Sunday, December 30, 2012

The Holly and the Survey...

(I remember when this blog wasn't this bad...I know, I have a long memory...)

This morning, Mr JW Rutter and myself popped 'along the doors' to do a farmland birds survey at nearby Littlemill. The farm here has entered the countryside stewardship scheme and requires info on what is around, and for this a donation is given to the Alnwick Wildlife Group.

The wind was blowing strongly, a W6, but the sun was shining so we headed off prepared to see very little on what looked like unremarkable farmland.

A few fields were planted with some kind of game or bird seed crop like this one. I'm not sure what it is, maybe Linseed or Flax? but they proved quite attractive to small seed eating species.

The area in the photo above held over 40 Brambling and 5 Tree Sparrow, while others had 38 Yellowhammers, Bullfinch, Chaffinch, Linnets etc. A flock of 44 Redwing was flushed and 9 Brown Hares were spread across the relatively small area. Only 4 Grey Partridges were seen which was a little disappointing, but coveys may have been off the survey route.

The commonest species by far was the Woodpigeon, with up to 2000 present including a flock of 1200+.

Other notable species included a Jay, 2 Treecreepers and 2 Goldcrests.

The cherry on the cake came when John spotted a fully white Ermine fossicking about in some brashed pines. Unforunately it sloped off while a fumbled for the camera. I bet this is the animal from last winter seen nearby.

Oh and what of the Holly in the appalling attempt of a pun-ish ( punished!) title, this berry laden one was right next to the car as we ended the route...

Tickety boo....

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Duly pondered...

I think that this 1000 in 1km mullarky will be too time consuming for me after work. Too much time ( too much more time) will be spent at the PC trying to identify stuff, so I've decided to give it a miss. I'll still be following the entrants on their mission and maybe shadowing when I have the time available.

 As mentioned by a few others, being tied to one place could make a person a bit stir crazy, and I do like to check other spots once in a while!

So thats it then, my 'resolutions' or targets for 2013 are -

Get this blog more active.
Do the Patch Challenge.
Continue the moth trapping.
Dabble a bit more with other forms of wildlife ( seashore possibly).


Friday, December 28, 2012

Busy busy busy....

Like buses, you aren't too sure what to plan for the forthcoming year when three come along all at once!

Firstly the patch birding competition is on regardless. Its what I do anyway, so no change there then. Then there's the 'Foot it' gig in January where birders have taken the wholly original and unheard of idea of birding their patch on foot for a month to see how many species they can get. I've no idea who first decided that was a good idea....

Now, there is this. 1000 in 1km.

The idea is to pick one square kilometre and try and find 1000 species of life within it in the year.

To me that's a big call, but my learned and experienced peers seem to think it possible. Now unless you are a knowledgeable botanist or entomologist I think most would struggle. Personally I am neither of these. I know birds, mammals, fish, butterflies, dragonflies and have started on moths but in my square this would only give me about 565. As for the balance, I see myself as having a basic grounding in the other orders of natural history but it is very basic indeed. The other 435 would need to be insects, flora, fungi, lichens, ferns, sea life etc etc most of which will take up a lot of time identifying back at home.

Oh well, you need to fill your time somehow so I might give it a casual shot...while birding of course...

My square - NU2517 to the left of the line and NU2617 to the right.

I've not a clue what is in here except Limpets...

There is a danger here of course...of being branded a total (even sadder) sad ba***** while trying to i.d midgies. And, if you can't include anything deliberately planted, that's all hedges and 99% of  trees out of the equation. This will need some clarification on what you can and cant have.

More pondering required.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Patch Map Struggle....

Well all the IT guru's out there seem to be knocking out nicely bordered maps of varying kinds at such a rate of knots and here's me struggling to get anything looking remotely like it!

If you click on the image in the right hand column, it throws you into Google Maps showing the real patch...

I have extended the area now to cover the south side of Craster, as I was robbing myself of some coverage with in the 3 sq km limit. It now measures 2.955 km sq!

Some in the competition have pushed its limits even further. A patch is now defined as a foot wide and 300 miles long, basically a path covering  from Titchwell to the Lizard to scope all sites along its route...

Wish I'd thought of that....

Friday, December 21, 2012

Almost done...

The end of another year is almost here. Due to one thing and another, my usual plans for the forthcoming year have been a bit waylaid. At this time I am usually planning targets and goals for the up coming year, as well as doing a round up of the past 12 months but I haven't gotten around to a review so far.

