Sunday, March 30, 2008

As Billy Idol would say...

'Its a, nice day for a ....white wagtail...'

Before writing this I've just scanned through the blogs in my links to see what my peers have been up to this weekend and find a single disturbing recurring theme. Most have seen spring migrants on their patches. Now I'm depressed. The only thing to cheer me up was ST doing his impersonation of 'brundlefly' from 'The Fly' and the only influx at Green Withens was a visit from a group of ar**holes determined to smash Darryl's place up.

Back to the job in hand. Its no good prevarocating.

No real birding this weekend as I've had family staying over. But, as ever, I did make my excuses to scour the area for the White Stork that flew NE over the A1 at Alnwick on Saturday afternoon. No joy at the quarry or at Foxton. All I managed was a nice Barn Owl daylight hunting near the Boulmer RAF base only a field outside my patch where it would have been a tick, and a pair of Buzzards nearby. I was positive that the foul weather today would have grounded the stork somewhere locally.

Today, as the weather had made a good improvement and was quite mild and sunny, I walked Bunty from Boulmer, north to Longhoughton Steel to look for Wheatears. None.

Best here were 2 White Wagtails, 9 Knot, 22 Dunlin, 32 Turnstone, 6 Ringed Plover and 3 Grey Plover. Info came through late morning saying that the Stork had been soaring over the same stretch of A1 again and appears to have landed near Hampeth just off the A1 at the Shilbottle turn. I knew it. So, straight onto the blower to tell JWR who lives near by to see if he could find it, but was told that he was the bird's finder yesterday. Tell your mates why not...

Later in the afternoon I had another half hearted search of that area but there was still no sign.

One day it will all come together, I'm sure.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

New Links

Two new links in the list on the left.

Firstly East Ayton has been reinstated in a new format since he 'retired' from blogging a week or two back. Some great photo's on there.

Then a new blog, Abbey Meadows by my friend Nigel. He has just started his blog and I'm sure he will come up with some good sightings and stuff to interest as the year progresses. Nigel is a bit of an all rounder when it comes to natural history and lately has spent some time chasing up the botany of Northumberland. We go back a long way, and I remember our rambles through the countryside and lanes near Ulgham over 30 years ago when we were kids. Nigel got me my first Whitethroats when I was 9! Kids don't get out much these days...

Give them a visit and I'm sure they would appreciate some comments.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Gulls Galore.

Above - Some of the gulls on Linton Pond.

Above - Smaller Glaucous Gull.

Above - Big Glaucous. Look at its gape, you could get your head in!

Yesterday afternoon the wind had swung lightly to the east and there had been some drizzle overnight so I thought I would check out likely looking Black Redstart spots at Boulmer this morning.

Seaton Point, the old farm buildings and the village cliffs were all visited without luck. A few Rock Pipits were on rotting seaweed, but thats about it really. On the way, a Sparrowhawk flashed over the road in front of the car.

Along the shore there was a distinct lack of any gulls and even the usual waders were in very short supply. The large flock of Sanderling seen the other day were no where to be seen. Maybe they have begun to head to more northerly breeding grounds?

A trip to seek dry cleaning and the organic veg bag this afternoon did have its upside. I used it as another excuse to visit Bothal and Linton. At Bothal, 170 Jackdaws were in a field near the road. I did see one likely candidate for Scandinavian Jack but they kept flying around and I lost the bird. It did have one major distinguishing feature though. It had a limp. So, if you see a gimpy Jackdaw at Bothal, let me know what you think.

On to Longhirst Flash where another 70 Jackdaws were present but no Vikings in here.

Then just as I entered the hide at Linton my phone rang. It was ADMc to say that he was watching a White Stork from his window at home. It soared high towards the A1 Morpeth bypass before moving off south. Nice garden tick...

