Friday, 28 August 2009


Internet connection surprisingly isn't on the list of amenities our chosen holiday residence offers. You would think they could afford wifi at hundreds of quid per week. When I enquired about it as an afterthought and then asked about local wifi hotspots, clearly stating I meant the world wide web just in case 'wifi' means something else in Welsh, a message arrived back several hours later telling me there was one twenty minutes up the road at a Little Chef. So that's a forty minute round trip to sit in a Welsh Little Chef drinking bad tea and smelling overcooked bacon.
Enjoy this post then as it looks like it's my last for a week. Savour the visual delight of the three Arctic Skua I watched late afternoon as they harassed and darted at a single unfortunate Tern far out above the white topped scudding waves of the North Sea as they are the final bird I can offer this summer. When I return Autumn will be five days old, the landscape will have changed, every bush may hold the big one (ever the optimist).
It's a family holiday although the wife is already complaining about the full compliment of optical & photographic equipment being polished ahead of loading the car, "We're going on holiday not bloody filming in the Serengeti" as she put it.
I may manage the odd few minutes of snatched birding here and there, after all the house that we can call home for a week is only fifty feet from the high tide mark looking out into the Irish Sea. Checking up on Birdguides today they had a Sabine's Gull, a couple of Balearic Shearwaters and a few thousand Manxies just 30 miles north. I must be able to pick a few up from the beach on 60x even with a glass of Sauvignon in hand.
Secretly I have a target list, it only has three species on it but nonetheless its a list. One visit to Anglesey should see me get them all, Chough, Black Guillemot & Cetti's Warbler. Cetti's would be a UK tick for me and I only found out there was a few pairs breeding on Anglesey when I was browsing Lee Evans Ultimate Site Guide, which is paying for itself already.
So I shall leave all you listers salivating at the prospect of poring over my 'Birds Seen On A Non Birding Family Holiday To Wales List' when I get back. Looking at the area and the records over previous Augusts there's a smattering of Melodious Warbler, a few Long-tailed Skua and Stormies, just north is Black Rock Sands with Ring-billed Gull five years ago and Caspian Tern there in 2001. So till next week, ma s yn gobeithio pawb 'r awelon ydy chan 'r gorllewin.

Thursday, 27 August 2009

White-winged Black Turns Sour.

A fine morning, the lure of migrants once again saw me drawn to Newbiggin despite the weather being all wrong. The sunshine meant that there were dragonflies and butterflies on the wing everywhere. One of two small Common Darter pictured below that circled around the main ride through the Mound (small wooded hill adjacent to golf course).

Common Darter
Over the morning I had many common butterflies, Wall and Large White the most common, Painted Lady, four Peacock on a wild seeded Buddliea, a Red Admiral and a single Common Blue.
A larger 'Hawker' was at the end of the woodland and moving around at head height. I think this is a Migrant Hawker as from the ID criteria I can find online it would appear Common Hawker always has yellow abdomen stripes and these have a blue-ish cast to my eyes?

Plant ID should be easy at this time of year with less in flower, a single small delicate plant in flower in short, horse eaten, grass is I think a Centaury but which one? I'm plumping for Lesser Centaury because of the height but I'll stand corrected if anyone wants to offer an alternative.

Finding migrants at this time of year requires patience. I sat for an hour watching the central patch of scrub on the Ash Lagoon bank, a small 30m stretch that has had Greenish Warbler, Sub-Alpine Warbler, Barred Warbler, Red-backed Shrike, Firecrest, Yellow-browed Warbler to name but a few. It was pleasant enough in the late morning sun but quiet. Two-three Willow Warbler and a grazing party of Goldfinch were all I had by lunch. At first the warblers were hard, staying near the back, flitting about but not showing well. Some lip smacking and kissing sound brought them out of their hiding places to check me out.

Willow Warbler

Back on the golf course three Whinchat allowed me to finally get a reasonable shot although they were flighty. This species has been on the move today with several other groups reported along the East coast.
My last image captures the essence of Newbiggin golf course in my opinion. Moments of sublime natural beauty interspersed with humanity's leftovers. Urban meets natural, if only more of it's residents appreciated what they had around them and took a little more care to avoid the all too common littering and fly-tipping.

