Monday, March 29, 2021

The Garden Serengeti...


Early on Saturday, the house was quiet and I was drinking my first coffee of the morning as the sun shone through the living room window. The idyll was soon shattered by an almighty commotion of Jackdaws at the feeders outside our kitchen window.

Suspecting the subject of their attention to be one of the local Sparrowhawks dropping by for breakfast, I went to investigate.

The shocking frieze unfurling on the ground below the feeder pole was totally unexpected. At first it was difficult to make sense of what was on show, but a Jackdaw was fanned out like an open umbrella at the pole base and appeared to be being pulled into a hole by an unseen adversary while it was surrounded by half a dozen very agitated flock members in full mobbing mode.

There is an old buddleia growing here, right up against the wall. Behind the trunk is where, when we get them, rats often appear. Although I’ve not seen a rat for months now, it looked as if one had returned, re-opened its hole and was pulling the distraught bird into it.

Being no fan of rats in my garden, I dashed out to end the violence. Armed with a garden hoe I approached the bird, whose head remained unseen, to look for the predator. A quick jab with the implement, luckily missed both predator and prey, jarring short against the buddleia trunk. Then, below the crow, a ginger and white piece of fur was showing.

Last night we were walking near the coast path and had nice views of a Stoat so, with it being only a couple of hundred metres away, I assumed it would be the same animal. Mustelids are scarce here with only a couple of sightings in any given year so it must have made its way along the field while hunting the local rabbits.

This was clearly going to be something of an epic struggle, so I left them to it and dashed indoors for my camera.

By the time I returned, the grim dance was continuing out in the open near the bird bath, but it was still very difficult to see what was happening. The mammal was holding the bird by the head, above its right eye, while it frantically struggled to free itself by grabbing with its feet.

As they wrestled, snatched views showed not the expected Stoat but a much smaller Weasel on the attack. This was a first for our garden and only maybe the third on the patch in 12 years. They were common when we lived in SE Northumberland on brownfield sites but up here the field sports fraternity seems to be doing its best to make all small predators extinct by placing a kill trap at the bottom of every blue pheasant feeder bin, and there are a lot of those.  

Photographs were hastily taken of the scene through the porch window, but after only a minute or two, the Jackdaw managed to fly off around the gable corner out of view. At this point I assumed the Weasel would be running around the drive wondering where its substantial meal had got to but there was no trace of it either, just an empty patch of grass.

What has happened? On checking the shots I had taken on the back of the camera, the answer was almost unbelievable.

In only one shot the Weasel’s face can be seen in a grimace, while the Jackdaw’s feet are clutching its head. One toe of the Jack’s left foot appears to be in the corner of the Weasel’s jaws while the next shot in the sequence shows the Weasel at full 6 inch standing height reaching up with legs and paws outstretched and finally a 1000th of a second later, its gone, with only a curled back in the top of the frame showing of it. The predator had locked its grip on to the birds foot and had been carried away into the air as it escaped!

The right toe of the birds left foot is in the Weasel's gape.

The Weasel is not letting go of its prize.

Just up along the top edge of this shot you can see the curled back of the Weasel off on its maiden flight.

I checked around the garden but there was no trace of them anywhere. The whole thing was so reminiscent of that famous photograph of a couple of years ago when a Weasel was riding on the back of a Green Woodpecker as it flew off.

It makes you wonder how often this happens and what danger the Weasel is in by tackling prey several times larger than itself?

The whole drama was over so quickly I returned to my coffee and it was still hot enough to drink. What a start to the day…



Wednesday, March 24, 2021


 Or Missing Person if you like. Misper is the code used by police when someone is reported missing. Its not as serious as that but I haven't seen the Hooded Crow since Sunday? Jane saw it yesterday briefly late afternoon, but despite putting food out it was a no show for me.

There have been a few other things seen casually around the village without having to go looking really. As usual Barn Owl has been a feature though very unpredictable in the hours it keeps. On Monday in full bright sunshine at 9am the female was showing very well from our kitchen.

The more elusive male we have found out, after being photographed well by a neighbour, is from a nest of six young ringed in June 2020 in a natural tree hole nest site near Lesbury / Hawkhill about 4 miles away as the owl flies.

Various birds have been heading north this week, Whooper Swans in particular though I didn't see them this time due to work, but also a few Pink footed Geese Here is one flock of 79 from the garden...