Anyway, one target for 2013 will be to join in the Patch Challenge with over 120 other local patch birders right across the UK. We are all looking at an area no larger than 3km sq and basing the bird totals on an average over the previous two full years on our sites, to give a level playing field for all observers.

My patch centres on Howick as you might expect but stretches up to to the start of Craster in the north and to the Howick burn mouth in the south. I am expecting in the region of 150 species over the year, though this is dependant on weather conditions, same as any coastal patch I suppose.

Again I will be trying to see all forms of wildlife including plants, and, with all best intentions, reporting them on this blog.

Good luck to anyone else doing the list, click here to find more detail what the Patch Challenge is all about...

Sunday, December 09, 2012

A sneaky one...

Embedded image permalink As I was driving out of the village this afternoon a noticed a lump on the village green that shouldnt have been there. Mmmm, it looks familiar. No bins, but scope in the boot revealed the lump to be as expected - a Woodcock. I managed this shot with an iphone4s on my Lieca 32wa eyepiece. The large physical size of the eyepiece glass makes digiscoping quite tricky...

There were 2 Waxwings on the village apples this morning too and 9 Grey Partridges along the coast path. A Fulmar has returned to the cliffs nice and early.

Lets seen what the cold snap brings this week...

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Closed for Decorating...

This blog is about ready for a refurbishment. Sorry for lack of posts lately, things have been a bit busy.

I am going to give it a tidy up ready for the New Year...when I get a minute!

Please bear with me...

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Alnwick Wildlife Group Blog

Hi all, can I take this opportunity to point you in the direction of the relatively new Alnwick Wildlife Group blog ( (CLICK HERE or see link in my right hand column)).

There are 5 authors at the minute with maybe a few more to follow, to bring news of the wildlife of North Northumberland and sometimes other areas.It is hoped to attract newcomers and experienced alike to the wildlife of the area.

Please feel free to pop in and comment and even follow us.

You might even end up joining the group!

Cheers Stewart.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

A Blue Hawk...

As the weather today was bright, and clear with a light SW3 blowing we headed off to one of our upland patches.

At the first stop, good numbers of Reed Buntings were attracted to various scattered pheasant feeders, but the highlight was a calling flyover Snow Bunting heading west. A female Stonechat also kept us company, and the fields held 50+ Fieldfares with 200+ Starlings.

After a cuppa, another site seemed very quiet in comparison. A Stoat crossed our path and 2 Roe does ran over the moor. Leaning on a five bar gate, as you do, I noticed a 'lapwing' crossing the heather distantly to our east. Then closer examination changed the morning. This was no lapwing, but an adult, silvery grey male Hen Harrier quartering the ground ahead.

We had a superb hour watching him hunt around at varying ranges, in good light, until we finally left him to it.

What a bird. Its such a shame every moor doesn't hold these...

Back home, 50+ Waxwings dropped in to the apple trees as usual. There are maybe two or three days feeding left here before they head south...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

A Waxwing Update...

Numbers of Waxwings in our village have gone from 4 to 14 to 36, to 100+ this morning thanks to two apple trees still hanging with fruit in a neighbours garden.

In the still of the morning the calls were superb as they circled over our heads.

Here are a few photos...If I had a proper camera, I could have filled my boots here, but you'll have to make do with these I'm afraid...

If I remember rightly they are aged and sexed by wing markings and chin patterns though I havent consulted 'Svensson'. Please keep me right if I have made an error here - 

I think - 

Immature male ( some yellow, more and larger red tips)

Immature female ( very little yellow, and few,small red tips)

Adult male female ( bright yellow with white ladder effect, plus long red tips)

Sunday, November 04, 2012

A late patch list addition...

As autumn slowly merges into winter, new species on the patch seem very hard to come by. So, when I came home at lunchtime today, I was very pleased to see a small party of Waxwings fly up into some tall trees, from a neighbours garden.

After a short sojourn calling and flycatching, the four glided back down into the gardens, and in particular, on to an over ripe apple tree. Here they got stuck in for a while alongside the immigrant Blackbirds, before some kids came out to play on a trampoline. Even tame Waxwings cant stand that. They flew off strongly to the south...

This is the third year in succession I have had waxers on the patch list. I can remember when 'Wawing Winters' were very scarce indeed, now they occur most years in variable numbers.

