Sunday, June 28, 2020

Swiftly south..

Another visit to Boulmer this morning to meet up with John in less than ideal conditions.

It was windy and raining steadily under thickly overcast skies. From the cover of our two cars we soon noticed that some Swifts were on the move along the coast, John, on route here, had noticed about 60 near Seaton Point so we started a count.

From 6.30 until a little past 7.30am groups of between 40 and 140 appeared from the north, over the village, powering south sometimes so close over head the slash of scimitar wings in the wind could be heard as they passed.

Where these birds are going I couldn't say, but it seems early for true migration though the numbers involved seemed excessive for them to be feeding parties dodging a weather system? Overall we counted over 700 though local birder, Daniel, boosted the count to over a thousand from his viewpoint in the dunes where he could scan a further west horizon than we could.

As the numbers dried up, the weather didn't, so we called it a day and went home for breakfast but not before a 1st summer Mediterranean Gull skimmed south along the beach. The third bird present here recently.

Later, at home, I was pleased to see first one, then two Cuckoos at our lane end, more early or late migrants going one way or another because they don't breed locally. To bolster the unusual theme, a pair of Siskins fed on my niger feeder in the garden all afternoon...

Common birds continue to raise questions no matter how long we have watched them... 

Monday 29/06/20 Edit -  Yesterday 28k swifts flew south past Hunmanby Gap and this morning it is reportd that 22,500 had gone past Gibraltar Point by 7.15am! Puts our meagre count into perspective...

Some of the good numbers of Swifts as they moved south in grim weather this morning.

The view north from the Boulmer car park.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Boulmer Birder

When I first started this blog back in July 2006, almost 14 years ago, it was my intention to mainly record the sightings from my then local patch, the headland of Boulmer.

At that time I lived less than 2 miles away and would pop down on a regular basis to see what was around. Boulmer has potential ( or maybe that has already been uncovered) as it is a big square faced headland into the North Sea that attracts migrant birds. The main issue with it, is the lack of public access. There are few public paths and the landowners are not a friendly bunch either.

By 2009 I had moved house to our present digs at Howick about 3 miles from Boulmer. Now Howick, whilst not a promontory is also on the coast and for residents has much better access around the farmland and estate behind the coast path. Hence I adopted this as my new patch, and why wouldnt I, I live smack centre of it!

Back in 06, I was the only birder to watch Boulmer on anything like a regular basis, but now with no little thanks to some of my first observations a small group of Boulmer Birders has developed and as a result more good birds are being found. There are now, 3 regulars who would call it their patch and me and John who might call by sometimes for old times sake. 

We made such a visit on Sunday. It was generally quiet and access averse a place as you could find, but we still wandered into the corralled spots where the public are still allowed to wander. Two nice Med Gulls were along the shore, an adult and a second summer bird, the latter showing quite well. There was a steady viz mig of Swifts overhead with 300 south, joined by a flock of 23 Siskins and a Redpoll that for all the world was very pale and Mealy like to me, but in June?

We then met Daniel, the most recent Boulmer patcher who I know will turn up good birds as time progresses. He had a female type Grey headed Wagtail briefly on the beach before it flushed North ( the same bird is at Low Newton today).

We left at lunchtime with mixed emotions. It is still a good bird spot for sure, but just heart breaking to see 20, yes 20 signs saying No Parking, No Access, No Camping etc at all points. Places we used to park now blocked by wooden bollards forcing everyone into one car park. On top of that, this is the weedkiller sprayed capital of the North with brown verges a feature. 

Here is the good side of Boulmer...

One of the Meds... 

And here is the insidious bad side of this lovely place... 

A fresh water drainage ditch sprayed to death with herbicide. Into a water source...

We used to be able to walk here as the Close the Gate sign suggests. Not now.

There, isn't that better.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

The Oracle.

Almost a year on from our near unbelievable sighting of a Giant Petrel sp off Cullernose Point, the report out today from the BBRC ( British Birds Rarities Committee) shows that the record has been accepted. This is much sooner than I expected, but is it time for celebrations? Not just yet.

This means that the powers that be accept that our identification of the species or in this case species pair is correct, but as this would be a first for Britain, the record must go before another august body, the BOURC ( British Ornithologists Union Records Committee) to see if it warrants a place on the British List. I fear this might take a lot longer, but once the id has been accepted, what else could possibly happen? A Giant Petrel tanking it past an east coast headland is not going to be of captive origin I'm sure, so I am keeping all of my appendages crossed and hoping for the best.

I have found some good birds in the past, but I have never been involved in anything on this scale, a potential British 'first'.. The finding credit will rightly go to mark Newsome at Whitburn, after all we were just waiting for his bird, but as for a Northumberland fist, that would go to myself and Mark Eaton. I cant believe it! So with that in mind, hang back, don't put the flags out just yet, lets see what occurs....