 Some more early butterflies have been out this week with Small Tortoiseshell and Comma being seen and even better, a male Hairy-footed Flower Bee feeding on a flowering currant on our drive. I'm pleased to see them again after last years debut.

Grey Partridge is obvious at the minute with 2 pairs in the back field constantly squabbling. Yesterday I tried to photograph them from the bathroom window but they were too quick running back and forwards croaking and churring at each other.

One unwelcome wildlife encounter occurred at lunchtime yesterday when our dog, Peggy, got a bit too friendly with a Toad. Our other dog used to sniff and ignore them but not this Patterdale. She had a lick and instantly reacted with a foaming salivating mouth and trying to wipe her face with a paw. I had to get into her mouth with my hand and wipe the saliva away. Luckily the incident went without further drama, but it just shows what can happen. The Toad was fine and no the dog has not learned a thing from her encounter.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

March Brown or Worm?

 While sitting at my PC yesterday at work I was day dreaming, as you do, and I got to thinking about the date, the 22nd March. 

I knew it rang a bell. 40 odd years ago, before I left school at 16, the 22nd March was one of my highlights of the year. It is the first day of the Brown Trout fishing season on our rivers. For weeks before, I would be gathering bits of cheap tackle from Woolworths and our local tackle shop, McDermott's. Size 14, 12 and 10 hooks, line, shot, small drilled bullets, perch bobber floats etc for bait fishing on the stretch of free water on the River Wansbeck in Morpeth. Some years I would even try a wet fly on the syndicate water down stream of the town, using a team of March Brown on point with Snipe and Purple, and Partridge and Orange on the droppers. There wasn't a great deal of finesse.

The day was like Christmas to me, I couldn't wait for it. The weather would be variable from sunny spring like days with bees on catkins to deep snow covering bank sides, to brown, milky tea coloured, spate. If a flood was running off, I'd stand a good chance by rolling a worm along with the current right into the bank sides. If there was low, clear water the flies might be better...

The sound of a Dipper singing, Butterbur flowers just beginning to pop up in the sandy gravel banks and overly excited Mallard in gangs causing a commotion all come flooding back. I didn't catch much. A big fish was 12 inches, mostly they were no more than 8 inches but it was the feel of the day that made it so good. Winter was over regardless of the weather.

I haven't fished a river now for years. Woolworth's is no more and bank sides are grown with willows or tidied up. Those years have gone in all but memory, but its nice to think back. Happy times...

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Weekend

 What a glorious weekend that was. Lovely sunny days and calm with it, but despite the conditions, nothing new was found for the 5kmr patch.

On Friday, a pair of Collared Doves below my feeders then displaying around the village were noteworthy in a local patch context. These are the first I've had on the deck this year. It is much much easier to see a Barn Owl, Fulmar, Kittiwakes etc here than Collared Dove. Imagine then, when numbers increased to 3 birds on Saturday. I was well chuffed! 

As the weather was nice, Saturday was spent gardening and keeping an eye on the sky overhead. From here I was lucky enough to get in on the Whooper Swan passage that has been a feature over Northern England over the past couple of days. The first flock was over 100 birds in a string, moving along the coast path, followed a bit later by 50 birds. Not the big numbers seen in some places but 150 Whoopers from the garden cant be bad.

While pottering, my first butterfly, a Small Tortoiseshell, was seen and a Tree Bumblebee too.

Sunday morning was spent along at Boulmer. For the second weekend in a row, no new birds were noted but we did dip out on Snow Bunting and Sandwich Tern. They should be added during the year so no real concerns here.

Boulmer Village and haven from the south.
From Seaton Point in the South to Longhoughton Steel in the North we had 19 Bar tailed Godwits,  3 Grey Plover, 27 Sanderling, 6 Ringed Plover, 50 Dunlin, 42,14 and 2 Whooper Swans N, 9 Shelduck, 4 Teal, 2 Common Scoter, 1 Red throated Diver, a pair of Red breasted Merganser, a Barn Owl and 3 Stonechat.

Whooper Swans on passage.


Back home, 2 pairs of Grey Partridge were in the back field.

The weather is going to deteriorate this week so in might be a while before there are any local hirundines, despite two Swallows and a few Sand Martins in the county yesterday.


Thursday, March 18, 2021

Its not cricket....

 The patch has been a bit quiet of late with only the locals to keep me interested. Barn Owls and Hooded Crow from the house daily and over the past week, singing Chiffchaffs. A Red legged Partridge calling from the top of Hips Heugh was only my third garden record.

