Monday, August 30, 2021

Bank Holiday

 In a cliched Bank Holiday fashion today began quite miserably. It was fully over cast with regular showers of mizzle, for just long enough to affect the optics.

There had not been too many seabirds yesterday, but the North wind continued so we headed down to Boulmer where we can combine a seawatch with waders and anything else passing. In short, we spent from 6.15am - 11am on a park bench style seat positioned on eight 2ft sq paving slabs (4 x 2 set up) over looking the sea and muddy shoreline. 

The Obs...

There were decent numbers of birds constantly on show with Gannets still streaming past as they have done since last Thursday. It makes you wonder how many thousands of birds have been involved and how many are duplicates going around in huge circles. A few tern and Kittiwake frenzies close inshore were worth perusing as they included Arctic, Common, Sandwich and Roseate Terns and at least 3 first winter Little Gulls pause on the way north.

True 'seabirds' were fewer with 'only' 10 Sooty and 2 Manx Shearwaters, 9 Bonxie and 2 Arctic Skuas. There were divers with 1 Great Northern the first of autumn heading north as well as Red throats with 4 N and 3 S. Wildfowl included 39 Pale bellied Brent Geese, 32 Wigeon, and 45 Teal all north.

Pale phase adult Arctic Skua

Pale bellied Brents.

Around the shore were 129+ Dunlin, 2 Knot, 3 Sanderling, 6 Bar tailed Godwits, a Pergrine seen three times and 2 Yellow Wagtails on the beach.

All in all not a bad morning. Another Fea's slash Desertas ( who actually uses this combined name?) Petrel was eagerly awaited in sea stations along the county coast but it had drifted further offshore at Whitburn.

I remember a time when seawatching was the last bastion of birding that held surprise and intrigue. You never knew what you might see until it loomed up from the waves. Now, a newer version of seawatching means you can sit in the house, wait for a report of rare bird passing Flamborough, Filey, Scarborough or Cowbar, consult your handy smartphone timetable to predict a local arrival time then head out half an hour before and expect the bird to be nailed on. 

I am so pleased birding is not that predictable and that at least this Feas Petrel did the right thing and didn't conform. I like a bird report from the south as much as the next man but I also like to put in the hours without waiting for one individual over the vastness of the sea. 

If you want good seabirds, put some work in, face the elements head on and feel the buzz when a global wanderer pops up...

Joe Pender eat your heart out, 3 Sooties passing...

Friday, August 27, 2021

Not a bad week on the patch.

 Seawatching gets me a bit fired up. So much so that I forget to take any photos for the blog so here is another naked post...

Before the seawatching there have been a few interesting patch sightings this week, mostly while out on dog walks before work.

On Monday, a year first Spotted Flycatcher flew into our village from the coast path. It was picked up flying over open fields where it looked decidedly unusual, until it perched up in a village tree briefly before vanishing not to be seen again.

On Tuesday there was a proper garden event of the mega kind. 

I had noticed a bird soaring over fields behind us so dived indoors for my binoculars to get a better look. With the naked eye, at range, Marsh Harrier was considered but through the glass only a juv Lesser black back could be found. As I scanned a bit further, a small flock of birds high to the West in direct flight caught my attention as they flew North. The formation was a straight line of 4 with a single higher up. Usually these type of sightings here are of Golden Plover or maybe Oystercatchers so I wasn't really concentrating. 

That is, until it dawned on me what I was watching. All 5 birds had long bills and legs and best of all, white wing bars translucently back lit! They were Black tailed Godwits! What a superb garden tick. Black tails are a rare bird on my patch, we have no marshes or muddy areas so all sightings are of birds passing by. When I say 'all sightings' I mean the one in 2012 and in 2020 that both involved small parties in spring on seawatches.

Those 5 beauties take my from the garden list seen or heard to 141 species. I wonder what we miss when we are not so lucky?

Also on Tuesday a Raven flew over the garden calling quietly as it went.

Wednesday followed in a similar vein when, at Peggy's lunchtime walk a Willow Tit was calling loudly along the lane. Almost annual in a wider patch context they are not so regular in our village with most local sightings coming from Craster or Boulmer. 

Now to Thursday. A large high pressure over the north Atlantic was providing a flow of air from south of Newfoundland, past southern Iceland and over the top of Scotland giving a brisk northerly down the Norwegian coast into the North Sea. Conditions that would surely give us a few seabirds passing. This merited a two seawatch day.

Seawatch 1. Cullernose Point 6am - 7.30am

Slower than expected.

