Monday, May 23, 2022

Not so wild fowl...

 Caught up in the Bluethroat moment I forgot to blog about some other good patch birds seen recently.  When I say 'good' before I go on, remember its all relative. No wonder I forgot about them...

Lets get this one out of the way first as it is as rare as the Bluethroat on patch. A full new species in fact. On the 12th I was walking Peggy along the coast road first thing when I noticed a 'Greylag' coming low towards me from the north. Meh.... I'm not sure what made me raise the bins, maybe it was the white looking leading edge to the wings, I don't know, but a genuine frisson of excitement came when I saw that this was no Greylag goose.

It was NU2517's first Egyptian Goose.  It is many years since an Egyptian Goose received such a long gaze as this one from me as it called and eyeballed me on the way past...

I'm not sure when one of these will grace the pages of my sketchbook again, but it is a full patch tick so...

A pale headed male Yellow Wagtail flying around a little further on could have been a 'Channel' Wagtail but it soon flew north. 

The tropical flavour was still with us last Wednesday when a drake Mandarin spent a couple of days on the pond. This is the third here in recent years, so still in the Rare category for the patch. The only individual I've managed to get a photo of on site too...

Mandarin.

Blog reader numbers have dropped a bit recently, and those two might be the nail in the coffin, but come on, they all count as natives. With this run of good luck what next, Ring necked Parakeet ?

Other than these, a calling Cuckoo a few times just west of us remains elusive though I did hear it from the garden the other morning. 

Still not quite caught up, but Sundays walk will get a new post later...  


 





Thursday, May 19, 2022

Blue!

All through Sunday night into Monday we had heavy rain and a steady easterly wind on our stretch of coast. This weather pattern is not common during the third week of May and as a result, all down the East coast birders are fired up hoping that it may deliver some scarce and rare birds that have drifted off their normal migration routes, but one in particular epitomises this week above all others - the Bluethroat. 

Bluethroats in spring have a quite narrow window of migration to the sub arctic Scandinavian taiga, and if we are to see one, we need this type of weather to occur between around 10th to the 20th May. Outside of this period in spring a Bluethroat is very unlikely to be seen.

On Monday the rain was steady until around 3pm, then the wind dropped and the sun emerged from behind the clouds. What would it reveal? In the 80's and early 90's we would sometimes see big Bluethroat arrivals but this has not happened for many years now.

No sooner had I finished working at home around 4.15pm than a Facebook message arrived from my neighbour along the road, Mandy. The conversation went a bit like this.

M - 'OMG'

And nothing else? I was just about to reply with 'Eh?' when a second message arrived. It was a close up of a bright male Bluethroat but there was no location. 

Now, Mandy works as a tern warden up at the Long Nanny ( of American Black Tern fame in my previous post) so I assumed this is where the bird had been found. The Nanny has a bit of a good history for Bluethroats in past years. So I advised - 

'Ho ho, get the news out on Whats App' 'Nanny?'

then...

M - 'but its in my garden!'

This was a total game changer. Mandy lives about one field away from me. I picked my jaw up, and went into panic mode, a Bluethroat on our patch!! Grabbing my bins and camera I jumped into the car (speed if of the essence ) and drove the 400 mtrs along the road to the farm. I was there in about 3 minutes flat from getting the message.

The bird had unfortunately flown from Mandy's garden along towards the farm yard and disappeared.

The sight every East coast birder wants to see in mid May...

I quietly quartered the damp puddle edges with my bins and soon there he was, quite distantly in the centre of the paddock before flying off towards some silage bales and farm trailers.

Around the other side from the bridle path a better view could be had but there was no bird? Just then a smashing male Greenland Wheatear hopped up onto the wall not far from me. I took a couple of snaps, then all of a sudden in came the Bluethroat, full of bull, not wanting this Wheatear in 'his' farm yard at all. The Bluethroat landed on the public path sign finger board and belted out a lovely melodic loud song before coming towards me down the wire fence.


My blue car next to a blue van behind the Bluethroat. Incoming...


I rattled off some shots that were almost all blurred due to wrong settings on the camera and the Bluethroat chased off after the Wheatear, to the south behind a muck heap. I left the bird in peace until I popped back home and took the dog out. Returning later on, the bird had settled into a convenient routine back in the paddock area feeding in nice evening sunshine coming quite close to us. At one stage it had a bath in a puddle and sat preening on a clod of earth for a while where we could get better shots than before.

A small group of about five of us enjoyed the bird until the light faded when it seemed to look at an old trailer to roost under. 




Red spotted Bluethroat. 2nd calendar year Male. Male.

The only sour note to the whole thing came the following morning when the farmer had decided now was a good time to move tons of farm machinery to exactly the spot the Bluethroat was using. It was not seen again.

What a great bird for the patch list and many thanks to Mandy for her prompt action in getting the news out. It was much appreciated.



 


 

 

 

Monday, May 16, 2022

Its Black....

 

The sweep of Beadnell Bay looking up to the roped off tern colony at the Long Nanny burn mouth and the wardens hut.

