Sunday, 27 December 2015

A quiet Christmas

with no sign of the white stuff it has been very quiet for winter birds, however the locals seem to be pairing up already, Dippers are chasing one another up and down the river,the Song Thrushes are singing and the Great Tit's are beginning to have a few tentative "teacher,teacher" calls. The ponds have been very high for the last week and are tricky to get right around, but the numbers of Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Teal seem to be building. As a post Christmas cobweb blower we took the dog to Holy Island today but it was very quiet, our only sighting of note being 3 Snow Buntings on the north shore, so here's wishing everyone a happy and wildlife filled New Year.

Saturday, 21 November 2015

Low Newton

We were a bit concerned about the weather this morning bearing in mind we were leading a Bird Club walk at Low Newton. It was cold and very windy at the point, foam blowing over the rocks and looking south towards Dunstanburgh Castle the scene looked more like the South Atlantic around Cape Horn. However the birds were there Brent Geese, Wigeon, Red-breasted Mergansers, and finally what we had been looking for Little Auks, coming through in small groups adding up to at least 40 birds. From there we headed off to Newton Scrape where there was a flock of about 100 Golden Plover, at the hide the highlight was a stunning male Hen Harrier hunting over the reed bed followed by a very close encounter with a Short-eared Owl, a day of quality rather than quantity.

Little Auks...

Thursday, 19 November 2015

Great White

No Branton Ponds hasn't been taken over by some large fish with big teeth set to the theme tune from "Jaws", but something much smaller and less fearsome, unless you are a small fish. A walk around the ponds this morning produced a good variety of birds including Siskins, Lesser Redpolls and Bullfinches all feeding on the seed of the Alders. As I reached the east pond I noticed what I thought was a Heron with the sun shining off it's back, on examination with the bins I realised it was an Egret, but due to it's size and orangey/yellow bill not a Little Egret but a Great White Egret. The bird flew briefly then settled back down in some trees where with the aid off a scope it's finer features were picked out including it's dark legs, pale eye with dark iris and almost a hint of green to the base of the bill, a stunning bird in non breeding plumage. The bird finally took off and headed in a north westerly direction, at this point a bright turquoise streak flashed past and the day was complete.

Great White Egret, an old shot, this bird was at Alnwick in November 2010... 

Monday, 16 November 2015

WeBs and a white front

Sunday afternoon was spent counting wildfowl and waders at Fenham Flats for WeBs.  The highlights were 7 Great crested grebe, 1 Slavonian grebe, 3 Little egrets (1 a third bigger than the others), 19 Goldeneye, 11 Goosander, 10 Shoveler as well as the usual flocks of Wigeon, Light-bellied brent, Oystercatcher etc.

A Chiffchaff was calling in scrub at Fenham Mill as well as a flock of 50+ Goldfinches.

A quick visit to Branton ponds, this morning produced 9 White-fronted geese heading south west. The birds could not be put to a race i.e. Eurasian or Greenland but their call was very distinctive. There was also a good selection of wildfowl with the highlight being at least 10 Gadwall.

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Spring and autumn all in one day

Tuesday 10th November was again spent in the Red Row area, looking at the Chevington Burn.  Bay willow catkins (see below) were starting to burst on trees in sheltered spots with an air temperature of 18oC!

A Red admiral butterfly was seen on the edge of an oilseed rape field.  What looked like Opposite-leaved pondweed was found in a very murky ditch along with newly hatched Sticklebacks.

A visit to Cresswell Pool eventually produced the Long-billed dowitcher - it acted like a hyper-active dark Snipe!  There was also a small party of 8 Twite at the north end of the site.

What appeared to be Brown long-eared bats were hunting under street lamps on the outskirts of Alnwick.  A Barn owl as hunting alongside the A697 close to Glanton.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A Tern up for the books

Tuesday morning saw us at Druridge Pools looking for a Long-billed Dowitcher, despite checking through numerous birds on the water it couldn't be found. As we checked out the Budge Screen a lady with a scope and bins said she had just seen what she thought was a species of Marsh Tern heading in the direction of Druridge Pools so we headed off in that direction and after a bit of scanning noted a Tern jinking about over some wet ground, it soon showed itself to be a Black Tern with November being very late for this species. Next to Cresswell Pond where we had been told the Dowitcher was visible from the hide, soon we were looking at the bird as it fed endlessly along the west shore amongst Teal and Wigeon, a great morning's birding and 2 new birds for the year list.

Monday, 9 November 2015

Dune Fungi...

Just to show that you need not go to woodland or upland meadows to see some unusual fungi, at the weekend I found these three at Warkworth Dunes..

Black Earth Tongue Geoglossum cookeanum
Rosy Bonnet
Dune Waxcap

Also here on Sunday morning was a lovely male Bearded Tit in the reedbed down from the car park.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Late autumn migration

There are still flocks of Fieldfares, Redwings and Blackbirds on the move today in the Wooler area. Small parties of Siskins and Lesser redpolls also seemed to be moving through.  Approximately, 150 Pink-footed geese were feeding in stubbles the West Weetwood area.  A male Dipper was singing downstream of Wooler.

