Saturday, September 26, 2020

Sooties sweep the board...


The wind swung North West on Thursday evening so I popped down to Craster in the car to check it out. It was raining heavily but I wanted to see if any birds were moving. As I've said here before, we are often spoiled by having a lot of seabirds to look at, so much so that we routinely ignore Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Auks in the hope that 'proper' seabirds are out there.  

As I scanned the grey lumpy sea, it was like the moon, but liquid. There were no birds. I don't mean no shearwaters and skuas, I mean NO birds at all. Not a Gannet or Fulmar in sight. It is as difficult NOT seeing Gannets at this time of year as it is seeing a Sabine's Gull here. It happens, but rarely. I have no idea where the birds were but I planned to try again at first light on Friday. Experience tells me, they won't be gone for long.

I was out on Cullernose Point at 7am and could instantly see a few Gannets moving through. I sat down and set up the scope. On looking at about three quarters range I was confused. The sea was alive with birds. Auks and Gannets in lines, but also dark looking shearwaters. The problem with early seawatches on the east coast is that if there is a sun rise instead of thick cloud the birds are just silhouettes on blinding water. The sun wasnt bright this morning but the sky was glowing making a lot of loose shadowy bird images. I could see dozens of stiff winged tubenoses but until I got my eye in some looked like Manx Shearwaters, some like Fulmars but most looked like Sooty Shearwaters. In their dozens.

Were my eyes deceiving me here? I took a breath and whilst being buffeted on the left side by a strong northerly, I could see these really were all Sooty Shearwaters. Then I had company, Mark Eaton arrived with Sam the Retriever. I suggested he had a look out there at all the Sooties. I had counted 40+ in only a few minutes. They were never off show. A North -South scan with the scope went, 1, 2, 3, 4-5, 6-7-8, 9, 10... it was never ending. I had not seen a Sooty movement like this since 2002 when we had 1700 North in a day at Newbiggin. If only we could sit all day, that county record would surely fall but I only had til 09.30 so I got counting.

By the time I had to leave, I had counted 463 Sooties N. Mark stayed on for a while upping the total to over 750.

The thing is, there was little else of note moving through the turmoil. I had 9 Manx Shearwaters, 19 Sandwich Terns, 2 Arctic Skuas, 1 juv Pomarine Skua, 3 Bonxies, 3 Red throated Divers, 2 Pale bellied Brents and a likely Long tailed Skua that was a bit too far off.

After work I popped back down for an hour seeing only 12 Sooties and by now the sea was too rough with birds just being blasted south.

The interesting thing about this movement was that at the southern Northumberland seawatching stations like Seaton Sluice and Newbiggin, Sooties scarcely made it into double figures? The mysteries of birds eh?




Monday, September 21, 2020

Northumberland Birding....

 What a great county Northumberland is for birding. Although spring is a none starter here, once we get to August, right through to December we can usually count on going out and seeing interesting birds. My local area is not as heavily watched as the south east of the county or maybe Holy Island, but that only adds to the appeal. It is a bit awkward to get to from Newcastle, being an 80 miles round trip, there are no reserves at this part so it doesn't often seem worth the travel when there might not be much to see.

Yesterday I took the 10 minute or 3 miles trip to Boulmer to check out the waders and maybe see some migrants too. Boulmer is a big flat headland with no real focus, but it turns up the goods for those with patience.

The tide was high on arrival first thing this morn, a whopping 5.6 mtrs job leaving only a narrow line of beach. On this line were thousands of birds. Waders were prominent with 300+ Dunlin, 50+ Turnstones, 6 Ringed Plover, 8 Knot, 10+ Bar tailed Godwit, 1 Purple Sandpiper, 1 Little Stint and 1 Curlew Sandpiper. There was no sign of the Buff breasted Sandpiper. As we scanned the waders off shore a flock of 17 Red throated Divers flew South and a few Manx Shearwaters loafed around, a few Wigeon and Teal moved North and a female Pintail sat on the sea with the gulls was unusual. A nice female Merlin strafed the beach narrowly missing the Curlew Sandpiper! 

Back at the car for tea and an adult Mediterranean Gull slowly flew past along the shore.

