Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lovely day...

A clear sunny day but cold. At 10 am it was still -2 in the shade at home.

In the field behind us this morning were 76 Curlew, 10 Fieldfare and a single Redwing. Some of the Curlews were starting to sing, a great sound to hear at this time of year.

The local Molecatcher has been out this week, but the moles have had the last laugh. He has left a trap, a spade and his metal detector (to hunt for errant traps) along the fence line in the coast fields. If he doesn't hurry up he might well need a new spade...

Friday, January 28, 2011


Like this but with less brown...
Some brief sightings of note this week.

Firstly, on Tuesday on my way home from work, as I approached Howick Hall, a movement across the road in the car headlights caught my attention. Two beady eyes glowed in the dark with a snaky movement quite unlike the expected Rat. As I got closer the two disjointed, moving 'cats eyes' turned out to be a Stoat. Very unusual in the dark, but made even more so by the fact that this was a nearly-ermine. White, all but its black tail tip and a fine buff dorsal stripe, it soon slinked off into the wood.

Less exciting but more anticipated the first Snowdrops of 2011 were in flower on our drive yesterday morning...its on the way...

Monday, January 24, 2011

Sunday...bloody Sunday.

WeBs day today. Walked the coast from Howick to Boulmer counting the water birds.

The highlight of another relatively dull morning was a large group of 119 Pale bellied Brents on the beach at Boulmer. The were soon moved off into fields by another large fishing competition on the coast. Other than that, 27 Grey Plovers, 238 Curlews, 6 Red throated Divers and 23 Goldeneye were the best on offer.

A few large gull flocks didn't hold anything near a  Slaty backed ( thank god, bloody awful thing) and passerines were almost absent. One Skylark was a first this year...

So thats it really....

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

A couple of walks out today, firstly down to the pond this morning then along the coast to Craster and back this afternoon. Its still very quiet here, even though it was quite a pleasant mild day. There was nothing to call home about down at the pond, probably due to a shoot taking place in Village Wood. This afternoon's stroll to Craster wasn't a great deal better but I added three common species to the OFFH list - Greylag, Pied Wagtail and Sparrowhawk.

In the field at our road ends a large curlew flock was noteworthy here with 152 birds striding about with one Greylag and 2 Stock Doves for company. 30+ Fulmars are on the cliffs here now too, but despite a mile walk along farmland and coastal grassland I'm still waiting for my first Skylark and Meadow Pipit of 2011. The large hard weather movements before Christmas must have totally cleared the local birds out of here and I imagine it will be early spring before they return.

I should give the list a bit of a boost tomorrow when I do the count from Boulmer to Howick...

Sunday, January 16, 2011

All quiet on the eastern front.

A weekend with nothing to add to the OFFH list. Its very quiet around home at the minute, with not a trace of Skylark, Meadow Pipit or Pied Wagtail let alone some quality. I cant even see a Sparrowhawk locally, although Jane had one sitting in our bird seed tray the other morning...

Still, some moths have appeared. See link in column on the right - The Orthosia Enthusiast...

Today was showery and blustery early on but nice and pleasant with a sunny afternoon later.

I went to do JWR's WeBs count over at Branton Pits, Powburn. That too was slow except for a couple of hundred assorted Wigeon, Teal, Mallard, Goosander and Goldeneye. We checked the alders for a Redpoll but all we saw was a flock of small finches fly for the horizon. Could have been owt

The winter doldrums appear to have settled already. Hopefully a Song Thrush will sound out before the months end, a real sign of what's to follow.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

They're here....

Winter Aconites.
I often post about the first of the spring flowers to raise their heads above soil. The church at Denwick always produces the goods and this year is no exception. The tiny Winter Aconites are guaranteed to brighten the day. What with the first moths, now the first blooms, it wont be long until the first Chiffchaff is singing... 

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Mealies again...

Above - This is a pale bird seen again in the fourth picture.
Above - Mealy Redpoll in front with Lesser Redpoll behind.
Above - Shows the very limited under tail covert streaking. 
Above - Although this was the palest bird, it has a thicker streak under the tail than the one above.
Above - Another pale bird but note the larger 'nearly goldfinch' bill.

This morning was frosty, relatively calm and clear. 

I decided to check around the woods to see if my redpolls had attracted an even more frosty cousin and spent a pleasant two hours just strolling the woods along the lane. 

A few birds were added to the OFFH list before I got a sniff of a redpoll - 1 Snipe in the ditch with a Water Rail, 1+Jay, 2+ Long tailed Tit and 2+ Goldcrests. 5 Woodcock were flushed in here too, then I wandered in on the finches by accident. 

This time only 6 birds were feeding in some tiny alders near a feeder ditch, but there were 4 Mealies and only 2 Lesser Redpolls. When they flew around it was easy to see the two small Lessers with the larger Mealies.

The coast was mainly quiet probably due to the Amble Open Sea Angling competition that had attracted 50+ anglers to the rock edges, where they just about lined our coast patch, shoulder to shoulder. Of note were a nice pair of Red breasted Mergansers close in flying north, 1 Rock Pipit, 7+ Eiders and a scattering of gulls.

It looks as if things will be milder by next weekend so the moth trap might come out...

