Monday, January 23, 2023


As mentioned last Sunday, this week we would give my local patch a once over on Sunday morning to add a few species to the list.

The morning was darkly overcast and cold with a brief icy shower around 9am. 

I met up with JWR at our Village Hall  and headed down the road to Seahouses Farm. Th eplan was to get in position over looking the sea and rocks at Rumbling Kern shortly after first light. The plans were curtailed a bit as John had forgotten his bins, resulting in a cross country dash to his house to pick them up. As it happens, there was nothing lost because it was scarcely light by the time we returned.

Down on the Rumbling Kern we were soon joined by Daniel who obviously had a similar plan to us.

The sea was quiet but the few birds we did meet were mostly new for 2023 - Red throated Diver 4 on the sea, 1 south followed by a close in Great Northern Diver S giving a nice view as it passed. One notable thing about this sighting was that the GND was nodding its head all the way past. This is an oft mooted White billed Diver feature so beware, it does little to split the two.

 Also, 2 Razorbills close in and a light passage of Herring Gulls, though they may be just leaving a roost on the sea.

Down at the Howick Burn mouth statistically the  best patch bird of the day here was on the beach, a Ringed Plover! Just about annual but never easy on this rocky coast line, so a grounded one this early was very welcome. Surprisingly the same or another was seen along at Craster later on too.

A pile of rotting weed at the burn attracted a few passerines with 4 Rock Pipit, 2 Meadow Pipit, 5 Robins, 2 Pied Wagtail and a Blackbird, while 2 Grey Plovers and 4 Lapwings were down the shore. 

We walked back by the Teepee track seeing very little so we drove along to Craster for tea and cheese rolls.

Around Craster were 8 Purple Sandpipers, 1 Goldcrest, 3 Bullfinch, 2 Treecreeper and 2 Greenfinches.

That was the morning about done with 6 patch year ticks added - RTD, GND, Razorbill, Purple Sandpiper, Greenfinch and Ringed Plover. Total 86 sp.

For the first time, I even charged the camera but t was a bt dull for photography really. Still, here's a Great spot from the window in the afternoon...

Thursday, January 19, 2023


We've had another cold spell this week. We woke on Monday to find that there was a good couple of inches of snow covering everything and it was freezing. Monday and Tuesday temperatures ranged from -3.5 to 0 degrees making the midday sun melted snow as slippery as glass by night time.  Wednesday was a bit milder, up to 2 degrees but today feels baltic with the ground still solid.

Various dog walks around the village and coast path have been free from bird excitement though the year list slowly rises.

On Monday I was pleased to see that the snow had brought the pre New Year Water Rail back to its favoured spot in the burn while a few duck came back onto the pond, 5 Gadwall, 2 drake Tufted Ducks and 11 Teal. 

Tuesday was the coldest day pushing a good few Fieldfare into the village with 2 coming to apples in our garden vying for territory with a belligerent Mistle Thrush. 4 Roe Deer wandered the back field looking at the piles of brash where their shelter wood had once been and a Tawny was hooting at night.

Today I walked Peggy at lunchtime down the Teepee track and back, returning by our lane. It seemed quiet but the notebook tells it differently.

190+ Curlew, 14 Golden Plover, 1 Stonechat, 80 - 100 Yellowhammer in the village stubble, just a small field too and as we got back into the village a juv Peregrine was circling very low over our gardens and roof tops a couple of times before slowly flying south.

Sunday, January 15, 2023



Last week we agreed that today we would have a morning on John's patch at Alnmouth, to give the 2023 list a kick up the backside. 

The morning dawned very pleasantly especially after last nights gales. We expected things to be quite disagreeable today but as you can see, we had a cool fine morning with a light SW3 breeze.

We began with a short seawatch from the beach shelter as it was high tide. 

4 Red throated Divers flew S and one N, 8 Great crested Grebes were in the bay and 2 drakes and one duck Red breasted Merganser chased back and forward close in. A few Rock Pipits all seemed to be grey streaky littoralis birds, a pair of Stonechats and a Pied Wagtail were all we could find on a beach stroll.

We headed a short way around the corner for a brew while scanning the Aln estuary. Small groups of Wigeon and Teal were dotted around with roosting gatherings of Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank. A lone Whooper Swan glided in to land near us for a while before taking off again and heading south to locate its wintering group.

