Saturday, April 30, 2016


I've been faffing around with some Siskins in the garden today. We don't get too many in the garden here, but today we have at least 5 males and 3 females. As the sun was shining for a change I thought I would give them a look....

Its a pity the females were a bit shy of the camera....


Tuesday, April 26, 2016


Back in the day, when we used to frequent Druridge on a weekly basis, at this time of year the spring would encourage us to go 'inland'. This is not just anywhere away from the coast, it generally means one of about three or four spots - Kielder, Harthope Valley or even Harwood Forest. This week  'inland' meant a drive up to the Harthope, my favourite of the Cheviot valleys stretching from the steep hill called Skirl Naked, up to and beyond Langleeford.

So, no further ado, we took plenty of photos so here is a selection from Sunday morning...

The end of the road. No cars beyond here.

Pied Wagtail
Red legged Partridges were all over.
The burn.
Common Sandpiper

Dipper feeding young at nest under tree root overhang.

Grey Wagtail
The Hawsen Burn
Red Grouse
One of three Ring Ouzels
Wren on a post.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Even more Redpoll antics...

Most of Sunday morning was spent walking with Alnwick Wildlife Group as John was busy today. So as not to duplicate things, see AWG blog HERE.

I did manage a stroll around Craster early on, seeing new patch additions - Willow Warbler and Whimbrel, while later back at home in the afternoon another patch tick came to me. As I watched the Goldfinches and Siskins on our niger feeders, they were joined by a large pale Mealy Redpoll. After snatching a couple of record shots from the window, I sneaked out and hid in the outhouse next to the feeders for a better shot. After five minutes he arrived back with the other finches, allowing a closer scrutiny.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

A floral interlude...

Field Pansy Viola arvensis
 While wandering the redpoll field at Birling on Sunday I noticed a few tiny flowers emerging. Many were Field Pansy but nearer the car were a few larger specimens. We wondered if they were another species? On checking the guides, I find they are indeed, they are Heartsease or Wild Pansy. Lovely.
Images taken with my phone camera.

Heartsease or Wild Pansy Viola tricolor

Sunday, April 10, 2016

The Glorious 10th...

10th April 2016.

In Northumberland, our spring passage starts in earnest today. 'Whats he on about', you ask, there have been spring migrants for the last fortnight or more, with hirundines, wheatears, chiffchaffs and others all along the coast. But all is not as it seems. Those early birds, are just that. Early. The product of southerly airflow well before its time, depositing hungry swallows in an insectless Northumberland, only for them to need to move back south a couple of hundred miles when we get some late frosts.

No, the 10th has some significance, as this is the date when in most years there is a very noticeable arrival of spring migrants. You don't need to scour the local ponds for a one off sand martin or walk five miles of headland for a wheatear, birds like this are much more widespread, and the 10th April 2016 was no exception to the rule.

I was on my way to meet John at Warkworth at 7 o'clock this morning when I noticed a raptor putting up the gulls near Hipsburn. Buzzard I thought, then as I drove the next mile, keeping it in sight, it looked a bit different so I pulled over for a quick look. Marsh Harrier! A male too, slowly moving south. I put my foot down and arrived just before it in the top car park to get it on Johns patch list before it continued on its way. How many birds do we miss like this I wonder....

A quick check of the car park scrub revealed a male Blackcap in song, our first of the year, then down past the Old Water near the estuary we had 4 Black tailed Godwits in summer plumage, 2 Sandwich Terns and half a dozen Sand Martins near the pier. We're on a roll.... Others of note were 60 Knot, a Little Egret and a few Stonechat.

A flat coated retriever rolling on a long dead grey seal provided some value too, much to the concern of the owners...

Unfortunately, none of the summer birds lingered long enough for a photo, but two Twite were more obliging...

Sandwich Tern and mates...

One of the Twite on the washed up flotsam.

A later tea stop, found us up at the Birling Redpoll field. There were no surprises today but still lots of Linnets, a few Redpolls and 25+ Meadow Pipits. Three small groups of Pinkfeet flew N overhead. Back at the car, we heard the unmistakeable 'tew tew tew' of a Greenshank but try as we may we couldnt get on to it. Still, calls count as a tick in the year list.

Back at home, I glanced out of the kitchen window and first bird I see is a year tick. A male Blackcap skulking through the roses. Nearby a Siskin pair were showing well and even singing, but my camera was still in the car. By the time I snipered out and got it, the Blackcap had continued its migration, I did manage a Siskin though.

Later as I cut the grass, 2 Lesser Redpolls joined the Goldfinches and Siskins at the niger seed. I waited in the outhouse and got a nice shot of one of the redpolls, I'm quite happy with this one. Good light and good range make all the difference.

Lesser Redpoll

Male Siskin in song. Looks a bit soft as its taken through the kitchen window...

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Just another weekday...

This mornings early walk before work with Bunty added a brace of early Swallows to the patch list. Up here I don't expect one until about the 13th...  And at the other end of the day, my return from work greeted me with this view from our drive...

