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. 

Thursday, April 21, 2022


 What to record in your notebook. Not that anyone uses one these days but here is my scrawl...

I could do this more often, its quicker than writing a post? Blog post in photo form.... The narrative is lacking somewhat...

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Bobby Dazzler

 While the rest of the country basked in a mini heatwave, up here we had our own version. 12 degrees with a light onshore breeze and a moderate haze just to make sure we didn't get carrier away and think it was summer. Monday was better as the wind had gone west making it a little bit milder.

Despite the cool, more spring migrants arrived with  2 or 3 Swallows back in the village from 1.30pm on Saturday followed by 3 nice male Wheatears on Cullernose on Sunday. To those in the south or on headlands this might seem a bit duff, but these are my first of the year and might even be the only ones of spring on my patch where it is not a common bird.

Willow Warblers and Blackcap numbers seemed to increase too but the highlight of the weekend had to be a bright, tortoiseshell patterned, summer plumaged male Brambling at the bird table yesterday. April is the best month to get one on the feeders here and it was only 2 days later than last years singing male. Being on the north east coast we don't get many winterers, sometimes we get single figure parties, but they are easiest to find in October and April as they come and go.

Anyway, here is the stunner...images through kitchen window. 

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Easter Shrike.

Great Grey Shrike hunting from wires.

 In my last post I was praising the virtues of the local birding around the market town of Alnwick. This is our local town for shopping etc so its a place that we visit weekly if not more. As for wildlife, we like to get on to the uplands around the town mainly to get away from the visitors along the coast, but it does host some interest for the naturalist too, so its a win win.

For years around the March and April time the conversation often drifts around the the potential for a passage Great Grey Shrike hunting the heath up here. There are bees, lizards and large caterpillars to feed on and the place looks ideal. A good few years ago, John was lucky enough to see one such bird on the moor beyond Corbys Crag, near Widehope. I'm not sure who found it, but it was long gone before I made it up there, so when the local WhatsApp group sprang into life on Good Friday with news that there was a Great Grey Shrike on the wires near the communication mast up on the moor I wasn't surprised, just a little excited.

The bird was found at dusk, so I wasn't going to get up there on the day but come Saturday it was time for a visit. To begin with, there were no other birders around but it was cloudy and cool so I felt it would still be here. Shrikes are mostly day migrants, so after a cool night it might hang around to feed and warm up.

Sure enough after some systematic scanning of over head wires, there it was, doing what Shrikes do. Perched aloft, tail wavering in the breeze for balance while its large head tipped and twisted forward scanning the ground for prey. Although it made some dips to the deck and onto roadside marker posts, I didnt see any prey, though others did see it catch lizards.  

Decent scope views were had and I didnt want to get too close, knowing how flighty these birds usually are, so no photos worth posting. I did take some phone scope shots just to get a drawing reference. 

As I write this, the bird has been present all day, receiving a steady procession of visitors to our area that sees very few binocular scans over the year. Thanks to the finder too for getting the news out...     

Monday, April 11, 2022

Alnwick...and around.

 Since last week's twitch, things have been back to normal around NE66.  

A few new birds have been moving through the patch as would be expected by now.  Siskins are daily seen passing over but only one male has been on my feeders. Two Bramblings on the return leg of their winter stay called in. A female with the Chaffinch flock on Wednesday then today I heard a familiar 'wheezing' note, like a Greenfinch but softer. As Greenies have a sad new status in these parts I paused and wonderd if it was a singing Brambling? Sure enough, there he was up a small tree singing away, still in winter plumage. Its a sorry state when a singing Brambling is almost as likely as a singing Greenfinch locally...

A bitterly cold NW wind on Saturday gave zero chance of summer land birds so I had an hour seawatch from Rumbling Kern. Its not as much of a point as Cullernose and is in the shadow of Boulmer but it can be ok for gulls and terns.

