Monday, June 28, 2021


 Thursday was our warmest day of the year so far at 25 degrees, not bad for Northumberland. Then on Friday it had dropped by 14 degrees to 11 with a northerly wind and rain. Saturday was pretty much the same. Grim. Then yesterday was meant to be cloudy but fair so we headed to Boulmer as there would probably be not much invert activity inland. How wrong could we be? It was another warm and sunny day as if the previous two had never happened.

Boulmer was 'June quiet' except for visitors. There was a 100km challenge 'Race to the Castle' from Whitley Bay to Seahouses taking place over three days. This provided a constant trail of able and not so able participants along our route. There was one unusual thing we noted. Out of hundreds of people seen and heard in the morning, only 6 others apart from ourselves had county accents. By sound alone we could easily have been on holiday.

Birds were less noticeable - Common Scoter 20 N , Manx Shearwater 10 N, Puffin 20+N, Turnstone 30+, Dunlin,, 10+, Ringed Plover 10+ and the first 2 returning Redshank after a few blank weeks for them. On the rocks were 5 Golden Plover, 33 Curlew and 4 Bar tailed Godwit, 1 in full summer plumage flew N. 4 fw Goosanders were in the haven.

At a loose end, we milled around the car park and beach. The car park Stonechats had brood 2 on the wing. A few day trippers stopped to look at what all the 'tacking' was about as they passed the breeding site to the beach. Flowers were quite interesting too - 

Henbane, a scarce plant in the county that I have only seen once before, on Holy Island.

Dwarf Mallow, a new species for me and it too seems scarce this far north?

A nice orange form of Birds Foot Trefoil really stood out.

Hedgerow Cranesbill

Sea Rocket

Friday, June 25, 2021


 If you read this blog regularly you will see that John and me spend a bit of time birding and looking for inverts on what we call our 'inland patch'. This is a loose definition of the upland moor areas west and north west of Alnwick. 

We tend to prefer nice summer days in these places for dragonflies, butterflies, plants etc, but over the years we have enjoyed some interesting finds away from sites that are more popular. Things like Green Hairstreak, Emperor Moth, Adders, Broad bodied Chaser, Goshawk, Orange Underwing, Birds Nest Orchid, Ring Ouzels, Large Heath, Gold ringed Dragonfly etc have all brightened a 'quiet' Sunday morning.

But what of the times of day when we don't usually visit? Late evening and dusk in particular. We have often mooted checking places out for Nightjars and have never really gotten around to it. Keen for a change, this was to be 'the year'. 

Over the dry spell recently we have made a couple of crepuscular trips out to see what we could find and have not been disappointed. On this occasion I won't be giving out locations as there are already known sites where all of these upland species can easily be added to the year list, so forgive me for keeping 'our' birds to ourselves. 

Its quite a walk to get to the main spot but we arrived in time to hear the first birds begin 'churring' at 10pm. At first distant, but after a few minutes some sounded closer and there were a few 'goowick' calls too. These birds are so mysterious in looks and lifestyle, they are a highlight in any birding calendar so to have birds flying around our heads all to ourselves was truly life affirming!

A white splashed male came down this ride and circled me at about 20 feet radius. Wing claps and 'g'wick' calls looked either inquisitive or warning me. Then we had three together chasing around like outsized swifts, not at all bothered by our presence. One male landed giving great views on a fallen branch while a female landed nearby and began catching moths in the manner of a giant Spotted Flycatcher. She would drop off her perch low to the deck, swish around and then back to the same vantage point. All no more than 20 yards away for around 10 minutes.

In this game you are totally against the clock. Birds began showing at 10.10pm but by 10.35pm its getting too dark to pick them out except as silhouettes, but that 25 minutes is fantastic!

The next time we are out looking for insects in warm sunshine we will be thinking that out there, hunkered down in the bark are these animated leaf birds sitting maybe watching us through a squinted eye...

I was lucky enough to catch this female just right when she landed right beside us on the fence. Photoshop is responsible for removing the eye glare but thats all. 

I rarely make a presence on here but this shows the lengths gone to to avoid midgies. A palmful of repellent around the head worked quite well too..

