Monday, August 31, 2020

Northerlies ongoing...

 Can only mean one thing - more seawatching.

On a patch like mine with no good fresh water bodies to attract wildfowl and waders, seawatching is the single best way to boost a year list. There are always new species to be had and not necessarily ocean wanderers either.

This bank holiday period looked set to be a classic with a steady north air flow right through the weekend, so each day ( except today, Monday) had me sat out on Cullernose Point, waiting...

 Unusually for 'my' site, other birders made an appearance. This helps immensely having several sharp pairs of eyes to pick up and guide to stuff I've missed. On the point up to 4 of us and one time from a pool of 6 were John, Mick, Mark, Ian, Keith and myself, with Ben in the mix at a different spot only half a mile away. 

The bird list per day goes like this - 

Friday 28th August 06.30 - 08.30am all moving North unless stated.

Sooty Shearwater 13
 Manx Shearwater 24
Bonxie 15
Whimbrel 4 S 1 N
Scaup 1 female 
Arctic Skua 3 S
Pomarine Skua 1 S
Skua sp 4 S
Grey Plover 1 sum plum
Common Scoter 4
Teal 1
Wheatear 1 on the rocks.

I had only been home 15 mins when Ben had a Leach's Petrel N. I was a bit gutted at this, Leach's is a rare bird in Northumberland.

Saturday 29th August 06.30 - 10.30am

Bonxie 8
Arctic Skua 9 S
Great Shearwater 1 N called by Mark Eaton at 07.05 and on view for 5 mins. It was distant but nicely lit against a grey sea and sky. Only my 2nd patch record.
Sooty Shearwater 18
Wigeon 38
Mallard 2
Teal 72
Common Scoter 5
Velvet Scoter 2 drakes 
Goosander 1
Pale bellied Brent Geese 10
Red throated Diver 1 S
Sanderling 10
Knot 10
Dunlin 10 

Whilst Great Shearwater is an excellent patch record, the Wigeon and Sanderling were year ticks too.

Sunday 30th August 06.30 - 08.50am

More wildfowl today.

Red throated Diver 2 S 1 N
Wigeon 25
Teal 72
Common Scoter 29
Common Sandpiper 1
Bar tailed Godwit 1
Sooty Shearwater 12 
Manx Shearwater 16
Pale bellied Brent Geese 4
Canada Geese 35
Peregrine 1 juv
Dunlin 1
Puffin 1

On all days there were good numbers of Gannets, Kittiwakes, Fulmars, Arctic, Common and Sandwich Terns, all uncounted. Too many! 

After the seawatch today we walked down the arboretum and back by the coast path. It was very quiet with Sparrowhawk 1, Nuthatch 2, Willow Warbler 2, Mediterranean Gull 1ad, Kingfisher 2 chasing around the shore at Rumbling Kern.

Eight hours seawatchingcompleted with a good few year ticks of varying qualities in the list.

Today was spent catching up on some gardening jobs and watching the insects. There were 1 Peacock, 1 Red Admiral, 1 Wall, 1 Small Copper and 2 Large Whites. 2 lovely Ruby tailed Wasp species ran around on our patio umbrella cover. 50+ Meadow Pipits moved south over head.



Wednesday, August 26, 2020

I'm not looking for Dolphins!

 Storm Francis rattled the windows and give the place a good soaking yesterday. Although the wind was from the East, there was also a low pressure over Scandinavia so land migrants would not be in any numbers, however, it only takes one bird. As I have mentioned before, I tend to set my goal targets pretty low when I go out, that way I dont get too disappointed. If I am lucky enough to improve on my goal, that's even better.

When I saw the weather yesterday, my goals were very simple. It is ages since I have had any of these on my patch - Pied Flycatcher, Garden Warbler and Redstart. You would think that living withing stepping distance of the North Sea, these birds would be two a penny. They are in Norfolk or Spurn. Just not here on this random flat bit of coast. In the back of my mind I have some premiership targets too like Wryneck, Barred Warbler and Red backed Shrike but if I stick with the more likely three, you never know one of the rarer ones might step in.