Sea trout were also on the move with 3-4 fish seen jumping and several trying to lay eggs in suitable sites.

Hogweed, Dandelion and Red campion are still in flower.

Monday, 2 November 2015

All the 'B's'......

A probable Bittern was seen flying east in the early gloom between Eglingham and Glanton on Friday (30th October). Initially, it was thought to be a big owl and was too small to be a Grey heron. It had possibly set sometime in the Branton / Hedgeley gravel pit area and was moving to new feeding areas.

A Barn owl was flying around the Alnwick Seconds pitch (30th October) whilst there was a rugby game in progress on pitch one!  This is not the first time that a Barn owl has been seen in this area.

A party of at least 30 Brambling were on the side of the road between Lilburn and Chatton on Saturday afternoon (31st October).

Sunday (1st Nopvember) produced a number of Peacock and Red admiral Butterflies in both Alnwick and Glanton.

Thursday, 29 October 2015


I decided to have a short visit to Holy Island this morning and was striding through the dunes by 8 o'clock. The weather was grey and hinted at dampness to come, perfect!, nothing was seen on the rarity radar but it was one of those days where you can just enjoy migration. The dunes were alive with the sights and sounds of wintering Thrushes, every bush held chattering masses, the air was filled with their calls. I eventually gave up counting and just enjoyed the spectacle but numbers did reach into the hundreds, Redwing( several hundred), Fieldfare(150+), Blackbird(several hundred).
Thrushes weren't the only migrants and during the morning I noted 8 Woodcock fresh in from the continent, 1 was flying up the main road from the Village to the car park and on Fenham Flats some 2500 Golden Plover were gathered.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Waxcaps off the Wall

At the risk of suddenly becoming a fungal bore I had a look on my home patch for more waxcaps last weekend.

Stewart had kindly suggested that if I'd had some of the magic mushrooms I might have found Parrot Waxcap.  Well on the moor at Shepherd's Law Jane and I did find some (without narcotic assistance!), as well as some other things.

Now I'll shut up about fungi for another year - probably

Parrot Waxcap
Parrot again
Meadow Coral

Honey Waxcap

Tomatoes?? or young Fly Agarics
Blackening Waxcap
Meadow Waxcap

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Waxcaps on the Wall

On Wednesday I was on the Roman Wall at Steel Rigg.  Across the road from the carpark is a grassed area that is apparently well-known for its waxcaps.  2015 hasn't been a good year - too dry - and the grass hasn't been well enough grazed so it's rather coarse and tufted.

Nevertheless we found a decent selection of fungi.  Leaving aside the Magic Mushrooms (Psilocybe semilanceata) which are now classed as a Class A drug and so one must not be caught in possession (!), there were several club and spindle species.  The Scarlet Caterpillarclub (Cordyceps militaris) has its mycelium in the carcass of an insect larva or pupa.  The Smoky Spindles (Clavaria fumosa) and Beige Coral (Clavulinopsis umbrinella) were two more of the fungal flora here that I'd not seen before.

Then there were the Waxcaps - Hygrocybe spp.  We found seven, but I didn't get decent photos of all of them.  There were Crimson, Scarlet and Ballerina Waxcaps and not pictured were Golden, Heath, Honey and Blackening Waxcaps.  We looked carefully for Parrot, but failed.

As a non-mycologist I was pleased with the haul.

In sequence below are Smoky Spindles, Scarlet Caterpillarclub, Beige Coral, Ballerina, Scarlet, Crimson and Magic Mushroom.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Moorland Mystery

Sorry for many months of silence.  Must do better!

At the September meeting Jim Clark brought in some stems of Juncus squarrosus (Heath Rush) from the moor at Harehope.  Many of the fruiting heads had small white cigar-shaped structures and he wondered what they were.

After considering fungal infections such as Ergot, I had a hunch that they might be moth-related, so I went up on to our moor at Beanley and found the same phenomenon on Heath Rush and also on J. effusus (Soft Rush) and J. conglomeratus (Compact Rush).  I took a couple of photos and sent one to Alan Fairclough with my query about whether these were micro-moth structures.

Alan was quickly able to identify them as the larval cases of a micro moth called Coleophora alticolella.  Or at least it is probably that species - the other two possibilities are much rarer and a firm diagnosis can only be made by dissecting out the genitalia of the adult moths.

I'm sure there is a likelihood that these larval cases appear each year on the rushes, but neither Jim nor I had noticed them before.  Thanks Alan!

Saturday, 26 September 2015

When the dust settled

September is a great time to visit Musselburgh especially if you want Red Necked Grebes before they disperse. With this in mind we headed off with the dog early morning, on arriving at Levenhall Links there seemed to be a lot of people about and not just dog walkers, we began chatting to some people and found out the reason was at 12 o'clock they were going to blow up the chimneys at Cockenzie power station. As we headed off along the seawall there were 2 tides one was the sea, the other was a tide of humanity heading out of Edinburgh to watch the spectacle and it would be churlish not to do the same. At the appointed time there was an explosion of dust and the 2 huge towers sank slowly to the ground followed by a muffled thud, as the dust spread out a large flock of Feral Pigeons circled where their home had been. To our astonishment the large flocks of birds on the sea appeared to be un-affected, we counted 110 Goosander, 50+ Velvet Scoter and large numbers of Eiders, Wigeon and Grebes including 20+ Great Crested Grebes and 15+ Slavonian Grebes. On moving on to Gosford Bay the numbers were equally as impressive with more Great Crested and Slavs but also 7 Red Necked Grebes the birds we had hoped for, as well as several Red Throated Divers we also had terrific views of a Great Northern Diver now in full winter plumage, a great end to a great day in a fantastic birding area.  

