Monday, November 21, 2022

Surely this is The End!

 Yesterday I met John at first light at Seaton Point to see if any migrants had been grounding in the overnight rain. The wind was a light SSE. It was dull first thing but it brightened into a nice day by mid morning.

Seaton Point from Foxton beach.

A few Thrushes were coming in with a scatter of Redwing and Fieldfare but there were more Blackbirds and Robins. In fact every bush and bracken clump or seaweed pile had Robins.

A Woodcock was flushed from the edge of the golfcourse. In this spot, 9 Redpolls and 30 Siskins flew W.

Along at the point the sea was dead today with very few signs of movement so we decided to check the shore for the two Snow Buntings I had seen on Friday. We soon located one bird feeding along the strand line but there was no sign of its colleague? As is the way with Snow Buntings, this loner fed unconcerned as dogs and their owners walked past yards away so we took the good opportunity to get some photos. While we were watching, the shore waders became anxious and began calling. This disturbed the bunting and it flew off southwards.

 




After some tea back at the car, the sun was shining so we checked the coast path south to Foxton Golf Club.

A couple of small settling ponds here looked good for a migrant or two but the best we could manage was a nice Kingfisher giving a close fly by before perching briefly on top of beach side brambles.

Then down to the Golf Club proper. It was here when we were checking a nice looking gully a loud call close overhead jolted us back into concentration - Waxwing! I thought it might be sat in the trees but it was just flying low overhead, and continued straight south. Waxwings are scarce but regular on our patch recorded in 8 years out of 14 but this was my first local bird since 2019. Hoping there are more to come!

A shot from a previous year but this is what it was like if I could have deployed the camera quicker! 


The End 2...

 On Friday morning  I was back out for a couple of hours seawatching but what a difference a day makes.

After yesterdays masses of birds, today was much quieter with, for example, instead of the thousands of Kittiwakes passing, they must have all gone through because I had no more than 10 in 2 hours. Same for Gannets. 

The visibility was awful with thick drizzle and a moderate Easterly wind.The tide was still a good way out so to see birds they would almost need to be over the rock edges, as indeed most were. 'Real' seabirds were few but wildfowl made for a decent variety - 

Common Scoter 137

Velvet Scoter 6

Scaup 1 female with a scoter flock

Long tailed Duck 2 females

Goldeneye 15N 4S

Red breasted Merganser 2 drakes

Goosander 3 fine drakes S unusual in this plumage here.

Teal 99

Wigeon 31

Little Auk 3

Grey Plover 15

Purple Sandpiper 3

Snow Bunting 2 came off the beach, flew N and seemed to land again.

All birds moving North unless stated.

In the village the now flooded mere had 4 Black tailed Godwits and 200+ Lapwings. Oh for this to be a more permanent feature, what it would pull in...

So not a bad jaunt out...    

     

The view from Seaton Point...

Bull Mere, Boulmer


 

Thursday, November 17, 2022

The End.

 Of Autumn that is.

We used to begin our county Winter Atlas surveys after 13th November so I always think of that date as the end of autumn. Still, depending upon the weather, some tardy birds are still migrating up until the end of the month.

The Pied Wheatear from my previous post remained faithful to its graffiti daubed skate park right up until Saturday 12th November, allowing even the most reticent of twitchers time to catch up with it if they so wished.

On my patch things have been a bit quiet recently though a female Merlin across our village, well lit from early morning sunshine on the 6th was good and even better was the Snow Bunting on the 14th that danced low over our garden, calling its lovely tinkling tune all the way. This is my 3rd ( I think) garden record. 25 Whooper Swans flew S on 5th while 16 Redpolls were in Village Wood the previous day. Ive seen them in flight a few times and suspect a couple of Mealies in there but cant clinch it.

Other bits of interest around home were a Water Rail sadly killed on the road overnight, having just arrived on its wintering grounds and some big fungi on the cricket pitch, known descriptively as Macro Mushroom Agaricus urinascens. Apparently this is a widespread, but scarce fungi so I was pleased to meet with its oval, tiger bread, form while out walking Peggy.


