Sunday, December 21, 2014

Winter Solstice.

I am pleased to say that the longest night of the year is upon us. For the next few days, the actual day length remains pretty much constant but soon after new year things start to improve. I don't mind the winter but the dark nights are depressing. This month I don't seem to have lifted my binoculars due to various other commitments during the short hours of daylight. So, in an attempt to 'celebrate' the solstice I will be burning a log or Yule on the fire, and will be keeping the fire on all night to welcome a return of the sun.

Happy Yule everyone...

Winter Solstice 2009...

Monday, December 15, 2014


Atropos will be 9 weeks old on Friday. This equals the oldest I can find on the internet, and that one was in captivity by a breeder who sells the eggs to the public to breed through. The photo above is a phone shot in artificial light but its shows our man feeding on a honeycomb solution. This he gets every other day. You can see that he no longer has the striped stockings and neat white tips to the antennae, but most obvious are his squared off wing tips.  I wonder how long he will continue? He is being added to Christmas card greetings now!

Monday, December 08, 2014

A challenge...

After my post the other day saying I was planning what to do in 2015, Mr Gale of Surrey threw down a gauntlet. He suggested a friendly competition between us doing a birding patch list for the year. To make it fair, we have each set a base line - Steve has 110 species while I have 146. A percentage will be taken of any species over this total to decide the winner.

Our two local patches could scarcely be more different, his being an inland site in the south east while I am on the north east coast over 300 miles away.

I have already thought of a basic strategy to follow. Dont say owt, but here goes. If this info fell into the wrong hands it could be curtains for me.

In the new year it is a birders instinct to get out there and hammer his patch mopping up as many species as possible. I've done this myself many times and can get over 90 in the first month of the year, but I am taking a 'tortoise and hare' approach this time. During each month I am going to actively seek out the scarcer targets in my area, and hopefully the common stuff will fall into place naturally.

My first quarter goals are mainly all at sea- white winged gulls, divers, grebes, Long tailed Duck and Little Auk with Grey Plover, a biggie, out on those rocks. This is a common coastal wader here, but not on my patch. 2 miles south and I can get a flock of 40 no bother, but our rocky coast seems to repel them...and there is a tree in our village still laden with apples in case a scandinavian fop drops by.

Remember keep schtum.

Saturday, December 06, 2014


There has been a bit of a blog blockage on here lately. There are a few reason for this, no time during the week  (I never see daylight at home!), Christmas shopping, visits etc and most days even at weekends are scarcely light enough to see much ( dull Red Squirrel, left, illustrates the point).

Mainly though, it is a lack of motivation at this time, we always seem to be busy!

If we get a spell of snowy, cold, sunny weather between now and Christmas I might just awake from my pseudo hibernation.

I am planning what to do in 2015 now. So far I think there might be a notebook resurgence and I'll try and give myself a right shake up on the patch birding front. We'll see.

Anyway, don't fear, I haven't jacked it all in, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Not doing the predictable...

 A long weekend this week to try and finish up the decorating business, but before that, as it was JWR's birthday, we had a full day out birding.

Whilst others did the twitching thing down at Teesside where the Isabelline Wheatear put on a show, despite looking a bit sickly in some photos, we headed up on to the moors to look for raptors.

Red Grouse
It was a lovely early winters day and despite being typically quiet on the raptor front we enjoyed the wilderness experience. Up at the Harthope Valley, the only Buzzards seen were local birds, but there were loads of Redpolls and Siskins, 6+ Crossbills and 10+ Red Grouse. At another moorland site, the hunt and its band of merry men ensured that the whole area for miles around was largely devoid of any wildlife other than a scattering of Fieldfares and a flock of 20 ish Yellowhammers.

A late Pale Pinion in the moth trap the other day.
 Today was spent painting windows and skirtings. What a task!

I managed to get out for an hour with Bunty this morning and for a shorter time this afternoon. The female Stonechat sporting an albino throat patch showed well along the roadside. This bird has been around for the thick end of 6 weeks now.

Stonechat female with a hint of albinism...
Down the long walk a few good patch birds were seen - a pair of Gadwall and a female Shoveler on the pond, not annual here, 17 Whooper Swans and masses of Pinkfeet flew S and a Red Squirrel was chewing on some acorns for breakfast.

If that wheatear had been up at Musselburgh for example I might have gone, but down there to the thanks, not this time, maybe I'm starting to get away from twitching rarities?

