Friday, December 30, 2022

Look back on 2022...

Bird of the Year 2022.

Over the past 12 months most of my activity has been based around my, very local, home patch, the 3 sq kms around Howick, but in reality a lot of that time is within a single 1 km square. Last year I found a 5km radius way too big to do justice with the majority of that area not visited or not worth a look, so its basics all the way from now on.  

There were regular visits to other local areas just over the boundary to places such as Boulmer, Alnmouth, Alnwick Moors etc all within about 10 miles from home.

My 3km Local Patch

Further afield were 2 weeks in Caithness and 1 week at the Ardnamurchan plus a single long distance twitch to Bempton Cliffs, Yorkshire with a couple of 'within county' birds taken in as the fancy arose.

This year I decided not to pile pressure on to 'hammer' the list, but to take things quite casually, just enjoying what ever I can come across.  

The birding around home was quite good with a few species new to the area list plus a few that are categorised ( by me) as rare, ie recorded in 4 or less years out of the last 14. Birds in this list are as follows. 

Egyptian Goose 1st record here, a lucky sighting on a morning dog walk on the 12th May.

Mandarin Duck 3rd patch record was of a nice drake on the pond, the same week as the goose and can be seen in the same link.

Pallid Swift 1st record. The rarest birds on patch this year will obviously be firsts when a party of 3 Pallid Swifts spent an hour showing well over the cricket pitch on 29th October.

Black Tern 2nd site record for me, a close in single feeding over the sea at Rumbling Kern on 6th September. Last record was 2011. 

Great Shearwater 3rd record. This pelagic wanderer is getting commoner each year and can now be actively looked for rather than just being a random occurrence.

Cory's Shearwater 1st and only my 2nd ever in the UK.  What a year for this bird in Northumberland, with multiples seen. I was lucky enough to get decent views of one from Cullernose on 26th July.

Hen Harrier 2nd record, was a great surprise on an otherwise quiet day for birds on 22nd February near the Teepee track. 

Green Woodpecker 4th record but none since 2017 and before that was 2010. Flew S along the coast path on a fine spring morning in May.

Siberian Chiffchaff  2nd record. One calling seen briefly near the pond on 30th October.

Bluethroat 1st record and contender for bird of the year for me. Found by Mandy Fall in her garden at Seahouses Farm. Sublime! A classic May date too. Worth another read. 

Pied Flycatcher 4th record. Probably commoner here really but I don't seem to find them often so it its always a pleasure. 5th September.

 Apart from these, other noteworthy species this year - 

Whooper Swan, Pink footed and Barnacle Geese, Scaup, Cuckoo, Water Rail, Purple Sandpiper, Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Med and Little Gulls, Little and Roseate Terns, 4 sp Skuas, Little Auk, Sooty Shearwaters, Marsh Harrier, SEO, Raven, Waxwing, Willow Tit, Redstart, Twite and Snow Bunting.

Moth Trapping continued in the garden, where the species list continued to grow.

04.089    Ectoedemia albifasciella

15.044    Phyllonorycter sorbi

21.001    Lyonetia clerkella

32.016     Agonopterix propinquella

35.118     Scrobipalpa ocellatella  Beet Moth part of an unprecendented National Influx. New to Northumberland, I caught 6!

35.118     Scrobipalpa ocellatella  Beet Moth

35.159     Exoteleia dodecella

38.039     Elachista maculicerusella

49.376 Pammene aurita

62.053 Ancylosis oblitella

62.053 Ancylosis oblitella, new for the north of England!

My first garden Box Tree Moth was this lovely dark form.

63.054 Cydalima perspectalis Box-tree Moth  My first record.

63.074 Eudonia mercurella

70.046 Orthonama vittata Oblique Carpet

70.051 Xanthorhoe spadicearia Red Twin-spot Carpet

70.166 Eupithecia simpliciata Plain Pug

Lunar Marbled Brown.

71.011 Drymonia ruficornis Lunar Marbled Brown

73.087 Spodoptera exigua Small Mottled Willow

These were all new. Several Scarce Bordered Straw and Hummingbird Hawk-moths were a good feature as was a single Convolvulous Hawk-moth found in a nearby field.

Out of the other many highlights off patch must be - 

The Bempton Black-browed Albatross a lifer for me, clawed back after last years galling dip.

Another get back after last years miss was the Long Nanny American Black Tern, and what a stunner too giving great views.

Orca at Auchengill, Caithness in June.

Oysterplant, Caithness, June. Very pleased to find this declining plant.

Pine Marten, Ardnamurchan, September. 

Moonwort, Caithness, June.

Pied Wheatear, Whitley Bay, October.

As another year draws to a close, I hope to hear more from you all in 2023. Enjoy your birding, the outdoors and any wildlife you might be interested in.

All the very best. Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2022


 As the cold spell melts away to a balmy 10 degrees, it is good to think of how these small weather features can have an impact upon local patch birding. 

I have already posted this month's birding in just a single km square around home we've had Woodcock, Water Rail, Little Auk, Blue Fulmar, masses of Thrushes, Snipe, Pink footed Geese, Golden Plovers, Lapwings etc but as I look through the apple feeding thrushes and see, I am reminded by Twitter, one of the W's was missing. Until yesterday that is.

We have had family staying over the weekend and as they packed the car to leave on Sunday morning the timing was perfect for a quartet of Waxwings to drop in to the berryless rowan right beside the cars. I called to them, 'Waxwings!' and pointed . Everyone looked and were treated to great views of the birds only 10 feet  away. They had been attracted by a few measly rosehips growing through the Rowan.

The birds, all soft crests and dove grey pink, fluttered down into the bush like dancers trying not to get their tutus dirty, but soon they flew off over the house. 

