Monday, April 15, 2024

Industrial Oyks and the (Not so) Secret Wood.

 This post is another all-over-the-shop cornucopia of wildlife sightings locally.

Lesser Redpolls.

In April I like to keep an even closer eye on my bird feeders than usual because there is always the chance of a Brambling or Mealy Redpoll on its return migration. Who knows, even a Hawfinch is a possibility. 

To keep up the Mealy hopes I make sure the niger is filled each morning. This has attracted up to 20 Goldfinches at a time and a couple of Siskins on some days. The other day two Redpolls appeared, both Lessers and one was injured with a broken leg. That didn't seem to hamper it as it fed well for a couple of days before departure.

While it was sunny in the garden on Saturday a Holly Blue kept me company. A second was along the road by the Village Hall. The slow moth trapping continues with a nice Chamomile Shark being the highlight. This is only my 3rd here in 15 yrs.

Chamomile Shark

The ever present ( in spring anyway) Hairy Footed Flower Bee males.

Above - Holly Blue butterfly. Still earlier that usual...

This Pale Mottled Willow is the county earliest by 3 weeks. Maybe a migrant?

Industrial Oystercatchers.

On Sunday we visited a new spot, a little bit further than usual but not much. You might have seen me mention our severe lack of decent woodland up here, well this spot had a quite a large area and some of it quite mature too. Mature enough to hold a single singing male Redstart that was typically camera shy as they often are.. The whole area looks good for plants and insects too when the weather warms up a bit.

Today we found a couple of pairs of Marsh Tit, including one at a nest site. This is the best year I've had for these for a decade. Long may it be so. 

Marsh Tits prospecting a likely nest site.

Also around the area were good numbers of Blackcaps, Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers with 3 Buzzards, Brambling heard and Siskins singing. A carpet of Bluebells were on the cusp of opening.

It just shows, no matter how long you live in a place, there are always discoveries to be made if you only look...

Tuesday, April 09, 2024

They're here!

 Since my last post, just for a change, the weather has been biblical. Gales and Rain. Even today it is pouring and cold with a mod NW wind. Everywhere is flooded, roads, fields, woods, even our tiny village pond now encompasses half the Village Hall car park too. Still the Toads were singing in it last night.

On Sunday we had our first Swallows, Sand Martins, Willow Warblers and Wheatear all at Alnmouth. Didnt get a single pic of any of them due to the wind.

There were plenty of Bees there too with Red tailed, Early and Buff tailed Bumblers, Hairy Footed Flower Bees, all males, no black females yet and a single Vestal Cuckoo Bee.

Vestal Cuckoo Bee

Male Hairy footed Flower Bee, it can be seen well in this shot.

Red tailed Bumblebee

On the home patch, 3 Swallows south along the coast path on Monday were my first, but since then the weather has put a block on any further additions.

A nice adult Lesser black backed Gull was with Herring Gulls on new plough watched from ou kitchen window making the garden list #61 now.

Lets continue to hope for a more prolonged dry spell soon, we need to release the over wintering Hedgehog before it gets much bigger ( 1100 gms!) but need a better forecast than this... 

Tuesday, April 02, 2024


 Not a bad Bank Holiday weekend weather wise. Well, 75% was ok, Monday was a wet and windy write off.

Friday was Good in more ways than one. 

At 0710 Ben Steel reported a Great White Egret in off the sea a few miles north of us at Dunstanburgh Castle, but more crucially it was now heading south, over Craster.

Thinking I'd be too late, I grabbed the dog and the bins and headed up the road. 

By 0715 I was on the coast road scanning south as I was convinced the bird would have been past us by now. No sign. Then a look north saw a couple walking their dog towards me and there above them an angel-like apparition glowing in the low morning sunshine. The Great White Egret was slower than anticipated due to the moderately strong head wind it was flying in to. It passed low over the dog walkers who saw me watching, so I pointed to the bird. By now they were only 20 mtrs from me so I said Egret. They seemed quite impressed at the big birds beauty as it majestically passed over us on route south, so I explained what it was and a bit about them. Id like to think I educated in a small way.

I was pleased to have seen it, only my 2nd patch record after a bird on the pond in 2013. These might be on every puddle further south but in my corner of North Northumberland they are still a big deal.

Back home for breakfast, around 0830, I decided to take Peggy for the rest of her morning walk along to the pond field. As we arrived, I could see a large white 'umbrella' standing in the far corner. The Egret had Landed!

