Thursday, December 06, 2018

Small shrike...

While we were watching the Bonaparte's Gull on Sunday, new came through of a non -grey shrike at Newbiggin down on the beach behind Church Point caravan site ( exactly the same spot as the White spotted Bluethroat in the spring).

Tongues wagged metaphorically over the social media hoping against hope that at this very late time of year it might be a Brown Shrike. Alas, it was not to be, the finder Alan Priest, had it nailed with photos as a juvenile Red-backed Shrike. Stand down, panic over. Still, an amazing record, the latest ever in the county though I do remember one in December at Hunstanton some years ago.

Monday morning at work, I happened to have an appointment at Newbiggin ( well I would wouldnt I) so dropped in for 10 minutes to see the bird. I havent seen a Red backed Shrike for ages, so it was areall pleasure to watch this little chunky predator fly catching from weeds on the land slipped eroded parts just behind the beach.

They are much smaller that you you remember and this one was hunched up with wings drooped looking very sorry for itself. Food at this time is very hard to come by for a bird like this so the local Robin had better watch out.

As the sun shone, the shrike looked golden and blended perfectly with the golden leaves of reedmace and willowherb. Lets hope its soon back on the proper route south before winter really kicks in... 

Dire phone scoped image...

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Boney's and the rest....

The original forecast for today was for drizzle throughout, so it was pleasing to find the morning had dawned dull and quiet but fair.

I met with John at the usual Homebase rendezvous in Alnwick to drive up to Bamburgh in the hope that the Bonaparte's Gull found earlier in the week would still be around. At this quiet, dark time of year it seemed the best option, and little did we know how good it would be.

A few miles up the A1 John ordered a sharp right turn for a very brief detour to a concrete culvert ( a road really) under the main road to look for hibernating moths. It proved a good call with a single Herald roosting high on the roof right in the middle of the tunnel at its darkes spot.

Back on to the trunk road North and we were soon at the very scenic tourist village of Bamburgh. At all times, Bamburgh is still besieged by hordes more modern than the original vikings, so it was good to get there early doors before most were out.

At first there were very few gulls to be seen on the shore but as the tide began to rise a few started to drop in. Eventually when we had added 120+ Purple Sandpipers and 130+ Shag to the notebook, our American target arrived with about 20 black headed gulls. Its a while since Ive seen a Bonaparte's Gull so it was good to get this lovely, dove grey and white adult in winter plumage. These are the Nearctic version of our common Black headed gull but seem so much daintier despite looking very similar.

Stag Rocks and lighthouse.

Bonaparte's Gull with Black headed Gulls

After giving it a good look at, we moved a few hundred yards up to the golf club entrance for a cuppa. While drinking tea we could view the flat calm water for seafowl in relative comfort.
Things didnt look promising with only a few Common Scoter and Eiders dotted around, then a winter plumaged Puffin was a bit unusual at this time, diving at mid range.

It was about now that John glimpsed a diver in front of the lighthouse and said 'Get a look at this'. As I looked in his scope I saw a split second before it submerged. It wasn't a red throated thats all I could see.

After a long time, when it seemed to have succumbed to the depths, it emerged several hundred yards further offshore, for a minute then down again. This time I commented that it was a large diver and the head posture was up tilted like a White billed, but it had gone.

Another five minutes passed when it resurfaced, again too far out to tell. We grilled it and it stood up, flapped then dived. The bill seemed a bit scruffy and the nape looked very dark so we left it as a Great Northern. Then the phone rang.

Jonathan Farooqi and his dad were at the lighthouse, maybe 2 or 300 yards closer to the bird. They were sure it was White billed Diver but it remained distant even for them. We hastily downed the tea dregs and walked down the slope to join them.

No sooner had we arrived, Jonathan offered me a look in his scope. There, a lot closer and heading our way was a big hefty White billed Diver! Get in!

Not a bad day, twitching a Bonaparte's Gull then dipping in on a big banana bill, cant be bad.

White billed Diver, adult winter.
As the diver swam much closer we could see all of the required features well, the long ivory coloured bill tilted up from horizontal and even the white spotting on the mantle and coverts. To put the icing on the cake, after half an hour it was joined by a Great Northern Diver in the same scope view for an ideal comparison. The WBD surfaced with some sizeable flatfish to eat then resumed its diving. I'm sure these have evolved from fish, spending as much time below the surface as on it....

