Monday, January 31, 2022


 That's the last orders bell ringing for January. Since the previous post, we have had another power outage taking us to 298 hours without electricity since the 26th November. 

Its unbelievable in the 21st century that this can happen in the UK. As if that's not bad enough there is no mobile phone signal in our village either. That's another hard one to get your head around. On the mainland UK, 5 miles from the A1, 20 odd years since mobile phones became de rigeuer and its like 1970. You could call from Novosibirsk or Merzouga just not from here. 

Getting back on track, how has the local patch fared this month.

Very different to 2021, with a good few species absent including -

Canada Goose, Brent Goose, Whooper Swan, Grey Plover, Purple Sandpiper, Med Gull, Little Egret, Barn Owl, Kingfisher, Peregrine, Hooded Crow, Reed Bunting, Greenfinch and Meadow Pipit.

Highlights have been Great Northern Diver, Raven, Twite, Marsh Harrier, Gadwall and Woodcock.

Overall, I am about 8 species short on last years total despite having reasonable weather for most of the month and being out everyday. At least there is still a lot to play for in February.


Monday, January 24, 2022


 An unexpected patch surprise crossed my path on Saturday afternoon when a dark 'buzzard' over the pond field and woods turned out, on closer inspection, to be a female Marsh Harrier. Not on my radar in winter, this is only my 5th or 6th on patch in the last 12 years, the rest all being between April and August. Saturdays are not good here in winter as a shoot takes place all over the estate between 9am and lunchtime so I didn't expect to see anything at all let alone the bird of the month so far. Needless to say, it didn't linger and just flew steadily west over the tree tops...

Today at the pond field on Peggy's lunchtime walk, the ducks have returned with 19 Teal, 6 Mallard, 6 Gadwall and 7 Tufted Duck plus 3 Little Grebes, 1 Coot a few Moorhens, 5 Herons and the first Sparrowhawk of the year.  As we arrived back in the village a Raven called overhead.

Saturday coming sees the final day of the shooting season, so the birds will be left in peace until next winter.

Friday, January 21, 2022

Keep it Real...

Another home working week of fine cold days at least meant I could get a walk in at lunchtime with Peggy.

The video, if it works, above was taken on yesterdays lunchtime walk where it shows the bay beside our village and Cullernose point at the back. The sea is coming off a stiff northerly breeze making for some nice rollers coming in. At night they were banging at the base of the cliffs making a huge thunderous noise.

Without enough time to have a seawatch yesterday I fancied that today might have some birds re-orientating back north . Its never very good in mid winter but there can be a few birds moving with a chance of Little Auk or maybe a white winged gull for those prepared to get frozen., so I clocked off mid morning for an hour and sat out on the point. So much for possibilities. There were no birds. This is not quite literally, but there were very very few birds at all though I managed a single Gannet and 4 Kittiwakes that were new for the year, but there wasn't even a sniff of an auk or a diver. No worries, they will come.

Around the village lane and pond field another few new additions made every days walk worthwhile. Apart from Shoveler, Gadwall and Treecreeper, 2 Woodcock did a dusk flight out from the woods across the lane to the coast fields to feed.

A site record count of 7, yes 7 Gadwall along with 3 drake Shoveler were good.


So that's not too bad. Before the months end I might still have another  8 or 9 good possibilities with the likes of Meadow Pipit and Reed Bunting still to be located. 

With my expectations being kept to an ultra realistic level, its good to appreciate the very common birds we take for granted. Hopefully I will get to draw a few more of those too over the year and not just the big arrivals....  

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Curlews 'n' that .

 As John was under lock and key with Covid, I was out, at a loose end, on Sunday morning. 

Without any plans, I just decided to stay around home trying to fill in some of the blanks in my New Year local patch list. Last week I had jotted down some of the common species I would expect or have had in January in previous years that were playing hard to get. 

There were two strands to look for. Those birds that could be had along the shore and those from the woodland areas a short way inland. From the former, I was missing most of the common wintering waders, some wildfowl or seabirds and from the latter the likes of  Treecreeper, Redpoll, Brambling and Tawny owl could all be added. I expected to get maybe 4 or 5 to add, more if lucky.

The day was dry and fine but cool with a light westerly breeze. At dawn, I was standing on the Rumbling Kern, a good high rock feature overlooking the sea and a small area of rocky shore, scanning with the scope. The sea was dormant, with very few birds. 3 Red throated Divers were about it with not even a Razorbill to add. Scanning into the bay at the south 3 Goldeneye, a few Wigeon and 50 Lapwing were all new so it seemed there might be more if I headed that way. Sure enough a nice pair of Stonechats were added but that was it. I couldn't even get a Meadow Pipit.

A change of plans had me heading along to Craster with nailed on Purple Sandpiper and a good chance of Willow Tit or Greenfinch(!). An hours walk around coastal scrub and the village turned up exactly zero. Four Bullfinches looking smart in the bright sunshine were the highlight.