Last year, by a quirk of fate, I missed two good birds in quite similar circumstances . Firstly there was the Bempton albatross fiasco with an all day cliff stand watching Gannets.  Luckily the bird returned this year, as I hoped it would, and a second pilgrimage was made, this time successfully.

Also last year, much nearer to home, all for 6 miles in fact, a Black Tern summered in the Long Nanny tern colony in Beadnell bay.  Whilst Black Tern is a good bird in Northumberland, its not something I would go out of my way for. I'd rather hope to find one on my own local patch, so June and July was filled with What's App messages of its presence in the Arctic Tern nesting area, with me hoping it might give Cullernose a fly past. It was always a long shot and did not materialise.

Then, at the end of July, some good photographs were posted of the bird that set people thinking. It was highly odd that a Black Tern would spend this long during the summer in one spot. And, it looked very, very dark. Ideas that it could be from across the Atlantic rather than from across the North Sea were discussed and after some scrutiny and expert analysis, the bird was indeed confirmed as an American Black Tern. 

Now this is an altogether different prospect.   There have only been half a dozen records of this Nearctic race of Black Tern in the UK and this is the first adult in breeding plumage.  I suddenly became interested and decided 6 miles might not be too far to go after all. Unfortunately after a stay of about 10 weeks, today it had decided to migrate, leaving me sat on a sunny evening beach eating an ice cream, and wondering.  Like the albatross, would it come back next year? 

The good news is, yes, it came back last week, so yesterday morning I was up bright and early and on site for 06.45am after a right old faff with the car park ticket machine leaving me 7 quid out of pocket.

There was no sign initially the bird having gone out to sea, but after around 15 minutes it returned to give the best ever views. Watching from the wardens hut decking, the American Black Tern  flew around, displaying and showing aggression to the Arctic Tern pairs, down to about 20 feet! Landing only for brief spells, usually behind marram grass, photography was tricky, but it was a pleasure to watch such a dapper birds at close range.

The features that differentiate it from Eurasian Black Tern were easily seen ( isnt previous knowledge great). It was an intense black, like a White winged Black Tern rather than the charcoal grey of Black Tern. This contrasted well with the pale whitish underwings and pure white undertail coverts. It also showed a very obvious white forward edge to the wings, looking like headlight strips in flight.

Although it does not count as a new bird being 'just' a race of Black Tern, this did not detract from such a nice bird at all.  Along with the American, there were hundreds of Arctic Terns, 16 Little Terns and single Roseate and Sandwich Terns making it a 5 tern day. A nice first summer Little Gull dropped by for good measure. Well worth the trip I'd say...






American Black Tern, Long Nanny.


Monday, May 09, 2022

One or two bits and bobs...

 Another week with no real birding. Still cant get motivated but I am out and about most days seeing whats around locally.

Moths have been dire. Maybe the worst spring I've known for numbers and diversity. The last few nights catches have been like late Feb or March with a few Hebrew Characters, Powdered Quakers and odd Early Thorn etc. A by catch visitor caught my attention this week, a tiny beetle with a big name - Notiophilus biguttatus. More jauntily known as Common Springtail Stalker, named after the way it hunts springtails by running them down to eat. Good job it was only 4 or 5mm long...


Not. Big. ( for short) A big eyed beetle...

We headed inland again yesterday morning. Our first stop wasn't a success when we were moved on by the bailliff! After some chat he was alright really and even showed us a photo on his phone of an out of habitat Bittern taken last spring on a field edge flood in Alnwick. Not bad.

Cuckoo

A few Cuckoos were around at various spots with three of them making odd sounding calls. One called only the 'Cuck' bit, one called a 'tuktuktuk' noise maybe a female, and one did the Cuckoo in the voice of gravel throated Dan McCafferty of 70's rock band Nazareth. Maybe they've yet to tune up.

Redstarts were singing in all the wooded burns, but we didn't see any females. They could be on nests. Although we were in good habitat there were no Tree Pipits either.

Redstart

Another stop along at Debdon in now pleasant sunshine, was nice with Green Hairstreak and Adela reaumurella being found on some bilberry heath.

Green Longhorn Moth Adela reaumurella 

Green Hairstreak.

 Back home, a couple of Shieldbugs were found this week with Common Green and Hawthorn in the village.

Green Shieldbug

Hawthorn Shieldbug



Tuesday, May 03, 2022

May begins..

 In the week since our paths crossed, there has been a flurry of wildlife sightings but not many birding highlights. Lately I've been subdued with my birding for some reason. Maybe its the cold spring ( again)? There is another niggling reason but I won't trouble you on here...

On this Bank Holiday weekend, I have been keeping an eye on the City Nature Challenge, North east, that was co-ordinated by the Great North ( Hancock) Museum Team to great effect.  The purpose was to carry out a 4 day bioblitz across our North East region, boosting records of natural history in all its forms via the iNaturalist platform. A bit of fun , with a purpose, so it seemed like a good idea.

Last year the North East ( I didn't join in as I didn't realise the North east is now a 'City' apparently) entered something like 1500 observations of 600+ taxa by 97 observers! Not bad in 4 days. Now fired up, I thought I might contribute something to the party...

