Monday, October 30, 2023

A Storm is a Threatenin'

 For a nice change, the wind for the last couple of weeks has been usually from the eastern half, with quite a bit of rain too, so we have had a few interesting things to see on patch. Nothing to set the grapevines alight but enough to keep me occupied.

Before I get on the that we had a short fine interlude on the 14th where we had a good influx of butterflies into the village. The short Ivy hedge near the village hall had 105+ Red Admirals one lunchtime with 3 Comma and a Painted Lady. Each time a car passed they would lift up like the autumn leaves in a wind. In the village wood some Striated Earthstars were a new fungi for me.

Striated Earthstar like a little spaceship.

The very next day, it was cold, down to 2 degrees with a mod NW4 blowing so we spent the morning seawatching. The sun was bright so we were often blinded but a change of angle helped a bit.

From 07.15 - 11.30 we had - 

Sooty Shearwater 1, Red throated Diver 4N 6S, Great Northern Diver in summer plumage very close in N, Arctic Skua 1N, Skua sp 2N, Pink footed Geese 90, 30, 70 S, Barnacle Goose 50 N, Purple Sandpiper 2, Shelduck 3 S, Common Scoter 4N, Red breasted Merganser 1N, Long tailed Duck 1male and 1 female N, Sabines Gull 1 juv S, loitering for a short while offshore to dip feed before drifting out of sight, Arctic Tern 1ad 2 juv N and finally 2 Twite S calling.

17th Oct, 4 late Swallows, I'd not seen any for weeks, were in the village at dusk.

On Thursday 19th we were treated to a 3 day Storm Barbet with its ESE8 Gale and heavy rain.

One of the Swallows above was so tired it flew into our shed and settled on the bench just to rest.

A few Redwings and Fieldfares arrived over the garden first thing, with 3 Brambling but it was a cracking male Firecrest that graced our compost heaps for a few minutes that made the day. Still a scarce bird up here, this is a garden first, and it started quite an influx of them all along our coastline. Also around the garden were 3 Blackcap, 3 Goldcrest, 1 Chiffchaff and a Raven overhead. A Woodcock flushed from the village hall pond mid morning.

Rough field notes.....Firecrest in the garden.

On the Friday, Babet was cranking it up with 50 mph E winds causing massive seas and sea foam feet deep across the coast road and paths.

I was at work so popped down to Newbiggin where a lot of birds sheltered in the bay inc - Grey Phalarope 8  ( 6 in one scope view!), this number increased to 12 over the weekend, 60+ Little Gulls, 1 ad Mediterranean Gull, 2 Bonxie and 1 Pomarine Skua, 4 Brents N 3 Shoveler N in an hour. The Little Gulls were knackered being blown around the beach.

Outside Newbiggin Bay.

Exhausted Little Gulls, Newbiggin

Saturday 21st and Babet still raged with ENE gales, rain and huge seas, too rough to watch. At home I short watch from the car only had 5 Little Gulls and 15 Common Scoter N. A few more birds were in the village, with a beautiful tortoiseshell patterned flock of 60+ Bramblings swirling around the back field. Two came to our feeders for a while. 115+ Redwings flew W with 3 Fieldfares and 3 Blackcaps fed on apples in our garden.

When a small 'brown' shrike was reported a couple of miles along the road, at Sugar Sands, I dashed along, but the bird couldnt be relocated. The views had been frustratingly brief of a Red backed type of Shrike. Of note here were 3 Grey Phalaropes, 4 Little Gulls and a few Twite.

Sunday 22nd saw the back of Storm Babet being a fine, calm, cold, frosty morning, a total contrast to the mayhem of the previous few days. Wanting a Phalarope for the patch I wandered along to the Rumbling Kern where 2 Grey Phalaropes fed close in with Black headed Gulls, only my 2nd patch record. An adult Mediterranean Gull, 6 Purple Sandpipers, 3 Red throated Divers were also present.

Howick Haven and Grey Phalaropes

After this I took the short drive to Alnmouth for a walk with John where the highlight here were viz mig Snow Bunting, Crossbill and several Siskins.

Back home for lunch and I was surprised to find a very late Hummingbird Hawk-moth on our second flowering Red Valerian, despite the white frost earlier. Seems an odd combination seeing the hummer, Grey Phals and Snow Bunts on the same day...

