Saturday, December 31, 2016

Old Years Day....

Seaton Point facing East.

Field sketch of the Kingfisher.
At lunch time I took the opportunity to get out for an hour down to Seaton Point for a walk. It was busier that expected with lots of families, dogs, kids with names like 'Ollie' and women dressed not quite appropriately for a Northumberland coastal winter walk.

Regardless, I made my way to a small bench seat over looking the skeers out from the point and sat with my scope waiting to see what would appear.

Soon, as I scanned, a blurred smudge in the foreground over the rocks was focussed down into a hovering Kingfisher. It hung on the wind, wings whirring for some time before dropping vertically into an unseen pool and emerging with a small fish. This behaviour was repeated several times over the next half an hour with the bird perching up on weed covered rocks to digest its catch in between sorties. It didnt look comfortable in the wind, its feathers being ruffled and it was even blown off its perch on a couple of occasions.

As the tide flooded, I took my eye off the halcyon, to make a sketch and when I tried to relocate it, it had gone.

Other birds of note included a couple of Grey Plovers, 10 Ringed Plover, Shag, Gannet and Red throated Diver off shore, and a flock of 11 Mistle Thrushes back near the car.

With that, I will bid you all a Happy New Year for tonight, and hope you have an exciting, wildlife filled, 2017. All the best!

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Christmas List

Ages ago, over the Christmas period, Andrew Dawes of Wessex Reiver blog challenged everyone to a Christmas doldrums bird race. I haven't done anything similar since, apart from the local patch thingy and a laid back, head to head with Mr Gale of Surrey.  I was interested the other week, when Andrew threw down the gauntlet again for another week of petty competitiveness where by we all get out between Christmas Day and New Years Day and count how many bird species we see.

As this festive holiday is often quite busy and taken up with visiting family and friends, the challenge can be taken in a very tongue in cheek manner, the whole point being to have fun during the final week of the year.

My week got off to a damp fizzle seeing next to nothing on Christmas Day ( 9 species) and Boxing Day ( not many more). Today was my first proper morning's birding this month so every sighting was to be savoured and made all the more delicious by the sharp, bright, calm weather we crave at this traditionally dull and wet time of year.

I met with John at Amble, first thing, and we covered the whole south side of the Coquet Estuary from the sea upstream to Warkworth. Not wishing to let the cat out of the bag, all I'll say is that a few nice birds were seen such as Little Egret, Peregrine, several Knot, 3 Purple Sandpipers, 40+ Black-tailed Godwits, Mediterranean Gull etc.

Hopefully the weather will hold this week, and I'll build a reasonable total without racing around twitching everyone else's finds. I'll save that one for 2017...

Amble Pier

Adult Med Gull

Eiders in full display, while not eating Warburtons.

Some of the Black tailed Godwits on the estuary.

The calls during disputes were just like a dog's squeaky toy.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

I'm still here...

Just a quickie to say I am still here, but have not lifted my binoculars, let alone taken a photo, since November!

Early in the month, I was getting fed up not seeing daylight at home until the weekend, so I deliberately jacked it all in. I thought, as this is quite a busy domestic time on the run up to Christmas, I would go into a temporary wildlife and birding lull until I had some time off over the holiday period.

Oh am I ready for it! Today is my first day of leave and I wont return to work until 4th Jan so hopefully I will get out into the field again soon. Christmas day and Boxing day are fully booked but the 27th is looking favourable to get out and blow the cobwebs away...

Whilst I haven't been out there, looking for wildlife, I have been pondering what to do in 2017. I always make a provisional plan or two, that usually gets ignored, but its good to think about the way forward.

This coming New Year I think I might keep a year list. I always used to keep one back in the 80s and 90's, but haven't done so since. Its usually all about the local patch, but I might broaden horizons a little. Now my year lists don't descend into hyper active all out twitching, they are a much more sedate affair, involving a few trips out for favourable birds, a couple of holidays in other parts of the country and catching up on local scarce breeders and winterers at home, you know, species, often miseds out on in a year such as black grouse, wood warbler, long tailed skua etc.

I've also pondered doing a bit more field sketching if I can fit it in, and I even might try wetting a fishing line this year? Who knows?

Regardless of what I get up to, you'll be the first (or second) to know.......

An old one from the notebook...

Friday, December 09, 2016

Twelve Photos for 2016...

Amanda at Quiet Walker has set the pace so here are my twelve photos, all of the natural world of some kind, from 2016...

This Arctic Redpoll at Warkorth kept us busy into February from the New Year...

A particularly stroppy Goosander showed very well at DBCP in February...

While feeding the birds, this Toad emerged from the wall in March....
In April this Black Redstart visited Craster Harbour.

My first trip to the USA in May to see this Magnolia Warbler and his mates...

Pleased to see a new Small Pearl Bordered Fritillary colony near home in June....
Hi Summer in July across the Alnwick hills...

