Friday, December 31, 2021

2021 Highlights...Rare Moths to Walrus.

 Whilst this year was not the same vintage as 2020, Northumberland still managed to pull some good birds out of the bag. Our county seems to be getting a lot better at this in recent years. Maybe we have more observer coverage these days?

January - 

We began the year in full lockdown mode. Well, some of us did. 

There was only one outright winner in the opening month of the year and that was significantly bigger than any bird.  On 31st our neighbour Mandy found a showy Humpback Whale just off the Bathing House. 'Ive only seen one Minke here before so this had us speed walking along the road to check it out. Unfortunately as with most of these poor animals in the North Sea, it was finally found moribund, entangled in lobster pot ropes.

The wintering Hooded Crow became a garden favourite eating most forms of meal left overs first thing in the mornings.

Humpback Whale

February - 

A cold stormy spell at the beginning of the month left us with some good garden bird activity but a day without electric. De-ja-vu. Barn Owl, Woodcock, 2 Kestrels and Hooded Crow plus a load of Fieldfares all feeding in our garden.

On 21st a Water Rail took up residence in our tiny village pond until spring though it remained very elusive throughout its stay.  

The Humpback Whale remained during the month. A county first was found near the end of the month with a one day wonder drake Bufflehead at Cresswell. I could have gone but decided to stick with the lockdown rules on essential travel and didn't bother. If it had remained another day I don't think my resolve would have held out. 

March -

Hoodie still around and Barn Owls every day from the house. We finally got out and about mid month. On the 14th an adult Mediterranean Gull was over our house. On the 18th the only patch Red legged Partridge of the year was calling on top of the Hips Heugh, scoped from our garden and on the same date, a new invert for me, were 25+ Water Crickets in a ditch in the village wood. Spring seemed to be here on 22nd with a Hairy footed Flower Bee on flowering currant in the garden.

Some garden safari mayhem occurred on 27th when my first ever Weasel in the garden caught a Jackdaw below the feeders. The Jack eventually flew off carrying the unlucky mustelid!

April - 

We received our first vaccinations against Covid on 3rd.  A cold but sunny day, the garden was alive with 5 species of Bumblebee. Spring migrants much in evidence with Wheatear, Sand Martin, Blackcap and Sandwich Tern around. The first village Swallows were back on the 10th but on 11th we had a covering of snow. Very strange seeing a Swallow flying over a white dusted landscape.

An Osprey narrowly missed slipping through Alnmouth unnoticed on 11th.

A few new inverts during these early spring days, 2 Hoverflies and a mining bee, Criorhina ranunculi and Eristalis intricaria plus Andrena nigroeana. See blog pages for details.

A morning inland west of Alnwick on 18th was nice with a good party of 6 Ring Ouzels the largest group Ive seen locally, Redstart and Willow Warbler.

On 23rd my first rarity of the year, a lifer, came when Gary Woodburn found a Red throated Pipit on Embleton Golf Course. A very nice bird too.

May - 

The month began up on the moors with Green Hairstreaks and Emperor Moths, a Redstarts nest, Tree Pipit, Cuckoo and Whimbrel.

Things certainly took an upturn on 6th when the Northern Mockingbird from Devon relocated to a  Newbiggin garden for a few days. What a totally unpredictable occurrence. Fabulous though.

The best at Boulmer were Little Terns and a very imposing Bonxie sitting around on the beach as tourists walked by. It even gave a small Daschund the eye at one point.

Northern Mockingbird

June - 

Another 'biggie' was worthy of a twitch down to Blyth on 5th  for mine and Northumberland's second Red necked Stint, and what a cracker it was too. A Great Reed Warbler was singing and showing at East Chevington on the same day made for a good morning out.

Less than a week later, on the 10th, another county first showed up, this time a British tick for me too. A Pacific Swift showed brilliantly, again, at East Chev where it strafed past us at ranges down to 10 mtrs. 