Monday, October 29, 2012

When the cat's away...

It doesn't often happen to me on the patch, like it can to others who have more well watched study sites, but an odd occasion is all it takes to depress.

In 2009 I was on Holy Island when my neighbour had a Turtle Dove drinking from a puddle no more than a hundred yards from my door. I raced back and, despite looking several times during the day,  dipped. I still haven't seen one here. Ouch...  

Or the time in 2010 when Iain Robson had a Red Kite visible from my house while I was cutting the grass. He kindly rang me to give directions. I couldn't get on to it. It still has an un-ticked box on the Howick list. Painful...

And this evening I get this kind email from Peter Tapsell....

At c.11.00 this morning I was on the footbridge over the mouth of Howick Burn when I noticed a female or first year Red Breasted Flycatcher in the tall scrub just west/inland from the bridge.
I only had a brief view before it flew up the burn and back into dense scrub where I was unable to relocate it. There was no sign of it when I returned that way at 15.00 hrs.
Alas I didn't have my camera with me.....

Now the clocks have changed, this might as well be on Fair Isle...I'm gutted.

RBF is one of those 'hoped for' birds that any east coast patch watcher would like to see on their list. 

One day I'll get one in the garden, you'll see.

I'm off to cry into my wine...

( Great record Peter, I'll add it to me list ( un-ticked) and thanks for the message)...  

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A Seawatching Weekend....

Not all of it. Very little really, but the three hours spent over two days just a few hundred yards from the door were ones well spent.

Saturday 08.10 -10.00am

After horrendous gales and snow and temps down to freezing, I felt a Little Auk coming on...

Off to view from Cullernose Point where there is a little bit more shelter than off Howick Village ( its only quarter of a mile along, at the north end of  Howick Bay) had -

Little Auk 6 
Great Northern Diver 1, a nice close one too.
Long tailed Duck 2, a pair.
Pintail 1
Bonxie 1 right over head.
Sooty Shearwater 2 as usual, distant.
Velvet Scoter 1
Common Scoter 8
Wigeon 311
Goldeneye 5
Shelduck 3
Red throated Diver 4
Manx Shearwater 2.
Dunlin 12
Knot 2

Not bad at all. Rarer still I was joined by two other birders, after the first hour. Three people birding here...unheard of.

Sunday 08.45 - 10.00am.

Myself and JWR. The sea had calmed right off after yesterdays mountains. The wind has changed too, WNW 3.

I fancied that the calmer conditions might make viewing any re-orientating birds, that bit easier.

Little Auk 107, in small parties up to 30 in number, Very close in ( as typical, unlike yesterdays Sooties)
Long tailed Duck 4
Great Northern Diver 1
Velvet Scoter 6
Pochard 1
Teal 206
Wigeon 135
Common Scoter 24
Goldeneye 1
Red throated Diver 19
Red breasted Merganser 3

Also, some viz miggging with -

Woodcock 2 in-off, both picked up  a mile out and follwed to shore. One landed only yards from us before continuing west. Fantastic.
Fieldfare 12 as the Woodcock, all of these seen low over the waves and eventually reaching shore.
Starling 20
Blackbird 2

Its great to watch these birds arrive after a Scandinavian sea crossing, they must be knackered.

A good weekend!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

What a day....

I'm knackered!

Fall conditions certainly take it out of you, both physically and mentally.

This morning in thick fog and drizzle, I headed out with Bunty for her walk, on a recce to see if any birds had arrived. A few Robins 'ticked' and half a dozen Fieldfares and Redwings were on the coast path. At the south end of my patch is a geological feature on the coast called Rumbling Kern. Its a hole in a sandstone rock and when the sea is rough waves bang into it, hence the name.

Rumbling Kern
It is a smallish raised area, a bit like an island, and in today's fog it certainly had that feel about it.

On arrival, more Thrushes were leaping from gorse, and a few Goldcrests hunted in the tall Knapweed stalks. They looked tired.

Goldcrest down to 3 feet.

I went to check an old quarry recess in the Kern and saw a bird flush from the path. It was the call that attracted me first, a bit like a Redwings flight call and quite 'urgent' sounding.