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Magnificent merv

As autumn approaches the numbers of moths caught in the trap are declining, however it seems to be a case of quality rather than quantity, this point was proved when a total catch last night of 7 moths included a real beauty in the form of a Merveille du Jour, a stunner which reminds me of a chocolate peppermint cream, lets hope there is still time for a few more.

Thursday, 17 September 2015

16th September

There were good migration conditions on Wednesday morning as 3-4 Crossbills and small parties of Meadow pipits flew south west over 5 Front Street in the morning.

In the College Valley, there was a reasonable passage of Red admiral and Peacock butterflies mostly fling in a westerly direction.  Interestingly, there was very little Meadow pipit movement on the tops of the hills.

A Black-throated diver was off-shore at Alnmouth in the evening.  Three Pipistrelle bats (species unknown) were hunting along the shore line.

Friday, 11 September 2015

Cold, windy and inhospitable....

Yesterday was spent on the top of Cheviot surveying vegetation.  Forecast looked good but conditions were very cold (gloves on for the first time this autumn) and very windy.  Despite this the survey went well.  Interesting plants include stands of Cloudberry, lots of Stiff sedge, patches of Cowberry and White sedge to name but a few.  To me the most interesting thing was that Heath bedstraw and Tormentil were still in flower.  Furthermore, in the gullies there were stands of Sweet vernal grass, Common sorrel and Tufted hair-grass - all species that are very common 500 m lower down.

There were very few birds with the exception of 4 Ravens, 26 Red grouse, 10 Meadow pipits and a Merlin.  There was evidence that Otters were using the watercourses on the top and there was also a young male Roe Deer!  Short-tailed field voles were in abundance and there were some much larger holes that may suggest Water voles - in Scotland this species can be found in very low numbers on upland blanket bog (further investigation is needed).

Insects included a 14 spot ladybird, 1 Common hawker, an Antler moth and a possible Red carpet.

A great day despite the temperature!

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Crayfish and associated wildlife

The last two days have been spent catching and releasing freshwater white-clawed crayfish.  The aim is to establish an 'ark' site in suitable habitat and water conditions in rivers/streams where they do not exist.  The River Wansbeck is 'the' river for native crayfish in the UK if not Europe.  Other populations have Signal Crayfish or other species that carry plague within their catchments and the natives will most likely become extinct.  The pioneer native crayfish, under Environment Agency / Natural England licence, were moved.  Most appear to have settled into the their new homes.

Kingfisher (1), dipper (2) grey wagtails (2) and a migrant hawker dragonfly were present at the 'donor' site on the Wansbeck.  There was  a lot of evidence of otter  with both spraint and tracks.  Otters do target crayfish at this time of year. Male freshwater crayfish set up territories on the bed of the watercourse and guard them with vigour. Unfortunately, this means that the males are easy prey for our aquatic mustelid.

Large numbers of meadow pipits, chaffinches and goldfinches have appeared in the last few days.

Friday, 4 September 2015

Back home......

The first week of September has been a strange one.  The odd Common swift was still flying high in the early part of the week.  Secondly, Sand martins chicks were still to fledge by mid-week.  I understand that there are some very late broods of Sand martins in other parts of the Country. Despite the cold temperatures, Willow warblers and Chiffchaffs are still singing.  There has been a steady passage of Siskins.

The Wooler Water has produced good counts of Grey wagtails (up to 5) and the flock of Goldfinches has increased to at least 75.  Dippers and a Kingfisher have been seen regularly.  The Sand martin flock had reduced to about birds and at least one of these is a fledged youngster.

Finally, people may have noticed that large numbers of spruce trees especially Sitka have turned brown or even grey.  This has been caused by the Sitka louse Liosomaphis abietinum.  Apparently infestations can take place after dry and relatively warm winters.  The problem is particularly acute on the eastern side of the County.  Once you get to Bellingham, there is little evidence of the problem.

Norfolk holiday

The Dodds family were on holiday last week in Norfolk.  It was a holiday of mixed emotions; from a 5 hour traffic jam around Kings Lynn to watching Hobbies hunting dragonflies over reed beds - I think the latter was worth the heat and angst.

Large wetlands filled with birds and dragonflies were the order of the day.  Highlights included a Bittern flying over the reeds at Minsmere, Cranes and Marsh harriers at Hickling Broad and the wide range of waders at Titchwell and Cley (24 species in the week).  7 species of dragonfly and damselfly were noted along with 42 species of moth.

Two thoughts from the holiday were;  birds do not like the sea off the Norfolk coast - the largest flock was 12 Sandwich terns!.  Secondly, nature conservation organisations in the North East lack the vision and drive to create a large wetland complex of the scale of Titchwell or Cley. Today's nature reserve seems more about selling memberships and fluffy toys than the wildlife experience.

