Monday, January 28, 2013

You dare....

A county tick...

I'm just waiting for the first blogger who titles their Cattle Egret post 'Egret's I've had a few' and that's my monitor booted...

Anyway, yesterday on Holy Island, a fantastic county bird was identified after a three day guise as a Little Egret, an understandable oversight considering this is only the second for Northumberland and the first since 1986. That bird was on private land and seen only by Roger Forster, 'Hexham' Ray Craig and John Proudlock.

As you can imagine all the local county listers, including yours truly, were keen to get onto Lindisfarne to add this fallen blocker to ever slowing lists. Unfortunately for those tardy enough to have a cup of tea and half a bar of dairy milk at the car before going on site, by nine oclock it had taken cover in the only sheltered garden on the Crooked Lonnen.

The garden of the white chalet is the only inaccessible tree filled spot on the island, but it is quite small so we just had to wait it out and scan through the straggled hawthorns and sheep mesh until our goal wandered into view on the lawn.

I managed a couple of just about reasonable views as it pulled unseen morsels from the grass and that was it. It filtered out of sight, a bit like our enthusiasm, so we wandered off towards the harbour.

On the rocket fields were 380+ Teal, scanned for yankee versions, and 60+ Pale bellied Brents.

Thats probably the listing excitement for this year so its back onto the patch, where I still cant find a Yellowhammer. I know where they are though...

...while us filthy county listers were shamefully abandoning ship, a well known Stringer  Pied Piper has lured them to his lair....

Saturday, January 26, 2013

No photos today which is a shame as it was sunny with a good covering of snow first thing.

A walk around the coast path was very scenic but almost birdless apart from one or two species in good numbers. Skylarks made their presence known in a steady southerly drift with flocks of 300, 200, 100+ and 30+ all within half an hour.

On the garden feeders were 22 Tree Sparrows, 3 Fieldfares plus the usuals.

This afternoon a lot of Redwings and Fieldfares were around the village, maybe 70+ of each, with a few Bramblings well scattered. A Stock Dove was only my second this year, while 2 Lapwings flew west and a Pied Wagtail south A pair of Hares were out the back looking just about to start boxing and a Roe doe had to be encouraged gently to move off the road and into safety.

A detour from shopping via Boulmer showed the field to be back to its pre-drainage days giving the place its old name of Bulls-mere. A flock of 29 Brent Geese on here were mostly pale bellied but there were maybe 5 dark bellied plus 3 Canada Geese.

Tomorrow we are heading up to Holy Island, hoping to connect with Northumberland's 2nd Cattle Egret. It would be a county tick for just about every one after the first bird spent 10 days on a private site in 1986.

Fingers crossed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Some Snow...

This weeks snow pattern has been mostly away from the coastal strip. Yesterday all of our snow here had gone, but a surprise lay in wait when we got up for work this morning. A good 2 inches had dropped and was still tipping it down until almost lunchtime. First thing we checked the roads and found them to be a nightmare so, an impromptu holiday was called in and that was the day off.

The main coastal road south. Nice, clear and well gritted.

 We didn't go far, but the garden birds provided a good distraction -

Fieldfare 17+ on the few apples we had left. A garden record.
Blackbird 6+
Redwing 1
Tree Sparrow 6+
Chaffinch 10+
Brambling 4 ( 2 males and 2 females)
Goldfinch 5
Long tailed Tit 4
plus all the other regulars...

4 Lapwings and a Redpoll flew south overhead.

From the Notebook
Oh and I almost forgot, a new moth for the year on our kitchen wall last night - Agonopterix arenella.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ton Up...

Another bleak winters day today, but the morning on foot around the patch turned up a massive 6 new additions, including two of the targets mentioned yesterday.

The wind was strong again, cutting, on the coast path, but after adding an extra layer, I took position on the cliff top at Cullernose Point gazing at a largely blank sea. If I had not been doing the Patch Challenge, I would have given this no more than a cursory glance and been off for shelter, but common species take on extra significance with an added spice of competition.

