Monday, December 31, 2007

Dull, mild, calm

Out with Bunty this morning past the Bowmere Turnips ( Boulmer Ice Hockey Team?) we had the finch flock today harassed by a nice female Merlin, the first around here for ages. It even perched up to allow a distant scope view.

On to Seaton Point we scored 11 Golden Plover, 1 Stonechat, 1 Sparrowhawk, 14 Linnet, 8 Blackbirds, 2 Song Thrushes. On the sea were 2 drake Goldeneye and 2 drake Red breasted Mergansers.

Year list at Boulmer ended on 147, 11 down on last year. Suprising ommissions this year were the distinct lack of any passerine migrants in autumn, no Redstart, Pied Fly, Garden Warbler etc no GS Woodpecker or Short eared Owl. Only one each of Med Gull, Curlew Sand and Little Stint. On the plus side great seawatching and the year ended with a pond!

Start again tomorrow...

The blog has done well. In January I got, on average, 230 hits per week. This has increased to over 600 per week in December (maximum in one week 893 in November). The total hits for 2007 is 22,000!
Thanks to every one who has dropped by and especially to those who have left comments.

A Happy New Year and All the very best for 2008 to everyone out there...Cheers, Stewart.

With all those Tree Sparrows you would think I could manage more than one in shot at a time! Crap dull pics due to crap dull light...

Sunday 30th December 2007.

Cold, 90% overcast, light W2, Dull.

Down to Boulmer this morning to see how the weather would pan out before committing to an Atlas square. Watching from the lifeboat hut I had 65 Pink footed Geese S, 59 Sanderling, 7 Dunlin and 7 Bar tailed Godwit on the shore, 5 Shags in the haven and the Dark bellied Brent on the sea.

I spent the next hour trying, with questionable success, to count through the finch flock in the turnips at Bowmere. Eventually the best I could do was 79+ Linnets, 81+ Tree Sparrows (an excellent count), 13 Goldfiches, 8+ Reed Buntings and 6+ Greenfiches. All were harassed by a Sparrowhawk until it took one and left. Also here were two coveys of Grey Partridges, 7 and 8 birds and 2 Song Thrushes.

On to Denwick to do a tetrad, NU21 - B. In the two hours I recorded 40 species including 2 Dippers, 3 Buzzards, 1 Sparrowhawk, Treecreeper, Redpoll sp, 2 Goosanders and 19 Yellowhammers.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Popped back to the plantation this afternoon with Bunty. It's a bleak, cold, dark place. If it had been Lord of the Rings, Orcs would live there. Its a god awful hole and as fitting for such a place there were no birds. Not even a call note. I might try when the sun is out or it is a bit calmer.

More descriptions written today for submission to the County Records Committee. On what seems to be a quiet year at Boulmer the best birds were 2 Balearic Shearwaters, 2 Sabine's Gulls, 1 Grey Phalarope and the White billed Diver plus other good patch birds such as 2 Yellow browed Warblers, 2 Glaucous Gulls, 1 Iceland Gull, 1 Lapland Bunting, 1 Green Woodpecker, 3 Long tailed Skuas, several Poms and 1 Storm Petrel. I'm pleased with that lot. I wonder what I've missed without Rob popping down all the time like last year?

The comment left on my first post today is a bit of a worry. Blyth Birder suggests that if visitors to Boulmer are increasing, then the fault could lie a bit closer to home than I would like! Surely blogging about an area can't increase its visitor profile too much? I might start writing about Cobalt Business Park ( no, I've no idea where it is )to see if I can chase my crowds elsewhere...

Seriously though, I may attract one or two birders to call in to see whats about (nowt) but most visiters are walkers, bait diggers, caravanners and the like. I see very few birdwatchers, though I did see a bloke this morning with bins. I wonder if he'd had anything?
Walked around Seaton Point at 8.30 this morning. The sun was just rising and the tide was beginning to fall. Lately this, once quiet, spot has been getting a few visitors in all weathers. At one time you could almost guarantee some solitude here, but even this morning I was first there but on the way back, my car was in a line of six others.

A good few waders on show this morning pushed up by the tide included 40 Turnstone, 21 Grey Plover, 5 Bar tailed Godwits, 8 Knot, 20 Oystercatcher, 20 Dunlin and 2 Sanderling. There was a large flock of mixed waders circling around in addition to this lot, numbering maybe 50 birds, probably Dunlin, Turnstone etc but too distant get get a look at. 35 Eiders and a Red breasted Merganser were on the sea and a couple of Rock Pipits were on the tide line.

No sign of the Brent on the flash this morning.

I pondered how there seems to have been quite a few Bullfinches around the lowlands lately. I might check the Boulmer plantation later on just in case, as I dont think there are any records for the patch ( well, I haven't seen any). If the weather holds. Its looking like rain now...

Friday, December 28, 2007

Thrum Mill

Out and about with JWR yesterday. The weather was hopeless, windy and dull all day so most of the day was spent in the car drinking tea and catching up.

First stop was a drive around the forest tracks at Harwood Forest. As usual birds thin on the ground at this time of year but we had about 8 Crossbills fly over plus lots more heard but not seen, a single cock Siskin and 4 Buzzards.

Nothing of note was seen up the Simonsides road past Lordenshaws, though I nearly stopped to 'blog' some 5000 yr old cup and ring marked stones but I was put off by about 30 cars in the car park.

Down to Thrum Mill at Rothbury that provided today's highlights. 3 Dippers showed well, with 2 males singing and scrapping in the streams while a female watched on. I remember a couple of years back when ADMc watched two males fighting at Morpeth and one was killed by the other. These territorial disputes can be quite serious.

Also here a Kingfisher flushed by the Dippers flew downstream, a Heron looked for spawning fish and a cock Bullfinch was near the car.

Hopefully the weather will brighten a bit in days to come...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

A dogs eye view again...

Bunty's Christmas was hilarious...

I luv this moose, I bet I can have its head off...