Some local inland Nightjars gave the best ever views near the month end.

July - 

Came in like the proverbial Lion on the first when a reported Fea's Petrel flew North at Flamborough early morning. As I'd only ever seen one, we staked it out at Cullernose where it came close past at 6.15pm giving great views.  Later on the socials, Paul French of the BBRC commented that 'Did it really have a breast band? After seeing photos posted by two observers from Newbiggin. It surely did, making it actually a first for Britain, a Soft Plumaged Petrel Pterodroma mollis. Amazing.

The 10th was my worst birding day of the year when we spent 11 hours at Bempton dipping the Albatross. Subsequent analysis of its presence showed that it eventually was present for 90 days but on 30 of those days it was not seen from the cliffs. Only a 66% chance of success then. Better luck in 2022.

Another bit of dippage occurred on 20th when the long staying Black Tern up at the Long Nanny at Low Newton was reidentified as an American Black Tern. I went up for a look but it had already gone for the autumn. Again it may come back next year?

On 24th a lovely Water Shrew showed very well scrummaging around our drive for 10 minutes before vanishing into a neighbours old greenhouse.

August -

Some August staples began to appear on patch with Sooty Shearwaters, Roseate Terns and returning waders.Best of these was my first patch Spotted Redshank at Seaton Point, a rare bird in this fresh water scrape devoid area.

The best of the month though was a flock of 5 Black tailed Godwits N past our garden on 24th. A rare patch bird at the best of times but from the garden, get in.

August ended with a second year Long tailed Skua on the sea with an Arctic Skua for comparison, at Boulmer.

September - 

Seawatching proper commenced on the 1st with a very smart spooned up Pomarine Skua close north at Cullernose, making it a four skua year on patch.

On 3rd we went to Suffolk for two weeks. Down here I get taken up with the multitude of new insects that can be found that we just dont get at home. A pristine Clifden Nonpareil and a Buttoned Snout both came to sugar, while Box Tree Moth was also new to me. At Carlton Marshes, a few Fen Raft Spiders Dolomedes plantarius showed well enough for photos with a supporting cast of Chinese Water Deer, Wasp Spider and Brown Hawker. 

On the day I returned, the 19th, my tardiness ensured I dipped out on a patch Semi palmated Sandpiper by 5 minutes. Its getting to be a theme this year.

On the 29th, another new spider, but more local near our village was found - Invisible Spider Drapestica socialis.

Clifden Nonpariel

October - 

A Norwegian colour ringed Bar tailed Godwit was at Boulmer but on the 9th it was good to get a huge county grip back. A visitor found Northumberland's 3rd Red eyed Vireo on the Straight Lonnen, Holy Island. Unlike the last two flitters, this one stayed for a week where despite being in thick cover with some patience decent views could be achieved.

Around this time some garden moth migration began to take place. A very unusual phenomena here. Gem, Rush Veneer, Dark Swordgrass, Silver Y and Diamond backs were all found but even better was a Delicate caught by Mandy at Seahouses Farm and on 11th I caught the North of England's first Radford's Flame Shoulder. The furthest north in the UK by about 200 miles!

Still the wind remained stubbornly in the west with a distinct lack of migration on the coast. My first year for a while with no sightings of Yellow browed Warbler.

Radford's Flame Shoulder

November - 

A nice Wilson's Phalarope saw in the month on a small farm pond at Newstead. A county tick for a few, this was my third in Northumberland.

One of the absolute wildlife highlights of the year must be the female Walrus that graced Seahouses Harbour on 14th. A appreciative pilgrimage continued all day but she was not seen in the morning. Freya has subsequently been relocated in December in Shetland on her way back North.

A not so welcome visitor, Storm Arwen arrived on the 26th and knocked us back into the stone age for a fortnight. Still, it did give some great late season seawatching with Great Shearwater, 2 Black Guillemots, Little Auk, Great Northern and Black throated Divers, Red necked Grebe, Glaucous Gull and Velvet Scoters.


