Sunday, 30 December 2012

Littlemill Famland Survey.

In less than perfect conditions we finally managed to get the bird survey done this morning. Although the sun shone, the wind was a strong W6 making birds mostly keep to cover.

In an hour and 40 mins we managed some good sightings -

Brambling 48
Yellowhammer 38
Tree Sparrow 7
Bullfinch 3
Treecreeper 2
Goldcrest 2
Jay 1
Woodpigeon 2000+

Brown Hare 9
Ermine 1

Unfortunately the Ermine had vanished by the time I got the camera ready!

Bird seed crop near Littlemill.

Bramblings and Tree Sparrows, Click on image for a larger view.

Saturday, 29 December 2012

A Murmuration....

Sitting at my desk I noticed pink clouds behind the trees.  Could there really be a pink sunset after all the rain?  Moving to the front of the house which faces west I saw indeed banks of pink clouds and under them a small flock of starlings swirling around.  Another few joined them and as I stood in our bay window I watched with delight more small flocks appearing over the roof tops until the 12 became 20, then 50 and finally approximately 200 birds swirling and swooping, dividing and joining and apparently enjoying themselves as much as I was watching them.  O.K. it was not as spectacular as the huge flocks seen around the country but it was happening right above a short cul-de-sac in Alnwick, outside my window and against a sky that seemed to promise a bit of sunshine tomorrow.  Brilliant!  I wonder where they're roosting?'

Mora J Rolley.

White Wings

The 29th saw us out of area at North Shields Fish Quay looking for 2 reported white winged gulls.There was no sign of the Iceland Gull but we did get close views of the 1st winter Glaucous Gull as it flew past us with a mouthful of food and several other large gulls chasing it. Also of interest was the sight of Carrion Crows dropping shellfish from a height onto concrete to get at the tasty bits.
Back on home turf there are 2 Scaup on Branton Ponds and can be seen with the Tufted Duck flock. 

Thursday, 27 December 2012

One Snowflake

Disappointed with the lack of seasonal weather, I ventured to Warkworth late afternoon, where last Christmas, I remembered, there was a lively flock of Snow Buntings in the North Pier area.

Today, I could only find one -  a photogenic, confiding, adult male in its winter garb.

It thankfully let me get within a few yards, as it fed ferociously at the shore edge,with high tide approaching.

Result - an instant raising of spirits!

Christmas Day...

Tuesday 25th December...

While improving our appetite for Christmas Dinner, walking out in the far reaches of Bewick Moors, we came across a Buzzard perched on a fence post. Not a Common Buzzard, generally much paler in colour with white tail and a black tail tip. In flight, more direct than Common Buzzard with longer wings held more horizontally with a slower beat. A good sighting of a Rough Legged Buzzard.

                                                                                                                                    Jim Clark.

Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Ross Back Sands 26th December

A walk along Ross Back Sands to get rid of the Chrismas pud was the order of the day.When we got there only one set of footprints could be seen in the sand, just offshore we noted 4 Slavonian Grebes and a single Red Necked Grebe,flying north was a Red Throated Diver .On reaching the Wideopens several flocks of waders flew over and we managed to pick out 50 Bar Tailed Godwits and about 20 Golden Plover .As we headed back along the beach the footprints on the sand increased and the stillness was broken.The only negative for the day was the sight of a dead Tawny Owl on the side of the road between Bellshill and Chatton.

Monday, 24 December 2012

Weldon Bridge 24th December

Christmas Eve and some fresh air was called for after two days of relative inactivity,so we decided to go to Weldon Bridge to look for Marsh Tits.The start was promising as we encountered numerous Long Tailed Tits along with several Tree Creepers and Nuthatches,a patch of mud beside the swollen River Coquet yielded up some fresh Otter tracks,however yet again no Marsh Tits,a species which seems to be in severe decline in our area.Lets hope 2013 is a better year for all our wildlife.
Merry Christmas
Ian and Keith

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Winter Warbler

A male Blackcap was a pleasant surprise on the fat ball feeder in my garden this morning.

 He clearly didn't fancy the trip South!

 He will though, have to be wary of our local male Sparrowhawk who made menacing sorties around the feeders throughout the day.

Merry Christmas to All

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A Good Hare Day...

When you are a bad bird watcher like me it's really good to spend time with good bird watchers and this is what I do most Tuesday mornings.  

I believe it's the birds we enjoy just as much as the pub lunch afterwards.  

Wanting to contribute something useful we are taking part in the BTO Winter Thrush survey and our patch is near Newstead Farm.  This week we enjoyed two large flocks of Fieldfare accompanied by a few Redwings as well other farmland birds.  Last year in the same area we saw a flock of approximately 50 Yellowhammers and there has been no sign of any this year.  However, I think the best sightings were of possibly 8 Brown Hares.  Each romped across the fields so we may have seen a very energetic individual more than once but they do lift the spirits on a grey day.

Mora J Rolley

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Late news from the weekend

The weekend was spent counting geese and waders around Lindisfarne.  There were 80+ Barnacle geese in Budle Bay. 1180 Bar-tailed godwit, 750, Knot, 1477 Light-bellied brent geese, 273 Pintail and 441 Eider were highlights from Fenham Flats as well as this strange wader that was close to shore near to the Fenham le Moor hide. 
The jizz and the photo would suggest that the bird is a semi-albino/leucistic Knot.  I have to admit it had my pulse racing for a while.  From head-on shots it looked like a 'fat' female Ruff!  There were also 8 Twite and a small number of Tree sparrows around the hide.  If you park next to the Fenham le Moor bird hide do not be surprised if you get a visit from the very confiding Blackbird that likes looking at itself in your wing mirror. It can also leave a lot of mess down the side of the car!