In the hide a chap was watching the gulls and had seen a Glaucous. There were several hundred if not a thousand gulls out there but the Glauc was the closest bird to us so I took a picture or two. It flew off high to the west. Shortly after that, a second Glaucous was seen preening on the bankside with the other gulls. Both of these birds were huge meaty birds who you wouldn't want to mess with.

Then I picked out the adult Iceland Gull on the water. This bird was much smaller and even looked kittiwake like at certain angles. A lovely bird.

Another scan and I thought I had a juvenile Iceland Gull. Closer inspection showed this to be the third Glaucous Gull, a much, much smaller individual than the other two and slightly darker.

So a pretty successful trip out I say. Four white winged gulls at one spot, its better than North Shields in its hey day. Now where did that Stork get to. Maybe its next to a Ross's Gull...

Above - Adult Iceland Gull.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Not a bad day today. This afternoon has a light easterly breeze and is generally cool and quite bright.

Out with the trusty hound around Boulmer provided me with another addition to the patch year list - Stock Dove. One attempted to land in the Bowmere Turnip field ( alas now all eaten by hungry sheep. The field looks like a plague of locusts has been at it) before thinking better of it and flying off north. This field looks good for the likes of Lapland Buntings or the first Wheatears. While a lot of birds fed there, there was nothing of real note. There were 17+ Pied Wagtails, 12+ Reed Buntings, 10+ Meadow Pipits, 1 Skylark, 10 Tree Sparrows, 35 Linnets and 3 pairs of Grey Partridges.

After our walk we had 10 minutes look at the sea, where 50 Gannets and a couple of Kittiwakes flew N. 7 Rock Pipits were on the shore with 9 Knot.

Driving back up towards home, 7 Whooper Swans flew N over head and 5 Common Buzzards were 'kettling' above the small plantation. 5 Buzzards, all in the same binocular view, is an excellent record for here. Still no proper spring migrants though.

80. Stock Dove.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I had just returned home with Bunty, after her walk around Seaton Point, and checked the pager. Like a bolt of lightning, the words NORTHUMBERLAND ROSS'S GULL were enough to set the pulse racing. An adult had flown north at Seaton Sluice at 8.40am. I rang ADMc who was already en route to Snab Point to try and head it off at the pass. Then Gary 'Newton Stringer' rang me to see if I was out looking for it. He told me that Tim Cleeves had found it this morning, heading north, close in, in full summer plumage. Bubble gum pink was mentioned.

I was waiting for Roger Forster to get to my house, we were going to go through some photos. As soon as he turned up, off we went on a futile trip to Seaton Point to scan the waves. Regular readers will by now be aware that I don't have too much luck in catching up with the seabirds from further south and today was no exception. We gave it an hour but there was little to look at, so all we can do is hope that the bird has stopped off somewhere and will be relocated.

Seen at Boulmer today were 88+ Sanderling, 22 Ringed Plover, 1 Red throated Diver N, 6 Swan sp N about 2 miles out to sea, probably Whoopers? and 2 littoralis Rock Pipits were on the beach.

Ross's Gull eh? Get out there and check harbours, outflow pipes and might be on Castle Island or Blyth or....

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter Sunday

Above - Glaucous Gull.

A covering of snow first thing this morning made the chance of a sand martin seem a bit fanciful so I thought I would give the Linton white winged gulls another try.

Early doors at Linton was too early for these arctic visitors so I started off at Bothal to meet ADMc, and to look for the Nordic Jackdaws again. No Jacks around at all so it was off to the the relative comfort of the hide at Linton. On the way we stopped at Old Moor farm to scan a gull flock in a field and found a juv Glaucous as it circled around towards the dump.

The next 3 hours were spent in the hide chewing the fat and generally having a bit of a laugh with Andy, ST and RPB. 2 juv Glaucous Gulls showed well here on and off the whole time, but the hoped for iceland gulls arrived 45 minutes after I left to go home. c'est la vie....