While scanning with the bins I noticed a bird on the far side saltmarsh behaving oddly. It looked like a thrush with a snail but also a wader? A quick scopeful saw that it was only a Redshank wiping some prey on the grass maybe to clean it before consumption. At the same time I noticed this bird, another round creature was sitting in a dead hedge behind it. I never thought much about it really until John said 'that's a Little Owl!' Well I never, sure enough a spotty greyish ball catching the first sunshine was indeed a nice Little Owl. Neither of us have seen one in VC68 fr a few years now. They used to crop up occasionally most years but not recently, so this bird was all the more enjoyable.

It fluttered and hopped around and through the twiggy mass until we eventually left it to its roost. A nice unexpected year addition for John.

Next stop was a brief scan of the geese at Foxton. Apart from 2 dead bird flu candidates the main interest out of the local Canadas and Greylags were 2 Barnacle Geese. A drake Goldeneye and a Little Grebe were on the river too.

Goldcrest was the only yearlist addition in Lesbury with the river being too high for Dipper, Goosander and Grey Wagtail so it was off further upstream to Greenrigg for a look along the banks.

It was passerines here that were worth a look. A close Willow Tit showed well, then a mixed flock in some weedy stubble held Reed Buntings, Yellowhammer, Linnets, Chaffinches and one female Brambling.

So not a bad morning, John secured 16 new additions. I hope I can do half as well next Sunday when my patch will get the once over. You never know, I might even take the camera....



Monday, January 09, 2023

The Winter Cemetary

 Yesterday we decided to start off our local inland visits in a bit of an eclectic way as you will see.

The morning began by meeting John at Homebase as usual before first light. From here we headed off up onto the moors without many expectations really. It was dull, damp and cool with a breeze just strong enough to be irritating. Still, a breeze is often good for getting raptors in the air.

As we parked up, loose group of 3 Crossbills flew over. These should be nesting by now or at the least pairing up. Through the dark pines, it was sheltered from the wind but the damp air hung still and cold. Only Coal Tits and an odd Bullfinch could be heard but both remained unseen. After about half a mile we came to the clear fell at the end of the wood to scan over more open ground. Another two Crossbills were seen including a female perched up, 2 Buzzards and 2 Kestrels were out for their first hunt of the day.  

Unfortunately that was about it with little else of note, so we decided to head back into Alnwick to check the recycling plant for the Caspian Gull seen by IDR before Christmas. It seemed a big contrast from te bleak open moors and dark woods to be birding at what is essentially a dump! There were a couple of hundred Gulls around but most were Herring with an occasional Common and Black headed. We had no sign of the Caspian.

The morning was wearing on and the wildlife had not delivered much so what next?

How about going from the sublime to the ridiculous. From Raptors to Gulls now onwards to...hibernating Ladybirds.

Having read about some good insect observations in large cemetaries around the country we tried Alnwick. Its quite big for here next to Sainsbury's. It felt a bit like scraping the barrel or one last act of desperation before we headed off home, but this gothic deviation proved to be the best part of the morning.  John seemed to have his eye in and found the majority of the insects we saw.

In an hour we had 52 Orange Ladybirds, 15 Harlequins, 3 7 spot, 3 2 spot and 1 14 spot Ladybirds along with single Juniper and Hawthorn Shieldbugs. Not bad for a first attempt. We will try other graveyards in future no doubt.

The photos could be better as these are all with my phone, must take the macro gear next time...

My first Snowdrops of the season.

Juniper Shieldbug

Hawthorn Shieldbug

A commune of Orange and Harlequin Ladybirds

14-spot Ladybird

2-spot Ladybird

Wednesday, January 04, 2023

The Notebook Challenge.

 Happy New Year all. I have been watching with interest that a lot of birders are entering the Patchwork Challenge for 2023 after its revival. Back in November I was going to give it a go too but after more thought I decided against it. I'm not really a competitive person so it seemed a bit too much hassle to keep adding up various points for particular species, self finds, scarce, rare etc, so once again I will be keeping my own 3km local patch list going in a casual manner, just like last year. 

This is my 15th year on this patch, so I have a good idea of what, where and when to expect things now. Lets hope there are some surprises yet to meet me on my travels.