There were 29+ Whooper swans north of Fenham Mill feeding in an oilseed rape field.

The drive home from Berwick in the evening produced a Common frog hopping across the road at the bridge over the river Till close to Doddington (I think this would be a first for me at this time of year!)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Fenham Flats 16th December

Today saw me doing my monthly WeBS(wetland bird survey)on Fenham Flats,what a perfect day for it,no wind ,dry and for once sunshine. As usual the sheer numbers of birds was breathtaking,just in front of the hide were 270 Shelduck,840 Brent Geese and 860 Knot.As I continued on a huge flock of about 540 Lapwing flew over,along the tideline 124 Bar Tailed Godwits probed for worms whilst just offshore 103 Eiders fed and bathed. At Guile Point 423 Oystercatchers basked in the sunshine and a Red Throated Diver did as it's name implies in the channel.The journey back provided other interesting birds including a single Little Egret and a Spotted Redshank at Elwick Flash,what a day,aren't we lucky to live in such a wonderful place!.  

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Resident Egret?

A walk by the estuary at Alnmouth  once again gave good views of what appears to be a resident Little Egret.

I first noticed it in early November and have seen it regularly since that time.

This afternoon, it was feeding voraciously employing a familiar technique.

It raises one of its large, bright yellow feet to disturb the surface of the water, then its rapier bill quickly skewers a fishy victim.

Monday, 10 December 2012

Branton Ponds 10th December

A late afternoon walk around the ponds with the dog saw us almost back to the village with very little seen,suddenly out of the long grass flew a BarnOwl,for the next 5 minutes it proceeded to flit along the edge of the trees in front of us.It finally dropped down out of sight behind an earth mound,at this point we went into stealth mode,not easy when attached to an over eager Labrador,when within 3 metres of the bird it suddenly eyeballed us from behind a tussock and then took off back in the direction it had come from. 

Howick Haven

Late afternoon, 9 Goldeneye feeding in the bay, 3 males and 6 females.
Occasional display from one of the males.

Suddenly I was aware of a Kestrel in a nearby tree watching the Rock Pipits and Pied Wagtails prospecting in the shore debris.

I managed a quick digiscope, before it swooped down on to its prey and was lost to view.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Bad Birdwatching...

It has been suggested that I may like contribute to the blogs on this site, which is surprising as this year I have been learning 'How to be a Bad Bird Watcher' by following the advice of Simon Barnes in his book of that title.  I've kept no lists and just concentrated on watching and enjoying the birds I happen to see.  For instance, consider gulls.  I live in a wee house in a cul-de-sac in Alnwick with a very small back garden half of which is garage.  On 5th December I was cooking a chicken casserole and threw the cut up chicken skin on to the roof of the garage into the snow.  Within a couple of minutes the black-headed gulls were there swooping and calling and picking up the courage to dive down to gobble up their lunch.  A brave carrion crow managed to sneak one piece while a magpie fluttered between the gulls but in no time at all the food was gone and so were the gulls.  How do they discover the skins in the snow in the first place?  On two occasions recently I've heard gulls crying above our house and on looking up they have been telling a buzzard to get out of their way.  It is a real delight and thrill to see these raptors flying gracefully over Alnwick.  My husband has always wanted to have a herring gull sitting on our chimney, throwing back its head, opening its mouth and shouting joyfully but they always choose a chimney on the opposite side of the road.

I've also noticed that the blackbirds that visit my tiny patch of garden prefer me to throw the apple cores on to the soil rather than the paving stones but I'll have to spend more time admiring them to see if there is a reason why.  It is very relaxing being a bad bird watcher. 

Mora J Rolley, Alnwick.

Saturday, 8 December 2012

Kimmer Lough

My December survey visit to the Kimmer Lough site this morning was remarkable only for the lack of activity.  The lough was about 50% frozen over and the only bird on it was a male Goosander.  A clump of willows held a small group of seven Yellowhammer.  Otherwise, if one ignores the 28 Pheasant, there were only minimal counts of Wren (2), Robin (1), Blackbird (1), Dunnock (1), Meadow Pipit (3), Woodpigeon (1), Chaffinch (2) and Blue Tit (2).

Although there were quite a few corvids - mostly Rooks - on adjoining grazing fields there were none at all on or even over the survey site.  A small group of 26 Starling flew over one of the Bannermoor fields.

Unusually no mammals were seen, although there was some Mole activity along the Bannermoor fence.

The only plants seen with any flower were a patch of Climbing Corydalis (right) and some sparse flowers on some of the Gorse.  But at ground level the Hard Fern was looking healthy, as were the tussocks of the large moss, Polytrichum commune (left) and some clumps of Green-ribbed Sedge (Carex binervis) (below - photo taken in spring)

Branton Ponds 8th December

A quiet period at the ponds,the East Pond has about 90% ice cover with very little on. The West Pond however was almost ice free this morning,small groups of Siskin and Chaffinch were joined by a single Brambling On the water a mixed flock of 50 Teal and Wigeon were joined by 5 male Goldeneye who were strutting their stuff to a couple of disinterested females.a Kingfisher made a brief appearance.  

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A late afternoon stroll by the Aln from Alnmouth to Lesbury, very atmospheric in the snow flurries.

A large group of Wigeon were whistling  in the waterlogged grass alongside Curlew.

At least 20 Mallard were on the river along with 2 female Eider plus a male and female Goosander  in the company of a male and female Red-breasted Merganser.

