Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Thanks to Ian Fisher for this pic showing the ring in more detail. All its missing is the ball and chain!

Monday, April 28, 2008

Ian Fisher calls me up this afternoon to tell me that someone has reported a White Stork on the airstrip at Bockenfield near Felton, just off the A1. As it's en route home I gave it a look. Within a few minutes, there it was, the Stork, paddling about in some waterlogged lawns beside the runways guzzling large lobworms.

Now, I've had 2 White Storks in the county but both turned out to be ringed birds so I made myself a rule that I wouldn't tick one unless I could see it on the deck well enough to check for rings. There are too many free flying captive bred birds in the country to overlook this detail for me ( I do like a clean list).

First things first, check those legs. Bird showing well, striding around and not a sign of leg iron. Get in! Number 387 on the Brit List and 316 for Northumberland, time to celebrate, first British lifer since the White tailed Plover last June and one more step towards the big 4-0-0...blah blah blah...

Until...a text from ADMc then a call from Ian Fisher and Iain Robson to say the bird, No 387, is in fact a Budgie, complete with a tiny closed ring on its left ankle...desperation kicks in. Remember the Cranes at the QEII? Those were ringed too according to the crack ( but not according to John Malloy's brilliantly sharp images in Birdwatch magazine)...It must be a trick of the light, a wet leg scale or something, PLEASE.

My own photo's are enough to tell the true story. Cue deflation and de-ticking in that order. One day I'll get a good 'un.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sorry for the lack of illustration today, the weather was too dull and damp.

Today was calm and humid with drizzle then heavy rain. Early on was quite dry but overcast, but it didn't last long. By 10am I was rained off home for breakfast.

Arrived at Boulmer at 7.30am and gave the patch a decent flogging until the weather closed in. Most areas were covered, from Seaton Point as far north as the Howdiemont footbridge and a few species were added to the year list. Birds of note today -

Sparrowhawk 1 female hunting the golf course corner.
Puffin 1
Guillemot 1
Gannet a few in the mist
Sandwich Tern 5+
Common Tern 4
Arctic Tern 3 around Longhoughton Steel
Little Tern 1 N
Dunlin 6 in full breeding plumage
Whimbrel 3 at Seaton Point still and 2 at Longhoughton Steel
Swallow a steady movement S (?), plus 7+ in the village
Sand Martin 20+ S ( must be disorientated in the fog)
Wheatear 3 males and 1 female scattered around, looked to be Greenlands.
Sedge Warbler 1 in song at Seaton Point
Whitethroat 1 male singing at the golf course bushes
Lesser Whitethroat 1 male singing in the golf course bushes
Chiffchaff 2 singing males
Willow Warbler 3+ singing males
Tree Sparrow 4+
Yellowhammer 6+

93. Chiffchaff.
94. Lesser Whitethroat.
95. Whitethroat.
96. Sedge Warbler.
97. Common Tern.
98. Arctic Tern,
99. Little Tern.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Warm today up here 16 degrees. Overcast, with a moderate SW4.

We were shopping at Alnwick this afternoon when the pager alerted me to a Red Kite half a mile north of Alnmouth at 2pm. Half a mile north of Alnmouth and you are almost at Boulmer, so off we went, shopping postponed for a while, hoping for a great patch tick. As usual with these things, not a sniff was had, but it was worth a look to keep piece of mind. I wonder if it went over my patch?

Back at home later we took Bunty for her walk around the Seaton Point. As we got out of the car a Whimbrel was walking around only 50 yards away in the field opposite, quite unconcerned. As we watched, my first Sand Martin of the year from the patch flew over head, very late indeed. They usually breed on the sandy cliffs here but all of their nest holes have been eroded away this winter so they may not stop this time.

Along the shore another 2 Whimbrels were feeding out on the rocks. A Buzzard soard over the village very high up ( pity it wasn't the kite)...

92. Sand Martin.

Friday, April 25, 2008

A nice spring day today, mild and fair with some cloud and a light W3.

I took a flexi day off today and got up to a text message from Dave Elliott telling me that he'd had a Great White Egret at Cresswel first thing then it flew off south. A great bird finder is Davey. I put it down to tenacity. He always seems upbeat and on the hunt never grumbling when there's 'nowt about'. He goes out there and finds it. We should all take a leaf out of his book and maybe there would be more to see.

Anyway, I had to go down to Ashington this morning so I did the rounds looking for the Egret.

