Thursday, May 27, 2021

Boulmer Bonxie

Met up with John on a fine, bright evening at Boulmer.

The car par was three quarters full and many visitors were still on the shore. The tide was high, leaving little room for waders so we sat on the bench and pointed our scopes seaward just to see what was passing.

First of all a nice close fly by from 8 Common Scoter heading North followed by an Arctic Tern. The local breeders were out in force with many Auks, Terns and Kittiwakes feeding further out. The tide was just about to turn...

As we chatted and drank tea, I glanced north towards the village and saw that all the gulls were up over the beach as a couple walked along the strand line. Just over their head was a large dark bird hanging in the breeze. At first I thought is that an Arctic Skua, then it banked around to reveal that it was much bigger, a huge Bonxie , right over the beach! As if that isnt unusual enough, as soon as the people passed by, it dropped out of the sky to land in the washed up kelp right up against the marram grass.

We had great scope views, but hadn't I forgotten to bring my camera. Typical. So I watched the gear at the seat while John stalked down the beach, like a ninja Navajo, melting into the shadows until he was close enough for a shot. Unfortunately another couple and their dachshund had other ideas and marched right up to the bird. They were almost standing on it before it flew, off and away around the corner never to be seen again. 

After the skua had cleared off so did most of the public, thank goodness, and the tide was on its way out. Waders were flighting in to feed with 70+ Ringed Plover, 70+ Sanderling, 20+ Dunlin, 20+ Turnstone, ( no Redshanks always seems odd) and a single summer plumaged Knot. While 8 Shelducks rested on newly exposed rocks, the village pair were out with 11 ducklings, just Bonxie fun sized.

Further along, a pair of Stonechats with 2 juvs and the male Greenland Wheatear was still on the beach.

Not a bad couple of hours on an evening...

Monday, May 24, 2021

Giving Back...


A downpour just misses the group...[Photo JWRutter]

We have all learned a lot of what we know about natural history thanks to the efforts of others. 

This could be through friends, or early mentors, bird clubs, natural history societies, book authors or whatever, but do you give back?

Beginners wouldn't be expected to, of course, but a lot of us out there have many years of field experience of varying levels. Just about everyone I know who is a naturalist or birder are always willing to help others in some way. I have read about cliqueish behaviour, suppression, standoffishness etc but as a rule this is very rare and we mostly delight in being able to help someone out.

I do this in various ways. The commonest is probably people who are coming to visit Northumberland or Northumberland birders /naturalists going to somewhere I've been before. It takes little time to knock up a map and email some findings so they can enjoy the wildlife you have already done. With local young people and beginners I have given out copies of bird reports, books and advice on how best go about things etc all the while being conscious of  the needs of the wildlife the info is about. For example If I think too many might visit a site for something I have found, I might give advice on places to look, habitat requirements etc where an observer might make a similar discovery for themselves.

Another way to help out is by giving talks to local clubs or leading  a guided walk in an area you are familiar with.

This is what we did yesterday. John and myself arranged to meet up with other members of Alnwick Wildlife Group for a morning birding walk around our patch at Boulmer. Well, Seaton Point really, but its all Boulmer.

13 participants, mostly relatively inexperienced or casual bird watchers, gathered at Seaton Point layby at 8am . We walked the shore around to Boulmer navigation poles and back by the coast path returning to the cars at about 11am.

Boulmer has been very slow in recent weeks so I was worried there might not be much to show them, but a few summer plumaged waders and terns with some id tips and nice scope views always goes down well.

On arrival before the guests came, we had a singing Lesser Whitethroat at the golf course layby, my first here this year.

As we walked the beach the first waders were Oystercatchers displaying around the rocks, then a nice summer plumaged Grey Plover sat out in the seaweed. This could be nailed down in the scope for all to get a view of and it was a new bird for most present. Next up were a small party of Sanderling, Dunlin and Ringed Plover all in breeding dress but it was a male Turnstone in his tortoiseshell finery that got the oos and ahhs.   

While watching the waders, my birds of the morning flew in, 5 Little Terns, a great count for here, to fish in the rock pools. They were tricky to get good views of but the flickering wings hovering and the chattering squeaky calls were well appreciated.

Around the corner on the dune edge a nice Greenland Wheatear did the right thing, glued to a fence post long enough to give close scope views, while nearby a family of Stonechats also allowed close scrutiny.