'Fosters' Peacock, a rare subspecies.
Tonight a short one hour seawatch produced very little, two Roseate Tern south, a female Goosander caught eels on the ebbing tide and two Wheatear darted from rock to rock perhaps excited to be off on their winter break. By 7.15pm I was heading home, a brief stop to look at Woodhorn Flash turned into a nightmare when Stevie Taylor appeared with the news that a juvenile White-winged Black Tern had been present 20 minutes earlier. The Birds Missed in Northumberland List gets even more impressive.

CollinsBirds (Dotcom?)

Re-edited Version as I rushed this out whilst kids were asleep and wanted to add some detail.

One of the strangest stands I came across at the Birdfair was the CollinsBirds Dotcom stand, although Lee Evans 'Don Johnson' impression ran a close second. It seems that Collins have decided to move into the already crowded market place for bird information and social networking. Free alerts, sightings maps, checklists and look up for species information as well as 'Chat' (someone in their marketing team really needs to move on from that word like the rest of the world).

The website wasn't ready and they were taking email addresses for future reference. I was there Friday, first day and there seemed few takers but maybe it improved over the weekend.

The question on my mind after leaving the stand was WHY? Why divert valuable resources and finances away from your core business model?

After some thought the answer is probably this. They have perhaps recognized that an increasing proportion of a birders time when not in the field is now spent on the net. Whether that be looking at sightings, uploading pictures, blogging, reading ID articles or having conversation with birders across the world. As a result of this 'social networking' many birders are now accessing informed opinion from other birders on a whole range of topics. I read a simple statistic today that perhaps adequately demonstrates the point, surveys reveal 14% of us trust adverts, 78% trust personal recommendation, what does that tell you about how companies need to market their products?

All well and good but, there's always a but, their a tad late in my opinion. The market is now maturing, companies such as Birdguides, Surfbirds & Birdforum are effectively market leaders and way ahead. Birdguides for example just past the 100,000 mark for uploaded pictures, a substantial milestone and a huge asset to their business. Between these three they have a huge number of subscribers. It might take Collins ten years to catch up if indeed they ever could.That is assuming they can deal with some of the thorny issues that lie ahead, moderation and quality control are absolutely key if they want to attract 'serious birders'. I simply cannot see them catching up as the current market leaders are unlikely to stand still and will continue to build on their current success.

Perhaps too late now but they really should have forged a key partnership with one of the existing online players, or bought one of them. OK a partnership may not have given them complete control and a Collins-specific offer but it would have given them access to a ready made market for a great deal less investment and they would have avoided loads of pitfalls. My bet is that their initial investment will wither when they fail to capture significant market share and somewhere down the line the tap will be turned off and a slow death as a result of lack of newness will ensue. Or maybe they'll crack the bigger and more lucrative US market, though I suspect this may prove a step too far as again quality competition in Sibley & Chirptracker will cause them issues.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

On The Trail....

After bringing the story on the (alleged) breeding of Great Grey Shrike into the sharp glare of the birding world and reading some of the scepticism that's blowing around as a result of the observer/finder's past record I resolved to do a little more digging. Having spoken to both county recorders Tim Dean (Northumberland)& Colin Raven (Cumbria) neither were able to add anything to the information available. So I took the bull by the horns yesterday, tracked down the address of the 70 year old 'independent naturalist' that had supplied the Hexham Courant with their story and drove the sixty odd miles to talk to him and establish if there is any evidence, photographic or other. The pleasant journey to Garrigil gave me plenty of time to think about how I might approach this and perhaps try and persuade him to show me the nest site, thinking that if there were no images maybe some material could be recovered from the nest if it exists that could be used for DNA analysis.
With no telephone or email I was turning up unannounced and of course Sod's Law kicked in, he was out, it remains to be seen whether my note through the door will yield results.
So I had to make do with a slow journey back picking up a few birds on the way. Being August the roads and hedgerows are awash with released Pheasant, running willy nilly and peering out from every patch of nettles.

From the Kingswood Burn down to Ridley Hall evidence of large releases of Red-legged Partridge with several roadside parties and others lounging on nearby stone walls nonchalantly unaware of their likely fate.

Several Red Grouse on Ouston Fell & Coanwood Common including one dozy bird that narrowly avoided the front wheels, sadly no sign of Black Grouse. I did find a family of Spotted Flycatcher
in a small corner of the golf course between Garrigil & Alston that fed low in a sheltered spot behind some Rowan to avoid the wind.