Castle Island - Been one here before, but not today. The 2 Barnacle Geese were the highlight.

Bothal - I've seen GWE here before, but not today. Little ringed Plover was the best on offer.

Longhirst Flash - Again, I've had GWE here too, but the pond only had a scattering of the commoner wildfowl and gulls. A nice male Whitethroat was singing from the top of the hedge along the road, my first this year.

Linton - I think there's been a GWE here too ( you can see a pattern forming can't you ) but no sign now. But the small copse and the hide track were absolutely lifting with warblers. Spring has sprung. There were 4+ Blackcaps, 2 Lesser Whitethroats, 1 Sedge Warbler, 1 Grasshopper Warbler, 3+ Willow Warblers and 4+ Chiffchaffs. Granted, its not Portland but on a small, inland, Northumberland old mine site its great.

Contact with ST showed that he had done Castle Island, Cresswell, Druridge and Warkworth Lane without luck. By now the egret is probably at Teesside...

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A change in the wind has brought an immediate change in the birds. After a swing from NNE to SSE I finally managed to get my first Boulmer Swallow this evening, maybe a fortnight late. Also while out with Bunty, a sound I always anticipate at this time, the 'seven whistles' of a Whimbrel as it steadily flew north overhead. These birds always seem to be calling, you think they would get hoarse...

A single male Wheatear was on the beach ( probable Greenland ) with a small scattering of Turnstones, Knot and Dunlin, 2 Red breasted Mergansers were just offshore and 4 Herons waited for the tide to recede so they could take advantage of what was left stranded in the rock pools.

90. Swallow.
91. Whimbrel.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Above - Top, Alkanet and bottom, Spring Beauty Montia perfoliata. The latter is an unusual small primitive plant like a chickweed. Apparently an introduced species in 1749, and now quite widespread, though scarce up here. These were growing along the roadside near Alnmouth Golfcourse Pond.

Above - A pair of Buzzards were showing well near Foxton Bends, Alnmouth. The darker male was watched closely as he soared above the pale breasted female. Click any for bigger image.

Today was bright and sunny with a cool NE4.

I started off at Boulmer doing my first spring atlas survey. I did the square covering the farmland from the runways west to Drive Cottage, Longhoughton taking in Ord's Farm. The most noteworthy thing was a negative. Still next to no summer visitors. Two hours wandering fields and hedgerows and not one Willow Warbler counted ( though I did see one later at the golfcourse corner) and the only hirundine seen was a lone Swallow at the farm ( none on the Boulmer patch yet).

Also of note, 4 Northern Golden Plovers, 2 pairs of Tree Sparrows nest building, 1 pair of Stock Doves and good numbers of singing Skylarks, Linnets and Yellowhammers with one or two pairs of Grey Partridge for good measure. Mammals seen were 3 Brown Hares and 2 Roe Deer.

I then checked out the Alnmouth and Foxton areas, seeing 3 Buzzards, 3 Goosanders, 2 Red breasted Mergansers, 2 Goldeneye, 6 Wigeon, 14 Teal 5+ Chiffchaffs including one nest building. A Peacock Butterfly was on the wing despite the cold breeze.

This evening Bunty's walk around Seaton Point at high tide was quite good. A flock of roosting waders on the beach held 28 Grey Plovers, 2 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Knot and 42+ Turnstones - all reasonable counts at this late date.

Back at home the 'northern' influence continued when a female Brambling joined the Chaffinches and House Sparrows at our bird feeders.

89. Willow Warbler.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

We've got company...

Above - Robin on her nest in an old flower basket in our outhouse. See they aren't just for Christmas...

Above - The Song Thrush's nest I photographed for an earlier post on a beam in our outhouse now has five eggs...

Today I decided to check through our old outhouse, a former small stable and tiny pig sty, to see what or who has moved in. The Robin looked very comfortable in the flower basket positioned especially for her. This is the second time it has been used. Blank last year but 5 fledged young in 2006. The Thrush is in a more open position in the main building that we use daily for storing bird food etc. It is used annually by Swallows so it will be interesting to see how the two species get on...Look at those lovely blue eggs with inky black spots, nothing takes me back to my childhood more than this.

Bunty's walk took in both caravan sites at Boulmer. A Willow Tit buzzed and sang from the gorse bushes and a lone Goldcrest was the only migrant here.