Thursday, 27 August 2015

In search of Painted Ladies

The weather has been so "un-summery" most of the time in July and August that a large irruption of migrant Painted Ladies was always unlikely this year.

But determined to get a year tick, earlier this week, I spent a good few hours around Boulmer Steel trying to locate one or two.
The strong south westerlies led the few I saw, to seek the shelter of the boulder clay bank at the very edge of the shore.

But thankfully the lure of Knapweed nectar eventually enticed one individual into a photo -opportunity.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Holy Island early migrants

Looking at the weather charts we noticed a high over Scandinavia and a low over Britain with rain and northeasterlies yesterday, this promised maybe a few good birds for today, so early on we headed for Holy Island. Our first port of call was the Snook and after 10 minutes we were checking out the garden at Snook House, Keith caught a glimpse of an interesting warbler, which eventually came out into the open and proved to be an Icterine Warbler, our first in Northumberland since 2008, this was a great start and boded well for the rest of the day. Our next stop was at the Half Moon slack, here we carefully walked up either side of the bushes and eventually found our second rarity of the day in the form of a juvenile Barred Warbler, it flew into a bush and joined another bird which also turned out to be a Barred Warbler, we left them in peace and continued on only to come across a third bird. We next headed for the Village and gravitated towards The Straight Lonnen, very little was seen except a female Marsh Harrier cruising about over the nearby fields, on reaching the Willows at the far end we noticed several birds moving about, one was a Pied Flycatcher along with Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff, the final bird of the day was, yes you've guessed it a Barred Warbler, our 4th of the day, bring on the autumn!.      

Monday, 20 July 2015

Waders on the move

July starts seeing large numbers of waders starting to move.  This was the case yesterday on the WeBs count at Fenham le Moor.  The first flocks of summer plumage Knot, Dunlin and Bar-tailed godwits were present on the mudflats.  The Knot and Dunlin were particularly vociferous - calling Knot is not something you hear everyday.  There were even some Dunlin display calling - obviously confused by the cool Northumbrian weather!  There were also reasonable numbers of local breeders such as Lapwing, Curlew and Oystercatcher.

Supporting cast included 2 Whimbrel, 2 Pale-bellied and one Dark bellied Brent, 1 Little egret, 2 Goosander, 2 Great crested grebes and three Grey partridge.  Good views could be had of Tree sparrows around the hide.

Two Yellow wagtails were on wires on the west side of Chatton.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Double trouble

Red Squirrels are cute at the best of times but when you get a glimpse of them really going crazy it is something very special. Today very early I was walking to start work at the school and on rounding a corner in the village I was confronted by 2 Red Squirrels chasing each other, this activity saw them end up in some shrubs and I thought that was the end of the entertainment. Wrong, as I reached the school gates they re-appeared and began chasing each other once again, this time however I was caught up in the middle as they ran in circles around my legs, through the gate then back around me.
Eventually common sense prevailed and the one with the pale coloured tail ran off into a nearby tree, the one with the dark tail leapt onto a wall next to me and from a distance of about 2 metres stared at me before also making it's exit into a nearby garden. The whole episode lasted only a couple of minutes but seemed to last much longer and it made me think how lucky I was but also how lucky they were that I wasn't a predator.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Arrows and kites

A red kite was seen flying along Glanton main street yesterday morning.  This is the second record of a kite in the area with another/same bird seen at the Bridge of Aln about two weeks ago.  The Glanton bird was wing-tagged but unsure of colour.

Vegetation surveying in the College Valley produced a number of species of interest.  A small wet flush on the side of St Cuthbert's Way held Quaking grass and Marsh arrowgrass.  The latter looks more akin to a grass than a flowering plant.  Other species of interest included my first small pearl bordered fritillary butterfly of the year, at least 3 whinchats, a wide range of micro-moths and a good range of beetles including a very large click beetle (unfortunately no photo)

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Winged Wonders

In spite of the non summery weather and particularly the lack of sunshine, Banded Demoiselle damselflies have emerged on the River Aln near Lesbury, at roughly the same time as last year

Having spent 2 years as Larvae living in water and breathing through gills, there are now adults of both sexes, who have emerged from the water and taken on wings to breathe the same air as us

Their life expectancy as adults is between 2 and 8 weeks, just enough  time to breed and continue the cycle of life

They truly are winged wonders

Wednesday, 10 June 2015


A late evening visit to Beanley Moor proved very productive,as I sat taking in the sounds of Owls hooting and Grey Herons croaking as they flew over like something out of Jurassic Park, I slowly began to hear other things 3 Cuckoos calling from different places at the same time, the calls were mainly he familiar "cuckoo" but also a bubbling trill which would indicate a female. This went on for sometime before silence reigned once more, then as a final flourish just as I was about to leave came the unmistakable churring call of a Nightjar, all was silence apart from this one weird yet wonderful sound. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

Iceland Gull in summer!

This out of season Iceland Gull is frequenting the QEII Lake, Ashington. Just view from the car, it is attracted to people feeding the ducks with other gulls. Its timings are a bit erratic but I finally caught up with it on my 5th visit on the way to work this morning...