Finally, by the Iron Bridge, in fading light, a singleton Fieldfare was feeding in a garden's apple tree,  still bedecked with fruit.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

The Font

Today was spent walking up river from Netherwitton to Fontburn Reservoir before the sleet set in.  The male catkins on both the alder and hazel are starting to emerge.  A brown hare running through some wet woodland caused some amusement.  On the bird front it was relatively quiet but marsh tits were seen at two spots (Netherwitton & Ritton), one big flock of siskins (at least 100 birds), at least three flocks of long tailed tits and a 'fly-over' male goshawk.

The biggest surprise was a green sandpiper.  I know that they winter on the Breamish but this bird was feeding along the river under the canopy of the trees at South Healey!  Has anyone seen this behaviour before?  I associated this bird with open habitats not foraging like a woodcock.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

Cold Coast

Cold and Icy this morning, Stewart and I decided to take a walk from Church Point north to Long Nanny Burn Mouth, returning via High Newton and south to Newton Pool.

Newton Church Point
As we walked through the dunes north of Church Point it was very quiet until we reached Football Hole, here in the weak morning sunshine sea duck, gulls and waders were feeding in the surf and on the rocks. Eider, 17 Goldeneye, 6 Common Scoter, single male Red Breasted Merganser and female Long Tailed Duck as well as Turnstone, Sanderling and Redshank.

Approaching Long Nanny Burn the fields to the west held large numbers of Curlew, Lapwing and Golden Plover which took to the air urgently as a large female Peregrine flapped low heading south carrying prey that seemed to be a Teal.

The Burn Mouth was quiet but a lovely flock of 14 or so Twite lifted from the salt marsh and landed on the bridge over the burn giving good views. Stonechat, Reed Bunting were seen in this area too.
Twite on the Long Nanny bridge

Cormorants, Long Nanny

Newton Pool was busy with wildfowl. Teal had to be counted twice as the initial count was foiled when a Sparrowhawk landed in Willows on the edge of the pond flushing previously unseen birds into view, 220 Teal were counted. Other birds included 6 nice Gadwall, 32 Mallard, 10 Wigeon, 7 Tufted Duck and a single Goldeneye. The flooded fields to the north of Newton Pool hosted a noisy flock of Grey Lag Geese.

Before heading back to the car for a cup of hot tea we paused at Low Newton Haven to watch a flock of Sanderling and a couple of Stonechats feeding on the high tide line.

Saturday, 1 December 2012

More Swans 1st December at Branton Ponds

More swans but not wild ones this time,the first one was early this morning as Keith took the dog round the ponds.Standing on the ice with 2 Mute Swans was a stunning Black Swan it's white flight feathers showing well when it flew.The second bird,a Mute Swan could have been said to be wild as it was trapped in the school wildlife area and was not very happy,especially when Keith finally managed to catch it and release it onto the pond.

Friday, 30 November 2012

White Beauties 30th November

On a crisp,frosty winters day nothing is more evocative of this time of year than truly wild swans.This was the case today at Branton Ponds,an early morning walk with the dog turned up large numbers of Tufted Duck,Teal ,Wigeon and a couple of stunning male Goldeneye.As we neared the village a distinctive honking call could be heard in the sky above us,and there flying southwest were 6 Bewick Swans,with their shorter necks and more goose like appearance.What a great start to the day which was ended by a fly over of 5 Whooper Swans,a real taste of wilderness.  

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Late Flowers + Geese

On 26th Nov a large skein of about 150 Pink-footed Geese flew south over Beanley Moor.  Then the following day three more skeins totalling more than 700 birds followed the same flight path.

Along the road verges at Titlington Mount the following species were still showing some flower on 27th:
Gorse, Yarrow, White Deadnettle, Red Deadnettle, Pineappleweed, Common Groundsel, Heath Groundsel, Common Chickweed, Hogweed, Shepherd'sPurse, Prickly Sow-thistle, Annual Meadow Grass, Cocksfoot Grass.  My photo of Cocksfoot was, of course, taken in the summer rather than this week

Goose counting has started

Early afternoon of the 29th November was spent counting geese, ducks and waders in particular fields around the Lindisfarne reserve.  Highlights included 182 Barnacle geese on grass fields at Ross, an adult Peregrine trying to flush Teal from a wet patch in a field at Easington Demesne and a Little egret on the scrapes at Beal Sluice.  There were 10 Whooper swans at Fenham Mill in an oilseed rape field and a further 18 at West Weetwood, east of Wooler.

More waxwings

At least one waxwing flew east over the Powburn petrol station at 8:15 am on the 29th November.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Snow on Cheviot

The morning of 28th November were spent surveying vegetation on the lower slopes of Cheviot.  There was not a lot to report with the exception of a light dusting of snow on the upper slopes.  Birds were almost anonimous with the exception of good numbers of red grouse and one vocal wren

Climbing corydalis, creeping buttercup and bell heather were still in flower.  A fox moth caterpillar was also found.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Late news from the 24th November

Saturday morning was a picture of perfection on Fenham Flats.  Cold, flat calm and plenty to see.  This is why I so enjoy birding at this time of year.  Below is a summary of the species that I saw in three hours on the foreshore between Teal Hole and The Cages:  2 merlin (chasing eash other), adult peregrine, two little egrets, 4 whooper swans, 1 black-tailed godwit, 21 ringed plover, 7 scaup, 36 long-tailed duck, 1 red throated diver, 2 slavonian grebe, 10 red-breasted merganser, 1 female common scoter, 14 goldeneye, 538 eider, 43 twite, 2 rock pipits, 3 tree sparrow, 1 yellowhammer and a good range of commoner waders, ducks and passerines.  There was also 1 common seal (which was the first one I have seen in the 13 years I have been counting this stretch) with a small number of grey seals.

A long-eared owl and barn owl were seen between Bellshill and Chatton Bank in the evening.

