Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Spring. Its all a myth....

Its easy to get disillusioned with a local patch when you see reports going    on all around you of spring migrants teaming through. From our place, I see tales of waders, passerines and raptors popping up in all manner of parks, reservoirs and suchlike so when I step out into a stiff icy cold Northerly with no birds I am reminded that 'spring' on the          Northumberland coast is almost a myth. Its like those Christmas Cards of  Dickensian scenes when we look out on Christmas day to 10 degrees and    rain...

 But, there are some things that the weather cant hold up forever. Birds   that  winter in Africa and breed in the northern hemisphere will eventually battle through regardless, its just that Northumberland is one of the final places to see any.

On Sunday we headed out hoping that today would see some arrivals, and for once we were lucky. 

The route was from Cullernose Point to Craster in the hope of a Ring Ouzel or at least a Wheatear.

The view south along the coast from Cullernose.

As it happens, the first of 5 new patch birds for the year came before I had left the car park. A Willow Tit buzzed briefly from the blackthorn scrub then promptly vanished.

We moved one vehicle along to Craster then the other back to Cullernose for the walk north. At Craster a pair of House Martins were new and were looking a potential breeding site in the waterworks. 

In these cliff hugging gorse bushes, above, is a short but sheltered farm access track that sometimes holds a few new arrivals. As we ventured in, a small bird flicked up off the grass -  a belter of a male Redstart! This is spring tame fare along the south coast but here it was my first spring Redstart in 14 years. Result. Further along a pair of Wheatears bobbed around on a pile of sand in the field, patch tick 4 in the first half an hour. Nearby a female Shelduck emerged from an open hay barn to meet her mate. No doubt she will have a nest behind the bales.


The rest of the way to Craster held no more surprises, but the cover held good numebrs of Chiffchaffs, a few Willow Warblers and Blackcaps . The scrub here looks excellent and rarely sees a birder, including me, so I must make more of an effort.

This is the view just to the left of the top image. Dunstan to the left and Craster Heughs to the top right.

We walked around by the harbour and up into the Heughs where a rattling Lesser Whitethroat was the final addition to the year list. Roe Deer flushed and a Sparrowhawk flew overhead. All along, there was asteady but light northerly passage of mostly Swallows with an odd Sand Martin with them. 

As we drank tea and ate biscuits at the car, a report came through of a Crane flying N at Tynemouth and Whitley Bay. In the unlikely hope it might track another 30 miles we headed off back to Cullernose to wait it out. As expected, there were no further reports..

At midday, it was time for home, its seems spring has finally sprung after all... 

Eristalis intricaria Hoverfly on Blackthorn.

Razorbills loafing on Cullernose.

Roe Doe


Thursday, April 20, 2023

Catch up...

 A quick catch up of April so far .

Since the last general post a few more migrants have appeared locally. On 6th a very early Willow Warbler sang in our garden at first light but was gone by 7am. There arent many here yet but we did have 5 singing at Brizlee at the weekend.

A pair of Greenfinches at our feeders were the first to do this, this year and Hairy footed Flower Bees were out in good numbers when the sun was shining.

One good (?) bird was seen briefly on the coast path on the 8th. An Egyptian Goose flew north past the Bathing House followed by 11 Whooper Swans. The Goose is only the second record here after one last year. They'll be breeding on the pond soon no doubt. Our first Swallow was over our house on the 8th but they are still not here in any numbers.

On 9th, John and me walked up the Hulne Parks south wall to Brizlee. It was cool and damp with little to show other than 2 Red Grouse, a few Curlew, a singing Willow Tit and best of all a close, but unseen, Green Woodpecker yaffling loudly. 

Willow Tit singing at me.

  Near by 2 Adders were our first of the season.


Over Easter weekend an in house spider hunt revealed not only the Uloborus plumipes already posted, but Pisaura miribalis, Pardosa sp, Woodlouse Spider, Zygiella x-notata and an Oonops in the bathroom.

The local Blackcaps were late to the party on the 14th with 3 singing in our village wood.