A smallish bird, with white outer tail feathers ruled out Robin, then the call again and started to dawn on me. This was a pipit. Getting late for Tree Pipit up here now but these things happen, so I was pleased when I saw it land up near the cliff top then run a yard or so to sit on an overhanging rock looking at me. Again it called - 'zzzeeet' tzzeee' sounding like it had a smokers cough too.

What a shock when I located it through my bins. A white breast with unbelievably heavy black spotting, like a thrush - OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT! I continued to watch through adrenalin -quivering lenses hoping it would start wandering about, pumping its tail in 'Jack Snipe' fashion, but no, it just sat there, soaked. I could even see its bill opening when it called, but, being above me, in poor light there was no colour.

I must get a better angle if I am going to eliminate a heavily marked Tree Pipit thinks I, and slowly walked backwards. I had to look down to avoid falling on bramble 'wires' and when I looked up the bird had gone. I heard a final 'tzzzeet' in the mist as it said goodbye...

What a pisser. Bird of the year on the patch and not enough to convince the records committee that it wasnt just a Tree Pipit...still, its going on my patch list even if it is in brackets.

Olive backed Pipit. Notes when I got home, before checking guides.
After dropping the terrier back at home, I was out again, this time up to check Craster. This was a a short lived visit as I fell over a barbed wire fence gashing my hand open in the process, so I had to retreat to tend my wounds. I said  these days are physically challenging...

Blood mopped and gash taped , back to Craster.

Here there were many hundreds if not thousands of thrushes. Mainly Fieldfares and Redwings with smaller numbers of Blackbird and Song Thrush. Robins were in every bush, and goldcrests were frequent but nothing too exciting could be found. I think the best were 2 Twite in the Thrush flocks moving west.

Home again for refreshments, then a walk to Cullernose Point, the north side of the patch, Birds were still clearly coming in. Blackbirds carpeted the ground as many Redwings left the gorse. There must have been 300+. In with them was a nice male Ring Ouzel, 6+ Bramblings and 3 Black Redstarts.

Another look at Rumbling Kern for 'Ollybippit' found more of the same with 2 Stonechat for the year list.

So a good busy day, but not quite the result I would have planned...

Fog lies heavy on the cobwebs.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

More migrants...

As there had been a few birds around this week and no news was coming from Craster, we thought, that's the place to be...

Craster used to be quite well watched in days when people went out birding and didnt just follow the news or sit in a hide. As its just a mile and a half up the road, it can be classed as a local patch of sorts...

Although no sibes or rares were found we still enjoyed the morning with -

Ring Ouzel 1
Whinchat 2
Garden Warbler 1
Blackcap 6
Chiffchaff 1
Brambling 3
Great spotted Woodpecker 1 in-off
Crossbill 3N
Willow Tit 2
and good numbers of Redwing, Song Thrush and Blackbird. Again, a flock of 12 Coal Tits lifted from gorse where they called in agitated fashion, flew to several hundred feet then headed off south, almost over the sea, a great sight.

Back home this evening, a high flying owl coming in from the east turned out to be a Short Eared Owl, it flew right over the village. Only my second patch record.

Still no photos. I just couldnt get anything close enough for my 'box brownie'...

Some nice pics of that Reed Warbler at St Mary's doesn't look like Blyth's to me, but photos can be deceiving.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Migration...and a panic attack.

On Friday morning, over night easterlies with very heavy rain resulted in good conditions for a movement of birds over our garden.

After checking a woefully quiet moth trap, it became apparent that birds were dropping in around all around me. Its days like these when work seems to get in the way, but I stood on our drive counting from 07.45am - 0815am before the work bell rang....

Redwing 428 ( in groups of up to 80)
Fieldfare 5
Blackbird 30
Song Thrush 12
Lapwing 8
Snipe 1.

I was keen then to check out this morning anything missed from yesterday. 

I took Bunty for her walk just around the village/ garden / back hedge area, all within sight of home really and was pleased with the results.

First up was a calling Brambling near the Village Hall. A second was in the copse later. A Snipe flew south very high up, then a nice female Redstart was seen flycatching at the corner of the back hedge.

A few Skylarks and Meadow Pipits were flying south and I heard Crossbills on three occasions but they remained unseen.

Over at the coast path, a Snow Bunting flew north 'peeuu-ing' overhead. A great surprise here was a first for me, a tight flock of 13 Coal Tits flying south along the coast, calling constantly, quite high up. I have heard about these tit migrations but have not witnessed it first hand.

