Thursday, December 26, 2019

Close of play...

Well as 2019 draws to a close, its the time of year when we all summarise what has gone before and generally ponder what the coming year may bring.

This year I focused on my local patch year list, with some invertebrate hunting, mothing and county twitching thrown in to add variety.

The local patch listing did very well indeed, with a decade long record being broken!

In the end of a very memorable year birding within one mile of by home produced 163 species beating my best ever in 2010 by a single species. This total equates to 80.29% of my overall list, for here, of 203 species.

Before I get to the highlights, in true birder fashion, it is what is missed that often becomes the most intriguing. For example, despite living 300 mtrs from the north sea, drift migrants are now rarer than some formerly rare species. There were no Redstart ( last 2017), Garden Warbler ( last 2016) , Pied Fly ( last 2015) or Spotted Fly ( last 2018). Other absentees were -   Marsh Harrier, Osprey, Greenshank, White winged Gulls, Cuckoo, Asio Owls, Tree Pipit and Twite.

Never mind, you can't get them all. I shouldnt complain because many a patch watcher would drool at the birds I did see -

Scaup, the 4th record seawatching.
Mandarin  1 drake on the pond in May, my 2nd record.
Black throated Diver, several.
Great Northern Diver, ditto.
Leach's Petrel 1 on 29th October was only my second ever and first on patch. One of the years best.
Red necked Grebe 3 a great showing, there last record I had here was in 2010 so one on the sea in January and two N on a seawatch in October was excellent.
Little Egret 1 N my 3rd here.
Water Rail always surprising since they occur in wet woodland here.
Bar tailed Godwit a few seen on seawatches, a common wader both north and south of me, but not on my rocky stretch of shore.
Green Sandpiper 2 were the first since 2015.
Pomarine Skua a few, almost annual but always good to get.
Little Gull, several inc 17 N on 21st October was my best showing here.
Sabine's Gull 1 juv N on 1st October  was only my 2nd here after one in 2017.
Mediterranean Gull increasing with up to 4 birds seen together.
Little Tern 2 S in July were my first since 2015.
Roseate Tern, annual here but it would be churlish to leave such a good bird off this list.
[Gull billed Tern 1 S close in along the coast remains very tantalising. I have not added it to these totals.]
Little Auk again, annual in late autumn. Up to 30 seen on several dates.
Ring Ouzel 1 male in April was my first spring bird.
Waxwing 1 in Ocober, again almost annual here in late autumn.
Yellow browed Warbler 5 this year was a record showing. Now commoner than so called common migrants!
Firecrest 1 in January was the years first surprise, only my second record.
Marsh Tit 1 with Willow Tits at Craster in autumn was a nice suprise now that thsi bird is extinct as a breeder since 2010.
Willow Tit up to 6 at a time at Craster.
Hooded Crow 1 in April was a site first for me.
Raven, our rare breeders continue to be seen irregularly through the year.
Snow Bunting, single birds over Cullernose while seawatching.

 The best sighting though had to be the most outrageous. A juvenile Giant Petrel sp N on 2nd July after being seen at Whitburn by Mark Newsome earlier in the afternoon is truly mind boggling, but see it we did for a whole 10 minutes as it weaved its way north. I wont hold my breath for its acceptance though! What it did for me though was encourage more seawatching from Cullernose Point, mostly without other observers for company and it was so good, I will be giving it even more coverage in 2020!

What did I dip? A bit painful this, but the Sooty Tern circled my seawatch spot while I was at work and I missed Jack Snipe and Long Eared Owl that Ben Steel had in off again while work got in the way.

My Local Patch.

Some notebook highlights from this year, not all on patch, but all in Northumberland.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Extra time Lifer

On Saturday, Paul Cassells found a Yellow Wagtail at Prestwick Carr near Newcastle. In December, this was always going to draw some interest, locally, if nothing else. Sure enough before the day was out several knowledgeable birders had seen, photographed and sound recorded the wagtail and proclaimed it as Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis ( if that is spelled correctly I'll be surprised).

Now, knowing how complex the Yellow Wagtail races are I just milled about on Sunday thinking 'meh' its a Yellow Wagtail. I knew full well that these have recently been split and command specific status, but I just couldn't get motivated for a 70 miles round trip.

This is where things become shameful.

During Sunday I saw that more and more of my birding peers were paying homage to this little grey and white bird as it is new for the county and with only 15 or so UK records everyone I know's list was increasing by 1. Now I am not anywhere near the biggest county lister but the thought of those in the same league, leaving me back at base camp improved the lost motivation.

