Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Garden Tick #131

Well you couldn't make this up. Yesterday and today I have had a stinking head cold ( no, not the CV) with a snotty nose, runny eyes and a headache. If I hadn't been working from home I think I would have called in a very rare sick day, but as I spend the day on my computer in the bedroom, I just decided to sit it out.

I glance out of the window occasionally and pop the dog for a walk but other than that, there isn't much doing and on the bird front, the last few days have been dire.

Until this afternoon. The phone rang and as I answered, one of our neighbours, Julie was a bit out of breath and in a state of unrest...now Julie is a birder. Not a twitcher but she has always birded locally and does WeBs counts etc and certainly knows her stuff. She rang me once with news of a Turtle Dove in our Village Hall car park while I was on Holy Island searching for migrants. I have still not had Turtle Dove on my patch. So this call pricked up my ears.

'Stewart, there's a Golden Eagle over your house now!' 'I saw it getting mobbed by four Buzzards, great views!'

I dashed to the back window for a look, nothing.  I hung up on her, put my shoes on and ventured on to the drive. There was a still eerie silence with garden birds doing those small thin 'seeep' calls when hiding... after half an hour still nothing.

Then, it happened. I looked up to a great dark shadow low overhead. It was like one of the wraiths from Lord of the Rings only 50 feet up. An adult, raggy arsed Eagle glided, never flapping, low west towards Howick Hall and out of sight behind the small hill with pines on top. Luckily I managed to rattle off some photos as it passed...

I shouted to Jane who was working in our loft, that I had seen the Eagle but it looked like a White-tailed not Golden, but a few things didnt ring true. This is where confusion reigned..

A few moths ago a Golden Eagle was seen near Longhoughton which is 2 miles from us and again at Thropton about 20 miles west. I believe that bird was an immature with white in the wings and tail , so this is a different all dark bird. What is going on here I don't know. I couldn't see any jesses or tags or even an ariel ?

Looking at my images below the bird seems to have a long neck, secondaries pinched in at the base and narrower wings. Because of this I put the word out that it was a Golden Eagle, but something niggled.

Social Media in some cases can be a fantastic thing and this time it came to my aid in several ways. On Twitter, a Police officer contacted me to say my bird was 'Beaky C11' A Golden Eagle released in the southern borders in 2018 and he was satellite tracked. Detail would be sent to me in due course. Eventually it turned out not to be the errant 'Beaky'.

While this was going on, some eminent birders were chattering that the bird was a standard immature White tailed Eagle, maybe a second year bird as it was quite dark. Looking. First off with this assertion was Alex Lees who tagged in Paul French. Then a few others chipped in. Our very own Alan Tilmouth messaged to say he believed  it was an imm WTE too. Then Bryan Reins who lives on Mull and a few others all convinced of the birds identity.

So where had I gone wrong with this usually straight forward pair? First of all context. We are hardly knee deep in  Aquilas on the coast of Northumberland but I am familiar with both species. Of course, this habitat is more WTE than GE but who knows what happens with birds from reintroduction schemes, of which both species can be a part of.

I also had taken the seed of Golden Eagle sown at the start that should have been questioned more.

Still I was lucky enough to see it and get some passable record shots that helped in its eventual identification, and as Martin Garner would say, 'We are always learning' . On the plus side of this, not only is White tailed Eagle a mega garden tick it is also a claw back from several others on to my county list, so everyone's a winner!

White tailed Eagle goes on my garden list at Number 131 and is the first good bird I've had here in yonks, so I'm glad to have it! It almost beats the Rosefinch in to top place!

Garden Lockdown List 44.
Garden List All time 131
Northumberland List 348

An Immature White tailed Eagle over Howick. A Golden Eagle would never get into this state!

Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Weekend

In the garden again today, but with a biting northerly blowing there were few birds and no butterflies or anything much of note really. The highlight was likely 4 Hares chasing around just over our garden wall this afternoon. More of the same tomorrow I think... Here are some garden shots to keep the blog going...

Four Clouded Drabs from last nights meagre catch showing the range of colours.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Locked and Loaded.

Since my last post a few more species were added to the list.

Yesterday, I got up and out quite early to feed the birds. In the first 5 minutes, 5 new species were added, almost the first 5 birds seen!

To begin with from indoors I heard a Greenfinch singing outside so I went to check in time to see 3 fly across to the village hall. Next I stood on the wall in the far NW corner to scan the harrowed strip in the back field for Wheatears. Of these there were none, but there were a pair of Pied Wagtails and a male Yellowhammer scuffling in the soil. As I watched a call attracted my attention, a partially displaying male Lapwing was tumbling over the top field! They don't breed but in some years the attempt it, maybe theyll have success this time. As I watched the Lapwing a fw Great black backed Gull flew steady South.

The rest of the day was quiet but at midnight a Tawny Owl could be heard in the village wood.

This brings the grand total to 41 species seen or heard from the garden since Saturday.