This morning dawned bright but the dark grey skies quickly dampened spirits. A short seawatch from Newbiggin failed to produce anything more productive than a Red-throated Diver and a single Manx Shearwater south. As the rain increased I walked the Ash Lagoon bank hoping for migrants but eight Stonechat and a Swallow following me very close to catch any disturbed insects were my scant reward for the effort.
I ended the morning counting Redshank at the North Blyth roost (338) and taking juvenile gull pictures in the rain. Life goes on.

Monday, 24 August 2009


Stewart at Boulmer Birder made a comment here some days back regarding the variability of individual birds. Some of the images I took of Common Ringed Plover today struck me as demonstrating his point perfectly.

Images 1&2 are of the same individual and 3&4 of another, both juveniles. The latter with its thin breast band had me checking between the toes, at least until I got home as I just couldn't remember whether Semipalmated Plover had more or less white around the eye and forehead, less being the answer some quick revision provided consigning my aspirations to the recycle bin. Maybe its simply a juvenile female hence the much narrower band. The leg length seems longer too.
Then there was this one, presumably either second calendar year/adult non breeding type rather than an early moulted first year.

Skua Start

A gentle one and a half hour seawatch this morning to start the week, a light breeze and calm sea weren't ideal but at this time of year anything can happen. In fact this morning was a classic example, after arriving home and checking Birdguides, there had been a Cory's Shearwater reported past Whitburn c10.00am.

Common Scoter were the most numerous bird of the morning with 70N, 40S, almost all male. 25 Dunlin flew south and 20 Teal with a single Tufted Duck at the rear. Seven Shelduck flew north. Eight Manx Shearwater south.
Typical for the time of year small numbers of Arctic Skua moved past in both directions with four north and one south. Four were pale morph and one intermediate. The southbound bird came close in to chase a group of terns and turned out to be a 2nd summer moulting into 3rd winter.

Note the predominantly barred underwing on the last two images and the dark marks on the flanks along with the sharp demarcation between pale belly and dark undertail coverts.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Old Signs, New Visitors.

After a frenetic Friday putting myself about at the Bird fair, we settled down to a family day at Beamish with my younger brother and his children. Neither of us had been for thirty years so it's changed a little as have we.
I kept one eye on the skies as there have been several records of Red Kite over Beamish but despite a warm and sunny day I was out of luck. It was interesting to note a little of how birds have been used to sell product over the years. Robin Starch I can get due to the upright habit of our familiar garden bird but Albatross Flour? Also note the 'Albatross' in the sign, obviously the artist had little experience of this magnificent seabird and had been told it was as big as a goose.

This morning I had a couple of hours down at Newbiggin on the hunt for migrants. At this time of year a little overnight rain can always bring Barred Warbler, Wryneck or Red-backed Shrike although migrants were few and far between today, I guess the wind direction played a part. Although a juvenile Citrine Wagtail down the coast at Saltholme shows what could have been full three weeks earlier than the one I found at Alnmouth four years ago. A Merlin sat on the Ash Lagoon fence and a single churr from a Whitethroat were all I could drum up from the scrub before I headed over the Golf Course to Beacon Point.

40+ Great Black-backed Gull lazed on the rocks at Beacon Point along with 200+ Golden Plover and a mixed bag of other common waders. Further along the beach the high tide had left a little pool over the top of the sand slope to the sea. Various waders were taking advantage to feed around and in it. Turnstone, Ringed Plover, Sanderling, Dunlin even a Bar-tailed Godwit came up and had a probe for a minute.

Sanderling, Newbiggin.
One of the Sanderling was colour ringed (see below) so I'll be trying to track down where it came from.
Sanderling, colour ringed.
First juvenile Turnstones I've seen this year with all previous birds being moulting adults. They could almost be mistaken for a completely different wader if you haven't seen them before.
Turnstone, (juvenile facing left).
As I mentioned several Bar-tailed Godwit flew in and dropped on the beach near the pool I was watching. They are just the most elegant of our common waders in my opinion. The flight shot below isn't marvellous with too much out of focus but I kind of like the 'soft' look it gives this individual and it seems to accentuate the underwing pattern.

