Sunday, 30 May 2010

I switched on tonight to put up a quick update of the past two-three days and as usual got distracted reading other blogs that I follow here and there. It didn't last long as I got as far as Laura Kammermeir's link to the photo news website and their pictures of the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill here, I got to picture 38 and realised that anything I have to say tonight is utterly and completely irrelevant.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Alaotra Grebe

Whilst many will see it as 'sad news' the communication to notable bloggers and media outlets worldwide today from Birdlife International that the Alaotra Grebe, endemic to Madagascar is now officially considered extinct is nothing short of disgraceful. In the 21st century with all that we in the West and increasingly the East have at our disposal, when our governments have spent billions propping up financial instituitions that reek of greed and self indulgence, for uis to allow this to happen is appalling.

There are few of us, including me, who do enough, and most of the world does nothing at all with a small minority wealthy beyond the point of obscenity at the expense of anything that can be controlled, sold, destroyed and profited from. Alaotra Grebe is extinct as a direct result of Man's actions and it was preventable.

Read the full story at Birdlife here and speak up here. Don't go and read this and do nothing, even leaving a comment helps Birdlife demonstrate that there are people that care and that the loss of species, any species, does matter.

Bison, Butterflies & Bunting

Breaking out from the usual this morning, I threw a hasty picnic together and headed south to make the most of the dry weather ahead of the forecast showers in the Land of the Prince Bishops. With Corn Bunting now extinct in Northumberland, apart from a single bird with an identity crisis, the nearest areas with any numbers are in Durham and the Borders.

Bee-eaters were the last species to draw me down to Bishop Middleham Quarry near Sedgefield back in 2002. That particular trip focussed as it was on obtaining good views of a single species resulted in no time to explore the surrounding area. A Durham Wildlife Trust Reserve BMQ has become well known for Orchids and Butterflies. Nearby Farnless Farm is a shining example of High Level Environmental Stewardship and has a a steady supply of Corn Bunting as well as more exotic fare such as the small herd of Bison used to provide Bison Meat Products in it's Farm Shop and an interesting change to the usual livestock.

We had no sooner caught sight of the Bison when the first of our morning targets conveniently popped up onto nearby wires over a sheep field perhaps 20m from the car. Corn Bunting, the first I've seen since my trip to Andalucia last December.

A slow walk through the wood and into the Quarry produced my second Speckled Wood of the year and good numbers of Green-veined White.

Green-veined White

Whilst the kids occupied themselves finding 'special stones' and empty Snail shells I slowly walked a few yards ahead along the bare limestone path snaking between grass with the odd patch of Bird's Foot Trefoil and an occasional orchid, all of the same species and I think Northern Marsh Orchid.

Our first Wall of the year danced across the path and dropped down showing itself to be in good condition and providing a good photo opportunity as it basked on a nearby rock.


We also found Small Heath further around the quarry proving as impossible as ever to capture in an open wing posture.

Small Heath (male?).

What I had really come for was a species that we don't seem to get in Northumberland (although looking at the distribution maps on the Birdguides Butterflies of Britain & Ireland Ipone App) there does appear to be a couple of coastal sites. I wasn't disappointed with up to five Dingy Skipper found on a cool day with little sunshine. A cracking, and misnamed in my opinion, little butterfly that seems to keep very low to the ground in flight making it difficult to track but once settled is charming and as John Hague suggested 'understated'.

Dingy Skipper

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Small White Lie

With the moth trap devoid of life this morning, my excuse to mooch around the house and garden with the kids was removed in an instant. The kids safely despatched to their play group I was faced with the difficult choice of work or checking out parking locations for some overnight car kipping capers in the Newton area.

Despite a number of upcoming deadlines I chose the latter. The car abandoned on a grass verge in Beadnell I trudged through seemingly endless rows of broken lobster pot adorned caravans before being accosted by a man laying tarmac who suddenly without warning veered toward me saying "You here for the Stint?"
"No" I replied indignantly "I try and find my own birds rather than picking up sloppy seconds" I tried to look convincing as I said it.
"Through the wooden gate and keep walking for a mile or so" he said, oblivious to my holier than thou indifference.