First summer Iceland Gull, centre.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Shear joy........

An hour and a half was spent sea watching off Boulmer last night.  There were a large number of auks (Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots), Kittiwakes, Gannets and terns (Sandwich, Arctic, Common and a few Roseate) feeding offshore.  Dunlin and Ringed plovers were also moving north.

The joy of the evening was watching small parties of Manx shearwaters ease their way north.  The count was 57 over the period.  The evening sun shining on the small flocks, moving close inshore, was very special.  One wonders where these birds were coming from and where they are going to at this time of.  With no breeding colonies in the North Sea, are these birds non-breeders or breeders taking a tour of North Sea waters?  Do they look have a look for potential breeding sites around the Farnes and other suitable islands?

Unfortunately there were no skuas.  The only other species moving was two Tufted ducks moving north (male and female).

Late news from Monday (15th May) was a Quail calling at West Fenton.  Cow parsley, Herb bennet, Tufted vetch and a number of grasses are just coming into flower.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Spring Waders

We decided on an early visit to Low Newton scrape to check out the reported waders. On our arrival a Greenshank flew off with another, smaller wader, when we checked the scrape a bird with a small group of summer plumaged Dunlin turned out to be the Pectoral Sandpiper. At that moment the Greenshank came back in with it's smaller companion, this soon revealed itself to be the Lesser Yellowlegs, as we scanned further along we came across another small wader, this proved to be a Wood Sandpiper which had just flown in. The high point was to have Lesser Yellowlegs, Pectoral Sandpiper and Wood Sandpiper all together in the same scope view. Whilst there we could hear Reed Warbler calling in the reedbeds, Wheatears ran about in the wet meadow, two Yellow Wagtails were having a scrap and a Little Tern flew past on the tideline.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Groppers and otters

After the rain on Sunday, a strategic walk from Embleton to Low Newton was required on Bank Holiday Monday.  Fortunately we left it late and missed the hordes of visitors.  The tide was high and there was little on the sea apart from a few Shags, auks and a party of Sandwich terns feeding close into shore.  A small party of waders dodging the dogs and people included summer plummage Dunlin, Turnstone and 'northern' Ringed plover.

Low Newton flash produced a female Pintail, Snipe and good numbers of Teal were of note.

There was very little on Newton Pool but a group in the hide said they had just seen two Otters.  After 10 minutes they re-appeared and gave great views.  Two Roe deer gave further interest.

A walk back along the dunes produced at least two Grasshopper warbler, several Sedge warbler, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, and a good passage of Swallows.

A Swift welcomed us home to Glanton

Local birders star with Indie band Stornoway


What do Stornoway, Lindisfarne and AWG members have in common?  Answer: a picture in The Independent on Friday 1st May.  Stornoway are an indie band from Oxford who were being showing around Lindisfarne by Andrew Craggs.  Their latest album 'Bonxie' was in need of promotional material.

Stornoway get up to a spot of birdwatching Lindisfarne (Mark Pinder)Mick and I were glad to help even though the rest of the AWG group had sloped off to the Lough.

All the best to Stornoway. Their album is great, especially the use of bird sounds such as Red grouse. From what I read, they do a lot of great work for conservation. Certainly, there are at least three new fans in the Dodds household!

Tuesday, 28 April 2015


Recent days around Branton Ponds have seen an influx of warblers, first we had the Chiffchaffs which were then overtaken  by the Willow Warblers, now Blackcaps are here in large numbers, there seems to be a bird on territory almost every 50 yards. This evening we came across the first Garden Warbler of the year, sounding a bit like Blackcap but a bit more monotonous, on Monday we had a first for the ponds in the form of a Wood Warbler with both it's very distinctive shape and song which sounds like a spinning coin gradually coming to rest on a table, it was still there this morning. Another warbler which just arrived yesterday is the Common Whitethroat with one bird calling from the gorse, this evening there were a further two birds, so all we need now are Lesser Whitethroat and Grasshopper Warbler then the set will be complete.

Monday, 27 April 2015


The warm weather of last week has be replaced by a much cooler air from the north.  Not a lot to report from the weekend but the majority of Swallows appear to have arrived in the last 4-5 days.  A Cuckoo was seen on the south side of Longframlington Common on the 26th April.

Tthe first flower heads of Meadow saxifrage have appeared on lowland acid grassland next to the Wooler Water today (27th April).  A pair of Common sandpipers have also taken up residence.  Numbers of Sand martins appear to have dropped since they first arrived.  Buff-tailed, Red-tailed and White-tailed bumblebees were much in evidence visiting the flowers of Lesser Celandine.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

cuckoos and tigers

Walking in the fields near the cottage this morning I came across a small caterpillar with a bright orange head and very long, silky- looking hairs on its back.  I hadn't a camera so had to look it up when I got home and it identified as the larva of a Garden Tiger Moth.  These moths have a wide distribution in Britain but it was a first for me.  The other first was a cuckoo calling in the wood beside our cottage.

Saturday, 25 April 2015

Peking Duck...

Two lovely Mandarin drakes have been present on the small pond at Warkworth Lane Caravan Site, Ellington over the past few days. They looked really stunning on the calm water in yesterdays morning light...

