Sunday, June 29, 2014

It terned out just 'fine'...

We had a plan this morning to go up to Newton and the Long Nanny to search for Dark Green Fritillaries, but the weather put paid to that. It was overcast with irritating heavy little showers, overcast with a cool northerly wind blowing, hardly ideal for butterfly watching.

Still, we were out, so make the most of it.

At Newton Pool, a single Little Gull was the highlight plus an array of post breeding warblers including Sedge Warbler, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat.

Along Beadnell Bay, the wind cost me £25 when it blew my car park ticket into the grass, unbeknown to me, so we came back to a nice yellow plastic packet stuck on the windscreen. its ironic, I actually paid this time and got a ticket. Must be some divine justice there somewhere...

The Arctic Tern colony gave a good show, as well as shelter from the rain, in the lee of the wardens hut, but there was little else of note. It seems to be a good season for them with over 2000 nests. The grass in front of the hut was full of chicks running to be fed. Pity the sun didn't shine to bring the butterflies out...

Sea Swallow...
and Land Swallow....

Pyramidal Orchid

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Another morning in the garden...

Just sitting around weeding and pondering in the sun this morning when Jane said - Whats that? A glance upward revealed our second garden record of Marsh Harrier casually flying overhead, the last was a male too, back in 2009...
A few new Tree Sparrow broods continue to arrive, there must be 30+ young in the garden now.

A few butterflies around too with Large White, a very raggy Red Admiral, Speckled Wood, Meadow Brown and a nice Large Skipper that only came out when I didnt have the camera to hand.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Little B......

To relieve the mid summer birding doldrums a county mega arrived on Sunday morning at Gosforth Park Nature Reserve. Little Bittern has a few county records but none have been twitchable, so a nice male in the reed bed at this urban reserve in Newcastle was bound to attract a good turn out. I monitored its progress for a few days and as it only showed in flight for about 30 seconds in any 24 hours, I didnt build up my hopes.

Tuesday night after work saw me brave the rush hour traffic queues to fork out my £3.50 to stand like a half shut knife in the corner of a full hide. The reeds, a full 7 or 8 feet tall, with lots of secluded channels and corners are ideal for a jackdaw sized heron, but not so good for the customers.

Water Rails came and went, Terns and gulls squawked away and midgies emerged in their billions, but not Little Bittern. A Jay flew in twice ensuring a whiplash reaction to the binoculars, and a Green Woodpecker laughed at us from a distance. At least we had some good crack and a laugh at our own ridiculousness...

Back home for 10.15pm, there was no further sign that night...

Maybe there'll be another chance. If I can get motivated.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

More bees...

This morning JWR and myself took an unseasonable trip up to the Harthope Valley in the Cheviots.
The weather was warm, but remained stubbornly overcast all morning, not ideal for photography, so bear with me.

On arrival a little flurry of lanky looking critters ran over the road, looking like tiny emus. Three, I think, Curlew chicks, and their parent forced a scrabble for the camera, but they didnt linger long...

First stop at the cattle grids for a cuppa seemed very quiet. Redpolls were feeding young as were Willow Warblers and Whinchat, while a Treecreeper showed briefly. Common Sandpipers and Grey Wagtails were display flighting and a Snipe was heard drumming high over the river.  A few plants noted included Climbing Corydalis, Wood Cranesbill, Heath Bedstraw, Thyme, Eyebright sp and Bell Heather. The small meadows here look lovely at this time with a host of wild flowers on display. its not Upper Teesdale or the Machair by a long way, but nice all the same. 

As it warmed up, insects became more active, so we checked patches of flowers for a couple of new species. The vast majority seemed to be Buff tailed Bumblebee, but we soon located target number one - Bombus monticola the Mountain Bumblebee. 4+ very small ones were quite elusive, keeping close into the flowers. Look a the pics closely and you can see almost every bloom has been pierced by bumblers seeking nectar through the sides. The other bee looked for was Bombus jonellus, Heath Bumbler, but there was no sign. Maybe they dont occur here?

The Mountain Bumblebee is identified in these shots by the russet red covering almost all of the abdomen rather than just the tail.

Mountain Bumblebee

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Garden friends...

Another lovely day to sit around the garden bumping into some of our local wildlife...

This Tree Bumblebee looked about done for, lying moribund on the grass, until i remembered a Twitter tip. I mixed up a little sugar solution and Jane offered it on a tea spoon. It soon perked up and drank a bit. You can see its long tongue taking it in. At this time of year bees can become exhausted carrying pollen back to the hives and often just collapse. This was just enough to get him up and off. After a few dodgy drunk looking spiral flights, off he went.

Eating breakfast outside we were soon joined by this male Blackbird. He has been with us since January at least. He will now even snatch a crumb from our hand but he prefers it left on a hard surface. He and his female are now feeding fledged second brood young ones around the gardens...He must be healthy, because he clears up around the moth trap early in the morning! Plenty of food for the family here...

