Monday, January 25, 2021


 A quick update on here on Jane’s iPad. 

On Thursday evening we had an 8hr powercut, that resulted in my PC going off with a crack when I turned it back on, on Friday morning. It appears to be as dead as a door nail. I am hoping it’s the power pack that is burnt out and not my hard drive with all my photos, scans of drawings and documents such as lists, database, spreadsheets etc. Time will tell.

So I am now in conversation with the insurance company and trying to find someone to recover my drive.

Chances are, as you would expect, this may not go as seamlessly as I would hope, so for the time being the blog will be in hibernation. It will be resurrected as soon as my hardware is sorted...

Cheers all...

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Imperial or Metric Birding

 I have seen on Twitter that quite a few birders are taking on the new 5MR birding challenge. That is birding / listing within a 5 miles radius from their home, so they are staying local when exercising. 

Before that came about though, Alan Tilmouth, our NBNO or Northumberland Bird Network Organiser -  a good job title I've just made up for him, set up a county 5 km radius patch list page that is currently trending on BUBO.  

Out of interest, I thought I would compare the two areas directly to see if it would be greatly different and found this for my area - 

That is some extension. If I was to take on the 5 mile radius, it would cover the local patches of Gary Woodburn in the North at Low Newton, Tom Cadwallender in the South at Alnmouth and Ben Steel / Dan Langston  / Mark Eaton / John Rutter and myself in between.

Even though 50% is in the sea, the other landward half is a big area, a bit big to call it one patch really,as is the 5km to be fair, so I'll just stick with the original plan, even though I do frequently get about to the other places. 

I am always interested in these type of geographical monitoring areas. Its a great way to learn about your 'own' wildlife. Usually I would treat zones separately so I list Howick, do regular birding at Boulmer, venture to 4 or 5 inland sites west of Alnwick for invertebrates and other forms but if I were to measure the whole range I watch for 90% of any given year, it covers no more than about 12 miles from home. 


Tuesday, January 19, 2021


 Its been all birdy for weeks now and I am eager for some variety when the weather gets a bit warmer. Soon it will be time to dust off the moth trap and get some early spring moths caught, but for the minute cold, dull weather means birds will still be the way to go.

As a taster of things to come I was pleased to see this small Many plumed Moth in our house last night, my first moth of 2021 on MapMate...

Many Plumed Moth Alucita hexadactyla beside a drawing pin for size.

 Last night dusk was around 4.45pm as I took Peggy out. It was just about light enough to look for a Barn Owl over the back field but it seemed quiet. Then a movement caught the periphery of my view . In the gloaming, a Buzzard, a male, was in full hunt pursuit of something just behind the hedge line. Then I got my eye on the victim, a bird, very unusual... made even more so when I saw the bird was a Sparrowhawk. You would think it could easily out pace a lumbering Buteo, but its surprising what a run it gave. The hawk had to switch and flip before plummeting like an arrow into some small Scots Pines beside the village hall. the Buzzard followed the same route straight in with such a clatter. The hawk emerged from the other side and off across the road, but it was now too dark to see the Buzzard again.

This shows that these large carrion, worm, and vole eating raptors are more active than you might first think. The Sparrowhawk should thank its lucky stars.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Craster via the Hips Heugh.

 This morning dawned clear, fine and cold. Just right for a walk into some of the less visited places around home. The loop from home to Craster and back is a shade over 4 miles, taking in the fields just inland to the north then back by the usual coast route.

Only half a mile NW of home are a few long term set a side fields. I always forget how good they look for feeding finch and bunting flocks and possibly some attendant raptors. Today they held a nice selection of passerines with 40+ Reed Buntings, 60+ Goldfinches, 30+ and 100+ Linnet flocks, 7 and 16+ Yellowhammers, 50+ Chaffinches and 6 Grey Partridges.

Some of the Reed Buntings in dock.

Above - Reed Buntings

Year list targets this morning included - Brambling, Greenfinch ( yes thats right), Red legged Partridge, Woodcock, Merlin, Peregrine and Willow Tit. Its fair to say that I largely failed with this lot, but there is plenty of time until spring to seek them out. Rome wasn't built in a day.