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Migrants start to appear

Little to report from the WeBs count on Sunday but for a passage Whimbrel, two Pale-bellied brent and a female Pintail.  Waders were scarce and there were few migrants lingering in the scrub.

Monday morning was spent on the moorland edge just south of Blanchland.  It was an idyllic morning with displaying Lapwing, Curlew, Golden Plover, Snipe, Redshank and Oystercatchers all within three or four fields.  Added extras were a female Black grouse, a Short-eared owl and a very dapper male Ring ouzel.  Leaving the farm a Red kite was hunting close to some farm buildings in a horse paddock.  The first Green-veined white butterfly was seen close to Riding Mill.

This morning was spent carrying out the last of the tree planting on the banks of the River Pont. There were several male Redstarts in song as well as Willow Warblers and Chiffchaffs.

An Orange-tip butterfly flew across the A697, in the Wooperton area.

Black and White

No this isn't going to be a rant about the current failings at Newcastle Utd, it will be about much more watchable creatures. First thing today we decided to take the dog for a walk up the Hawsen Burn, we did have an ulterior motive in the form of Ring Ouzels. We weren't disappointed, as soon as we left the car a female was seen flying up the burn, further on chacking alerted us a further 4 Birds, we didn't go very far up the Hawsen as they appeared to be spending most of their time in the lower fields nearer to the car. Our other black and white sighting was much less expected, on crossing a small burn something moved in the water, closer examination gave us views of a Water Shrew as it hunted the burn, looking silvery in the water but black and white when it emerged on the bank.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Upper Teesdale in spring

A fairly early start saw us at Langdon Beck at the sensible hour of  7.00 am, some may say that is too late but a showing of 24 Blackcock and 6 Greyhens proved that the early bird doesn't always catch the worm. The noise was incredible on a very still, crisp and sunny morning, not only were there Black Grouse but also Curlew with their beautiful "bubbling" call, Redshank and even a Woodcock which looked totally out of place. We then headed to Cowgreen Reservoir where more Black Grouse were to be found ( the total for the day was 43 Blackcock and 11 Greyhen), overhead Common Snipe were "drumming"as the air vibrated against their outer tail feathers, the Wheatears were almost too numerous to count as they "chacked " away on the hillside. The next to appear on the stage was a Short Eared Owl, silently quartering the moor, setting up nervous Red Grouse and all to the constant, plaintive whistling of Golden Plover. The day ended as it had began with a Black Grouse, this time a very impressive male standing on a picnic table near the reservoir, a great end to a stunning morning.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Branton Ponds 15th May

It's that time of year when everything seems paired up, at Branton Ponds this morning Tufted Ducks were sorting out their pairs for the season, the Grebes were still displaying and a pair of Shovellers kept in close contact as they swam across the pond. Of more interest was a sight we hadn't seen before and that was a pair of Weasels chasing each other, the one behind exactly mirrowing the one in front in much the same way Brown Hares do,until finally they were lost from sight.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

News from the last few days....

The weather has taken a turn for the worse.  It is no longer 'short-sleeved order'!

First of all congratulations to all of the editorial team at the Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club. After having time to digest a fraction of the information, 'The Northumberland Bird Atlas' is a truly exceptional production.  If you have not got a copy it is well worth ordering one before stocks are sold out.

College Valley on Friday produced a number of interesting wildlife in the Goldscleugh area.  This included several large patches of Stags horn club-moss, a couple of Common lizards, 3 female Crossbills and a Merlin.  No Ring Ouzels were heard but it is only a matter of time.

There was a good selection of waders on a very windy beach at Boulmer on Saturday morning.  The highlights were 35 Sanderling, 1 Grey plover, 6 Bar-tailed godwits and a large party of Dunlin in mixed plummages.

House martins returned to Glanton on Monday 13th April but no Swallows yet!

Saturday, 11 April 2015


Well spring must have finally sprung, a walk around Branton Ponds  this morning in less than ideal conditions (cold and windy) revealed a number of spring migrants, the best being more than half a dozen Swallows feeding over the water with at least 100 Sand Martins. Also of note were a small number of Meadow Pipits heading for the hills, a singing Blackcap and numerous Chiffchaffs doing what it says on the tin, meanwhile on the water Little Grebes were calling and a pair of Great-crested Grebe were doing their courtship display.

Thursday, 9 April 2015

Where are all the swallows......?

The temperature is in the early 20's and the sun is shining - Peacock and Small tortoiseshell butterflies are almost everywhere and queen bumblebees of at least four species are energetically going about their business.  But to-date I have only seen three migrant bird species; Chiffchaff, Sand martin and Sandwich tern.  You would think that this great weather would have been an impetus for an influx of migrants.

Looking back in my diaries, Swallows are normally in the County by by the first week of April and one of my earliest was on the 31st March in Glanton, a few years ago.  Even species such as Blackcaps have yet to start singing with their normal gusto.  Let's hope that the weather has just been as kind to our migrant, on their passage north, as it has to us.

A flock of at least 22 Sand martins on the Wooler Water, today, suggests that other migrants may be on their way!  There were also 3 Lesser redpolls displaying and a singing Dipper.