Determined not to succumb I spent the next hour wandering the dunes looking for interesting inverts to photograph of which there was the grand total of none.
"That's probably the pool those Temminck's Stints were on" I thought as I casually glanced inland whilst following a day flying moth. This particular moth was very interesting and headed toward the pool, prompting me to have to scope the muddy edges in search of it.
And yes, after a good while looking for the moth and having been joined by 2-3 other birders it was confirmed that all three of yesterday's Temminck's Stint were still present. I may have glanced at them as I swept my scope across trying to catch the flight of a Small White butterfly, I may even involuntarily commented on one or two salient ID features, just to help the others out and appear interested. I don't really remember as I soon left to search for suitable tent pitching locations.

Twitcher? Not me mate, nooo I do patch birds and the odd moth me.

Monday, 24 May 2010


I called in at Whittle Dene as I was passing the other day. As it was a weekday I stopped off and had a quick look from the hide, a couple of pairs of Common Tern were on the artifical island that has been secured on the Northern reservoir. The hide probably doesnt get a huge amount of use and there was a bit of a build up of cobwebs. A closer inspection of some of the creators revealed a scene from a bad Hollywood movie with big bad Arachnids everywhere. It's obviously an early genetic memory from when we were Troglodytes but I have to admit I'm not that keen, call me a big girl's blouse but they just don't do it for me.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

Newton Stringer Stole My Rosefinch and a Starling Ate My HawkMoth

Just remember that title when it comes to the 2010 Blog Awards, I expect at least a nomination in the most original title category.  Technically Stringer stole nothing, he got to see the Rosefinch last night as he was close by involved in some dodgy retro nineties experience involving kipping in your car and no doubt cranking up the volume on the IPod with some less than memorable music.
My Rosefinch? Unfortunately sometimes you get 'nil points' for effort so despite making two appearances, in Midsommer Howick involving a total of 112 miles I failed to connect with aforementioned tri-syllabic crooner. If Stringer found today's Temminck's at the Long Nanny as well, I'll be digging out my sleeping bag in the morning.

Despite the failure I had a very pleasant morning, got the guided tour from SS and throughly enjoyed it. We covered everything from Bugle to Bullfinch and Crayfish to Crows. I headed along the cliffs toward Cullernose afterward and had a pleasant hour scrambling about the guano taking bad Fulmar flight shots and trying not to harasss the Kittiwake.

Spot the male!

Serenaded all the while by the local Common Whitethroat, that moved in a triangular pattern between the bare stems above three bushes on a circuit.

It might be common but Thrift just seems to epitomise summer for me, a splash of pink, contrasting perfectly with blue skies and seas.

I stopped once or twice on the way home, a walk down one sheltered lane and some rough grassland and phragmites produced a few Sedge Warbler, a single reeling Grasshopper Warbler and several Reed Bunting benefiting from the profusion of flying insects. I also found my second Comfrey of the week, this one I think is Russian Comfrey.

Several Brown Silver Line moths were also in this area amongst nettles and Bluebells, not sure iof I disturbed them as I walked through or if they are day-flying, must check. Sadly when I returned home I thought I'd try and improve on my Poplar Hawk Moth images from early morning and moved the moth (still in the same place I left it six hours earlier) to a nearby Birch trunk.
Before I could shoot anything it slipped through the leaves and was promptly grabbed by a Starling to my horror.

Brown Silver Line

Saturday - Moths

Biggest catch of the week last night and whilst I was up early it was predominantly to get out birding so all the pictures and ID have had to wait. Let's see if I can get any of these right first time.
Yesterday I was at Howick mid-morning to try and see the 1st-summer male Common Rosefinch Stewart had found that morning. Despite dropping everything, bird had gone to ground 15 minutes before I arrived and remained steadfastly out of sight and earshot. It did give Stewart the chance to show me his moth trap and have a useful discussion about his trapping and photography techniques.
This morning, rather than just remove the trap I took a look around the Buddliea that sit behind it and lo and behold my first big moff.