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Work Birds

At work on Wednesday morning I had a meeting to attend at Ashington Police Station at 10am. I arrived at about 9.45am. As a left the car and strolled up the path to the station door I looked at the few rowan treet here and pondered that they have been a good attraction for Waxwings in previous years but today there were no berries at all and even the leaves were gone leaving only a tracery of bare twigs against a grey sky.

As the auto sliding doors hissed open, I glanced on the opposite side of the path at those bare trees and there above me were 9 fluffed up Waxwings as if on cue! They looked as grey as the sky, sitting hunched and silent looking around. I left the station at 12 to find now 10 birds sat there, but I couldn't see a single berry. There must be some nearby I suppose to keep them sat there for a few hours...

A picture from last year. It was too dark today even if I had taken my gear...

Monday, November 26, 2018

Everything is Rosy after all...

After yesterday's Rose coloured Starling twitch that fizzled out like a catherine wheel on a damp bonfire night, the weather seemed a little bit better this morning so I took my gear with me to work.

I decided to check out Hector's garden before going to the office. On arrival things were pretty similar to yesterday along with the addition of a nice male Brambling with Hector's Greenies. I was about to give up after only five minutes when I looked further along the road from the usual spot and there, on a square mesh fat feeder was the juvenile Rose coloured Starling. Phew. The dip was broken. This was a scruffy looking thing showing a few adult feathers in the median and greater coverts, tertials and inner primaries. Lets hope it stays until spring to show a bit more adult patterning.

I grabbed the camera from the boot and got back in the car to drive it forward a few yards until opposite the bird. Again, concious of pointing a telephoto lens at a bedroom window, I quickly rattled off a few shots before two passers by flushed the bird into some low shrubs in the garden.

This is my fifth Northumberland Rosy Pastor but my first juvenile anywhere. More unbelieveable is that this is the second one I've seen in Ashington this year.

Hector kindly rang me after seeing me parked furtively outside to confirm I had seen the bird. Thanks Hector. Then it was off to work. If only things had gone as smoothly yesterday...

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Hector's House.

Local birder, Hector Galley came up with the goods when he found a juv Rose-coloured Starling on his bird feeders mid week. His garden is only a matter of about 300 mtrs from my work place but I just didnt have time to go, so this morning JWR and myself started off parked furtively outside Hector's house.

I hate these suburban twitches, peering into gardens and the like. I have had a few over the years with Black throated Thrush, Raddes Warbler, Yellow Rumped Warbler, Dark eyed Junco etc but always feel uncomfortable standing with binoclars at the crack of dawn outside someones house. This morn we tried to be discreet. Only the two of us were present and for half an hour we sauntered back and forward making sure we did not make any direct eye contact by peering into residents windows on our quest for a beige coloured starling. No joy. There were lots of birds at the feeders inc 15+ Tree Sparrows, a dozen Greenfinches, 4 Common Starlings but no rare one. As we sat in the car avoiding a short shower 10 mtrs from the garden, Hector posted a Whats App message - 'RCS still in garden at 9.14' I glanced at John and the clock. It was still 9.14 and we were here! We jumped out of the car and began to concentrate for another 30 minutes but we still couldnt find the bird... this is the third RCS dip we've had this year!

As time was pressing we stopped at the nearby QEII Lake for a brew and a scan just in case there might be a Smew when we bumped into Lindsey McDougall who told us that a Great Northern Diver was here yesterday. Sure enough a quick scan found the bird, a juvenile aged by the buff scalloping on the upperparts, about half way out. As it flew a bit closer it seems to be dragging some fishing line off its feet, and it didnt look too well, sitting with eyes closed for long periods. Things dont bode well for this visitor.

And that was about it really, a short stop at Warkworth Wier where again there were no Bewick ( or Whooper) Swans made me the only person in Christenden not to have seen the two birds around here for the last month. I pass the place twice a day!

I might try for the Starling this week from work, but it seems that the Christmas doldrums have already kicked in...meh.

Click on this and you can see something behind the trailing foot. That is weed on fine line.

A big bird, dwarfing a cormorant ( prob female) nearby. You can see compared to the swan, its a big chunk of fowl.