So, without ado, this morning, before work I began by visiting Prestwick Carr where the Eastern Yellow Wagtail, now with some heavy backing by Magnus Robb of The Sound Approach Team using some technical wizardry, was still puddling around on the flood eating bloodworms at close range.

The bird behaved impeccably being on close show the whole time I was there, even calling a few times and perching on a hedge only 5 feet from birders. So once I get Bubo working again I will add it as Northumberland List 347, life ? not sure, 417? ish.

Forgetting all the listing nonsense, it was a cracking bird and now the id features are being clarified  one to watch out for again in the future...

Saturday, December 14, 2019

A spiders year....

Last Christmas I was given a copy of the new Wildguides book, 'Britains Spiders'. This inspired me to look out for some of these much maligned creatures on my travels.

If you are on Facebook you should check out UK Spiders page. On here are real experts from the UK and abroad who can help with some tricky identifications. On here this year some members have been doing a spider year list, with Graeme Lyons finding 360+ species so far! The vast majority of these can only be identified with a microscope and specialist keys to work out the correct result.
For a novice like me, I am happy to just photograph what i find then see if I can sort it out. If not I try the experts.

Anyway, here are some of the ones that have crossed my path this year...

1. Arctosa cinerea the Grey Wolf Spider.
 When looking through the book one species in particular caught my eye. The Grey Wolf Spider Arctosa cinerea. This is a species of restricted distribution and is found on riverine shingle habitats in Wales, Northern England and Scotland. It was this northern distribution that attracted me as we have loads of good habitat in Northumberland with no one looking. We visited a likely looking site in the Cheviots in June finding 7 individuals without much trouble really. In winter these shingle beds are flooded by several feet of water from the hills, but these mini tarantulas just hide in a burrow under a rock and let the water run across them. A top creature.

A Cucumber Spider on a corncockle flower.
These little pea green spiders are common so I set about searching our garden and soon found this one. A gem of a spider...

Woodlouse Spider Dysdera crocata
The Woodlouse Spider lives around our sheds in the garden. It is an unusual looking spider being reddish with a body like a baked bean. As the name suggests those large jaws hunt and kill woodlice.

Ero furcata
I didnt expect to see this Ero on our shed. It has two pointed humps on its abdomen that are quite distinctive. It creeps around at night hunting other spiders.

Nursery Web Spider Pisaura miribilis
I just love these spiders. They are like 70s sport saloon, a Capri maybe in design and behaviour. With the yellow go-faster stripe down the thorax and its habit of running flat out to get away, its a top one to look out for. A common species but very few records for Northumberland. Ive had a few in the garden all year!

Goblin Spider Oonops species.
These tiny orange spiders can be one of two species both equally as common as the other. I found them in the bathroom, porch and moth trap. A tiny spider that moves in slow motion!

Four spotted Orb Weaver Araneus quadratus
Up here the Four spotted Orb Weaver is a species of the moors where it favours the strong bent stems of rushes for making its web. It is our heaviest spider and one I was pleased to find. About the size of a malteser.

I'll add some more soon.....

Sunday, November 24, 2019

We never talk about Pipe Club...

What a grim weekend! Rain all day yesterday and today it was misty with mizzle and it barely got light all day.

I met John (on his birthday) and had a wander around Branton Pits near Powburn.

Everywhere was soaking wet underfoot but it was mild and calm so we did a lap of the pits. A few birds were of interest, a pair of Pochard, rare for me these days and what a shame, they used to be commonplace when I was a kid, 11 'sinensis' candidate Cormorants sitting in alder trees looking like wind blown umbrellas, 1 Chiffchaff, 1 Kingfisher, 7 probable Waxwings flew over at first light and there were good numbers of commoner wildfowl too. A big flock of Siskins followed us around with over 200 birds, but unusually only a couple of Lesser Redpolls with them.

A particularly interesting fungi caught our eye along the western edge of the pits near the west hedgerow. It took more experienced people than me to name it as Macrotyphula fistulosa var contorta or Contorted Pipe Club to us. This fungi has a restricted split distribution  -

But it doesnt seem to have any records near Northumberland so its worth recording.

Above - Contorted Pipe Club Macrotyphula fistulosa var contorta
Here is the location - NU4321650

I've been enjoying the fungi over recent weeks, so I'll try and post some more soon.

Remember, the first rule of Pipe Club.... 

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Its not all birds...

This year the blog has had less posts than normal and most of those are birding related, so its time to diversify.

