A Naturalist in Northumberland


Monday, December 29, 2008

Mad Dash....

Today was fair but overcast and cold. It was also the first free time I've had to get out and clear up some birds for the Quicksilver Festive List...

I headed out at 11.30 and was home for 3.30. In those 4 hours I did a gazetteer of birding sites of south east Northumberland, taking in - in order of appearance - Foxton Bends, Amble Braid, Druridge Bay Country Park, Widdrington Tip, Linton Ponds, QEII Lake, Bothal Pond, Newbiggin Prom, Lynemouth roadside flash, Cresswell Ices, Cresswell Pond and Bells Links and finally, Druridge Budge Fields!

The first four stops added very little. On route to Linton from the Linton Roundabout I stopped to scan two pools in a ploughed field that were covered in gulls. Best here was a group of about 12 geese - 3+ White fronted Geese, 2 Pinks and the rest were Greylags.




A hundred yards further on the straight road, a small Ash sapling was growing from the hedge. Distantly I could make out some dumpling like shapes in the branches...



It had to be, my old mates the Waxwings! Six of them sat still while I took some shots and they were still there for Brian 'Northumbria Birding' over half an hour later on my return ( his pics are better than mine). One even looked down at me with a knowing eye...



At Newbiggin a very brief stop and I soon had an adult Med Gull cruising up and down the prom...


After Newbiggin I took the coast route past Lynemouth to view the roadside flash. As I pulled up a chap was scanning from his car further up. A flock of gulls got up off the water and the chap leapt from his car and began waving his arms to me. As I got out of the car, he was shouting "Iceland Gull, up there!" and sure enough there it was, a second winter bird all ghostly white slowly flying off with the Black headed Gulls. No chance of a shot though, but have a look at ST's blog, its his bird...

Onwards and upwards, to Cresswell Pond. I stopped to tell a lady with an SLR camera and big lens about the Iceland Gull a mile down the road. She wiped me off her shoe with " No light"!!! Now what that's supposed to mean beats me, but the apathy of it all depressed me so I gave the Bittern and Water Rail a miss, they had been showing, and moved to Bells Links. I just couldn't face the hide and crack like that again...

At Bells, 5 Twite were on the roadside wires.



Biggest suprise of the day was this Chiffchaff in the willows behind the Budge Screen at Druridge. Its years since I had a Northumberland wintering Chiff. It didn't call at all and looked like collybita...

The list is progressing.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Sea Serpent....

How exciting is this!

Well to me it is anyway. Alan Thompson kindly sent me these photos of an Oarfish Regalecus glesne he found washed up on the beach at Druridge Bay, Northumberland.


This is an extremely rare fish and was only filmed alive for the first time in 2001. As they live at depths up to 1000 mtrs they are rarely seen alive at all. See here for a few pics of a live one.

Believed to be the longest 'bony' fish on record, Oarfish grow to 36 feet in length and have been found washed up all over the world. They breed off Mexico, and are responsible for many ancient reports of Sea Serpents by ancient mariners. I don't know if one has ever been recorded in Northumberland before.

If I had time I would have twitched it, but I'm not too sure of its exact location. Chances are it has been washed away by now.


Interestingly, a Ray's Bream was caught at Newbiggin only a few weeks ago, another species rarely encountered alive...

PS. I've been 'Googling' this fish to find out a bit more. It seems they are very rare even in world terms with only a few being found washed up each year. Alan sent me another email yesterday saying that he has also found / seen Deal Fish, a species very like Oarfish but shorter and from the north, latin name arctica and Opah, a large, dustbin lid shaped fish like a Sunfish, but better coloured, both on Druridge beach. I might pay more attention to beachcombing in future...
Another dry calm day. No visits to Boulmer today, too much to do.

While I was feeding the birds in our yard this morning a Peregrine, maybe the same bird as Christmas Day, flew high overhead, before dropping into a massive stoop out of sight behing the rooftops. A few seconds later the sky darkened with gulls, pigeons and starlings scattering to all four quarters...

Still no proper birding to boost the list. Unless there is a massive change in fortune Dean at Mostly Macro is going great guns and has had some nice tricky birds on his list...

I'm hoping to get out tomorrow for a few hours in the hope of nailing a biggie, such as Canada Goose, Teal or maybe even the dizzy heights of Coot...

Yes, its that bad....