While watching the Reed Buntings the pair of Ravens came over, calling, much to the consternation of the local Jackdaws who got up in to the air making a racket overhead. The Ravens took no notice whatsoever and even did a little bit of a display flight in tandem.

Raven low overhead, calling.

Down into Craster, a pair of Collared Doves were my first proper local birds but the Willow Tits were nowhere to be seen. Off shore, 100+ Common Scoter were loafing around still, a carry over from before Christmas. 30+ Golden Plover were on the rocks and a Red throated Diver flew N.

On the Cullernose cliffs, a few pairs of Fulmars were chattering and squabbling. I might check to see if they actually breed this year as I have never seen eggs of young at this site, despite older reports of many breeding pairs here. 

As I came to the road home, a 'blimp' on top of the Hips Heugh peak turned out to be a Peregrine, that sat for some time watching pigeons and Jackdaws flying around. After failing to catch up with the other birds on my target list, I was relieved to add something to the patch list.

The view north from Craster to Dunstanburgh Castle, the northern edge of my local patch. 

Fulmars on Cullernose cliffs. No seawatching today.

The Common Scoter flock just off the south end of Craster. Imagine living here !

The Peregrine rounds up the 5km list to a steady 100 species with a few possibles yet to be found. There are some spots I have in mind to target the list gap fillers, but they are tricky to access on foot all the way from home, but one of these weekends I'll drive part of the way to avoid walking on narrow main roads for any length of time.

Sunday, January 10, 2021


This morning I set off on an walk beyond the reaches of the Howick patch, over the burn mouth footbridge into Boulmer. Its not that I dont go there, I just usually don't walk to Boulmer.  To save time, I drive to the main car park and work away from there but today, in the spirit of Lockdown, it was Shanks's all the way. The route is below - 

A 9 km stroll took all morning with stops to scan and search.

The target for this morning were the waders at Boulmer that are in good numbers on the mud, but are scarce on my turf due to the rocky shore.

From home to the southernmost extremity of Howick produced nothing new for the year and was all but dead. 10 Goldeneye, 7 Cormorant S, 1 Grey Plover and 6 Long tailed Tits were all that went into the book.

This is Howick burn moth footbridge. The burn is the south boundary of my home patch and the northern edge of Boulmer.

On the bridge, a 90 degree left turn gives this view. 10 Goldeneye and a few Oystercatchers, Turnstones and Eider were here.

Once across the bridge, I am trying not to mix the two lists up so any species over here are only for the 5km list and not for my patch list. In the next bay, Sugar Sands, 4 Red throated Divers were together close in with 1 Grey Plover on the rocks. The very next small bay is Howdiemont Sands ( often wrongly called Sugar Sands by some near locals). Here were a Razorbill, 20+ Wigeon, 20+ Lapwing and a few Mallard. Offshore was quiet other than a scattering of Shags and auks.

From Sugar Sands looking back North towards Howick Haven.

 Once I arrived at Boulmer village and sat on an old telegraph pole in the hauled out fishing boats, I could see 11 cars in the Boulmer car park still. Not one of them local or from the area or they wouldn't need to drive.

While drinking a cup of tea, the tide pushed up all of my hoped for targets plus another couple for good measure. 110+ Sanderling, 100+ Dunlin, 12+ Bar tailed Godwit, 6 Ringed Plover and 5 Knot were the waders hoped for. A single Purple Sandpiper dropped in later. Out past the Boulmer haven a dusky looking, long, stiff necked Red-necked Grebe was a good find at this time of year but it soon flew off around Seaton Point where it possibly landed in with the 200+ Wigeon roosting on the sea. 2 Shelduck were also new here.

As I retraced my path back north towards home I took in the edge of Longhoughton Steel, a huge skeer of rock on the NE point of the Boulmer headland. 400 Golden Plover were scanned for an unseasonable oddity but the best thing here was a Little Egret fishing pools close in.

I arrived back in Howick to the local Hooded Crow waiting on the fence, calling, as if to greet me. A profitable exercise with 8 new species taking the 5km year total to 98.


Friday, January 08, 2021

First week of 2021 almost done.