After work yesterday the rain had paused for half an hour so I took Peggy for a walk to the coast path. As we approached a movement near some cut gorse attracted my attention. There was a leaf on the barbed wire strand? No, not a leaf, it was a bird... a female Redstart. First bird looked at goal achieved, my first Redstart since 2017. Its just as well because there were no other birds at all to look at...

Female Redstart.

Today, the wind has swung more Northerly but has dropped off a bit. The rain too. Keen to get a look at the sea in improving conditions, I clocked off at 2pm and headed off the Cullernose Point where I did 2 hrs. 

There were more people than birds. This COVID keeping people at home is getting tedious. I have never seen the coast as busy than it has been this last 4 months. While seawatching, festival style groups wandered by looking for facilities ( we have none). Every third group asked me 'Are you watching Dolphins?' After my Nth reply, I just screwed my eye into the scope and played deaf.  I know its anti-social but I just want to be left to seawatch in peace!

Today's tally was still slow, but only on a Northumberland coast patch would you consider my 2 hr list slow and many would gladly swap me for it, so like when I am looking for reasonable migration targets, I wont complain..  

Gannets, Kittiwakes and Fulmars not counted. Too busy looking for more interesting fare.

Pale belled Brent Geese -    205 N
Common Scoter    8 N
Bonxie 1 N
Sandwich Tern 8 N
Arctic Tern 6 N
Roseate Tern 1 ad N
Goosander 1 N
Teal 1 N
Sanderling 9 juvs N
Arctic Skua 1 dark, hunting offshore.
Sooty Shearwater 1 N
Red throated Diver 1 N

The Brents and the Sanderling both patch year ticks.  

One group of 80 Pale bellied Brents

Oh and yes, 4 bloody Bottle nosed Dolphins too!


Sunday, August 23, 2020


It was a very big tide at Boulmer this morning. 5.4mtrs brought it within 2 mtrs of the grass at full tide around 6.30am. Its not often you cant walk in front of the village. At low tide it will have been a kilometre out beyond the rocky skeers. The morning began very pleasantly with  clear skies and a light, cool westerly breeze.

Before we made our move a scan of the remaining beach had 5 Goosanders and 20 Pied Wagtails over flown by a female Sparrowhawk. There was a steady passage of hirundines with 120 south in the first half an hour. While looking along south to Seaton Point ( top image) an angler wearing chest waders was fishing a lure in quite shallow water where he caught a nice, silver, Bass that appeared to be around the 3lbs mark. Note, I don't call them 'Sea Bass'? I leave that to the chefs because we only have one Bass in the UK and they were never 'sea bass'. Just Bass.

We walked north beyond the village to see if there were any migrants around. It was always going to be unlikely with this weather. We did have 4 Wheatears and 2 Sedge Warblers in the mugwort though, plus a lone Willow Warbler that came out of some long grass on the edge of the beach and flew West. A covey of 8 Grey Partridges looked a bit moulty in the field west of the coast path.

Waders were in reasonable numbers with - 

2 juvenile Curlew Sandpipers, 36 Dunlin, 6 Sanderling, 7 Knot, 17 Ringed Plover, 47 Golden Plover, 6 Bar tailed Godwit, 1 Whimbrel, 30+ Curlew, 30+ Turnstones and a call only Greenshank.

10+ Swifts were over Longhoughton Steel.

A small gull roost in the field consisted of 40+ Great black backed, 1 Lesser black backed that looked very dark , possibly 'intermedius'  and 6+ Herring Gulls. Most of the terns seem to have gone with only 6+ Sandwich Terns being seen.

By now the summer crowds were arriving so it was time to move off.