Now for the panic attack.

While checking the copse, I could hear a mass of mobbing birds from a lone gorse bush about 10 yards from the coast. I though this might pay investigation, hoping for a patch Long eared Owl. Stalking carefully and scanning with bins, a bird broke cover - a 'little'owl! It flew into the light and landed in scrub half a field away. The birds were still mobbing and I went in pursuit, mind racing. I have not seen Little Owl here before, but with all the talk of erupting Tengmalms in Scandinavia.. Despite careful scrutiny then close examination it was nowhere to be seen. It had obviously made an exit out of my sight...

I'm kind of pleased really, I couldn't be doing with the pressure of  finding a Tengmalms!

Back home, a second winter Mediterranean Gull was flycatching over the back field with Black headeds and Common Gulls and 4 Barnacle Geese flew south.

A good day on the patch...

Thursday, October 04, 2012

A Pagan visit...

This morning was bright, sunny and a bit cool.

It was my turn to walk Bunty through the village wood, where a few Redpolls were still around and seemed to be feeding on seeding Meadowsweet.

We came out on to the main road to be dazzled by the low eastern sun. A car sped past, the driver keener to get to work this morning than me, then I looked up again on to the road ahead.

Standing, staring towards us, in the middle of the road where Jensen Button had been seconds earlier, was a a sight I didnt expect to see at Howick.

A young Red Deer stag, backlit with golden sun, his breath in clouds from his nostrils was frozen to the spot. For a second everything was silent. I refocused my eyes, after all, it was still quite early,  to make sure I wasn't confusing myself. No, he was still there. I thought about speeding cars, and considered what to do, but fortunately nothing was required. He turned on the spot and hopped the gate and he was gone.

Just like a dream...

This evening at dusk I took a walk to see if  the 'spirit of the wood' was grazing in the fields but there was no sign. A brace of Stoats enlivened the return walk as they 'plaited' their way across the road.

A good day...

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

A Sprite in the Can...

Over the last week, there was quite an arrival of migrants on the coast locally.

I took Wednesday off, last week, after the main easterly storm had abated, to check locally to see what had arrived. The conditions looked good at first, but closer scrutiny of the weather maps showed a few low pressure systems on Scandinavia, blocking any mass movements.

The first bird of note on Wednesday was on our drive. There are two rowans with berries, and they had attracted a fw female Ring Ouzel, like a fly to the proverbial. It chacked and squeaked away, while feeding and was present most of the day.

Elsewhere around the patch were single Redstart and Lesser Whitethroat, and a few Wheatears.

From home I moved north to Craster where a nice Lapland Bunting flew low south overhead calling, 5 Redstarts, 2-3 Redwings and a Spotted Flycatcher kept the interest going. Two Willow Tits were my first of the year.

The rest of the week was spent at work but I had hopes of some lingering or reorientating birds at the weekend.

On Saturday, I had a walk to the pond. On the way back, a Yellow browed Warbler was calling like mad from a thick area of wet woodland. Despite searching I couldnt see hide nor hair of it.

Next morning I was back to the same spot where the frantic calling had stopped. Then I heard a light soft call once, twice then nothing.

I stood for a further half hour and my patience was rewarded with close views in the open of the Yellow brow ( the term 'striped sprite' would be a bit cliche, but true!). After the good view, it moved high into a willow but still remained on show while it fed for twenty minutes or more.

Another nice find on the doorstep. Better than twitching one on Holy Island... ;)

A supporting cast of 80 Barnacle Geese overhead, 6+ Chiffchaffs, 1 Spotted Flycatcher and 20 Lesser Redpolls made a good patch day.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


A nice sunny day today with a light northerly shifting to the east in the afternoon.

After a day at Alnwick Food Festival, we decided to have a glass of wine outside and catch the last of the afternoon sunshine. Sitting quietly and a few birds began to appear along our overgrown drive wall. A Wren attracted attention by clucking through a buddleia hunting the undersides of leaves for residue moths above the trap.

Soon, another, larger movement attracted attention. A bird appeared no more than 15 feet away mostly obscured but clearly different. With the naked eye, a plain looking bird lunged at some blackberries and dropped back into cover. Even on this brief view I suspected who this was.