While waiting, the local wildlife kept us entertained. An old looking dog Fox snouted around the edge much to the consternation of the resident Canada Geese ( one of which has paired to a Barnacle this space for developments...) and a Roe buck strolled off towards his day camp. Earlier I had 5 Roe Deer in a field near Lesbury.

This afternoon a seawatch at Boulmer ( no, the sandwich tern yesterday wasn't seen by me unfortunately, I believe it was seen by Dennis Allen)for an hour had -

Gannet 77N
Kittiwake 15N
Red throated Diver 1S 1N
Common Scoter 3S 1N
Guillemot 3S
Razorbill 2N
Fulmar 1N
Eider 109 on the sea.

Above - 3 of 5 Roe Deer and Fox ( can you see him looking at the glaucous gull?).

I forgot to add, 9 Lesser black backed Gulls flew N at Boulmer the other day.

79. Lesser black backed Gull.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Canny legs...

The weather this morning was atrocious, dull, windy and raining. I was pleased when Trevor rang to tip me off that the Common Cranes had returned to their original spot this morning to feed. I soon got to the roadside stop half a mile west of the QEII Park, Ashington and parked in a marginally more dangerous place than most? Because of this and the weather and the fact that I was on my way to work, my visit was essentially brief, but long enough to get the photo above.

The bird on the left is an immature and compared with the adult it has a more brownish cast to the grey and a poorly marked head pattern. There was a time when Cranes were mega rare in the county but they do seem to have become more regular these days. These two are my fifth record in Northumberland. Previously I've had two at Longhirst Flash, 1 at East Chevington, 1 at Druridge Pools and 1 at Swinhoe and have missed a good few more.

Thanks again to Trevor Blake and Mike Hodgson for keeping me updated...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Top - Look closer, there is a Glaucous Gull in the middle of the shot. How lucky was that, I didn't even see it in there !

Bottom - I tried to get as many gulls into one frame as possible...

Click on pictures for a bigger image.

This morning I thought I would spend a couple of hours in Linton Hide gull watching. On arrival, about four cars were parked in the tiny space. Was there a twitch on? No. The occupants of the vehicles were renovating the hide! Typical.

I decided to check the nearby refuse tip. There were thousands of gulls here and I soon found a juv Glaucous sitting on the banks, but every attempt to get a picture was thwarted when it flew into the surrounding melee of feeding birds. Tim Dean rang to say that the 'Nordic' Jackdaw was at Bothal again so off I went. As I got into the car a second call from Tim was to tell me that it had flown off. But this was just the start of my bad luck for the day...
A further half hour at Bothal had 5 Pink footed Geese and 2 Barnacle Geese with the usual commoner wildfowl. A party of 11 Pied Wagtails and 5 Meadow Pipits on the bankside may have been migrants.

This afternoon I took Bunty on a trek up into the hills. There was no gold to be found in them thar hills today thats for sure. We had 2 Stonechat, 2 Meadow Pipit, 1 Skylark, 1 Kestrel, 2 Red Grouse, 2 Curlew, 2 Lapwings and several crows. On the way down the hill Trevor Blake rang to tell me that there were two Cranes in a field only about half a mile from the tip I was at earlier!

I hope they linger until tomorrow so I can get them on my way to work.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A sad day today at my friend's mothers funeral. Blyth Crematorium seems strategically placed to make people feel even worse, being stuck on the edge of town in between industrial estates full of factory sized retail sheds.

As I stood outside, waiting to go in, with the others a call and a movement in a bare berberis bush, only feet away, caught my eye. A pair of tiny Long tailed Tits had a fully built nest, a cobweb and lichen encrusted eggshell, sited about a metre from the ground right next to a footpath. They scurried about popping in and out of the top hole oblivious to the group of people nearby.

'Just shows. Life goes on...
Last night I had another attempt to see the East Chevington Bittern. It was cold with a light N3 and quite dull. I was alone.

