Sunday, November 30, 2008

Crisp and clear...

Another nice sharp winters day. -1 this morning and scarcely above freezing all day except in sheltered sunny spots.

A couple of visits to Boulmer today were very quiet on the bird front. Frustratingly, a male Bullfinch was in a hedge about 200 yards outside the patch. It would have been a new species on the Boulmer list. A Snow Bunting circled around high overhead calling first thing this morning.

As the day seemed to be slow on the patch, I did a couple of atlas tetrads before lunch. One was near Lesbury, the other at Littlemill Quarry...

Above Top - Hedgerow near River Aln, Lesbury. Bottom - Littlemill Quarry, partly frozen up. The ice was creaking and whistling against the stone quarry walls. Very eerie...

The Lesbury tetrad recorded 34 species while the Littlemill one could only manage 25.There were no suprises other than a Peacock butterfly strongly flying over a frosted field, but 2 Treecreepers, several Redwings, 2 Great spotted Woodpeckers, Buzzard, 3 Bullfinches and Goosander were all nice to see. Birds proved difficult to get close to today for some reason. Maybe it was the crunching of frost underfoot?

These tracks were found in hardened mud in different spots today, top, Rat and bottom the broad 'pug' mark of a Badger. Two Roe Deer startled off through the woods and two Brown Hares grazed on some newly sprouting wheat.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Winter look...

As we have had frost, ice and snow, the Christmas shopping is well done, the days are short and the nights long I thought a change of slide show and header would be in order. I must get the blog list sorted too, I have a couple of new ones to add...

Looking at Northumbrian Birder's blog I see that Cresswell hide had more visitors than Debenhams on Friday. Queue's of Bittern worshippers ( there might be three birds now) are having some success at the minute with the birds showing regularly and quite well too. I might call in on a weekday when the crowds have subsided...

As for that Snow Goose. Its now found new mates with the Pinkfeet at Chevington. I wish it had arrived with some Greenland Whitefronts instead of those Greylags.Thats the thing about rare wildfowl, if they dont come with good supporting credentials we might as well tick Bar headed Geese...


A think white rhind covered everything this morning, but the air was clear and the sun shone so it was all very nice. Out with Bunty to Seaton Point.

Above - This Buzzard looked huddled up in the cold just along from our house...

Above - Looking west towards Seaton House. The stubble on the right is where the Lap Bunts were the other week...

Above - Quite a few Reed Buntings were still about with at least a dozen birds in this flock along with Greenfinches, Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers.

Above -This red roofed house is on the roadside between Boulmer village and Seaton Point. Roughly in the middle of the south end of the patch you can see some of the farmland habitat I watch...

Above - The thick hoar frost soon melted in the rising sun...

Above - These Lapwings were part of about 40 or so that flew west from the rocks on the coast. We dont get too many here really. 40 is not a bad number.

Above - We do get a lot of these. Bait Diggers. pushing the waders off much needed food during the cold spell. One or two wouldnt be bad but I've seen up to 50 here working in commercial squadrons in the dark wearing headlamps!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Lifer or not? The trouble with wildfowl...

I see there is a Snow Goose loitering around the south east of the county. I could do with that, if it was wild.

Snow Goose is the commonest bird on the British list that I have not seen, or should I say, not added to my list. This is because I've seen a good few over the years but none fits MY criteria to be added. I mean, after all, we can only police ourselves in these matters, because no one else really gives a monkeys.

I've seen two at Holywell in years gone by and best of all I had 5 ( or was it 6?) flying south over Amble one year. No good to me I'm afraid. None of them seemed 'right' if you know what I mean. Either the timing was wrong or they were with the wrong carrier species etc etc.

Some might say that they could have been wild and they'd have been right. They could have been. But the evidence just doesn't amount to enough to push me one nearer to the 400 mark. If there's one thing I am obsessive about its keeping my totals clean.

So how would I judge a Snow Goose. What would give it the qualifications to be deemed a genuine vagrant by me?

For a start it must not be wearing a ring. It must be free flying and show no sign of captivity. ( All of those above fit that part). The timing should be right, ie arriving with either good weather patterns or over the autumn / winter / spring period.( The two Holywell and the recent bird fit there.) It should be with good carriers such as the hoards of Pinkfeet that arrive from Iceland each autumn. It should NOT just loaf around with feral species. This last one would not stop it being wild, but it would add a hint of doubt.

As Snow Geese are feral and free flying in parts of Britain and Europe I couldn't add a 'first' that hung around with Greylags especially when there are so many wild Pinkfeet around. Yes I know the Greylags could be from Iceland too, but its all down to the balance of probabilities.