 Good news. According to Dylan at 'Esox' Angling is back on the agenda as a legal exercise pursuit. Providing no travel rules are broken of course. For me that means local patch seawatching is on the cards too. After all, I will be sat still but instead of my fishing rod, I'll be peering through a scope. I can walk to a stretch of coast in 10 minutes with a few spots off public paths where I can be alone, but, saying that, mid winter is not the best time to be wave gazing. 

Yesterday, Peggy's walk was, as usual, past the pond field but, for a change, a little bit further into the Howick Hall Arboretum where we did a short circular to gather some missing woodland birds for the list. 

The track through part of the arboretum, an area of large ornamental pines and hardwood trees.

The day was calm, dull and cold so bird calls carried a good distance. This meant that it was quite easy to locate a tribe of Long tailed Tits and the obligatory Treecreeper with them (if you are hunting for Treecreeper, I always go for Long tailed tit calls and rarely fail) and 4 Nuthatches.  The pond itself was full and muddy brown with little activity other than 5 drake Tufties, 2 Mute Swans, 4 Coot and 4 Little Grebe.

Earlier, at dawn, Grey Partridge was calling from the back fields.

Seeing photos of other naturalists local patches is always interesting to me as it gives context. Its something that often features on here, but as we are all home birds for the foreseeable, I will try to include a picture or two of the sites visited around about home a bit more regularly.

Local Patch Year List ( or Northumberland Lockdown 2021 5km from home) 87 sp  


This is the small pond beside the Village Hall car park that we renovated last Feb. Its totally flooded at the minute, out onto surrounding grassland. This week it has hosted a flock of Yellowhammers and a single Snipe.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021


 I am so used to the 11 years watching my home patch that I have forgotten that I now have a much larger area to play with. So far the list is up to 83 species in Howick without a step beyond, a reasonable total for January, where last year it ended on 75 for the month. I am already beginning to struggle to find new additions. At an outside bet, 90 was just about possible leaving me with very little else until spring migration.

Then I remembered my Lockdown 5 km includes Boulmer, just down the coast and the route to get there, as well as the journey most of the way to Alnwick for shopping. A walk down to Boulmer in decent weather should easily boost the total up to the 90 mark I'm sure. One for the weekend I think.

Back on patch, today's Peggy walks have added Whooper Swan, 3 S over our house, Redpoll 1 N along the lane and Redwing 2-3 dotted around the wooded areas calling. Also of note, the local Siskin flock has doubled up to at least 60+ birds now, 6+ Yellowhammers were bathing in our flooded village green and 50+ Chaffinches are still in the Rectory Stubble. 

Although there is renewed excitement at the off patch possibilities, the local and 5km patches won't be merged on the multi-coloured spreadsheet. That's just for Bubo.

This 5 km thing has worked out quite well. I was discussing the possibility of joining the Boulmer and Howick patches anyway, with John, as most weekends we are already at Boulmer at some point.

An older Redpoll shot, I haven't had the camera out this year yet...

Tuesday, January 05, 2021

Lockdown 3.

 It was always going to happen. This up and down roller coaster of COVID hasn't gone away, yet the way some people act, it would seem it had.

Within an hour of Boris's speech last night Twitter was awash with comments from birders making caveats to continue what they do, unabated. That's the problem with the Government rules, they are open to much ambiguous interpretation.  

I am waiting to see what new definition the words 'stay local for exercise' will get from the birding community?  

Writing this, above, looks as if I am having a 'holier than thou' approach, but genuinely I'm not. What would I do if someone turned up a mega county bird 30 miles along the coast? I'm sure I would be rolling out my own justifications too, but I certainly wont be getting into the car and driving out for a year tick.

For me, lockdown isn't as bad as it is for some. I don't tend to venture very far or very often either so this period will be little different.

But, just so I can interpret these to suit myself here are the 5th January Government Rules - 

Exercising and meeting other people

You should minimise time spent outside your home. 

It is against the law to meet socially with family or friends unless they are part of your household or support bubble. You can only leave your home to exercise, and not for the purpose of recreation or leisure (e.g. a picnic or a social meeting). This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.

[Note - So many definitions available in this one sentence] 

You can exercise in a public outdoor place:

  • by yourself
  • with the people you live with
  • with your support bubble (if you are legally permitted to form one)
  • in a childcare bubble where providing childcare
  • or, when on your own, with 1 person from another household

Public outdoor places include:

  • parks, beaches, countryside accessible to the public, forests
  • public gardens (whether or not you pay to enter them)
  • the grounds of a heritage site
  • playgrounds

Outdoor sports venues, including tennis courts, golf courses and swimming pools, must close.

