Monday, July 15, 2024

Nocmig Confusion

What a summer. After a couple of weeks laid up with the lurgy that I thought might have been 'the Covid', I think it was just one of them summer colds. I've still got a heavy chest.  What with that and the relentless poor weather I've struggled to find much to write about. Even my notebook is a bit thin but here goes the update so far.

26th June, thick fog decended. That puts the kybosh on most things but on this occasion a few Sandwich and Arctic Terns flew over our house quite low calling as they lose sight of the actual coast.  

A poor juvenile Song Thrush made a bang as it crashed into the kitchen window unfortunately. I decided to draw it, life sized...

Song Thrush a window casualty.

Friday 28th June, on my way to work a surprise Red Kite very low above the road at Red Row was nice. It was so low it became at risk of being another casualty but luckily it dodged the bullet so to speak...Kites may well be the new Black headed Gulls around the rest of the UK but in this black spot they are still very much noteworthy.

On Saturday 29th June at midnight there was a bit of a mystery unfolding.

I was out for Peggy's late night stroll. It was calm and still when I heard a totally unfamiliar call over towards the coast. It called once, then a gap, called a second time then another gap, then called a third time as it made its way south. Given the three clear sounds I was able to memorise the info long enough ( minutes) until I got in and added the details to the notebook before I could forget.

Then I put a tweet out to those who like to record nocturnal migrants overhead at night - Nocmig. They are more practised at this specialist field than me. From what I could tell, this was a wader, sounds like a small calidrid type on the move. Soon two replies came with Temmincks Stint? 

This is s scarce migrant of muddy edged pools so cant imagine one over here but I went straight online to Xeno Canto and checked the call there. It sounded good and I passed thanks to the responders.

I still was a bit unsure. As a Nocmig sceptic as you might have seen here I always wonder what else it may have been. You cant see it, so its always a long shot for these unfamiliar migration sounds. This kept me thinking about the so called Temmincks overhead in the night. Its not impossible but lets face it, it is unlikely.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and I am speaking to my neighbour, published bird sound recordist and all round expert in avian audibles, Geoff Sample, when I recount the tale. Straight away he says what about Curlew Sandpiper? 

I have heard them calling before but didn't remember 'my' call. Time for another check on Xeno Canto. Well I never, Geoff was spot on. Similar to Temmincks but as my note says, drier and more distinct. At that time there were a couple of Curlew Sandpipers down the coast so they were certainly out there. A much more likely fit than the stint. Interesting isnt it....

Have a listen to this link - Xeno Canto Curlew Sandpiper Flight Call try the 8th one down the list by Stanislas Wroza 22 seconds Mongolia its the clearest without the background noise. Most like my bird.

To compare try the Temmincks Stint calls here too.

Oh and as I actually heard it and didn't just hear a recording of it, it was a patch tick too!


The adult Curlew Sandpiper taken a few years ago has the reddish belly in this pic with a juv Curlew Sand to its right and some Dunlin.


Monday, June 24, 2024


On a fine warm summers day there is no finer place to be than in a Northumberland Dune system. Today we visited Birling Links a few miles down the road from us. Its a good spot as it takes a bit of a walk to get there, so tourists are few and far between.

Our goals today were to check out the flora and try to get a photo of the Wolf Spider Arctosa perita that we saw last year but without a macro lens. No birds at all went into the notebook, probably because my head was down and eyes were focussed to under a metre. Its probably best to let the photos do the talking...

View North towards Alnmouth.

Dune flora reminds me of the machair in the Hebrides

Bee Orchid



Depressaria daucella caterpillar on Hemlock Water Dropwort

Drinker moth caterpillar are common here.

Not too sure but looks like an Ectimnius Digger Wasp with prey.

Dune Chafer 

Garden Tiger caterpillar

Micropterix aruncella

Coastal Silver Stiletto Fly

Coastal Silver Stiletto Fly

One of the Spider Hunting Wasps poss Priocnemis parvula or Caliadurgus sp? Witha  Wolf Spider 

Yellow-tail Moth caterpillar, the first one of these larvae Ive seen.

The main target, Arctosa perita found on the bare sandy patches. What a stunner...

Monday, June 17, 2024

If you go down to the woods today...

 Despite a mixed weather forecast, Sunday morning seemed rain free so we took a chance and headed back to Swarland Woods to look for invertebrates. 

Only our second visit here after a brief inspection in the spring, we walked a similar route, taking us clockwise around the outer edge of the wood. Under the trees, it was quite dark now that the leaves were fully open resulting in it being very quiet with little of note to see. 

Once out on the sunnier rides, things improved with lots of insects in various attractive spots.

Of the ones I have been able to identify, often through photographs, 5 species were new to me (bold).

Hoverfly Xylota segnis lots

Hoverfly Sericomyia silentis

Hoverfly Volucella bombylans several

Tenthredo maculata

Sawfly Tenthredo maculata several

Club horned Sawfly Abia faciata

Club horned Sawfly Abia faciata egg laying on honeysuckle, quite scarce I believe.

Long horned Moth Nemophora degeerella 

Long horned Moth Nemophora degeerella 10+ lekking in a sunny glade, lovely.