I have been moth trapping here now for just over 10 years, in all seasons and weathers. The main thing that I always find amazing is that even after this length of time, new species still arrive. And not just obscure dissected micros either, full on furry bodied, proper, macro moths. How can you trap for 10 years and never see a species only for one to turn up out of the blue? Even more interesting is when more than one individual is caught!

Now that November is upon us, it is unlikely that any further new additions will be made this year, though a Sprawler wouldn't go amiss. Here are the new garden additions for 2019.

35.032 Pexicopia malvella  Hollyhock Seed Moth 

One taken on the 9th August was not only a garden addition but a first for Northumberland too!

35.129 Caryocolum viscariella

One on 16th August was the 5th county record and the first since 2015.

37.108 Colephora salicorniae

 It was a surprise to find this large plain Coleophora in the trap on 2nd August when its nearest saltmarsh habitat is 4+ miles away. The first adult taken in the county, but the 2nd record due to several larval cases being found on one occasion in 2014.

49.195 Bactra furfurana

One on 29th June was the 15th county record.

49.298 Notocelia trimaculana 

A more expected addition with 185 county records of this hawthorn feeder. 2 caught.

49.359 Grapholita janthinana

With 38 records in the county, this one may be scarce but was likely to arrive at some stage. Mine came on 16th July.

62.005 Achroia grisella Lesser Wax Moth

Only 19 county records of this one that was never even on my radar. One on 22nd July.

70.211 Macaria notata Peacock Moth

The first new 'macro' moth in the list was on the 27th July. It was the 2nd for Northumberland after Martin Kitching caught one in Choppington 25 miles further south in 2017.

72.013 Euproctis similis Yellow-tail

A moth from further south really with 66 individuals in Northumberland. This one was a favourite a real litlle cracker! 27th July and 28th July. Two different individuals.

72.042 Atolmis rubricollis Red-necked Footman

Now a common species in our upland pine plantations with 3900 individuals recorded this is the first I have had on the coast since seeing one arrive over the sea in 2007 at Boulmer!  10th July 2019. It flew off before I could get a photo. Here is the 2007 individual...

72.063 Lygephila pastinum Blackneck.

A great year for these in the county. Of the 15 individuals in the county, 11 were this year. Mine was the first for VC68 and the furthest north to date. 22nd July.

73.222 Apterogenum ypsillon Dingy Shears.

One I should have had before now, but two different ones on consecutive nights was nice. With 140 individuals in the county only 5 are from the north VC68. 27th and 28th July. Both certainly different as the first was still in the fridge when I caught the second!

73.331 Diarsia dahlii Barred Chestnut

Another common species but more so further inland. I was pleased with this one on the 29th August.

These 14 new ones for 2019 take the garden list up to 603 including aggs etc. All of these above have been accepted by Tom Tams county recorder and where required gen dets were carried out by him.

The trap has hardly been out in November but if we get a mild spell I'll have a go over the winter...

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

First storm of winter or last one of autumn?

The view from my Craster seawatch spot.
The North East wind last night was a roaring animal, bending trees and stripping them clean of foliage. By the time I took Peggy for her first walk this morning, the rain had stopped and the wind, whilst still strong, had dropped slightly. The sea was enormous and roaring as the rollers smashed into the rocky shore. Balls of ivory foam were blowing along the coast road and over the fields.

This was too harsh for a Cullernose seawatch so I headed down to Craster where the view point is lower but has a bit of a wind break.

I watched from 09.15 - 10.30am. The passage was unremarkable, being so late in the season, but there was enough to keep the interest going. The list went like this with all birds going North unless otherwise stated.

Wigeon 8 N 9 S
Common Scoter 207
Velvet Scoter 1 fem
Long tailed Duck 3
Goldeneye 20
Red breasted Merganser 2
Goosander 1 adult drake 1
Red throated Diver 1 N 1 S
Great Northern Diver 1
Little Auk 3

All against a light movement of Gannets, Kittiwakes and larger Auks.

A female Velver Scoter moves N.
From here I decided to check the Craster Heughs for migrants before home for lunch.

First bird, not a migrant, but a bit of a patch mega these days was a Marsh Tit [161], calling and showing well, but I couldn't get a photo, it was too quick for me. This site is a Willow Tit hotspot with up to 6 birds present recently so where this lone Marsh has appeared from is anyones guess. A totally unexpected year list addition.

Real migrants were noticeable by their absence, but a few Blackbirds high in a hawthorn over the path were scrutinised. Then I saw that in the middle of them was a lone Waxwing! This will likely be the bird Ben had in the village on Sunday, but as it is a first for 2019 I was well pleased to get it. This makes Waxwing being added to every one of my patch year lists since I moved here in 2009 and this week is a prime time to get one.