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Over the last few days, Christmas commitments mean that birding time has been in short supply, but, thanks to the needs of a small terrier ( minus her hat) there is always time for a stroll with the binoculars. I have been keeping a tally of species seen as suggested by Andrew at Quicksilver blog, and will do until New years day. The total will be revealed after then...

In the mean time, there have been one or two highlights...

Christmas Day-

Started well with a Song Thrush in full song out in the street just before first light. A nice early record for me as I dont usually hear one until maybe the second week of January. Our morning walk around Boulmer featured mainly the commoner species that could be expected here on any winters day, but an immature Peregrine flew west over Longhoughton Steel flushing everything and 10 Goldeneye flew north.

The Blackcap was still on our feeders.

In the afternoon the sun came out so we took a walk around the Howick Wood for half an hour or so. At least one Kingfisher was at the pond. The loud whistling calls before I saw it makes me think that another bird was present, but only the one showed. Also here, a Red Squirrel followed a route through the branches on the far side before coming down to the pool for a drink. A large tit flock further on boosted the list with Nuthatch, Treecreeper and 2 Great spotted Woodpeckers amongst others.

Boxing Day -

Nothing really of note around Boulmer other than 15 Grey Partridges and a single Red throated Diver offshore.

The 20 mile drive to pick up my mother added a few new species with 30+ Whooper Swans at Widdrington with hoards of Pinkfeet overhead. Pochard and Tufted Duck were seen as I drove past Bothal Pond.

Blackcap still on the feeders...

Today -

Took a drive over to Longframlington with JWR to meet his mate, Derek, who will be doing some building work for us. On the way, the Barn Owl at Lesbury showed really well, a Jay was seen at Derek's, a Dipper was on the river below Pauperhaugh Bridge and on the way home 100+ Fieldfares and Redwings were at Corby Crags.

A Red Squirrel was a road casualty just along the road from us at the quarry.

At Boulmer this evening, well 3.30, but it was nearly dark, 2 Purple Sandpipers and 30 Grey Plovers were at the high tide roost...

Its amazing what you can see when you aren't out birding ;)

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Its Christmas time...



...there's no need to be afraid... unless you see a terrier approaching wearing an elves hat and looking excited.

I hope you all have a great time over the festive season.

Try not to be too down at this time. Its easy slipping into 'Eastenders' mode and grumble about telly, relatives, weather, traffic etc, but just enjoy the time off!

Oh, and instead of sitting boggle eyed at a monitor, get some fresh air and see if the wildlife can cheer you up...

All the best to everyone and I'll look forward to reading all about your Christmas exploits...

PS There was a nice female Blackcap at our feeders this afternoon...

Cheers!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A lovely mild sunny day today. At lunchtime I took a trip to Cresswell pond to see if the Bitterns were around. They weren't. I had my boss for company because he had fancied a Bittern - he has a casual interest in wildlife - so I was hoping for some success. The hide was packed out with visitors, so many you'd think there was a twitch on. Not one familiar face though, with accents from as far apart as Australia and Sunderland ( bizarre...).I'm off all this crowded hide mullarky these days. Northumberland has enough birding sites without us all queueing to sit in a glorified bus shelter.

Although the Bittern was a no show, we did see a nice Barn Owl ( in competition with Waxwing for commonest 'scarce' this month) hunting in the afternoon sunshine near the hide, a Water Rail preening near the reeds and a pair of Sparrowhawks giving the wildfowl something to think about.

A first winter Med Gull was glimpsed from the car as I drove past Woodhorn Flash back to work.

Later on I was at Morpeth at about 3 o'clock when 5 Crossbills flew over Carlisle Park near the Leisure Centre.

Not a bad work day...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

They're following me...



After last nights splendid Christmas do at Tom and Mu's I went to collect my car from outside theirs at about 9.30 this morning. I took Bunty and decided to give her a walk near the Alnmouth and Lesbury Cricket Club. As we were late to bed last night - this morning - I was a bit groggy and didn't attempt to take bins or camera, and was pleased that the wind was blowing the cobwebs away.

As we got out of the car, a Redwing flew overhead, calling, and I was deciding which direction to take when they shouted at me 'look here' in that elfin high pitched trill they always use. A glance right and there they were, 8 Waxwings in a twisted hawthorn only yards away.

Even though the light was hopeless giving them a dirty brown colour, their squat bodied crested shape was a welcoming sight. Not for long though, as this bush was apparently 'owned' by a large belligerent Mistle Thrush who was keen to protect his larder...