Its not all Nightjars either, this scarce Ash-black Slug Limax cinereoniger, the largest of the UK slugs attracted attention while waiting for the birds to show, plus Cuckoo, Snipe, Redpolls galore almost in the dark, 2 Sand Martins low through the trees, again in near darkness were very odd. A barking Roe buck added to the ambience.   

Monday, June 14, 2021

Pacific Heights.


For some reason I couldn't sleep on Saturday so got up early to do the moth trap. Numbers still aren't up to usual standards but 97 moths of 36 species is enough to keep the interest going. After the catch was processed and photographs taken, it was time to up date our local moth page on FB.

It was while sat at the desk editing images that the Northumberland WhatsApp Rare Birds group came to life. A photo was uploaded, taken by Dave Elliott showing the departure of a Swift with a white rump low over water at East Chevington reserve. Even the rear-on image looked to me that it was not an abberant Common Swift. The bird was banking over showing a very slim pointed wing vertical to the water. Knowing the extreme transient nature of 'Apus' the image was taken at 7.30am and there was no further news by 9am. As the day warms, insects would rise on thermals and so will the swifts. It was currently cool and cloudy.

Then at around 9.30 information was released saying that the bird was still present, with no identification as yet.

With fixed plans for the afternoon, if I was going to have a look I better go now, so thats what happened. Arriving at a queue of cars parked along the lane side at Chev, the news was that it had not been seen for 20 minutes, however when I saw Tom Cadwallender he told me the bird was still here but away up at the far north of the reserve near Druridge Bay Country Park.

The car was given a 10 point turn and I headed up to the park, parking the car right beside the north entrance to the reserve coast track. As I made my way south, three birders were stopped on the track around 100 mtrs away looking towards the lake. I assumed they were watching the bird, but no sooner had I built my hopes up, they all just carried on wandering down to the west facing hide.

By now I was almost at their spot. Looking toward the hide, a birder was watching through his bins but he was facing directly north, an area above some trees to my right, so I stopped and scanned. With the naked eye, nothing. The bird could be more distant so a scan with the bins was similarly empty, then all of a sudden one bird came into my field of view and it had a huge wrap around white rump! It came very close giving excellent views against the trees. Immediately it could be seen not to be a Common Swift, its shape was all wrong with a narrow waist and slim more pointed wings it scythed around with Common Swifts  and to me, was all day long a Pacific Swift!

After a couple of minutes it flew back down to the water so I headed to the hide where around 20 birders stood around outside. Someone asked 'Well, what is it?'  'Its a Pacific isnt it!' was my excited response only to be doused by a 'Is it though?' by very experienced birders. White-rumped Swift was not eliminated. This was a bird I have no experience of but I have seen Pacific Swift in China. If only we had a field guide because given these brilliant views, there isn't really a danger of confusion. We commented on the slimmer structural build, the pale scalloped under parts and the size. Some felt it should be bigger than Common Swift, but guide measurements show them to be the same.

By now it was a big twitch with lots of people taking photographs so no doubt its identification would be confirmed soon.

I left after an hour, not believing what had just happened. After last weeks stint, now this! Northumberland is getting some great birds again this year.

By the time I was home, the information services were posting images of the now identified Pacific Swift and everyone was getting good views. I could get on with today's plans quite happy...

Northumberland List 356  British List 423

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Red necked Stint.

 Its taken a little while to get over the excitement of this weekend's birding up here. What a spell Northumberland is having this past week, with good birds galore descending on the county like flies on the proverbial.

On Friday there were 2 Rose-coloured Starlings, one at 25 miles either side of me that I didn't go for as I'm sticking it out for one locally. My fat ball feeders are well stocked and waiting... also Mike Carr was working at the burn mouth near our village when he had a Bee-eater fly over north. Unfortunately it didn't stop for breath and bypassed me at home. Its another one to watch out for.

Down the coast at East Chev, Dave Elliott had two good mornings, on the first he found a female Woodchat at Hadston Dunes, then next day a singing Great Reed Warbler at Chev south pool reedbeds. The shrike was only present until 9am then vanished as silently as it arrived, though the warbler is still present. Interestingly another, this time male, Woodchat was found yesterday up the coast from us at Goswick golf course. Two in a year in Northumberland is unprecedented.