Instead of being wholly list focussed, the good people on Twitter have given me an idea on something I can try to improve on over the year. My Notebooks.

As a keen Notebook user, this is no biggie, but we can all have some self improvement.

Between Christmas and New Year I was tagged in to a tweet from Amy Schwartz that set me thinking. She was going to begin using a Notebook in 2023 after a couple of false starts. In echo to this I tweeted- 

The response to this was excellent. There were over 71k 'impressions', what ever that means and over 700 people 'liked' the post. That in itself isn't important, but I'd like to assume its not the post they like but the sentiment behind it, ie, keeping a Notebook. This started off a thread of comments and posts from others about the topic of Note taking. Some top birders took the time to reply, posting pictures of shelves full of their own written word. 

It is from these I am taking some ideas on how to improve.

Here are a few - 

Look at those fab shelves! I must get mine into some order like this.

Phil is a well known brilliant bird artist. What a resource here.

Paul says his books arent really sketchbooks. Could have fooled me! These are fantastic too.

Great point made by Andy here. No one has a memory so good that they can remember details from a life of Notetaking.

Another very valid point, you cant always get a photo of every bird ( though some do very well). Its worth getting it into the notebook straight away.

James is another author and artist . His Tweet says it in a nutshell.

Well known artist Richard gives great tips here.

Craig is a great birder who is now back on track with his Notes

I'd love to get stuck into these and the others books! Mick has a great method here. 

Amy's tweet that started it off...

But I think it is Jonnie who has given a different outlook on Amy's tweet.

Jonnie's books are full of not just lists of birds but humour, interest, tales and the stuff that makes our birding and wildlife trips so enjoyable. These are done now, in the present, for himself in the future. Is there anything better than that!

Some birders have either given up notetaking or have never started. The alternative seems to be Birdtrack, eBird, Spreadsheets, Databases, Phone notes and Photography. 

My take on it is that we Naturalists are entering a world of different species to ourselves. There is so much beauty and bizarre interest here that one lifetime can't take it all in. In writing and sketching we are reinforcing what we have just seen or done. It is a great learning tool as well as memory storage.

To end, I want to thank all of the inspiring people above whose tweets I've stolen without permission ( I will edit and remove any if I've over stepped the mark!). 

Hopefully you might be as inspired as I am to either improve or to get started in 2023. 

Good Luck! There might be a future post on here with some thoughts and tips for beginners to note taking.

Cheers Stewart  

Friday, December 30, 2022

Look back on 2022...

Bird of the Year 2022.

Over the past 12 months most of my activity has been based around my, very local, home patch, the 3 sq kms around Howick, but in reality a lot of that time is within a single 1 km square. Last year I found a 5km radius way too big to do justice with the majority of that area not visited or not worth a look, so its basics all the way from now on.  

There were regular visits to other local areas just over the boundary to places such as Boulmer, Alnmouth, Alnwick Moors etc all within about 10 miles from home.

My 3km Local Patch

Further afield were 2 weeks in Caithness and 1 week at the Ardnamurchan plus a single long distance twitch to Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire with a couple of 'within county' birds taken in as the fancy arose.

This year I decided not to pile pressure on to 'hammer' the list, but to take things quite casually, just enjoying what ever I can come across.  

The birding around home was quite good with a few species new to the area list plus a few that are categorised ( by me) as rare, ie recorded in 4 or less years out of the last 14. Birds in this list are as follows. 

Egyptian Goose 1st record here, a lucky sighting on a morning dog walk on the 12th May.

Mandarin Duck 3rd patch record was of a nice drake on the pond, the same week as the goose and can be seen in the same link.

Pallid Swift 1st record. The rarest birds on patch this year will obviously be firsts when a party of 3 Pallid Swifts spent an hour showing well over the cricket pitch on 29th October.

Black Tern 2nd site record for me, a close in single feeding over the sea at Rumbling Kern on 6th September. Last record was 2011. 

Great Shearwater 3rd record. This pelagic wanderer is getting commoner each year and can now be actively looked for rather than just being a random occurrence.

Cory's Shearwater 1st and only my 2nd ever in the UK.  What a year for this bird in Northumberland, with multiples seen. I was lucky enough to get decent views of one from Cullernose on 26th July.

