last post, I've been out around the doors, not going too far ( I rarely do these days). In light of recent events, I would like to be able to take a more free and relaxed approach to natural history observations. There is no need to fixate on stuff, whether it is about staying local to the exclusion of all else or having to twitch the latest mega 300 miles away. None of it matters you know. Just take a breath and follow your instincts without pressure, just enjoy the time you have left and do what ever it is you want to do. Feel free to change your mind and approach at a whim, just to gain personal enjoyment on any day. We all have fixed commitments, work, family etc, but in your free time, be free!

Spring has been very slow in coming to my corner of Northumberland, as it always is. I can only think it is the close proximity to a winter retaining North Sea that removes our spring from the equation. As with most recent Aprils the wind has been a cool northerly for weeks now, blocking newly emerging nature of all sorts. Spring bird migrants have been delayed in arriving, butterflies almost non existant and the moth trap has lain redundant for weeks. Still there is no stopping the change in the air.

My first signs of a few migrants came on 21st April with ironically, early for here, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroat while Grasshopper Warbler and Redstart was more fitting.

A leucistic Brown Hare ( creamy white all over) crossed our path at that time too. I must check out the mythology around these, surely there will be some tales of ghostly white hares, no doubt bringing a curse on all who's path she crosses...

The White Hare.

A wander around the dunes at Warkworth had a nice display of just emerging Early Purple Orchids too. I must try and get back this week to see them at full opened glory.

In our garden, Holly Blues are out at the slightest hint of sun and a lovely big Hoverfly, Criorhina floccosa was easy to photograph in the chill air.  

The bee mimic hoverfly Criorhina floccosa complete with its diagnostic white flank tufts.

For such a common bird along our coast I had never seen a Stonechat's nest until the other week. While looking for a Grasshopper Warbler a small bird flushed from a clump of marram near my path. I was over the moon to find a nice small, flattened, tunnel leading to a small cup containing 5 eggs. I took one photo with my phone and left her to it.


Stonechat nest.

Whimbrel arrived on the patch on 22nd April witha single bird on the rocky shore beside us.

So with Orange Tips now on the wing and a seemingly drier break in the weather lets hope this Bank Holiday marks the start of a good spell of wether for wildlife / birding!

Early Purple Orchid, one of 200+ at Warkworth.

'Gropper'

Willow Warbler



 

Monday, April 15, 2024

Industrial Oyks and the (Not so) Secret Wood.

 This post is another all-over-the-shop cornucopia of wildlife sightings locally.

Lesser Redpolls.

In April I like to keep an even closer eye on my bird feeders than usual because there is always the chance of a Brambling or Mealy Redpoll on its return migration. Who knows, even a Hawfinch is a possibility. 

To keep up the Mealy hopes I make sure the niger is filled each morning. This has attracted up to 20 Goldfinches at a time and a couple of Siskins on some days. The other day two Redpolls appeared, both Lessers and one was injured with a broken leg. That didn't seem to hamper it as it fed well for a couple of days before departure.

While it was sunny in the garden on Saturday a Holly Blue kept me company. A second was along the road by the Village Hall. The slow moth trapping continues with a nice Chamomile Shark being the highlight. This is only my 3rd here in 15 yrs.

Chamomile Shark

The ever present ( in spring anyway) Hairy Footed Flower Bee males.



Above - Holly Blue butterfly. Still earlier that usual...

This Pale Mottled Willow is the county earliest by 3 weeks. Maybe a migrant?

Industrial Oystercatchers.

On Sunday we visited a new spot, a little bit further than usual but not much. You might have seen me mention our severe lack of decent woodland up here, well this spot had a quite a large area and some of it quite mature too. Mature enough to hold a single singing male Redstart that was typically camera shy as they often are.. The whole area looks good for plants and insects too when the weather warms up a bit.

Today we found a couple of pairs of Marsh Tit, including one at a nest site. This is the best year I've had for these for a decade. Long may it be so. 



Marsh Tits prospecting a likely nest site.

Also around the area were good numbers of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers with 3 Buzzards, Brambling heard and Siskins singing. A carpet of Bluebells were on the cusp of opening.

It just shows, no matter how long you live in a place, there are always discoveries to be made if you only look...



Tuesday, April 09, 2024

They're here!

