Tuesday, February 26, 2013


This female Great spotted Woodpecker was the unfortunate casualty of a window collision in our garden yesterday. Maybe flushed by a Sparrowhawk or maybe not, what a shame at this time. I get a pair or more chasing aggressively around the feeders most days. I'll be on the look out now to see if there is a second hen bird for our man...

On checking the Baker Guide to Non Passerines, this bird is an adult female. there is no contrast in the wing coverts, just a nice uniform glossy black colour.

[ 27th Feb - another female on the nuts, it doesnt take long ...]

Monday, February 18, 2013

Goosanders, Goldeneye and Goshawk...

Its nice have a pleasant, fair and sunny weekend for a change.

Yesterday morning my first singing Blackbird of the year was announcing the new day in all his glory.

I went off to meet John a little earlier than usual now that the mornings are getting light sooner, and we headed off to Branton Pits to do his WeBs count a week late.

Some of the pond had a very light skim of ice showing that winter is still grabbing on to the door frame as we throw her out for, what we hope will be, the last time. The wildfowl were in fine fettle though with groups of Goldeneye and Goosander displaying around the site.


The Fishing Party...
We had 10+ Goldeneye, 6+ Goosander, 25+ Tufted Duck, 1 Pochard, 20+ Wigeon and 61 Teal. Returning waders included 17 Oystercatchers and 4 Lapwing, while around the car park 3 Song Thrushes were singing and chasing around, Chaffinches sang every where and, not to be outdone, even a Reed Bunting was 'shouting it out'. A Kingfisher dashed across the pond while maybe another two called unseen.

At the west pond, an imm male Peregrine was showing well sitting on one of the pylons before moving off up the valley. We checked the favoured spots for Adders but there were none, its still maybe a little too early.

One of Johns pics, better than mine...


After finishing the count at Hedgeley, we moved up to higher ground to scan some forest while having our tea. Soon, our goal appeared,a close view of a male Goshawk over the road showing close enough to see his supercillium in the sunshine. Its a pity my photos are so poor...

Back home, more raptors were being territorial when 4 Buzzards flew low over garden mewing their heads off. 30+ Tree Sparrows were on the feeders and checking out nest boxes and 2 Grey Partridges were in the back field.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Last Nights Mothing...

I have donated last nights moth post to Alnwick Wildlife Group. Please check them out and give it a follow...

Alnwick Wildlife Group


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Its that time again...

Chestnut sp?
A time of confusion. I logged this moth as Chestnut the other night when it flew in the kitchen, but now, looking at the photos I'm erring on the side of a worn Dark Chestnut?

Any comments gratefully received. I do this at the beginning of every year...

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stewart and the Birdcatcher...

Steve Gale has started something here on his blog North Downs and beyond, yet again... . He askes why do we do it, this birding mullarky. I started to leave him a  comment but I got a tad carried away so here it is. Please check out Steve's blog, he's a great writer that certainly gets you thinking...

Anyway where was I, oh yes -


Why wake up? To me birding isn't a hobby or something taken up to fill in early retirement and to spend cash on now the kids and mortgage have gone. 

Its something I have done for ever, but maybe not in the form we 'birders' would recognise today. 

Aged  6 or 7 I liked books with pictures of birds or animals in. I didn't have any interest in cars or trains or football. Those things were all made by man, so by default, everything that it was possible to know, was already known. If you get the drift. Not that I knew that as a wee bairn, but I did seem to have some empathy for creatures other than my species.

I was given the first edition of Heinzel, Fitter and Parslow in 1972 aged 8. In this year my mother died so maybe that forced me to get stuck in, to blank things out, but I read that guide like kids would read Janet and John. Cover to cover. I could name the lot, and even recognised bits of text to show what bird was what, but I didnt know that people actually went out specifically to look for birds. Bird watching.

As a child, I just went out to play and took notice of the birds around the council estate where we lived. The only other people I knew who looked at birds were the older lads at school who went nesting. If you've seen the film 'Kes' I could have slotted in there, seamlessly.

I remember my first Goldfinch on a fence, my first Blue and Great Tits, known from the book, on a neighbours peanuts. My first Dunnock sneaked into view on our lawn when I was gazing through a rain spattered window. I could go on. They all came to life like seeing a famous person in the flesh for the first time, or like a footballer other lads idolised from the telly. 

My dad was the local park keeper and had to take me to work with him during the school holidays and on summer nights so I prowled around catching butterflies, frogs, hedgehogs and even finding nests in the hedges ( no eggs were taken, dad would have killed me).  

Aged about 10 or 11, dad took me to see a bloke he knew from the local working mens club. His name was Geordie. He was a retired coal miner with an allotment filled with strange wire mesh covered greenhouses. Imagine taking a young lad and dumping him in a secluded hut with an old fella these days!  The reason for it was that Geordie, bred cage birds. Not just canaries or budgies, oh no, this was the hard up north east, budgies seemed a bit too tropical, Geordie was a British bird breeder who specialised in finches. 

He was a bird catcher.

That first day 'down the garden' was a revelation. Dad kind of paraded me around several aviaries and sheds getting Geordie to test my id skills...'Whats that' he would say pointing high up to a shape in some gorse tied to the mesh of the well covered aviary. 'Siskin!' 'Male' ( or what ever) was the cry, and one after another I got them all right. There were Goldfinches and Bullfinches, Greenfiches and Siskins, Redpolls and Linnets many singing their heads off in their large secluded 'bioshpheres'.