Saturday, December 20, 2008

See Quicksilver...



A nice day today after the stormy weather overnight. The wind had dropped and the sun was out.

A couple of walks around Seaton Point with Bunty today had 1 Red throated Diver on the sea, 2 Red breasted Mergansers S, 44 Sanderlings with other waders on the shore, 5 and 8 Grey Partridges and 2 Goldcrests were near the golfcourse.

And thats about it really. Barn Owls have been much in evidence this last week or two on my drives to and from work. 3 individuals at Lesbury, Warkworth and Radcliffe have brightened the journeys...



I almost forgot...Andrew at Quicksilver ( link on the right) has come up with a challenge. A Bird Blog Race. Count all bird species ( or wildlife of any sort) between and including Christmas Day and New Years Day and then post your totals and report on your own blog on 3rd / 4th January. Leave Andrew a comment on his blog if you are willing to have a go. There's nothing heavy here, just count what you see on your travels wherever you may be... Oh and no prizes for the winner!

I'm up for it...

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Ted 'n' Dusty...


I must post this out front from the comments below -

From Boulmer Birder I have been banished,
My name, my links all have vanished.
From Druridge too I’m cast adfrift
The owners of these blogs are miffed.
Lost and lonely, no Christmas cheer,
Condemned to roam the blogosphere.
Sturdy and stout these birders be,
Friend they once considered me.
What you ask was my great crime?
Four blogs, three kids, one job, no time.
Perhaps in time there’ll come a day
When once again they’ll look my way.
Welcomed back into the fold,
We’ll laugh and drink like days of old.
For now I leave you with some words
No grudge, may you always find good birds.

Its a poem from our old mucker 'The Grocer' aka 'Dusty Bins' and the man behind 'Bird North East'.

I feel bad now.

I don't have any axe to grind with our good old blogmiester, nor, I'm sure, does Ipin at Druridge. Its the same with several links I once had such as 'The Seaside Observers', its just that when blogs aren't updated that often, or not at all, they are removed in favour of those who do post on a regular basis.

I'm not talking daily posts, but weekly or fortnightly would be good, just something to keep us reading.

I mean, Dusty's last posts ( literally) were two in July and one in May, Bird North East has had nowt, other than Ipin and myself since May. On the face of it, our Rare Visitor, was not just that, he was a Mega Alert Visitor!

I have a basic rule of thumb. If any of the links attached here are not updated for a month or so they are removed, until things start up again.

Thats the thing about our Dusty Bin Grocer, he is an irruptive species, a bit like Arctic Redpoll ( I nearly said Waxwing but we see them more often). And, like those species, we would like to see more of them, so Dusty has been returned to its rightful place.

For the next month or so anyway... Eyes Right:)

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

New Look...

Instead of the 'narrow strip down the centre' look, I fancied a blog that went right across the screen. Chances are there'll be some issues with it in time...

I have changed the header to the Kingfishers fighting. The birds are on the rock edge at Longhoughton Steel, the north end of the Boulmer patch in winter 2006.

This is one of my favourite photos. Even though the birds are a blur it shows the action that took place right in front of me. Not bad for a digi-scoped shot! Mssrs Malloy, McElwee, Dunn and Fisher would have filled their boots...I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time.

I thought there would be a serious casualty they were so mad. They were whistling and screeching the whole time. A sight I have not seen so well, before or since.

One or two interesting birds this week. Yesterday a Barn Owl flew in front of the car just south of Amble and today a nice adult Med Gull was in a Black headed frenzy at North Seaton Chip Shop...

Sunday, December 14, 2008



No proper birding today. I woke, after a late night at chez Biggs, with a wooly head so had a lie in. The rest of the day was spent catching up. I took the pic above from Corby Crags, west of Alnwick after I had been sent on a mission to collect greenery for Jane's wreath making exploits.

Bunty's morning walk was around the Howick woods. On the well flooded pond, a Little Grebe was the only thing of note, while 50+ Redwings, 5 Mistle Thrushes and 12+ Blackbirds were feeding in yews on the way back.

The afternoon stroll was at Boulmer. The only thing that merited a raised binocular was a group of 3 Red breasted Mergansers flying north.

Must do better next week....

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Triple Dipper and the Pits...



