Wednesday, March 30, 2022

False Spring.

 After a week of false spring, normal Northumberland spring has arrived. Its 4 degrees with a northerly wind and hail. This should be around until June give or take an odd glitch away. 

Still during the better weather although bird migrants remained elusive on the patch, a few moths, bees and plants sparked some interest.

Not being a plantsman, even common species can be lifers, so I was pleased with this Hairy Violet in the dunes south of Amble last week. It is very like Sweet Violet so I had to go back on Sunday for some confirmation pics after I knew what to look for.

Hairy Violet Viola hirsuta 

Those green things holding the flower are sepals. They are rounded making it either Sweet or Hairy. ( How many hits will that get me!) At the top of those are the sepal appendages (flaps, another hit counter gem). They are folded up to the stem not pointing away making this a Hairy Violet. It also had very hairy leaf stems. 

Another lifer, this time a likely first for Northumberland, was even more bizarre. On Sunday, I was photographing some small Moschatel plants on the alluvial deposits on the banks of the River Aln near Greenrigg when I noticed that one or two leaves had a distinctly mangy look to them. They were covered in spore like brown specks. I took photos of this feature and wondered if it was a smut or a rust of some kind, a small fungi related organism. Sure enough it is the parasitic host specific Moschatel Rust Puccinia adoxae. Probably no wonder it hasn't been recorded here before....who would!

Moschatel showing Moschatel Rust Puccinia adoxae on the leaves. 

Meanwhile, the moth traps have been reasonable. The Robinson in the garden has been out performed by the little bucket LED battery trap in the woods. Woods are best at this time of year while my garden is a bit exposed.

A bucket trap in the wood.

The catch.

Early Tooth Striped

Emmelina monodactyla

Shoulder Stripe 

On the plus side, the Bempton Black browed Albatross is back today. After last years dip, I hope it settles into a routine...

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

What a Star...

Yellow Star of Bethlehem Gagea lutea 

At lunchtime yesterday, I took a trip west, to Morpeth, to twitch a very special plant, the Yellow Star of Bethlehem Gagea lutea.  

The name Gagea comes from the 18th century botanist Thomas Gage. It is a rare plant in Northumberland and quite scarce or difficult to find anywhere in the UK. Often when spring has poor weather it doesn't flower at all. The leaves are similar to Bluebell at this time of year and it grows in riparian woodlands where Bluebells occur so it would be beyond my botany skills to look for it on vegetation alone.

Leaving the car in the small woodland car park, it was only a hundred metres or so on a pleasantly warm sunny afternoon to the spot. The area was dotted with Celandines and Anemones as bumblebees buzzed around the leaf litter. An angler beginning his season with the fly, bid me a good morning with a suspicious look as he passed. Maybe he thought I was the bailiff on the opening day watching for poachers?

For the first time I used the 'What 3 Words' app and a 3 mtr square ref given to me by a friend to put me on the exact place. It was very accurate too, well worth using in situations such as this.

In a small patch only two metres by one, around 20 flower spikes stood up, the lime-yellow star shaped flowers like tiny daffodils facing the sunshine. It was much more delicate than imagined, a lovely little plant. Things almost took a downturn when a Border Collie named 'Moss' saw me crouching for photos and came across to stand, smack in the middle of the flowers! Luckily I soon encouraged him that this was not a good idea and off he went with his owner leaving no damage to the flora.

A new species for me and a nice way to spend a spring lunchtime.


Monday, March 21, 2022


 Out and about recently, its been cold but dry and, dont say it, breezy. Later this week we are due a warmer spell so I'm looking forward to that. Its Equinox today too, so there's more day than dark now. 

Yesterday we ventured to our inland area again hoping for a Gos, but drew another blank. I wonder if the damage caused by storm Arwen has anything to do with it? Massive areas of the upland pinewoods are now lying flat. We managed a few Crossbill families, Stonechat and a lot of Skylarks and Meadow Pipits back on territories but not much else. A short stop on route home brightened things up with our first Adder of the year. Just the one though.


A small stream corner was quite pleasant with lots of Chiffchaffs, a few tumbling male Lapwings, one showing the hen a scrape, singing Curlews, a mass of Frogs and Toads in the same pond and a scatter of Buff tailed Bumblebees on catkins.

The top wire of that old fence was electric and on. I got hold of it twice!

Lots of Frogs in that far damp margin with a few Toads out in more open water.

The full moon and frosts have kept the moth trap quiet but two Oak Beauties were suitably attired in furry clothing to brighten one morning. Lovely moths, scarce in my garden so always a pleasure to see.

Tuesday, March 15, 2022


  As spring proper rolls ahead at a pace, there is a definite change on my manor.

On the 6th March my first Buff tailed Bumblebee and Peacock butterfly made an appearance, then on the 10th an emergence of Toads crossing the lane end at dusk is always pleasing to see. 

Also on the 10th, en route for a takeaway ( Chinese, if you are interested), a Brown Hare was sat out in the road illuminated in the car headlights. Its a very rural area with  no other vehicles so I turned the dipped lights to just side lights and stopped. As it was soon made obvious, this Hare was a female who was suckling a tiny leveret maybe only a day or two old on the road. She ran across to the other side, flipping junior over to be left alone.  Knowing that these tiny babies are very independent from birth I sat and watched as this hamster sized lagomorph scuttled across only to get stuck at a wheel rut in the verge.