While I am on about listing, the BBRC also rejected last years Baikal Teal as an escape so I have already removed if from my lists. Will others I wonder...
Original Field Notes done while bird still on show. Excuse the panicked writing!

An image from the internet, this shows how we couldnt see the bill at range and the ragged tipped wings and square tail. 

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Nana na na...

Yesterday morning Richard Drew found a skulking sylvia warbler on the Snook, Holy Island but could not place it. He assumed a female type Subalpine Warbler of sorts but he couldn't relocate it.

At 1pm Mike Carr, keen to check for a Mark Toni's Warbler, or whatever its called, hunted the area the bird was last seen. Now Mike isn't a birder like me. He is a pro. He scoured this area on and off for the next, wait for it, 7 hours to no avail. A period when most birders would have been away home for a bath and their tea long ago. But not Mike.

At 8pm, by now dragging his feet, he spied a movement in a lone bush in the marrams and a drab little bird popped out briefly. A few photos were rattled off and the bird dropped from view. In his words, his 'heart missed a beat as I saw a drab sylvia with... a yellow eye!'

He checked the camera to be sure and there it was a mega of the highest order, an ASIAN DESERT WARBLER! A first for Northumberland and only around the 13th for the UK.

As they say, the rest is history. A few of the fastest off the grid connected before dark last night but I had sipped a couple of sherries so made plans for the morrow...

Up bright and early this morning around 3.30am, gear packed, breakfast eaten and the half hour drive to Holy Island done saw me parking up at 5am on the Snook. I was worried, thinking if it took Mike 7 hours, how on earth would we find this? I needn't have worried, Sylvia nana was in full song to a small, socially distanced, appreciative crowd of 20 or so.

Over the next 3 hours we managed some good views but the warbler was a skulker of the highest order at times, slowly creeping into the middle of thickly foliaged bushes and just sitting still for 20 minutes.

I got some pics, they aren't the best but they'll do to commemorate the event .

Mid summer can be great for rarities in Northumberland. Just look at last years Baikal Teal and Baillon's Crake for example. Not to mention two massive ( literally and metaphorically) southern hemisphere seabirds that passed in July 2019. When we go on holiday in June is it any wonder it is done with some trepidation.

At least this year my cancellation has had one good feature...

This puts me on 352 for Northumberland, although Bubo says 349 for the purist, it misses off Fea's Petrel, Ruddy Shelduck and of course last years Giant Petrel sp. You can never predict the next one to fall but Andy Mould has just had an Alpine Swift fly over the Snook tonight, that would do!
 [Late Edit - BBRC has classed the Baikal Teal as Cat E, Escape, so I have removed it from my lists. Shame it looked canny too. One step forward, two steps back...]

Some written notes taken on site but sketched at home with help from my poor photos below...

Thursday, June 11, 2020

'Our' Barn Owls are still showing though a little less regularly. Last night at 10pm I took Peggy for her stroll and was pleased to see the male owl coming towards us, my notebook page tells that tale, if you can read the writing...

When ever I start a new book I feel a bit anxious. I couldn't say why really its not as if anyone can see it, unless I post it of course, but the feeling is there. Once started, I just rattle away and it all works out. The books are the small A6 'Moderno' soft back books from WHSmith. I like the ivory tone and fine ruling so much I bought a dozen online for a reduced price. They are quite tactile being soft and smooth in the hand. The paper, though thin, seems to hold up ok to my small watercolours as long as I don't flood the page.  One book usually lasts around 12 months, but since lockdown my most recent only did 8 months due to scribbling observations on a daily basis while working from home.

Back in the day, I used to write everything up into either a big book or a loose leaf file, but now I don't bother, I just keep it in the original form and hope for the best.

The Notebook habit of naturalists is now all but extinct, largely due to accessible technological advances, but I have an affinity with the older ways so my notes will continue until such a time they are all flung into a skip somewhere.

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Brimstone etc.

Since my last post things have gone a little bit quiet here at the home obs. The weather has been mixed with odd lovely fine spells mixed with some strong near gales and rain, with an overall colder feel that it should be. Saying that, we can easily get days where the temperature doesn't pass 6 degrees at the beginning of June in Northumberland, its all dependant on the wind direction and as usual for this time and spring in general, its from the northern half. Hopefully the forecast for next week is correct and the mercury is moving in the right direction.

We should have been going on our annual trip to Suffolk on Saturday, but this year plans have been changed for us and we will be spending the week at home. At least its time off so lets hope for some reasonable weather.

Last Tuesday, ( speaking of which did you hear Packham on Springwatch say 'See You Next Tuesday'  as the show ended on Friday? I nearly dropped my drink laughing! I wont explain it on here but it is a childish type of foul mouthed acronym that I did not expect from the BEEB :))

...Last Tuesday I was pleased to hear the jovial 'chipping' of Crossbills as I walked down our lane in the morning as 6 flew over south. My first on patch this year. June is a good time for them as they are in post breeding dispersal mode by then having finished nesting several weeks ago. A couple of days later another 17 flew south, but none since.