However great these bird are both in looks and to find, the grand finale was down to Alan Curry on the less than salubrious River Blyth Estuary. 

On Saturday evening around 8.30pm just as most birders are cracking open a bottle or tinnie, Alan was grilling the handful of Ringed Plovers on the mud when, alongside a Little Stint for field guide comparison he found the UK's 8th recorded, 7th alive, Red-necked Stint

For us old timers, we were lucky enough to see the Wansbeck bird of 95 and we never thought there would be a second chance at one in the county. We are now the only UK county to have more than one record of this cracking little peep with both sightings only 3 miles apart.

Like the Aug 95 bird, this one was in full summer plumage  and as there have been no British records for a decade it was going to attract some attention. One birder on Twitter, tweeted by 9pm, 'I'm on my way, from Somerset!' Being cool after one sighting 26 years ago and seeing hundreds in China, I kept my powder dry until Sunday morning before following the masses.

I met up with John at Boulmer at 6am, sifted through 70 or so Starlings on the shore looking for a whole lotta Rosie, without luck, then we headed down the A189 to Blyth. A moderate number of travellers were on site from dawn and the bird was showing out on the flats albeit quite distantly, but giving decent scope views.

The twitch is on..

We left the site happy with our views, totally unaware of how things would pan out later as the tide rose...

Our next stop was up at Chev for the Great Reed Warbler, on the way back home. Several people had difficulty with this bird, waiting hours for only a song, but we were there 10 minutes and out he popped, right on top of the phragmites, chugging, croaking and swaying at the same time, bending reeds double with his song thrush sized mega warbler bulk. Like the stint, this is only my second in Northumberland, though there have been a few other occurrences I didn't bother going for. Because I'm not a twitcher.

Then it was back up to civilisation at Boulmer, motivated by the success of others we cast around hoping for our own rarity but it was not to be. You can't have everything so it was time to call it a day and head home for lunch. A good day.

Red-necked Stint, River Blyth.

Great Reed Warbler, East Chevington.

Back home I caught up with some sketches from memory and some dodgy phone scoped reference material when the Twittersphere started showing more stint images as the twitch increased apace. There are photos and there are photos but eventually some of the shots were practically unbelievable. The tide had pushed the bird onto a spit on the opposite shore. Birders, seeing an opportunity made the half hour jaunt across to the far side and were treated to spectacular views down to 20 feet!

Of the best images, Tom Tams, Alan Curry, Josh Jones all stand out but there were others too that made me feel quite jealous that I didn't linger. We all knew better views would be possible as the tide came in...

It seems most of the country made the pilgrimage north for this Siberian stint but as I write this today, it has flown off on its globe trotting travels to where, who knows....

What a bird...

Tom Tams kindly let me use one of his amazing images of the Red necked Stint at point blank range.


Friday, June 04, 2021

At long last...

 ...some moths!

Last night was mild at 14 degrees at 11pm with some cloud and no wind. It was still 10 degrees when I got up this morning.

Late last night I checked the trap before bed and was pleased to find 9 species on the outside of the light, so it boded well for the morning.

The results today have ended up with 104 moths of 39 species. This is not earth shattering here, or even out of the ordinary, but after a cold nightmare of a spring where the usual catches are in single or low double figures, to get back to average is great.

Highlights were 3 Lunar Thorns, Pale Pinion, 2 Grass Rivulet, a Narrow winged Pug and a nice micro, Esperia sulphurella which is only my third here, I think.