Macro Mushrooms

On the invertebrate front, the moth trap has been moth balled until the New Year. With the rising cost of electricity units per moth well up, its not worth putting it on for 13 hours for 2 Angle Shades... The last Butterflies for me were a Small Tortoiseshell on 3rd and a Peacock on the 6th.


I've been on holiday this week, using up annual leave before Christmas. The time was to be spent putting the garden to bed for the winter. There has been mixed success here with fine Monday and Wednesday utilised but on other days its just been too wet and windy.

When the weather is stormy from the East we all know what that means to an East coast patch watcher - Seawatching.

Today has been really grim. Raining most of the day, barely daylight  and blowing a strong Easterly.

Although an East wind can be good, I prefer a Northerly for seawatching. My home spots are just too exposed in this weather, so I headed to Boulmer and the safety of the relatively sheltered Seaton Point, where strategically placed caravans make it just about bearable.

From 09.30am - 11am the count went  - 

Kittiwake 1300 N ( a gross under estimate with maybe double that in reality).
Sooty Shearwater 3 late birds taking the 'breeze' in their stride.
Little Auk 24 N
Pomarine Skua 3 N
Arctic Skua 2 N ( these 5 skuas were in one flock)
Skua sp probably a Long tail but it was too fast and hiding in wave troughs)
Brent Geese 2 N
Long tailed Duck 3 drakes N.
Gannets not counted but a light movement.
Fulmar 2N

Hopefully there will be more moving in the morning, I'll give it a couple of hours first thing.

Apologies for the images, I only had my 300mm lens. The pics look black and white but they are in full colour, honest!

Kittiwakes.

Three Little Auks of the 24 seen.

Squint or click and zoom, these are Long tailed Drakes...

Arctic Skua first, then 3 Pomarines, and another Arctic at the tail end. Compare the sizes of the Arctic and Pom at the front.

Three Pomarine Skuas.





Thursday, November 03, 2022

Hero in a half-pipe...





 As dusk fell on Tuesday night news was released that a nice first winter male Pied Wheatear had been found at Whitley Bay sea front, along the prom.

A lady walking her dog had noticed a 'wheatear', thought it was a bit late in the season, and contacted local birder Alan Jack. Alan was sufficiently intrigued by the report to check it out. You can only imagine his delight when the bird popped up and was not a late Northern Wheatear or even the quite similar looking Desert Wheatear  ! The WhatsApp group message duly arrived complete with some gripping snaps of the bird.

For many a new Northumberland birder this would be a county tick, but I have seen two already, one at Tynemouth in December 1998 and another at Newbiggin in October 2004. Both birds were females so this nice male was very tempting.

As I was working from the office on Wednesday, I planned to take a lunchtime trip for a look, ala Bluetail recently. 

On arrival the prom and beach were busy with walkers etc and the bird had been lost. However, not to worry, it soon came back to its favoured zone in the Skate Park where it looked very incongruous hopping around the graffitied half-pipes and associated detritus. On two occasions the poor thing hopped down to pick up small bits of plastic, only for them to be discarded again when it realised it wasn't an insect.

Occasionally the bird would drop down and sit only a few feet away from us over the boundary wall giving point blank views.

I'd imagine that will be the excitement over for another autumn now, but you never know...






Pied Wheatear, Whitley Bay Skate Park. 




Monday, October 31, 2022

Swifts

 While the southern half of the country is awash with rare subtropical migrant moths things are more sedate up in the far north east of England. Still, I have had a Scarce Bordered Straw and a Pearly Underwing so cant complain. I had hopes of a Crimson Speckled but now I see that not only are they very rare ( still) they are even rarer in a moth trap, with most sightings being out in the field. At Dungeness, moth-ers have taken to dragging a washing line between two of them, lightly over short vegetation in an attempt to lift one up. Ah well...

Back in the real world, on Saturday afternoon I had arranged to meet Sally, a mycologist ( fungi observer) on our estate where I hoped she could identify some of the tricky ones for me. As it turned out our wires became crossed and the meeting didn't happen, but while I was sauntering around the cricket pitch, eyes to the deck looking for fungi, I was aware of thrushes flushing ahead of me.