Monday, November 19, 2018


This weekend's update is only a Sunday show. On Saturday I went to Newcastle, to theGreat North Museum Hancock for the ERIC ( Environmental Records Information Centre) North East Wildlife Recording Conference. I took an early train from Alnmouth that got me into town at 08.30am. As the conference didnt start until 09.30am I just had a slow wander up, taking in Waterstones and Fenwicks Window on route. The talks at the conference varied from Elvers in the Tees to Durham Botany Group via Pan Listing and Pine Martens in Northumberland.

The gig was full with maybe 80 guests, and I only knew a couple of them. Makes me wonder where all the people do their wildlife watching?

As John wasn't out on Sunday, I was up and out shortly after first light and continued training for the 2019 Banstead / Howick Patch Challenge. I started off with a very slow seawatch at Cullernose, where I had time to ponder things to do on patch to keep the interest going. I think I might do a BBS style transect count each month next year? Maybe?

The seawatch was only half an hour from 7.30am on a nice cool, calm morning. The only birds of note were 1 ad Peregrine coming in from its breakfast hunt off shore carrying small prey, possibly a wader, 3 Red throated Divers flew N and 1 S, 23 Eiders N and 1 Purple Sandpiper was on the rocks.

A measly 9 Golden Plovers sat out the tide before flying south.

 From here I had a short walk north along the rocky foreshore hoping for a Desert Wheatear, but saw....nothing.

Next stop was Craster where the wooded and scrubby Heughs were worth a last ditch try for migrants. There were only 43 Blackbirds, 3 Redwing, 4 Goldcrest and 1 Redpoll S. Amongst the locals were 3 Willow Tits, 1 Treecreeper and a male Bullfinch.

Tchay chay chay....
Back in our village a Fieldfare was on the edge of our garden, while earlier a Brambling called over head in the dark with 4 Blackbirds.

A walk with Peggy around the back field and down to the pond had 71 Pink footed Geese S, 5 Fieldfare, 2 Redwing, an amazing count for here of 200 Jackdaws with 150 Rooks, 5+ Yellowhammer, 1 Brambling, 1 Stock Dove, 1 Treecreeper, 2+ Bullfinch, 25+ Goldfinch, 17+ Siskin, 1 Grey Wagtail and 1 Heron. The wildfowl on the pond didnt put up much competition for Fenham Flats with only 8 Teal, 3 Mallard, 2 female Tufted Duck, 1 Little Grebe, 6 Moorhen and 2 Mute Swan. Still, its a change of habitat and my only bit of standing freshwater for any ducks so I'll be happy to monitor them.

Overall the patch had a quiet wintry feel to the day. Some leaves still on the trees with wonderful vivid colours and the pond looking mirror calm and oily black. The usually wet wood remains dry an expected product of this year ... 

Friday, November 16, 2018

2019 challenge..

The Pond ( in the Pond Field)
In previous years my blogging buddy Steve Gale and I have had some casual patch listing challenges. I cant remember the scores ( so that probably means it wasn't too good for me) but we quite enjoyed the comparisons between the inland suburban patch to the south and the rural east coast patch in the north.

Our respective patches are 290 miles apart in a straight line, as the crow flies, and are very different in habitat make up, but this is what makes things interesting.

I have worked out some basic statistics for my Howick Patch -

Total List 205
My Howick List 200

The list can be drilled down to -

Common Species seen in at least 7 of the last 9 years - 128
Irregular seen in 5 or 6 years -  22
Scarce seen in 3 or 4 years- 18
Rare seen only in 1 or 2 years - 37.

Average Year List over 9 years - 143 sp

I will be keeping the boundary as in the image in my side bar on the right, but in reality there are bits of it I never look at. My main watched area is -

The combined area of the patch is exactly 3 sq km, but the small  area watched is just under 1 km. I watch this area more intensively due to dog walks and general speed of access. These spots can all be looked at if I have half an hour to spare, but the whole extended site is easily accessible on foot from home.

I am looking farward to it already....See North Downs and Beyond for Steve's zone....

To give a flavour of the ornithological delights awaiting, I have been off work today and have checked most of the small area above ...