The catch is as follows -

     Agonopterix heracliana/ciliella (Agonopterix heracliana agg.) 1

Coleophora species (Coleophora sp.) 3
03.002 Common Swift (Korscheltellus lupulina) 6
28.019 a moth (Esperia sulphurella) 1 NFY
32.017 a moth (Agonopterix arenella) 5
41.003 a moth (Blastobasis lacticolella) 1 NFY
44.001 Many-plumed Moth (Alucita hexadactyla) 1
49.109 a moth (Agapeta hamana) 1 NFY
49.166 a moth (Celypha lacunana) 4 NFY
49.214 a moth (Ancylis badiana) 4
62.001 Bee Moth (Aphomia sociella) 5 NFY
63.025 Small Magpie (Anania hortulata) 1 NFY
69.003 Poplar Hawk-moth (Laothoe populi) 1
70.049 Garden Carpet (Xanthorhoe fluctuata) 3
70.054 Silver-ground Carpet (Xanthorhoe montanata) 10
70.061 Common Carpet (Epirrhoe alternata) 3
70.095 Red-Green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata) 1
70.097 Common Marbled Carpet (Dysstroma truncata) 1
70.137 Grass Rivulet (Perizoma albulata) 2 NFY
70.168 Narrow-winged Pug (Eupithecia nanata) 1 NFY
70.183 Common Pug (Eupithecia vulgata) 2
70.190 Grey Pug (Eupithecia subfuscata) 1 NFY
70.222 Brown Silver-line (Petrophora chlorosata) 3
70.226 Brimstone Moth (Opisthograptis luteolata) 2
70.238 Lunar Thorn (Selenia lunularia) 3 NFY
70.240 Scalloped Hazel (Odontopera bidentata) 1
71.020 Pale Prominent (Pterostoma palpina) 1
72.003 Snout (Hypena proboscidalis) 2 NFY
72.019 Buff Ermine (Spilosoma lutea) 2
72.020 White Ermine (Spilosoma lubricipeda) 7
72.022 Muslin Moth (Diaphora mendica) 1
73.032 Nut-tree Tussock (Colocasia coryli) 1
73.102 Brown Rustic (Rusina ferruginea) 2
73.158 Rustic Shoulder-knot (Apamea sordens) 7
73.201 Pale Pinion (Lithophane socia) 1
73.281 Lychnis (Hadena bicruris) 1
73.317 Heart and Dart (Agrotis exclamationis) 1
73.334 Small Square-spot (Diarsia rubi) 13
74.004 Least Black Arches (Nola confusalis) 2

  Now this morning as I sit in the office 'working' there are reports that a Bee-eater flew north over my patch while a flock of Snow Geese as flown south. There are Rose-coloured Starlings to the right and left of me ( by about 25 miles each) and odd Red back Shrikes, Black Tern etc. Lets hope its a good weekend....

Esperia sulphurella, a lovely little micro.

Grass Rivulet. Not so lovely, in fact the epitome of drab.

Lunar Thorn. Three of them was quite good, still a regular species up here but it has severely declined in the south of England. 

Narrow winged Pug for the heather moors. It has either come a long way or lives on garden heathers nearby.

Thursday, June 03, 2021

British Birds? Its not you, its me....

 Tuesday I came back with the dog from her lunchtime walk to find that the latest British Birds 'journal' was lying in the porch. We all get a bit of a buzz when some reading material arrives I'm sure, so with a little pick-me-up in the mid day, I eagerly opened it to see what lay instore.

Before I go on, you might have a look at Gavin Haig's take on it here , and I will say that this is my own, self indulgent view on things, mainly because it is my money that gets it delivered to the door.

I opened the packet keen to see what had been going on in the world of UK birds over the past month but only 10 minutes later, Vol 114 June 2021 was resigned to the book shelf where it will just gather dust.

I tweeted this - 

By close of play I had received a wide range of feedback, but a lot seemed to miss my point, such is the nature of Twitter. Whilst I did throw out a Boxplot graph as the catalyst for my whinge, my disappointment in BB stretches beyond that. Several well educated academics gave me advice on what this image of jargon means, and yes I could have read the whole article in detail and probably understood the results. I might live like a yokel, but I'm not quite Worzel Gummidge yet. The thing is, I don't want to read it. It is visually and mentally mind numbing. To me.  The article was about 3 Buzzards attending a nest with young, a pair and a helper. Now I am interested in that, but I could have been told that in a sentence or a paragraph without the use of phrases like 'Boxplots indicate the median and interquartile....zzzz' sorry I nodded off there.