The bushes here are decked with berries and good numbers of Blackbirds, Redwings and Song Thrushes were stocking up. While I watched a good sized party of Redwings head skywards, my eye rested on some other birds low down just above shrub height . SWIFTS!

Swifts? three of them to be precise. Now I've not even seen a hirundine here since September and not a Swift since late August, so this was a bit of a shock. I was also aware that NW Europe was having a Pallid Swift invasion.

 As I watched these birds with the naked eye ( I had left my bins at home, you don't need them for mushrooms! What a muppet). The birds seemed to be feeding and not just passing through, so I put the word out on WhatsApp of 3 Swift sp present. 

Straight away Dan Langston replied, 'On my way'. Thank goodness, Dan only lives a mile or so away and is well up on these things having already found two Pallids earlier this year. Better still he would be bearing optical gear.

Within minutes Dan arrived and we had the next half an hour watching the birds drifting back and forward across the sky over the pitch.  At some angles they remained dark 'Swifts' as in sp, but when closer, in better light, it could be seen these were all Pallid Swifts. I've only ever seen two before, some years ago, so to have a multiple occurrence on patch was nothing short of amazing.

Dan rattled off some images, that showed enough to be sure, and at that, they slowly drifted north and out of sight.

Later Gary Woodburn had a single at Embleton Quarry that could have been one of ours and next morning three birds were over Amble and Warkworth for most of the day. With 4 up at St Abbs and dear knows how many in Yorkshire, its still worth keeping an eye on the sky.

 Just make sure to have bins and camera with you!







 

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

A bit of a rush...

 All seems to have gone into a bit of an anti-climax after all of the excitement of last week. Last Thursday seems to have vanished on the easterlies that dropped some good birds in locally.

I'll start with Wednesday 19th. This was the beginning of a spell of winds from the east. In Northumberland it was not a  '2016 style' classic, but it was quite good and for the hotspots like Spurn and Fair Isle it was a very big deal.

Although I was working from home, one eye was being kept alternatively on the WhatsApp messages and then on the kitchen window. It soon became apparent that all along our coast it was raining Owls!  At least 21+ Short eared Owls were reported arriving along with half a dozen Long eared, so at lunchtime I took Peggy along the coast path. All seemed quiet until I heard a gull and crows mobbing something.

There, opposite our village entrance was a new-in Short eared owl on the fence, flanked by a Jackdaw paparazzi. Asio owls are scarce on my patch so I was very pleased with this one.




The Owl soon got tired of the Jacks and flew off high to the south.  By now, a few thrushes were arriving, mainly Redwings with a few Song Thrushes. Back home a male Brambling had dropped in with the sparrows on the feeders but was not present a short while later.


A kitchen window shot of the Brambling.

I decided to finish work a bit early and try half an hour on Cullernose Point. The wind here was uncomfortable and buffeting, but 11 Puffins, 9 Red throated Divers, 9 Common Scoter, 2 Little Gull, 1 Brent Goose, 1 Manx Shearwater made in into the notebook. As an oddity, a lone Barnacle Goose was in the sheep field beside the path where it was being chased around by inquisitive sheep, like a Benny Hill sketch!

Barnacle Goose in a moment of respite from sheep torment.

With the forecast looking good, I took Thursday off. At Seaton Point, the rain was steady off a blustery SE wind. Small numbers of migrants were clearly arriving, with 2 Fieldfare, 50+ Redwing, 12+ Blackbirds, a Woodcock, possibly 2,   and a Brambling. At sea with bins only, a nice group consisting of a fem Velvet Scoter, 2 Red breasted Mergansers and 2 Goldeneye flew N along the beach almost over my head. More wildfowl offshore included 7 Pintail, 13 Red throated Divers, 1 Black throated Diver, 3 Little Gulls and an Arctic Tern

The big mistake here was me going back to Howick to seawatch from my home patch. News came through of a drake Surf Scoter coming North with 30 Commons, so I hunkered down to wait. After 25 mins, I picked up the Scoter flock almost straight out from me at half distance. How I missed them further south I don't know. I screwed my eye into the scope and checked every one, They were quite bunched up and doing 30 mph. I thought I saw a white dot in the party but they were going too fast and away from me so, I dipped the Surf Scoter! On checking my phone I saw that Dan had not only seen the Surf close in at Seaton Point, he even managed a photo. Bugger, this is becoming a theme.