When driving back from Alnwick on 15th we were over flown by a Red Kite at Denwick heading south. One day I'll get one on the patch but this was about 4 miles too far west.

Edit - Not sure how I missd this out? But anyway, Sunday 16th saw me and John up at Brizlee again. It was bright and sunny but cold. 5 male Wheatears in 2 places showed well, even in a rain shower, several displaying Redpolls chased and buzzed around the car and a Bilberry Bumblebee was on a sallow beside the road.

Displaying Curlew

Wheatear in the rain.


On the 18th another poor patch year tick materialised on the coast path when we flushed a pair of Red legged Partridges. I didnt see one here last year so they were sort of welcome.

Holly Blue has shown well in the garden this week with 1 on the 15th and 3 on the 20th. Seems like a good start to the year for them...

One worn and one fresh Holly Blue in the garden...

As usual the wind is swinging North for the weekend so it will be baltic while the rest of the country is basking in 18 degrees. 

Dark edged Bee Fly.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Garden Centre Endemic.

 Periodically on here I mention some of my dabbles in Spider hunting. That's maybe too proactive. Mostly the spiders just leap out in front of me for attention so a photo is taken and I try to identify it. Some reckon that there are only about 10 species that can be done from images but whilst there are only a small percentage that can be identified in this way its certainly more than ten. Even with my amateurish attempts I have still managed about 50 on the list. Fair enough, they are 50 of the most distinctive species, but surely I've not mis-id'd 40 of them.

When they first caught my attention a couple of years back I bought the 'Wildguides' Spider book. A few pages were more memorable than others including this one - 

You can see in the observation tips, this unusually shaped arachnid 'appears to be restricted to Hothouses and Garden Centres'. Bizarre that some wildlife can be 'endemic' to Garden Centres I thought.

The Spider Recording Scheme website notes - Not formally included on the British checklist although recorded in England in the early 1990s in three widely separated localities - Liverpool, Southampton and Reading. The species is now extremely common in greenhouses in the Reading area and is increasingly being recorded further afield. The spider has been found in every garden centre searched in Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Bedfordshire, Suffolk, Hertfordshire and Kent and it has recently been found in a Leicester garden centre where it was fairly common within several of their heated glass houses .

With this in mind, it was a species to keep in my back pocket for those often banal visits to the local garden centre where I might find one in among the conservatory cane chairs and padded knee trays. The distribution map shows they have been found either side of us so there was an outside chance.

Then I promptly forgot about it. Until Sunday.

I took Peggy out for her last bedtime stroll around 11.30pm. When we came in I dried her feet and unclipped her harness in the porch. The ceiling is low in here, and I had been followed in by a moth so I scanned around for it possibly settled. There were a couple of resident small spiders ( Zygiella x-notata) around the windows but on the top was a faint web with something stuck in it. I couldn't make it out, but it was tiny and was maybe a bird seed husk blown in or a shed skin of one of the Zygiellas?I gently touched it. 

It moved. 

As I watched it illuminated by head torch its identity soon dawned on me. It was a Garden Centre Spider Uloborus plumipes!

Wow, well I never. The camera and flash were hurriedly sought and images taken. I cant be sure how a hothouse endemic came to live in our bitterly cold porch but suspect last week's visit to Stanton Nurseries for some garden plants might be the source.

Garden Centre Spider Uloborus plumipes  

 It seems that this could be the first for VC68 if not Northumberland so it has been iRecorded. Its amazing how we can travel all over looking for various rarities and a smart, unusual lifer is living at home with us...

The moth took a back seat but after the spider photo shoot was over, a nice Early Thorn was caught on the kitchen wall and released...

Friday, April 07, 2023


This will be a brief post but I didn't want to miss this one out of the blog. 

In recent years, if you are interested in natural history there is no doubt you will have seen some hysterical information regarding the arrival of Asian Hornets into the UK. If you saw some of the tabloid pieces, these killer aliens are just about everywhere taking over and destroying our natural ecosystems, a bit like the invasions of giant killer spiders every autumn.. You would be forgiven for having an image of the old 50s film 'Them!' in mind when seeing such nonsense.