For non subscribers, the rest of the journal discusses Nesting Spoonbills in Norfolk (15 pages, 8 tables and graphs with hatching and fledging times, incubation periods etc), Breeding Range Expansion of Caspian Gulls (10 pages), Recovering the Eurasian Curlew in the UK and Ireland since 2015 (10 pages), The Value of Webcams in Monitoring nesting Peregrines ( 4 pages). All very laudable and important documentation I agree, but I'm no ecologist or ornithologist. I'm just a birder.

I should probably add now what I would like to see in BB?

 Despite what I have just written, I think those articles should have a place. This is as well as, rather than instead of, except with more balance. BB is becoming 'high brow' for no good reason.

There should be a lot more about what today's birders are discussing in the field, in the obs common room, in the hide, at the bird club meeting and less of what passes as a post grad thesis . 

For example - 

Nocmig. Photography. Reserve management.

Gossip. What do you talk about with other birders? Covid not withstanding, a lot of hide gossip is great. It can be hilarious, enlightening, irreverent. It covers everything from the local cafe on the coast, to stringers, to remember when he did that and on and on. Boxplots have NEVER been discussed by birders in the field.

Rare Birds. Bird Anecdotes / recollections. Birding Folklore, frauds and fakes, our history our past.

Frontiers. Now we have lost Martin Garner who will pick up his baton.

I don't want to see another Green, Wood and Common Sand separation article, but maybe if a new field character or idea is considered we could be updated.

BB should help us find a focus in birding. It should help us renew the joy and excitement and not be so dry and up tight it doesn't get read. 

It should bring back birding and reduce things like - 

'Decadal means (with standard error bars)for a) the number of sites and b) the minimum number of confirmed breeding pairs and c) the maximum number of breeding pairs in six regions of Britain ( excluding Worcestershire) from the 1970s to the 2010s. The mean is calculated based on the number of years that data were collected within each decade; for example, in decades where three years lacked data, the mean was calculated for the seven years with data.'

 ...until the next time you hear some one discussing 'decadals' in a hide at Cley or East Chevington.

After all that, its probably not what British Birds is for, but I wish we had a magazine or journal if you like for birders rather than ornithologists. Not the level of 'Bird Watching' that gives woodpecker id articles and places to find bluebells, but a more mature, experienced take on things.  

On that note, it shows that its not me who doesn't want British Birds. 

Its seems that British Birds doesn't want me.




Tuesday, June 01, 2021

Bank Holiday Weekend.

 As most of the UK basks in some well deserved sunshine and warmth, there is no such luck for us souls on the northeast coast. Friday was nice and clear with blue skies and sun, but since then it has been 100 yard visibility with thick fog, mist, haa all day this side of the A1. Combine that with a blithering south easterly and temperatures struggling into double figures its been a few days for watching Netflix rather than  hunting for wildlife.

Since Bonxie Wednesday birding has been almost non existent but I have been out and about. My notes reflect an apathy about it all.

Saturday 29th May

Cool sea fret all day.

In the Greenhouse were Walnut Orb Weaver and Tetrix denticulata. An Orange Tip, male, was in the garden briefly.

Tetrix denticulata, only my second.

Sunday 30th May

Thick fog at home, but sunny west of Alnwick.

So thats where we went. A Cuckoo showed well on wires and over the road as we arrived while 2 Barn Owls hunted the verges.

It finally warmed a bit at 11am bringing 6+ Green Hairstreaks, 50+ Common Heath moths, 10+ Large Red Damselflies and 1 Small Heath on the wing.

Green Hairstreak

Small Heath

Large Red Damselfly

Bank Holiday Monday 31st May.

At home visibility 100 yards in fog and mist. Windy, cool. We headed inland again to avoid the autumnal weather where it was 19 degrees and sunny.

Hedgley and Branton Pits near Powburn - 

Highlight was a nice picnic in the sun but a few things were noted.

Little Ringed Plover 3, Gadwall several pairs, Four spotted Chaser 2, Saxon Wasp 1 queen gathering wood for its nest, Blue tailed Damselfly, Common Blue Damselfly, Small Copper 2, Orange Tip 1 .

Above - Saxon Wasp Dolichovespula saxonica 

Common Blue Damselfly, teneral I think.

Dove's Foot Cranesbill