Monday, February 27, 2023

Late Winter Seawatching

 When there is a cold, north wind in February we are often at a bit of a loose end. Its too early to look for spring migrants, too cold and windy to head inland so what can we do? There is only one thing for it really, stay on patch and look at my only decent 'wetland'  - the sea.

Seawatching at this time of year is a world away from the watching from July to December.  In spring there is usually little to see, but it is sure to throw up one or two new birds for the local patch year list, so that is how we spent Sunday morning, and for February, we were pleasantly surprised.

We sat in the vicinity of the Howick Bathing House, where you can hunker down behind a rock out of the cold wind, the spot is literally 419 metres from my house. Its just a pity I can't see it from my house, what a boost to the garden list that would be.

So, what was on offer.

As is the way, quite a few birds were too far off to do much with, though a steady northerly movement of Kittiwakes with a few Gannets were the start to my list additions. Soon, a few more things of interest appeared with both Great Northern and Red throated Divers, a nice drake Velvet Scoter, a few parties of Common Scoter and a very early Manx Shearwater.   

Great Northern Diver 2N 1 S
Red throated Diver 16N 7S
Common Scoter 23N 12S
Velvet Scoter 1N
Shelduck 3N
Razorbill only 8 identified out of 100s of auks. 
Manx Shearwater 1
Purple Sandpiper 1
Gannet 40+N
Kittiwakes 100+ per hour N
Guillemots Several hundred going all directions offshore.
Shag, a few.

Harbour Porpoise 1, a while since I've seen one. Since the Bottle nosed Dolphins became regular the poor Porpoises seem to have taken a beating.

Also in the vicinity were 18 Meadow Pipits N, 1 Rock Pipit in full display song flight, an adult male Sparrowhawk along the shore and a few 'argentatus' Herring Gulls. We had hoped there would be more Gulls to give us a chance of a white winger but there were very few around.

Common Scoters

Immature Red throated Diver


Shelducks above a Guillemot.

The same Shelducks now above a Red throated Diver.

Back in the village, this young Sparrowhawk is terrorising my Tree Sparrows by spending his days lounging below the bird feeders. It is quite obliging, behaving more like a predatory chicken that a dashing raptor. There is a cracking adult male too, probably the bird seen while seawatching, but he wont sit for a photo.

After adding a few of this lot, my 2023 Local Patch List is now standing at 96. Still plenty to look out for...there must be a Stock Dove out there somewhere.
Sparrowhawk watching for a meal. Pic through Kitchen window.

Monday, February 20, 2023

A Murmuration...

 There's not been much birding or wildlife this weekend.

On Saturday the whole day was spent cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom, inside and out in preparation for decoration next week. It seemed a good idea to make use of a dreary rainy day.

Sunday, JWR was away cycling, so we finished off yesterdays efforts and went to the tip etc with a load of stuff hoarded over the years. This reminded Jane that last week she had been on the A1 near Alnwick and saw  a murmuration of Starlings over the local industrial estate, so we went at dusk to check it out.

At 5pm in a strong gusty breeze, a large flock of Starlings were circling over the Council Gritting Depot on the estate. I now remembered that these birds roost in a huge poly tunnel type Grit store. By 5.10pm the birds were swirling and shimmering overhead in an impressive spectacle before diving under cover for the night. I couldnt guess at how many? Certainly 5k plus... These big flocks take on a different persona to the birds that make them up, behaving like a single organism as they weave about. At one point there was a rush of wings as the birds came low over head showing my newly valeted car in a cascade of droppings!  

I took a short video on my phone...

Monday, February 13, 2023

A cornucopia...

 Out and about yesterday seemed pretty much standard fare with one or two bits of interest thrown in.

Lets begin with the moth trapping.

For the first time this year I put the small bucket trap out in the Village Wood on Saturday night. The evening was calm, overcast and quite mild at 8 degrees so despite the early date I was hopeful that a few moths would show.

On collection yesterday there were a reasonable 32 moths of 6 species - Agonopterix heracliana/ciliella 1, Acleris cristana 1, a nice form I have not seen before, Tortricodes alternella 1, Dotted Border 3, Pale brindled Beauty 8 and 18 Chestnut. As usual in early spring, this outshone the more powerful garden Robinson trap that could only muster 1 Hebrew Character and 1 Dark Chestnut.

I always feel a bit guilty entering the wood at first light as I feel I am disturbing the locals - Roe Deer. The tactic is to make a small amount of noise as I walk so as not to overly surprise them when I round a corner. On this occasion, one stood only about 10 mtrs away watching me walk past, so I kept eye contact to the ground and quickly went on my way.

Acleris cristana

 Catch counted and released by 7.45 I met John and we headed down to Birling Carrs to have a look at the sea. This is the southern boundary of John's patch and there has been a Red necked Grebe in recent weeks so it was worth a look. On route, a short pause at Lesbury for singing Dipper resulted in a blank.

At Birling the track is now closed to all traffic like a lot of places here since covid, but in some ways at least there is less disturbance on the walk. First off, 100+ Linnets looked promising on a seeded rape field but there was nothing with them, not so much as a Tree Sparrow or Reed Bunting. Only 2 Grey Partridges added variety. A few yards further on, a distinctive call stopped us. A Willow Tit was buzzing away in low brambles and flat bracken close beside the track. It soon popped out giving good views but briefly as it flew off to thicker cover to the south.