     We moved only a mile or so away to Foxton Bends, a meander in the River Aln that sometimes holds waders. Today we had 6 Little Egrets, 2 Greenshank, 2 Common Sandpiper, 2 Dunlin, 20+ Curlew, 9 Teal, a Yellow Wagtail and a Kingfisher. A female Redstart flew across the road but we couldn't relocate it. Not a bad little stop. 

Then it was back home where the moth trap was waiting. The catch was uninspiring but the bycatch was quite nice, a Twin-spot Centurion Sargus bipunctatus, a lovely soldierfly...

Twin spot Centurion Sargus bipunctatus 

Monday, August 17, 2020



On Saturday after giving my bins a good rattle around in a sink of luke warm, lightly soapy, water to get rid of grit and salt spray, I went to hang them out in the sun to dry. As I stepped out of the door, this was the very time a Greenshank chose to come over the garden. The calling 'tyu tyu tyu' was heard easily as it approached out of the mist to to the north, and then, there it was, almost over head and at medium height. In true  Norman Wisdom style I forgot the bins had just been sluiced and raised them to my eyes. The cups were full of water and I got a face full. Champion. I did see the bird though. My first on the patch for two years.

On Sunday the wind continued gently from the north and it was overcast but mild. Time for another Cullernose Point stake out. I was in position for 6am and gave it a couple of hours.

A trickle of 46 Manx Shearwaters headed north as did 12 Common Scoter (9 s) and 3 Puffin. 4 adult Roseate Terns milled around off the point and a Merlin gave a brief appearance as it dashed south across the bay flushing a few waders on route.

It was, however, the skuas that made this seawatch worthwhile. 5 Bonxies were a decent total but only a single Arctic Skua was seen. Out of 9 other smaller skuas, at least 5 were juvenile Long taileds, and the other 4 looked likely too but were just too far to be sure. This is the best showing of Long tailed Skua for many years and probably equals my total tally of these here over the past 11 years!. Reports of birds moving through the county seawatching spots came all day. We even had a 'flock' of 3 together at one point. Of the 5 definites the flock of 3 were dark and the two singletons were paler.

They looked very small and dainty as they slowly tracked north, John even commented that they looked like a nightjar and I could see that straight away. No powerful hunter terrorising the skies here, just small graceful tern like skuas dipping occasionally then steady flight past the feeding terns and kittiwakes.

It went quieter around 8am so we headed into Craster to check for passerine migrants. It was desperate with very little to be seen or heard. We had 2 Whitethroats, another Merlin, and a Common Sandpiper flying high over head calling.

I went back for a short seawatch again in the evening from 6.30pm - 7.30pm. It was still slow but another pale Long tailed Skua quite close and two more skua sp headed north with a handful of Manx Shearwaters. 3 Bottle-nosed Dolphins gave good views very close inshore.

With the wind swinging west this week it seems that migration will be curtailed until the next change in pattern. Its pouring with rain as I write this, so there is still a chance of something in extra time...    


Friday, August 14, 2020



Manx Shearwaters N 

Since Sunday the Pacific Golden Plover has attracted a steady stream of visitors. As a result I've not been back. Hopefully it will depart soon and things can get back to normal.

All week the weather has had some North Easterly in the very light breeze providing some drift migrants along the coastal hotspots. It doesn't really work like that on my patch though where solid rain is needed to ground birds. There may be an Icterine or Barred somewhere but its an absolute lottery to find it.

On Monday a short 90 minute seawatch from Cullernose had the paltry sum of 14 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Common Scoters, 1 Bonxie juv and 1 Little Tern N with 4 Whimbrel S.

On Tuesday our Barn Owl put in an appearance at dusk along the drive and on Wednesday it was joined there by 2 Kestrels. While doing the moth trap first thing, I did some fog migging in the garden, ie unlike noc migging it was during the day , but like noc migging I couldnt see any birds. Still, 2 separate Dunlins flew North over the garden, calling. A good garden record.