Also here 500+ Pink footed Geese flew around to the west.

Above -  Waxwing, an adult male too. It never moved from this spot where every angle was obscured by twigs.
After lunch at home, I thought I had better just pop back out for an hour to Cullernose as the wind had dropped further and it had brightened up a bit.

From 1.10 - 2.10pm I had a nice selection even though most seabird passage had dried up.

Little Auk 6
Pomarine Skua 1 juv very close in, great views.
Common Scoter 7
Dark bellied Brent Geese 6
Long tailed Duck 6
Snow Bunting 1 imm male N then seemed to drop down onto the coast path further north, a good claw back after my off-patch birds on Sunday. [162]
Raven 1 over head.

So, not a bad day in the field really with 3 patch year ticks. At this late date, I'm sure my listing additions will be coming to a close...
Edit -I have just realised I am on 162, equalling my best year ever, 2010. Can it be, dare I say it... beaten?
Edit 2 - I have just updated my spreadsheet and it puts me on 163! After going through it species by species, I am confused... It looks like the record has been broken!!

The view south from Cullernose Point, the Howick Bathing House can be seen then Longhoughton Steel behind that.

Cullernose, the great whin sill cliff.

Goldeneyes and a Red breasted Merganser.

Monday, November 04, 2019


We are getting a lot of 'seawatching weather' recently. Some years we hardly get a day with a northerly. However, not all northerlies produce the goods and its a learning curve of experience to pick out good from bad.

I knew today would be a bad one. The wind was NE and gusty, and to the uninitiated seemed good, but, if you drill down a bit, it was coming off a low in the North Sea, not one that had tracked across the top of Scotland hence there was no pre-north westerly ( are you with me) to blow birds into the upper North Sea and then down further south so they can re-track North.

I know that sounds a bit garbled but I hope you get the gist.

We were on Cullernose from 07.30 until 0855.

It was slow.

Still, we managed 8 Little Auks, all nice and close, some landing in front of us, 1 Common Scoter, 2 Long tailed Duck, 1 Velvet Scoter, 2 Red throated Diver, 2 Goldeneye, 5 Fulmar inc a likely Blue phase going S but only see from its arse end as it disappeared, and 5 Eiders.  Gannets and Auks go without saying.

From here we headed along to Craster for some shelter and maybe some passerine action. We had the shelter.

There had been a reasonable fall of thrushes with 30+ Blackbirds, 8+ Redwing, 4+ Song Thrush, 3+ Fieldfare but no small stuff, not even a Chiff or Blackcap to be had.

Best of the walk were 3 Snow Buntings N, just about 300 mtrs out of patch boundary ( they flew from the patch but I was neither in it or saw them in it so they don't count. 6 Willow Tits are good by anyones standards these days and 7 Grey Partridge, 1 Treecreeper and 4+ Goldcrest added interest.

Time for home I stopped at Johns car back at Cullernose. A short scan of the flooded newly sown field had an adult and a 2nd winter Mediterranean Gull, then just before leaving the mega arrived! A Little Egret [160]no less flew low over the fields and off north! Thats patching for you, only my 4th sighting here in 10 years and one I didnt have any hope of adding to the 2019 year list...

Off work on Tuesday and the weather forecast looks dog rough.... wave watching likley...

Thursday, October 31, 2019

All at sea...

Seawatching, Cullernose Point, Northumberland
On Tuesday we were lucky enough to have another glitch in the weather making the charts look particularly conducive to some patch seawatching again. This month has produced some decent spells of weather for being perched on a cliff top looking east.

The morning was cool with a moderate NE to E 4. There were some cloudy spells and a few light showers just enough to irritate.

I was on my directors chair at Cullernose for 0815 and set up, in position by five minutes later. The sea looked good with decent visibility and no glare on the water that can be a pain for any east coast, first light, seawatching aficionado.

Birds were constantly on show as they dashed past in a northerly direction. The movement was mainly wildfowl but there were plenty of Gannets, Kittiwakes in tight bands and larger Auks. The notebook page soon began to fill up.

It was at about 0845 that I had a real premonition. I was comfortable in my seat. The rain had passed, the sky was grey as was the water but it had begun to brighten up. I began a pan with the scope. Seawatching for those who don't know consists of a pattern of scans with the telescope or bins sometimes when the glass is pointed around the North East line then is slowly moved south into the on coming birds until you get as far south as possible. This is then repeated for the duration.