At this point, it seemed the best option to give it a wide berth as I drove past and check it on the way home.

Twenty minutes later I slowly retraced my steps and the little hare was nowhere to be seen but I could see the mother quietly weaving her way along the hedge bottom. Hopefully the youngster was lying in there out of harms way.

At 11.30pm a Moorhen called repeatedly as it circled our garden and headed off north.

A small flurry of birds came on Saturday 12th. Farmer Tom was ploughing the Rectory stubble and was being escorted by an entourage of between 700 and 1000 Black headed Gulls. There had to be a Mediterranean Gull in this lot, so repeated scanning of the blizzard of gulls soon revealed the expected, lovely, dapper adult male Med standing on the plough in full summer plumage. What a smart bird.

 The first Chiffchaffs of the year made an appearance with up to 4 seen and heard around the pond field.

On the way back from the walk, the Water Rail had returned to the burn near the bridge but as per usual  ran off into cover in a flash. Other birds noted were 25+ Siskin, 1 Fieldfare, 4 Redwings ( one was singing today), 2 Buzzards and a few Meadow Pipits.

On Sunday 13th, John came over first thing to have a wander. The main reason for not going to Boulmer or the moors was that I had put the small bucket moth trap in the wood over night and I needed to retrieve it. While my large garden 125w MV Robinson caught a single Hebrew Character on a cool windy night, the little bucket caught 35 moths of 10 species. Habitat is everything at this time of year.

Twin spotted Quaker, its a while since a moth has graced these pages.

 Birds around the patch included 11 Fieldfares, 3 Lapwings S, 1 Raven over the road seen well quite close to, 2 Grey Partridges, 2 Treecreepers, 1 male Greenfinch and a pair of Grey Herons have built a nest only three feet from the water surface in a fallen tree at the pond field. Not even a usual nesting tree either. I hope it is successful.


Today was a fine day. Working from home gave me a chance to have a couple of walks out early and lunchtime with Peggy. The Raven was in good voice, 2 Grey Partridges, 2 Yellowhammers a singing Goldcrest on the coast, a singing Redwing in the village and a large total, for here, of 6 Magpies together in the back field.

Away from birds, a few Buff tailed Bumblers and the years first Tree Bumblebee  were near the Hall car park with the first Marsh Marigolds, Lungworts, White Butterbur, Ivy leaved Speedwell and Primrose in flower. 

White Butterbur a naturalised species in the woods

Monday, March 07, 2022

County Tick...

Seems a bit frivolous in light of the state of the world right now, but it's good to get out into the fresh air to clear an anxious mind.

 For a change the wind had dropped right off giving us a lovely spring-like day. John wanted to check out new bins at 'In-Focus' who had an open day at Hauxley reserve so this seemed as good an opportunity as any to try for an elusive, but now resident, county tick.

The ever skulking, impossible Cetti's Warbler has been a reasonably new resident in Northumberland with records dotted all along the coast over the past decade, but the stronghold for them here are the large reedbeds of East Chevington. I have heard singing birds there several times over the years but none have shown. We even twitched one that had been at Low Newton for a period recently to no avail. In addition they can be found at Big Waters and occasionally in other spots too so it was always going to be a list addition, one to keep in the back pocket, so to speak. 

A lot of people are happy with adding a bird to a list on call alone, something that I do for the local patch year list, but whenever its a county or UK first, I like to have a sight record, just for completeness.

The weather and timing were good for a chance of seeing these ginger, swamp dwellers and we had planned an early spring visit for a few years but just hadn't gotten around to it. There is always something else happening. Having seen Cetti's in various places further south and abroad, there was never any great push to get one up here, but is was always in the back of my mind.

We parked up at the south end of the North Pool and headed up to the South East corner hide, a good place for them. As we arrived at the track to the hide, the machine gun rattle of a male Cetti's could be heard in the tall reeds about 100 mtrs away. The sun shone and it was calm on this side of the reeds so hopefully one might appear.  

After about 15 mins the song came again, much closer this time, in a wedge shaped island of reeds between two cut channels. Surely we had this one in the bag now, its right outside the hide and it has to venture into the open to move around. Then after a few minutes, a small brown bird flew like a bullet out of the reed base across the water and it was gone. Seen, but not quite what we had in mind.

As we waited, a Water Rail flew across the same channel, squealing as it did so. It then landed, did a funny jig around before vanishing into cover.

Then, Cetti's song came from behind the hide at our backs in some hawthorns.

We left the hide and moved along the track. Here some sparse small bushes grow from the long grass, and there at the far left was a movement. Through the bins it was calling, tail swinging Cettis Warbler. It looked a bit agitated, then it was soon joined by a second bird just as jittery as the first. They chased around tails waving and calling as they went. Then a third bird appeared that we took to be a female, as it remained quite calm and quiet as the other two ran around the bush for a while before breaking away into thicker cover.

Not bad, 4 sightings of at least 3 birds far exceeded our expectations, leaving my Northumberland List on a nice rounded 360 sp.


 After that we headed up to Hauxley where Willow Tit and a few hundred Pink feet were the highlight ( after the superb Swarovski NL Pures of course).

Back home this afternoon in the warming sun, my fist Bumblebee and Peacock Butterfly of the year were both on the wing.