Standing out in the open, in silence, as the evening draws in hones the senses. The wind feels sharper than usual, each of the odd drops of rain and hail tapping on to my shoulders sounded like someone standing behind, but most of all birds were calling every where. 60 Pink footed Geese 'winked' as they came to roost, a Snipe 'drummed' briefly then croaked as it flew off to feed. Wigeon could be heard whistling, competeing with the breeze in the fence wire and Lapwing, Curlew and Coot all had their say. All the while, a Barn Owl, flew around the meadow with deeply rowing wing beats.

Down by the hide, in the gloaming, two dark, heron -like, shapes lifted from the reeds to fly low over the water surface on bowed heavy wings. Unfortunately, they were just that. Herons. No Bittern for me this evening...

Sunday, March 16, 2008


Above - Goldeneyes becoming amorous...

The dozing Pintail...

A cold day today with a NE4 blowing. The cloud soon moved to leave a sunny day.

Met up with Rob today at Boulmer. We had an hours seawatch from the seat but although quite a few birds were on the move, there was nothing unusual. We had 200 Gannets per hour, 50 Fulmar ph, 25 Kittiwakes ph, 20 Razorbills ph, 300 Auks too far off to ID, 3 Common Scoter, 2 Shag and a single Puffin.

From here we checked out Low Newton. While writing this a pager message is telling me that two Water Pipits were on the flash near the pool yesterday. They weren't there today. Thats probably why a chap was scrutinising the pipits on the shore so much. There were 11 Rock Pipits and at least one of those was a 'littoralis'from Scandinavia. Nearby 9 Purple Sandpipers were on the rocks.

Down towards the pool there was a drake Pintail, a nice bird for this part of Northumberland, though quite a few are found up on the Lindisfarne reserve, 1 Barnacle Goose with the resident Greylags, 2 Shoveler, 8 Goldeneye and loads of Teal. A single calling 'crest in the gardens near the pub warranted further investigation but it turned out to be just a Goldcrest, probably on its return migration.

From here we had fleeting visits to Monks House Pool ( NOT Monkhouse, Monks House Pool) and Budle Bay. A few hundred Shelducks littered Budle along with Teal and Wigeon but little else.

77. Razorbill.
78. Puffin.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

If Carlsberg made bird tables...

Have a look on here.

I wish I had Evening Grosbeaks, Dark eyed Juncos, Two barred Crossbills etc on my feeders!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Above - I managed a quick sketch or two of a Barn Owl near the car park on arrival... Its really hard to draw flight birds in the field, hence the dubious shapes!

Another collar and tie, shiny shoe visit to East Chevington for 45 minutes on my way home from work, but again, no sign of the Bittern. I was accompanied by Trev Blake and, er, the Scottish chap from Felton who's name slips my mind ( apologies). Trevor had the bird on the past two evenings just before dark but his luck wasn't with him tonight...Three Barn Owls still on show...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

As I drove up the A1 home from work at 5.30pm there was an almighty rain storm. It left a golden glow and a 180 degree rainbow and removed all hope of a walk along the beach with Bunty. But, I thought, what the heck, we'll go for it anyway and by the time we arrived at the north car park at Boulmer the rain clouds were out to sea.

We walked north to Longhoughton Steel checking the waders pushed up to the cliff by the big tides. I got a shock when I saw the Curlews. Oh no I thought, here comes a massive, throat choaking, slice of humble pie because there must be 600 in that flock. There was a huge number of them swirling around looking for somewhere to land. I made several attempts to count them but their movements in the air and constant reshuffling made this impossible. Best estimates were 300 - 400 birds, way short of the magic figure but seeing those birds made me think that such a total may be on the cards after all...I must check them again and try a more accurate count.

Also along here were 21 Knot, 50 Oystercatchers, 30 Dunlin, 5 Shelduck and 4 Mallard.

I see that the main access road to Boulmer from Longhoughton will be closed for repairs for 4 days from the 17th. Open just in time for Good Friday...