Every night since the New Year I take Peggy for her last late stroll around 11pm hoping for Tawny Owl calling. This is a common bird here, but I only heard my first last night, 17 days in, despite excellent weather conditions. Barn Owl is even worse. Last year they were on show at any time of day, every day, right until the summer. This year zilch. I do now think that those storms have had some serious knock on effect. Only time will tell, to see if there are any breeding successes locally later on.   

A bird free Rumbling Kern with the Bathing House and Dunstanburgh Castle in the distance.


Thursday, January 13, 2022


 The first local Snowdrops of the year are a few days late this year, but, better late than never, they are always a joy to see.

Its a lovely day, today with blue skies and bright sun. Some birds were showing a change in the year too with 10 piping Oystercatchers on the back flash creating such a commotion I had to get up from my work station to check them out. A pair of Collared Doves were singing and display flighting, while Great spotted Woodpeckers were drumming in the woods. Down at the pond there was some head nodding going on between Mallards too...

Its always exciting at this time. This year I am planning on spending a bit more time looking at two over-looked ( by me) groups. 

Wild Plants and the Seashore. Like the birding, it will be a laid back affair just trying to learn a few more new species mainly to get me looking in some less watched local spots.  I have just bought the Simon Harrap Wild Flowers Guide and might look into a user friendly Seashore guide too. 

I've looked at rockpooling books before but they all seem to think that the only bit of coast with rock pools is Cornwall. There will be overlap I am sure but the western Atlantic and the North Sea are nearly different countries let alone habitats....

Looking back up the pond field track by the wet wood.

Monday, January 10, 2022

The shore.


Yesterday was my first visit to Boulmer, patch #2, of the year.

 As I left the house, a Raven called low overhead in the still semi dark sky.  

It was a lovely calm and bright morning on the coast. We managed to get ahead of the crowds by striding along to Seaton Point at sunrise where the tide was well in and a lot of waders were gathered right along the shore. A rough tally produced 108+ Sanderling, 62+ Dunlin, 23+ Bar tailed Godwits, 13+ Oystercatchers, 13+ Ringed Plover, 12+ Grey Plover, 50+ Redshank, 22+ Turnstone and 8 Purple Sandpipers. There was very little moving at sea though 1 Red breasted Merganser, 2 Goldeneye , 10+ Red throated and 1 Great Northern Divers were seen.

After we had tea at the car, the still flooded Bull Mere was counted. There were plenty of common birds but maybe 88 Wigeon were the only things of note.

Back down to the shore in front of the pub there were more waders to count. 123+ Dunlin, 1 Knot, 9 Ringed Plover, 4 Grey Plover, 2 Sanderling and 7 Bar tailed Godwit while nearby were 3 Goldeneye, a Shelduck and 1 sea-going Little Grebe in its usual rockpool channel.

 As you can see, I kept a basic list. Its not complete and there is no end total. 

This year I am keeping lists (see here for Gav's take on it at Not Quite Scilly) in a slightly different way.  I wont be keeping totals online, but may post the final result at the end of year round up. Or not, I'll see?

Usually we hare-arse around in January breaking our neck to get a Yellowhammer or Treecreeper or whatever when we know full well that we cannot go a full 12 months not seeing them. So this time, I am taking it easy, accepting what comes my way without the pressure. 

Of course I will incorporate variety into my areas but without hammering it. I am trying to focus on patch value this year by seeing what each day's highlight will be and enjoying it for its own sake without the numbers running the show, so no Bubo this time. 

Back home, we had a walk with Peggy down to the pond field. 2 Crossbills calling from the spruce were the first I've seen here for months

Friday, January 07, 2022

Garden Scrape

 That title is not strictly true. The mini flash-puddle now deemed the obs 'wader scrape' by me (what an imagination) is actually 30 mtrs over the garden wall in the back field, but it is very visible from the kitchen and bathroom windows and the drive. The new flooded area measures around 30 mtrs long and 10 mtrs wide. 

Remember the mega Dunlin before Christmas? Well, today another four wader species have used it. This is excellent because if it manages to retain water until say, late April, there might be a chance of migrants taking advantage. The problem is, it is so close to ours and our neighbour's houses that when anyone steps outside or delivers something that's the pond cleared but some of today's birds returned and are showing some tolerance. When the mornings get lighter it might pay to have a first thing glance each day before anyone has a chance to disturb it. 

I am thinking big*, with the likes of Wood and Green Sand, Little Ringed Plover or even (swoon) Temminck's Stint. Lynemouth flash has had 2 Citrine Wagtails and its not much different to this so who knows what could happen. This clarty plough is my oyster(catcher).

The obs Wader Scrape. 

Curlew, one of five.



Elsewhere around the doors, 6 Redwings were feeding in Rectory paddock usually a sign of poor weather inland, while 18 Teal and 2 Tufted Duck were on the main pond.

