Monday, April 30, 2018

What is Rare?

A few more spring migrants have appeared at the Stewchat Obs this week with a male Yellow Wagtail low over the garden last Monday, my second Lesser Whitethroat on site this spring, and a male Blackcap at our feeders.

Barn Owl sunset, taken from our drive.

Other noteworthy mini patch sightings include, a Barn Owl from the kitchen window on several occasions, regular visits by a pair of Sparrowhawks but best of all was a real rarity. For here. Nowadays.

We moved here in 2009. At this time, the once extensive population of Marsh Tits on the estate were on the decline, as they are in most places now. Sightings were irregular, but I soon added it to the garden list with a bird on our peanut feeder sometime in spring 09. This was to be very short lived because the last of the Howick Marsh Tits was a juvenile bird I photographed in July 2010. Since then there has been no sight or sound, despite daily meanderings in suitable places and even a constant effort ringing site with feeders on the estate has not had one. They are defunct. Gone. Extinct.

Until Friday morning.

I was out in sunny weather early doors, topping up the feeders, when I threw two handfuls of seed onto the bird table. Immediately as small buff and black apparition alighted on the edge of the table not 6 feet from me.

I froze. It froze, Then grabbed a sunflower seed and flew off!

I knew immediately that it was Marsh not Willow when its glossy cap shone in the early sunshine.

I dashed indoors for the camera to record this momentous rediscovery on site. For a while there was a no show with the bird flying off across the back field. I gave up and came inside to wait by the kitchen window.

After about 10 minutes, there it was, back on the table! Pity the local Jackdaws and Starlings caused so much of a racket that it didn't stay for long, but I did manage one record for posterity...

Marsh Tit in the garden. Rarer here than both Barred and Yellow browed Warblers...

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Into the light.

After one of the worst late winters of my lifetime, it is so good to get rid of it and into some sunshine. As a consequence, birds seem to have taken a back seat and the moths have taken over.

Red Chestnut

Early Grey

Small Quaker

Clouded Drab

Agonopterix alstromeriana

Diurnea fagella

Early Tooth striped

Shoulder Stripe

Pale Pinion

Early Thorn

Acleris literana

Water Carpet

Xenolechia aethiops
I have saved the small black obscurity until last for a reason. Just because it looks like a fly, doesnt mean its boring. I struggled to identify this from our Northumberland Moths website, then Alan Fairclough came up with the solution. A new species for me and the garden so I was pleased, then our moth recorder, Tom Tams sent me this link that shows how rare this species really is. This one is only the 6th found in the UK since 1999! Oddly enough I get a few heather feeders in the garden despite the nearest moor being 10 miles to the west.

My patch, where the house has become the 'obs' has been interesting bird wise too with migrant warblers moving through the garden on a daily basis. A Lesser Whitethroat was very early for here on 14th showing down to 4 feet while the camera was in the house, 3 Blackcaps arrived together to fight over an apple, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs can be heards singing daily and yesterday a Grasshopper Warbler was in full 'reel' behind our shed for 10 minutes. After that it wasnt seen or heard again, a migrant continuing his journey...

One of 2 male Blackcaps and a female.

Imm Smooth Newt visiting the moth trap the other night.
And finally, we have adopted 5 Hedgehogs for release in the garden from a rescue scheme. They didnt hang around either, open the boxes and they were off...

I must do more blog updates now the nights are lighter to get out and actually see stuff...

Sunday, April 01, 2018

A day of two parts...

Part 1...

The only bit of the April issue of British Birds I have read so far is the paper on the carbon footprint of birders. It goes on to say that twitching and foreign holidays are not good for the planet, but the recent upsurge in Local Patch birding is the best way forward in terms of helping with global warming, pollution and use of resources etc.

I light of this I changed my early plans to visit Holy Island again ( a 60 mile round trip in a diesel car) and stayed at my newly shrunk local patch. When I did the Patchwork Challenge I made the boundaries fit the 3 sq km criteria that can be seen in the map in the side bar on the right.
In reality, most of that is visited very infrequently, so I have cropped the area down to under 1 sq km -

You can see this is a very small area with only a few fields a short stretch of rocky coast and a bit of parkland with a small pond. This is a real patch to me, one that I walk around daily with the dog and a good percentage can even be seen from home.

Now, some might wonder about this, but having a patch is not just about accumulating as much of the British List as possible by stretching boundaries into every conceivable habitat just so you can get a Nuthatch or see a Gannet 5 miles away from a high point inland. For me, it is very simple in that no matter the area, its about seeing what occurs there by regular observation. Whether it is a car park or the Serengetti, just see what you can get. One man's Pied Wagtail is another man's Siberian Thrush. Certainly in a patch context anyway, and this doesnt stop you venturing away to see good birds elsewhere, it just means you will learn your patch wildlife very well indeed.

So, back to today. My target, after the easterlies and rain yesterday, was Black Redstart.

Northumberland is sinking under the weight of the bloody things, so I scoured my perfect Black Red habitat along the coastal cliffs and found.... None.  I found, 3 pairs of displaying Rock Pipits, 2 singing Reed Buntings and 2 migrant Goldcrests, and that was about it. Nothing earth shattering there, but breeding Rock Pipits are good, Reed Bunts are scarce on patch and Goldcrests migrating are a pleasure to see, and thats what local patch birding should be about.

Two Goldcrests were on a barbed wire fence with not a pine in sight...

Singing male Reed Bunting.

Part 2...

Having donned a hair shirt this morning and put in the time where no one else would, it was time for some excitement and fossil fuel usage ( sorry).

20 miles away, Gary Storey had found a male White spotted Bluethroat on the beach at Newbiggin (oh why couldn't it be me!) so I decided to give it a look. I have only seen one White spot in the county before and this bird has some history for me, having read, with awe, about the one Ennion found near Beadnell in the 50's, so the adrenaline was pumping. We used to get regular Red spotted Bluethroats when the wind turned East in May, but not for many years now. The Reds have a narrow window of occurrence from about 12th - 20th May usually so any Bluethroat in April will be a White spot.

I arrived at 2.30pm with the tide well up the beach pushing birders closer to the bird's favoured spot in turn making it quite flighty. It finally moved north a bit where the wider beach gave more breathing space, and some decent views were had, a stunning little chat, you can never get enough of these...

With snow forecast for tomorrow, I am glad to have seen some sunshine and good birds this weekend... Happy Easter!