1600- 1710 - 

Red breasted Merganser 1 drake N

Sandwich Tern 5 N ( first terns of the season)

Razorbill 14 identified many auks too far out

Common Gull 98 N

Kittiwake 130 N

Gannet 50 N ( I don’t usually count Gannets and Kittis but early on there isn’t much else)

Fulmar 2 N

Shelduck 1 N

Common Scoter 4 N

Goosander 1 redhead S

Whooper Swan 2 N

Lesser black backed Gull 1 N

Shag 1 N ( rarely count these either, but there was only one today so for completeness)

Red throated Diver 1 N

Purple Sandpiper 15+ on the rock with 15+ Turnstones.

Sunday remained cold but very bright and clear so we checked some of our inland sites around Alnwick.

A circular walk along the new local railway and back into the industrial estate by the wooded Cawledge Burn turned up common woodland species with 15+ Chiffchaffs, 5 Great spotted Woodpeckers, 4 Redwing, 2+ Sparrowhawks and best of all, on a small drainage settling pond on the estate, a Green Sandpiper. A nice little find on the edge of suburbia. 

Disclaimer. This post might be a bit pic heavy...

As you can imagine a Green Sandpiper on a tiny pond, it was never going to end well so after about 30 seconds off it went calling on the way.

After a short stop for supplies at Greggs, it was time to get a little bit more rural, well, 5 miles more...

In the bright sun some typical moorland wildlife was seen but none of the hoped for Ring Ouzels or Wheatears yet...

A massive flock of Northern Golden Plovers looked great in this light. 

On last years Ring Ouzel field there was scarcely room for one as it was packed with Northern Golden Plovers. At least 700, possibly up to 900 birds present running everywhere and flying short distances making an accurate count impossible. We couldnt find a Dotterel...

Nearby a small Adder, 5+ displaying Redpolls, 1 Stonechat and more Chiffchaffs went into the book.

After a good stretch of legs with not much more to add, we came across a nice pair of Red Grouse.

Him n her Red Grouse. Not much compensation for acres of burnt moorland.

 Shortly after the grouse we rounded a corner to briefly meet the day's second highlight. On the wires, an adult male Merlin sat with an entourage of mipits and linnets keeping an eye on him, even providing outriders to escort him away from their territories as he flew off.

So, few migrants and no rares but we still enjoyed a very pleasing morning out . 

Male Merlin and his Mipit Mates. 


Sunday, April 03, 2022

The return of the Mollymawk...

Dear reader, you might recall that last July we paid a visit to RSPB Bempton Cliffs near Filey to see the Black browed Albatross that spent the summer there. Unfortunately for us it was away that day leaving us to stand for 11 hours albatross-less. 

Being a reluctant twitcher at best, although the bird returned to the great white cape and lived there on and off til September, I couldn't face the thought of another journey ending in a blank. A bit like the bad luck that befell the Ancient Mariner in the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem I was doomed to failure.

Still, that autumn I had hopes that it would return to its favoured face in 2022 when, if I had recovered from defeat, then I would pull out all stops to see it. 

Zip forward several months to earlier this week, much earlier than anticipated, the Albatross had returned to its cliff.

Time to get get back on the horse so to speak...

Bempton Cliffs RSPB. Thousands of seabirds nest here, but it was only one that brought us back today.

We arrived in the car park around 08.30 on a lovely bright, calm and cold morning. A short walk to the cliffs where some birders had gathered.
'Any news?' I asked. 'Its flown out to sea earlier' was the response.
You would think the clouds had closed above us. Gutted. Another long day lay ahead...

Or did it?

Heads down we strolled down to wards the view point. About half a mile offshore I could see some Gannets circling and landing on the sea so I thought Id scan with the bins. Straight away, there was the big stiff winged cross shape of the Black browed Albatross!  In a bit of a panic to get John on to it before it headed for the horizon some garbled directions such as 'There! There!' were given. It seemed to work as John quickly got on to it.

We need not have worried. The bird casually flew back in to the cliffs where it gave some great views flying around the Gannet colony for the next 45 minutes or so before retiring to rest on the cliff out of sight. We tried again after breakfast but it was a no show. A few birders arrived later and did not see it at all.  We knew how it felt.

Still, nothing could top the views we had. Our day was already made... 

Black browed Albatross.

[ PS. Mollymawk is the name for the group of medium sized albatrosses such as Black browed, an American term I think?]