Back home for lunch and to dry off. Around 2pm Ben had found a Firecrest at Seaton Point golf course laybye so off I went. Ben, Dan, Mark and myself ( John was working) made up 80% of the Boulmer team getting good views of the bright male Firecrest, Lovely. We checked other areas but apart from thrushes not much was seen. One very late Spotted Flycatcher at the small caravan site was unexpected.

Firecrest, Seaton Point

 On Friday 21st I was working from the office down in Ashington. This location meant I was halfway closer to Whitley Bay where a Red flanked Bluetail and a Pallas's Warbler had taken up temporary residence. At lunch time, the sun was shining and the wind had eased to I went for a look.

A small gathering of 8 or 10 birders made finding the Bluetail quite easy, though viewing was not so comfortable. The other Bluetails Ive seen have been all below head height but this one decided it preferred the tree canopy. Still it was almost constantly on show, so worth the trip. I didn't see the Pallas's but did hear a Yellow browed Warbler briefly in a Long tailed Tit flock but it remained unseen. 

Red flanked Bluetail, Whitley Bay Cemetary.



Red flanked Bluetail from below.
On Sunday 23rd, the fall had largely tapered off.

At Seaton Point a Treecreeper, 2 Brambling, 6 Redwings, 12 Blackbirds, 12 Redpolls and 10 Twite were the only things of interest, so I went twitching again. This time all of 6 miles to Low Newton to try and see a Radde's Warbler found by Gary Woodburn in the wood beside the Tin Church. It was typically skulking but with some patience some brief decent views were had as it flicked around in dead grass and nettles. It called softly a fe times and once it popped up less than a metre from me but quickly dropped again before I could get a shot. This is my 7th county record I think?


Radde's Warbler, Low Newton

As I write this the sun is shining and its mild with a SW breeze. Dan has just found a Pallid Swift at Boulmer but I am working from home. Hopefully this autumn as a few more surprises in store...

Monday, October 17, 2022

Pished Off...

 How badly does missing out on seeing a rare bird affect you? Some 'casual' ( ehherm) birders recently on social media have lamented that they don't know how they will cope if they miss the next big thing, having missed out on some mega rare birds recently on various islands around our coastline. Really?

For goodness sake get a grip, if it is troubling you that much maybe you need to get some mental health advice. Most of us, I think, are in the 'bugger' camp where we would like to catch up with something that we then dip out on leaving a little fed up for a spell then we move on. That's life or as some local old timers would phrase it 'That's birding son'.

This weekend, I've had a little taste of this. On Saturday late afternoon around 5.20pm, a message came through from our local insatiable bird finder, Dan, that he had found a Red -eyed Vireo at Boulmer! To be precise, the bird was in a few scattered hawthorns on Seaton Point. 

Seaton Point, pic taken Oct 2020...


The timing couldn't have been worse for me as I had to be at Alnmouth Station at 6pm to pick Jane up from a trip to Newcastle. By then it would be dark anyway so it was a non starter. Wandering around the station 35 mins later, thick clouds gathered, not only in my head, but real ones and the rain started. Darkness brought relief in that my dilemma was now over, it would wait until tomorrow.

Overnight and the wind got up to a near gale from the south west. Seaton Point isn't a good bird holder in decent conditions being so exposed but in this weather I was not hopeful that our East coast yank would still be there.

I met John there at 7am, before first light. John had been quick enough out of the blocks that he saw the bird while Dan was still with it last night so he had the most up to date idea where it was at dusk.

We covered the area until lunchtime along with another good few birders but, as expected, the Vireo was no more. Missing a bird of this magnitude on our local patch does smart a little, but at least I saw the Holy Island bird last autumn so its not too bad. 