0700, Out with Peggy in the half light of dawn.
Newly arrived on the coast path were 6 Blackbirds, 2 Redwings, 2 Song Thrush, 1 Goldcrest and a Brambling. 60 Pink footed Geese flew S.

0930 - The Rumbling Kern / Bathing House. A stand around for half an hour with the scope had -
Shag 1 colour ringed white letters on green but unable to read it. 6 Purple Sandpiper, 3 Lapwing, 20+ Oystercatcher, 60+ Curlew, 3+ Redshank, 5 Red throated Diver S and 1 on the sea, 1 Rock Pipit, 3 female Velvet Scoter were unexpected and are rarely seen sitting on the sea here, most being fly by on seawatches, Gullemot and Razorbill maybe 10 of each scattered, 2 Stonechat, 1 Goldcrest, 6 Turnstone, 2 Kittiwake S, 1 Common Scoter S, 25 Golden Plover S, 5 Meadow Pipits, 3 Skylarks S and a Harbour Porpoise offshore.

Lunchtime, out with Peggy in the Village Wood and Pond Field.
1 Woodcock flushed, 1 Buzzard, 2+ Brambling, 15+ Chaffinch, 40+ Goldfinch, 6+ Siskin, 25+ Redwing, 4 Fieldfare, 21+ Mallard, 8 Teal, 1 Tufted Duck, 2 Mute Swan, 6 Moorhen and 2 Roe Deer.

And finally at our feeders all day -
33 Tree Sparrow, 9 House Sparrow, 12+ Goldfinch, 4 Coal Tit, 2 Great spotted Woodpecker. 1 female Sparrowhawk.

Monday, November 12, 2018

A flexi day off today so loitering around home.

Over the weekend I have borrowed a camera trap from work to see if I can find out who is actually eating the hedgehog meat we put out nightly. I was suspicious that it wasn't just hedgehogs as some will be into hibernation now.

Over two nights we found that 3 local cats are getting into the feeding sanctuary and scoffing the bait before Mrs Tiggywinkle can get a sniff! I've now ammended the feeder box to deter the cat burglars....

Finally a wiggy gets to have a look, but unfortunately all the food has gone...

Hoepfully Mk111 will be better.
A look around the home turf with Peggy today was generally quiet as befitting this time of year, but I did get 27 Pinkfooted Geese S, 5 Crossbills S, Brambling 1, Redpoll 5, Grey Wagtail 1, Stock Dove 1, Snipe 6 and Curlew 48 over head.

I took a walk to a spot visible from our kitchen window that I have never been to before. The hill gave great views east to the North Sea over our village...

Monday, November 05, 2018


After my little mention about not recieving any comments on a post last week, Steve Gale emailed to say he had left some. I had not recieved notifications by email so had missed them! When I checked on blogger I had missed about 30 comments back to January from many of you!! Anyway, apologies for not replying, but thank you for your kind remarks, I WILL check on Blogger for comments from now on.... Please dont let it put you off...

Cheers All...

Sunday, November 04, 2018

I wasnt really out birding today, but the beauty of living in your own local patch is that you can literally just 'pop out', so thats what I did. It was bright and breezy first thing, quite mild, but that soon turned to that awful heavy drizzle for an hour, but that too, changed to a brighter mild and pleasant afternoon.

First thing this morning a female Sparrowhawk attacked our feeders with such speed and force that I didnt even see if it took anything. I think it probably did.

I then walked Peggy around the village wood that was very quiet, with nothing at all going into the notebook. The return walk down the lane had 50 Linnets on overhead wires and a lone Fieldfare flushed from the village hall waterworks, calling.

Village Wood

I then took the car all of 400 yards to Seahouses Farm layby to check the gulls in the field ( it was raining after all). There were 200+ Black headed and maybe half a dozen each of Common and Herring Gulls but no sign of the Med Gull today.

Our village in those trees and if you click on it, some of the gulls.

The coast fields muck heap.

From here the rain stopped so it was time for a stand and watch from the Rumbling Kern. The sea was deathly quiet with no passage at all other than 1 Gannet north, 8 Herring Gulls S and 2 Goodsanders S overhead. On the shore were 1 Grey Plover, 10 Curlew, 9 Oystercatcher, 5 Redshank and a Turnstone while in the small amount of scrub at the haven and dump were 7+ Robins, 5+ Dunnock, 1 Goldcrest, 28+ Chaffinches, 1 Rock Pipit and a Stonechat. 

