Monday, March 31, 2014

Roaming in the gloaming...

What a change since last weekend. Gone are the clear blue skies and sunny days. Instead of basking in summer temps with sun like more southern counties, Northumberland and east Scotland are about the only areas of the UK to have proper March weather.  At the minute, day time temps are not exceeding 8 degrees, and down to 5 at night. It could be July before we see a 20.

As we have an easterly breeze causing the fog and cool temps, I thought there might be the chance of a migrant or two, but the coast is very quiet.

Over the last couple of days I have walked the Howick to Craster stretch, Low Newton and Newton Point, the Long Nanny and Boulmer with little to show really.

While listening to the congregation singing in the Tin Church at Low Newton (above) 2 Willow Tits called nearby.

Migrants came in the form of several Chiffchaffs on the coast, a lone Wheatear at Newton Point, a Black Redstart at Boulmer ( courtesy of Dave Dack), 2 Redwings sub singing at Low Newton Pools and some littoralis Rock Pipits at all sites.  A Fieldfare dropped into the copse beside our garden this morning.

This Powdered Quaker was a new addition to the garden moth year list on Friday night.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A cold but sunny weekend, with a sharp northerly wind.

This morning we had another visit to Low Newton to try for an early Wheatear on the point, but first of all we looked at the Tin Church, Village, Scrape, Pool and shore.

Low Newton
A few migrant Chiffchaffs were around with 4+ singing, mainly near the church. On the scrapes, 2 Ringed Plovers were checked for their summer cousins, but I suppose the most interesting bird was a nice drake Goosander on the main pool, the first I've seen here I think.

Down on the beach, Jimmy, Gary, Chris and Mike were woosh netting pipits on the seaweed, looking for those littoralis, but most of the well marked birds had moved on. There were still good numbers of 'duller' Rock Pipits present with a few Pied Wagtails. 5 birds were ringed, mostly of indeterminate race. A pair of Stonechats were on the fence line.

Out on the headland, it was very nippy, and there were no summer visitors. The air was full of skylark and meadow pipit song though as compensation.

Rock Pipit
Back home, our first Kittiwakes were back on the Howick cliffs on Friday, but I thought I would wait until they were nicely established before I closed in for some pics, however these Fulmars don't mind being investigated.

Yesterday morning our first garden Siskin of the year, a nice male, was on our feeders with a big count [these days] of 3 Greenfinches for company.

This evening, a Goldcrest and a Chiffchaff were in the back hedge, one on its way out, the other just arriving...

Siskin through the kitchen window

Friday, March 21, 2014

A catch up...

Rock Pipit
A Friday off this weekend, instead of Monday.

I was pleased when we got a visit from my old friend ADMc this morning. We were so engrossed in catching up with the news, we nearly didn't get out at all. Before we moved up here out of the 'birding loop' I really enjoyed being part of the regulars down at 'the bay', where we would sit and pontificate while putting the world to rights. We were even known to be critical of one or two local bird records! Can you imagine that.....

Can I just say to all of the old school ( you know who you are), I wish you well and must get 'down the coast' for a change!

So, back to the job in hand, we eventually took a trip up to Low Newton to check out the pool and scrape. Quieter than usual, there were 10 Gadwall, a pair of Shoveler, 2 Goldeneye and a singing Chiffchaff, whilst on the shore, quite a few Rock Pipits, Pied Wagtails and Starlings were feeding on the insects in the tideline rotting seaweed. There were one or two nicely plumaged littoralis Rock Pipits, but I didn't try to get close enough for a photo. The local bird above just happened to walk past...

Back home, Brown Hares are becoming more evident, one even walking past in the back field while I was chatting with Andy and the Long tailed Tit nest up the lane seems complete and there was no sign of the birds. Maybe she has laid the first egg... Isn't spring great!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

In line with Tom's new thinking on Agonopetrix heracliana / ciliella, I have lumped them together below. They are unidentifiable without dissection. He has sampled some recently and found gen detted heracliana with 5 lines in the hindwing cillia, supposedly a ciliella feature?

Back to the drawing board...

6 degree min.