When around other people, stay 2 metres apart from anyone not in your household - meaning the people you live with - or your support bubble. Where this is not possible, stay 1 metre apart with extra precautions (e.g. wearing a face covering).

You must wear a face covering in many indoor settings, such as shops or places of worship where these remain open, and on public transport, unless you are exempt. This is the law. 


You must not leave your home unless you have a reasonable excuse (for example, for work or education purposes). If you need to travel you should stay local – meaning avoiding travelling outside of your village, town or the part of a city where you live – and look to reduce the number of journeys you make overall. The list of reasons you can leave your home and area include, but are not limited to:

  • work, where you cannot reasonably work from home
  • accessing education and for caring responsibilities
  • visiting those in your support bubble – or your childcare bubble for childcare
  • visiting hospital, GP and other medical appointments or visits where you have had an accident or are concerned about your health
  • buying goods or services that you need, but this should be within your local area wherever possible
  • outdoor exercise. This should be done locally wherever possible, but you can travel a short distance within your area to do so if necessary (for example, to access an open space)
  • attending the care and exercise of an animal, or veterinary services

If you need to travel, walk or cycle where possible, and plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes on public transport. This will allow you to practice social distancing while you travel.

Avoid car sharing with anyone from outside your household or your support bubble.

So now we know. 

What ever version you take on board, try to think of the bigger picture. 

Stay safe everyone, see you at the Little Bustard, but that will be ok for me because...

Monday, January 04, 2021

The List begins...

 Alan Tilmouth suggested we do a 5km radius from home lockdown list this year which sounds good. For me it must nearly double my existing patch which is around my house anyway. 

The 5km radius from home above and my existing patch below. It merges the Boulmer and Howick patches into one.

I will keep it in mind, but the likelyhood is, I wont visit most of the area, focussing on my usual two 'patches'.

So far in 2021, the weather has been pretty grim with heavy rain and sleet flooding everywhere and strongish onshore winds making it quite cold. I have been out and about each day for no more than a couple of hours, most wanders have been attached to the dog...

In doing this I have gathered a reasonable 4 day total of 79 species around the village, the best being Hooded Crow, Mediterranean Gull, Brent Goose, Kingfisher, Grey Plover and Purple Sandpiper.

Yesterday was damp but interesting with a good count of 229 Curlew feeding in the now soaked field along the coast path at the bathing house, 11 Stock Doves was also a decent total for here while a short seawatch had over 300+ Kittiwakes N along with about 20+ Gannets both tricky to get this early in the year ( though both are abundant from summer onwards). 25+ Siskins and 9 Tufted Duck were at the Pond Field and a Snipe was an oddity on our small village pond. The local Barn Owl showed well one day from the kitchen window while 450+ Pink footed Geese flew south overhead.

Nothing to get birders arriving so far but its nice to get the foundations laid...



Saturday, January 02, 2021

2021 and on and on.

 'Happy' New Year all.

This time last year I tweeted my plans ahead - Here . What I was going to do. As it happens a bit of it fell at the first hurdle, so this year I am not making plans. I have some intentions, but planning ahead? No.

In 2020 I did increase both my Blogging output and my Notebook work, so they were positives. Working from home and with restrictions preventing us going too far resulted in more local patch coverage and a record high species total, so, again, it shows that something worthwhile came from watching the home area.

Hopefully, at least these two projects will be built on over the coming 12 months but we never know what is around the corner. As I write this one of my friends is suffering from the dreaded Covid, whilst another is self isolating, filled with worry as two of his family have also tested positive. Luckily, for the minute, they are both managing it so once they are over this next two or three weeks it will be a great relief.

We have a couple of usable vaccines available now, but it seems this government can even cock the use of this right up, so even that glimmer of hope is being held at finger tip length away. Maybe this time next year things will have improved? I hope so.

Over the coming 12 months I intend to do my best just to get through it and hope that all of you will too.

At least now we are past the shortest day, so with the first Snowdrops and Aconites showing their sunny faces things may indeed improve.