A Naturalist in Northumberland

Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Not long now...

 I hope! New PC comes back tomorrow after getting my saved hard drive uploaded on to it. Hopefully this will see an upturn in blog posts after a meagre February output. It’s been a long month... 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Still here...

 A week since my last post and I’m still on the iPad. I’ve been catching up on my favourite bloggage but see that most faves have as little output as me! Maybe it’s due to waiting for it all to happen during this mini freeze up. Still, Dylan, Steve, Peter, Gav and Seth are all up to date.

Over the week I’ve seen a few bits and pieces, even photographed some, but all of that remains on the Sandisc until my technological issues are resolved. The good news is, my hard disc survived intact, the bad is the rest of the workings seem fried.

So, please hang with me a while longer. As the Great man says, I’ll be back...

Storm Darcy bigging  it up on the patch.

Monday, January 25, 2021


 A quick update on here on Jane’s iPad. 

On Thursday evening we had an 8hr powercut, that resulted in my PC going off with a crack when I turned it back on, on Friday morning. It appears to be as dead as a door nail. I am hoping it’s the power pack that is burnt out and not my hard drive with all my photos, scans of drawings and documents such as lists, database, spreadsheets etc. Time will tell.

So I am now in conversation with the insurance company and trying to find someone to recover my drive.

Chances are, as you would expect, this may not go as seamlessly as I would hope, so for the time being the blog will be in hibernation. It will be resurrected as soon as my hardware is sorted...

Cheers all...

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Imperial or Metric Birding

 I have seen on Twitter that quite a few birders are taking on the new 5MR birding challenge. That is birding / listing within a 5 miles radius from their home, so they are staying local when exercising. 

Before that came about though, Alan Tilmouth, our NBNO or Northumberland Bird Network Organiser -  a good job title I've just made up for him, set up a county 5 km radius patch list page that is currently trending on BUBO.  

Out of interest, I thought I would compare the two areas directly to see if it would be greatly different and found this for my area - 

That is some extension. If I was to take on the 5 mile radius, it would cover the local patches of Gary Woodburn in the North at Low Newton, Tom Cadwallender in the South at Alnmouth and Ben Steel / Dan Langston  / Mark Eaton / John Rutter and myself in between.

Even though 50% is in the sea, the other landward half is a big area, a bit big to call it one patch really,as is the 5km to be fair, so I'll just stick with the original plan, even though I do frequently get about to the other places. 

I am always interested in these type of geographical monitoring areas. Its a great way to learn about your 'own' wildlife. Usually I would treat zones separately so I list Howick, do regular birding at Boulmer, venture to 4 or 5 inland sites west of Alnwick for invertebrates and other forms but if I were to measure the whole range I watch for 90% of any given year, it covers no more than about 12 miles from home. 


Tuesday, January 19, 2021


 Its been all birdy for weeks now and I am eager for some variety when the weather gets a bit warmer. Soon it will be time to dust off the moth trap and get some early spring moths caught, but for the minute cold, dull weather means birds will still be the way to go.

As a taster of things to come I was pleased to see this small Many plumed Moth in our house last night, my first moth of 2021 on MapMate...

Many Plumed Moth Alucita hexadactyla beside a drawing pin for size.

 Last night dusk was around 4.45pm as I took Peggy out. It was just about light enough to look for a Barn Owl over the back field but it seemed quiet. Then a movement caught the periphery of my view . In the gloaming, a Buzzard, a male, was in full hunt pursuit of something just behind the hedge line. Then I got my eye on the victim, a bird, very unusual... made even more so when I saw the bird was a Sparrowhawk. You would think it could easily out pace a lumbering Buteo, but its surprising what a run it gave. The hawk had to switch and flip before plummeting like an arrow into some small Scots Pines beside the village hall. the Buzzard followed the same route straight in with such a clatter. The hawk emerged from the other side and off across the road, but it was now too dark to see the Buzzard again.

This shows that these large carrion, worm, and vole eating raptors are more active than you might first think. The Sparrowhawk should thank its lucky stars.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Craster via the Hips Heugh.

 This morning dawned clear, fine and cold. Just right for a walk into some of the less visited places around home. The loop from home to Craster and back is a shade over 4 miles, taking in the fields just inland to the north then back by the usual coast route.

Only half a mile NW of home are a few long term set a side fields. I always forget how good they look for feeding finch and bunting flocks and possibly some attendant raptors. Today they held a nice selection of passerines with 40+ Reed Buntings, 60+ Goldfinches, 30+ and 100+ Linnet flocks, 7 and 16+ Yellowhammers, 50+ Chaffinches and 6 Grey Partridges.

