Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Heartbeat Country..

I can't remember how I originally heard, that only about 120 miles away into the North Yorkshire wolds lurked some highly sought after species. It will probably have been on Twitter or some other internet spot. I then put social media to its best use and contacted some acquaintances for further advice. Soon a couple of people in the know, kindly gave me directions to their favourite spots and asked me not to widely broadcast, so forgive me for being a bit vague with the info on here. I'm sure a bit of dilligent internet searching will point you in the right direction.

Armed with our newly acquired info, on Sunday, we took a day trip out of the county to check out the sites . First stop was near Pickering for a couple of nice orchids that I did not know occurred this far north - Burnt Tip Orchid and Fly Orchid. In a very green and uninviting arable setting the small area below was a stunning oasis for flowers and butterflies.

We soon found several Dingy Skippers, Small Copper, Brown Argus and Small Heath butterflies, then 3 nice spikes of target No 1 Burnt Tip Orchid. Target No 2 lurked only a few feet away, Fly Orchids. There were more of these with about 8 spikes noted. We would normally have put the morning in at a site like this, but other delicacies were waiting...

The small limestone diggings shows the substrate favoured by the plants.

Dingy Skipper

Burnt tip Orchid

Early Purple Orchids in good numbers.

Above - Fly Orchids.

Brown Argus
Site No 2 was about 5 miles away, for a butterfly I have only seen once - Pearl bordered Fritillary.
We soon located up to 20 of these normally woodland insects, either dashing past a a rate of knots (males) or (females) being elusive, flutterhopping into dead bracken clumps looking for violets to lay egs on or near to. They are another declining species in the UK with scattered small colonies mainly with a westerly distribution.

Fritillaries dashed past or scurried around under the bracken laying eggs.

Pearl bordered Fritillaries above.
 As time was wearing on, we made a move, 16 miles further west towards Thirsk, for the star of the show, the headline act, so to speak, all arise please for - The Duke of  Burgundy.

The last time I met with the Duke, was on a Lancs limestone pavement a few years back, 
now here we are, in the other rose county, where we were very pleased to count 19+ in a small sunny area. Up to 7 at a time, 'kettled' in circles, squabbling together then dividing back to low perches on bramble leaves and grass stems. Anything flying by would be chased by these tiny terrors, not much bigger than a Small Blue.  I could have watched them all day.

Above - the haunt of the Duke...

Duke of Burgundy
 The time was getting on now and we headed off for the two hour drive home, very pleased that we had not only seen all of our target species, we had great views and decent numbers of them too!
While working out our next sortie away, its back to the patch for the rest of the Bank Holiday...

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Old ground.

On Sunday I called in with John to see if we could get some photo's of the Rose coloured Starling that has been showing very well for two days in Ashington. Despite sunny weather and an early start to avoid residents, it had gone. So what to do next?

I had a little idea to get a snap of one creature I used to take for granted as a kid. The White clawed Crayfish. Then it was just Crayfish, as we had not yet been invaded by the larger more dangerous American Signal Crayfish. The particular river was my main stomping ground as a child and is one of the last UK hotspots for the species not having received any yankee invaders as yet. It only took me a few minutes to find half a dozen of the little crabby critters. I am concerned that they are all juvs with no larger adults that we used to find in profusion. Maybe Otters have reduced them as there were a few body parts and a carapace lying around.

After getting the said snap, he flipped his way back into the cool flow to rest up for the day.

We then had a wander up into the woodland where the Bluebells were all but over, though still making a pleasant view in the leaf darkened forest floor.

Our journey turned back north to check out a likely looking dragonfly pool for the first odonata of the year. When the sun finally emerged we had 3 Four spotted Chaser, lots of Common Blue Damsels, 4 Large Red Damsels and 4+ Blue tailed Damselflies. My first Wall Brown of the year was nice too followed by one on the home patch as it flew over the village green on Monday. Also at the pools were a Grasshopper Warbler and 2 Grey Partridges of note.

Linnets nest

Northern Marsh Orchid
And that was about it really, a bit of an eclectic morning out not one bit marred by missing seconds of the Rose coloured Starling.

Monday, May 21, 2018


I mentioned earlier that this year I am doing some local patching on a different slant. I have cut down the patch size to around 0.75 km2 . This small area is the real patch around our tiny hamlet that I frequent the most, during dog walks etc. It covers our 18 houses, a small bit of rough open woodland, a man made wildflower meadow, an small man made pond, some livestock farmland and a short strip of rocky coast line.

This time, Patch II, is not just about birds, its about trying to record all types of identifiable natural history that takes my eye, and it is getting to be obsessive! Our house and garden is the epicentre, creatively, the 'Obs'. I say creatively because this is no Portland or Fair Isle. Its not even like one of our local reserves. It is an intensively farmed, intensively touristed (?)  fragment of the Northumberland Coast AONB. If I didn't live here, as scenic and idyllic as it is, I probably wouldnt come on a Sunday morning wildlife watching trip, but that is part of the allure.

Apart from me, there are very few naturalists visiting the spot with any regularity. We have Julie who lives on site and is a very good birder, casual observer. She had a Turtle Dove not 50 yards from my house while I was on Holy Island looking for migrants one year. There is Phil, who is a ringer. He studies all of the Barn Owls up the coast including our estate and does a form of constant effort ringing nearby. He has loads of nest boxes in the small wood. Finally we have Ben, a new arrival to a village nearby. He mostly frequents Boulmer, but is known to call in. And thats about it, any other observers are very occasional vagrants.

So what has 2018 turned up so far?

A steady flow of passage spring migrants with Lesser Whitethroats, Grasshopper Warbler, Sedge Warbler, Yellow Wagtail. A Med Gull during the hard weather, Merlin, Pink footed Geese, Grey Partridge, Barn Owls, Woodcock, Raven, Marsh Tit.