Now I'm not getting into the debate of the legalities and rights and wrongs of this, but in 1974 no one was really bothered.

I went to see Geordie every Saturday and Sunday morning at first light where, during the late autumn and winter we would try and catch specific birds such as female Bullfinch or Greenfinches to breed from. When he had a target everything else was left to its business, so needless to say we never caught much. The few hapless individuals that were caught, where taken in a 'greenhouse' aviary with the door open and a string tied to it leading back to the shed. Male 'call birds' were hung in small cages  inside to sing and chatter to attract their own kind. If we were lucky and one went in, the string would be pulled and the door closed. No Bird Lime here, it was frowned upon, it would damage the feathers and feet of the birds.It was cruel.

During the summer Geordie and me would go out collecting wild food for his breeders, plants such as Fat Hen, Chickweed, Persicaria, Docks, Thistles and bunches of groundsel,  things like larch branches, broom and gorse as nesting cover were all  brought back. He would show me nests of Redpoll, and even Willow Warblers and Whitethroats, There were tales of Red Squirrels and Bats ( bats down the pit!?). Before I was 12 I could pick out a flying Redpoll half a mile away on call, and Bramblings likewise.

This was my learning ground for about 5 years, not Bird Forum.

Another real mentor of mine, I hope wont mind me saying, is still in the side column on the right, under the blog Abbey Meadows. Nigel lived near relatives of mine in another village several miles away. When I was about 9, Nigel was two or three years older. I used to stay over at the relations, and go to seek Nige at about 5.30 or 6 am when we would set off wandering the lanes and bridlepaths looking for wildlife. In those days Nigel had been on real bird watching trips to the coast seeing Merlin and Arctic Skua, just fantasy birds for me. I was over the moon to see Goldcrests  and Yellowhammers and Corn Buntings were widespread in Northumberland then. Nigel told me what various wild flowers were ( I still struggle with those) and he is still hunting them out now, 40 years later.

So thats HOW it all started, but WHY?

You know, I dont really know. I just know that when I am outside feeling the wind on my face and hearing my first Swallow overhead or jostling for my first Belted Kingfisher, or hearing the Tuk Tuk Tuk of a cock Pheasant waiting under my feeders in the garden, looking at the first Speedwell flowers in spring, or seeing a fleeting Stoat dash across the road, this just seems right. 

All problems are put in a different room even just for few minutes...It helps me breathe...

As for those that can just pack it all in because they dipped a Scarlet Tanager in Cornwall? Thats the real 'why'? Its all their loss... 

Thanks for your patience. Especially if you have read some of this babble before...


Sunday, February 10, 2013

In the doldrums...

February can be like that. For me. probably the worst month of the year. Locally, most of the wintering birds have been found by the end of January, and its while before spring reaches Northumberland ( does it ever?) so its a case of getting out and about regardless and hoping for the best.

Today I walked down to Howick burn mouth and back by the coast then had a quick drive up to Craster to check the harbour. It was dull cold and breezy from the south east. Bleak might describe it. I was hoping to add to the patch list with Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin and Collared Dove, but even these paltry specimens remained elusive. This is the bit where I drop in 'I found a Ross's Gull' 'Which was nice', but I didnt.

The highlight would have been 2 probably Whooper Swans N but I only caught their arse end but I think I heard one call ( its not going on the list) and 8 Shelducks N along the coast, ...and nothing else.

Yesterday, my first new bird of Feb was the missing Yellowhammer, when a lone male was glowing from overhead wires above the bean field.

No 92


Note the sun is shining and the bird is in our garden so its an old photo...

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Birding Frontiers and Biotope at NTBC

Last night I went to my first bird club meeting this year ( and maybe last too?). The reason? Well, it was to see Martin Garner and Tormod Amundsen shake their stuff and hopefully provide some inspiration. This they did in spades, in fact they could have been life coach speakers, with the crowd almost whooping with fevered excitement!

It makes a change to get a double act that holds attention for the full night. A superb night and it would be highly recommended for anyone except this was their last date on tour, so if you didnt catch up with them, reflect on missing a great talk.

Afterwards we did the usual stand around and chat at the club. I say usual, it used to be usual for me. I never missed an indoor meeting for about 15 years until recently, but now the distance is a bit too far from home. I noticed another thing too, in my self imposed exile, half the attending members have changed into people I dont know! No sign of stalwarts like ADMC, Alan Jack, Richard Dunn, Nigel, John, John H, Nick Rossiter, John Richardson Tom n Mu, Les Robson, Ian Douglas, Bob Dack, Mike Holmes, Mike Natrass, Alan Johnston, Alan Janes, Lindsey MacDougall, etc etc. all ones I liked to catch up with.

This got me wondering about their absence...Some will have been busy, but others, I know for a fact, have jacked it all in. I wonder why? I wonder when I'll cut the reins and be added to the 'missing in action' list?

With the ready access to virtual birding colleagues via the internet, maybe these casual catch ups dont fill the gap they once did? More for discussion here another time...

Mmmm....Night all.

Oh we got our 2011 annual report -

One of the illustrations I did for BiN2011...