I sneaked off to get my bins and camera leaving Jane 'on guard.' On my return the bird was still there but on the back of the bush in the sunshine. After about 5 minutes that seemed like an hour, it rattled the bushes and moved closer then -  out it came, a Barred Warbler. I knew it but had to eliminate Whitethroat and Garden Warbler first. It grabbed another bramble and moved back into the sunshine.

I took the camera around the other side to view from the field hoping it would come into the open, but it always stayed just behind cover, upsetting the local wrens.

I must have been obvious to it, as it soon started alarm calling 'chukk chuuk, chuukk' not a 'tack' or a 'churr' but half way between both. It then flew, unseen by me, but Jane watched it disappear into our garden where I left it to find food in peace. Hopefully it will be around in the morning for another look...

This is my second garden Barred after one in October 2010, that one only 10 feet from where this one was, Birds must follow the edge of the copse along to our garden from the coast only a couple of hundred yards away....

Bird of the year by far.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

And another thing...

Bovine Tuberculosis. BOVINE. Thats cows.

Not Mustelid Tuberculosis.

BOVINE ARE COWS. Thats clear then.

So, Bovine Tuberculosis is a disease of cattle, that has spread to Badgers.

Not the Badgers fault. They have not started some heinous contagion and are wiping out our dairy herds, oh no, the opposite is true. It was the cattle that passed the disease on in the first place.

So how come this government can set about killing our wildlife for this....

Beggars belief.

Petition is now at 71,000. Come on get someone else you know to sign up. You ALL know someone who would but hasnt yet. Click HERE


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

I'm boiling...

...about this governments proposed cull of 70% of the Badgers in England.

This is all in the name of stopping bovine TB. I am too angry to write properly so please see my points below.

I heard a scientist from DEFRA on Radio 4 yesterday saying this is crazy. If you eradicated 100% of all Badgers in the UK ie made the species extinct, you would reduce bTB in cattle by 16%! Yes that's right - 16%. Even he, who spent years doing the report, says that a cull is crazy. But the government is ignoring this to appease the NFU.

Only 1% of Badgers has bTB but they will kill off 70% of the population.

The proposal is to cull 70% initially in the SW. They do not know how many Badgers there are ( using a decade old survey for stats) so how can you know when your killing quota is up?

But best of all,lets ignore the stats and look at the principles. How the hell can anyone justify a wipeout of our largest land carnivore for the sake of livestock? This is a protected animal and not long ago Badger groups across the land were reinforcing sets to stop poachers digging them out. Now it is looked at as vermin.

The Badger is one of the best known and loved icons of British wildlife and countryside. It will be gone. Just like that. Wiped Out. Almost.

If this can happen to such a well known and loved creature what do you think will happen next? I cant see Hen Harrier / Goshawk / Buzzard / Eagle / Kite / Raven protection lasting very long. After all, they have an effect on livestock  too. Why not remove 70% of those? Watch this space, it will happen. Not to mention Otter / Fox/ Pine Marten et al. this has massive future implications for all conservation in the UK.

Look at the crap we spout about saving Pandas and Tigers and even Turtle Doves. Not worth a toss to this government and its ilk. Millions spent by tax paying members of the public to conserve our natural heritage, for what? Just to have it deliberately and systematically wiped out in the future.

These animals are not 'owned' no one has the right to eradicate 1% never mind 70%. These are sentient beings who were here when the wildwood covered the land. Have they not got enough to cope with now, without this. Intensive farming, roads, pesticides, herbicides, buildings, increasing population etc etc

If you have any interest at all in the countryside and its wildlife even if it is just birds, think of what may happen if this goes ahead. If you subscribe to any natural history society, bird club, wildlife trust, conservation body, the RSPB, The Widlfowl and Wetlands Trust, The Hawk and Owl Trust. If you subscribe to British Birds, British Wildlife, BBC Wildlife, Bird Watching Mags surely you must disagree with this ridiculous cull. If this is so...

Please sign this petition NOW - Click Here ( No not tomorrow, NOW! It will only take a minute)

Try to get anyone you know to do the same. Imagine, when Badgers are as rare as Pine Martens...Its too late then.

I dont think I have ever felt so helpless and mistreated by our 'democratically elected' system.

I fucking despair for the future of this country, I do...

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Lovely September...

In recent years, September and October has been more reliable for decent weather than the traditional summer months, certainly up here anyway.

Today had that hazy late summer feeling with a mild breeze.