  Agonopterix species (Agonopterix sp.)  4
1775  Mottled Grey (Colostygia multistrigaria)  2 NFY
1934  Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria)  2 NFY
2139  Red Chestnut (Cerastis rubricosa)  2
2179  Pine Beauty (Panolis flammea)  2
2187  Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)  15
2188  Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)  1
2190  Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)  21
2243  Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)  7
2258  Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii)  1

57 Moths of 10sp

Mottled Grey
Dotted Border

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Breezy egret.

After a very gusty wind overnight, where I put the moth trap off before bed, in case it flew seaward, John and myself headed down to Warkworth for a stroll. 

It was bright and warm in the sun, but the wind made it difficult to see very much. The days highlight flew in from the west, and settled on a sheltered bit of the salt marsh - a Little Egret. I didn't notice in the field but it had very long aigrettes right down its back as it was coming into breeding dress.  

There was very little else to note other than a Chiffchaff,  a few Tree Sparrows and a Small Tortosieshell around the car park. This Linnet was also in full song, staking out a territory.

After this, a walk around some farmland and along an old railway near Hipsburn didnt produce much either. Chiffchaffs again, 3 Buzzards, 16+ Redwing, a singing Grey Wagtail and a Red legged Partridge was about it really.

The warm sun had the sallows buzzing with insects. 

Friday, March 14, 2014

A beauty...

Pine Beauty pic taken a while ago. I should get an up to date one tomorrow.
The real Pine Beauty from last night. Slightly duller than the first image...

After an absence in 2013 due to a particularly cold spring, I was pleased to re-acquaint myself with this species again this morning. On checking here we see that there was only one record in the whole county last year.

One of the very few insects to feed on pine needles at the caterpillar stage, it joins the orthosias on sallow catkins for the nectar as an adult. Its a really stunning moth when fresh, but is quite small. In Northumberland its not uncommon, but I have never found it in large numbers either, with a maximum of about 4 at a time in the trap, usually ones or twos.

Lets hope there are a few more over the weekend, weather permitting....

Monday, March 10, 2014

This afternoon I took a wander around the village, as it was such a nice day. Birds were singing and showing fine breeding fettle everywhere, and the migration seems to have started.

The first singing Chiffchaffs of the year were in the Village wood with 2-3 birds present, equalling my earliest record.

Nearby, a Long tailed Tit was collecting cobwebs for its nest. Wildfowl were on the move too, with 80+ Pinkfeet, 100+ Barnacle Geese and 16 Whooper Swans all heading for northern climes. A pair of Grey Partridge were calling and chasing around the back field.

Long tailed Tit with cobweb.


Moth trap and sheet
A very mild and overcast night last night looked good for moths so I broke out a new sheet for under the trap. The white is an attractant, plus it makes finding moths that miss the trap much easier.

A nice catch this morning included a new species for me - 
Agonopterix ocellana
The full catch was - 

0688  Agonopterix heracliana  25
0701  Agonopterix ocellana  1
1663  March Moth (Alsophila aescularia)  3
1926  Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria)  2
2139  Red Chestnut (Cerastis rubricosa)  1
2187  Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)  4
2188  Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)  3
2190  Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)  3
2243  Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)  4
2258  Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii)  4

50 moths of 10 species plus an unexpected visitor possibly attracted by the sheet looking like water in the trap light...

Great Diving Beetle

Sunday, March 09, 2014

A nice pre-spring day...

Clouded Drab
Red Chestnut
Quite a good early show in the moth trap today with 8 species caught, including two nice Red Chestnut and the first Clouded Drab of the year. Up until last year, Pine Beauty was a regular at this time, but the cold spring of 2013 resulted in a blank, and with none so far this year, its starting to get worrying.... 

After checking the moths, I headed off to Low Newton, alone, JWR working this morning. 

I covered most of the area, starting at the pool and scrapes, then Newton Point and Football Hole before finishing at the Long Nanny. I didn't see another birder.   

Goldeneyes displaying.
The scrapes had the usual wildfowl though most of the Greylags and the White-fronts from last week had gone, maybe just to fields to feed? There didn't seem to be anything new other than a drake Shoveler. Four Goldeneye were feeling very springlike today, the males pursuing two females all around the pond. 