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


This weekend has been spent doing something I should have done ages ago - decorating! What a chore that is, too, but I took yesterday and today off work to get the living room blitzed  and I'm glad to say its almost done. When you work all week, its hard to fit in stuff like this at a weekend when you are busy doing important stuff like birding or mothing for example!

Whilst I have been covered in emulsion, up a ladder, I've missed a load of Poms, Little Auks, Rough legged Buzzards and a showy Richards Pipit up at Newton Point, but at least I've got a chore done.

So what have I seen during dog walks. Not a lot really. A lone Little Auk sat on the sea this morning, thousands of Pink footed Geese over the garden on Sunday ( all day), the white throated Stonechat on the coast path, and two very late Red Admirals this afternoon in our village. When winter comes we are in for a shock...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Don't Panic!

After some long hard pondering, 'From the Notebook...' is no more. Not the blog. The name.

There is a reason behind it though.

A good while back, a company that is producing wildlife themed beers made contact. They liked my 'notebook style' sketches and some were used for the labels on the bottles and packaging etc but it came from left field when they trademarked my blog name (or copyright or something legal sounding that I forget).

Now, I don't mind really, I didn't have the copyright on it, but ever since then it has niggled. I feel like its me who is copying and I don't want that.

I have been blogging as long, if not a good deal longer, than most, and changed my name to 'From the Notebook... ' years ago when I stopped visiting Boulmer regularly ( remember Boulmer Birder) but now that its not original I think its time for change.

So, please welcome the one, the only (so far) -

 Its half me, half bird and insinuates there will be some crac to be had either on here or on Twitter. I cant see anyone taking on a stupid name like that, can you?

Oh and if you want some beer see From the Notebook. I don't sell ale. Good luck lads.


Sunday, November 09, 2014

Late moths.

Red Sword-grass. Pic taken in poor light this morning.
Although we are hovering around the end of autumn, November can still provide some interesting species in the moth trap. A small catch of 5 moths this morning included a nice fresh Red Sword-grass. This is my third garden record, but my first in the autumn. The other two were spring records, as the moth winters as an adult. The only other time I have met with it is on holidays in Scotland where it seems to be a bit more common favouring upland moor and birch forest edges.

Not much else was seen today, having spent the best daylight hours in Newcastle shopping for furniture. On return, Bunty flushed a Woodcock from the corner of our garden, a Chiffchaff was in the village pond willows and 250+ Pink feet flew SE over head.

Saturday, November 08, 2014


Not much doing today, but two moths in the trap were interesting. One,a December Moth was straight forward, but the second, a little brown micro had me confused. At first I thought it was Ypsolopha ustella, but closer examination showed the shape to be wrong for this species. After further investigation it turns out to be a common Diamond-back Moth, without the diamonds!


Tuesday, November 04, 2014

A Field Day...

Rainbow over the sand flats north of the causeway.
A day off work midweek is never an opportunity to be missed so when JWR said he had to use up some annual leave before the end of the month and we should have a trip out, my flexi day was booked in pronto.

Just like the old days, we decided to have the full day out birding up the coast, rather than just grabbing at a Sunday morning, and headed off to Holy Island early doors. The morning was fine and cool with a light NW breeze, but an ominous looking front could be seen further north in to the Scottish Borders, and it was heading our way.

The island was mainly tourist free, as the crossing would be closed mid morning, so we enjoyed an uninterrupted wander around the village for a couple of hours. Chiffchaff and Blackcap with a few Redwing, Fieldfare and Blackbirds were the only migrants, probably lingering from last week. Masses of Pale bellied Brent Geese and assorted waders fed and flew around the flats either side of the causeway.   As the rain arrived we decided it was time to out run it by heading south.

A few Pale bellied Brent Geese.



The Bamburgh and Seahouses area was our next stop, taking in several sites in the area. At Budle Bay the tide was almost up and had pushed thousands of birds up together. Highlights here were a powerful immature Peregrine that narrowly missed catching a Redshank before continuing south to let the birds relax until the next 'sortie'.  At Stag Rocks, there was little on the sea other than a Slavonian Grebe but a late Sandwich Tern sat on the rocks with waders was a surprise find at this time of year.
A quick check of the castle wood for migrants was quiet apart from a Woodcock flushed from the leaf litter.
A small feeding station just outside Bamburgh village held the usual woodland species including Marsh Tit, Nuthatch and Great spotted Woodpecker. 

Stag Rocks, Bamburgh

Imm Peregrine.