At sea, 20 Common Scoter and a Red throated Diver flew south while Gannets, Auks and Sandwich Terns were ever present.

As we walked back by the coast bushes 3 Whitethroats, several Reed Buntings, Linnets and Meadow Pipits could all be pointed out and identified by song, behaviour and field marks. 

We arrived back at the cars just before a heavy shower came, but everyone was pleased with the morning and most had at least seen and learned something new about our local birds, which can't be a bad thing.


Some quick moth stats...

 We've all been saying that 2021 has been a poor mothing year so far, but just how bad?

In my garden the species totals for 1st Jan to 20th May each year over the last decade are as follows -

2021 47
2020 85
2019 69
2018 60
2017 87 [best year]
2016 33
2015 47
2014 83
2013 32 [worst year]
2012 43
Average 58.6 species over the period in 10 years.

So yes 2021 is below par but its way off being the worst. There have been 5 better springs and 5 equal or worse...and its looking grim until Thursday when hopefully things will pick up.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Moths Update

 What a poor mothing year this has been so far and this weekend and week to come for that matter, doesn't change things. Its been very cold, often with a stiff northerly breeze and clear skies, Possibly the worst conditions for garden moth trapping.

Still we plug along with regular trapping, only missing out on the many grim days and using any window of opportunity available.

Clockwise from top left - Common Carpet, Yellow barred Brindle, Garden Carpet and Brown Silver Line.

Clockwise from top left - Small Square Spot, Rustic Shoulder Knot, White Ermine and Water Carpet

Clockwise from Top Left - Ancylis badiana, Brown Rustic, Pale Prominent and Cinnabar.

The species selection by using the Garden Robinson Trap and a small bucket trap a couple of times in our village wood has produced 54 species - 

  Agonopterix heracliana/ciliella (Agonopterix heracliana agg.)  24

17.011  a moth (Ypsolopha ustella)  1

18.001  Diamond-back Moth (Plutella xylostella)  1

28.010  Brown House-moth (Hofmannophila pseudospretella)  2

29.001  a moth (Diurnea fagella)  2

32.007  a moth (Agonopterix ocellana)  1

32.017  a moth (Agonopterix arenella)  10

44.001  Many-plumed Moth (Alucita hexadactyla)  2

45.044  Common Plume (Emmelina monodactyla)  2

49.076  a moth (Acleris cristana)  1

49.214  a moth (Ancylis badiana)  3

70.049  Garden Carpet (Xanthorhoe fluctuata)  2

70.061  Common Carpet (Epirrhoe alternata)  1

70.066  Shoulder Stripe (Earophila badiata)  1

70.067  Streamer (Anticlea derivata)  1

70.094  Small Phoenix (Ecliptopera silaceata)  2

70.095  Red-Green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata)  2

70.101  Mottled Grey (Colostygia multistrigaria)  5

70.103  Water Carpet (Lampropteryx suffumata)  21

70.106  Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata)  1

70.141  Double-striped Pug (Gymnoscelis rufifasciata)  3

70.156  Brindled Pug (Eupithecia abbreviata)  8

70.200  Yellow-barred Brindle (Acasis viretata)  2

70.202  Early Tooth-striped (Trichopteryx carpinata)  3

70.222  Brown Silver-line (Petrophora chlorosata)  1

70.237  Early Thorn (Selenia dentaria)  3

70.239  Purple Thorn (Selenia tetralunaria)  1

70.245  March Moth (Alsophila aescularia)  11

70.247  Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria)  7

70.255  Dotted Border (Agriopis marginaria)  6

71.020  Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina)  2

72.001  Herald (Scoliopteryx libatrix)  1

72.020  White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda)  2

72.031  Cinnabar (Tyria jacobaeae)  2

73.032  Nut-tree Tussock (Colocasia coryli)  11

73.069  Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)  16

73.102  Brown Rustic (Rusina ferruginea)  1

73.158  Rustic Shoulder-knot (Apamea sordens)  1

73.194  Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii)  35

73.195  Dark Chestnut (Conistra ligula)  2

73.201  Pale Pinion (Lithophane socia)  3

73.209  Red Sword-grass (Xylena vetusta)  2

73.210  Satellite (Eupsilia transversa)  16

73.241  Pine Beauty (Panolis flammea)  2

73.242  Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)  28

73.244  Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)  46

73.245  Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda)  14

73.247  Powdered Quaker (Orthosia gracilis)  20

73.249  Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)  372

73.250  Twin-spotted Quaker (Anorthoa munda)  3

73.325  Shuttle-shaped Dart (Agrotis puta)  1

73.334  Small Square-spot (Diarsia rubi)  12

73.336  Red Chestnut (Cerastis rubricosa)  41

74.004  Least Black Arches (Nola confusalis)  1

Not as much as there should be at this stage in the year but enough to keep the interest going...Lets hope the weather in June improves and we get a scorcher of a summer!