This site gets busy on fine days so there was no way this bird would linger here, the track walked right past it. So poor Peggy was marched home again so I could get the camera. As time was of the essence, I took the car along to the pond and walked back along the track. Luckily the bird remained for 5 mins, long enough for a few shots to record the event before it flew off in a SE direction not to be reported again.

Nice start to spring.

Saturday was spent doing some gardening and the first grass cut of the year. While pottering around, the first Hairy footed Flower Bee was dashing around while 5 Brown Hares were in the Rectory Paddock.

On a fine Sunday morning JWR and me stocked up on Greggs Vegan Sausage Rolls and cakes (Chocolate Eclair for me, Pach Melba for John) then headed on to the moors. We were greeted by bubbling displaying Curlews, Stonechat and 30+ Brambling still hanging around from the big flock.

A lovely conditioned orange Fox was really taking its life in its hands at this heavily keepered and hunted site. Without a doubt its days are numbered.

We had a wander up the old railway line near Lemmington where there was a good show of the 'wild' Daffodils Narcissus pseudonarcissus .

As the morning warmed, after breakfast we went up to our site for Orange Underwing, a rare, day flying, spring, moth in the county. I've not seen one for about 5 years, mainly due to poor weather in this crucial 4 week period but today seemed promising.

As it turned out, it was! Just not for me. John called from a few metres away to say he had one. As is their way it fluttered along a line of trees vanishing as I got to the spot. At least its good news they are still here for another day. Maybe next weekend when the weather is warmer we'll have another look. I'd love to get a photo of one.

Also seen, Woodcock, Buzzard and Peacock butterfly.

Finally, to put the icing on the cake, back home in the afternoon the sun shone and it was sheltered in the garden. A lovely Holly Blue butterfly showed on three occasions both back and front of the house, but it was too flighty to get a photo. Still its my first in March and about 3 weeks earlier than the previous earliest here. A very welcome sight.

Also more Hairy footed Flower Bees, Early Bumblebee and Tawny mining Bee were all good to get.


Above - Orange Underwing site, with the view west.



Thursday, March 28, 2024


 What an awful week this has been. I wont be going into details on a public web page but last Friday a close friend and neighbour of ours passed away suddenly at work. A fit, active and positive soul. There are various ongoing investigations so we are doing all we can to support his wife, but it all feels so helpless.

Things like this, and in times of dark, wet days cant help but make even the most optimistic of people, lack motivation to do much. I'm pleased its Bank Holiday approaching just so we can sit at home and not have to do anything like work.

On the wildlife front, a couple of bits seen on my 'several times daily' dog walks include the burn Water Rail in a brief period of low water in the stream. That lasted all of one day before rain flooded it out again. The first one I've seen this year.

A female Barn Owl has been by our house a few times in the last week or so. I'm not sure where she has come from or what has happened to bring about this change but its over a year since Barn Owls regularly did this here.

A Brambling has been in the finch flock along the lane still and a new patch and garden year addition  appeared last week when I heard Red legged Partridge calling from the back field while I was in the loo! Later on the bird could be seen from our kitchen window. Always a tricky bird on my patch.

This takes the Garden Year List to 60, with Linnet still adrift.

Siskins are now coming to our feeders so hopes are that they will bring a passing Mealy or a Brambling with them too... 



Wednesday, March 20, 2024


 Over the last couple of weeks the weather has improved a little, but thats just a brief interlude as things are due to get colder from tomorrow again. What we would give for a  proper dry spell to get the ground firmed up a bit.

So, whats been going on here?

On 3rd we had a walk at Kimmer Lough, not a place we visit very often these days but its only about 10 miles from home on the edge of the moors. A few Lesser black backed Gulls were making their way inland via some grassy fields here. In around them were 20+ Fieldfares and a few Redwings. A patch of Bog Myrtle is not a common site in our area so I took a shot of its attractive copper burnished buds.

Bog Myrtle buds.

From here we checked out a woodland site for Goshawks without any luck. Most of our forest areas have been chopped after Storm Arwen flattened swathes of them. This must move Gos out of the area?

We managed 3 Woodcock, 21 Lesser Redpolls, several singing Crossbills and Siskins and a couple of Buzzards.

Clearfell looks great for future generations of Nightjars and for inverts in summer.