Poplar Hawk Moth

 Even my better half was impressed by this baby, they might be common but they are fantastic and what a grip!

Another new moth for the garden was Common Carpet, I think I caught two of these showing slightly different colour variation.

Finally another Pug, I think another Mottled Pug , I have put it up just to see if I have got to grips with it this time, comments along with helpful ID pointers welcome on a postcard.

Total Catch

Water Carpet - 1
Common Carpet - 2 - new
Scalloped Hazel - 1
Poplar Hawk Moth - 1- new
Mottled Pug - 1

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Friday's Moths

Three moths two species, another pug to deliberate over and a larger moth that I thought was Straw Underwing, as ever confirmation or correction from the more experienced welcome. As can be seen from the comments I've managed to get 0 from 2 on this one, the only way is up! Thanks to those that have been worshipping the dark side for longer the big moth (noctuid) is Brown Rustic.
Brown Rustic Rusinea ferruginea
Two pugs of the same species to my eye, I thought were Brindled Pug again 'nil points' as this has been confirmed from the Sith Lords as been Common Pug.

Common Pug Eupithecia vulgata vulgata

Three moths, two species

1834 Common Pug 2 - new
2303 Brown Rustic 1 - new

Friday, 21 May 2010

Catching the Catcher

One of the few summer visitors that I haven't caught up with yet is Pied Flycatcher, I decided to put that right today, with a warm day in prospect the coolness and shade of the woods sounded good. Leaving far later than is good for catching up with woodland species, courtesy of the school run, I was on the A1 when a text came through from ST highlighting that he had had Damselflies emerging this morning. A quick stop at a small pond en route produced as promised the first Damsels of the year, female Common Blue Damselfly (?).

I pushed on south and on a very warm morning walked the kilometre or so into the place I saw and heard my very first Pied Flycatcher, some 21 years ago and still one of the most enchanting woods in Northumberland, off the beaten track and largely undisturbed. Walking in through the dappled light under the tall Beeches with a Chiffchaff and the occasional Goldcrest for company, I was transported away into an ethereal otherworld and lost for several hours, only the birds and the gentle sound of running water for company.

Many  woodland flowers still out and one that I haven't come across elsewhere so far this year is pictured below, I think it may be Tuberous Comfrey though seperating the various Comfrey species isn't easy for someone new to flowers like me.

Another first for the year was a single Speckled Wood that led me a merry dance for a while, never settling long and then choosing to land high in the trees out of reach. Still my favourite butterfly though, simply stunning.

As expected with the dawn chorus long finished I was left with the occasional song from Redstart, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch and some serious screaming from the local Jays. I located at least five singing Pied Flycatcher all hidden in the canopy and very difficult to locate with one ear. I had planned to find a vantage point and sit for awhile but ended up standing or squatting as I'd forgotten just how widespread Wood Ants can be in some places. Some patience and a female was found and not long after one of the males paid her a visit as she dropped low to inspect a possible nest hole. Probably the only real photo opportunity of the morning with the birds I was after, worth the wait even though they aren't the most spectacular you'll ever see.

And I'll leave you for tonight with this, didn't like his photo taken so rang his mates to gang up on me but I'll leave that story for another day.

Thursday Night Moths

I'm in danger of getting out of synch with a backlog of moths to id and stacks of material from today's little foray so I'll put up this partial post and add the balance of it as soon as I've managed to work my way through the seemingly endless list of moth species.
Three new moths on Thursday/Friday, none as big and bold as Stewart managed but all three new for me in the garden.
First one in and identified is (I think) a Streamer, another lively exit resulting in an in jar image only.