So, today, during the standard lunchtime dog walk around the village wood I was pleased to find a right gathering of Water Crickets Velia caprai in one of the ditches that bisects the wood. There were at least 25 of them skittering around in pond skater fashion. I've just read, they can move a lot faster, as they spit on the water surface and reduce the tension so there is less drag on them. What a great fact!  On top of that revelation, they aren't actually crickets, they are true bugs...

Water Crickets

Other than these, I have tried to improve on the Barn Owl shots by reading about settings for birds in flight with the 7D2. It has definitely helped..

The female Barn Owl taken from the drive with 300mm lens....

Tuesday, March 16, 2021


Usually my garden moth trapping in North Northumberland isnt very good in March. Single figure counts mainly consisting of Hebrew Characters or an odd Pale brindled Beauty as a result of windy nights or clear cold skies are the order of the day.

Tom Tams, County Recorder, advised me once to stop scratching around for a handful of moths in the garden and venture out to some woodland where you can catch a bucketful. I was thinking about this yesterday so dug out my small LED bucket trap that I bought a couple of years ago  that has lain largely unused ever since. To be honest, I didn't have much faith in the small LED purple, battery, light, being used to a 125w MV bulb that illuminates our village and attracts everything from migrating Pinkfeet to the Coastguard Sea King Helicopter Rescue.

As dusk arrived, I took my bucket and battery into the an estate wood near our village and hid it away below and old birch tree. I expected that when I returned in the morning, it would either be gone or full of rain water. When I left the house to retrieve it, it was raining quite heavily and had been for some time. That will be that then, my second option seems likely.

What a surprise I got when I arrived. For a start the little bulb was still operating 12 hours later and secondly, there were moths! Quite a few too. I wish I had taken my phone for a few shots in situ. There were two Water Carpets, a March Moth and a Common Plume on the tree trunk above the trap.. in total there were 50 moths of 11 sp. Not July figures but ok for a little light in March. 


45.044  Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla)  1

49.076  a moth (Acleris cristana)  1

70.103  Water Carpet (Lampropteryx suffumata)  6

70.245  March Moth (Alsophila aescularia)  4

70.247  Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria)  1

70.255  Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria)  2

73.069  Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)  3

73.194  Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii)  5

73.210  Satellite (Eupsilia transversa)  9

73.245  Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda)  1

73.249  Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)  17

Acleris cristana.

To keep some context, back home, the 125w Robinson had also been on all night. It was radically out performed by its smaller relative having only 11 moths of 4 sp. Still, one of these was a Red Sword-grass.


73.209  Red Sword-grass (Xylena vetusta)  1 NFY

73.244  Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)  3

73.249  Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)  7

73.336  Red Chestnut (Cerastis rubricosa)  1 NFY

Red Sword-grass

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Away day?

 This morning, for the first time this year, I went birding away from our village all of three miles to Boulmer. 

The main difference is that I took the car to go birding instead of going on foot and I met with John for 'recreation and exercise' in a socially distant, safe, healthy outdoor environment in an attempt to bolster my flagging mental health. That's just about all caveats and boxes ticked I think?

Although the route is easily walkable, driving saves so much time. Instead of a 6 miles round trip hike laden with scope, tripod, camera, rucksack and flask, there is more time to spend actually looking for birds rather than just yomping along on auto pilot.

In the end, it was breezy and bitterly cold in the wind so birds were few and far between with little to note. 90 Sanderling on the Foxton beach, 51 Golden Plover in a coast field, 1 Grey Wagtail, several Rock Pipits, 2 Stonechats 2 pairs of Lapwings displaying, 5 Buzzards and 18 Common Scoter N were as good as it got.

Back at home a few more interesting birds were around including three for the patch year list. The Hooded Crow and 2 Barn Owls hunting together were standard, an adult Mediterranean Gull giving that high pitched call over our house and this evening a Red legged Partridge calling from the Peregrine spot on top of the Hips Heugh. Red leg is rarer here than Peregrine, this bird being my first since 2019 so it was very welcome.   I was going to try a digi scoped record shot but when I came out with my phone the bird had gone.

The other two year birds were seen yesterday with Lesser black backed Gull and Chiffchaff along the coast path.

The moth trap was just as slow with a lone Chestnut for the Garden Moth Scheme last night.

Above the darker of the Barn Owl pair out this morning, the female I believe, showed well but I cocked up the camera settings. 

