Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lucky Scops Owl.

About 35 years ago, I first read Richard Millington's book 'A Twitcher's Diary'. It was a diary of a twitchers exploits over the year 1980. Until then, rare birds were just a thing of rumour to me, I had never seen one and wouldn't have known where to look.

On reading his book, I wondered how it was possible to see so many exotic species that, to me, were just pictures in a field guide, yet he was seeing them on a daily basis. Of course, now I know how he did it, but not then.

I would pore over his illustrations with envy, birds like Belted Kingfisher, Pied billed Grebe and Ivory Gull were fantastic creatures. Little did I know that all of those and more would be on my British List 35 years later.

However, one illustration stands out. On the cover is a Scops Owl that spent the summer of 1980 in the village of Dummer, Hants, then the first UK twitchable record. Since then, a few have turned up, but all are on either the south coast or the Northern isles way too far for me to access. Today, that was about to change....

Early this morning a young birder called Tom Middleton was birding a small scrub filled gully near the sea at Sunderland called Ryehope Dene. He saw what he thought was a Yellow browed Warbler fly into a large Elder bush and went to investigate. He raised his bins and saw a movement, but not the expected stripy sibe he was looking for, no, one of the branches moved around and turned out to be an owl, a small one at that! Tom could hardly believe it, he had found a tiny Scops Owl all the way from southern and eastern Europe.

News soon filtered out via social media and people were on the move. Luckily, again, the bird was in the open, on show, in a location where people could not get too close to flush it, but it could be seen well from a footpath only a few yards away.

I was in the office at work, on a half day with commitments at home 25 miles in the opposite direction at 1pm. I had no birding gear with me and was dressed in office clothes. Still, where there's a will, there's a way and I reasoned that some kind birder would let me see through his scope. As it happened, there was no need, ADMc came with me and I used his gear.

We arrived at Ryehope at 11.15am and stayed for half an hour before I needed to get away, but what a bird. We had scope filling views as it preened and stared those large pale cats eyes at us, quite unconcerned. It was fantastic and will not be bettered this year that's for sure.

So, if you think about the odds of one bird, landing in one bush where a birder is looking, and then it stays in the open for people to see well, luck was certainly on Tom's side today....and ours!

This little fluff ball makes my British list 411...

Monday, September 25, 2017

Post Holiday ticking...

Its been over a week since our Suffolk hols now, and I have finally got a round to this photo I took of a Willow Emerald Damselfly on my phone. I wish I had taken my camera on this walk now.

This species is a new colonist to England, and doesn't even appear in my dragonfly guides its so new.
In this very poor photo you can still see the pale buff pterostigma in the wing and the long spur mark in the thorax below the humeral stripe. All a bit technical but these features are quite obvious when you have a look. A new species for me...

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Feed the Birds...

Let me take you back to 1974.

Yes, I was birding, well, bird watching, back then at the tender age of 10 years old. My mate Geordie, then aged 60 ( I know, some age difference but with similar interests, I didn't care) used to breed British finches. Siskins, Bullfinches, Redpolls and Greenfinches all had large out door fully planted aviaries made from aluminium greenhouses with the glass removed and wire mesh fitted. One side of the roof and a back wall were covered on the outside with clear corrugated plastic to provide shelter from the elements.

One of my memories of these days was the sweet oily smell of the brown paper bags of John Haith's British Finch seed mix that he used to get delivered, mail order, from Cleethorpes. He would have a mix plus black sunflower, niger and hemp seed all fed in carefully measured quantities to ensure his breeding birds were in the finest fettle for spring. It worked too, the songs of all of these finches echoed around the allotments when we arrived at 6am to start the day. Siskins wheezed and Redpolls chuched to each other from their broom, gorse and larch clad enclosures.

So, imagine my surprise when I got an email from Gemma the Customer Services Manager of Haith's to ask if I would like to try a free sample after she had seen my blog. Er, yes, I would, I like owt for nowt .... So within the week, a parcel arrived with a nice bag of Niger,  a tall niger feeder and a catalogue that that have been put to good use with my goldies. 

It took me right back to the old days when I saw the product. A nice quality seed, with the same logo from back then and, yes, even the brown paper bag was the same...the only difference was that now all my bird interests are wild, just as they should be. Happy Days....Thanks Haiths!

You can see more one their website, click HERE.


Thursday, September 21, 2017

Proper Autumn..

When I get up for work now I have to put a light on. Same when I come home. Its not dark then, but its 90 minutes away. With this equinoctal ( is that even a word?) lighting, things are changing all around. Leaves are beginning to fall, things smell damp and the Robins Pincushions are reddening up nicely. Just like a page from the Ladybird Book of What to Look for in Autumn.

On Tuesday I found my earliest ever county Yellow-browed Warbler on the coast path when I was out with Bunty at first light. It called twice and stayed unseen. But I knew that was it. The year was passing on.

On Bunty's 'before bed walk' it was still and clear outside, and very mild. Either 4 or 6 Tawny Owls were calling, a pair of which ended up keeping us awake in our garden later, a Barn Owl was hissing and a Golden Plover whistled off key as it flew west in the darkness . The bats feeding under our two streetlights didnt seem to notice.

On Wednesday morning, the YBW was still in the same spot but calling its head off and flickering around the bushes. I noticed for the first time since April that there were no hirundines above our village. None on passage either. Maybe its just our locals have taken advantage of the recent Northerlies to give them a lift on their way?