We finally took position in the caravans to scan the sea in good flat grey viewing conditions. To be honest we were a bit disappointed. Over a vast area all we had were 17 Great crested Grebes ( 15 in one flock), 4 Common Scoter and about 20+ Red throated Divers way out 'on the edge of science'.

Back at the car, a good count of 62 Whooper Swans were in the field west of the road.

From here, a short half mile journey south to twitch a plant! At least the Mistletoe was still present and showing well. A rare plant in the county and only my second sighting up here and it looked like it was doing well.

Mistletoe, maybe the first time on this blog?

Back north now, to Alnmouth where we had our tea and sausage rolls while scanning the estuary. There were a lot of birds on a falling tide - 1 Black tailed Godwit,  200+ Lapwings, 18 Ringed Plover and  a pair of  Red breasted Merganser and an adult Mediterranean Gull the highlights. The Med was colour ringed but just too far to read.

Mediterranean Gull, Aln Estuary

We took a walk along to the Golf Course Pond to check for wintering Chiffchaff maybe. As often happens, that plan failed, but a nice Water Rail showed itself at our feet before vanishing again leaving me wondering if it had been there at all! A female Bullfinch and 2 Goldcrest the only passerines of note.

Alnmouth GC Pond, just the spot for Northumberland's first Penduline Tit!

This weekend has been like a taste of spring, but I'll not be putting my big coat away just yet, there could be snow before the Swallows return...

Monday, February 06, 2023

Cateran Hole

 What a perfect day for a walk on Sunday morning. It was calm, sunny and cold on the fingers when we headed up to the moors north of Eglingham via the North Charlton road from the A1 North of Alnwick.

For sometime we have been going to check out a unobtrusive cave hidden in the heather called Cateran Hole, on the north slope of Cateran Hill. This gash down into the moor is steeped in folklore with tales of Smugglers and Faeries. Rather than plagiarise bits of others research, check out this link for more pics and the tales...

Not that we were hoping to add to the myth, we were looking for any wildlife that might lurk within...

To begin with, above are two maps of the location. Its quite a remote spot as you can see below.

Park the car at this finger post and walk across the moor for about 10 minutes until... see this post with arrows on, in the distance. Its there honest. At this point turn left.

A small stone in the middle of the path is carved, pointing left again just off track to the cave,

And there in a small depression is the hole. There are carved stone steps down into it. A torch or headlamp is a must. Its about 40 feet of narrow passage through the rock.

The way in..

Once in, water drips through and glistens on the walls covered in green algae. Signs of visitors date from 1700s, right to the present day. We hoped to find Cave Spider and a small Bryophyte called Tunbridge Filmy Fern, but we couldnt find either.

Only one spider was found - 

Metellina merianae 

A selection of unfamiliar mosses and spleenworts adorned the step walls, I'll try and get id's later...

Common Feather Moss

Hart's Tongue Thyme Moss

Waved Silk Moss
Once back into the light we checked out the view from the top of Cateran Hill, to see if any birds were to be had. Red Grouse called unseen hidden in a multitude of Red legged Partridges and Pheasants ( there were even 2 Japanese Green Pheasant types) . 2 Buzzards and 2 Ravens hung around while a few Skylarks were newly back on territory.

Back at the car for tea, I scanned North and saw a raptor flying steadily across the moor. It immediately looked different and  I called John to look. By now, closer and lower down it was obviously a smart male Goshawk! It soon perched up on the side of a tall larch where I could get the scope on it. A belter. 
After a minute or two it was gone, flushing pigeons to the four winds as it went.

Male Gos, perched.

Back along the road, another 2 Ravens gave closer views gathering nesting material and harassing a Buzzard.

And with that it was time to leave, a very pleasant morning, we could almost kid ourselves it was spring...    

Wednesday, February 01, 2023

A new month...

 So, January finished with my patch list standing at 87. This is about average or maybe a bit under.

The best bird so far was the Great Northern Diver last week, annual here but always a nice one to get. Other, better, species have remained elusive. No Kingfisher, Raven or Med Gull and most years gives an oddity for January like Firecrest, Little Gull, Marsh Harrier, Little Egret etc but not this time. Even our local Barn Owls seem to have moved elsewhere. For a bird that used to be a daily occurrence, that is a bit worrying.

At least the days will now lengthen a bit more noticeably and it wont be long before the birds start to sing. So far only a Coal Tit has graced my ears, but I'm sure Great Tit, Song Thrush and Chaffinch wont be far behind.

Recently I have had pop ups on social media regarding the weather, with a few sources reporting the possibility of a Beast from the East, the UK covered in 4" of snow and prolonged freezing temperatures yet I cant see anything at all like that in the forecast. Last year we had a lot of named storms over the winter with Arwen, Eunice etc but I've not noticed any names so far this year ( thank God)? At least the Snowdrops, Winter Aconites and Winter Heliotrope are all in flower to remind us that the dark days are almost over...

Another type of patch list, if you like, is underway here . The Spiders in the Bathroom List 2023. I bet there's not an option for that on Bubo. Here are the additions so far and to be fair the only wildlife pics I've taken this year with my camera. This project reduces the need for Hoovering....

I began this post with an idea of something to write, but it has slipped my mind? 

Theridion species likely melanurum

Amaurobius ferox

Amaurobius similis

Erategena sp likely juv Giant House Spider