Chances are this Snow Goose is wild, but not wild enough for me.

One day...

Now if it had been at Boulmer....oh don't go there!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This week gets better...

Out at 8am this morning. There had been another light covering of snow and the wind had swung to a W3.

As the weather was a little bit different to the norm I decided against doing an atlas tetrad in favour of a morning at Boulmer...

The walk north towards the Low Steads seemed very quiet, as if all of the birds had cleared off but I persevered. At the tip of the headland I was pleased to flush a Woodcock from under my feet, my only one this year. It circled around showing well against the snow then flew off high to the south. A pair of Stonechats fed from the track side, while 6 Skylarks flew south and another 13 circled the stubble field.

As I checked the cattle feed area for buntings etc a party of 14 Greylags came in off the sea and left to the west. Looking around, another two geese lifted from the field and began circling. I very nearly didn't give them binocular time, Pinkfeet, thinks I. As they did another lap, I put the bins on them as they were going away and saw massive black bars on the belly. Now that makes things alltogether different. There has never been a record of White fronted Goose on the patch and I was getting a rush! Sure enough they banked around showing the white blaze and I scrabbled for the camera to get this shot for posterity.

Eurasian White fronted Geese, a full patch tick.

Back at the car in the village, a Merlin flew south over the haven and 9 Long tailed Tits came through the gardens. There was no sign of yesterday's Glauc though.

At lunchtime we took Bunty for a walk through the Howick grounds down past the small lake. Again, no sound of small birds until that very distinctive trill met my ears...

... looking up, 18 Waxwings were singing and flycatching from the top of a tall ash tree. Nice to see they all haven't moved on. Later they were feeding on the berries of some ornamental rowan trees. On the way back a party of Snow Buntings were calling strongly over head and moving north but, unfortunately, I couldn't get on to them.

Another good day. I think next year I'll save some holidays for November, its better than October.

145. Woodcock.
146. White fronted Goose.

Boulmer Full Patch List - WFG 210.
My Boulmer List- WFG 191.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


These wintry scenes greeted us on the patch at Boulmer this morning. Drammatic cloudy skys and huge waves crashing into the haven caused by a bitter cold northerly wind.

As I pulled up in the car the first bird I noticed was a big juvenile Glaucous Gull arrive into the haven from the south. It stayed just long enough to feed and I could snatch a few pics before carrying on north.

On the beach 11 Bar tailed Godwits were roosting and in the turmoil of waves Eiders carried on displaying as if spring was around the corner.

Maybe there'll be some more to see tomorrow when time allows...

144. Glaucous Gull.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

They're here!

I've just seen the new post on Kingsdowner blog ( left) about the massive decline in our spuggies. Well here's the thing, I've got them. I fill that feeder above once a day and drop a handful of seed on the ground and hey presto, 120 spuggies! Go on count them ( if you do let me know how many you get. Try and include the blurred ones in flight too...)

Patch Tick!

I took a holiday today to dog-sit. After Bunty's walk, the weather looked quite good so I thought this would be a chance to try again on the Seaton Point atlas square that was rained off last week.

This is the view from Seaton Point to Boulmer village...

Only two tetrads are exactly within my Boulmer patch, this being the most southern.

As the tide was almost high I walked from Foxton beach, north around the point to count the waders first. A good number were feeding and roosting along the shore.

Alongside the usual Turnstones and Redshanks there was a good count of 46 Grey Plovers and 2 Purple Sandpipers.

From here I moved into the fields behind the point. There were no Snow or Lapland Buntings today but the large group of small birds were back on the set-a-side land - 87 Linnets, 25 Reed Buntings, 15 Greenfinches and 8 Tree Sparrows posed for a count when they lifted up into the boundary hedge.

The fields had a few Grey Partridges and 3 Skylarks but 58 Lapwings on the plough was a reasonable number here. 4 Red breasted Mergansers were in the haven but I could only find 3 Eiders, the rest must be north of the village.

On the return journey along the road I took in both caravan sites. It was here I came across the bird of the day. As I skirted the gorse 2 Yellowhammers were to be expected but then a Long eared Owl flushed at point blank range, flipping over the scrub and out of sight. My first here, though I have heard of other records. The Owl's departure caused a flurrie of action from mobbing passerines in the bushes, 2 Goldcrests were buzzing then, almost as unexpected as the owl, a Treecreeper came by at ground level feeding on the low gorse trunks.

A good two hour count then, with 47 species in the square. Notable misses - Collared Dove, Great Tit, Sanderling...