Hen Harrier 2nd record, was a great surprise on an otherwise quiet day for birds on 22nd February near the Teepee track. 

Green Woodpecker 4th record but none since 2017 and before that was 2010. Flew S along the coast path on a fine spring morning in May.

Siberian Chiffchaff  2nd record. One calling seen briefly near the pond on 30th October.

Bluethroat 1st record and contender for bird of the year for me. Found by Mandy Fall in her garden at Seahouses Farm. Sublime! A classic May date too. Worth another read. 

Pied Flycatcher 4th record. Probably commoner here really but I don't seem to find them often so it its always a pleasure. 5th September.

 Apart from these, other noteworthy species this year - 

Whooper Swan, Pink footed and Barnacle Geese, Scaup, Cuckoo, Water Rail, Purple Sandpiper, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Med and Little Gulls, Little and Roseate Terns, 4 sp Skuas, Little Auk, Sooty Shearwaters, Marsh Harrier, SEO, Raven, Waxwing, Willow Tit, Redstart, Twite and Snow Bunting.

Moth Trapping continued in the garden, where the species list continued to grow.

04.089    Ectoedemia albifasciella

15.044    Phyllonorycter sorbi

21.001    Lyonetia clerkella

32.016     Agonopterix propinquella

35.118     Scrobipalpa ocellatella  Beet Moth part of an unprecendented National Influx. New to Northumberland, I caught 6!

35.118     Scrobipalpa ocellatella  Beet Moth

35.159     Exoteleia dodecella

38.039     Elachista maculicerusella

49.376 Pammene aurita

62.053 Ancylosis oblitella

62.053 Ancylosis oblitella, new for the north of England!

My first garden Box Tree Moth was this lovely dark form.

63.054 Cydalima perspectalis Box-tree Moth  My first record.

63.074 Eudonia mercurella

70.046 Orthonama vittata Oblique Carpet

70.051 Xanthorhoe spadicearia Red Twin-spot Carpet

70.166 Eupithecia simpliciata Plain Pug

Lunar Marbled Brown.

71.011 Drymonia ruficornis Lunar Marbled Brown

73.087 Spodoptera exigua Small Mottled Willow

These were all new. Several Scarce Bordered Straw and Hummingbird Hawk-moths were a good feature as was a single Convolvulous Hawk-moth found in a nearby field.

Out of the other many highlights off patch must be - 

The Bempton Black-browed Albatross a lifer for me, clawed back after last years galling dip.

Another get back after last years miss was the Long Nanny American Black Tern, and what a stunner too giving great views.

Orca at Auchengill, Caithness in June.

Oysterplant, Caithness, June. Very pleased to find this declining plant.

Pine Marten, Ardnamurchan, September. 

Moonwort, Caithness, June.

Pied Wheatear, Whitley Bay, October.

As another year draws to a close, I hope to hear more from you all in 2023. Enjoy your birding, the outdoors and any wildlife you might be interested in.

All the very best. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2022


 As the cold spell melts away to a balmy 10 degrees, it is good to think of how these small weather features can have an impact upon local patch birding. 

I have already posted this month's birding in just a single km square around home we've had Woodcock, Water Rail, Little Auk, Blue Fulmar, masses of Thrushes, Snipe, Pink footed Geese, Golden Plovers, Lapwings etc but as I look through the apple feeding thrushes and see, I am reminded by Twitter, one of the W's was missing. Until yesterday that is.

We have had family staying over the weekend and as they packed the car to leave on Sunday morning the timing was perfect for a quartet of Waxwings to drop in to the berryless rowan right beside the cars. I called to them, 'Waxwings!' and pointed . Everyone looked and were treated to great views of the birds only 10 feet  away. They had been attracted by a few measly rosehips growing through the Rowan.

The birds, all soft crests and dove grey pink, fluttered down into the bush like dancers trying not to get their tutus dirty, but soon they flew off over the house. 

I went around with the camera and some apples to hang in our small birch tree. The vikings were now in our tall dividing hedge where they had found a few more hips. These birds are masters at seeking out a few trivial berries that you or I wouldn't even notice, but again they were off. I finally managed a couple of cursory record shots at range in a neighbour's apple tree before they flew off again, this time, for good.

Its a few years since I had patch Waxers so it was good to see them again. Maybe there'll be more?