This morning I was picked up by JWR and we headed west for a change. Our first stop was to catch this sunrise on a snowy moor near Alnwick. The snow has totally gone from Boulmer but 10 miles west there is still quite a lot...



Next we visited Branton Gravel Pits, a nice scenic, quiet area in sight of the Cheviot hills. As we approached the lake a tit flock was moving through the hedge, with 6+ Long tailed, 4+ Great, 1 Coal and several Blues. A Great spotted Woodpecker flew off.





Lots of duck were on the ice free areas including 25 Goosander, 54 each Mallard and Teal ( coincidence there) and 98 Wigeon. One of the female Wigeon was a pale leucistic creamy bird, like the Blackcap from the other week. As we watched here 8 Crossbills flew over head.

The farmer on a quad flushed all of the wildfowl for a while but they soon returned.

Next, across to Hedgely Pits that were still mostly frozen. On the one ice free patch there were 95+ Tufted Duck and a single Pochard. Good numbers of Canada and Greylag Geese were flying to and fro. The grey geese had a white one in their flock. Through the scope it was clear to see that this wasn't a Snow Goose, just simply a white goose, either Greylag or Pinkfoot, too far off to tell.



We walked along by the river here looking at the banks eroded by the autumn floods. A Green Woodpecker was seen briefly on the far side Alders before it dropped to the ground out of sight to feed.





These Dippers put on a good show. The top two males were fighting over the female below and singing for territory. One male eventually flew downstream leaving the pair to feed in peace. Nice to see three together.

A good winters morning then...

Saturday, December 06, 2008

And even more...

On our way to Blyth, shopping, at lunchtime as I turned from the roundabout onto the Ellington bypass I glimpsed a bird in flight several hundred yards ahead and said to Jane that it was a Waxwing. Sure enough, when we got to the spot, 2 Waxwings were perched at the top of a roadside Alder. There's just something 'jizzy' about the flycatching flight of these birds that makes them distinctive at any range.

On the return journey I looked out for them and this time 15+ were sat in the same spot.

You know, we didn't even stop the car. There was a time when I would have twitched Waxwings... still great birds though, they always get the pulse going.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Let there be light....






The Northern Lights Project ( I think thats what its called) lit up the coloured houses at Alnmouth this evening and very nice they looked too...One night only...



And if you click on this picture and look at the terrace at the far left, thats it in daylight...albeit in a better climate.

PS - At 11.45pm tonight a female Tawny Owl flew into our garden next to the main road and 'kewick'-ed a few times as it looked down on me and Bunty. Until Bunty took offence, that is, and frightened it off by barking. It showed quite well as it flew off along the street lights...

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

More Waxers...

Out in the gloaming this morning, it was scarcely light as I fed the birds at home. Then I heard it. Softly at first, then louder, that trilling that can only spell one thing - Waxwings. I sometimes think that if I were deaf I'd have a lot less to write about here. Many birds I see ( and some I don't) are first located on call. Waxwings, Snow Bunts, Lapland Bunts, Redpolls, Northern Bullies, Sibe Chiffs, Yellow browed Warblers, Tree Pipits, Green Sands, Greenshanks, Kingfisher etc etc are generally heard long before I see them. Its then just a case of looking around for the culprit.

Today the Waxwings must have just come out of roost. At first I couldn't see them and carried on with my task, but then as it grew lighter two birds were sat up in next doors apple tree. Nice. Its been a really good early winter for them here, they are often tricky on the return journey in late February / March.

I see that a few are getting into southern parts now, and no doubt you'll have more to follow...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Once Bittern....



Lunchtime today and I had half an hour in the hide at Cresswell. On arrival I was met with the expected 'you should have been here 5 minutes ago'...typical. The Bittern had flown into the reeds to the right of the hide. Oh well I thought, at least I know where it is and hunkered down to wait.

On the half iced pond, 170 odd Teal looked nice accomapnied by a pair of Red breasted Mergansers and a scattering of Wigeon...

Sure enough after about 15 minutes of surreal chat from a family in the hide ( 'what do they make birds from? Nowadays people do all sorts in test tubes' says the son, while mum responds, 'Mad scientists you mean', 'Yeah' says the lad... I kid you not) the Bittern flew low over the reed tops and pitched in in front of the east reeds, only long enough to scope before walking, ghost-like, into the cover as if it had never been there.

I managed to get the teenage lad onto it in my scope before he came out with another gem or two forcing me to leave in case I turned serial killer....