Don't get seawatching confused with looking at the sea. Its not that. You can stand on a sand dune or pier with scope at full height just looking around the waves for birds on the water. Things such as seaduck, divers and grebes are located like this all year round.

No, seawatching is the long game. You are waiting for birds to come to you that were not there when you arrived. They were miles away, in flight. To do this you must be sat down in relative comfort for at least an hour, often much longer. I can remember being sat at Newbiggin, in August, back in the day with more clothes on than I could carry. Sitting still for hours in a northerly, even in summer, is a chilling affair. Three hours had flown past and some birders would arrive. They would be wearing trainers, shorts and a T shirt. Scopes at full height. In our books would be 100 Sooty Shearwaters, a few Poms or a Long tailed Skua maybe. glancing at the new company we just knew they would be there no more than 20 minutes and away because it was getting chilly. No birds seen.

Anyway, I digress, at 0845, during a slow pan south, the waves looked a lovely smooth grey colour and I thought, if I keep my observations to a reasonable range, this looks ideal to pick out a petrel passing. Petrels are rare birds here and it is a red letter day if you strike lucky. Leach's Petrel in particular is always my elusive goal. I'd only seen two in the last 30 years, and only one in Northumberland despite countless hours looking.

My scope was coming around to a SE direction when it appeared. A tiny flicker of black above the wave then nothing. Had I really seen something? Or was it an eye floater? Oh no, I paused and out it came, a delightfullly graceful LEACH'S PETREL!

It hung, momentarily, on horizontal wings, did a few flickering wing beats like a little tern, flipped sideways, sheared around flapped again, dancing over the waves. Occasionally I could glimpse a white rump, not as extensive as British Storm Petrel and overall the bird appeared sooty black. As the hazy sun popped out the upperwing seemed more grey with dark primaries, then in dull light it looked all black again. As it came to its closest, it was powered past by a Guillemot, and a few Gannets. It couldnt care less, and continued on its path north, watched all the way until at the last minute it dipped into a wave trough and I couldnt see it again.

Well, what a great little bird.  A real ocean wanderer and a first for me on the patch. It is the second record here after Ben Steele had one last autumn.

After this excitement I relaxed into more standard fare, the full list below...

All birds moving North.

Brent Geese, some pale, some dark. 66
Shelduck 3
Wigeon 319
Teal 18
Pintail 2 New for the year.
Mallard 1
Goldeneye 21
Scaup 3
Common Scoter 292
Velvet Scoter 6
Eider 8
Long tailed Duck 8
Red breasted Merganser 3
Red throated Diver 20
Red necked Grebe 2
Leach's Petrel 1
Pomarine Skua 1juv
Little Auk 44
Puffin 3

Common Scoter with a drake Scaup.
At 11.20, 3 hrs after starting, passage rapidly died off with only an odd auk passing.

This has me on 159 species or 78.71% of the full total.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Seawatching. In context.

As I indicated in my previous post I was keen to get out on Sunday morning as the weather looked good for some sea passage. Through the night the wind rattled the windows and the rain hammered down.

I met John just along the road at Cullernose but the storm was too great for watching this spot. At Cullernose you sit on an exposed cliff top with no shelter at all. In this north westerly gale and driving rain it would be impossible, so it was a move along the coast, all of 1 mile, to Craster village where there is some shelter behind a stone wall over hanging with garden shrubs. Even better, John had brought his large Fishing brolly purchased just for this type of occasion. What a life saver it was too, we were both tucked out of the rain, on deckchairs with a good view of the sea.

There were not as many birds as I would have expected in these conditions. Still, we watched from 07.45 until 12.00. In this filth what else could we have done?

So, what did we see?

Auks. Lots of auks. We have been Seawatching in Northumberland for the last 30 years so we dont record every bird passing. It would be just too much. Auks, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars and Shags are routinely ignored as we look for more tasty targets. Maybe thats harsh, not ignored but not counted.

There were thousands of auks heading north with fewer, but still a good number, of Gannets moving with them, the sea a constantly changing vista of bird movement. In with them were...

Whooper Swan 41 S
Wigeon 34 N there hasn't been a good movement of ducks yet this autumn.
Teal 17 N
Mallard 4 N
Goldeneye 17 N
Long tailed Duck 6 N inc some nice drakes very close in.
Common Scoter 7 N
Velvet Scoter 4 N
Red breasted Merganser 3 N
Red throated Diver 12 N plus a few on the sea, but too rough to get a count.
Ringed Plover  2 N
Sanderling 1 N checked for Grey Phalarope, but this is still a scarce bird on my patch with its all rocky shores. Not seen since 2015 [156]
Purple Sandpiper 4 N
Bonxie 1 S very close in milling around.