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Smuggy McSmugface...

Before reading this post please read my previous entry. Especially the last bit where I tell you about my plans for this morning. Its not often that bird predictions come true, unless you are talking about little auks that is, but today did just that. John picked me up a bit later than normal so we just popped down to Craster to have a look for some migrants. In my mind, I had Wheatears and maybe a Black Redstart, Ring Ouzel or Firecrest as outside bets coming off the light SE breeze and drizzle overnight.

Craster Harbour

At Craster I suggested the first spot to check was the harbour where there is often rotting seaweed to attract birds to feed on the attending insects. We had only walked a couple of paces when a bird flicked up the rocky south face of the harbour and back down. A sharp hiss at John to look at this and bingo there was our Black Redstart! First bird looked at in Craster. I didnt see one on patch last year so this was very welcome and, dare I say it, deserved. We could have gone south to Tynemouth for the bird that has been around for several weeks but whats the point of that? Black Redstarts are out there for the finding if you just keep a weather eye open and go to the right habitat. Today there have been a few dotted around Northumberland, but none are as good as one self found.

And you know, we never once asked anyone 'Can you tell me where the..... is'

Above - Black Redstart in various poses.
 Quite a few birds were feeding on a hatch of black flies in the harbour this morning, including 9 Purple Sandpipers, 10+ Turnstones, 2 Pied Wagtails, a Robin, several Jackdaws and a Rook.

Er, whats going on?
On our way back to the car, 5+ Chiffchaffs were singing in the Arnold Reserve and back at home, 6 Bramblings are still in the stubble near the Old Rectory. Not a bad two hours out....

Saturday, April 02, 2016

Birders and 'Birders'.

After a short wander around the patch this morning, taking in the 'wheateary' places along the coast I had plenty of time to think as there was very little to actually see. Not one migrant did I have. None. In fact all I did see were 3 Skylarks, some Meadow Pipits, 2 Shelduck, 2 Stonechat and at sea an Eider or two, a few Curlew but I scarcely lifted my bins as most of these birds are seen and that's that.

A mini highlight came as I arrived at our back door when I noticed 3 male Lapwings tumbling and calling over the field behind our house. Lets hope they breed. I've emailed the estate office to see if anything can be done to help them ie leave the field alone, so we will see what happens. At the minute it has been left for ages as a barren type of set a side but there may be plans for it this year?

Back to my train of thought, birders and birders. A friend once said to me when we were discussing another birding colleague, 'You know Stewart, they aren't birders like us.' What  was meant by that? Well' it could mean many different things to different people I suppose and we are all of a 'tribe' but I know what he meant.

Lets start by saying that we are talking about so called serious birders here, not the casual who feeds the birds and does the garden bird watch. No, here we are talking about keen birders of varying abilities and experience who are in the field regularly seeking out our avian beings in a deliberate fashion.

This group can be divided into two. Those who go out looking for birds in a methodical, maybe philosophical way, ie the bird finders and those who like an easy life ( but arguably more stressful) by just bypassing the learning, planning and research stage and just going for 'the'.

'The' can mean anything. How many of you have passed a fellow binocular wearer to be asked ' Have you seen the......'? Or maybe 'Can you tell me where to see the.......' If the dots equate to a Wallcreeper, Black Lark or even a Wryneck then all well and good but what if the space filler is say a Tree Pipit or Whinchat or Black tailed Godwit.....? All nice birds, but where is the element of surprise here?    Some people even talk about a bird like its the only one left in existence ie 'Have you seen THE Slavonian Grebe?' [At a place 15 miles from where you are currently having this conversation].

What I say is 'Oh no, I haven't' but what I really want to say is ' No I'm not interested in seeing THAT Slavonian Grebe because, by doing some research and ground work I found that they are not to difficult to find wintering in Northumberland and anyone can go and find their own if only they would go and look.'

Look at my post a couple of weeks ago about the Lapland Bunting. We could easily have just done nothing and waited for a pager report of one at a hotspot, hopped in the motor, driven off and had a year tick. Where on earth is the birding fun in that.

No, what we did was identify some good looking habitat, and with some knowledge of the species requirements, set off to look for a Lap. As you know, 9 times out of ten this will fail, but often you find something else like a shorelark or snow bunting or Arctic Redpoll for example. Then you come home with a glow of satisfaction that you have been successful in your quest. Even an outright failure can just drive you on to be more diligent next time. This is how birding skills improve. This is how any skills improve.

So that's off my chest. I'm not really saying that twitching all and sundry is wrong, each to their own, but come on, just sometimes take the time to plan a day out, set some targets and see if you can find your own goal...I do it every week!

[ In case you're wondering, this week I have checked the weather and there is a light SE with some showers forecast. This might drop in a migrant or two and its peak time for Black Redstart in Northumberland so I might have a look at some local rough rocky corners on the coast to see if I can find one. I probably wont but hey ho, its all about the chase...Unless I just go to Tynemouth for the one that's there....]

Can you tell me where the......