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Little Terns and Sanderlings

 We nearly didn't get out birding last night as a massive thunderstorm threatened to make it a write off, but it seemed to skirt south of us leaving a glorious evening. 

I met John and Boulmer for a couple of hours loitering.

Along the now rising tideline, two pairs of Little Terns were showing well and giving a right old vocal performance when squabbling. For a little bird they put on an impressive turn of speed when in full chase mode. A few Sandwich Terns, 3 Red throated Divers and 20+ Eiders were the only things around the haven. Further off a few frenzies of Gannets were fishing the oily calm waters then a party of about 12 Bottle nosed Dolphins appeared below them. They were very active on the surface with adults and young floating with a spiky dorsal sticking up before gradually moving north.

Little Terns

Sandwich Tern

The slowly flooding sea pushed and shuffled a few waders around all in lovely bright summer plumage with 16 Sanderling, 31 Ringed Plover, 10 Dunlin and 13 Turnstone.

So not a lot to note really other than a very pleasant wander along the shore.


Monday, May 17, 2021

It might be good...

 On a slow February morning out birding, the conversation invariably drifts to what the rest of the year might hold. We imagine that in the height of spring passage, mid May, if we get some south easterly winds and overnight or early morning rain, the world will be our oyster. Bluethroats, Ortolans, Red backed Shrikes or Wrynecks are all waiting to be found in the next bush. Great eh!

Then forward 3 months to the 16th May 2021. A steady SE wind is blowing the flag at Boulmer straight out. Its taught flapping causes us to glance at its direction. It is overcast first thing but soon after we get there rain starts. This increases to soaking levels so we dash to the car for tea to wait it out. An hour later it passes leaving everything cold and wet.

What will it have dropped onto the big square headland? A Rosefinch? Maybe, but a Bluethroat is more likely at this time.

We stride out to Seaton Point from the north, checking weedy shorelines, gullies and stunted hawthorns. 5 Puffins are added to the year list tagging onto the ever present flocks of Guillemots and Razorbills. A few waders potter around on the wet sand, 16+ Ringed Plover, 10+ Dunlin, 17+ Turnstone a late Purple Sandpiper and a dozen Sanderling. A Whimbrel spends the whole morning flying between fields and beach, trilling as it goes.

In the sparse scrub, 2 Whitethroats.

Right, back to the cars and a short drive around to the south end to check Foxton bushes and in to Seaton Point from the south. Another Whitethroat sings from the hedge. We scan golden yellow rape fields for a Whinchat and scan skies for Swifts. Neither is found but an adult female Marsh Harrier is a new one for the year as she quarters the distant fields. 

Another walk turns up two fledged broods of Stonechat and a fly over Redpoll but no other passerines except the local Meadow Pipits. Not so much as a Willow Warbler or Wheatear, Nada.

Down at the village, more waders here include 28 Ringed Plover, 20 Sanderling and 22 Dunlin, 1 Knot and 2 Grey Plover both in winter plumage, as befits the scene really.

That about sums it up. Not much happening and not one photograph taken. As an old birder once said to me, 'never make a plan, son'.  I hope it is a bit better next weekend, I'm doing a guided walk for the local wildlife group!

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Midweek special

 Well not that special, but John and me have decided to have a meet up midweek while the evenings are light.

After a day of sunshine and a cool easterly breeze I headed along to Boulmer. Three miles from home the weather was decidedly different and within half an hour the rain was hammering down like it was November.

Still we sat some of it out , at least I had my small fishing brolly to hold over the scope for shelter.

From the village we had 2 Red throated Divers N and 2, new for the year, very close Manx Shearwaters S, but it was the waders we were mostly interested in. Numbers were less than Sunday, but at this time the turnover is hourly. We had 17 Northern Ringed Plover, 11 summer plumaged Dunlin, 1 Grey Plover, 2 Sanderling, 1 female Bar tailed Godwit and 7 Whimbrel.

Right that was a soaking, time for home. Lets hope next weeks sortie is a bit drier...


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 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,