50 Meadow Pipits, 2 Grey Wagtails and 3 Pied Wagtails headed south without a swallow escort.

This morning, I flushed the YBW from some nettles along the coast path, a very sheltered spot from the southerly breeze. A Whimbrel trilled S and 3 Ruff were with 25 Curlews flying across the bay. Two young Swallows tacked S, but that was all.

In an average year the main arrival time here for Yellow brows is 22nd Sept while our village Swallows tend to move off on 23rd. This year both have been early.

I wonder if it is an omen of something?

Tuesday, September 19, 2017


Once was a time when every late Summer through Autumn we would look forward to regular bouts of hypothermia, sat glued to a spot staring out east. In recent years it seems that these opportunities are becoming ever more infrequent, so, it was a pleasure to get out this weekend, on the deckchair, eye screwed into the scope to look for seabirds.

In Northumberland we are spoiled really.

In Suffolk last week I looked out to the sea from Minsmere and all I could see was a sepia looking, wet patch, practically devoid of bird life. If I looked out just down our road, in any month during a flat westerly there would certainly be more birds than down there.

Recent posts on social media, show birders enthusing over '500 Gannets! a record!' or 'Arctic Skua 2, and a Kittiwake, a good patch day'. Up here we don't have time to count Gannets, Kittiwakes or Fulmars. They are present most of the time, like Black headed Gulls. I am not trying to be smug here, not at all, this is just how it is. Its horses for courses really, its just that our county is a great sea watching area, maybe not up with the likes of Cornwall, but over a full year, not far away. We may not do spring, but seawatching, when weather allows, makes up for it I think.

So, on Saturday morning, I took up position at Craster soon after 6.30am and waited. The wind was a moderate NW4, maybe not the best for us where a straight Northerly or North easterly is best, but at least the thick cloud cover prevented the glare from a rising sun.

First bird past was a nice Sooty Shearwater, quite close in too, always a good sign, closely followed by a juvenile skua that looked suspiciously small. As it came closer it was joined by an Arctic Skua and showed an excellent size comparison - a juv Long tailed Skua!

From then on things were steady as she goes with a nicely building list with nothing earth shattering happening until at 7.20 - Great Shearwater! Only my second county record, it came through at close range, indeed the closest bird of the day, so all features could be seen. Superb. At 8.10am it wwas time for home as we had other commitments...

  On Sunday,John and myself headed up to Beadnell where the point should get us closer views of the sea bird passage. We camped out from 07.15 until 11.45 and had a grand morning, with nice birds, but unfortunately, no cigar...

Later in the afternoon, reports were still coming through of good numbers passing with some better species too, so I though I'd give it an hour back at paid off with a juv Sabine's Gull N, albeit, a bit distant but ok...

The lack of detail is deliberate in my notes as this was the view I had. My first patch Sabine's too, so seven and a half hours staring across the waves was really worthwhile. Lets hope there are more northerlies in the near future!

For a further impression of my view, see Jonathan's blog in the side bar, he has some video of what may have been the same bird, though a few were reported during the day.

Sunday, September 17, 2017


Last week we were off down to Suffolk on holiday. We stayed in a nice bungalow in Westleton, our seventh visit here, though not to the same house. In this village we have stayed in 5 different properties over the years but we like the area, being quite central for some nice places around about.

Most years we try one week in the north of Scotland and another in the south. Being from Northumberland, a colder, quite dry, county, it makes a change to sample some of the milder climate the south has to offer. On this occasion, however, it did not want to play ball. The week was mixed with some nice fine autumnal spells and some odd heavy rain storms. Luckily we didnt get caught out in one.

On the wildlife front, there is always something of interest for me so far from home, things that might be commonplace to naturalists who live south of the Humber, but do not or very rarely occur in Northumberland. This visit was no exception.

I didn't really put myself out to go seeking out new things, but just kept an open mind to see what would turn up... 

Above - Our digs for the week...
Unfortunately, this happened on several occasions.

Above - When the sun came out though, it was very nice, these pics are the hamlet of Shingle Street.
Blood Vein. A common species over much of England, but I've never seen one at home.

The Dusky Thorn was one I hoped to get in the trap down here. On our first night, the first moth to arrive was this. 

Hornet. What a fantastic beast. I have seen them at Westleton before but have never got close enough for a photo, so one in the moth trap was very welcome.
The Vestal. A scarce migrant moth, rare at home and new for me. This one was caught during the day as it fluttered across the lawn.
Even pest non native species are welcomed in our garden...Rosemary Beetle. New to me.
Brown Argus was a lifer for me having only seen Northern Brown Argus before.

Even the storms were good to see. Very dramatic. 
Sizewell to Minsmere, lovely despite the Nuclear Powerstation!


Sea Holly 
Parasol Mushroom. Not new and found regularly at home, but I liked this location...

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Sugar table...

In less than optimum conditions my tray of mashed fruit and beer attracted a star turn the other night - a Red Underwing. Only my second after one in 2009, this may be the furthest North Red Underwing in the UK! Note my comment about this species in the previous post, now, where is that Old Lady?

Taking a photo in near black darkness is tricky, so I lit the moth with my headlamp and manually focussed on it with the on camera flash set. I took half a dozen shots and one came out sharp...

Still on the moth theme, decent records continue to arrive this week to more conventional means with 2 Butterbur in the same trap and my first Scarce Bordered Straw, a nice fresh darker specimen....

Scarce Bordered Straw

Butterbur is annual here, but usually only one at a time. This is my first multiple occurrence in the trap. Here with two Rosy Rustics for size comparison.

Grey-Chi seem to be getting scarcer year on year...