We had a good walk up around Detchant Woods this morning where a few butterflies were on show with 16 Speckled Wood, 1 Wall, 2 Peacock, 2 Small Tortoiseshell and 2 Red Admiral but the dragonflies were the highlight for me. A few Black Darters, still in teneral dress, hovered around but 6 Southern Hawkers showed nicely, even allowing a photograph.

Little and Large, a small bee takes a rest on its wing...

Female Southern Hawker
After lunch in 'The Barn at Beal' it was back home and into the garden.

Two small Sedum plants were laden with butterflies -

Red Admiral 6
Peacock 6
Small Tortoiseshell 9
Large White 1
Silver Y 1

Making a nice show.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Holy Island.

Yesterday was a nice clear sunny early autumnal day, so we had an early crossing on to Holy Island, beating the tourists across the causeway before getting cut off by the tide. This is how to experience the island at its best. It seems to go very quiet even though there were still a good few visitors, there is no traffic sound.

We walked the Chare Ends, to the Excavations and back via the Straight Lonnen.

Unfortunately birds were very thin on the ground, but we did manage a fleeting glimpse of a Barred Warbler as it up ended into some tall willows. ( It was also seen by a visitor from Scarboro and by Mike Carr later on). A few Willow Warblers and a Wheatear were the only other migrants seen.

While wandering the dunes checking sallows we found these -

Grey Dagger
Fox Moth
 There were over a thousand Buff Tip moth cats on one bush in webs. They had stripped some branches bare. They varied from very first instars to pre-pupating finger sized monsters.

Grass of Parnassus
There were swathes of Grass of Parnassus in flower in the damp flatter areas. A Common Hawker sounded like a wind blown bag of crisps as it tried to get free from some marram grass. We gently helped it up and on its way.

Common Hawker

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The wind of change...

Wasn't that a song from the Scorpions? Anyway, autumn is slipping around us almost unnoticed. The nights are definitely getting darker earlier, the hirundines are moving away and what may be the last of my Swift sightings were 8 over the garden yesterday...

I need a blogging plan for 2013. It seems that just like the autumn, I have had a change online too, with the blog slipping away like the summer...

I'll ponder it.

Monday, August 06, 2012


Stilt Sandpiper, from memory, after snapping my pencil in last nights panic...

When you get a phone call from Gary Woodburn at 8pm on a Sunday evening, its best to hope that you haven't started that second glass of wine...

Tonights call from a plainly incredulous Gary, said that I should get in the car and head to Newton...why? I asked...Stilt Sandpiper...on the scrape....NOW!

I hung up first, and made excuses to my brother, sister-in-law and Jane who was making the dinner and legged it to the car. I managed to call a few interested parties before the off and arrived at Low Newton about 10 minutes later. That jog from the Tin Church to the scrape is just the job in a state of panic, dragging scope and the weight of a county first with me.

No need for haste though, Gaz was cool, standing glued to the bird, now feeding a hundred metres away with Greenshank and Redshank. Apparently it had flown off twice, only to do a lap of the area an drop back in again.

With still good light, we enjoyed the bird to a backdrop of wheezing as myself and a few other arrivals gathered our breath back ( birders are getting older). The bird, an adult in breeding plumage, probed around in a relaxed manner before having a preen and settling down for the evening.

I wonder if this is the same individual that was at Lodmoor RSPB same week last year? I bet it is you know...Regardless, this, the bird of the year in Northumberland so far, will take some beating. A county first, as you would expect, and a fantastic one too.

Takes me to 327 for the county, the first new species since last years Greater Yellowlegs...

Cheers Gary!

[Tuesday edit - Looking at videos of the bird it is much paler from the front than I depict here. My impression was of a much darker bird, but it was excuse anyway...]

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Where is this summer...

Although it was still quite warm today was overcast and windy, from the SW. Not good for anything really.

JWR and myself did his WeBs count at Branton and Hedgely Pits where the highlights were an adult Cuckoo and 2 Green Sandpipers, supported by 2 Goldeneye and very little else.

After this we had a plan to head up onto the moors to search for Lesser Twayblade. Now this is a tiny, underwhelming orchid that hides on bog under rank heather, and today it did just that, remained hidden. While stooping and searching under the vegetation, a few other bits of interest were found - 12 Crossbills ( not under the heather, but very low overhead) 2 juvenile Buzzards hoping not to get poisoned, lots of Cranberry and Cross leaved Heath with a  few Round leaved Sundews and Bog Asphodel.

