Monday, May 17, 2021

It might be good...

 On a slow February morning out birding, the conversation invariably drifts to what the rest of the year might hold. We imagine that in the height of spring passage, mid May, if we get some south easterly winds and overnight or early morning rain, the world will be our oyster. Bluethroats, Ortolans, Red backed Shrikes or Wrynecks are all waiting to be found in the next bush. Great eh!

Then forward 3 months to the 16th May 2021. A steady SE wind is blowing the flag at Boulmer straight out. Its taught flapping causes us to glance at its direction. It is overcast first thing but soon after we get there rain starts. This increases to soaking levels so we dash to the car for tea to wait it out. An hour later it passes leaving everything cold and wet.

What will it have dropped onto the big square headland? A Rosefinch? Maybe, but a Bluethroat is more likely at this time.

We stride out to Seaton Point from the north, checking weedy shorelines, gullies and stunted hawthorns. 5 Puffins are added to the year list tagging onto the ever present flocks of Guillemots and Razorbills. A few waders potter around on the wet sand, 16+ Ringed Plover, 10+ Dunlin, 17+ Turnstone a late Purple Sandpiper and a dozen Sanderling. A Whimbrel spends the whole morning flying between fields and beach, trilling as it goes.

In the sparse scrub, 2 Whitethroats.

Right, back to the cars and a short drive around to the south end to check Foxton bushes and in to Seaton Point from the south. Another Whitethroat sings from the hedge. We scan golden yellow rape fields for a Whinchat and scan skies for Swifts. Neither is found but an adult female Marsh Harrier is a new one for the year as she quarters the distant fields. 

Another walk turns up two fledged broods of Stonechat and a fly over Redpoll but no other passerines except the local Meadow Pipits. Not so much as a Willow Warbler or Wheatear, Nada.

Down at the village, more waders here include 28 Ringed Plover, 20 Sanderling and 22 Dunlin, 1 Knot and 2 Grey Plover both in winter plumage, as befits the scene really.

That about sums it up. Not much happening and not one photograph taken. As an old birder once said to me, 'never make a plan, son'.  I hope it is a bit better next weekend, I'm doing a guided walk for the local wildlife group!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Midweek special

 Well not that special, but John and me have decided to have a meet up midweek while the evenings are light.

After a day of sunshine and a cool easterly breeze I headed along to Boulmer. Three miles from home the weather was decidedly different and within half an hour the rain was hammering down like it was November.

Still we sat some of it out , at least I had my small fishing brolly to hold over the scope for shelter.

From the village we had 2 Red throated Divers N and 2, new for the year, very close Manx Shearwaters S, but it was the waders we were mostly interested in. Numbers were less than Sunday, but at this time the turnover is hourly. We had 17 Northern Ringed Plover, 11 summer plumaged Dunlin, 1 Grey Plover, 2 Sanderling, 1 female Bar tailed Godwit and 7 Whimbrel.

Right that was a soaking, time for home. Lets hope next weeks sortie is a bit drier...


Tuesday, May 11, 2021

I can see my house from here...

Sunday was a much better day than we have had since March. Mild with a spring like SW breeze and hazy sunshine.

The view north from Longhoughton Steel

Its all back to normal in the aftermath of the excitement of Friday so we spent the morning covering the Boulmer patch where, for the first time for me this spring, at least Swallows were in reasonable numbers skimming flies off the washed up seaweed.

On the shore waders looked smart with a cracking male Grey Plover in all his finery showing up a typical first winter bird alongside. A sift through other others didn't reveal anything untoward but 46 Sanderling, 73 Dunlin, 23 Ringed Plover, 14 Turnstone and 1 Bar tailed Godwit were nice to see. 4 Whimbrel flew N over the rocks.

More terns were fishing in a falling tide in the haven. 2 Arctic and 2 Little Terns were year ticks while 20+ Common and the same Sandwich Terns flickered around like they'd never been away.

Passerines were in short supply with only 6 Greenland Wheatears fitting the migrant category. A Meadow Pipit had a near escape when I almost trod on its nest along the track side right at the base of the wall to Longhoughton Steel.