A second watch for a short time in the afternoon only had 3 Red breasted Merganser and 1 Bar tailed Godwit N

Only Sanderling was a new addition to the year list.

Today was better. The wind had gone right off leaving a pleasant morning with grey overcast skies giving good light for the morning watch.

Today I watched from Cullernose Point 0820 - 1120.

It was clear that more birds were reorientating North especially wildfowl.

Dark bellied Brent Geese 2 N
Shelduck 6 N
Wigeon 258 N
Teal 37 N
Mallard 16 N
Scaup 1 fem N with Common Scoter. [157]
Goldeneye 5 N
Long tailed Duck 4 N
Common Scoter 142 N
Velvet Scoter 3 N
Eider 5 N passage birds, not our harbour locals, they dont get counted loafing off the rocks.
Red breasted Merganser 6 N
Red throated Diver 9 N 1 S
Black throated Diver 2 N with a single Red throat very close in, for comparison.
Great Northern Diver 2 N
Fulmar 1 N at this quietest time for them.
Manx Shearwater 2 N
Sanderling 1 N with 4 Dunlin, two in 2 days is good.
Purple Sandpiper 2 N 1 on the rocks with 2 Golden Plover.
Dunlin 19 N an excellent count here, best for a long time.
Bar tailed Godwit 2 N
Bonxie 2 N
Kittiwake, good numbers, much more than yesterday.
Little Gull 17 N with adults and first winters seen.
Herring Gull ssp from mid morning many, almost all first winters moved N, not counted.
Auks sp less than yesterday but still a lot N.
Little Auk 8 N max 3 at one time.
Puffin 10 N of the auks identified.

Its in a Local Patch context some of these birds come into their own. For example, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin and Bar tailed Godwit are all more tricky to see here than Velvet Scoter, Little Auk and Purple Sandpiper even though they are very common over most of the Northumberland coast north and south of me.

What was missing? Pintail are often in Wigeon flocks but not today. Grebes, all being very scarce here except Little. Pomarine Skuas. In these conditions I would expect a few at this time of year.

All of these give something to watch out for during the next northerly spell we have. Hopefully before mid November...

Patch list stands at a very respectable for here 157 species...77.72% of my all time total.

Sunday sewatching from under Johns umbrella, Craster.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

A long weekend using up some annual leave. Last night we went to the cinema to see The Joker, a bit of a trek for us with the Odeon being an 80 miles round trip, but it was agreat film and well worth it.. Before I left home though a nice dog walk to the coast path gave some great views of another Yellow browed Warbler flitting around a less foliaged sycamore on the cliff top. My 5th patch YBW this year, and probably my best year for this species locally.

Today has been a bit grim weather wise with rain most of the day and nothing of note seen, however the weather forecast looks promising. Tomorrow the wind is a good blowy 20mph NW erly swinging N and the same on Monday with less strength and no rain.

Should be some sea movement hopefully, watch this space...

NE England, that pink occluded front and isobars show wind from the North Atlantic and arctic circle.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Blog rattling...

Occasionally it takes someone to speak out in order to get the wheels of reaction in motion.

Steve Gale at North Downs & Beyond posted the other day about the slow but steady decline in blogging output. This has prompted several long term writers out there to comment with their own take on things, so I might as well get it out there too.

Some of the bloggers I follow are good writers, being able to post regularly in an interesting, original, way on all matters linked to Natural History. I'm not so good at this, even this post is riding on the shoulders of giants, though I would like to be.

My blog has stood the test of time not because of my gripping content setting the world alight, no, it simply a diary type of thing, showing the stuff outside that I interact with. I can post some photos that I like, or ones that illustrate my sightings and I can show some originality with my notebooks and sketches.

I used to look forward to any comments from people and even an email or two from those interested enough to ask a question but now that mostly comes from other social media platforms.

This is where Blogger differs though. It is a much slower animal than say Facebook or Twitter ( I dont know how Instagram works). It allows reflection and roles out an actual timeline that the others don't. For me it is a source of genuine interest like a magazine or newsletter might be. Its free and you get a new one through your inbox every day to read...

I would never post something as long as this on Facebook. No one would ever read it. There might be no readers on here either but you never know, at least it remains out there, lying on the coffee table so to speak.

