Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Days Off...


Coquet Island from Seaton Point

I like to keep a few days leave back for autumn just in case we get some 'weather' but this year its all staying pretty much 'as you were' . At least this allows me to just take some odd random days to see what is happening. This week my days off were Thursday and Friday making a nice long weekend. 

Before we get on to that, however, the early part of the week turned up some bits and pieces too.

Monday was a bit interesting despite there being a mild southerly breeze. First thing when I took Peggy for her morning walk, our village was ringing to the sound of Redwing calls for the first time this autumn. Several small flocks of up to a dozen birds left garden cover and moved west.

Later on more seemed to arrive. We did another coast path walk in the afternoon where we soon counted 150 Redwings and a few Blackbirds in-off. One tired individual barely made it, dropping into the long grass of the Bathing House only a few yards from the waves. As we approached the sycamores near the road a small bird scuffling along the track side caught Peggy's attention. A smart male Brambling, again looking knackered after its crossing. Back home another Brambling looked similar on our drive and another dozen Blackbirds and Song Thrushes were in the wood. How many of these birds are lost to the sea isnt known but it will be a big toll I'm sure.

On Tuesday morning, the coast path Brambling was now along the main road verge, looking no better. A few more were picked up on call as they flew west overhead. One Starling, like yesterdays Blackbird struggled in from low over the sea, alone, but it didn't stop, it just steadily kept on course, low west.  

By Wednesday the immigrant passage had dried up, leaving two groups of Whooper Swans, 20 and 25 birds, to keep me looking up. 

There was a nice moth surprise on Wedesday night, again on a Peggy walk. I routinely shone my headlamp along some flowing Ivy beside our lane to see if any moths were present. The first thing I saw was only my 3rd ever Pearly Underwing, fresh conditioned individual alongside 6 Angle Shades and a couple of Silver Ys.

Pearly Underwing, a rare migrant here.

With the working week now done, the wind began to increase from a North westerly direction and with it so did my hopes of some seabird action.

I was in position on Cullernose by 8.15 eagerly awaiting birds to pass. To cut a long story short, by 10.15 a few birds were in the notebook but not enough to merit sitting it out. I decided to cut my losses and try again later on.

Birds seen included 5 Red throated Divers, 48 Wigeon, 3 Common Scoter, 600+ Pinkfeet, 20 Barnacle Geese, 2 Pale bellied Brents and 1 Arctic Skua. Best of all were 2 each of Twite and Snow Bunting south over head.

I gave it another two hours from 2pm, this time at Seaton Point, Boulmer. There were masses of birds feeding along the very high tide line with thousands of Black headed Gulls, Wildfowl and Waders including 17 Grey Plover, 74 Curlew, 35 Bar tailed Godwit, 4 Purple Sandpipers 1 Goosander 56 Mallard and 8 Wigeon. Another 2 Pale bellied Brents flew N and a Swallow over the caravans was my first for 2 weeks. It could well be my last until April. 

Masses of birds along the shore.

Pale bellied Brent Geese

Ever present Eiders

Juvenile Grey Plover

Pinks South

There were hundred of Turnstones with odd Purps.


On Friday we had a nice walk around Longhoughton Steel to Sugar Sands. There had been a Shorelark around but we didnt see it. A bit of viz mig was evident though with 1 Snow Bunting, 5 Whooper Swans, 15 Siskins, 1 Grey Wagtail, 75 Pinkfeet south and 2 Red throated Divers North

We narrowly averted disaster when a freak wave rushed up previously dry shore ( the tide was going out too) and caught us unaware. Jane and myself ended up nearly knee deep in water while Peggy floated around us! Luckily we kept our footing and made it up to dry ground with nothing worse to endure than a slosh back to the car with boots full of briny.

A postcard from Northumberland.

On Sunday, for a change John and myself headed to our inland areas for a change from the sea. Despite the forecast, the sun shone and it was quite pleasant. A great contrast from the coast in only a short drive.

Not expecting many birds, I only took my macro lens to look for fungi and other small stuff. As it happened, we didn't find many fungi but we did get some good birds. 

Highlight was a cracking male Goshawk sparring with a Raven. What a size they are and even the Raven made sure it stayed higher up than the Gos. In flight Gos have a much longer wing than the much smaller Sparrowhawk, to my mind, giving more of a ring tailed Harrier impression. They immediately look different. The two put on a great show for about 15 minutes with one taking advantage of the other in turns, the Raven uttering a short 'gruk' of panic when Gos flipped over to retaliate. Lovely. The things you see when you don't have your gun....

We also had a nice female Merlin low overhead, another Raven, 1 male Crossbill song flighting and another 7 over, 4+ Brambling, 7+ Jays, 1 female Sparrowhawk, 1 Kestrel, 1 Buzzard, 10+ Meadow Pipits and a Stonechat. A nice suite of upland birds for the time of year.

The only fungi we had were - 

Dusky Puffball Lycoperdon nigrescens

Raspberry Slime Mould Tubulifera arachnoidea


Monday, October 18, 2021

Stick with it, be positive.

 Last night I was thumbing through my current big notebook, the one I write up my scribbled field notes into, mainly just to see what the coming weeks gave us last year when I found a recurring theme. In a lot of entries for Boulmer they begin something like this...


It seems that most local patch days are 'generally quiet'. But is that true? Quiet days are all relative to where we watch I suppose. For example on the 25th October 2020 the rest of the page shows...