Bar-tailed Godwit.
It's the combination of upturned, two toned bill, short but bright supercilium and the lovely warm buff tone to the sides of the breast that give Barwits such a subtle feel. Then the extra leg length compared to most of our winter visitors adds the elegance of height.

Bar-tailed Godwit.
Two Northern Wheatear nearby on the beach were the first of the autumn here for me and a single Yellow Wagtail fed with the Pied and Mipits on the Golf Course.

Northern Wheatear.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

How Could I Forget Dave?

In the comments from the last post its obvious I missed another blogger. Dave who may be French but didn't sound it, was with The Drunkbirder and The Leicester Llama and I'm afraid to say I didn't realise he was one of us, not that I'm French.
Anyway he is le Dave, a blogger, as well as soon to be qualified to tell your fortune, forget the stripey t-shirts and french sounding blog title and check out some of his Hellorborines here.
I also forgot to mention I saw the Rutland Ospreys but they haven't left a comment reminding me so I wont link to them.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Blogging The Bird Fair.

Spent a wonderful but hectic day at the British Birdwatching Fair today, loads to see and with a who's who line up of British Bird Bloggers I could probably have done with two days. Strange to be recognized on a couple of occasions and nice to make the acquaintance of several birders I have not met before. Of course I headed over to the Birdwatching Northumberland stand to offer moral support to the local lads. What I hadn't expected though was to find the impact of the recession, you know its bad when first Tom Cadwallender from Northumberland AONB and Martin Kitching from Northern Experience Wildlife Tours were both caught on camera pickpocketing visitors to the stand.

The Box might be a little obvious Tom?

She's not looking and I've got the purse!
Speaking of NEWT trying to have a conversation with the other half of the business Sarah Barrat proved nigh on impossible as call after call for their newly launched Kielder safari kept coming through.

Yet another booking.
One of the busiest non optic stands was the Paramo clothing stand, every time I passed there were people trying on and rummaging through not only the sale rack but the main stand too, what recession?

The optics stands were hugely popular particularly Leica, Swarovski & Zeiss

Swarovski Viewing Area.
Prize for the gaudiest stand and biggest poster goes to Australia (surprise surprise) I resisted the temptation to mention the cricket as they seemed to be having a good time. And best T-shirt, Catweazle with Jon Pertwee was a must watch when I was a nipper. Where can I get one?

British Bird Bloggers were out in force and I managed to put loads of faces to names, Steve Rutt from Stuck in a Rutt working hard in his Birdguides internship. Andy Mackay, The famous Leicester Lama. Below Johnny 'Five Bellies' Hague the surprisingly sober Drunkbirder swaps blog tips and future collaboration with David 'Urban Birder' Lindo who sadly had left his birding mother at home.

Earlier on I had been chatting with Tim Cleeves about the Slender-billed Curlew project when the inspirational Charlie Moores from 10000birds turned up on the stand and got straight down to seeing how he could get involved. Charlie is one third of my favourite bird blog and writes amazing pieces that always grab your attention and transport you to wherever he wants to take you but is also 100% committed to conservation and raising the profile of conservation work as and when he can.

Charlie Moore (left) and Tim Cleeves talk Slender-billed Curlew.
There's two more days what are you waiting for go, now.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

A short walk today with a long time friend pushing & lifting buggies full of children around Hartley. Quiet on the bird front, two Red-legged Partridge skittishly disappearing as I drove down the farm track and a Sparrowhawk flying low between rows of recently cut hay.
The Hedgerows were alive with butterfly activity, lots and lots of Wall, Large White, a single Peacock and at least three Speckled Wood, my first of the year, including this slightly tatty and faded looking specimen.

Early in the morning I am tieing a hanky round a stick, packing the Canon and heading off south to find my fortune at the Birdfair. Wish me luck and drop back to hear all about my day.

Only A Semi Panic.

Warning: This post is filled with poor quality images of a top quality bird and frustration may be the result of continuing further.