August evening moth trapping in the garden...
A pristine Pink barred Sallow in September...

What else, but a Siberian Accentor in October, this the Northumberland bird and my second of the month.

A Waxwing November....
And a festive Robin for December...
I could have had a few for each month really but these are some nice ones to be going on with...

Sunday, November 27, 2016


John picked me up at 7.30 this morning to head up towards Beadnell for a change. We could have nicely gone down to East Chevington for Shorelarks, Hen Harriers etc, but we're cool on those so we chose to avoid the crowds as usual.

The view south from Beadnell Point. to Dunstanburgh Castle.

At Beadnell Harbour, a Merlin tried to muscle in on a flock of 35+ Sanderlings and a few Turnstones, but it failed and headed south. Off shore, a ⚢Scaup was with Eiders in the bay, 2⚥ Long tailed Ducks flew south and 13⚢  Common Scoters flew north along with a couple of Red throated Divers and a handful of Gannets, Kittiwakes and a Fulmar.

A truly awful photo of the ⚢ Scaup. A futile attempt at digi-scoping.

From here we had a tea stop at Seahouses Harbour where an immature Peregrine flushed the waders on the rocks. I wondered if it was the same bird that had been on the Farnes this week as it headed off out there.

Then it was down to Low Newton. At this time of year we used to have the coast to ourselves. Not now. The place was busy with walkers, with dogs and without so we didnt see much. The scrapes had plenty of birds but nothing of note really. The pool is looking good where the phragmites have been chopped back allowing better visibility.

And that was it really, off home.

Back at home, I took Bunty for a walk along the lane and was over the moon to get some restricted but decent views of the Water Rail under the willows. A really good bird for here and one I don't see every year. While watching it, there were a few small squeals that may have been from a second bird in there. I'd like to get a photo, but until then here is a sketch  to be going on with...

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Back to Boulmer....

For a change, this morning John and I met up at Seaton Point, Boulmer with the intention to walk around the headland, checking the sea and shore line for, maybe, divers or snow buntings or something like that.

It was bitterly cold, with a thick white frost and a light NW wind that numbed the fingers. As I waited for John, a quick scan seawards revealed a Great Northern Diver heading N and a diver calling on the sea that sounded like a Red throat but I couldn't see it.

Soon, John arrived and after exchanging pleasantries and commenting on how baltic it was, we headed off down the Seaton Point steps to the shore. Well, that was the intention. From the top of the steps I lifted my bins in the dawn light to check the seaweed washed up on the tideline and the first bird I saw was a pipit with a very white belly. I commented that this looked like a Water Pipit and checked with the scope, expecting it to be either a Meadow or maybe a littoralis Rock Pipit.

What a surprise when the bird I focussed on was as suspected, a nice winter plumaged Water Pipit.

'Spinoletta' is not a common bird in North Northumberland, though I have seen one at this very spot a good few years back that flew off inland minutes after my sighting. Hopefully this one would be different.

Out on the weed were up to 20 Rock Pipits including several littoralis types and a scattering of Meadow Pipits. Mix this lot with a dozen Pied Wagtails, 2 Grey Wagtails and a few Robins that kept flighting up and down the beach, and our bird was proving tricky to get to grips with. In fact, the next two hours was spent trying to get a decent close view.

As the morning became brighter we eventually managed to get some excellent scope views to clinch the required features and even a few ropy record shots ( I think John has done a lot better than me...).

Water Pipit

Water Pipit(right) witha typical 'petrosus' Rock Pipit. 

Water Pipit, the whitish supercillium would be more obvious in some views than in others.

John trying to get some photo's of the Water Pipit.  
From here we drove into Boulmer and walked around Longhoughton Steel that was largely bird free other than a few Linnets and 2 Red throated Divers S offshore.

Oh well, it only takes one bird and bit of excitement to make the day!

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Back to normal...

After the birding excitement of recent weeks, today saw things slow up a little, back into the usual pace for winter birding in Northumberland.

I met John at Warkworth and as the weather was pleasant we just pottered around the area taking a few snaps and drinking tea. No change there then.

A short drop in at Druridge Bay Country Park was all but pointless, highlights being about 70 Tufted Duck and half a dozen Gadwall.

Back up the the Coquet Estuary area it remained pleasant but very slow on the bird front, until we stopped to check a herd of 24 Whooper Swans ( with 6 juvs) and were very surprised to find a flock of 64 Black tailed Godwits in the stubble alongside them! Whilst not a rare bird in the county, flocks of 10 in early autumn or spring are more usual so this large gathering was the highlight of our morning. Further over the road another 13+ Whoopers were feeding in a rape field.

Elsewhere, 1 Little Egret, 250 Golden Plovers, 11 Yellowhammers, a Brambling and a few Wigeon were all we could muster. A nice morning out though, all the same.

Little Grebe and BHG on the country park...

Coquet Estuary.