Does my bum look big in this?

Enough of the fashion show let's get down to business with these toys...

My mam and dad luv to hear me singing along to this squeaky bone. We all joined in, it was like Eastenders...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Half an hour at Boulmer with Bunty in the gloomy afternoon.

The pond had loads on it because the tide was full. There were 111+ Curlew, a dozen Mallard with a single drake Teal, the DB Brent, 2 Snipe, 3 Dunlin and a good mix of Lapwing, Oystercatcher, Starlings, Turnstones and Gulls. A quick scan with the bins over the sea revealed just about nothing ( a few Eiders).

I've taken advantage of the dark, poor weather to catch up on some paperwork. The notes are now done for the Whie billed Diver. Just a few county notes to do now like the 2 Balearic Shearwaters and the 2 Sabines Gulls.

Merry Christmas to all...

It's a doddle...

See, its not so bad...

At Morrison's, Alnwick, at 07.45, in the house at 08.45, no problem. At this time, the car park was about quarter full. No sign of the hell-hole endured by my colleagues. Shopping put away, presents wrapped, now for the housework...Do you remember when I used to go birding?

Sunday, December 23, 2007

No birding whatsoever today, just some more robotic-like-following-the-sheep-in-a-Christmassy-type-mode.

Tonight I have just gone through everyones blogs and had a good old chuckle. Blyth Birder tells it like it is around his local supermarket ( the comments are good too), Withens has been out and about and ST is just a bit too smug for my liking. At Whitby, Alastair mentions a farmland birds conference, up here that would last all of ten minutes. On St Mary's I may have even caused a minor tantrum by insinuating ( quite incorrectly I may add) that Boulmer is THE best birding place on the planet. Any one who knows me, in the field, rather than on line, will know that I do like a bit of a wind up. Don't people take things seriously...:)

Last night our 'do' with the Cadwallenders was excellent. Great hosts these two, feeding us with fantastic fare, too much vino and even giving out pressies. If Carlsberg did Chrsitmas do's, they'd be like this...many thanks and John and Neil who missed out, missed a treat.

I was a bit seedy this morning.

Anyway, tomorrow I'm looking forward to going to do the Christmas food shopping, always good for a laugh that one, and I have a list of chores. Roll on Christmas Day.

Never mind, the nights are getting shorter from now on...

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Still bitterly cold this afternoon.

This time we walked the north end to Longhoughton Steel.

The tide had pushed the Brent Goose onto the frozn pond to be company for two juvenile Mute Swans. A good number of Lapwings were on here too.

Along the shore at the north end were 7 Purple Sandpiper, 13 Knot, 18 Dunlin, 6 Red breasted Mergansers, 49 Wigeon, 48 Mallard, 5 Teal and 4 Goldeneye, a good count of wildfowl obviously shifted off nearby frozen waters inland. the only passerine was a female Stonechat.


Nippy today, -1.5 on way to Boulmer with Bunts. We walked around Seaton Point.

Loads of Thrushes here today, 300+ Fieldfares next to the Seaton Point lay bye, with a few Redwings and Blackbirds more scattered along the hedges and verges. The hedge I mentioned the other day has been totally stripped of berries in only a few days. Still some Golden Plovers in the fields too, 50 maybe, with 8 Grey Partridges.

The turnip field next to Bowmere has a large finch flock but they head for the horizon if you so much as slow the car down on the way past. I managed to get about 18 Tree Sparrows, 50 Linnets and 10 Greenfinches, but there were many more than that. A Dark bellied Brent was on the Haven beach from the lifeboat hut.

Out to sea plenty of gulls heading south. Closer perusal might have turned something up but I didn't have the time. A scattering of mergansers were the only things of note.

Pond still there and quite a good size but frozen solid.

Looking forward to an altogether more enjoyable soiree tonight than yesterdays debacle...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Thats it!

Chestnuts roasting on an open fire.......

I have just come home from our works Christmas 'do'. Lunch was at Morpeth, the venue will remain anonymous as I would get into trouble by saying that the food was hopeless. 'Garlic King Prawns on Ciabatta' it said for starters. Some feeble frozen efforts on half a bread bun. The 'Brocolli and Stilton tart' oh dear, thats all I can say about that. Then trifle. Ok, but you won't see Ramsay doing it like this at Claridges...

Next off down the town for a bit of socialising ( only one pint for me, I'm driving). I think too much time spent in solitary on the quiet coast here has made me a tad claustrophobic. The pubs were packed out with other works parties with every one tanked up and shouting. Now, I'm not the quietest of people and can't be accused of hiding my light under a bushel, I have even been known to be, er, slightly under the influence, but this is just savage amusement. Thank goodness I'm out of it and back home. Our Druridge correspondant would have been in his element ( he likes a snifter does Iain...)

Today's highlight? Oh yes, 17 whole days until I go back to work. GET IN!

Monday, December 17, 2007

Busy busy busy...

Sorry for the delay ( though you aren't missing much). This time of year is quite busy isn't it? Christmas ( I don't like using 'xmas',its lazy and it's just not right) shopping, birthdays, visits etc etc curtailed birding this weekend, but here I am, still blethering away about nothing in particular.

Its been cold this weekend. Not quite 'freeze your nuts off' cold, but getting there. On my way home from a late day at work on Friday the temp gauge on my car was reading -4 in the freezing fog between Ashington and Widdrington. It coated everything in the brittle hoary rind thats so scarce nowadays and makes a good replacement for our now none existant snow fall. I do hope the high pressure lingers for the next couple of weeks.

On Saturday and Sunday, still non birding mind you, I detected the hints of a hard weather movement on the bird front, possibly our final migrations until spring. Thrushes were particularly in evidence all over, making their getaway from the near continent that is even colder than here. Blackbirds filled every available hawthorn and even today groups are scattered about grassy areas below trees. One small stretch of haw laden hedge en-route to Boulmer held 20+ Blackies taking advantage of a more arboreal food supply now that the ground is like iron. At Howick over a hundred Redwings were in the Yews and on the roadside at Hadston a fine mix of these two, with a lot of Fieldfares, scoffed like their lives depended on it ( which it probably did). Throughout, odd Mistle Thrushes held sentinel over individual bushes defending it against all comers and Song Thrushes were thinly spread along the coast.