Next stop was north of the village overlooking Longhoughton Steel. There were no migrants in the weeds but 2 male Lapland Buntings came 'in-off' doing that 'tickety peu' call as they went. A glance offshore here had single Arctic Skua south  and a drake Velvet Scoter north.

At the top of the headland I was surprised to see the Buff breasted Sandpiper fly low past me and on to the beach where it fed for a while with wagtails and Starlings before heading back towards the village. a Short eared Owl was getting chased by crows for a while. Down at the south end of the patch, Foxton GC scrub was checked hoping for a Yellow browed but it wasnt to be ( Dan Langston had one in the village later). 50+ Swallows and a few House Martins were still around plus a Chiffchaff and a Grey Wagtail.

Some nice birding in a morning just along from home...

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Busy...from Fungi to Buff breast!

 Although I have managed to get out and about this week after work, I have struggled to catch up with my notes, sketches, blog posts etc. I blame social media. It has to reduce. Is it any wonder it is only drugs and the internet that call their market 'users'!  

Last Sunday the weather was ok but with a clear night and a westerly wind, it didnt look good for birding so we took the opportunity to hunt for fungi a short way inland, still within our 10km square of course.

I find them incredibly difficult to id, but we managed a decent list and with the images, I got most identified from the field guide and some helped by the demon Facebook...

The list looks like this - 

Birch Polypore Piptoporus betulinus

Common Puffball Lycoperdon perlatum

Orange Grisette Amanita crocea

Suede Bolete Xerocomus subtomentus

Brown Birch Bolete Leccinum scabrum

Pearly Webcap Cortinarius alboviolaceus

Fly Agaric Amanita muscaria

The Blusher Amanita rubescens

Porcelain Fungus Oudemansiella mucida

Orange Peel Fungus Aleuria auranta

Yellow Stagshorn Calocera viscosa

Larch Bolete Suillus grevellei

Red cracked Bolete Xerocomellus chrysenteron

False Chanterelle Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca

Amethyst Deceiver Laccaria amethystina

Egghead Mottlegill Panaeolus semiovatus

Glistening Inkcap Coprinus micaceus

Primrose Brittlegill Russula sardonia

Ochre Brittlegill Russula ochroleuca

Beech Milkcap Lactarius blennius

Grisette Amanita vaginata

Cep Boletus edulis

A Webcap Cortinarius pseudosalor

23 species and good showing.

Amethyst Decievers with an unknown of which there were many.

Beech Milkcap

Larch Bolete

Orange Grisette

Pearly Webcap

  On Wednesday 16th, there was a window of opportunity to have a seawatch.

Two, 2 hours sessions from Cullernose Point had  - 

Manx Shearwater 48

Sooty Shearwater 4

Arctic Skua 6

Bonxie 14

Common Scoter 70

Velvet Scoter 2

Pochard 7, unprecendented. An absolute mega that would have been the highlight of the day had they not been overshadowed by a stunning, adult, summer plumaged Sabine's Gull that came past, quite close in, with 30 Kittiwakes on my last scan of the day!

Adult Sabine's Gull with Kittiwakes.

Knot 1

Shelduck 5

Wigeon 107

Teal 60

Red throated Diver 16 all S 

Bar tailed Godwit 2

Puffin 30

Tufted Duck 3

Scaup 1

Pintail 1

Pale bellied Brent Geese 54

Unless stated they all went north. Not a bad four hours on the patch.

And finally to end this scrambled post, Gary Woodburn found a Buff-breasted Sandpiper at Low Newton while we were seawatching. He went for his camera and when he came back it had gone. Later on, it reappeared 5 miles down the coast on the wader hotspot that is Boulmer beach. 

Having seen a few in the county over the years I didn't go for it the same day despite only being 3 miles away on me on my 2nd local patch. The next day was fine and sunny so after work I thought Id pay it a visit. It is new for Boulmer after all... 

What a lovely little American wader, no bigger than a Turnstone, feeding on the beach at high tide facing regular flushings by dog walkers. I managed a few pics and left it to its business ... 

Buff-breasted Sandpiper, Boulmer.

It seems Blogger has changed again, this time for the better? I click my 1200 pixel wide images to original size and blogger has fiited them in my column width without faffing with the HDML code? Mmm, nothing is that easy....


Monday, September 14, 2020

A Marten Interlude...