88. Willow Tit.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Damp squib.

Well, so far, the easterly pattern has come to nothing. Even less birds than usual at Boulmer and that takes some doing. Not even a single migrant Robin...Maybe that low pressure along the English Channel is too much of a blocker? Hopefully something will make its way around the eastern edge of it...

Of note this evening, 2 Manx Shearwaters and 2 Sandwich Terns flew north in with 500+ Kittiwakes per hour, and a lone male Wheatear was on the beach.

86. Sandwich Tern.
87. Manx Shearwater.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

April Falls Day...

This weather is something tonight. Strong easterlies with rain. Now April falls are not as easy to predict as September falls, but this may produce a bird or two for the weekend? Or it might not.

In the past I find April can be a month with a few Ring Ouzels, Black Redstarts, Firecrests and Great Grey Shrikes with odd things like Northern Bullies and Long eared Owls and the odd Wryneck backed by plenty of Grey continental Robins and returning Goldcrests.

Don't forget, easterly conditions on 23rd April 1995 dropped the male Red flanked Bluetail on to Holy Island..

I would like a twitchable Serin...

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Wild Goose Chase...

Well, somebody had to say it...

I see our hunch was correct. The Red breasted Goose is a ringed bird. I think that should just about remove it from everyone's list.

A drive up past Cresswell again tonight and the Hoodie ( Crow, not lambrini soaked chav )was again right out near the road in nice sunshine. This time, I thought, don't get out of the car. As I pulled up and tentatively reached for the bins, off it went over the dunes and out of sight. A very suspicious bird this...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Nearly a good day...

Another cold day today with a N3 and bright sunshine.

On my way home from work I thought I would take a detour via Cresswell and the coast.
The Hooded Crow was well into the open in bright sunshine so I thought I would try a photo. No chance with this thing, despite the distance, as soon as I left the car for my gear out of the boot it flushed over the dunes and out of sight.

Next to Druridge where 2 Avocets were performing like stars in front of the demolished hide. No sooner had I set the camera up everything on the fields lifted and flew north, chased off by a large para-kite type thing over on the dunes. Bugger.

Now, best to come, a Red breasted Goose had been found with a few Pinkfeet at East Chevington. On arrival the birds strolled off into a field nicely obscured by a straggly hawthorn hedge. The goose could be seen occasionally as it wandered around grazing, when ever it passed by a gap in the cover. Phrases such as 'crippling views' and 'showing well' were used to describe a miniscule glimpse of a flank, head or breast though not all at once...

So three good birds seen, but only just. Is the Goose a wild bird or does it come to bread? That remains to be seen. If wild it will be a county tick for every one hence the good turn out here this evening. Who knows it may show better in the morning...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Click for a bigger image...

At Boulmer, the glass dome has been up again this weekend preventing any summer visitors getting in. Waders have been around in reasonable numbers for the time of year though with a count on Friday producing 75 Redshank, 67 Turnstone, 7 Purple Sandpipers, 1 Grey Plover, 15 Dunlin and 3 Sanderling as well as the usual Oystercatchers and Curlew.

Today I decided to drive south to where the action is, or was. First stop, Druridge Pools for Ipin's (who?) Garganey. No sign. While there I got a call from Andy to say he was watching the Hooded Crow just a few hundred yards along the road towards Bell's Dunes. I popped over and got a short view before it flushed and flew over to the beach and out of sight.

Back to the pools, the Otter was showing very well. As he was diving and porpoising around I was about to give up and took one solitary snap with the camera and got my sharpest shot of one so far! A bit of luck doesn't go wrong. Also around the pools were Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and a handful of Sand Martins.

Our next stop was East Chevington. On arrival, a maniac had unleashed his dogs to run amock through fields around the reserve near the car park. 2 Cocker Spaniels and a Labrador bounding around after honking and protesting Greylags soon became irritating, made even worse by the said owner shouting and yelling after them while trying to blow his whistle at the same time. We had the last laugh though when his car wouldn't start as we left him to it...

Not a lot here really, I suppose the highlights were my first Swallows and House Martins of the year moved north with small groups of Sand Martins. Another Otter showed briefly in the north pool as it swan alongside the reedy edge.

The other day I found a Song Thrush building its nest in our outhouse rafters. It looks a bit precarious up there..

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A short lunchtime visit to Bothal Pond had these nice 4 Black tailed Godwits feeding along the west shore. They were quite flighty and did a few laps around at the slightest disturbance.