 For many birders who watch an inland or urban areas to walk out in a morning and get Black Redstart, Brent Goose, Purple Sandpipers, Grey Plover, Grey Partridge, Crossbills and Willow Tit would be a very decent patch visit. To be honest its not so bad here too, so its time to be a bit more positive. Whilst we do get some great birds locally, they are the exceptions rather than the rule and most days do get a few good birds of the calibre above. Enough to keep us going. 

I digress. Keeping the above in mind, getting back to this week. 

A moderate NW wind on Tuesday was enough to get me on to Cullernose Point for an hour and a half seawatching. It was steady going with Great Northern Diver, Bonxie, 9 Barnacle Geese, 3 late Arctic Terns, 3 Velvet Scoters inc 2 lovely smart drakes, Manx Shearwater and Goldeneye amongst others.

Yesterday morning it was back to Boulmer as per. As above, incoming passerine migrants were in short supply, but the sea always helps out. On this occasion we had 26 Whooper Swans S, 1 juv Peregrine, 1 ad winter Little Gull, very smart too, 2 Arctic Skuas, 1 Bonxie, 7 Red throated Divers and a few Common Scoter. On the shore were 21 Ringed Plover, 100 Lapwing, 8 Bar tailed Godwits and 4+ Grey Plovers but we didn't get in to counting them really. 

The bushes were 'shivvering' with Dunnocks, up to 6 at a time, something I enjoy seeing in October. High flying Dunnocks are always unusual but we only saw a single Chiffchaff.

Hopefully there will be more seawatching weather later in the week. Thursday seems canny...

The male Grey Partridge made short work of keeping female Pheasants away from the 'conservation measures'...

Lapwings pushed by a rising tide.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021


 12th October and no blog posts. Anyone would think it has been a busy bird filled autumn but no, the first part is correct 'busy' but bird filled, no. I just haven't had much time to blog so here is a potted catch up.

Rather than birds keeping the Adrenalin flowing in October it has been invertebrates that have provided several lifers over the last few days.

To start with, an arachnid came as a surprise. When the Wild Guides 'Britains Spiders' book came out I was intrigued by a small spider that was almost only found on the smooth grey trunks of old Beech trees. We have a few good candidates in the arboretum beside us so thought I would look sometime. That project slipped my mind until 29th Sept when walking Peggy after work. We came down a steep woodland bank ending up face to trunk with a massive tree. As I looked at the bulk of the timber, a small creature ran across. A spider! Could it be the one from the book? By now I had forgotten its name and didnt have my camera so tried to see any marks on the long legged money spider. It had an obvious white band on the abdomen and thin striped legs. As described there were strands of web across the trunk too.

Sure enough back home a browse of the internet and check of the book showed the spider to be Invisible Spider Drapetisca socialis. Since then I have checked and found another couple on different trees, so it must be quite widespread.

Invisible Spider.

Several visits to Boulmer have been slow for birds but a colour ringed Bar tailed Godwit in a flock of 29 was a male bird of the year ringed in Norway.

On 5th October a Northerly storm rattled some torrential rain along the coast. I walked the north end at Boulmer hoping to find grounded migrants but returned to the car with rain running down my armpits under my clothes and a single Wheatear in the notebook. The following day the morning had a good passage of wildfowl with 2,139 Wigeon, 5 Pintail, 2 Shoveler all heading North.

On 7th a warm plume of air from the Azores bathed us in an unseasonal 20 degrees, and also dropped some migrant moths in our village. A Gem was only the second here after one in 2010 plus Dark Sword-grass, Rush Veneer, Silver Y and Diamond back. Our neighbour along at the farm did even better and caught a  , only the 15th for Northumberland.

The Delicate

The Gem

Rhigognostis incarnatella 

Another new species for me was a Diamond back look-a-like Rhigognostis incarnatella. The moth fest wasn't over just yet however. There was a bigger surprise waiting. Overnight on 10th it was cooler and there didnt seem much activity around the lamp. The next morning it only took a few minutes to identify and count the 20 moths of 16 species in the egg trays. That is until I noticed a single moth lying in the bottom of the trap. A long looking, Setaceous Hebrew Character shaped 'flame shoulder'?

Straight away I sort of knew what was instore here. The moth was soon processed, photographed and discussed with Tom Tams. We agreed it was Northumberlands first and most unlikely Radford's Flame Shoulder, a rare migrant of the south coast and around 400 miles north of its main known range!
Tom had it confirmed by Steve Nash and I was commented on by Dave Grundy and Les Evans-Hill.
What an amazing record! 

Radford's Flame Shoulder, centre, with a Flame Shoulder from the summer on the right to compare. 

Check out the distribution. We are at the top line, 5 squares above the Isle of Wight.

 Now, all was not lost on the bird front either. On Friday 8th a visitor to Holy Island found Northumberland's 3rd and only twitchable Red eyed Vireo along the Straight Lonnen. The previous two were only seen by the finders so all county birders were interested in this one. I can remember being in awe of the first in 1988 and again racing to the scene in 2014 to no avail. However this latest blood shot yank was much more polite and is still present on day 5.

I went up on Saturday morning and managed a lot of short glimpses in thick cover then two longer more open views. We went back on Sunday for another look but the breeze made it impossible so we left empty handed. Not to worry I was please to update Bubo with my 357th county bird.

Above - Red eyed Vireo, Holy Island.