Sunday, 25 November 2012


A fairly quick visit to the Reserve and then the beach at Hauxley on Saturday brought nothing unusual, but for us the Whoopers (5), Little Grebe (6) and Gadwall (1 pair) on the reserve were good.  There were also lots of Greylag and a group of perhaps 40 Canadas, but we couldn't find any less-expected interlopers with them.  A single Sparrowhawk flew low along the path in front of us.

The beach was somewhat disturbed with dog walkers, but a group of 3 Purple Sandpiper sat still at only about 10 metres range and 7 Sanderling more or less ignored us along the tide line.

Back on the reserve the feeding table area just inside the gate showed 2 Brown Rats and a bit further on a Stoat ran across the path.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Fenham Flats 24th November

The calm before the storm saw us doing my WeBS count on Fenham Flats, good conditions for once produced many birds including a small ,swift and agile Merlin chasing Goldfinches whilst a Little Egret drifted by on the wind. Doing a bird count on Fenham Flats is really about large numbers,this was re-inforced by some of the wader counts including 130 Golden Plover,151 Curlew and 100 Redshank. Ducks and geese were impressive too, 388 Wigeon, 123 Eider, 157 Shelduck and 630 Pale Bellied Brent Geese, all in all a very satisfactory day.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

A walk up the Wansbeck

Today's work involved river survey work along the River Wansbeck, from Low Angerton to Wallington before the rain.  One car was parked near Wallington, where a waxwing flew overhead.  Further waxwings were in yew trees at Low Angerton along with great spotted woodpecker, tree sparrow and nuthatch

There were relatively few birds along the river corridor with the exception of small parties of teal, reed bunting (5), kestrel (2), cormorant (1 imm), siskins and lesser redpolls.  Bizarrely a snow bunting flew overhead calling!  Possibly a first for this part of the County!  Small numbers of freshwater white-clawed crayfish were found, althougth most had been 'scrunched' by otters.

A patch of giant hogweed was found - this will have to be dealt with in 2013.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012


This is a Hard Fern Blechnum spicant a new species for me.

It was by the track side in the wood at Harehope. I dont think its a rare plant, its just that ferns are new to me, so I'm pleased to have identified one!

On Sunday gone we took a walk up here and back over the moor. We didn't see too much but the clear sunny conditions made the views even more spectacular than usual.

On the way back to the car, I side stepped to avoid a descending cyclist, and a movement in a bush caught my attention - a Waxwing. A lone immature bird eating rosehips.

Upper Coquetdale - again!

Another visit to Upper Coquetdale today - this time with a group of botanists.

The only botanical find of note were specimens of Lesser Sea Spurrey (Spergularia marina) in gateways on Clennel Street.  This species was, until 20 years ago, known in Northumberland only from coastal areas.  In more recent years it has increasingly been found by Forestry Commission tracks in Kielder and other FC mature plantations.

In the air we saw 7 Ravens, a Buzzard, a Kestrel and a pair of Bullfinch at Battailshiel Haugh.  And there was a Dipper on the Coquet at Shilmoor.  Altogether a poor bird haul for a 4 hour walk.  But then you can't expect flocks of thrushes when there are no Rowans or other fruiting bushes or trees.  Still, at least the weather was fantastic and from the tops we had excellent views up to the Border Ridge and down to Simonside and Tynedale beyond.

Barn owls........

A barn owl flew over the A697 at Haugh Head on the 19th Nov.  Another bird flew over the A697, at Canada Farm, north of Lonframlington on the 20th Nov.

Today has been spent walking large tracks of heather in the north of the County.  There were good numbers of red grouse, most of which had paired up for next years breeding season.  Walking off the hill (3:30 pm), a female hen harrier was seen flying quickly south and there was a small party of twite (32) which appeared to be feeding on soft rush seeds.  A possible female goshawk was quartering a rough pasture.  The odd bit heather was still in flower.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Branton 19th November

Leaving the house at 7.00 am this morning I was delighted to see the ghostly shapes of 2 Barn Owls flying silently around the village.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

17th and 18th November

A lovely sunny Saturday saw us in Harwood Forest where Crossbills flew around in family parties, a Buzzard was noted over the treetops. Back at Harwood village 4 Red Squirrels fed greedily on peanuts in one of the gardens.

Sunday morning saw us wandering around Branton Ponds where we were entertained by small groups of Siskins and Long Tailed Tits feeding in the Alders. A group of 14 Waxwings were noted in trees around our garden and whilst watching them we were distracted by the sight of a large female Goshawk flying over.

Saturday, 17 November 2012


This morning at 9.30am a pod of 20+ Bottle nosed Dolphins were offshore between Cullernose Point and the Bathing House, Howick. They were scattered from very close in to half a mile offshore, so there may have been many more than 20+. The group included at least 4 small calves (?). Some adults were seen head-butting fish along the surface of the flat sea. After about 10 minutes they began making their way south.


Friday, 16 November 2012

Raptors etc

A least one waxwing was flying around Glanton calling at first light this morning.

A probable rough-legged buzzard flew over my head this morning in the Seaton Burn area.  At first it looked like an 'odd' buzzard with long wings.  As it got closer, the belly was very pale with dark splodges either side of the breast and brown flecking between the darker areas.  Its flight gave the impression of a very large marsh harrier and the black/dark brown carpal areas were very obvious.  The tail appeared long and as it moved away the well-defined dark grey/brown band to the lower tail was very apparent against the white upper tail.  The bird flew towards Prestwick Carr at about 8:45 am.  I am sure that there will be debate about this bird as there are common buzzards with pale bases to their tails and dark tips to their feathers.

Within 10 minutes a female goshawk come out onto the sunny side of birch woodland and was present for about an hour.  It was occassionally being mobbed by a very brave carrion crow.  Other birds in the area included nuthatch, siskins, lots of robins and 6 meadow pipits feeding on a muck heap.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

And some insects...