At Seaton Point, Golden Plovers and Lapwings replaced the thrushes found just inland, feeding in the coastal fields.

While walking Bunty at Howick, 6 Bullfinches looked well against the frost and a couple of Marsh Tits fed nearby.

Thats about it really. Oh and this -

I suppose he has more to do than me at the minute...not many schools get this kind of visit from Santa. The helicopter landed on the school field about a hundred metres behind our yard on Friday...

Sunday, December 09, 2007


As an experiment I have added a link to the left, at the top, to a new blog. I was wondering how to add a few things such as maps etc without losing them with each subsequent post. This blog will only be updated as required.

Above - Top two, Linnets, third, Tree Sparrows and Bottom, the Sea King that flushed them all.

Today dawned cold but calm after last nights storm. The sun came up bathing the scene in a lovely yellow glow.

I checked the area around the village at Boulmer today.

27 Siskins flew south overhead. The pond is still there. This is just the farmer showing his sadistic streak, it'll all be gone before the spring passage thats a certainty. Meanwhile you never know, I might just be able to add Coot to my list. On here were 8 Mallard, 150 Lapwing and 20+ Redshank with the usual assortment of Gulls.

Up the road at Bowmere, the weedy turnip field held a good flock of seed eaters including 60+ Linnets, 28+ Tree Sparrows, 7+ Goldfinches and a single Redpoll that flushed before I could get specific. This isn't exactly Redpoll habitat, so I would like to see this bird on the deck.

A quick view from the North Seat had a few Yellowhammers and Tree Sparrows, another 35 Linnets plus odds and sods like Reed Bunting, Song Thrush, Greenfinch, Chaffinch, 3 Robins and several Blackbirds.

Nothing noteworthy seaward, other than a single distant Red throated Diver.

I did an atlas square about three miles away at a non descript farmlnd area called the Hocket. 27 species were recorded in the hour, best being 3 Buzzards, Grey Wagtail, 6 Tree Sparrows and a Redpoll.


Above - The Pond. You can see the drain in the centre of the water.

Above - The Village viewed from the pond.

Above - The Haven, viewed from the pond. Nice sunrise today.

Above - The Seawatch Seat. Good light showing White billed Diver habitat in the background!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Cold and frosty this morning, had to defrost the car. Clear, light W3 at first, by lunchtime this had increased to a strong SE7.

Two walks with Bunty this morning before the weather took a turn for the worse.

9.00am Boulmer Old Airfield. Still some Siskins on the move south with two groups of 12 and 34, 1 female Snow Bunting was a suprise scurrying along the track side, 20 Lapwings, 4 Grey Partridge, Heron.

The pond is still there ( shhh, say nowt, I hope the drain has totally collapsed...) but was quiet, probably with the tide being out.

12.30pm Seaton Point. Blowing a hooly and now the tide is well up the sea is very rough and chopped up. A flock of waders were taking shelter in a field of winter wheat, 160 Golden and 3 Grey Plovers with a few Lapwings, Curlew and Oystercatchers. 15+ Linnets were here too. Along the shore I checked the gulls hunting the surf over the rocks for something different but nothing new. 4 Red breasted Mergansers flew south and 3 Rock Pipits were on the tide line.

The pond in the village now had some birds, 7 Mallard, 59 Redshank and a hatful of gulls. One Herring Gull had a very heavily streaked dark head like that 'Atlantic' Yellow legged Gull in Ireland last year. I gave it a good 20 seconds before losing the will to live and moved on.

A Grey Wagtail flushed from the pond edge.

A quick view from the car at the north seat was generally a non starter until a Kingfisher flew from out in front of the pub and headed north over the mountainous breakers, little auk fashion. A nice record and a year tick here.

147. Kingfisher.

Friday, December 07, 2007

These dark nights must be good for summat...I know, how about some debate. Have a look a Green Withens at his chat about Bird Clubs, Mags etc and the comments.

I think I am tempted to agree with him to some extent, though it grieves me to admit it. East Ayton adds to the pot too ( as well as yours truly) by noting that birding is now often done in 'real time'. He is definately right.

I remember the dark days of 1987 as a fresh faced laddie doing my weekly visits by bus to Druridge Pools. No reserve then, no hides, screens or anything. The alders along the road were yet to be planted. The pool could be viewed without obstruction from the road. I was there on the 4th, 8th, 15th, 22nd and 29th May wearing a donkey jacket, NCB wellies and a mullet, carrying my Prinz 10 x 50s round my neck and loads of hope and optimism in my pockets. It was great. I had Black necked Grebe, Garganeys, Greenshank, Whimbrel and Wheatears. In those days, Whinchats still bred and there were plenty of Cuckoos. I didn't know many people who went birding then and there was no grapevine, let alone mobile phones, computers and pagers. Of the birders I knew, they couldn't help because I didn't even have a home phone in my flat. Bird info came from the new 'Bird Watching' magazine, two months later or the annual report 18 months later!

Imagine my horror at reading July's edition of BW magazine to find out about a Temminck's Stint at Dru on 9th - 11th and a female Bluethroat there on 26th. Both lifers, nay, mega's at the time.

To put things in context in 1987 I saw no rare birds at all ( might have been due to the Prinz...). Imagine that. None. Best of the year was Black Redstart, Smews, Lap Buntings ( plenty) and the birds above. Today's new birders would have packed in by March. Nowadays I could beat my 87 year list by March. At Boulmer!

Those were the days eh.

Now, where was that Great Blue Heron...