I didnt bump into another person at all in two hours!

It was now time for home as we were going out for lunch to Doxford Hall....

The Bathing House from Rumbling Kern

The actual Rumbling Kern, a sea cave that thunders at certain stages of tide.

The Haven view south from the Kern.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

I'm late, I'm late....but not too late for some Patchwork.

Every morning before work I have a bit of a routine to follow, as do most of us. Mine involves getting up, coffee, dog walk #1, shower, breakfast, feed the garden birds dog walk#2 and then off...

Yesterday morning I was up to stage 6 above, when I heard the unmistakable 'kuuk' of a Raven, and it sounded close. I peered over the back field as a lone Raven flew very low to the ground past me before lifting up, over the village hall and away S. I was watching where it went, when I heard another Raven call, quite softly behind me. I turned to look at the sky above the copse next to our garden anticipating a fly over, when it appeared. First behind some bare branches then, it only pitched up on top of the large Ash tree next to the garden! It sent the Jackdaws and a few Rooks into panic mode. The Raven saw me, coupled by other corvids alarm and mobbing calls, and it flew off. This only angered the other crows even more who went in pursuit until they harried the larger bird out of sight.

What great bird they are, especially when they can be seen from the garden.

Now it was time for stage 7. Peggy's second walk of the morning is usually just a quick dash out before I go. Today we were on the top coast road a few minutes from home when I caught the sound of a Waxwing trilling call. I couldnt see anything and thought I had misheard, when no, there it was again. I stared high up and picked up two birds heading south but decending too. A pair of Waxwings! They dropped straight into our village after their long flight. I could just about see them perched on a tall willow in a garden in the village and saw them drop off at a 45 degree angle.

There was only one place that would pull them down like that - Davey's apple tree. Pegs and me turned ( she had been far enough anyway) and strode back home, passing the apple tree. Its very thick and hanging with fruit so I couldnt see anything. I swapped the dog at home for bins and camera and went back out. Its only 50 yards to Daveys from home, and sure enough right in the centre in the worst viewing place possible were the Waxers, getting stuck in to their apple breakfast.

I watched for a few minutes and grabbed a few record shots before they flew off, stopping briefly and then continuing west.

As I pondered them and wondered about getting back for work, more calls over head dawned on me, this time Crossbills, lots of them. First a low flock of 13 went south, quickly follwed by 5 and then 9 more accompanied by 3 Brambling. A good movement of Crossbills for here.

Now it was really getting time to be off. I could have stood viz migging much longer to see if more Crossbills would follow but time was against me so it was not to be. Still, it was a great half hour around the 'obs' before work....     

Some record shots of the waxwings. Pity I couldnt get two in one photo. Hopefully more will arrive over the coming week or two..

Monday, October 29, 2018

Local Patch Listing

The Howick - Craster Patch.
Is there anyone out there? I'll rephrase that. Just because I haven't had a comment since about August, there's no need for sarcasm. What I meant to say was, is there anyone out there with a very poor local patch?

Its a funny thing to ask, but I see loads of people on social media the length and breadth of the country who's local patch is Spurn, Bardsey, Cley or where ever their county hotspot is. Most people have a nature reserve or a large inland water body, or a migration place where many sets of eyes scour it every weekend for the latest 'rare' but I only see a few people with a random place that very few birders visit. Steve Gale at ND&B has one such place here.

My patch is another. Before I lived here, I used to call in to the area occasionally, but only once did I come here to see a good bird - a juv Red backed Shrike found by Julie Roper about 12 years ago. Even the coast line facing east to the North Sea is quite mundane. It is a rocky shore with no areas for gatherings of birds. The landward side is just as bad, intensively worked, mixed farmland. It is scenic but not too bird friendly really.

It is this that makes it quite a task to keep to the patch when half an hour drive North takes me to Holy Island and another half an hour South takes in the ponds and wetlands of Druridge Bay or Newbiggin. But, I live here, so technically I can visit every single day, even if its just watching out of the window, so over the past 9 years I have stuck with it.