A very smart male Greenland Wheatear at Seaton Point.

We were lamenting the lack of things like Yellow Wagtails and Grasshopper Warblers but when you look around here it is no wonder there are few birds and the pipit nearly nests on the path. The place has no decent hedges, trees or scrub, all damp spots have been drained more proficiently than the Aral Sea , cereal margins  yellow with weed killer and the grass land so over grazed that they now hammer the links destroying that native flora too. The concession to conservation seems to be a blue pheasant bin every 50 yards and an odd inaccessible game crop. Barbed Wire is the order of the day.

Its a good job there is a 30 mtr wide stripe of high tide zone or we'd have nothing. 

Mipits with 3 beside the path and wall.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Northern Mockingbird Notes

 Some Northern Mockingbird notes from yesterday. The bird is still there today and attracting a steady flow of observers.

Its funny how a twitch can attract some odd fellows. The bigger the bird, the more they come out of the woodwork.

Yesterday evening I got a message on Twitter from a chap who I don't know but lives local. Not a birder like us, but with a bird interest and knowledge. He said 'At dusk the Mockingbird was taken by a Sparrowhawk, there'll be disappointed faces in the morning'.  I detected a tone of, pardon the pun, gloating mockery so I replied, 'That's life, it happens every day'. After all, I was in the lifeboat, Jack.

I found this strange as I know for a fact the bird was showing right until dusk and no one mentioned an attack. When the bird was reported first thing this morning I wondered what motivates someone to simply wish anxiety on people? What kind of human are they? Looking through this persons tweets you can see this wasn't an innocent mistake, he appeared a bit of a smart er clever clogs. 

So as I say, I've never met this person so its no loss to me that they are now blocked.

At other twitches I've seen similar, usually from non birders who spout things like 'Had one of them in my garden last week' etc. God they irritate. 

If you aren't interested, just shut your cake hole and let us get on with our business.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Anything. Anywhere.

Birding, as we know, can throw us some unexpected curved balls at times but today really takes the biscuit.

I am recycling a post I have just done on Facebook albeit for a more savvy blogger audience so please bear with me.

Back in February at the height of lockdown, a Northern Mockingbird arrived in a garden in Exmouth in Devon. This slim, blackbird sized bundle of feathers will have been bred in the USA and by some miraculous feat of migration ended up on the other side of the pond in a palm tree in Devon.

As it was only the 3rd for Britain and the first to be actually twitchable, birders across the land were devastated that there were travel restrictions in place stopping them making the pilgrimage. Some disregarded the COVID rules and went anyway, resulting in on-line vilification by the more sedentary law abiding citizens of ornithology. Some twitchers were believed to have been fined for going, but felt that it was worthwhile to see such a rare bird. After all, they would have paid for a flight to Shetland if it had been there.

Then, at the beginning of April, typically as restrictions lifted, the Mockingbird left its Exmouth garden and vanished only for it to reappear as if by magic 150 miles east along the south coast at Pulborough in Sussex the very next day.

What chance refinding a small grey bird after its gone 150 miles in a night? Pretty slim I reckon. Anyway, it spent one day in a garden there, where birders, who didn't go to Devon, managed to catch up with it, but there was no trace the next day.

And there the trail goes cold, everyone assumed it had gone for good.

Until yesterday. A month, 400 miles and a massive fluke later.

A family in a small new build house in Newbiggin by the Sea saw an unusual bird in their garden. Wondering what it was, they sent a video to the Bird Guides Information services to find out. News was released that there was a Mockingbird somewhere in Newbiggin but the location was withheld.

Most of us were disbelievers, surely not...

After some super sleuthing and discussions with the resident, our friend Alan Tilmouth managed to negotiate access and permission to release news of the location.

So this morning, anxious birders were poised ready to go. At 11.20am the location was released and a Wacky Races style movement of camo clad, binocular wearing, camera toting fans descended on the see this Yank who had turned up after a jaunt the length of the UK.

After such a wild card, you have to think... where next?