Sooty Shearwater 8N

Manx Shearwater 1N

Bonxie 5N

Arctic Skua 1N 1 S 

Common Scoter 4N

Teal 6N

Red breasted Merganser 2S

Roseate Tern 4

Arctic Tern 1

Sandwich Tern 3

Then it was time to get to work wondering if things would pick up later. I'm pleased to say it did but not by much.

Seawatch 2. 3.45pm - 6.15pm Rounding the wave watching to a nice 4 hours.

Sooty Shearwater 33N

Manx Shearwater 19N

Bonxie 15N

Skua sp ( down as Arctic but it was a Long tailed on hindsight. Dropped a bollock there) A dark juv was very small directly alongside a Manx it was around the same size. It then almost collided with a huge Bonxie lifting off the sea making it look like a tern it was so slim. At one stage a Sooty flushed by the Bonxie that was being agitated by the Long tail all in one scope view as a Manx went past.

Teal 82N

Wigeon 2N first of autumn.

Bar tailed Godwit 1 sum plum N

Whimbrel 1 N

Grey Plover 2 sum plum N

Purple Sandpiper 1N

Roseate Tern 1ad 1 juv

Sandwich, Common and Arctic Terns lingering.

Red throated Diver 1S

Puffin 1N  

A small group of 3 Bottle nosed Dolphins lingered off the point.

Not too bad, but no cigar. maybe over the Bank Holiday weekend? Still, mustn't grumble, its been a reasonable week around the home tetrad. 


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Nicely Spotted...

When we watch a local patch over time we can get not only very familiar with what should be where and when but we can even be a bit complacent. This is when a visiting birder drops in to the spot you have visited over months only to find the good bird you have hunted high and low for, but missed.

At Boulmer, these days there is not a drop of fresh water on the headland such is the efficiency of the land management .  Gone are the days of the Bow mere flash behind the pub after a lot of rain. It simply gushes out across the beach and into the sea. In autumn it was our only hope of getting some fresh water waders such as Ruff or Wood Sand. It even had a lovely Bairds Sandpiper once that showed very well for a few days.

Now, we chance upon fresh water birds as lucky fly overs heading to more suitable habitat. 

On Sunday I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time.

Boulmer Haven in the drizzle.

John and myself were keen after some heavy rain in the hope of a passerine migrant or two so began at Seaton Point first thing. It was very dull, the sky brooding and looked full. It soon became apparent that our annual optimism was more pie in the sky as all we could find were a few Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs and the local Whitethroat families. In the caravans, its a bit of a maze and we got separated while checking odd bushes.  I ended up overlooking the beach and sea right on the point. Immediately a call drew my attention to two birds flying at eye level heading my way. As I lifted the bins I knew what this was. Front bird was a Redshank unusually quiet, but about 2 feet behind it was a mythical Boulmer wader! Just a juvenile Spotted Redshank, that's all! The 'chew-it' call that drew me to it was the only sound it made as both birds slowly passed me. I tried to get a flight record shot but the camera just wouldn't lock on to them before they vanished north towards the haven.

Spotted Redshank is a patch tick for me ( and would be for all of the current small cohort of present day Boulmer crew) and is the first here since 1998.

Wader numbers had greatly increased since our last visit, so we abandoned the passerine hunt to see what we had poddling around the shore. Apart from the Spotshank, there were 2 Ruff, 1 ad Little Stint, 200+ Ringed Plover, 50+ Dunlin, 6each of Bar tailed Godwit, Whimbrel and Knot, 1 sum plum Grey Plover and 1 Purple Sandpiper. A Snipe came in off to pitch into the rock pools for a spell before continuing west. Not bad.

A juvenile Mediterranean Gull was on the waters edge while a scan and wait off shore had 1 adult Little Gull, 1 Sooty Shearwater N very close in, 2 Manx Shearwater and 1 Bonxie intimidating the auks in the feeding frenzies. 

Spotted Redshank passes.

The morning might not have given us what we hoped for but it still delivered a nice bagful to be going on with...

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Blue in August...

Yesterday, for a brief spell the direction of the wind turned to the NW dragging me, Siren like, down to the sea. 

By the time I had finished work and got all of the 1 km down to Cullernose Point the sun was warm, the sky blue and the sea even blue-er if that's a word. Hardly stereotypical seawatching conditions, granted, but a high pressure to the west of Ireland was creating enough of a trough to direct seabirds over Scotland and into the North Sea and a light NN Westerly might just be enough.

We began at 5pm, the stroll down the track to the point was busy with at least 14 Wall Brown butterflies, another sight not so indicative of good pelagic watching conditions, but, no sooner had we plonked ourselves on the rock, a Sooty Shearwater strolled by at a range close enough to see its eye. Worth coming down already, good.