On Twitter / Bubo a few birders set up a similar garden watch. Out of interest I looked at the list on Bubo only to find participants including ' the excercise walk' and the 'dog walk' in the totals. What the hell is that about? If I did that I would include the North Sea that is not even visible from the garden. To me they are describing a local patch, but to so many people a local patch means a half hour drive to the best hotspot in the area, not a local patch at all, so it doesnt surprise me that the garden isn't good enough for them. At least I can say my local patch is that local it includes my garden. Isn't that the point of BWKM0? Birdwatching from zero kilometres not from 3 kilometres...

After looking at this debacle I decided not to bother on there. Now I see the garden bit has been removed and its just the Lockdown List. Shame.

Oh, even worse, some people were including NocMig birds in the totals! Dear me lads, you have neither seen nor heard the bird so you cant tick it even though it can be added to the garden list. Imagine you are out at work, and on your return your neighbour shows you a photo of a Hoopoe on your lawn. Its like ticking that.

Now the weekend is here, I'll be out a bit more looking. Targets are Siskin, Common Gull, Lesser black backed Gull, Mistle Thrush etc... keeping it real. Out.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Gardening Leave...

I didn't post yesterday, because there wasn't too much new to add on the bird front other than Black headed Gull with 3 flying S overhead.

Other garden wildlife picked up though as the temperature rose in the sunshine. Small Tortoiseshell and Tree Bumblebee were new for the year and in the afternoon an intriguing hoverfly stopped briefly. I though at first it was a Bee Fly, it was overall ginger and furry but without the proboscis. It has a pale whitish face too. It was too brief to be sure and I didnt manage a photo but it could have been  Criorhina berberina of the form oxyacanthae that mimics the Common Carder Bumblebee. At this early date I cant see it being anything else.

Mammals made a garden appearance yesterday with an emerging Hedgehog and a Brown Hare in the back field.

The moth trap has been good this last day or two, after a very poor February.

Pale Pinion

Powdered Quaker

Twin-spotted Quaker

Diurnea fagella

Red Sword-grass

Common Quaker

Early Grey

Red Chestnut

The Moth Trap...

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

BWKN0 ....

My second day working from home from 8am until 4pm sat at the computer with only an odd break away for a cuppa or to let Peggy out. During this time in some nice early spring weather I managged to add a few new species to the garden list.

I was a bit disappointed that there was no obvious overhead passage going on, but some of the locals appeared co-operatively.

First thing a Curlew flew south over the garden. This is not an unusual occurrence but by this time most have moved on inland or further north so I was pleased to get this one out of the way.

A Tractor ploughing a strip of the back field was a good sign and I felt sure it would add something like a Lesser black backed or Med Gull but no, only a few Herring Gulls attended but it did flush Skylark and Rook while a Stock Dove landed with 19 Woodpigeons on the fine tilth afterwards.

Around the feeders and garden itself were Song Thrush, Bullfinch, 2 Sparrowhawks, male and female and a Magpie. A loudly honking Greylag flew very low overhead this afternoon bringing my wildfowl list to one.

Bird list now stand at a respectable 33 species for the last few days.
Late edit - 3 Long tailed Tits over the feeders were forgotten and late last night a calling Redwing emigrating back home was pulled in by the light of the moth trap. Revised Total 35

This post is quite photo heavy to give readers an idea of my garden patch at the present time..

Two angles looking out of the kitchen window facing West. This is a good skyline to watch and the farmland is mainly rough grass and mixed. The hill you can see is the Hips Heugh, it is a cliff on the far side and is part of the Whin Sill geology.

The feeders will have a part to play providing I can get the seed! This is Tree Sparrow Tesco...

Another look facing NW. A Barn Owl sometimes hunts right along the wall edging the drive giving great views from inside the house. It hasn't shown yet...

Along the drive to the old pig sty sheds and copse on the N edge of the garden. It pulls in a few migrants mainly in autumn but you never know.

The main East garden. Viewing more resiricted here but is is sheltered and good for insects. That hedge along the wall top has had Barred Warbler.

Another bird table. This only gets a few bits of food for the shy species that dont want to be in the main flock. The sea is approx 300 mtrs that way.

This tractor was ploughing part of the back field but only these few were attracted. Photo from our drive.
Hen Blackie always arrives as I start feeding the birds.

The Bully returned to the cherry tree in a neighbours garden today.

This Magpie cleared the small birds from the feeders briefly.

Starling was late and had to make do with peanuts.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Garden List from 20th March... BWKM0

As promised in my earlier post, here is a list of birds seen strictly in or from the garden since Saturday. This is never going to be a huge list. It maybe the ultimate 'local patch' that we can possibly do though so as an enforced exercise it will be interesting.

Being rurally located alongside the east coast is the factor that provides hope. Although I can't actually see the sea as we are in a dip I can hear it and the Kittiwakes nesting on our local cliffs 300 mtrs away.

The adjacent habitat is mixed farmland with some woodland to the south about 500 mtrs away so this will always give better diversity over a totally landlocked or urban situation, but its the viz migging I am looking forward to. Siskins and Meadow Pipits moving north are standard but one day I might get a Red Kite, White Stork or Crane who knows.

Here is the situation so far -

1. Fulmar - 1 low east over the house this afternoon. They fly inland each day to inspect the local quarry cliffs so are a given garden bird here.