So, I sat it out for 45 minutes seeing three new additions that would have hardly had me lifting the bins later in the year -

Gannet 3 adults S
Kittiwake 1 adult N
Wigeon 2 N
Goldeneye 1N
Eider 3 N
Common Scoter 1 female N
Fulmar 30+ milling around.

Amazing to see the top two species are worth two points in the challenge...

In the fields were 100+ Skylarks, 40 Golden Plover, 2 Lapwing, 30 Fieldfare and 50+ Linnets.

At this stage I retired home for breakfast and to shake off hypothermia before heading out again in an inland direction.

A wet corner was very productive when 11 Snipe flushed with 2 Woodcock nearby. I'll keep an eye on this damp spot for Jack Snipe, a full new species for the patch, as the weeks go on. A rough field here had more Fieldfares and Redwings with 3 Reed Bunting but still no Yellowhammers?

3 Brown Hares were beginning to 'box' on the heugh.

The route home was mainly quiet in the woods but after some lengthy perseverance my target surrendered -a Treecreeper, skulking about in the moss low down on a tree trunk. The pond here had 6 Mallard a Little Grebe and a Heron. A Great Spotted Woodpecker was in full drumming mode, a hint of spring in this winter weather.

That's me then for another week, 90 species (100 points) and a new record for January after 87 in Jan 2010. With still another weekend to go and a common species or two left to find, hopefully I can push the boundary even further.    

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What a dismal day here today. The wind was a cold easterly that almost knocked me on my arse as I walked the coast path. This, interspersed with sleet and hail on an overcast day didn't bode well for birding.

We walked from home around the coast path and back via the village Lane within an hour this morning, and surprisingly had a few things of note.

In the sheltered fields were 70+ Golden Plover, 100+ Redwings and 30+ Fieldfares. The stubble field near the old rectory held a nice flock of 200+ Skylarks that were diligently scanned but the only other birds with them were one or two Linnets.

A party of 30 or so Lapwings flew from near the Bathing House then I noticed the muscular shape of a large female Peregrine, in flight, facing into the teeth of the gale as if it were a summer day. A closer look showed the bird to be an immature, that eventually flew north towards Cullernose Point.

One or two Meadow Pipits were calling unseen near the farm, while a Buzzard was viewed from the kitchen as it cruised the Heugh fields..

I'll be out 'patching' around the doors tomorrow hoping to add Yellowhammer ( where have they gone?), Treecreeper and maybe Woodcock to the list. No doubt I'll see none of these, but something is sure to turn up with this weather.

Watch this space.

Peregrine 84 sp ( 92 points) on the Patch Challenge. 

An older notebook sketch...

Friday, January 18, 2013

A working week...

Means that there is no daylight to do any patch birding. However, a change in the weather on Monday did, indeed, shuffle things up a bit. Most of this week has seen temps drop to -5 here at Howick, with snow in varying amounts most days. This has encouraged birds to move towards the coast from more hard pressed areas, so I have managed a good total of patch ticks without leaving the garden.

Each day I feed the birds at first light before heading off to work. In the quiet of morning, calls are easy to detect as things move from roost to feeding sites early on in these short days.

So what has been occurring?

Skylark - The distinctive ripple call of birds in the stubble behind our house.
Barn Owl - In the evening, the harsh, wheezing hiss of a bird hunting along the field margin next to our drive.
Grey Wagtail - One over the roof of the holiday cottage calling 'Tssick'.
Golden Plover -  Three this morning flying over the back field. Silent.
Redwing -  A few in the copse next to the garden calling 'Tzeee' then seen in flight.
Fieldfare - 20+ with Redwings above, including one on apples in our garden today.
Meadow Pipit -  A lone bird dancing over the stubble calling 'seeet'.

Nice, 7 patch ticks, all on foot, taking me up to 83 patch species so far in January ( 82 on shanks's). Hopefully more to come this weekend in this easterly gale and snow...

Not a bad patch really, still no Yellowhammer or Collared Dove though....