At home the local village Chaffinch flock increased up to 120 birds with a female Brambling, a few Yellowhammers and 50+ Linnets in there. On 11th I bumped into the Marsh Tit again not far from my last sighting. Its many years since Ive had more than a single view in a year.

Marsh Tit, Howick arboretum.

The garden list is trickling along with a few new additions. Canada Goose and Moorhen were heard only but Whooper Swans heading North, Mallard, Stock Dove, Chiffchaffs, Grey Heron, Barn owl, Greenfinch and Meadow Pipit brought the total to 59 so far.

Last week my first butterflies of the year, a couple of Peacocks were good to see and this weekend Bumblebee numbers are starting to increase.

On Sunday a Hedgehog was at our bird feeders, a surprise after a dearth of sightings last year. It might be company for our rescue inmate who will be released in April having gone up from a starving 250 gms in November to an elephantine 950 gms last week! 

On Monday a calling Redpoll low south along the coast path was large and pale enough to go down as a Mealy, my first here for a while. Today, the first cliff nesting Kittiwakes arrived on patch with a vocal 27 birds on the sea close in.

Monday, February 26, 2024

False Spring.

 Well that made a change. Some very pleasant weather for Saturday and Sunday! 

Saturday was spent cleaning the greenhouse and tidying in the garden a bit. Some molehills were collected to mix with peat free compost to plant seeds in but that was about it really. Heron was added to the garden list as there has been some territorial flighting past with birds grunting at each other on the way.

As it felt quite spring-like, on Sunday we took a short trip to a usual inland patch to look for Goshawks. That particular quest didn't end well and a lot of our forest area has now been clear felled, mainly in the aftermath of Storm Arwen damage a couple of years ago. Still, the place is now a light-filled open space so there might be more plants and insects in the summer plus it has extended the Nightjar habitat by a great deal.

On the way, a short stop to scan a finch flock in a stubble field was a nice surprise. There were 80-100 Bramblings with a few Yellowhammers, Reed Bunting, Chaffinches and Linnets. The air was filled with singing Skylarks, Snipe were tick-tocking and Lapwings were in tumbling display in the next field, but they need to be careful, this is just a temporary 'false' spring that we always get at this time of year. There is a chance we will get some snow yet.

Up in the clearfell it was quiet other than some nice Crossbills singing and showing very well and a Raven carrying nesting material. For me it doesn't matter too much if there isn't much to see up here, it just feels so quiet and remote, and we never bump into anyone so its always a great walk.

We were back at the car for lunchtime. On the way home a short roadside stop found 3 Adders basking. Two were very black looking individuals with a more normal olive toned female. Seeing these is a highlight every spring, long may it continue.

That area on the left was tall pines when we were last here.

At the top of that spindly tree is a singing Crossbill. This is just my phone shot. Compare how much difference a shot through the scope makes. 

This female was further along. We saw around 25 birds in total.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Fulmars Incoming!

 Around about the patch this week.. An odd Snow Bunting or two seems to be hanging on in the Bathing House field with birds heard last weekend and this morning first thing but I couldn't see them in the dawn light. 

The undoubted highlight of the week goes to a Marsh Tit on Valentines Day in the Arboretum. This is my first on site since one visited my bird table in 2018 . This weeks bird was doing a chattery sub song and showed well in some taller Lime Trees beside a birch planting called Red Wells. Just across the track is the wild wood, a wet bit of wood behind the pond that gets no management at all so should be ideal for them.

Last year one or two Marsh Tits were seen all down the Arboretum to the coast by three different good observers but I couldn't find them. Lets hope this might be the start of a re-colonisation here.

Spring gets closer with the first local Toads crossing the road and Coltsfoot in flower.

For the garden year list, a Sparrowhawk was causing much pandemonium in the local Sparrows at the feeders yesterday plu,s in true garden list fashion, I was lying in bed on Sunday morning when an unusual call outside clicked me awake. It was the guck-guck-guck of Fulmars! Peering out of the window three birds were chasing around overhead, close enough to take a phone shot. These are not rare even in a garden context here in early spring but when I am taking special notice this year they do seem an unusual garden bird I suppose.


First light Fulmars from the bedroom window.

 Today's lunchtime walk was along the lane where the 70+ wintering Chaffinches have suddenly gone up to 110+ and in with them 2 Brambling, a male and a female. No good for the garden (yet) but a patch year first so that will do nicely. 

2024 Garden List - 48

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

The Ultimate in LOCAL ...