Green Carpet
December Moth
A mild night encouraged me to put the moth trap out in my garden at Howick. Some early ( or late?) risers here with the latest county records of Green Carpet , by a month, and Rosy Rustic by two weeks!

1041 Acleris sparsana 1
1631 December Moth (Poecilocampa populi) 3
1760 Red-green Carpet (Chloroclysta siterata) 3
1769 Spruce Carpet (Thera britannica) 4
1776 Green Carpet (Colostygia pectinataria) 1
1799 Winter Moth (Operophtera brumata) 1
2258 Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii) 1
2264 Yellow-line Quaker (Agrochola macilenta) 1
2306 Angle Shades (Phlogophora meticulosa) 11
2361 Rosy Rustic (Hydraecia micacea) 1
2441 Silver Y (Autographa gamma) 1

28 moths of 11 sp. An excellent catch for this time of year.

Lunchtime walk

A quick walk along the Wooler Water on the 15th november produced a calling chiffchaff (at the sewage works), 2 herring gulls and a small number of lesser redpolls, siskins and yellowhammers. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Branton Ponds 14th November

7.00 am saw us wandering around the ponds with the dog,a warm breeze encouraged several Bats (probably Pipistrelles) into a hunting frenzy,no doubt sensing colder weather on the horizon. We were also treated to our daily dose of Kingfishers as they flew noisily over the water and more unusually a late Chiffchaff hunted for insects amongst the willows.
Ian and Keith  

14th November

A trip to the Bamburgh dune systems to map pirri-pirri bur produced a number of surprises today.  There were several plants still in flower including harebell, cat's ear and autumn hawkbit, sea mayweed and sea rocketPolypody fern was much in evidence in the dunes east of the castle.

On the bird front a waxwing flew inland from the Farne Islands.  There was a large mixed flock of both linnets and twite sunning themselves at 'Stag' Rocks and a strong passage of siskins moving north, with over 100 counted in six differrent flocks over 3 hours.  Other birds included 3 stonechats, 9 male long-tailed duck, 9 common scoter, 6 red-throated diver and good numbers of both purple sandpipers (42) and turnstone (64).

Monday, 12 November 2012

Waxwing update.

This morning, 143+ Waxwings were feeding on apples in Howick Village. Morning or late afternoon seems best for them and there are maybe another two or three days food left ( depending on how many birds turn up, the number seems to increase daily!)

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Upper Coquetdale

In the hills today to the east of the Usway Burn in Upper Coquetdale, between the burn and the edge of the Kidland Forest.

Along the burn there was a male Stonechat, a Robin and a cruising Kestrel, with a solitary Buzzard high overhead.

Then in the hills to the north of Saughy Hill I put up single Woodcock and Snipe, while a noisy group of four Ravens were in a valley below me.

Botanically it was good to see the single large naturalised bush of Entire-leaved Cotoneaster (Cotoneaster integrifolius) in apparently good condition and with plenty of berries, on the bank of the burn.  Incidentally this species is also known in different books as Small-leaved Cotoneaster or Rock Cotoneaster which does emphasise the importance of using Latin names as well as English for less usual plants.

This image is taken from the website, not from my camera!

Newton Point and Long Nanny 11th November

Yet another glorious morning saw us looking out to sea at Newton Point, Common Eider, Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone were all seen. Our next stop was the salt marsh at the mouth of the Long Nanny Burn,whilst watching a small flock of Twite a solitary Short Eared Owl flew over the wardens hut. The next area to be checked was the Long Nanny Burn itself where the 1st winter Long Billed Dowitcher was noted amongst the Redshanks, it's plain rather than patterned tertials being noted.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Waxwing update

Numbers of Waxwings are increasing at Howick, mainly because there is still a few apples left on two trees in a garden. 100+ were present at 9am this morning. They departed at about 9.30am, and did not return until 3pm when 52+ came back. They seemed to roost nearby.

Can you see how many are in this shot? No prizes...

Also here 2 Crossbills were in the Pond Field Wood.

Waxwings reported today also from the entrance to Hulne Park (45) and Whittingham (75). Warkworth yesterday (10).

Friday, 9 November 2012

Branton 9th November

Our feeding flock of Tree and House Sparrows has been joined recently by a very greedy Pheasant,today however he had a bit of a fright when a Stoat leapt out of the hedge and made a grab for him as he took to the air,luckily for him his reactions were the quicker.

The Wild West

Out for four hours in the part of Kielder west of Bellingham on 7th Nov.  It was cold, windy and increasingly wet.

We were looking for unusual ferns and found a good patch of Tunbridge Filmy Fern (Hymenophyllum tunbridgense) plus (possibly) a patch of Kilarney Fern (Trichomanes speciosum).  This latter is very odd.  All ferns have two generations in their life cycle - a minute sexual generation called a gametophyte and a much larger frond stage called a sporophyte which produces the asexual spores.  Kilarney Fern in Northumberland has only ever been found as the gametophyte which looks like a green patch of "brillo pad" fibres close pressed to wet rock.  Some in the group were convinced that what the leader was pointing to was what we were looking for.  One or two of us were more doubtful!  The photo is NOT what we saw, it's an official image of Kilarney Fern gametophyte from the official fern society website.

The only higher plants we found in flower were Climbing Corydalis and Heath Groundsel.

Very few birds - a single Buzzard and a Raven.  But back in our daughter's garden at Lanehead, about 4 miles west of Bellingham, there was a group of at least 40 Waxwing.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

and more...........