Marsh Tit
 A final stop at Beadnell and Low Newton where the rain was now becoming irritating turned up a single Long tailed Duck, 3 Red throated Divers, another Chiffchaff and a scattering of Goldcrests.

A quick tally showed that we had recorded 81 species of bird, not a bad total with out really trying too hard. We might start and make this a habit....

Sunday, November 02, 2014


Craster from the south
This morning we took a walk north from our house up to Craster along the coast path. I was looking for a Snow Bunting or Black Redstart but both remained unseen.

Still it was pleasant walk, checking the shore, the harbour, the Heughs and the Arnold Reserve. The area was quiet generally and migrant free. While in the village we were buzzed by a drone that may have been operated by CIA but I'm sure they have better targets to spy on. 

28 Golden Plover, 16 Turnstone, 1 Purple Sandpiper and a few Redshanks were along the rocky shore. A few Blackbirds, Redwings and Goldcrests were in cover, while both Harbour Porpoise and Grey Seal were offshore.

Golden Plover
High flying Long tailed Tits.

On the way back, a party of 11 Long tailed Tits looked a bit odd, high flying north across the coastal strip and for the second night running a new species of macro moth for me was in the trap. A Streak. A scarce species up here probably blown into the garden from further inland after tonights gales. 

The Streak.
Persistent Waxcap Hygrocybe acutoconica or persistens, thanks to Nigel for the id.
We also found a single large waxcap fungi growing by the path. Nothing in my book was like it but on line I noticed a similarity to Persistent Waxcap, but I find fungi so difficult. I was pleased when Nigel ( Abbey Meadows) confirmed this for me. Its name comes from the way it keeps its conical cap shape rather than it flattening out like some waxcap species.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Sunday morning - Coquet Estuary.

Nine Whooper Swans, only 1 juvenile.
The weather was quite inclement this morning with a strong westerly wind and a few squally showers coming through. We had a trip to the Coquet Estuary, checking out Amble Harbour to Warkworth Beach car park. As could be expected in this weather, it was generally quiet, but a few things of interest were seen.

A party of 9 Whooper Swans arrived from the east to settle on the river below Warkworth weir for  a spell before heading off further south.  Nearby along at the Marina, a nice drake Scaup, a female Common Scoter and a winter plumaged Great crested Grebe swan around beside the boats.

There were plenty of Wigeon, Teal and common waders in wintering areas too.

Up in the scrub, only a few Blackbirds, Song Thrushes and Robins, with a male Stonechat gave cause to lift the bins...

As the days grow ever shorter, its easy to pine for spring or summer or easterlies or northerlies or whatever, but it pays to appreciate just what we have, every time we get out there, its all fantastic!  

Scaup at distance with a Wigeon.

Herring Gull fly by...

Sunday, October 19, 2014


Moth twitchers that is.

Today was much busier than yesterday with visitors coming to see the Deaths head Hawk-moth. We had around 40 people including two lads who had come especially from Yorkshire to see it. Over the weekend we collected just over £60 in donations for our village hall which isn't bad for a moth.

This afternoon, the moth is livening up a few Facebook pages, sometimes alongside happy faced moth twitchers. For me though the highlight had to be when Richard Dunn managed to take a recording of the moth squeaking as it was handled. Now that's something that cant have happened too often. To hear it for yourself please click Here. But be careful, a Red crowned Crane kicks in immediately afterwards to shock you.

After everyone had gone we managed to get it to feed a little on honey solution. This is a tricky task, as the moth has to be man handled, then its curled proboscis teased out with a pencil and placed in the honey, where it sucks it up like a straw. I am advised by the interweb sources that after a couple of times, the moth gets the hang of it and feeds itself. Thank goodness for that!

The moth is on the logs positioned for the photographers.  This image courtesy of Alan Gilbertson.
A selection from Saturday.

Death's Head Hawk Moth. This image and the one above, courtesy of Ian Fisher.

Saturday, October 18, 2014


I am sorry about this, but if you don't like insects look away now. This weekend is all about one insect in particular, the Death's Head Hawk-moth Acherontia atropos.

This morning a small, but quality, audience came up north to pay homage to our newly emerged DHM. It is a British specimen, the caterpillar having been found by Victoria Doleman, near her home in Northamptonshire. We can't thank her enough for being sharp eyed and having the foresight to wonder about the large yellow thing creeping across the path before her. Cheers Vic!