The worst thing about the dodgy publicity is that now, every summer, someone sees and reports an invasion of Asian Hornets into their garden when in reality the insect they have just seen, flattened with the newspaper or drowned in fly killer is a harmless native Wasp or worse, a declining European Hornet. Asian Hornets, despite what the Mirror or Mail would have you believe are still very rare in the UK with only a few sightings per year ( 23 in total since 2016) almost all confined to the south of England..

With this in mind, experience tells me, it pays to treat any wildlife reports from Joe Public with a massive pinch of salt until it has been confirmed by someone reliable.

This brings me to events of last Tuesday. I was at work when Jane rang from her work place to tell me they had captured an Asian Hornet from a box of cauliflowers delivered from France and she had sent me a photo. While there are better insect pics, the specimen on show in an empty clear plastic strawberry container was indeed an Asian Hornet Vespa velutina.

In the last 20 years, numbers of this insect have ballooned on the near continent so it is expected that eventually they will get established in the UK but, hopefully, we can keep them out by being vigilant. After all they originate from the far east and southern Asia and have no place in western Europe where they can have a big effect on the numbers of native bees and other insects.

It seemed like this one in the container was the first for the north of England, so I had to pop along for a look. The invader was now in the chiller to keep it calm while awaiting its fate ( freezer). It was carefully extracted for no more than a minute so I could take a record shot. I was surprised to see not some vile deadly beast but a really smart hymonopteran, Slightly smaller than our native Hornets, but still quite a unit, it adopted a go-faster racing pose and was decked out in mostly black with yellow socks and some orange on the stinging end. Very nice.

After it was frozen the next day a chap drove all the way up from Wakefield to collect the specimen for 'verification'. He said the vegetable company would be contacted and given advice on measures to prevent the importation of non native pest species into the country. 

I confess to feeling a bit sorry for it...

Asian Hornet Vespa velutina


Monday, April 03, 2023

It feels like spring.


Alnmouth with Coquet Island in the distance.

Sunday was a calm and pleasant day, getting brighter as it wore on and for once spring was in the air. What breeze there was, came from an ENE direction building hopes that we might come across something out of the ordinary. Unfortunately we didnt turn up anything rare but we still had a good morning seeing a few migrants.  

I met John at Alnmouth Cricket Club at 7am. A stroll down to the water works and flood meadows was filled with bird sounds. Lapwings and Redshanks displaying, Geese clattering around, a Water Rail squealed from a dense patch of phragmites and the sound of Chiffchaffs rang from every tree tall enough. 

A field near the track held some Mad March Hares, in April, with 8 or more chasing and boxing around.

Brown Hares mating.

 While watching these, a pair of Shoveler flushed from the small pond to settle again on a flash near the river.

Next we took the car down to the estuary. From here we covered the rest of the patch including the shore, bracken hill, and the estuary itself.

At this time there is an odd mix of birds of both summer and winter. There was a lone Barnacle Goose swimming up river beside a drake Red breasted Merganser, 25+ Wigeon, 20 Teal, 153 Curlew, a Goosander and 80+ Pinkfeet North while newly arrived birds included a female Wheatear, 4 Sand Martins, many Chiffchaffs, a Little Egret and 15+ Shelduck . There was no sign of the Avocet John had here mid week.

Little Egret

Incoming Sand Martin.

Stonechat on shed in the dunes.

Teal looking very smart in the sunshine.

Wheatear flew from beach and relocated in paddock on top of bracken hill.

 Later in the morning the warm sun brought out a few insects - 2 Small Tortoiseshells and a scatter of Hairy footed Flower Bees.

A small solitary bee, I'll need advice from specialists for this one...Andrena scotica. 

A male Hairy footed Flower Bee showing is feathered legs and the white blaze...

Small Tortoiseshell, the first butterfly of the year for me.

Back home at lunchtime, I was pleased to give the lawn its first cut after a wet March. Now I can let the meadow kick in. In the garden were more Hairy feet and 2 Peacock butterflies...

Peacock in the garden.