Sunday, February 25, 2007

Up the coast, for a change.

Top - Bamburgh Castle and beach.( click picture for a bigger image)
Bottom - A patch of Snowdrops and Aconites in a wood on the way home.

Today was dismal, dull and drizzly with a cool N3.

Before heading off to do a Wetland Birds Survey of the coast between Seahouses and Bamburgh I popped down to Boulmer for a brief look seaward as it was high tide. Little doing although 1 Lesser black backed Gull N was the years first . Also 2 Fulmars moved N. On the shore, the sea was lapping at some washed up weed attracting the attentions of some waders. 119 Turnstones and 8+ Purple Sandpipers were both good counts here.

Up to Seahouses for 0900 counting all waterbirds along the shore right up to Budle Point. Fog and drizzle made counting seaducks very difficult but the following were highlights of the morning. 130 Sanderling, 65 Purple Sandpipers, 114 Turnstones, 7 Red throated Divers, 1 Red necked Grebe, now in summer plumage, 1 Slavonian Grebe still in winter plumage, 14 Pale bellied Brent Geese, 6+ Long tailed Duck and a fw Little Gull was on the shore. The latter is very scarce in Northumberland in winter so I was pleased to see it here.

86. Lesser black backed Gull

Saturday, February 24, 2007

I love Northumberland, me!

Above - Waxwing at Cramlington.

Well I am now suitably boiling. I have just read a blog ( and no I'm not giving it a link) by a Londoner who has moved to Northumberland and hates it. How my heart bleeds. It must be terrible to have a home in London and buy another up here ( one that I couldnt afford anyway) thus inflating our prices, and then having to suffer living in the north. Some tremendously patronising comments are attached too asking how on earth someone could have made such a move. Jeeze, you'd think they had moved to Soweto! I could solve their problems. Piss off back to London and give us our space back!

There thats vented my spleen now back to the job in hand.

Not a great deal happening through this week but I did have a nice Red Squirrel dash right in front of my car just up the road from the quarry. It could do with a chat with Tufty on road safety ( How old am I !!!). This is the first I've had in Longhoughton.

Yesterday I stumbled across a flock of Waxwings at Cramlington. I didn't go especially for them, but I work in the area so I was bound to meet them eventually as they have been around for a few days now. There were 10+ in a tree near the main road at the fire station, trilling away while they were digesting some berries no doubt.

Today at Boulmer the weather was mild, damp and drizzly, though it faired up later. I walked Bunts across the stubble to see if the Lap was still there but it wasn't. We did flush 6 Roe Deer and a few Grey Partridges though, all to a soundtrack of Skylarks singing.

At home, the female Blackcap was still on the feeders.

And you know, I didn't once fancy moving down to London to live...

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Lovely Day

Top/Second - Low Newton by the Sea, The Square and the Ship Inn.
Third - Newton Pool from the south.
Fourth - Gorse in full bloom.
Bottom - Dunstanburgh Castle from Embleton Beach to the north.

Jane, Bunty and myself took a walk from Embleton to Low Newton by the sea this afternoon. The weather and views were fantastic. We really are lucky to have this literally on our doorstep.
The Barn Owl we saw here the other week was still out hunting in daylight and a Merlin flew overhead.
What a weekend. Lovely sunny, spring like weather on both Saturday and Sunday with little or no wind and clear blue skies.

On Saturday a couple of short Boulmer visits produced two new year ticks on the patch and the first hints of visible migration of north bound winter visitors. At Seaton Point, the first 5 Fulmars of the year were milling around offshore as were 4 Red throated Divers, a Goldeneye and a female Goosander was in with a dozen Red breasted Mergansers briefly before flying off.

Two single Snow Buntings flew north high over head, their twittering flight calls giving away their presence ages before they came into view, making their first steps towards their arctic breeding grounds. These early signs of migration always give me a great lift.

In the village, 56+ Yellowhammers, 5+ Tree Sparrows, 6+ Reed Buntings and 2 pairs of Grey Partridges were around the small paddocks, see pics below.

On Sunday, I started early to do my Winter Plover Survay for the final time. At the Low Steads at Howdiemont Bay I managed to locate a drake Scaup in with the Eiders. Nice to get one after everyone else has had them. Also in the tiny cove were a Red throated Diver and a pair of Goldeneye. A female Sparrowhawk put 13 Linnets to flight over the cattle feed.

