Tuesday, May 11, 2021

I can see my house from here...

Sunday was a much better day than we have had since March. Mild with a spring like SW breeze and hazy sunshine.

The view north from Longhoughton Steel

Its all back to normal in the aftermath of the excitement of Friday so we spent the morning covering the Boulmer patch where, for the first time for me this spring, at least Swallows were in reasonable numbers skimming flies off the washed up seaweed.

On the shore waders looked smart with a cracking male Grey Plover in all his finery showing up a typical first winter bird alongside. A sift through other others didn't reveal anything untoward but 46 Sanderling, 73 Dunlin, 23 Ringed Plover, 14 Turnstone and 1 Bar tailed Godwit were nice to see. 4 Whimbrel flew N over the rocks.

More terns were fishing in a falling tide in the haven. 2 Arctic and 2 Little Terns were year ticks while 20+ Common and the same Sandwich Terns flickered around like they'd never been away.

Passerines were in short supply with only 6 Greenland Wheatears fitting the migrant category. A Meadow Pipit had a near escape when I almost trod on its nest along the track side right at the base of the wall to Longhoughton Steel.

A very smart male Greenland Wheatear at Seaton Point.

We were lamenting the lack of things like Yellow Wagtails and Grasshopper Warblers but when you look around here it is no wonder there are few birds and the pipit nearly nests on the path. The place has no decent hedges, trees or scrub, all damp spots have been drained more proficiently than the Aral Sea , cereal margins  yellow with weed killer and the grass land so over grazed that they now hammer the links destroying that native flora too. The concession to conservation seems to be a blue pheasant bin every 50 yards and an odd inaccessible game crop. Barbed Wire is the order of the day.

Its a good job there is a 30 mtr wide stripe of high tide zone or we'd have nothing. 

Mipits with 3 beside the path and wall.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Northern Mockingbird Notes

 Some Northern Mockingbird notes from yesterday. The bird is still there today and attracting a steady flow of observers.

Its funny how a twitch can attract some odd fellows. The bigger the bird, the more they come out of the woodwork.

Yesterday evening I got a message on Twitter from a chap who I don't know but lives local. Not a birder like us, but with a bird interest and knowledge. He said 'At dusk the Mockingbird was taken by a Sparrowhawk, there'll be disappointed faces in the morning'.  I detected a tone of, pardon the pun, gloating mockery so I replied, 'That's life, it happens every day'. After all, I was in the lifeboat, Jack.

I found this strange as I know for a fact the bird was showing right until dusk and no one mentioned an attack. When the bird was reported first thing this morning I wondered what motivates someone to simply wish anxiety on people? What kind of human are they? Looking through this persons tweets you can see this wasn't an innocent mistake, he appeared a bit of a smart er clever clogs. 

So as I say, I've never met this person so its no loss to me that they are now blocked.

At other twitches I've seen similar, usually from non birders who spout things like 'Had one of them in my garden last week' etc. God they irritate. 

If you aren't interested, just shut your cake hole and let us get on with our business.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Anything. Anywhere.

Birding, as we know, can throw us some unexpected curved balls at times but today really takes the biscuit.

I am recycling a post I have just done on Facebook albeit for a more savvy blogger audience so please bear with me.

Back in February at the height of lockdown, a Northern Mockingbird arrived in a garden in Exmouth in Devon. This slim, blackbird sized bundle of feathers will have been bred in the USA and by some miraculous feat of migration ended up on the other side of the pond in a palm tree in Devon.

As it was only the 3rd for Britain and the first to be actually twitchable, birders across the land were devastated that there were travel restrictions in place stopping them making the pilgrimage. Some disregarded the COVID rules and went anyway, resulting in on-line vilification by the more sedentary law abiding citizens of ornithology. Some twitchers were believed to have been fined for going, but felt that it was worthwhile to see such a rare bird. After all, they would have paid for a flight to Shetland if it had been there.

Then, at the beginning of April, typically as restrictions lifted, the Mockingbird left its Exmouth garden and vanished only for it to reappear as if by magic 150 miles east along the south coast at Pulborough in Sussex the very next day.

What chance refinding a small grey bird after its gone 150 miles in a night? Pretty slim I reckon. Anyway, it spent one day in a garden there, where birders, who didn't go to Devon, managed to catch up with it, but there was no trace the next day.

And there the trail goes cold, everyone assumed it had gone for good.

Until yesterday. A month, 400 miles and a massive fluke later.

A family in a small new build house in Newbiggin by the Sea saw an unusual bird in their garden. Wondering what it was, they sent a video to the Bird Guides Information services to find out. News was released that there was a Mockingbird somewhere in Newbiggin but the location was withheld.

Most of us were disbelievers, surely not...

After some super sleuthing and discussions with the resident, our friend Alan Tilmouth managed to negotiate access and permission to release news of the location.

So this morning, anxious birders were poised ready to go. At 11.20am the location was released and a Wacky Races style movement of camo clad, binocular wearing, camera toting fans descended on the town...to see this Yank who had turned up after a jaunt the length of the UK.

After such a wild card, you have to think... where next?