From my own selfish point of view, I hope the bloggers I like dont pack it in. If a regular poster misses a fortnight I am worrying about their health! 

So to all bloggers out there, never feel pressured into posting. Just relax and do what you fancy. You do have a fan out here...

[ Note -  maybe try a few lines at least monthly just to let us know you are still alive...]

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Dangers of Seawatching II

Despite the confidence knocking Gull-billed Tern, seawatching continued apace this week.

On Monday 1 hr 15 mins over high tide had a lot less than conditions indicated.

Barnacle Geese 189N and 24 S
Common Scoter 13 N
Red throated Diver 4 N and 2 on the sea
Manx Shearwater 9 N
Arctic Skua 3 N
Mediterranean Gull 1 2w
Purple Sandpiper 2
Teal 15 N
Red breasted Merganser 2 fem N
Pinkfeet 2 in off
Kingfisher 1 fw male showed very well on the point and kept me company for the whole seawatch.
Rock Pipit 5
Wheatear 1 female

I hoped things would improve as the wind from the N increased.

Tuesday 1st October. Another day annual leave found me perched on the rocky outcrop again. Mostly I am alone here which can make spotting birds quite tricky. More  sets of eyes at places like Newbiggin assist observers, but I do like to make this spot my own.

Two seawatches today - 0900 - 10.30 and 15.30 - 17.00 3 hrs  in total. I must get more dedication...

Birds have picked up though still no classic there were birds in show constantly to keep the interest going.

Barnacle Geese 65 N
Bonxie 11 N
Arctic Skua 13 N
Manx Shearwater 13 N
Red throated Diver 17 S inc party of 12 close in, 8 N and 5 on the sea.
Teal 6 N
Common Scoter 26 N
Auks ( 1 minute count samples ) 6000 per hour N 90% Gullemots, the rest Razorbills and Puffins in that order.
Little Auk 1 N I hate early Little Auks! When they are claimed they are almost always puffins, but this one was typically very close in doing its side by side rolling flight along the breakers. Puffin seen nearby for comparison. 153
Long tailed Duck 1 fem N 154
Arctic Tern 4 N
Wigeon 5 N, where are all the wildfowl? In these conditions we should be getting hundreds of Wigeon.
Peregrine 1 imm glided alon the rock edges panicking everything.
Dunlin 1N my first patch sight record for the year.
The list above is in the order birds were added into the notebook.
Then, at 16.39 I was panning S and looked at two Kittiwakes going N. A few hundred metres behind was another bird low to the water. My thought process went like this...

'Whats that?' 'er' 'a Redshank? (I'd just been watching the Dunlin) No, another wader, Grey Plover? No.....errrr.....IT'S A SABINE'S! 155

A juvenile Sabine's Gull slowly patrolled N at about 1/3rd distance out. Instantly much smaller than Kittiwake, like a Black Tern or Little Gull. Mainly Brown with white secondary triangle in the wing and black primaries. Behind it the clouds were steel grey rain clouds so the bird was nicely lit in the sun over my shoulder. It was slow and graceful up and down as it headed N. I finally lost view at 16.44. What fantastic birds these are, they are nothing like a Kittiwake really, the jizz is totally different and much more tern like.   

As the Sabine's was lost to view, it was time to head home for tea. Not a bad day really...

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

The danger of seawatching...

Since the weekend in Northumberland we have been lucky enough to get a short spell of East and North Easterly winds. In the early hours of Sunday morning the wind here swung from solid west, to North. This came off a low moving straight across the middle of the UK, thus, the wind soon turned to the East on Monday then back North East today, increasing in the afternoon.

Despite the overnight rain, passerine migrants were in short supply probably due to the blocking low over Scandinavia, but at this time of year anything can happen.

On Sunday John and myself began by seawatching off my local headland, Cullernose Point ( see map in right hand side bar). This small whin sill headland is only 1km from my house, so its a good loocal patch place to add to my list.

From the start it was clear that we were not witnessing much pelagic passage. There were no Gannets for a start, well a few but I see more here on a sunny June day. A few Red throated Divers were moving plus single Bonxie and Manxie, 2 Arctic Skuas, a Puffin and a few other miscellaneous. Boredom set in.

It was now that we got our eye on a tern in the Howick Bay immediately to the south of us. It was quite close, certainly good views in the scope as it flew and hung in the wind above the rock edges and newly exposed kelp beds at low tide.