Sunday, January 13, 2013

It could be a little 'otter...

Out to Branton and Hedgeley Pits near Powburn on this fine calm morning with John.

A phone photo I'm afraid.
It was a frosty -1.5 according to the car, with a very light peppering of snow on hard surfaces. The ponds were very calm with lightly frozen margins that look like the whole surface would soon be covered if the recent weather forecasts are correct.

Quite a few ducks were present including a hundred or so Tufted. In this flock were a nice male Pochard, an all too scarce bird up here these days, and best of all two Scaup. A long way inland, I cant remember seeing one here before, though John assures me we have had one at some time.

In my notes they went down as a fw male and a female, but on checking the literature at home, both may have been females. They looked quite different, one having a blackish brown head and greyish brown body, but it did have a huge white blaze on the face, even bigger than the so-called female.An adult and imm female perhaps?

Anyway, they were both Scaup. Good enough.

A nice Kingfisher landed next to us briefly until it realised its mistake and flew off to cover, calling.

Over the road to Hedgeley, there were less birds but it still had some to count. The surprise here was a flock of 22 Curlew, already looking towards upland breeding areas. A stroll down to the river Till here had a Dipper fly downstream, calling and a Green Sandpiper upstream, again, calling for attention. An Otter had left its tracks in the soft wet sand on the stream edge not too long before our arrival...

A quickly scribbled Green Sand.

Back home, no new patch ticks this weekend, but the forecast for some snow and cold winds might shake things up a bit...

Otter tracks on the Till.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Nice day...

Today I had a walk to the lesser visited areas of the Howick patch, the north west ( check the map, right).

Above - The path in the left of this shot going across the turnip field is the north west boundary of this years recording area. In the background is Hips Heugh ( pronounced 'hyuff'), part of the Whin Sill a geological feature.

Above - The track along this field edge borders some mature trees, not quite a wood, more a belt. This is the western boundary.

Above - A winters view of our village. Facing east.

Anyway, the pics above kind of show the route I took this morning for an hour. Three species were added to the year list - Brambling, 1 flew calling from the copse next to the village, Reed Bunting, a male near the turnip field in the top image, and Nuthatch a nice male prospecting tree holes near the main road.

This afternoon in a change from the norm, I took the car along to Craster to check the far north ned, a new addition to my usual recording area. Straight away one of my target species in this area fell - Willow Tit. On feeders near a holiday chalet next to the tourist info car park. 2 Purple Sandpipers were in the car park and that was about it really. This end will come into its own during the migration seasons...

List now - 76 ( 83 pts)


Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Off Patch Gandalf...

Hobbit 2012
Middle Earth 2007
 We must have just missed him....

Monday, January 07, 2013

Much ado about mothing...

Only one moth in the trap last night -

Pale brindled Beauty
Still, its early so anything is better than nothing. Looking forward to spring...

Out with Bunty, north to Cullernose. The weather was calm and dull but mild, looks like rain later. A nice flock of 60+ Linnets with 5 Greenfinches and a Goldfinch were in the stubble, and the cliff face Fulmars were active but other than that there wasn't much to raise the bins for.

On the return journey a Razorbill, a list addition, was preening and stretching offshore with a Red throated Diver alongside.

Sunday, January 06, 2013

A Snatch of Patch...

Today was my first real bash at the patch, so armed with scope I headed off the have a 'stand and stare' from the high point at the Howick Haven. I arrived to meet a lovely calm sunrise over a mirror flat sea, with a mild very light SW1 blowing. Just the job for listening out for birds flying over.

Dawn at the Haven
As the dawn light increased, new patch species came thick and fast - 3 Purple Sandpipers, 11 Goldeneye, a pair of Red breasted Merganser, Common Scoter and a faint 'peep' alerted me to a nice female Kingfisher sitting on the rocks. Over head, 22 Pink feet flew south while 9 Red throated Divers loafed in the bay.

The view south, this is the south end of my patch.

And the view North towards the Bathing House and Dunstanburgh castle.