I have made a habit of missing the quality birds in the county over the years fro one reason or another. Too busy, too lazy, out of sorts with birding, many reasons. Red-necked Stint, Slender-billed Curlew, to name but two, in fact If I drew up a Birds Missed in Northumberland List it would make pretty impressive reading.
So arriving home from yesterday's trip out, almost as far from the sea as it's possible to get in Northumberland I was unsurprised to find that a mega had gone out for a Semipalmated Sandpiper at Cresswell Pond. No chance of slipping out due to parental duties I was abject in my misery as the crippling pictures began to filter out on the net.
I didn't sleep too well last night.
When the alarm rang at 5.30am I momentarily contemplated turning over and then thought, what the hell.
By 6.01am I was at Cresswell, the only birder there which confirmed my worst fears, 'it flew off last night high to the south' was the likely scenario behind the absence of a throng. After checking the north end I wandered to the hide and started picking through the crowd on the spit.

Crowd on the Spit.
Dunlin,Dunlin,Dunlin,Dunlin, cough, splutter, Semi P....

Semipalmated Sandpiper waiting patiently.
I knew that I was unlikely to get any decent images due to the distance and only a 400mm lens so I resorted to a little dodgyscoping in the hope of a recognisable record shot. I spent a good ten minutes alone snapping away adjusting shutter speeds trying to compensate for the poor light through the scope etc.

Eventually it moved along with several Dunlin up to the north end so I wandered up and found Dave Elliot had arrived. Flighty as it was I didn't attempt to get close, after a short time it got up and took off with three Dunlin north. A search on the beach didn't relocate it before my time was up.

How pleased am I that I managed to get my act together for once and got out early enough to catch up with this only the third for Northumberland, it might be another ten years before the next one.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Raven Mad.

Me: "So what shall we do today kids?"
Kid 1: "Splash!"
Kid 2: "Duck!"
Me: " OK so you want to add Raven to your life list."

Its worth pointing out that I don't need Raven for my life list, or my county list and whilst I haven't seen one this year if my kids hadn't asked I would not have dragged them 35 miles into the middle of Cheviots just for a year tick, as if.

So we headed off into the empty Northumbrian roads and all was going well till we got to Thropton and these yellow signs began to appear saying 'diversion' and 'road ahead closed'. Now call it arrogance or experience but I have a tendency to ignore these kind of signs as I have found many times in the past that they have been left up after work has finished or put out long before it starts. When we arrived at the bridge 1m from Alwinton to find it closed I turned the car shamefully and crept back to the diversion, luckily Hansel & Gretel in the back appeared not to notice, too busy looking for Raven I guess.
Eventually after a 10minute detour we crested a hill and our destination was in sight.

Alwinton, Northumberland.
Up the valley we found a strategic location hoping for a flyover Raven. Not wanting to let the day go to waste we practiced for the Junior Rock throwing Competition at the Alwinton Show.
Time passed and we failed to see a single bird never mind a Raven. Lunchtime was around the corner so we moved further up the valley to Wedders Leap and sat down for lunch. One or two false alarms and mis-identifications followed.

" A Raven" , (it was a Swallow).
All was not lost. Having read Ravens in Winter we knew that they were attracted by bait so we tried a Raven version of chumming that involved waving Ham Sandwiches specially prepared Raven bait in the air. Surprisingly the technique failed to work this time despite the best prepared bait based on a Hadoram Shirihai recipe.

'Chumming' for Ravens.

Its for the Ravens silly!
My two young ones weren't the only ones out learning about the world today. As we moved on deeper into the Northumberland wilds we happened across a couple of other youngsters just as intent on having a good time.

Dead easy, stretch and lift.

Don't forget the brakes....


Eventually deciding that it would be more fun if they had someone else to play with they went calling for the neighbours kids.

Coming out to play Rabbits?
We got to a high place and stopped awhile, searched the distant horizons for signs of Raven practiced our 'Kronk' calls and generally sat back in wonderment that less than an hour from home and there was almost no sign of the rest of humanity as far as the eye could see.
Edit: It was only when we arrived home we realised that the real reason we hadnt seen anyone else was that they were all in the hide at Cresswell watching a Semipalmated Sandpiper.

We did of course come across one or two other birds as we wandered and stared and threw rocks. Mostly youngsters out enjoying the summer as youngsters do.

Northern Wheatear.

Common Buzzard.

Northumbrian Meadow Pipit
Now these last two shots I believe are of another Common Buzzard either a) carrying a snake or lizard of some description or b) an escape with jesses. I think as we saw the bird twice about an hour apart that they are jesses unless they were having a good lizard catching day?

And Ravens, not a sniff.