My Boulmer List - 190. Long eared Owl.
2008 Boulmer Year List - 143. Long eared Owl.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Its a mystery...

Above - Sunrise over Boulmer haven, 07.43am.

Above - Kestrel.

Above - Robin.

Today was much cooler than yesterday. I was out at first light to meet JWR at Boulmer. After a quick check of the haven where a juv Mute Swan on the sea was the highlight, I drove to the golfcourse laybye to scan for owls or raptors.

No sooner had John arrived than a 'tinkling' of 9 Snow Buntings flew west over head, closely followed by a Merlin fresh out of its roost landing on the plough in front of us.

From here we walked around Seaton Point where we checked the area for yesterdays Lapland Buntings. Our walk around the point had Snow Buntings a plenty with 7 S, 1 N and 3 W bringing the total to 20 birds.

A check of the stubble had loads of Grey Partridges with 9, 8, 4 and 11 in coveys totalling 32 birds. Over head 177 Pink footed Geese flew south. There was no sign of the large flock of small birds, maybe they had been driven off by the Kestel, Buzzard and the Merlin from earlier loafing around the margins.

At 10am we did an atlas tetrad just west of Seaton Point where only 23 species were recorded. The Merlin was seen again this time chasing a Snipe we had flushed. This Snipe was in full escape mode leaving the Merlin standing...

It was on the return journey we came across the survey highlight...

Near Field House Farm we both saw a pale grey passerine flit across the lane ahead of us. This stopped us dead because neither of us had a clue as to what it was. I only saw its rear end as it disappeared into the hedge and it looked Willow Tit coloured. I suggested to John that this could be interesting and we should consider our options. Could it be a Booted or a Desert Warbler perhaps????!!! JWR suggested it was a ghost. ( Some people are just to keen to shoot you down aren't they...)

After a couple of glimpses later its true identity was confirmed, and I suppose we had known all along...

... a leucistic BLACKCAP! And it was a female too, eating some elderberries while we watched. I've never seen anything like it...Many years ago I had a white Linnet at Druridge, a half white Corn Bunting at Woodhorn and even a white Carrion Crow at Boulmer but I've never had a white warbler...

Saturday, November 15, 2008


Today was a nice day. Generally bright with a light S2. It was made even nicer when I took Bunty out for her walk. The outward route was pretty much usual Boulmer fayre with 20 Grey Partridges, 48 Pink footed Geese S and a Sparrowhawk, but as we turned to come back something flushed the passerines in the stubble.

The Sparrowhawk maybe.

As the Tree Sparrows and Reed Buntings spread out and away two Skylarks flew over head west. They were closely followed by two Snow Buntings, quite low overhead, showing the white in the wings, but behind them and flying away were another 5 birds without any white. Their jizz was just like the Snow Bunts showing very long pointed wings and steady flappy flight. I had my suspicions...

Lucky for me they reached the far side of the field then circled and came right back to me and showed over head. The calls were quiet but unmistakable. 5 Lapland Buntings! Calling a soft 'tuk' like a Brambling, then the 'prrrt' 'teu' at least one was a male with black along the breast band. Fantastic.

Although I have had Lap Bunting on the patch before, I have never had 5 together, a good count by any standards in the county today. They danced around in circles before landing again on the far side of the field where I left them alone.

I must apologise to the county lads for not putting the info out, but I didn't want people yomping over the farmland. There are no public paths over it but the farmer turns a blind eye to my tresspasses. What he would say if birders turned up through the day I don't know.

I will check them out tomorrow morning. If they are still around and can be viewed from a public area I'll put it out ( today I was on a public track when I saw them but unless they fly around you'd have no chance).

One of my patch highlights this year.

(Picture above stolen from web without any permission whatsoever...)

142. Lapland Bunting.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Part of another attempt...The Desert Wheatear on the boulder and scrap and ash waste beach north of Newbiggin...

Monday, November 10, 2008

At work today I felt obliged to call and see if the Waxwings were still at Woodhorn Motors. 25 of them were, but all of the rowan berries have been scoffed. The birds were flying over the road behind the new flats to feed.

I chatted to a nice couple from Liverpool who were up visiting friends. These Waxwings were their first, and they seemed very pleased with them ( who wouldn't be, I still enjoy everyone like it was my first, thats the appeal of these tufty russians).

Dave Dack rang me to say that he'd found a Pallas's Warbler on the mound to keep the Hume's and Yellow browed Warblers company, but I don't think either of those were seen today. The Desert Wheatear was still on the boulder beach at Alcan despite going awol for a couple of hours and the Bluetail still on Holy Island.