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

December Migrants

Last night Redwings were 'seeping' overhead in the darkness when I had Bunty in the garden. What with December Short toed Lark, Desert Wheatear, Water Pipit, Waxwings etc only just arriving, I think thats evidence enough that 'autumn' doesn't stop in October...

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Above - 2 adult and 1 juv Great Northern Divers off Seaton Point today.

Although the forecast was for rain, today was one of the best days for a while here. It was calmish with only a light SW2 with some cloud.

After yesterdays count at the north of the Boulmer patch, today, I didn't fancy another count ( it can stop the birding and is quite intensive)so I had a stroll around the south end from Seaton Point to the Haven and back.

The tide was full and the sea calmed as I rounded the point along the beach. I was pleased to find not one, but a flock of three Great Northern Divers feeding only a couple of hundred yards offshore on pipefish. Two adults showing traces of summer plumage and a juvenile showed really well for an hour or so before casually swimming off to the north. I saw the juvenile off the village later. Maybe it was yesterdays bird and todays were different?

I know this is not unprecedented in Northumberland, Newton Stringer had three yesterday, but these are scarce birds in the county. Its the most I've seen at one time thats for sure.

I did some sketches in the field and tidied them into this drawing at home later.

While drawing them the tide slowly dropped back. On the exposed rocks were 48 Grey Plover, 23 Golden Plover, 100 Dunlin plus smaller counts of Knot, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Redshank and Oystercatcher. 6+ Red breasted Mergansers were fishing with the divers and two Red throated Divers flew N while 5 Common Scoters moved S. More unexpected were the 25 Siskins that flew south over the point and out over Foxton Bay. 2 Redpolls came in off then circled and flew N over the beach. When compared to the Reed Bunting flying alongside, they were probably Mealies.

On route back to the car, 40 Tree Sparrows, 6 Yellowhammers and 3 Reed Buntings were in the caravan site.

Not a bad morning at all.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Above - NU21 Tetrad S.

A sunny but cool day with a moderate W4. 60% cloud.

As the weather wasn't too bad this morning I thought I would do an atlas tetrad at Boulmer. The tetrad is the one above. I parked at the lifeboat hut where it says PC at the bottom of the map, walked north along the shoreline as far as Howdiemont Sands at the top. Here I moved up onto the landward side and followed the bridlepath back south to the car. This took 2 hours.

In that time I counted the 48 species below -

Wigeon 9
Mallard 30
Eider 25
Goldeneye 4
Red breasted Merganser 3
Grey Partridge 4
Red throated Diver 3
Great Northern Diver 1 a belter watched eating pipefish close in to the village.
Cormorant 1
Shag 2
Grey Heron 3
Kestrel 1
Oystercatcher 60
Ringed Plover 2
Golden Plover 6
Grey Plover 8
Lapwing 315
Knot 9
Purple Sandpiper 1
Dunlin 2
Curlew 40
Redshank 104
Turnstone 48
Black headed Gull 107
Common Gull 19
Herring Gull 209
Great Black Backed Gull 20
Razorbill 2
Woodpigeon 32
Collared Dove 14
Skylark 1
Rock Pipit 6
Pied Wagtail 4
Wren 5
Dunnock 6
Robin 4
Stonechat 3
Blackbird 1
Mistle Thrush 1
Magpie 1
Jackdaw 6
Rook 8
Carrion Crow 11
Starling 206
House Sparrow 27
Goldfinch 12
Snow Bunting 3 One was in the cattle feed at the north end, the other two were down to 4 yards on the main bridlepath just south of the footbridge.
Reed Bunting 2

A good list especially as there were none of the usually common species such as Linnet, Meadow Pipit, Chaffinch, Song Thrush, Blue Tit etc that would be expected here on any other day.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

A dull mostly mild day today with very little wind.

Out with Bunty this morning around Boulmer had, wait for it, on the pond ( oh yes) 10 Mallard and 118 Lapwing. At Seaton Point, 6 Grey Partridges, 3 Stonechat, 6 Robins and about the same Dunnocks, a small flock of Linnets and Goldfinches, 2 Reed Buntings and a Yellowhammer.

We have my brother and sister in law staying with us this week and this morning we were talking about the Otter shown on the Tyne on a recent Autumnwatch on TV . I happened to mention that they have been quite easy to see at Druridge recently. Lillian was keen for a look, so we dropped by early this afternoon to see if they were about. On our way to the hide a chap was on his way out and had not seen them. I said that this was a good omen, as they are bound to pop out sometime ( a rare sign of optimism there from me).

After five minutes in the hide one of the Otters duly appeared right in front of us in mid water and stayed on show for the whole time we were there. Its as easy as that. While watching, 25+ Twite flew over the hide into the scrub on the west bank.

On a roll, I thought we could have a Little Owl finale on our way back up to Widdrington. They used to be regular here for many years then a couple of years back the vanished. Now I knew ADMc had seen one last week here so I just decided to check the usual favourite trees and bingo! there it was in the first tree looked at. We pulled the car alongside and the owl performed well on its chosen stump. Always a pleaser to non birders they are.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Links Update...

I've added a new link on the left from Gordon 'Mattzappa' Mathewson of Morpeth - North Northumberland Birds Blog. Gordon is a beginner to birding, so get on there and leave him some tips and advice in his comments. Its good to see new faces coming along...

Richard Dunn's website on the left has been playing up for some time, but he has now had a total rethink (!). Have a look, he's got some great photo's on there...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Ees a Hamster Meester Fawlty...

Oh no, the mouse situation has taken a turn for the worse. The view from our drive yesterday...Drastic measures are called for...

Long Nanny

Above - Short toed Lark alone and with a Twite. Short toed Lark site.

A cold NW3 this morning and overcast.

Stringy Newton rang me last afternoon to tell me about his find up there. As the time was getting on I decided to wait until today.Have a look at his pics on his blog.

At the Long Nanny, myself and Andy arrived shortly after eight am to find a small audience of three watching the Short toed Lark feeding in the saltmarsh slack behind the Tern Shed. It loosely associated with 20 or so Twite and flew when they flushed but did not appear to feed alongside and was quite independant.