What did we see? The answer is, not a lot really. A Peregrine soared over the point in a blustery dawn, 22 Barnacle Geese flew W, about 20 Redwings were in the point bushes and bracken and a couple of Siskins and Grey Wagtail flew S. 

Here's to the next time...

 

If only....things might have been much different...




Friday, October 14, 2022

Mint.

 



For a change a post about a moth. And what a moth it is too. This is the Merveille du Jour Griposia aprilina, with two individuals posted above, the top one being slightly fresher and darker than the bottom. 

When flipping through the field guide, the bright sharp cool mint green and black patterning jumps off the page, making you filled with desire. I remember catching my first in 2009. I couldnt believe it. What a panic to pot it up as it flew around the light on an October night. Since then I have caught it on 34 occasions, mainly singletons but occasionally up to 4 at a time.

It is specifically an moth of cooler autumn nights and tends to associate around oak trees of which we have a young one in the garden.

This year I am very pleased to meet with Merv, as these are my first since the 11th Oct 19. Two blank years in succession is unprecentented here though 2016 was also a miss. The best year here was 11 caught in 2018.

I'm not sure if some autumn species are cyclical as I've also checked Frosted Orange and Flounced Chestnut for garden stats. In 2010 I had 93 and 39 respectively but in 2022 I have 2 and 0 !   Lets hope things improve next year...

Monday, October 10, 2022

Keeping it Real.

Popped down to Boulmer yesterday morning for a few hours, but before that I must have a comment. 

If any readers followed the threads on Twitter last week, about the furore surrounding the flushing of a Lanceolated Warbler and a Pechora Pipit on Shetland by birders, you may have seen some of the comments made by people with pitchforks and burning torches demanding the head of such heinous criminals. The resulting twitcher bashing was very much like the flushing of the rare birds themselves with everyone and their dog jumping in to have a go.

Compare these incidents with things that occur daily to our birds. For example, on Saturday I stepped outside with the dog for her walk to a barrage of shotgun blasts lifting 2000 Pinkfeet to the skies as the gunmen drove them from farmers crops. Every bird in our village, from Wagtails to Woodpigeons was spooked off to the horizon. Then, yesterday at Boulmer this spaniel below absolutely hammered every square inch of shore and rock edges actively chasing wading birds for fun while its owner strolled off along the track. Above the dog you can see waders in the air unable to feed.

Springer having a right good time flushing waders.Owner not interested.

  I think this puts things into context a bit. What is worse, a lone bird lifted across a road or from an iris bed a few times or this? You can argue that both are unacceptable, but those single passerines could have flown half a mile to similar habitat and would never have been relocated. These waders had nowhere to land and the geese, well, how many injuries resulted?

My own little theory is that some twitcher bashing is linked more to jealousy than bird protection. Its getting more common and I have been sucked in too, when there have been pictures of Mr and Mrs and a labrador ignoring reserve signs and throwing a ball for the dog into the protected area.

One observer went to the Lancy twitch and was so disgusted, forked out for the next flight home! What the hell did he expect? He went to Shetland looking for rare birds. He could have seen news of said Lancy and thought sod that, I'm going the opposite way to find my own, but no, he joined the throng. Then bubbled on about it! Did he think there would be 4 people sitting quietly waiting for a bird that behaves like a vole, to emerge from the grass? Kind of naive. If he did maybe he wasn't ready for Shetland?

One person asked if there was a warden to stop this behaviour. Shetland is a massive county. Does your county have a warden to stop 50 birders watching a bird on a verge? In Northumberland we cant stop people blasting a thousand migrating wildfowl or a dog quartering the feeding areas of hundreds of waders let alone this.

I do think its time people maybe vented their spleen on more serious offences, like the Badger cull for example...where a protected much loved British native mammal is trapped then shot for nothing. Thousands of them. Or Fox Hunting. Its been illegal for years but a load of people on horse back with a pack of hounds systematically quarter the countryside. How much disturbance does that cause to wildlife? Or Fireworks? I could probably go on...