Work, it just gets in the way of real life...

Sunday, November 09, 2008


This is what its about. Back to basics birding, none of that flitting from here to there after the latest rarity. After all migration has finished now. This morning dawned nice and bright with a moderate breeze, a SW5, so I did my duty and surveyed an atlas tetrad around my village.

In an hour from 8 - 9am I counted 33 species including -

Merlin 1 male hunting. First bird of the day. Nice.
Starling 129
House Sparrow 134
Bullfinch 1 male
Great spotted Woodpecker 1 male
Goldcrest 5
Kestrel 1
Tree Sparrow 9
Buzzard 1 eating worms in the field behind our house.

After breakfast I thought I would pop down to Boulmer and do the Seaton Point tetrad too, I was in my stride.

After half an hour counting a horrendous storm came in from the south west increasing the wind to force 8 with heavy hail and rain stinging the face. This was never going to get a good count so rain stopped play. I retired from the survey.

Now, I had just got back to the shelter of the car when a message came through saying there was a Desert Wheatear near Alcan Power Station just north of Newbiggin. Although I have seen 3 in Northumberland already I figured I deserevd a treat after dipping out yesterday and getting soaked today so off I went.

Although the bird was out of view on my arrival, we soon all got good views of the male Desert Wheatear on the ash and boulder beach in the shadow of the power station. An what a cracking bird too. This one seemed pinker in tone than my only other male dessie and with contrasty black face and wings it looked the part as it flew and hopped around the moonscape beach.

As my picture above shows I didn't do well with the camera so a sketch from memory as soon as I got home helps ( didn't do well here either I missed the black wing joining the face. Write a hundred times - Notes MUST be taken on the spot).

Then Ian Fisher (top) and Alan Gilbertson ( bottom) sent me the photos below.

Thats better...

So much for the autumn ending. Northumberland did well today not only did we have the Wheatear above, but the Bluetail was relocated on Holy Island ( bloody thing), Hume's Warblers were at St Mary's and Newbiggin along with Yellow browed Warblers at both sites too! Throw in a few White billed Divers and a Waxwing invasion November has eclipsed October again...

Speaking of which this is Ian Fisher's photo of the White billed Diver that flew over his head last week at Hauxley. Not often you see a photo of a seawatch rarity...

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Bloody Bluetails....

I knew it. Yesterday afternoon the weather changed. Not only did the cloud clear but the wind changed direction and became stronger. Things didn't feel good...

This morning I was on Holy Island for 7.30am. And off again before the tide at 8.40am.

The vicars garden was a bleak ( I nearly said god forsaken, oops...)cold place catching the blustery wind full on. Very few birds were around, a couple of Robins and an abietinus Chiffchaff was about all. The Bluetail had high tailed it to new horizons. It only took five minutes to realise that no self respecting vagrant would stay put in the face of a November Northumberland 'breeze'.

Not to worry, I saw the last RFB on the island in 1995 and that was a blue adult male.

Back at home for breakfast I looked out of the kitchen window just in time to see two of the 'Bloody Waxwings' I've been on about, drop into a birch tree behind our house. They only stayed afew minutes and flew off as I was going for the camera so I didn't see which direction. I knew my ears hadn't decieved me!

I think my Druridge colleague is right though, this weather change really does signify the end of autumn migration.

Friday, November 07, 2008


Thanks to Dave Dack I caught up with the Ashington Waxwings this morning on my way to work. 43 of them were plundering two tiny rowans behind Woodhorn Motors. I parked the car next to the small trees and waited for them to drop down to feed. Their behaviour was quite interesting. They would sit for ten or fifteen minutes up the tall tree, calling constantly then glide down to the rowans. The call would change to include some 'seet seet' notes and each bird would only eat a few berries before flying up in a panic to digest for another ten or fifteen minutes.

We are lucky in Northumberland in that Waxwings appear in varying numbers most winters. This seems to be a good year for them so far, but it wont be long before these birds move on south to find more berries...

I like this one, it shows the large crest that gives these birds such distinction. Its a pity it was very dull and rainy when I took these pictures. I had the iso set very high to get anything at all...

While watching them a Peregrine flew over west. This didn't worry the Waxwings who just went quiet for a minute as the raptor disappeared.

At lunchtime a Red flanked Bluetail and a Pallas's Warbler were found together in the vicars garden on Holy Island. I might try for them tomorrow. Its 13 years since I saw the last Holy Island Bluetail...

On the way home from work a Barn Owl flew over the car at Hipsburn.