Monday, 6 April 2015

Just a quick post to say that the piebald leucistic Robin is still at the far north end of Longhoughton this afternoon...its very elusive though only allowing one shot..

Sunday, 5 April 2015

Spring firsts

In Easter Sunday's beautiful weather we had our first Bee Flies and our first Comma in the garden.

Last week I posted some pics of bumblebee queens on our spring-flowering heathers, but I'd failed to get a shot of the Tree Bumblebee Bombus hypnorum.  So here are two from today on Aubretia.

Friday, 27 March 2015


Inspired by Shaun Hackett's talk I took a close look at the bees on our garden heathers in the sunshine this morning.  My first two sightings were White-tailed and Buff-tailed.

Then I spotted a bee that I'd never knowingly seen before, but I remembered Shaun's slide and realised this was a Tree Bumblebee.  Sadly by the time I'd dashed in for the camera it had disappeared so I can't show a photo to prove it, but it had an un-banded orangey-yellow thorax and a white tail and was unmistakable.

Finally, I'd almost given up on the bumblebees when a smaller bee came into view.  My photo is not the best, but I'm pretty certain this was an Early Bumblebee.

Also on the heathers were a number of small bees, all the same species as far as I could tell.  My first thought was that they were honeybees, but I'm not so sure.  They may well be a species of solitary bee - too big for Colletes spp. - but I'd appreciate any suggested identification, even if it is honeybee.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Titlington Mount Eclipse

Armed with pinhole camera (well, a piece of paper with a pinhole in it), Jane and I started watching the eclipse at 8.55am.  The pinhole images are fine but very small, so as the clock reached 9.30 we thought we were going to lose the finale as a large cloud moved in front of the sun.

In practice that was a vast bonus because the sun was behind only the fringes of the cloud and it meant we could look directly at it and get the images below at the maximum 97% eclipse coverage at 9.35.  The range of colours in the upper edge of the cloud were better in reality than the second photo shows

The other two images of our garden were taken at 8.55 and 9.35 and they show the significant change in the quality of the light.

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

A late edition from the weekend.....

It is getting towards the end of the rugby season and more time is spent on the side of the pitch rather than with binoculars in hand.  Last Sunday was a good example.  Alnwick U14's were playing a plate semi-final cup match against Berwick.  We were travelling north towards Doddington and there were at least 1500 Pink-footed geese in fields to the north of the road.  We did not have time to look for vagrant geese.

This was a good start but it was just about to get better.  We had just passed the turn off towards Wrangham and I noticed two large birds flying parallel to the road.  At first glance (I was driving), I thought they were geese but these two birds were much larger.  They were the wrong shape and colour for swans.  Herons - again they were the wrong shape and their necks were extended. Common cranes!  Their long necks, slim bodies and extended legs were visible as they got closer and their languid wing beats with occasional soaring were a further identification feature.  The call went up to stop and admire the birds and there was a further cry of 'why do you not carry a pair of binoculars in your car'.  Yes, I need to address this. My point shoot camera could not do the scene justice as the birds passed in front of the wind turbines north of Red House Farm.

The rest of the journey produce a good number of Kestrels, Yellowhammers and Alnwick U14's did beat Berwick to reach the plate final.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Ford Moss 10th March

Another trip to Ford Moss for a bird survey, the weather sunny but cool and still breezy, there was a real feel of spring in the air,quite literally in the form of singing Skylarks as they rose higher and higher into the blue of the sky. Winter is still not finished as witnessed by a mixed flock of 36 Fieldfare and 18 Redwing. 3 Roe Deer bounded across the moor and in several puddles Frogs were gathered in small numbers surrounded by large clumps of Frogspawn. No warblers or real spring migrants yet but 25 species were seen on the day.  

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Warkworth Dunes

Warkworth Dunes is the place to visit at the minute if you want to see owls. There have been 3 Short-eared Owls (above) and a Barn Owl hunting the dunes area to the south of the car park. Afternoons seem to be best. Also Kingfisher and several pairs of Stonechat in the area.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Branton Ponds 20th February

Is spring just around the corner?, today provided more evidence in the form of our first Adder of the year at the ponds, only two days later than last year.

Wild goose chase......

For last 10 weeks I have been making regularly visits to the farmland west of Fenham Flats.  These visits are part of research work looking at the feeding behaviour of Light bellied brents once they move off the mudflats.  As I have reported previously, there is a mixed flock of Pink-foots, Barnacles and Brents.  This flock totals about 2,700 birds with an additional 300 Greylags joining the flock when they visit Budle Bay.  The most interesting feature is that this flock can go missing especially when you consider that the Brents will rarely stray more than two fields from the shore.

Evidence shows that the Brent are increasingly preferring temporary grass rather than winter-drilled cereals.  It is also fascinating that when the Brent first come onto fields in late December, they do not mix with other species of geese.  By mid February they are quite happy mixing with their bigger relatives especially the Barnacles.  Barnacles are also interesting - when they first started to over-winter they could always be found in and around Budle Bay.  This winter they could be found early on in Budle Bay but increasingly have spent their time at the southern end of Fenham Flats.