Freya the Walrus

December -

After 10 days without power, probably the most significant event, personally, this year  we were back in the land of the living on 6th December only to find Storm Barra banging on the windows on the 7th. Fortunately it did not have the impact of his older sister.

The month did not really produce a lot locally other than a Lapland Bunting south on 16th. A Surf Scoter passed Whitburn and St Mary's on the solstice but bailed out before getting near the home patch. While I waited, a Great Northern Diver and a Woodcock were some compensation.

The year ended where it began, facing further Covid restrictions in the wave of new strain Omicron. In such uncertain times, who knows what 2022 will bring so there will not be any predictions from me other than to hope the Bempton Albatross liked it so much it decides on a return summer visit.

Stay safe everyone, thank you for all of your engagements on here, emails and tweets, its much appreciated.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 30, 2021

Who came first, the patch or the list?

 In light of the Birdguides / Birdwatch magazine promotion of a greener, more local type of birding lots of birders on social media are coming around to the idea. One of the best things I see in the 'new dawn' is the lack of emphasis on list keeping. There is more a focus on the positive experiences gained from this type of back to basics birding with prizes for things like best bird in a local context etc.

My next thoughts are difficult to express clearly but there are definitely a few things not right in the way many birders view this local patch challenge. Well, in my humble opinion anyway. There are no rules so there cant be mistakes but somethings aren't 'in keeping' I don't think?

Firstly it seems that the term local patch, to many, actually refers to the nearest birding hot spot to home. This may be 1 mile or 20 miles it doesn't seem to matter. People will happily pass quite good areas, ironically in their car, to get to the nearest Titchwell, Spurn or other well birded site. I can see this for urban residents who are in the middle of some conurbation but many aren't . Again it's down to personal choice I suppose.

One other thing (sounding like Columbo) is how a patch is defined. This is maybe my biggest OCD type niggle. 

For me, when selecting a patch I'd pick an area of workable size that might have potential and is under watched or rarely watched at all. Then define the boundaries of the area. Once done you can work out routes, watch points, geographical and habitat features that might be productive. Lastly do some research into what, if anything, has been already recorded there, and away you go. In this, your new place, you visit regularly to document the ornithological comings and goings over the seasons and you will end up with a record of the species that use your area. 

Seems straight forward, yes?    

Well no apparently its not.

What appears to be the fashion is to take the whole British List or at least your County List and pull and stretch your patch to take in every possible species. 

Can you see the difference? One begins with an area, the other begins with the list. 

Birders love to say 'Ooh I will just move that boundary up to that wood so I should get Tawny owl, Jay and Nuthatch that I'll not get on the beach'  or 'if I just make my patch a 10 miles radius instead of 3 miles it will reach Blacktoft' or where ever. 

Of course you won't get every bird in your whole vicinity in one year but that's not the point. If you do get one of those birds like those above, it will be all the more worth while!

Some patches end up looking like multi-legged starfish stretched to this place for one species and that place for another. Is that really how patching works? What if we all just went to the same county hotspot?  

I think this is how some fall by the wayside by May. They've run out of interest having seen most of whats possible, the impossible is a bit harder to come by, leaving half a year with little to hope for. They've already had the Nuthatch in February that might have been a mega out of context in August. 

These massively stretched 'patches' are not local patches. Its more like county listing.

Or maybe its just me... 

What ever method you use, be it starfish, 20 miles drive to it or your garden, good luck in 2022. Try not to abandon ship when a Blyth's Reed turns up in someone else's spot ... 😉  

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

A light in dark times...

 I hope everyone had a good Christmas? Things were pretty much as usual at chez Boulmer Birder, which is something to be grateful for. In today's trouble ridden times it is a big thing to have our health, food and a roof over our heads when a lot of people in a world run and bled dry by a litany of greed fueled oligarchs, billionaires and liars have none of these things. 

