Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Lighter Nights...

Its almost two weeks since my last blog post. That's the thing about blogging, as the days lengthen and get warmer there is often more wildlife to look out for. Whilst I have more to write about, I have less time to write it!

Here are a few of the more interesting things that have crossed our paths since the Red backed Shrike graced Boulmer....

Holly Blues continue their fantastic season here at the Howick Obs with daily observations of up to three individuals squabbling over the garden.

In the bottom photo if you click on it you will see the mating pair plus another male in waiting to the right.

A nice walk around Craster with Jane and Peggy on the 11th pruduced views of 6+ Bottle nosed Dolphins and a new plant for me, a small Rustyback Fern on the wall. I had been told of its presence here as it is a scarce plant in the county.

Rustyback Fern Craster

Sunday 14th May, JWR and myself headed up to Alnwick Moors but again the weather, although mild enough, was quite dull so few insects seen. Up to 6 Cuckoos were seen and heard back on territory, a singing and seen Garden Warbler was quite unusual for here and 3 Crossbill flew over. Of the few insects there were a reasonable showing of displaying Green Longhorn Moth  Adela reamurella. At Oxen Woods, Chickweed Wintergreen was in flower not a plant Ive seen much of.

Green Longhorn Moth display in a dancing flight over the gorse.

Chickweed Wintergreen a lovely flower.

A hugely cropped digiscoped Cuckoo for drawing reference!


Cuckoo field sketches.

On Friday at work in our new, very sterile, office I noticed an unusually shaped 'thing' low down on the wall near the back doors. Closer inspection found it to be a spider, and not something I'd seen before. It reminded me of the Garden Centre Spider from a few weeks ago ( still present in our porch). I potted this spider up for a better look. It turns out not only to be new for me, but likely new for Northumberland too, though spiders are very tricky to get onto the record as they always want a specimen or microscope images that I either cant be bother with or am unable to do. see pics below for details.

Spider Episinus angulatus, a scarce species not found in the NE until now.

 This past weekend added a couple of new local patch species with a calling Cuckoo in Howick and a Redpoll N along the coast path.

On Sunday we missed the Spoonbill at Alnmouth but did see a nice male Marsh Harrier near Foxton and, while looking for plants and spiders, I flushed a Long eared Owl from a small hawthorn in the dunes. Luckily John was quick enough to get some great photos. I was too slow off the mark and it was too distant for me.

Above, Long eared Owl, Alnmouth Dunes courtesy of John Rutter.

The dunes at Alnmouth a great for plants and insects, but thats another post in itself, so I'll end with another spider. This one is a one Ive hoped to find here as it occurs commonly in sandy areas. Next time I'll take the macro lens for a better shot. This is Arctosa perita a well camouflaged wold spider..

Arctosa perita a relative of the larger and rarer Grey Wolf spider we found in the river valleys.


Thursday, May 11, 2023

King of the Bank Holiday...

 Did you watch the Coronation on Saturday? I did. Well most of it, anyway. I dont see my self as a Royalist but I do like the basic tradition of it all. I don't agree with all the hangers on and in particular these land grabbing Dukes and that ilk. Come the revolution they'd be first against the wall, but King Charles III and the bairn ( not Harry) are OK by me.

While the ceremonies played out on TV  a Holly Blue was in the garden, the first Orange Tips of the year were in the Village Wood and a Lesser Whitethroat sang by the Village Hall.

Sunday had us down to Boulmer for the first time in a while to look for migrants. The fog was thick and lasted all morning. We covered the whole area and didn't see the sea once. For our trouble we had 8+ Common and 3 Lesser Whitethroats, 2 Fieldfares emerged from the front bushes and immediately vanished into the gloom, 1 Whimbrel flew over, 1 Willow Warbler, a few Chiffchaffs and Sedge Warblers, 3+ Wheatears, 1 Common Sandpiper and a Spotted Flycatcher were the total, the latter looking incongruous catching sand flies in the fog on beach rocks. 

Quite a few waders were just about visible with 35+ Turnstone, 50+ Sanderling, 10+ Dunlin, 40+ Ringed Plover fed well up the beach.

Apologies for the Spotted Fly image, its about 5000 ISO!

Back home, in the evening we were just about to head out to the Village Hall coronation 'do' when Dan found a cracking adult male Red backed Shrike in the fog on Seaton Point ( in the Fieldfare bushes no less). It had just arrived. Usually they are day migrants so I pencilled in a morning appointment with the Butcher bird...

Bank Holiday Monday...
Solid lash all day. Brilliant. At least visibility was better but the whole thing was a right off really.
Still, I popped down to see the Shrike and got a soaking for it. When I arrived, a Togger was right up into the bush, forcing the shrike to sit out in an oilseed rape field. Luckily him and his two buddies soon left. They probably heard me bleating on about bloody toggers no wonder the bird was out in the field!

