Saturday, March 31, 2018

Holy Land.

Today I joined Alan Tilmouth as his guiding assistant at Holy Island to show some visitors to the Pilgrimage to the Islands Festival some birds.

The weather was diabolical and not conducive to trailing non birders around east coast headlands looking for migrants, so we adopted the stand and wait approach. Before heading off towards the location, we met up at the Crossman Hall. As I stood at the door, a quiet call caught my attention and a bird dropped into a small tree across the road. I gazed bemused at a wet silhouette before lifting the bins, to see a Hawfinch! At that point if flew up and east, then doubled back to drop somewhere in the village near the school. Alan didnt even get on to it as he was doing the meet and greet bit!

From here was stood on the shore near the Vicars Garden, in the shelter of an old building seeing 3 Slavonian Grebes, inc 1 summer plumaged bird, 2 Red breasted Mergansers, 2 Long tailed Duck, 10 Bar tailed Godwits, 2 Grey Plover. A few migrants dropped out of the murk, 2 Song Thrushes a few Blackbirds and a Goldcrest.

After leaving the island, I called in the Low Newton Scrapes that has played host to a Grey Phalarope for the last 4 days. Today it was looking settled, feeding on the water, head into the wind bobbing up and down. These little wisps of feather winter out in the Atlantic and are as tough as old boots. We get a few in Northumberland but not often on freshwater so it was a pleasure to see this one before it continues northwards...

Thursday, March 29, 2018


Recently we have a had a few spring like days with nice sunny weather, though temperatures still seem a bit below average. the moth trap is not doing well, with some blatant misses up to now including the usually common Red Chestnut and Early Grey. I hope they get a move on....

Over the past week a few birds are on the move with groups of Meadow Pipit, Pied Wagtail, Pink footed Geese and Whooper Swans all going north over the garden. A party of 10+ Blackbirds towered high to the east at dusk one evening, only to drop back down into cover, as if testing the weather to see if it was good enough to head home to Scandinavia.

The first Chiffchaffs are finally singing in our village now , but only two birds. After this next cool spell numbers should increase.

One morning 4 Buzzards soared together high over the garden, calling steadily until one pair escorted the others off their territory.

Barn Owls have been very much in evidence with almost daily sightings all over the place as have Brown Hares, doing their mad march boxing.

Last Sunday our first Hedgehog of 2018 was out in the garden. Unfortunately it needed assistance from Northumbria Hedgehog Rescue due to 3 large ticks on its head. Other than that, a few days in rehab should see it ok and back into the wild. We asked them to let us know when it is ready and we will collect it to return back home.

A few willows now ready to feed Bumblers and early Butterflies.

Common Quaker


Oak Beauty 

This young male Sparrowhawk spent some time below our feeders yesterday in the rain.

Common or Field Speedwell?


Sunday, March 18, 2018


Just when we thought winter had gone out with a bang, it seems to be one of those prog rocking winters with an ending that goes on way beyond the allotted time span.

Yesterday and Today have been about as far from spring as you are likely to get in mid March with 50mph winds, freezing temps and a steady stream of snow blizzards.

Still, I popped out this morning checking the coast at Boulmer and Craster but there werent too many birds about.

At Boulmer, the mere has flooded half the field. A nice Lesser black backed Gull was the only spring arrival here amongst 80+ Curlew, 20+ Golden Plover, 38 Bar tailed Godwits and a Peregrine fly by.

Up at Craster, many hundred of gulls feeding in the frothing surf still failed to turn up any thing out of the ordinary though there were 500+ Black headeds, 50+ Herring, 50+ Common, 6+ Great black backed Gulls and a Kittiwake. A few Gannets ploughed into the wind, moving south, my first of the year.

We found our third dead, emaciated, Song Thrush in the village this morning. Three in about 2 weeks. This one had nothing left on its bones, just a wisp of skin and feather. The sooner 'the beast' is forced back east, the better.

The Swallows will be back in 4 weeks...

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Begone Beast!

The snowy images below are making me feel cold and are not in keeping with spring, so hopefully this post will shove them down to the bottom a bit.

Since it became a little milder last Friday I have had the moth trap on each night in an attempt to get the garden species list up after weeks of cold weather. Here are some of the moths so far...