I've never done a garden birds year list.  Being so restrictive with limited scope its not something I've really considered before, until now. So, just for a change, 2024 will be my first attempt. I mean. how hard can it be, you just total up what you bump into when hanging out the washing or doing the moth trap or weeding or whatever.

My own rules are - I will count all seen or heard from within my home boundary. We have a good radius view South West around to North for about a kilometre, but North around to South is more obscured at maybe 10 to 50 mtrs or so ( of course on a clear night I can see across several million miles but you know what I mean). At night there is little noise pollution so calls along the coast can be heard if it is still.

My all time garden list stands at  143 with Common Sandpiper missing although I think I have heard one? and Hawfinch that I saw once from the back hedge across the field that had I been on our drive I could have seen it. But I wasn't.

Last year I had Quail, Siberian Stonechat and Firecrest as highlights but some years there aren't any.

Grey Partridges in the back field over our wall.

My 2024 list so far stands at 46 sp. - 

  1. Grey Partridge 8 lekking in the back field on 08/02/24
  2. Pheasant
  3. Pink footed Goose regular parties going to and fro over the house.
  4. Greylag a few back and forward as with Pinks.
  5. Feral Pigeon Yes I am counting it. They're more wild here than the Pheasants.
  6. Woodpigeon
  7. Collared Dove
  8. Golden Plover heard several nights calling as they head into field to feed.
  9. Snipe 1 heard 'scraping' close behind our garden last night.
  10. Woodcock 1 at dusk on 15/01/24 flew along just outside our drive.
  11. Curlew flying over to coast and back on feeding missions.
  12. Redshank 1 a rare bird for the garden flew in to the flooded corner of the back field early Jan I forgot to note it down.
  13. Black headed Gull
  14. Common Gull
  15. Herring Gull
  16. Great black backed Gull, gulls are daily flying from the sea inland. 
  17. Buzzard 
  18. Tawny Owl very active since new year calling in and just outside our garden.
  19. Great spotted Woodpecker male and female regular on our feeders.
  20. Kestrel one flushed our feeders during Big Garden Birdwatch in January.
  21. Magpie
  22. Rook
  23. Jackdaw
  24. Carrion Crow
  25. Coal Tit
  26. Blue Tit
  27. Great Tit
  28. Skylark small numbers over now starting to sing.
  29. Long tailed Tit 6 regularly on our feeders.
  30. Goldcrest 1 wintering around our feeders picking bits of dropped fatball scraps.
  31. Wren Resident in the garden.
  32. Starling daily, small roost in next doors conifers maybe 100 birds.
  33. Blackbird resident.
  34. Fieldfare a few seen, 1 in off overhead last week, one this morning with Starlings.
  35. Song Thrush singing every morning now.
  36. Redwing few seen as with Fieldfare
  37. Mistle Thrush one in song behind garden.
  38. Robin Resident
  39. House Sparrow Resident
  40. Tree Sparrow up to 30 winter in the garden. Several pairs breed.
  41. Dunnock Resident has bred.
  42. Grey Wagtail 1 has been on house rooves seen from the garden.
  43. Pied Wagtail as above.
  44. Chaffinch Resident
  45. Goldfinch Resident has bred
  46. Siskin a few over none at feeders yet.

This is the Back Field boundary. It is the view west from our house, you can see it is uninterrupted for some way.  

This is the view towards our house from the North facing SSE. You can see how close the sea is, but we can't see it from home!

The above few shots taken during lockdown 2020.



Wednesday, February 07, 2024

This is the Smews...

What is it with Smews? Or Smew?

Over the years Ive seen plenty of them, harking back 30 years we would get up to 9 on Druridge Bay Country Park that sometimes included one or two males as well as the commoner red headed females. In recent years, as most of my birding time is not near large bodies of fresh water, they have become decidedly scarce for me. I cant even remember the last male I've seen but it might have been the one a lot of years ago on the River Coquet above the Warkworth Wier one fine New Years Day.

This year there seems to be more Smew around so I thought I might try and see a drake if one was available near by.

Getting back to my question, what is it with Smews? They are certainly proving elusive for me this year. When we were in Fife a couple of weeks ago, a drake was wintering on a reservoir not far from us, but not on the day we went. Back home, a redhead has been showing quite well on the QE2 Lake near Ashington. I drive past the car park every day I am in the office, technically I might have been able to see the bird from the car as I went past but didnt, so last week I called in on two mornings.  Not a sniff, so when a drake was reported as showing well at East Chevington the other day, it was an offer I couldn't refuse, after all this is a big water body that holds a lot of wildfowl, why would it move on?