A lunch time walk down the Wooler Water (close to the sewage works) produced a very confiding flock of 32+ waxwings.  They were mainly feeding on hawthorn berries but also fly-catching.  On occassions they dropped down to the river for a drink and bathe in the shallow pools.  A worthy hour was spent watching their behaviour.

Two male goosander flew past the office window.

7th November

At least two waxwings were calling over the Tankerville pub in Eglingham as I replaced someone flat tyre.  I didn't get great views but from all reports, it won't be long before I see more.

There was also a dead tawny owl on the side of the A697 near Roseden.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012


More Waxwing sightings at Howick today. This afternoon 14 were in the Village showing very well, then a neighbour told me of 53 in the Howick Hall gardens near the Bog Garden feeding on Yew berries. Interestingly the ones in the Village today were actually eating cotoneaster berries, something I have read everywhere but have never seen before. I have always seen Waxwings, in order of preference, on Rowan, Hawthorn, Rosehip, Whitebeam and Apple. Flycatching comes between Hawthorn and Rosehip!

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Early Christmas Present 6th nov

We decided that today was the ideal time to go Chrismas shopping,little did we know that it would turn into a birding treat.Whilst waiting for the metro at Kingston Park we were treated to a swirling,noisy group of 18 Waxwings, their clear trilling calls not drowned out by the city traffic.

5th November

A visit to the River Wansbeck in the Bothal area produced a kingfisher, 3 grey herons, good numbers of grey partridge (15), tree sparrows and yellowhammers. A large patch of Japanese knotweed was also found - some control will be required next year.

A barn owl flew over the A697 at Roseden.  It is good to see this bird returning to some of its favoured haunts of the past.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Hedgeley and Branton Ponds 5th Nov

Too good a morning to stay in saw me walking up by the River Breamish from Hedgeley to Branton hoping for 2 Waxwings which had been reported .Sadly my luck wasn't in but I did see a number of Jays  foraging for acorns amongst the beautiful autumn colours of Beech and Oak  .The rest of the walk was quiet but enlivened by a Kingfisher hunting for minnows in Branton Ponds

3rd & 4thNovember

The weekend was spent cider making and watching junior rugby.  Our bird table in Glanton was very active considering it is in a tiny, shaded garden (3m x 3m) and at least half concrete and plant pots.  The feeders attracted 12+ house sparrows, 2 starlings, 1 jackdaw, at least 4 coal tits, 1 great tit, 2 blue tits, 1 robin, 2 dunnocks and a male blackbird in half an hour. 

A walk around Branton Ponds on Sunday afternoon, produced 60+ tufted duck, 25 mallard, 70+ teal, 35 wigeon, 7 goldeneye, 16 goosander, 2 mute swans, 35 greylag, 1 little grebe, 5 cormorants and 3 grey herons.  Small birds were is short supply but there were two flocks of redpolls and a movement of siskins overhead.  The seed heads of hare's-foot clover is much in eveidence close to the river.  There were also tracks of roe deer and otter.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Invaders from the North...

As I arrived back home at lunchtime today, a small group of birds caught my eye as they flew up into a tall tree. I suspected they were Waxwings, and as I took a closer look I was pleased to find four of them, 'trilling' and even flycatching in the sunshine near my house in Howick Village.

They soon flew down to a neighbours apple tree where they hacked into the over ripe fruits. It was only some children coming out to play that flushed them, and they flew high south...I hope they come back.

Seaburn Twitch

A quick dash down to Seaburn proved successful when a superb European Bee-Eater was encountered hawking for insects around a housing estate in Seaburn,successful for the bird too as it managed to catch and eat five wasps whilst we were there. 

Titlington Mount walk

In the beautiful weather with no wind we walked out this early morning to the moorland above Kimmer Lough.  It is quite disappointing that there was almost no bird activity - one Meadow Pipit was all we could see.  Not even any corvids.

On the way back past a stand of mixed larch and spruce we had two Robins, two  Goldcrest, two male Bullfinch, one Wren and the usual annoying number of Woodpigeon clattering out of the trees.  The place is also awash at the moment with Pheasant which the local shoot has not yet started to decimate.

Branton Ponds...

A Green Sandpiper was on the west pond first thing this morning before flying off on to the R Breamish.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Speaking of Fungi...

Here are three I have managed to identify, I think. Please feel free to correct me if they are wrong. I am keen to learn them but their identification is quite tricky. Even the latin name changes between various books and websites, let alone the vernacular.

These ones were found on Craster Heughs last Tuesday... Click on image to enlarge.

Golden Waxcap Hygrocybe chlorophana

Meadow Waxcap Hygrocybe pratensis

Parasol Mushroom Macrolepiota procera

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Yet more from late October

A walk on the moors at Titlington Mount today (30th) saw us put up two Woodcock and a Short-eared Owl that got up from right beside the track through the dead bracken.

One of the few plants still looking really healthy and still in good flower is Climbing Corydalis (Ceratopcapnos claviculata).  I can't make head or tail of the flowering pattern of this species - I've seen it in flower in every month of the year and some years in high summer when you might expect luxuriant growth it sometimes seems to be struggling.  But it's certainly looking good at the moment.

In the garden this morning two Stoats were so intent on chasing each other that they almost ran over Jane's boot.

Finally there's a good bracket fungus on the trunk of an Ash on Titlington Lane.  The photos show it a few weeks ago when it was at its best.  I'm fairly sure it is Shaggy Bracket (Inonotus hispidus) but if anyone can confirm or put me right on that I'd like to hear your ideas.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

26th, 27th & 28th October

A trip outside the area to Geltsdale RSPB reserve was very interesting.  The trees were in full autumn colour and looked their brilliant best.  The main interest was the huge numbers of fieldfares (one flock was over 1000), and smaller numbers of redwings and bramblings.  A woodcock was flushed and there was a good number of long-tailed tits.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip.