Water and Pygmy Shrews, Brown Hare, Hedgehogs, Badger, Roe Deer, Grey Seal.

A very rare micro moth -  Xenolechia aethiops, with only 5 records in the UK since 1999 and 59 other species of moth so far.

A few butterflies, bees, hoverflies, amphibians and fish.

Not to mention the flora. No, dont mention the flora, its a struggle...

Basically not a lot to set the world of naturalists on fire, but there is always something to look out for, and on a weekend we go out to get a fix of other things elsewhere, just to stop stagnation of course...

Watch this space.

Marsham's Nomad Bee

Leucozona lucorum,a Hoverfly 

Small Copper on the peas, a rare garden visitor.

Freshly dead Water Shrew, the third record for the site in 9 years.

Thyme leaved Speedwell, I think? Any corrections welcome.

Monday, May 07, 2018

May Day Bank Holiday.

I cant remember the last time we had a Bank Holiday weekend with wall to wall sunshine for three days in a row. Long may it last I say.

The weekend started well, on Friday night with a trip to Alnwick Playhouse to see a Kate Bush tribute act called Cloudbusting . Now, I am not really a big Kate Bush fan, but it was a night out, so off we went. We weren't disappointed. What a singer this lady is! Anyway, I digress, if you fancy a listen, try YouTube....

Then it was an early start on Saturday morning as I was leading a Dawn Chorus walk around Howick Hall gardens from 5am - 7am. The tickets included breakfast in the Hall Tearooms. 32 people came and we enjoyed a lovely fine morning stroll listening to the birds.

Most sightings were of common birds you would expect to find in parkland / farmland but 2 Whitethroats were my first of the year.

Back home at 8am after getting paid ( a free breakfast) and it was off to bed for an hour to charge the batteries, not knowing what excitement was to follow...

At lunchtime, word appeared on our local WhatsApp bird group of a possible Squacco Heron up the coast at Waren Mill, near Bamburgh. Whilst Squacco is an excellent bird, I have seen a few over the years and wasn't going to face the bank holiday traffic for another, and wrote it off. Then the next message was a photo from the non-birding finder... a mass of tree cover above a stream, and there, in the far left corner was a tiny brown blob. I just had time to think, hold on, I cant see any white on it and it looked very small, when Alan Curry responded with 'Little Bittern!'

Its awful when this happens. Its Bank Holiday, you have jobs to do and family commitments and a UK and more importantly, a county tick turns up 15 miles away. There was nothing left to do except, throw the gear in the car and with gritted teeth join the tourist throng to Bamburgh. Adrenaline had kicked in making it all quite stressful ( why do we do it?) so I decided I wouldnt faff about with my camera, and just go for the sighting then straight home. What a bad decision that was! Note to self - always, yes ALWAYS, TAKE YOUR CAMERA.

When I arrived at the cottages along the Waren Burn, ADMc had the bird in his scope, sitting low in some ramsons above the burn. It sat for a while then turned and wandered out of sight into the vegetation, soon to reappear a few yards along on some open mud. From here it flew upstream a short way, out of sight. Its small size was very obvious when flying, it was like a moorhen or even smaller.

A change of view point was required so we walked to the next bridge along into the caravan site. After half an hour, it appeared as if out of nowhere, only 20 yards away on a branch over the burn. What views! Literally scope filling. It flew across the water and ran around like a huge footed Corncrake, coming even closer, before flying under the bridge and our feet and along into thicker cover under trees.

What a fantastic bird. If only I had brought my camera gear I would have gotten some great images in good sunny weather too. Chris Barlow got the best pics, see one here on Flickr.

  I made do with a phone scoped shot for the record...

Female Little Bittern, Waren Mill, Bamburgh, Northumberland.
After dipping the Gosforth Park bird on 26th June 2014, I never expected to claw it back. This is only the second twitchable bird in the county and completes my set of herons on the Northumberland list.

Sunday was sunny and clear. I met John at Homebase, and as he could not get away yesterday, we headed up to Waren Mill for the Little Bittern. This time I had my camera. Unfortunately, the camera remained unused as our diminutive friend had departed. All we had of note were 2 Swifts and a Common Sandpiper on the burn.

We left, and headed up onto Alnwick Moor to look for Green Hairstreak and Emperor Moth. I had just bought a small pheremone lure to see if we could find Emperors on our local moors even though we have not seen them there before.

At site 1, I hung the lure out in a sunny spot and retired to the car for a cup of tea. I only had a sip, when the first male Emperor Moth flew in like  bullet to investigate, closely followed by a second.

After 15 mins, we had our target photographed so the lure was sealed away so as not to cause further distraction and we went to walk the moor for butterflies. At a site about 1km from the first I set the lure out again just to see if our first try had been a fluke. No, as before 2 male Emperors arrived within minutes allowing great views. It was now time to put the lure away for the day. I believe in using these sparingly to avoid disturbance, its a bit like tape luring.

As we walked back, John put up a Green Hairstreak, then another came in to spar with it on territory. This is a new site for us, so we were well pleased. There is a lot of good habitat here for them and we soon found another three giving good photo opportunities.

While we took photos,a nice Cuckoo flew in and landed on wires nearby.

Bank Holiday Monday was the same regarding weather, though a touch cooler on the coast. Jane, Peggy and I headed off inland, west of Alnwick where it was 20 degrees compared to 14 on the coast. We checked a couple of different sites for Emperors, finding up to 6 at one site and a single at another, all the while being serenaded by Curlews, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits with a few Redpolls and Cuckoos thrown in.

A brief stop at Calally failed in seeing Birds Nest Orchid but did find Redstart, Tree Pipit and another Cuckoo, rounding off an excellent weekend.