Northern Mockingbird UK 422 Northumberland 355

Northern Mockingbird, Newbiggin by the Sea.

Monday, May 03, 2021


 Last night from around 8.30pm we were watching 'Call the Midwife' waiting for the finale of that most popular of  TV cop dramas, 'Line of Duty' to come on. As usual we were eating our tea from the knee while glued to the box when Jane said, look the Barn Owl is on next door's roof.  Glancing up from my cheesy potato and vegetable bake, sure enough, our usual dark eyed female Barn Owl was sat peering in our window.

Barn Owl on the greenhouse. Photo is rough as it was taken through the window in near dark conditions. 

After about ten minutes, she up and hovered along the track behind our garden then landed on our greenhouse roof. She seemed to be watching for birds roosting in the conifers next door. I have seen a Barn Owl do this here before, at a late summer Starling roost that moved on 5,000 birds in one visit but to see her sat on the greenhouse was very unusual indeed.

The Owl dotted between three sitting points until it was too dark to see. I hope she found something to eat, as tonight's stormy wet weather is not going to help already hungry vole-starved birds to get by...

As for the Line of Duty ending, I liked it. I still dont think Buckells is the man for the job mind, but that remains to be seen. And the drubbing this last episode is getting on Twitter, I suspect these are from people who came late to the party and expected a bigger, more explosive finish... 


Sunday, May 02, 2021

April Gone.

 Since the excitement of the Red throated Pipit things have taken the predicted down turn. This is mainly due to the relentless cold and poor weather that has hung around since March. In April the winds often take on a northerly view, making finding spring migrants a losing battle in Northumberland, but this April its not just us that has suffered. This April has been the frostiest on record nationally.

We have plants around us with brown and yellow new growth due to the constant cold overnight. Even hardy natives like Dogs Mercury and Stinging Nettle are looking a tad yellow around the gills but here we are in May so hopefully things will improve.

Last Sunday we had a change of scenery visiting some spots very close to where I live, but are scarcely visited, to do the Breeding Waders of Wet Meadows survey near Dunstanburgh Castle. Needless to say we didnt find many. Only two Snipe lifted from a small flooded patch near the castle and that was it.

Of interest last week were 5 daylight hunting Barn Owls again. I have seen 14 day hunting different individuals in that last 7 days. 5 on the moors the week before, this 5, 2 at Low Newton and 2 at home. Barn Owls here are a daily occurrence, an ever presence. This however, is not a good thing. The poor birds are only out during the day, every day, because they are struggling to find enough prey to keep them going overnight. Local ringers who study them have weighed some adults from nest boxes and found them very underweight. At D'burgh, one of the local Raven pair fancied one of the owls for a snack and gave a short flight pursuit, twice knocking the bird into the grass until we intervened. The owl recovered composure for a few minutes then flew off, leaving the Raven to find more suitable food along the shore.

Raven pursuing Barn Owl with intent.

A pair of Gadwall on the small Dunstanburgh wetland were a 5km tick for me, 1 Whimbrel was on the shore and 2 male Greenland Wheatears dashed around the rocks. On the sea off the castle were some close feeding frenzies that included 100+ Razorbills in fine summer plumage.

A feeding frenzy of Kittiwakes, Gulls and Razorbills close in off Dunstanburgh Castle

Greenland Wheatear


Gadwall pair

The past week has been just as quiet only adding Whitethroat to the list on the patch.

Today we headed up to the moors west of Alnwick. 

A walk along a burn lined with ancient twisted Alders and Birch was nice in lovely sunshine. A female Redstart was nest building, a Tree Pipit was song flighting and 3 Cuckoos were calling in the background. A Barn Owl was hunting the moor ( yes, another one).

As the clouds gathered and rain began to spit, another site had a Whimbrel circling low, unusual inland here, a Fieldfare, a male Wheatear but best of all two nice Green Hairstreaks and a male Emperor Moth were good to see again after an absence during last springs lockdown.

One of the Green Haistreaks. The bottom shot looks odd because the butterfly is lying tilted over to catch some of the sun.

Female Redstart nest building in old birch tree,



Sunday, April 25, 2021

Seeing Red...

Act I.

On Friday the weather continued in a similar vein as recently with a high pressure giving a cool, clear and sunny morning at 2 degrees first thing.

The first dog walk of the day resulted in a new one for the year list as a Sedge Warbler sang from blackthorn on the coast path.

I was working at the computer in the bedroom when a WhatsApp from Gary Woodburn came through telling of a Red throated Pipit he had just found at Newton Pool.

Now, Red throated Pipit is possibly my commonest full lifer outstanding from my list. Other birds I have seen abroad but I cant think of anything on the British List more regular that I have not seen anywhere, so my ears perked up at this message.

In Northumberland there has not been a properly twitchable one for about 30 years so I wasn't holding out much hope for this early bird. I fully expected it to have flown off high, North, calling within 10 minutes, so a direct message to Gary asking for a Sit Rep ( Line of Duty there) was quickly dispatched. Surprisingly the reply was positive though mixed. The bird was still present on Embleton Golf Course but the greens were filling up rapidly with Pringle sweaters. Would they scupper my chances?