Thursday was a foggy day but the wind had increased slightly from the north. At lunchtime, a walk with Peggy had a nice close juvenile Peregrine scaring the bejesus out of the kittiwake colony and 4 Yellow Wagtails were in the area.   Dan had a brief moulting adult White winged Black Tern at Boulmer that is now at East Chevington as I write this.

Another seawatch for two hours after work had improved slightly with 57 Manx, 1 Puffin  1 Sooty Shearwater and 2 sum plum Grey Plover N and a juv Little Gull S into the kittiwakes.  

I might see what an hour after work this afternoon brings... 

A couple of moth trap guests this week, an early Frosted Orange and a migrant Rush Veneer, hardly the stuff of dreams taken by Matthew Deans at Bawdsey this week...

Monday, August 10, 2020

Pacific Sunday...

 Sunday was warm with a light NE breeze off a high pressure over Scotland. This weather pattern can often be good for a movement of shearwaters, so John and myself were stationed on Cullernose Point from 6.15am. Visibility was good with a light cloud reducing sun glare, but birds were slow in coming. Dave Dack had a Great Shearwater pass him at Newbiggin, 25 miles south of us, earlier. Still, we gave it a couple of hours seeing 1 distant Balearic Shearwater, 34 Manx Shearwater, 4 Bonxie, 1 Arctic Skua, 49 Common Scoter, 1 Little Gull, 1 Little Tern and a Shoveler attached to a scoter flock. The Great Shear was not seen on any other points north.

It seemed that waders were on the move with quite large groups of Oystercatchers passing S a good distance offshore and over 220 Golden Plovers over the point held a single Knot.

What to do next? We decided to head along to Boulmer for morning tea and to look at the options.

We could walk south from the car park and look for passerines around Seaton Point. That was soon dismissed as there had not been an grounding rain over night, so we took the opposite approach and headed out to Longhoughton Steel to check the waders as the tide was still well in. We didn't make it as far as that last week due to photographing waders in front of the Fishing Boat Inn. 

We didn't know what a good choice that was at this time,although we were aware that Daniel Langston had been out seawatching from here earlier.

On the way along the beach, on the couple of hundred yards walk north, we discussed what could be here. White rumped Sand maybe? There are no Boulmer records but surely its over due. The last thing you want to see is the actual white rump as that means it is flying away. We can check the Golden Plovers for a 'Lesser'. I had checked a close group of 500 on Holy Island on Friday evening and we said how easy it should be to pick one of the Lessers out at this time of year as the adults retain breeding plumage longer than ours. They are one of those birds that when you see it, you'll know.  

By now we rounded the corner and there were a few waders close in on the weed. 12 Dunlin, 2 Ringed Plover and a Whimbrel further out. Nice but no white rumped...

Onwards around the corner and I lifted my bins to scan. I saw this - 

'Oofya! Look at this!' was the involuntary response. John casually scanned, by now my voice was raising a bit, 'there, over the the left end' 'WTF!'

There, feeding with a few Redhanks, Bar tailed Godwits, Dunlin and Oystercatchers was this full summer 'Golden' Plover.  Surely not, after the discussion we had been having 10 minutes previously.

I said, 'John, tell me that's not just a bright Northern'. No, it was clearly one of those 'when you see it you will know' Lessers, but we didn't know! Which one was it? It was quite settled and showed no fear of us but the Redshanks can lift waders into flight so care was needed. Just then a man with a labrador came down the cliff. Oh no way, if he was going to flush these I was going in for a photo. As it happened the dog was quite controlled and just walked along behind us.

I tried to call out and message Daniel with the news but there is no signal whatsoever on my phone. We took a breath and looked at it rationally. This bird was not Eurasian Golden Plover for sure. All of our birds have nowhere near that amount of black on them now. It also had lanky -thin, long legs especially above the knee, so that's one species eliminated. American? No long primary projection but it was very black right the way under the tail. Pacific? It has too much black below the vent surely? So what is it? After a few minutes consideration we realised the bird was indeed a Pacific Golden Plover. The long tertials cloaked the primaries it has some barring and vermiculations along the flanks too that were at odds with dominica. A photo sent to Daniel confirmed it with the reply comment from him 'Get that put out'.