Some of the Reed Buntings in dock.

Above - Reed Buntings

Year list targets this morning included - Brambling, Greenfinch ( yes thats right), Red legged Partridge, Woodcock, Merlin, Peregrine and Willow Tit. Its fair to say that I largely failed with this lot, but there is plenty of time until spring to seek them out. Rome wasn't built in a day.

While watching the Reed Buntings the pair of Ravens came over, calling, much to the consternation of the local Jackdaws who got up in to the air making a racket overhead. The Ravens took no notice whatsoever and even did a little bit of a display flight in tandem.

Raven low overhead, calling.

Down into Craster, a pair of Collared Doves were my first proper local birds but the Willow Tits were nowhere to be seen. Off shore, 100+ Common Scoter were loafing around still, a carry over from before Christmas. 30+ Golden Plover were on the rocks and a Red throated Diver flew N.

On the Cullernose cliffs, a few pairs of Fulmars were chattering and squabbling. I might check to see if they actually breed this year as I have never seen eggs of young at this site, despite older reports of many breeding pairs here. 

As I came to the road home, a 'blimp' on top of the Hips Heugh peak turned out to be a Peregrine, that sat for some time watching pigeons and Jackdaws flying around. After failing to catch up with the other birds on my target list, I was relieved to add something to the patch list.

The view north from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle, the northern edge of my local patch. 

Fulmars on Cullernose cliffs. No seawatching today.

The Common Scoter flock just off the south end of Craster. Imagine living here !

The Peregrine rounds up the 5km list to a steady 100 species with a few possibles yet to be found. There are some spots I have in mind to target the list gap fillers, but they are tricky to access on foot all the way from home, but one of these weekends I'll drive part of the way to avoid walking on narrow main roads for any length of time.

Sunday, January 10, 2021


This morning I set off on an walk beyond the reaches of the Howick patch, over the burn mouth footbridge into Boulmer. Its not that I dont go there, I just usually don't walk to Boulmer.  To save time, I drive to the main car park and work away from there but today, in the spirit of Lockdown, it was Shanks's all the way. The route is below - 

A 9 km stroll took all morning with stops to scan and search.

The target for this morning were the waders at Boulmer that are in good numbers on the mud, but are scarce on my turf due to the rocky shore.

From home to the southernmost extremity of Howick produced nothing new for the year and was all but dead. 10 Goldeneye, 7 Cormorant S, 1 Grey Plover and 6 Long tailed Tits were all that went into the book.

This is Howick burn moth footbridge. The burn is the south boundary of my home patch and the northern edge of Boulmer.

On the bridge, a 90 degree left turn gives this view. 10 Goldeneye and a few Oystercatchers, Turnstones and Eider were here.

Once across the bridge, I am trying not to mix the two lists up so any species over here are only for the 5km list and not for my patch list. In the next bay, Sugar Sands, 4 Red throated Divers were together close in with 1 Grey Plover on the rocks. The very next small bay is Howdiemont Sands ( often wrongly called Sugar Sands by some near locals). Here were a Razorbill, 20+ Wigeon, 20+ Lapwing and a few Mallard. Offshore was quiet other than a scattering of Shags and auks.

From Sugar Sands looking back North towards Howick Haven.

 Once I arrived at Boulmer village and sat on an old telegraph pole in the hauled out fishing boats, I could see 11 cars in the Boulmer car park still. Not one of them local or from the area or they wouldn't need to drive.

While drinking a cup of tea, the tide pushed up all of my hoped for targets plus another couple for good measure. 110+ Sanderling, 100+ Dunlin, 12+ Bar tailed Godwit, 6 Ringed Plover and 5 Knot were the waders hoped for. A single Purple Sandpiper dropped in later. Out past the Boulmer haven a dusky looking, long, stiff necked Red-necked Grebe was a good find at this time of year but it soon flew off around Seaton Point where it possibly landed in with the 200+ Wigeon roosting on the sea. 2 Shelduck were also new here.

As I retraced my path back north towards home I took in the edge of Longhoughton Steel, a huge skeer of rock on the NE point of the Boulmer headland. 400 Golden Plover were scanned for an unseasonable oddity but the best thing here was a Little Egret fishing pools close in.

I arrived back in Howick to the local Hooded Crow waiting on the fence, calling, as if to greet me. A profitable exercise with 8 new species taking the 5km year total to 98.