Monday, October 23, 2023

 On Saturday 7th October the weather was awful. For most people that is. For the birder, heavy rain for 24 hours with a light ENE wind can only mean one thing - migrants!

I stepped out of the door at 08.30 to the swirling sounds of hundreds upon hundreds of thrushes teaming out of the sky. Most years recently have only seen a small trickle of thrush migrants as early as this with most not coming in until late October or even early November. Especially Fieldfares.

During an hour standing around the village getting soaked, a minimum of 2700 Redwings, 50 Fieldfares and a few Blackbirds and Song Thrushes arrived. The back field behind us was carpeted in birds. 

It was while getting some respite from the rain indoors while scoping the thrush carpet from our kitchen window ( I wish I had taken a blog photo of that), a smaller bird flitted into view, dropping onto the plough between the larger birds. It was very dull and raining leaving the birds more soggy than I was so initially I couldn't work out what the small visitor was. It was sat hunched, facing me, reminding me a bit of a Dester Wheatear but it wasn't quite right.

It was only when it  flew a short way and began feeding by hopping, and flying from clods of earth that it dawned on me. It was a  Stonechat. A Siberian Stonechat. From inside our kitchen. 

These days I don't keep up as much with the very latest taxonomy but to begin with the bird looked more dark orange that most peachy Sibechats I've seen so wondered about it being Amur or Stejnegers Stonechat? A further 10 minutes watching through the scope, showed that its apparent dark tone was nothing more than the grim light and damp feathering causing it. As the rain eased a bit the bird became more perky and looked paler. It was quite the shape shifter though, changing tone and even pattern according to its angle.

After scribbling some notes I decided to go out to try and photograph it with the camera. My phonescoped shots are dire, as I'm sure you will agree.  

The best plans though don't always work out and as I approached the field a wave of thrushes headed west and there was no futher sign of the chat. It seems it was travelling with them and moved on.

Back home after checking some literature, I don't think I could attempt a specific id on this bird but its going down as Eastern Stonechat and its still a total garden mega so I'm having it.

By lunchtime, most of the thrushes had moved on west leaving the place quiet as if nothing had happened.


Above, Eastern Stonechat, apologies for the photos.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Red breasted Goose etc.

 So, September ended with a big dip. Oh well, its one of those things. How would October fare...

Sunday 1st October was a lovely fine autumn day here. Dawning quite cool but warming up later on.

John and myself took a trip up to Elwick on the Lindisfarne Reserve to look for the Red breasted Goose that has been hanging around with the large geese flocks for a few days.

We wandered up the track knowing from experience that the geese here are usually quite mobile and as we arrived at the end, this was certainly the case. Flock after flock of Barnacle Geese were leaving a distant field to our right and flying across our vision to land, unseen in a field, two to our left. Each flock was scrutinised in nice morning light as they passed, without luck. 

The view we had as geese flocks flew left at the end of this field. Holy Island lies beyond the flats.

We decided to try to get a view of the geese over to the left so we stalked close to the hedge, into a dip, to peer into the next field. The ground was wallpapered in Black and White. A 'magic-eye' illusion of Barnacle Geese greeted us with birds still arriving. The problem was, we were too close. We stopped, scarcely daring to breathe and quietly scanned through. No joy. We waited. In the distance from Holy Island causeway I saw another few hundred geese strung out in the air heading our way. As they whiffled down to the ground we had another scan. There, only about 100 mrs away, right on the front in full sunshine a stunning adult Red breasted Goose, probably the first with good credentials since the 1800s in Northumberland. It had arrived with a small flock of Brents from high to the east originally before moving in with the Barnacle Geese to feed. What a belter, and I had left my camera in the car thinking the geese would be too far off.

As it happened, that was irrelevant. No sooner had we seen the target, a farmer on a quad drove straight into the field putting 3000+ geese to flight right over our heads. The sound was incredible. I've seen lots of goose flocks into many many thousands across the UK but have never experienced such noise from wings and voice only 50 feet above me. It was truly awesome.

As we watched the mass head back to the fields they originally came from, we scanned and scanned but couldn't pick up the Red breast. It was here a twist occurred. As we looked, I noticed an Egret coming off the flats towards us mobbed by crows. I couldn't say I'd seen that before, so I just put the scope on them. The Egret had a bright crocus yellow carrot pushed into its mush - it was a Cattle Egret! This was only my 2nd in the county and my first self found. These may be tame fare on the Avalon Marshes but up here they're still hens teeth.  We watched as the Cattle Egret lowered its undercarriage and glided over a hedge appearing to land unseen. We went to investigate.