This was an excellent find for our man in the north and a great way for local birders to end a flagging autumn. Short toed Larks are very rare visitors to Northumberland and were once a Farne Islands only bird. A few recent records have been on the mainland which is a pleasing trend. This bird was quite a drab female spuggy look-a-like and most likely originated from an eastern quarter. I suppose most of the north east Short toeds are eastern but the spring bird at Newbiggin a few years back was very 'orangy' and may have been west european.

A great bird, my third in the county.

While watching the lark up to 9 Snow Buntings flew overhead and a Merlin was on the hunt.

As we headed back to the car my phone rang and Gary was again one step ahead of the game, this time with a Firecrest just half a mile away at High Newton. We put a step on and soon had great views of the bird just overhead with two Treecreepers. An all too brief sighting though and the bird soon moved off into thicker cover.

A productive morning especially as I got an atlas square done too! This one was at Stamford only four miles down the road from Newton. In the hour count highlights were 26 Tree Sparrows and a nice Merlin perched on top of a roadside hedge.

Saturday 24th November 2007

Dull but brighter later, breezy SW4.

Possibly the rarest sighting of the day at Boulmer was the pond that had formed in the usual spot. I took a photo on my phone because it won't be there next week. I can hear JCB's starting up as I type this...

51 Bait Diggers in the Haven was a good count, possibly an influx related to recent weather patterns. They had turned over the whole mudflat as efficiently as a tractor pulled plough in an attempt to denude the shore of lugworms.

As a result of this increased activity few birds were around at low tide. I ventured back down with B later in the afternoon.

1 Great Northern Diver drifted south off Seaton Point, 1 Swan, probably a Whooper, was on the sea about a mile offshore. Binoculars only meant id was down to shape and jizz only. 5+ Purple Sandpipers were at Seaton Point while 4 Red breasted Mergansers were on the sea. 75 Redshanks fed on the pond edge ( Did you see that? I said 'pond'. I'm filling up, this is an emotional event sign of the Baird's. Must have gone.) Also around about were 5 Tree Sparrows, a couple of Goldcrests, 100+ Lapwings, 40+ Curlew and a Grey Seal guzzling a flattie just offshore.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Above - Notes on a strange wader looking like a Slender billed Curlew.

On 6th and 7th May 1998 I finally dragged myself down the 3 miles to Druridge from home to see the funny Curlew. It certainly was funny. Nothing like anything I've seen before ( or since). Disbelievingly I took these notes that seem to show a Slender billed Curlew. After this, those 10 rare men decided that is exactly what the bird was. A female imm Slender billed Curlew, and the rest is history as they say, and Tim Cleeves deserves a medal for finding it.

10 years on and I still can't believe it. It's impossible. But, I've since seen skins of SBC in the Hancock Museum that looked identical to this bird.

Darrell commented on the previous post saying that it looked like an Upland Sandpiper, and so it did. Jizz was very unlike Curlew or Whimbrel and it was much smaller.

I'm glad I saw it...cos now they could be EXTINCT! ( Can't believe that either). I wonder what birders in the future will make of the record...

PS. Thats what it was you know. A Slender billed Curlew. Despite what some say...

My, the nights are dark now...

Looking at Green Withens blog, Darryl is on about the dullest and the best rarities he's seen over the years. It gets you thinking. Without giving the game away he has pics of by far and away the dullest first for Britain I've ever seen...although maybe Canvasback is a contender.

Best birds though, thats different. They fall into different categories.

1. Rarest Bird I've seen. Must be Slender billed Curlew, and I wouldn't be suprised if it eventually gets taken off the BOU list...a bit controversial is that, but I bow to my well studied peers and its on my list. I might stick my field notes on here sometime...

2. Favourite County Rarity ( what do you mean where?...Northumberland of course). Tricksy. Try Bridled Tern in two consecutive years, adult male Red flanked Bluetail or maybe Olive backed Pipit or Black faced Bunting ( the first autumn juvvy in Britain a damn sight better than the Pennington bird seen previously)or Pied billed Grebe or Lesser Crested Tern or Franklins Gull or Red necked Stint. Or theres the aforementioned Slender billed Curlew. Too many.

3. Best Looker ( The 'Toys' as JWR refers to them) - A never to be beaten Great Spotted Cuckoo at Teesside or the adult male Pied Wheatear at Scarborough was nice.Then theres the Rollers and Beeeaters etc.

4. Best self found. That narrows the field somewhat. Haven't found many BBRC rarities, best being Greenish and Dusky Warblers, White rumped Sandpiper and White billed Diver. At a County level the adult male Ortolan on Holy Island is only slightly beaten by the Boulmer Stone Curlew...

4. Just the Bollox. This is the rest. I liked Cedar Waxwing, Bobolink, Masked Shrike, Stellers Eider ( even though it was a duck, it is one of my all time best birds), Ivory Gull, Baillons Crake and American Robin. All were well worth the drive.

Bottom line is, its too hard to pick. All are great and very enjoyable. Here's to more to come!

5. The bird that beats eight bells of crap out of the lot?


Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Scraping the barrel.

Today was blowing a strong Easterly 6 with some drizzle. A month ago and I would have taken time off work to sift through the migrants, but not at the end of November.

I popped to Boulmer for 20 mins before work today for a seawatch ( give it up for god's sake, its finished...) and had 6 Little Auks, 2 Wigeon a few Gannets and Kittiwakes and thats the lot. Seawatching this late is usually for some Little Auks for the patch list but we've had plenty of those now so there is not much left to hope for. Possibly a late Sooty or Stormy or maybe a Blue Fulmar would be nice. I had a couple of very dark ones last year at this time.

Lots of gulls were around presumably to gorge on the storm battered pipefish again. It could be worth checking through them at the weekend. Several hundred Starlings were on the rocks and small parties were flying along the shore. I wonder if they are new in?