2. Buzzard - 1 mewing over the pines on top of the hill from our drive this afternoon.

3. Grey Partridge -  2 pairs squabbling and chasing in the back field today.

4. Pheasant  -  a male loves our garden every morning.

5. Oystercatcher - 10 feeding in the pasture up the hill to the Hips Heugh. In spring and autumn they are a day bird here.

6. Herring Gull - 3 W over head this afternoon.

7. Woodpigeon - the most easily visible bird in the UK can be seen everywhere.

8. Great spotted Woodpecker - 1 male on our feeders today.

9. Meadow Pipit 11+ passage birds in a flock in the back field this afternoon.

10. Wren - 1 skulking around the ivy on our wall today.

11. Dunnock - 5 together below our feeders today.

12. Robin - Still 3 coming to the feeders with some agro between them.

13. Blackbird - A pair in the garden are very tame.

14. Chiffchaff - 1 in the garden on Saturday, numbers still low here. Will increase as the weather improves.

15. Blue Tit
16. Great Tit
17. Coal Tit   - all constantly at our feeders.

18. Jackdaw - 40+ in our village everyday mob the feeders if I let them!

19. Carrion Crow 4+ mooching around the lambs in the Hips Heugh field this afternoon.

20. Starling - up to 10 at our feeders each morning.

21. House Sparrow - 10+ at feeders today.

22. Tree Sparrow - 34 at our feeders today. Nest building will start soon in my boxes.

23. Chaffinch - Half a dozen around the feeders daily.

24. Goldfinch - 2 at feeders this afternoon.

25. Bullfinch 1 male at Cherry buds ina neighbours garden this afternoon.

Working from Home...

That was my fist day working in the spare bedroom. By 3 o'clock I felt like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. On the plus side I have not had any social interaction since Jane left for work ( she is in an office alone).

Some garden birding today was generally quiet but 34 Tree Sparrows on the feeders, 2 pairs of Grey Partridge squabbling in the back field, a male Great spotted Woodpecker, 11 Meadow Pipits in the field and a Bullfinch in the cherry tree in a neighbours garden were all nice to see. There was nothing in the way of fly overs, maybe due to the bitterly cold breeze. I'll total my full list as of Saturday and post it later...

Great, Blue and Coal Tits ( not pictured) are always present. 

We have a lot of Jackdaws in the village. They predate my Tree Sparrow chicks when they fledge so I tend to keep them at arms length.

A male Great spotted Woodpecker, one of a couple of pairs here.

Tree Sparrows out number House Sparrows here, but both are the mainstay of my garden birds.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Social Isolation.

As many of you who know me are aware, I have been mainly socially isolated for the last 30 years ! Or at least trying to be. Now just this week it has become a national pastime.

Currently, I am lucky not to be exhibiting the symptoms of COVID-19 and I certainly hope it stays that way, but who knows what fate has in store?

From tomorrow I will be working from home. Genuinely. Not just saying I am then going out on a jolly. What this means in real terms is that I will be saving 1.5 hours travelling time and thus more daylight hours will be available to tidy the garden for spring. I don't intend to go anywhere, open, rural or otherwise unless its necessary, ie for shopping.

I had intended to make the most of my self imposed confinement by watching for wildlife in or from my garden. This will involve birding with skywatching offering the best chance of something interesting, moth trapping and seeing what turns up as I prune, thin and weed some areas. By coincidence I see today that Steve Gale and Dylan Wrathall   have had a similar idea excpet they have rounded up a few others to join them and just like the virus, I have sneaked up and invited myself to the party! It has been named by Italian birders - BWKM0 or Birdwatch at zero kilometres.  Anything we can do to take our minds off this awful state of affairs in this country at the minute must be a good thing.

So, watch this space and be dazzled by the delights about to be bestowed!

Some garden spuggies on our feeders...

A common Hebrew Character, the most abundant moth of spring in my garden. A stunner....

Tuesday, March 17, 2020


Remember when all we had to worry about was the weather in February? Back then storms were the weekend accompaniment. Dark nights pressed on and winds buffeted us around our local patch. Birds were few and far between.

Now here we are in the middle of March and things have gone from bad to worse. Much worse.

The weather is still none too clever with westerly strong winds just about every few days ( usually weekends) but now the surreal is upon us. The Corona Virus or Covid-19 seems all set to bring ruin and despondency to us all. Every single bit of news media is hell bent on telling us that we are about to die, if not by the virus, by starvation or lack of medical assistance for other ailments. The boundaries change daily with Bojo looking like he is in the worst throes of it as he announces science corrections and U turns at every corner. 

On the BBC tonight, madness prevailed. News bulletin after news bulletin told us in detail how many people will die ( up to 20,000 all being well but up to 250,000 in a worse case scenario) and how the whole economy will go to shit leaving us languishing in a Mad Max style vision of the future, then Holby City was cancelled because it was making us depressed! You couldn't make this up!

As you can see, the whole thing has me thoroughly miserable.

Hopefully this bloody awful spell will be over soon... one way or another.

At least the 300+ Frogs in a small moorland pond last weekend seemed happy enough...