While pottering about a few garden flowers were photographed, both domestic and wild -

A rose, 2 quid from Wilko's...not bad.

A 2 mtr square patch of un-mown lawn looks like this now - 
And finally a pair of pink Elephants from last nights moth trap...

Elephant Hawk-moth and Small Elephant Hawk-moth

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Here kitty kitty...

This moth was in a catch of 256 moths of 68 species this morning. Its a Sallow Kitten. Not too uncommon really but its a first for me in 5 years regular trapping in the garden. Its one that has been on my 'must see' list from the start. This one is a little worn, but a great addition regardless...It is about 28th record for VC68. In Northumberland, this species is only caught in single figures each year on average, so maybe the wait was to be expected.

What can I hope for next? How about Alder Moth?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Outer Hebs 3/3

Some machair flowers.
Machair at Balranald. Masses of flowers on the sandy fields.
On Thursday the weather was grey and overcast with some occasional drizzle. We had alook around the info centre at Lochmaddy at an excellent exhibition about St Kilda that most remote of UK outposts lying 40 miles out from North Uist. What a place that must have been, the last of the original St Kildans died only last September. Very sad.

Friday was the exact opposite to Thursday in terms of weather. It was warm, clear and sunny all day.
We headed off right to the bottom of South Uist getting as far as the Pollachar Inn overlooking Barra.
Our first stop was Rubha Ardvule the famous seawatching spot. What a beautiful place it is too. While walking the short way to the point I passed an Otter in Loch Ardvule. It was a huge dog Otter, that slowly melted away as they do. Also seen here were a Great Northern Diver flying N, 1 Arctic Skua, 40+ Sanderling in summer plumage and a Small Heath butterfly.

Ardvule Point
Not far away we visited the home gallery of Bill Neil wildlife artist. A very interesting and pleasant chap who double up as recorder for the islands wildlife too, specialising in the Bees. He had a lovely 'machair' lawn and Redpoll and Twite in his garden.

The drive back north was excellent. After fish and chips at the petrol station ( this is the outer hebrides you know) we had a nice male Hen Harrier with prey over the road, followed by a low flying Golden Eagle lit up in the afternoon sun. I stopped to get the camera, but I had the 55mm lens on it. By the time I changed it, the eagle was two miles away...

A stop on the machair at Dalabrog had Cuckoo, 3 Sand Martins ( rare here), Short eared Owl and many Early Marsh Orchids.

A second visit to the Red necked Phalaropes found them to be more obliging. Two females chased a male high over the road onto a different loch. The call is a short 'chip' and easy to pick out. Another female was on the other loch and later we had another fly south along the beach, calling. Maybe 6 birds were present.

Red necked Phalaropes, the full sketch.

That dot in the middle? A female Red necked Phalarope. A habitat shot!
And thats it for another year. I'll leave you with two more views of these fantastic islands. We will return...

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Outer Hebrides 2/3

Corn Bunting
 Tuesday, bright sunny and clear later on. I had an earlyish start this morning, back along to Balranald, where a Corn Bunting showed down to a few feet allowing some nice photos. A chance I'll never get at home. Behind the info centre the ever elusive Corncrakes were still 'giving it what for' so imagine my surprise when I scanned along a raised ditch bank and saw one sunning and calling away. Some careful stalking, despite the constant attention from Peewits overhead, got me close enough for a reasonable shot.

Back at the car, I told a visiting Yorkshire birder that one was showing in the open, he had to pick himself up before stuttering 'Where is it!' I pointed him in the direction and left him to it...

 After this we had a drive south, on a hunch to find some very rare breeding Red necked Phalaropes. Getting specific info on these is like asking for the crown jewels, so it took me ages of internet searching before I got a sniff of a site. Even then I wasn't convinced I would see any, however, on arrival I soon located two fresh summer females and one duller male hiding in emergent mares tails. I couldn't believe my luck!

Although they were too skulky and distant to photograph scope views were good. My first breeding plumaged ones in the uk ( though I saw loads in Iceland). Keeping with the trend, Im sorry I cant give a location.

Also here were 7+ Rock Doves, 4 Black tailed Godwit, 1 Shoveler, 2 Wigeon, 1 Raven and a Peregrine.

Next stop was Ardivachar Point, South Uist. The highight here was a flock of 27 Ravens feeding on the shore and a song flighting Dunlin over MOD machair land. Tremendous.

What a day!

Red necked Phalarope
Wednesday was a lovely day, sunny with a pleasantly cool easterly breeze.

While having breakfast in the garden, a male Hen Harrier flew over and caught a fledgeling pipit in the field opposite. No sooner had that happened,  one of the 'garden' Corncrakes flew out briefly giving a short but nice glimpse.
Hen Harrier
We headed north today to check out some beaches and to look for orchids. Hornish Strand has to be one of the finest beaches on the planet! We also checked out Lingay Strand and Grenitote that were almost as good.