Reading about seawatching recently from the English Channel coast, it seems a very different prospect to our East facing coast. Here Gaving Haig gives it an hour for 1 Gannet. To compare, that is a prospect here maybe on New Years Day, but from June to November they are ever present, never making it into a seawatch list. There are just too many to keep an eye on. The same goes for Fulmars, Kittiwakes, Auks and Terns. A constant back and forward where if you can be bothered you might do a five minute sample count but then realise you might be missing better fare. Last night Gannets numbered about 20 or 30 per minute N with a  scattering going S and sitting on the sea or feeding.

Terns and Kittis were blurred objects in the foreground of the scope view. Occasionally a very pale blur forced a quick refocus to confirm an adult Roseate off the rock edge. 

We gave it 2.5 hours waiting for Dave Dack's Long tailed Skua to arrive from Newbiggin, 20 miles to the south, but it never did.

In the mean time we had 13 Sooties Shearwaters N, 23 Manx N and a few S, 9 Bonxie N, 1 pale ad Arctic Skua N and 1 S, 1 Tufted Duck N, 1 Red throated Diver S, 3 Roseate Terns, 1 Bar tailed Godwit in with 6 Curlews and 2 Mute Swans N.

As the light changed and even the Gannet tap had been turned down, it wasn't only the sky and sea that was blue, my hands were beginning to match. Autumn is well and truly in...

Friday, August 13, 2021

Moth Trap

 A few highlights from the past three nights trapping in the garden. Catches now are mainly Rustics and Yellow Underwings, for example, last night a catch of 500 moths of 63 sp could be broken down into 285 of them being 7 species of 'brown' the other 200 odd made up of 56 varied species.

To begin with, the first Old Lady of the year on my Sugar Table. 

Cloaked Minor, a garden first. Ive only seen one other some years back at East Chevington.

Above two Ear Moth agg. They come in various shades. I had some checked over once and found Large Ear and Saltern Ear in the garden, but would like to know how common each are.
Orange Swift

Clavigesta purdeyi, another new one for the garden. Its a bit battered though.

A lovely bright Lilac Beauty is always exciting. A localised species, Ive had a few here.

Pale Mottled Willow is a common moth generally but not here, its just about annual. For a noctuid its quite flighty, this one is warming up for take off.

Rush Veneer, a migrant moth that resembles a Caddisfly.


Wednesday, August 11, 2021


 On Sunday met up with John at Boulmer for 6.30am. Now we are in the height of the holiday season, nowadays Boulmer soon becomes a theme park for visitors wanting to 'get away from it all' so its best to get some birding in before 10am. 

The Toy Box is a new feature here and at the risk of sounding like the grinch, what a bloody eyesore it is.

 We covered both ends of the village  before human numbers built up...

2adw, 1 2ndw Mediterranean Gull, 6 Goosander, 10+ Sanderling, 33 Dunlin, 2 Turnstone, 1 Knot N, 12+ Redshank, 3, 5 and 1 Bar tailed Godwits stopped briefly then flew south,  150+ Golden Plover, 1 Grey Plover, 6 Ringed Plover, 220 Curlew, 1 Yellow Wagtail juv on the beach, 1 imm male Marsh Harrier, 1 juv Peregrine, 25+ Swift.

For the time of year, wader numbers are disappointing? I hope its not due to disturbance of the feeding areas here?

Back home, 14 Swifts flew south.


Saturday, August 07, 2021


 A bit of a gap in posting on here recently, due in no small part to the broadband going off  9 days ago. BT really are a shower when it comes to customer care. Its just lies, false promises and failed appointments one after another so after a bit of letter writing to the upper echelons in the company we are back in the land of the living.

As it happens, I don't have much to write about as work and household commitments have put birding on a back seat and even garden mothing has been intermittent. Hopefully we will be at full strength again from now.

I have managed to keep the insect-table stocked with fruit and drizzled with moth sugar on most days. There have been no visits from the targets yet, Old Lady and Red Underwing, but there is time yet. On the moth front there has been Large Yellow Underwing, Dark and Light Arches, Common Rustic agg, July Highflyer, Shuttle shaped Dart, Smoky Wainscot, Six striped Rustic, Herald etc. During the day it keeps the wasps away from us and also attracts a few butterflies with Comma, Red Admiral and Speckled Wood all having a go. 


Herald on the sugar table.
Since the last post, a few interesting things for my garden have turned up in the moth trap - 

Clockwise from Top left - White Satin, Sand Dart, Eudonia lineola, Hemp Agrimony Plume.

Gold Spangle, Agonopterix angelicella, Dark Marbled Carpet and Aethes smeathmaniana

Epiblema foenella, Caryocolum fraternella, Mompha locupletella and Red barred Tortrix.