Monday, March 10, 2008

As the storms seemed to have subsided for a while this evening I called in to East Chevington on my way home from work. Word is, that a Bittern has been seen quite regularly, at dusk, flying from the north to the south pool.

When I got there, there was a fantastically dramatic sunset before cloud came over and it started to rain. Although we didn't see the Bittern, 4 Barn Owls were out hunting the reed beds and rough areas, probably due to hunger after being prevented from hunting last night by the poor weather. The low sunlight glinted beautifully from them as they twisted and quartered the golden reeds.

Well worth the visit. ADMc and DE had an Iceland Gull here earlier on this evening too...

Sunday, March 09, 2008

This morning was spent away from the coast for a change. Early spring is a good time to go inland in Northumberland to look for raptors and for some of our returning upland species.

Dispite the cold strong breeze, a lot of Red Grouse were displaying today. Their calls 'go back go back go back grrrrrr' could be heard all over as they chased back and forward over the moors. While watching them a flock of 35 Golden Plovers flew west, heading off back to their breeding grounds. Also around were singing Skylarks in their dozens, Stonechats and Mistle Thrushes while small parties of Meadow Pipits seemed to be stopping off to feed.

At mid morning I had a lucky break, when a huge beast of a bird came over. The juvenile Goshawk flew overhead to soar above a nearby pine wood where it was mobbed by a Kestrel in panic mode. This gave a good size comparison, the Kestrel's wing span being about one wing of the Gos! The size of this bird would make it a female. It was a nice golden buff colour streaked darker below and showed well before the Kestrel's agitation had the desired effect and it moved off over the hill.

Not far away, a group of about 20 Siskins and Golfinches were feeding on larch cones out of the wind in a shelterd lee on the moor edge.

All in all a nice morning out...

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Here are the details of the Med Gull in my pics below. It was ringed as an adult in a breeding colony on the 26.05.2007 at Palić lake, Subotica, Vojvodina, Serbia. Since then its subsequet sightings have all been at Amble!

05.10.2007. Amble harbour,Northumberland(GBNL)
12.02.2008. Amble,Northumberland(GBNL)
02.03.2008. Amble harbour,Northumberland(GBNL)

So it took less than 5 months from Serbia to Amble. I wonder if it comes here every winter?

Not much birding today though I did manage a Barn Owl at Alnwick, near the Alnwick Garden, tonight on my way home from collecting our take away.

We went to the Fi-fie-fo-fum Gallery near Corbridge to see the Society of Wildlife Artists Exhibition. It was excellent and well worth a visit. See the website for details...

Oh and I forgot, a Great Tit at Boulmer yesterday puts the patch at 76...

76. Great Tit.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

At lunchtime today a quick glance at Castle Island and at the sea at Cambois ( not 'cambwah' but 'cammus'). The Long tailed Duck was still at the island as were a pair of Goosanders. Still only 2 Lesser black backs though. At sea 9 Common Scoters offshore and 3 Red breasted Mergansers flew N.


This is in response to the post on ST's blog...

This is about the only quarter mile of properly layered hedge in Northumberland. It is along the main road just south of Amble, as you can see by the newly visible litter ( that its near a main road I mean, not that its near Amble).

I was going to call this post 'thats the way to do it' but you know, I'm not so sure. It still looks pretty severe to me. This hedge cutting mullarky is all very strange. In this county ALL hedges are routinely flailed into 5 ft high boxes with gaping holes through the bases. Where I live, even hedges out between open fields get the treatment. Why? They all have post and wire fencing anyway and flailing certainly doesn't keep the bases thick, in fact the opposite is true. I hear that farmers are suffering from high production costs etc so why not save man hours and diesel for the tractor and only do hedges about every third or fourth year or something on a rotational basis?

Here's the rub though. At Longhoughton a farmer ( with the greenest and neatest farm around, nice green grass and neat clipped hedges) has recieved funding for conservation by planting several hundred metres of hedging a few years back and already he flails them to pieces. I've seen more cover on a wire coat hanger. He has newly planted Whitebeams along the road side and he's hacked the tops off those too!