A visit to Heighley Gate garden centre should not produce any wildlife quandries.  But two sparrows feeding outside the cafe looked as though they were hybrids between tree and house sparrows.  They exhibited features of both species; little black bib, greyish cap, pale cheeks etc.

A quiet walk around Branton Ponds on Sunday produced 5 whooper swans, 1 male pochard, good numbers tufted ducks, goldeneye and mallards.  There were small numbers of goldcrests, long-tailed tits and siskins.  No sign of the kingfisher

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Late October

Today (25th) a very dark-coloured Red Squirrel ran up the middle of Titlington Lane in front of the car.  From the size, probably this year's juvenile. Two Roe Deer narrowly avoided hitting the car in front of me by Broome Park as they chased each other across the road - two young bucks I think.

On the Titlington Mount bird tables the last week in particular has seen a big influx of Tits - particularly Blue and Coal.  Tree Sparrows have been present regularly in groups of up to seven at a time and today saw the first Brambling of the winter here.  Great Spotted Woodpeckers are very regular and we often have three or four at a time on the different feeders.

The two stubble fields have started to get their evening flocks of Greylags, but so far in nothing like the numbers of the past two autumns - but then the barley crops here this year were pathetic and there may be comparatively little spilled seed available.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

22nd & 23rd October

Walk down the Wooler Water on the 22nd october produced a kingfisher, 2 goosander, grey heron and several flocks of redwings.  There were also tracks of both otter and American mink.

On the 23rd there were large flocks of redwings passing overhead at Wallington and small numbers of brambling feeding on beech mast.  Common knapweed, ragwort and yarrow were all still in flower.

A barn owl was seen in the Beanley Plantation area in the evening on the 23rd.

Monday, 22 October 2012

October 20th & 21st

What a beautiful weekend.  Northumberland looked at it very best with the autumn colour.  A number of people have said to me that the autumn colours appear to be later than usual.  I would be interested in anyones views.

A trip to Cocklaburn, south of Berwick-upon-Tweed produced 12 red throated and 1 black throated divers, 7 common scoter, small numbers of guillemot and razorbill as well as a small selection of waders; knot, oystercatcher, turnstone, curlew and redshank.  There was also a small amount visiable migration (viz mig) which included lapwing (120 south), skylark (12) and meadow pipit (4).

A report of little owl in a Glanton village garden was an excellent find on Sunday.  Tree and house sparrows were much in evidence on Sunday afternoon on my allotment.


Sunday, 21 October 2012

Heath Groundsel

A walk along our farm road and along part of Titlington Lane yesterday (20th) revealed 21 species of plant still in some form of flower.  I'll not bore people with the full list, but one particularly good spot was in a gateway churned up this summer by logging lorries.  There was a prolific patch of a less-usual Groundsel species.  Most people will be fully familiar with our standard Common Groundsel, but Titlington Pike has both Sticky Groundsel and Heath Groundsel (Senecio sylvaticus).

Usually Heath Groundsel has finished flowering by September, but this patch was in very vigorous flower.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

18th October

The rain has kept me inside for most of this week.  The only highlight were two swallows flying south, over Glanton, on Monday evening.

A break in the rain clouds meant that we were able to get some field work carried out in the Cheswick area.  Highlights included a party of 42 snipe, 1 jack snipe and 24 skylarks flushed from a wet part of an arable field that had not been cut.  There were also a small number of 'continental' blackbirds, 8 yellowhammers and 3 reed buntings.

At least six species of waxcap fungi were found in areas of 'fixed' sand dune but unfortunately there was also a patch of pirri-pirri bur.  A flat calm sea produced only 2 shags.  At 4pm, a large flock of 3,000+ starlings had started to gather to the north of Goswick Golf Club.


Monday, 15 October 2012

More late flowers.

Today Jane and I walked a different part of our patch and I can add some more plants that we found still with some flowering heads.

Creeping Buttercup and Autmn Hawkbit (Schorzoneroides autumnalis) were in the rough grazing fields.  Toad Rush was in the wetter parts.  A few Harebells were among the dead bracken stems.

In the Titlington Burn Thread-leaved Water-crowfoot (Ranunculus trichophyllus) had a few flowers as did Small Sweet-grass (Glyceria declinata) in a burn-side pool.

In that same pool was quite a quantity of Autumnal Water-starwort (Callitriche hermaphroditica).  It probably wasn't in flower, although it would be hard to tell because the Water-starwort flowers are tiny things in the leaf axils.  I mention it because it is a fairly uncommon species in North Northumberland and worth recording and also because it gives me the excuse to add another horribly long Latin name to frighten Stewart.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

12th & 13th October

Belated news from Branton Pools where there were 4 Common scoter (2 male, 2 female) which are a first for the site.  They were floating around with a group of tufted duck. Other species of interest included a common darter dragonfly, 3 pochard, 5 little grebes and at least 3 chiffchaffs.

Today the two Georges had a trip to the coast.  There were 2 snow geese with 750 pink footed geese in stubble fields at Fenham le Moor.  Three peregrines of different ages gave a good display with talon grappling and an immature catching a teal.  Other birds of interest on the Flats included 4 scaup, 1 little egret, 1000 barnacle geese, slavonian and great crested grebe, a good selection of waders including a black-tailed godwit and a very high count of eider (520).  There were also some migrants in the bushes including a flock of 30 twite, 1 male blackcap. 2 chiffchaffs and at least one brambling.  There were also two small tortoiseshell butterflies moving south.

A late lunch at Stag Rocks, Bamburgh produced 1 arctic skua, 2 arctic tern, 1 sandwich tern, 19, common scoter and a heavy passage of auks and gannets out at sea.
Still in Flower

A walk this morning (13th) on our home patch at Titlington Mount revealed quite a number of species still in flower - that's proper flower, not just old seed heads.