Even in the rain, the Red backed Shrike was still a stunner. An oft used misinterpretation, but in this case the combo of pale rose cream breast, lavender grey hood and fox red back and wings offset with highlights of black bandit mask and black and white tail was the definition of the word. Wow. Its years since I've seen a male RBS, most of our birds being autumn juveniles.

 While watching it, Dan called that he had the Garganey tracking up the coast from Whitley Bay. A site mega but I only had my bins so couldn't tell it from its three Common Scoter fellow travellers.

Male Red backed Shrike, Boulmer.

I took Tuesday as a holiday. An offer to go out drawing with excellent artist,   Paul Henery was not to be sniffed at. I could learn a lot from him. The sun was shining and warm when we met up at Boulmer to revisit the shrike in better light. What a treat, if it was a stunner yesterday, today it looked and performed even better. It came quite close to us along the fence line where it caught beetles and St Mark's Flies. When resting it would have a bit of a sing, a chattery Sedgie type of song that sounded quite pleasant.  

A few digi scoped phone shots, with haze, but what a bird... 

From Boulmer we went to East Chevington via a short lunch stop at Warkworth to check the Beal Bank flash. Its almost dry and the only thing of note was a lone Avocet sweeping through the mud.

Chev was typically full of interest and not all good! We were busy sketching a male Marsh Harrier that was sat in a hawthorn when a chap came around the corner. He was quite hurried and said....
no lie... 'Is the Skah-oop still showing?' Paul and myself paused for a second wondering what on earth he was on about when it dawned on me. I replied 'Sorry mate, I've no idea if there is a Scaup here, I've not really looked yet'. Skah-oop? or maybe Ska-oup but either way it was a double barrelled single syllable name that's for sure! Certainly a new one on me.

A quick scan revealed the said drake Scah-oop ( just to clarify if any none birders are reading, its pronounced 'Scorp'  not even Skowp let alone Ska-oop). If you are the person in question, apologies but come on...

From the south end viewing spot were a pair of Marsh Harrier, a drake Scaup with a drake Pochard and a few Tufted Ducks, 2 imm drake Goldeneye still, a singing Cetti's Warbler and plenty of Reed Warblers singing too.

All too soon it was 4pm and time for home. A grand day out.

Paul getting some lines down...

Top - Tuesdays sketch and bottom the bird on Monday in rain. 

A short clip of the King of the Bank Holiday....

Monday, May 01, 2023

Northumberland scores the big one!

 At a risk of slipping into full blown twitching vernacular, but, some birds deserve it!

This morning, Gary Woodburn was on patch counting an arrival of Hooded Crows. He had passed the Low Newton scrapes in one direction and was on his way back up on the return walk when he struck not only Patch Gold, but also County, UK and Western Palearctic Gold too with the most preposterous of  MEGAs. Britain's first GREY-HEADED LAPWING non the less.

Grey-headed Lapwing, Low Newton, Northumberland.

When the first message arrived in our WhatsApp group, time seemed to pause briefly. I could almost hear the rest of the Northumberland WhatsApp Group members thinking, 'A what?' 

This is not a species we have ever seen on the bird info services or in our magazines, so whilst I had heard of them, I had no idea of the range or likelihood of vagrancy so did a quick bit of Googling.

The oracle 'Wiki' gave me  - 

'The grey-headed lapwing (Vanellus cinereus) is a lapwing species which breeds in northeast China and Japan. The mainland population winters in northern Southeast Asia from northeastern India to Cambodia. The Japanese population winters, at least partially, in southern HonshÅ«.

This species has occurred as a vagrant in Russia, the PhilippinesIndonesiaNew South WalesAustralia and Sri Lanka.[1]'

Then, in a more European context, birds were seen in Turkey in 2018, Norway and Sweden in 2019 and it has been mooted a potential vagrant to the UK.

Dutch Birding magazine reported, when discussing the 2019 bird, that there were none or very few  birds in captivity to make escape potential an issue.

As is the way on Bank Holidays, there are always family commitments to fulfill so it wasn't until mid afternoon before I could dash the six miles from home where I was relieved to find the bird quite comfortable, feeding and wandering around the meadow as if it had been born there. Good scope views were had but it was always a bit distant for my photography.

Grey headed Lapwing all the way from  the Orient arrives at Low Newton, Northumberland.

It appeared as if the whole of the UK birding community was descending on Low Newton and as time went on those from further ranges began to arrive. Somerset, Wales, Norfolk, Herts, Staffs, Scotland etc all converged in this small village for a view of this Eastern Peewit, hopefully a British 'First'.

I manged a few in the field scribbles to get some shapes and feeling down, so will colour them up and elaborate them soon. In the meantime, here's a little shaky video...