Its amazing how many common birds can be missed in a small area. I've had 60 species here so far this year but another 44 are possible and have been recorded in January in previous years with 29 of those being common or regular species here. Where are they all?

*by April this will be a damp patch covered in long grass, rush and oilseed rape. A White Stork might be visible.

Wednesday, January 05, 2022

Opening seawatch.

 A smart North westerly breeze this morning that seemed to rise from the arctic circle prompted a short visit to Cullernose for the first time this year. It certainly felt arctic too soon numbing fingers at the scope.

We have a cold climate in Northumberland. Often it can be one of the coldest parts of the UK on the forecast and in keeping, this mornings Beeb weather map showed us to be milder only than Speyside. It is also quite a dry place so that balances it out a little bit.

I gave it an hour this morning, just long enough to turn blue.

Red throated Diver 36N

Great Northern Diver 1N

Guillemot 20N

Common Scoter 3S

Eider 1 N 2 S

plus a scatter of Fulmar, Shag and gulls but little else.

A huge Raven sat in the field just behind me and some Twite flew N overhead as I was watching the Great Northern so I only heard them.  

Had a nice chat with a couple from Teddington ( London) who were here on holiday this week. They asked what the black and white birds with long red beaks were and they looked even colder than me...  

Red throat in typical pose.

Tuesday, January 04, 2022

Happy New Year ....

According to the oracle that is Twitter, the majority of birders this year are going to be either local or green or both. Long term readers of this blog might remember I did my first on foot from home list (OFFH) back in 2010, 12 years ago. Since then I have decided that it is too easy to play the martyr and forsake all others to prove a point so now, my annual routine for several years has been a nice balance of both local birding with some variety too. Four basic patterns are followed.

My local patch recording is done within a 1km radius of home mostly but I consider a couple of kms either way north and south to be 'local' I tried the 5km radius last year and found it too much. It was starting to become a job again where I was not allowed out for good behaviour. So that's gone by the by this year. At least my home patch gets watched every single day of the year unless I am away on holiday.

I also have a second patch all of 3km south, at Boulmer. Again this is an area I have watched for even longer than my home patch with early visits in the 90s and with a more concentrated effort since 2005. I treat it like a fair weather friend that is visited weekly or if the weather dictates.

Then we have the rest. If the coast is busy or the weather is clear and birding quiet we cover several 'inland patches' for a whole range of biodiversity from Fungi to Spiders. This wider picture is described well here - Steve Gale's 'Uber Patch'...

Ive posted this image before, but here is the extended or 'Uber Patch'.

The final bit of the puzzle is a confession that yes I do like a county twitch and even a bit further too if it takes my fancy, which is, its fair to say, quite rare these days, but I never rule it out. A Pallas's Sandgrouse in Yorkshire would certainly fire up the Quattro...

2022 will be made up of a smorgasbord of these things, in that order.

To avoid the crowds the Uber called on Sunday morning and delivered too...

A good hike on the moors turned up some nice birds to start the year...

On arrival, several flocks of Redwings flushed out of roosts in battered flat conifer plantations first thing. The devastation in these upland woods from Storm Arwen is amazing. It might even have done some good to the dark monoculture, allowing light in to the areas and in future they will be clear felled.

Mistle Thrush was in full song as were a few male Crossbills with a dozen being seen. 3 Ravens included a displaying bird trying to fly upside down then snapping the tops off the remaining upstanding pines. 

Raven, trying to take greenery from the pine tops.

After trying unsuccessfully to navigate a normally open track through the the wood due to a Grand National type blockage of fallen trees making countless 'fences' we eventually made it out on to open moor. John came up with the double here. While standing trying to get our breath back he noticed this, small Scarlet Caterpillar Club fungi emerging from the grass. It doesn't look much but is quite sinister in its ecology as it is growing out of the body of a caterpillar or pupa it has infected, below the grass. The first I've seen.

Scarlet Caterpillar Club fungi.

 As I tried to get a shot in focus with my phone, above, John called again - Hen Harrier, grey male! Up onto my feet and I had missed it over the brow of a hill, but it soon drifted back over, giving us a distant view as it skirted up the rise to eventually vanish from sight. Its always a good morning when it involves a Hen Harrier. I did not release news of this bird, and forgive me, but will not be giving a location here either.

Distant and into the light etc, but it is a male Hen Harrier so who cares!

Onwards beyond the next plantation where more Crossbills are dotted about,   never seen well enough for a photo, but a juv male Peregrine came very close, if only I was quick enough to get the camera off my shoulder. A nice dark streaked, black hooded bird with an over all brown colouring, it was seen twice on our walk. Kestrel and Buzzard were also seen.

Down on another newly cleared area a flock of 13 Lesser Redpolls fed on heather seeds between the stumps as did these three nice Bullfinches to brighten the day.

Bullfinch Christmas tree.

A good Sunday morning trip out, not on patch, granted, but not another human was seen ( always good) and some good birds all within that Uber patch above...