I went around with the camera and some apples to hang in our small birch tree. The vikings were now in our tall dividing hedge where they had found a few more hips. These birds are masters at seeking out a few trivial berries that you or I wouldn't even notice, but again they were off. I finally managed a couple of cursory record shots at range in a neighbour's apple tree before they flew off again, this time, for good.

Its a few years since I had patch Waxers so it was good to see them again. Maybe there'll be more?

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Cold snap.

 I think we have gotten off lightly here on the Northumberland coast. While the news reports show deep snow and temps down to -17 in Scotland and even double figures in inland England, locally we have just had an average wintry spell. Yesterday and today have seen the temperature stay just below freezing with it dropping to -4 at its lowest. As for snow cover, about an inch dropped last night onto already frozen ground making getting around 'interesting' .

These cold snaps aren't good for wildlife but for the birder on a local patch it can always shuffle up some interest.

Around our village, there has been a noticeable influx of thrushes of 5 species, with Fieldfares in particular cleaning out any remaining garden windfall apples. Yesterday a few birds were trickling south along the coast with Redwings, Fieldfares, Skylarks, Lapwings and Golden Plover heading for softer ground.

 I was on  a days leave today to catch up with some Christmas stuff before Jane's sister and nephew arrive tomorrow for a couple of days, so once again, actual real birding is on hold.

At lunchtime, out with Peggy, a glance into the burn as I crossed the bridge produced just what I've been looking for for the last few weeks - a Water Rail. It looks like a nice adult too, with a bright slate blue frontal colouring and no brown or white around the face and throat area. Unlike last winter, this time I managed a couple of record shots of it before it jogged off into cover. 

Its always a pleasure to bump into these reed bed skulkers especially when it is so far from any proper habitat. The small drainage ditches in the wood and burn all link to the pond about half a kilometre away so they must use this wider ranging habitat as a wintering spot because they are quite reliable here around Christmas time. Lovely.

Monday, December 12, 2022

Winter Blues.

 Its been a busy week what with Christmas preparations, visits, socialising and what not. So busy that I didn't really have time to get out on Sunday morning, but, when you live in  the middle of your patch even looking out of the window is birding.

It was one of these non-birding dog walks that caught me a bit unawares. 

On Sunday around 11am I took Peggy for her walk along the coast path just before we were due to leave home to visit relatives for lunch at Berwick. 

One day I will finally learn the lesson, never leave home unarmed! Remember the Pallid Swifts day when I was on a quick stop looking for fungi so I didn't even have my bins? Well this was a hurried stride out dog walk, so, again, no bins, camera or even phone. After all I was only going to be gone for 20 mins and its December.

As we dropped on to the coast path a few local Fulmars were celebrating being back on the cliffs by enjoying the updraft and racing past walkers at eye level. They are very inquisitive birds, I remember once being on the beach when a Fulmar made repeated very close, low, fly pasts of our dog, even turning its head to get a closer look. 

On the coast path, our birds regularly do this, hanging on an updraught making eye contact with passers by. This time there were around 8 birds back and forth, up and down, when one stopped me in my tracks. It stalled for a second then stooped and was gone. What was that? Too short a view to make anything then I saw a bird going away from me along the cliff, even with the naked eye it seemed odd but I couldn't place why so I waited on the view point, I knew it would be back, they can't help themselves.

Sure enough, I couldn't believe it when up popped the bird less than 30 feet from my face, a beautiful smokey grey 'Blue' Fulmar! I've only ever seen a few on seawatches at distance and never like this with local birds. A grey apparition from the high arctic looking even wilder than its white headed cousins.

I stood and watched for five minutes but was conscious of the time and I needed to go. I could have had frame filler photos.  I've been back today at 11am but there are only a couple of Fulmars flying with a dozen on ledges and no dusky guest with them. I might try again later...

Although 'just a colour form' I do like races and forms of birds so was over the moon to see it. Lets hope it comes is more than just a tick...

Monday, December 05, 2022

Its not quite over!

Hume's Warbler on a cardboard box...

After my last blog where I thought surely the end of autumn had come, we had a flurry of Sibe activity. Autumn lasts longer these days.

Not far from home, a couple of Hume's Warblers had taken up temporary residence at Low Newton village. I don't recall Northumberland having a multiple of this species before but stand to be corrected.

The spots favoured by these birds were not the best for viewing, the first being a site where you need to look over a high wall into even higher spruce trees for a distant glimpse. The second area, just about 50 mtrs behind the walled garden is a small stand of spruce at the end of a private cul-de-sac. I am not a fan of this type of site as it always looks suspicious to residents, but, saying that, not many 'residents' live here anyway, so a lot were empty second homes or holiday lets at the end of the season.

Last Wednesday was a day off work and with a couple of hours spare I popped along to try my luck. Knowing the walled garden is a pain, I stationed myself nonchalantly at the end of the cul-de-sac over looking both the small spruces and the taller walled garden trees. The whole place was very quiet in thick wet mist. No birds were in the close trees but I thought I'd give it half an hour to see if the birds moved around.

Soon after, I heard a single, fine wagtail like 'tiss-wick' across the paddock? Was it the bird or had I just misheard something? I scanned the distant trees with my bins and soon saw a pale small bird fitting about the upper branches, yes it was the Hume's Warbler. Distant, I thought, but at least I had seen it, when it only up and flew right across the field into the trees beside me where it fed low down in the dark damp branches of the spruce.

With some manoeuvring, decent views were possible at times but photography was a non starter. Once the warbler had a short burst of calls, repeating the two syllable wagtail note 4 or 5 times before falling silent again.

Its a long time since I've seen a Hume's Warbler so this one was most welcome. Unfortunately there was no sign of the second individual.

Surely its winter now!

A foggy soggy Hume's Warbler. The best I could manage in the dark conditions.