OFFH List - 65


Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Up to the Holbolls....

Holbolls not illustrated...
Well, I see Alan Tilmouth and Nigel Foggo have put my Mealy Redpolls to shame with a very nice Coues's Arctic Redpoll at Widdrington Tip.

If you are one of those birders poo-pooing the 'Coues's' bit as a new fangled taxonomistic load of rubbish, then look back to my 1938 edition of 'The Handbook' and there we find, not only Coues's, but Lesser, Mealy ( none of this 'Common' nonsense), Greenland, Hornemann's and Holbolls Redpoll. 

Wait a minute, Holbolls? What on earth is Holbolls? In 1938 it is an 'uncertain form' and is retained in brackets as a form of Mealy Redpoll from farther north and east in Scandinavia, Russia and Siberia. Its good to know that one of this form was recorded on Holy Island in November 1923...

Rarer still, at Widdrington Tip this week, have been......some birders. I bet if you had walked into Cresswell hide last weekend and mentioned the tip, more birders would have heard of Holbolls Redpoll before one recognised where this site was.

Some years back myself, Nigel and JWR all used to live at Stobswood, just opposite the old brickworks next to this tip site. We used to see Glaucous Gulls and Hoodies each winter here when the site was still operational, and nearby in the woods wildlife abounded with breeding Willow Tit, Tree Pipit and even Wood Warbler. Woodcocks rode through the village at dusk on summers evenings and all five owl species could be seen annually. Mealy Redpolls were annual too, attracted in by the birch trees and by the calls of captive, aviary bred, Mealies kept by one resident for showing purposes.Some good plants are to be found too in this fragment of ancient woodland with Broad leaved Helleborine, Musk Thistle etc.

Only Nigel is a regular there these days.

It just goes to show that if you use some imagination and do your research there will be little places worth checking out not too far from the well beaten birders track. You don't have to sit in a hide all day just because everyone else does...

Monday, January 03, 2011

Off to a flyer....

Sorry about the lack of an update yesterday, didn't get time, so this will be a two day job.

Out yesterday morning at first light to wander the patch to get things off to a start. An hours seawatch seemed a good way to start the ball rolling. As it turned out it was very quiet but when every species is a new addition it wasn't so bad. The highlight came about 50 minutes in when a Great Northern Diver flew north at about a quarter way out. A great start with a bird that is a tricky one to get in some years.

Other species noted were to be expected, but a lone adult Gannet, a few Kittiwakes, 3 Razorbills, 1 Guillemot, 2 Red throated Divers and 4 Goldeneye kept the interest going. Out of a good northerly movement of Herring Gulls were three or four obvious argentatus types, big brutes with darker mantles and restricted black primary tips.

Later on a walk down to the pond with Jane and Bunty added more of the commoner woodland species plus a Stoat in half ermine pelage. Apparently some residents were out with pitchforks and burning torches as this chap is in the frame for killing a few chickens the night before.

More interesting, on the way back, a flock of chattering finches attracted attention overhead as they dropped into a roadside alder. Consisting of Siskins and Redolls I returned after Jane and Bunty had gone home more prepared to scan the flock. There were 20+ Siskins, 11+ Lesser Redpolls and 2+ Mealy Redpolls. One of these birds was very pale at distance, so this morning I went back for seconds.The flock was now much smaller with only 3 Siskins, 6+ Lesser Redpolls but 3+ Mealies. The very pale one didn't appear to be present today.

While watching these, 2+ Water Rails showed them selves for a change with at least one adult and one first winter, but I suspect a third bird is present on call alone...

I know these pics are poor but they shows enough to id Mealy...

Above -  Shows two distant cropped pics of the very pale bird taken yesterday. This may have been the one below, taken today but I'm not sure?

Above - The two pics above are the same bird. Although it has a nice white rump, it was structurally a Mealy. Not seen here, it had a single large broad streak on the undertail coverts.

 Above - Shows the standard Mealy from yesterday. Now this might be the bird pictured above, taken today, it looks more like it than the very pale one but I can't be sure.

There is a lot of speculation with these birds because they are so mobile. Its like that trick with the three cups and a ball, once they are shuffled around, its hard to find where you were. Fact is, there were a minimum of 2 Mealy Redpolls present, but I reckon there are more in the part of the flock that disappeared.

As its back to work tomorrow they will have to wait until the weekend for further scrutiny.  

How did the patch list go? Well, so far I'm on 57, all within 1km of home.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Here we go....

Not much birding today. As its my birthday, time is usually spent out and about for a walk with Jane and Bunty, usually via a dog friendly pub.

Today was nice and fair with a cool NW breeze blowing. Some hazy sunshine popped through at lunchtime, the first since the milder weather. The landscape is now green all but for isolated patches of dirty snow in the shade.

We drove all of 4 miles, parked up, and did a circular walk around Alnmouth and Foxton today, stopping mid way at a pub in the village for soup and the finest homemade cheescake that has graced my gob (vanilla and gingerbread).

The main natural history event of the day was a new bird for the garden when a duck and drake Goosander flew low, west, right overhead. Those and half a dozen Tree Sparrows at the feeders were about it really. I'll be out for a couple of hours in the morning kicking the OFFH list off proper.