Out on the moor were all three heather species, Ling, Bell Heather and Cross-leaved Heath.  Tormentil was still showing and best of all were the dense flowering patches of Climbing Corydalis.

Closer to the house were Chickweed, Red Deadnettle, Groundsel, Procumbent Pearlwort, Creeping Thistle and Annual Meadow Grass.

I'm always in two minds about whether to add the Latin names of common species.  Rigour says I should.  Instinct says most people will think it unnecessary.  Perhaps I should use just the Latin names and force people to check their books to see what the plants actually are!

There were a number of Meadow Pipits and Skylarks on the moor and we put up two Snipe.
The bird tables at the moment have up to six Tree Sparrows at a time, but the Siskins which had started to return to the tables in mid-September have disappeared again.


Friday, 12 October 2012

Viz Migging!

Viz migging is the pastime of watching and counting the numbers of birds flying overhead when migrating - visible migration, hence viz migging.

Over night easterlies with very heavy rain resulted in good conditions for such a movement of birds over Howick this morning.

After checking a woefully quiet moth trap, it became apparent that birds were dropping in around the garden. Its days like these when work seems to get in the way, but I stood on our drive counting from 07.45am - 0815am before the work bell rang....

Redwing 428 ( in groups of up to 80)
Fieldfare 5
Blackbird 30
Song Thrush 12
Lapwing 8
Snipe 1

All newly arrived from Scandinavia, amazing.

Lapwings on the move.

News this evening  - Red breasted Flycatcher at Low Newton, Black Redstart Newton Point, Olive backed Pipit Farne Islands.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Thurs 11th oct

A quick walk after lunch, east of Wooler, produced a few species of interest.  Cat's ear and yarrow are still in flower.  Two chiffchaffs were still calling in young woodland.  2 herring gulls, 3 grey wagtails and a meadow pipit were loitering around the sewage works.

Earlier in the day there was a reasonable passage of common gulls (600+) down the Till Valley as well as a small movement of siskins.
Up the Breamish Valley yesterday (10th).  Sadly most items of interest were dead.  Two Slow Worms squashed on the road between Linhope and Ingram.  Three dead Brown Hare on the hills around Grieves Ash - no obvious signs of injury, so perhaps starvation.  The suggestion is that the nutritional content, especially protein, in the fodder available may be very low this year, so perhaps these animals have been having quantity and not quality of feed.

A flock of Meadow Pipit and four Skylark around Reavely Hill deserted farm and a couple of Kestrel above the Cunyan Crags ridge.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Sleeping Satellite...

These lovely clear cold days have certainly reduced moth catches at Howick. Only one in there the other day, but a nice one, the Satellite -

2256 Satellite, Howick ,07/10/12
Fresh individuals are found from now and can be caught right through until March if the weather is favourable. It also comes in a white spotted version ( below). Both are about equally common here. It is named from the two tiny dots either side of the large wing patch. Please click on the image for a larger view.

Another Satellite, a white spotted one this time.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Autumn beauty

Today has been spent carrying out vegetation surveys in the College Valley.  The Estate is at its stunning best.  There are a few plants still in flower including lesser hawkbit, tormentil, heather and grass of parnassus. 

Relatively few birds were seen but highlights included at least 3 ravens, red grouse (24), merlin (1), common buzzard (3), meadow pipit, skylark (1) and lesser redpoll (1).  2 red-legged partridge east of Goldscleugh were unusual but problably have escaped from the neighbouring estate.

A small number of waxcap fungi were also found.


October's best

Frosty mornings and clear blue skies - this is my type of weather

Green woodpecker (1) and a stonechat at Debden, Rothbury were a great addition to the general ambiance of the early morning.  There was also a large flock (15+) of mistle thrushes in the same area.

Jack Daw

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Arran, Islay & Jura

Just back from ten days away on Arran and then to Islay & Jura.

Climbed Goat Fell on Arran (874m).  Higher levels had lots of Fir Clubmoss (Huperzia selago), Alpine Lady's-mantle (Alchemilla alpina) and Viviparous Fescue Grass (Festuca vivipara).  Lower levels had Goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) still in good flower.

Birds v disappointing - only a few Ravens and a couple of Meadow Pipits.

Two other good finds (for me) were Black Bog Rush (Schoenus nigricans) in Glen Catacol at the north end of Arran and Oyster Plant (Mertensia maritima) still in flower on Kilmory beach at the south end of the island.

Then on to Islay.  On 2nd October the Barnacle Geese were just starting to arrive and by 5th there were at least 20,000 on the fields and flats at Loch Gruinart RSPB Reserve.  White-fronts were slower to appear and by 5th there were still only tens of birds present, but small skeins beginning to appear by dusk on that day.

We had two good Hen Harriers - a male on Jura and a ring-tail on Islay - but were disappointed not to see any eagles, either Golden or White-tailed.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

A Fall of Migrants...

This week has seen some of the worst weather of the year with strong easterly gales and heavy rain causing floods and chaos across Northumberland.

For the birdwatcher, however, this same weather has been responsible for grounding good numbers of migrant birds along our coastline.

On Holy Island, an Arctic Warbler headed a cast of rare and scarce birds that included Wryneck, Ring Ouzel, Osprey, Red breasted Flycatcher and Yellow browed Warbler, not to mention good numbers of commoner migrants such as Song Thrush and Redstart.

Elsewhere, Craster held Lapland Bunting, Spotted Flycatcher more Redstarts, 2+ Redwings and 2 Willow Tits, and at Howick, Lesser Whitethroat and Ring Ouzel were seen.