 I couldnt find any Hebridean Marsh Orchids ( too early) but Early Marsh Orchid of the form coccinea was new for me. A few were scattered around. 
The unspoilt low impact farming here means there are lots of flowers. Yellow flag irises and Marsh Cinquefoil were abundant. Seaside Pansy was a new form for me here.  

The first of only 2 Arctic Skuas of the trip flew low over the moors nearby.

Hornish Strand, North Uist
Yellow Flag Iris, Marsh Cinqfoil, Seaside Pansy, Early Marsh Orchid
Still searching the machair for my main target of the trip we headed back to Balranald ( its really nice here) where we soon found them - 3+ Great Yellow Bumblebees, the rarest of the kind in the UK, found only here and along the far north of Scotland. Great things watched beside the hebridean race of Moss Carder Bee, that was very orange and black a bit like tree bumblebee. I wish I had taken their pcture too, I dont know how I overlooked this. Too busy just enjoying them buzzing about the masses of clover and trefoil.

Great Yellow Bumblebee
So it was back home where the Corncrakes were seen briefly squabbling and jumping into the air, just behind the garden.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

The Outer Hebrides. Part 1 /3

Or to be more precise, Berneray, North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist for our holidays last week.

Most years we venture up north into Scotland somewhere or other, so have covered most corners at sometime, but we have never travelled to this far flung western corner of Europe. A couple of years ago we were at Uig ( Oo-ig) on Skye and could see Harris over on the horizon, and vowed that one day we will travel across the Minch.

We travelled up to the Cluanie Inn last Friday to stay over night so we only had a reasonable drive up to the ferry in the morning. Saturday was a glorious day, with clear blue skies and a nice cool breeze to keep the midges at bay. There wasn't much to be had around the Inn during our short stay but I did find a nice Northern Eggar caterpillar...

Northern Eggar
 The crossing was easy but I was disappointed in the lack of birds and cetaceans considering the conditions. I saw one Storm Petrel briefly and a single Manx Shearwater plus a few auks including nice Black Guillemots distantly from the harbour.

After disembarking at Lochmaddy, North Uist we headed towards our cottage for the week. On route, almost the first bird seen was a male Hen Harrier flying alongside the car. At the cottage, at least 3 Corncrakes were 'crexing' just over the garden wall, but were invisible in dense iris and grass vegetation.

Our cottage - An t-Seann Dachaidh. No I dont either...
Sunday dawned to rain and dark skies, oh dear is this the week ahead, we wondered. Regardless, I was up early for a drive around near the RSPB Balranald reserve. The rain dampened things a bit, but 2 Corn Buntings, Twite and a male Merlin were noteworthy. On the lochan opposite the house were 2 Common Sandpipers and a Common Gull with 2 chicks, visible from the living room window. Our own live Springwatch!

Around the house ( and everywhere really) were lots of Starlings. They looked very dark, particularly the juveniles, reminding me of the Shetland birds?

'Hebridean' Starlings.
On Monday the rain was still 'spotting' and it was dreary looking outside. It became brighter in the after noon.

Driving north along to Solas ( the site of the main shop - the 'Co-op of Sollas') 2 Short eared Owls hunted near the road, the first of many sightings.

In the afternoon we walked around Aird an Runair, the famous seawatching spot. What a place. A rocky penninsular out into the atlantic ocean, it must be fantastic here when birds are moving. Today they weren't.
On the shore were lots of Sanderling, Dunlin and Turnstone and nearby, a first summer Glaucous Gull.

Glaucous Gull
Many waders stood guard over chicks in every field, Redshank, Lapwing and Oystercatchers everywhere. Wheatears flitted between the rocks as Meadow Pipits and Skylarks displayed and sang over head.
Eiders and Arctic Terns were common but a Sparrowhawk surprised me a bit, there are hardly any trees here. A Red Admiral flew around the nettles outside the information centre.

After the walk, it was time to check out the famous 'committee road' for raptors. The sun was shining now so they might be keen to get on the wing. First up, a ringtail Hen Harrier crossed the road while a Short eared Owl hunted nearby. 2 Buzzards soared above. Further down back on the main road, at Griminish, a watch had been set up on a Golden Eagle nest. 2 adults were sat nearby and the chick could be seen. Most amazing was the fact that the nest was on the ground, sat atop a small hill of heather.

2 Ravens and a Golden Plover were in the coastal fields.

Back in the house for the evening watching 'Springwatch', a male Hen Harrier flew just over the road hunting the field opposite. What a bird to get from inside the living room! It was mobbed away without success. As darkness fell at 11pm, 5 Corncrakes were still calling....