Tuesday, June 25, 2019

What a week!

I'm going back a few weeks now to Monday 3rd June....I should have one of those wavy 70's special effects...

Sitting at work just having my lunch in front of a computer, I glanced at What'sApp on my phone. A message had just appeared - 'BAIKAL TEAL, East Chevington North Pool now'. This was not wholly unexpected as this bird has travelled around eastern England for a few weeks now, but yesterday it had gone past us and into Scotland. We thought we had missed out on its north bound itinerary. However, Scotland wasnt to its taste, and it was now loafing on the bankside here at East Chev.

I downed tools [keyboard] and headed off up the road for this genuinely wild, long distance vagrant, ***it has been to Spurn, so it must count*** arguably one of the finest looking of all the wildfowl. As its name suggests it should be breeding now somewhere east of the Siberian Yenisey on tundra pools, not hanging around the ex Northumberland coal field.

A few birders were already watching the bird when I arrived, and what a little stunner it was too, with the green and yellow harlequin face pattern of an adult drake. Although it was quite distant, good scope views could be had on the bank and out on open water. At the time of writing, it has moved down to Druridge Pools where it looks set to put the summer in.

Although some people are concerned that it is a species widely kept in captivity and it may have just hopped a fence, it was unringed and certainly behaved like a wild bird, being very uneasy and flighty even at range. Numbers have increased from a few hundred thousand birds in the 2000s up to a million birds now wintering in South Korea so why wouldnt it be the real deal?

We will have to wait until the powers that be decide on that one, but I've already added it to my list.
More importantly, it is in 345th position on my Northumberland List and is a great bump start to a slow year, arriving in the county with a few other good birds such as Broad billed Sandpiper, Red necked Phalarope and American Wigeon.

Northumberland's first Baikal Teal, East Chevington.
In June it pays northern birders not to rest on their laurels, and sure enough only two days later a visiting birder looking at a Garganey on Monks House Pool turned up Northumberlands second ever BAILLON'S CRAKE after one in 1942.

This small roadside pool,a  former local patch for the master, Eric Ennion, is a proper mass of thick impenetrable juncus, so I didnt hold out much hope of having a repeat performance of the 1989 Sunderland bird. I hung back awaiting news. I just sat down to my tea, when the message came, the bird was out scratching around the mud, in the open!

As with the Teal, the pause button was pressed, tea put in the oven, Springwatch recorded, and off I went, all of 15 miles north of home. I skidded to vehicle abandonment and jumped out. 20 birders were just gazing around as they do. 'Has it gone? I asked Ian Fisher. 'Its just gone behind those rushes a few minutes ago' was the response. Thats that then I thought and got the scope out as a token gesture. After 10 mins, Tariq Farooqi gave the call, 'There it is!' resulting an a 30 second panic until I could locate the tiny hunched scrap of feathers picking around in a tunnel of rush. Eventually it emerged into the open and had a bath and a preen for 10 minutes before skippng off out of sight where it was never seen again....  wow, what a bird. Not a full lifer, but one I never thought I'd see again, let alone in the home county.

These tiny marsh creepers are quite scarce and difficult to see anywhere in Europe even though they are widespread breeders. It is believed that some may breed in the UK after a survey found several calling birds on marshes in Wales, but in this kind of habitat, we could never be sure.

The county tick [346] was tinged with some ( very little) remorse that many of the top Northumberland Birders couldnt make it up north from Newcastle etc. A bitter sweet experience for sure...

Northumberland's second Baillon's Crake, Monk's House Pool.



Sunday, June 09, 2019

The Grey Wolf...

Spiders are new to me even though I have been a Birder / Naturalist for 40 years.

Flicking through the field guide pages, one particular arachnid sprung to life for me, and that was the big hairy rare Arctosa cinerea, the Grey Wolf Spider.
Living in Northumberland where we have a plethora of fast flowing, stoney, upland rivers, so I thought I must stand a chance of locating one, until I read here some one had turned over hundreds of rocks in Wales and had not found any!
We have some older records of cinerea in Northumberland, and I knew of some good looking habitat to start in, so today we went to have a look.
We walked 30 yards and I turned over 3 stones - KaaaaaBooom! our very first Arctosa cinerea!! It did not leg it for cover as I expected a wolfie to do and just sat allowing prolonged views and photos. We continued for another hour and over about 100 metres or so, finding another 7 of them even having two under one stone. If we continued checking I am sure there would be many more, they were the commenest spider here.
We got our eye in on 'spider looking stones', ones about hand size, often balanced on another rock with a small niche underneath and sure enough one would be there. Some 'nests' were littered with legs of beetles and even a dead bee that had fallen prey to the spider.
A great morning!

Sunday, June 02, 2019


There goes spring...

For us in Northumberland it was quite dry but usually cold too. A few new birds were added to the patch list, but they were mostly expected summer visitors.

117 - Mandarin, a drake flushed from the pond in grim weather as I led a dawn chorus walk on the 4th.
118 / 119 - On the same afternoon a seawatch added Bonxie and Manx Shearwater to the list.
120 - was a singing Sedge Warbler on the 5th while the species continued to arrive in the afternoon with...
121 - Puffin, 5 N past our coast path,
122 - 23 Whimbrel and a
123 - Great Northern Diver also added to a reasonable spring seawatch.
124 - was a typically late Swift. They dont breed on patch so can be erratic in the spring.
125 -  House Martin was finally added on 16th when 3 birds flew S over the village.

So ending the month with 125 equalling 62.18% of the patch total overall.

What will June bring? To be honest I think I'll be lucky to add anything but there are possibilities. In May I missed two species. Jane had Cuckoo calling 3 times when I was away to work and another local had 3 Little Egrets roosting in our small heronry on one evening. Despite trying, both remained elusive for me. These two plus four tern species out there to get, I might just need a slice of luck...

I wonder how Steve in Surrey is coming along....

An unsuccessful morning looking fo Bluethroats but a lovely Bullfinch in the fog made up for it...a little.