From our new vantage point, we never did see the Egret again but we could see the geese. It took about half a dozen scans before the Red breasted Goose was picked out. Now at comfortable distance we could scope it feeding with Barnacles and showing how such a colourful harlequin could be camouflaged in the monochrome sea of wildfowl.

Two great county birds UTB by breakfast, excellent.

A stop at Budle Bay for our tea and snacks had a lot of birds but just the usuals. Highlight was probably 35 Shovelers.

On to Monk's House Pool of Ennion fame where there had been an American Golden Plover. Unfortunately most of the flock had departed leaving only 115 Eurasian Goldies to scan through.

Still not a bad day, RBG is no 363 on my county list and only my 2nd ever. 

Cattle Egret field notes.

Red breasted Goose field Notes

A worked up version of the Red breasted Goose back home.

Friday, October 13, 2023


 I was going to do a better holiday blog, but things are backing up on me a bit so this will be brief, just for completeness. While we were away for 2 weeks there were very few noteworthy bird reports from Suffolk but my Northumberland Birds WhatsApp group was niggling away at me with almost daily reports of the goodies back home. Most galling was a tremendous juvenile Red footed Falcon on one of our local moorland patches. I even recognised the telegraph pole it was perched on in the photos! After about 10 days of daily gripping frame fillers, we were on our way home. Bird still present at 10.30am. Looking good. After 360 miles with a sickly clutch I decided to get up there first thing next morning. Yes you've guessed it. That 10.30 am sighting while I was on the A1 near Stamford, was the last. It had gone.

Back to the Suffolk report. The only good bird ( for us) was a very close Dartford Warbler in the dunes at Sizewell. We went for a brace of Glossy Ibis at Aldburgh but dipped those. Im starting to sound like Unlucky Alf here...

So, I'll just end with some snaps from the week...

Peggy enjoyed her trips out and pub lunches...

Southwold, always a pleasure.

Aldeburgh Food Festival at Snape Maltings.

Crabbing at Walberswick.

Above, Shingle Street. What a place.

Sunset from the house

Wood Mouse watching the moth trap action...

Tuesday, October 03, 2023

Holiday Moths

 Well that's our two weeks holiday in Suffolk over and we are back to work.

We spent the fortnight, as usual, in Westleton, a village only a mile or so from RSPB Minsmere, a place we have visited twelve times since 2002, staying in eight different houses! Its probably enough to say that we like it there.

From a wildlife perspective, I never seem to do very well with the birding, but for insects and other taxa, there is plenty to keep my interest up over multiple visits. Who knows, one day I might even jam in on a good bird !

For this post I just want to get the mothing out of the way. Over two weeks I trapped on 6 nights, missing others due to overnight wind or showers.

There were 9 new species for me, most interestingly were a good few migrants.

Best of all was this Diasemiopsis ramburialis, the Vagrant China Mark. This is a vagrant with only 8 previous Suffolk records.

I think this Pediasia contaminella is new for me? Not found at home.

This Carnation Tortrix Cacoecimorpha pronubana was nice even showing its orange hindwing.

One of my most wanted migrants, Palpita vitrealis came on the final night trapping. What a stunner, smaller than imagined.

This Mallow was quite distinctive when compared to the Shaded Broad Bar which is common at home.

Above, this Hoary Footman was tricky to separate from Scarce Footman but both were caught.

Scarce Footman with the bright darker yellow full length costa.

Feathered Brindle was a nice surprise and off my radar, only the one caught.

Geography sorts out this Deep Brown Dart from our own Northern Deep Brown Dart. Caught a few of these. Back home NDBD is barely annual in small numbers.

Apart from those new to me species, there was also some I am pleased to get on my visits to Suffolk - 

Convolvulus Hawk-moth, three taken on the first two nights, none thereafter. These two in the trap together.

I have only seen one Delicate before, but caught them every time trapping here up to 5 a night,

Scarce Bordered Straw visited 3 times, both pale and dark forms seen.

Neocochylis molliculana Ive had on a previous visit.

As above, Webb's Wainscot has graced the holiday trap before.

So, its always good to take the moth trap on holiday, there is always going to be something of interest in there...