Down to Boulmer village, the days highlight came in the form of a pod of 5+ adult and 1 juvenile Bottle-nosed Dolphins as they made their way north close inshore. As they rounded the Longhougton Steel, they dropped a gear and started leaping clear from the water before being lost to view. While watching them, 7 Gannets and a Fulmar flew north.

Near here I bumped into Richard Dunn ( see link left) who was looking for Fridays Lap Bunting. As I hadn't been to check if it was still there I decided to have a yomp over the fields with him. We dipped. Obviously the Lap had thought the weekend was looking good for migration too! Of note were 1 Snipe flushed from stubble, 1 Buzzard, 6+ Grey Partridges, 15+ Skylarks and 6+ Reed Buntings. 5 Song Thrushes were on the golfcourse.
Another quick look at the sea at high tide had 2 Fulmars, 1 Red throated Diver N and 2 Common Scoter N.

82. Fulmar
83. Goosander
84. Scaup
85. Common Snipe

Oh oh...

Two of the 56+ Yellowhammers feeding around the paddocks in Boulmer village at the minute. I was quietly composing these pictures when I felt some heavy breathing behind me ( Not to be recommended in ANY circumstances!) and turned to find this character peering down my viewfinder! Yes, in the words of any Sunday tabloid reporter, I made my excuses and left.

Morning has broken!

This Song Thrush is busy singing his heart out in our garden at the minute. He starts up at first light and goes on most of the day. Tremendous, though I like a Blackbird better.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Lap Bunt.

Today was one of those 'soft' days. Mild, calm, dull and a bit misty.

Two Boulmer visits today. This morning I was walking the dog along one of the old runway tracks and flushed a Kestrel ahead of me a couple of times. He eventually flew across the corner of a stubble field and disturbed an unseen bird into the air, calling as it went. Although it was close to me I couldn't see it but fancied that the call was from a Lap Bunting. Disappointed, I realised that the bird was going away from me at a speed and I was not going to get a second chance.

As there is another large stubble field in the direction it was going, I made a mental note to check the area later. On our way home I spotted Rob at the village and let him know of my suspicions and left to go to the dentist.

On my way home later I got a message from Rob saying that he had seen the bird but it was elusive and he could do with some support. I collected the trusty terrier and headed off to the field (bumping into a grocer on the way, see new link, left). We walked a line right across the stubble lifting the odd Skylark and Grey Partridge before a group of about 10 Skylarks took to the air. I could see straight away that one of the 'larks' was the Lapland Bunting. It flew directly overhead, where some patterning could be seen, then landed some way off. We did this on another two occasions before letting it have some peace and get on with feeding. On one flight view, it called the dry rattling note that is so distinctive of this species.

An excellent record for Boulmer and the first here for many years. I had a feeling the recent cold stormy spell would turn something up!

Two other years ticks were also here today, 2 Mute Swans feeding in a corn field and a first winter Kittiwake was with Black headed Gulls on the beach.

A large mixed bunting and finch flock in the small area of stubble near the village held 46+ Yellowhammers, 10+ Greenfinches and a couple of Tree Sparrows.

79. Mute Swan
80. Kittiwake
81. Lapland Bunting

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

More Larkies.

If only the Shorelark was as obliging as these boys...
Top two - Skylark
Bottom - Stonechat. ( Is this the easiest of all small birds to digiscope?)

Having a lark.

Above - Shorelark at Hemscott Hill, Druridge Bay.

Nice and sunny today with a cool W4.

Today is my Winter Atlas Control Tetrad count. This will my tenth year doing the East Chevington square in February. Over the years I have gathered a respectable 83 species in a 2x2 km area of lake, dunes and seashore. Although there were no earth shattering discoveries, today I managed 41 species with the highlight being a Barnacle Goose. In previous years I have had a few goodies such as Hen Harrier, Water Pipit, Smew, Mediterranean Gull, Jack Snipe, Great Northern Diver, Water Rail and Red crested Pochard.

Before starting the count I paid a visit to Hemscott Hill links to look for the Shorelark that has been here a few weeks now. It was found quite easily feeding with a few Skylarks but was always flighty and distant due to the farmer feeding his cattle in the field. As always, a dapper little bird with its black and yellow face pattern, this one was not as bright as some and may have been a female (?).

Also here were a large mixed flock of Linnet and Twite, but they too were constantly put to flight.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Above - Purple Sandpipers.

If you do nothing else today, have a look at Graham Catley's photos from Finland on his blog ( link on the left). They are absolutely the dogs'...brings a tear to my eye!

Two short trips to Boulmer, morning and afternoon. This morning was drizzly and damp but it was brighter this afternoon.

