Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Catching up.

I still haven't found away to add a picture to the header above. It looks like its because this template may not be recognised so its time for a change in look but I'm nervous the whole lot will go awry... 

Whats been happening lately? The Albatross is still there. It went missing on Friday and Saturday again after about a week of daily presence. I wish it would just go, because I just don't have time to lay a full day aside to go for it.

The mini warm, dry spell is continuing and, though a little cooler, we've not had any rain. We've had to resort to getting the hose onto the garden plants every other night, until there is a ban that is. On 17th the temp was 29.5 degrees, probably the warmest day since we've lived here. The conditions, as mentioned in my last post, have been great for moth trapping. So much so that I've had to take a break for a few nights to get away from processing catches and photographs. Its been taking up quite a bit of time, so I'll leave it til Wednesday. The moths will have a rest too.

There is little happening on the bird front at the minute. A couple of good garden records were had last week with Dunlin calling over in the dark and both Arctic and Sandwich Terns taking inland flights over the village on a few days.

At the weekend we returned home from shopping to be met by a Water Shrew having a right old rummage around the drive. It showed well for a few minutes, constantly active as it made its way along the wall and into a neighbour's old lean-to. There are a few records here now over recent years with this being the 5th individual seen but they are always pleasing to actually see in the open and alive ( two have been casualties).

 Finally, on Sunday the morning began with a seawatch from Cullernose Point. Despite a calm sea and a very light N breeze we put in an hour with 3 Bonxie, 10 Roseate Terns, 2 Manx Shearwaters, 65 Common Scoter, 13 Teal, 1 Red breasted Merganser, a Whimbrel and a 1st winter Mediterranean Gull all N. Not bad considering.

From there, next stop was Boulmer via Seaton Point where it was very quiet. 4 Bar tailed Godwits included a full summer male, 1 summer plum Grey Plover, a few Roseate Terns in with hundreds of other terns offshore, 1 Little Tern flew S and 2 Manx Shearwaters moved N. Small waders were almost totally absent except for a lone Sanderling. Not one Dunlin was very odd, with none even heard.

Already outside there is a sense that seasons are on the change ...


Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Busy Moth Trapping.

This current warm spell, I'm reluctant to call it a heatwave unless its been on until about September, has been great for garden mothing. On Friday night there were 494 moths of 95 sp and on Saturday night 719 moths of 119 sp. I was running two traps for the first time this year so these totals kept me busy all Saturday and Sunday mornings. A few good moths for here included -

This Celypha rufana is well out of range but is the 2nd Northumberland record after one in 2016. A RDB species scarce in the UK found mainly in Wales and Cumbria. 

My first Lyme Grass in 6yrs. The 4th for the garden.

Clockwise from top left - Coronet a new garden moth, Sallow Kitten, Straw Underwing and Blackneck all good for this area.

Diamond back, Dicrorampha sp, Bird Cherry Ermine and Eudonia lacustrata.

Latticed Heath, Mompha propinquella, Crambus perlella and Pammene aurana.

 Due to the heat on Friday I left some sugar water soaked kitchen roll in each trap for them to drink until dusk, but on Saturday I released them all in thick cover straight away in the morning. Some night species will feed during the day if its warm so I gave them a chance to do that.

Friday, July 16, 2021


 Day 6 since our dismally failing albatross twitch to Bempton. 

I can easily get over missing out on such a great bird, so that's not the issue. 

What wakes me up in the morning is that it is still there and has been present for the full 6 days since!  Due to other commitments, work, builders etc I am too tied up to set aside a whole day for a return visit. I just wish it would leave now so I can get on....

To take my mind off it, I'm trying to focus on the small things locally when on dog walks etc. A nice Merlin dashed along the coast road the other day and an adult moulting Mediterranean Gull flew south across the coast fields. There are flocks of warblers around the village early in the morning now, Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs with a Sedge Warbler today. 

Autumn approaches...

Only my 3rd Southern Wainscot after two together in 2020.

Volucella bombylans a bee mimic hoverfly in the moth trap this week. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Its been a long, long day...

 Do you keep a bird list? If you do, what does it really mean to you? Is it an integral, important part of your birding? I think most of us who are observers of natural history keep lists in one form or another, from the rabid down-tools-and-go-for everything twitcher to the garden moth trapper we all like a new list addition. For those who say, 'I don't', 'Lists are a trivial waste of time, you should be doing something more important and stern like survey work, ringing, constant effort monitoring, local patching' etc  what do you do?

I keep several lists. For birds, I have UK, County, Local Patch. For Moths I have UK and Garden, same for Butterflies. I have a dragonfly list, a wild flower list and a fish list. I do like them and enjoy adding to them but if there was a Top 10 of my lists, the long staying number one, the equivalent to a Bryan Adams single would be my Northumberland Bird list.  The County List. 

Periodically though my UK list becomes an itch that needs to be scratched. I am fickle in this regard. For example, a Moltoni's Warbler would not get me out of the county. It doesn't even have  a piece in my 1972 Heinzel, Fitter and Parslow. The same goes for a lot of these new 'splits'. They just don't have the background of birding history and lore that say, the Anglesey Black Lark, the Aberdeen Belted Kingfisher or even the StAbbs Marmora's Warbler had.  I like my travelled for birds to come with some provenance, like a fine antique.