 Last week we finally got away for a week up in Scotland. After our June week in Suffolk was cancelled due to the plague we were thinking this might be a year without any getaways at all, so it was good to finally pack the car and head north. 

As usual we headed up to the Ardnamurchan area where we stayed in a large, new house near Resipole on the side of Loch Sunart. The location was really nice, on a small promontory out into the loch with access over our own bridge across the burn. At home we live in a small old cottage with a tiny galley kitchen so narrow that I can touch both sides easily in an arm span so this house took a bit of getting used to. It had 4 sets of patio doors to two big decked areas plus two other standard doors as access. It took ages to lock up and turn off all the lights at night!  We tend not to look at the size of the place providing it is in a good location with a nice garden to sit ( and moth trap) in . Unfortunately this year my Robinson Trap chose the Friday night before we left on Saturday morning to pack in. I didn't have time to check it over so that was the trapping stopped.

I hope you aren't expecting a huge list of exciting wildlife finds with photos at this stage because to be honest it was a very quiet week with little of note seen. I think this was mainly because apart from one day of glorious sunshine the weather was wet and windy most days where we had to get out in gaps between showers. 

But, never fear readers, I don't sit around off work all week seeing no wildlife at all. Although this weeks list would have been minimal, there were some stars of the show. Before I mention them, the also ran's were 1 White tailed Eagle that glided low right over the house one morning, 1 nice winter Black Guillemot off Kilchoan Pier and a Peregrine stooping on Rock Doves at Arisaig. The scenery was stunning and colourful too with Heather, Cross leaved Heath and masses of Devil's Bit Scabious in flower everywhere.

Those picnic tables were the night time haunt of our Pine Martens.

The view from the house.

Now to the headline act. For me, up here, it has to be the finest land mammal we have in the UK, that I look for on each visit - the Pine Marten. We have been lucky over the years with some nice sightings of them but nothing prepared us for the show we would get this week.

First job after unpacking the car on Saturday evening was to get some bait out around the house to lure the sweet toothed mustelids in. I only put a few cubes of jam and bread around back and front on the decking and left it. Next morning a Robin was flicking the bread around with no sign of any mammalian visitors.

Sunday night. I mixed some peanuts, raisins and sunflower hearts into the jam and bread and dotted it in a few more places. On the bedroom window cill I dripped jam that ran down the painted stonework. I'll wipe it off in the morning I thought. Monday dawns and I get up early. There was no jammy bait at all and intriguingly, the jam run on the cill was gone too. A bird couldn't have done this, it had been licked off.  

Right, now to up the anti. Monday. Bait was prepared and placed right below two outside wall lights that flood lit the decking, earlier, at about 8pm. We were watching a film after tea and I quietly popped into the room to have a look at 9pm. The food had gone! There was no movement outside, so I quietly slipped through patio door 1 ( the other three pairs were mostly left untouched)  and topped up the snacks and sat back. At about 10pm a lovely large male Pine Marten trotted up the deck in that snaky, lithe way that only a mustelid can do and began to eat. He wasn't bothered at all at our presence only a metre away behind the glass. He spent 40 minutes, leaving and returning and once even tried to get in the bathroom window.

On Thursday we put the bait out again and at 9pm not one big Pine Marten but two smaller ones came together to eat. It was pouring with rain and they got a soaking but kept dashing off to hide under the deck only to peep out over the top to see if the coast was clear and they would be back on the table top look for the sweets. I think they were siblings as they tumbled around each other even scent marking  each other.

At 6am on Wednesday we were woken by chattering and wickering Pine Martens still running around the decking but withing half an hour they had gone. What a great show they had put on.

On the Wednesday night the two girls came back together but seemed noisy and on edge looking out into the darkness and chattering. They ran under the decking and the big male appeared again, unfortunately for him they had eaten the food and saw him as an intruder and gave him short shrift, chasing him out of sight across the garden.

Thursday night was a repeat of the above and we left for home on Friday morning. Although not many birds were seen, the Martens were more than enough to keep us interested. If I was resident I would wean them onto more healthy food stuffs rather than jam, but needs must.