Now that Omicron is set for global domination I can't help feel that its shadow is creeping up on us all. Not being a very social animal these days, hopefully it can be avoided for a while longer.

Today the weather was pretty miserable, maybe that's the inspiration for this post, being heavily overcast with rain for most of the daylight hours making it uncomfortable to be out in the open. This is what drove the decision for what to do on today's final birding session of 2021.

I met up with John in near darkness at 8am in tipping down rain. On any other day it would likely have been written off as hopeless, but as it was going to be the birding finale of '21 we headed for a very quiet Seaton Point, where an unused holiday chalet veranda gave us a dry place to watch the sea over the early high tide. Its a bit like the tale of Goldilocks and the three bears where we half expect an irked owner to arrive and turn us out on our ear - 'Who's been seawatching from MYYYY shed?' Luckily for us we came and went like church mice with no one any the wiser of our presence, that is providing they don't read this!  

The sit and watch paid off. From 08.30am - 10.30am we had a reasonable 2 hours for this time of year.

Red throated Diver 74N 3S

Red necked Grebe 1N

Great crested Grebe 2 N

Gannet 1N

Wigeon 40

Common Scoter 5N

Velvet Scoter 1 drake and 1 duck N very close in.

Red breasted Merganser 1 drake N.

Bonxie 1 N an unusual winter record here.

Kittiwake 1N

Grey Plover 15N

Bar tailed Godwit 8N

Knot 4 N

Purple Sandpiper 16

The view from our watch point.

Yesterday there was a nice garden birding surprise. There is an area of water forming just over our back wall in the field that was recently ploughed for oilseed rape. Since the flower rich grassland was obliterated, there is significant rain run off into the low corner, forming this flash. 

Recently it has been favoured by two or three Redshanks but today one flew and with it a smaller bird? Dunlin was suspected, an idea that was soon confirmed by a scan with the bins. This is the very first sighting I have had of a Dunlin from my garden, although I have had a couple of nocturnal birds calling overhead. Dunlins while common down the road at Boulmer are not so easy on the home rocky coast line where to get one for a year tick they are usually flying past on a seawatch. There was no sign of it today, but it was almost like finding a rare bird to see it from our drive. Maybe the flash will attract other new garden birds if it lasts? Water Pipit, Wood Sand or Little Ringed Plover would be mega here!

Garden mega!


Thursday, December 23, 2021

If you go down to the woods today...

 For the first time since Storm Arwen we took a walk into the Arboretum. It is not open to the public at the minute anyway, plus there are a few trees causing 'tripping hazards' shall we say.

The pond has a good showing of ducks today with 25 Teal, 10 Mallard, 9 Tufted Duck and a pair of Gadwall, a decent record for here. A pair of Mute Swans,a  few Moorhen and a Grey Heron were the only other things seen.

Further on, the damage caused by the Storm Arwen became very apparent with trees over the rides and, in some places, access totally blocked. The estate will want this cleared and made safe in time for public opening for the February snowdrops, but it will take a lot of work. Here are some images but they cannot portray what it really looks like in the field...

These pair of Beeches were just two of many huge trees lying like deceased beached whales. Those root plates were at least 10 feet in diameter.

Huge pines including a nice Wellingtonia blocked our route...


Monday, December 20, 2021

Lapland Christmas.


Our Village Hall looking festive...

As usual at this time of year, pre Christmas visits and shopping etc put the kybosh on the birding. This year is even worse than most as we had a two week non starter after Arwen, so we are tail chasing to catch up.

We both had our boosters last week. As usual mine left me hammered. The following day was like the mother of all hangovers and I am still not 100% yet. That's three out of three that have been no walk in the park but it is better than the alternative, so I expect it to be come a twice annual feature in years to come.

This week has shown that some birds are still on the move. In our village, Blackbirds on fallen apples have increased to 23+ from maybe a dozen, a lone Fieldfare was dotting around and 7 Redwings flew west.