Speckled Longhorn Beetle Pachytodes cerambyciformis was a new species for me on Hogweed nearby.

Speckled longhorn beetle Pachytodes cerambyciformis

Round leaved Sundew

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Not gone far...

Not out of Howick to be precise.

As the day was one of those all too rare sunny ones, most of the day has been spent out in the garden or village, loafing about.

A while back I saw someone discussing the area required to create a wild flower meadow. Above is mine. Its a triangle of about a metre across. Nothing has been planted, I have just not mown the grass for about 6 weeks. What a show of, er, Rough Hawkbit? I think. There are lots of plants in this family that all look alike so forgive me for not trying harder to id them. Today the flowers were covered in bees and even an odd Ringlet dropped in for a look.

Another area in the garden was a trench excavated to repair a drain. It is 2 mtrs x 0.5mtr. The backfill was just clay and stones so a 'wildflower mix' containing no wild flowers but several hardy annuals was thrown on and raked in. This is the result. Mallows, Poppies, Daisies, Escholtzia and Phacelia all attract insects and look better than soil.

So, you dont need a paddock to create some interest. Have a go!

Not long ago Speckled Wood was a 'holiday' butterfly if you lived in Northumberland, but now I get them in the garden. A few butterflies appeared today - Green veined White, Ringlet, Speckled Wood, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral. Makes a nice change.

This afternoon I had a walk to the coast path for a short seawatch.

1 hour on a flat calm high tide was quite fruitful - 

Sooty Shearwater 1
Manx Shearwater 7
Pomarine Skua 1 ad complete with a set of spoons, a nice early one, my first skua of 2012.
Roseate Tern 6 inc 5 together and 1 S.
Black tailed Godwit 10 S were a patch tick for here.

Also rans were Good numbers of Puffin, Razorbill and Guillemot, Gannets, Fulmars and Kittiwakes, Shag and Cormorant, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns.

2 juv Grey Wagtails fed in a runnel over the rocks and a lone Porpoise showed briefly.

A very pleasant day.


Monday, July 16, 2012

A Northumberland Endemic.

A trip up to Holy Island was almost thwarted when on arrival JWR announced that he had left his bins in the car - at Alnwick. We almost decided to give up when a plant theory came to mind. And what a fantastic idea, the dunes of Lindisfarne are a botanists dream with lots of rare and scarce species and even a plant so special that it is found nowhere else on the planet. Its a shame we aren't botanists and struggle to identify our flora, but we gave it a go.

The dunes were very wet underfoot, but maybe this was a benefit to wetland plants such as Cotton Grass and the various Orchids.

The Snook, Holy Island clouds of Cotton Grass
 We found many hundreds if not thousands of Marsh Helleborines and full bloom, a fantastic sight.

The flatter areas near Snook House and Tower were covered in Marsh Helleborines.

Marsh Helleborine
 But on the lower slopes of small dunes was the star of the show - the Lindisfarne Helleborine. This was once thought to be a form of Dune Helleborine, but analysis has found it to be different enough to award it species status.

  A new species for both of us, and one that orchid hunters would be well jealous of. A small well hidden plant, we cheated really, because the best way to find one is to look for the tiny wire mesh fences to keep rabbits off.

Lindisfarne Helleborine

Common Spotted Orchid maybe of the form 'alba'?
 Another plant of wet flushes, the Brookweed is very rare in Northumberland being found in only a few locations, including Howick Cliffs but I've not seen it there.

The Round leaved Wintergreen was in good numbers in a dune slack where we usually look for Wrynecks or Shrikes! 
Round leaved Wintergreen
Other plants noted include Common Spotted Orchid, Northern Marsh Orchid, Lesser Spearwort, Eyebright, Common or Seaside Centaury, Piri piri Bur, Burnet Rose, Quaking Grass, Heath Speedwell and a very early small Autumn Gentian.
Dark Green Fritillary
While searching at ground level, a few butterflies were on the wing - 22 Dark Green Fritillary, 12 Small Heath, 3 Ringlet, 2 Small White, 1 Large White, and moths included 23 Yellow Shell, 2 Narrow bordered 5 spot Burnet and 1 6 spot Burnet

An excellent morning out, not bad for someone with optics left behind, its just as well he brought his camera.