1747 Streamer Anticlea derivata

There was another Shoulder Stripe in the catch but next one out was another new one for the garden, having spent some time searching through images I reckon this is a Small Phoenix. (As always corrections are welcomed as I am new to this).
Small Phoenix Ecliptopera silaceata

Then one of the moths I've been dreading a PUG, the id on these looks a nightmare to me at the moment, combined with low quality images due to the flightyness. This onewas therefore a tentative Dwarf Pug, a quick check of the comments will let you know that at least I got the tentative bit right for the pug with this one now reidentified as Mottled Pug. Though in my defence there must be a great deal of individual variation on some of these pugs when you compare images, look here.

Mottled Pug Eupithecia exiguata exiguata
So total catch 4 moths (biggest so far) and 4 species

1747 Streamer 1 - new
1759 Small Phoenix 1 - new
1819 Mottled Pug 1- new
1746 Shoulder Stripe 1

Shouldering On

Wednesday night/Thursday morning saw another three moths around or in the trap, including two new for the garden. First out was another Water Carpet then an immaculate looking Flame Shoulder that took me a little while to identify as it is a much deeper chocolate brown than photographs on the web suggest, though I have to confess I was pointed in the right direction whilst describing it over the phone to a colleague (thanks TB).

Flame Shoulder Ochtopleura plecta

The second one also took a while to chase down and was a nightmare to photograph, lively just doesn't go there. I'm not yet convinced that there isn't a mass conspiracy by experienced mothers involving the perpetuated myth that all their images are of live moths. Number three then was the second of a pair of shoulders and I the rarest caught so far with only 146 individuals trapped to date in VC67, making it the equivalent of a Yellow-browed Warbler in moth terms, Shoulder Stripe (tentatively).

Shoulder Stripe Anticlea badiata

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Image Box

The sharp-eyed out there may have noticed a new sponsored link entitled 'Photo Enlargement' in the sidebar. I'm always a little wary of sponsored links unless I've actually used the service and in this instance I have. Image Box offer a number of services but adding photos to canvas so they can be displayed is one of them. I hate that I take so many images that dont see the light of day so I ordered a canvas for a shot of Speckled Wood on Field Maple that I took last year at Newbiggin.
My order duly arrived yesterday and the quality of product is great, I'm happy to recomend it. Reasonably priced considering the cost of canvas based art on the high street if you want to get some of your best images off the hard drive and onto your living room walls they're worth checking out.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Groundhog Day (Almost)

Moths trapped last night were a replica of the last few nights with one new species that took to the wing faster than my shutter speed.

Water Carpet 1
Brimstone 1
Hebrew Character 1
Common Carpet 1

I spent most of today with the kids in the Harthope Valley, restricted to the valley floor birding was light, although Cuckoo was a new self found year tick. Other species noted included Redstart, Treecreeper, Chiffchaff, Dipper, Grey Wagtail, Sparrowhawk.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Two Moth Night

Two in the trap doubles my previous best, not hard really. First out was one I didn't need to trawl the net for Hebrew Character the second is currently undergoing DNA & Stable Isotope testing in the Howick Lab.

Hebrew Character

Edit: The Howick Lab having reported back I can now add a worn dark phase Water Carpet to the garden list. Thank Christ they don't do moult is all I can add.

Water Carpet

Monday, 17 May 2010

Giving in to the Dark Side

Last night whilst still cold produced another garden tick moth. That's slightly misleading, as apart from the handful I had last year they're all new. This time it was an easy one to identify, straight from a bad King Arthur movie, Brimstone.

I've converted some of the rarely used herb jars into moth containers though I think I need to keep them in the fridge for a little while before trying to photograph them as this one was a bit lively this morning.

High hopes for tonight after the increase in temperature today, if I catch three I'll be happy.

The Hazel leaf was the failed background by the way.


Sunday morning I headed to higher ground intent on photographing Tree Pipits. Whilst I heard Tree Pipit I came back empty handed when it comes to images of that particular species. First bird as I walked out from the field edge shelter belt was another daylight hunting Barn Owl this one much later at 08:00, lack of food or feeding young? Lack of food would be strange considering the stories emanating from Kielder about vole populations and Tawny Owl this year.