Yesterday I parked at the south end of Hadston T junction road and walked in to Chev from the North. At the centrally positioned L shaped hide I met Mark Eaton with Sam and Rosie ( golden retrievers). Mark had been here a while and yes you guessed it, the white nun had done a bunk!

I gave it half an hour to scan around. Of note were 2 Otters, 4 Red breasted Mergansers and a dozen or more Goldeneye with a Cetti's Warbler singing in the background.

On my walk back to the car, I did a short detour into DBCP for a scan in case it had flown on to this traditional site for them, but it wasn't there. A few more Red breasted Mergansers, Tufted Ducks and Gadwall were all I could see with a Willow Tit calling away in the car park.

I hear the redhead is still on QE2, so might have a look on my way to work on Friday. See if I can make it 5 unsuccessful attempts in a month... 


Above -Successful Smews from the past...

Sunday, February 04, 2024


This morning we didn't go far. In fact we only went as far as Alnwick and Lesbury, no more than 5 miles from home, where we walked the old railway line hunting for 'brown' tits. That might get a few unwanted hits...

At this spot we are still lucky enough to encounter Marsh and Willow, with Willow being the most common and widespread, probably due to their incessant buzzing calls. Today its more discreet cousin the Marsh Tit was our target.

In one likely spot we heard some faint and distant Marsh Tit like sub sounds but despite taking time for a good look we couldn't pick one out of the masses of Blue Coal and Great Tits all calling together.  While searching we did flush 5 Woodcocks though which are always nice to see.

After a break for tea we headed back to the other end of our walk in the car to wander in from the other side. We ended up in the same spot where again we could hear the faint calls of Marsh Tit somewhere.

I wandered across a small, 'rewilded' field with self set hawthorn, blackthorn and willows growing all over. Then, from a tall Larch plantation came a loud 'pitchoo' call. High up in breezy larch tops we found a pair of Marsh Tits feeding on the seeds of the cones. The male had bursts of singing now, that wasn't occurring earlier.

So our goal was achieved.Supported by the Woodcocks, a lovely singing Dipper, Siskins, Long tailed Tits and Goldcrests, it turned out to be a canny morning...

These 4 images show the same bent tailed male Marsh Tit. Lots of these seem to have a curvature of the rectrices, maybe as a result of a confined hole roost site

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

A poor show...

 After 16 years of Blogging this has been my worst January showing of all. One post. Well, two now.

Why is that? I'm not wholly sure, but this winter weather is a big factor. The constant winds, wet weather and named storms have made for a grim landscape with little to encourage optimism. 

Still, despite the doom and gloom the year moves on gradually. I've heard Skylarks, Great Tit and Redwing in full song, Woodpeckers drumming and today, my first Song Thrush chuntering away from a sheltered thicket. Only Chaffinch to go for the early birds singing. Tawny Owls are particularly vocal around the village on calm nights, when we get one that is. 

One of our neighbour's conifers blew over during storm, er, Isha. They all roll into one these days. The tree lay precariously on our greenhouse but the weight was taken by the stone garden wall so only soft branches lay on the roof causing no damage. It seems to be a lucky greenhouse having survived Arwen and now Isha unblemished. Lets hope the lucky spell continues.

On Saturday we did the RSPB Big Garden Bird watch, seeing 15 species, with highlights being 18 Tree Sparrows, a Great spotted Woodpecker, 6 Long tailed Tits and the Goldcrest that has been at the feeders most days since Christmas feeding on tiny bits dropped from the fat balls on to ivy leaves below.

Long tailed Tit, Robin and a pandemonium of Tree Sparrows during the Big Garden Birdwatch.

My first lifer of the year arrived last week when a Common Flower Bug Anthocoris nemorum crawled over my phone in the living room.

On Sunday a few hours inland was less than productive, but a moorland Great black backed Gull, adult, hunting for a carcass to feed on was quite unusual.  

New Year Waxwings remain absent but the Snow Buntings did a lap of the Bathing House field again on Saturday morning, the flock now up to 30+.

Snowdrops, Winter Aconites and Winter Heliotrope are now all in flower, so given a window in the weather, I am looking forward to getting out into the field properly!

Common Flower Bug

A pair of Robins displaying ina roadside wood made a change from them trying to kill each other...