Dark Chestnut
Hebrew Character


Pine Beauty
Early Moth

March Moth
I have had 9 sp in total but didnt photograph Pale Brindled Beauty or Agonopterix heracliana / ciliella. It great to get the light back on...

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Days 4 and 5. Coming to a close.

Whilst this weather event is quite significant and may be the worst snow we've seen for 8 years, lets not forget, it is still spring. Daylight is about 3 hours longer than at the turn of the year and as a consequence of this increased lighting, birds are still coming into breeding fettle. Today, some birds were singing over snow drifts, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Dunnock and my first Blackbird of the year. It is this that reassures me that try as it may, this wintry spell will be short lived. Roll on the first bumblebee...

The last two days have seen a light thaw giving us access to roads so we can get shopping for supplies. For the wildlife this cant come quick enough. Many thrushes of 5 species are still coming to the garden for food and down on the coast path, good numbers of Lapwing, Golden Plover, Snipe and Fieldfare search for unfrozen ground.

Yesterday I took a walk along the coast to Howick Burn mouth. The sea was a turmoil, raging away, flinging spray and spume up into the woods and fields. A large flock of gulls feeding in the close breakers held 300+ Black headeds, 100+ Common and some Herring and Great black backed while interest came with an adult winter Mediterranean Gull and a first summer Kittiwake, my first of the year.

A walk through Howick Hall Arboretum flushed 9 Woodcock and later on a further 6 were seen at dusk flighting down to the sea shore to feed, including a flock of 4 together.

This evening a Barn Owl was hunting in daylight over the back field behind our house. It looked very white uplit by the snow. I would imagine it has gone hungry recently as the rodents are safely tucked away under 6 inches of snow. I hope some of the hungry chilled birds are not being wasted....
The burn mouth at a raging high tide. I had to wade waist deep through sea foam...
The Arboretum

A partially frozen Pond and Pond Field.

The newly ploughed coast road. Freedom.
Fieldfare and blackbird looking for bits under my car.

This bedraggled Mistle Thrush was new in today, only briefly.

This harsh spell takes its toll...a weak Song Thrush found outside, died soon after.

All looking for softer ground.

Golden Plover.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Day 3... Snowmaggeddon.

It doesn't take long in enforced confinement for the mind to wander. Today dawned even whiter than yesterday, with at least another 4" of snow on the flat overnight with drifts doubling in size to over 5 feet in places. With no prospect of getting to work, or even moving the car, our village was effectively cut off from the world. A bit like 'The Shining' starring Jack Nicholson. To put the readers mind at rest, I haven't started murdering neighbours. Yet....

With little else to do, I went out to get a few more village photos to document the coldest spring day I can remember, and the most snow since 2010.

Wildlife was almost absent. Unlike places in the south there was no hard weather movement here, as our birds and those to the north of us, had already gone. What we have now are a few hardy, desperate souls, fighting for survival. I have been topping up bird food and water all day, so we have been inundated with garden birds, a bit like people at the co-op fighting to buy the last near sell-by loaf on the shelves.

At the feeders were - 50+ Starlings, 45+ Tree Sparrows, 15+ House Sparrows, 10 Chaffinches, 7 Dunnocks, 4 Robins, 8+ Blue Tits, 2 Great Tits, a Coal Tit, 16+ Blackbirds, 6+ Song Thrushes, 2 Redwing, 1 Fieldfare, 2 Woodpigeons, 10 Jackdaws, a Wren and a Goldcrest. In the back field over the garden wall were 1 Curlew, 1 Reed Bunting and 1 Skylark.

No Goldfinches or woodpeckers today. Or raptors at all.

The snow seems to have stopped but the wind has increased to 50 mph and is gusting bitterly around our gable end.

On the BBC News, reporters at Glasgow (west), Falmouth (South West) and Yorkshire (Inland North) but no mention of Northumberland, despite it having the highest snow fall in the UK yesterday at Boulmer just along the road.  The clue was in the name 'Beast from the EAST' ...I am looking forward to the snow images from Falmouth.

Here are some of today's images.

The snow has drifted to the top of Morris's four foot fence .

Our main road. At least 18" deep drifted snow on the level. No one in or out until a snowplough arrives.

A cold scene behind our house today.

Snow hole. That wall is 7 feet high with the drift at 6 feet.

Our other road out of the village. 4 feet here....

This Coal Tit was eating the snow.

Song Thrushes digging under anything without snow cover for food.