I stumbled, literally, across three flowers that with my limited botanical experience and knowledge i haven't come across before. I have one identified, another tentatively and a third eluding me, so any help on number three feel free to throw my way.

First up (above) is Lousewort Pedicularis sylvatica this plant is surprisngly a partial parasite deriving some of its sustenance from the roots of surrounding plants via small white suckers.

I think this minute but stunningly vivid blue flower may be Heath Milkwort Polygala serpyllifolia though it is difficult to seperate from Common Milkwort. The lower leaves on this one look opposite as opposed to alternate to me so I'm hoping I have it right. Stunning blue whichever it is.

The identity of this one eludes me completely so any suggestions welcome.

Edit: Thanks to Nigel over at Abbey Meadows the third one has been identified as Field Woodrush Luzula campestris.

Nearby woodland produced Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher, Treecreeper, Nuthatch, Marsh Tit, the latter feeding along the ends of fern fronds presumably for inverts.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Spirit of John Noakes Lives On

I blame John Noakes, scratch that, I blame John Noakes and Peter Purvis, they share joint responsibility. As a child growing up when childrens TV was restricted to an hour and three quarters at teatime and Saturday morning and computers were something Dr Spock fiddled with on the deck of the Starship Enterprise, we made our own entertainment. Whether it be knives made from sharpened penny lolly sticks, used to dig out melting road tar or go karts cobbled together from old pushchair wheels and reclaimed wood what we did was fuelled and limited only by our imagination.
Last night was National Moth Night, across the UK thousands, hundreds, seven people were out trying their best to catch and identify moths. Despite my recent comments about not having the time to 'do moths' properly, last night found me in best British tradition sifting through the accumulated flotsam and jetsam of our garage. Piled high with the things that might one day find another use I managed to locate and bring together the following list of items:

x1 Ikea Storage Box Plastic
x1 Plastic Bowl
x1 Ceiling light fitting
x1 Pond Pump
x1 Old wire shopping basket

The result, with all the enthusiasm and sheer joy that was John Noakes trademark, my very own DIY moth trap, it may be a little more Heath than Robinson and it's effectiveness may be limited but made with my very own hands it will do.  Add to it the pheromone enhancing qualities of a dead barn Owl hanging from the Rowan outside the back door, as better half has banned the beetle laden corpse from the house (it's going to the Predatory Bird Monitoring Scheme next week) and I expected a big haul.

After a short wait of two hours and fifty five minutes we had our first moth, by that time (01:50) I was too knackered to try and ID it so trap was packed and stored till this morning when apart from a Cranefly my one and only, first ever self trapped moth was (drum roll)....

Scalloped Hazel Odontopera Bidentata

Earlier in the day a trip to some nearby woods produced a couple of Dipper, Grey Wagtail and a so far unidentified Fly species.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Wheels Keep Turning

It's funny but sometimes you get the impression that things are quiet and then you look down at your notebook and it tells a slightly different story. I've been mixing up Timed Tetrad Visits with flying visits into Newcastle to work on specific entries for the Essential NewcastleGateshead app content and managed to throw in a few hours proper birding along the way.
I've managed some new self-found year ticks with three pairs of Black-necked Grebe at one location, four different Marsh Harrier at three widespread locations all in the same morning and a couple of singing Reed Warbler. On the Marsh Harrier front worth noting that a fifth bird was also noted today by Peter Fletcher at Whittle Dene.
With a supporting cast of three Barn Owl, sadly only two of which were alive as the other was a road casualty at Rock South Farm, a good count of smart looking Grey Plover at Lindisfarne NNR and a batty Common Sandpiper on the puddled track to The Snook.

Photographically all this toing and froing has had a negative impact with very little to show for any efforts I've made. So it's make do with record shots (again).

Barn Owl, most probably male.

Marsh Harrier, female

Marsh Harrier, male

Sedge Warbler lurking in Phragmites to frustrate camera carrying birder