 Since my last post, just for a change, the weather has been biblical. Gales and Rain. Even today it is pouring and cold with a mod NW wind. Everywhere is flooded, roads, fields, woods, even our tiny village pond now encompasses half the Village Hall car park too. Still the Toads were singing in it last night.

On Sunday we had our first Swallows, Sand Martins, Willow Warblers and Wheatear all at Alnmouth. Didnt get a single pic of any of them due to the wind.

There were plenty of Bees there too with Red tailed, Early and Buff tailed Bumblers, Hairy Footed Flower Bees, all males, no black females yet and a single Vestal Cuckoo Bee.

Vestal Cuckoo Bee

Male Hairy footed Flower Bee, it can be seen well in this shot.

Red tailed Bumblebee

On the home patch, 3 Swallows south along the coast path on Monday were my first, but since then the weather has put a block on any further additions.

A nice adult Lesser black backed Gull was with Herring Gulls on new plough watched from ou kitchen window making the garden list #61 now.

Lets continue to hope for a more prolonged dry spell soon, we need to release the over wintering Hedgehog before it gets much bigger ( 1100 gms!) but need a better forecast than this... 



Tuesday, April 02, 2024

Easter.

 Not a bad Bank Holiday weekend weather wise. Well, 75% was ok, Monday was a wet and windy write off.

Friday was Good in more ways than one. 

At 0710 Ben Steel reported a Great White Egret in off the sea a few miles north of us at Dunstanburgh Castle, but more crucially it was now heading south, over Craster.

Thinking I'd be too late, I grabbed the dog and the bins and headed up the road. 

By 0715 I was on the coast road scanning south as I was convinced the bird would have been past us by now. No sign. Then a look north saw a couple walking their dog towards me and there above them an angel-like apparition glowing in the low morning sunshine. The Great White Egret was slower than anticipated due to the moderately strong head wind it was flying in to. It passed low over the dog walkers who saw me watching, so I pointed to the bird. By now they were only 20 mtrs from me so I said Egret. They seemed quite impressed at the big birds beauty as it majestically passed over us on route south, so I explained what it was and a bit about them. Id like to think I educated in a small way.

I was pleased to have seen it, only my 2nd patch record after a bird on the pond in 2013. These might be on every puddle further south but in my corner of North Northumberland they are still a big deal.

Back home for breakfast, around 0830, I decided to take Peggy for the rest of her morning walk along to the pond field. As we arrived, I could see a large white 'umbrella' standing in the far corner. The Egret had Landed!

This site gets busy on fine days so there was no way this bird would linger here, the track walked right past it. So poor Peggy was marched home again so I could get the camera. As time was of the essence, I took the car along to the pond and walked back along the track. Luckily the bird remained for 5 mins, long enough for a few shots to record the event before it flew off in a SE direction not to be reported again.

Nice start to spring.



Saturday was spent doing some gardening and the first grass cut of the year. While pottering around, the first Hairy footed Flower Bee was dashing around while 5 Brown Hares were in the Rectory Paddock.

On a fine Sunday morning JWR and me stocked up on Greggs Vegan Sausage Rolls and cakes (Chocolate Eclair for me, Pach Melba for John) then headed on to the moors. We were greeted by bubbling displaying Curlews, Stonechat and 30+ Brambling still hanging around from the big flock.

A lovely conditioned orange Fox was really taking its life in its hands at this heavily keepered and hunted site. Without a doubt its days are numbered.

We had a wander up the old railway line near Lemmington where there was a good show of the 'wild' Daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus .


As the morning warmed, after breakfast we went up to our site for Orange Underwing, a rare, day flying, spring, moth in the county. I've not seen one for about 5 years, mainly due to poor weather in this crucial 4 week period but today seemed promising.

As it turned out, it was! Just not for me. John called from a few metres away to say he had one. As is their way it fluttered along a line of trees vanishing as I got to the spot. At least its good news they are still here for another day. Maybe next weekend when the weather is warmer we'll have another look. I'd love to get a photo of one.

Also seen, Woodcock, Buzzard and Peacock butterfly.

Finally, to put the icing on the cake, back home in the afternoon the sun shone and it was sheltered in the garden. A lovely Holly Blue butterfly showed on three occasions both back and front of the house, but it was too flighty to get a photo. Still its my first in March and about 3 weeks earlier than the previous earliest here. A very welcome sight.

Also more Hairy footed Flower Bees, Early Bumblebee and Tawny mining Bee were all good to get.

 


Above - Orange Underwing site, with the view west.