One day last week I was pleased to have a Lapland Bunting fly low south along the coast path. It seemed to come from the field opposite the village and it headed towards Seahouses Farm but I couldn't relocate it. Laps are rare on my patch and I've still not seen one on the ground here. This was the first since 2019 and before that was 2013. An adult Mediterranean Gull was in the same fields with a few Black headeds.

An old drawing of a Lapland Bunting....

Monday, December 13, 2021

Full of Bull...the Bull is Full...

 A more pleasant day, weather-wise, at Boulmer yesterday morning.

After Storm Arwen, it makes a refreshing change to see the, albeit temporary, return of the Bull's Mere in the village roadside field. This is how Boulmer got its name. Whether this is the original historic site of Bull's Mere I couldn't say, but Id like to think it was here in centuries past.

This area used to flood regularly some years ago but these farmers are expert at drainage and habitat reduction, so it has looked more like a football pitch in recent times. At one stage the Northumberland and Tyneside Bird Club approached the farmer to see if he would allow a small flash to stand. All it would take is some minor amendments to the manhole that would be done free of charge to allow excess water to drain away to prevent flooding but for some to remain longer for wildlife.

The beach at Boulmer is heavily disturbed by dog walkers etc these days, so as soon as the field floods the waders get a peaceful high tide roosting place. It has also attracted some good birds in the past, the best being a patch first Baird's Sandpiper.

 Anyway, that approach was refused, only for us to find a short time later that they had granted permission for a new car park to be put there! Complaints to planning have been made.

We are now gathering any evidence through counts of birds using it to show how beneficial it is to waders etc locally. Today it held a nice little selection at high tide - 

Mallard 49, Wigeon 35, Goldeneye 2, Redshank 61, Curlew 46+, Lapwing 40+, Oystercatcher 50.  While counting, a Black tailed Godwit dropped in briefly. The high tide was not very big so some birds roosted out on exposed rocks. On a bigger one, these numbers would have been much higher. 

When the field has water, it only takes about a day for the birds to use it. Such a shame that this small change in land use request falls on deaf ears.. 

An overly full Boulmer flash. There is a manhole in the centre. This could easily be modified to allow a pond half this size to remain. 

Black tailed Godwit leaves with a Curlew


Later we walked down to Seaton Point for a scan. At sea were 38+ Red throated Divers, but even these were disturbed by 4 speeding dirigibles hammering around offshore. 3 Little Grebes were on the sea, always a novelty to see on salt water, 12+ Bar tailed Godwits, 34+ Grey Plover, 77+ Wigeon, 156+ Lapwing, 20+ Sanderling and 2 Ringed Plover. Passerines were very thin on the ground today with only 1 Gey Wagtail, 1 Rock Pipit, 2 Greenfinches of note.

6+ Bottle nosed Dolphins were hanging around off the village until the water racers arrived...

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

10 days of night.

I've just re read my previous post regarding Storm Arwen. A bit of an understatement there I believe. 

On one of our local upland patches, Brizlee Moor, the wind was recorded by the RAF at 98 mph and maybe a bit more down on the coast where we live! 

On Friday 26th November Jane and myself took a trip up to Bamburgh Castle to see the Christmas decorations. We hoped to go towards dusk, but we were contacted to say we should come earlier as the castle would be closing due to the Red Met Office warning that had been put out for the east coast of Scotland and Northern England. Red Warnings a rare things and are linked to a serious weather event that may result in structural damage to properties and the environment with a possible risk to life too.

Bamburgh Castle Christmas Tree

We were back home by 2pm just as the wind began to pick up. Rather than go into itemised details, it is enough to say that by 7pm the wind was roaring making it difficult to stand up outside. At 7.50pm our house was plunged into darkness as the power went off. Luckily we had expected this as our power goes off at least once a year and this was our third time this year but little did we realise how this would impact our community.

Our bathroom at 7am with snow on the roof. No heating, hot water or lights... 