A month later and we have a pristine example of Atropos. It is quite a subdued fellow, spending most of its time motionless while guests filled their cameras and phones with Halloween images, an opportunity that might take a very long time to repeat.

Today was the first time we have carefully handled the moth, and were eager to hear its well known 'squeaking' behaviour. Everyone was delighted when it ran up Jane's arm squeaking like mad, waving those white tipped antennae around and flashing blue and yellow, body and hind wings.

If you would like to see it, please give us a visit tomorrow morning, where we will be at Howick Village Hall again from 10am to 12 noon. We are about 7 miles east of Alnwick, just south of Craster, on the coast.

Expect more of the same on tomorrow's blog....its well worth it.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Its here...

Atropos hatched overnight. I checked before bed and there was a black pupa, but this morning a nice fully formed Deaths Head Hawk-moth had emerged and was hanging on the tank side, fresh as a daisy.

I snatched a few blurry pics in the half light before work this morning, but hope for better tomorrow.

If you are passing and would like to see the moth, I will be having it on display at Howick Village hall tomorrow and Sunday from 10 am - 12 noon. There will be a small donation to the village hall coffers...

[I have tried to email everyone in my address book today and have frozen my emails in the process, so I'm stuck until I can get help.]

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Holy Island fall?

Yellow browed Warbler 
A day off work today to visit Holy Island to look for migrants. With the wind in the east now for a few days, and rain forecast, the charts seemed good for a few birds to arrive. Bring on the bluetail!

As it happened, it was a reasonable day out but not all it was cracked up to be. Rain and over cast skies made viewing tricky and there just didnt seem to be many birds around. There had been a small arrival of Thrushes, with a couple of hundred Redwings, 50+ Blackbirds, 3 Ring Ouzels, 1 Fieldfare and some grey dark continental Song Thrushes. Half a dozen Bramblings 'wheezed' from the sycamores and there was a nice sprinkling of Goldcrests.

Three Yellow-browed Warblers were in the vicinity of the Vicars Garden with two of them chasing around over the open field next door. The one in the photo nearly flew in to me before landing and turning around to see what the hell was that standing in its way!

Also here were an 'eastern' Chiffchaff probably 'tristis' but it didnt call, alongside a usual 'collybita', a male Blackcap and a good number of Robins. Two Black tailed Godwits flew overhead.

While walking along to the Chare Ends, a Water Rail got up at my feet from a patch of Meadow Sweet, flew around then dropped back in, where I left it in peace. The Lonnens and Lough were quiet but a few Little Gulls were off shore.

A Merlin and a Little Egret rounded up the day nicely along the cause way on the way off. If you throw in hundreds of Pale bellied Brent Geese, Bar tailed Godwits, Knot and Golden Plover, I suppose it wasnt a bad day after all...

Above - Ring Ouzel and Eastern Chiffchaff in very poor light...

Saturday, October 11, 2014


This morning Nigel and myself took a trip to the Hancock, oh alright, the Great North, Museum, to attend the ERIC [Environmental Records Information Centre] conference. There were eight short talks, refreshments half way and a buffet lunch at the end, all for free, what's not to like !

All of the speakers were interesting with seven of them being professional ecologists and the like, however, my favourite was the only amateur in the line up, Pat Robson. She discussed her particular project, the environmental side of a village atlas production at Hetton le Hole in county Durham.  Her investigations into the biodiversity of her village has lead on to other conservation matters such as challenges to planning applications that are placing habitats at risk, and reporting pollution incidents in her local water sources. She is now quite into the River Fly project, studying the invertebrate life of her small streams and local nature reserves.

It is this type of thing that should inspire us, as amateurs, to get out and enjoy what we do and if possible, try to help the environment in some way, no matter how small.

It was nice to attend such a varied and friendly event like this. There were about a hundred attendees, and all seemed to enjoy it.

I am looking forward to next year's already!

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Fungi id?

Branching Oyster.

This fungi is in our local woods. Its quite big, about 10 inches across. Is it an Oyster Mushroom?

[As Nigel recommends, I had considered this was Branching Oyster but they are so variable, these fungi...]

Rant over...

I have removed yesterday's post, as today it looked like a bit of a rant. Many thanks to those who bothered to leave comments though, they are always appreciated.

I see there has been no sign of the Red eyed Vireo today? Its a shame, it would have been a great one to get on the county list. That's two records for the county now, so who knows, there might be a third, one day...

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Another couple of autumn moths...

The Brick. Not too common in our garden.

Large Wainscot, a migrant moth up here.