Some observers went at it hammer and tongs recording all in their path, but I decided to be a bit more selective in my approach, trying to report a few things that might not be as obvious as Red Campion or Hawthorn. Over the challenge, I added some 70 records and species to the tally. Of these, my personal highlights were Palmate and Smooth Newts, Common Backswimmer, Mountain Bumblebee, Ring Ouzel, Cuckoo and Brambling the contents of my moth trap including a garden first, the long hoped for Lunar Marbled Brown, Engrailed and Eriocrania semipurpurella.

As this app runs by uploading photos so your peers can confirm the identity of the organism on show, I left out a lot of things, like the male Peregrine that flew over our pond on Saturday or the first House Martin and Whitethroats of the year in the village also on Saturday.  

Unbelievably, last years recording effort was well and truly trounced. This time over 150 observers submitted almost 4000 records or, wait for it...... 1,015 ish species! 

I used this weekend to trial the app to see if it would suit my purposes. It was very easy to use, and I'll continue to see if it matches up to iRecord. I was amazed at how the AI could identify the objects you have photographed even some quite complex species with ease. For example Grey Pine and Spruce Carpets posed no obstacle when I have to look at them twice! 

One of the funny sides was that no matter how crap your photography is, you can usually drag out something that will do to form the record, as you will see below...some shots are pretty much dire...



Of the 9 Smooth Newts seen, this male was netted and tanked up for a photo shoot, but was back in the pond in under 9 hours of captivity.


Now see this Palmate Newt. Sorry about the phone shot but I was lucky to find it at all as he was creeping through the grass near our village pond. Note, clean white throat, thread like tail tip, finer spotting and black hind feet. This is my first close up of this species, and its a blog debut.


Mountain Bumblebee Bombus monticola really fast, almost impossible to get a photo.

Engrailed

Eriocrania semipurpurella

Lunar Marbled Brown, a site and blog first.




Common Backswimmer

Grey Pine Carpet


Purple Thorn

Small Phoenix


Streamer

Cuckoo

Ring Ouzel female

Brambling female

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Its an ill wind...

 Still the North wind doth blow. Our most regular April feature.

Although migrants continue to trickle in, there are no big numbers. It just feels like its all to happen.

Since last week, on the patch, breeding has been confirmed in a few more common species with fledged Song Thrush, Blackbird and Mallard, while Long tailed Tit, Chaffinch, Linnet, Coot and Mute Swan are all still with nests. I'm not seeing much nestbox activity from the Tree Sparrows yet though, none in fact despite several males doing their banana posture display around the garden.

Over the weekend, around the village the first male Orange Tip put in an appearance, showing that once out of the cold wind, the sunny areas are warm enough for insect activity.

A couple of walks out with Peggy yesterday were very pleasant.  At last a few more Wheatears had arrived and even better, were viewable from our house when 3 males and 2 females adorned the back field. One looked bigger and brighter, despite the distance, looking good for a Greenland.

Overhead at the pond field, a kettle of 5 Buzzards squabbled and drifted high south while back at home another 3 were around the Heugh area.

All Buzzards.


    
One looks bigger and brighter than the other? Wheatears.

On Sunday morning it was back inland where places are much less busy.



Redstarts were back in, with one singing nicely at eye level from a tree top down a bank from the road. Unfortunately by the time the camera was sought, it had gone. Others were heard singing in various spots around the place.

The moors are a riot of bird song now with Willow Warblers, Redpolls, Linnets, Curlews and Lapwings all displaying while Snipe 'tick-tocked' away in the background.

Lesser Redpoll on territory.


In the bottom of a, south facing, sheltered slope insects were active. Bumblebees were very evident on bilberry flowers , with White tailed, Buff tailed, Common Carder as you would expect but also Mountain Bumbler Bombus monticola and Red tailed Cuckoo Bee Bombus rupestris. Pity they are nigh impossible to photograph! The 3 monticola all made a buzz for it as soon as I raised a lens. I'll try again when the weather is more pleasant.

White tailed Bumblebee. 

There were several Green Tiger Beetles on the tracks and burnt heather areas. Speaking of which, we were looking for Green Hairstreaks in this area. Some previously good spots are now lifeless and  charcoal blackened. In the image above you can see an area just left of the copse where the self set Birches are. Luckily some habitat remains and we found 4 of the little green jewels. a little way further down. A short spell luring Emperor Moths attracted 3 males. 

The bilberry around the tumbled down wall was buzzing with bumblebees. 

Formerly the home of Green Hairstreak and Emperor Moth... 


Green Hairstreak butterflies . 4 seen. 

A fast moving Emperor Moth.


Back home in the afternoon, reports of loads (!) of white winged gulls at or passing Boulmer where up to 5 Glaucs and 2 Iceland had passed, enticed me out to Cullernose. I can see Boulmer from here, but could I see any arctic gulls? Not a sniff. Not many gulls at all, certainly no passage. Maybe the Boulmer birds were following feeding frenzies rather than moving north? My highlight from 6pm - 7pm was 1 Bonxie and 1 Red throated Diver both N.