Before I go on, I must add that in Northumberland we see terns every day at the coast from May til October. They are bread and butter stuff and is something we scarcely give a second glance to after we have added one for the year. This lone tern immediately looked odd to both of us. I said it looked like a Gull-billed. Surely not, it will be a Sandwich after all you dont get Gull-billeds at sea? We stared hard. And stared again. In good scope views, this bird looked like an adult but it had a short stocky all black bill. Definitely no yellow tip. Only a very young Sandwich would show this, and there fore it would be reasonable to say it would have scalloping on the mantle and wing coverts. You follow?

This bird was plain grey. All over it had a very pale greyish pallor not like the white of a Sandwich Tern. We discussed various features as we watched it circle the bay with Black headed Gulls. There were both Arctic and Sandwich Terns offshore and a lone Common had gone north. This bird was not in their camp at all.

Some hastily scribbled notes were taken on site without access to references. By now I was convinced this bird was indeed a Gull-billed Tern.

As it drifted off south towards Boulmer, I decided to put the word out just in case someone else might pick it up.

Now here lies the danger. I am a cynic. If I had seen a message on WhatsApp saying Gull-billed Tern at sea in September, I would instantly have said 'Sandwich'. In fact I did this with my own sighting! I dont believe it myself. It cant possibly be a GBT, but it certainly looked the part....

Back home, I did some research.

Compared to our bird, I found the following -

Rump / Tail - Vinicombe states that this is the most crucial feature to seperate GBT from ST ( I'm sick of typing it). It should be grey and concolourous with the whole upper parts. This bird had an off white pale grey all over look to it, but the tail was certainly paler than the mantle. I percieved a greyish centre with white outer tail. John felt it was all whitish.

Primary pattern - Bird had greyish wedges up prmaries on upper and undersides. Apparently OK for September but should still be pale, which it was. There was a darker trailing edge line, quite defined.

Cap - By late Sept, ST shows a large white forehead up ro central crown almost. GBT has uniform white speckling all over the cap. This bird has a very restricted white forehead upper bill. No Crest could be seen at all. The rest of cap appeared all black.

Bill- Short, black and stocky / thick set. see above.

Behaviour - Our bird dropped to the surface of the sea and caught a tiny fish. It didnt dive, more belly flopped. I did not know if GBT did this at all. BWP Text states 'very occasionally'. I wondered if a migrant out of habitat would do this for food more freely?

So this seems to be a bird that creates more questions than answers. I will write up the sighting...

Friday, September 27, 2019

Dirty dozen....

Apologies for the delay in posting ( if there is still anyone out there that is). When I left the blog, a nice Whinchat had nudged the local patch list up to 140 species.

A lot of water has gone under the bridge since then, so here is an update...

Birds first.

September kicked in with a glaring list ommission - a Redpoll flew south over the village, species 141. About time too.

On 4th, an unusual sighting came during a totally dead seawatch with a Green Sandpiper,  142, off the rocks circling around calling. A rare bird here due to a lack of suitable habitat, I have since seen this or others on a further 3 occasions around the patch.

Only the next day, calling Kingfishers, 143, at the back of the pond were late arrivals to the party. Three ticks in 5 days can't be bad. Well done September.

On the 6th our annual autumn visit to Suffolk for the week began. We returned on Friday the 13th.

Despite the date, this return date wasnt unlucky for the patch as only the next day, the growing list continued apace when a Lapland Bunting flew south along the coast path, calling its dry 'tickety pew' as it went. Another good bird for here and part of a national influx this week. 144.

All these new additions are great but Sunday the 17th surpassed itself with the first proper seawatching conditions of autumn. This was always going to add some quality so 2.5hrs in the evening on Cullernose point had - the first 13 Wigeon of autumn, 3 Sooty Shearwaters, 2 adult spooned Pomarine Skuas, 5 Pale bellied Brent Geese and a Shoveler on the back of a Teal flock. Species 145 - 149 inclusive.

As if these weren't good enough, other local patch goodies were 21 Manx Shearwaters, 1 Bar tailed Godwit 2 Greenland Wheatear and an adult Mediterranean Gull made for a good evening along the road.

Another seawatch on 22nd had great views of an adult winter Black throated Diver close in to the point. Annual target achieved with 150 species and another 3 months still to go.

Bang on cue, the first Sibes began to arrive and I was lucky to get in on it with a lovely little Yellow browed Warbler 151 in our village willows on 24th.

To round up this stage, on Wednesday morning the first 80 Barnacle Geese flew N along the coast path. 152.

So, 12 new species in the first 24 days of September is an excellent day average for the month.

This makes 75.24% of my all time total.

Black throated Diver in the style of the Loch Ness Monster.
Yellow browed Warbler