There seemed to be a lot of Pied Wagtails in all areas with 8+ in the paddock opposite the Tin Church and 7+ on the beach with 7+ Rock Pipits, including at least one 'littoralis'. A Fieldfare was in the paddock too, with good numbers of Blackbirds, getting ready to head north to breed. 2 Siskins flew north overhead.

The point was quiet, but on a day as mild as this, I was half hoping for a Wheatear but it is very early for one up here. The highlight was a single Redwing in the compound and my first Lesser Celandines of the year in flower.

Down at the Long Nanny, a pair of Stonechats showed well [as they always do] near the tern wardens hut while 135 Curlew were on the salt marsh. While photographing the Stonechats I heard what I'm sure was a Green Sandpiper calling, high in the distance.  

Stonechat displaying, standing on tip-toes.
You may have noticed that I'm not getting about Howick as much as in previous years? Its lazyness really, birding here is difficult with little reward, so its nice to get up to Newton where even on a slow day there is a lot to look through...I must try and pick up the patch score though...

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Oh my knees...

In the garden today, part digging the potato bed, then up the ladder cleaning out 6 tree spuggie boxes. These are in particularly awkward spots to fit a ladder so some nimble gymnastics were called for! Clambering on a ladder at a dodgy angle while gripping a branch to stop sliding off, isnt good...Anyway, they're clean now and ready to let...

The lowest and most accessible box...
Not much else seen other than a Grey Wagtail south over head and three Robins in full territorial mode..oh and a Honey Bee sitting out on the moth trap, my first of the year.

Three Robins squabbling...

Thursday, March 06, 2014


Another mild night with 7 degrees at midnight here, so as can be expected, a few moths were in the trap...

1025  Tortricodes alternella  1 NFY
1926  Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria)  1
2139  Red Chestnut (Cerastis rubricosa)  1 NFY
2187  Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)  1 NFY
2190  Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)  9
2256  Satellite (Eupsilia transversa)  1 NFY
2258  Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii)  1 NFY

15 moths of 7 sp

I must get some new images at the weekend, weather and moths permitting, I've rolled these ones out before...

Tortricodes alternella
Red Chestnut

Wednesday, March 05, 2014


A nice 'proper'  moth catch last night, my first of the year...

0688  Agonopterix heracliana  2
1663  March Moth (Alsophila aescularia)  1 NFY
2190  Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)  5
2243  Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)  1

9 moths of 4 sp

Left - March Moth.

Monday, March 03, 2014

Crowded Beaches...

The hungry hoards.
A day off work is all the better when the weather is good, and today was just the job. Calm and sunny, very spring-like.

After a visit to Alnwick, I grabbed the gear and headed up to Low Newton, to see if there were any waders on the shore. And were there! The image above is just a fraction of the hoards as the tide washed rotting seaweed around freeing up juicy invertebrates that all the birds seemed to like. Further up the beach those awful black sandflies were swarming in clouds, so I kept nearer the water where possible.

Sitting on the sand as the tide pushed the wader flock closer is great fun, they run past only feet away and are constantly active...maybe they see me as a seal? Er, not a word from you lot...


Purple Sandpiper actually showing some purple...

There were 140+ Sanderling, 20+ Purple Sandpipers and a few Dunlin, Redshank, Turnstone and Oystercatchers as well as gulls, eiders and half a dozen Goldeneye.

This plane came over low, putting the birds on edge so I left them to feed...

Along at the scrapes and pool, were masses of wildfowl - 130+ Teal, 80+ Wigeon, lesser numbers of Mallard, Shelduck, Gadwall and Goldeneye. In with 50+ Greylags were 3 White-fronted Geese. This one was really going for it, calling constantly, a sound I cant recall hearing before, it was like a diver, doing that warbling and wailing thing quite unlike the sounds we're familiar with? 

White-fronted Goose having a 'gander'.

 The scrapes look excellent for the spring passage. It wont belong before the Yellow Wagtails and Wheatears are skipping around over it...