Back on your low-carbon local patch, you wander around in the mist and a little bird flits into the small bush in the dunes. Do you say, ahh, I'll go the opposite way in case I flush it? No, you go for a better look in case its a rarity, and it flushes again but its just a Robin. Oh well. Does that differ from the Lancy twitch because there weren't 50 birders watching? Probably not, the result is exactly the same, its just people hate the thought of frivolous twitchers.

Back to Boulmer. Yesterday we walked the shore from the car park around to Seaton Point and back. We had 20+ Rock Pipits and a few Pied and Grey Wagtails but not much else. As we walked, we pushed them along the beach allowing a count... see what we did there. Maybe we should have just stayed at home? More seriously, I hope we can all demonstrate some moderation in our birding and consider the birds welfare for sure, but lets keep it real?

As the tide began to come in there were 20+ Bar tailed Godwits, 3 Grey Plover, 10+ Sanderling, 30+ Dunlin, 22+ Ringed Plover, 20+ Turnstone. A Sandwich tern flew S and 2 Red throated Divers moved N.

Along at the north end of the village about 3,000 Golden Plovers avoided the spaniel and a Swallow went S. A couple of Chiffchaffs and 7 Stonechats plus 30 Skylarks were about the only other things of note on a busy morning for visitors on the site. 



Monday, October 03, 2022

Ardnamurchan

 Hi, apologies for the dearth of blog posts over the last few weeks. I began one about 2 weeks ago and never got it finished due to one thing or another.

Last week we were away on holiday up to the Ardnamurchan, our 7th visit to this area and the 6th in the same house.

As can be expected on the west coast of Scotland at this time of year, the weather was mixed, but overall I'd say it erred on the better side. Only Friday was a write off with torrential rain and strong winds, but Weds and Thurs were beautiful calm, clear autumn days. The rest were a bit of a mix.

On the wildlife front, birding took a back seat really and it was too cool for the moth trap though I did try it on one night to justify carting it up here. A few moths were caught but it was all stuff I can get at home anyway.   This visit was mainly dominated by the garden mammals for nature interest.

Out of 7 nights we were visited by Fox on 6 nights, Badger, up to 3, on 6 nights and Pine Marten possibly 2 on 4 nights. It was unprecedented for us to see all three predators on view at one time. There was a pecking order however with a large male Badger on top of the pile, then the smaller 2 Badgers and the Fox with the smaller Pine Marten wary of them all.


The only problem at this house is that there are no outside lights and the windows are quite small, so I hunted around and found a small LED reading lamp that could be balanced on the kitchen window to light the bird table. Using a bit of stiff card to prevent back glare off the glass we managed some great views of the animals, probably our closest ever of Badger and Fox, though Pine Martens can often peer in at windows.

It was important to keep the main kitchen light off so we remained hidden in the darkness, this made cooking the tea 'interesting'. If we go back I will be taking a better lighting set up. One to think about.

Not exactly floodlit but it did the job.

Before dusk each night, we put out a mix of food. A muesli of cat biscuits, sunflower hearts, chopped peanuts, chopped apple and grapes and a small amount of jam and bread cut into centimetre cubes. A spoonful of honey was drizzled over the lot. On some nights we put out a whole egg on the table that the Pine Marten took before anything else.

Feeling a bit sorry for the Fox, we cracked an egg on to a saucer one night for him. He stalked up in the darkness to see what this oddity was and attacked. He stole the saucer, tipping the egg on to the grass! He ran off into the wooded garden with the crockery that I had to recover the next day. You might guess who got the egg. Badgers are forensic when they comb the grass for tit bits....




Pine Marten 


Fox, in dark and in daylight. Pine Marten very scared of him and was off like a rocket when he appeared....





The Badger Family



The Animals of Farthing Wood...

As if this nightly spectacle wasn't safari enough, just beyond the gate were lots of bellowing Red Deer stags with small parties of hinds and calves on the moss too...



Red Deer




Another fab week away from it all. There must be Wildcats here too surely...