The destruction of large trees around our village was incredible. Large Oaks and Scots Pines uprooted and snapped off as well as lesser trees down everywhere. It was a stand of pines that had blown on to a power pole snapping it and the cables clean off causing our power fault.

A huge tree across the pond field gate... 15 trees were down across this road to Longhoughton on Saturday morning.

So sad to see this massive old Scots reduced to logs...

A 200yr old oak blocks our path. This tree hosted my first patch Golden Oriole...

Carnage in the hill top plantation. The snapped pole can be seen far left against the dark pines.

The cavalry arrive. Day 10, late afternoon..

We were left back in the stone age for 238 hours or the thick end of 10 days, not being reinstated until 6th December at 6pm.

During this time we were constantly cold and tired. It was just physically and mentally exhausting. Some kind souls said that our wood burner looked 'cosy'. Without it heating a 6 feet radius in the living room we would have died. One person said their grandparents first house in 1948 had no electric. It isn't 1948. Then, people were kitted out for no power with paraffin lamps, cooking ranges that heated hot water etc. Some even found it quite funny. We weren't laughing that's for sure. Coping with 16 hours of darkness in zero temperatures is no laughing matter. It was just survival.

But, here we are past the ordeal now reviewing the aftermath before the letter writing begins...

Birding this ordeal?

Yes some. It was good to get out in daylight for a couple of hours to take our mind elsewhere, mostly seawatching.

Saturday 27th November still in the teeth of Storm Arwen.

Only watched from the car for 40 mins as it was really grim. The sea can be too rough for birds to move and today was one of them...

Great Northern Diver 1 S high over head.

Velvet Scoter 3 N

Goldeneye 6 N

Eider 66 on the sea.

Common Scoter 13 N 2 S

Little Auk 1 N very close under neath the bank.

Black Guillemot 1 N a good bird here very close in only my 2nd patch record.

Long tailed Duck 1 drake N

Shelduck 16 N

Pale bellied Brent Geese 19 N 

Sunday 28th November I ventured out to Seaton Point from 0830 - 11am. The weather was much better. Bright and freezing. Masses of birds were moving now the wind had subsided a bit. It was difficult to keep up.

Auks 5000 per hour N. Maybe more. At least 4 were dark hooded Brunnichs-a-like.

Pale bellied Brent Geese 23 N

Goldeneye 11 N

Red throated Diver 51 N

Puffin 26 N

Cormorant 53 N

Eider 40 N

Common Scoter 52 N

Shag 28 N

Shelduck 3 N

Great Shearwater 1 N so close I picked it up with the naked eye and thought it was a young gull! It came over waders roosting on the rocks. In the bins and scope it filled the field of view. Superb.

Great Northern Diver 9 N

Red breasted Merganser 2 N 2 S

Wigeon 36 N

Gannet very few hence count 12 N

Kittiwake 7 N

Red necked Grebe 2 N

Velvet Scoter 1 drake N

Purple Sandpiper 1 N

Mallard 14 N

Teal 1 N

Bar tailed Godwit 1 N

Black Guillemot 1 N again over the rocks, my 2nd in two days cant be bad.

Glaucous Gull 1 N a huge fw bird along the beach with Great black backs.

Black throated Diver 1 N

Snipe 2  and Siskin 1 in off  .

Monday 29th November 10 - 11am. Much quieter.

Red throated Diver 12 N 2 S 3 on sea

Great Northern Diver 1 N 1 S

Common Scoter 3 N 5 on sea

Velvet Scoter 1 drake with 2 duck Commons N

Red breasted Merganser 1 drake and 1 duck N

Manx Shearwater 1N a very late bird for here.

Eider 9 N

Teal 5 N

Purple Sandpiper 1 N

Gannet 2 juv N

Bottle nosed Dolphin 2 N

Some nice birds but no Brunnichs for us.... I didnt take my camera in the storm but Dan Langston did, with excellent results! See Here.