Maybe once a year, if I am lucky, is there a period of weather that makes even this place worth a look, and most often that involves Seawatching. Its the sort of activity that can put you on a level with some other places, at last. This weekend, proved to be my 2018 window of opportunity to add a few good species to the year list.

On Saturday and Sunday I spent 6.5 hrs, alone, glued to my scope and bins enjoying the conveyor belt of birds rattling through my mediocre patch. For once I felt like a contender!

My list looks like this -

All moving North unless otherwise stated.

Pale bellied Brent 3
Shelduck 32
Wigeon 760
Mallard 12
Teal 100
Shoveler 6 attached to scoter flocks of all things.
Pintail 3 a scarce patch bird
Long tailed Duck 51 best count ever on patch.
Goldeneye 22
Scaup 3 only 3rd record.
Tufted Duck 1
Common Scoter 1034
Velvet Scoter 33
Eider 50
Red breasted Merganser 13
Red throated Diver 50
Black throated Diver 2 a rare visitor.
Great Northern Diver 8
Slavonian Grebe 1 second patch record
Manx Shearwater 11
Fulmar 50
Little Auk 9
Bonxie 1
Pomarine Skua 1 distant but carrying the full spoons.
Purple Sandpiper 9
Glaucous Gull 1 fw right over our heads N.

Plus uncountable Gannets, Kittiwakes and Auks and a Short eared Owl and a few Starlings in-off right past me. Further south observers had Leaches Petrel ( one even on Howick patch per Ben Steele but I missed it along at Craster) double figures of Little Auks and Poms, but when sitting watching by yourself its easy to miss out.

I am not too concerned, after all I had a right old hatful of decent patch birds to boost the total but its high time some quality passerine action came my way. Fingers crossed.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018


On Sunday JWR and myself went over to see the Gull billed Terns as he was unable to get away earlier. They arrived from the south east bang on cue at 8am and continued their routine the rest of the time we were there. The dull flat light gave even better views than on Friday. Also on the pits were 16 Barnacle Geese, 4 Whooper Swans, 4 Pochard and 1 female Goldeneye.

As we were in SW Northumberland we decided to go the whole hog and venture over the border into the hinterlands of Mordor where a juvvy Spotted Sandpiper was showing well on a creek in Jarrow, South Tyneside. Initially it remained quite distant but as the tide began to rise, this little teetering wader came close up allowing good views and evena few photographs.

This is my, er, 4th Spotted Sand but my first without spots!

Watching this bird brought the morning, and maybe the birding autumn, to a close. Unless this pending northerly produces some seawatching at the weekend...

After the weather...

As I have commented earlier on 'the big one travels alone' a comment by the late and great Tim Cleeves, Thursday 18th October produced news of probably the most unusual and best county record of the autumn. Way inland at an unknown spot called Haughton Strother Gravel Pits, Ross Ahmed stumbled upon the unbelievable. Not the one biggie but two - GULL-BILLED TERNS!

He got the news out early evening on the Thursday only to be met with an even bigger bombshell that these two first winter birds had been here since the 4th of the month! Two full weeks for a massive county blocker to be kept hidden away from prying eyes. Now, each to their own, I am the first to say that we dont have a god given right to bird news, but these two are viewable at a safe distance from a wide public bridlepath, so whats with the secrecy? I can only think it was due to the lack of parking out on the main access road which was pretty hair raising.

Anyway on Friday I took my kit to work, a full 38 miles from the site and awaited news. I had only been at work an hour when word came that the duo were still present and in a pattern of rest on the pits then flying out to feed in newly planted corn fields, so off I went to begin a 4 hour lunch break.

The road nearby was like a version of the Nurbergring, with lorries and luton vans speeding over blind summits and around corners, so it was disconcerting when I had to park the car in a layby, about a mile away, and walk along its pathless edge.

After dicing with death, the viewing spot was quite open and raised above the pits and the birds were easily seen. What a relief after missing one at Bothal Pond a few years ago and further back missing a pair that were tracked along the coast north from Whitburn.They sat and preened ona small gravel island beside a few black headed and common gulls then flew out to the fields and dip fed onto the ground, probably for worms. We aren't used to terns land feeding here in Northumberland...

These were my third British lifer of 2018 and my second county tick, taking the list to 416 and 344 respectively. I wonder if this autumn has any other surprises up its sleeve?