Northern Mockingbird UK 422 Northumberland 355

Northern Mockingbird, Newbiggin by the Sea.

Monday, May 03, 2021


 Last night from around 8.30pm we were watching 'Call the Midwife' waiting for the finale of that most popular of  TV cop dramas, 'Line of Duty' to come on. As usual we were eating our tea from the knee while glued to the box when Jane said, look the Barn Owl is on next door's roof.  Glancing up from my cheesy potato and vegetable bake, sure enough, our usual dark eyed female Barn Owl was sat peering in our window.

Barn Owl on the greenhouse. Photo is rough as it was taken through the window in near dark conditions. 

After about ten minutes, she up and hovered along the track behind our garden then landed on our greenhouse roof. She seemed to be watching for birds roosting in the conifers next door. I have seen a Barn Owl do this here before, at a late summer Starling roost that moved on 5,000 birds in one visit but to see her sat on the greenhouse was very unusual indeed.

The Owl dotted between three sitting points until it was too dark to see. I hope she found something to eat, as tonight's stormy wet weather is not going to help already hungry vole-starved birds to get by...

As for the Line of Duty ending, I liked it. I still dont think Buckells is the man for the job mind, but that remains to be seen. And the drubbing this last episode is getting on Twitter, I suspect these are from people who came late to the party and expected a bigger, more explosive finish... 


Sunday, May 02, 2021

April Gone.

 Since the excitement of the Red throated Pipit things have taken the predicted down turn. This is mainly due to the relentless cold and poor weather that has hung around since March. In April the winds often take on a northerly view, making finding spring migrants a losing battle in Northumberland, but this April its not just us that has suffered. This April has been the frostiest on record nationally.

We have plants around us with brown and yellow new growth due to the constant cold overnight. Even hardy natives like Dogs Mercury and Stinging Nettle are looking a tad yellow around the gills but here we are in May so hopefully things will improve.

Last Sunday we had a change of scenery visiting some spots very close to where I live, but are scarcely visited, to do the Breeding Waders of Wet Meadows survey near Dunstanburgh Castle. Needless to say we didnt find many. Only two Snipe lifted from a small flooded patch near the castle and that was it.

Of interest last week were 5 daylight hunting Barn Owls again. I have seen 14 day hunting different individuals in that last 7 days. 5 on the moors the week before, this 5, 2 at Low Newton and 2 at home. Barn Owls here are a daily occurrence, an ever presence. This however, is not a good thing. The poor birds are only out during the day, every day, because they are struggling to find enough prey to keep them going overnight. Local ringers who study them have weighed some adults from nest boxes and found them very underweight. At D'burgh, one of the local Raven pair fancied one of the owls for a snack and gave a short flight pursuit, twice knocking the bird into the grass until we intervened. The owl recovered composure for a few minutes then flew off, leaving the Raven to find more suitable food along the shore.

Raven pursuing Barn Owl with intent.

A pair of Gadwall on the small Dunstanburgh wetland were a 5km tick for me, 1 Whimbrel was on the shore and 2 male Greenland Wheatears dashed around the rocks. On the sea off the castle were some close feeding frenzies that included 100+ Razorbills in fine summer plumage.

A feeding frenzy of Kittiwakes, Gulls and Razorbills close in off Dunstanburgh Castle

Greenland Wheatear


Gadwall pair

The past week has been just as quiet only adding Whitethroat to the list on the patch.

Today we headed up to the moors west of Alnwick. 

A walk along a burn lined with ancient twisted Alders and Birch was nice in lovely sunshine. A female Redstart was nest building, a Tree Pipit was song flighting and 3 Cuckoos were calling in the background. A Barn Owl was hunting the moor ( yes, another one).

As the clouds gathered and rain began to spit, another site had a Whimbrel circling low, unusual inland here, a Fieldfare, a male Wheatear but best of all two nice Green Hairstreaks and a male Emperor Moth were good to see again after an absence during last springs lockdown.

One of the Green Haistreaks. The bottom shot looks odd because the butterfly is lying tilted over to catch some of the sun.

Female Redstart nest building in old birch tree,