Tuesday, November 19, 2013

One Swallow doesn't make a summer...

So the saying goes.

Not in November anyway. This morning I was out with Bunts in the early light, as the mercury stayed rigid at -1 when a flickery winged bird came low towards me over our roof. At first glance I thought it was just a Starling leaving roost, until it got a bit closer but no bigger, when I thought...no, surely not...a hirundine!

It skimmed right over head, a first winter Swallow. Very late here and it needs to get cracking if it is to find food in this weather.

I am trying to dispel the niggling image I have of a thick, black, stuck on tail...?

As what is surely the last Swallow sighting of 2013 a 'first' was lying in wait. By 10am the snow was falling very hard indeed. The first of winter. Bang on time.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Up the coast...

JWR and myself headed up to see the Lesser Grey Shrike this morning, a new bird for him in the UK, and one I am pleased to see again after its great performance yesterday.

It was in a more lethargic mood this morning but still showed very well to all comers. It seems that its staple diet is now mealworms provided by Jimmy and Gary trying to build it up for its continued migration.

While here, apart from being physically mugged by a Peacock ( that took one of my ginger snaps without even asking) it was good to meet up with some long term birding mates that I don't see nearly of much of as I should.

From here we headed up to Bamburgh with little hope of connecting with the elusive Bonaparte's Gull. As expected, it was a no show, but we did enjoy 4 Slavonian Grebes, 10 Long tailed Duck including many nice males, 10 Red breasted Merganser, 200+ Common Scoter and 50+ Purple Sandpiper.

A short stop down at Seahouses gave us a few more Purps plus a stonking Great Northern Diver just off shore still retaining some remnants of summer plumage about the neck.

All in all a very nice morning out.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Winter doesn't usually arrive like this...

The 1952 Monk's House Lesser Grey Shrike by Eric Ennion.

In Northumberland, winter arrives around about 15th November and generally lasts until Valentines day (unless you look at this year and it lasted until May).

So, in winter with very few moths and flowers to look at, its the birds that take centre stage once again. At this time, we can look out for Twite and Snow Bunting with grebes and divers along the coast or maybe a large finch flock or a raptor further inland.

If we are very lucky a Great Grey Shrike might take up wintering territory in the forests, but this delight is usually saved until March or April. It is no wonder then that the report of one at the Long Nanny car park, High Newton caused Gary, the local patch stalwart, some consternation. Could this be a Steppe Grey Shrike? After all, Great Greys don't usually linger for days on the coast here. I'll let him explain more thoroughly HERE.

As it happened, Gary found the bird and re-identified it as a much rarer species altogether - a Lesser Grey Shrike! It is easy to see how the mistake was made, as this was in first winter plumage and lacked the black forehead of a spring adult. The main features that give the game away are the long wing projection with a huge white flash at the primary bases, the shorter, thicker bill, the shorter tail and the darker greyish mantle with an off-white/ pinkish hue to the breast.

This morning, it showed really well to an appreciative audience, flycatching and actively dashing around the cattle paddocks next to the car park. This is the second LGS in Northumberland this year after a spring bird on Holy Island. For me, this is my second county and British LGS after a full summer adult at this very same site in June 2008. It shows that lightening can strike twice...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Its a mystery....

Earlier this week, I came home to find a voicemail left from a lady in Longhoughton asking my opinion on an unusual bird she had seen in the village. Unable to check it out mid week, I had forgotten until yesterday so I rang her back for some detailed directions. News was, the bird was still present yesterday at 2pm, so this morning I popped along for a stakeout....

After 45 minutes, there was no sign of anything unusual, so I left hoping that it was probably feeding in a garden nearby, but it may return to the wood later to roost.

At 1pm I returned and, just as she told me, there it was waiting for me on the fence as you enter the wood!

From her description I fancied it would be maybe a Brambling ( orange face, white near tail etc) or maybe an escaped cage bird. Leucistic birds are also a good bet, but I didnt think of this....

Even the bill is two toned. Like Glaucous Gull!

You dont see many Robins like this on Christmas Cards!
This Robin was quite elusive hiding under thick conifers. Maybe its embarrassed? One things for sure, he WILL have a white Christmas!

Sunday, November 10, 2013


This morning dawned nice and clear with a thick white frost over the car. I collected JWR from home and we headed down to Warkworth to check out the Coquet Estuary for a change.

The tide was full on arrival so we took our time strolling down the north side, checking the newly created pools near the caravan park. The floods had good numbers of Teal, Wigeon and Redshank plus a few Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings.

The light was excellent so I took this panorama shot on my phone to show the scene -

This is the area we used to catch a few Snipe for ringing a some years back. The marsh and phragmites area look excellent now, and , being set back a hundred metres from the east coast, must surely pay dividends to anyone who regularly checks the area during passage periods. During our time of regular visits we managed Red backed and Great Grey Shrikes, Yellow browed Warbler, Black Redstart, American Wigeon, Long billed Dowitcher etc.

Now, I think it scarcely gets a glance.

Back to today, we covered the whole length down to the pier. There was a single Snow Bunting on the beach at the pier base, 6 Black tailed and 1 Bar tailed Godwit, many other waders including Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstone, Grey Plover, Lapwing and Ringed Plover. Two Buzzards squabbled overhead while a Sparrowhawk took a Redshank from right in front of us.

We then moved over the road side of the estuary where more wildfowl had gathered including 15 newly arrived Whooper Swans. Several skeins of Pink footed Geese flew south.

 As we left, the sky began to cloud over and the temperature began to drop...

Winter is knocking...