Speaking of Little Auks I got a call last night from John Steele who lives in Rothbury. He had found a Little Auk there on an industrial estate and was trying to give it a rest in an old fish tank ( handy things, fish tanks) before releasing it back on the coast this morning. To prevent the same gull gobbling disasters that have been photographed lately, I suggested that he release his bird while still dark so it could make its escape out to sea under cover. Rothbury is about 12 miles inland as the Auk flies so this is quite a notable record, especially as this is his second there. The first, a few years back, walked into his garage while he was working on his car one dark night!

Monday, November 19, 2007

After 2 days at large, Mouse 7 was finally under wraps. This morning he was trapped and released on our compost heap...I hope thats the lot.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Above - Whooper Swans, Thropton.

Sunday. My intentions of doing an atlas square were well and truly scuppered by the weather. Steady rain in for most of the day, so no Boulmer visits. Out with Bunty this morning, 50 Curlew and 10 Grey Partridges were together in a field behind our village and a Sparrowhawk chased a Collared Dove over our garden but I didn't see the outcome. Thats about it really around here.

Due to the weather I thought this would be a good time to volunteer for some Xmas shopping so we headed off west to Otterburn ( not exactly a mecca for shopping I agree, but we are having a 'no Metro Centre and no Newcastle year' this year).

Its a great scenic route from Alnwick to Otterburn via Rothbury, Thropton and Elsdon even in dull dank winter weather. On route we saw this herd of 61 Whooper Swans at Thropton. I was pleased to see a good percentage of juveniles in the group.

Better weather next weekend eh! Hopefully...

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Now up to Mouse 7, yes 7, well only 6 released into the countryside, 7 was more difficult. When moving from trap to tank, he ran up my arm and leapt to freedom somewhere in the spare room. Bunty is demented by the possibility that 7 has now moved in behind the bookcase...

4, 5 and 6 were all released into the wild. How many more are there?

At Boulmer today the weather was 'quiet'. Dull and bright at the same time with a light SW 4.

I walked Bunts around the runways from both ends for little gain. It's not often the patch is as totally quiet as this. The only birds seen were a few coveys of Grey Partridges, 100 or so Golden Plover and...thats about it really. Oh, a dozen late Gannets flew north.

Through the week there was still some light thrush passage with single figure counts of Fieldfare, Redwing and Blackbird all arriving from the east.

Thursday, November 15, 2007


Mouse id is up the spout. My friend below, seen in better light, is a Wood Mouse. Even in the photo its golden tone can be seen, House Mouse are, er, mousey grey brown. Thats that sorted.

Last night, after tea, another Wood Mouse was in the live trap. It was soon keeping Mouse 1 company in the tank. Both were released in a wood ( obviously) not far away. This morning I got up to Wood Mouse 3 in the trap. Looks like I'm infested!

Wood Mouse 3 is currently the new sole tenant of the aquarium, awaiting the arrival of Wood Mouse 4. The trap is set.

Coincidentally, the very aquarium, was bought a few years ago as a separation room for baby Harvest Mice when we bred them for a local reintroduction scheme. We added 21 little Harvesters to the gang for release. Unfortunately it looks as though the local owl and kestrel populace have done for them all as recent attempts to see if any had estabished have come to nothing...

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


No not from the Big Brother House, from ours!

We have had a squatter lately and last night he met his match. Mus musculus or House Mouse to you and I was finally caught, alive and humanely, in our back bedroom and is now living the life of Riley ( probably Mavis Riley off Coronation Street fame...) in an old aquarium. It has hay, food and water and looks a bit like your average hamster, none the worse for his ordeal. Now the problem is, where will I release him?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Field Notes...

Above - Alastair ( Whitby Birding) asked for field notes of fly by White billed Divers. This one was on 28th April 2004, Hauxley, Northumberland. Originally seen at Newbiggin by Jimmy Steele, I was lucky to be near the coast with my gear so was able to twitch it with only minutes to spare. Lucky for some...

Still not sick of them...

Above - Seaton Point sunset for Blyth Birder...

A cool day damp this morning but brighter in the afternoon. Wind a moderate NW4.

Walked Bunty up the north end of Boulmer this morning, mostly to check to see if the phalarope was still about. I didn't see it. But, I did get a year tick when a Woodcock flushed from the nettles at the far end. What with this, a Fieldfare in the cliff blackthorn and a Siskin W overhead, it looks like some birds are still on the move.

This afternoon I met up with John Steele to do some drawing at Seaton Point. We arrived at 1.30pm and stayed till almost dark. Like Sunday, my attention was distracted from the art by the Little Auks still on the go. We counted 200+ in the first 30 minutes and had over 500 by the time we left.

Shortly after our arrival we noticed a cracking immature Peregrine just over the rocks as the tide was rising. It homed in on a flock of Little Auks like a jet fighter and easily picked one out of the group. It landed on the skeer to pluck its catch but after some half hearted attempts it left its meal to the gulls and raced up to target another incoming flock. What a show as it knocked eight bells out of the little birds. It sent two cart wheeling into the drink before catching its second in 10 minutes. This one was held by the breast, legs dangling and head tipped back as the Peregrine plucked it while still on the wing. It gained height and carried on out of sight around the point.

Still watching the Auks and trying unsuccessfully to get some pics, we also had 2 Velvet Scoter and 3 Goldeneye N. 4 Purple Sandpipers were on the rapidly receding rocky islands.

As the passage dwindled, the light was going so we made our way back along the shore. To end the day, a fantastic sunset backlit a lovely party of 15 Little Auks bobbing about only 10 metres offshore like toy boats. A great end to the day.

And I almost forgot. a Red Admiral staggered (?)by along the beach heading S.

146. Woodcock.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Check your chickens.

Alastair of Whitby Birding fame asked in his comment about inland moving Little Auks this weekend. When I was watching yesterday they were coming from all ends and sides one even dodged through a field full of sheep, but best crack came from down Newbiggin way. ADMc had one fly over near the QE2 Park at Ashington, about a mile inland then he had one fly alongside the car near New Moor Tip about 3 miles inland!