In the 80's a Black browed Albatross lived every summer on the northern most tip of the northern most island in the UK, Unst. This is way beyond my travelling distance even if I had known about it in the dark ages before WhatsApp, but tales of travelers intrepid enough to go to extremes to see this bird were gripping. 

In recent years, there have been tantalising temptations of Albatrosses in the UK, even in my own county, but none really getable for the likes of me. That is not until two weeks ago when the Bempton Cliffs bird of last years brief stay returned. In previous summers it has stayed across the North sea, but now it seems to enjoy the company of Gannets on the great white cape of Yorkshires East Riding, having spent a fitful two weeks on site giving views down to knock- your-cap-off range.

Tied at home due to work and builders in my loft, we were late to the party. On top of that, we also have a guilt trip where the Twittersphere is quick to vilify anyone who travels anywhere other than by bike. Its ok for Richard Branson to go to the moon or for 30,000 fans to drive to a football match every weekend but if you dare twitch a bird, on your head be it. You alone have destroyed this planet with your petty trivialities.

How would I react to that? I have no kids, so I am not instantly doubling up or more on resource use , I have not eaten any meat for 30+ years, I have only flown on a handful of occasions in my life, my partner Jane has never flown, so I think, if I want to drive all day occasionally in my diesel motor I will!

I transgress. On Monday John  and myself made plans to go for the Albatross on Friday, our earliest possible free day. As it happened, no sooner were plans made, the Mollymawk buggered off, we thought for good, so that was that. Friday came, I was finishing up on chores after the builders and didnt see my phone until later. The Albatross had only returned to the cliffs hadn't it, but I was too late to go on the day so, Saturday was selected for the trip.  

We left Alnwick at 5.30am arriving at Bempton 3 hours later to news that the bird was last seen heading towards the horizon at 7am. Looked like we would have to wait. And wait. And wait.

11 hours later, the site and sounds and smells of a magnificent seabird colony were beginning to wane. At 7pm with no sign of the bird, we called it a day. Albatross 1 Northern Albatross Twitchers 0. I can almost hear the laughs from the enlightened few saying 'You get what you deserve you destroyer of worlds'. At one time a full day dip would have left me gutted, but now, not so much. Disappointed yes, but no more than that. There are more important things after all. I would like to see it tracked up the coast from Whitburn one day, now that would be special.

24 hours later, this afternoon, I was looking at some photos I took of the Gannets when word comes out, the Black browed Albatross was back on its favoured cliff ledge at Bempton. You know, I think it knew we had been watching and waited for us to leave...here's to 2022...

Bempton Big Cliffs

The number of birds on show is dizzying.


Click here to see layers of albatross dippers.



Monday, July 05, 2021

Fog and Sun...

 An early start yesterday and keen to get out was soon dampened by thick sea fret reducing visibility to a couple of hundred metres. 

I met John at Boulmer, as our default setting when the weather isnt too good. A walk along to the north end at Longhoughton Steel was slow going. The Minke Whale is still on the shore, now becoming particularly flavoursome and we commented on how someone's terrier would get inside it... We listed for waders but all we had were 2 Golden Plover and 2 Redshank while a Whimbrel flew North with a dozen Curlew.

At the car park the first fledged Swallows sat out on the wooden bin store while the adults mobbed seven shades out of the local Barn Owl.

 The only other thing into the book were the Wormwood Artimesia absinthium plants along to the north of the village. Its quite a scarce plant up here and I always forget its name.

After the walk, back at the car park, it was filling up rapidly and one oik in particular helped us decide to move location.

Alnmouth South Dunes was our destination all of about 2 miles away. Now the bumpy track is closed to traffic it is quite a walk down but at least it reduces visitor numbers to the dunes which cant be bad.

It was still warm and for a short while the sun came out to make a nice window of summer weather to look for plants and insects.

Sedge Warblers and Reed Buntings seemed to be all over carrying food for young while a single singing Reed Warbler hid in the depths of his reed bed. A Whimbrel was roosting on the salt marsh and a nice juvenile Cuckoo gave us a close fly by while being beaten up by Meadow Pipits. Its ironic really as it probably thinks they're its parents...

 We wandered around some nice dune slacks that were emblazoned with colourful flowers and their attendees, the bees, moths and butterflies.

Narrow bordered 5 spot Burnets were just emerging and gave shocks of crimson as they buzzed around everywhere. Butterflies were counted for John's spreadsheet to send in at the year end to Butterfly Conservation. We had 5 Small Tortoiseshell, 10 Ringlet, 9 Common Blue, 2 Large Skipper, 10 Small Heath, 5 Meadow Brown but no whites at all.

From top left, Common Centaury, Hemlock, Musk Mallow and Pyramidal Orchid.

From top left - Biting Stonecrop, Wild Thyme and Ladies Bedstraw all over the place with one of the Burnets in the foreground, Stork's Bill and Sea Purslane.