As an end note, the house cleaner told us to ensure the windows were all left nice and wide open to ventilate the propert when we left as a part of the COVID cleaning rules. Some gusts had not been opening them. So, as instructed the windows were pushed wide and we left. I know for a fact if they werent closed on Friday night, those cheeky monekys will have gone into the house to look for their missing supper!


The view point.

Its easy to get two Pine Martens to face away from the camera but getting them to look at you is a different proposition...

Monday, August 31, 2020

Northerlies ongoing...

 Can only mean one thing - more seawatching.

On a patch like mine with no good fresh water bodies to attract wildfowl and waders, seawatching is the single best way to boost a year list. There are always new species to be had and not necessarily ocean wanderers either.

This bank holiday period looked set to be a classic with a steady north air flow right through the weekend, so each day ( except today, Monday) had me sat out on Cullernose Point, waiting...

 Unusually for 'my' site, other birders made an appearance. This helps immensely having several sharp pairs of eyes to pick up and guide to stuff I've missed. On the point up to 4 of us and one time from a pool of 6 were John, Mick, Mark, Ian, Keith and myself, with Ben in the mix at a different spot only half a mile away. 

The bird list per day goes like this - 

Friday 28th August 06.30 - 08.30am all moving North unless stated.

Sooty Shearwater 13
 Manx Shearwater 24
Bonxie 15
Whimbrel 4 S 1 N
Scaup 1 female 
Arctic Skua 3 S
Pomarine Skua 1 S
Skua sp 4 S
Grey Plover 1 sum plum
Common Scoter 4
Teal 1
Wheatear 1 on the rocks.

I had only been home 15 mins when Ben had a Leach's Petrel N. I was a bit gutted at this, Leach's is a rare bird in Northumberland.

Saturday 29th August 06.30 - 10.30am

Bonxie 8
Arctic Skua 9 S
Great Shearwater 1 N called by Mark Eaton at 07.05 and on view for 5 mins. It was distant but nicely lit against a grey sea and sky. Only my 2nd patch record.
Sooty Shearwater 18
Wigeon 38
Mallard 2
Teal 72
Common Scoter 5
Velvet Scoter 2 drakes 
Goosander 1
Pale bellied Brent Geese 10
Red throated Diver 1 S
Sanderling 10
Knot 10
Dunlin 10 

Whilst Great Shearwater is an excellent patch record, the Wigeon and Sanderling were year ticks too.

Sunday 30th August 06.30 - 08.50am

More wildfowl today.

Red throated Diver 2 S 1 N
Wigeon 25
Teal 72
Common Scoter 29
Common Sandpiper 1
Bar tailed Godwit 1
Sooty Shearwater 12 
Manx Shearwater 16
Pale bellied Brent Geese 4
Canada Geese 35
Peregrine 1 juv
Dunlin 1
Puffin 1

On all days there were good numbers of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns, all uncounted. Too many! 

After the seawatch today we walked down the arboretum and back by the coast path. It was very quiet with Sparrowhawk 1, Nuthatch 2, Willow Warbler 2, Mediterranean Gull 1ad, Kingfisher 2 chasing around the shore at Rumbling Kern.

Eight hours seawatchingcompleted with a good few year ticks of varying qualities in the list.

Today was spent catching up on some gardening jobs and watching the insects. There were 1 Peacock, 1 Red Admiral, 1 Wall, 1 Small Copper and 2 Large Whites. 2 lovely Ruby tailed Wasp species ran around on our patio umbrella cover. 50+ Meadow Pipits moved south over head.



Wednesday, August 26, 2020

I'm not looking for Dolphins!

 Storm Francis rattled the windows and give the place a good soaking yesterday. Although the wind was from the East, there was also a low pressure over Scandinavia so land migrants would not be in any numbers, however, it only takes one bird. As I have mentioned before, I tend to set my goal targets pretty low when I go out, that way I dont get too disappointed. If I am lucky enough to improve on my goal, that's even better.

When I saw the weather yesterday, my goals were very simple. It is ages since I have had any of these on my patch - Pied Flycatcher, Garden Warbler and Redstart. You would think that living withing stepping distance of the North Sea, these birds would be two a penny. They are in Norfolk or Spurn. Just not here on this random flat bit of coast. In the back of my mind I have some premiership targets too like Wryneck, Barred Warbler and Red backed Shrike but if I stick with the more likely three, you never know one of the rarer ones might step in.