These will be the birds reported on ST's blog at Linton yesterday. Also here were 2 Barnacle Geese and a very vocal Great crested Grebe. Quite a few Sand Martins but still no Swallows.

At Earth Balance, Stakeford, my first Willow Warbler of the year was singing from the tree tops near the fishing hut.

At Boulmer, last night, 2 male Wheatears were at Seaton Point. There seems to be a hint of east in the wind this evening. It could drop something in...

Monday, April 07, 2008

Patch Tick.

Today was cold and wet with some heavy sleet showers, but then, spring burst through at tea time to leave a nice bright sunny calm evening.

A short afternoon diversion saw me pop in to Bothal Pond then to Longhirst Flash. At the flash the first bird seen was a very white juvenile Iceland Gull walking around eating stuff from the wet grass. My second this year after the adult at Linton. Trev Blake turned up and told me that someone had put this bird on the information services earlier, but I hadn't seen the message. I was lucky just to dip-in on it. Good eh.

Out with Bunty at 6pm around Seaton Point at high tide I was suprised by a new flush of waders. There were 21 Purple Sandpipers ( a record at this site, 5 is the norm), 13 Grey Plover, 4 Knot, 29 Sanderling ( there may have been 59 but I'm not sure if I had duplicated the count by having one mobile flock or two seperate ones)50 Turnstone and a scattering of Dunlin.

Best of all though, on the way home a Barn Owl was hunting the roadside between the two caravan sites near Boulmer. A patch tick for me, and a long expected one...

85. Barn Owl ( 188 at Boulmer for me)

Sunday, April 06, 2008


Above male ( top) and female Snow Buntings at Boulmer. Camera nicely focussed about a yard in front of the birds...

Above - Turned out nice again...

Through the week JWR rang to see if I fancied looking at some woodland sites to see how spring was progressing. So, after being berated for giving him a 'public flogging' over the white stork last week we arranged a day in the field. With Chiffs, Sand Martins and Wheatears comfortably ensconced in breeding habitat, the first willow warblers and maybe a swallow or two would be back.

As you can see, mother nature had other plans. I can't see many hirundines in that white out.

So, we met up for a chat first thing and a wander around Alnmouth and Foxton before I headed up to Boulmer. Along the Aln estuary there were 8 Goldeneye, 1 male Red breasted Merganser and a scattering of Teal and Wigeon. A single Chiffchaff did its best to be heard above the icy NW wind.

At Boulmer I checked the Snow Buntings north of the village. They were with 5 Skylarks and 1 male and 1 female Wheatear. Shame the wind and stinging sleet made the Wheatears so flighty that pictures were a non starter.

I gave up and headed for home to find a newly crashed car upside down in the middle of the road near the RAF base. Luckily the driver was unhurt but I bet he was well shocked. I know I was.

84. Wheatear.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Last night was a nice mild calm spring evening. Jane and myself walked Bunty north from Boulmer to Howdiemont Bay hoping to get a wheatear. No joy. They are late here now. On the way back a movement on the redundant sheep feed area turned out to be 2 Snow Buntings scuffling along. One, a male, in almost summer plumage, looked as large as a skylark and was very obvious. The other, a female, sat still next to a tuft of grass, camouflaged, amongst sheep droppings and tufts of wool. A good late record for Snow Bunts...

I seem to have cocked up the list count again. A proper check of a paper list shows the actual Boulmer total to be...

83. Snow Bunting.

The low tech method is best for this I think...

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Water Pipit confirmed!

With thanks to Alan Gilbertson again, this picture confirms my initial identity that the Bothal Pipit is indeed spinoletta.The white outer tail can be clearly seen in this image ( well, maybe not clearly, but its there).The fine flank 'dashes' can be seen better here too. Border Riever has also added to the debate. After discussions with 'a man about a dog' apparently the up turned bill is a good feature for Water Pipit too. That is definately a new one to me, but I'll remember it for the future.

Thanks to all for your help. I had visions of me starting another rough-legged buzzard sketch off here...

And, changing the subject somewhat, I was parked at the QEII Lake car park at lunchtime today looking for swallows when I heard a 'mixed singer' Chiffchaff over to the west of the lake. It started with the typical willow warbler cadence then just at the end it burst into chiff chaff song like a machine gun. It did this a good few times when I was there but I didn't have the time to go and look for the culprit. No swallows though..

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Water Pipit revisited.