Green Dock Beetle now pink

Green Dock Beetle now pink.

Blue tailed Damselfly

Large Red Damselfly

Micro Moth Micropterix aruncell

Micro Moth Micropterix aruncella  

Speckled Longhorn Beetle

Speckled Longhorn Beetle several.

Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle

Black and Yellow Longhorn Beetle, several all on dog rose.

Tetragnatha spiders.

Weevil Polydrusus pterygomalis

A small green Weevil Polydrusus pterygomalis on sycamore.

Figwort Weevil Cionus scrophulariae

Figwort Weevil Cionus scrophulariae 9+ on foodplant. A target of mine for some years so pleased to finally find some. 

Snipe Fly Chrysopilus cristatus

Snipe Fly Chrysopilus cristatus 2, male and female.

Large Knapweed Aphids Uroleucon jacaea

Large Knapweed Aphids Uroleucon jacaea on knapweed showing very unexpected behaviour by all of them waving side to side like tiny out of sync flags. Maybe a county first as not found near here.

Its days like these when some detective work combined with expert help from Facebook specialist groups work wonders.

Later in the afternoon when returned from a meal out, we were very surprised to see a Common Shrew hunting around the short grass of our drive . It reminded me of the Water Shrew we saw in the open a few years back. I managed a few record shots then it went back into cover behind the bird feeders.


Monday, June 10, 2024

Unbridled Joy...

Right, where was I...last post I mentioned something about a Bridled Tern....

Part I. Arriving on 1st June, the resident seabird wardens on the island were amazed at its presence and soon put the word out. This is a bird of global equatorial distribution, so it would be more suited to the Caribbean, Indian Ocean or North coast of Australia than an outcrop of rock in the North Sea.

As Coquet Island is not a place where visitors can land, there were a couple of options available for those wanting to see the bird. 

From the mainland, most birders set up opposite the island at Hauxley Dunes small car park where, using a telescope, the bird’s favoured location was 1.41 kms ( 0.8 miles) over water or if looking from Boulmer 8.41 kms! In late afternoon light this was not too bad but in the morning into the sun it was more difficult. Adding to the problem was that it would head out to sea on fishing sorties for a few hours at a time leaving observers frustrated.

The alternative was to climb aboard one of the Puffin Cruise boats out of Amble that, on a high tide, could get in much closer to the bird.

My first attempt was on the Monday early evening. It was a fine day and I pulled into the car park to find around 8 people watching from the top of the dune. I gathered my scope and stool and found a good position to scan the island. The bird had been frequenting the tall stone steps and the solar panels area so at least it was possible get directions on to it, but on arrival the bird was away fishing. No one seemed to be really concentrating either so I hunkered down, screwed my eye into the eyepiece and waited. The ‘white’ Terns could be seen ok, so it was just a case of looking for a brown backed one to appear. Due to the number of birds flying around this was not as easy as it may seem and every odd angled flying Puffin caused me to pause and look again. There are an awful lot of Puffins!

Fifty minutes passed without a view, then a glimpse of something ‘different’ in the flying melee caused me to stop and take a breath. No, not a Puffin this time, there it was, the Bridled Tern in over the island and circling around the solar panels. Its long brown wings stood out and even the bright white sides to the tail could be seen when it was at the right angle. I gave a constant commentary until I was sure all others waiting could see it. When it landed it was no more than a speck, so better to see it flying around. It was on show for around 20 minutes and eventually went out of view in some grass. Success!

Impression of view from Mainland.

Part II. Although I had at least seen the bird, it all felt a bit unsatisfactory due to the distance involved. Luckily others felt the same, so a couple of friends had organised a full birders charter of a Puffin Cruise boat at 3pm on Tuesday 4th June.

We arrived at Amble quay nice and early for our boat to hear the news that the previous two boat trips had not seen the tern. Those were standard, hour long Puffin Cruises. This time we had a longer time out there to just wait and see what happens. The bird usually appeared back on the island late afternoon or early evening presumably to roost?

Around 40+ intrepid sailors left the harbour onto a lightly lumpy sea and headed the short way over the sound. Luck was on our side. Even as we made our first approach, the call went up, ‘There it is!’. Sure enough the Bridled Tern was circling around with other terns in its usual spot. It made several attempts before finally landing on the bare bank side where we all managed great views for around half an hour. Now all of its features could be seen clearly and a lot of photos were taken.

Above Bridled Tern and tern twitchers.

Roseate Tern

Eventually it got up again, flew around a bit then headed SE out to sea again, not returning while we were there. We hung on another half an hour or more and enjoyed close Roseate Terns, Puffins, Grey Seals and even 3 Black tailed Godwits as the flew towards the mainland.

Northumberland has a good track record of attracting rare terns, and this bird is the county’s 6th Bridled Tern since the first in 1988. For me, it is my 3rd having seen birds at Hauxley in 1988 and 1989, making it a long 35 years since my last sighting. At the time of writing, the bird is still around and may spend the summer here. So, if you’ve not seen one, get on an afternoon Puffin Cruise and Good Luck!