If anyone has a patch not too far from the coast with a pond, it'll be worth a look for them ( or maybe even your garden pond)...I remember reading about wrecked Little Auks always seem to be found in with chickens (!)....

I see Mr Oddie on Autumnwatch even mentioned the LA's at the Farnes this evening and showed a tiny snippet of a flock flying past Seahouses.

A nice comment from Tariq Farooqi yesterday too. He was the one who saw the White billed Diver fly past Cullernose Point about two miles north of Boulmer. Thats a bit of a relief I thought it was, er, 'someone else' who had reported it.'Nuff said. Might have been the same bird up at St Abbs at lunchtime too.

I was chatting to NFO at Boulmer yesterday at about 3pm. He had just seen the Grey Phalarope still present lingering off the north end of Longhoughton Steel.

Off work tomorrow on flexi. I might get some drawing done this time.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Above - Top. Little Auks, Longhoughton Steel by Richard Dunn.
Centre - Long tailed Duck, Longhoughton Steel by Richard Dunn.
Bottom - White billed Diver, Boulmer Steel, today. Click for bigger image.

Cold and damp this morning with a strong N6, becoming brighter and clearer later.

Well, where do I start.

This morning the tides were wrong for seawatching at Boulmer, so I thought I would just get out there and do some drawing for a change. My plan was to go to Seaton Point and sit near the beach and see what turned up. At 8am I was passing the main Boulmer car park and decided to pull in to scan the haven for grebes after the recent stormy weather. I climbed from the car and pointed the bins seaward.

What a shock I got. Before I put the bins back down from my eyes, 101 Little Auks had flown through. In about 30 seconds. Looks promising I thought, and headed to the seat north of the village for a 'quick look'. In the next 1.5 hours I had -

Little Auk 3304 N
Great Northern Diver 3 N
Red throated Diver 2 S 4 N
Gannet 6 N
Goldeneye 8 N
Common Scoter 3 N
Velvet Scoter 1 N
Puffin 5 N
Long tailed Duck 1 female N
Purple Sandpiper 4 N
Scaup 2 N
Goosander 3 N

Then things got interesting. As I was counting my three thousandth Little Auk a Diver swam into my view only yards from the rock edges at Boulmer Steel. Nice, a close Great Northern thought I, until as it slipped below the waves, I thought F*** ME thats a WHITE BILLED DIVER! I was now looking at a patch of empty water ( apart from Little Auks whizzing by that is...). Panic. Ring for help. The best way to be branded a stringer is to see a proper rarity alone and then its gone before anyone arrives.

With numb shaky fingers I gave ADMc a call down at Newbiggin and told the tale and gave assurances that a second call would follow if the bird is relocated. I was now doubting myself and expecting to relocate a Great Northern. So, scan with the bins, this bird isn't too far away and heading for a rock pool of sheltered water between a reef offshore and Boulmer Steel.

Sure enough there it was, next to some pot flags and looking the part. Long slim bill uptilted so the tip was crown level, and the tip third was nicely illuminated an ivory cream. Still disbelieveing my luck the call was made to Newbiggin and then to TAC as I figured he could get here sooner. Tom arrived after about ten minutes and I could get him straight on to the bird. Pale mottled head, stonking beak huge size Bingo! my fourth White bill in he county.

Then things got even better. While we were noting the details of the bird, it surfaced near the reef only to be nearly landed on by a GREY PHALAROPE. This is what local patching is all about. Months of slogging around hoping for the big one, but when it arrives its a great feeling. After all, this isn't Newbiggin or Whitburn...

As the tide dropped ( and as people started to head for Boulmer) the Diver took a claustrophobic turn and tried to swim out of its enclosure. This was not possible, so it took to the air and flew off strongly to the north. A good comparison could be had between this birds massive frame and the Great Northerns seen only an hour ago. But the bird was gone for good.

Just as we were talking about the best bird at Boulmer this year, a nice fw Glaucous Gull joined the other gulls briefly before flying south.

I would never have thought it. Posibly my best days birding at Boulmer taking place in November. I reckon that by the time I left for home at 11.30am some 6000+ Little Auks had gone North...What a morning....

Oh, the Farnes had 29,000. Did someone say there might be a chance of a Little Auk this weekend.

144. White billed Diver.
145. Grey Phalarope.

Saturday, November 10, 2007


Rain. Calm. Dull. 100% Overcast. According to the BBC weather this morning Scotland is getting rain but eastern England was dry but cloudy. No it isn't. This is eastern England and its pissed down from the off.

Two half hour seawatches from the car at Boulmer today. In grim visibilty I had -

Little Auks 35 N
Great Northern Diver 1 N
Long tailed Duck 1 female N
Red throated Diver 1 on the sea.
Possible Black throated Diver 1 N ? ( yes I know, I call them Red throats too!)
Red breasted Merganser 4

Some of the Little Auks landed on the sea but soon had to dash off as the big gulls gathered for a snack.

This afternoon I walked Bunty around Seaton Point at high tide. 5 Little Auks skittered away from the breakers almost on the shore, giving great views in the soft late afternoon light. 2 Purple Sandpipers were with the other waders on the beach roost.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Moderate NW5, fair, cool.

A 25 minute seawatch at Boulmer before work this morning was generally quiet but I did manage a nice group of 2 adult and 2 juv Pomarine Skuas flying S and a tight party of 4 Little Auks N.

Putting my meagre offering into context on the pager today, Little Auks have reached record numbers up here, with the highest day total being from the Farnes where a massive 18,713 flew past! ( I hope they didn't only have 18,712 and a juvvy Puffin...).

Elswhere in the region 5381 past Whitburn, 3470 St Mary's Island, Whitley Bay and 1100 Hartlepool.