Old Water Pools, Warkworth Dunes

Black tailed Godwits at Birling

Whooper Swans in wet stubble at Birling.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

A Waxwing Winter.

If you are a birder living in Northumberland you should count yourself very lucky.

We may be very impoverished on the butterfly, moth and dragonfly front, but we really do quite well for birds.

As a large, east facing county with a wide range of landscapes, an equally good number of species can be found all year round, but what we do excel at is autumn migration.

From late July - late November we get excellent passage of waders, seabirds that are second to none, both breeding and on migration, with things such as flocks of Roseate Terns, decent Skua movements, hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters and even thousands of Little Auks. All four divers are a real possibility if the weather is right. Wildfowl is good with seaduck, geese and wild swans aplenty, then we have drift migrants such as Wrynecks, Barred Warblers and Red backed Shrikes, and later on we do well for Sibes such as Yellow browed, Pallas's, Dusky and Radde's Warblers. Oh yes, the northernmost English county is a good place to be at the 'back end'.

As Autumn draws to a close, another Northumberland speciality appears on a regular basis - the Waxwing. Whilst further south, a lone bird or a small party attracts a good twitching crowd, here we tend to expect larger numbers occasionally. In 2012, in the first week of November ( see these blog posts for a start) we were treated to over 100 of these lovely birds around our garden with out another birder to be seen ( well maybe one or two). Since then, I have had odd singles around the area but just to add to the already superb autumn here in 2016, this year is now turning into a Waxwing winter.

My first were on Monday when 35+ flew N past me whilst driving to work between Amble and Warkworth, then on Tuesday the game upped a little with 30+ at ASDA in Ashington followed half an hour later by 60+ at the south of the town near North Seaton Cemetery.

Today there has been masses of them around the county - maybe 350 in Ashington at three locations, three flocks along the A1 between Alnwick and Morpeth, including one of 200 birds, 200+ at Cramlington, 30+ in Morpeth and many other scattered parties.

Our spring birding may not be so good for overshoots, but would I swap? I dont think so...

Sunday, October 30, 2016

The ultimate...

On our way shopping yesterday my phone rang and a voice came over the speaker in the car. Quiet at first, then in a trembling, hushed tone, we could hear 'Stewart? Stewart? I'm watching a Siberian Accentor...' Alan Tilmouth had struck gold by stumbling upon Northumberland's second Siberian Accentor of the month, during this amazing arrival of the species.

Unfortunately I was pre-booked and I couldn't get away, but this morning John and myself met under a fantastic sunrise at Amble, that may have been an omen of success.

Off we went down to Newbiggin by the Sea and after a bit of a debacle with a metal fence that I won't go into on here, we both managed excellent views of the bird. At one point it ran towards myself and Eric Barnes after being spooked by a weasel, stopping only 12 feet away to snack on a grub (leatherjacket I think). I suppose it had to happen sometime this autumn. After trekking down to Hull and back the other week, then dipping out at Holy Island, I cant tell you how pleased I am with this addition to my Northumberland List. What a beautiful bird. Thats me on 339. I wonder what 340 will be?

A great bird, studied and photographed to distraction, and, as you cant take them with you, off we headed further south to see another eastern wanderer, an Isabelline Shrike at South Shields. I've seen 4 or 5 of these pallid grim reapers before, but not an adult, so this female was a nice one to catch up with. Quite a dull bird, it was very active and popular with photographers too, so after a few ropey shots we left it to its business.  A fly over Jack Snipe was nice to pad things out a bit too...

Another great days birding this autumn, surely that's the finish now?

Sunday, October 23, 2016


As I alluded to in the last post, a trip up to Holy Island on Wednesday for Britains 6th Siberian Accentor came to nothing, our Russian had defected elsewhere. None the less, the trip was not wasted as only 100 yards from the Accentor spot another British tick for me was showing very well indeed, an Isabelline Wheatear. This was the second for the county and the first since 1980, so it was nice to finally 'unblock' this one....

This means my last five blog posts have all been rare birds, all British lifers too. Scroll back the 10 years this blog has been going and you won't find a spell like it anywhere! I think that this may be the last of its kind for some time...

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Better than White's Thrush?

Sitting at work two weeks ago watching the development of the twitch to Shetland for the UK's first Siberian Accentor, little did I know that before the month is out it would not only be on my list, it would have been seen in Northumberland too!

When one turned up at Easington, East Yorkshire, we just had to go. Due to commitments, John and myself were typical late to the ball, but a good day out on Sunday allowed us great views of the second British Siberian Accentor. Since its arrival, others have graced Saltburn, Sunderland and Holy Island ( I dipped that one this mornings) making the UK total now up to 5 birds.

Its great to be a part of this very strange and rare influx into western Europe. I wonder how it will all pan out...Maybe I'll catch up with a Northumberland bird eventually?

Until then, here is the one for Easington on Sunday...

The twitch has abated somewhat from hundreds on Saturday.

The skip of dreams. Home to siberian megas.