Of note -

2 Purple Sandpipers, 37 Dunlin, 96 Redshank, 110+ Curlew, 1 female Sparrowhawk, 4 Reed Buntings and a few Yellowhammers, 2 Stonechats, 2 Meadow Pipit, 12 Rock Pipits, 1+ Grey Wagtail and 3 Goldcrests in the plantation. There were 3 tideline corpses, possibly victims of the recent severe weather, 1 female Shelduck, fresh as was a Razorbill. The Kittiwake remains were much older.

Patch List 2007 -
78. Goldcrest.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Black and white ( with a bit of red )...

Yesterday the weather was diabolical with gale force easterly winds and sleet. The sea at Boulmer was pretty impressive, I hope when it quietens down there may be something good to find. Today, although the wind had dropped, the rain was heavy and forecast to be here for the day, so what better a time to leave the local patch and go twitching. May as well spend a few hours in the car as being soaked seeing nothing at home. We packed the car with Bunty and headed off north. First stop was to Dunbar harbour where only a brief look failed to find the Caspian Gull, but we decided to press on as there were better targets to be sought. As we approached the Forth road bridge the pager alerted us to the presence of our quarry on the south side of the estuary at South Queensferry. The female or immature Killer Whale was showing right under the road bridge. Present now for a couple of weeks, the pod of up to 9 animals had dwindled to this lone individual. It showed quite well but at a distance, as it surfaced regularly for air. It pushed forward creating a large bow wave with its forehead and floppy, curved dorsal fin above the surface, showing its white facial pattern. On deeper dives the back was more arched. At one stage, while the Orca was submerged, we noticed a Grey Seal asleep, bottling, not too far away. When the whale resurfaced you've never seen a seal vanish as quickly! On to our second stop at Alloa, near Sterling to look for a Red-breasted Goose. We couldn't find it or the accompanying 600 Pink footed Geese at Fallin so we luckily checked out an area north of the river. Two birders already had the goose staked out with the pinks, feeding in a tussocky grass field. I was relieved to put this one to bed as I have missed out on previous occasions. A very small goose, it was difficult to see in the grass and was dwarfed by the other grey geese. On the odd occasion it lifted its head, its intricately marked face pattern could be seen and was strangely remeniscient of the Harlequin Ducks I've seen in Iceland. This was a very smart bird and well worth the trip. A lifer for me bringing my total up to 384 in Britain ( yes I know its not bad for a year list etc etc but I dont get out that often!)

Top - Our road in the snow.
Bottom - View over Lesbury in the snow.

The weather had a bit of a shake up this week when the wind swung around to the NE and then to gale force easterlies. A day or two of snow was soon replaced with sleet and squally showers.

Hopefully this will give us a hard weather movement, with some continental birds being pushed this way.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Top - J & B in Ingram Valley.
Bottom - View down the valley.

Not much birding this weekend but had one or two year ticks at Boulmer. The weather has been glorious all weekend with bright sunshine and clear blue skies. Very mild too.

On Friday I had a flock of 14 Linnets and a Skylark on the old runways. On Saturday I was very suprised with a flock of 9 Long tailed Tits on Seaton Point, another Skylark flew south and 250 Pink footed Geese flew north.

Today we decided to have a trip inland for a walk. We found a good track in the Cheviots heading south from Ingram Valley towards Alnhammoor. Birds were very sparse but a ringtail Hen Harrier was a good record as it flew right overhead onto the adjacent hillside. I couldn't see any wing tags on it. Also here 2+ Buzzards, Kestrel, 6+ Long tailed Tits and 6 Bullfinches were at nearby Branton GPs.

More locally, around Longhoughton this morning were 10+ Yellowhammers, 60+ Chaffinches, 1 Buzzard, 4+ Meadow Pipits and the female Blackcap and two Tree Sparrows were still in my garden.

I was invited to go with IDR and TB to see the Pacific Diver near Knaresborough this morning and was unable to make it. Unfortunately the bird departed at 9am before the lads arrived so they had to 'make do' with the American Robin at Bingley. I can take missing that one much easier as I saw the Grimsby bird a few years ago.

Almost as bad as missing the Diver, I see that BR has had 3 Scaup on my patch and I've missed them! See Cuddy's website link for more details...

76. Skylark
77. Long tailed Tit

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Alan's Pics.

Top - Moorhens.
Centre - Black headed Gull
Bottom - Canada Goose.

All at Druridge Bay Country Park.

First attempts at digi-scoping with my brothers new nikon gear. Not bad results....