After work yesterday the rain had paused for half an hour so I took Peggy for a walk to the coast path. As we approached a movement near some cut gorse attracted my attention. There was a leaf on the barbed wire strand? No, not a leaf, it was a bird... a female Redstart. First bird looked at goal achieved, my first Redstart since 2017. Its just as well because there were no other birds at all to look at...

Female Redstart.

Today, the wind has swung more Northerly but has dropped off a bit. The rain too. Keen to get a look at the sea in improving conditions, I clocked off at 2pm and headed off the Cullernose Point where I did 2 hrs. 

There were more people than birds. This COVID keeping people at home is getting tedious. I have never seen the coast as busy than it has been this last 4 months. While seawatching, festival style groups wandered by looking for facilities ( we have none). Every third group asked me 'Are you watching Dolphins?' After my Nth reply, I just screwed my eye into the scope and played deaf.  I know its anti-social but I just want to be left to seawatch in peace!

Today's tally was still slow, but only on a Northumberland coast patch would you consider my 2 hr list slow and many would gladly swap me for it, so like when I am looking for reasonable migration targets, I wont complain..  

Gannets, Kittiwakes and Fulmars not counted. Too busy looking for more interesting fare.

Pale belled Brent Geese -    205 N
Common Scoter    8 N
Bonxie 1 N
Sandwich Tern 8 N
Arctic Tern 6 N
Roseate Tern 1 ad N
Goosander 1 N
Teal 1 N
Sanderling 9 juvs N
Arctic Skua 1 dark, hunting offshore.
Sooty Shearwater 1 N
Red throated Diver 1 N

The Brents and the Sanderling both patch year ticks.  

One group of 80 Pale bellied Brents

Oh and yes, 4 bloody Bottle nosed Dolphins too!


Sunday, August 23, 2020


It was a very big tide at Boulmer this morning. 5.4mtrs brought it within 2 mtrs of the grass at full tide around 6.30am. Its not often you cant walk in front of the village. At low tide it will have been a kilometre out beyond the rocky skeers. The morning began very pleasantly with  clear skies and a light, cool westerly breeze.

Before we made our move a scan of the remaining beach had 5 Goosanders and 20 Pied Wagtails over flown by a female Sparrowhawk. There was a steady passage of hirundines with 120 south in the first half an hour. While looking along south to Seaton Point ( top image) an angler wearing chest waders was fishing a lure in quite shallow water where he caught a nice, silver, Bass that appeared to be around the 3lbs mark. Note, I don't call them 'Sea Bass'? I leave that to the chefs because we only have one Bass in the UK and they were never 'sea bass'. Just Bass.

We walked north beyond the village to see if there were any migrants around. It was always going to be unlikely with this weather. We did have 4 Wheatears and 2 Sedge Warblers in the mugwort though, plus a lone Willow Warbler that came out of some long grass on the edge of the beach and flew West. A covey of 8 Grey Partridges looked a bit moulty in the field west of the coast path.

Waders were in reasonable numbers with - 

2 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, 36 Dunlin, 6 Sanderling, 7 Knot, 17 Ringed Plover, 47 Golden Plover, 6 Bar tailed Godwit, 1 Whimbrel, 30+ Curlew, 30+ Turnstones and a call only Greenshank.

10+ Swifts were over Longhoughton Steel.

A small gull roost in the field consisted of 40+ Great black backed, 1 Lesser black backed that looked very dark , possibly 'intermedius'  and 6+ Herring Gulls. Most of the terns seem to have gone with only 6+ Sandwich Terns being seen.

By now the summer crowds were arriving so it was time to move off.

     We moved only a mile or so away to Foxton Bends, a meander in the River Aln that sometimes holds waders. Today we had 6 Little Egrets, 2 Greenshank, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Dunlin, 20+ Curlew, 9 Teal, a Yellow Wagtail and a Kingfisher. A female Redstart flew across the road but we couldn't relocate it. Not a bad little stop. 

Then it was back home where the moth trap was waiting. The catch was uninspiring but the bycatch was quite nice, a Twin-spot Centurion Sargus bipunctatus, a lovely soldierfly...

Twin spot Centurion Sargus bipunctatus