The bird was showing very well so after stalking it for some id shots we retreated back up to the track on the cliff where the bird was left feeding undisturbed and the news was put out with the obligatory back of the camera shots. It once flew away out to the rocks but soon ran back to its favoured spot. It showed the diagnostic very dusky underwing and axilliaries as it glided in. Much darker than I thought. I have seen 2 other Pacific and 2 American but have never seen this often quoted feature. It was darker than I imagined it would be.

The plover continued to feed here and a short way north on Longhoughton Steel for the rest of the day, attracting a steady procession of admirers.

We later heard that a chap had taken photos of this bird on Saturday but he didn't know what it was and didn't share his picks or release the news until after we did today, so he definitely slipped up there!

This has been a great year locally and with autumn just beginning what else could be instore for us....

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Some Moths...

I thought that this was going to be my first year out of the 11 we have lived here that I might not record any new species in the garden. Whilst we have had some fine spells it has been largely cool with less moths than normal, but on a mild night on the 22nd July two new macros were almost side by side on the first tray. Not just new for the garden but both new for VC68 too!

Common Emerald, very rare in North East England and new for VC68 North Northumberland

The whole of Northumberland VC67 and VC68 status of Common Emerald before my catch.

The other one, I look for annually as it does occur more frequently in Northumberland than the Emerald, it is the Southern Wainscot.

Two shots of the Southern Wainscot including the forehead band plus the most recent distribution map of Northumberland. 

Also new for my garden was a micro, Gypsonoma dealbana. I thought I had recorded this species before but my MapMate never lies...

Gypsonoma dealbana

This puts my garden moth list at around 579 species. Certainly puts butterflies into context!

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Early migration.

On Thursday quite a few people were on the coast looking for the Sooty Tern that unfortunately for those from as far away as Swansea and Barnsley, failed to show. The Barnsley birder came here and back twice! I had a look down on a dog walk and caught up with a few friends for a while before heading back to work. On my way home I was pleased to find the Boulmer Hooded Crow in the field beside our village. It flew off NW and I hoped I could scope it for my garden list but I couldn't find it in the 200+ strong flock of crows on the hill.  Visitors were pleased to see some very close in Bottle nosed Dolphin action as three of them came in hunting, slashing at the water at great speed before continuing north.

Facing north from Seaton Point to Boulmer village.
Sunday morning  was spent along at Boulmer. We started early to avoid the tourists. While I waited for John, a Tree Pipit flew low south over Foxton Golf Course, followed by a Yellow Wagtail. Around Seaton Point were reasonable numbers of common warblers. These are local breeders starting to disperse and move south on their long journey. There were 15+ Whitethroats, 8+ Willow Warblers, 1 Chiffchaff, 2 Sedge Warblers with another family still feeding young fledglings. 2 juv Whinchats were with Stonechats in an oilseed rape field. On the beach there were loads of Pied Wagtails, at least 33 with another 10 in the paddock behind the point . As the tide was well out there were no waders on show but 18 Arctic Terns circled around and 8 Goosanders were in the haven.

Loads of juv Pied Wagtails on the beach


Whinchat and Whitethroat


Willow Warbler
After a tea break we headed up to the north end of the village towards Longhoughton Steel. 45+ Dunlin and 7+ Ringed Plover were close in behind the pub. Further along in the flattened corn field, 8+ Yellow Wagtails included the male Blue headed / Channel Wagtail just too far off for a photo. It looked more Blue headed than Channel to me with a darker blue head with white supercillium and a yellow throat rather than white but it is the nature of these hybrids to be very variable.

It was soon lunchtime and the place was filling up with visitors. Time to seek cover...

Different juvenile Dunlins.

One of a Wren family along the wall.

Foxton Beach south of Seaton Point