As the bird was only 5 miles from home, I quickly clocked off work and headed off up the road. I arrived after a road block stoppage, to find only 4 birders present and the bird not seen for 20 minutes having last been watched about 300 yards away on the other side of the course. 

The heat haze was building and the golfers were buzzing here and there when miles away a small bird in short grass looked different. At 50x zoom in the Swaro, it looked 'warmer' than the other pipits dotted around. We sat in expectation waiting for the golfers to flush the flock when one of two things would happen. They would fly closer and land, or they would do a bunk altogether. Unbelievably the first option won, with the 6+ Meadow Pipits, 1 Yellow Wagtail and 2 Yellowhammers plus the 'bird' all lifted and flew at least 50% closer onto the nearer fairway. We soon picked it out, still very distant but now confirmed as my lifer Red throated Pipit!

This was the pattern for the next hour but generally the bird stayed a bit too far to be called a good observation. Tickable views but hardly satisfying.

Above, Top, the Golf Club house where I parked.Bottom the view just off the golf course to Dunstanburgh Castle.

Thats it above the gorse...

Act 2.

 Saturday was another glorious cold morning. I was up at 5.50am to collect my Bucket Moth Trap from out Village Wood. When I got back, Gary rang me in error from his coat pocket. From the garbled voices I knew he was back on the golf course. Maybe the bird was still there? All of a sudden Gary messaged me saying if I wanted a second view the Pipit was showing very well on the green with no golfers yet.

This was too good a chance to miss, so off I went for a look. On arrival from the south end this time, our rusty faced Anthus was back in the same place as yesterday, out on the edge of science, miles off!

Ah well, I'll give it a chance , at least I had already seen it.

As we waited a Barn Owl, one of two here, winged along the far edge of the course lifting the small birds and they flew, again half way out. Today the haze was much less so even this was a good view in the scope, When the first round of Arnold Palmers arrived they helped coax the bird even closer now on the nearest fairway giving nice views. All of a sudden they lifted again and landed right out from us on the nearest green! We manged a few shots here, but missed a great opportunity when the Pipit landed only 12 feet from Gary. As we fumbled in panic, the bird lifted again and headed North towards the main pool ending our audience for the morning.

Still it was a much better performance than on Friday and some record shots were a bonus.

Red throated Pipit UK List 421 , Northumberland List 354 .


Above -  Red throated Pipit, Embleton Golf Course 24/04/21

Tuesday, April 20, 2021



A corner of the garden...

Just a few invertebrates from the weekend....all from the garden except the fly at the bottom that was on Alnwick Moor on Sunday.

Red Mason Bee Osmia bicornis

One of the Cuckoo Bees either Bombus bohemicus or Bumbus vestalis ?

Buffish Mining Bee Andrea nigroaenea 

A male Tawny Mining Bee, the jazzy orange females wouldnt sit still.

Tachina ursina Fly.

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ouzels and a start...

 First bird this morning as I looked out of the kitchen window was the Brambling that had decided not to cross the North Sea just yet. After a brief show on Friday evening, Saturday evening and today it has been much more forthcoming spending the time chasing Chaffies from the bird table in between resting up and singing his Greenfinch like wheeze above the feeders.

For the first time this year, John and me headed inland all of 5 miles or so to Alnwick Moors. Thin cloud cover meant the day was still very cold though the frosts of recent days did not materialise this morning.

Before 9.30 we had seen 5 daylight hunting Barn Owls including two together at one site. 

We stopped at two random non birded spots for a look as we usually do and were pleased with a nice male Redstart in full song and a hatful of Willow Warblers with an odd Blackcap for good measure. One of the Barn Owls floated around serenaded by the Redstart overhead.

Male Redstart in song.

Our next stop was generally to look for insects but it was a bit cool so we had a yomp around not seeing much, until John gave a whistle and waved me up the hill. He had found a nice flock of 6 Ring Ouzels along a dry stone wall. There were 5 males and one female all seen together as they flew off high west only to circle around and drop back in to the same spot. All the while calling like a squeaky rubber ball. One male was partially leucistic, being dotted with white spots. We stalked for a photograph but they remained distant so here are some record shots.

Also here were 20+ Redpolls, 23 Fieldfare and 2 Stonechat.

When migrant birds are coming and going from all parts, its good to be out. 

5 of the 6 Ring Ouzels, we didnt see where No6 sloped off to...


Friday, April 16, 2021

Broken record.

 Its cold again. Frosty this morning at 0 degrees. Still no Willow Warblers etc etc.

Last night around 6pm a nice male Brambling dropped into our feeders for 10 minutes. Its not around today so I assume it could be in Norway by now, where it might be warmer than here.

Brambling at our feeders

Up near the main hall car park, the 3 mtr patch of lungwort is the place to be for insects. 12+ Hairy Footed Flower Bees but only 2 females were great to watch as they scrapped and chased through the dead stems, Garden Bumblebee, Common Carder Bee, Red tailed Bumblebee and 4 Dark edged Bee fly were all filling up at the nectar station.

Garden Bumblebee Bombus hortorum

Male Hairy footed Flower Bees