Pyrausta despicata day flying.

What began as a very drab day turned out to be bright and colourful after all...

Friday, July 02, 2021

Gannin' soft...

 Back in September 1993 the late Andy Booth found Northumberland's first Gadfly Petrel off Hauxley. In 1996 it was accepted by BBRC as a Soft-plumaged Petrel of the race 'feae' or Fea's Petrel. Back then this was a mythical sighting, a once in a lifetime event never to be repeated. If we fast forward to the present day, how things have changed.

It is usually understood that these Fea's or to give them a proper term Fea's/Zino's/Destertas Petrels are actually rare but annual visitors to UK waters. The difficulty in identifying them at a seawatch has resulted in a lot of controversy over what can and what can't be ticked by birders so they are usually referred to as Fea's Petrels and are, quite rightly, very much sought after. To see one, you must either do a lot of hours seawatching or have some excellent communications in place so when one is reported coming your way along the coast you can get out to head it off.

Yesterday a Fea's type Petrel flew north at Flamborough Head around 9.30am. When it was seen along the coast at Long Nab, birders to the north mustered themselves, made plans to leave work early, put off pre organised plans and headed for the nearest headland.

This particular petrel was due to arrive in Northumberland at around 5pm so, having only ever seen one back in 2014  I fancied having a go for a local patch bird and was out at Cullernose Point at 5.30pm. Shortly after sitting down reports came through that it had gone past Newbiggin, 24 miles to the south and was on its way.

By now, a crowd of 7 of us had gathered expectantly on the cliff. The atmosphere was tense as we all screwed eyes into scopes and waited. A distant oil tanker was to be our spotting sight should one of us pick it up, to get others a bearing.

At 6.15pm Mark Eaton gave the 'Thar she blows' ( not literally) and there was the typical panicking until we got on it. Distant and way to the SE at first, I saw it then lost it just as quickly. The sea was flat calm so I just kept breathing and scanning and in a minute it was back on show. It came to a very reasonable 800mtrs - 1km off and we all had it in view until around 6.23pm, a duration of 7 or 8 minutes before it was lost to view.

Celebrations were made as Northumberland's 15th Gadfly was added to the record and more to the point, added to my patch list.

A short while later, back home, a scan of social media found a Tweet by Paul French of BBRC who had seen some photos taken at Newbiggin of our bird. Did it really show a breast band? 

Yes it really did? When we watched it, Mark Eaton I think, commented on it. I also commented on the fully dark underwings that my last Feas did not have, it had white axilliary spikes up to the leading edge. Still, we never suspected a thing.

Then experts began saying this bird was actually a Soft Plumaged Petrel Pterodroma mollis and not Fea's at all. This was a different prospect. Soft plumaged Petrel would be a first for Britain and only the 3rd for the Western Palearctic. 

So now there has been much discussion, the bird looks fine for Soft plumaged and even world experts agree on it, all from images taken by a few birders at Newbiggin. Well done lads. What a bird for the patch after July 2019's Giant Petrel and July 2020's Sooty Tern. It seems Northumberland is the place to be for a summer southern oceans seabird...

Thursday, July 01, 2021

Greenfinches and Seawatching...

 Yesterday, whilst everyone was having to duck when an albatross flew by in Yorkshire, I was stuck in my cell, working, while builders were doing their best to push me over the edge as they dismantled our loft. Our old house doesn't meet the EPC standards of efficiency so roof work is being done. This means I am confined to the house as the dog cant be left while they are working. Highlight from here today was a calling Whimbrel. 

Still, it leaves hope that the albatross will give us a show during a seawatch later in the month. I have a dream...

In reality, after work I was keen to get some air. The sun was shining after a dull morning on the coast but there was a light Northerly blowing on  a rising tide so it was off to Boulmer to meet John. After a catch up over tea and mini rolls, we set up camp on the seat north of the village that is conveniently facing south east and thanks to coastal erosion it is right on the sandy cliff edge. 

We gave it an hour. There were lots of birds were moving. Thousands of them, but they were the local island breeders, auks, kittiwakes, gannets, fulmars etc  so we sat and gazed through them. 3 adult summer plumaged Little Gulls were nice as they passed close in, in a tight group. They were followed by 4 Goldeneye, what they were doing in June, I cant say, but its very unusual, 4 Common Scoter, 2 first summer Arctic Terns and 3 Manx Shearwaters. Puffins were into high double figures too.

Less pelagic were 5 Greenfinches, this area's new Corn Bunting, with 3 males and 2 females. One male was in full song and display mode from a shed roof. It shows how infrequently they make this blog, this is the first time that Greenfinch has hit the index. 2 Sanderling, 2 Dunlin, 10 Ringed Plover, 2 Turnstone and 9 Curlew were on the shore and 4 Goosanders were fishing in the haven.

Back home, a new plant for me in our small village hall pond, Great Spearwort Ranunculus lingua had about 10 plants growing. I've not noticed it before so may have come from some weed I brought in from another pond locally at Little Mill in the spring..

Great Spearwort