Further down to the burn mouth, a male Shelduck was a good find for the time of year being more easily seen in the spring. Another glance seaward added a Guillemot to the total.

Fired up with this boost, I headed around to the Pond Field to see if there were any ducks at all, as there were none on my last visit. As I was the first visitor here this morning at least Mallard, Teal and Little Grebe made a show, with Stock Dove, Greenfinch and a bonus female Blackcap in the woods for good measure.

Back home for a late breakfast, no new species were added, but on the feeders a Siskin was at the niger seed with Goldfinches, 4+ Long tailed Tits fed like animated lollipops on the nuts and at least 10 Tree Sparrows were on the seed feeders.

Goldfinch male. Note the extent of red on the face.

Long tailed Tit.
My first Moth trapping session of the year yielded only a single moth but it was notable, being my earliest Hebrew Character by a full month. 

Hebrew Character, first moth caught of 2013.
If this nice weather holds maybe a few common omissions from the bird list will show themselves...

The running total after today - 71 species ( 77 points). Maybe another 10 to get before the end of January...All on foot and all self found.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

I was pleased to see that the first Winter Aconites are in flower in Denwick Churchyard. Often they are later than the Snowdrops to start, so they must be around somewhere too.

A couple of dog walks today yielded some patch additions - Mute Swan, Fulmar, Shag, Buzzard and more unexpectedly a first winter Mediterranean Gull wandering the top fields with a few Black headeds. I've added these birds to the Patch Challenge record sheet and find that the sea birds are worthy of 2 points making them 'better' than the commoner species. Yet Tree Sparrow is only a one pointer.

The only other thing of note today were a few Long tailed Tits on our garden feeders, not a common sight here.

Tomorrow I'll be out having a bit of a seawatch, first thing. I'm not particularly after the typical sea birds, but it can be a good way for me to add a few freshwater wildfowl, some waders or maybe a Snow Bunting on a fly by. I'll give it an hour anyway.

You never know there may be a photo or two on the next post...

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

A flurry...

..of blog posts.

Those of you who thought I'd had a big 'drift' of Snow Buntings are to be disappointed. Work beckoned today, this means that I will not see daylight at home on my patch before Saturday. The plus side though is that I am off most of next week, due to pet care issues, so weather permitting I should boost the Howick list little bit.

Just scanning down the blog I see that I have a few more followers than I expected, maybe due to my recent Twitter activity ( @Stewchat) or maybe not. I also see that in 2012 I only made 67 posts on 'From the Notebook' though other moth related posts were on 'The Orthosia Enthusiast'. This is my worst year on here since I began blogging in 2006. Even then in 6 months I had 85 posts. So its time to get my finger out and get back to blogging basics. I'll be putting 'TOE' on hold and joining my moth posts in with this lot.

In 2013 I will try and A) See stuff to blog about and B) Blog about it once seen.

Please have patience...

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Happy New Year

Not a proper days birding but a few walks out with Jane and Bunty with a running total kept along the way.

In total 50 species were recorded 'on foot from home' which is about what I would expect to get, however, a few common species were missing that must be lurking somewhere - Collared Dove, Mallard, Shag, Cormorant, Fulmar, Buzzard, Yellowhammer, Goldeneye, Treecreeper, Nuthatch etc.

I think the biggest stumbling block for getting a full 'expected' list here is that the daylight hours are not long enough even on days with good weather. Not to worry, these birds and others will drop into place soon.

The days highlights were a good late passage south of Pink footed Geese with 75, 40, 46, 25 and 22 all going south, a scattering of Crossbills with 1 and 6 over home and 10+ at the burn mouth and a flock of 10+ Bar tailed Godwits flying north seen from the pub window at Craster!

The day ended with a few Tawny Owls in full hoot heard from the drive.

I checked our local copse to see if the Snowdrops were flowering yet but they weren't, maybe another week or so. Last year they were out on 2nd January.

Well, it's back to work tomorrow with the likelyhood of a few days off next week...