Other counts from yesterday include a flock of 14 Tree sparrows and 24 Linnets at Elwick and a good passage of Gannets off-shore.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Ford Moss 19th February

We had a quick visit to Ford Moss this morning to do a bird count, there were a few birds about(we managed 26 species) on a bright but blustery day. Apart from the usual's such as Great Tit, Blue Tit and Robin we also had 1 Woodcock, 3 Common Buzzard, 1 Sparrowhawk, 8 Fieldfare, 3 Jay and best of all 2 Ravens flying over at tree height, "cronking" as they went, not a bad morning for mid-February, perhaps a sign of things to come!  

Monday, 16 February 2015

Northumberland's birds ........

There were a number of highlights last week.  These included 1500 pink-footed geese at Doddington next to the Berwick Road and over 2700 geese in the Smeafield / Elwick area.  This mixed flock comprised of pink-footed geese, barnacles, light-bellied and dark-bellied brents.

I also had the fortune to be able to visit a moorland site in the county through work.  Unfortunately, due to the sensitivity of the species found I cannot publish the name of the site.  The visited started with flushing a woodcock.  A raptor appeared being harried by carrion crows - this proved to be a female hen harrier.  This bird flew off to the west.  Two more female hen harriers were then discovered interacting with each other.  A male peregrine was discovered followed by a sparrowhawk, two buzzards and two kestrels.  Two short-eared owls were then flushed accidentally. Both birds flew a short distance before giving excellent views.  Other species of interest included twite, numerous wrens and three roe deer.

Has anyone heard tawny owls calling through the day recently?

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Winter birding at Ford Moss

Below is a copy of a 'report' by Colin Platt on the Tuesday Group's survey of Ford Moss in early February.  It is brought to this blog courtesy of Mora Rolley.

All it proves is that several of the AWG members were out in the snow doing a Ford Moss winter count.


Hi Guys, what a great day as usual.

Who cares if the sun doesn’t always shine.

2 x photos attached depicting just how much we were enjoying ourselves and I’ve labelled Mora with the strapline ‘I take full responsibility’!! – I’m glad somebody did.

The highlight of the day wasn’t Tom moving from vertical to horizontal – all solved thanks to Ian and the loan of his ‘crippers’ – don’t let it be said that Tom finally got to grips with the difficult terrain! Back to the highlight which is summarised below in order of activity:

1.       Ian goes for a pee-break
2.       The group proceeds across the half-frozen snowy bog
3.       Winnie almost steps on one of our feathered friends
4.       Up and off it flew like a rocket
5.       I shout Snipe
6.       Ian shouts (mid-pee) – ‘it’s a little small’
7.       All agree it was a WoodCock !
8.       Group re-gathered and off we went – next on the list were a male & female Goldcrest.

What will next week bring!

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Moorland sightings

On Monday morning, early, I was on Hulne Moor doing the Bird Survey inside the Park walls.  The birds were entirely unremarkable, but the stars of the morning were two Fallow Deer bucks.  The first I saw was young with not much width in the antlers, but the second, which rose out of the heather about 50 metres from me, had the characteristic palmate form of antlers.

The other thing that surprised me was that there was a line of molehills right up on the top of the moor alongside the 'golfball' fence which seemed a very unpromising location for moles.

Then  today Jane and I were out on a different area of moorland north of Alnwick when we spotted a group of Carrion Crows plus a Raven.  At first we assumed that the crows were mobbing the raven, but then a Ring-tailed Hen Harrier emerged from the ruck and moved away to quarter a different part of the moor.  Not a unique sighting, but an unusual one.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Blogger Picture Problems...

Hi All,

If you have had problems uploading images to this blog please try it using Google Chrome as your internet browser, then try it. I heard that it solved John Rutter's blogging issues immediately and is recommended by others on line if you have this problem.

Regards Stewart

Spring is springing, if not yet sprung

Fine sunny days in February are always good, especially if there's also no cutting wind.  On the Titlington Mount moors and woods yesterday there were two Mistle Thrushes singing and we saw five Skylarks starting to dispute territory and producing their early sub-song.

Great Spotted Woodpecker drumming is now a daily event and the Tawny Owls are very vocal from our bathroom window.  Now I just need the first sign of leaf buds breaking on our early Larches to persuade me that the end of winter is in sight.  Cue blizzards I expect!

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Great Grey Shrike.

At West Hartford, Cramlington, the long staying Great Grey Shrike was still present on Tuesday this week. Showing distantly in the hedge to the north west of the pond near the middle pylon. A lovely bird as always...Park at the fire station and follow the track to the north.
Regards Stewart

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Winter wanders

Glanton: a waxwing flew south east calling as I walked out of the house this morning.

The pink-footed goose flock in the Doddington / Weetwood area north of Wooler was estimated to be about 2,400 bird strong today.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Black necked Grebe, Seahouses Harbour

Today there were 2 lovely Black necked Grebes in Seahouses harbour. They have been present for a few weeks now but this is my first chance to catch up with them. One soon disappeared out of the shelter on to the sea, but one bird stayed fishing around the boats and inner harbour all the time I was there. It is well worth a visit to get such good views of this rare winter visitor.