I was fired up to do some twitching last week too, not of the avian kind though and only a few hundred metres from home into our Village Wood.

Our new neighbour, naturalist and great sound man Geoff Sample came to tell me he and his partner, Jane, had seen a Brimstone butterfly up the wood at Rye Hill. For those of you living south of the Tees, you may be scratching your head, but Brimstone is an extremely rare species here, so much that I have lived my life in Northumberland and have looked at butterflies since I was in single figures and have never seen one. This is because the food plant, Alder Buckthorn doesn't grow here, but odd ones are reported in some years. For the next couple of days I visited the spot a couple of times each day without luck, then after four days, I had an independent message from bird ringer Phil Hanmer to tell me he had seen a Brimstone across the main Howick Hall car park. This is only 200mtrs from the original sighting so may have been the same insect. Next day I waited till things had warmed up a bit at lunchtime and wandered along to both spots and the area between with Peggy. Despite combing the whole place there was no sign of the butterfly. I did find some ornamental Round leaved Buckthorn that may be a food plant, but that's all and since then the trail has gone cold. Now that this butterfly is on my radar I will be staying vigilant.

Other than that bit of excitement the Barn Owls have been showing occasionally and on a short seawatch on Sunday, 28 Manx Shearwaters, 36 Puffins and 5 Arctic Terns were the highlight amongst hundreds, maybe thousands of the other auks, gannets, kittiwakes and fulmars..

A Brimstone butterfly from Norfolk....

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Sunday last day of May...

That's spring done, or almost if you are a birder in the North. Some of Northumberland's best birds arrive in the first 10 days of June, so I am keeping fingers crossed.

On Sunday I made the decision to don the binoculars and camera and venture further afield than our village. The first time I have done so on a quest for natural history, since 15th March. My anxiety was through the roof but I had arranged to meet John, not in the usual Homebase car park where we usually head off in one vehicle, but we met up in separate cars at our destination, only a few miles west of Alnwick, not far from the moors.

It is a spot we often explore during good weather for insects, reptiles and birds. It is usually quiet in terms of disturbance from humans and today was no exception. From 7am until 12 noon we saw two men out for a walk and two farmers in vehicles as they passed so social distancing was no problem at all. How these folks head off to crowded tourist spots to fly tip a single use BBQ is beyond me, I want none of that. How I will fare in the event a good bird turns up will need to be evaluated on the day, but I wont be venturing into a scrum situation that's for sure.

We started down a very quiet lane without traffic where a small river runs below a footbridge. Here we hoped to find Banded Demoiselles and we weren't disappointed. These tropical looking damsels are still a novelty to me being relatively new arrivals on the Northumberland scene, but they are to be found on most of our rivers now so it looks like they are here to stay. At this spot there were 6 males and 2 females, all flashy and metallic as they were freshly emerged.

3 male Redstarts sang around the field edges and we were approached by a curious young Brown Hare. Lapwings were already flocked up, well 10 were, in one field. Autumn will be here before we know it.

 Next we drove another three miles back up to our moorland patch for a hunt for more odonata as the weather was wonderful. We don't get too many days like this, so its good to enjoy them.

We were greeted by two Cuckoos flying around and calling to each other, both males. Redpolls danced overhead and a Sparrowhawk dropped from a tree into some birch scrub nearby but I didnt see it leave.

The two small ponds here are contrasting. One is old and edged with several metres of juncus so access is tricky, the other is new, only a few years old and on the side of a forest drive. Both held some nice insects. In total we had 20+ Four spotted and 2 Broad bodied Chasers, several Large Red, Azure and Blue tailed Damselflies, a few Small Heath butterflies and one Peacock looking its age by now.

The new pond.

The old pond.

Above - Adult and teneral Broad bodied Chasers. Nice to prove breeding.

Four-spotted Chaser

Newly emerged Southern Hawker.

Above -  a pair of Large Red Damsels 'in cop'. 
So my first venture back to some semblance of normality went well. I felt fine that no one was being placed at risk, so for the time being at least, this is how we will play it on a Sunday.

The rest as of the day was spent back at home and in the garden. One of the moth trap by catches was a pleasing find, a new spider I have wanted to see since I got the new field guide - Tetrix denticulata.

Tetrix denticulata, a new spider for me.
I also forgot to post a nice new bee for me in the garden the other day, Red tailed Cuckoo Bee, Bombus rupestris, a scarce visitor in VC68....The additional time spent in the garden as a result of COVID enforced home working has really paid dividends this year.

Red tailed Cuckoo Bee, Bomus rupestris.