The paler male Barn Owl stays a bit more distant.

Yellowhammer at Seaton Point

Monday, March 08, 2021


 March is a quiet time on the Northumberland coast. A lot of our wintering birds have moved on, so we have no Golden Plovers and few Curlews now and the  Northern Thrushes have vanished too so now we are left birdless apart from a some slow signs of spring in our resident populations.

A walk around the village lanes and pond yesterday turned up very little. The Hoodie is still hanging around but even it seemed lethargic yesterday refusing to come down for food thrown into the paddock. Maybe he ? is getting lonely seeing the other corvids pairing up now. Ive not seen the Barn Owls either since Thursday...

The weather this week is reverting back to winter so the chances of a singing Chiffchaff will be pretty slim until there is a calmer spell maybe next week. Its spells like this that really shows a local patch for what it is, but time passes and in doing so we can see that change is just around the corner... At least this hiatus gives me a chance to get the garden ready for the growing season...


Friday, March 05, 2021

Another day, another PC...

 My last PC, that blew its electrics after a power cut in January, was almost 9 years old, so it had a decent innings. To be totally honest, the incident was a bit helpful as it was an aging Windows 7 PC that became obsolete last January, so it was time to renew it anyway. My household insurance paid out about 60% of the total final cost after renewal and paying an I.T guru to save my hard drive etc, so it could have been worse.

Now, I have a fast Windows 10 machine that should be future proofed enough to last as long as its predecessor. It might take me a while to get used to the new workings of W10 but that is just the norm with new technology I suppose.

Right, where was I? Since my last proper post we have endured a mini Beast from the East and a nice mild sunny spell to off set it, making us believe spring was really here. Remember Winter II will be waiting in the wings, ready to pounce just as we start mowing the lawn again.

Over these last weeks of Lockdown I have continued to enjoy getting my wildlife fix from the local patch, staying within not much more than a mile radius of home other than to go for some shopping or essentials. During 2021 I have not been birding anywhere outside of my village other than single walks each down to Boulmer and up to Craster.

I have largely succeeded in following Government regulations, but last week my will power was pushed a bit when a county first, a  dapper drake Bufflehead, spent an afternoon on Cresswell Pond only 20 miles south of me. For the first time, the following morning  I was genuinely relieved with news that it had gone for good. 

Staying within almost sight and sound of my house has not been the martyrdom that you might think. There has been a lot of interest ranging from hundreds of thrushes heading to the snow free coast, daily sightings of Barn Owls and even a prolonged stay by probably two Humpback Whales. Not many people can say they've walked along the lane to see one of those... You might think that should be anyone's absolute highlight, and you would be right, it was a lifer for me, but the best thing comes with a bit more swagger even than a 40 foot long cetacean.

The resident Hooded Crow I have posted about on here a few times has now made a move actually into our village, to become a fully bonafide garden bird. One morning it made an attempt to join the dawn chorus, waking me up until some food was put out for it. Since that day, I feed it across the road in the Rectory Paddock each morning on what ever comes to hand. So far it has enjoyed Pancakes, Flat bread, Duck Eggs, Fat Balls, Tortillas and standard bread crusts. Some are eaten on the spot, some hidden in grass tussocks for later. I'd like to see it pair with a local Carrion Crow. Now that it is practically domesticated, it will leave a gaping hole when it does decide to move on... 

Here are a few photos to be going on with...

One of the local Barn Owl pair on a gate post next to the village green.

The snow brought hundreds of Fieldfares into the area with a lot coming to fruit laid out in our garden.

Hooded Crow. 'Today I is mostly eating fat balls...'

A pair of Kestrels frequented our garden during the cold snap. One day they were even fighting on our porch roof.

Pre cold spell, the Kingfisher fed in the ditch running along the lane out of the village.

Thar she blows! ( You have to don't you)

Some distant shots of the Humpback Whale. I cant believe this could be seen from our village road end! The herring gull wingspan gives an idea of tail fluke width, it must be around 8 feet wide!

4pm UPDATE - There is a dead Humpback Whale in the sea offshore about 2 miles north of us now. Initial thoughts are that it may be due to entanglement. I'm totally gutted. This sea is just too crowded for these animals. I hope I never see another off here.


Wednesday, March 03, 2021

Not long now...

 I hope! New PC comes back tomorrow after getting my saved hard drive uploaded on to it. Hopefully this will see an upturn in blog posts after a meagre February output. It’s been a long month...