Alan Gilbertson kindly sent me these pictures ( above) he took of the 'Water Pipit' I found at Bothal Pond. Its good to compare them with my field note below. I seem to have missed the dark blemish on the lower breast and the obvious eye ring. The supercillium looked brighter white too. My excuse is that it was too distant to see these features...( you've got to have one, haven't you).

I'm pleased he managed the shots. I think that this is most likely to be a Water Pipit and not an extreme example of littoralis Rock Pipit. I see many of the latter and some quite good ones but none are as plain on the upper breast as this bird. BUT, I didn't manage to see the colour of the outer tail feathers, supposedly the clincher. A few other features are anomalous too, mainly the 'weight' of streaking on the flanks. Winter 'Water' have neat distinct streaking and in summer have hardly any at all. On this bird they look quite 'dirty'?

I can't get myself convinced about outer tail as a field character. In the hand or in the museum, yes, but wandering around in a water meadow before flushing into the wild blue yonder? I think not. I have never been able to see 'white' on any of the Water Pipits I've seen, mainly because they are lone birds so no comparison ( how white is white exactly?), quite fast and small when flying ( usually up into the sky so the bird is almost instantly a silhouette) and they are very difficult to get the bins onto as they dash off.

Now, if one would just start to preen its tail about 30 yards away in good light when I'm scoping it, I might stand a chance. I just doesn't happen though, does it. I think records committees should be wary of descriptions that claim 'obvious white outer tail'. Obvious in the Field Guide maybe...

Above - littoralis Rock Pipit, Seaton Point. They are quite similar though.

Is it or isn't it? I think it probably is...

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Today was bright but windy.

I couldnt find the Water Pipit at Bothal but there were 2 LRP's and 11 Sand Martins...

Spring Migrants!

Above - Field Notes, Water Pipit, Bothal Pond.

Last evening I had a couple of hours to kill before going to an excellent slide show at Steve Taylor's house (His recent holiday to Chile with birds I've never heard of but they looked fantastic) so I stopped off at Bothal Pond.

Although a chap was flyfishing ( and doing well too with three big Rainbows to the net before release) there were still some birds around. A single, female, Little Ringed Plover was on show as were my first 8 Sand Martins of the year.

I had seen a White Wagtail in with the 30 or so Pieds scattered around the pond edge when Bob Biggs turned up on his way home before coming to Stevie's slide show. He had LRP and Sand Martins on his year list before leaving but we couldn't refind the White Wag. After he left I was counting the Wagtails looking for the alba finding not one but two then, with them a smaller more skulking bird appeared. Even at range in the scope, it looked good, and the most obvious feature was the plain pale pink breast. As it turned I could see the blueish head with white supercilium - a Water Pipit. Due to the distance and vegetation I couldn't see the tail well, but I could pick out some very strong lower flank streaking. After a while it wandered off into one of the small edge creases on the west side.

Later at Steves do, ADMc saw my drawing above and tells me that he had a littoralis Rock Pipit here a day or two back. Well, that got me thinking straight away. Have I cocked up another Pipit like last years Tree Pip at Seaton Point? I often doubt my own eyes, but my notes above are as genuine as I could be, and were done on the spot, even the painting.

It was with some relief when Steve texted me this morning to say that a Water Pipit was showing down to 50 feet. Maybe not as pink as my picture but a Water Pipit none the less. Some one also reported it at lunchtime... Two bird theory or two bird fact?

Also seen during the day at snatched intervals - 3 juv Glaucous Gulls at Linton, same birds as photographed, the 2 Cranes at QEII and my first 4 Chiffchaffs all singing at Linton.

Comment up front.

I liked this comment from Nigel at Abbey Meadows Blog...it brings it all back! How many Northumberland birders can remember finding a Corn Buntings nest? I recall one at the roadside between Pegswood and Ashington, just about the point where the new bypass road meets the old road...

"Aye those were the days Stew! East Stobswood before the road widening and the bends taken out I just wish I had my original notes to look at.

I can remember sitting on a haystack counting the thousands, yes thousands of finches and buntings at Rochesters farm at harvest time. Up to three hundered Tree Sparrows were not uncommon with similar numbers of Linnets and Chaffinches. Corn Bunting flocks would hold at least eighty birds and there would often be over a hundred Yellowhammers.

These birds have gone with the primitive farming methods that Rochester used.Its goodbye to those and hello to Buzzards, Speckled Woods and Banded Demoiselles