Wildlife here is thin on the ground, though a recent newspaper article showed that he is proud of his conservation efforts?!?

Maybe I just don't get this country life...(that I've lived for the last 44 years).

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Last night we were in the car heading for a birthday bash at the Cook and Barker ( very nice it was too, at Newton on the Moor just half a mile from the A1) at dusk, just on the cusp of darkness when a Woodcock narrowly missed being flattened by my car near Longhoughton Quarry. As we headed south on the A1 another came over the road, this time high up, heading out to open damp areas to feed.

I always feel that I've had a good bird when I glimpse a Woodcock....

By the way, have a look on Graham Catleys blog link to see his flight shots of them. He is complaining that he couldn't get a better shot! You never see them as good as that, let alone take a picture of one.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Gulls, Gulls, Gulls...

Above - Adult Med Gull - Look at the bill on that!

Above - Yes I know, its an Eider, but you need to do something when the gulls aren't playing...( click on any image for a larger view)

This morning dawned windy and cold with a strong W7, but it was quite bright with odd fine showers.

Due to the inclement weather I thought I would make the most of the morning by starting early and targetting gulls. I was at Boulmer for 7.30am and headed north to view the steel and Howdiemont bay. Plenty of gulls were on show but only BHG, CG, HG and GBBG. Highlight here were my first Fulmars of the year when 5 flew North. Another Purple Sandpiper was on the shore. 29 Dunlin were below the cliffs but there was little else of note.

Alnmouth was the next stop. Hoping to get a glimpse of the Grocers cachinnans ( ooh er missus) I checked the whole estuary but large gulls were conspicuous by their absence.

Onwards and upwards so next stop was Amble Harbour. The tide was high now but there were very few gulls around, other than Black headeds. A quick check of these at the little shore soon revealed a nice adult Mediterranean Gull well into summer plumage. It carried a darvic ring which looked to read YJ02 in red.( 06/03/08 the ring reads YJU7) If anyone knows where it was from let me know....ta.

Return journey was via Amble Braid towards Warkworth. This is where they've got to! Loads of Herring Gulls along here but no white wings and only 3 Lesser black backs for interest.

Then it was off home for lunch.

This evening a ghostly Barn Owl flew over the farm near Wooden between Warkworth and Amble while it was still daylight...

Above - Some shots to compare the Med Gull with Black headed Gulls. Note the wing tip pattern, white on Med and more rounded, the build of the bird, Med is larger and thicker set, hood colour and shape and importantly bill size and structure. The structural differences stay constant regardless of the age of the birds...

75. Fulmar.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Another windy day here with a WNW6 but it was bright and sunny and very clear.

Our morning walk around Seaton Point should have had more thought into it. Because I was on auto pilot, we walked the usual way around - anti-clockwise, when we should have really done it clockwise so as to have the sun at our backs and not in our faces. As a result I flushed a group of 7 Rock Pipits from the tideline and couldn't see anything other than twittering silhouettes disppearing out to sea.

Waders were a little bit more obliging with 13 Purple Sandpipers huddled together at the high tide mark. This was an excellent count for here and there was even a further 2 just around the corner making it a very nice 15 Purps.

Other waders gathered were 16 Grey Plovers, 8+ Bar tailed Godwits ( might have been up to 13 but I was blinded by the glare from the sea), 60+ Oystercatchers and 3 Ringed Plovers.

A lot of large gulls were gathered quite distantly offshore. They deserve further scrutiny...

Now that March is here spring will move on apace. Early migrants to look out for this month are Wheatear, Chiffchaff, Black Redstart ( all best after the third week), White winged Gulls should peak, Hooded Crows ( once regular now rare) should be on the move, Little ringed Plover ( not at Boulmer thats for sure), plus winter visitors on their 'march' homeward. What about rares? Anyone fancy a Killdeer on a coastal field ?