Often Little Auks are a 'here today, gone tomorrow' species so I hope there's a few still to be had tomorrow.

Remember where you read it first...( see Tuesday's post).

143. Little Auk.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007


Now here's a word from our sponsors.

The latest edition of the 'Birds of Holy Island' is now available from the author for £8.50 inc p+p by post from Ian Kerr, 27 Eddrington Grove, Chapel House, Newcastle upon Tyne NE5 1JG.

The book is a glossy A5 format and is a good read for anyone who has visited or is considering visiting the Island, Northumberland's premier migrant site. It is bang up to date including the spring of 2007. It includes a good centre section of colour photo's from local photographers and has a few dodgy line drawings from yours truly, and has a new section on accomodation available and much more...including a great bit with photo's of a Stoat eating Fulmar vomit, worth the price alone!

If you are a Holy Island regular, if you twitched last years Roller/ migrant fest or you just like the spectacle of thousands of winter wildfowl against the wide open spaces of Lindisfarne get your copy NOW!

( Not a bad report for the price of a complimentary copy, eh)...

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Little Auks!

Anyone seen the weather forecast for Thursday and Friday? Gale force westerlies followed by Northerlies equals Little Auks. I bet that by Sunday we're sick of them... If you haven't seen one, this weekend could be the time. No more stringing late juvvy Puffins for your year list ( they're the 'distant' Little Auks people claim. Most Little Auks I see are much closer than that, often following the breakers).

Watch for groups of the little chaps buzzing along wings a blur bodies tilting side to side showing the sooty underwings. They are much more animated than puffins and look very clean black and white. They are tiny too about Dipper sized but looking much smaller at sea.

Oh, the forecast relates mainly to NE England and Scotland.

Good Luck ( for me that is, I'm the one sticking my neck out!)

Has anyone watched Autumnwatch on BBC2? If you have, I suggest that you check out Green Withens blog on the left (adults only mind), you will never look at Kate Humble in the same way again...

Sunday, November 04, 2007

BTO Atlas.

Above - The first 'tetrad' to count in my Atlas Squares. This is Ratcheugh, between Alnwick and Longhoughton, about a mile from home. It is officially known as - NU21-H. ( New map courtesy of Richard Dunn).

Over the next four years some of my birding time will be taken up counting the twelve tetrads I have handcuffed myself to in my area. A tetrad is an area on the ordinance survey map consisting of a 2 x 2 km square. Great Britain is divided into 100km, 10km and 1km squares on the maps. The one above is NU ( 100km sq) 21 ( 10 km sq) H (Tetrad Letter).

Two hours wandering around these 4 square kilometres produced 46 species. Not a bad total. Noteworthy were 74 Tufted Duck, 4 Buzzards, 17 Dunnocks, 16 Robins, 82 Blackbirds, 22 Redwings, 16 Siskins and 1 Lesser Redpoll. The other night a Barn Owl was hunting at this crossroads.

At home this afternoon, I was standing in our back yard when, in the space of about 10 minutes, a female Merlin dashed overhead followed by a single Waxwing. The Waxwing call alerted me to its presence above, then it obliged by calling another couple of times as it took its bearings before flying off strongly to the south. Nice one...

A single Peacock butterfly was still on the wing near the airbase. Only half an hour gazing seawards from Boulmer produced very little. 2 Red throated Divers south were the only things of note.

It looks like that's the autumn over for another year with not so much as a puff from the east ( now stop it, please...) I suppose there's still a slim chance of a very late flurry of activity. The wind looks to be a good cold northerly by the weekend.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Bull's Mere

Above - Those were the days...Bairds and Curlew Sandpipers on the Bulls Mere.

Above - Alan Gilbertson took these pics of the Stone Curlew and Bairds Sandpiper mentioned below. Even if you've seen Stone Curlew before, I bet you've never seen one in a rock pool. These birds normally like dry arid semi-desert. I suppose Boulmer was the ideal choice then!

Very mild up here at the minute. Yesterday was better than many we've had in the summer.

A morning stroll around Seaton Point yesterday had 6 Fieldfares, 5 Redwings and a few Blackbirds and Song Thrushes in the bracken. I could hear loads of siskins constantly over head but didn't see a single one. They are just too high up and too small to pick out. I did manage to get my eye on the two Redpolls that called overhead flying south though.

On the insect front I was suprised to see a Hawker Dragonfly, probably Migrant Hawker, patrolling the field edges at Seaton Point. They definately don't breed here, because apart from the sea it's like the Gobi desert, thanks to the excellent efficient draining system in place on the Boulmer headland. God forbid any moisture is allowed to gather for more than a couple of days. One thing's for sure, global warming couldn't flood Boulmer.

Now that's got me started.

Boulmer is believed to have originated as Bull's mere or Bow mere. There was a 'mere' in the field behind the pub next to the toilet block in years gone by. periodically, once in a while ( about as regularly as we win the World Cup), a pond gathers here. It only has to settle for a week and birds flock to it, and the farmer gets his draining gear out. The last time it was here was August / September 2005 when it held a Bairds Sandpiper, a dozen Curlew Sandpipers, Black tailed Godwits and even some ducks. It was probably responsible for attracting down a nice Stone Curlew ( mega rare up here.. nearly as good as the Baird's). It lasted a fortnight. The pond not the bird, before the farmer put in a field drain the dutch would have been proud of, and it has not held a drop since. To add insult to injury, the said 'pond' was mown and used as a five a side football pitch at this years Boulmer Fete.


Where was I. Oh yes, Seaton Point this morning. Today had a similar weather pattern but the thrushes have moved on and there was nothing much of note. Back at home, Siskins could be heard flying around all morning and I had two large (30+) flocks fly north, but as usual the rest were invisible. 90 Pink footed Geese flew S.

Tomorrow I'm out to do a BTO Atlas square or two. In Northumberland we are trying for 100% coverage of the county in both Winter and Summer so there's plenty to go at. I've signed up to 12 far.